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They Changed the Locks

 

A liar has many points to his favour,—but he has this against him, that unless he devote more time to the management of his lies than life will generally allow, he cannot make them tally.

― Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now (1875)`

 

When Fascism came into power, most people were unprepared, both theoretically and practically. They were unable to believe that man could exhibit such propensities for evil, such lust for power, such disregard for the rights of the weak, or such yearning for submission. Only a few had been aware of the rumbling of the volcano preceding the outbreak."

― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom (1941)

 

My historian husband reassures me that left wing-right wing surges are cyclical, and that Planet Earth and the Universe, now protected by NASA from asteroid collision, will right itself. But in the 20-odd days I have not written a regular blog post, at least two fascist leaning leaders (small or capital F, your choice) have ascended to the Parliaments of Sweden and Italy respectively, and Masha Amini was  killed by the "morality" police in Iran. What the American Senate looks and feels like to me, a child of refugees from fascism is, in some ways, much worse: it is a clear and present danger to the fabric of American life which so many in emerging democracies or autocratic tyrannies still regard as their beacon of hope. Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale vision is no longer a vision, it's a reality in America. Our Supreme Court is our morality police. How many women will die as a consequence of their rulings?

 

So. let me proceed with the thought expressed in the title of this post: It feels as though I've been on vacation, had a wonderful time, and returned to find strangers in the house and the locks changed. Is that too dramatic? I don't think so. Were we not paying attention? Were our expectations of peace and prosperity and personal freedom delusional? Are these rhetorical questions?

 

Years ago, when I was in college, my not yet husband worked for AP at the Republican Convention in San Francisco. It was before digital photography and he was tasked with running film back to the main office. At the photographer's side, he mingled with all the politicians, including Richard Nixon. All he can remember from that encounter was Nixon's make-up, more than any other politician facing the cameras that day. What was Nixon hiding under all that make-up? A lot, as it turns out.

 

Who goes into American politics these days anyway? Good people, ambitious people, smart people. Many want to "serve their country." Up here in Ulster County we have a new Congressman, Pat Ryan, two tours in Iraq, he was an excellent Ulster County Executive. I interviewed him for the local paper, HV1, in the presence of his campaign manager, which troubled me, not the interview, just the attempt to control the flow of information, as I have written here before. Ryan withstood the scrutiny and I was more than pleased he won. But watching him introduce legislation this week to guarantee medical abortion pills through the mail, I cheered him, but also felt dismayed; he didn't sound authentic, he sounded scripted, even more scripted than on the day I had interviewed him. As a citizen and a writer, I protest at the celebrity packaging of our honest, well- meaning, albeit ambitious politicians. I want them to feel real to me.  

 

This post is dedicated to Masha Amini, the brave people of Iran, and the Ukrainians, all of whom are fighting to the death for their freedoms.

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 96

Into nature for a much-needed break from the virtual classroom and Zoom meetings. 

 

Photo ©copyright Carol Bergman 2022

    

In Person

 

 

We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.
         

― Marshall McLuhan

 

 

I remember the last day in March 2020 I taught a workshop at NYU in person, a Wednesday, mid-week, the first week of the month. I'd taken the Trailways bus into Port Authority, as usual, and stopped into my favorite café to review my students' manuscripts and the reading I had assigned. This last pre-Zoom class is embedded in me, an iconic memento of "before Covid," though even that last class was disrupted by news of a strange as yet un-named ailment that had afflicted at least one member of the workshop who had traveled overseas on business in the days between one class and another. I felt uneasy, more so when I listened to the news about a strange virus in Wuhan when I got home that night.

 

I am the child of two doctors and know as much as any lay person of my generation wants to know about viruses. My sister and I were out of the city every polio summer and the first in line to get both the Salk and then the Sabine vaccines. Windows were open in our apartment summer and winter. Anyone who had trained to be a physician before the cause and cure for tuberculosis was discovered—and beyond—understood the importance of ventilation and resisted sealed windows and interior ventilation systems when they became the architectural fashion.

 

I called the Chair of my department the next morning and said I was feeling uneasy, something was going on. When I asked if I could teach my class online the following week, I was told I'd be terminated—terminated, what a word—if I didn't finish out the term in person. That was interesting. Apparently admin had been getting a lot of similar phone calls and had already decided on their policy—threaten termination.

