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Some Anniversaries

March 28, 2023 pm31 2:39 pm

COVID shuts down NYC schools

(with help from parents and teachers, resistance from de Blasio and Cuomo, and a late, partial assist from UFT leadership)

March was the third anniversary of COVID’s explosive spread here in the US. It was scary – a new disease – it was killing a high percentage of those who got sick – in mysterious ways. In NYC schools we were worried. By Monday March 9 it was dominating conversation. We watched Cuomo and de Blasio bicker over who had the right to close schools – as they left schools open, with the virus spreading. Early in the week there were petitions and pleas from parents and teachers to shut the schools. Teachers and parents were ready, where were the politicans and the UFT? The voices got loud. A rumor of a sickout planned for Monday March 16 grew – it became more than a rumor. MORE was heavily involved. The UFT leadership’s actions were slow. On the one hand they pushed back against the sickout. On the other they finally spoke out about closing schools – but this was Friday – most members had decided schools needed to be shut earlier in the week. In the event, de Blasio announced on Sunday March 15 that schools would be closed for kids starting Monday, but that staff had to report three days the following week for “training”

In retrospect, it is clear who was right, who was wrong, and whose (Michael Mulgrew) foot-dragging is a horrible embarrassment. We were at the start of “the pandemic” – the health event – for many of us, of our lifetimes. Cuomo cost lives, and de Blasio contributed. And Mulgrew’s slowness to act is unbecoming of a UFT president. We serve our members, not the politicians, that’s how I think of being a union leader; that’s what we should expect from union leadership. Mulgrew thinks differently. All the time? I don’t know, maybe. But when it mattered? Absolutely – first thought should have been protecting members – and he did something else.

We also got a foreshadowing of how Mulgrew was going to play politics the next few months. MORE’s petition was directed at Andrew Cuomo, who had blocked de Blasio’s order to “shelter in place.” When the UFT leadership joined in, it was with their own petition, addressed to de Blasio. For the rest of the spring Mulgrew slammed de Blasio, and curled up sniveling at Andy’s feet. All of us remember the UFT filing an arbitration over the loss of spring break days, right? But please do not forget, when Cuomo canceled spring break, Mulgrew said “we are supporting the Governor’s decision to continuing teaching during the Spring Break” Your first responsibility should be to your members. But at the most important moment, his loyalty lay elsewhere.

Me? The week of March 9 – 13 I was actively petitioning and engaging my members (I was chapter leader) in efforts to get the schools closed. Our PTA submitted a petition as well. As programmer I was planning for a reduced schedule for the following week. I was watching the sickout, listening to folks. As interest rose I considered supporting it – but I sensed hesitation Friday, and held back. There were schools with cases that were not being closed and cleaned, and I was having trouble getting clear answers from our union. I was out for a walk Sunday March 15, coming down Bainbridge towards 204, when I heard the announcement that schools would be closed Monday. I don’t know what the weather really was, but in my mind it was warm. Maybe just the moment was warm. On Tuesday I went to school. I think our jobs were “set up your remote classroom, and figure out what to do.” On Wednesday and Thursday I finished (well, it was a work in process, we kept rebuilding as we went) my preparation at home. And then I decamped to Essex County, 1 mile from Lake Champlain, and 60 miles south of the Canadian border. I stayed there, except for two quick runs south, until July.

COVID strikes New York – it was personal

March was the third anniversary of COVID exploding in New York City

It wasn’t just disruption to work – right? Each story is personal, but COVID harmed people and killed people. My school had a “Spring Fest” on Friday March 13, and, textbook, the “karaoke room” created a superspreader event (although we didn’t know until comparing notes later in the Spring that this was what happened). Thankfully all recovered, although there was at least one case of long COVID. Two weeks later a colleague, Denis Murphy, visiting an older friend, isolated by the pandemic, died in an auto accident. And late that month, my second cousin once removed, Moishe Kwalbrun, died of COVID. This was a scary time. I don’t think we were fully aware of how bad it was getting. In some ways, April became scarier.

US Invades Iraq

Twenty years ago, the US invaded Iraq

The New York Times and the White House lied about “weapons of mass destruction.” The New York Times should face liability for printing war propaganda.

The US has been eversince in a permanent state of war – “legalized” by the Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution. Voted for by Crowley and Engel and Schumer and Biden. In fact, Democrats were divided down the middle, Republicans were overwhelmingly in favor.

It’s not like the US didn’t find ways to go to war without declaring war before. This just made it easier. And now it is constant.

There were thousands of US deaths, and tens of thousands of injuries. There were hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths.

The invasion has led to insecurity and instability and destruction in Iraq, and the region.

The Clinton-era (get that? – Bill Clinton (D)) policy of extraordinary rendition – that is, the US captures someone, and doesn’t treat them as a POW, nor as a regular prisoner – got a big boost. Guantamo – you get it.

By the way, you know that De Santis watched prisoners being tortured at Guantanamo. He was a lawyer. He was there to tell the torturers that what they were doing was A-OK.

I remember – I was at a new school in March 2003 – what horrible pushback I got for opposing that war. Listen – you can’t say, at least anymore, “I read it in the Times” without also owning “and I know they lie and I trust them anyhow because it is inconvenient to deal with the truth.”

I spoke at graduation 2007. I stated my opposition to the Iraq Invasion. I got a few heckles just for calling it an “unjust war.” Honestly, stronger language was called for.


Fifty-nine years ago. February.

I was all hyped for a cool low-key celebration. Non-celebration? Nah, I like something. Big party? Nah, not for me. This year I was going for a walk.

I reached out to a bunch of people – walk for my birthday in Van Cortlandt. I figured the walk is a weird and slightly big ask, I would get maybe 1 in 4 people saying yes. As it turned out, it was more like 3 in 4. I was worried about the noise a crowd (two dozen?) tromping through the woods would make. And then…

There was a weird blip on the weather report. And instead of going away, it became more intense. My birthday would happen as an Arctic chill was driving Bronx windchills well below zero degrees. A friend messaged me, to cancel. I waited one more day, and then started to reach out.

But the strangest thing happened. Someone said, no, they still wanted to walk. And then another. And another. And I celebrated my birthday with a frigid walk – I think it was in the teens when we met up, with wind gusts in the 25mph range. In any case, once we were moving it was not so frigid. It was about 3½ miles through Van Cortlandt Park.

It began with homemade carrot cake cupcakes (across from Lloyds, but not Lloyds), lighting a candle, and “Happy Birthday.” Then the walk – Tortoise Hare to John Muir to Aqueduct and back through the Wetlands. Then the Van Cortlandt Mansion. Then lunch, delicious, at Com Tam Ninh Kieu. Then everyone else went home and I went for a haircut and shave, and when he heard it was my birthday, my barber refused to charge me.

left top Homemade Carrot Cake Cupcake with Candle; left below Gathering at the Starting Point;
center top Aqueduct Trail; center bottom Van Cortlandt Mansion; right Birthday Haircut and Shave

When we were kids, my birthday would come each year, one day in February. My birthday is at the start of the month. My sister, on the other hand, younger, had her day at the end of November. But come November first she would demand recognition. She milked the entire month of November as her birthday month, while moaning about getting cheated by Thanksgiving. It was a cheap trick, to make a birthday last four weeks. But this year I tried something like it. I couldn’t match the nerve of my pre-teen sister. But I did drag out my celebration this year. ran “celebration” stuff for about ten days… The events were low-key… but I liked how it went. I won’t get away with next year – that’s a bigger number that will be “marked” – but this was just 59….

One Comment leave one →
  1. David Vota permalink
    March 28, 2023 pm31 3:29 pm 3:29 pm



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