Gabriel Roberts

Truth is Beauty

Category: Writing (page 1 of 2)

I am aligned with the Left when I defend the COVID-19 strategy in my native Sweden. But here in the United States, when I defend very similar strategies implemented by the Republican governors of South Dakota and Florida, I am perceived as being aligned with the Right. It is a little weird. Among my infectious disease colleagues that favor an age-targeted strategy rather than lockdowns, most are left-wing progressives, while most of my Twitter followers are on the Right.

As a public health scientist, it is my duty to fight for public health independently of partisan politics. I hope that people from across the political divide can come together to end a lockdown that is so damaging to public health, and instead advocate for age-targeted counter measures that properly protect high-risk individuals. After all, we live in this world together, sharing both its beauties and its viruses.

Katherine Yih is a biologist and epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School where she specializes in infectious disease epidemiology, immunization, and post-licensure vaccine safety surveillance. Yih is also a founding member of the New World Agriculture and Ecology Group, a former and current member of Science for the People, and a long-time activist in farm labor and anti-imperialist struggles.

Read the full interview with Professor Yih and Martin Kulldorff here: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2020/09/covid-19-pandemic-economy-us-response-inequality

An Open Letter from Belgian Medical Doctors and Health Professionals

This pretty well sums it all up. An excellent letter detailing why the cure for COVID-19 has become far worse than the problem itself.  Read it below or click over here to read with access to all of the citations.

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We, Belgian doctors and health professionals, wish to express our serious concern about the evolution of the situation in the recent months surrounding the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We call on politicians to be independently and critically informed in the decision-making process and in the compulsory implementation of corona-measures. We ask for an open debate, where all experts are represented without any form of censorship. After the initial panic surrounding covid-19, the objective facts now show a completely different picture – there is no medical justification for any emergency policy anymore.

The current crisis management has become totally disproportionate and causes more damage than it does any good.

We call for an end to all measures and ask for an immediate restoration of our normal democratic governance and legal structures and of all our civil liberties.

‘A cure must not be worse than the problem’ is a thesis that is more relevant than ever in the current situation. We note, however, that the collateral damage now being caused to the population will have a greater impact in the short and long term on all sections of the population than the number of people now being safeguarded from corona.

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More Thoughts on the Coronavirus Pandemic: Why I’m Still Not On Board

I’m still struggling to adapt to the “new normal” out here in Vermont.  We’re well past the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s becoming more apparent that our society and community have  been fundamentally changed.  I’m trying to remember that there are both good and bad changes that will come out of this, and that much is still to be determined.  Also, to be grateful for my friends and family and community, and for people’s amazing ability to carry on and find a way to get things done no matter what.

I’m not really sure where we’re at in the fight.  I stopped reading the news a while ago, in an effort to focus more on my life and the things that I can actually change or do.  My impression is that we’re stuck in limbo.  At first we had a cause: “Flatten the Curve!”.  Now that hospitals are virtually empty, I’m not so sure what our motto is.  “Make it Last!”, “Try Not to Touch Anybody”, or “Social Distancing 4 Life!” come to mind.  On the other hand, I think lots of people are just plain tired of the whole thing:  “I’m over it!” might be more fitting.  I can’t quite get to this state, because even out here in Vermont, where we surely would’ve had absolutely no idea that there was a pandemic were it not for the news, things have changed.  I’m not happy about the changes.  I don’t like the feeling that the goalposts are being moved on us, seemingly to maintain a perpetual state of fear and social distancing.

I recently had a conversation with my good friend Gabe, who’s working hard out in Scotland to support refugees through the pandemic.  He’s upset at all the people who are questioning public health authorities right now, believing that the way forward is through a unified response, and not through everybody forming their own opinions about what’s going on or how best to deal with the pandemic. He didn’t come out and say it—bless him—but I can tell that he thinks my questions and doubts are a part of the problem.  While I haven’t broken protocol, thrown secret parties, or tried to get super close to people, I’m definitely still not “on board” with this virus.  Why not?  Am I just being contrary?  Is this like in middle school when I made fun of Jack Johnson’s music just because it was popular?
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Chasing Rabbits

The first time I chased a bunny was a half-hearted, stooping, grasping reach for Fern, our new doe.  I wanted to hold her and pet her soft fur, but she kept hopping away from me.  I followed her around the porch for a while until I finally gave up and settled for sitting down and watching her munch on an apple.  Lately, chases have gotten more serious.  I have cuts on my hands, bruises on my feet, and a significantly deforested cedar hedge.  We have fourteen baby bunnies from two litters, and one little white bunny that has escaped the enclosure on three separate occasions—and so far only been recaptured twice.

