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APRIL 25, 2020

Coronavirus (20): A Light-Hearted Moment in the Post Office

I have not ventured out much since the Coronavirus pandemic deepened here in New York City. But I did have a chance around the time that I went grocery shopping (three weeks ago) to stop by the Post Office to mail a small package to a friend. I have truly marveled at the hard work---and courage---displayed by all of the men and women who are delivering the mail during a period of high stress and high volume, whether from the USPS, Fed Ex, UPS, or any number of other delivery services, not to mention the folks who deliver from restaurants, pizzerias, and other eateries in the neighborhood.

But my last visit to the Post Office gave me a chuckle. Three postal workers are sitting behind thick plexiglass windows, and the line is short. A window opens as the customer just ahead of me departs. I walk over to the window.

Here's a dialogue worthy of Plato:

She (the postal worker): Oh, I was just going on break.

Me: Oh, I'm sorry. That's okay, I'll just wait for the next window to open.

She: No, no, it's okay, sweetheart. Hand it over.

Me: Are you sure? I can wait, it's not a big deal!

She: No, no, I'll be happy to take care of this quickly... it's just that I gotta pee like Seabiscuit!

Me: (Convulsed in Laughter... happily handing the package over to the postal worker) -- At least I'm old enough to know who Seabiscuit is!

She: Don't make me laugh, sweetheart, or there's gonna be a problem!

Only in New York! :)

Posted by chris at 05:45 PM | Permalink | Posted to Culture Film / TV / Theater Review Politics (Theory, History, Now) Sports

APRIL 23, 2020

Coronavirus (19): Reality Check

As many readers know, I have a whole lot of pre-existing medical conditions, including a lifelong congenital intestinal disorder. To enumerate all of the pre-existing medical problems, it would take up a bit more of this post than is necessary. But I am taking two prescribed drugs to control high blood pressure, and on that count, I'm doing quite well. And yet, though there has been no noticeable spike in my blood pressure, I have to say that there are fewer things that make my blood boil than the ongoing stream of naysayers who seem to be completely blind to the stubborn facts of the current Coronavirus pandemic.

The CDC is now combining confirmed Coronavirus deaths and probable deaths related to COVID-19 in its total casualty count. Some of the naysayers argue that this is artificially inflating the numbers.

I can only speak to the situation in New York state, with nearly 270,000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus. It is the state with which I am most familiar, because I've lived here my whole life. If anything, from what I see, the number of cases is vastly underestimated. It is highly likely that most people are asymptomatic. And while many businesses have closed---having a disastrous effect on the local and national economy---most people seem to be acting quite rationally in the current context. Most of those who are symptomatic are voluntarily self-quarantining and practicing social distancing. Indeed, to my knowledge, nobody is being arrested in NY state for coming out of their homes whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic. New Yorkers are taking the most prudent actions, under extremely stressful, extraordinary circumstances, without anybody putting a gun to their heads. This is clearly having an effect on slowing the spread of the virus. The state reached a plateau of over 700 deaths per day and for the last few days, there has been an average of 400+ confirmed cases of Coronavirus-related deaths per day.

But there is growing evidence that the number of confirmed cases vastly underestimates (rather than inflates) the number of those who have been infected with the virus. A new random statistical survey of people out and about in public, typically coming in and out of grocery stores, was conducted in New York state, and it is reported that 13.9% of those tested had antibodies for Coronavirus. Some have suggested that up to 2.7 million people in New York may have become infected with this virus. If one could find a silver lining in the cloud hanging over us, that's actually a "good" statistic. It means that the great bulk of people who have been infected are either asymptomatic or have not had symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization. Perhaps some kind of "herd immunity" will eventually arise, but that remains to be seen. There is still no "cure" for this virus and no vaccine.

It should be noted, however, that up to this point, New York state hasn't been doing much mass testing (though New York City is finally opening testing centers in some hot spots, especially in minority communities). Tests have been conducted almost exclusively on people who are symptomatic---but many of those who are symptomatic don't even get tested. Their voluntary self-quarantine typically allows the virus to run its course---or not. The "not" refers to those who never make it to a medical facility---and who die at home. They may never have been tested for the virus; hence, they are counted by the CDC as among the "probable" deaths from COVID-19.

What kills me, no pun intended, about the naysayers who doubt the extent of the death and destruction of this pandemic is that even if there are significant pre-existing conditions that predispose many folks to becoming infected with---and dying of---the virus, something about this virus therefore becomes a crucial factor that has led to a horrifying spike in the number of deaths being recorded in the state of New York. Perhaps it becomes the straw that breaks the camel's back, so-to-speak, for people who would not have died otherwise.

So the naysayers need to explain why in hell there have been 20,000+ deaths in less than two months in my home town. Why are so many people dropping dead at the same time? If not COVID-19, then WTF! I'm all ears.

It is almost irrelevant at this point how accurate the statistics are. You cannot deny the evidence of your senses. This is beyond belief. As a resident of what has become the epicenter of this disease in the United States (and certainly one of the hottest spots in the entire world), I feel like I'm living in some sick surreal apocalyptic sci-fi movie or some new incarnation of an epic Biblical film. Indeed, as a fan of "Ben-Hur," I've started referring to this place as the Valley of the Lepers [YouTube link] and to Brooklyn as one of the five Leper Colonies of New York City. (And before the epidemiologists start jumping all over me: Yes, I know the difference between an infectious bacterial disease such as leprosy and a viral infection, such as COVID-19. It's just a metaphor in the spirit of gallows humor.)

But let me speak a bit anecdotally for just a moment.

Due to that lifelong congenital intestinal illness I mentioned above, I had to be rushed to Emergency Rooms five times between December 7th and February 29th. My hospital of choice for such visits has been Mount Sinai Brooklyn, closest to my home in the Gravesend section of the County of Kings.

While ERs are typically overcrowded with people suffering from all sorts of illnesses and accidents, there was a distinct difference between my first visit to Mount Sinai Brooklyn in December and my last visit on the afternoon of February 29th. On that Leap Year Day, the ER was utterly insane, completely inundated by an astounding inflow of patients. It was as if some earthquake had struck, and the place was being flooded by survivors in need of immediate medical attention. I was stuck in there for nearly six hours, even though I'd been rushed passed triage and right into the ER proper. I couldn't believe what was going on around me. It was, ironically, the day before the first confirmed COVID-19 related case was reported in New York state and fourteen days before its first reported death. But something was clearly wrong.

Most of the incoming ER patients were suffering from acute respiratory distress. The hard-working EMTs, nurses, and doctors I spoke with that night were telling me that they'd never seen anything like this in their lives. That was then. But this is now---and that Mount Sinai ER, like virtually every ER across the tri-state area looks like a battle zone. Just check out the observations of Dr. Peter Shearer at Mount Sinai Brooklyn, way back on March 26th. Since then, the situation has only gotten worse. Yes, the rate of hospitalizations are going down throughout the state. But this is mass death on a scale that none of us has seen in our lifetimes.

So let's return to those controversial numbers of "confirmed" versus "probable" deaths from the virus. From New York magazine:

As of Thursday morning [23 April 2020], there have been more than 263,754 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York, including more than 138,435 in New York City. More than 15,740 people with COVID-19 have died in the state, not including the deaths of people with probable cases.

