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Get Out

2020-07-13 10:36:52

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Rice University, in Houston, is building nine big new classrooms this summer, all of them outdoors.

Five are open-sided circus tents that the university is buying, and another four are semi-permanent structures that workers are building in an open field near dorms, Kevin Kirby, Rice’s vice president for administration, told me. Students and professors will decorate the spaces with murals and video projections.

In the fall, the structures will host classes and student activities, while reducing health risks — since the coronavirus spreads less easily outdoors. Kirby describes the construction project as “a statement to the community.” The statement: “We’re creative. We’re resilient. And what we do matters.”

Across the country, many indoor activities are going to be problematic for the foreseeable future: school, religious services, work meetings, cultural events, restaurant meals, haircuts and more. Mask-wearing reduces the risks, but being outdoors can reduce it even more. (Tara Parker-Pope explains the science and offers tips in this recent Well column.)

As Megan McArdle, a Washington Post columnist, has written: “Move everything outdoors — as much as possible and much more than has been done already.” Yes, the weather will sometimes be a problem. But “we’re long past searching for ideal solutions,” McArdle notes. “We’re now hunting for adequate.”

In today’s newsletter, I want to highlight some of the creative ideas my colleagues and I have noticed, like Rice’s:

  • At a Baptist church in Westerville, Ohio, the pastor recently climbed into a scissor lift and conducted a drive-in service while he was 25 feet off the ground, Time magazine reports. And San Diego County has lifted some restrictions on outdoor religious services.

  • Many cities have loosened restrictions on outdoor dining. In New York, restaurants — like Melba’s, in Harlem — have responded creatively, building new outdoors spaces that “have temporarily transformed the city,” the Times restaurant critic Pete Wells writes.

  • Juleanna Glover, a Washington lobbyist, has been holding “outdoor walking meetings” — six feet from another person — along predetermined, lightly populated routes. “I plan to keep these up even when we return to normal,” she told Washingtonian. “I don’t mind if others think it odd.”

  • Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, a staple of summer at the Jersey Shore, put on a drive-in concert this weekend while thousands of fans listened from their cars.

Do you know of other companies or communities taking smart steps to move activities outdoors? Tell us about it.

The latest sign of how far the U.S. has fallen behind other countries in combating the virus: The N.H.L. announced that it would hold all of its remaining games this year in two Canadian cities. The U.S. isn’t safe enough.

The 24 hockey teams with the best records — 18 of which are U.S.-based — will travel to Toronto or Edmonton for a two-month tournament (without fans), starting Aug. 1. Las Vegas had been a leading candidate to serve as a host city until the recent virus surge across the Sun Belt.

College football, at risk: A growing number of teams have suspended summer workout programs. But many universities are still holding out hope they can play this fall, because, as John Branch writes, football is a major source of revenue for them.

In other virus developments:

China and Iran, two top rivals of the U.S., are forging a strategic alliance. The partnership would expand China’s presence in Iran’s telecommunications and other industries, and would supply China with discounted Iranian oil for the next 25 years. The agreement also calls for military cooperation.

Michael Crowley, who covers U.S. foreign policy for The Times, told us: “The more the U.S. works to pressure and isolate China, the less reluctant China will be to fight back — challenging our other strategic interests, empowering U.S. rivals like Iran and undermining a global order that generally works to America’s benefit.”

Roger McNamee co-founded one of Silicon Valley’s most successful venture-capital firms and was an important early investor in Facebook. But he has soured on Big Tech, arguing that it now promotes hate speech, undermines democracy and profits at society’s expense.

McNamee was recently reading a Times article about Barack Obama’s role in Joe Biden’s campaign and was disappointed to learn that Obama had urged Biden to consult two of Silicon Valley’s top figures, Eric Schmidt (Google’s former chief executive) and Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn’s founder).

In response, McNamee has written a searing open letter to Biden in Wired magazine:

The tech industry has been transformed into a poster child for income inequality, toxic masculinity, and white privilege. In the era of George Floyd, Silicon Valley’s leaders are the last people to provide you with guidance on technology policy. Their companies and their community should instead be targets for reform …

Technology can and should be a huge contributor to the American economy, but today its culture and business models produce consistently suboptimal outcomes for society. The best analogies are the chemicals industry prior to the Clean Air Act and the pharmaceuticals industry before the Pure Food and Drug Act. Tech companies are profitable because they are not responsible for the harm they cause.

For more: In The Times, Anne Borden King, who has cancer, describes the torrent of ads for dubious treatments that Facebook is feeding her. And for a different view, see Andrea O’Sullivan’s and Tyler Cowen’s arguments that “you are getting a better deal from big technology companies than you realize.”

When the chef and cookbook author David Tanis set out to create a black bean burger, he wanted one that embraced the taste of cooked beans rather than trying to mimic the look and texture of meat.

Think of the result as a particularly tasty version of refried beans. He recommends serving it with a fried egg on top and seasoning it heartily with cumin, scallions and green chile.


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