Our rabbits live in an absolutely beautiful enclosure along the cedar hedge that borders our little parcel here in Craftsbury.  They have a raised wire cage full of delicious hay, as many pellets as they can eat, and fresh water.  The cage is roofed with steel, complete with overhangs, drip edge, and fascia boards.  It is by far the nicest bunny house I have ever seen.  The house sits inside a generous fenced enclosure, with grass to munch on and places to play in the stacks of hay underneath the house.  Our doe, Fern, has free range of the place—she goes up and down the ramp, along the catwalk (or bunnywalk), up on top of the cage into the loft area, and up to the gate whenever we enter to see what sort of treat we brought.  The buck, Bruce, unfortunately has to remain caged.  His relentless sex drive necessitates separation from Fern.  He seems to have accepted his lot and embraced a Zen lifestyle: he sits impassively, meditatively chewing or dozing.  Fern visits often, lying beside him or touching noses.  She likes knowing that her guy is there.

Fern has produced three lovely litters of “kits”.  The first, a surprise, was discovered in early Spring in Vermont (read: Winter), when Fern and Bruce lived on our porch.  She made a nest in a bale of hay, and while we were away on vacation, our house-sitter accidentally let Bruce out of his hutch for a few minutes.  That’s all it took.  There were seven babies—three albinos just like Bruce, and four brown just like Fern.  We constructed an outdoor enclosure one weekend, eager to get the growing, pooping, peeing herd of rabbits off our porch and out of doors.  Once their new home was ready, we got to practice our first serious rabbit-catching.

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Love this from an article titled “Why Utah now has first ‘free range’ parenting law”

She said she first realised there was a disconnect between what parents want and what they actually do when she was brought on a popular US morning programme to discuss a viral blog post about allowing her nine-year-old son ride the subway alone.

The staff of the programme all remembered having similar freedoms as children, but confessed they wouldn’t allow their own children to do the same.

“We’re being hypocrites because we’re coming to the erroneous conclusion that any time a child is unsupervised they’re automatically in danger and it’s not true,” she says.

So what’s changed? “Parents’ perception of how dangerous the world is has changed over the years,” says Dr Gail Saltz, a professor of psychology at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Parental anxiety, Saltz says, is inflamed by a global, always-on news cycle, as well as increased connectivity on social media platforms, which recycles “over and over again” kidnappings, rape and other threatening incidents.

While violent crime has dropped sharply in the US in the past 25 years, Americans generally perceive crime rates are continuing to climb, according to a recent survey by Pew Research Center.

Saltz also says present-day parenting is less communal than it used to be and has turned into a “competitive sport” for many. This results in parents’ tendency to “helicopter” their children more often, Saltz says, to appear as though they’re “winning” against their peers.

Elon Musk Biography by Ashlee Vance is Absurd Nonsense

Do you think I’m insane?  So begins Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk.  Before I begin criticizing this stack of papers, I must ask you the same question: do you, dear reader, think I, Gabriel Roberts, am insane?

I want things to make sense, and I’m bothered when they don’t.  For example, if somebody proclaims to hate garlic, and then, right before my eyes, eats a bowl of raw garlic, I would think to myself “that doesn’t make sense”.  I would wonder why this individual claimed to hate garlic, and I would probably ask for an explanation: “I thought you hated garlic”, I might say.

Does this make me insane?  Lately, my desire for things to make sense has not only felt crazy, it has been tried.  Oh, how it has been tried!  In movies, characters do things completely out of character just to bring about some desired outcome (like a nice burst of sex or violence or conflict).  TV shows seem even more shoddily-constructed, with music, effects, and snappy editing taking the place of actual story-telling.  Advertisements make me feel like a crazy person: “random” humor has become so popular that ad men actually strive for the incongruous and non-sensical.  Worst of all, Wikipedia—seemingly the #1 source of information in the world—boasts articles that appear to be written by idiots, children, or robots.

We eat it up.  We smile and repeat the nonsense we see on TV because it was on TV and all the bright lights were shining and it was said by a really famous person.  We trust NPR and Wikipedia because we’re told that they are to be trusted.  There’s no such thing as right or wrong, sense or nonsense.  If you think something is wrong, you’re insensitive or uneducated.  If you think something doesn’t make sense, you’re a conspiracy theorist.

