Coronavirus Diary (55): The Labor Economics of La-La Land

The business and political leaders featured in this NJTV News segment sound delusional to me. They’re talking here as though things will be fine “down the Shore” by June 1, and that there’s a good chance that we’ll have a normal shore season. You don’t need a crystal ball or some sophisticated econometric model to see that that’s ridiculous. Continue reading

COVID-19 Narratives (5): Coronavirus, Chronic Pain, and College Life

Coronavirus, Chronic Pain, and College Life: A Student’s Perspective
Kiara A. Almendarez

The coronavirus pandemic is striking fear in people across the entire world, but how is this invisible enemy able to do this so effectively? As a student, I would say that the main reason is the anxiety produced by the uncertainty it’s produced. Personally, I’ve found the “lockdown” challenging to deal with as a college student. Once my university announced the transition to online classes, classes got increasingly difficult for me. Given the new circumstances, some professors were apt to give more assignments on the assumption that we now had more leisure time to spend on them, but this overlooks the fact that many students faced other severe challenges at home–including, most obviously, illness from the virus itself. On April 8, 2020, my younger cousin informed me that my maternal uncle and aunt had passed away. I had to restrain my emotions in order to finish an assignment that was due before midnight that night. It was extraordinarily difficult to do, but I had no choice. Continue reading

COVID-19 Narratives (4): Life and Death During the North Jersey Surge

[An anonymous submission from a college student in north Jersey.]

Life and Death in North Jersey: An Extended Family Battles the Surge

Looking back to when talk of COVID-19 began, it’s almost unfathomable that things have gotten to where they currently are. I can clearly remember COVID-19’s being a side discussion in my classes, one that we’d toy with, playfully, before we began class. Now, of course, it’s the one and only topic of conversation, having stripped us of everything else. I now send emails and texts to friends, checking in and seeing how they’re doing, knowing that there’s a very real possibility that they’ll tell me that they’re ill or that someone they love is dying. This is the nightmare we now live in. Everyone is dealing with their own battle, just trying to make it to light at the end of the tunnel. This is the story of my personal war, and my journey to try exit this damn tunnel. Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (54): William Dale on “Physical Distancing” Redux

I’ve posted here twice before on my friend William Dale’s work in geriatric oncology, once on March 26th, and then again on April 3rd. In the second post, I took issue with William’s insistence on using the phrase “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing.” It’s not that I disagreed with him on the superiority of “physical distancing” over “social distancing”; “physical distancing” is obviously the superior term. But I worried that at that relatively early stage of the game, the change of terminology might dilute efforts at inducing people to engage in distancing. Better to have a single term and really hammer it home than change semantic horses in mid-stream. Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (53): Lorna Breen and John Mondello, RIP

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

 –T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton

When you try to tell people how bad things got here in New York and New Jersey, they have trouble fully comprehending it, and yet more trouble empathizing. I sometimes wonder whether the only people who ever really got it were the victims of the most acute forms of depressive realism precipitated by it. If so, ER physician Lorna Breen and  EMT John Mondello may well have died by over-comprehension of, or over-identification with, the trauma they witnessed during the COVID-19 surge in New York City. And you can be sure that others, though alive, are suffering similar miseries.Health-care suicides: another tragic toll of coronavirus pandemic

I don’t want to valorize suicide, and yet I can’t help wondering whether Breen and Mondello had the courage to stare down realities from which the rest of us prudently avert our eyes. I assume that we’re better off in our ignorance than they were in their knowledge, but I’m not really sure I know, and not really sure I want to.

Requiescat in pace.

Farewell, Mr. President

Scheming demons dressed in kingly guise
Beating down the multitude, and scoffing at the wise
–Rush, “A Farewell to Kings”

In a 1523 letter to his friend Francesco Vettori, Machiavelli famously asserted that he loved his “fatherland more than his eternal soul.” If we massage this text a bit, as political theorists often have, we get the so-called dirty hands thesis, the idea that a prince or political leader ought to be willing to sacrifice his eternal soul or at least his moral integrity to enhance the power of his polity. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, and what’s breakfast without eggs? You can’t run a government without breaking heads, and what’s life without government? Vegans and anarchists might dispute the implications of those questions, but most people are neither. Continue reading

Webinar Recommendation: “COVID-19: The Road Ahead” (NYAS)

I happened to attend an excellent webinar the other day organized by The New York Academy of Sciences, “COVID-19: The Road Ahead,” featuring presentations by Peter Daszak (EcoHealth Alliance), Michael Osterholm (CIDRAP, University of Minesota), and Nahid Badelia (Boston University Medical School). The preceding boldface link takes you to a summary of the webinar, and to a link of a video of the webinar itself (near the bottom of the page). The three presentations are together about an hour long, with 15 minutes or so given to Q&A. Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (51): Reality Check with Chris Sciabarra

As philosophers from Plato to Popper have argued, there’s enormous value in the dialectical clash of divergent opinions: we learn, and arguably converge on the truth, through the process of disagreement. But there’s also something to be said for the solidarity produced by agreement on basic facts and values, as well as a sense of shared purpose. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve relied on different people for one or both of those things, but relied consistently on Chris Sciabarra for the latter: for whatever reason, Chris and I basically agree on how to think about the COVID-19 crisis, as well as what to do about it. Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (50): Rob Roberts, Glen Ridge PD

I was stunned to discover that an old friend and neighbor, Rob Roberts, is struggling for life–discovered it by accident while scrolling through the news last night (here’s a story in USA Today). Apparently, he suffered cardiac arrest while convalescing at home after a diagnosis of COVID-19. My thoughts are with his wife and the rest of his family. High hopes for a full recovery. There’s a message from the Glen Ridge Police Department (Glen Ridge, New Jersey) below the fold.Police Officers Resuscitate Colleague 'Mr. Glen Ridge' Battling ... Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (48): Reflections On Lockdown in Washington Heights

I got in the car the other day for what I think is the third time in the last four weeks. I had “essential business” to conduct in New York, so I drove from Readington, New Jersey, where I live, to Washington Heights in Manhattan. I spent a tedious afternoon in Washington Heights engaged in “essential business,” then headed back home, a round trip of about 110 miles. Continue reading