2020-03-24 17:42:04 UTC
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The Boston Globe
Arguable - with Jeff Jacoby
Monday, March 23, 2020
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Charity in the time of coronavirus
The spreading pandemic is making life miserable in countless ways. But even
the blackest clouds have silver linings and one of them is that when times
are at their worst, so many people rise to their best. Having often remarked
on the extraordinary generosity of ordinary Americans , I never doubted that
philanthropists and established charities would rise to the occasion in a
myriad of wonderful ways. But more heartwarming and uplifting by far are the
countless private individuals and businesses stepping up to show what it
means to love thy neighbor as thyself.
The lion’s share of media attention is, inevitably, focused on what
politicians are doing to respond to the crisis, either by issuing orders or
spending public funds. But if you want to see genuine goodness amid the
gloom of COVID-19, check out some of the ways that people and companies of
every description are voluntarily reaching deep into their own pockets to
help fellow Americans (and others) in distress:
U-Haul is offering free self-storage for all college students whose plans
for the semester have been upended.
The major cellphone carriers are waiving late fees, upgrading data plans to
unlimited, and pledging that no one’s service is terminated for inability to
pay their bills.
McAlister’s Deli restaurants in Illinois are offering free take-out lunches
to any children in their community while schools are shut down.
So are restaurants in Phoenix, Ariz. And Knoxville, Tenn. And Augusta, Ga.
And the Carolinas. And Western Pennsylvania. And the Minneapolis area. And
greater Baltimore. And Cincinnati.
Not only kids are eating free: Medium Rare, a DC steakhouse, is delivering
free steak dinners to seniors (70 and older) who have been trapped by the
coronavirus quarantine rules.
Hook Hall, a popular bar in Washington, DC, has transformed itself into a
relief center to provide food and household essentials to service workers
who have been laid off.
ITtelligent offers free tech support for any company that needs it, free of
charge. Its only condition: “that you pay it forward by providing your
services to another business.”
Sunwing airlines is issuing free plane tickets home to any Canadians who
have been stranded abroad by coronavirus restrictions.
Author/journalist Shea Serrano has been sending cash to anyone on social
media who asks for help. As of Sunday, he had given away just under $26,000
in $200 and $300 gifts.
Starbucks is adding $10 million to its CUP (Caring Unites Partners) fund to
support employees who find themselves in sudden financial distress.
Verizon is donating $5 million to No Kid Hungry, which aids vulnerable
children, and $5 million more to Direct Relief, which provides protective
equipment and essential medical items to frontline health workers.
Numerous distilleries — including Old Fourth Distillery in Atlanta, Durham
Distillery in North Carolina, Shine Distillery in Portland, Ore., and
Moonrise Distillery in Georgia — have diverted supplies of alcohol normally
used to make whiskey into manufacturing hand sanitizer, which they are
giving away for free.
Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and his wife Ciara are donating 1 million
meals to a local foodbank in Seattle.
Steph and Ayesha Curry are doing something similar in Oakland.
As is Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.
Blake Griffin of the Pistons is giving $100,000 to support workers at Little
Caesars Arena in Detroit.
Ditto the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo on behalf of employees at
And Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans, who will underwrite the
salaries of Smoothie King arena workers for the next 30 days.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert is donating half a million dollars — $200,000
to the employee relief fund at his team’s arena in Salt Lake City, $100,000
each to coronavirus-related social services in Utah and Oklahoma City, plus
a similar amount to coronavirus relief in his native France.
Microsoft has donated $1 million to COVID-19 relief efforts in Puget Sound.
Caffé Nero outlets, like the one in my neighborhood near Boston’s Longwood
medical area, are providing free coffee, tea, and chocolate to all health
Most of us aren’t in a position to make such lavish and generous gifts. But
nearly all of us can help in some way. Numerous charities are doing their
best to meet the needs of people affected by this economic and medical blow,
and even modest donations can help. Here is a list of philanthropies that
are doing vital work and would welcome your help. Food banks in particular
need supporting: Find one in your area and consider donating money or time.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife Ciara are donating
the cost of 1 million meals to Seattle's Food Lifeline, which supplies food
banks across Western Washington.
