A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 140

Black Lives Matter so wear your mask.

Wednesday, September 2

Things in New York City are better than I expected them to be. So far, I have driven Emily for her test to Weill-Cornell Hospital…and, for technical reasons, she had to go back on a second day via subway.

Each of us has taken the subway a few times and found it to be cleaner than usual and not crowded. Yesterday, I went to see my urologist, which meant taking the 6 train from Union Square to 34th St. And today, I went from Union Square to Grand Central via the 5 train, and—tah-dah!—I got a haircut, the first since February. My barber was quite diplomatic regarding the evidence of haircuts that Emily had given me. 

Most everyone I have seen is wearing a face mask, although some people cheat by pulling the mask down below their noses. Emily says she saw a guy on her train with a mask pulled down below his chin—then, when the train pulled into a station and he left to go outside, he pulled the mask back over his nose and mouth. Dude! Just backwards! The danger lurks in enclosed spaces like train cars, and everyone is less vulnerable outside.

I haven’t really gotten around town that much so far, but I have seen a few signs of “Black Lives Matter” protests. No, there are no burned-out police cars or gutted buildings, but there is a very nice BLM mural on the east side of Union Square park. 

The Wednesday farmers’ market at Union Square also seemed pretty much normal. The farm stands are much as I remember them but socially distanced. Patrons are advised that they must use hand sanitizer before handling any produce. Everyone has masks and many people have gloves. I got beefsteak tomatoes, peaches, Gala apples, and whole-grain health bread.

As expected, we did have an avalanche of mail waiting for us. That includes lots of already-paid bills that can be shredded. A bunch of magazines that I have already read in electronic form. Other odds and ends. And, oh: The “Economic Impact Payment Card” with its CARES Act direct economic assistance of $2,400. A letter from our President reports that “America will triumph yet again—and rise to new heights of greatness.” One must activate the card, just as you would a new credit card, and then either transfer the funds to a bank account or use the card as one would a debit card.

There were three pieces of mail concerning the payment, one from Trump, one from the Treasury Dept. saying that we may have overlooked the card. And finally and most curiously, one from “Money Network Cardholder Services” of Omaha, Nebraska, looking for all the world like some junk-mail scam that you’d just as well throw in the circular file.. THIS IS THE CARD. They couldn’t have disguised it better.

Dinner: Turkey chili and a lettuce, tomato, and radish salad.

Entertainment: episodes of Netflix’ Spanish-language mystery Alta Mare.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 102

Born in the U.S.A.

Thursday, June 25

In Mexico during the 1980s, I encountered other travelers from a variety of places—England, New Orleans, you name it. Among them were two women who seemed a bit withdrawn, prickly, even unfriendly. They spoke English, but with an accent that I couldn’t easily place. After a while it came out: They were South African.

They could have had any number of reasons for staying a bit apart. But I believed that they were embarrassed by their country’s policy of racial oppression, apartheid. Maybe they were secret supporters of the liberation struggle. Maybe Nelson Mandela was a family friend. Who knows? But I think they felt that non-South Africans would regard them as something like neo-Nazis. They probably felt themselves to be pariahs—people who others would shun once their nationality became known.

This could be the fate facing Americans if we ever travel again. 

The European Union is preparing to ban American travelers when it reopens its borders on July 1, lumping the U.S. in with Russia and Brazil in terms of countries that have failed to stop the spread of the coronavirus. First, the U.S. banned EU tourists in mid-March, angering political leaders. Now, Europe has largely contained COVID-19, while new cases in the U.S. are increasing in number. Sweet revenge will prevail, as John Prine once sang.

The EU is considering two draft lists of permissible travelers, and U.S. tourists are included on neither, according to The New York Times.

Moreover, Trump’s disgraceful behavior, and that of his yobbish fans, is sufficient reason for non-Americans to regard us warily. Oh, they may well think: You are the type of people who automatically regard Mexicans as rapists and Central Americans as diseased. Maybe you too hate Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau while admiring Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un.

We were in Scotland a few years ago, and we rushed to make it clear to our B&B hosts and others that we were non-fans of the Orange man. I think they accepted what we said, and quickly changed the subject to an explanation of Scottish ways and a discussion of places we might like to visit. Oh, are you golfers? We had to make it clear that we weren’t—another reason to find us objectionable.

So, compatriots, steel yourselves for Ugly American status.  Maybe you could wear a Black Lives Matter T-shirt or attach a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker onto your rental car. Or maybe COVID-19 will prevent you from ever again traveling abroad.

