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LEONARD QUART: Some takes from isolation

There is a limit to how much of the dire news out there one can consume. So I read thrillers and screen forgettable films.

 New York — I may be isolated and seldom get a good look at the world outside my house, but I still can read, write, screen and reflect on all I see and hear. I am struck by how much I miss spectator sports, which I have followed religiously since boyhood. I still like to scan box scores in basketball and baseball, and watch parts of games in both sports. I may often get bored after a few innings or stop watching after a quarter, but I love that I still have a passion for something that gives me aesthetic pleasure and brings back memories of my having played in sandlot and gym leagues as an adolescent.

At the same time, spectator sports, despite being meaningless in the scheme of things, helps me preserve an emotional balance. That in itself is why watching games, skimming a list of batting averages, and reading sports gossip and analysis allows me to detach myself for a couple of hours from all that is threatening and horrific in the public world. It even removes me from indulging in precarious explorations of my own state of being.

Chicago Bulls players, from left, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman.

But given the virulence of COVID-19 the games may not appear for a while, and ESPN is now left showing tapes of old classic games and contrived sports chat, while the newspapers’ sports coverage has shrunk, though there is The Last Dance, the incisive ESPN 10-part documentary about the Chicago Bulls dynasty, and the great, ultra-competitive Michael Jordan and his cohorts–Rodman, Pippin, Jackson and Kerr– to watch. So when baseball returns, who knows if my lifetime passion can be revived?

One strike against baseball is that the abominable Mitch McConnell — a cynical pol who believes in nothing but the preservation of Republican power and serving the financial interests of his corporate allies — would like baseball to return to build morale in the country. I know I am being unfair, but anything McConnell exalts is suspect in my eyes.

Obviously, I am obsessed with politics. I read innumerable articles from the New Yorker, The GuardianThe Times, and various other publications. Most find different variations to write about COVID-19 and Trump but some offer distinctive, very smart analyses, like Fintan O’Toole in The New York Review of Books and Michelle Goldberg in The Times.

O’Toole writes perceptively in a recent piece on Trump: “Trump’s wild zigzagging has destroyed for his followers, the possibility of a single, coherent narrative of the pandemic: it is a dark conspiracy and there is nothing much to be worried about; it demands wartime restrictions on freedom, and such restrictions are totalitarian and un-American….”

And there is Albany’s WAMC Roundtable, which is lively, opinionated, and consistently intelligent. I like its politics, and the mellow-voiced Joe Donohue who hosts the show and tactfully keeps its more voluble participants from dominating airtime. Alan Chartok — the president and CEO of the station — is clearly the most politically perceptive and knowledgeable person on the program. I usually agree with his analyses, and even his constant praise for Andrew Cuomo, who in the past I have often been critical and wary of, no longer bothers me.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his daily address.

The once bullying Cuomo has transformed himself in his daily fact-based, humane talks to us about the pandemic, and has won me over. Especially when he affirms the importance of government’s role in how it’s “making decisions every day that affect people’s lives” and that governing is not for the “faint of heart.” He has turned into a political figure whose presence consoles us—the opposite of Trump who cares nothing about the sick and dying—just how it affects him politically.

However, my favorite participant on The Roundtable is Rosemary Armao — a feminist, investigative journalist who has spent many years working abroad. She is argumentative, aggressive, quick-witted and doesn’t back down for anybody, not even for the sometimes intimidating Alan. There is something indomitable in her tendentiousness, and the program itself is more often than not a winner.

Of course, there is a limit to how much of the dire news out there one can consume. So I read thrillers and screen forgettable films — though the pandemic is always hovering and so are the countless numbers who work 12-hour shifts or get sick and die. There is just no escape from what, at the moment, seems unyielding and isolating. But at 80, I still must believe a future exists for the exhilarating and inequitable world I inhabit.


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