Nine thousand. Good readers, we nearly doubled our case load in twenty-four hours. Y’all know I’m a South Floridian. Even putting aside the truth of anecdotal evidence, I can tell you that, despite the number of cases in Miami-Dade County, everyone is masked, required to by county ordinance since late March; few MAGA-ites complain on social media; and the restaurants I’ve walked past in the last two weeks are desolate things (NB: I’ve stopped eating at them, even outside). Continue reading
If my readers still have an interest in shocking conservative relatives, tell them that women can be misogynist, homosexuals can be homophobic, and Blacks can be racist. Utter the last sentence in front of a Cuban-American, pair it with the sour reminder that Cubans are people of color, and serve in a highball glass, a single block ice cube preferred. At most you might get an acknowledgment, extracted as if through a muzzle, of the Moorish influence in Spain. Continue reading
Today I learned a term describing how a search for higher ground as sea levels rise pushes the poor out of neighborhoods. Laura Raim’s article on climate gentrification in Miami is a must-read. Grappling with a rise of nearly three inches since 1992, Florida lacks the dough to pay for the infrastructure essential to mitigating — forget about stopping — the catastrophe.
Raim includes an essential point about Florida’s fiscal health often missed by national reporters:
Frances Colón, a former member of the Climate Resilience Committee who is tasked with making recommendations to the City, said, “An enormous share of Miami’s budget, around 40 percent, comes from property tax. That’s where you see the absurdity of the system: The City is completely dependent on real estate and tourism, so it encourages building luxury hotels and apartments to get enough tax revenue to finance infrastructure to protect those same buildings.” The dependence on tourism also partly explains why Governor DeSantis waited so long before ordering a lockdown to halt the coronavirus, allowing tens of thousands of students on spring break to mass on the state’s beaches until early April and then go off to spread the virus across the country.
In the last two weeks of May, South Florida broke heat index records. Hurricanes become stronger faster. If I still breathe in 2050, I hope I can read Thomas Hardy from my beachfront condo on Orlando Beach.
I was told — note the passive voice — about a “long weekend.” Well, “long” we’ve known about since the ides of March. What is a “weekend”? The Miami I saw on my drives and walks huddled indoors on Friday and Saturday, reluctant to enjoy the restaurants and shops that had opened. After my reasonable experience last Wednesday, I tried again at another spot two days later. Fans that roared like jet engines held the beastly heat at bay while I slurped on escargot and drank rose. The waiter at my favorite casual French bistros beamed with gratitude but eyed the sea of empty tables, mask a-tremble. Continue reading
Several weeks of unseemly hesitation later, I swallowed the last of my wine and demanded a friend shave my head Saturday night. Readers know what a sculpted coif means to me. I want what I haven’t got. But no goddamn way was I visiting a beauty salon or barber shop, despite the all-clear decree from Tallahassee. The consequences hit me yesterday afternoon after my shower. In my medicine cabinet were my pair of styling creams, none likely to be of much use until at least July. RIP, my friends. Continue reading
If readers can believe it, I’ve resumed teaching: two courses that were already planned as online before COVID-19 fears sent my colleagues scurrying for Zoom lessons. My state university’s remaining online or partially online through December remains a likelihood. I don’t know about the rest of Florida (the state with the prettiest name!). California State University, however, has made its decision .
I have, as you might expect, mixed feelings. Putting worries about the university system’s longterm financial stability aside, as if this were possible, these revisions will alter, perhaps permanently, relations between professors and students, students and advisors, faculty and administration, administration and the top brass. Will we need so many liberal arts majors if enrollment declines? Yet few colleagues want to return to work if it means mixing with two hundred students in close quarters. Continue reading
A grim week for Florida: almost six hundred new cases of coronavirus in the last week. My county is the hot spot. Florida (the state with the prettiest name!) is certainly undercounting the deaths; the most powerful medical examiner has called the release a “sham.” Our mayor, meanwhile, who hopes to replace my representative Debbie Murcarsel-Powell in November, wants to re-open most businesses in a week. I’m doing fine, albeit nervous after a triumphant Mother’s Day brunch with family. Steady rain kept us indoors, and indoors anywhere not my home brings on the heebie jeebies. To mark a break from the past, I may stop threatening to shave my head and do it already.
Adam Serwer, whose “the cruelty is the point” remains the pithiest distillation of the Trump administration’s approach to governance, has written another powerful piece delineating America’s “racial contract”:
The frame of war allows the president to call for the collective sacrifice of laborers without taking the measures necessary to ensure their safety, while the upper classes remain secure at home. But the workers who signed up to harvest food, deliver packages, stack groceries, drive trains and buses, and care for the sick did not sign up for war, and the unwillingness of America’s political leadership to protect them is a policy decision, not an inevitability. Trump is acting in accordance with the terms of the racial contract, which values the lives of those most likely to be affected less than the inconveniences necessary to preserve them. The president’s language of wartime unity is a veil draped over a federal response that offers little more than contempt for those whose lives are at risk. To this administration, they are simply fuel to keep the glorious Trump economy burning.
