"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Search For The Holy Grail–COVID Vaccine In The Slums

Progressive principles have been put to the test in the nation’s capital; and liberals who have long championed the cause of Black Lives Matter and the plight of the black underclass are now expected to go across the Anacostia into the deep hole of the inner city ghetto – Indian country, the worst of the worst neighborhoods, the inescapable, brutal, violent slums. 

The DC Government has finally rolled out its COVID vaccine program, but true to form in a dysfunctional, chaotic way.  By fits and starts it has leaked vaccines to the general public; but because of a politically-driven distribution system, most openings are only available in the persistently crime- and drug-ridden neighborhoods of the city.

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Rather than equitably distribute vaccines according to demand – the white, upper middle class wards of the city, first to wear masks and socially distance; first to observe all COVID rules and regulations; first to line up for Pfizer and Moderna, and where demand is high, have been told to wait.  Equitability, said the DC Mayor, must govern vaccine distribution.  

Although black populations have been diffident about vaccine protection, suspicious about white conspiracy, and otherwise attendant to other matters, majority black wards are to get their share of vaccines based on population.  Surpluses have resulted, and white affluent Washingtonians have, despite their nightmarish fears, driven to Southeast, the projects, and the loitered parking lots and littered aisles of local supermarkets to get vaccinated.

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“Whites are raiding vaccine supplies meant for black folk”, howled two members of the DC City Council, “and a firewall against these predatory elitist invasions must be built.”  The most outspoken Councilmember shouted, “Black people first”, and the official DC COVID site was revised to show that that majority black wards were to be served first.  First-come, first-served, as mismanaged, chaotic, and bumbled as it was as an operating principle, was at least fair and democratic, but it was to be abandoned. 

The next day the Mayor, realizing that she had overstepped her bounds – after all, white wards pay her salary– quickly did a volte face and re-opened all centers for all Washingtonians.  However, because there was now a shortage of vaccine supplies, because the demand for inoculations was extremely high especially in white wards, but because geographic equitability had to be maintained, the only sites with openings and vaccines were those in the far reaches of the inner city.

What was a good white, Upper Northwest Washington liberal to do?  After decades of championing the rights of the poor, oppressed, denied populations of Anacostia, they now were faced with the possibility of actually going there, crossing the river, setting foot in the most lawless, dangerous, and racially charged neighborhoods of the nation’s capital.  It was one thing to to be on the front lines of Black Lives Matter as long as those lines were chalked on the Mall, across from the Smithsonian museums, on lawns fronting nearby exhibitions of Durer, Leonardo, and the Expressionists.  It was another thing entirely to go into the belly of the beast, to risk life and limb in hell. 

Yet, the unconscionable had to be considered.  Unless one snapped up the vaccines in Congressional Heights, trips to California, Paris, and Gstaad would have to be delayed.  Wasn’t the Mayor aware that likes attract likes and that the old Leonard Bernstein operatic line in West Side Story ‘Stick to your own kind’ still had salience?  And what about the age-old principle of neighborhood schools? Community solidarity, bonding with one’s own, the free choice of association which gives American cities their integrity? Were these principles to be thrown to the wind in a catch all racial tumble?

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Of course Washington’s black population was having a yuk-up field day.  Now white people would finally understand segregation and back of the bus discrimination.  Former Mayor Marion Barry, after his overwhelming re-election even after a slew of criminal indictments, famously said to the white residents of the city, “Get over it”.  This is a black majority city where your rules do not apply.  Walking around money, prison time, and watching your back are our currency.  If you don’t like it, leave.

Barry’s words, as incendiary as they were to white Washington, were only rhetorical.  There was no rubber to meet the road.  Now there was. White, over-65 Washingtonians, comfortably situated and long used to a life of racial separation and ease were now faced with their worst fears – a trip across the river.  Armed caravans were out of the question, bodyguards only possible for the very wealthy and prominent, guns illegal.  Crossing the Anacostia without rifles, cannons, and shotguns was a suicide mission into Comanche country.  

The memory of White Wolf, the most feared, savage, and rapacious Indian leader of the 19th century, the man who defended Indian territory and with his brutal beheadings, disemboweling, and rapes sent an unmistakable message to white Union invaders, was alive and well in Congress Heights. 

