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Brownstone Institute

Focused Protection: Jay Bhattacharya, Sunetra Gupta, and Martin Kulldorff


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From the Brownstone Institute


If you express any misgivings about the Covid policies, people are quick to retort: OK, so what’s your solution? How do you propose we should have handled the pandemic instead? Three experts came up with an answer, which they put into writing and co-signed in the Massachusetts town of Great Barrington on October 4, 2020.

[This is an excerpt from the author’s new book Blindsight Is 2020, published by Brownstone.]

Nobody could fault their credentials. A public health expert focusing on infectious diseases and vulnerable populations, Stanford University professor Jay Bhattacharya doubles as a health economist. Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiology professor at Oxford University, specializes in immunology, vaccine development, and mathematical modeling of infectious diseases. Martin Kulldorff, a biostatistician and epidemiologist, ended an 18-year run as a Harvard University professor in 2021.

The strategy they proposed in the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) flowed from a unique feature of the coronavirus: its unusually sharp and well-defined risk gradient. By the end of summer 2020, studies were confirming what the staff in every hospital already knew: “The risk [of dying of Covid] climbs steeply as the years accrue.” The CDC published an infographic that put this sharp gradient into relief: if you contracted the virus at age 75-84, your risk of dying from it was 3,520 times higher than if you caught it at age 5-17. Chronic conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes also bumped up the risk, though not nearly as much as age.

So here we had a virus that posed a significant risk to some people and a very small risk to others. At the same time we had lockdown policies that, for all their egalitarian pretensions, divided people rather neatly along class lines. To the professional couple with a chef’s kitchen and a subscription to four streaming services, lockdowns represented a chance to reconnect and revel in life’s simple pleasures, like home-baked olive bread and Humphrey Bogart movies. To the newly landed foreign student, dizzy with loneliness under his basement ceiling, not so much. Essential workers, for their part, were expected to bear the risks deflected by the laptop class.

This confluence of circumstances made it impossible not to consider the question: Might we give low-risk groups back their freedom while protecting more vulnerable people? That’s exactly what the GBD proposed. I’ve reproduced it here in abbreviated form:

Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.

We know that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity and that this can be assisted by (but is not dependent upon) a vaccine. Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity. 

The most compassionate approach is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals. 

Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.

Outside the context of Covid, there was nothing radical about the proposal. It aligned with pre-Covid pandemic guidance from such organizations as the WHO and CDC, which advised against blanket restrictions and put a premium on minimizing social disruption. It also capped off a growing unrest throughout the summer of 2020, when groups of experts in several countries began calling for a less aggressive approach to Covid—from Balanced Response in Canada to New Zealand’s Covid Plan B—and exhorting their governments to restore a more normal life for the lower-risk majority. The GBD emerged as the culmination of these rumblings, the anti-lockdown appeal that finally got the world’s attention. Quiet academics on the eve of its launch, Bhattacharya, Gupta and Kulldorff now had the global spotlight on their faces.

When the trio posted the document online, they invited supporters to co-sign it. The signature count grew very quickly for a few days—I know, because I watched the changing digits—and then screeched to a halt. The backlash began just four days after the GBD came out, when Francis Collins, then-director of the National Institutes of Health, called it the work of “three fringe epidemiologists” in an email to Fauci and other high-ranking colleagues. Evidently concerned about the media buzz surrounding the Declaration, he requested a “quick and devastating take down [sic] of its premises.”

Collins got his wish when an article by Yale University epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves appeared in The Nation that same day. We’re not going to follow “some notion of the survival of the young and the fittest,” Gonsalves wrote—a rather elastic interpretation of “protect the vulnerable.” A few days later, the Lancet published a GBD rebuttal statement known as the John Snow Memorandum. Fauci himself described the GBD as “nonsense” and “dangerous.”

