Think, Beast

I haven’t been outside at all today, which is making it a little hard for me to think. Like Beckett’s Lucky though, I’m going to do my best to try.

We had Zoom dinner last night with friends who live in Brooklyn; they’ve both been mentioned in these posts before, but out of respect for privacy – something Zoom itself is, unsurprisingly, learning all about of late – I’ll just say this time that they’re lovely, thoughtful, and between them, have some unique topical insights into our current national and global predicament.

(An aside on the subject of Zoom: The revelations about the company’s flawed encryption, ties to China, etc., etc. are, of course, all worrying given that many of us have now become dependent upon Zoom or its equivalent to conduct many aspects of our personal and professional lives. As usual, The Intercept’s reporting on this matter has been excellent; however, in pointing to Signal as a secure Zoom alternative, I believe they inadvertently perform some sleight of hand. Yasha Levine has done good investigative journalism looking into Signal and Tor, and, unfortunately, his conclusions suggest that – like a one-time presidential candidate the people of these United States may still vaguely recall advised, in what he despicably called “the Richard Nixon Lesson” – we may simply, still, have to embrace a policy around digital privacy encapsulated in three words: “Don’t record it.” Easier said than done, of course, when many of our lives have migrated almost entirely online and we’re increasingly surrounded by ubiquitous surveillance devices, but, be all that as it may, the issue of surveillance, in turn, brings me back to the subject at hand: The pandemic.)

Without going into full news-round-up mania, I’m going to briefly touch on some recent developments that relate to surveillance, economic meltdown, and the ongoing end-ability of our national crisis. First, surveillance: A leaked memo shows that Amazon – the company, not the forest; and no stranger to surveillance – conspired to smear Chris Smalls, a manager at the company’s Staten Island warehouse who was fired for organizing his co-workers to demand basic steps be taken to protect their health; according to TechCrunch, “Google is now publishing coronavirus mobility reports, feeding off users’ location history”; The Intercept reports that, “The U.S. Navy has taken the extraordinary step of relieving the captain of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt of his command […] after he wrote a memo sounding the alarm on an exploding coronavirus infection on board […] his ship” (a story the reporting on which has troubled me for the utter lack of attention generally paid to the Guamanian people and what the disembarking of all those sailors may mean for them); also from The Intercept, coverage of how the “NYPD’s Aggressive Policing Risks Spreading the Coronavirus”; Democracy Now! has a feature today entitled, “As Virus Spreads in Philippines, So Does Authoritarianism” about President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal and ineffectual approach to confronting the pandemic (though, like India’s similarly draconian measures, I think they can fairly be considered effectual to the extent that they advance the underlying authoritarian agendas of the men enacting them); and the Thomson Reuters Foundation headlines, “World risks ‘sleepwalking into surveillance’ with coronavirus controls.” Generally, not a very cheery picture.

On the subject of economic meltdown, it’s bad and – like the pandemic itself – getting rapidly worse. A thoughtful and well-informed neighbor opines – in view of the devastation being wrought – that we have to “reopen” as, already, “We are entering Great Depression territory. ” CityLab has up what I found a mind-numbing piece against rent strike (the argument of which is predicated on the indispensability of mortgage-backed securities to the US economy; though, to be fair, with its author, I share the conviction that Keynesian-style stimulus, including direct cash transfers to individuals, is a sensible approach to our current grim economic circumstances); and ever-perspicacious Doug Henwood breaks down, graphically, how bad our economic situation already was pre-pandemic, and how much worse it has gotten in the very short time since COVID-19 hit New York, and the financial markets – and our national economy along with them – imploded.

Finally, in some brighter news, the end-ability of our national crisis: It is imminently endable. Just ask Dr. Rishi Desai who marvelously baffled a Fox News host in slamming the US’s “very weak response” to the pandemic and praising South Korea’s “really strong” one; or look to Dr. Jason Wang – “former project manager for Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Reform Task-force [and] now the director of the Center for Policy, Outcomes and Prevention […] at Stanford University” – who was interviewed on Democracy Now! today about how Taiwan has, thus far, managed to largely suppress COVID-19 in spite of its close proximity to and deep ties with China (ties that included, at the time of the initial outbreak, a number of direct daily flights between the island and Wuhan); or turn back to The Intercept, which reports “Privacy Experts Say Responsible Coronavirus Surveillance Is Possible” (one of the six key pillars of which “Responsible […] Surveillance” is, according to the piece, to “Beware of Attempts at “Reputation Laundering” like those of Google mentioned above, or of Israeli spyware firm, NSO Group, which have been widely reported on today).

To come full circle to the Zoom dinner with our friends (in which we can hope no hackers or malicious state actors took any interest), one of them highlighted that he’s been consistently trying to point to the fact that solutions exist, which they do. This is not an unsolved or unsolvable problem. It’s just an un-enacted solution. I’ve made the same point on a number of occasions myself, but in the past few days, have been leaning more heavily into trying to prepare people (myself included) for that to which we’ve already committed ourselves as a country. Under the absolute best-case scenario going forward, we’re in for a painful, catastrophic mess of an April. Truly, the cruelest month. But it need not also be a catastrophic May, June, and July, though under our current not-leadership from DC, it is, in fact, shaping up to be a catastrophic August and beyond, as well.

This is where I respectfully disagree with my neighbor though; there’s no question we have to stanch the economic bleeding, but I believe the type of wholesale reopening which our President, until a few days ago, was advocating – timed to commemorate the rising of Christ about which and whom our President couldn’t give two shits – will lead not to less economic suffering, but much more of it. If every healthcare system in the country collapses more or less simultaneously because we reopened the economy without having Singapore, or Taiwan, or South Korea-style preventive / public health measures in place, there will be no option but to return, in even worse shape, to the measures which are now causing so much economic and social suffering – that, or we actually go the path which I’ve regularly pilloried in recent weeks, of just accepting that a great many people will die, that our hospitals will be overwhelmed, our healthcare workers will get sick (many of them gravely so) in very large numbers, and then we do our best to simply go about our business – everything just business-as-usual – in spite of the systemic collapse. That is, in fact, an option, though in my view, not a very humane or good one.

As for our ability to confront the crisis of our healthcare system head on, so much for the “Herculean” efforts of which our Mayor (a Mayor who must be doing some deep thinking about how long he chose to keep NYC public schools open in March after the death, yesterday, from COVID-19 of “Beloved Brooklyn Teacher Sandra Santos-Vizcaino“) has been speaking here in New York, the efforts which I, just yesterday, called “nothing short of incredible“: The Javits Center facility, which was supposed to be for COVID-negative patients only, is already being converted into a COVID-19 treatment site as the surging number of very sick people outstrips our healthcare system’s ability to treat them; ProPublica reports that, “In Desperation, New York State Pays Up to 15 Times the Normal Prices for Medical Equipment”; and, of the USNS Comfort – the 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship now docked at Pier 90 on the Upper West Side, the New York Times quotes “a top hospital executive” as saying, “blunt[ly]”, “”It’s a joke.””