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Some white, insistently liberal white Washingtonians wore the sticker of their COVID appointments in the slums as a badge of honor.  “I voted” was a nursery rhyme verse compared to the defiant, muscular, and ideologically pure,  “I got vaccinated in Southeast”.  Of course these lapel stickers were few and far between as Ward 3 mobilized action via their Council Member, their K Street lawyer brigade, and their Republican Congressional supporters.  Soon enough, COVID vaccine would be abundant in the white wards of the city, and queuing up would be no more stressful than waiting in line at Whole Foods.  The panic would disappear, Southeast would once again become Southeast.

It was always thus – white power did indeed exist, but not in the way hysterically claimed by BLM and progressive radicals.  There was never a plot to whiten America, to deny minority rights, or to preserve the status quo.  White people knew that their power resided in trust funds, securities, and the courts – innate, inherent power to be called on when needed. 

Survivors told of the ‘friendly, considerate, hospitable’ black people they met in Southeast, and urged those who had not yet been vaccinated to consider an appointment there.  They did not tell of their watery knees, dry mouth, and panicked fear response as they left the Beltway and dipped down into the projects on their way to their appointment; or the loiterers in the parking lot, the catcalls and whistles, the gantlet of big black men at the door.   Surviving meant that all that did not exist, could not exist, and never again would exist. 

Washington is a city as racially segregated as apartheid Johannesburg ever was.  The city is divided down the middle by Rock Creek Park – all black to the east, all white to the west – and while the races mix, mingle, and work together downtown in federal offices, they take separate busses home. 

Washington is a Democratic city.  Over ninety percent of the black population vote Democratic as they have for generations; and the white population is solidly and unchangeably progressive.  Yet racial lines are not crossed as class ones were decades ago when academics walked the picket lines with working class labor organizers; or even when MLK marched in a phalanx of white and black demonstrators. The city, like the country, is irreparably divided.  You just don’t go there, say whites about ‘east of the park’.  You just don’t.

The COVID crisis has set a few teeth on edge.  For the first time liberals have had to consider the unthinkable; but family, safety, security, and well-being always trump political ideals, so they have stayed on their side of the park…except for those few outliers who were goaded into crossing the Anacostia into Indian Country.

Who? An Uncluttered Memory–Why Bother Remembering The Irrelevant?

Henry Alberts  worked at the World Bank and had for many years.  He had become a Senior Project Manager, responsible for a portfolio of tens of millions of dollars to be invested in African hydraulics – dams, sluiceways, reservoirs, and earthworks.  Most of his loans were shaky and borderline non-performing, but that had less to do with his management than with the failed governments responsible for overseeing the projects the Bank financed.  The Ministers of the Interior, Commerce, Trade and Industry, and Revenue all had their hands in the till – Swiss bank accounts, offshore investments, or just seaside villas and Mercedes – and nary a guilty conscience.  As one minister confided to Henry, he was in his position because of  the support of family, community, tribe, region, and national interests; and he would pay them back in that order.  Political rank was an end in itself, not a means to anything further.

In the course of Henry’s financial management, he was often in Africa working with government officials to encourage a modicum of compliance with Bank ‘conditionalities’, to renegotiate failing loans that had some chance of survival, and to give notice to those indifferent borrowers who knew that the Bank needed to spend money more than they needed it, and more funds would be forthcoming no matter how ill-performing were current agreements. 

The Bank was generous to its senior staff – first class travel, long European stopovers at the best hotels, a limitless expense account, and lodging at the best hotels that the benighted countries he serviced could offer.  In all but the poorest countries there was always a first class hotel with Olympic-sized pool, spa, bars, and world class restaurants.  International civil servants like Henry were to be treated well, given the best accommodations, served the best food, and guaranteed the finest, most personalized service. The rates were far higher than any European counterpart because of the captive market.  Travelers from the World Bank, IMF, African Development Bank, and corporate entrepreneurs and their sponsors would pay anything to keep their high-end road warriors happy.

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The atmosphere at these hotels was happy and upbeat.  However desperate the conditions outside the hotel, those within were sumptuous, elegant, and happy.  There was no guilt about this disconnect because all those who stayed there were ‘doing good’. Their missions were to help the poor by facilitating the construction of needed infrastructure, hospitals, health centers, and schools.  No one said that they were to be glum.  On the contrary, a happy, contented executive was key to high performance.

