Credit: Bob Englehart/

TACO THERAPY:  This past Saturday, I was on State Street performing my civic duty. I was trying to jump-start the local economy. To be precise, I was on the 500 block of State Street, getting some designer tacos from an entrepreneurial young couple crazy enough to launch a new business in the teeth of the COVID storm. The tacos — I would find out later — were delicious. They took a while to prepare, and as I waited outside, a parade of about 100 COVID denialists marched their way up State Street. Many waved American flags. Some wore Santa hats. Others honked into honking devices. 

All but one wore no mask.

If 99 people marched up State Street wearing no pants, one can only wonder how the local gendarmes would have responded. What if it were 100 happy hooligans popping yule tide wheelies on their bikes? What if they, too, wore no pants?

Despite this open rebellion against the city’s mask ordinance — not to mention the actual public safety of city residents — these scofflaws suffered no molestation at the hands of the police. Being white and middle-aged still confers certain privileges. 

One of the marchers carried a sign proclaiming, “The Pandemic Is Over.”

Had I been eating my taco — reddish, by the way — I might have choked to death. Perhaps I would have gotten “blue in the face.” That expression, by the way, is rooted in what happened to victims of the great flu pandemic of 1918. They literally turned black and blue by the lack of oxygen caused by the flu. Suffocation by COVID, I am told, isn’t much prettier.


Even the gods of college football — accomplished denialists in their own right — felt compelled to cancel the Rose Bowl for the first time in 118 years, shifting the actual game to the great state of Texas. 

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California has transitioned from uranium to plutonium. As of this weekend, no fewer than two people were dying every hour in Los Angeles from the pandemic. California’s ICU bed capacity had shrunk to 2 percent. In Southern California — the region into which Santa Barbara has been fairly or unfairly lumped — that capacity had hit zero. In this context, Santa Barbara exists in a blessed bubble. Our capacity mercifully hovers between 30 and 40 percent.

Numbers, however, have a way of changing.

On Monday, we had 1,109 active cases in the county. On Halloween, we had 128. Right now, we have 102 people sick enough to require hospitalization and 21 in the ICU. Back then, the numbers were nine and two, respectively. That’s from Halloween to Thanksgiving. We can only imagine what Santa will bring. 

There is, of course, much good news, most obviously, the arrival of the vaccine. For frontline health-care workers especially, that’s immense. We are not told how many health-care workers are sick at any given time — or how many have been hospitalized — but the total numbers are suggestive. Since the pandemic first arrived, that number is 774 positives. As of Halloween, it was 514. 

The other good news is that Congress has finally passed a second stimulus package. The first one expired this summer. Since then, it’s been all talk and no action as leadership on both sides hunkered down from blame-game theatrics. Credit Congressmember Salud Carbajal for his involvement with the bipartisan caucus — the Problem Solvers — that helped break the log jam. Carbajal, it should be noted, had personal experience with COVID-19, having inadvertently contracted it from his next-door neighbor Mike Lee, a Republican congressmember from Utah who gallivanted about mask-free at a White House garden party celebrating the successful nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Lee, I presumed, got it from President Donald Trump one way or the other.

Collecting unemployment in the State of California has always been a nightmare, but never worse than now. The only people, it turns out, who can navigate the system are locked up behind bars. To date, they’ve managed to rip the state off for $2 billion. My favorite involved a Roseville woman — who was not incarcerated at the time but now faces 20 years in prison — who allegedly filed 100 false claims for emergency supplemental unemployment assistance, the tip-off being the $21,000 claim she filed under the name of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. One hundred forty-three false claims originated from guests at the Santa Barbara County Jail. None, tragically, were filed on behalf of Senator Feinstein.  

I don’t pretend to understand the anti-mask mindset. Not since the John Birch Society attacked the addition of fluoride to municipal city water supplies as a Communist-inspired government mind-control plot in the late 1950 and early 1960s have we seen anything akin to the anti-mask movement in terms of populism and paranoia. The Birchers also believed President Dwight Eisenhower was a witting, willful stooge of Kremlin puppet masters. That may sound crazy, but they were big here. Then the Santa Barbara News-Press chased them out of town.

The News-Press has become a horse of different color since billionaire libertarian Wendy McCaw purchased the paper about 20 years ago. This May, McCaw published an editorial denouncing the COVID-inspired restrictions ordered by County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg. “Our liberties are being stripped for what, a virus??” McCaw wrote. “If this country can be put into this situation by a virus, what would it take to completely turn us into the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany?” Long supermarket lines, she complained, qualified as the gateway drug for creeping totalitarianism. Editor Nick Masuda posted a disclaimer stating the views espoused by McCaw did not reflect those of the paper’s staff. He soon parted company from the News-Press

Despite holding such views, McCaw saw nothing inconsistent with applying for federal emergency loans designed to keep businesses afloat during the pandemic. She and her company — Ampersand Publishing — got $500,000. Nothing like half-a-million in the bank, I suppose, to make the totalitarianism go down. 

There are a lot of things I don’t understand. Not wearing a mask is not one of them.

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