Thursday, November 19, 2020

Waving the flag at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn

Almost two weeks ago, we were walking down the street when a woman shrieked loudly from the window of a nearby brownstone in our Brooklyn neighborhood. My wife told me to check the news, convinced that something important had happened. People began applauding on the sidewalks, yelling, cheering, and passing cars began honking frantically. I checked my phone. The New York Times had announced that Biden was declared President by the Associated Press. It wasn’t just in Brooklyn. Joyful celebration had broken out in cities all over the country. Biden not only won the popular vote by 5 million, he had gathered enough electoral votes in Pennsylvania to render Trump the loser. A massive street party erupted around the arch at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza. There were people cheering, dancing, musicians on drums and brass instruments, and the giddy communal joy you only see among strangers relieved of a shared burden. It felt as if a war was over.

Except that it wasn’t.

Although Biden’s win was confirmed by state ballot officials in all fifty states, our fearless leader refuses to acknowledge it. Donald Trump was brooding in the White House, refusing to concede, insisting by tweet that he won and hellbent on exerting his influence to turn reality in his favor. When he tried to claim victory at a White House press conference, the networks switched him off. His statements were incorrect, mistaken, and downright lies. He knew better and all sentient beings around him knew it, too. Well . . . perhaps that term, sentient, requires qualification. The majority of Republican lawmakers in DC didn’t acknowledge Biden’s win, and many of Trump’s supporters appear to believe that he won, too.

The effort by our liar-in-chief to make facts—especially the hard facts of a ballot count—ethereal and inconclusive has been a success at least among his ardent supporters and the enablers riding his coattails (that’s you, Mitch McConnell). Again, his toxic influence over the country for the last four years has attempted to destroy another pillar of democracy: the election.

Since that day, the newspapers and other news outlets report that President-elect Biden has been putting together his staff-members, and assembling initiatives to deal with the Coronavirus crisis, which, as of today, has killed at least a quarter of a million Americans (today it killed 1900 Americans in 24 hours). Two different vaccines have been developed, and the Biden administration wants to prepare for their distribution, but there’s an obstacle. The Trump administration will not concede that he has lost and refuses to let Biden’s team begin the transition by gaining access to vital information about Covid vaccination policies and protocols. You would think saving American lives would be important to the pro-life President, but apparently not.

What can be done when a President goes into hiding from the truth (and from his job), as this one has? Who can tell him to do his job and stop sulking? Aside from a few trips to play golf, Trump has occupied his time doing little but settling a few scores by firing people who disagreed with him. For a man who thrives on being seen in public appearances, the ‘daylight’ that the election delivered appears to be as toxic to him as it would be to a vampire. It has been suggested that he put on his “big boy pants” and concede, but what we have on our hands is a President who would rather litigate when the truth comes at him from fifty directions. So, that’s what he’s doing.

By the time these vaccines begin to reach the general public, it will likely be the spring of 2021, which means that Donald Trump’s unwillingness to deal with Covid-19 like a leader who heeds science and the advice of experienced professionals has cost every single American a year out of her or his life. A year of panic. A year of lost loved ones. A year of missed school and lost childhood and estrangement from friends, security, worry, economic crisis and cultural stagnation.

And now he refuses to leave.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

SUBWAY2020First day back on the subway train, and oh, boy! Never saw such a clean train before, and never felt so nervous as the train car got crowded, which it did around 4:45 on a Tuesday afternoon.

This is the new subway. Everybody wearing a mask. Well . . . sort of. There was a dude at the end of the car with his nose hanging over the top of his mask. There’s always somebody like that. Usually a man. Filled with the conviction that he’s performing a public service by keeping his mouth covered while his nose can breathe free. Perhaps he’s only breathing in? Perhaps he’s mastered a technique I crafted as a kid when I had a nosebleed—to breath in through my nose and out through my mouth.

 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

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Family dinner with precautions

Greetings from Coronavirusland! We went up north, to Maine for a month and a half to see if we could work in the countryside, but it was difficult. You can’t stop thinking about a plague (even when the butterflies cluster over the echinacea). When you climb up a mountain and pass people on a narrow trail not wearing masks, you fumble and curse to yourself. After one fantastic hike, we sat by the lake to eat, and had to throw on our masks when about eight people gathered uncomfortably near us to take pictures of the view.

Some of the local East Blue Hill folk were wearing masks (indeed, some insisted upon it), but others were offended. The lady at the post office didn’t wear a mask, and kept trying to talk to me through the hole under her plexiglass screen. We ran into a few individuals who felt that they lived too far from the disease to be affected by it. They felt insulted that we sat six feet apart from them at a dinner table. “There’s nothing wrong with me; I would know.” It is very hard to absorb the notion of an asymptomatic infection. Perfectly intelligent people get flummoxed by having to put the risk of infection ahead of a personal relationship. “But we’re friends, I’m sure none of us have it,” was a common logical trap.