With Fauci’s blessing to bash the GBD, media pundits and online warriors happily obliged. Outrage flared up in print and on social media: Murderers! Covid deniers! They don’t care about the vulnerable! (Never mind that the whole strategy revolved around shielding the vulnerable.) “I started getting calls from reporters asking me why I wanted to ‘let the virus rip,’ when I had proposed nothing of the sort. I was the target of racist attacks and death threats,” Bhattacharya recalls. Rumors that the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) was using the GBD trio to advance a libertarian agenda began to circulate. In fact, “AIER was kind enough to provide the venue for the meeting that led to the Great Barrington Declaration, but played no role in designing its content.”

Jeffrey Tucker, AIER’s senior editor at the time (and founder of the Brownstone Institute), explained to me that the group was “hoping to catalyze a discussion around the Covid policies. We had no idea where it would go or how big it would become.” 

The term “herd immunity” acquired dark undertones, with everyone forgetting that respiratory pandemics have ended with herd immunity throughout history. The misreading of the term as a callous and individualistic concept continues to puzzle Gupta, who notes that “herd immunity is actually a deeply communitarian idea” because broad societal immunity “is what ends up protecting the vulnerable.”

Suddenly personae non gratae, the GBD partners sought vainly to defend themselves to an audience that had already blocked its ears. Gupta, a life-long progressive, was relegated to publishing her thoughts in conservative news outlets. “I would not, it is fair to say, normally align myself with the Daily Mail,” she admitted in an article she wrote for the newspaper shortly after the GBD came out, adding that she was “utterly unprepared for the onslaught of insults, personal criticism, intimidation and threats that met our proposal.”

I had the opportunity to chat with all three members of the GBD team on separate group video calls. For the record, I cannot imagine a more sincere and gracious trio—the types of people my late mother would have called mensches. Had their critics spent an hour with them over nachos and craft beer, I’m confident the smear campaign against them would have fizzled right out.

Sometimes, a single word can make everything fall into place. The word “unpoetic,” which Gupta used to describe the Covid response, had this effect on me. It was the word I had been searching for all along, the key to what the stay-home-save-lives people were missing. It’s probably no coincidence that Gupta wears a second hat as an award-winning novelist, giving her mind a respite from the biomedical world view.

“It’s a crisis of pathos,” she said when I asked her to elaborate. “It’s a one-dimensional response to a multidimensional crisis. I call it an unpoetic response because it misses the soul of life, the things that give life meaning.”

If Gupta found the pandemic response lacking in poetry, she also decried its esthetics. Sitting at a restaurant table, breaking bread with your unmasked friends while the masked server grinds fresh pepper over your linguini…the “unbearable feudal aspect of it” offended her egalitarian sensibilities. “It echoes the caste system, [with] all sorts of rules about who can receive a drink of water from whom—all these completely illogical and highly unesthetic rules that are there to demolish the dignity of individuals.”

That same word, feudal, underpins Tucker’s analysis of the Covid restaurant closures. In one of his numerous essays, he notes that “the tavern, the coffee house, and the restaurant had a huge role in spreading the idea of universal rights.” The restaurant closures represented “a return to a pre-modern age in which only the elites enjoyed access to the finer things”—what Tucker calls a “new feudalism.”

As the pandemic progressed, Gupta continued to delight me with her insights—like the notion of shared responsibility for viral transmission. “It is fruitless to trace the source of infection to a single event,” she reflects in The Telegraph. “In our normal lives, many die of infectious disease but we collectively absorb the guilt of infecting them. We could not function as a society otherwise.”

Such a lovely way of putting it: we collectively absorb the guilt. Nobody has to worry about “killing grandma” because nobody is killing grandma. A pathogen enters our world and we divide its psychic weight among us, the burden made lighter for being shared. (It goes without saying that deliberately infecting someone falls into a different category, though I have yet to hear of anyone who seeks to do that.) But Covid culture “concentrated the blame that should have been dispersed within the community upon an individual,” Gupta says. And for individuals like Gupta, who spoke out publicly against a strategy sold to (and bought by) the public as necessary, the blaming and shaming culture knew no pity.

