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Monday, September 7, 2020

Booze review: Queen City's Hudson Valley Sunshine

Hudson Valley Sunshine, on the rock.

Coming to live in Milton six and a half years ago has had a lot of effects on me, one of them being that I became after just one autumn a complete and total apple snob. Dwelling among copious fecund orchards and getting to taste the incomparable crisply intense flavor of the local fruits right after they've come off the trees, sometimes even instantly after ... well, that engenders a contempt for apples from Washington or China. (I mean, if you're going to eat an apple from China, you might as well just pour yourself a shot of Roundup, pound that and be done with it.) Albany-area apples I still think are OK, but any further out than that? My nose reflexively turns upward.

So, I was intrigued upon learning of Queen City Farm Distillery's new products, Apple Sunshine and Hudson Valley Sunshine. They're both applejack - the native booze of yore in these parts - distilled with honey, the difference being the Hudson Valley Sunshine is aged in virgin oak for a year before bottling. Intrigue turned to excitement upon finding out that the apples from which both are made are grown by the Clarke family, who's been farming around here for, oh, about 200 years or so. (The main Clarke lands are in Milton, but these organic apples are grown on another piece they farm out in Gardiner.)

A photo of the booze being reviewed from the company's website. Gold star to the photographer for adherence to the "rule of thirds."

So, at the Heart of the Hudson Valley Farm Market a few weeks ago, I sampled both and went home with a bottle of the aged-in-oak kind. My first session was it on the rocks, or more precisely on the rock - I am a true believer in the "giant ice cube" theory of cocktails. (This is a subject for another blog post under the category of The Folly of Dan, but suffice to say that when you buy the giant ice cube mold, you should be sure that said giant ice cube will actually fit into your glassware.)

HV Sunshine's aroma is pleasantly authentically apples-and-honey, making it the perfect drink for Rosh Hashanah. (That's Sept. 18 this year, so there's still time to find the shofar and get it cleaned up for the annual toot.) Taste-wise, it's very well-balanced between a sweet smoothness and a boozy bite, which comes from the fact that it's 100 proof. That's a little more alcohol than your standard Jim Beam (80 proof) but consistent with higher-end sipping whiskeys like Knob Creek. Its makers bill HV Sunshine as "the gluten-free alternative to rye and bourbon." I would agree with that. If you've had to swear off whiskey due to gluten issues, this comes pretty close to bourbon, reminding me of Wild Turkey American Honey liqueur but with more oomph and more buzz. The next sesh, I drank the HV Sunshine neat, in a snifter. Still good, but like that velociraptor in that old meme, it was a lot more bitey, getting in the outskirts of the neighborhood of being too much. 

Remember this guy? I wonder if he ever made it home ...

So that covers what it is; let us now turn to what it is not, and that is cheap. At $50 for a 375 ml bottle, HV Sunshine is probably not going to be a regular tipple for most of us. (The price tag didn't stop me from buying a second bottle, though, as it's a limited edition - small-batch is the term - and I wanted to have a sufficient supply.) That's not wildly out of line with other local boozes - I paid about that much for a like-sized bottle of Tuthilltown's mighty fine Four Grain Bourbon a while back. But at that price, I was thinking I'd reserve it solely as a sipper and not use it in cocktails. (Their website has some mixological suggestions - they propose swapping out tequila or white rum for the clear Apple Sunshine, an idea with potential.)

But then I remembered that I had recently ran out of cognac, so I thought I could replace the Courvoisier with the HV Sunshine in one of my favorite drinks, the classic New Orleans-born Vieux CarrĂ©. Thus was created the Vieux Verger (Old Orchard):

1 shot Hudson Valley Sunshine

1 shot Bulleit Rye 95

1 shot sweet vermouth - I use Dolin Rouge, which is not as sweet as Martini & Rossi

1 bar spoon Benedictine

Coupla dashes Peychaud's bitters

Coupla dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a mixing vessel with ice, stir, strain into glass with giant ice cube or regular ice cubes if you must, garnish with either a lemon peel or a cocktail cherry. (The original Vieux Carré calls for the lemon peel but I like the cherry better.)

It turned out very well - I suspect if I had used the Martini & Rossi, it would have been too sweet, but with the Dolin it was pleasingly rich, and packed a wallop with both the 100 proof HV Sunshine and the 95 proof rye, plus the little bit of alcohol in the vermouth and Benedictine.

So, if you're into strong liquor, local apples and supporting hometown distillers, you could do far worse than to drop a Grant on a bottle. Check them out on the 'Gram (a.k.a. the Insta) at @queencityfarmdistillery


Thursday, July 30, 2020

The DSR - Dan Sports Report 1

Is Mr. Met still working? What about Mrs. Met? Photo by slgckcg via Flickr
Now that sports are happening again, I have some thoughts I would like to share.

