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Home of the Whopper

My Covid-19 thoughts

"It's not a civilized situation; it's a heroic one."[1] (Vincent Scully)

There is no memory which time does not efface,
and pain to which death does not bring an end. (Cervantes)

"Please don't call me a hero. I am being martyred against my will." (Nurse, Brooklyn NY; Slate, 23 April 2020)

"This is no time to be applying for induction into the Knuckleheads Hall of Fame!" (Phil Murphy, NJ Governor, anent young adults' big house parties, 1 Aug 2020)

"I HATE YOU AS MUCH AS YOU HATE ME" (Bumper sticker, 1975, Washington DC)


In pandemic, what does "everybody" want? A return to normal [the status quo ante]. Where did the pandemic come from ? Normal [the status quo ante].


My rant

This is not Broch's The Death of Virgil.

I wake up in the middle of the night, 08 June 2020, in the middle of a dream

I awaken in medias res of a dream in which a prayer is being said in latin, or in English. Maybe that was the choice that was going to have to be made had the dream continued? And the selection was going to determine something consequentlal, like, maybe, living or dying. And the text in the dream was going to be very long.... But I was now awake and knew I wasn't going to be going back to sleep "any time soon" and consequenty I got up and started typing this.

"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death...." (I am an agnostic, i.e., an atheist who is open to new empirical evidence.)

I don't know how the dream would have ended, but I do think I know the day's residue it came from: the pages I had read the previous afternoon in Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror": "Chapter 5 'This Is The End of the World': The Black Death [/] In October 1347...." (p. 92)

But then there was also the fact that, the day before that, I had gone by car (Mimi drove) 20 miles out of the house, and attended a four persons present, a number of others in England on Zoom, family get-together which was presumably safe, but one will not know for sure until at least 2 weeks afterwards. And one of the participants, who is immuno-compromised, had talked about planning to go to an anti-Police Brutality protest the next day, and I had strongly urged her not to do so. --This was the first time since New York's "shelter in place" order, more than 2 months earlier, that I had had direct contact with anybody other than my immediate family and a visiting nurse or a tradesman fixing/servicing something in the house (and, oh, yes, once also the tax accountant and his secretary), except for one time accompanying my wife to an early morning doctor's appointment at a Northwell Health office where nobody except about four Northwell employees were within shouting distance and not all of them together....

Not that privation of "social contact" had bothered me much. My happiest work location, before Covid-19, had been working from home, especially before dawn when nobody else in the house except the cats was "up". Item: In the present time of Covid-19 [I have read that its "body count" is not sufficiently high to qualify the "pandemic" as a "plague"] I had driven in town to Robert Jacobson's Surgical Pharmacy, where I would pick up a previously placed and paid for order. I cell-phoned the pharmacy when I got there. I got out of the car. A pharmacy employee came out with the bag of medical supplies, some 30 feet or so from me. "Where do you want it?" "Just leave it right where you are." The employee went back inside and I walked over to pick up the bag from the sidewalk, got back in my car and drove back home. "Are you going to stop anywhere?" "No." (Such errands do help keep up my driving skill.)

I wake up in the middle of the night, 09 June 2020, in the middle of a dream

I awaken in medias res of a dream in which all the good forces on earth are doing the right thing. It's not our Humpty Dumpty president, das Arschloch des Abendlandes, falling off the wall and all his toadies in The West Wing not being able to put Him back together again. It's the greatest pipe organ ever imagined sounding Johann Sebastian Bach's most magnificent cantata to heaven. I listen to this magisterial music unfold and I know precisely the right strategies to bring about the fulfillment of Husserl's constructive Teleology of The West already are in process of and will continue to go on being deployed. I also have a premonition that, despite having every right and good reason to succeed, it's gonna fail. Metaphorically: The score will be Human Civilization m, Covid-19 (and all the other crap that came before it) m + m1 for some m1 > 0 and < 7. Johnny Unitas will get the snap. The clock will go to zero. Johnny will throw a perfect n > 50 yard Hail Mary pass to Raymond Berry, who, in the open, will be in the perfect position to receive it. Somehow, just beyond Berry's arms in the air and his face in the mud, the ball will lumpily come to a stop a few feet beyond, a staggering drunk finally passing out on the ground. I wake up while the music is [still] playing, and the convocation of the Universal Yale (Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge...) faculty is still Unterwegs. As said, I woke up and quickly forgot it all.

