April 04, 2020

Song of the Day #1780

Song of the Day: Just the Two of Us features the words and music of William Salter, Ralph 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]. RIP, Bill.

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 Italy, Spain, Germany, 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 (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. I was compelled to Unfriend, Block, and Delete the comments of a so-called Facebook Friend on my Facebook Timeline who was intent on being rude. 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.
I 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.

April 02, 2020

Song of the Day #1779

Song of the Day: Keep Your Head Up, words 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].

March 31, 2020

Coronavirus (11): "Opening Day" and Pitching In ...

As I previously suggested, one of the leisurely activities I am most missing during this pandemic is watching baseball. Opening Day was scheduled for 26 March 2020. The NY Mets were to open at home at Citi Field on that day; the NY Yankees were due to open this Thursday, April 2nd at Yankee Stadium. As it turns out, the Coronavirus had other ideas: With 75,795 confirmed cases in NY state (and nearly 41,000 cases in NYC)---not to mention nearly 177,000 cases nationally---MLB and virtually all other professional sports have come to a grinding halt. [Ed.: The United States has now passed China in the number of deaths related to CORVID-19: 3,440 deaths to China's 3,309 "reported" deaths.]

But just because baseball is suspended for the time being doesn't mean you can't "pitch in" when the opportunity arises. Brooklyn Technical High School's Alumni Foundation had purchased, with its privately raised funds, hundreds of bottles of Purell for its annual Homecoming weekend, which was scheduled for the 27th and 28th of March. The event, which typically attracts 800 or so alumni back to the prestigious specialized high school, had to be suspended due to the breakout of this pandemic. So the boxes containing the Purell were redirected from the school to my home (since my sister is the Executive Director of the BTHS Alumni Foundation). Then, through the decisive actions of BTHS Alumni Foundation President Larry Cary, the boxes were sent to the workers of the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx. For those who don't know, "[t]he Hunts Point Cooperative Market is a 24/7 wholesale food market located on 60 acres ... in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx, New York City. The largest food distribution center of its kind in the world, it earns annual revenues of over $2 billion."

As Kings County Politics reports today:

The Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation is donating 800 personal size bottles of Purell to IBT Local 202 for distribution among its members working at the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx. The Market is the main hub for the distribution of fresh vegetables and fruit to grocery stores in New York City. These are essential workers still making deliveries. The Alumni Foundation purchased the Purell in preparation for its annual homecoming which takes place at Brooklyn Technical High School every March. The Foundation postponed homecoming until after the epidemic is resolved. "We are happy that the Purell we purchased has been repurposed to help keep these essential workers safe as they deliver much-needed food for New Yorkers during this time of crisis," said Larry Cary, President of the Foundation. The Alumni Foundation is the most successful public high school alumni organization with 50,000 members. Brooklyn Technical High School is one of the city’s specialized high schools.

We're all doing what we can to "pitch in" for our fellow New Yorkers. And we hope the workers at Hunts Point continue hitting home runs as they make deliveries to those in need.

March 30, 2020

Coronavirus (10): "Standing Man" as Metaphor ... or Blessed are the Healers!

Today, I watched yet another harrowing update on the situation in New York State, where, through late last night, there have been more than 66,400 confirmed COVID-19 cases---36,400+ of these in New York City alone. And of the 1,218 deaths from this virus thus far throughout the state, nearly 800 derive from New York City. The United States now has nearly 160,000 cases, and 2,951 deaths from this pandemic.

I could not help but think of the remarkable men and women in the fields of health care and medicine and the first responders, who have put their lives on the line to save the lives of others. Many have themselves become infected. And tragically, some have died. But most keep standing up, no matter how many times they get slammed down.

Their resilience reminds me of a remarkable scene in the 2015 Steven Spielberg-directed film, "Bridge of Spies," starring Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan, who served as the attorney for convicted Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, played by Mark Rylance, in an Oscar-winning turn as Best Supporting Actor.

In this scene, Donovan is about to discuss plans for an appeal of Abel's conviction, and Abel compares Donovan to someone he remembers from his youth, a friend of his father, who, interrogated by border guards in the days of Czarist Russia, kept getting slapped down, only to stand back up again. Again and again, his persecutors beat him down, and yet, he kept standing up. Until the beating stopped. Abel recalls that the guards referred to him as "Stoykiy muzhik"---"which he translates as 'standing man'," though its more accurate translation is "resilient man" or "tough man"... "a man who stands his ground."