BASEBALL (Team I care about: Mets) -- Well the Mets are 3-3 now, which is both a .500 record and six more games than I thought would actually happen this year.
My feeling going into the season was that I was not going to get emotionally involved in the Mets' season. This is a unique year, obvs, and whatever expectations I might have had back during the whole Carlos Beltran fiasco are no longer applicable. (F-in Carlos Beltran. Just when I was psyched to be able to wear the authentic Beltran jersey I bought when he first signed in 2005 again with some sense of pride maybe, all the crap with the Astros came out. Away went Beltran and back into the closet went the jersey, perhaps never to be worn again. Which sucks because I paid $200-plus for that in 2005 money.)
But Opening Day comes, and what do you know, I am completely emotionally involved again - very excited by the first win, crushed by the first loss, etc., etc., just like it's any other baseball season.
This speaks to the irresistible, close to unseverable nature of the connection between Team and Fan. Many things in life change, but I cannot imagine a circumstance or picture an alternate universe where the Mets are not my team.
Anyway, pre-Covid I expected them to at least play interesting games in September, which is really as far as a Mets fan should let their optimism rise. Whether that happens this September remains a total question mark. Marcus Stroman's coming back and pitching well would be a huge lift, as would Cespedes staying healthy and Diaz doing a better job at the whole closing of the games thing he was supposed to be so good at. (I hope the lack of people in the stands helps Diaz, because if there were actual live fans at Citi Field, many of them would be yelling "DIAZ YOU SUUUUUUUCK" and suchlike at him the moment he steps out of the bullpen.) And let's hear it for the DH in the NL, a concept that I actually don't like, but I think will be good for the Mets this year.
Key to it all, for every team, is how well the players kept themselves in terms of baseball readiness since the lockdown.

FOOTBALL (Team I care about: Giants) -- I really don't have a read on whether they will be bad, good or mediocre. There's so much new - new coach, a lot of new players, second-year quarterback. Steps were taken in the draft and free agency to address the Giants' worst problem, the offensive line. (If they blocked at all for Eli these past couple years, Eli would still be playing, but we wish him well in his retirement. I had a dream that I was hanging out on Eli's back deck in Staatsburg, and he was complaining that Uma Thurman had gotten the best house in Staatsburg - the former Guccione estate - and he had to live in what looked to me like a regular raised ranch like the kind we used to live in at Golden Meadows.) 
My overall theory of football holds that if you have a crap offensive line, you're screwed. Your offensive skill players will suffer for it, obvs - Eli must have some of that mutant Wolverine adamantine skeleton shit, the way's he's been sacked over the years without losing much time at all to injury. But also it means your defense is on the field more than it should be, thus tending to wear them down sooner. This was demonstrated by a bleep-ton of Giants games over the past few years. If they can reverse this trend - and they did draft blockers in the first and third rounds, as well as sign a guy off of Dallas' superb o-line - I think the Giants will make a decent run for the playoffs.

HOCKEY (Team I care about: Rangers) -- I was feeling pretty hopeful about the Rangers pre-Covid. It's a young, fast team with a very good rookie goalie (God save King Henrik but the day always comes when the crown must pass) and while I was not penciling them in for the Stanley Cup, I did think they would make the playoffs. So what's happening starting Saturday is a best-of-five series with that team formerly known as the Hartford Whalers, the Carolina Hurricanes. One might think that since the Rangers had a 4-0 record against Carolina this season, it's a lock, but then one might recall that the 1988 Dodgers went 1-10 against the Mets during the regular season. So we shall see.

BASKETBALL (Team I, in inexplicable defiance of all reason and experience, care about: the Knicks) -- Perhaps the strongest evidence that I am not fully right in the head is the fact that the Knicks are still my favorite basketball team. I have a tendency to disconnect from a particular sport if my team is hopeless, so I don't these days really pay much attention to the NBA until the playoffs. Today, July 30, 2020, the Knicks hired a new coach, ex-Bulls and Timberwolves HC Tom Thibodeau. He called it a dream come true to coach the Knicks. Oh man. Please send vibes.
Oh the lamentations of being a Knicks fan for literally the last 20 years. Failure upon failure upon even more wretched failure. Hopes cruelly - nay perversely! - dashed time and time again. But despite it all - the buffoon owner, Phil Jackson turning out to be a total dung-bucket, the snubs from most quality free agents, bad trades, unlucky draft lottery numbers - they are my team and I am their fan. Please send more vibes.
The Knicks, as part of the Delete 8, were not good enough to be invited to the Bubble for whatever the NBA is doing down there, so their season is mercifully concluded. That all starts tonight with Lakers-Clippers as the late game and the Jazz against the Pelicans in the opener.