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As every hardened traveler knew, international experience provided a suspension of the other guilt – remorse, however temporary, about the fleeing affairs common in Third World watering holes – was a non-starter.  Sexual correspondence was if not de rigeur then expected.  It was the necessary anodyne to missing home and family in horrible places.  Sex provided release, solace, and respite.

One day in March Henry received a call from a Nancy Higgins, a woman who said she was delighted to hear that he was in Washington, and was hoping they could get together for lunch.  Henry, who had no recollection of the woman whatsoever, but assumed that once he saw her would remember immediately, accepted the invitation; and on the appointed day took the elevator to the lobby to meet her.  He got off and looked around for her, but there was no one that he recognized.  Perhaps he had the date or the time wrong; but no, he had double checked his calendar just yesterday.  Then, to his relief, a young woman, smiling, rushed over to greet him, hugged him, and kissed him on both cheeks.  “It is so good to see you”, she said. 

She had already picked out a restaurant (“One I know you’ll like”), and they began walking across L Street.  It was clear that the woman knew him, his tastes, and his preferences; had greeted him with more than casual attention; and was clearly someone important from his past.  Yet he remembered nothing.  Unconcerned, he was sure that over lunch and the conversation about old times that would flavor it, he would remember.  Yet, after the soup and salad, he still drew a blank.  He tried to draw her out with references to Africa, other downtown institutions, ‘characters’ she might well know; but at each sally, she only looked quizzically and went on to her next story.  Surprisingly, they were able to get through lunch without embarrassment.  Her assumptions and his blank went unchallenged.  They thanked each other for lunch, promised to see each other again, kissed, and waved as she hailed a cab. He still had absolutely no idea who she was.

Despite her enthusiastic and warm welcome, she was quite ordinary – plain in an international development kind of way, nicely spoken but humorless, eager but in all the wrong direction, and short of moves or anything odd.  How could he have become friends with such a woman, he wondered.  Attractive, intelligent, impressive women were in no short supply in Africa, so he was surprised that he knew her well enough for her to have shown such delight in meeting him.

Henry, however, was gifted with selective memory.,  Ever since he was a child he was able to tune out people, events, and circumstances which had no importance, relevance, or significance.  Many in a long line of family, friends, and lovers had said, “What? You don’t remember?” For them, Henry’s lack of remembering, was insulting.  People who were important to them passed unnoticed.  It might have salved wounded egos had he admitted at least a vague recollection, an acknowledgement that they had enough substance to have existed, but he could not.  Worst of all was the black hole of events which to others  was a conjuncture of important people doing memorable things, but to him a complete void.  There was no salience to Aunt Sally no matter what the venue; and Cousin Bob was no different.  There was nothing wrong with them, nothing off-putting, nothing disagreeable.  Had one of them been a cripple, a loudmouth, or an evangelist he might have remembered; but it was a stretch to assume a commitment to memory of the most ordinary, unremarkable people, what they said, or where they went.

“There’s plenty of room on your hard drive”, said his wife, after yet another of his demurrals and claims of ignorance. “Not that excuse again”, she said, but of course it was never a question of space, for the human mind is capable of an almost infinite number of mnemonic captures.  It was simply why bother? Regardless of neural space what was the point of remembering anyone from Accounting, Bank gatherings, or Betty Darling’s quiche?

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A disappointed girl friend had accused him of selfishness and lack of compassion.  “People are people”, she demanded, “regardless of who they are”; and yet not paying attention to Herb Brattle as he went on about financial drains in East Asia, or Molly Figgins’ hikes up the Appalachian Trail, or Sandy Berger’s fondness for Queen Anne highboys had nothing to do with indifference to people or lack of sympathy; but had all to do with relevance and the personality of the teller.  Adele Roberts’s disquisition on the proto-Mongolic origins of Turkish, for example, was fascinating because of Adele whose delight in the perverse grammatical twists of Turkic was effusive.  She laughed at inflections, case endings, tortuous agglutinations, and inverted word order. How could anyone forget Adele? or not remember her?  Henry paid attention and remembered.