The CDC lists 20,000+ COVID-19-related deaths here in New York state, so let's just throw out the 4,000+ "probable" (rather than confirmed) deaths from the virus here in New York. And I mean that with the utmost respect to the families whose 4,000+ loved ones have died suddenly and without full confirmation of cause of death. We're still talking about close to 16,000 confirmed deaths related to Coronavirus infection, in less than two months. I won't even address this issue globally. So what in hell could possibly account for this spike in mass death in this state?

I have read some persuasive theories about what may have happened here in New York though I know that it is going to be a very long time before this crisis can be fully understood on any number of levels, from the epidemiological to the political to the economic. There is growing evidence that the virus was most likely manifested here as far back as January. And that would make some sense. After all, from mid-December until mid-January, New York City in particular typically attracts millions upon millions of tourists from all over the world. They come here to see the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center or to see the Ball Drop in Times Square (and I'm not even considering the possibility of the millions of folks who came to NYC at the end of November for the Thanksgiving Day weekend). And most of them make use of a mass transit system that typically transports over five million people per day. I can't think of a more perfect petri dish for the transmission of an infectious disease. In fact, Dr. Jeffrey E. Harris maintains in a new study (pdf document) that the subways most likely became a key component in the deadly spread of COVID-19 throughout New York City and the tri-state area.

I already know too many people who have been infected by this disease and several who have died, including one of my sister's former students. My immediate family remains okay, but I would not be surprised if we all test positive for antibodies at some point. Neighbors to the right of me, neighbors to the left of me, remain on ventilators in Intensive Care Units in various local hospitals. We may have reached a plateau. And we will surely come out of this pandemic better than before.

But this "reality check" remains a sobering reminder that something terrible has impacted too many lives.

Postscript (24 April 2020): I wanted to thank Irfan Khawaja for linking to this entry on his Policy of Truth blog. He states there, in an installment of his "Coronavirus Diary (51): Reality Check with Chris Sciabarra":

As philosophers from Plato to Popper have argued, there's enormous value in the dialectical clash of divergent opinions: we learn, and arguably converge on the truth, through the process of disagreement. But there's also something to be said for the solidarity produced by agreement on basic facts and values, as well as a sense of shared purpose. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, I've relied on different people for one or both of those things, but relied consistently on Chris Sciabarra for the latter: for whatever reason, Chris and I basically agree on how to think about the COVID-19 crisis, as well as what to do about it.

To that end, I highly recommend his most recent blog post (the nineteenth in his series), Reality Check, on life and death in New York as a result of COVID-19. And check out the links, especially the paper near the end by Jeffrey Harris of the National Bureau of Economic Research, "The Subways Seeded the Massive Coronavirus Epidemic in New York City." Arguably, the problems Harris describes there haven't yet been resolved, and won't be until New Yorkers deal with the problems of homelessness and housing in their city---yet another indication of the interconnectedness of what are often thought of as discrete "topics." Among other things, Harris's paper raises a practical question for me: what do I do with my old MTA subway cards? Get them the hell out of my house, or donate them to science?

I have two maps on my office wall, one of Palestine and one of the New York-New Jersey metro area; I think of both, in some sense, as "maps of home." I've often found myself musing on the fact that the one-horse "transit hub" where I live in Jersey, Whitehouse Station, is located at almost exactly the same latitude on the map as Sciabarra's neighborhood in the Gravesend part of Brooklyn. I don't know that that really explains anything, but as far as COVID-19 is concerned, it's a metaphor that captures what matters.

And while you're at it, check out Ilana Mercer's newest column, "The Ethics of Social Distancing: A Libertarian Perspective."

Postscript: On another thread I posted the following comment:

All crises are used by governments to expand power over our lives---including nightmarish events, like 9/11, which also struck my hometown in a way that made our everyday lives into a total nightmare for months on end... and for years on end---for those who are still dying from diseases contracted while working on "The Pile" at Ground Zero. I've had disagreements with people on this very thread about how the US government used 9/11 as a pretext to make some of the worst foreign policy mistakes in the history of this country---coupled with a never-ending attack on our liberties at home.

Still, for the benefit of those who are reading this thread, several things need to be acknowledged:

First, though flu and pneumonia have killed people in NY state (as they do every year in every state), they have never taken this many lives in this short a period of time the way COVID-19 has done. And in my post, I'm fully cognizant of the fact that people who have pre-existing medical conditions are particularly susceptible to this virus, and that it may be just the "straw that breaks the camel's back" for such individuals. Regardless: The hospitals almost reached the breaking point here in trying to meet the overwhelming flow of patients into emergency rooms. The flu and pneumonia don't even register as a BLIP on the radar compared to what has happened here in the past two months.

Second: I clearly recognize that One Size Does Not Fit All. I do not recommend that Alaska (with 339 cases and 9 deaths) follow the same social distancing policies as New York. In this state, and especially in this city, I am hunkered down in my apartment to preserve my very life---and I'd venture to say that most people are doing this voluntarily and willingly. In my own neighborhood, I don't know a single family that has not been affected: Every person knows somebody who is sick, dying, or dead.

Finally, this crisis does not give local, state, or federal authorities a license to take away any of my rights to liberty, property, or the pursuit of happiness---and there is not a liberty-minded person among us who should not remain vigilant against the very real threats to our freedoms that a crisis like this has ignited.

But at this time I'm far more concerned with preserving the most basic right of all: my right to live. And I'm trying to preserve that the best way I know how.

Postscript (5 May 2020): Thanks to Amir Abbasov for translating this blog essay into Azerbaijanian, and to Jean-Etienne Bergemer for translating this blog essay into French.

Posted by chris at 04:23 PM | Permalink | Posted to Culture Politics (Theory, History, Now) Remembrance

Coronavirus (18): Gallows Comics

In these times, a smile always helps ...

Posted by chris at 01:43 PM | Permalink | Posted to Culture Politics (Theory, History, Now) Remembrance

APRIL 21, 2020

Song of the Day #1784

Song of the DayHave a Heart, music by jazz pianist Gene DiNovi, lyrics by the great Johnny Mercer, is featured on jazz vocalist Nancy Wilson's album, "A Touch of Today." This LP was regularly spinning on the Sciabarra family turntable from the time of its release in May 1966, and till this day, I could hear my mother's voice singing along to all its tracks. This was one of her favorites, and one of mine. This song and this album were also a comfort to her for the five years that she fought gallantly against small cell lung cancer, before dying, at home, in the presence of her children, at the age of 76, at 2:37 a.m. on this date back in 1995. It was, ironically, Greek Orthodox Good Friday, and given that her full name in Greek was Anastasia (everybody called her Ann or Anna), her Greek Name Day would have been Easter (derived from the Greek word for "resurrection"). Twenty-five years have come and gone since that night, but mom's voice still fills our memories: "Have a heart and when you do, have a heart! For a heart that beats for you!" She left behind family and friends whose lives have been touched forever by her strength, her support, and her love. Our hearts keep that love alive. Check out Nancy Wilson's rendition of this gentle song [YouTube link]. [As I said on YouTube: "One of my mother's all-time favorite songs from one of her all-time favorite albums. She's gone 25 years (21 April 1995), but the music and the memories never end."]

Posted by chris at 12:02 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music Remembrance

APRIL 19, 2020

The Dialectics of Liberty: A Colloquy on Deirdre McCloskey's Chapter

For those of you who have been interested readers of The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, co-edited by Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and Edward W. Younkins---and even for those of you who are not---we have a very special treat that we've posted on the home page to the book. The discussion of Chapter 8: Free Speech, Rhetoric, and a Free Economy, written by Deirdre McCloskey, will be featured on her own site shortly. But she has given us permission to reproduce it on the DOL site.