There's a good chance the pandemic will shut down one or more of these leagues. Despite the weirdness of watching games with no one in the stands - Fox, just no on the CGI people - and the highly irregular ways champions will be made, I'm glad it's back and I hope it stays.

Monday, July 13, 2020

On being made stupefied by the end of the world

OK, I admit this: during the chloroquine craze, I did deliberately and as a prophylactic, drink a goodly amount of gin and tonics. (No bleach, tho.)
"The dimensions of what we have fucked up in this country are beyond any coherent explanation." -- Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, 20 years ago

I am just starting to emerge, gradually, from a time when I have felt as un-creative as I have felt in my entire life. Hopefully going forward I can increase the posting rate from once a month to, I dunno, twice a month? "A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people," wrote Thomas Mann. (This sentence is his only known output from the year 1925, I am told.) But we have to believe we are magic, right?
Maybe you have this feeling also, the sinking, nauseating, enraging feeling that We, The People, have been dramatically let down in a historically catastrophic fashion by our government. I am not talking about our local county governments - in both Ulster and Dutchess, I think execs Ryan and Molinaro and their staffs did well in realizing Covid was a crisis, setting up testing as quickly as they could, keeping people up to date and making themselves available for questions - from anybody, not just journalists - over Facebook. Nor am I talking primarily about the state - the results of Andrew Cuomo's leadership speak for themselves, even more loudly now as states with less-skilled governance rack up cases like Tommy racks up points on pinball machines
Because I neither stan nor cape for the man, I will say our governor made a couple of mistakes. First was not locking down sooner, which would have saved, as per a Columbia study, thousands of lives. De Blasio was right to call for the stay-at-home order when he did call for it, but the mayor was also wrong because he obviously yet inexplicably has not yet learned that if he wants Cuomo to do something, he has to advocate for THE EXACT OPPOSITE THING. I mean, c'mon BDB, you must know that by now.
Second was sending Covid cases back to nursing homes - under a lot of pressure to balloon hospital space in seconds, maybe he had no real logistical choice as to where to put them. But it turned out to be lethal for thousands and will be a political cudgel whacked against him for years. This story is the best I've seen so far on the matter.

No, I am speaking of our federal government, which as a whole has heinously botched its most basic function, the purpose WTP can with full justification expect it to do for the kind of money we are made to pay for it: Defend us from deadly threats. Now, not everyone at the federal level should be included in this failure, to be sure: once the president banned him from the stage at briefings, Dr. Fauci's been a lot more free to speak a lot more bluntly about what the consequences of re-opening too soon could be. (He ain't been proved wrong yet on that one.)
Rather, I am speaking of both the president and the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC's bungling of its own test kit - which we had to do by ourselves because no one else in the whole wide-ass world is better at this than our own CDC, right? - delayed having enough tests available at the outset of the breakout, when chances of containment were best. 
But then we have the president, and oh boy what a president he's turned out to be. Stupidity and humility complement each other in a way, as a humble person at least realizes what he does not know and tries to find someone who does know. But stupidity and arrogance multiply each other. There's nothing quite so dangerous as the leader who thinks what he doesn't know doesn't really matter, or who thinks he can rhetoric and spin his way out of it. Ain't no bullshitting your way out of a pandemic, Mr. President. No tweet, no meme in the world, even the ones the Russians come up with at their Internet Trolling Factory in the city formerly known as Leningrad, makes any difference to the virus, which transmits itself in utterly predictable ways, well-known to science. 
Donald Trump, like many of us, including myself, had a hard time in February and early March getting his head around the magnitude of what was about to happen. (I really thought life would be back to normal by Memorial Day weekend, lol.) But he gets paid to get his head around it, or at least be smart enough to listen to people who can get their heads around it. But he ignored it when he could and minimized it when he couldn't, for the most crucial month. When he finally did get his head around it, or at least realized his chances for re-election are endangered by it, he seemed to go into a weird panic mode and scrambled, sometimes in real time at press conferences, for a miracle cure. Hydroxychloroquine, bleach (both taken orally) and ultraviolet light (taken internally) all came and went. And as of this writing, July 13, 2020, he persists in paying the experts little heed in favor of retweeting noted immunologist Chuck Woolery claiming it's all a hoax to sink Trump's campaign. It's been like what would have happened if John F. Kennedy had listened to Curtis LeMay and went ahead and bombed Cuba during the missile crisis. 
America has been lucky and/or blessed by having the right people in charge at critical points in history, starting with George Washington, then Abe Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Looks like our streak ran out. I was going to write that Trump was the karmic debt that's come due, but that both diminishes the wisdom of Americans past who voted Lincoln and FDR into office, and lets we Americans of today off the hook for our atavistic, nihilistic collective elevation of the dumb angry meanness that is Donald Trump.