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Henry never listened to everything his good friends said either.  He was less interested in what was on their mind than what they felt about it.  Their emotional correspondence was what counted – how they felt about a difficult son, an insecure daughter, a bitchy wife.  What were they going to do, what personal response would they make were necessarily reflective of character and personality.  It was of no relevance where Gil took his troubled son on the Bay, but the fact that they went.

The older that Henry got, the more pronounced his selective memory became.  His was exclusively focused on the end of his life and what was to come than anything before; and so others’ increasingly fading memories of picnics, drives, occasions, and conversations were particularly useless.  Figuring out what’s what is hard enough without the interference of twaddle.

“Teach me how you do it”, said a young friend who was kept up at night by half-dreams of sorting through a toybox – electric train cars, one-eyed dolls, swizzle sticks, worn tennis balls, and Monopoly pieces.  The more she dug through the toybox, throwing out old bits and pieces of her memory, the more the box filled up. 

“I have been this way since childhood”, Henry replied.   Selective memory – the innate, instinctive valuation of people, events, and things; and the seemingly harsh triage of them – was as much a part of his personality as dedicated compassion was to another.  Yes, true enough, he preferred silence to most people, a chance to reflect on those memories that had been recorded and, if he was lucky, would coalesce into some semblance of meaning before it was too late.  Then again there was Adele and if he was lucky, other Adeles to take up the slack; and the old movies he watched again and again, as unproductive an enterprise as there ever was, but one which enabled flickered memories, bits and pieces of something enjoyable that he couldn’t quite remember but wasn’t far.

Monday, January 18, 2021

The King Has Left The Castle - Joe Biden’s First Night In The Master Bedroom

Joe Biden has promised that on his first day in office, he will clean house. Not only will he get rid of the detritus of the Trump years, but he will create a new, happy, considerate, inclusive America.  His Executive orders will rescind Trump’s worst policies and will expunge every trace of the former President’s white, elitist, capitalist excesses.

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Biden can’t wait to take occupancy of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  He knows he missed his chance four years ago.  There was little doubt that the likeable, comfortable Senator Biden would have better luck against Trump than that screeching, ambitious hyena ; but what goes around comes around, and now, finally, at long last, he gets to sleep in the Master Bedroom, the place where he has belonged for decades. 

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What would the Bedroom be like, he wondered, or more specifically the Master bed – a magnificent double king, canopied, graciously comfortable mattress and down pillows.  A retinue of servants to help him dress and make ready for the day.  Le Lever du Roi it was called in the day of the Sun King, Louis XIV, a magnificent start to every day, the embroidered curtains pulled to reveal the early morning sunlight over the gardens of Versailles, the marvelously tailored robes, soft Italian slippers, and the silken wig of the hair from the heads of a thousand handsome princes.  Of course he would have to change the name – ‘Master’ bedroom simply wouldn’t do, suggesting as it does, slavery, black lovers, and le droit du seigneur. Names aside, Joe thought, I can’t wait.

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Finally and at last he would be able to leave his crabbed and very modest house in Wilmington; and if he were being completely honest, he was quite happy to leave Delaware, known for Dupont, tax havens, and a few beaches.  Of course the good people of Delaware had rewarded him for his consistent attention to their matters, enabling decades of a Congressional sinecure.  He was fortunate, and since his reelections were always all but guaranteed and only a few votes to protect this or that were required to keep him in his state’s eye, seniority – one of the benefits of the Senate which did not reward work or performance, but longevity – was upon him.  

Which reminded him, he had to be sure to fight the conservative move to dismantle the university tenure system.  What was good for him, was good for college professors; and what was wrong with a heads down, moderate, cause no waves approach to tenure so that you could do whatever afterwards?

How would he be able to sleep that first night in the Master bedroom?  He would be so excited about being President and would miss his old bed.  Perhaps the best news about White House bedrooms was that he and his wife Jill would sleep separately.  The First Lady’s quarters were almost as sumptuous as his, and since he would be awakened by his valet many times during the night to take care of the nation’s business, sleeping in the same bed wouldn’t really be fair to his wife. 

Besides, although his campaign handlers did all they could to touch up his wrinkles and sags, Biden was approaching eighty, and like men of his age was quite creaky.  As importantly, although all men are obsessed with sex all of the time, it is with young women, not with old, sagging wives that they want to have sex.