As McCloskey states in her abstract:

Adam Smith declared in 1762: "The offering of a shilling, which to us appears to have so plain and simple a meaning, is in reality offering an argument to persuade someone to do so and so as it is for his interest. . . . And in this manner everyone is practicing oratory on others through the whole of his life." Yes. The market is a form of persuasion, sweet talk. The changing of minds by speech accounts in a modern economy for fully a quarter of labor income. Rhetoric strongly parallels the liberal theory of markets and politics.

For those who don't know much about Deirdre McCloskey (shame on you!), here's her bio (from our volume):

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey taught until 2015 economics, history, English, and communication, adjunct in philosophy and classics, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Author of eighteen books and some 400 scholarly articles ranging from technical economics and statistics to gender studies and literary criticism, she has taught in England, Australia, Holland, Italy, and Sweden, and holds ten honorary degrees. Her trilogy of books (2006, 2010, 2016) on the "bourgeois era" explains modern liberty and riches not from trade or exploitation or science, but as an outcome of a new respect after 1700 and especially 1800 for commercially tested betterment, Adam Smith's "liberal plan of [social] equality, [economic] liberty, and [legal] justice." McCloskey is often classed with "conservative" economists, Chicago-School style (she taught in the Economics Department there from 1968 to 1980, tenured in 1975, and during her last year also in History). She still admires supply and demand. But she protests: "I'm a literary, quantitative, postmodern, free-market, progressive-Episcopalian, Midwestern woman from Boston who was once a man. Not 'conservative.' I'm a Christian libertarian, or a humane liberal."

With special thanks to those who participated in this part of our ongoing discussion of the book (which began in mid-February and will end in mid-June), I present that colloquy here.

Many reviews of the book are forthcoming as is special news of important things to come. Stay tuned!

Posted by chris at 12:24 AM | Permalink | Posted to Culture Dialectics Education Periodicals Politics (Theory, History, Now) Rand Studies Religion Sexuality

Happy Eastern Easter!

I wanted to take this opportunity to wish all my Greek relatives and other friends who celebrate Eastern Orthodox Easter a very happy holiday!

Christos Anesti! (Check out Patriarch Bartholomew I at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem 2020 [YouTube link] bringing in the holiday.)

Posted by chris at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Posted to Religion

APRIL 18, 2020

Song of the Day #1783

Song of the DayEl Cid ("Friendship") [YouTube link], composed by Miklos Rozsa, is featured in the 1961 epic historical drama starring Charlton Heston as the medieval Castilian knight, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar and Sophia Loren as his wife, Jimena Diaz. The film's gorgeous score received an Oscar nomination, as did "The Falcon and the Dove" for Best Original Song. Today is the 113th anniversary of Rozsa's birth [pdf link]. He is one of my all-time favorite composersthis soundtrack is one of his finest achievements. And I can think of fewer things in these difficult times in need of greater celebration than friendship.

Posted by chris at 12:42 PM | Permalink | Posted to Film / TV / Theater Review Music Remembrance

Song of the Day #1782

Song of the DayYou Say You Care, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Leo Robin, was featured in the 1949 Broadway musical, "Gentleman Prefer Blondes," that introduced Carol Channing to the world. It was sung in the musical as a duet by Yvonne Adair and Eric Brotherson [YouTube link]. It is also one of the highlights on a lovely duet album, "One on One," with jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli and jazz pianist McCoy Tyner. This marks the thirtieth anniversary of the release date of this classic album by two legendary jazz instrumentalists---no longer with us, but still very much alive in their recorded performances. Check out their inspired duet here [YouTube link].

Posted by chris at 12:27 AM | Permalink | Posted to Film / TV / Theater Review Music Remembrance

APRIL 17, 2020

Coronavirus (17): Ilana Mercer on Covidiots!

On my Facebook Timeline, I put up a link to Ilana Mercer's article, "Coronavirus and Conspiracy: Don't be a 'Covidiot'"

As I said there on FB: I always read my friend Ilana Mercer's essays with great interest, and whether one agrees or disagrees with her on this or that issue, she never ceases to be thought-provoking, including in this current piece. For those who talk about this as some kind of central government conspiracy, I remember hearing the words of Murray Rothbard, who told us in his American history lectures that governments are almost incapable of engaging in vast conspiracies of this scope (knowledge problem, anyone?)... but there are always little and lethal conspiracies going on here and there, which have been, in many ways, at the root of the growth of the regulatory state.

In any event, take a look at Ilana's provocative piece!

Posted by chris at 07:42 PM | Permalink | Posted to Culture Politics (Theory, History, Now)

APRIL 16, 2020

Coronavirus (16): Pearls Before Swine - Comic Gems In These Times

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous, I have been featuring on my Facebook page some absolutely classic comic strip commentaries on these times, courtesy of its creator, Stephan Pastis. Check out a few of the gems from the past few days.

On the COVID-19 Quarantine:

On the Necessities of The Day (during the COVID-19 pandemic):

And finally, one clearly designed to highlight the importance of dialectical thinking ("the art of context-keeping"):

"Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan?" Then take laughter as one of the most effective elixirs to a generation now steeped in worry... it's a great stress-reducer.

Posted by chris at 12:27 PM | Permalink | Posted to Culture Frivolity Politics (Theory, History, Now)

Keeping the Faith Online

I have been marveling at the tenacity of Father Eugene Pappas of the Three Hierarchs Church, who has been delivering Holy Week services to the Greek Orthodox community through Facebook live [Facebook link]. The services take place at Three Hierarchs Church [Facebook link] on Avenue P in Brooklyn, New York. It is not only the church where I was baptized but it was also the church co-founded by my maternal grandfather, the Rev. Vasilios P. Michalopoulos, who was its first pastor.

This Sunday is Eastern Orthodox Easter. Whatever your religious or spiritual beliefs (or nonbeliefs), I think it is hard not to be moved by the loveliness of the church and the deeply symbolic and moving services it is hosting throughout this week.

Posted by chris at 11:55 AM | Permalink | Posted to Religion

APRIL 15, 2020

From The Warren Five to Fox Five!

I've been singing the praises of my Long Island cousins, The Warren Five (in alphabetical order: Andrew, Ariana, Dana, Marie, and Zoe), who have been serenading us for 33 days now as part of their #QWARRENtine performances, every night at 8 pm, with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday---just like they do on the Great White Way!

Well, tonight, they were featured on our local Fox affiliate, Channel 5 News, and provided us with a nice backstage look at all the work they do to bring music and love to the hearts of everybody who has heard them. Check out the Fox story as presented on television here.

And keep on keepin' on, cousins! Love you all!

Posted by chris at 10:51 PM | Permalink | Posted to Film / TV / Theater Review Music Rand Studies

APRIL 13, 2020

What's In a Number? (Part Two)

On 26 July 2002, the New York Daily News published "New Yorkers of the American Imagination: From The Fountainhead: Howard Roark"---which I'd written for their series, "Big Town Classic Characters." It was later republished on the site of the Atlas Society here.

On that same day, I began blogging on what I would call "Notablog." It started as a page on my home site, until "October 1, 2004," the title of my first post to the new interface with which New York University provided me. Through the years, I have written on subjects as diverse as economics (especially Austrian economics), culture, dialectical method, education and pedagogy, film, TV, and theater, fiscal policy, food, foreign policy, frivolity, music (including a "Song of the Day" feature now up to #1781 and counting), politics (not just elections, but a focus on theory, history, and current events), Ayn Rand studies (including the "Journal of..."), religion, remembrance, sexuality, and sports.