 

As an active ACT-UAW union member, the adjuncts union at NYU where more than 75% of the faculty is adjunct, I called the shop steward who, in turn, called the union lawyer. I am sure many adjuncts also put in a call; by Tuesday of the week of March 8, the university had gone remote.

 

So that was the first chapter of my Zoom classroom experience, which continued to just this past week when I taught my first in-person class since that fateful month of March, 2020. I organized a "new" booster and got to work planning a "new" writing workshop in celebration, something I have never taught before: Haiku.  

 

A haiku is three simple lines. It distills emotion, sharpens the mind, and creates a sensation of mindfulness and serenity. When Covid lockdown began, I returned to Haiku in my morning journaling, adapting the form to suit each day's mood and challenge. When lockdown eased, I continued the practice, as I still do today. So, I thought, why not teach something life-affirming as we re-enter life, not as we once knew it, but as it has become.

 

Last Tuesday was our first "Haiku Circle" get together, sitting—albeit  still distanced—in  a community room in a local library. How I'd missed the three dimensional contact, the unexpected gesture, the tone of voice, a bashful smile. Is there any way to tell if a person is sad or bashful on Zoom if we have never met before? I don't think so.

 

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Tibor Spitz, The Holocaust, and Me

Tibor & Noemi Spitz photo © copyright Carol Bergman 2022

 

TIBOR SPITZ, THE HOLOCAUST, AND ME

 

 

Those who deny Auschwitz would be ready to remake it.

-Primo Levi 

 

The wound is the place where the Light enters you.

 

-Rumi 

 

 

I first met Tibor Spitz at the opening of his retrospective at the Unison Arts and Learning Center in New Paltz, NY in late August, 2022. One of the co-founders of the center, Helene Bigley, and my Covid walking partner all those difficult months, insisted I meet him. The gallery had re-opened, a celebration. But when she told me that Tibor is a Holocaust survivor from Slovakia, I resisted. Over the years, as Second Generation, I've written a lot about the Holocaust, my own family's story, in particular, and done what Helen Epstein in her book, Children of the Holocaust, calls the "emotion work" for the family. As Epstein writes, many of the survivors kept their stories hidden from their children and from themselves. When the Second Generation began to ask questions, and were met with silence or denial, the family dynamics often shifted. Mine certainly did. Once I found out the truth about my murdered relatives, particularly my maternal grandmother, Nanette, who was killed at Auschwitz in her fifties, I became enraged.

 

I read and wrote nonstop for many years about the Holocaust, or the Holocaust surfaced in my work unexpectedly as I was writing about other things. I felt it was my mandate, as a writer, to bear witness and document the genocide in a way my parents could not. Eventually, after a lot of writing and therapy, my rage eased and I became interested in international peace-making, truth and reconciliation, conflict resolution and human rights initiatives.

 

Now older, I am protective of my equilibrium and do not read or write much about the Holocaust anymore, though, oddly, I enjoy German films and contemporary German authors, such as Jenny Erpenbeck,  in which there is a reckoning with the fascist and communist past. (She is East German). Indeed, this is my first foray back into the subject for many years. It's not that the killing fields have faded from memory, only that I can manage the specter of the atrocities and my personal losses if I remain somewhat distanced and self-protective. So, I told my friend Helene that I wouldn't come to Tibor's opening. But then I went anyway, not for fear of disappointing her, but because my curiosity was peaked when I looked Tibor Spitz up online, and saw his paintings. If Chagall had been a pointillist, he would have painted like Tibor Spitz.  I write about art and artists a lot. Why had I never heard of Tibor as an artist before? His canvases and ceramics are masterpieces. Indeed, he is a renowned artist in New York State's mid-Hudson Valley, and beyond. Not to mention, that he is probably one of the only living Holocaust survivors in the mid-Hudson Valley. As is his wife, Noemi. How could I not meet them?

 

The room was crowded, just about everyone unmasked, except for me and one or two others, as they are these days. Helene spotted me and dragged me over to meet Tibor, a short, muscular man who reminded me both of Picasso and my Austrian- born father. At 93-years-old, Tibor could be my father. And it wasn't only his body, but the shape of his head, the shape of my head, the fulness of the lips, which resembles the Egyptian reliefs of Akhenaten, visually confirming DNA ancestry analysis: we are North African.