I went back to sleep and awoke, for the second and last time this night, to a thought: Maybe some lawyers will be able to help. I seem to have envisioned/imagined a lot of them, and something [the lawyers?] arranged in a hierarchical tree diagram. I also thought: They will charge their standard hourly rate to help.

Back to Tuchman

Many of her words about the unhappy, plague stricken fourteenth century could be applied to now, or at least to what was happening just a few weeks ago, before "everybody's" attention got distracted from the Covid-19 pandemic by a rogue police officer killing an already hand-cuffed man who was lying on his back on the ground, by kneeing down on the man's throat for almost 8 minutes, including for almost 3 minutes after he [the cop] had suffocated him [the suspect]. "I can't breathe" (but, as one conservative pundit astutely noted, if you say "I can't breathe" you're still breathing. Q.E.D.). The man's suspected crime? Trying to pass a forged $20 bill to buy something in a convenience store, which is now famously not a capital felony, although whatever the man was doing has been largely forgotten in his apotheosis to representative victim of all police brutalities, which has eclipsed Covid-19 in the popular imagination -- perhaps morally rightly but still not epidemiologically correctly.

Tuchman, again: "Amid accumulating death and fear of contagion, people died without last rites and were buried without prayers, a prospect that terrified the last hours of the stricken" (p. 94), especially, now, in nursing homes and assisted living facilities and hospitals, where family members were often not permitted to visit the sick/dying. Nurses, preferably for their own health in proper protective gear, try to take up the slack.

We know more than the people of the fourteenth century, so that we can isolate more intelligently, but, so far, modern medicine has been impotent, beyond putting the most grievously afflicted on ventilators which frequently fail to provide the breath of life. For us, so far, there is famously (except for speculations about the possibly curative properties Clorox, etc. from our fatuous Commander in Chief) no effective treatment and no vaccine to save us from Covid-19. The low-tech prophylactic is masks and social distancing, hand washing and not touching your face, all of which don't deploy any fundamentally post-fourteenth century technological innovations.

As said, the death rate is lower now. There are no buboes now. On CNN, I see a priest going from house to house where the people have all come out to gather as families on their front yards to meet him, at > six feet distance. The good priest carries aloft the burden of a large processional cross as he wends his way down the street, from lawn to lawn, successively blessing the members of his flock and conducting communion; and the spirits of the people are much raised by his ministrations. It looks like the Middle Ages come to Levittown. There is a cliche that there are no atheists in foxholes. Watching this good priest, I don't have to be a Catholic or even just a believer in anything to be moved, and moved to try to reinterpret Christian doctrine as proto-Habermasean/Hegelean philosophy to make what I am witnessing more intellectually palatable to myself.

"Reaching out to us in the future, Pertarch cried: 'Oh happy posterity who will not experience such abysmal woe and will look upon our testimony as a fable.'" (p. 99) Who "happy posterity"? Not us. An aborted impeachment of a rogue World Leader, followed by a global pandemic which soon merges with mass protests against felonious Police Officers, not to mention the background music of "climate change" burning much of Australia and other places, and plagues of locusts, etc. Sophocles: "Best of all never to have been born; second best to have seen the light and gone back swifly whence one came" is more "like it".

But, at least so far (07 June 2020 and counting), daily life continues for myself (and for many other "fortunates") much as in the status quo ante, except for such minor course corrections as buying cat food by mail instead of going to the big-box Target store in person, and I am surprised to find toilet paper is apparently once again available to buy so I venture to order some of that too. (Even before the pandemic I always tried to keep a stock of toilet paper, especially after, a few weeks before the pandemic, Target's toilet paper shelves started frequently being empty (why?). When the pandemic arrived, I think I already had at least a 6 month supply of toilet paper in the basement, and at least a 10 week supply of cat food.


Science and public health: The first pandemic of the 21st century

In the eternal battle of infections versus the infected, Covid-19 is a game changer. Previous infectious agents could be fought and their epidemics controlled and ended by public health workers finding the people who showed symptoms and quarantining them. This worked even for SARS and Ebola.