In fact, hard to believe, but just now, I received an Amber Alert-style Emergency Alert on my phone which reads, in part: “Attention all healthcare workers: New York City is seeking licensed healthcare workers…”.

If we “reopen” now, I believe it will be a disaster. Closed, now, as we are, it is already a disaster. Call it a rock and a hard place. But one of the hardest places of all to be right now is in detention, and inspired by the work of a friend, I donated today to this GoFundMe to support the efforts of Al Otro Lado, which “works to release asylum seekers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention.” If you’re able to, I encourage you to do the same thing.

I’m still yet to do the deeper look at hospital capacity that I was hoping to, but I see plenty of more well-resourced and credible outlets doing that work, so I’ll simply share a few basic resources that I found useful: This Washington Post article on ICU bed capacity across the US; this Wiki on hospital bed capacity by country; and, especially, this interactive “predictive model” from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington (to which I came through another one of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s helpful newsletters).

Hope you’re staying healthy, sane, and kind out there. We come through this with love, strength, and in solidarity with those closest to the knives.

Merely a Flesh Wound

A city is not a body. The body politic is an illusion. And yet, in imagining a city as a body, it would seem natural to equate the healthcare system of the one with the immune system of the other. We even use the same word – system – to categorize both; however, for my own convenience, here, I’m going to imagine that the healthcare system of New York City is the foot of this not-body politic.

What then? I’m coming to the fundamental error into which we lapsed – anyone familiar with the chemistry concept of the limiting reagent already understands it well. Imagine a person – an actual body – has become ill. The foot of the body of this person has become gangrenous after a long-festering wound became infected, and in visiting the doctor, this person learns that the foot will have to be amputated, lest the gangrene prove fatal.

Now imagine the person’s response is: “Oh! But thank goodness there’s no threat to my head from this infection.”

Can we amputate the foot that is our healthcare system? A body can live without a foot, after all, if not so well as with one, and as we started off by acknowledging: A city is not a body, and yet such is the fallacious, exclamatory thinking into which we entered – and perhaps here, I should say they, because I’m talking primarily of the people who saw no risk in this pandemic to themselves and so carried on business-us-usual (as some of them still do) as the crisis deepened – when we committed ourselves to a path that guaranteed the implosion of our healthcare system. Water systems, food systems, energy systems, sanitation systems – these are the truly foundational infrastructures which we can’t live without, at least not well and not for long; healthcare, essential as it is when you need it, remains somewhat secondary, which is exactly why millions of people across the City, State, country, and world who have the privilege of sheltering safely in place in relative comfort (myself included) can largely go on living our lives as usual, save for the adjustment that we no longer go outside. If any of the four listed systems – food, water, energy, or sanitation – failed us, however, (if the hardworking people who keep these systems running ceased to keep them running), most of us would very rapidly cease to enjoy the luxury of staying at home.

They haven’t failed us, though, and – at least in New York City – I don’t foresee they will, but because a city is not a body, and even if it was, we couldn’t amputate the foot that is not its hospital system, we arrive at our current impasse. Like the person with potentially fatal gangrene condemned to lose an appendage, we’ve been wounded – if not mortally, then quite deeply – as a metropolis, and if we rejoice in the fact that the head, gut, and torso which constitute our “essential” systems remain intact, then we celebrate the sort of not-even-Pyrrhic victory that was won by the Knight from Monty Python, a paraphrase of whose famous declaration gives this piece its title.

In a pandemic, the healthcare system is the limiting reagent, and here in New York, ours is rapidly running out. Still, it is nothing short of incredible to see the resources being mobilized to shore it up as it falters. The Army Corps (which, I recently learned, relies entirely on private contractors for its construction work) has built a 1,000-bed hospital in the Javits Center with another 1,500 beds coming; the USNS Comfort (1,000 beds) is docked off the Upper West Side; the 11 NYC Health + Hospital facilities around the City are adding beds (~750) and converting existing beds to ICU beds (~3,000);  a good-sized field hospital is coming up at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens (350 beds); an NYC Health + Hospitals facility on Roosevelt Island is adding beds (350, but unclear if this is included in the ~750 total above); a fundamentalist Christian organization is setting up a small field hospital (68 beds) in Central Park; and to top it all off, the City recently announced plans to convert rooms in 20 hotels into ~10,000 additional beds (which may also help prevent these hotels from lapsing into insolvency, and echoes my partner’s Plan for Alternative Birthing Sites in NYC During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which I encourage you all to read and throw your support behind). Rounding, it seems that all of the initial efforts will add around 5,000 beds, bringing the total, including hotel hospital rooms, to 15,000 new beds in all. (Not sure exactly where NY1 gets the much higher numbers referenced in this article, but they may know something I don’t.)

The Mayor (who is still around) has been saying that from our city-wide baseline of ~20,000 beds (I think the actual number may be closer to 18,000), we are projected to need ~65,000 beds at “the peak,” though, obviously, these numbers have been moving targets, and no one actually knows – the experts included – exactly how this will play out. We only know that it will play out badly.

This may not be quite Arsenal of Democracy- or Chinese Communist Party-level mobilization of state power, but it is impressive, and should serve (along with the recent massive bailout-disguised-as-relief-bill from DC) as a reminder of our governments’ immense capacities for action when there is will to act. The claim regarding public impotence has always been a canard, but – as our Governor’s simultaneous willingness to “move mountains” when he deems it necessary, and his utter unwillingness to consider raising taxes on the rich in view of a projected state budget shortfall of billions (perhaps even tens of billions) of dollars makes clear – the power of the state is not mobilized for just anyone. The crisis must be confronted, but it will be our schools and, shockingly, our public hospitals, which will eventually pay the price.

Say that the United States does succeed in defending its citadel to some extent though – that New York is spared the worst of this catastrophe through a mobilization of City, State, and Federal resources that almost beggars belief: What, then, of the rest of the country? As I’ve written previously, it’s highly likely that the months of April and May will witness New York-style crises (our crisis itself having been a Lombardy-style crisis which followed in the path of the initial crisis in Wuhan) unfolding simultaneously across much of the United States.

Governor Cuomo has valiantly declared on Twitter, in calling for healthcare workers to come to New York’s aid: “We will return the favor in your hour of need.”