I had some idea of what Gupta and her GBD collaborators were going through, having received my share of invective when discussing Covid policies online: Go lick a pole and catch the virus. Have fun choking on your own fluids in the ICU. Name three loved ones you’re ready to sacrifice to Covid—do it now, coward. Enjoy your sociopathy.

None of these missives came from anyone who knew me personally, but after receiving enough of them I started to wonder if the shamers knew something I didn’t.

“What if the lockdown lovers are right?” I asked Dr. Zoom on one occasion. “What if I am a sociopath?”

“You’re not a sociopath.”

“How do you know?”

“A sociopath wouldn’t ask the question—plus sociopaths don’t introspect and you do nothing but introspect. You’re the queen of introspection.”

“Why do you think I do that? Is it a defense mechanism or something?

“See? You’re doing it again.”

I wrote an article about my experience with Covid shamers, which prompted people from all over the world to email their own stories to me. Many of them had it a lot worse than I did, their heterodox views having cost them jobs and friendships (and in one case, a marriage). Kulldorff tweeted a link to the article with an accompanying assertion that “shaming never is, never was, and never will be part of good public health practice.”

Also: it doesn’t work. Calling someone a troglodyte for opposing a mask mandate does not bring about a change of heart. It just invites resistance—or drives people underground, as Harvard epidemiologist Julia Marcus points out: “Shaming and blaming people is not the best way to get them to change their behavior and actually can be counterproductive because it makes people want to hide their behavior.”

Amid all the shouting and shaming, some public health experts asked reasonable questions about how the GBD architects proposed to shield the vulnerable from a virus allowed to spread freely in society. Bhattacharya, Gupta and Kulldorff had answers to that, but the time for a fair hearing had come and gone. The window of opportunity to explore a focused protection strategy, pried open for a week or two by the Declaration, slammed shut again. It wasn’t long before Facebook censored mentions of the document.

This was not a healthy state of affairs. As Harry Truman remarked in 1950, “once agovernment is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures.” Likewise, the dismissal of the GBD as a “dangerous idea” would not have impressed Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who wrote that “the essential character of a political community is both revealed and defined by how it responds to the challenge of threatening ideas” and that “fear of serious injury alone cannot justify oppression of free speech.” Is it just me, or were decision makers smarter back then?

With neither a Truman nor a Brandeis to defend them, the GBD creators no longer stood a chance in the public arena. Bhattacharya and Gupta turned their attention to Collateral Global, a UK charity devoted to documenting the harms of the lockdown policies, and Kulldorff joined the Brownstone Institute as a senior scholar. Which doesn’t mean they forgot about what happened. In August 2022, Bhattacharya and Kulldorff, along with two other doctors, joined the State of Missouri’s lawsuit against the federal government for quashing debate about Covid policies. In the court document, which begins with George Washington’s warnings against censorship, the plaintiffs accuse the US government of “open collusion with social-media companies to suppress disfavored speakers, viewpoints, and content.” With any luck, the case will rattle some closet doors.

In the early months of the pandemic, scientists concerned about lockdowns feared “coming out” in public. The GBD partners took one for the B team and did the dirty work. They paid a heavy price for it, including the loss of some personal friendships, but they held their ground. In print, on air, and on social media, Bhattacharya continues to describe lockdowns as “the single worst public health mistake in the last 100 years,” with catastrophic health and psychological harms that will play out for a generation.

It’s no longer unfashionable to agree with them. A National Post article written by four prominent Canadian doctors in late 2022 maintains that the “draconian Covid measures were a mistake.” A retrospective analysis in The Guardian suggests that, instead of going full bore on the lockdown strategy, we “should have put far more effort into protecting the vulnerable.” Even the sober Nature admits that lockdowns “exacerbate inequalities that already exist in society. Those already living in poverty and insecurity are hit hardest”—exactly the key takeaway from the Australian Fault Lines report released in October 2022.