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Ah, but Kamala Harris, youngish, darkly attractive, model-ready at middle age, would be right next door, thought Joe until he realized she would be five miles upriver in the Vice Presidential residence; but knowing her, she would have her own fish to fry, and no one expected her to roll over for her husband twice a week. While the halcyon years of JFK and his dalliances were gone, and the press now nosed into a President’s every business, few cared about the private life of a Vice President, always out of the news, supernumerary, and ribbon-cutter at best.  Of course, given Biden’s age, Kamala could get her chance for the top job earlier rather than later, and the press scents this and will follow her very closely.

Still, Joe thought, he was to be the President of the United States with nobody telling him what do do; and since he – again in his most private thoughts – never gave a second term a second thought, what would a few dalliances of his own matter? How could they hurt him.  Since the beginning of the campaign, he has had the press entirely on his side.  In fact never before in electoral history was there such a cavalcade of boosters for one man and one party among the press.  Now that they had helped him win the Presidency and rid the country of the Demon, they would certainly look the other way at a few, minor indiscretions.


He stopped his reveries there.  It would do him no good to begin to think of perks and favors until the present King had left the castle.  Not that there was any real chance that Trump would refuse to leave, but you never know.  The soft, enveloping folds of the Master Bed would soon be around him.

Joe wondered if Trump would pie his sheets.  He remembered his college days when at lights out, someone would try to slip into bed only to find it short-sheeted, as impenetrable as a stubborn hymen and as frustrating.  Or Limburger cheese in a heating duct.  Joe smiled, but chased such adolescent memories from his head.  No, as crazy as Trump was, he would lay his traps in other more significant places – the budget, his orders, his judgeships, and most aggravating of all, his Executive pardons.  Given the American legal system, a Presidential pardon is for a lifetime, and one would have to be reminded of dirty tricks and chicanery of Trump’s buddies every time they showed up.  Arrogant pricks that they are, they would never retire quietly, thankful for having escaped jail, but would dance the Charleston in public squares.

Following Trump and his cronies would be an easy ride, do deep was the resentment and hatred for the man; yet there had to be signposts, signifiers of the radical change coming with a roundly Democratic government and him in the White House.  A Pablo Casals-type concert a la JFK or a Robert Frost-style invocation at a formal dinner – something of high culture, if not elegance.  No, he reflected, that wouldn’t do.  Such events would be examples of the very white elitism that he and Kamala had fought so hard against.  

Kenny Rogers? Too redneck.  Shakira, perhaps, a dish, and a Latino one to boot.  Joe knew he had to be careful since he knew that both he and Jill were middle-brow and any overreaching or patronizing would be caught and called out.   Just be yourself, Joe thought, but was not exactly sure what that was.  He had never thought a persona was important.  If anything, workingman was close enough.  His career had been based on factory floor and corn row effort, nothing else.  And as much as the far Left of his party might like to think that he was going to go whole hog on the gender spectrum, secularization, and feminist revolution, he would never stray from his middle of the road ideas and politics.

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Ah, yes, but what about Kamala?  She wasn’t about to shut up about race, gender, and ethnicity – she, the three in one package of diversity that helped him get elected.  While she was not about to raise Asian awareness, she would – if the Secret Service let her – join the ranks of the BLM activists heady with his electoral success and ready to show their enthusiasm.  She and that nasty little ‘Squad’ in the House would be a royal pain in the ass, but he would simply stick to his guns, let them bitch and rant, and put up with him.  Unless Kamala stuck her fingers a bit too far in his business, caught him on an off day, and pushed through this or that legislation that he opposed.

His one big regret was that COVID had basically scotched his Inauguration.  No parades, caparisoned cavalry, marching bands, waving flags, and adoring thousands.  It would be a crimped and crabbed affair, hardly worth noticing.  He would simply slip into office unnoticed with none of the pomp and circumstance he had waited so long for.  He wondered if he should wear a mask at the swearing in – probably, since who knew where Chief Justice Roberts had been, and the mask had become his trademark during the campaign so it wouldn’t hurt to show this particular, patriotic flag during the taking of the Oath of Office.  Kamala demurred when asked about wearing a mask – she is actually quite vain and proud of her looks.

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So, for Joe Biden January 20th can’t come soon enough – a dream deferred now a dream realized.  It would only be real when he slipped between the sheets in the Master Bedroom and awakened to a retinue at le lever du nouveau roi.