But, numerically, even a populous and powerful state like New York simply does not have the resources or person-power to come to the aid of dozens of other states simultaneously, especially when New York State and City alike will be dealing with the long tail of our own crises for months to come. In this sense, we are lucky to have been the first / most prominent to have already slid into this morass. One need look no farther than Louisiana to understand what I mean.

There is little doubt that Mardi Gras celebrations in February were the proximate cause of the COVID-19 outbreak centering in New Orleans; just briefly comparing numbers, we see that Louisiana has 9,150 confirmed cases and 310 confirmed deaths, while New York State has, at last count, 92,381 confirmed cases and 2,373 confirmed deaths. Computing a case fatality rate (one of the many concepts we’ve all learned at COVID U. in recent weeks), we can see that Louisiana’s is ~3.4% while New York’s is ~2.6%. This spread could be explained by many factors – including underlying differences in the health of the populations and the environmental risk factors to which they’re subjected (eg, proximity to Cancer Alley) and differences in the states’ approaches to and capacity for testing – and, indeed, the spread is a relatively modest one. Both states, in fact, deserve credit for having ramped up their testing capacities significantly, and both are currently among the national leaders in COVID-19 testing rates (this graph is dated, but using numbers from the COVID Tracking Project and the two states‘ populations, I calculated that both states have currently conducted ~10,000 tests per million residents with New York having only a very slight edge); however, while immense resources and attention have been brought to bear in and on New York, I don’t believe the same can rightly be said of Louisiana. As a New Yorker, my attention is also disproportionately focused here (in particular, in my apartment, which I rarely leave), so I’d welcome reports and evidence to the contrary, but fear that, as situations deteriorate across the country, we’ll see a sharp divergence in outcomes between richer and poorer states, cities, and areas.

Already, the United States has more than twice as many confirmed cases as the next country (with, at the time of this writing, ~240,000 to Italy’s ~115,000), and yet Italy has recorded ~14,000 deaths, while the US has, so far, recorded less than 6,000. Perhaps the Italians are simply older, sicker, and more susceptible to this disease than we are here (or perhaps it’s their single-payer healthcare system, which Joe Biden so shamefully and dishonestly critiqued on multiple occasions, that made them so vulnerable to this horrible disease; he’ll have to eat those words soon enough if he lives through this), or perhaps we should be very, very afraid about what we’ve already locked in for our immediate futures.

New York City was laggard in sharing, publicly, data on the pandemic’s impacts here, but it has now, at last, created a COVID-19 data portal, and to complement this, a number of news outlets, big and small, are providing useful resources. Most striking, in my view, is the map that the City released showing confirmed COVID-19 cases by ZIP Code: It reads like a wealth map of the City, because, in a way, it is. The west side of Prospect Park looks very different than the east, and Far Rockaway stands out like a deep purple bruise at the tip of that otherwise pale barrier island. There are exceptions, of course, but the pattern is striking, and it is in the patterns that we can hope to discern the truth – multiple truths, in fact, about who is most at risk from this virus and what the future of the country holds. Social distancing is a privilege, as are self-isolating and working from home / taking time off.

It is the poor – the global majority – who are most threatened by COVID-19, and yet, it seems, increasingly, that it is the rich –business travelers and vacationers, from or transiting through Europe on transcontinental flights – who bear the deepest responsibility for the disease’s spread (if we can talk, without causing undue harm, of the responsibility of mostly unwitting disease vectors), just as it is primarily the rich who have sought to profit off this crisis – say, through the aforementioned bailout or the export, in the midst of pandemic, of critical medical supplies.

We have to look to the patterns to make sense of where things are headed, at the probabilities and statistics. In New York City, it’s not uncommon to hear sirens, and perhaps for that reason, it took a few days for me to register that it had been days – perhaps a week even – since I’d been out and not heard them. My walks are short, but the sound of sirens has become a constant. For a few days, it hardly felt like a break from the familiar pattern at all, but now each wailing ambulance registers as another sign of the new abnormal into which we’ve entered.

I’d hoped to talk a little about hospitals and hospital capacity here, but haven’t found the time; I’ll try to do that tomorrow. In the meanwhile, I was moved by what Jeremy Scahill’s podcast, Intercepted, is doing, and am copying verbatim below from their website:

“If you or someone you know needs emotional support or is contemplating suicide, resources include the Crisis Text Line, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Trevor Project, or the International Association for Suicide Prevention.”


COVID University

On one short walk recently, I heard at least four (and possibly as many as six) ambulances. Walking back past the freestanding emergency department on 7th Avenue yesterday, I saw a news crew set up beneath the Memorial in Rudin Management’s public-private AIDS Memorial Park with the tent-truck chimera in the background and masks on some, but not all, of their faces. While I was out, some scattered clapping and whooping broke out from the windows above, and for a second I felt bashful and confused: Were they cheering for me? Of course, they weren’t, these people in their kitchens and living rooms: This was for the healthcare workers, and it was, at once, moving and our own form of kitsch. To repurpose Koolhaas, New York feels quite delirious these days.

In Brazil, people have been banging pots and pans from indoors to protest against (and call for the resignation of) Jair Bolsonaro. In India, Prime Minister Modi (who welcomed Bolsonaro – only two short months ago, but in a very different world – as Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day observations) has cleverly moved to co-opt any such potential expression of popular outrage by encouraging mass pot-and-pan banging to honor the “heroes” of India’s bungled pandemic response, and here in New York State, our canny Governor has done much the same thing.

I think we’re all dealing with information overload these days. No doubt to the annoyance of actual epidemiologists, a lot of us feel like we’ve completed crash courses in epidemiology in recent weeks. COVID University is probably what Falwell’s Liberty should now be renamed, but I’m using it – in a nod to the Kanye of the noughts (and slightly after) – to acknowledge, in gentle self-effacement, the process by which we’ve all become such experts in the past month.

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Speaking of information overload, to the extent that you’re not interested in the math, please feel free to just look at the image and then continue reading! For those who are interested, I’ve updated this graph from yesterday and am sharing here some background on its creation; it shows the trend in daily deaths from COVID-19 in NYC from March 14th through March 31st (the two line graphs) versus the average daily death rate from the three leading causes of death in NYC (heart disease, cancer, and influenza + pneumonia) and average total number of daily deaths in the City (~130). Data on average daily deaths was extrapolated from the City’s vital statistics for 2017 (the last that are readily publicly available via Google search) which show 545.7 deaths per 100,000 for that year. In 2017, the City’s population was ~8.6 million (I use 8.623 million), and by multiplying 545.7 * 86.23 (the number of 100,000s that are in 8.623 million), we arrive at 47,056 as the total number of deaths in NYC in 2017. Dividing by 365 yields 129 death/day. Figures for three leading causes of death were drawn from this City data for 2012-2014. In 2013, NYC’s population was ~8.5 million (I use 8.459 million), so by taking average deaths per year and multiplying by 8.623/8.459, we can get a rough estimate (which assumes, rightly or wrongly, that these death rates remain constant from year to year) of deaths per year form these causes in 2017. NYC population has come down slightly since 2017, so, if anything, I’d guess that these values represent slight overestimations for the City in 2020. All of this would be easier if City data were more easily accessible, but to the City’s credit, it has finally launched a COVID-19 data portal, which fact is reflected in the presence of the green line graph above. 

