Category Archives: Frivolity

Coronavirus (37): An Indexical Reflection

This is the thirty-seventh and final installment to my Coronavirus series, which began two years ago on this date. This installment serves as an index to the entire series.

I use the word “indexical” not only to suggest the index herein, but as a reflection of the word’s actual meaning: a linguistic expression whose reference can shift from context to context. That is what this series has done over time; as the context has continued to evolve, not a single installment has ever been written in stone, and all of them should be subject to evaluation based on the contexts in which they were first composed. What could be more dialectical than that?

As a kind of personal “journal,” this series has been as much a therapeutic exercise in dealing with an unfathomable number of deaths in my beloved city of New York as it was an attempt to come to grips with the many issues raised by COVID-19 and the policies adopted in response to it. Ultimately, it asked more questions than it answered.

As dates go, this one has an additional degree of irony. Fifty years ago today, “The Godfather” premiered at the Loew’s State Theatre in New York City to much fanfare. The film, and its later re-edited incarnation (with its two sequels) as a chronological epic, remains one of my all-time favorites. Not for its famous tropes or its classic quotes, but for its illustration, in painstaking detail, of how the inversion of values destroys the human soul. The characters therein ostensibly try to preserve that which they value through nefarious means that lead to the loss of those values—and of life itself.

While that 1972 film drives home this point in the context of warfare among mob ‘families’, their legions of hitmen pale in comparison to the warfare perpetuated by states across the world, which have perfected the art of mass murder in a way that would make even the most ruthless of Mafia Dons blush.

In war, even in those wars fought against horrific forces of oppression, there are always consequences, both intended and unintended, that forever become a part of the political landscape. For example, the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II left in its wake the consolidation of a U.S. military-industrial complex and a national security state and ongoing policies of “perpetual war for perpetual peace”—whether it was called the Cold War, the War on Terror, or the War on Drugs. But states and their ruling classes, ever responsible for wars, have also exploited disasters—natural or man-made—to expand their powers, suppress civil liberties, and destroy the fabric of social and economic life.

That is why libertarians have been gallant opponents of state expansion, knowing full well that state actors rarely act in good faith and that governmental overreach especially during emergencies is not easily rolled back. Such emergencies have been exploited throughout history in ways that tap into people’s anxieties and fears while augmenting their obedience to a class of politically connected “experts.”

I am a libertarian—a dialectical one at that. Which means that while I retain my libertarian distrust of political and economic elites, I fully understand that we live under a certain set of institutional constraints and that the real conditions that exist give human beings highly limited and imperfect tools to deal with emergencies as they arise.

I am also a native New Yorker. I have experienced much heartache in this city, from 9/11 to Superstorm Sandy. And I have witnessed, with my own eyes, the deaths of countless fellow New Yorkers at the height of the COVID pandemic. I was utterly aghast when many of my libertarian friends were branding the pandemic an “exaggeration” or worse, a “hoax”. There has always been room to debate the effectiveness of this or that policy in response to COVID. But the epidemic of denialism that swept across libertarian circles—while neighbors to the right of me and neighbors to the left of me were literally dropping dead—only compounded my sadness. Denialism is not a strategy. It is an admission of defeat—that one has no proposals to deal with an externality, whatever its scope or fatality rate.

***

I was recently asked a very interesting and relevant question by my friend, Alexander Wade Craig: “What context have we lost in the changes COVID brought to our social lives that you think we are 1) better off for having lost, and 2) worse off for having lost?”

I acknowledged that this was a very difficult question to answer. Even though I’ve written 36 previous installments covering the pandemic and its implications, it is going to take many years to truly understand COVID-19 and the response to it—and the costs that each brought to both life and liberty. Still, this event helped to illuminate notions that we are better off for having lost, as well as notions that we are worse off for having lost—and these notions are essentially two sides of the same coin:

1) The spread of COVID-19 made it clearer than ever that the world is a global community, interconnected in ways that cannot be altered by artificially created borders. Given the ebb and flow of peoples across artificial boundaries imposed by nation-states, we learned swiftly that a virus, like the people it infects, knows no borders. What first shows up in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, in China, spreads to the Korean peninsula, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, the United States, Russia, Africa, and throughout the world. This is not a call to close borders; it is simply an acknowledgment of the unavoidable interconnections between peoples across the Earth. So, we’re better off for having lost the idea that somehow people can be isolated from one another—a rather sobering lesson, considering that the response to an infectious disease has typically been lockdowns, quarantines, and other policies of separation.

