2020年3月13日 星期五

So many theories, so many prophecies

What we do need is a change of ideas.
Dustin Hoffman in the movie “Outbreak” (1995).Warner Bros., via Photofest
Author Headshot

By Jamelle Bouie

Opinion Columnist

While writing this newsletter, I am watching the movie “Outbreak,” a 1995 medical disaster film starring Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo, and directed by Wolfgang Peterson. It’s not a masterpiece or anything — it’s a perfectly fine, mid-budget thriller from a time when perfectly fine, mid-budget thrillers dominated the box office. And it did very well with audiences: It opened at No. 1 and stayed there for two weeks. But it is a striking movie to watch now, as Americans prepare to take drastic measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Although the film depicts incompetence and bureaucratic inertia, “Outbreak” also shows an American government that is willing and able to stop the spread of an epidemic, immediately marshaling vast resources to track the virus and put an entire town under quarantine. Once the government is focused on the problem, it is almost perfectly competent, able to stop the disease in its tracks.

The film simultaneously reflects fears of mass death by biological means — which itself displaced Cold War fears of nuclear holocaust — as well as a deep faith in the ability of government to handle the problem. Despite eight years of Ronald Reagan and four years of George H.W. Bush — despite the “Republican Revolution” that swept conservative insurgents into office — Americans still looked to Washington for security in times of crisis.

Of course, as we’re seeing right now, decades of Republican governance have actually degraded the government’s ability to act with the speed and confidence necessary to stop anything, much less a fast-moving disease. I have to imagine that if this movie were made today, or in the near future, it would show just the opposite: A broken, degraded government led by narcissists and sycophants, unable to respond to the ordinary problems of governance much less a crisis.

“Outbreak” may depict a strong, capable federal government, but it leaves me wondering whether, in the aftermath of the coronavirus, Americans will lose even more faith in the ability of institutions to do anything. And if that happens, what does it mean for those of us who want to build a more humane society?


What I Wrote

In the wake of the Tuesday primaries, I used the example of Virginia to show how progressives can still win on policy.

There is another possibility, though. It’s not as viscerally thrilling as an outright win — few things are. But if the goal is to move America to the left — to craft and pass policies that help ordinary people — then a Biden candidacy isn’t the end of the game. He represents an opportunity.

I also looked at why young people aren’t voting:

The issue isn’t interest, it’s structure. It is difficult to get anyone to do anything for the first time, and that it’s especially true for voting, which isn’t an easy process in the United States. Worse, many states are making it harder, with specific efforts to keep young people, and students in particular, away from the polls.

Now Reading

Darryl Pinckney on racial passing in the New York Review of Books.

Leslie Harris on The New York Times’s 1619 Project in Politico magazine.

Isaac Butler on Michael Mann’s “Thief” in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Amy Kapczynski and Gregg Gonsalves on fighting a pandemic in an age of austerity, in the Boston Review.

Alex Ross on the ever-relevant Friedrich Nietzsche in The New Yorker.



If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, please consider recommending it to friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week’s newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at jamelle-newsletter@nytimes.com.

Photo of the Week

Wayside Barber Shop in Charlottesville, Va.Jamelle Bouie

There’s a little block of Charlottesville that seems as though it never left the 1960s, save for the S.U.V.s and occasional vending machine. I was walking my dog there recently when I took this photo, which really pops because of the nice late-morning light and the film itself, which likes bright, primary colors. I took the photo using my Yashica twin-lens reflex camera and I scanned the film at home.


Now Eating: Sausage and Parsley Risotto

Risotto served in porcelain china.Tess Krovetz

I have no real notes for this recipe. It’s good! It comes from The New York Times Cooking section. I’m providing the recipe as written but I prepared it in my pressure cooker. To do that, just reduce the stock to 3½ cups and add after you cook down the wine. Seal at high pressure and cook for 6 minutes. Manual release and then stir for 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients as per the final step, and you’ll be ready to eat. The recipe calls for squeezing lemon juice over the risotto, but I also added grated lemon zest to further brighten the dish.

You can easily make this vegetarian by swapping the pork sausage for Beyond sausage and the chicken stock for vegetable stock. You can make it vegan by also subbing the butter for olive oil and the Parmesan for nutritional yeast.

OK, I suppose I had a few notes.


  • 1½ pounds sweet or hot Italian sausage
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 5 to 6 cups chicken stock, ideally homemade
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  • 1½ cups Arborio rice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup packed and roughly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • ½ of 1 lemon
  • ½ cup finely chopped Italian parsley leaves


With the tip of a small, sharp knife, slit open the sausage casings. Crumble the meat into a wide, heavy skillet or Dutch oven, and set over medium heat. If the meat is not rendering enough fat to coat the bottom of the pan as it begins to cook, add olive oil, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the meat is frying gently, not steaming. Sprinkle the salt and pepper over the sausage and cook, breaking up any large chunks of sausage and stirring occasionally, until the meat is opaque and crisp at the edges, approximately 10 minutes. Remove sausage from pan, and reserve 1 tablespoon of the rendered fat.

Pour the stock into a medium saucepan or pot, and bring to a low simmer.

While the stock heats, return the heavy skillet or Dutch oven to medium-low heat and add to it the 1 tablespoon reserved sausage fat and 1 tablespoon butter, or 2 tablespoons butter if you don’t want to cook with the sausage fat. When the butter foams, add the diced onion and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it is soft and translucent, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Add the rice and stir until well coated, adding another tablespoon of fat if necessary. Stir until translucent, an additional 5 to 7 minutes.

Raise the heat under the rice to medium, and add the wine to the skillet. Stir until wine is absorbed, then reduce the heat slightly. Begin adding ladlefuls of hot broth to the rice, stirring constantly and allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next. Cook rice until it is tender but slightly chewy, approximately 20 to 30 minutes. You may not need all the broth, or you may need more than you have; if more liquid is needed, you can use boiling water.

Remove the skillet from heat, and add the cheese, stirring to mix it into the rice. Add the sausage to the rice, and stir again. Taste, and adjust seasonings with more salt and pepper if necessary. Squeeze the lemon over the rice, and then mound the risotto on a large, warmed bowl. Scatter the parsley over the top, and serve immediately, with more grated Parmesan on the side.

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