 

Tibor pointed at my mask aggressively and said, "Why are you hiding behind that?" and pulled me towards him in a big bear hug.

 

Hiding. It was the perfect description of my mood.

 

I decided to leave, only to return a few days later when Tibor and Noemi were scheduled to do a "gallery sit." I was determined to face his complicated survival story, and to listen to it without interruption;  he and his family had lived for seven months underground in a forest dug-out, no more than  a mound of reinforced earth, overlooking  Dolný Kubín, a mountainous region of northern Slovakia, near the Polish border. They subsisted largely on frozen berries and edible roots, dodging Nazi police patrols. Although he didn't become an artist until he retired as an chemical engineer for IBM in 1968,  he'd always wanted to be an artist, and repeated and stored the mystical stories his cantor father told him when he was a boy, even more so in hiding. "If I hadn't been able to imagine something else, I would have gone insane," he says.

 

This time the gallery was not crowded. I stood back, notebook in hand, and listened to Tibor talking to a woman about a ceramic image of horses she was interested in buying and heard him say, "To help people feel good is the only thing worth doing. Horses are serene creatures and they are vegetarian."  That gave me pause. Tibor Spitz has found happiness in his work and in sharing his work with admirers. Plus, his remark was humorous. He is neither bitter, nor enraged. I want to get to that peaceful place as I age, I thought.

 

Eventually, everyone in the gallery left, and there was still some time before closing, so I suggested to Tibor and Noemi that we sit in a circle a bit distanced so I could take off my mask. One of my hearing aids failed, and Noemi offered to put in a new battery, then instructed me on prolonging its life. 

 

It was now a family gathering. We sat alone, surrounded by Tibor's powerful work talking about painting, writing practice, and the redemptive power of making art. Tibor's work exudes more strength than pain, even a bit of whimsy at times. And the ceramics, in their two dimensionality, bring the faces and bodies from Tibor's memory and imagination to eternal life. 

 

Tibor Spitz: A Retrospective: Stories, Remembrances," curated by Simon Draper and Faheem Haider, at the Unison Art Gallery in New Paltz, NY will run through September 18.  Call to make an appointment: (845) 255-1559

 

 

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Where There's Smoke

 

Where There's Smoke

 

  Adults keep saying: "We owe it to the young people to give them hope." But I don't want your hope. I don't want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire. Because it is."

 

-Greta Thunberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 25, 2019. 

 

 

The Nanopoch Fire started on August 27, probably by a lightning strike. As I write, it has consumed about 100 acres of the Minnewaska State Park, just twenty minutes from the valley where I live in New Paltz, NY. I woke at 5 a.m. to the scent of smoke and the apocalyptic sound of helicopters, had a quick breakfast, and took a ride to the New Paltz Fire Station to try to interview a volunteer firefighter or two, but they must have been resting, as were their three dinosaur-sized vehicles. I wanted to ask, "So what's it been like for you these past few days?"

 

It's been all hands on deck as Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan announced a unified command: The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Rangers, staff volunteers, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Ulster County Emergency Services, the New York State Police Aviation—the helicopters—and the the State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services and local volunteer fire departments. That's what it takes to contain a wildfire.

 

I got back into my car and drove down Route 151 South to a building where I used to live; it has a deck overlooking the ridge. And there I saw it: smoke covering the valley like an old, smelly blanket. Inhaling the particulates from smoke is almost as dangerous as the fire itself, especially to young or damaged lungs.

 

This is the third wildfire in New York State this summer, albeit the worst so far. Like Hurricanes, they are given names, which I suppose makes them memorable for scientific purposes. On August 14, the Wanoksink Fire in Harriman State Park was contained within 34 acres. It took three days to graduate to "patrol status," meaning the fire had been contained, and was in a state of "mop-up," the firefighters walking every inch on foot to make sure it was out. Firefighters, by the way, are well trained, and they are brave, though we probably don't need reminding after 9/11.