This week, we returned to find New York had one of the lowest infection and death rates in the country. Restaurants were open along 7th Avenue and 5th Avenue in Park Slope, putting tables in the street where the parking spaces used to be. The rule is to wear your mask until you’re served, but we saw this rule broken everywhere. Keep it on when you’re not eating or drinking. We went to a favorite restaurant in Fort Greene last night, outdoors on the street, tables six feet apart. Sunset and steak frites. Patrons brought their dogs and puppies. The wine list was limited—stock was low; it was clear the restaurant was struggling to get back on its feet. Still, my first steak in six months was pretty good.

The NY Times reports 173,095 mortalities in the United States today, mostly in the south and midwest.

All the novels I read about people living during periods of turmoil and flux, whether wars, or insurrections, have been coming back to me. I understand the tone in a way I didn’t before. Time, for example, is defined differently during a crisis. There was the ‘before’ and there’s the awful ‘now’ and the doubtful ‘next year.’ People who were fine pre-Covid are rattled and unsure, now. Businesses one considered to be stable been driven into the ground. That changeability is unnerving. The lack of ease in conversations with friends and brief chats on the street is another symptom of crisis. Even talk of next week is cautious, because another bomb may drop in the newspaper headlines. ‘Who knows what’s going to happen when winter comes,’ is a common phrase. We are warned by epidemiologists and pundits about an infection spike when we can no longer be outdoors. Students who went to college two weeks ago are being sent home. Cities that promised onsite schooling are reconsidering. Everything is up in the air.

City people have moved out to the suburbs, fed up with their four-walled lives, or fearful of increased crime. The video-economy is here, although with caveats. My son won’t be taking college classes by Zoom. It doesn’t work for him. Human contact is more than preferable, it is vital.

 

July 22, 2020

F43E327C-EDA3-4B7C-91F8-C8CB8CC3D243This entry is for a future reader, ten years from now. First, welcome! Congratulations to you, brave voyager, for surviving the Covid19 epidemic of 2020. We have already lost over a 140,000 Americans (and half a million residents of the world) to this disease. We expect to lose many more because of the inability of our leader’s administration to combat a crisis that it had been warned and prepared for by countless scientists, doctors and epidemiologists.

Even after the first 35,000 people died in New York State, many governors of other states refused to compel their residents to wear masks, which have, as of this writing, been found to be the best way to reduce the spread of the disease.

I’m sure, you, dear reader, have other things on your mind. By this time, the ocean levels have risen, and reduced a considerable portion of the Eastern United States land area. It is also likely that the electric car has become the dominant form of transportation, and solar and wind power have eclipsed the use of coal and other fossil fuels.

I congratulate you on other advances. I’m sure, as a result of the Covid19 crisis, the United States has established medical coverage for all of its residents. Cheers, also, for the success you have had closing the vast disparities between the way poor people, people of color and caucasian Americans are treated by the Justice department, Congress, and society at large. I’m very pleased to know that the employees of police departments across the nation have truly become well-trained officers of peace, who respect black and white people equally. Congratulations for the truth and reparations commission that has helped millions of people across the United States come to reclaim and accept its origin as a slave nation.

Last, I would like to whisper my gratitude to you for electing a President who cares about the betterment of her citizens rather than her next election. I have no doubt she is a figure of admirable achievement, quick to reward a good idea, eager to roust out the corrupt and disavow sycophants. It is also impressive that she was elected by a majority of the population. Her initiative to unite the world’s nations to combat climate change, and improve the lives of people in every corner of the globe will make America a nation to be admired for the first time in ten years.

As to the repeated petition for a pardon by the only President ever sent to serve jail time, I hope that your current President takes into account his administration’s mistreatment of thousands of incarcerated immigrants who were torn from their children during his short four year term and never found their parents again.

 

Sunday, May 28, 2020

Got caught in a drenching shower yesterday during a march in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. T played her drum with some stalwart Batala musicians while I marched alongside with this painting of Breonna Taylor.

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The photo was taken long after the march was over; we were about to get in the car and the painting was wet and about to collapse in my hands. My sour look is probably because of wet underwear from the thunderstorm.

The portrait didn’t quite come out the way I had intended (sometimes a picture has its own motive, much like a character in a story). In her  photos online, her face is rounder, younger, less ambivalent, and a lot of the pictures people have drawn are more joyful. I saw something else in her eyes, and it lingered in every sketch I did. Eventually, despite every effort to make her look more like her selfies, I surrendered to the face that seemed to want to be in the portrait. Weird.