Earlier today, I posted a somber update on the Coronavirus pandemic, asking "What's in a Number?" Tonight, I ask that same question, with a far less somber tone. For with this entry, I have reached the 3,000th post in the history of Notablog over these last eighteen years. In many respects, it seems like a relatively small output, when you consider that there have been nearly 6,500 days since that very first post. But I'm very happy to have reached this milestone, if, for nothing else, to count my blessings that I'm still here and that I've been around long enough to keep writing---shedding some light and, on occasion, some heat, but always doing my best to tell it the way I see it.

To 3,000 more! Or 30,000! Nothing will shut me up after all this time!

Posted by chris at 09:06 PM | Permalink | Posted to Austrian Economics Blog / Personal Business Culture Dialectics Education Elections FYI Film / TV / Theater Review Fiscal Policy Food Foreign Policy Frivolity Music Pedagogy Periodicals Rand Studies Religion Remembrance Sexuality Sports

Coronavirus (15): What's in a Number?

And so, today, the statistics show that the United States has nearly 580,000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus, with 23,000+ deaths (and 33,754 fully recovered).

For this native New Yorker, the numbers are staggering. This state has almost 200,000 confirmed cases, and has hit a horrific one-month total (since the first confirmed NY-state deaths on March 14th) in the number of Coronavirus-related deaths: 10,056.

The nightmare of September 11th brought death and destruction that will forever stay with us, as 2,977 people were wiped out in a single day (not counting all those people who have died from 9/11-related illnesses in the wake of that terrorist attack).

But this is a number unto itself: 10,056.

It's the kind of statistic that puts the numb in number.

For in the end, we are talking about 10,056 individuals in New York state alone. And more than 23,000 across the United States. Each person is somebody's grandmother, grandfather, mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, spouse, partner, friend, neighbor. I knew several individuals who have died of the virus, who were seemingly healthy just one month ago---and they are now gone. I know too many individuals who are infected and self-quarantining, and others who are now in hospitals, on ventilators.

Please pause and remember this sobering reality. However much we are encouraged by the "plateauing" of this pandemic, the increasing numbers remain overwhelming to the families and extended families and friends of every single person who has been infected with this virus or who has lost their life.

My thoughts are with each and every one of them.

Posted by chris at 02:36 PM | Permalink | Posted to Culture Politics (Theory, History, Now) Remembrance

APRIL 11, 2020

Jesus Was Italian (and a Happy Western Easter Tomorrow)!

If your PC sensibilities are a little sensitive today, skip this. If not, then watch this politically incorrect video, making the case that "Jesus Was Italian"...

(He's petting the "cat" the way Marlon Brando did in the opening scene to "The Godfather" [YouTube link] ... LOL

On a more serious note, I hope that all my Western Christian friends have a very Happy Easter tomorrow. I know these are tough times for lots of folks, but 'keep the faith'. :)

Postscript (12 April 2020): One FB pal posted this video, featuring Blofeld, the SPECTRE villain in "From Russia with Love" and other Bond films. I responded:

OMG... I just found out something TERRIBLE!!!! From Wikipedia:

"Ernst Stavro was born on 28 May 1908 (which is also Fleming's birthday) in Gdingen, Imperial Germany (now Gdynia, Poland); his father Ernst George Blofeld was Polish, and his mother Maria Stavro Michelopoulos was Greek, hence his Greek name Stavro. After World War I, Blofeld became a Polish national."

My maternal grandfather's last name was Michalopoulos, from Olympia, Greece (home of the gods and goddesses). That's one letter off the spelling of Blofeld's mom. Related??? And, of course, my paternal grandparents were from Porto Empedocle, Sicily (about 60 miles away from Corleone, home of the godfather). I may have gangstas on BOTH sides of my family! ;)

My FB pals had a little fun with me after that comment. GF said: "I always thought I detected in your books a latent desire to take over the world!" While JB said: "Well, I could think of a LOT worse candidates for that august position than Chris! In any case better to follow Chris's book(s) than other candidates (e.g., "The Art of the Deal." Bill Clinton's "Giving," Obamanation's tomes (which I purposefully forgot!). Bernie's "My Struggle" (I think that's the name...or maybe it was another socialist)," to which GF replied: "Sorry, Chris, but in spite of Jerry's glowing endorsement of you, I'm not a fan of Plato's philosopher king." To which I replied: "Nor I." To which JB replied: "Alas, the lone dialectician, crying in the wilderness!??" Which led to this final reply for me:

Even Harry Potter broke the Elder Wand in two at the end of the Deathly Hallows and threw it away. He understood that it was better not to have the power to rule. All well and good. On the other hand, the last guy to be a voice crying in the wilderness got his head chopped off and placed on a silver platter. So... I'll try to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis.

Posted by chris at 03:55 PM | Permalink | Posted to Culture Frivolity Religion

APRIL 08, 2020

A Happy Passover to all My Jewish Friends

It is officially 7:28 pm, sundown Eastern Time in New York City.

I know that so many of my recent posts have focused on the difficulties of the time, as we face down the Coronavirus here and throughout the world.

But I wanted to take this opportunity to wish all my Jewish friends a very Happy Passover---in the spirit of "deliverence" that the holiday encompasses, or as said in Yiddish: A zissen Pesach.

Posted by chris at 07:28 PM | Permalink | Posted to Culture Religion

Coronavirus (14): Numbers and Narratives

There is real hope that the CORVID-19 pandemic is reaching a plateau in New York state, which leads the United States in all cases. The United States has 420,000+ cases, with nearly 14,500 deaths. New York state accounts for nearly 150,000 of those cases, with nearly 6,300 deaths (and of these, NYC accounts for almost 78,000 cases, with 3,602 deaths). The state suffered its worst single-day, with 779 CORVID-19-related deaths. These statistics are most likely under-representations of the reality, since the state is not mass-testing residents, and many are dying, undiagnosed in their homes. The ripple effects of these numbers on other aspects of healthcare in the city alone have been traumatic to say the least---with a tripling of cardiac calls over the period between March 20 and April 5.

Even more distressing is the disproportionate number of Hispanics and African Americans in the city who have been impacted by this pandemic. Hispanics constitute 34% of all CORVID-19 cases, despite being 29% of NYC's population, while blacks constitute 28% of all CORVID-19 cases, despite being 22% of NYC's population. This is less a racial division than it is a class division, since most of those affected come from poor neighborhoods, who don't have the luxury of relying on working remotely from home.

There are positive things to report, however. Though the daily death toll in the Empire State is likely to increase, the number of new hospitalizations are stabilizing as are the number of ventilators in use. Food establishments---from NY pizzerias to NY delis---are coming to the aid of healthcare workers and first responders, and cities and states throughout the country have stepped up to assist New York in its dire need of medical supplies, even as they face upticks in their own communities.

I do want to address one issue that has been nagging at me from some quarters. If I hear one more time that the "regular" influenza kills more people than CORVID-19, I just might scream. Such folks are trying to downplay the gravity of the situation by pointing out (correctly) that many thousands die of influenza each year, and that most people who become infected with the Coronavirus will most likely be either asymptomatic or will recover completely without any medical complications.