 

Summer, 2022 fire #2 was on August 21, in Wawarsing, now known as the Losees Hill Fire. Rangers, assisted by several volunteer fire departments, worked on bulldozer lines to contain the fire to 2.5 acres and they did that in just a few hours. That was a relatively easy one.

 

But here's the upshot: climate change is here. These fires are yet another warning in an accumulation of warnings—torrential rains, flash flooding and other extreme weather events. The tinder under our hiking feet this summer has been bone dry. Every time a cloud passed during August we hoped for a few drops of rain. It was never enough.

 

Maybe a trip to the moon would satisfy now that we've made a mess of things here. No wonder there's so much excitement at NASA. Forgive me, but I'm not going to watch the launch of the new rocket. I'll be thinking about Greta's dream for Planet Earth instead and what we can we do day to day, each and every one of us, to contribute to her effort. Here's a list. Please feel free to add to it in the comments:

 

1.    Compost. If you do not have a garden, find a pilot compost program. I live in an apartment complex—but I take my compost every couple of days to one of two communal compost piles. One is next to a communal garden, the other next to the Village Community Center Pollinator Garden.

2.    Do not ride when you can walk, or bike. Save on fossil fuel and if you can afford it, go electric or hybrid.  When you rent a car, ask if they have a hybrid or electric car.

3.    Recycle, Do not put recycle items into a plastic bag; it will get thrown as is into the dump. Eliminate plastic bags as much as you can. Wash out your garbage pails.

4.   Conserve water. Take shorter showers. There's a drought. Reservoirs are low. Water is not only needed for human--and animal and plant--survival, but to fight fires.

 

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The Surveillance State

 

The Surveillance State

 

 

 

And when they spy on us let them discover us loving.

 

-Alice Walker, "Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart"

 

 

 

this post is dedicated to Salman Rushdie

may he continue to heal well

and write freely

 

 

I haven't written about Facebook in a long time. I was skeptical when it first began in 2004 and reluctant to put my face, my photos, my life on a platform for others to approve, mock, congratulate, pity, cheer or emoji, which was Zuckerberg's original intention when he and his cohorts designed the site when they were at Harvard. There was actually a competition: which face is uglier? A schoolboys' game, and a macho one at that.

 

Like nearly everyone else I know, however, I succumbed to the promise and temptation of instantaneous interconnectivity. Now there is Instagram (owned by Facebook) and What's App (owned by Facebook) and Twitter (not owned by Facebook or Elon Musk, as yet.)

 

As a professor, small business owner, journalist, and private writing mentor, I understood quickly that it would be a good idea to have an internet footprint. My NYU students always confessed that they had Googled me. Fortunately, I passed muster; my classes were always filled. And it has also been thrilling and life-affirming to communicate with people all over the world. Al Gore was prescient: there is an internet highway, but life has changed politically and geopolitically since he was Vice-President: Arab springs, wars, fires and floods, migrants, famine, domestic terrorism, autocracy on our shores, surveillance. And it is surveillance, or what I hypothesize is surveillance, that I want to talk about here today, though the discussion requires a preamble, or set-up. It will be as honest and transparent as I can write it.

 

I am a secular Jew, a descendant of the Holocaust, a genocide that wiped out nearly all of my family. I have rarely been to synagogue, do not believe in a God or gods, enjoy biblical stories as literature, the Quaran and the Talmud as ancient wisdom, some of which is relevant today, some of which is not. I have lived abroad, have friends and colleagues of all faiths and nationalities. I steer clear of ghettos—physical, intellectual, cultural. Though I have read deeply about the British mandate in Palestine and the historical necessity of a safe haven for persecuted Jews, including my own family who escaped to three continents, I abhor the idea of a one-party or one-religion state and all fundamentalisms, including American constitutional fundamentalism. I have both Israeli cousins and friends and displaced Palestinian cousins and friends. I love them all. If I could pray for peace, I would pray for peace. But I don't pray. I just do my best as a writer to pay attention and write from the heart.