While you’re at it, please make an appointment to donate blood. With “social
distancing” forcing the closure of libraries and other public buildings,
many blood drives had to be cancelled in recent weeks. The result, reports
the Guardian , has been “a disaster for blood donation as the medical sector
finds its blood supplies running out.” There is never a good time for
hospitals to be short on blood, but there could hardly be a worse time than
right now, with COVID-19 infections and deaths climbing by the day and no
one knowing how severe the outbreak will prove. The Red Cross and local
blood banks have ramped up their safety procedures to make sure that giving
blood poses no danger to donors or staff. But all the precautions in the
world will amount to nothing if people don’t show up.
I’ve just scheduled an appointment to give blood (it’s at an upcoming drive
at the VFW post in Brookline Village). I hope you'll do likewise.
David Suissa, editor-in-chief at the Jewish Journal in Los Angeles,
commented eloquently the other day about all the hope he is seeing amid the
melancholy of this unsettled time.
“Despite all this darkness, despite all this fear of the unknown, I can’t
recall a time when I have seen so much light and so much strength,” Suissa
Humanity is fighting back.
My email inbox overflows with hundreds of initiatives from activists,
spiritual leaders, organizations and individuals who have decided to combat
this disease with love, creativity and light. . . .
Programs have sprung up to help feed the needy and mitigate the economic
fallout. Communities are joining hands to better leverage their efforts.
Even our politicians in Washington are trying to put partisanship aside in
favor of the nation’s interest. . . .
This is the dilemma we all are facing right now and will face for the
foreseeable future: How do we balance the horrible with the hopeful, the
vulnerable with the powerful, the anxiety with the action?
We’re only a couple of weeks into this strange way of living. No one knows
where we’ll be two weeks, let alone two months, from now. What we do know is
that the darkness isn’t winning. Amazingly, light, goodness, and charity can
be seen everywhere. And what’s even more amazing is that each of us can
supply a little more.
Blame the Jews
Yet some people choose to add to the darkness.
Bad news almost invariably generates a degree of conspiracy theorizing; bad
news with a far-flung impact especially so. The coronavirus pandemic, wrote
Daniel Pipes in an essay last week, is no exception. (Pipes, best known as a
commentator on Islam and the Middle East, is also an expert on conspiracies,
a subject he has explored in two books). Though the virus indisputably
emerged in China, he observes, “influential voices” are accusing the United
States, the United Kingdom, and Israel of having engineered the crisis.
This fits a very old pattern, observes Pipes — as old as the First Crusade a
thousand years ago.
Confused folk hoping to make sense of unexpected and malign developments
have the permanent option of conjuring up a world conspiracy. When they do,
they overwhelmingly blame just two alleged conspirators: members of Western
secret societies or Jews.
Secret societies include the Knights Templar, Freemasons, Jesuits,
Illuminati, Jacobins, and the Trilateral Commission. Jews are supposedly
ruled by a shadowy authority, the “Elders,” that strictly keeps them in line
through such front organizations as the Sanhedrin, the Alliance Israélite
Universelle, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
In modern times, conspiracy theorists have added countries to the
organizations: Secret societies spawned the United Kingdom and the United
States, Jewish Elders became Israel. . . . [T]his trio of states is blamed
for shocking surprises such as the JFK assassination, Princess Diana's
death, 9/11, or the Great Recession.
And so it is with COVID-19.
