Twenty-third Entry


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Thursday, April 9th, 2020

Just a few weeks ago, the president suggested committing two billion dollars to combat Covid-19 hardships. The Democrats wanted four times as much. Now, the US government is debating adding trillions more relief dollars. Billion, trillion—we use these terms as though they are interchangeable. Seven trillion may be the amount the government will spend before this pandemic passes—maybe more. A lot of bake sales will be needed to repay those loans.

According to updated models, the death toll in NYC may be lower than projected. “Social distancing” – the new phenomenon – may be the explanation. The swift change in millions of people’s behavior continues to impress me. It appears easier to get people’s attention when an idea or suggestion is brand new, before it gathers political labels.

The mayor is bringing the port city of New York one step closer to the watery city of Venice. Like the powerful Doge who ruled Venice, Mr. de Blasio wants people to spy on their fellow citizens for breaching social distancing rules. When they locked you up in the Venetian Republic after you were “told on,” you relied on private support to survive. Families paid to feed and sometimes even house their incarcerated kin. Today, you are a ward of the state (or a large private corporation) with extensive regulations which may or may not be followed; there are elaborate ways around every rule. It is likely more complicated and not much prettier than 14th century Venice.

Yesterday, the first prisoner in a New York jail died of Covid-19. He was “up the river” at Sing Sing. Native Americans called the area “sin sinck,” which meant “stone upon stone” in the Wappinger dialect. The prison is situated right on the Hudson River and was built by prisoners with stones they cut. Prisoners could be easily transported to and from the site. After construction was completed, they continued to cut marble that was sent south by boat to be used for new buildings in Manhattan—including churches. By the 1830s, Sing Sing was considered a model prison because it produced revenue instead of expense for the state; before the private sector saw that opportunity.

A guard at Guantanamo has tested positive for the virus. There are about 1,800 prison staff there for about 40 prisoners—most of whom are now middle-aged and many of whom are in poor health after being locked up for nearly two decades. Since 2002, Guantanamo’s court and prison operation has cost six billion dollars. So far, they have finalized one conviction. More than half of the inmates have never been charged with a crime.  

Nelson Mandela often spoke about the idea that no one truly knows a nation until they have been inside its prisons. Doystoyevsky wrote that one way to judge a society is by how it treats its criminals.

2-minute Audio
April showers, seeing the wind, horn honk.