Life comes at you fast. So does death. I have no idea really how many people in America will be dead of the coronavirus by the time we get it, if we even can get it, under control. Just to make a projection, I will project a little, but not a lot, over 200,000. This could be Pollyanna-level optimism; a model  just out has us reaching that point in November, and I am pretty sure people will continue to die of the Covid until/unless a vaccine gets in enough of us. For your future reference, 1 percent of the U.S. population is 3.28 million people, which sounds like a plausible total for confirmed cases by the end of the year. (NOTE: LOL it turned out to be the actual total for cases at the end of the day I wrote this!)
But yeah, rendered stupefied by the end of the world -- at least the one we all used to know and, if not love at the time so much, at least maybe in hindsight see its good points?
There's no possible way to predict with any assurance of accuracy how things will be when the virus is over with. I have been told it is therapeutic to envision a better world on the other side, so sometimes I do that. But I can't stay long, as it seems too unreal. The best any of us can honestly say is to say we don't know, because we really can't know.
Live look-in at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis getting the latest
Sunshine State Covid-19 numbers. (Sorry, Elton John.)
 
But we can know that hard times are ahead. Congress has made barely a peep about extending the $600-a-week unemployment supplement when that runs out at the end of the month. When that goes away, a lot of people are going to hurt; even more if states like Florida and Texas have to shut down again. (Also as of this writing, looks like the Golden State has pulled the plug on its reopening and cancelled in-person school in some districts for the fall at least.) CNBC reported last night that 32 percent of U.S. households didn't make, in full or in part, their housing payments this month. That's the fourth month in a row that a new record for that has been set as various state and local eviction bans begin to expire. Maybe the federal government will come in riding to the rescue; certainly new relief packages have been at least proposed in the House, but seem to have no chance in the Senate. Go figure.
While some people will return to their jobs, someday, a lot of us no longer have those jobs to go to and will have to figure something else out, as will the many small business owners who just didn't have the resources to make it through a prolonged period of no income. 
A bunch of unemployed, homeless and angry people, feeling that Uncle Sam has failed to live up to his part of the social contract, all hitting the streets at once? Could be in this scenario maybe more than statues get toppled.




Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Eight minutes and 46 seconds is a long time

Good sign - wish I had written it.
I do believe that in this time that we are in now, the voices of black people need to be placed front and center for the entire world to hear and learn from. So while I have a lot I could write about racism in America, I am going to keep this short.
Last Sunday, my wife and I walked in a Black Lives Matter march in our hometown, along with a couple hundred other people. The march down and up Route 9W ended at the town police station, where many of us knelt on the grass for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time Derek Chauvin's knee was on the neck of the late George Floyd. (If you haven't seen it yet, here's Dave Chappelle's searing commentary; here is also John Oliver's longer exploration. I commend both to your viewing - they're difficult to watch, but you need to watch them.)
What I want to say is that eight minutes and 46 seconds is a long time. Long enough for Chauvin to think about what he was doing, rethink it and be fine with it. It was long enough for the other three cops to be able to wrestle with it in their own minds and also come to the conclusion that they were fine with it. Try it yourself - nothing extends time quite like having to stay in an uncomfortable position.
Things can and do go wrong when cases like this get to trial. There's no guarantee that Chauvin and the other three will be found guilty of anything at all, much less murder. But no matter what verdict comes down, I will always think they knew exactly what they were doing, and of their own deliberate and free will, killed a human being they had no need to kill.
Say their names, remember their stories, fight for change and don't forget to vote on Nov. 3.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Movie review, plus some thoughts on the state of local media in the Hudson Valley

