ON THE AVENUES: These overdue mask mandates should help us separate the bad actors from the good.


I like the idea of beginning the column with music. Thank you for the idea, Charles P. Pierce.

Meanwhile, they hath stolen my damn thunder.

I’d been preparing a sermon about the path of the righteous masked man, and how it is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil unmasked men.

Then these Republicans went and canceled me.

First it was Indiana’s Governor Eric Holcomb, followed by the Floyd County Health Department chief Dr. Thomas Harris.

Holcomb’s statewide mask mandate starts on Monday, but once the potential for heat from the home office in Indy was reduced, Dr. Tom at long last implemented a must-mask decree here, to begin tomorrow (Friday, July 24).

Enquiring minds want to know: What on earth took Dr. Tom so long?

Back in 2013 he was willing to fight for two entire YEARS for the health department’s inalienable “right” to regulate breweries pouring cups of beer at outdoor events.

Remembering the Great Beer Pour War of 2013: Bank Street Brewhouse, the Floyd County Health Department and the flight of the bureaucrats.

 … On July 1, 2015, when a “beer bill” authored by Rep. Ed Clere officially becomes state law, it will be demonstrated for a third (and we trust final) time that the FCHD and its head, Dr. Tom Harris, were mistaken all along.

The new law is clear and explicit, as based on the two preceding legal precedents, both hitherto ignored by the FCHD.

All thanks to Ed Clere. His hard work in compelling local government functionaries to obey their own laws will not be forgotten, especially by me.

I digress, of course, but not before adding an important addendum.

The preceding events occurred between 2013 and 2015. They’re minor in relative terms compared with a pandemic, and yet it behooves me to note that when conditions, facts and realities on the ground change, we’re obliged to change with them.

Ask me a year ago what I thought about masks, and I’d likely to have shrugged and described them as comical. Now I’m not laughing.

Let’s be clear about these mask mandates.

They are an unqualified good.

The available evidence has long since convinced all but the most strident of dogma-driven refuseniks that we are in the midst of a coronavirus public health emergency. Sorry, Ayn Randians; the coronavirus itself has proven to be notoriously indifferent to the philosophy of objectivism.

Reputable scientific opinion existing outside our partisan propaganda silos is consistent and persuasive; COVID-19 is not the customary seasonal flu, and we’ve thoroughly botched our response to it.

The pandemic is not “going away” on its own, and if we can yet muster a coherent collective response, perhaps lives can be saved and post-COVID after-effects on personal health reduced.

Truth is truth. I needn’t have mentioned one of the worst novelists in recent American history to support the point.

Moreover, it serves no purpose to refer to the stock market, presidential elections, the purported expertise of rogue orthodontists who have found a link between Chinese viruses and the Trilateral Commission, or the way that social media renders both libtards and fascists into evil incarnate depending on the way the light bounces from mirrors none of us seem interested in using any longer.

As for the bizarre and almost purely American-derived “issue” of face masks, I support their use. Block, mute and unfriend to your heart’s content. I’m satisfied with the testimony of trained medical authorities possessing long years of experience. Masks strike me as helpful and courteous in a time of pandemic. You and I can work together to keep a percentage of spray particles to ourselves. It’s not a panacea; nothing is. It helps, and that’s good.

Early on, as the merits of masks in spaces where social distance is harder to achieve became increasingly obvious, I noticed how few of the denizens of downtown New Albany were wearing them. Among them were many folks who in one way or another are “official,” or somehow consider themselves among the societal vanguard in some dimension – indie biz advocates, city employees and retail personnel, as examples.

It’s gotten gradually better since.

However, what I thought to myself at the time is that being part of any solution, great or small, implies the acceptance of holding yourself to whatever standards you’re touting. The old-school terminology is being a “role model,” and being a role model means bad actors need not apply.

If I go for a walk in the neighborhood when no one else is out, or am inside my own car, those are low-intensity examples. I’ll have my mask with me, just in case it is needed. But when I’m downtown, where many more people are out and about; if my employer’s admirable sense of professionalism and conscience precluded him from reopening his pub until he could make it as safe an experience as humanly possible, then it’s incumbent on me to wear the mask.

