The Talking Dog

September 11, 2020, 9/11 of the Plague Year

Happy happy fun fun. It's 9-11, boys and girls. Plague year edition.

As long-time readers know (glad you're both still with me!), I often do something... commemorative about September 11th on its anniversary. In this case, I am pleased in some sense that the twin beams of light ("Tribute in Light") launched from the site of the original twin towers of the World Trade Center will be going forward, despite concerns over safety of workers as a result of COVID-19. I mean... concern for the safety of workers at the WTC? Why start now?

And while the "official" ceremony will feature recorded reading of the 9-11 victims' names at the World Trade Center site, the "Tunnel to Towers Foundation" plans on a nearby "live reading" for participating family members. To be honest, I have never been comfortable with this: even after 19 years, it is unclear if this is public commemoration or private grieving (on public space). The nation has innumerable tragedies, such as the present pandemic that, at over 195,000 dead Americans, has thus far claimed over 65 "9-11's" in terms of human life, and yet, we can be assured there will be no annual reading of their names. I am not aware that anything similar happens with respect to the Oklahoma City bombing victims, or for that matter, Sandy Hook, Parkland or many of our insanely large number of school shootings. The cynic in me (and that's pretty much my whole personality) would say that we honor the 9-11 victims because they were in large part affluent and white, often from tony suburbs especially in New Jersey. And of course, affluent white grieving widows (and widowers) and children and parents and siblings do make for excellent local news footage. And of course, what a wonderful face to put on the call for national blood revenge once called "the Global War on Terror," and then, whatever my college classmate Barack called it (I believed he didn't call it anything... though it involved a lot of drones and "Terrorist Tuesdays.") Where was I?

Oh yes. Now I remember where I was going. It has been estimated that the "GWOT" (or "whatever"), representing the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia (and the rest of the planet) are estimated to have cost, as of late 2019 anyway, about $6.4 Trillion. (I should add that "only" around $1.55 trillion of that was "appropriated" by Congress.) That's roughly a third of the entire US GDP for a year, but, you know, over 18 or 19 years, its probably only around 2% per year or so. But it does seem like a really big number and all since al Qaeda was routed in Afghanistan in 2001 or 2, and Saddam Hussein was routed in Iraq in 2003 or 4... and yet, the blood and treasure continue to flow. And so, it seems appropriate to compare and contrast the cost of the COVID-19 (or COVID-45, as I like to call it) to the American economy, and voila, we have an estimate from the Congressional Budget office of $8 trillion! Of course, the "Great Recession," which was in large part triggered by a derivatives market involving assets with stated values of hundreds of trillions of dollars, was estimated to cost the economy between $8 and $14 trillion, or perhaps as much as $30 trillion.

You would think that something as big as the COVID pandemic, that not only has resulted in spectacular costs associated with these other earth-shaking events, but has also resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans (and quite possibly, hundreds of thousands more) would involve, you know, a really big commitment to research for cures, preventives, vaccines, etc. I can't quite find figures, but this report published by R&D super-power California suggests that the recent massive multi-trillion dollar federal coronavirus relief acts provide budgeting for such research at less than $10 billion. (Meanwhile, absent federal help, our research universities are kind of in trouble right now, despite being desperately needed to, you know, help with the pandemic!) Priorities! Kind of like the nearly $6 billion spent to date maintaining the Caribbean gulag and kangaroo kourt for Muslim men down in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I should add that the "whistleblower" there is one Gary Brown, the former legal advisor to the GTMO "convening authority," or Defense Dept. official responsible for the GTMO military commissions, who at the time of his summary termination for having the audacity to try to reach plea deals to end the bullshit was Harvey Rishikoff (my classmate at NYU law school).

Once again... where was I? I guess I was trying to point out that our various handlings of September 11th, a catastrophic global war on everyone, everywhere whose "war prize" seems to be holding 40 Muslim men (some were captured as boys) in a Cuban gulag with the occasional "flawed" ersatz judicial proceeding (both military commissions and what passes for habeas corpus), to the financial crisis of 2007-9 (something like zero bankers and those responsible facing actual jail), or of course, the current pandemic (disastrous handling of everything leading to nearly 200,000 American deaths and counting) show that we are damaged goods as a society (I attribute it to American Exceptionalism in my book of that title), and to the point, seem to know the monetary cost of everything, but the value (or in the reverse case, the actual risks) of nothing.