 

So, when a dear Palestinian friend, who has American citizenship, and is therefore Palestinian-American, recently returned from a family wedding on the West Bank, and put up a Facebook post about Israel's shut-down of Palestinian human rights organizations, and yet more horrific bombings in Israel and Gaza, I wrote a comment on his post which began with the unedited and unskillful sentence: "The Israelis are fools." I then continued with more context, something akin to: if they only understood that Palestinian human rights organizations are their allies in the struggle for peace. That is a paraphrase from memory because I cannot retrieve my comment: Facebook erased it claiming it did not meet their "community standards." When I looked up those standards, I intuited that calling Israelis fools, instead of foolish, was tagged by their data sleuths as hate speech. When I appealed their decision, I lost the appeal. If I did not accept their final decision, I was informed that they would shut down my account. And though I let it be, I'm still thinking about it, thus this blog post.

 

The Palestinian-American friend who had just returned from a wedding in Hebron was stalked by the FBI after 9/11, as was his son who was in high school in New York City at the time, as was his wife who is a well-known Israeli-Arab-American university professor. The family eventually hired a lawyer to get the FBI to cease and desist. But it's not over until it's over. And though some surveillance is still undoubtedly necessary—more  importantly to stop  domestic terrorism than international terrorism these days, I'd say—the fact that I am communicating often with Palestinians and a (Jewish) UK friend  who is involved in the peace movement, puts Facebook posts and comments at risk.

 

So, where is Facebook in this story exactly?  By all accounts, the company is not doing well. Am I being paranoid, or are they turning over data to burnish their failing reputation? Just today, this news from Nebraska:  A teenager there is facing criminal charges for having an abortion. When local law enforcement officials suspected the teenager and her mother of acquiring abortion pills, they served Facebook with a search warrant for the teen's private Facebook messages. Then, once Facebook handed over the messages, they used the communication between the teen and her mother as proof that an abortion had taken place.

 

I'll end with this thought: Facebook is not our friend.

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Stand With Salman

 

STAND WITH SALMAN

 

 

He was learning that to win a fight like this, it was not enough to know what one was fighting against. That was easy. He was fighting against the view that people could be killed for their ideas, and against the ability of any religion to place a limiting point on thought. But he needed, now, to be clear of what he was fighting for. Freedom of speech, freedom of the imagination, freedom from fear, and the beautiful, ancient art of which he was privileged to be a practitioner. Also skepticism, irreverence, doubt, satire, comedy, and unholy glee. He would never again flinch from the defense of these things. - 

 

-Salman Rushdie, "Joseph Anton; A Memoir"

 

 

My first thought was, they finally got him, because "they," whoever they are in any moment in historical time, often do. My second thought: the rest of his life will be inside a security bubble and he will either be accepting of this, or miserable about it, depending on his gratitude at simply being alive. And he will keep on writing.

 

I was back in the United States when the fatwa against Salman Rushdie began and he went into hiding. His marriage ended; he kept on writing. He has never stopped writing. Our paths had crossed in London at various times as I was a journalist there. Then I saw him again in New York at Cooper Union during the international literary festival when he was President of PEN America. He was feeling more at ease, his security not as tight, he had a new woman in his life. By taking on the presidency, he honored that august organization's mission and its support when he was in hiding. Founded in 1922, PEN America, one of 100 centers worldwide that make up PEN  International, is both a literary and human rights organization dedicated to protecting free expression in the United States and worldwide.

 

Given what is going on in Iran right now, it is no surprise that the death threat, known as a fatwa, has been "renewed," so it's perplexing that a so-called enlightened institution—the  Chautauqua Institution in western New York where Rushdie was scheduled to speak—had  such lax security, and that Rushdie's own security detail was so slight, or, by some accounts, non-existent.

 

Over the years, I have had death threats because of something I wrote, and though I have never had to go into hiding, I have required police protection. Citizens who go about their daily lives and depend on the press for information are usually not aware of the risks that journalists sometimes take to gather news, or novelists take to create their stories.

 

I invite my readers to #StandWithRushdie by reading one of his eleven novels, or his memoir, if you haven't already done so. They are not beach reads, but they will open your minds and hearts to other worlds and ideas, which is what most writers attempt to do every day of their working lives.

 

#standwithSalman  #civildiscourse #protectpersecutedsriters #opensociety #protectfreespeech 

 

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Interviewing a Politician

 

 

Interviewing a Politician

 

 

It's official. Lincoln's party of "liberty and Union" is now Trump's party of violence and disunion. His cultists just called sedition 'beating up cops' and a coup 'legitimate political discourse.'