I’ve been skimming over the latest publications on LitCovid each morning; it’s fascinating to see the immense profusion of knowledge being generated about this disease, its spread, and the ramifications thereof, but also hard to keep up with. It seems that COVID-related knowledge production, too, will follow an exponential curve (for first sharing this meme with me, I have to give credit to our friend Aashna). Paywalled at the link from LitCovid is an article entitled Alcohol consumption in the Covid-19 Era – of course, I was curious! That Magnolia Bakery remains, still, open strikes me as an outrage against both decency and sense, but that the wine and liquor stores still have their neon signs lit up, a matter of necessity. Of course liquor stores are essential! I think there would be few more expeditious ways to spur insurrection than closing them. The people must have their pots and pans to harmlessly bang away at and their numbing booze to drink.

Speaking of rising up, DiEM25 has a good and funny conversation up between Slavoj Žižek and Renata Ávila in which Žižek opines that the people most terrified by the pandemic are actually those in power. I guess this is what I have in mind in hoping that the global mass protest movements of 2019 will reemerge with ferocity once the pandemic is quelled. The video of Brooklynites singing Biggie out their windows on lockdown may have been fake (and actually filmed on the Upper West Side), but the caged energy and longing it speaks to are very real, and the anger and confusion in our society today, both growing and tangible.

As a friend put it: “It’s scary to see how few resources are at our disposal when this house of cards start falling. Wild that the healthcare and economic vitality of this city have come down to a day-by-day scenario.”

Truer words never texted. Even more real are the efforts of workers at Amazon, Whole Foods (obviously now owned by Amazon), Instacart, UPS, and many other major US corporations to have their health and safety respected as they undertake often low-wage but now-clearly-essential labor. Chief among the workers we should be standing with are, of course, healthcare workers, and I think it is lost on no one, at this point, what a national scandal it is how helplessly and hopelessly under-resourced and under-prepared our healthcare institutions are, and the price our healthcare workers are now paying as a result of how “lean” (and hence profitable) these institutions have been made in recent decades in preparation for their current implosion.

As Žižek points out at the very beginning of the above-linked conversation – and as most thoughtful commentators of the now-homebound-class reflexively point out when the subject of sheltering-in-place arises – it is, of course, a privilege to be able to stay in. Prisoners on Riker’s Island are being offered six dollars an hour and PPE in exchange for digging mass graves on Hart Island (an interesting, sad place to visit under different circumstances than these); rural and tribal communities are fighting the ongoing construction of the KXL pipeline in this country; the Wet’suwet’en are fighting the ongoing construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Canada; the IDF haven’t stopped raiding Palestinian communities (although, like ICE in the US, are now going about their brutal work with PPE/wearing hazmat suits); and as the Indian Government continues to use the pandemic response to further its authoritarian and communalist (read: anti-Muslim) agenda, “[f]ear grips” residents of Bombay’s informal settlements where “safety measures to prevent coronavirus infections are an unachievable privilege”; meanwhile in this country, Mehdi Hasan warns against the possibility that the President may try to use the current state of generalized confusion and distress to launch a war with Iran and, following his chief medical advisor on all matters coronavirus, that same schizoid President warned yesterday about hard days and large death tolls ahead, causing the public markets to once again tank. A 1,000-point drop in the Dow now feels like nothing, though somebodies out there must be benefitting from these wild fluctuations.

In the US, our pandemic response looks increasingly militarized – in no small part because the US military is one of the very few public institutions in this country that hasn’t been starved of resources by decades of neoliberal austerity – but as we look around the world, we can see clear examples of alternatives. I will keep repeating: It need not have been this way, and it need not be this way ever again.

One of my bright spots from yesterday almost immediately went dark as, according to The Intercept: “In near record time, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily halted a lower court order that would have protected access to abortion in Texas amid the Covid-19 crisis.”

As New York was just starting to descend into this madness, a friend asked me over the phone, “Will this be the thing that finally spells an end to our civil liberties?”

I said, no, but clearly there are those – including many of those in power – who would like to see things turn out otherwise.

On the one hand, there’s so much we don’t know about this disease and this virus; it would be nice if we could simply coordinate all our efforts and energies towards care, education, and necessary action to address the suffering and stop the pandemic. On the other hand, forces of reaction are daily on the march, and we have no time to spare and are fighting with one hand tied behind our back (our both of our hands tethered to our computers as we sit locked indoors). Not everyone is inside though, and part of how we at once address the pandemic and head off the political crisis of more-than-looming and increasingly muscular global fascist/authoritarian movements is by standing with those people who remain at work, in the streets, keeping New York City’s lights on and its trash collected, its people (myself included) fed, and its sick (in increasingly staggering numbers) cared for. This is the organizing that we can do now that checks all three of my boxes: 1) reducing the harm done by the pandemic; 2) meeting people’s needs in the present; and 3) planning and strategizing for a better future.

Our friends at Green Top Farms are among the many great folks out there working to check all these boxes at once; they’re now accepting charitable donations (through an affiliated 501(c)(3) that was set up to support getting healthy food into NYC schools) and the proceeds go to feeding some of the City’s healthcare workers. This model is an elegant one as it at once allows Green Top to keep their amazing team employed through this crisis, while also ensuring the people at the heart of our pandemic response are getting fed delicious, nutritious food (from the one and only Chef Anup Joshi), and at the same time, sustaining Green Top’s good work as part of the Real Food Movement, which looks to reimagine and rework the broken, industrial food/agriculture system that – as Josh, one of Green Top’s founders often puts it – “is killing the planet.”

I encourage you to donate to Green Top today to support their great work as a small part of this immense city-wide, national, and global effort. It’s also Census Day, so – if its relevant for you – no harm in completing the Census as well while you’re at it. Do one, the other, or both, and I hope your spirits are lifted and resolve strengthened for the long fights ahead.