Kulldorff captures this sea change in one of his tweets: “In 2020 I was a lonely voice in the Twitter wilderness, opposing lockdowns with a few scattered friends. [Now] I am preaching to the choir; a choir with a wonderful, beautiful voice.” The landscape has also become more hospitable for Bhattacharya, who in September 2022 received Loyola Marymount University’s Doshi Bridgebuilder Award, awarded annually to individuals or organizations dedicated to fostering understanding between cultures and disciplines.

Perhaps the concept of focused protection simply arrived too early for a frightened public to metabolize it. But the idea never died down completely, and after the paroxysms of moral indignation ran their course, it slowly grew a second skin. By September 2022, the tally of GBD co-signatories had surpassed 932,000, with over 60,000 of them from doctors and medical/public health experts. Not bad for a dangerous document by a trio of fringe epidemiologists. And would it be churlish to point out that the John Snow Memorandum maxed out at around 7,000 expert signatures?1

The GBD didn’t get every detail right, of course. Nobody could have anticipated, back in the fall of 2020, all the surprises the virus had in store for us. While reasonable at the time, the Declaration’s confidence in herd immunity proved overambitious. We now know that neither infection nor vaccination provides durable immunity against Covid, leaving people vulnerable to second (and fifth) infections. And for all their effect on disease severity, the vaccines don’t stop transmission, pushing herd immunity still further from reach.

Be that as it may, the GBD creators wrote a crucial chapter in the pandemic story. They planted seeds of doubt in a locked-in narrative. After all the insults were thrown, the seeds took root in our collective consciousness and may well have shaped policy indirectly. And as research continues to document the dubious benefits and profound harms of the maximum-suppression strategy, yesterday’s shamers and mockers are inching back toward the question: Could we have done it another way? Might focused protection have worked just as well, or better, and with considerably less damage?


  • Gabrielle Bauer

    Gabrielle Bauer is a Toronto health and medical writer who has won six national awards for her magazine journalism. She has written three books: Tokyo, My Everest, co-winner of the Canada-Japan Book Prize, Waltzing The Tango, finalist in the Edna Staebler creative nonfiction award, and most recently, the pandemic book BLINDSIGHT IS 2020, published by the Brownstone Institute in 2023

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Brownstone Institute

The Fraying of the Liberal International Order

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From the Brownstone Institute


International politics is the struggle for the dominant normative architecture of world order based on the interplay of power, economic weight and ideas for imagining, designing and constructing the good international society. For several years now many analysts have commented on the looming demise of the liberal international order established at the end of the Second World War under US leadership.

Over the last several decades, wealth and power have been shifting inexorably from the West to the East and has produced a rebalancing of the world order. As the centre of gravity of world affairs shifted to the Asia-Pacific with China’s dramatic climb up the ladder of great power status, many uncomfortable questions were raised about the capacity and willingness of Western powers to adapt to a Sinocentric order.

For the first time in centuries, it seemed, the global hegemon would not be Western, would not be a free market economy, would not be liberal democratic, and would not be part of the Anglosphere.

More recently, the Asia-Pacific conceptual framework has been reformulated into the Indo-Pacific as the Indian elephant finally joined the dance. Since 2014 and then again especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February last year, the question of European security, political and economic architecture has reemerged as a frontline topic of discussion.

The return of the Russia question as a geopolitical priority has also been accompanied by the crumbling of almost all the main pillars of the global arms control complex of treaties, agreements, understandings and practices that had underpinned stability and brought predictability to major power relations in the nuclear age.

The AUKUS security pact linking Australia, the UK, and the US in a new security alliance, with the planned development of AUKUS-class nuclear-powered attack submarines, is both a reflection of changed geopolitical realities and, some argue, itself a threat to the global nonproliferation regime and a stimulus to fresh tensions in relations with China. British Prime Minister (PM) Rishi Sunak said at the announcement of the submarines deal in San Diego on March 13 that the growing security challenges confronting the world—“Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, China’s growing assertiveness, the destabilising behaviour of Iran and North Korea”—“threaten to create a world codefined by danger, disorder and division.”

For his part, President Xi Jinping accused the US of leading Western countries to engage in an “all-around containment, encirclement and suppression of China.”