Hence, the pathological focus on a far-off vaccine for no other reason than it will be expensive and money will be made, rather than on developing a population with its own improved immune systems to lower risk at a lower cost (you might try vitamins B complex, C and D, especially D, zinc, selenium and quercetin, with N-A-C and elderberry optional-- at least those are my go-to supplements now). Or of course, "mixed messaging" on mask wearing, even now.

But I digress. This here blog started a week after 9-11. On that day, I was, of course, working a block north of the WTC and got a ringside 16th floor window view of events, which, I confess, have probably traumatized me less than many people who watched it on television. I lost a couple of people I knew, and I lost my job (proximity!) But maybe because it was such a useful event to justify a military action that was already baked into the cake, there seemed to be a consensus that this was "a national moment," as good-wishes poured into NYC from everywhere, all over the country and all over the world.

Fast forward to 2020 and things are a tad different. Even though the coronavirus death toll in this city (certainly this metropolitan area) is several times that of 9-11, there seems to be little sense of solidarity (even as the rest of the country is now suffering mightily from this pandemic, despite knowing from NYC's experience how to control it IF THEY WANTED TO). Indeed, especially given the predilection of life-long NYC resident and "President" Donald Trump to spew contempt on his home town, we have instead received some measure of national disrespect, if not actual contempt, for this area's plight.

In short, Barack was dead wrong in suggesting that there isn't a red America or a blue America, just the United States of America. I totally call bullshit on that. There may be red pockets in blue states and vice versa, but the events of the last 19 years (and especially the last four) have shown, beyond dispute IMHO, that because polarization serves the rich and powerful far better than solidarity ever did, by God we're going to be getting more of it! Until we finally crack up one of these days. [And given that there is a highly contentious election in less than 8 weeks time, that crack up could be sooner than anyone imagined, unless we remove a certain mistake that our atavistic slave-owner created electoral system imposed on us four years ago.]

September 11th really isn't the time for an optimistic message anyway. At one time, we could laud the heroic sacrifice of first responders running toward danger on that day (as they do every day). We could wave a flag and say "support our troops." Oh, halcyon days of relative simplicity. The last 19 years of global wars, financial crises and pandemics where pain and reward has been distributed anything but evenly, has, IMHO, despite the promise of national solidarity (and indeed, a national mission) instead made September 11th come to symbolize the absolute worst this country has to offer in terms of arrogance and aggression (the words "Rudy Giuliani" make this clear). The cost of our response to the 9-11 events is so extreme that it will likely result in the eventual collapse of our global empire. Among those costs, we are, of course, "enjoying" the inability to nationally come together on anything in the form of the disastrous pandemic, where we lead the world in both coronavirus cases and deaths, and don't even seem to be slowing down in either. Sigh.

Alrighty then. As we often do, let's turn it over to the Cheneys.



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September 2, 2020, College trip of the plague year

Hard to believe that the Loquacious Pup, who wasn't even two years old when this here blog got started a week after 9-11, is now starting her senior year of college. But there you go. Her college, for reasons of its own, has opted for a "hybrid" of some on-line classes and some in-person (though all students have the option of all on-line). Because she has a couple of "hands-on" classes, she has opted to return to campus (or near campus, anyway, as for various reasons, she and two friends are renting an apartment near by... an unfurnished apartment-- more on that shortly). [A little diversion, btw, on a happy note, to wish a happy 30th wedding anniversary to TD Sister and TD Brother-In-Law. And on a sad note, to bid good bye to the greatest N.Y. Mets player ever, Tom Seaver.] Where was I? Oh yes.

The Pup's college's reopening plan involves testing all students for coronavirus immediately upon their return, and then more or less every month, with the last few weeks of the semester all "on-line." (They have an isolation plan for anyone testing positive.) Because of the vagaries of the house she rented, this meant an arrival on Friday evening, with "move-in" the following Monday. At around a 7 or 8 hour drive, returning home for the weekend made no sense; besides, the Pup had arranged virtually all her furniture through a combination of Craig's List, Facebook, a garage sale and a thrift store. Indeed, she had already scouted out the complete furnishings for a bedroom and kitchen for less than $200, assuming Dad could carry them in a 2000 Mercury Sable station wagon (solution: several trips, including trips to the hardware store for tools). The weekend was used for scouting out any missing items that wouldn't be available for the Monday logistical challenge (when we picked up a free desk, a $10 kitchen table-- and free chair, two $50 dressers, and four $3 kitchen chairs).