The Chinese government has been spreading the groundless theory that the
United States is responsible for COVID-19. Lijian Zhao, who is the spokesman
for China’s foreign ministry and deputy director-general of its information
department, publicly suggested that “it might be [the] US army who brought
the epidemic to Wuhan” and disseminated an article titled “COVID-19: Further
Evidence that the Virus Originated in the US.” As a result of such
conspiracy-mongering at the highest echelons of China’s regime, the
Washington Post reported earlier this month, “the Chinese Internet became
inundated by the theory . . . that the coronavirus originated in the United
Russian state media, meanwhile, has blamed Britain for the coronavirus
outbreak, claiming, according to the Daily Mail, that it was “intentionally
timed with Britain's exit from the [European Union] to enhance its global
status.” Other pro-Kremlin outfits have doubled down on the Chinese
narrative that America is to blame. The Digital Forensic Research Lab, which
identifies and exposes digital disinformation, detailed in January the
network of pro-Kremlin outlets peddling the claim that coronavirus was
designed to be “essentially a US bioweaponry reconnaissance operation with
the goal of testing the capabilities of Chinese biological weapons
defenses.” The theories were first spawned online, but have since been
amplified by Russians with a substantial following:
Russian nationalist Member of Parliament Vladimir Zhirinovsky has also
picked up these narratives, amplifying stories originating from fringe
outlets and amplifying them on other channels. In one case he claimed the
virus appeared in China because US pharmaceutical companies want to cash in
on the vaccine, while in the other he said the US has allegedly used
biological weapons against China. In both instances, Zhirinovsky claimed
that the main goal of the US would be to undermine the Chinese economy.
But the most disturbing manifestation of coronavirus conspiracy thinking has
been the eruption, once again, of the allegation that Jews are to blame.
Iraq’s Al-Ayyam TV interviewed political analyst Muhammad Sadeq Al-Hashemi,
who blithely explained that the pandemic is a Jewish American plot to reduce
the world’s population. (He claimed for good measure that the “Zionist
lobby,” financed by the Rothschilds, had engaged in such genocidal attacks
in the past.) Rosanna Arquette, the American actress, posted a vile tweet
(later deleted) insinuating that Jews knew all about COVID-19 ahead of time
and plan to make money from it. In Turkey , security analyst Coşkun Basbug
explained on the air that “Jews [and] Zionists have organized and engineered
the novel coronavirus as a biological weapon just like bird flu.”
Almost as soon as news stories about the virus began to appear, extremists
began promoting the notion that it was caused by a Jewish cabal.
“The most popular conspiracy theory is that Jews are using this virus as a
means for profit,” the Anti-Defamation League told the Times of Israel.
“They are saying Jews manufactured it and are going to take advantage of the
market’s collapse through insider trading.”
Some white supremacists “eagerly imagine the coronavirus as a bioweapon
against their enemies,” the ADL noted on March 10, while others link the
virus to racist and antisemitic slurs and memes:
In one meme shared on Telegram, a soldier and the virus are depicted
preparing to fight together against people targeted by white supremacists,
including minorities, the LGBTQ community, and “communists.” A 4chan
commenter wrote, “Send the sick to Israel – if you already die at least take
out as many Jews as you can.”
Extremists hope the virus kills Jews, but they are also using its emergence
to advance their antisemitic theories that Jews are responsible for creating
the virus, are spreading it to increase their control over a decimated
population, or they are profiting off it. Some extremists have tied reports
documenting Chinese efforts to safely dispose of victims’ bodies to cast
doubt on the number of Jews who died during the Holocaust. . . .
After news broke that George Washington University had quarantined students
who attended this year's AIPAC Policy Conference, some students reported . .
. being harassed on Twitter and in person with antisemitic messages. Other
Twitter and Facebook accounts continued to echo the extremist rhetoric found
on fringe platforms, accusing Jews and/or Israel of creating the virus to
kill non-Jews or so that they can profit from the vaccine.
Equally repugnant stuff has been coming out of Iran and from right-wing
extremists in the West, and it will only get worse. On Thursday, FBI
officials in New York advised local police departments that “neo-Nazis and
other white supremacists are encouraging members who contract novel
coronavirus disease to spread the contagion to cops and Jews,” reported ABC
The FBI alert . . . told local police agencies that extremists want their
followers to try to use spray bottles to spread bodily fluids to cops on the
street. The extremists are also directing followers to spread the disease to
Jews by going “any place they may be congregated, to include markets,
political offices, businesses and places of worship.”
To any rational mind, this is all deranged — not least because the
coronavirus has already infected more than 1,200 Israelis, one of whom, an
elderly Holocaust survivor, died on Friday . But then, the antisemitic
derangement is one of the oldest, most lethal, most infectious intellectual
pathologies known to man. Time and again, the reaction to pestilence and
plagues has been a reign of terror against Jews, no matter that Jews
themselves have been as sick as their neighbors.