In the Age of the Time of the Era of the…

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Regarding the title of this piece, the title of Gabriel Garciá Márquez’s novel has cast a long shadow over popular discourse in recent weeks. Regarding the graph above, I continue to try to help people – my fellow New Yorkers, especially – to make sense of what the sobering numbers coming out of our hospitals mean. As you can see from this graph, the number of people now dying each day from COVID-19 in New York City dwarfs the average number of daily deaths attributable to the three leading causes of death in the City and, in recent days, has equalled or surpassed the average total number of daily deaths in NYC.

The United States is being scrapped for parts. We put predatory lenders and real estate hucksters at the levers of power, and now shouldn’t be surprised that what they’ve delivered is an over-leveraged buyout of the entire country.


Of course, comparison is odious and – as Susan Sontag taught us – metaphors often deceive just as much as they instruct. The debt, after all, is not what concerns me in these nascent days of our national calamity, but the uses to which all that leverage is being put and by whom.

Picking up where I left off yesterday, the Democracy Now! headlines from this morning alone paint a grim picture of the authoritarian uses being already made of the pandemic (links that follow are to sources beyond DN!): Amazon has fired a leader of the strike at its Staten Island warehouse (workers are demanding that basic measures be taken to protect them from COVID-19 in their workplace); Federal judges thankfully struck down abortion bans in Texas and Ohio (but the bans, to be struck down, had to be instated in the first place); in Hungary, Victor Orbán has capitalized on the pandemic to take major steps towards establishing himself as a dictator; the political pressure generated in Israel by COVID-19 has given Benjamin Netanyahu yet another lease on political life; the situation in India is awful, where documentary evidence suggests that pandemic-response measures are failing miserably, but people are nonetheless being arbitrarily subjected to harsh and dehumanizing treatment by a government with an undeniably fascist agenda; in the US, multiple state governments have quietly taken the opportunity to push through legislation to “criminalize protests against the fossil fuel industry” in the name of defending “critical infrastructure”; in my own birth state, Idaho, the governor chose yesterday (the day before the International Transgender Day of Visibility) to sign into law two anti-Trans bills; and in Rhode Island, the Mashpee Tribe has announced its intention to resist attempts by the President’s Administration to “disestablish” their reservation, with circumstances suggesting that plans to build a casino on the Mashpee’s territory threatened nearby casinos that have close ties to the President.

This is necessarily an incomplete and somewhat random sampling, and yet it points clearly to the reactionary agendas afoot as much of the world’s population sits, for good reason, at home – our ability to physically organize, radically curtailed – and people are understandably afraid. Edward Snowden is warning about potential lasting implications of increases in government surveillance – justified, now, in response to the pandemic, but, in his view, likely with us for years to come – and, of the utopian and dystopian potentialities of our current moment, Rebecca Solnit wrote recently in the New York Times, “the possibilities for change, for the better or the worse, for a more egalitarian or more authoritarian society, burst out of the gate like racehorses.”

In search of the “egalitarian,” one need look no further than DiEM 25 and its vision for a better EuropeGE workers protesting to be allowed to produce ventilators; and ICE detainees organizing to protect themselves. There is always a bright side, but I feel at once at risk of redundancy – in always juxtaposing the grim signs with the not-so-grim – and of lapsing into dishonesty, for, to me, it seems plain as day that we – those of us who imagine some version of that “egalitarian” world that Solnit (in, of all places, the pages of the NYT) points to – are losing and that on the other end of this global trauma, we will face a world even more disfigured, a set of power structures even more stacked against us.

I have no idea what we do about this, though I do suspect that – just as we’ll see explosions of consumption and revelry when this is finally over (and perhaps before, fueling second or third waves of infection) – the massive popular uprisings that will follow the pandemic will likely dwarf those that were already escalating globally through 2019. We can hope.

Turning back to New York City for a moment, either The Post is correct, and 124 died in six hours yesterday from COVID-19 at the City’s hospitals, or the City’s own reporting of mortality figures is simply inconsistent and the rise in death toll has actually been steadier than the official numbers suggest. Here, too, I don’t know the answer. Overnight, the night before last, the official death toll rose from 776 to 790, and then – in that “horrific six-hour stretch” yesterday during the day – 124 new deaths were tallied, raising the official count to 914. Overnight, last night, again, the toll was comparably low – “only” 18 additional deaths to raise the current official total to 932. I expect another spike to be announced in the coming hours, and with reference to the graph above, the number of daily deaths from COVID-19 will likely soon be triple or quadruple the average number (~130) of daily deaths in the City.

On that morbid note, so rapidly have things continued to change of late, I’ve found it useful to regularly reflect back on the weeks just passed. (It was, after all, only on March 14th that the first official COVID-19 death was recorded in NYC.) Last night, a high school friend prodded me on Twitter in response to my piece from yesterday that I needed to, “Get to the point” and should have led with the quote from Mike Davis (“If we don’t debate a democratic response to pandemics now, we risk ceding leadership to tyrants”, from this piece) but that I was on “on the right track though”; this is a friend who walks the walk on his politics, so I was open to the criticism, but on this front, I was pretty sure I’d been getting to the point for some time, and told him as much.

On March 16th, I wrote: “And now? We have a long, slow, grueling struggle ahead of us, the ramifications of which, around the world, it is impossible to foresee. I do not think it is advisable to compare it to war, as this is a struggle that has to be conducted collectively, with love, in community (which, given the call for isolation, is supremely ironic and will no doubt reinforce the dominance of the data monopolies), and centering the individuals, populations, and communities hardest hit by the health, economic, and social impacts of the pandemic. These past two weeks have been dizzying. The next two will be more so, and we have to brace ourselves, and do our best to stay healthy of body, strong in spirit, and sane and loving to ourselves and each other as we come through this”

And on the 17th: “Barring the widespread social and political collapse that some people fear, I’d say the concern which sits forefront in my mind is how we rebuild public space and public goods in the wake of this catastrophe. Right now, we rightly fear what is shared, but it would be a tragedy if going forward we turned our backs away from everything that is beautiful in our public parks and public transit, our town squares and varied meeting places, our bars and restaurants – these are ancient institutions, and for a reason, and I’m confident we will return to them, but in the face of ongoing climate disruption and neofascism on the march, only concerted global effort by the majority of us – a majority who want to live in peace and justice, and I think increasingly recognize that the choice is actually socialism or barbarism, or, to sidestep, once again, the risk of ideological discord, that we either choose public wealth and private sufficiency, or the world burns – and only concerted global effort will ensure that that burning does not happen.”

And on the 18th: “Predicting the behavior (in spreading through a human population) of a virus is one thing, but foreseeing complex human dynamics at a global scale quite another, and as I wrote yesterday, my energy is increasingly focused on: 1) mitigation strategies; 2) the needs of populations now subjected to immense shocks and stresses (especially those most vulnerable); and 3) strategizing for a just and sane post-pandemic world.”