 

Jamie Raskin in a Tweet, 2/2/22

 

I hadn't ever interviewed an American politician so I don't know what possessed me to interview Pat Ryan for HV 1, a local weekly newspaper I've been contributing to lately. I should have known the paper would probably only take a conventional, reportorial profile, nothing too personal or irreverent, but I carried on anyway and ended up writing two pieces, one irreverent, one informational. The editors conducted a straw poll: one editor liked  the irreverent take, two others the more informative version. The latter one is on the front page of the paper today as I write this blog.  So, I'll start this story somewhere between writing the reportorial, conventional piece, and aching to write something entirely different, which is what you are reading here. It's a meta story about Pat Ryan,  a hard-working 40-year-old Democrat, the Ulster County Executive since 2018, and an experienced, irreverent female journalist who arrived one hot summer day to interview him.  

 

Pat Ryan's accomplishments and policies are all notable, and most people I know in New Paltz—a  faux progressive town—really really want him to win. Maybe that was the beginning of my offer to interview him—I really really want Pat Ryan  to complete Congressman Antonio Delgado's term and get to Congress so he'll have the opportunity to run for re-election in November in one of the "new" districts. With all the mash-up redistricting, this is a good one. It's confusing and I won't say much more here other than we all need re-education to figure out the two ballots that will be in our folders, one for the special election (the 19th District), the other for the primary for the mid-term election (the 18th District), both on August 23rd, with some early voting beginning August 13th. Got that? Good.

 

A bit of backstory: In the ten years I lived in London I also contributed to a weekly, The Times Educational Supplement, a supplement of the London Times, and I did interview politicians, known there as Members of Parliament, who were so accessible that I hardly needed appointments to get an interview; I'd just walk into their constituency offices, and begin a conversation. I am sure it has not been as easy for journalists since Labour MP Jo Cox was killed by a white supremacist in 2016, and Sir David Amess, a Conservative MP, was murdered by an Islamic terrorist in 2021. Politicians everywhere these days live in a security bubble, not to mention January 6th and the fear of domestic terrorism in the halls of Congress. It is no surprise, therefore, that an unknown journalist would be carefully managed and not left alone in the room with a candidate. Nonetheless, I was surprised that after easily getting a slot for a 30-minute interview with Pat Ryan, I encountered a fortress level of security, all of which makes a politician much less available to constituents. And perhaps this is part of my story also because when I arrived at the Kingston, NY campaign headquarters, and entered the lobby, and walked up the stairs, the outer door was locked with a mega lock and I had to call to gain entry. And that was exactly what it felt like: gaining entry. I had to ask to use the bathroom so it was a while before the spirited ambience of a campaign office, with youthful workers on phones and computers, signs everywhere,  felt "normal."  Then Pat Ryan bounded into the hallway as I was exiting the bathroom, shook my hand, and said he'd be right with me. So, I already had a casual first impression I could use in my physical description: tall, lanky, relaxed, bearded.

 

I was escorted into a conference room where I could take off my mask and sit distanced, for which I was grateful.  Chris Walsh, Ryan's campaign manager, walked in, and made himself comfortable. Shorts, sandals, curly hair, he'd grown up in Greenwich Village, so we chit chatted about that. Then I thought he would leave, but he didn't. 

 

Once upon a time, I would never have conducted an interview with a PR or anyone else present, so I said, "Are you here to spin, Chris?" He laughed, said nothing, and stayed throughout the interview. Only later did I wonder, if he was armed and there to protect his candidate. Or, even more perversely, as I am female, whether he was there to protect his candidate from accusations of sexual harassment.

 

Anything can happen to a politician these days.

 

I'd done my homework, read everything that's been written about Pat Ryan most of which felt like potted campaign literature, and thought up a few questions no one had asked him before hoping to get under the skin of spin. For example, had he ever been out of the country before he was deployed after graduating from West Point?  No, he hadn't. And looking back at the United States from his vantage as a US Army Commanding Officer of an intelligence unit in Iraq, what did he see? "How much we have. How we have to preserve it," he said. I had asked the same question of Sheriff Figueroa, a Marine—running  unopposed for re-election  on the Democratic ticket in November. He  also had never been out of the country before he was deployed and  said almost the same thing. 