But this ignores a simple truth: If we look at a standard year---2017---we will see that New York state registered 4,517 deaths from "flu/pneumonia", the sixth leading cause of death in the state (behind heart disease, cancer, accidents, chronic lower respiratory diseases, and stroke). But understand that these are statistics covering an entire year. The reason there are makeshift morgues and freezers set up around hospitals like Bellevue and that Randalls Island and Hart Island are being considered as temporary cemeteries to accommodate the growing number of bodies is that the sheer volume of cases and deaths are overwhelming the healthcare system, as would be the case in any natural catastrophe. Funeral homes are being taxed to their breaking point because, since the first two recorded deaths from CORVID-19 on 14 March 2020, there have been nearly 6,300 deaths from the Coronavirus in twenty-six days. Even if, suddenly, these deaths were to cease tomorrow, the tally has already exceeded the typical seasonal total of influenza deaths by almost 2,000 in under a month! This is one of the reasons that the healthcare system has been pushed almost to the breaking point.

Moreover, I've heard from a number of folks who dispute the statistics because, after all, many of the victims may have had pre-existing conditions, and who's to say that it wasn't these pre-existing conditions that did them in? All at once? The point is that even if many with pre-existing conditions are among the most vulnerable populations during this pandemic, the virus may just be the straw that breaks the camel's back, so-to-speak.

The bottom line is that we can't debate these issues with any degree of comfort until such time as more and more information about this pandemic and the deaths left in its wake becomes available. So while the naysayers are busy discounting the virus, we're still counting the bodies at a rate unseen, certainly in my generation.

Finally, I wanted to bring to your attention a new installment on my friend Irfan Khawaja's ongoing "COVID-19 Narratives," in which I was already featured. The newest installment, "A Physician's View of the Front Lines" is a harrowing tale of what life is like within the healthcare industry, as heroic medical personnel are battling a surge of thousands upon thousands of sick people in their Emergency Rooms and hospitals, a tale that has been echoed by so many front line workers that it is becoming horrifically all-too-familiar.

Postscript (8 April 2020): I made a few additional comments on Facebook with regard to this post after being pointed to this video, featuring Professor Knut Wittkowski. I wrote:

I've actually seen this video and also read a number of pieces on Wittkowski on AIER and Hoover. He makes a lot of good points, and certainly brings to bear many questions with regard to the public response to the pandemic. He's certainly not among the fringe group that questions the very existence of the Coronavirus or its impact on the most vulnerable. And I've been impressed as well with his overall logic and its implications for public policy.

But I have to say that there was a serious problem with, for example, keeping the schools open in NYC, where 1.1 million kids may very well have developed "herd immunity"... and still brought it home to older parents and grandparents, who might have pre-existing medical conditions, and therefore would have become susceptible to infection or worse. Not to mention the fact that many older teachers refused to work in such dense conditions in the public schools where they themselves would be put at risk.

Now this may be a good reason to question the wisdom of "herding" kids into large public school systems, but these are, nonetheless, the conditions that exist in the real world of New York City, and I can tell you that I am glad that my sister, for example, who works as the Executive Director of the Brooklyn Technical High School Alumni Foundation, with its office in that school---home to 6,000 kids---is now working remotely from our apartment. She herself has had a history of asthma and upper respiratory problems, and while the kids might have been helped by herd immunity, she may have ended up as yet another NYC statistic.

And the only other point I should raise is that while kids, for example, develop herd immunity, it is no coincidence that the virus is hitting minority communities very hard --- and they are the ones being "herded" into packed subways and mass transit to go to jobs that don't allow them remote access, hence making them far more susceptible to becoming infected, coming down with the virus, or spreading it to those even more at risk at home.

Nevertheless, a worthwhile video to view.

Postscript (9 April 2020): Further discussion ensued on this topic, and I reproduce below some of the key points I made in response to the epidemiological findings of this article, which questions the wisdom of closing schools during the pandemic.

I'm going to be completely forthright ... on this topic. I truly don't know enough to reply one way or the other. But I do believe that the problem here in NYC is compounded because we're talking about 1.1 million kids in public schools, most of whom get to school on mass transit. Somehow, it seems counterintuitive to me that there's not risk involved when 1.1 million school kids join the 8 million or so folks that typically jam the subways and buses during rush hour in about a petri dish! You wouldn't catch me going anywhere under those conditions during this pandemic. I'll play it safe, thankyouverymuch. ;)

I respect that intuition is not a factor in epidemiology. I'm just saying that as a person with serious pre-existing medical conditions, who is, to my knowledge, COVID-19 free at the current time, I don't think I'm being overly cautious in not wanting to mix it up with 8 million people on the NYC subways, even if 1 million of them were noncontagious kids. Not. Gonna. Happen. ... [But] I will be even more forthright. ... I only know that the school system in NYC involves 1,800+ schools, 1.1 million kids, over 75,000 teachers, thousands of administrative assistants and support staff, and given that context, I don't know what else public policy decision-makers could have decided under the circumstances. If I had all the answers, and the power to implement them, COVID-19 would be gone already. (And btw, this doesn't include the populations of parochial and private schools in NYC... which expands the pool of potentially infected people considerably.)

I don't think anybody truly knew that the schools were (or were not) significant factors in transmission. But I've read the eight pages of the study and I don't think it is as definitive as one might suspect at first blush. Quoting from the study:

Models are required because there is little unconfounded experience with school closures during an epidemic, and few analyses of any behavioural changes are empirical. For the USA, and for most states within the USA, κ was not sufficiently high or low to estimate which way a school closure will turnout without more information on β. ... Washington, DC (8.8%,, New Mexico (10.0%,, and New Jersey (11.2%, might have health-care workers most able to cover their child-care obligations. ... Conversely, school closures might be implemented earlier in COVID-19 outbreaks, which might lead to greater levels of prevented cases. Furthermore, school closures might lead to other adults staying home, which could also reduce cases. These are all important questions when considering school closures.

It's telling that there may be a trade off between school closures and mortality---but it's also telling that all relevant values are not fully known. But let's say we accept the whole argument concerning the impact on parents who need to care for their kids and who still have to maintain a job in order to survive. Then it would still be consistent with closing down the schools and leaving minimal childcare options in place for those children in need of it. I should also note that there is not a single mention of New York state or New York City in the entire study, the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. Nor do I see a single mention of the conditions specific to the NYC context with regard to the use of mass transit, which, from what I see, has been a true petri dish in the transmission of the virus among minority populations who are traveling still by subway in very large numbers to get to jobs they cannot afford to give up because none involves a remote option. And I should also mention that the New York City school system was among the very last systems to close down, the day after NY state had its first two confirmed Coronavirus deaths (which occurred on March 14th). So from where I sit, the study raises more questions than it answers.

[Moreover,] we still don't know if children, who are asymptomatic, are simply bringing the virus back home to infect older parents and grandparents. This speaks to the video linked above. Herd immunity is good in theory, especially among kids, but once those kids infect adults, all bets are off. It's precisely because kids are not impacted in the same deleterious way as adults that the public schools were closed. The teachers threatened all to call in sick if they didn't close the schools; so not even they would have been available as daycare workers, since many teachers could have potentially been infected by asymptomatic kids. But, truly, I don't have the answer. I only know that right now, New York state has more deaths from Coronavirus than any single country in the world. That's pretty scary. I'm doing what I can do to keep myself and my family safe, and I'm well supplied to hunker down for a month or two, if that's what it takes. The deaths keep mounting, but it does appear that the curve is finally flattening in terms of new hospitalizations.

