Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Tuesday, March 10

Mar 9: President Trump proposes a payroll tax cut and other policies to stimulate the economy. U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan begins. Ireland cancels St. Patrick’s Day festivities over coronavirus concerns. Italy announces a nationwide quarantine. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle officially end their duties in the British royal family.

Mar 10: Vice President Pence announces that over 1 million tests have been distributed and that 4 million would be distributed by the end of the week. Note: by mid-April, only 2 million tests have been conducted.*

From the Cutting Room Floor...

On Tuesday mornings, I wake up early and take Yue on a long hike in the park. This is no city park; it is just wild forest with some trails winding through it. I walk holding a long stick in front of me to catch the webs spiders built in the night. Yellow mayapples peak out shyly from under the trees, humbly declaring that spring is here. There is no one in the park at this hour and I let Yue off the leash. She scampers ahead on her little legs like the prongs of a music box chattering out a song. “If this virus gets worse, I will still come here,” I think, as I turn on the latest episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast and get to walking.[1]

Today, Rogan is interviewing Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota. Every once in a while, Rogan asks a question like, “what about probiotics,” and I wonder how he got this job. “What about other things marketed as healthy?” “They won’t do anything,” says Osterholm. I can imagine that he is being very polite, trying not to look at Rogan with that “I can’t believe you just asked me that,” look. The only things that will help are social distancing, Osterholm says, washing hands, and protecting the most vulnerable. Probably some shutting down of schools, not because kids are getting sick, but because they take the virus home with them. The American public needs to be ready. We absolutely have to pass along the knowledge that this is coming, just like the National Weather Service indicates a hurricane is coming. We’re going to be hit, now we have to prepare. The worst possible thing is what much of the leadership of the country is doing—including its health leadership—when it assures people the risk is low.

I have lost track of time. As I scramble up the gravel hill, made red by the iron left behind from the Permian period, I think of a moment in the early 1990s when I was a sophomore in college and I gave my mother an old copy of David Halberstam’s book The Making of a Quagmire. When he wrote it in 1965, he saw already that the United States was destined for defeat in Vietnam. All the variables for catastrophe were there and he spelled them out as clear as day. I gave the book to my mom because she was a nurse in Vietnam in 1968. She rode her bicycle through My Lai every week. She saw the war collapse around her as she struggled to keep people alive whose guts had been torn open by shrapnel. After she read the book, I remember her giving it back to me with a quiet, shocked look. “This book was already published when I agreed to go to Vietnam,” she said. “If we knew it was a quagmire in 1965, then why didn’t we do something to stop it then?”

If we know that we are headed into a quagmire, then why aren’t we doing something to stop it?

Maybe one answer is that we are too distracted to see the issue clearly. I hear on the news today that Jim Bakker, the white evangelical televangelist best known for his meteoric fall from the religion-entertainment complex in the 1980s known as the “PTL scandal,” has been caught again trying to sell snake oil a public desperate for easy solutions. This time, Bakker is promoting colloidal silver as a so-called ‘Silver Solution’ to coronavirus. But what’s worse about this particular quack medicine is that consuming it can actually do harm. A man named Paul Karason  developed argyria—a chronic skin condition caused by consuming too much silver, from following Bakker’s advice. Nicknamed “Papa Smurf,” Karason consumed colloidal silver for years. He died in his early 60s, though supposedly from an unrelated heart condition.[2] Skin cells will incorporate silver into them and, effectively become living versions of a nineteenth-century photographic plate, the more an argyria sufferer is exposed to ultraviolet radiation, the more they become blue-grey.

New York Attorney General Letitia James already ordered Bakker to stop promoting colloidal silver or face heavy fines.[3] And this week the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters to Bakker and a slew of companies he seems to be involved with that are profiting from this quack treatment: “Vital Silver, Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd., Xephyr, LLC doing business as N-Ergetics, GuruNanda, LLC, Vivify Holistic Clinic, Herbal Amy LLC.”[4]

Why is Bakker doing this? It has something to do with his most recent “conversion.” He went to jail for embezzlement after the televangelist embezzlement scandle. In his mid-1990s book I Was Wrong, supposedly his mea culpa, Bakker partly disavowed the embezzlement that sent him to prison. But he also blamed that attitude of believing God was going to give health and wealth to people without real sacrifice. Now he’s calling for prepping—as in end-times, zombie movie prepping. Mirroring the larger trend in American conservativism, Bakker flip-flopped from his former prosperity gospel theology in the 1980s to an “American Carnage” gospel. Not coincidentally, that apocalyptic conversion correlated with the election of an African American to the White House in 2008.

Today, Missouri piled on to Bakker’s woes. AG Eric Schmidt filed a restraining order against Bakker and his Morningside Church for, as usual, taking advantage of poor white evangelicals.[5] This time, it’s the colloidal silver stuff, from which Bakker stands to make a good profit—provided his congregation/audience is willing to blue themselves in the middle of a pandemic (that’s an Arrested Development joke).

In the meantime, the virus continues. The stock market is falling. Trump repeats that the flu is far more dangerous, and there are no stockpiles of masks.


[1] Joe Rogan Experience #1439 – Michael Osterholm, 2020,

[2] Daily Mail Reporter, “Man Whose Skin Turned Permanently Blue Dies after Heart Attack,” Mail Online, September 24, 2013,

[3] Bernadette Hogan, “NY AG Orders Televangelist to Quit Advertising Coronavirus Cures,” New York Post, March 6, 2020,

[4] Jason Wert, “FDA, FTC Sends Warning Letter to Jim Bakker Show,” Ozarks Independent (blog), March 9, 2020,

[5] Morgan Riddell, “Attorney General Eric Schmitt Files Lawsuit against Jim Bakker Show,”, March 10, 2020,

Read more

PowerfulJRE. Joe Rogan Experience #1439 – Michael Osterholm, 2020.
WSOCTV9. NY AG Orders Televangelist Jim Bakker to Stop Advertising Unproven Coronavirus Cure, 2020.
BBC News. Children Interrupt BBC News Interview – BBC News, 2017.
MedCram. Coronavirus Epidemic Update 34: US Cases Surge, Chloroquine & Zinc Treatment Combo, Italy Lockdown. MedCram – Medical Lectures Explained CLEARLY, 2020.

*If the pdf thumbnails are not appearing, please reload the page.

Wert, Jason. “FDA, FTC Sends Warning Letter to Jim Bakker Show.” Ozarks Independent (blog), March 9, 2020.
Holman, Gregory J. “Jim Bakker Show Hawks ‘silver Sol’ Product to ‘Totally Eliminate’ Coronavirus. But There’s No Medication for That Disease.” Springfield News-Leader, February 13, 2020.
Liscia, Valentina. “A Daily Report on How COVID-19 Is Impacting the Art World.” Hyperallergic, March 9, 2020.
Robison, Peter, Dina Bass, and Robert Langreth. “How Patient Zero Spread Coronavirus Despite Ebola-Style Lockdown.” Bloomberg.Com, March 9, 2020.
Aspril, Joshua, and JH Bloomberg School of Public Health. “New Study on COVID-19 Estimates 5.1 Days for Incubation Period.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Accessed June 11, 2021.
OSHA. “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19,” March 10, 2020,
“Essential Protections During the COVID-19 Pandemic | U.S. Department of Labor,” March 9, 2020.
Commissioner, Office of the. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Update: Foreign Inspections.” FDA, March 10, 2020.
“The Global Economic Impacts of Covid-19,” March 10, 2020.
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* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.