You know, being a positive role model.

That’s been easy, because wearing a mask isn’t political unless you’ve no better way to squander misspent brain cells. It’s about courtesy and public health in an uncommon period. A mask doesn’t violate my manhood or cause me to grow wool and go “baaahh.” I don’t have a finely waxed Rollie Fingers handlebar mustache to display in the hope of causing the fairer sex to swoon. Masks are fine with me, for no other reason than a way of pitching in.

It’s true that various economic theorists of the Narcissism as Economic Dishevelment have proven wonderfully capable of deconstructing the concept of “community” completely and putting it out of existence, and yet when I look outside, that’s what I see. A community. I don’t accept the foolishness of the selfish. I trust my own two eyes, and I believe in being a good actor as opposed to a soul-sapping malignancy with skeletons in the closet.

Maybe you had a different sort of upbringing, and if so, my sincerest condolences.

Holcomb’s and Harris’ mask directives surely pleased the ever-calculating grandees of the Floyd County Democratic Party. If the three-percenter anti-mask jihadists run amok, Democrats can blame the Republicans. If tantrum-prone adult snowflakes suddenly get the memo and decide to mask up, the Democrats can point to their toothless city council resolution and claim to have gotten there first.

Come what may, we should try not to forget that since the pandemic shutdown was launched on March 16, municipal Democrats have controlled all levers of local governance. They have a city council majority and hold the mayor’s office. Their appointees populate every board that matters and others that don’t. Seldom before has so much power been held by so few at the apex of the pyramid.

If they have no intention whatever of using this power, would they mind if I borrowed it for the weekend?

There are literally dozens of proactive measures Democrats might have implemented these past five months to address the pandemic, but apart from an early and short-lived meal subsidy for displaced restaurant workers, signage for curbside parking and city anchor sticker logos slapped crookedly on canisters of hand sanitizer produced at Starlight Distillery, very little has been said or done except for irregular social media requests for the citizenry to be nice and behave itself.

In noting these facts, I’m foregoing polemics. No, really — I am. Go to the News and Tribune web site, perform a few simple searches, and see so for yourself. Here in New Albany, agoraphobia and detachment remain the political orders of the day, both in sickness and health.

You’re advised to believe me when I say that this time around, because of the way a pandemic fundamentally changes the nature of the playing field, I thought maybe for once … just once … local Democrats would rally the cadres and rise to the occasion.

I thought wrong, and it’s very depressing. Lucy pulled back the football. The crickets have chirped. The sound of pins dropping is like thunder, and somewhere, a lonely mutt bays at the indignity of it all.

What’s more, timidity gains the party nothing.

Come November, Donald Trump will yet again win the city, almost surely by at least a 15% margin, probably more, illustrating that quite a few theoretical “Democrats” who voted for the incumbent mayor in 2019 will (again) opt for an abominable failure of a president in 2020.

How do they sleep at night, these “democrats”? It’s been eight years; still, hope springs eternal. I cling to that most faint of pulses, the one suggesting that there’ll come a time when they actually remember what it means to be democratic.

While we’re on the topic of institutional memory, did you know that National Cognitive Dissonance Day is the oldest public holiday in the United States?

It has been running 24/7/365 since July 4, 1776 (or thereabouts), when the clever rhetorical hocus pocus contrived by wealthy slave owners and wealthy rum trade merchants working together to pontificate about human rights in theory, while acting to enshrine property rights in reality, made lasting hypocrites out of us all.

By the way, is fireworks season over yet?

Recent columns:

July 16: ON THE AVENUES: Daniil Kharms, Marina Malich, and writing for the drawer about nothing … pre-Seinfeld.

July 9: ON THE AVENUES: Mask up, folks. Pints&union is coming back, and we’re taking precautions.

July 5: ON THE AVENUES took a week off. Here’s what I’ve been writing while on holiday.

June 25: ON THE AVENUES: I’m invisible, so will you stop insisting you see me?