Postscript (11 April 2020): On another thread I repeated some of the information from this post, with a twist, after a commentator pointed out that 40,000 people died in motor vehicle accidents per year, and nobody says anything about it (compared to this

The only thing I'd like to point out is the obvious: Yes, 40,000 people die in motor vehicle accidents in the US... but this doesn't happen all at once. Since the first US death from Coronavirus on February 29th, there have been 20,455 deaths at last count (out of a total of 528,990 cases. In New York state alone, there have been 180,458 cases and 8,627 deaths ... all since March 14th. That's TWENTY-NINE days. Yes, the numbers seem to be hitting a plateau, and we are all encouraged that the numbers will finally start coming down. But this state has had over 700 deaths per day from this virus for four straight days. This is not an argument for shutting down our lives or giving up our liberties; but it is a reality check on just how destructive this virus has been within a relatively short time. That's why we can't compare apples and oranges. In 2017, a typical year for New York state, influenza/pneumonia was the sixth leading cause of death in which 4,517 people lost their lives... over the entire flu season. This state is approaching double that number in less than a single month; it is one of the reasons why the healthcare system has been overwhelmed here. Again: None of this is an argument for draconian measures; I've written enough about "Disease and Dictatorship" and how crises of this nature fertilize the soil from which greater government control over our lives grows... and becomes widely accepted by the population. But let's not pooh-pooh the scope of the nightmarish toll that COVID-19 has taken on the American people in a relatively short time. Yes, a lot less than some of the "experts" predicted, but not any less horrific...

[O]f course ... One Size Never Fits All. In that sense, we can be thankful for whatever remnants of federalism still exist in the United States. The New York "model" surely does not fit Texas or Alaska or Hawaii. But since it is the center of the pandemic in this country, at the very least, it is encouraging that the numbers are "plateauing" ... and nobody more than this New Yorker is hopeful that the Big Apple will come roaring back much sooner than later.

Posted by chris at 05:04 PM | Permalink | Posted to Culture Politics (Theory, History, Now)

APRIL 07, 2020

Long Live Pussy Galore: Honor Blackman, RIP

In the midst of all the tragedies around us, I just found out that Honor Blackman, who famously played Pussy Galore in my all-time favorite James Bond film, "Goldfinger," passed away at the age of 94 on 5 April 2020. She also played the trailblazing, self-confident, martial arts expert, Cathy Gale, in the British TV series, "The Avengers", alongside Patrick Macnee.

As she once stated in a "TV Times" interview: "Pussy Galore was a career woman --- a pilot who had her own air force, which was very impressive. She was never a bimbo."

Her introduction to 007 (played by Sean Connery in "Goldfinger") remains a golden cinematic moment [YouTube link], no pun intended!

Posted by chris at 09:00 PM | Permalink | Posted to Culture Film / TV / Theater Review Remembrance

APRIL 06, 2020

Song of the Day #1781

Song of the DayIn the Heights ("96,000"), music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a highlight of the 2008 Tony-Award winning Browdway musical, which offers a snapshot over three days of the largely Dominican American neighborhood of Washington Heights, a community that, today, has the most reported Coronavirus cases in the borough of Manhattan. This rousing production also won Tony Awards for Best Original ScoreBest Choreography, and Best Orchestrations (four awards out of a total of thirteen nominations!). Check out the recording from the original Broadway cast production as well as a performance of it on the 2008 Tony Awards [YouTube links]. And finally, check out the Warren Five, my cousins on Long Island, who, after having performed this song live for their growing Facebook Audience [Facebook link] during the #QWARRENtine, have just produced a music video for their own terrific rendition [YouTube link]. Love 'em all!

Posted by chris at 09:05 PM | Permalink | Posted to Culture Film / TV / Theater Review Music Politics (Theory, History, Now)

Coronavirus (13): New York State of Mind

The news isn't pretty; the United States now has 356,007 Coronavirus cases, with 10,467 deaths. Of these, 130,589 come from New York state, and of these, 67,820 come from New York City. My own area in Brooklyn, New York (Gravesend) has been hit particularly hard, with several neighbors hospitalized and in Intensive Care Units. And then came the upsetting news from the Bronx Zoo, that a Tiger was infected with COVID-19 from an asymptomatic human---and other tigers and lions have also manifested symptoms of the virus. This means that while animals cannot transfer the virus to humans, infected humans can potentially infect their own pets, cats especially. I know that if I ever became infected with the virus and got over it, as most do, I don't think I could bear the possibility of infecting my beloved Cali and seeing her sick or worse as collateral damage.

In the midst of all this, I have seen an outpouring of love and support from friends and family all over this country, and from abroad as well. We are home, doing our work, listening to the news, but keeping ourselves busy with music, movie, and Cali mayhem! And every night, my cousins in Long Island, "The Warren Five", uplift us with their love and their music. I've already posted on my own Facebook Timeline, three of their ongoing #QWARRENtine selections: "Seasons of Love" (from "Rent"), "96,000" (from "In the Heights"), and "Telephone Hour" (from "Bye Bye Birdie").

And this morning, I came upon a piece written by Brian Kerrigan, a guest columnist for Michael Levin, entitled "A Lament for Gotham," which was very moving. I recommend the essay to your attention. Here are a few takeaway passages:

My beloved New York City, my adopted home for the last twenty-five years is at war again. This time though, none of us, not a single one of us can see the enemy coming. It's the same all over the world, I know. In this city though, nine million of us inhabit just three-hundred square miles. That's thirty-thousand people per square mile and a recipe for human tragedy on a grand scale. And it's deafening my ears all day, every day. That's the other "context". There is an eerie quiet on the streets particularly evident right after the sun goes down. Then it screams again and I remember its 8 pm, not 3 am. The ambulances mostly turn their sirens off, except at intersections, but the sight of the flashing light and idling engine down a city street are equally, if not more haunting. ...

And so it was, at 7 pm last night that I heard a strange and unfamiliar sound outside. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what it was. Curious, I opened my window and gasped when I saw dozens of people leaning out their windows clapping hands and tooting air horns, blowing whistles. I looked down onto the street and saw whole families with young kids standing there cheering and clapping at nothing and at everything. Neighbors who pass each other all year long always too busy to stop and chat were standing together, at six or more feet apart, waving across the street to other random people, hands raised in the air, banging them together like flamenco dancers. I was stunned into silence, mouth agape. I noticed my neighbor Martin, a very reserved English fellow whooping and cheering like a high school cheerleader. "Martin, what the hell is going on?" I shouted. Beaming, he hollered up that this was a huge citywide demonstration of gratitude and appreciation for the men and women on the front lines of the war against the invisible enemy. I looked around and I saw no fear, just joy. I was completely overcome by a wave of emotion that swallowed me whole in its crest of humanity. The tears streamed down my cheeks, just as they are this very second as I write. I guess I'm no longer working on it. I love being a man because when we succumb to the tears and triumph over our inner voice of criticism, we are reborn. We are reborn not as infants, but as men. I gathered myself, returned to my window and they were gone. The street was quiet. Windows shut, whistles stopped.

And here lies the greatest of all ironies. Almost ninety-nine out of every one hundred of us is strong enough, brave enough and tough enough to beat this enemy on our own. The beast can be beaten if we employ the oldest method of attack known to us --- divide and conquer. Separate and win. Isolate and overcome. Armies, tanks and sophisticated weaponry are useless.

