Butterflies All Having Fun

Short, and hopefully sweet today in celebration of a beautiful, sunny Sunday in New York.

Briefly, though, some less than sweet news: COVID-19 is spreading in Bombay’s jails; the Delhi government is underreporting COVID-19 deaths (even as Arundhati Roy calls for “accontability” and an end to “the cheap tricks” in India’s COVID-19 response); the Mexican government has ignored a “Wave of Coronavirus Deaths in [the] Capital” where “three times as many people may have died […] than federal statistics show”; Rick Bright’s damning whistleblower account sheds further light on the failures of the US Administration in DC to heed warnings or take even the most basic actions (eg, acquiring N95 masks) to protect residents of the United States; in New Orleans, imprisoned people are being used to replace striking garbage workers; in New York State, employment of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 has been suspended after an NEJM study found no clinical benefit to the drug’s use; also in New York State, Governor Cuomo continues to misrepresent data to serve his own political ends, while in New York City, Mayor de Blasio – having already colossally bungled the City’s COVID-19 response, in large part through ignoring the advice of the City’s world-class public health experts – continues to work to sideline those same experts for his own narrow political reasons; in the Bronx, Lincoln Hospital is investigating a nurse for sharing footage with The Intercept; and, above it all, JetBlue brought “the Clap […] to the skies” over New York City with “a three aircraft, low altitude flyover salute” on Thursday.

Cities of the world are under siege from the venality and incompetence of their own negligent governments.

Sometimes, it’s truly hard to conceive of the stupidity, brutality, and banality of the world in which we live, and yet, very often, those of us who dream of and work towards a different and better future find ourselves caricatured and smeared in popular media and  consciousness. For example, so often had I heard Julian Assange painted as a vicious, dishonest criminal that I came to accept that characterization for a time, and yet, over and over again, I’ve heard people whose work I respect and who know Assange personally speak of his gentleness and generosity of spirit. I don’t know Assange personally, so can only say that it is deeply troubling to reflect on the gulf between the substance of a life and what can be made of it through the power and reach of propagandists.

Coming back to the sweetness though, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott were live on Insta last night. It was nice, to say the least (and meta, and funny, and strange), and I send thanks to my friend Darren for the heads up. The Nina Simone lyric which gives this piece its title always makes me laugh. It’s nice too. The butterflies aren’t having fun, of course, but the idea that they are – an anthropomorphization – speaks to a very human urge to which I think we can all relate these days.

I’ve been thinking about the documentary For Sama lately. My partner and I watched it not so long before the pandemic hit New York, and without getting into the film’s merits as a political artifact, I keep circling back to the twinned and yet radically divergent subjectivities that come with city-wide quarantine and aerial bombardment. In both instances, isolation, privation, and fear of death become constitutive elements of daily life for much of the population, and perhaps that is where the similarity ends, for – while in Aleppo – people lived in constant fear that their buildings might be bombed – while they ate, while they slept – in New York, fighter jets and commercial airliners fly overhead to reassure us: Our military is strong. Capitalism is working. Everything is still okay.

I read Linda Backiel’s poem, “And then, I think about war,” in the current Monthly Review, and her words resonated with me:

We are tired of this. The disaster.
It repeats itself. Each time,
the panic comes a little faster,
we sink deeper into it.
Trauma, stress, syndrome.
I think I am learning to understand.


[About war] we thought we knew,
but we were far away […]

It helps to keep perspective. It helps to see and feel the sun shine, and to be able to without fear of destruction.

The Indy has a wonderful tribute up to the recently deceased Donald Paneth, and – drawing on the short (~6-minute long) video – I’ll give the late “Maverick Journalist” the last word – in particular:

The New York Times will not print the truth of what the events mean. What they mean. Not what they are. The Times will record what the event is on that particular day, but they won’t put it together so that […] the events are analyzed deeply enough and truthfully enough so that people can understand what the events themselves mean.

And in general: “The US mass media cannot and will not: Tell. The. Truth.”

Well said, Donald. Rest in power.

It’s up to the rest of us – the singers, poets, film-makers, journalists, and others – to tell the truth, make sense of what it means, and act accordingly to build a better tomorrow.


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