The Australian government described the AUKUS submarine project as “the single biggest investment in our defence capability in our history” that “represents a transformational moment for our nation.” However, it could yet be sunk by six minefields lurking underwater: China’s countermeasures, the time lag between the alleged imminence of the threat and the acquisition of the capability, the costs, the complexities of operating two different classes of submarines, the technological obsolescence of submarines that rely on undersea concealment, and domestic politics in the US and Australia.

Regional and global governance institutions can never be quarantined from the underlying structure of international geopolitical and economic orders. Nor have they proven themselves to be fully fit for the purpose of managing pressing global challenges and crises like wars, and potentially existential threats from nuclear weapons, climate-related disasters and pandemics.

To no one’s surprise, the rising and revisionist powers wish to redesign the international governance institutions to inject their own interests, governing philosophies, and preferences. They also wish to relocate the control mechanisms from the major Western capitals to some of their own capitals. China’s role in the Iran–Saudi rapprochement might be a harbinger of things to come.

The ”Rest” Look for Their Place in the Emerging New Order

The developments out there in “the real world,” testifying to an inflection point in history, pose profound challenges to institutions to rethink their agenda of research and policy advocacy over the coming decades.

On 22–23 May, the Toda Peace Institute convened a brainstorming retreat at its Tokyo office with more than a dozen high-level international participants. One of the key themes was the changing global power structure and normative architecture and the resulting implications for world order, the Indo-Pacific and the three US regional allies Australia, Japan, and South Korea. The two background factors that dominated the conversation, not surprisingly, were China–US relations and the Ukraine war.

The Ukraine war has shown the sharp limits of Russia as a military power. Both Russia and the US badly underestimated Ukraine’s determination and ability to resist (“I need ammunition, not a ride,” President Volodymyr Zelensky famously said when offered safe evacuation by the Americans early in the war), absorb the initial shock, and then reorganise to launch counter-offensives to regain lost territory. Russia is finished as a military threat in Europe. No Russian leader, including President Vladimir Putin, will think again for a very long time indeed of attacking an allied nation in Europe.

That said, the war has also demonstrated the stark reality of the limits to US global influence in organising a coalition of countries willing to censure and sanction Russia. If anything, the US-led West finds itself more disconnected from the concerns and priorities of the rest of the world than at any other time since 1945. A study published in October from Cambridge University’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy provides details on the extent to which the West has become isolated from opinion in the rest of the world on perceptions of China and Russia. This was broadly replicated in a February 2023 study from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

The global South in particular has been vocal in saying firstly that Europe’s problems are no longer automatically the world’s problems, and secondly that while they condemn Russia’s aggression, they also sympathise quite heavily with the Russian complaint about NATO provocations in expanding to Russia’s borders. In the ECFR report, Timothy Garton-Ash, Ivan Krastev, and Mark Leonard cautioned Western decision-makers to recognise that “in an increasingly divided post-Western world,” emerging powers “will act on their own terms and resist being caught in a battle between America and China.”

US global leadership is hobbled also by rampant domestic dysfunctionality. A bitterly divided and fractured America lacks the necessary common purpose and principle, and the requisite national pride and strategic direction to execute a robust foreign policy. Much of the world is bemused too that a great power could once again present a choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump for president.

The war has solidified NATO unity but also highlighted internal European divisions and European dependence on the US military for its security.

The big strategic victor is China. Russia has become more dependent on it and the two have formed an effective axis to resist US hegemony. China’s meteoric rise continues apace. Having climbed past Germany last year, China has just overtaken Japan as the world’s top car exporter, 1.07 to 0.95 million vehicles. Its diplomatic footprint has also been seen in the honest brokerage of a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia and in promotion of a peace plan for Ukraine.

