Thursday, April 23, 2020

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare

Always a harbinger of warmer weather and birds and bees and flowers and trees, Shakespeare's birthday also prompts the thought, what sense would the great playwright make of today?

Here's but a brief quote from Julius Caesar [II.i.] about power ... to whet the reader's appetite and wish the Bard a Happy Birthday,

Th’ abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Earth is 50 years old today. At least the Day.

It's been 50 years since the first Earth Day. We should pause to reflect and pause to learn in these most wicked of times.

A virus ravages our globe. Our urban centers are fully stressed, and it seems only a matter of time before our rural ones are too. The virus has put a stop to most human economic activity.

And yet, or because of, carbon in the atmosphere has fallen dramatically. The skies above some of the worlds smoggiest cities have cleared. The air even tastes better. Animals roam streets that belonged only to humans weeks ago.

What if there was no more, "business as usual." What if the usual became very unusual indeed?

We sit at that moment. We should figure out how to derive the good from this bad. To see our systems for what they truly are, a mixed bag of benefits and impacts.

Generalities only go so far. Specifics will be needed. For the moment though, let's remember the earth. She is bigger and more complex than us. Was. Is. Will be.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Angus McQuilken talks economic recovery in the 6th District

Angus McQuilken -- a health care executive and a friend of mine -- is challenging Seth Moulton in this fall's Democratic primary for the 6th Congressional District in Massachusetts. Last week, I talked with Angus via Zoom about his ideas for economic recovery in the district once we make it through the Covid era. 

Here is our conversation:

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

There is nothing inevitable about New York

I have this phrase floating in my head and I'm not sure why. It doesn't really make any sense and yet I keep repeating it. I keep saying, there is nothing inevitable about New York.

I don't mean that there is nothing inevitable about COVID-19 having the destructive effect it is having in NYC right now. That's not what I mean.

What I mean is, there is nothing inevitable about the city itself.

Take this image. It's a classic view of Manhattan island, taken from the air out in New York Harbor. The year is 1933. Look at all the piers traveling up the West Side, where goods, cargo and passengers all disembarked. Notice the rectangle in the middle of the island, the living lung of New York, Central Park. Though the shape of Manhattan is deeply ingrained in our minds, nothing in this image was preordained, no matter how familiar it is to us.

Some might say, "Incorrect! Geology along with geography account for it all." That as soon as the trading Dutch arrived in the New World, this argument would go, the island's destiny was determined. A deep water port, a navigable river with access inland, broad channels and plenty of shore. Perhaps. Salem, Massachusetts was a gem 200 years ago too.

The photograph, romantic in its black-and-white perspective, is emblazoned on most Americans. The history is so rich, the cultural lore so ever-pervasive. New York has always been this way. But nothing that made it so.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

At 8pm in my neighborhood, we salute

Every evening at 8pm, my neighbors and I go out on our porches, front steps, onto the sidewalk, to clap for frontline workers in this global pandemic. We clap our hands. We hoot. Someone has brought out a harmonica. Next, I'm certain someone will bring a drum.

Mostly, we are thinking of those who go to work in a hospital every day: The doctors and the nurses and the orderlies and the food service people and the cleaning crews, the security guards and the EMTs and the maintenance people. But it doesn't just stop with the health care profession. Of course we think of the police and fire as well. But what about the garbage collectors, and the mail man and the Amazon delivery drivers, and all the public transit employees? And what about all the people, young and old, who work in grocery stores every day, stocking the shelves and especially the cashiers? They are truly on the front line. Risking their lives.

The ritual first started in Italy I believe, as they became inundated with dead and sick, they thought it important to say thank you.

Someone down the street from me in Cambridge picked up the tradition, emailed some friends and instigated it among us. 8pm. Sharp. Outside. To clap. To say thank you.

It's nice. Some might say it's trite or misses the point. For one, I'm not sure any front line workers live near enough to hear us.

But in some ways that's not the point either. The days are long, and sometimes lonely. The internet helps, but only in the way that a mediated communication helps -- screens are good but not quite the same. There's nothing like being in a room with another person, and now, that's no longer possible.

The clapping in the end may be as much for us as for anyone else. It may be our little moment of solidarity, to say to ourselves, we will get through this, somehow, with our dignity and our humanity intact. Our communities not destroyed. Our sense of purpose reexamined but still undimmed. Perhaps its our way of saying to each other, we're still here. Don't worry, we're still here.

Anyway, if you've got a neighborhood that might support something like this, I recommend it. It's oddly confirming in a time when so much of our assumptions of safety are being torn apart.

I was even thinking of putting a little blue light in my window, as a way of saying, here's a light of recognition.