It does not work for Covid-19, due to an evolutionary innovation this public health menace deploys: asymptomatic spreading. From B-1s to B-2s; the stealth infector. There has never been anything like this before Covid-19, and scientists predict there will be more like it to come.

Asymptomatic spreading was the justification for universal lockdowns. Because anybody can be contagious, even individuals who never show any symptoms, everybody must be treated as having the disease until the sheep can be separated from the goats by testing. There have been precedents here, e.g., Typhoid Mary. But Typhoid Marys were rare. Asymptotic spreaders of the novel coronavirus can be any kid on the block including yours, or any coworker, or any fellow parishioner, or any fellow soldier or sailor, et al.

One way to deal with the problem is to do nothing about it. This can work because Covid-19 has a relatively low overall mortality rate, apparently well under 5%. So, if enough people get sick, "herd immunity" will develop and the pandemic will end, even before 100% of the population catches the disease. At least that's the theory, if catching the disease results in forming lasting antibodies even when it does not lead to symptoms. This seems likely but still not certain. The problem with this strategy is that the mortality rate is much higher than 5% for "vulnerable" populations: people over 65, especially, the aged, the immuno-compromised, and persons with pre-existing conditions (e.g., diabetes). Covid-19 kills the vulnerable in droves. It produces mountains of corpses in nursing homes and, of course, in hospitals. In general, children seem not to show symptoms, but, weeks after an asymptomatic infection a child can develop a devastating, potentially fatal antibody storm, where a person's immune system overzealously kills him or her. Relatively rare, but, as the old saw goes, if your neighbor is out of work it's a recession but if you're out of work it's a depression. So the do nothing solution, because while it may be potentially attractive from the point of view of Great Leaders (e.g.', United States President (POTUS №45) Donald J. Trump famously declared that, with or without a vaccine, "we're open") and some others, is not a good first choice for civil servants with consciences or souls.

What does work and also protects the vulnerable is a combination of low-tech behavioral modifications: isolate the vulnerable, have everybody wear masks, and practice social distancing: people in public have to stay 6 feet apart. This does not stop the spread of the virus but slows down its advance to give scientists time, frantically working, to come up with a treatment and/or a vaccine. Even a malignant narcissist demagugue like "The Don[ald]" who cares nothing for anybody except maybe his immediate family and some members of his golf clubs, may be willing to use other people's money to fund vaccine research in hopes the scientists will come through and provide him with a propaganda coup: an opportunity to get on mass media and do a victory lap and proclaim that he has saved the world which only he could have done (you'll all be damned if my opponent wins the next Presidential election; only I can save you, I am the answer; Heil Donald! [and "his base" cheers ecstatically in a collective kitschgasm]).

But the humanitarian defense could not immediately be deployed. Just as, if you're in a submarine and you have water gushing out all over the place you may need to shut a master valve to give yourself a chance to find the one break in the plumbing system before you sink, universal "shelter in place" (except for "essential workers") orders were deployed against Covid-19. Even in the pandemic's would-be eponomous city of origin, Wuhan, China, a city of > 10,000,000 people, it worked. And New York City, too, where international commercial aviation brought in perhaps 3,000,000 potential spreaders at "JFX" and Newark "Liberty" airports -- many through the "back door" of Western Europe while everybody thought the danger was from China and they closed the "front door" by stopping flights from there. Again, the stealth infector.

But actions have consequences and one thing leads to another while, as Elsa Morante wrote "history continues". Keeping everybody home meant shtting down much of the economy. This was not only politically unacceptable to America's fool-in-chief (Please, my reader, don't think I'm just being an idiosyncraticly flippant a--hole here; it has got to the point where The New York Times OpEd writers write this kind of stuff, too) -- anyway, not only is tanking the economy unacceptable to a man who, as nobel laureate economics Professor Paul Krugman wrote in a NYT OpEd is leading us (U.S.) to "die for the Dow"; it's also unacceptable to Everyman (and Everywoman) who consequentlky can't pay the rent or afford to feed their family because out of work. This is especially the case because The United States is a land of "rugged individualityism", where social welfare like they have in varying measure in Western European countries is not high on the political agenda except, for "Republicans", to try to stamp it out where it has previously come into being. And out-of-work blue collar workers unlike Ivy Leaguers and some others, lacking ability to articulate their pain in words, demand their "Second Amendment Rights" and their "Freedom", which feeds back into the (POTUS №45) Trump-demagogical loop. I can empathize with "their" plight -- I say "their" because "we" are not all one nation under the heavens, "in this together", and not all men/women are created equal here. Most blue collar workers don't have the "means" to ride out the storm and either not work or work at home. But isn't that what liberals should be for? To, after securing full bellies for themselves and their families, to help those who cannot do so to no longer be hungry (this is what New York governor Andrew Cuomo said his grandfather did at the cost to himself of developing heart trouble; when asked by grandson why he fed the poor during the Great Depression, grandfather replied to ask how could he have done otherwise? A good rich person.).