It's National Doctors Day, but I dedicate this scene to all the "standing" men and women in the healthcare profession and among the first responders who, somehow, refuse to sit by, while their fellow human beings are suffering and in need of crucial assistance. My deepest appreciation goes out to every single one of them.

In the meanwhile, check out this wonderfully acted scene from the film ... and, in anticipation of some new idiocy, puh-lease, spare me the criticism that, in featuring this scene as a metaphor for those who keep "standing", I am somehow showing my support for the Soviet spies of old!...

March 29, 2020

Coronavirus (9): A Message from New York City

From YouTube ... set to Alicia Keys's "Empire State of Mind", comes this nightly light show at the top of the Empire State Building, dedicated to everyone working in the health care industry, working so hard on the front-lines of this Coronavirus pandemic in New York City:

Coronavirus (8): A Message from Italy

From YouTube comes this message from Italy, the homeland of my paternal grandparents---and of many of my current relatives---which has been hit very hard by the Coronavirus:

March 28, 2020

Coronavirus (7): Corona-Chaos - A Pandemic from the Political to the Personal

This post is not about politics, even if my dialectical sensibility prevents me from looking at any specific problem without considering its relationships to other problems and to the larger system within which they are all manifested, keeping an eye on how such problems first appeared, how they developed over time, and where they might be tending.There you have it---a snapshot description of what it means to be "dialectical."

But dialectical methods, like all methods of thinking, begin with a consideration of the facts. Another US President from another time, John Adams, once said:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

I have to express my total and complete frustration with folks who have been saying to me that this entire Coronavirus thing is "overblown". For those who believe this, this is probably not the post for you to read. I do not intend to get into any arguments with anybody over whether this is as bad as folks are making it out to be, or how it's nothing next to, say, the "Swine Flu" epidemic in 2009-2010. Please move on and leave me alone. Your comments are not welcome.

So the first thing I want to address is facts. It was only on New Year's Eve that China confirmed a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown origin. It was probably around the very beginning of December that the first cases of what has become known as the Coronavirus disease (CORVID-19) was found in Wuhan, Hubei, China. If anybody had ever told me that a little less than four months later, New York City, my hometown, would become the epicenter of what is now a global pandemic, I would never have believed it.

But the virus spread swiftly. Indeed, only a month after China was designated as the country of the virus's origin, Italy reported its first case, and, today, a mere eight weeks later, 92,000+ infected people in Italy, and 10,000+ deaths in that country of my paternal grandparents, have now been eclipsed by the United States, which leads the world in the number of CORVID-19 cases. With over 600,000 reported cases globally, the United States now accounts for over 104,000 cases---with 1,843 deaths reported thus far. But 728 of those deaths have occurred in New York State, which accounts for 52,000 cases, roughly 50% of all the cases in the U.S. Of these, 29,123 cases are clustered in New York City, with the following breakdown in the five boroughs that constitute the Big Apple: Queens has just overtaken Brooklyn with 9,228 confirmed cases; Brooklyn has 7,789, the Bronx has 5,352, Manhattan has 5,036 and Staten Island has 1,718 cases. It has only been 27 days since the first case was diagnosed in this state---and 517 deaths of New York state's total have occurred in NYC, 209 of them within the last 24 hours.

We have now reached the point where President Trump is considering a quarantine of the tri-state area.

It's not my intention to debate any of the politics of this right now, right here. But it is my intention to convey the seriousness of this situation by expressing it in the most personal terms possible. This is not something that comes easy to me. I don't talk much publicly about my own health trials and tribulations. But I'm going to make an exception today---if only because I've been inundated with inquiries from so many friends and relatives, with regard to the state of my health and the health of those in my immediate family. I can think of no better way than this post to get the word out about how things are right now, especially since I know that it will resonate with those who have pre-existing medical conditions and who have justifiable concerns about their health in the weeks and months ahead.

As many of you know, I have had a lifelong bout with a serious congenital intestinal disorder, which required life-saving intestinal by-pass surgery in 1974, when I was 14 years old, and which has necessitated 60+ surgical procedures since, to deal with increasingly difficult and complex side-effects from the condition. Have no fear! I intend to be here for a long time to come.

