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A penny for your thoughts.

Quarantine

March 11 2020, the world is in a pandemic.

A week before, and before governments restrictions on air travel, I was mingling freely among hundreds of other folks at a public event in New York City. In retrospect, none of us should have been there. The event is an annual affair attracting exhibitors, collectors and otherwise curious attendees from the world over to its venue. People were careful, in light of what was happening around the world, passing hand sanitizers as a manner of greeting, handshakes only offered inadvertently as a matter of habit. Only the Pence Dance (elbow knocking), or the Trump Bump (fist bump) jockingly offered as a substitute.
It was only after a few weeks that we realized the severity of the contagion and the danger we all shared at that annual event.
Upon returning to their respective countries, some of the exhibitors got sick and several tested for Covid-19. These were the same people who inhaled and exhaled the same air we breathed, touched the same surfaces many of us touched, handled the same items we may have handled. Surely the virus did not stay with the people showing symptoms.

Although I liked, and still like,  the tv show Monk, starring Tony Shaloub, I found the main character’s mannerisms over the top, at time excruciatingly repetitive and sometimes getting on my nerves. I liked the plots and liked Shaloub as lead, and I think he did a fabulous job portraying the maniacal obsessive Monk, I just wished he would get a hold of himself and get on solving murders in a more speedy fashion.

I have become Monk.

Everything I touch is suspect, my alcohol spray is used profusely. I disinfect everything I bring home, wine bottles, cans, packaged meals. I alcohol spray door handles, I wear a face mask when grocery shopping, I cross the street when I see another pedestrian walking towards me. I really got upset, Monk like, when in the parking lot of our condo loft, I saw a mother with a young child, blowing soap bubbles. What was she thinking about? Did she not realize that if she was infected, she would spread the germ around, putting countless people in danger of catching the bug. My fear and anxiety over the event sort of ended when I realized that soap kills the virus. But does it die if it is trapped in a soap bubble?

It’s now March 22, fifty million of American citizens are on a lockdown, asked to avoid unnecessary travel and advised to practice  social distances. That’s right, six feet apart or six feet under. There are still people who are not convinced that the epidemic is serious, that it will pass, just like the seasonal flu. From the news we are getting out of Italy and Spain, the likeness of the virus dying of its own is highly improbable. We have all seen on television, an army of Chinese sanitizers, all clad with fully protective equipment, spraying the streets and buildings with virus killing disinfectant.

So here, we are starting to hunker down in our respective homes, waiting for the worse to come while the powers that be are either, lying to us, or foolish enough to reassure us of future treatments “soon to come”, in the same time contradicting health experts warning us to be vigilant, because there is no meds yet capable of curing the virus. We hunker down in fear and we become irrational (I am using the royal “we”), we hoard toilet paper! We clean the stores shelves of essentials, we stock up on pasta and tomato sauce,  we fill our bomb shelters with Purel. The silver lining of this dark cloud is that it gives the producers a good idea about their items popularity. When all the shelves are empty, if your product is still there in abondance, it reflects poorly on its appeal, sending the message, yes, even during the apocalypse, we won’t touch your products!

For sure, this pandemic will change life as we know it forever. Since the Second World War, governments around the world have opted to secure peace and tranquility by building large weapons with unthinkable power of destruction. How are these going to protect us in this pandemic? The threat to our very lives and civilization as a whole cannot even been seen, unlike nuclear silos and marching military parades. The enemy now is invisible and persistent, infecting by osmosis old and young alike. No weapons in our arsenal, as of yet, to eradicate it. And until now, no cohesive plan to fight the virus.

It’s times like this that highlight the importance of understanding the earth is not flat. The earth is a globe and what goes around comes around. With a flat earth, one could build a wall and possibly contain the virus. Not so easy a task when it is a sphere. Globalization, maligned by nationalists, is a fact of life. If you sneeze in Wuhan, the world gets sick. Same if you sneeze in Paris, Moscow or Kalamazoo. It is dire time that governments shape up and rethink national security for the safety of their citizens.