And somehow, with adventures including needing to put the free desk on the roof of the car (rope was purchased for this contingency in advance), and then unscrew her door to fit it in her bedroom (a trip to hardware store!), and her roommate's car battery failing, we somehow assembled her main furniture Monday night, and the kitchen table on Tuesday (before my 8 plus hour drive home, culminating in finding a tunnel back to New York closed, because America).

While we stayed over at a comfortable chain motor hotel, many people (especially hotel staff) would only wear their face masks (despite a local requirement that they do so) if you stared at them. But the college trip marked the end of a nearly six month adventure that began in Madrid, where she was doing a semester abroad, when Familia Talking Dog abruptly left when Trump misread his own announcement and suggested that American citizens would be locked out of the country. This "misreading" likely created crowds at airports that led to public health "mistakes" that had their role in spreading coronavirus in the United States.

And thus began perhaps the most remarkable six month period of our lives (and that probably includes the aftermath of September 11th). For one thing, we have never spent this much continuous time together. For another, perhaps not since my early childhood have I spent this much time at home; indeed, even the TD cats (two of them, now eleven years old) finally got substantial quality time in our backyard-- which they never had before, but hey, we're all around, all the time. And at home we stayed: if New York were a country, its coronavirus deaths per million would be second highest among countries (only New Jersey is higher). For the bulk of March and April, I could count my trips outside (other than to take out garbage or take in mail) on one hand; groceries were delivered, and take out food was occasionally delivered (with a weird sanitizing ritual that we have since dropped).

Both Mrs. TD and I were fortunate to have jobs that both continued (and continued to pay us), and permitted us to work from home (though Mrs. TD has had to work from her office now for several weeks; I often drive her to work to minimize her contacts with dreaded humans). The Loquacious Pup had managed to get jobs and internships she could perform online. And so, the family was actually together. Three of the Pup's four grandparents are still with us, though of course, they are in the coronavirus danger demographic; after a few terrifying weeks of not seeing them, we have finally seen all of them by now, more than once.

And now, I am amidst the second evening since March that the Pup won't be staying with us. Here's the thing: for all the right-wing bullshit, the United States of the present is the most anti-family country in the history of the world. This is discussed at some length in my book. While many if not most people in much of the so-called "third world" live in materially lean conditions, they do so with their own families, all the time. And yet, this is one of many "luxuries" that Americans are denied, because capitalism.

For us, it took a plague to have the opportunity to spend this much time together with the Pup. To be sure, it requires a solid family relationship; the lockdown and pandemic also led to a spike in domestic abuse. No one wants to talk about how much of this was caused by loss of income or other pressure on families, I suppose. In the American context (and only our fellow would-be fascist leaders in Russia, Brazil and India are racking up anywhere near the case and death numbers we are), this plague has truly been monumental: we are approaching 200,000 dead Americans, 6 1/2 million infected with the virus, along with tens of millions of unemployed (all while the stock markets hit record highs.) And in the middle of this, Donald Trump pretends that there is a snowball's chance in hell that he can be reelected without substantial voter suppression, Russian intervention and assorted cheating (and he is moving on all those fronts). Why just today he encourages North Carolina voters to commit felonies, while he himself commits them!

Anyway, the "luxury" of us working from home (including the stress of no longer having any demarcation between home and work) presented an interesting opportunity for reflection, even as a pandemic plague continues to play out in our city, our country, and our planet. Indeed, for a while, we even had relative quiet and relatively empty streets (except for ambulances, and far too many of those), and then, of course, massive street protests. With the LP's return to college, this interesting period shifts into something else. Perhaps I will remember it fondly. But we don't have too much time for reflection; we all must continue to stay as safe as we can. Wear masks; stay away from people; wash your hands; take supplements (I recommend vitamins C and D, Zinc, Selenium, Quercetin, N-A-C and elderberry along with B-complex, preferably in a multi-vitamin). Sleep enough, minimize your stress, try to have a decent diet.

And hopefully, we will get through this. And maybe be able to consider things in a meaningful introspective way.



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