In her magisterial history of the 14th century, A Distant Mirror, Barbara W.
Tuchman describes how readily the outbreak of the Black Death was blamed on
the Jews — and with what murderous results:
On charges that they were poisoning the wells, with intent “to kill and
destroy the whole of Christendom and have lordship over all the world,” the
lynchings began in the spring of 1348 on the heels of the first plague
deaths. The first attacks occurred in Narbonne and Carcassonne, where Jews
were dragged from their houses and thrown into bonfires. . . . The charges
drew a picture of an international Jewish conspiracy emanating from Spain,
with messengers from Toledo carrying poison in little packets [and]
rabbinical instructions for sprinkling the poison in wells and springs.
The Jews’ defenders, who included Pope Clement, pointed out that these were
monstrous lies. Yet so powerful was the fury against the innocent Jews, and
so avid the hunger to believe them guilty of every bad thing, that thousands
were slaughtered or dispossessed.
The 21st century has no use for most of the toxic and absurd superstitions
of the 14th century, but bigotry against Jews has always been in a category
of its own. It is the most ancient hatred, the most protean — the one that
never vanishes, but only goes dormant, ready to be awakened in times of
stress and fear.
When conspiracy-mongers blame America and Britain for COVID-19, Americans
and Britons don’t lose sleep over the accusations. But when the fanatics and
extremists point to Jews, indifference is not an option. Jews account for
just two one-hundredths of 1 percent of the world’s people. They dare not
take their safety for granted. Especially not now.
The pandemic and Daniel Defoe
In last week’s Arguable, I told the story of Isaac Newton going into
“self-quarantine” during the eruption of bubonic plague in 1665. What he
accomplished during those 18 months of isolation in the Lincolnshire
countryside, I wrote, was without parallel in the annals of human thought.
A different take on the same plague was penned by Daniel Defoe, the great
English author. Though he is best known for Robinson Crusoe, his 1719 novel
of a man shipwrecked on a desert island, Defoe also wrote a remarkable novel
about the 1665 epidemic: A Journal of the Plague Year . The book depicts
life in London during the terrible contagion, which killed an estimated
100,000 people in the capital city alone. Defoe was a young child when the
plague erupted, but he recounts the events of those terrible months through
the eyes — and in the language — of a grown man. To anyone who didn’t know
better, it would seem to be journalism: a nonfiction record of a terrible
crisis reported on in real time. In fact, it is fiction — but fiction so
accurate and vivid that it far surpasses eyewitness accounts that really
were written in real time.
"Bring out your dead" — the Great Plague of London killed 100,000 people
between 1665 and 1667.
Doubtless the pandemic now spreading will in due course occasion its own
literature. But it’s hard to imagine anything as poignant, powerful, and
humane as Defoe’s great novel about life during the appalling “distemper.”
Here are two short passages that echo with significance even now.
In the first, Defoe describes the fear of having to leave home to shop for
food, and says something about the measures to which people resorted, in
that era long before hand sanitizer, to avoid spreading the disease through
[H]ere I must observe again, that this necessity of going out of our houses
to buy provisions was in a great measure the ruin of the whole city, for the
people catched the distemper on these occasions one of another, and even the
provisions themselves were often tainted. . . .
However, the poor people could not lay up provisions, and there was a
necessity that they must go to market to buy, and others to send servants or
their children; and as this was a necessity which renewed itself daily, it
brought abundance of unsound people to the markets, and a great many that
went thither sound brought death home with them.
It is true people used all possible precaution. When any one bought a joint
of meat in the market they would not take it off the butcher's hand, but
took it off the hooks themselves. On the other hand, the butcher would not
touch the money, but have it put into a pot full of vinegar, which he kept
for that purpose. The buyer carried always small money to make up any odd
sum, that they might take no change. They carried bottles of scents and
perfumes in their hands, and all the means that could be used were used, but
then the poor could not do even these things, and they went at all hazards.
Innumerable dismal stories we heard every day on this very account.