But the Coronavirus outbreak has affected me and my family on a very personal level. I was due to undergo a procedure to pulverize a rather stubborn and large kidney stone on March 13th, but it had to be postponed to March 30th, due to technical difficulties with the lithotripsy machine at the hospital. But by that point, since the procedure was considered "elective" surgery, it was canceled indefinitely. My only hope is that the stone, floating around and growing in size within my left kidney since the summer of 2018, will continue to defy the rules of gravity and stay put---because there is nothing... NOTHING... on earth that I have ever experienced to rival the pain of a lodged kidney stone. And I am a person who has a pretty high threshold for pain tolerance. Nevertheless, on a scale from 1 to 10, the pain level of a lodged kidney stone is about a 13. It's like giving birth to the Planet Jupiter through a pinhole. Way back in 1995, I suffered agonizing, excruciating pain from a single stone fragment that got lodged in my ureter after a lithotripsy procedure. I was hospitalized for a full week, with routine morphine shots that might as well have been infusions of simple tap water. I had to endure the placement of a stent in me, which stayed there for about a month, before it was removed with the help of nothing but a local anesthetic. I cannot imagine that anything conjured up by medieval torturers could have been worse than that experience; my screams must have cleared out the urologist's office.

But that was 1995. And this is 2020. And if I can help it, I'm going to will that kidney stone to stay put, so that what is currently considered "elective" surgery doesn't necessitate an emergency procedure that would require me to go anywhere near a hospital---at a time when the hospitals in NYC are being overloaded by Coronavirus cases. I had two endoscopic surgical procedures scheduled in April, and they too are being postponed, regardless of my wishes, inclinations, or the dictates of my passion.

But I have a GI specialist, who has been at my side for over four decades, and whose home phone number I have, so that if I suffer any complications from my condition, I can call him at any hour of the day or night to address my concerns. This is a necessity at this point, just to avoid, as much as possible, any treks to hospital Emergency Rooms---rooms that I was compelled to visit five times between December 7, 2019 and February 29, 2020 for problems related to my core medical condition.

And not even a half-hour ago, my primary care physician---our family doctor over these same 40 years---called my home, unsolicited, to make sure that I was okay, and to make sure that both me and my sister---who has her own set of long-term upper respiratory problems related to her asthma---were staying put. We've also had his home phone number for a long time, and we don't hesitate to call him whenever we need to. Doctors like these are rare; to me, they practically walk on water.

In the midst of all this, I have to say that I really, really miss my friends and my relatives---those within New York and from out of town---who are all keeping away, because they must. Thank goodness for things like email, Facebook, phones, and other means of communication, which conquer distance and which keep the people I love close to heart.

But I want to remind everyone that, at least with regard to those of us living in New York, nothing will deter us from conquering these hardships. And I wish that same resolve to everybody else affected by this pandemic no matter where you live.

Still, New Yorkers are a tough breed. We got through the nightmare of September 11, 2001. We survived Superstorm Sandy. We will survive this. Because it's our home and---sentimentality or not---"there's no place like home" [YouTube link].

We look forward to the time when "social distancing" is truly distant in the rear-view mirror, so that our doors will once again be opened... to share the best pizza, the greatest of home-cooked meals, tightest hugs, sweetest kisses, and all the joy our loved ones have come to expect when they visit the Sciabarra family.

Postscript: This post was also published on 29 March 2020 on "Policy of Truth: The Website and Group Blog of Irfan Khawaja" as the second part of Irfan's "COVID-19 Narrative." As Irfan states on that blog:

This is the second in my series of COVID-19 Narratives, by my dear friend Chris Sciabarra, sheltering in place in Brooklyn, New York. Though the series is primarily about what I called the "supply side" of the health care equation during this crisis, I wanted to run some posts that described the "demand side" as well, that is, what it's like to be a patient during the pandemic. Particularly valuable about Chris's post is how it illustrates the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for people with serious medical conditions whose previously scheduled medical procedures have now been deemed "elective." "Elective" in this context doesn't mean "optional." It means downgraded to second or third priority out of sheer, dire necessity: hospital beds, equipment, and personnel have to be left vacant or unused to absorb the overwhelming crush of COVID-19 patients we expect to see. And even at the center of the pandemic, we haven't yet reached the peak of that crush.
Meanwhile, people like Chris and many others have to suffer in patient, uncomplaining silence, hoping that their conditions will remain "quiet" for the acute phase of the COVID-19 crisis. I know one person whose elective procedure has been indefinitely postponed, and who was told that she couldn’t receive treatment unless she went into renal failure; on asking what she ought to do about her condition, she was advised to reconcile herself to God's existence and start "reading the Bible." Obviously, the people I happen to know are just a minuscule fraction of the numbers out there. I've heard people say that they're "bored" having to quarantine in their house, and that "the economy" can’t wait forever for this lockdown. Such claims are myopic and insensitive in the extreme. It's patients like Chris and others who face the real trial here. When we ultimately tally up the medical costs of the COVID-19 crisis, we should resolve to remember secondary victims like him---the non-COVID patients whose care has been delayed because of the COVID crisis itself.
The post ... is taken with permission from Chris's blog, Notablog. I highly recommend the whole ongoing series he's written on COVID-19; the first post dates to March 14.