The Metropolitan Opera broadcasts daily, to Carolle’s delight and my reluctant initiation to the art. Our loft, eight hundred sixty five square feet big, does not permit more than one sonorous activity at a time. The beauty of loft living is the benefit of open space,  but open space limits sound isolation. Monk would say “it’s a gift and a curse”. The experience will be a good primer for Jeopardy in the dreaded Opera category. Carolle used to go the local theaters to watch the Metropolitan broadcasts, here in town or in Nice when we visit. She will miss watching on a large screen and a better sound system. Carolle went alone, so, when she came back from a show, she would tell me about it, the plot, two males love the same female or vice versa, she, he or both die, most times a long and agonizing death, and that it was a great show. She knows most of the operas the Met has produced and has seen several of them, either at the Met or more recently at the movies, and here at home, the show is more a background music than a real attention getter, as we both multitask during it.

Time seems to slows down when your routines are disturbed and you are forced to isolate. It does not, of course, but it feels like it. The news does not help as it seems to only cover the pandemic. Social media Is another distraction to make time go faster. It does not, of course, but it provides a line of contact to your family and friends virtually, apart and prudent, in an effort to stop the contagion. Social media is also were you’ll find true human nature and its  high and low characters, the whole spectrum of humanity.

Today, March 23, I went shopping for grocery at the large box store not even a mile away from our loft. I used a trail through the woods, a well travelled way parallel and adjacent  to our Mill and the large shopping plaza next to it. I found the frail exploring the area a couple of weeks back. It climbs to a small crest in line with the roof of the mill, into the woods to what seems to be, by the size of the boulders, the large number and the chaotic aspect of the scene, the remnants of a glacier. It’s snowing today and the air is fresh, the snow reminds me that we are in New England, and that we can expect it until May. The rucksack I am using is light and convenient. In it, I place the face mask I fortunately found in my son in law’s garage, a clean new box of two masks. I figure it’s better than nothing, and in light of the scenes in the store, I firmly believe I needed it.

In the store, loudspeakers inform you that the store is taking extra precautions against covi-19, urge you to keep social distances of six feet, that the store does all it can to keep you safe. The store was not crowded and folks kept apart as best they could but as the loudspeakers repeated their announcement about safety, five people in close contact at a cashier, for several minutes trying to solve some problem. If that’s what that store consider acceptable in an epidemic, we are not gonna be winning the war anytime soon. At my turn at the cashier, I propped my bag of purchases to the belt. The fact that the clerk was handling the items with her bare hands made me wish there was a self checkout station in that store. There is none, and, every times she scanned and item, and placed it on that cold stainless steel surface near her, I imagined loads and loads of virus laying there in waiting.
The walk back to the Mill was a welcome distraction to the stress of shopping in a pandemic. Thoreau had the idea, the serenity of the woods transcends the chaos of the industrial world. The light snow still falling, I crossed path with a couple of robins foraging through dead leaves for whatever meal they may find. They shyly flew away at my approach. They are instinctively wary of humans, I don’t blame them. I understand.

When I got back from shopping, Tchaikovsky’s Opera, Eugene Onenin was on.

March 24, at noon the stock market is up almost 1500 points, trying to emerge from its recent plunge. Facebook provides distraction and perhaps too much of my time. I have the urge to push back on the town board against nonsense and clear propaganda. Propaganda has been around since Adam and Eve (only a euphemism folks, I’m strictly Darwinist), it’s been used for goodness and it’s been used for truly evil deeds. There are several movements here, even on the local level, who seems to think that a dictatorship would, after all, not be such a bad idea. We know how they are fueled by, and we hear they talk louder, or text all in CAP, and we know what they feed to whom want to listen. So I push back on the Facebook town  Board whenever I see propaganda. It’s been interesting. Of course, I’m a bit of a piñata now, but I think I can find a couple of MAGA members  to intelligently push my arguments to.