 

I had more challenging questions for Pat Ryan so I carried on. No one stopped me, a hopeful sign. He had done his Masters at Georgetown on drone warfare, euphemistically referred to as "leadership targeting," so I wanted to know what he thought about the CIA drone killing of Al-Qaeda's Ayman al Zawahiri last week in Kabul. I got the question in eventually, late in the interview. Answer: "Surgical kill, short term solution." And that was the end of the interview. Chris Walsh looked at his watch to end it; maybe he was there as a timekeeper. Next event, next interview and a visit that night (with security?) to the Ulster County Fair.

 

I had had my thirty minutes, a very short time to get to know someone. And, for the most part, didn't learn anything new about Pat Ryan; the conversation reaffirmed my intuition that he's a good guy, has had the requisite experience, and I want him to win. Before saying goodbye, almost at the door, I did try to get him to talk about education as he has two young boys and plans to send them to public school. I was thinking of the recent high intensity school board meetings and the sometimes fraught relationship between teachers and parents, but he didn't want to touch it. Instead, he veered into the pandemic and how it's taken its toll on all of us. He did call parents a "fierce force," though, and referred to his wife, Rebecca, as a "badass health policy wonk." She's worked as a civil servant in DC for a very long time. Maybe she'll run for office one day. If so, I'd  certainly try to interview her.


 

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 95

More or Less

 

The president was not masked at public events he attended at the end of the week, which is in conflict with CDC guidance that says people should wear a mask for 10 days after a Covid infection.

 

                                        -Politico, 7/23/22

 

 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, still the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, segued from Trump to Biden smoothly, yet in an interview the other day he looked exhausted  and pained. Maybe I was reading in, but I don't think so. My sense was he was struggling to tout the party line on federal guidelines during the current surges (individual responsibility, more or less) and resisting the use of the word "mandate."  There is nothing any one man or politician can do to correct the systemically flawed "public" health initiatives in the United States, a nation where decision making is bi-furcated between the central government and the dis-united states. So let's give our public health officials a break for a minute—not including getting monkeypox under control—and concentrate on November's election, a Democratic sweep, and legislators who will be able to legislate. Meanwhile, I'll accept my individual responsibility vis-a-vis Covid.

 

Like Cuomo during the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci was our go-to guru. We watched him constantly for guidance and comfort, the news that vaccines were coming fast, that they would be protective—they still are, despite the variants—and that the simplest of measures, such as wearing a mask and distancing, would/could stop the spread. Then we got our government sponsored test kits (watch the expiration dates), testing sites and antivirals. All good news. But because of Trump's dangerous solipsistic insanity, both Cuomo (for all his faults) and Dr. Fauci, known affectionately simply as Fauci, became our governors, literally those that govern for the common good, our personal guides until we were more or less safe. I don't think either of them anticipated the more or less part of this sentence, but I don't want to minimize how they both got us through those early 2020 terrifying days and became our invited household guests during lockdown.

 

But more or less is where we still are during this third Covid summer. It's not nearly as scary as the first one, or the second one, thank goodness. We can relax a bit, certainly outside. Many people are risking travel, many people are socializing. I don't wear my mask at all in certain well-tested situations with people I trust, which feels nearly normal. And there are days when I forget we are still in the midst of the pandemic, which gives the vigilant worry brain a rest, wouldn't you agree, dear reader? I'll be inside working, say, and then take a run to the pool for a long, relaxed lap swim, two people to a lane this year, no reservation required. Once there I can chat mask free to the teens at the outdoor sign-in desk, some in high school, some in college, learn their names, their ambition, and ask how these past two years have been for them. Hard. Very hard. I try to encourage, support, solicit emails of their latest art projects or college application essays, offer to give them a read. They know I'm a  prof and a journalist and seem eager to talk to an adult who takes an interest. I easily oblige. Now that I can see their faces, and their smiles, we've formed a cohort, a community, of those who have survived, or are surviving—in  the continuous present tense—a  terrible ordeal, albeit only more or less over.

 

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 94

 

Homo homini lupus est. 