I added on my Facebook Timeline:

I just wanted to thank my dear friend Irfan Khawaja, for re-posting this Notablog entry on his own website and group blog, "Policy of Truth." Readers should check out the entry there, if only for Irfan's own enlightening introduction (and for his always hilarious "mutual placating" with yet another dear friend of mine, Roderick Tracy Long). I am honored to have my own testimony added to his ongoing "COVID-19 Narrative".

March 27, 2020

2020 So Far...

I got this one from another FB pal, and it sums out exactly how I feel about 2020 thus far.

Check it out here.

Coronavirus (6): Corona-Comedy - A Little Gallows Humor To Get Us Through

I've already posted on the rising rates of Coronavirus infections in the US and in New York state and NYC in particular, and chatted about all the politics behind the pandemic... but amidst all the statistics and bantering, you still have to pause and laugh a little.

This TikTok video is making the rounds, and with the "star" of the video sounding a bit like she's from my neck of the woods, I found myself convulsed with laughter. If harsh language is not your thing, please do skip this. But if anybody asks me who Geppetto is, "you're dead to me"... :)

March 25, 2020

Coronavirus (5): C'mon Ol' Folks - Do Your Part for the Sake of the Country and Die!

Just when you thought public commentary couldn't get any worse when a pandemic gets politicized comes this comment from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick of Texas:

"The utter collapse of the country’s economy---which many think will happen if this goes on much longer---is an intolerable result," the [69]-year-old told primetime host Tucker Carlson.

Patrick stated in the interview: "No one reached out to me and said, 'As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?' And if that's the exchange, I’m all in."

Fox New's Brit Hume defended Patrick's idiocy with this observation:

"[Patrick] is saying, for his own part, that he would be willing to take a risk of getting the disease if that’s what it took to allow the economy to move forward. He said that because he is late in life, that he would be perhaps more willing than he might have been at a younger age, which seems to me to be an entirely reasonable viewpoint."

Having recently turned 60, all I'd like to say in response to the Texas politician is: "Be my guest!"

Postscript: Well, it's hard to believe, but I suspect that because my post upset some of those who worship at the altar of Fox News, it generated nearly 40 comments. Somebody suggested that the Texas Lieutenant Governor and Brit Hume were not dictating that all the elderly should be sacrificing their lives for the sake of the young, to which I responded:

All well and good: As long as these folks voluntarily choose to put their lives at risk, that's fine by me. But those of us who are part of at-risk populations, with pre-existing medical conditions, are not going to accept unearned guilt for not stepping up on behalf of the Great Collective. Not. Gonna. Happen. ... The fact that this act of self-sacrifice is being extolled as something that is "moral" is an affront to my notion of what it means to be moral. Sacrificing one's life for the sake of the "nation" is something that is not part of the "idea" of America.
The same rhetoric is being used by another Fox Favorite, Glenn Beck: "I would rather have my children stay home and all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working," he said in comments posted online by Media Matters. "Even if we all get sick, I’d rather die than kill the country." "It’s not the economy that’s dying," he said. "It's the country."
You want to know what is killing this country? It is this kind of nationalistic fervor, asking some to sacrifice for the sake of the "country". Well, last I saw, it's still a semi-free country. And as I stated in another thread, quoting Scrooge from A Christmas Carol: "If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."
Before you know it, we'll be asked to take the "Logan's Run" oath such that everybody who reaches the age of thirty is killed off for the sake of those under 30. WTF kind of insanity is being advocated by people who profess to understand the principles upon which a free society is based?
Any ethic that promotes the sacrifice of anybody to anybody else is not something anyone should be embracing on moral grounds. I recognize anybody's right to sacrifice their life for any person or cause they like. But I don't believe that what our Texas politician, Brit Hume, or Glenn Beck are extolling is some kind of universal moral ideal. In fact, I think it is obscene.
By extolling the virtue of sacrificing those who are most at risk to catch this virus to put themselves in a position where they might contract it and die for the sake of those who are least likely to die from it is, if anything, the height of immorality, from where I sit. Unless younger folks have pre-existing conditions themselves, they are, at least statistically speaking, the least likely to experience severe complications from either catching the virus or dying from it. They might be carriers of it, but not open to the kind of life-threatening infections that might affect older folks, who have pre-existing conditions that compromise their immuno-response.