But, as I write this (08 June 29020) history is indeed continuing, and public attention has turned to mass rallies against massive Police criminality against "black people" (but also including some against some white folks, too), which may mean, even though most of the protestors wear masks but still they do not "social distance", a coming spike in Covid-19 casualties. Like the sun can give skin cancer to rich and poor alike, the novel corona virus can infect rich and poor alike, if they don't take all necessary precautionary measures. And just about everybody is, due to some combination of genetics and childrearing, socially even if not sexually promiscuous and needs or is at least hooked on needing, for psychological even if not economic reasons, close social contact.

A place to study

I am unemployed but have so far been able with a lot of good fortune and some creative accounting to live a low-grade Decameronish daily life during the pandemic. Item: Never in my life did I run a balance on a credit card. As a young person I wanted an American Express card for the status symbol, not the credit line. I always mocked persons who did run a balance and pay carrying charges. Now I am one. I feel I'm on a sinking ship, but to date it's sinking slowly and, unlike the Titanic, does not seem in imminent danger of breaking in half.[2]

I have been able to read (The New York Times and The BBC, on my computer, and CNN, on the telly) and to write (item: "here"). I have had a lifelong abhorrence of crowds, at least going back to boycotting "cheer rallies" in prep school. When Jesus said that He was among them when 2 or 3 were gathered together in His name, I hone in on the "2 or 3" -- 12 apostles is already several too many for my ideal farewell feast. So social distancing and eschewing crowds ["We want to be able to mass aggregate to cheer for our team at the football stadium (Yale bowl? In 4 years at the school, I never went there), and, also, our alma mater [if not Yale or Harvard, etc.] may not financially survive without the ticket proceeds!"].

As already indicated, except for its all too consequential and unavoidable medical and economic threats, Covid-19 doesn't bother me personally very much. I abominate many things that "people" want or need. Haircuts? When I was a child, the first time the barber gave me an adult-grade cut by applying his razor to my neck I threw a tantrum which resulted in my father threatening me for having so badly embarrassed him. The last time I went under the barbershop yoke was sometime in the 1980s. I have compassion for barbers, but not in my life. Vacations? I've been to Japan. Vacationing at home is fine for me ("peregrination in stabilitate" -- i have learned how to study, thanks in good part to Robbie). Ride a subway or a bus? When I was called for jury duty back in the time of SARS (which never reached the U.S.A.) I was much frightened to ride a New York subway to the Federal Courthouse, and had purchased N-95 masks although I didn't have the courage to wear one (if people on the subway started coughing I would have summoned up my courage. Correction: I reread the log I posted on my personal website at the time, and, on one subway + Metro North ride home, I did wear my mask). Eat in a dine-in restaurant? I did like that, but can do without it. Exercise at a gym? I used to like to do that, but had not done it for 10 years before Covid-19. Hug or shake hands when greeting somebody? That's probably the one thing, other than metabolizing, where I agree with (POTUS №45) Donald Trump -- I was always squeamish about hugging (for psychoanalytically explicable reasons) and hand shaking, except in empathy/sympathy, I can also do without. Let's bow like Japanese. Attend a sporting event? Heavens! I think the ontological categories of sublunary "stars', non-HVAC "fans", etc. should all be reduced to the empty set, yesterday at the latest....

Four things are not possible: ... and (4) Getting Wikimarkup to do exactly what I want.