© photo copoyright Yenka Honig 2022

 

And We Thought We Were Done

 

 

He that is to govern a whole Nation, must read in himselfe, not this, or that particular man; but Man-kind;"

 

 Thomas Hobbes, "Leviathan"

 

 

I was in the health store buying organically regeneratively cultivated food when a family breezed in—two parents, three kids, two of the kids in the shopping cart—all unmasked, when one of the kids started sneezing, coughing and spurting phlegm all over her siblings and into the air. Though no one said a word, the shoppers pulled away. It's a small store, so this was not easy. I retrieved another mask from my back pocket—I only had a surgical on--and moved to the end of the check-out line. What was there to say or do other than that? Not much, unfortunately, except to leave the store without my organically regeneratively cultivated food, all of which I hope will keep me and my husband fortified for the BA variants upcoming before we get our FIFTH SHOT sometime in the autumn.

 

Whether this sweet sputtering child had Covid or not is irrelevant as there is no way to know. And it's not her responsibility anyway to consider the safety of the public at large. And she may have tested negative and just had an ordinary cold. But what were the adults thinking? Why not keep the child in the car, at least, with one of them. Was this too logistically difficult, too ethically challenging? Are they too busy to pay attention to anyone other than themselves and their immediate family?

 

Rhetorical questions.

 

It's summer and several friends and family members are traveling. We want to enjoy ourselves, see each other, see the world as it flails and burns. But we also have to preserve and repair. In the most global sense, the pandemic is a wake-up call, a symptom of the larger environmental challenge and the breakdown in international peace and cooperation.

 

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Weather Map

 

WEATHER MAP

 

 I don't believe the sleepers in this house

Know where they are.

-Robert Frost

 

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.

-Herman Hesse

 

 

Except for summers when I was a child, and later when I was raising a child, I always lived in a city, either a large city such as Boston, London or New York, or a small city, such as Berkeley when I studied at the University of California. I never imagined that a consoling mountain landscape could be a year-round home. But in the spring of 2018, we moved out of the city permanently to a mid-Hudson valley small town, west of the Hudson River.  Our apartment has three screened-in nearly always open windows looking out onto the Minnewaska Ridge. On any one day I might see a grazing deer, coyotes, a fox crossing my path, a black bear resting in a tree on the SUNY campus, rabbits, vultures, eagles and hawks, or groundhogs feasting in the apple orchard. The sensation of sharing an ecosystem is constant and profound. It deepened during lockdown and isolation as my commute to the city lessened and then ceased. I've had one trip in recent months to see the Basquiat show, my cousin, and some friends visiting from California, but I need a very good reason to navigate the crowded streets, and feel the pressure of concrete, metal, glass, foul air, and hustle, not to mention surges in Covid.

 

It's not that I've become a recluse, far from. I started writing occasional pieces for the local newspaper a few weeks ago which keeps me engaged with people, community, politics and life's seemingly constant exacerbations. But the solace of the landscape envelops me even as I work a story, write my blogs, edit books, or facilitate a Zoom writing workshop, and this makes deadline pressure not only bearable, but meaningless. 

 

If  I am so in sync with nature now, composting and recycling diligently, it's curious, my husband, says, that I check my weather app so frequently. Why do I do this, I wonder? Storms announce themselves in the sky, in the tumbling clouds, and in the moist or dry air on my skin. Seasons change, or retreat, or explode suddenly. The calendar on my desk or in my phone tell me where I am within a given year. And even if there are climate change surprises—droughts and floods, a fire, a tornado—I manage well, without fear, most of the time.

 

Every Sunday as Covid ripped the fabric of our lives, I walked and talked with my friend Helene. Both the walking and talking were grounding, an antidote to social isolation. And we've continued the practice more or less every Sunday since. We pass old stone houses, a farm, a field of hay, barns, burial grounds, a nature preserve, gardens, people walking their dogs, other walkers. We may stop to chat, widening the circle of connection, or not. As the walk proceeds, earth sky, flora, fauna, and human habitation feels in balance and we feel in balance. It's more than likely the illusion of proximity or wishful thinking; the Wallkill River is very polluted, algae bloom all summer. It's a reminder that repairing our degraded environment—even in this beautiful landscape—must be intentional and unrelenting into the next season, and beyond. 

 

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