The FB critic claimed that I didn’t understand the American Founders, who "espoused and lived the beliefs and philosophies of Beck, Fox, Hume et al." I responded:

The Founders extolled the political values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; they didn't add a proviso: Unless you're an old bastard. We must have a very different reading of our Founders---at least those Founders who were part of the more classical liberal wing at the heart of the American Republic. We must also have a very different assessment of Beck, Hume, and some of the folks at Fox, many of whom once extolled the virtues of a freer market but who, in the age of Trump, have now swallowed the Kool Aid of economic nationalism and all that it entails. So I guess this does make them descendants of the Hamiltonian and federalist wing of the early Republic, which embraced neo-mercantilist protectionism, state banking, and all the things that would ultimately undermine the revolutionary fervor of 1776.
In fact, Trump's politics is actually more in sync with the original Republican Party, than the party of Reagan [at least rhetorically speaking], since the GOP of the mid-1800s advocated high "protective" tariffs, subsidies for industry, "internal improvements", railroads, etc. ... I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree. Or we might get into a debate over whether Trump, at age 73, should be leading the way and setting the example that his Fox Friends are praising, perhaps starting by cleaning bed pans in one of the overrun hospitals here in NYC, in which people in their 70s and 80s are sick and dying.

The FB critic tried to peg my "brand" of politics as part and parcel of the current Democratic Party; I replied:

You know nothing about my "brand" of politics, quite frankly. I didn't vote for Mayor Dumbass. I didn't vote for Hillary, or AOC or any other Democrat. In fact, I didn't vote for anybody in the last Presidential election, so disgusted was I by the choices. I despise the Mayor, and have written tirades against his policies for years on my blog. I have absolutely no use for the Clintons and AOC is like a young Evita Peron. You will find no endorsement of the Democrats from me.
But to act as if there is no "guilt by association" between Trump and FNC is almost willful blindness. Fox is practically the "news wing" (or "fake news wing", depending on your perspective) of the Trump White House. I can't even believe that we are having this conversation on a thread that started with the stupidity of asking at-risk older people to go work and potentially "die" for the sake of their country. If you truly believe that this call for the old to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the young is something to praise, then we've reached a dead-end. And if you are insinuating that Trump is the "savior" in front of our noses... well, permit me to put a clothespin over my 60-year old nose.

I must admit, I'm astonished at the trajectory of the discussion.

March 23, 2020

Coronavirus (4): In New York State ... and Beyond

Yesterday, I reported on Notablog at 4 pm, that New York State led the United States in positive identifications of Coronavirus cases, at over 15,000. Today, with New York conducting 16,000 tests per day, the number of cases has risen to 20,875.

What folks really need to understand is that, at least here in New York State, there is not mass testing of people whether or not they have symptoms. Tests are typically being administered to people who are symptomatic; the vast majority of those being tested are negative. They are typically suffering from cold or flu-like symptoms that have nothing to do with CORVID-19. But among those who are indeed symptomatic, the numbers of identified positive cases is increasing, something which is bound to happen when medical authorities continue to expand the rate of testing.

Moreover, we need to put a few statistics in context. A state like California has conducted approximately 20,000 tests---in contrast to the over 70,000 tests conducted in New York, which has far denser population centers (like New York City)---identifying only 1,802 positive cases. I suspect that even though denser population centers, such as NYC, are far more at-risk, this doesn't explain the fact that the state of New York has numbers that are ten-fold more than a state like California, which has double the population of New York. Clearly, there are many more cases than those being identified at the current time.

This is not a particularly fatal virus, though among the nearly 500 people who have died from the virus in the United States, most have had pre-existing conditions, in which their health and/or immuno-response was already compromised. This means, of course, that many folks who are asymptomatic are carrying the virus and infecting those who subsequently become ill.

Are politicians and the media making the most of this situation to either expand the powers of government or to take advantage of panicking the population? Given the history of these things, this sure sounds like a familiar pattern.