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Monday, June 22, 2020

IMG_9096What a stinker of a year! 2020 has earned its place in the history books. Take your pick of a handful of crises: presidential impeachment, rising sea levels, a record five straight hottest summers in history, a worldwide pandemic that has killed 120,000 Americans in 3-1/2 months, a federal government in utter disarray, and police hammering and brutalizing citizens who chose to march against racism.

One bright note:  people are coming together to fight the rampant inequalities that exist between whites and people of color.  It is an exciting, hopeful time. There is much to be changed, and a big opportunity to make important strides before the momentum fades.

In this post I’m concerned about the efforts people are making that is regressive. Specifically, I’m afraid that if we try to correct the wrongs of the past by abolishing the evidence, we risk a kind of collective, self-serving amnesia.

loserOver recent weeks, a lot of confederate statues and monuments have been torn down. This week, statues of slave owners like Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson have been taken down. I sympathize with the outrage behind this destruction, but I think it’s a mistake to tear them down. Tag them for what they are, give them context, place them in perspective, and if necessary, consign them to a special place for monuments of their kind, drape them in black with a plaque explaining why they were erected, but don’t erase them.

Erasing the past is a mistake; we need evidence of our errors, no matter how painful. How else do subsequent generations avoid our mistakes. Hiding statues of slaveowners and traitors simply hides the evidence. Any historian will tell you that it’s the privilege of victors, but not a solution to error or atrocity. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to see a hundred statues of African Americans erected for every confederate statue in existence. Let’s put Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman on monuments that directly face Washington and Jefferson. Let them stand in opposition; the national dialogue will be richer for it.

But if you remove the evidence, some will deny that it ever existed. We keep Auschwitz, Dachau, and Anne Frank’s house on display for that reason. Andrew Jackson deserves the same moral scrutiny, with a new plaque that details his infamy.

Our children and grandchildren need to see those statues so that they don’t make those same mistakes. And I’m not just talking about the mistakes of the Confederacy; let’s include the mistakes of the victors—those who negotiated peace, but permitted the south to erect statues of its own generals and establish Jim Crow laws. It was a mistake to permit a flag that defended slavery to wave from any statehouse flagpole in the Union, let alone to be waved at NASCAR races or from the tailgates of pickup trucks. To be blunt, the Union, the supposed ‘good guys’ of the Civil War, allowed the dying embers of racism to be fanned and kindled long after the war was won. This mistake should be made as obvious as any other atrocity.

Perhaps, if the North hadn’t permitted the South to erect statues to their generals, flown the flag of their treacherous cause, written laws that subjugated and validated the mistreatment, murder, and economic manipulation of millions of African Americans all the way to the twenty-first century (over seven generations), we wouldn’t need to protest for their rights one hundred and fifty-five years after .

 

Monday, June 8, 2020

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The winds at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn blew wildly yesterday. It’s been two weeks since George Floyd’s killing, and the Mayor has dialed back the police presence and let the people come out. There was a feeling of hope, here, that something good could come out of this.

I am well aware that it takes more than showing up at a few demonstrations to bring sight to the blind. It takes a commitment to see my flaws, and a great deal of shame and discomfort with all the ways I make those invisible around me who deserve respect. If we as a culture succeed in bringing about change, it will be done with pain, revelation, and truths that won’t sit well. That’s the price of a revolution.

Still, I’m glad to see so many people on the streets. And signs. Children with BLM placards. Young white adults carrying signs against police brutality . . . those least likely to experience institutional (or personal) prejudice. I hope they mean it; and will do so in three months; six months, two years, and ten years down the road.

It’s human nature to hope for big changes. It’s also human nature to get distracted and complacent. If there’s anything good to be said for this pandemic, it brought the country to its knees, a good place to see who else has been in that unfortunate position for generations.

NPR reported that the Minneapolis city council proposed abolishing their local police force. This will, I’m sure, inspire the conservative pundits to call it the end of civilization. But it’s not the end at all.

Many people of color will reply that it’s the beginning.

Wed, June 3, 2020

GrandArmy5-31-20The most common expression I’ve heard over the last month here among my Brooklyn neighbors is “Groundhog Day,” a reference to the movie about a man stuck repeating the same day of his life over and over. Every day was like the one before, at least until this last Memorial Day.

May 25, 2020 began an unforgettable week in American history.