Everybody knows that girls softball practices are the best place to discuss embezzlement schemes.
Wow - been a while, sorry for the absence. When the lockdown and layoff happened to me, I had already been energized by the rapid-response journalism we'd been doing as the Covid crisis cranked up, That urgency persisted for about three weeks or so, then petered out as the New Reality of Indefinite Quarantine set in and I sort of creatively shut down for the three following weeks. (I think; like many, my sense of time has become unreliable of late.) But hey, as I always say to myself when I go to the gym for the first time after having not gone to the gym for a loooong time, it's not how many times you fall off the horse, it's how many times you get back on. (Full disclosure: I have never in my whole life actually been on a horse. Donkey, yes. Elephant, yes. Horse? I say thee neigh.)
So there was a good movie on HBO the other night - "Bad Education," starring Hugh Jackman and Alison Janney. It was a look back at the Roslyn school scandal of some 20 years ago or so, where a school superintendent (Jackman) and the district business manager (Janney), plus the supe's boyfriend and the business manager's niece, got in rather serious legal trouble after it was found they'd ripped off the district to the astonishing tune of $11.2 million. The semi-fictionalized movie recounts how the whole thing unraveled, due in part to the intrepid reporting of a kid writing for the high school newspaper. Jackman and Janney are both fantastic actors, the rest of the cast is very good, the film is well-written and competently paced. And to me, at least - someone who's covered New York State public school districts for 30 years - the details of how a school district operates all rang true. (The screenplay was written by someone who actually went to Roslyn schools, based on this contemporaneous article in New York magazine.)
"Look, kid, underground student newspapers may be fun,
but think about how it will look on your permanent record ..."
I chortled when Alan Hevesi's name was dropped - the ex-assemblyman, who I talked to a few times as a Legislative Gazette intern and remember being a nice guy, was at the time of the Roslyn scandal the state comptroller. As it turned out, Hevesi himself was rotten-ass corrupt and did his own time in prison.
But yeah the movie is definitely worth a watch. (I have not begun the locally filmed and allegedly soul-crushingly bleak Mark Ruffalo thing yet; reality is currently providing all the crushed soul I can use and then some.)
The movie awoke some semi-fond memories of all the school board meetings I used to cover. These are not for the faint-of-heart or those with focus issues; they usually ran about three hours and most of that time was discussion about dense and technical material that was really easy to fuck up in a newspaper story unless you paid very strict attention. One of the mistakes I made as an editor was to assign beginning reporters the school board - I did my best to offer some prep beforehand, but I think they must have felt like Lucy and Ethel at the candy factory trying to keep up with everything going on. (Planning board meetings are close to this level of difficulty; with a few exceptions, I salute those who serve on both kinds of boards as those jobs are some of the toughest in local government.)
Oh so THAT'S what executive sessions look like.
Some reporters survived - if you can sit through one of those things and produce a coherent and accurate narrative of what occurred, you have a future in this business.
Wait, what business? What's happened to local journalism lately?

Friends and readers, the state of local media in the Hudson Valley is … blasted beyond recognition. Like a World War I battlefield, but somehow less hopeful. Like the Statue of Liberty at the end of “Planet of the Apes” or that mall that had lots of space and even more space, after Jake and Elwood drove through it. (I will walk this back some later.)
The venerable traditional outlets we all grew up with and thought would last forever are on a serious waning streak. Besides Ulster Publishing’s Covidic contraction, the Freeman has had its own round of layoffs and furloughs. While the virus might be looked at as like the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, it’s closer to the point to say that the virus is doing to local media what the virus is doing to people — taking a toll on those with underlying conditions and compromised fiscal immune systems. It's a cruel irony, appropriate for a cruel time, that during the most significant story of our lifetimes (any readers who were around during the Depression and WW II excepted), so many of the most skilled and experienced journalists who've covered this area for decades aren't doing journalism anymore.
The community without its media is diminished, and endangered. It took a news outlet based in Great Britain, fer cryin' out loud, to tell us which barber in Kingston was cutting hair in defiance of the state order while he had the Covid himself. But that's what happens when you've laid off and furloughed so many journalists. Those left behind don't have the time to go beyond a simple reworking of a press release. Just get it done and get it posted ASAP and maybe there will be time later to dig deeper. Or maybe something else or several something elses will come up first.
But in fairness and in recognition of those who are still working, let me point out the bright spots: The River, Chronogram's online venture into harder regional news, is doing good stories, including this one by my friend and colleague Jesse Smith about how local eateries/drinkeries are getting along these days. Lissa Harris, truly one of the area's best writers and a legend in disaster reporting from when the hurricanes ravaged the Catskills, has, with the help of Roger Hannigan Gilson and Phillip Pantuso, been doing really good daily roundups of locally relevant C-19 stuff. The Shawangunk Journal, via its News Atomic website, is holding things down out Ellenville way and offering a convenient one-stop destination for a lot of regional news from various outlets. While it will be a while before the foodie scene hums again, newer entry Hudson Valley Epicurean is well-poised for quality coverage of it. And of course Ulster Publishing, which will be back in print early next month with one publication to rule them all - named after its website, Hudson Valley One - keeps keeping on the best it can, and that's not bad at all. (I seriously believe that sitting next to Ulster Publishing publisher Geddy Sveikauskas for 15 years increased my IQ by at least five points and maybe 10. Reading his economy column is vital insight into the various forces and trends that make our reality.)