I’m about to point out a whole lot of things that don’t make sense.  These are things written down in a non-fiction book by a person who calls himself a “reporter” with “journalistic integrity”.  I read them and allowed my brain to function and found them to be complete nonsense.  Before you label me insane, here’s your chance to read the same things and allow your very own super-developed mass of brain tissue to function, and ask yourself the following oft-forgotten question: “does this make sense?”.

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Coffee Concerns and Chemical Baths

For the second time in my life, I’ve given up trying to take days off from drinking coffee.  I’m drinking it every day and enjoying it.  The battle line is now drawn at one cup per day.  Instead of struggling to get through the morning hours of my designated non-coffee days with a cup of watery tea (it was never a question of feeling groggy or needing caffeine, more one of forgoing the delicious robust flavor and pleasant ritual of coffee), I now struggle to resist the urge to go buy a second cup of coffee on my morning break—especially when it’s 15 degrees outside, and I’m working, for God’s sake, earning money and therefore “deserving” a cup of coffee.

Headaches and light-headedness will set in if I push my consumption further!  This is what I tell myself, but the whole idea of worrying myself over a couple cups of coffee is rather absurd, as my wife points out.  Plenty of folks drink way more coffee and are perfectly fine.  I have three concerns, though, that rattle in my brain every day: leakage, body odor, and loss of taste.

The leakage is real, and I wonder if all coffee drinkers suffer from this.  Just a little bit after going pee, unless I take an extra five minutes to stand frozen over the toilet (or frozen patch of ice) into which I’m peeing, waiting for that last little bit to make its way down and out.  I’m almost 100% convinced this is coffee-related, but is perfectly dry underwear really worth two or three days without coffee?

My friend Stu once said that he thinks coffee gives him body odor.  Stu is a very handsome man, and I always considered him successful and balanced and happy, and admired him as such, and was greatly relieved when I heard that he drinks coffee every day.  It could be lots of other things, of course, but when I find myself smelling the day after having taken a shower and vigorously scrubbed my armpits, I search for something to blame and coffee is the natural choice.

Lastly, I worry about losing my tasting ability.  My wife once told me that she did a tasting exercise in college, and that daily coffee drinkers had a harder time tasting bitterness, thanks to the regular blasting of their palettes with bitter coffee.  This has stuck in my mind, and with every sip that I eagerly take onto the tip of my tongue, I worry that I’m destroying those sensitive buds and am walking the road towards becoming an old man who pours salt on all his meals except breakfast cereal, onto which he pours sugar (this was my grandpa in his later years).

The irony of all this concern is that I regularly spend hours each day bathing in toxic fumes from paints, primers, and lacquers, or swimming in clouds of fiberglass dust.  While I make more of an effort than I once did to pause and gear up properly, I still am frequently exposed to the worst chemicals of modern building materials.  Like yesterday, when I spent five hours painting the interior of a small municipal building the color grey, using first a primer and then a paint that wiggled like cold bone broth, and came home to my wife who immediately exclaimed that I smelled like chemicals.  Twelve hours later, after changing clothes and eating meals and exercising and drinking water and brushing teeth (twice) and sleeping, there’s still a slight taste of chemical in my mouth.  And here I am agonizing over six ounces of coffee.

Driving up to the Land

We met upstairs at the old apartment building-turned-art-gallery where we rented office space. It had high ceilings and wood trim around all the doorways, with etched-glass windows above each door, creaky wood floors throughout, and a piano in the grand front room that overlooked the town’s main drag below.

Chris was playing piano when Ryan arrived and we waited for him to finish his song, or to finish his need to play some piano. He played “It’s All Understood” by Jack Johnson and the big chords echoed throughout the hall. Ryan and I sat across from each other on a couch and chair in the sitting room, smiling about Chris on the piano and rolling a spliff. The girls were occupied together with something and so it was suddenly just us three guys and we were going up to the land. I was somewhat anxious to leave, as the night was getting on, but made an effort to quiet myself and wait and after a few more trips through the chord progression Chris was done and standing tall and ready to go.