But make no mistake about it. This is a real virus affecting real people. And those of us who are in higher at-risk groups and of an older age, need to take the necessary precautions of social distancing, etc. I'm not among those carrying this virus, and I have no intention of putting myself or my loved ones in the position of getting it. Commonsense would go a long way toward lessening the expansion of this virus---and any potential fatalities emergent from it.

I have been following the blog of my very dear friend, Irfan Khawaja, "Policy of Truth," and have been generally impressed with the level of commonsense that he is bringing to his own analysis of the current situation. I recommend it to your attention.

March 22, 2020

Coronavirus (3): Love, Pets, and Booze to the Rescue!

So, my hometown state, New York is leading the United States in the number of administered Coronavirus tests (over 61,000 at last count) in identifying people who are positive. It now also leads the United States in the number of identified Coronavirus cases (over 15,000)---and of these, my hometown city, New York City, comprises 9,600+, while my hometown borough, Brooklyn, leads the city with 2,800+. Well, let's just say, every time I boast that New York is the center of the universe, this is not what I had in mind.

So, what does a typical day in the Sciabarra household look like, now that New York has once again embraced the status of another "Ground Zero," as we are hunkered down in our apartment?

To be honest: Not much different than it looked before this situation became an omnipresent fact of our reality (despite the fact that I'm seriously missing the springtime resurgence of "America's Pastime": Baseball and my New York Yankees). The apartment is full of food, films, music, and more rolls of toilet tissue than I could count for reasons that most of my friends would fully understand! Cali the Cat is still Queen of the Castle, which is a good thing, because the New York Daily News reports that more and more "self-isolated New Yorkers are becoming foster parents for pets," and no sentient being in this household makes us laugh (or say "Awwwwww") more than our cat!

And, yet, because I always edit and write from my home, I am in the same position---in front of this laptop---that is typical of me. Except for an hour a day on the Gazelle and the Stationary Bike, and the fact that my sister is working next to me, on her own laptop (which makes for very pleasant teamwork), I'm still doing every day, pretty much what I was doing every day, prior to this current situation. When I do go out to the supermarket or the pharmacy or the post office, I run into folks wearing masks and gloves, some of whom I don't immediately recognize as my neighbors (and yes, I'm practicing social distancing to the best of my ability).

I am not oblivious to the fact that there is a certain palpable fear that one sees in my neighbor's eyes---not just over the virus, but also over employment, the next rent payment, travel restrictions, and even a concern about the growing encroachment on basic liberties---because you can't keep rambunctious New Yorkers down.

Still, as I discovered long before 9/11, New Yorkers are among the kindest, most supportive people one can find, especially in a crisis. Folks are affable, assisting one another, holding doors when they see other folks whose arms are full of groceries, inquiring about the health of each other's families, and wishing each other well. Yes, we are running low on some essential sanitizing items, like alcohol and Purell, but I am inspired by my friend Allen Mendenhall's article that even here, "booze comes to the rescue," as distilleries are now producing hand sanitizers!

So that's what things are like here at home, in New York, New York. Indeed, "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!" [YouTube link].

I'm expressing my warmest wishes to everyone---to stay safe, healthy, and vigilant---as we get through this.

Postscript: The numbers on Coronavirus infections in New York City alone are increasing hour-by-hour at a staggering rate. As reported by the New York Post: "There were 10,764 confirmed cases of the virus in the Big Apple as of 6 p.m. . . . Brooklyn had the most cases out of any borough, 3,154, followed by Queens, with 3,050; Manhattan, 2,324; the Bronx, 1,564; and Staten Island, 666."

Postscript (23 March 2020): Check out Sally and Ken from Penzance in Cornwall, England, both in their 80s, self-isolating in style to Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm." Indeed, as I put it on Facebook: "They've got each other ... who can ask for anything more?"

March 18, 2020

Coronavirus (2): Disease and Dictatorship

I'm a little behind in my reading, but an Op-ed written by Frank Snowden, featured in this past Sunday's New York Daily News, is worthy of attention: "China's Coronavirus Gamble: What Should We Learn from Beijing's Draconian Response to Corvid-19?." A few takeaway passages are sobering reminders about how disease can often become the pretext for the advance of draconian dictatorial actions by governments worldwide:


China was Ground Zero for the coronavirus disease now spreading across the planet. Beginning in December and probably before, the virus "spilled over" from its natural reservoir, likely among bats, and infected its first known human hosts --- probably in the context of a "wet" market located at Wuhan in central China. Undetected by the authorities, the virus moved into the community, unleashing an epidemic that now spans the globe, but is ebbing in China itself.