I think it's impossible to, with any sense at all of intellectual honesty, make any kind of reliable prediction as to what a post-coronavirus world, or a post-coronavirus Hudson Valley will be, if one even ever emerges. (The worst-case scenario. No one ever budgets for the worst-case scenario.) The same can be said about local media.
The way it has traditionally worked, with community weekly and smaller daily newspapers forming the backbone and running on revenue coming from ads taken out in print publications, is not quite completely dead yet, but it ain't lookin' too good. That's a real loss: of the alternate ways to fund local journalism both proposed and in effect around here (a rich person pays for everything or a number of less rich people pitch in to pay for everything), a diverse base of advertisers with pecuniary interest in an outlet's success - the better it does the more people see the ads - is the best guarantee of journalistic independence. Sure, a story may have to be done that upsets one advertiser or another and they threaten to or actually pull their ads in an attempt to kill that story, but the other funding methods described above make the outlet far more beholden to their underwriters. Further, the temptation for the outlet to skew their coverage in the direction of where they think their funding base would like it to go could be irresistible.
No, Mr. President, we all can't say that.
More than ever before, in the post-virus future, money will be chased and the risk of local journalism angling itself toward the elite of Ulster and away from basic coverage of the concerns of less affluent people and unglamorous local government will only intensify. Perhaps lost in the whirlwind of virus news is the fact that school board elections and budget votes have been put back until June 9 and will be conducted via absentee ballots. (Watch your mailbox.) Uncertain at this time is how badly school districts will suffer from state budget cuts, but governments from states on down are warning of layoffs and drastic program cuts, unless the federal government includes them in a future stimulus package.

Anyway, please keep the following in mind. There are plenty of people who’ll tell you what you want to hear. There are also plenty of people who’ll tell you what they want you to hear. But people who will tell you what you don’t want to hear but need to hear anyway, even if it means they'll get a passel of shit for it? Those are the real journalists. We're still out there - "journalism is not a career choice, it's a diagnosis" - but many of us are now faced with a hard choice. Will we do journalism for nothing or close to nothing and try to make a living doing something else? Or will we just do the something else?

Local Hudson Valley Dan will return in: "I'm still pissed at Michael Jordan."



Sunday, April 19, 2020

The most intense date on the American history calendar

Thus began another chapter in the history of asymmetrical warfare in North America.
As per Wikipedia, here's a selected list of the things that have happened on this date in American history:

1775 – American Revolutionary War: The war begins with an American victory in Concord during the battles of Lexington and Concord.

1861 – American Civil War: Baltimore riot of 1861: A pro-Secession mob in Baltimore attacks United States Army troops marching through the city.

1892 – Charles Duryea claims to have driven the first automobile in the United States, in Springfield, Massachusetts.

1927 – Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for her play "Sex."

1971 – Charles Manson is sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment) for conspiracy in the Tate–LaBianca murders.

1985 – Two hundred ATF and FBI agents lay siege to the compound of the white supremacist survivalist group The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord in Arkansas; the CSA surrenders two days later.

1987 – The Simpsons first appear as a series of shorts on "The Tracey Ullman Show," first starting with "Good Night." 

1993 – The 51-day FBI siege of the Branch Davidian building outside Waco, Texas, USA, ends when a fire breaks out. Eighty-one people die.

1995 – Oklahoma City bombing: The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, USA, is bombed, killing 168.

2011 – Fidel Castro resigns as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba after holding the title since July 1961. 

2013 – Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev is killed in a shootout with police. His brother Dzhokhar is later captured hiding in a boat inside a backyard in the suburb of Watertown.

One can, with the right kind of Hunter Thompson-esque eyes, trace the path of the American gestalt through history in this list, yes? 

Also, some notable April 19 birthdays: Eliot Ness, Suge Knight, Jayne Mansfield, Ashley Judd and James Franco. 

Charles Darwin, who's having a moment these days as people attempt to naturally de-select themselves by not quarantining, died on this date in 1882. Aaron Hernandez, who references back to both Charles Manson and the Battles of Lexington and Concord, took his own life on this date in 2017. We also, in loving memory, note that Levon Helm passed on this date eight years ago. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The governor on Covid-19 testing

Saturdays are no-tie days for the gov. ((Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)
I thought this chunk of verbiage from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's briefing earlier today was worth posting, as he does a decent job of laying out the logic and logistical challenges behind the state's coronavirus testing plans, amid protests and calls to spring society from lockdown like right [expletive] now. (This is copy-paste of the "rush transcript" sent out by the governor's office later in the day, unedited by me.)