These three priorities remain my focus, although I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the rapid moves toward authoritarianism all around the world and thus worried that we don’t have the luxury of only strategizing now because post-pandemic, to act, it may already be too late. What we do about this authoritarian threat continues to be my preoccupation. What it is we do, as I wrote above, I have no idea. There is no shortage of great visions, and no shortage of energy, but what it will take to mobilize that energy to realize those visions in the face of the forces arrayed against us, I don’t know; the “debate” Davis calls for is a good starting point, but it will take much more than that.

The Political Uses of Pandemic

You start to forget how much it wears on you – the stress, the isolation, the pain of the collective trauma. The pain of your friends and loved ones. The pain you feel yourself.

Our friend’s best friend’s father died of COVID-19 last week in New Jersey. Death stalks closer.

Last night, I stepped out to take out our recycling (for the people of DSNY continue to do the essential work they do) and, finding our block totally empty, I stopped for a moment to breathe. It wasn’t one of the fake “Deep Breath Moments” with which our Governor has been ending his daily “NYS Coronavirus Update” emails – our Governor, who, after bungling through the early days of this crisis, has proven remarkably energetic in recent weeks, so much so that it’s necessary to remind ourselves, as Akash Mehta has in the pages of Jacobin, that Even in a Pandemic, Andrew Cuomo Is Not Your Friend – but an actual deep breath. The light above our neighbor’s door shone on a magnolia tree. I felt like crying.

I love the spring – the embarrassment of riches it brings in a Manhattan that overflows with decorative flowering plants – and even knowledge that all this has been landscaped and manufactured, as it were, even the constant presence of our island’s grisly history, doesn’t significantly detract from the pleasure I take in spring flowers. This year, it seems we’ll mostly be missing spring in New York though. In Central Park, Mount Sinai is constructing a field hospital, and even the short walk I indulge in daily in our neighborhood is generally overshadowed by the signs of the pandemic’s toll: Sirens in the distance, an ambulance barreling by. We live close by to what used to be Saint Vincent’s – site of my father’s birth, in fact – and were it still a hospital, and not the luxury condominiums into which it has been converted, one imagines it would be among the many epicenters of the City’s crisis today as it was the epicenter of the City’s AIDS crisis nearly four decades ago.

Instead, the freestanding Northwell Health / Lenox Hill Emergency Department – in an iconic brutalist building, (almost) all that remains of the legendary hospital – plays host to a steady stream of ambulances. Lost in thought over the weekend, and preoccupied with the strange ritual of social distancing (that reminds me of childhood games of tag), I was surprised to look up from outside the Equinox – which, we should remember, closed the doors of all its NYC clubs barely more than a week ago – and discover a strange chimera of a structure: What looked like a catering tent jacked up on an incline to meet the head of a tractor trailer that – at least in New York – reads visually as a temporary boiler unit. There was a siren in the distance; five ambulances idled in the foreground; and for a moment, I thought I was seeing one of the freezer trucks I’d been reading and hearing about. Not a temp boiler, but a temp morgue. But when I reached home, my partner clarified for me, and showed me a pic from our friend Zahra, a doctor, who, in the accompanying text, had reported feeling exhausted, used a very sad emoji, but also explained that she’d been “in the tent” all day. If I watched more television, maybe I’d have been aware that these are among the sites were screening is happening, and just as New York State is now only testing patients for whom positive diagnosis would change the course of treatment, so too, many sick – but not-sick-enough – patients, are being triaged out of these strange tent-trucks and being sent straight back home.

The number of COVID-19 deaths in NYC continues to rise sharply, though not as sharply as the early trend might’ve suggested: From doubling every two days, now the cumulative number of deaths seems to be doubling more like every three – so perhaps this is a hopeful sign regarding the effectiveness of some of the early preventive actions that were taken at large: closure of major venues, a smattering of WFH policies, vulnerable populations voluntarily self-isolating out of concern for their own well-being – though, of course, the doubling is happening on an ever higher base, so the raw number of deaths per day continues to trend, if jaggedly, upward.

Not to get too technical on a morbid subject, but given a five-day average incubation period and conservatively, a 14-day average period of illness between onset of symptoms and death, at the most optimistic, we could hope to see the impact of the “Stay-at-Home” order kick in around the start of the second week of April. Unfortunately, given that most transmission is apparently amongst family and friends, and that a large number of people are likely to have contracted the disease after the promulgation of the order from their intimates, it seems likely that there will be a further period of plateau at or around the level of peak mortality that could easily last a few additional weeks; again, in my view, this is an optimistic scenario (in which our weakly-enforced and unevenly-respected preventive measures prove effective enough to break the disease’s spread), and if the daily number of deaths has started to decline significantly by the end of April, I’ll count us lucky.

I’m working under an assumption that the end of May is the soonest we can expect a true return of anything approximating “normalcy” (always a problematic concept as for many people, “Normal [Is] the Problem“), and even then, with significant lasting adjustments and accommodations being made by all around what that means. I don’t expect private schools to resume in-person classes this academic year, though suspect the public schools may attempt a symbolic reopening in June, if circumstances permit, to gesture towards a planned return to that same normalcy in the fall, and if my partner and I can sit down across the bar from our friend Akil by June, I’ll be – as our friend Thiru might put it – “damn happy.”

For context, Wuhan – a city of comparable size to New York’s five boroughs – was shut down almost completely (and subject to a much more stringent set of measures than we have been to date) for seven weeks. It took 10 weeks (so basically up to the present) before shops and malls began to partially re-open. People are now being allowed to return to Wuhan, but, apparently, until April 7th, still no one is allowed to leave.

We can imagine that our measures will prove less effective than theirs, and that the disruptions of our lives – if less severe – will therefore, by necessity, prove longer lasting. Unlike the Wuhanese, we here in New York will also likely face the misfortune – if we do start to emerge, in May, from the worst of our own local/regional crisis – of a pandemic raging across the country to which we are, if grudgingly, attached.

Seven weeks from March 19th (the date of the promulgation of the “Stay-at-Home” order) would be May 7th. Expecting the most stringent of our not-very-stringent measures to be lifted before then is reasonably likely to create false hope and lead to disappointment. Conversely, expecting that the insufficient stringency of our measures combined with the unfolding national disaster that will almost certainly still be raging in six weeks will probably necessitate ongoing semi-stringent measures in New York at least through the end of May feels equal parts realistic and sad to me.