I drove the Subaru out of town and put some music on, and on the short ride down the highway we lit up the spliff and then I turned off onto the dirt road that climbed up to the land. We hadn’t been up in a few days, and not together in a long time. We said something about the girls and laughed and the Subaru climbed and I tried to avoid the rocks in the road. It was quite muddy, and when we got to the steepest stretch I didn’t give it enough gas to get up, and feeling the car start to slip, I put it in reverse to back down the hill to stop on the flat spot. I was stressed about the car and especially the mud, having smelled the engine always after making the drive up, and, despite having owned the car for two years and driven it across the country, unsure about the little car and how it was doing. All the way back down the hill I stopped the car and Chris opened his door and got out and yelled “Holy shit Gabe!!”, and Ryan got out of the back seat and exclaimed “OH HO!! MAN!!” and I yelled “What?!?” and Chris said “You almost backed off the edge!”. “Your back wheel is hanging over the edge!” said Ryan. My heart was pounding and I pressed the brake as far to the floor as it would go and pulled the handbrake as Ryan and Chris walked around and laughed. “Yeah your whole back right wheel is off the edge!” said Chris, and they both laughed.

I wanted to get out and Chris told me to put the car in gear and I dumbly said “what gear?” and he said “any gear, so that we don’t roll off the cliff”, and reached inside from the passenger window and pushed the stick into first. I said something about the smell coming from the engine, convinced in my spliff-blasted brain that there was something terribly wrong with the car, and I popped the hood and Chris peered inside and I slowly got out of the car and walked around to see the wheel hanging over the edge of the road and the darkness below of the drop we’d nearly taken.

“Oh God” I said, and walked around to the front, feeling sick and already swearing that I’d never again drive stoned, and Chris determined that everything looked okay under the hood and Ryan put down the hood prop rod and was fumbling looking for its seat in front of the engine, and I could see he was struggling with it but after being in charge of driving and getting us nearly killed, I’d lost all assertiveness and numbly stood and watched until he asked “could you come help me with this?”, and then walked up and put the prop in its half-broken little plastic clip and closed the hood. Chris offered to drive and I immediately agreed and asked “how confident are you that you can drive the car out of this?”, and he said “about 99%”, and got in and Ryan and I came around back and got purchase as best we could over the edge of the road, our chests up by the back bumper, and Chris revved the engine higher than I’d ever heard it go, and we pushed on the bumper and then Chris dropped the clutch and the Subaru jumped forward and scooted away up the road. Ryan and I climbed over the edge back to the road and walked up as Chris stopped the car and then gradually reversed back to us. We decided to leave the car there at the base of the hill and Ryan and I walked back a bit to find a good spot to park and we walked from there, carrying a few snacks and sweaters up the muddy hill and onward in the night all the way up to the land.

They were both in good spirits but I still felt sick inside and thought about how I almost got us all killed and I said “I’m sorry guys” and they said don’t worry about it and Chris said “hey at least you stopped when you did!”. We walked three-across up the hill and they made more jokes and already the whole thing was something funny that had happened to the three of us. It was never something that I had done: it was something that happened and we were all in it together. When we reached the big blue and yellow bus we said hi to the little meowing black cat and bedded down straight away and slept through the night, and in the morning we walked back down the hill in the mist, Chris wearing an old wool jacket that he had once loaned to Ryan but who never wore it. The jacket later passed to me and I still have it today.

Happy 2017

It’s 2017 and here we are. Obliged to take the next step into tomorrow, and make some resolutions! Who’s got ‘em?!?!? The number one resolution of 2017, as it turns out, is “To Be A Better Person”, which barely beat out “losing weight”, I think. Or going to the gym.

That’s a step forward! That, that; that, my friends, is worth celebrating.

I gave many hugs to strangers tonight and wished them a Happy 2017. I’ve never experienced the fullness of celebrating the new year like I did tonight. Dudes, mostly, but some chicks too. Everybody was FEELING IT. Seriously, bro. Feeling it. Convinced that 2017 will be the best year yet, partially because they say it can’t be as bad as 2016. But secretly they know that 2016 was pretty great in it’s own right.

I’m feeling it. Big stuff, yo. “Big Stuff”, as Larry David said it, gesturing to the engine of the Toyota Camry he was trying to sell. He had no idea what was under the hood…

In Search of Painting

I want to see paintings made unselfconsciously. Paintings painted by artists who had some ideal of perfection for which they strived, and who were not considering politics or ideology. There was Michelangelo and Rembrandt, then Van Gogh and Matisse and Derain. But what then? What about now? Who is painting seriously today?

