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Franz Ferdinand & The Wuhan Clan

World War One, by my limited understanding, was started when some Austrian archduke and his pregnant wife were bumped off. That’s a hell of a note. Most will acknowledge the existence of chain-reactions, but like other things we can’t see, they aren’t at the top of our shopping list. Our current global panic was triggered by animals and humans cross-infecting in China. There have been other theories, but as John Adams might point out “facts are stubborn things.” Science falls short of answering spiritual or philosophical queries but it’s pretty damn good when it comes to stuff like this. One needn’t be Einstein nor Hawking to sense that bats stacked atop pangolins don’t make for wet market happy days. There are a lot of fingers being pointed at China now, perhaps rightfully so. People are understandably angry, for both rational and irrational reasons. Outside of the usual knuckle-draggers, that anger is directed at a government and not its citizens. Still, what to do in a country of a billion and a half people? That’s a number we in the west will never get our democratic heads around.

Cultural differences exist for specific reasons. Bitching about them may release steam but is about as useful as an anti-vaccination rally amid a pandemic. This said, pent up steam can be problematic too. Sometimes voicing one’s annoyance about a particular situation or culture provides relief and clarity. You don’t solve the immediate crisis by admonishing the use of “Chinese flu.” We have bigger fish to fry than debating the long-term social implications of calling a spade a spade. Those most suited and needed for this particular fish fry — scientists — aren’t typically known for their social skills, anyway. Best to let them do their jobs.

My own clarity, as evidenced by the above, has been on the decline for some time now. Luckily I’m not a scientist. I am, however, something of a knuckle-dragging cultural observer. I lived in Italy for a while and it’s part of my genetic lineage. I grew up around Italians. Italian-American culture, with all its cross-pollination, has come to define the image as much as gondolas or the Vatican. James Caan, a German-Jew, is taken for Italian as much as Al Pacino because of ‘The Godfather.’ But make no mistake, there are huge differences between the Italians and their American descendants, and some of them relate to this ongoing situation. For all their charm, beauty, and impact on western civilization, they ain’t the most organized people in the world. Lines (or ‘queues’ to use the British vernacular) are a foreign concept in Italy and they couldn’t form an organized one to save their lives. They’re particularly good at striking (as in walking out of work in protest; not hitting one another.) ‘Sciopero’ is the Italian word and it’s practiced as an art form. Both the banks and universities staged walk-outs when I lived there. The latter was particularly curious to me and I never figured out what the students were protesting. But they took to it like champs, sitting in groups outside various institutions of higher learning, holding signs and smoking cigarettes. I’m not claiming a direct correlation between these observations and the speed and intensity with which the coronavirus has torn through Italy. But the Italians sure ain’t the South Koreans.

Our current, crazy time has highlighted a conundrum of contradiction; a paradoxical plethora (if you’ll forgive the alluring alliteration.) In the immediate, it’s a rush to lock down and isolate, to separate from one another in order to save one another. What would seem counter-intuitive has become essential. Act as one, we’re being told, but do it from a distance. We’ve aced parts of  ‘doing it from a distance’ and at this very moment, the best minds around the world are sharing essential, potentially civilization-saving information in both real-time and great detail. But the same technology allowing for this has revealed how uncivil and bitter we can be, given a little anonymity and distance. Was there ever a more appropriately named entity than ‘Twitter’? Yes, it’s included in this realm of sharing useful information, but its more cesspool-like attributes overwhelm. To put it another way, fuck Twitter. Fuck also, anyone in America inclined to politicize or assign blame in this situation. Ignorance, like a virus, spreads through those of all political persuasion. San Francisco is a ridiculous city in multiple regards, but I’m proud to live here at this current juncture and see the proactive measures being taken. I for one am avoiding partisan-chatter, bold attention-demanding headlines, and incendiary social media feeds. The CDC and Johns Hopkins University website will suffice. And anytime I see the name ‘Anthony Fauci’ connected to anything, I’m all over it. My own poorly-connected cultural rants aside, the man is an Italian-American hero and has surpassed Joe Montana in my book of all-time greats.

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