On the upside (and downside), it could all still easily prove much worse than that. I’d be (and I am) hoping and working for the best possible outcome here, but also hunkered down and prepared for less than that. Again, in Wuhan it was seven weeks of complete lockdown, 10 weeks before significant partial reopening of commercial spaces, and is slated to be 11 weeks before all travel restrictions are lifted. Meanwhile, we’ve had a lax shutdown here (economically devastating, to be certain, but not necessarily terribly effective at stopping the spread of the virus) and people continue to travel freely in ways that are often galling and remarkably irresponsible.

Lest I seem to be calling for autocratic measures – like the brutal, ineffective, and deadly ones that have been rolled out in India in the past week – I’m not. As has been my steady refrain, on the one hand, I’d love to see an informed and public-minded citizenry stop acting like sociopathic idiots, and on the other, I believe that we need a historic recommitment to the basic tenets and practices of public health. There never should’ve been a need for a shutdown, because there never should’ve been a pandemic in the first place.

But there was and is a pandemic, and, as Mike Davis put it, “If we don’t debate a democratic response to pandemics now, we risk ceding leadership to tyrants.” With the caveat that a lot of “Western” ink has been spilled in attacking the Chinese, and yet it remains the case that – as the Europeans recriminate and turn their backs on each other, and the United States turns its back on the entire world as we drift deeper into the throes of this artfully-orchestrated nightmare – China and Cuba are among the few nations engaged in delivering meaningful transnational aid in the face of the pandemic – with that caveat, I think Davis is right.

Postscript: On the subject of democracy, DiEM25 (short for The Democracy in Europe Movement 2025) has some great interviews up. They’re being broadcast as livestreams, but the videos are all available on YouTube; I watched/listened to those with Vijay Prashad and Noam Chomsky this afternoon and can happily recommend both – oh, and added bonus if you watch the Chomsky interview: It ends with cameos from not only his dog, but also his parrot, which apparently knows how to say, “All sovereignty to the people!” in Portuguese.

We’re Fine. How Are you?!

It’s been moving to be checked in upon by so many friends and loved ones in recent weeks; thoughts and wishes from around the country and the world have helped sustain us through these strange and trying days and left us feeling less alone. Still, they’ve also made us worry – all these calls, texts, emails, WhatsApp messages, and Insta DMs – worry because very few people three weeks ago in New York thought anything like what we’re now living through was even remotely possible. That (now this) was the sort of thing that happened in Africa or China. We were, at most, the alarmed consumers of epidemic porn, fretting over Ebola as exactly 11 people, total, with that frightening hemorrhagic fever were treated in the United States during the mid-2010s outbreak.

This time, of course, things have turned out very differently – as the COVID-19 pandemic has rent our very sense of society and future – but moving unevenly as it does, and building up a critical destructive mass of invisible infections before clear outward evidence has manifested that it has even arrived, SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes prey on exactly the weaknesses that made us, here in New York City, so vulnerable to its spread. Sadly, for much the same reason, I suspect that – as I put it to my partner last night: “In a week or two, the whole country will look like New York.”

Sadder still to imagine, while New York has, among other things, immense resources, disproportionate political and economic clout, a strong healthcare system (including many under-funded but-still-public hospitals), and extensive experience in dealing with epidemic disease – plus enjoyed the benefit of confronting this trauma while most of the rest of the country watched, which made it possible for New York, and New York (almost) alone, to call on the Federal Government for the mobilization of resources commensurate to deal with our crisis – when the pandemic’s impacts begins to unfold almost everywhere across the the country simultaneously, the need will inevitably overwhelm the feeble efforts of this weak, confused, and indifferent Administration.

Or – to quote myself once more, for which I apologize – as I concluded last night: “Now what happens when this happens in twenty places at once?”

When relatives from Hyderabad call concerned about us here, my partner’s taken to responding, “We’re fine. We’re worried about you.”

Short and sweet today. I actually usually work on Sundays, but whilst staying at home, I’m giving myself permission not to. Week by week, for the past three weeks, my focus has shifted – from sounding the alarm about the impending crisis in New York; to trying to predict some of its numerical, economic, and political consequences; to trying to help prepare my friends and loved ones here in New York for the grisly weeks into which we’ve now entered (through attempting to project what our COVID-19 death toll might look like) while also beginning to look to the situation in India and striving to be a useful part of the response here. Now I’m looking to the rest of my own already-ravaged country with deep consternation, uncertain what those of us confined to our homes here in New York can do other than continue to issue dire warnings and urge drastic action: Please, please, take this seriously! As our Governor – who some people now think should be president, and I didn’t believe should be re-elected – put it: “One of the forecasters said we were looking at a freight train coming across the country. We’re now looking at a bullet train.”

If you’re in the United States, odds are – if it hasn’t reached your community already – the bullet train’s coming straight at you.

Postscript: As promised, more info coming across regarding my partner’s work toward the creation of alternative birthing sites in NYC: Her draft plan is now live and I know she’d welcome comments and insights. Also, our friend Naman has a great, short piece in The Caravan about his work at the Jan Swasthya Sahyog (JSS) hospital in rural Chhattisgarh and how the nation-wide lockdown in India is undercutting efforts at JSS to provide necessary care.

Our Medievalism

Long-time friends of mine know that I very nearly went to medical school, and close friends may even remember that infectious disease was what interested me. Rare have been the occasions in the last decade that I’ve looked back with any regret on the decision not to follow a medical path, but certainly – in feeling hands-tied to do much about this current crisis – I’ve reflected back on the road not taken (though, of course, the subtlety of poems is often lost in their popularization).

It hurt my heart to read of the teenager in Los Angeles who died of COVID-19-related complications after being denied care because he lacked insurance. Turned away from a private clinic, he went into cardiac arrest en route to a nearby public hospital where he was resuscitated and kept alive for six hours. Now he is dead. I don’t know if it proves my point from yesterday or undermines it, but either way, his death is heartbreaking and unnecessary.

These are the sorts of forces we’re up against: The Koch (now singular) lobbying to defund the CDC but then calling for an early end to shelter-in-place measures; the CDC itself bungling and imploding when we need it most; our kleptocratic President and the disaster capitalists who surround him using the opportunity of the crisis to suspend a century’s-worth of hard-won environmental regulations and give trillions to major corporations (because there is roughly a 10x loan multiplier on the widely reported $500 billion figure) with “no strings attached”; ICE doing what ICE does, even as the pandemic’s impacts in this country intensify; and the administration of Riker’s Island leaving prisoners there to fend for themselves.

Meanwhile, in India, in multiple worrying signs, drones are being used to enforce the curfew; there, like here, prisoners are being forced to produce necessary pandemic-response supplies; in a brutal repetition of the post-Demonetization debacle, caught off-guard by the Prime Minister’s totally-unplanned total shutdown of the country, migrant workers are attempting to walk hundreds of kilometers back to their villages; and a man was “thrashed” to death by police in West Bengal after stepping out to buy milk.