Even more tellingly, according to data published by the UK-based economic research firm Acorn Macro Consulting in April, the BRICS grouping of emerging market economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) now accounts for a larger share of the world’s economic output in PPP dollars than the G7 group of industrialised countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, USA). Their respective shares of global output have fallen and risen between 1982 and 2022 from 50.4 percent and 10.7 percent, to 30.7 percent and 31.5 percent. No wonder another dozen countries are eager to join the BRICS, prompting Alec Russell to proclaim recently in The Financial Times: “This is the hour of the global south.”

The Ukraine war might also mark India’s long overdue arrival on the global stage as a consequential power. For all the criticisms of fence-sitting levelled at India since the start of the war, this has arguably been the most successful exercise of an independent foreign policy on a major global crisis in decades by India. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar even neatly turned the fence-sitting criticism on its head by retorting a year ago that “I am sitting on my ground” and feeling quite comfortable there. His dexterity in explaining India’s policy firmly and unapologetically but without stridency and criticism of other countries has drawn widespread praise, even from Chinese netizens.

On his return after the G7 summit in Hiroshima, the South Pacific and Australia, PM Narendra Modi commented on 25 May: “Today, the world wants to know what India is thinking.” In his 100th birthday interview with The Economist, Henry Kissinger said he is “very enthusiastic” about US close relations with India. He paid tribute to its pragmatism, basing foreign policy on non-permanent alliances built around issues rather than tying up the country in big multilateral alliances. He singled out Jaishankar as the current political leader who “is quite close to my views.”

In a complementary interview with The Wall Street Journal, Kissinger also foresees, without necessarily recommending such a course of action, Japan acquiring its own nuclear weapons in 3-5 years.

In a blog published on 18 May, Michael Klare argues that the emerging order is likely to be a G3 world with the US, China, and India as the three major nodes, based on attributes of population, economic weight and military power (with India heading into being a major military force to be reckoned with, even if not quite there yet). He is more optimistic about India than I am but still, it’s an interesting comment on the way the global winds are blowing. Few pressing world problems can be solved today without the active cooperation of all three.

The changed balance of forces between China and the US also affects the three Pacific allies, namely Australia, Japan, and South Korea. If any of them starts with a presumption of permanent hostility with China, then of course it will fall into the security dilemma trap. That assumption will drive all its policies on every issue in contention, and will provoke and deepen the very hostility it is meant to be opposing.

Rather than seeking world domination by overthrowing the present order, says Rohan Mukherjee in Foreign Affairs, China follows a three-pronged strategy. It works with institutions it considers both fair and open (UN Security Council, WTO, G20) and tries to reform others that are partly fair and open (IMF, World Bank), having derived many benefits from both these groups. But it is challenging a third group which, it believes, are closed and unfair: the human rights regime.

In the process, China has come to the conclusion that being a great power like the US means never having to say you’re sorry for hypocrisy in world affairs: entrenching your privileges in a club like the UN Security Council that can be used to regulate the conduct of all others.

Instead of self-fulfilling hostility, former Australian foreign secretary Peter Varghese recommends a China policy of constrainment-cum-engagement. Washington may have set itself the goal of maintaining global primacy and denying Indo-Pacific primacy to China, but this will only provoke a sullen and resentful Beijing into efforts to snatch regional primacy from the US. The challenge is not to thwart but to manage China’s rise—from which many other countries have gained enormous benefits, with China becoming their biggest trading partner—by imagining and constructing a regional balance in which US leadership is crucial to a strategic counterpoint.

In his words, “The US will inevitably be at the centre of such an arrangement, but that does not mean that US primacy must sit at its fulcrum.” Wise words that should be heeded most of all in Washington but will likely be ignored.


  • Ramesh Thakur

    Ramesh Thakur, a Brownstone Institute Senior Scholar, is a former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, and emeritus professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.

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Brownstone Institute

My Official Apology to the New York Post

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From the Brownstone Institute


There is an art to meaningful apologies. A sweet spot. Wait too long and they become pointless.

Ideally, they should also be accompanied with some kind of atonement as well.