Andrew Cuomo:
Testing. Testing is the single most important topic for us to understand I think and it's important that we understand it. I spoke to one of my daughters last night who shall go nameless but she said to me, why do they all talking about testing? Which was sort of sobering. I think I'm communicating information and facts and my daughters are probably some of the most informed people on the situation given the hardship they endure being my daughters during this period of time. And she was like, I don't understand all of this about testing, which is again, it's a wakeup call to me. I think we're communicating. I think we're putting out this information. But you know people have lives to live even in this crazy time. But for me the best thing I can do in my position is to communicate facts to people so they have the information to make decisions. That's what I've been trying to do since day one. Here's the information, here are the facts, you decide, and I'll tell you what. I think the course of conduct should be given these facts, but here are the facts right before you tell me what you think. Just tell me the facts and then we'll get to your personal interpretation of the facts.


So facts on testing, because it is granular and it is a little boring, but it's also vitally important. Testing is how you monitor the rate of infection and you control for it and that is the whole tension in reopening. Everybody wants to reopen. You don't need to hold up a placard saying we want to reopen. Nobody wants to reopen more than me. Nobody wants to get the economy going more than me. Nobody wants to get on with life more than me and everybody else. We're all in the same boat. We all have the same feelings.


The tension on reopening is how fast can you reopen and what can you reopen without raising that infection rate so you go right back to where we were overwhelming the hospitals? The infection rate now is one person infects .9 other people. You can't infect .9 but it's basically one person is infecting one person. A tad less - and I don't even know if it's a tad less because I don't even know that the statistics are that accurate frankly.


So let's say one person now infects one person. That's where we are now. When that is happening the virus is basically stable. Where we were was one person was infecting 1.4 people and that's when you have outbreak widespread epidemic. We brought it down from 1.4 to .9. How did you do that? Those were the New York Pause policies. Close down business, close down schools, everybody has to social distance, everybody has to take precautions, masks, et cetera. But it worked and we went from 1.4 to .9. Wuhan says at one point they got down to .3 which is where you really start to see the numbers drop. But that's where we are.


The tension is when you start to open business you start to have gatherings, you put people on a bus, you put people on the subway, you put people in a retail store. Then you're going to see more infections. You see that infection rate rise and then you're going to be back to where we were. So how do you gauge this, right? How do you calibrate it?


That is all about the testing. And you have a very tight window. You're at .9 now. You can only go up to 1.2 before you see those hospitalization numbers start taking off again. You're talking about a very, very tight window that you have to calibrate and this is all without precedent so how do you actually do that intelligently? Well, you have to test and testing informs the calibration.


What is testing? Testing is you test. You test the person to see whether they are positive or negative for the coronavirus. There is also something called antibody testing but let's put that aside for a second. On the diagnostic testing, positive or negative, you test the person.


When you find a person who is positive you then trace. Trace, they call them detectives. You find the person and then you interview that person and find our who they came in contact and you follow that tree down. That's testing and that's tracing, when they talk about tracing.


Trace all those contacts and then you find the people who are positive. You isolate the positive people so they can't continue to spread.


Tracing requires an army. Literally an army. You would need thousands of people who just trace in the State of New York because any one person then leads to 10, 20 possible people who were infected. You have to trace all through those people. You find the positive person, you isolate them. The trick with testing is not that we don't know how to do it. We've done it better in this state than almost any other state, almost any other country. It's bringing this up to scale. These are private sector companies that are doing this. We have done a very good job in testing. The state has played a pivotal role in testing.


You look at New York and the number of tests we do. It's more than California, it's more than any other state. It's more than any other country. We have had great success in ramping up testing. We know how to do it. We know how important it is. We had that hot spot in New Rochelle, Westchester. It was the hottest cluster in the United States of America. We jumped on it and we jumped on it with intense testing and it worked. We still have an issue, but it's no longer a hotspot cluster because you do a lot of testing, you take the positives and you isolate them. The challenge is now bringing this up to scale. We did 500,000 tests in a month. That's great news. Bad news is it's only a fraction of what you need. The more you test, the more information, the more you can open society.


How does testing actually work? This, again, you have to know the facts otherwise this is all a blur and it becomes a he said, she said. There are about 30 private companies, large private companies in the country that are even international. Thirty large companies make equipment to test and they all have their own test. You have the ACME test, the this test, the this test, the this test. Well, those 30 companies have been selling their machines to local laboratories and that's their business. They make a machine, Roesch makes a machine. They then sell it to people. You have to buy their machine and they then sell these local labs their testing protocol because their test works on their machine. You buy the Roesch machine, you then have to buy the Roesch test from the Roesch Corporation. You buy the ACME machine, you then have to buy the ACME test from the ACME Corporation. They sell these tests to local labs.