A second epidemic, however, is following closely behind COVID-19 --- a surge of belief in the capacity of dictatorships to deal decisively with medical emergencies, in contrast with the supposed weakness of democracies. In this view, democratic countries are hamstrung by the need to win consent and to move slowly with due regard to law and civil liberties. ...
What is the Chinese model, and how do we measure its success? On Jan. 23, Beijing announced that the city of Wuhan and then the entire province of Hubei would be enclosed by a ring of troops and police who would cordon off some 60 million people in one of the largest public health experiments ever undertaken. All movement in and out of the area --- by plane, boat, rail, and road --- was halted, and severe penalties were mandated for attempts to elude the ring of containment known as a sanitary cordon, a measure originally devised to combat the Black Death, but now implemented on a gigantic scale. ... The measures were enforced by the encouragement and payment of neighbors to spy on neighbors, by loudspeaker and television broadcasts, and by surprise visits from local party officials. Citizens who fell ill were sent to hospitals. ...
Most tellingly, the regime insisted on a monopoly of the dissemination of information. As a result, physicians who sought to protect patients and colleagues by informing them that they faced danger from a virulent and unknown disease were reprimanded and silenced, sometimes dying later from the virus. The most famous case was Dr. Li Wenliang, whose death set off waves of popular indignation. He was seen as the embodiment of an alternative policy that could have empowered both health-care workers and citizens to protect themselves. ...
One problem with a sanitary cordon is that it is a massive logistical undertaking that generates panic among the affected populace. The result is a mass exodus, and the fugitives carry the disease with them. Thus between 2 a.m. on Jan. 23 when Beijing announced its policies, and 10 a.m. when they were implemented, thousands of people escaped Wuhan, thereby propelling the infection outward. Such a massive use of manpower and funds also drains resources from other possible strategies. The history of sanitary cordons indeed suggests that they are so clumsy and difficult to devise that they are invariably implemented too late --- when the disease has already traveled far beyond the intended zone of containment. Even the less coercive lockdown imposed in Italy has opened Pandora's Box, causing mass flight from the North, where coronavirus was rampant, to the South, which seemed a refuge still free of disease. The fugitives transformed the situation by spreading COVID-19 throughout the peninsula. One should therefore ask to what extent "going medieval" is actually self-defeating.
In addition, coercion breaks lines of effective communication between the population and the health-care system, and without timely and accurate information scientific public health becomes impossible. If people with symptoms are motivated to conceal their condition or to flee, the authorities are reduced to operating in the dark. This realization is clearly at the root of a major change of direction when the Chinese regime responded to widespread confusion and resistance to the measures it had imposed. In mid-February, Xi Jinping made a major course correction. This took the form of inviting the active cooperation of the population by means of the rhetorical device that the nation was engaged in an all-out “people’s war” with a microbial invasion, and that the participation of all was required. Here was a case of authoritarianism mimicking democracy. ...
The wager appears to be winning at the moment. But the lesson is that a sound public health strategy to confront COVID-19 demands something better. A response based on scientific planning, the rational allocation of resources and supplies, and open dialogue between authorities and the people --- a dialogue that only publicly accountable authorities can provide --- is a far safer and more reliable model than a hasty display of power.


First, there is a need to put all this into a larger context with regard to the policies of the Chinese government: This is the same government that has maintained concentration camps (euphemistically described as "re-education camps") for nearly two million Muslims, while waging war on those seeking freedom from Beijing's control over the people of Hong Kong. So the "Chinese model" continues to be an authoritarian one, whether it is used to contain people or pandemics.

I don't know all the answers on how to confront a pandemic, but clearly the draconian measures enacted by some of those in power will have an impact that far outlasts the containment of any disease. Most governments have referred to this as a war, but all wars have always been accompanied by a vast increase in the role of the state in ways that never quite go-back to "pre-war" levels. This isn't a call to anarchy (at least not yet...)---but it is a call to vigilance on behalf of human liberty, even in the face of a dreaded disease.

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Welcome to Notablog.net:  The Blog of Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Information on email notification, comments policy, and the meaning of "Notablog" or write to me at: chris DOT sciabarra AT nyu DOT edu. Thanks to Don Hamerman for this poignant photograph from 1999.

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