This is the news from the world’s two largest democracies in their first few weeks of what will certainly be (at least; and actually, starting from December, already is) a months-long global crisis, and the worst of the pandemic’s effects have barely yet begun to be felt in either country. Still, there are reasons for hope. In this country, in the face of the massive upward transfer of wealth represented by the so-called “Relief” bill, inspiring alternatives abound, including: Five Principles of Just COVID-19 Relief and Stimulus, the People’s Bailout, and A Green Stimulus to Rebuild Our Economy. A candidate who’s been calling for Medicare for All (or its equivalent) for decades is still running for president (and has consistently been issuing the most thoughtful and coherent responses to the pandemic of any national political figure). And as mutual aid efforts proliferate across a stricken and half-paralyzed New York City, those prisoners on Riker’s are, after all, fending for themselves as best they can, and receiving support from the outside as they do.

Speaking about New York in particular, the crisis that we’re currently leading the country into has pointed to many hopeful ways forward. As I’ve previously mentioned, we’re in the midst of a biking boom. It’s rarely been easier to move freight around the City. And the move to close certain streets to further enable social distancing raises the obvious question: Why would we ever reopen them? And why don’t we close a lot more of them permanently to cars? And what could and would we do with all that space if we finally took it back? This is of what many of us have been dreaming for years, and – as with the sudden evanescence of the “How Will You Pay For It?” question that dogged Bernie Sanders (and Elizabeth Warren) through the primaries, with the almost-as-if-magical surfacing of ~$2.5 trillion dollars (and more like $6 or $7 trillion counting the aforementioned multiple) in a few-weeks time – this crisis has radically accelerated certain transformations and opened up previously-only-dreamt-of possibilities.

Obviously, we – those of us who want to see a sane, just, livable human future on Earth – are losing in many places on many fronts right now – not least, in Washington D.C. on almost everything – but the battle continues over what the lessons from and paths forward out of this mess will be, and I continue to be very focused on not letting this crisis go to waste. I don’t believe it’s necessary to sacrifice our civil liberties to fight a pandemic. I don’t believe that dense, vibrant cities are the problem. I don’t believe that more austerity is the solution.

As Heiner Flassbeck put it in Corona, Politics, and the European Challenge:

So it is exactly the opposite of what microeconomic thinking would suggest: If we break down corporate structures, put people in fear of their livelihoods or even make them actually suffer hardship by making transfers that are too meagre and hesitant from the outset to help maintain the monetary processes of our economy, we will lack both production capacity and demand for the time after the pandemic. If we now generously finance the shutdown, which will not take years but only months, we can then return to the real structures that existed before the crisis.

I don’t know about returning to exactly the same “real structures that existed before,” but the idea that we must use government to cushion the impact on millions and millions of people around the country and the world seems rather obvious to me, while the idea that part of how we could do so is by committing to a Green New Deal, a Green Stimulus, or something equivalent seems downright enlightened. The crisis of this pandemic and the global climate crisis are at once very different, very similar, and inextricably interlinked, and I think there’s a deep elegance in extracting ourselves from the one through beginning to finally address the other.

Coming back around to infectious disease though, the most recent episode of Doug Henwood’s podcast was especially excellent. The first interview, with economist James Meadway, shed light on “the consciousness” that’s been formed by 40+ years of neoliberalism (and relates to why a lot of people just don’t seem to care about our current crisis, or much of anything that has to do with public space and public goods), while the second, with science journalist David Quammen, was packed full of interesting insights about the history of zoonotic diseases. I found Quammen’s outlining of the history of AIDS especially illuminating, so fully did it fly in the face of the received version that I remembered from The Band Played on, among other popular sources. As the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly spread around the globe, I’ve marveled at the work of scientists in sequencing the genome of the virus and tracking and charting its mutations, and it was with similar fascination that I learned that the roots of AIDS as a human disease reach back to the early part of the 20th century. (To be fair, I’d heard theories to this effect previously, but I’d not been aware that there was settled science on the matter – and a little searching online suggests that controversy remains regarding the exact date and circumstances of the disease’s crossing over to humans.)

I’d been musing if there had ever been anthroponotic diseases (I was sure there had been, and Wikipedia informs me now that there have been many); continuing to think over the almost certain acceleration of the shift of the global balance of power towards China, and East Asia, that this crisis will bring on (Fred Wilson can’t have had COVID-19 in mind, of course, when he made his predictions a few months ago); and hoping that municipal import substitution (a concept I first came across in the later writings of Jane Jacobs) will lead to a revival of New York’s manufacturing economy post-pandemic, though wondering at the same time what form that revival would take as we confront, simultaneously, climate crisis and the gentrification (embodied by Industry City, the Navy Yard, and the Brooklyn Army Terminal) that has so far accompanied next-generation manufacturing efforts in the five boroughs – all this yesterday afternoon in our kitchen with the window, again, open – when from outside I heard a neighborhood conspiracy theorist, known to me, explaining across a fence-line to someone, “You know there is a cure to the disease, right?” That 20,000 people in Rockland County had been secretly diagnosed COVID-positive, but that 150 of them were cured by… I didn’t catch the name of it.

Such is the state of our society, and I see vanishingly little difference between the quack nostrums and snake-oil remedies of old and whatever’s being peddled today by people like our President (perhaps the only meaningful difference is that, today, our superstition is scientistic), and at times lately, if not quite regretting, I’ve certainly at least been reflecting back on the fact that, today, I’m not an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist, and that I feel at a loss as to how I can do more to help turn the tide of all this collective suffering and top-down idiocy.

Be that as it may, I’ve nonetheless been striving to play my part. We are in a position to contribute financially in a modest way, and today donated to the relief fund for workers at a neighborhood family of restaurants; gave a direct gift to someone we knew could use it; and, of course, continued to enjoy the delicious food that our friends at Green Top Farms have been sending us in their #WFHPacks (one or more of which I encourage you to order for next week). Above all, I continue to support my partner’s efforts towards the creation of alternative birthing sites for people due to give birth in the coming weeks and months in NYC on which she, and her multiple collaborators, have made remarkable progress in recent days. Hopefully, I’ll have more on this soon, including ways that you can politically and financially support the undertaking, and in the meantime, again, please do reach out if this is an effort you’d like to get behind.

If this is a bit rambling, that’s the current state of my mind. It’s Saturday and I’ve now been inside for the better part of – I’m not sure. Is it 17 straight days? One quickly begins to lose count. So to everyone out there caught in a similarly-curious limbo – and especially to those facing much worse – I send love and strength for the week ahead and wishes of rest and restoration for what may or may not feel like a weekend.