As I may have described in another page here, I have in fantasy enrolled myself in a remote learning course at apocryphal Wuhan Pandemic University, although I'm not sure whether "Robbie"'s invitation to me to participate here is the root cause or "only" a reinforcement of an already incubating notion. From my experience now decades ago at Teachers College, I learned how to self-study [I have a .jpg of Erasmus of Rotterdam studying/writing which I have not loaded here out of respect for Robbie's concern about copyright problems. From my dissertation of which he was my sponsor, I have experience with copyright problems, but nevertheless I often risked them in elaborating my personal website, and, another aside, I have hypothezied as a lemma of a universal law, that the less famous the "star" one wishes to risk a copyright infringement of, the more likely one is to get away with doing it for non-profit personal purposes. Rip off a picture of some super-model, not advised (although I did post a close-up of Cindy Crawford's famous "beauty mark" aka mole with no ill effects to me so far). Borrow a picture of Hermann Broch's ["Who's that?"] library bookplate? Or a .jpg of a portrait of Erasmus? Who cares?] But, back to here, everything I have done so far in A place to study has been self-assignments submitted to my apocryphal course. Another digression: This course of study has included trying to figure out how to get Wikimarkup to do things I could easily do in regular HTML 3.2/4.01, like the little "Return" link in a bordered box at the bottom-right corner of each of my pages, which prevents each page from being a "dead end" and keeps you, my reader, "in the loop".

Why take a job in a nursing home kitchen?

A woman's husband was in a nursing home and could not have any visitors. Wife knew this was a recipe for husband's rapid decline. Therefore, wife took a part-time job in the nursing home kitchen and was thereby able to see him. Clever kitten!

People whining about Covid-19 vaccination mandates taking away their freedom

This is course is true: mandates do constrain persons' range of potential action and inaction. But if these people want to balk at constraints on their freedom, let's talk about the "biggie": military constription → involuntary servitude potentially leading to the person being maimed and/or murdered. There were people who balked at this mandate: "Hell no, we won't go!" But were they the same kind(s) of people as the vaccine whiners? Would the vaccine whiner females, like the Sirens in Homer's Odyssey, seduce men to go off to die in war while they sat on their asses at home and maybe cried crocodile tears for them?

Conclusion

While history is continuing (and I learned this morning, 24 June 2020, that Joseph Goebbels had a Ph.D. in german philosophy or philology, which may explain how he was such an affective propagandist -- the treason of the clerks), so far I seem to be flying below history's radar (as Job might have prayed: "Lord, please do not take notice of me."; I would never run for public office even if I had a chance to win the election). Part of what I'm writing here is lancing a now 70+ year old boil on my spirit which, I humbly propose, may not be altogether idiopathic. As always, my reader, thank you for reading, Ojala! and Vale (incl.: may the virus not catch you!)!  
 
 
 

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Footnotes

  1. To cite the title of Josef Pieper's fine essay: Leisure [is] the basis of culture. Heroism (sacrifice) and civilization (leisure) cannot occur contemporaneously in a person's life. A person can, however, survive a heroic situation and afterwards enjoy civilized leisure. Conversely, dangers may impinge on an individual, deprive him or her of civilized leisure, and coerce the person into a heroic situation until the danger can be overcome and safe, more fittingly human[e] conditions of life restored (if they can be restored, which frequently they cannot). (See also: Husserl quote)
  2. Recently, investigators have apparently figured out that the reason the Titanic sank so quickly was that a huge coal bunker fire which had been burning for weeks but which the White Star Line boss had told the crew to keep their mouths shut and not let passengers find out about it, had weakened a critical watertight bulkhead which also appears to have been made of less than the best grade metal, and the bulkhead finally broke due to the pressure of water rising on one side so that now the compartent on the other side filled up with water too. Also, The White Star Line was in financial trouble. The reason the Titanic maintained high speed through the ice field was that they only had enough fuel to just reach New York, and slowing down might have meant going dead(!) in the water off the New England coast, which would have been bad PR. They gambled they would not hit an iceberg, and, so it seems, they lost the bet. The bottom line uber alles! And there's a lot more to this story, including how light refracts when cold and less cold air masses meet so that the lookouts on the Titanic could not see the iceberg at the normally to be expected distance. Had the ship been travelling at 15 knots there would still have been time to avert iceberg contact. Further irony, if they had hit the iceberg head-on the ship might not have sank, since then a less than fatal number of watertight compartments might have been compromised.



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