Most of what I see is flat, dark, vulgar, and vapid. It has no content in and of itself: it requires the accompanying essay for appreciation. It explores politics in some vague and abstract manner. It touches on soundbyte themes like feminism or culture or man’s destruction of nature, but does nothing for these causes besides allusions: what does referencing feminism do for feminism? And what does a painting referencing feminism do for me on my wall, besides give me a script for the 30-second conversation I can have with my houseguest who wants to admire my new piece of art? Of what use are these pictures?

Great paintings have intrinsic value. They are magic. They hang on a wall and in exchange for your attention they provide spiritual manna: they feed your soul. Looking at a great painting is a positive, enriching, and worthwhile experience. Your mind can take a rest from interpretation. You look at a great painting for the same reason you smell a flower: you are drawn to it, it captivates you, offers itself to you and unfolds over time.

While some still paint flowers, landscapes, and figures, this is no longer considered valid as true art, and as such very few true artists can be found here. There are hobbyists happily depicting pretty flowers and sunsets, selling their paintings for $250, satisfying themselves when they get that nice little bit of yellow in the center of the flower, or the blue shadow of the tree or a particularly juicy stroke of paint, and especially when they apply their signature in the bottom corner. These pictures are equally shallow as the conceptual or political nonsense mentioned above: you and your houseguest can have a 30-second conversation about flowers or birds or San Francisco. You will never really look at this picture, because after the first glance it is dead: it has offered up all that it has, and from now on is nothing more than an object on your wall. There is no magic.

The artist today, if she pursues education, will be taught to deconstruct all ideas of art, to follow the endless downward spirals of her panicked mind, searching for something new, something dark and twisted and convoluted, and will only be allowed to stop and be patted on the back when she has created something thoroughly confusing or completely empty. Only then will she be allowed to teach at the college level.

Alternately, he may decide to forgo education and instead paint what he likes to paint. Unfortunately, he will be forced to get a job and in a few years will stop painting entirely, or he will be forced to make something marketable and become a whore to the whims of a tasteless society that will only respect the paintings they cannot understand and cannot afford, and will only purchase paintings of their backyard or their pet or a rooster, because they collect rooster things.

The painter with good intentions, who is not interested in expressing political views through art, finds no one to push her towards greatness. Nobody will tell her honestly what they think about her work. The critics and professors won’t even look at her paintings, and everybody else will say “great job” and “good for you” no matter how good or bad her work. She will paint the same thing for thirty years, in the same style, and die having done nothing for art, nothing for her patrons, and nothing for her own huge and infinite soul.

The serious painter walks a lonely road. He is mocked by great museums hung with complete nonsense auctioned at absurd prices, or patronized by cramped gift shops that will hang his paintings on over-full and poorly-lit walls behind cases of jewelry and glass figurines.

This morning, in search of painting, I do a web search for “painting blog”, and get as the top result the blog of New American Painting, and accompanied by a painting of a strange green landscape, the following “review” (please feel free to skip ahead):

There is constant irregular conflict behind the eyes—flash! electronic fusillades jumping viciously into the breach! burning, burning chemical warfare! psychological warfare, of the most personal and literal kind!—whether the brutal bedfellows Mercury and Mars, tussling for dominance and fucking to fuck you, or the constant recce and rendering benign of the dangerous and volatile thoughts accrued from the moment one awakes and slips into Society, or the punching of mirrors, or the delicate handling of nitroglycerin emotions, or the silencing of vicious tongues, or the bolstering of saintly patience, or the valiantly held redoubt, behind which happiness flies beautifully, vulnerably, the tattered and torn through—victim of a thousand missiles, from a thousand enemies, from a thousand directions—standard which, if all goes to plan (hah!) serves as both signal and spur … but few battles of the brain are more foundational, and therefore more potentially devastating, than the Soviet Spy style, low and slow, inevitable conflict between reminiscence and reality, the fungibility of memory a rose-colored radiation, seeping into every sulci, every incident, a terribly malleable foundation—Memory!—for us to build ourselves upon, leaving us all Houses on the Sand

What?

So perhaps I must write more about painting on my own blog. I can post images of my work and talk about my process. I can post images of paintings I love and talk about why I love them. If you have an artist or a painting that you would like to discuss, please contact me at gaberobertsart@gmail.com. I cannot promise any amount or frequency of content, only honesty and dedication to the magic of great painting.

I’ll leave you with a wonderful painting by Andre Derain:

derain-lestaque

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