The news is trickling on the people infected with the virus, I read that March 5, a glitzy birthday party in Westport included an international crowd of jet setters as well as a donor. As of today, infections from Westport reached 74. I was in a similar crowd a few miles away in NYC, and there too the virus was present. Unless of course, they brought it to the event I was at. Showing no symptoms, I am not too worried, I’ll stay six feet apart so as not to be six feet under, wash my hands like a surgeon, spray my 65% aseptizing alcohol bought at the beauty supply shop before my trip to New York, as a precaution upon hearing the news about Covid-19. Today, Governor Cuomo announced 25,000 individuals infected with the virus. He is complaining the federal government is sending a fraction of needed supplies. The president has not invoked the Defense Production Act, probably because the supplies pegged for that program have not been kept after the ending of the Cold War, to save money. Evoking it is bound to show the shortcomings of our country during a crisis like we have now. There is still no urgency in the message we get from the top, mix signals, half truth and deliberate lies, probably out of ignorance. Their is a symptom for despair in the daily briefing we get from the leaders. I sense that there is no consensus on a plan, it feels as if they are trying to remedy a blood gushing wound with a two cent bandaid.

Today, Wednesday March 25, we wake up with news of a two trillion emergency package to bailout the economy during this pandemic, together with the news of at least one case of covid-19 confirmed in our town. The unfortunate person is a Marshall handling the jail in the court house basement. The Marshall’s union president deplores the lack of masks and the insufficient cleaning of surfaces. It’s a recurring problem, for healthcare workers, the people closest to the virus itself, for first responders, for our store clerks our post office clerks and a myriads of other brave work force and our admirable first responders. They are the first ones at risk of getting infected with covid-19, but there are still people totally oblivious to the threat of this epidemic, ignoring safety recommendations and in reprehensible selfishness, flaunting all recommendations of confinement for the good of all. It does not help to have a leader telling us that all will be fine, telling us that by Easter, a couple of weeks from now, he is telling us : “Wouldn’t it be great to have all the churches full?”, and, “You’ll have packed churches all over our country … I think it’ll be a beautiful time”. All health experts are telling us that’s horse feathers, that it will take much longer. I believe them, they are scientists with data in hands, and their prognostic for eradicating the virus here is not so optimistic. Forty five percent of the us folks think our leader is doing a good job. I remember when we cake walked to the war with Iraq for phantom weapons of mass destruction, the propaganda at the time convinced, and I was a vocal disbeliever at the time, 82% of Americans to believe the war was justified. Polled in 2015, only 42% of our population believe their were wmd’s in Iraq, half of them on the right side of the political spectrum, and half of those mostly tuning to the ultra right news mediums. That so many people still believe today the fallacies fed by the neocons after 2001, is an indication that these folks would just believe anything they want just to further their agenda.

We are in a similar situation now, the difference is that we have to fight the war at home instead of overseas, something the American people have not experienced since the Civil War. The fear of the government lying to us is real. It’s real because, as we have seen already, lies can have have disastrous consequences. Ask yourself, are we better now after the Iraq war? After 18 years, we are still at war. How many folks died or came back missing limbs, one for the “lucky” ones and several for others, how many came back with unseen brain injuries. The irony is that the USA went to war to get rid of bad Saddam (he used to be good Saddam before the neocons ran the show), and now the very same folks are idolizing a President with dictatorship envy, befriending leaders like the Russian dictator, who is seeking lifelong powers, the Philippine brute or the North Korean nut job. We live in troubled times indeed, and the future is grim, even as perceived by my otherwise optimistic mind.

I spend probably too much time on Facebook, the meter on my iPhone informs me that I used 27 minutes of my time on its platform. There is a “What’s on your mind post” circulating on my board today:

“Anyone else notice capitalism is currently asking socialism to save it from collapsing?”