This racial contract, a term Serwer borrows from Charles Mills, “is a codicil rendered in invisible ink, one stating that the rules as written do not apply to nonwhite people in the same way.” Since March the contract adds further codicils. As COVID-19 ravages communities of color, the White House has determined that the group of voters most crucial to the president’s reelection chances don’t matter much either. Florida has often not given a damn about its elderly population, whether it faces threats from hurricanes or pandemics.
I’ll give credit where it’s due. The best account of how the death of Ahmaud Arbery reflects the structural racism in our police systems? David French, former National Review columnist and erstwhile 2016 presidential aspirant. It appears in The Dispatch, that foundling home for itinerant #NeverTrump conservatives. French:
Moreover, there is a vast difference between benign open carry and using a gun to threaten a person. It’s a crime under Georgia law to point a gun (loaded or unloaded) without legal justification. When Arbery was confronted by armed men who moved directly to block him from leaving, demanding to “talk,” then Arbery was entitled to defend himself. Georgia’s “stand your ground law” arguably benefits Arbery, not those who were attempting to falsely imprison him at gunpoint.
It’s also worth remembering that the long and evil history of American lynchings features countless examples of young black men hunted and killed by white gangs who claimed their victims had committed crimes. While we don’t yet know the full details about the McMichaels’ motives, their actions speak loudly enough. When white men grab guns and mount up to pursue and seize an unarmed black man in the street, they stand in the shoes of lynch mobs past.
Almost as astonishing: the comments section for the most part observes notions of civility. We’re not dead yet.
Paramore’s Hayley Williams released a solo album last Friday notable for its moral intelligence. As part of its promotional cycle, she’s given remarkable interviews, the best of which is with Eve Barlow. Read it.
I took great pleasure reading Nate Chinen’s Pitchfork Sunday Review essay on Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues.
I’ve got a new playlist for the week.
With Miami-Dade County libraries allowing curbside pickup, I’ve saved some dough. Last week I finished a couple of short novels. Georges Simenon’s The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, one of his several thousand terse novels (I mildly exaggerate) about what we could now label sociopaths. Thanks to a concentration on furniture, food, and clothing, the surface verisimilitude of his fiction is its own attraction; the patina of realism also obscures a reluctance to probe his characters, a tendency that often mars Graham Greene’s novels too. Simenon’s penchant for subjectivity induces him to overuse exclamation points, too. Quibbles, though. This is as keen as the hard-boiled genre gets.
Practiced at a kind of subjectivity that presented itself on the page as a continuous paragraph and indirect dialogue, Thomas Bernhard wrote several short novels starting in the sixties about obsessives. Correction, the third I’ve read, depicts the anguish of a self-styled genius whose effort to create what he calls the Cone for the sake of a beloved sister leads him to negate bit by bit his existence; in addition, the novel functions as a treatise on suicide, as Roithamer’s madness about revising written statements turns his account into a palimpsest.
Next up: Rudyard Kipling’s Kim.
Take care of each other.
Throwing a bag of trash in the dumpster yesterday morning, I spotted the condo complex office manager and two of the part-time maintenance workers spreading pool chaise cushions out. “You’re opening?” I asked a worker, trembling. She gave me a “no” as firm as the closing of a mausoleum door. They were hosing down the furniture, she said. For approximately three seconds I had allowed myself to hope: the “partial reopening” of Florida (the state with the prettiest name!) extended to condo pools. Well, ours wasn’t required to close anyway; it was up to our board. Continue reading
Papers graded. Grades filed. With the semester over, I face about a dozen days of semi-leisure, finessing the Canvas shells of the two courses I’ll teach during what my university calls Summer A (i.e. May to mid June). That these courses were already online-intended before the pandemic eases my stress. So does finishing my second reading of The Magic Mountain, during which I anticipated the suicide of a character with dread but this time found a palliative in Thomas Mann’s astonishingly vivid evocations of how, say, a Catholic totalitarian would respond to an Enlightenment-era humanist. Which doesn’t mean Mann doesn’t bore me every forty pages. To incorporate several centuries of the West’s intellectual detritus into a narrative for expositional or ironic purposes, depending on the need, adduces a rigor unsurpassed among twentieth century novelists: from the development of cocci in the blood and a bit on the Kotzebue assassination to an analysis of Schubert’s Winterreise, The Magic Mountain contains them all and more: a synthesis and a tombstone. Continue reading
Grateful for South Florida’s first rainstorm of 2020 yesterday afternoon, I put the kettle on and watched the movie of our times again. No question but that Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975) functions as a mirror. The late Chantal Akerman’s 200-minute film follows the eponymous character (played by Delphine Seyrig) as she prepares veal, shines her son’s shoes, overcooks potatoes, cleans silverware, makes a soup, and, oh, sleeps with the occasional john. Thanks to a compositional rigor of unbending severity, Akerman upends space and time; the repetitions turn into patterns, the outrageous turns into the banal as Akerman, to use the phrase of the moment, flattens the curve of the average workday. On Saturday, prefacing a playlist, I mused on The Magic Mountain‘s preoccupation with “the abiding now” and “the inelastic present,” to use Thomas Mann’s phrases; a similar approach animated Akerman’s challenging filmography. Continue reading