Two Loaves and Choices (Plague, Day 22, March 25, 2020)

You know the world is in the shithole, when I start baking.

I do not enjoy baking. I don’t like measuring cups, the fine dusting of flour over counters, meticulous reading of recipes, timers. Last night’s pot roast is more of my style of cooking — throw a bunch of good things in a pot and then walk away for two hours.

Also, I’ve so been conditioned by middle age diets to look at all carbs as things of evil. Little slices of heaven, too. Have you ever had a slice of pizza, after restraining one’s self for a couple of weeks? OMG. Your brain explodes. So, there’s a lot of complicated feelings wrapped in bread right now.

But with everything going on, I felt a deep need to kneed. Yesterday I pulled out my super easy recipe for bread making and spent the afternoon making two loaves.

Two loaves, almost identical, cooling on a rack. Which one to cut open first? Either way, there is no bad choice.

***

But now our president is ready to make a choice between two evils, as he sees the options before him. He can either badger the country to stay in the house, shut down businesses, keep the schools closed, which will very quickly lead to massive Great Depression-like levels of economic strife.

Or he could let business do it what it wants to do. Open those restaurants. Open the factories. Let people fly wherever they want. Money comes in, but the virus will spread. People will die, but people die every day, he said. We can’t stop the economy to save a handful of old people.

He later added geography to that calculus. Mostly, the problems are going to be in the hot spots, like the New York City metro area, so it’s unfair to rural areas in Texas to conform to rules that are appropriate for NYC. And those people in NYC are doomed anyway, so let’s just move on.

Those are bad choices: the economy versus dead old people. To be fair, the economy doesn’t just mean that some rich CEOs will suffer. It means that a whole of lot of minimum wage workers will be laid off, won’t be able to pay their rent, and children will go hungry. So, in the spirit of fairness, let’s revise that equation: hungry children versus dead old people in one part of the country.

But that equation still isn’t quite right. The dead people are starting to pile up around here, and they aren’t just 90-year olds in a nursing home. Our church just sent out an email asking for prayers for a 20-year old, a former high school athlete, who is in ICU.

I live in a virus hotspot, though things will be worse on the other side of the Hudson River, in the heart of the city. Anybody paying attention knew that this was going to be a big issue. The mayor took too long to shut the schools and get people off the streets and subway. Too long.

Friends who had an outlet and a brain to see the writing on the wall got out of the city seven days ago. They are in seclusion already in second homes and in the guest rooms of extended family. Others are trying to get out now.

My in-laws live in the shore of North Carolina, where those communities have shut their doors to outsiders. Police demand proof of home ownership before letting people cross the bridge to the barrier islands. Locals say they don’t have enough beds or bags of flour for the New Yorkers heading their way. No room in the inn.

I reject the presidents’ choice, because I think he’s wrong. I have faith in charts and trajectory curves. If we say, “Fuck this flattening curve stuff. Give me the high peak and get the pain over with quickly,” the losses will be too significant and probably won’t save the economy anyway. I say let’s save lives first, the economy second.

***

I’m not the only one baking like crazy. Flour, like toilet paper and dish detergent, is not to be found in any supermarket right now.

Why do we bake during a pandemic?

For many of us, we associate bread with comfort. It’s a way to nurture our families, when they’re in the midst of stress and pain.

We have time. Yes, the lucky among us are still working on our laptops and computers just a few feet from the kitchen. It’s not hard to let some dough rise in a bowl on the counter for forty minutes in between Zoom meetings with co-workers.

Bread is something Biblical, an ancient tie to the Gods. Mosaics in 2,000-year old churches in the Mediterranean depict the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

Matthew 14:13-21: “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he [Jesus] gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.”

We bake because we are in the midst of an Old Testament-like plague. This doesn’t feel real. It’s an ancient evil, not something that belongs in our worlds of sterile Apple stores or smart cars. An ancient evil must be fought by an ancient good. For some, that ancient good might come in the form of God, an old man with a beard. For others, the ancient good is formed by women with large forearms over a fire.

Of course, we can’t be saved by bread or prayers or by loud curses at the tv during presidential press conferences. Let’s just be safe, friends. Using whatever comforts and crutches that we have around us, let’s stay in our homes for another few weeks.

Me? Despite an afternoon aberration with baking, my real crutch is writing. Words are my loaf of bread. So, I’ll be here, as long as I can manage it.

What’s Going to Happen to the Church (and the impact on everything else)

We’re Catholic. I mean Steve and I are not super Catholic, but we go to church on Sundays. Mostly. Sometimes. Others in my family are Uber-Catholics, especially that one family member who writes occasionally for Catholic think-magazines.

Still, I am sad for my more Catholic family members that this institution is digging its own grave. Their faith is pure, and they’ve been misused by the clergy.

I’m also sad for the communities that they’ve served. In his 80s, my dad volunteers nearly full time for a food pantry at his church that serves 800 families. The other volunteers are also in their 80s without any new recruits to hand out groceries or hand out turkeys at Thanksgiving. In another few years, will this group still exist? Who is going to help those people when those volunteer organizations die out?

Parochial schools are closing all over the country, except when they’ve been able to get their hands on vouchers that keep the doors open. Those schools have relatively low tuition and have served poor urban areas for years. Both my parents benefited from them. Can urban schools absorb new students?

I’m sickened by the stories that are coming out this week. Positively sickened. And I’m so, so sad that along with a diminished church, we’ll lose out on all the charity work and community building that Catholic parishioners have been quietly doing for ages.

The Catholic Schools Saved by Vouchers

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Catholic schools, once a mainstay for the Irish, Italian, and Polish communities in American cities, are struggling. With shrinking numbers of nuns as a source of free labor, and fewer parishioners passing the donation baskets on Sunday and enrolling their kids in parochial schools, many simply cannot afford to keep their doors open. Just last week, the Archdiocese of New York announced the closure of five more schools for financial reasons; that’s on top of dozens that were shutteredin 2011 and 2013.

More here.

New Pope, New Direction?

Catholism is very divided right now between those who want to emphasize
Catholic teachings about service to the poor and critiques about economic
distribution and those who want to emphasize its teachings on social behavior.
I'm in the economic distribution camp and am hopeful that the new pope will
move the church in that direction.

But the proof is in the pudding. Let's see
what happens. 

Battening Down the Hatches

Autism has been much on minds today.

We had another grumpy priest experience at church today. The priest was annoyed that Ian didn't hold his hands in the correct way to receive the host. This time, I went back to the church to talk about their intolerance, and I was told that they think other parishioners aren't treating the host with correct reverance, so they have had to become more militant.

These slights against autistic people is part of a larger problem as the Catholic church reacts to criticism by becoming more conservative and less inclusive. They are battening down the hatches and giving up being catholic with the small "c." 

Despite my many misgivings about the growing conservatism Church politics, marginalization of nuns, and obsession with sex, we've kept attending services, because it's good to escape our materialistic world for an hour per week. We went every week even when Ian was three, and it was major work to keep him quiet for an hour. He learned to tolerate the smell of incense and glare of light through the stained glass. We kept going, even after the Catholic pre-school tossed him out for not talking.

But the dirty looks might be the last straw. 

Other recent articles about autism were discussed today. We've been talking about this opinion piece that autism might be caused by a defective auto-immune system in the mother. (I don't have allergies, but everyone else in my family does.) These articles about the causes of autism always make me feel guilty. I shouldn't read them. 

I liked Tyler Cowen's article at the Chronicle, which railed against the dehumanizing languaged used by scientists who study autism

After all this, I feel like battening down our own hatches.