2) So, the other side of that coin introduces us to a whole litany of ‘separateness’: distancing, mask-wearing, quarantining, and so forth. Hence, just as a global pandemic illustrates that people cannot be hermetically sealed from one another (a good thing), it simultaneously leads to efforts to do precisely that: hermetically seal ourselves off from others. The effect of isolation (whether it was chosen or coercively imposed) has been increased social alienation, a rise in mental health problems, substance abuse, and overdose deaths. People of all ages, from the very young to the very old, were deleteriously affected by this isolation. I suspect that these effects will lessen over time, as the COVID ‘crisis phase’ dissipates, but we are still worse off for having lost that social connectedness for such a long period of time, no matter how necessary it may have been for various people in various contexts.

Nathaniel Branden once wrote: “We stand within an endless network of relationships. Separation and connectedness are polarities, with each entailing the other.” It’s very sad that so many people have learned the truth of this principle in such a tragic way.

Here is a chronological index to all the installments in my Coronavirus series; unless there is some huge issue that needs to be addressed in some dramatically different way, I suspect that this installment, like the last one I wrote on 9/11 (for the twentieth anniversary of that day), will be the final installment in this series. And it’s fully in keeping with my friend Tom Knapp‘s “Prime Number Obsession”—that “all sets should consist of a prime number of items.” 37 is a Prime Number! (Tom also reminds me that it’s Pi Day too!)

Coronavirus (1): School Closures (March 14, 2020)

Coronavirus (2): Disease and Dictatorship (March 18, 2020)

Coronavirus (3): Love, Pets, and Booze to the Rescue! (March 22, 2020)

Coronavirus (4): In New York State … and Beyond (March 23, 2020)

Coronavirus (5): C’mon Ol’ Folks – Do Your Part for the Sake of the Country and Die! (March 25, 2020)

Coronavirus (6): Corona-Comedy – A Little Gallows Humor To Get Us Through (March 27, 2020)

Coronavirus (7): Corona-Chaos – A Pandemic from the Political to the Personal (March 28, 2020)

Coronavirus (8): A Message from Italy (March 29, 2020)

Coronavirus (9): A Message from New York City (March 29, 2020)

Coronavirus (10): “Standing Man” as Metaphor … or Blessed are the Healers! (March 30, 2020)

Coronavirus (11): “Opening Day” and Pitching In … (March 31, 2020)

Coronavirus (12): The Trials and Tribulations of Grocery Shopping … and Living in New York City (April 3, 2020)

Coronavirus (13): New York State of Mind (April 6, 2020)

Coronavirus (14): Numbers and Narratives (April 8, 2020)

Coronavirus (15): What’s in a Number? (April 13, 2020)

Coronavirus (16): Pearls Before Swine – Comic Gems In These Times (April 16, 2020)

Coronavirus (17): Ilana Mercer on Covidiots! (April 17, 2020)

Coronavirus (18): Gallows Comics (April 23, 2020)

Coronavirus (19): Reality Check (April 23, 2020)

Coronavirus (20): A Light-Hearted Moment in the Post Office (April 25, 2020)

Coronavirus (21): Lockdowns, Libertarians, and Liberation (May 5, 2020)

Coronavirus (22): Spring Cleaning (Or Three Cheers for Sanitation Workers!) (May 8, 2020)

Coronavirus (23): Mutual Aid During a Pandemic (or Three Cheers for the Volunteers!) (May 11, 2020)

Coronavirus (24): Three Cheers for the Ol’ Folks (May 12, 2020)

Coronavirus (25): Joseph “Joe Pisa” Sanfratello, RIP (May 15, 2020)

Coronavirus (26): Gallows Humor In These Times (May 28, 2020)

Coronavirus (27): Majority Rules NY (June 25, 2020)

Coronavirus (28): Sweden is Not New York (July 16, 2020)

Coronavirus (29): Medical Procedures in the Age of COVID … And I’m Still Alive! (October 6, 2020)

Coronavirus (30): “Cuomogate” and Systemic Crisis (February 19, 2021)

Coronavirus (31): Dose #1 for a “Fake” Virus (March 18, 2021)

Coronavirus (32): Junior’s Cheesecake (or Bring On Dose #2!) (March 27, 2021)

Coronavirus (33): Dose #2 and Done—Or Not! (April 15, 2021)

Coronavirus (34): “Virtue Signaling” vs. Doing the Right Thing (August 21, 2021)

Coronavirus (35): The ABCs – Authority, Boosters, and Caregiving (November 10, 2021)

Coronavirus (36): Denialism = Death (January 5, 2022)

Coronavirus (37): An Indexical Reflection (March 14, 2022)

I will end this series with one final dose of gallows humor, something that has marked many of the installments I posted over the past two years. And let’s face it, we have needed some laughter to get us through [YouTube link].

In one of my favorite comic strips, “Pearls Before Swine” by Stephan Pastis, “The Game of COVID Life” reminds us of how crazy our lives have been upended since the beginnings of this pandemic. Here’s hoping that the Finish Line is not one of closeted isolation, but a new commitment to social life, human freedom, and personal flourishing.