Eight days of peaceful demonstrations, marches, sometimes punctuated by startling violence have spread over more than 130 cities in the country. Here, in my neighborhood, sirens have been wailing, helicopters droning above, caravans of police vans tearing across Brooklyn while the President squawks banana-republic threats for military action against his own citizens. Yes, people gathering to say something as simple as “black lives matter” are being threatened by a President who cherishes his own right to say what he thinks to millions of people more than twenty times a day.

Although it started in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, it lit a fuse here in New York, resurrecting the names of  Eric Garner and Amadou Diallo and a host of other African American men and women who fell victim to police brutality.

On Sunday I attended a family march through Prospect Park to Grand Army Plaza on Sunday. It was a peaceful demonstration on a sunny day, but very close by on Flatbush Avenue near the Barclay Center there were violent struggles between the police and demonstrators.

While we chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “No Peace, No Justice,” I felt the queasy dread of an unkept promise. I used to think we were getting better at this, making progress, heading to a better world, but the ground is receding with a hollow sucking sound. Racism is a virus, we’re all breathing it—some in bigger doses than others—but it’s infused in our culture, ever since Jamestown in 1607, and we can wear any kind of mask we want to convince ourselves we’re immune, it won’t go away. I don’t believe you can cure something like this until you first admit you’re a patient.

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Children don’t begin life with this disease. They start life feeling equal to each other. It’s quite possible to sustain their innocence. Just treat them fairly, encourage them to take turns, don’t play favorites, be just, generous and loving. It’s not hard to encourage such virtues in children.

Yet we don’t seem able to treat adults of color this way.

Why not? What’s so hard about giving health coverage to everyone? Equal justice? A fair living wage? College for everyone who wants it? Those who have a little more can give to those who have less. It’s called “sharing” in preschool. The result is that everybody is happier and nobody is left out.

What’s that? Why can’t the rich be richer? Check this out if you’re curious. There is no zero sum game, here. I believe we are all entitled to live in a vibrant, contented society of healthy educated people without violent streets, citizens living in squalor, and a race war every sixty years. If you agree, spread the news.

 

 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

May6 CHART

I copied a chart from the New York Times this morning. I often do it to get a grip on the bewildering set of statistics that mark this pandemic. It’s a chart comparing Covid cases in New York to cases across the USA.

In my mind’s eye, however, it’s a hiking trail, like the many hikes I’ve taken over the years up the mountains of Maine. The first hike, the New York one, seems on its downhill stage, the descent back home. The Rest of USA hike, on the other hand, shows no such thing. It’s a journey without an apex, of incalculable misery, loss and death still ahead.

On a hike, when the trip uphill gets hard, you coach yourself with assurances. Just a little bit more, and then you’ll be walking downhill. “Chin up, it’s going to get easier!” you whisper and think of the treats at the top. The joy of accomplishment. The M&Ms, a drink of water, a sandwich. You soak in the view, the broad spread of countryside, a vast sky, perhaps the sea in the distance, the giddy delight of an easier return trip.

But here, my little hiking conceit falls apart. There’s no view in a pandemic. These charts don’t show that we’re at the top. They could be small plateaus before an even bigger climb. The notion of a “top” simply means a day or week of the largest number of infections and subsequent deaths and our specialists are saying it’s up, up, up through August of 2020, with potentially 136,000 fatalities by then. As for the downhill trip, well, that’s another fifty-percent of suffering and loss.

It’s important to point out that when our fearless leader and his enablers say we’re in a “new phase,” as he did this week, he’s wrong. The new phase would be to take better care of the US, the 300 million. A new phase would be to do something a leader does. Ease the suffering, express compassion, be pro-active with health and economic initiatives (and by the way, they’ve done it in Germany and South Africa).

First, masks for everybody. Mayor DeBlasio did it at parks this weekend, the federal government should be doing it for a hundred million people. This would help teachers and students go back to school, and enable their parents to go back to work. This will make public transportation safer, workplaces less risky, and social interaction possible again.

Second, folks who have lost jobs need food stamps so they won’t starve, or worry themselves to death. The SNAPS program is already in place. It would also keep grocery stores and supermarkets in business all across the country. Sorry, Mr. President, one check with your name on it is not going to get people through the year.

Third, universal health coverage and guaranteed sick leave. We’re behind all of Europe on that one. If nobody hesitates to see a doctor when they feel sick, they won’t spread the virus with fellow workers and raise the infection rate again. This is how Germany nipped the virus before it spread.

Lastly, we need a national corps of health trackers to share PPE and help every community trace infections. It should be independent of political influence. If we can have an apolitical postal service, why can’t we have an apolitical health maintenance system?

This would get the economy going, and it’s something we could call the downhill phase; it would make getting to the top worthwhile, because otherwise we’ve got years of uphill to go.

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