There is good news today, believe it or not: It does appear that the number of cases in New York state seems to be flattening over the last two days. We hope that this just might be the "apex" or the "plateau" we've all been waiting for. When this whole thing is over, have no fear: the people of New York and everybody else who has survived this pandemic---which constitutes the vast majority of folks who become infected with the virus---will come roaring back...

Postscript (7 April 2020): I added a few comments on Facebook for the benefit of some "conservatives" and "libertarians" who continue to debate the extent of the virus or to label the whole thing a "hoax":

I invite everybody who thinks it is a hoax to go into a hospital anywhere here in the Tri-State area and, pick a dozen or so really beautiful-looking COVID-19 patients that they can find---the ones not on ventilators of course, and depending on their own affectational preferences---and, if you'll pardon the expression, French-kiss each of them, and then, let's use them as a laboratory to see if this is truly a hoax.

Just a thought....

You have to keep a sense of humor, even a sense of gallows humor... when you have to deal with this sort of nonsense with each passing day. Yeah, I'm hoping that the virus is hitting an apex or a "plateau" here in NY state, for example, but the fact is that the deaths are still going up on a daily basis, going from 500+ yesterday to 731 deaths just in NY state over the last 24 hours, for a total of 5,489 deaths since March 1 just in NY. The funeral homes and morgues are so overloaded that they are putting bodies in makeshift freezers outside the hospitals (Maimonides is an epicenter here in Brooklyn; Bellevue has practically established a 'cemetery' wing, outside the hospital, for such freezers). They have even discussed digging up portions of Hart Island as a temporary grave site for the growing numbers of dead people.

I don't mind discussing alternative approaches on how to respond to the virus---politically, economically, etc.---but the folks who continue to deny the science are simply mastering the art of sticking their heads in the sand, and, quite frankly, are making it an embarrassment to those of us who are, indeed, libertarians... even "dialectical" ones at that.

Posted by chris at 02:11 PM | Permalink | Posted to Culture Music Politics (Theory, History, Now) Remembrance

APRIL 04, 2020

Song of the Day #1780

Song of the DayJust the Two of Us features the words and music of William SalterRalph MacDonald, and Bill Withers, who passed away on Monday, March 30th. This song was recorded by Withers and saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr., on whose 1980 album, "Winelight" it first appeared. It went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #3 on the Hot Soul Singles chart. This R&B and smooth jazz staple was one of my all-time favorite Withers (and Washington) tracks, earning Withers a Grammy for Best R&B Song---one of three Grammys that he won in his lifetime. Check out the full album version of this classic and the single version as well [YouTube links]. RIPBill.

Posted by chris at 06:31 PM | Permalink | Posted to Music Remembrance

APRIL 03, 2020

Coronavirus (12): The Trials and Tribulations of Grocery Shopping ... and Living in NYC

The numbers continue to startle for those of us living through this Coronavirus pandemic: The world now has 1,095,968 confirmed cases, with 58,817 recorded deaths. The United States leads all countries with 275,802 confirmed cases of the virus (with 7,087 deaths---1,094 deaths today alone). The US is ahead of ItalySpainGermany, and China (though the skeptic in me actually believes that the US intelligence community just might be right that the numbers in China have been profoundly under-reported by its government).

To bring these numbers even closer to home, New York state now has a total of 102,863 confirmed cases of the virus, with 57,159 of these in New York City. The state reports 2,935 deaths, 1,562 of these in New York City. In fact, in the last 24 hours, the highest single-day increase in both deaths and hospitalizations were recorded in this state.

I have already experienced more grim news than I can bear with regard to friends and neighbors who are dealing with this virus in very personal terms. And all one need do is turn on the television to hear about the growing list of famous folks who have died from this virus over the past week alone, including jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis (father to both Wynton and Branford) and Paterson, New Jersey-born jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli (father of John), who I had the pleasure of seeing many times in New York jazz clubs and concerts throughout the years. And the passing of Bill Withers, from a non-COVID-19-related illness, is just as tragic. Indeed, "we all need somebody to lean on..." [YouTube link].

And yet, with all this sickness and death around us, even with calls for greater social distancing and the omnipresent mantra of "Stay Healthy, Stay Home", you gotta do whatcha gotta do. This morning, I got up at 5 am, did an hour workout, cleaned up, and walked a block and a half to my local supermarket, which opened its doors at 7 am. Determined to shop when the place was relatively less populated, and knowing that we'd earned a 20% discount off our groceries just from our shopping there over the past month, I ventured out and purchased enough food and necessities that could fit into our kitchen cabinets, refrigerator and freezer, in the chance that we have yet to see an apex of this virus that will dwarf the number of people lost on September 11, 2001.

This had to be done with the utmost preparation. I went out, dressed in shorts and a light jacket, carrying an umbrella because of the light mist that was keeping down the tree pollen (which is my nemesis at this time of year) and quickly ran through my shopping list and my checklist:

- Vinyl Gloves: Check

- Facial Mask: Check

- Shopping Bags: Check (except I had all the groceries delivered to our apartment 2 hours after I was done shopping...)

Once I got into the supermarket, the scene was surreal. Everybody was like a mirror image of me. There wasn't a person in there who wasn't wearing gloves or some sort of facial covering. And everybody was keeping a safe distance from everybody else---and if they weren't, you could be sure that some New Yorker would speak up and simply say: "Hey, buddy, back up!"

But despite all the coverings, you could still see people's eyes. And if "the eyes are the mirror to the soul," one could see deep into the soul of almost every person in there. I'd like to say it was pure projection, but somehow, I didn't think so. Not when I could hear the hushed tones of folks saying: "I just want to get these fu@&ing groceries as quickly as possible and get the hell out of here!" Especially heartbreaking was seeing elderly shoppers, walking slowly, and backing up, in fear, as you approached them. Heck, I know, I turned 60 in February, but I was practically a kid next to the husband and wife who were surely in their mid-80s, or the one guy, walking slowly with a cane, who was probably in his late 80s. Most people are wanting to be kind and courteous, but some don't even want you to hold a door for them or to even grab the paper towels that are so obviously out of their reach, because they are simply afraid that, even with your gloves on, you'll be transmitting death to them. I found it a bit emotionally overwhelming. My eyes watered, but I marched stoically to the cashier, gave her my address, unloaded my shopping cart, paid the bill, and walked swiftly back home before the mist turned to a steady rain.

I walked into the hallway downstairs and climbed up one flight to my apartment on the second floor of this two-famly house. I got to the top step and stood outside the door of my home. And in a striptease of necessity, off came the jacket, off came the sneakers, the socks, the shorts, the underwear, the T-shirt---all of it placed in a laundry bag left outside the apartment, to be picked up this evening by the laundromat owners who are pitching in to avoid having any people gathering in their places of business, cleaning our clothes with the utmost sanitary care. And finally, off came the mask and the gloves, which were turned inside out, an art I've begun to master. And I walked into my apartment the way I came into this world... going directly into the shower.

I don't think I'll need to go back out for a couple of weeks---unless I have to pick up something at the pharmacy, which, given my own medical condition, is something of a bi-weekly ritual for me. But even here, our local pharmacists are doing everything they can to get prescriptions to their customers without having their customers come to them, keeping social distancing to a minimum.


There are all sorts of theories floating around about why New York City has been hit the hardest; some have argued that it's merely a function of the "leftist" politics of this urban center, which has increased its vulnerability due to overcrowding. A few others have embraced the more absurd position that this is God's retribution for countries that allow LGBTQ Pride Parades (and considering that NYC sponsored World Pride Day in June 2019, I guess that the Big Apple is at the top of the list for divine wrath!).