Tonight’s dinner: Black beans and rice, lettuce and avocado salad.

Entertainment: Concluding episodes of season two of Broadchurch.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 97

A Florida National Guard RC-26 in action.

Friday, June 19

And the next shortage is…charcoal!

Out of stock, they report at Damark. CVS has none, either, while they do have stuff like cookies, ice cream, milk, lots of bottled beverages, etc.

I had donned my mask and gloves and gone out to get some more Aleve and vitamin D-3, along with a few eats that Peapod failed to deliver. We have enough charcoal to make hamburgers tonight, but that’s likely the end. 

Nor is there any sign of the rabbit this morning, but last evening as the gloaming came on, I could see the little guy sitting near the neighbor’s driveway. There’s new, and likely delicious, sod in their front yard, so that’s probably an attraction.

While I am here blabbing about bunnies, the national security state is taking advantage of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations to refine its surveillance hardware. Both the West Virginia and the Wisconsin national guards have sent state-of-the-art RC-26 airplanes to be eyes-in-the-sky over demos in D.C. and Minneapolis. According to the Times: “Representative Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who is also an RC-26 pilot in the Wisconsin Air National Guard, said he flew two night missions this month in support of domestic law enforcement officials in Minneapolis, sending real-time video feeds to the authorities on the ground.” These “authorities” can view the real-time feeds on their cellphones, it seems.

However, according to this source, “the plane’s onboard camera was powerful enough to make out the general image of an individual as the three-member crew flew at altitudes between 4,000 and 20,000 feet. But the cameras were not strong enough or sophisticated enough to use for facial recognition or to read license plates on vehicles.” But now that the authorities are aware of that, there could be some tweaks to bring the onboard cameras up to speed.

Why not simply get more CCTV? That’s what they use, to great effect, in all the Brit cop shows. On the cops’ computers, they can zoom in right on a perp’s face or license plate. And if it’s on Netflix, it must be true, right? So, how come the RC-26s?

Well because CCTV wouldn’t add to the bottom line of aircraft makers Fairchild and Lockheed, who no doubt make big campaign contributions to congressional representatives.

And nothing’s too good for our boys in uniform. It’s seems we’ve been handing the planes around to various foreign governments, including Venezuela (!) and Peru.

Tonight’s dinner: hamburgers, baked potatoes with sour cream, and coleslaw.

Entertainment: Two final episodes of the first season of Marcella.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 83

Political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville.

Monday and Tuesday, June 1 and 2

The nationwide demonstrations against police killings of black youths—accompanied by wild scenes of looting and mayhem—appear to be escalating. But why…how? 

Social scientists have long attempted to figure out why some events trigger rebellion, while other, even more outrageous occurrences do not. The 18th century French population put up with years of oppression from its monarchs and aristocracy—until the dam broke in 1789. Other years notable for such explosions include 1848, a year of revolution across Europe; 1914, the year of the Russian revolution; and 1968, when Paris exploded in a wave of student/worker protest. All things considered, there weren’t very many.

None of this is to say that I imagine we’re now in a revolutionary period. But even if we are not, the level of protest is truly breathtaking. It’s not just one night—but night after day after night of marches, demonstrations, and street violence.

The press tends to quote participants who say the equivalent of “enough is enough”—as if outrage upon repeated outrage has prompted the rebellion. I don’t know: Trump lives to pile outrage on top of outrage, and he has been doing it for years without provoking anything like the current level of protest.

A conventional social-science analysis refers to crises of rising expectations: People tend to rebel, the theory says, not when the population is overwhelmed, but just as things seem to get a little bit better. The first observer to offer this analysis was probably 19th century writer Alexis de Tocqueville in his book L’Ancien Regime et la Revolution. When the weight of oppression is lightened just a bit, that is the moment when people rise up, he said. “The evil, which was suffered patiently as inevitable, seems unendurable as soon as the idea of escaping from it is conceived.” The people are able to imagine an alternative.

So what would that rising expectation be in the current moment? The possibility of Trump’s electoral ouster? The fact that an increasing number of big-city mayors and progressive-state governors are denouncing police killings? The fact that we might be seeing light at the end of the pandemic tunnel? 

Or could it be all of these things together?

These are matters to ponder as I make my weekly trip to the recycling center. 

Tonight’s dinner: Korean barbecue-style meatballs, spicy wok-charred snow peas, and rice.

Entertainment: The Belgian policier The Break.