( credit : Eric Milner)

The hypocrisy shows how perverted our politics are. To add insult to injury, some politicians are asking folks to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the economy (I kid you not). So, after not even a dozen days after some folks stopped working, the country is in dire need of a two trillion dollar shot in the arm? Does not it seem a tad strange to give the corporations all that money, considering they can’t survive without their workers, considering that they provide no cushion to a crisis like the one we have now? I have read a good post on Facebook: “Finance experts tell us to have a 9 month salary in savings in case of not been able to work” and those big corporations can’t follow that advice? And that couple of trillions should go to save their bottom line? There is not enough toilet of paper in the world to clean that mess and the mess we are sure to get again and again if we pursue this type of capitalism. Adam Smith warned us in his Wealth of Nation that rampant capitalism to enrich a few was doomed to fail. The title of his book talks of nations building capital and wealth to benefit all people, not only the very few, in percentage, ultra rich population of our planet. So, in light of the total despondency of our economic system, a system entrusted to the corporations for so many years, why trust them again with all that money? Didn’t we do that in the last bank debacle? Didn’t we pay mucho dineros to get the banks out of their mess, a mess they created as a matter of greed and lack of oversight? Do we want to go back to that well and again, and like the last time, end up with sand at the bottom? Wouldn’t be smart to try something different, bring a different set of players in the game. If those huge businesses are down to their knees because their employees can’t produce, does it not suggest that in reality, those employees are more valuable than their second yacht or the 36 collectors cars, in hospital like setting,  neatly displayed in the garage of their forty thousand square feet MacMansion?  Do you know how much more money these folks could give their employ instead of spending 150 millions bucks on a Renoir or if they gave up their pied a terre in Paris, London and New York? Can they spare a couple of private jets? The question is pertinent, for the rest of us and the future of our country, and for the sake of our children and grand children, why should we give them that money if all they’ll be doing with it, is to enrich themselves? Why not give it to the source of their wealth, the workers themselves, they can’t do a worse job than the team we have now at the helm! The ship the folks in charge are sailing is sinking, and the plug is probably smaller than the hole, or if by miracle (something I believe not in) it is an adequate fix, what happens when the barely floating vessel burst another hole?

After WWII, taxes in the USA were 91% for people making over $200.000. Even with that tax rate, the rich folks were not poor, go figure, taxed to the wazoo and still making money! They made money, they reaped the profits of the booming fifties, the most productive years in the recent history of our country. Some of that wealth followed families and descendants are now multi time billionaires. In some ways, this was a working capitalist system. Never mind that a whole group of people were denied the chance, but that’s another story, altogether reminiscent of what is happening now with the wave of xenophobia pushing against our advances for equality.
Wagner’s Das Rheingold is on today, it’s only three hours long, an hour and a half less than yesterday’s Tristan und Isolda. The Dow is up eleven hundred points, and yesterday jumped over two thousand points, on the news of a rescue package. The sharks are circling waiting for the juicy morsels. The market senses it, the folks who took their chips out, like the few elected officials who dumped their stocks with previous knowledge of an economic crisis, all the while reassuring us that the sky was not falling, are probably betting on it again.

618, 71, 12 the numbers of Covid-19 cases, 618 infected, 71 hospitalized, 12 funerals. Those numbers, mostly the number of infected people, are still small only because the kits to detect the virus are still not readily available for massive testing. So osmosis has started here, it’s getting more personal, I’ll need my Monk mojo to stay healthy!
Das Rheingold has superb set designs, and for some reason they remind me of Marvel Comics graphics, mixed with Albers like colors and shapes, the costumes, the action of the actors, more acrobats than singers, climbing Esher like structures emerging from the moving floor. The dwarf transforming into a dragon, and of course, the fantastic story, translates into fine entertainment. It’s not an antidote for the angst. The news from Italy are not encouraging. A couple of weeks after the lockdown, they clock eight hundred victims for sixty millions citizens. That’s 0.000013% of the population. After two weeks of our lockdown, if we transpose this figure to the population of tha USA, we can expect 4550 casualties in a short time, once the virus takes hold here and people start getting sick. My son in law in North Carolina, tells me people there aren’t taking the threat  seriously. They will eventually. I told him to stay home and keep the kids locked up as well. News of this lackadaisical response to the crisis is disconcerting and alarming.  Can half the citizen suffer for the good of the whole country, while the other half treats the matter lightly, and go on with their lives as if nothing is happening, endangering the rest of the folks? Can the war on this plague be won if half of our citizen don’t respect recommended precautions.