I think it is going to take a while to truly understand the nature of this pandemic and how it has been spread. But it does seem to me that New York Governor Mario Cuomo was at least partially correct in acknowledging that NYC in particular is "an international hub tightly packed with people from all over the country and the world. What makes New York unique has also rendered it vulnerable to a pandemic."

While I too am upset with the contribution that NYC politics has made to this pandemic and while I too can sometimes find the city's density a bit daunting, the truth of our situation transcends politics or population. This city's "density" has come less from its wrong-headed housing policies than from its promise. That promise is the source of this city's beauty and the diversity of its people, those who were born here, those who have come here from abroad, and those who stay here regardless of the regulations and rules that might constrain them.

"New York, New York" has been a magnet for millions upon millions of people since before the 1898 consolidation of the five boroughs into a single city. Millions of immigrants from every country, every race, every ethnicity, have come through its gates precisely because of its financial, cultural, and spiritual promise, embodied by the statue in its harbor that lifts "the lamp beside the golden door.

This is still a city of neighborhoods, of people who, whatever their differences, seem to find common ground when they are most vulnerable. We saw this in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, when even strangers joined hands to rebuild that which was torn down. Now, of course, as Adam Gopnik writes, unity must take new forms:

The current crisis is, in some respects, the mirror image of the post-9/11 moment. That turned out to be a time of retrospective anxiety about a tragedy unforeseen. The anticipatory jitters weren't entirely unfounded---anthrax killed a hospital worker in Manhattan---but they arose from something that had already happened and wouldn't be repeated. By contrast, the COVID-19 crisis involves worries about something we've been warned is on the way. The social remedy is the opposite of the sort of coming together that made the days and weeks after 9/11 endurable for so many, as they shared dinners and embraced friends. That basic human huddling is now forbidden, with the recommendations for "distancing" bearing down ever tighter: no more than five hundred people together, then two hundred and fifty, then fifty, then ten.

I am confident that New Yorkers are still coming together---even in the act of social distancing---and that they will rise like the phoenix from the ashes left behind by this pandemic.

Postscript 1 (4 April 2020): Some folks on Facebook inquired why my family wasn't doing more online shopping or resorting to ordering from local supermarkets for delivery, without having to leave the house. I replied:

You have no idea how much we've ordered online (Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc.) with regard to everything from BAND-AIDS to shampoo, napkins, tissues, etc. The thing we can't really get from those places, however, is fresh food or frozen food items, and, in truth, the specialty places around here offer the best stuff of all. So we've tried to cut down on the amount of time we're spending in supermarkets, focusing on milk, dairy, meats, poultry, fresh fruit and vegetables, and so forth---while getting the non-food items from the online services. So that's one way we've severely cut into our grocery-time shopping (which we've been doing once or twice a month during this pandemic; this trip will, however, last us through at least mid-May, I assure you!). We do have delivery, but unfortunately, because our local supermarket is short-staffed, they are no longer taking phone orders. So you have to go and pick out the stuff yourself (which I prefer to do because when one used to 'order' things from the store, they invariably got something wrong!). But they do, in fact, deliver all the groceries to you once you've shopped ... I couldn't possibly carry it, even with a shopping cart, and we wouldn't dare move the car for fear of losing a parking spot... for the situation in parking has only gotten worse since the days of "Seinfeld." But we still get delivery from the best pizzerias in Brooklyn, so on that count, we're in good shape!

Postscript 2 (4 April 2020): Of course, like so many things I write, some folks will offer comments that are critical. But sometimes, criticism crosses the line. One commentator attacked me with such ferocity, taking umbrage that I was "complaining" about grocery shopping in NYC during an uptick in Coronavirus cases, which pales in comparison to the experiences of Anne Frank during the Nazi genocide or the experiences of John McCain during the Vietnam War. There was nothing in this post that compared my experiences to either the Holocaust or the war in Vietnam and there was nothing written that could be remotely compared to "complaining." I am providing an ongoing journal on my Notablog of my experiences during this pandemic; it is a cathartic and therapeutic exercise for me, but also one that I hope will resonate with those who are going through similar experiences. Facing this kind of personal attack, I was compelled to Unfriend, Block, and Delete the comments of this so-called Facebook "Friend" on my Facebook Timeline. I stated on Facebook, and I state here, for the record:

Some people think they can come on my Timeline and insult me. The comments have been removed. I will not hesitate to unfriend, block, and remove comments from any person who thinks that being an FB "friend" is a license to be rude and recklessly stupid.

At one time in my life---and still to a very great extent---I was open to any and all critics, no matter how crazy some of the criticisms of my writings have been. For goodness sake, till this day, I still have on my home page every negative review ever done of any book I've ever written. I welcome criticism and I welcome the give-and-take of discussion. I also recognize that in social media, sometimes things are not as elegantly expressed as they might be and it may require a few exchanges to get things clear (after all, we can only capture so much with regards to tone and intent in simple emojis).

But let me be very clear about what I've written here and in all my installments on the Coronavirus: This is not an ongoing series of essays in the art of complaining. I am simply writing an ongoing diary or journal of my experiences during a very difficult time for my hometown. It's nothing unusual to me; as I said in a comment now deleted, I'm still posting annual installments to honor the survivors---and those who paid the ultimate price---on September 11, 2001.

count my blessings that I am here and well enough to continue to write and to express myself. I count my blessings that I am here to take care of myself and my loved ones to the best of my ability. I count my blessings that I have so many people in my life who express their care and concern, love and support. I also count my blessings that I have people who offer comments and critiques of my work, for none of us ever stops learning.

Still, there comes a point at which even somebody who has spent the better part of his adult life promoting the value of dialogue (indeed, the "dialectical method" I champion finds its roots in the dialogues of the ancient Greeks), must give pause. And with the rudeness of the commentator, all I can say is: "My cup runneth over".

I will not tolerate somebody who comes onto my Timeline as a so-called Facebook "Friend" only to piss on my back and tell me it's raining. Not. Gonna. Happen. Those days are over. Unfriend. Block. Delete. And I will repeat that exercise any and every time I confront this kind of harassment. Life is too short. That I've devoted any time to explaining this is already a waste of more minutes of my life than was necessary.

But it had to be said. Just for the sake of those who do support my work and even those who do engage in spirited, but reasonable, disagreements with it.

Posted by chris at 07:08 PM | Permalink | Posted to Blog / Personal Business Culture Music Politics (Theory, History, Now) Remembrance Sexuality

APRIL 02, 2020

Song of the Day #1779

Song of the DayKeep Your Head Upwords and music by Andy Grammer, is from his 2011 debut self-titled album---and has one of those positive messages fit for the times we live in. In addition, I never thought I'd find a pop song that takes a swipe at philosophical skeptics! "Skeptics mess with the confidence in my eyes. I'm seeing all the angles, thoughts get tangled. I start to compromise my life and my purpose. Is it all worth it? Am I gonna turn out fine? Oh, you turn out fine! Fine, oh, you turn out fine! But you gotta keep your head up, oh oh. And you can let your hair down, eh eh!" Check out the official video [YouTube link], with a cameo from actor Rainn Wilson, and, with a French turn-of-phrase "Releve le tete", in a duet with Melissa Nkonda [YouTube link].

Posted by chris at 05:22 PM | Permalink | Posted to Culture Music Politics (Theory, History, Now)