Mis-Corrected Auto

For those of us who have suffered at the fate of ‘autocorrect’ …

Classic Insult Humor

After a recent discussion on Notablog that examined cancel culture and comedy, I was watching the film “Touch of Evil” (1958), starring Orson Welles, and I got a kick out of the fact that Welles—who also directed and wrote the screenplay for the film—incorporated a jab at his own weight gain, by way of dialogue with Marlene Dietrich:

Hank Quinlan (Welles): “I’m Hank Quinlan.”

Tanya (Dietrich): “I didn’t recognize you. You should lay off those candy bars.”

Check out this exchange here [YouTube link].

Twenty years later, in 1978, “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast: Frank Sinatra“, “Mr. Warmth” himself, Don Rickles, took it one step further [YouTube link].

Looking at Welles on the dais, Rickles says:

“And Orson Welles, thirty years ago you were handsome and now we’re gonna put Goodyear on your face and fly you over the beach for a half hour.”

Welles laughed out loud … but Welles clearly had had the first laugh, and the last laugh. For Welles, as for another star in another film: “It was my joke, you see? They were laughing with me, not at me.”

At a time when laughs are hard to come by, this gave me a much-needed chuckle today.

NYC is Alive and Well …

With apologies to some of my pals at The Atlas Society, who recently posted a video saying that “New York City Is Now The Biggest Sh*thole In America“, this city will never die! We’ve been through civil unrest and riots, crime waves, antiwar protests, 9/11, Superstorm Sandy, and the trials and tribulations of a pandemic. We have given birth to some epically awful politicians. We even survived a “bomb cyclone” (which wasn’t even near the record for snowfalls in this town). In Washington Square Park, in the heart of Greenwich Village, in the shadow of my alma mater (NYU), a fun and peaceful, good ol’ fashioned snowball fight broke out. And nobody was hurt or killed. The people of this city are its lifeblood. You can roll your eyes over this video but it’s just a small sign that the New York spirit is alive and well.

Postscript: In the Facebook discussion that followed, a few issues came up. I reproduce them here for Notablog readers.

I’m born, bred, and still living here. I love it, always will, and have enjoyed life here through good times and bad. But to each his own. Either way, to call this city “the biggest sh*thole in America” was an exercise in outlandish, disgraceful overkill. … This city survived 2000+ murders a year back in the early 1990s. Even with the uptick in crime in 2021, there were a total of 485 murders, unheard of for a city of nearly 8.5 million people.

NYC remains one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Its strength has come from its neighborhoods—in all their magnificent ethnic diversity. I have seen so many ups and downs throughout my 60+ years living here and every time I thought this city would never recover—be it a terrorist attack that destroyed downtown Manhattan, killing nearly 3000 people, and leaving all of us in shock for eons, or a superstorm that caused nearly $20 billion in damages, destroying whole neighborhoods throughout the 5 boroughs—with a tsunami-like storm surge in which the Hudson River met the East River at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, and killing hundreds of people… NYC came back from the edge. I have lost close friends and family in that terrorist attack, that superstorm, and the recent COVID catastrophe.I have absolutely no reason to doubt this city’s resiliency—no matter how many people have left or how many politicians have stayed.

Another commentator said that The Atlas Society had made a rightward turn in its politics and that on those metrics, even the Ayn Rand Institute was better. The commentator said that Yaron Brook was even cordial to Nathaniel Branden at a party. I responded:

The ARIans are still holders of the flame and of the Ayn Rand Archives, and though they’ve opened up their archives more than in previous years, there are still many of us who will forever remain on the outside because we don’t pass their litmus test. Sadly, Yaron Brook, in this podcast, refers to Nathaniel Branden as a “second-hander”, “not a good guy,” and a “scumbag”, who “betrayed” Rand and Objectivism, and “stabbed” both in the back; he has “zero” respect for NB. He refers to him as a “mystic”, “bizarre”, “weird”, “anti-reason”, and so forth. He claims NB “faked Objectivism” and “never understood” it. To me, these comments are just beyond the pale.

Moreover, the ARIans won’t even engage with literature that was written by people since “purged” but that was part of the “authorized” canon of Objectivism, as stated by Rand herself, which included essays by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden. In the post-Rand years, folks whose essays were held in high esteem for years—from George Reisman to David Kelley—were slowly airbrushed from existence. The ARI record speaks for itself.

Pastis Casts Pearls Left and Right

Comics Flash! Stephan Pastis continues to trigger folks left and right in “Pearls Before Swine“!

And as pointed out on my Facebook thread, the creator of “The Family Circus” (Bil Keane, and now his son Jeff) and Pastis are friends and collaborate on parodies. Others have pointed out the obvious link to George Carlin‘s famous monologue …