Sometimes a man or woman dropped down dead in the very markets, for many
people that had the plague upon them knew nothing of it till the inward
gangrene had affected their vitals, and they died in a few moments. This
caused that many died frequently in that manner in the streets suddenly,
without any warning; others perhaps had time to go to the next bulk or
stall, or to any door-porch, and just sit down and die, as I have said
In the second excerpt, Defoe almost seems to anticipate our bar hoppers and
spring-breakers who refuse to take “social distancing” seriously, either
because they are convinced they have nothing to worry about, or don’t care
about the risks they pose to others:
I remember one citizen who, having thus broken out of his house in
Aldersgate Street or thereabout, went along the road to Islington . . .
after which he came to the Pied Bull, an inn also still continuing the same
sign. He asked them for lodging for one night only, pretending to be going
into Lincolnshire, and assuring them of his being very sound and free from
the infection, which also at that time had not reached much that way.
They told him they had no lodging that they could spare but one bed up in
the garret, and that they could spare that bed for one night, some drovers
being expected the next day with cattle; so, if he would accept of that
lodging, he might have it, which he did. So a servant was sent up with a
candle with him to show him the room. He was very well dressed, and looked
like a person not used to lie in a garret; and when he came to the room he
fetched a deep sigh, and said to the servant, “I have seldom lain in such a
lodging as this.” However, the servant assured him again that they had no
better. “Well,” says he, “I must make shift; this is a dreadful time; but it
is but for one night.”
So he sat down upon the bedside, and bade the maid, I think it was, fetch
him up a pint of warm ale. Accordingly the servant went for the ale, but
some hurry in the house, which perhaps employed her other ways, put it out
of her head, and she went up no more to him.
The next morning, seeing no appearance of the gentleman, somebody in the
house asked the servant that had showed him upstairs what was become of him.
She started. “Alas!” says she, “I never thought more of him. He bade me
carry him some warm ale, but I forgot.” Upon which, not the maid, but some
other person was sent up to see after him, who, coming into the room, found
him stark dead and almost cold, stretched out across the bed. His clothes
were pulled off, his jaw fallen, his eyes open in a most frightful posture,
the rug of the bed being grasped hard in one of his hands, so that it was
plain he died soon after the maid left him; and ‘tis probable, had she gone
up with the ale, she had found him dead in a few minutes after he sat down
upon the bed. The alarm was great in the house, as anyone may suppose, they
having been free from the distemper till that disaster, which, bringing the
infection to the house, spread it immediately to other houses round about
I do not remember how many died in the house itself, but I think the
maid-servant who went up first with him fell presently ill by the fright,
and several others; for, whereas there died but two in Islington of the
plague the week before, there died seventeen the week after, whereof
fourteen were of the plague. This was in the week from the 11th of July to
To coin a phrase, read the whole thing. Defoe’s timeless portrait of human
distress intertwined with human fortitude is a classic of English letters,
as relevant now as ever.
Two takes on distance learning
(Click the images to play)
1. An Israeli mother vents:
2. A Boston University professor teaches Chem 102:
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In my Sunday column , I took a break from all-coronavirus-all-the-time mode
and wrote about the claim that the Equal Rights Amendment, which expired in
1979 when it failed to win ratification from the necessary number of states,
is actually still alive. Some ERA proponents insist that the deadline didn’t
count, and that even after all these decades, the amendment can be added to
the Constitution. Two dueling lawsuits have been filed, and the issue is now
before the courts. But even America’s most famous feminist legal scholar,
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, rejects the idea that the clock is still
running on the ERA. The only way to get the amendment into the Constitution
now, she says, is to go back to the beginning of the amendment process.
Last Wednesday’s column , spurred by the panic buying and empty shelves in
supermarkets, made a point that economists frequently reiterate: When demand
rises, prices should be allowed to rise too. Only higher prices can deter
customers from hoarding, while simultaneously increasing the incentive for
producers to bring more supplies to the marketplace. Alas, whenever a crisis
erupts, politicians immediately begin denouncing “price gougers” and warning
that merchants who raise their prices too much will be punished. But the
vast majority of merchants are not trying to gouge anyone — least of all
their customers, whose good will they crave.
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