Wednesday 22 July 2020

The Axis of Incompetence

I call it the Axis of Incompetence – particularly when it comes to the spread of Covid-19.

In pride of place at the top of this triangle is our own dear President Donald Trump.

At the bottom, preening like two bantam cocks stand his two acolytes, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Long live nationalist populist leaders – they top the charts in Covid-19 deaths and infections!

One could toss in President Vladimir Putin but he’s at least a very competent musician, for according to John Bolton he can play President Trump like a fiddle.

Putin may not be having great success stomping out Covid-19 in Mother Russia but he’s nothing if not scientific, for to toss back a vodka with him one must get tested, and then sprayed while passing through a disinfection tunnel to his private quarters. 

Not so our president. Forget about science, he much prefers to trust his “instincts.” 

In January he stated that Covid-19 was “totally under control… it’s going to be just fine.”

In February “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

In March, “Just stay calm, it will go away.”

Had he been uttering these inanities while working behind the scenes all well and good, but we were left defenseless, barely any testing, little PPE for healthcare personnel, along with few masks and less gloves for citizens - just an ostrich-like refusal to take federal leadership or accept responsibility.

Meanwhile down Rio way Senhor Bolsonaro, the “Trump of the Tropics” has even less regard for science - or plain old reality.

He pulled the plug on several quarantine measures initiated by state governors, summoned his supporters to mass rallies, and declared that the big C was little more than a measly cold.

Then when the unimpressed virus ripped through his country he declared, “God is Brazilian, the cure is right here! Chloroquine is working everywhere.”

This “cure” didn’t do him much good for he recently tested positive. Not to worry though, he has converted to President Trump’s anti-malaria drug of choice, Hydroxychloroquine.

The best of luck to both of them though this “cure” - widely considered ineffective against Covid-19 - can do a number on your heart. Ah well, what’s a ticker or two between populists?

Meanwhile there are rumblings in Brazil of coups, revolutions, and attempted suppression of Covid casualty figures.

And what of Boris the Brexit Warrior? Well he also took one for the team and contracted the illness himself. 

Before that he refused to close schools long after neighboring France and Ireland, allowed the jam-packed Cheltenham Races to continue, and breezily shook hands with all and sundry until the Covid brought him to his knees.

With the virus untamed and up to 45K dead he’s recently reopened pubs and cut the social distancing down to 1 meter. Does he seriously believe that this highly contagious scourge can’t be passed on at 3 feet?

He’s had one lucky break. Despite all his Brexit posturing, UK citizens will not be banned from entry into EU countries until at least December when the UK bids a fond farewell to the EU.

Not so Brazil, Russia, and oh dear, the USA. Whatever happened to American exceptionalism? 

Have no fear – it’s still strong. The vast majority of Americans have risen to the task of fighting Covid-19. 

It’s just that the sheer lack of federal leadership has each state competing for resources as the virus continues to surge nationally.

That’s what happens when one man’s drive to be re-elected dictates federal policy.

Oklahoma’s infection rate has been spiking since the president visited Tulsa 3 weeks ago; better look out South Dakota and Washington DC after Mr. Trump’s July 4th weekend of maskless masquerades.

Covid-19 will not “disappear” no matter how much the president wishes it away.  This is real life – not a reality show. 

Without meaningful federal leadership many thousands more will die before a vaccine is made available nationally.

Hopefully by then President Trump will be perfecting his golf game 24/7 down in Mar-a-Lago.

President Bolsonaro will be recovering in exile, and Boris will be fully occupied feeding his Brexit chickens as they come home to roost.

In the meantime the axis of incompetence blunders on. Here’s to better days, to your health and mine.

Saturday 4 July 2020

University of the Streets

New York City has many fine universities, some more exclusive than others - yet the one to which I was accepted required neither superior SATs or a small fortune in tuition fees. 

In fact, it’s still free and only yards away – the University of the Streets!

It can be a challenging institution – I once had a bayonet tickle my Adam’s Apple in Tomkins Square, and was jumped on by 3 desperados near Gramercy Park; but despite these inconveniences I received my bachelors summa cum laude at NYC’s extensive classroom of taverns, saloons, and most importantly, its rigorous after-hours establishments.

I also studied abroad for the occasional semester. Just before the collapse of the Soviet Union I traveled to Lithuania with the free-form poet, Copernicus.

After our concert and reception in Vilnius I listened to my companion converse with our taxi driver in a scholarly mixture of French and German. Suddenly he shattered the Soviet silence with a Brooklyn bellow, “Are you kiddin’ me! Every city in the universe has an after-hours bar!”

When the taxi-driver reassured him that such was not the case under “these damned Russians,” I knew this would be a wasted semester. 

My favorite campus was the Kiwi Social Club on 9th Street and Avenue A, technically speaking it wasn’t even an after-hours as it operated 24/7 including Christmas Day.

 I had a “Road to Damascus” moment therein when I awoke to the genius of John Coltrane’s music.

My mentor, Jimmy Reece, an African-American academic and student of the night sensed my breakthrough and heartily congratulated me, “You got it, man.  You finally got it!”

And I had. From Trane I went on to specialize in Miles, Monk and a host of other Jazz innovators.

Consider just how much all those hours of delight would have cost me at Columbia or Fordham – not to mention that in those hallowed halls I’d have done so in scholarly sobriety.

On another occasion at a Mafia joint mere yards from NYU I took a class at dawn on William Butler Yeats from a well-oiled Lou Reed that forever opened my soul to the genius of the Irish poet. Talk about a “walk on the wild side!”

While at the renowned UK Club on 13th Street and 3rd Avenue I received an ominous lecture on behavioral science from that formidable Professor of Punk, Rockets Redglare, which made my hair stand on end and put me back on the scholarly straight and narrow. 

On another liquidy morning Frank McCourt gave me an intense private tutorial wherein he declared that any Irishman who wasn’t writing his memoirs was “a feckin’ eejit” after all the fame and fortune that he had achieved with Angela’s Ashes.

I soon after buckled down and wrote my own autobiographical thesis “Green Suede Shoes – an Irish-American Odyssey.”

I received no words of wisdom from Norman Mailer but deep gratitude for fixing his beloved but debilitated Porsche. This fluke came about through a chance meeting with a Puerto Rican technical scholar at Save The Robots an early morning educational establishment on Avenue B. 

I can still picture the glow of appreciation in Mr. Mailer’s amazing blue eyes when Professor Mendez and I parked his purring, souped-up vehicle outside his Brooklyn Heights apartment.

How much did all of this late night cavorting cost me, you might inquire. It’s hard to say but I did get at least a 40% discount on my fees, for back in the old New York late night academia one always received the 3rd drink on the house, and thereafter the 5th, 7th until class ended or the professor behind the stick dismissed you for the day.

To top it all, when I was finally awarded my PhD I was gloriously debt free. Now match that against the debilitating student loans that most scholars will have accrued in their pursuit of academic excellence.

Alas in these troubled times the hallowed institution of the after-hours appears to have been supplanted by the gym and the Internet.

And yet who knows what the future will bring in this looming recession. The thirst for knowledge will never be satisfied and there will always be those who seek it out in the University of the Streets.