I, along with many New Yorkers, have been waiting for apologies that don’t appear to be coming. But as I’ve been waiting in the interminable void, it’s occurred to me that I might owe some apologies myself. So here goes

An Apology

Years ago, I used to sneer at anyone who read the NY Post. At the café where I worked, I took quiet pleasure in tossing it in the trash whenever someone left it behind on a crumb-covered seat. Had I ever read it? No. But I knew I wasn’t the type of person to read the NY Post, and I was proud of that fact.

Then, a few years back, things started to look a little different to me. They started to look wrong, like a wool hat in summer, or a mask on a baby’s face. I started to detect lies and impossibilities coming out of the mouths of important people. “Gradually, then suddenly,” as the Hemingway quote goes, I saw things in a different light.

I could almost stomach the politicians lying, but when friends began repeating the lies it became too much to bear. Truth seemed to hover just outside of them, leaving them infuriatingly untouched.

It was a little after this time, my awakening of sorts, that I myself became an outcast.

I hadn’t set out to become an outcast. I’d reached middle age an average upstanding citizen, fairly respectful of authority. I was a mother who made her children take piano lessons for god’s sake!

But one morning, late in the summer of 2021, I woke up to find I no longer had civil rights. And things took a turn. I still marvel at how it all unfolded:

Early 2021, I thought I’d survived the worst of covid. I’d made it through a year of hysteria that I presumed would surely fade, maybe even some bashful apologies would follow, like after a long drunken night gone too far.

By then, the miracle vaccine had finally arrived and any American who wanted it could have it. But it so happened that I didn’t want it. I’d already gotten covid during lockdown, while selling essentials like coffee and toilet paper from the café I now owned, a café limping along on government funds.

An experimental vaccine for a virus I’d already had just wasn’t that appealing to me; why would it be? The decision, quite honestly, made itself. Who knew it would land me in the middle of a nightmare.

I recall the incremental announcements from our mayor at the time, a tall goofy man people likened to Big Bird. The first announcement came on the morning of August 16th, 2021;

My kind was no longer allowed to sit down and eat in cafés, he said, though we were allowed to take something in a paper bag to go.

My kind was no longer allowed to enter cultural buildings, he said; art and history were for the good citizens.

We were no longer allowed the privilege of working, or a college education.

We weren’t allowed to enter our child’s school or to serve the people we served when the vaccine was just a twinkle in Fauci’s eye. And society agreed. The “unvaccinated” deserved it. Damn them.

My anger simmered. It turned to rage. All I asked for was common sense. Every day that New York City hummed, I burned. Didn’t they see us withering with loss of hope and loss in general?

Didn’t they know there were a million of us who said no thanks? A million who didn’t have civil rights. A million who were right, as it turned out, about everything.

It seemed they did not, or if they did, they didn’t care.

And just when I was about to give up on humanity, out of the haze of covid hysteria came some of the clearest voices to be found in, of all places, the NY Post.

But of course!

I should’ve recognized Alexander Hamilton’s handsome face on the ten-dollar bill as a sign, right there next to the scrolled “We the People.” A Founding Father, Hamilton had worked to abolish the slave trade in New York City. I’d forgotten he founded the NY Post too!

While other mainstream news still wilted with ruminations on the invisible threat of long covid, or the latest Fauci whim, the NY Post blazed a trail with its demands for a return to common sense and decency.

There in print it called for an end to all mandates – if baseball players and celebrities didn’t need them why did the working class?

In chorus its editorial board called for a reckoning by way of a covid truth-and-reconciliation commission – Amen!

And long before anyone else, it dared to publish the opinions of some of the bravest academics and scientists of our time, the co-authors of the Great Barrington DeclarationDr. Martin Kulldorff and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya.

So, I’m sorry, NY Post. I judged you by your cover. By your red and black barking headlines. But I was wrong. And for anyone else out there who feels they might owe someone an apology, let me tell you it feels good to settle a debt. I highly recommend it.


  • Yasmina Palumbo

    Yasmina Palumbo is a NYC public-school parent, advocate for civil rights and pandemic response accountability, and co-editor of Restore Childhood Substack

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