We have about 300 local labs in our state who have bought these 30 types of manufacturers and 30 types of tests. Then every time the lab goes to run that test, if I'm running the ACME test, I have to have the ACME equipment and the ACME vial and the the ACME swab and the ACME reagents. What are reagents? When you take the swab, nasal swab, throat swab, you then test it with other chemicals. The other chemicals are reagents. Depending on what test you bought, they have their own reagents for every test. The ACME test has one set of reagents. The Roesch test has another set of reagents and you have to go back to them to buy these reagents. That's the basic chain. It gets very complicated very quickly because you have the national manufacturers who sold their machines to local labs. The local labs then need to go back to that manufacturer to run their tests. There's very little uniformity among the tests. You're trying to coordinate this whole private sector system. We have some public labs, the state has a Wadsworth Lab, but the real capacity is in these private labs.


So how do you bring this up to scale and how do you cut to the chase on this one? We called the top fifty producing labs in the state and said tell us what it takes to double your output, okay. And this is literally what they said. So there's no interpretation here. Most of them come back.


Sometimes they talk about the equipment, nasal swab, vial. But what you see is most of them are talking about, we can't get the reagents. We can't get these other chemicals that we need to test. Where do they get the reagents from? Their manufacturer who made the machine in the first place, okay. And they all say with the machines we bought we could actually be doing more if they would give us the reagents. That's the logjam that we are in. They bought the machine. They have the machine. They have the test but they need the reagents to do a higher volume of tests. When you go back to the manufacturer and say why don't you distribute more reagents, they say one of two things. I can't get more reagents because they come from China, they come from here, they come from here. We don't make them in the United States. Or they say the federal government is telling me who to distribute to.


And this is why I say you have the federal government involved in this situation, rightfully so, because the federal government is saying to Acme pharmaceutical, give X to California, give Y to Chicago, give Z to New York. These manufacturers are regulated by the federal government and the federal government clearly has a role in addressing this crisis. But, we need two things from the federal government. We need help on that supply chain, especially when it becomes international, and we need coordination and basic partnership. I get the state's role. We've been testing. I get this is hard. I get that it's difficult. I get that it's never going to be perfect. I get in this society there's going to be a blame game, and everyone's going to say, why didn't we have enough testing? It's the feds, it's the state. That's going to happen anyway, right. That's the world we live in. And I'm not asking for the federal government to come in and do any more than they need to do, but we do need their coordination and we do need their partnership.


And we also need from the federal government, we need funding. I get that we have to fund airlines. We have to fund this business. We have to fund small businesses. I agree a hundred percent, but you also have to fund state governments. And by the way, when you fund the state government, you're not funding a private business. We're not an airline. So you don't have an issue of should government really be giving tax dollars to this private entity. When you fund the state government you just are funding a state government to perform the functions you want us to perform, which is the reopening function. I get it. I'll do it. But I need funding. And when you fund a state government, you're funding small businesses anyway, and you're funding hospitals anyway, and you're funding schools anyway. And you know, the Republican doctrine used to be limited government and states' rights. I'm a good distribution mechanism to small businesses and hospitals and schools because I know what's going on in the state. But if you want to us reopen, we need funding.


National Governors Association is highly relevant because this is now all up to the governors. The National Governors Association is bipartisan. The chairman is a republican. I'm the vice chairman, I'm a Democrat. I'm the incoming chair person. We did a press release yesterday saying we need funding in this next bill. We need $500 billion for the states so we can do this reopening. Federal government yesterday sent 1.5 million cloth masks to New York State and I want to thank them for that. These are cloth masks that we can distribute to people to help implement our policy where if you're in public you have to wear a mask. It's not a surgical mask. It's a cloth mask manufactured by the Hanes corporation I believe. But we're asking people to wear masks. And this is going to be very helpful because we're going to have additional masks to distribute to the public.


Last point, personal opinion. This is not a fact. It's just my opinion. You can throw it in the garbage. The emotion in this country is as high as I can recall, people are frustrated, we're anxious, scared, we're angry. We've never been through this before and on every level this is a terrible experience. It's disorienting, it threatens you to your core. It makes you reflect on your whole life and it really has -- it's mentally very difficult, it's emotionally difficult, economically, it's disastrous. I mean the market goes down. Your retirement funds go down. You're not getting a paycheck. It is as tumultuous at times as we have ever seen. But in the midst of this, there is no time for politics.


How does the situation get worse, it gets worse quickly? If you politicize all that emotion. We cannot go there. That's why I work so hard when anyone raises any political agenda to me. I work so hard to distance myself from it. I'm not running for anything. I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to be governor of the state of New York until the people kick me out and then I'm going to go spend time with my family and that's that.