Brighton Beach Wrap

It's not Park Slope, or the Upper West Side

Harvest moon (well, one day shy thereof) over Brighton Beach


Before I get to the weekly wrap, a little anecdote about today.

I spent this afternoon in Brighton Beach, first at the beach, followed by dinner at a Russian restaurant on the boardwalk. It was a delightful time all around and I am now feeling quite bloated.

But apropos of that dinner, I also find myself thinking about this news story that is getting a lot of play right now:

A trio of Texas women beat up a hostess at an Upper West Side restaurant after she asked for their COVID-19 vaccination cards, police said Friday.

The violence broke out around 4:50 p.m. Thursday when the women asked to be seated inside Carmine’s on Broadway near W. 91st St. The hostess asked for their vaccine cards — a form of proof required under New York City’s latest vaccine mandate — and the women freaked out, officials said.

The enraged tourists pounded the 24-year-old restaurant hostess like a piece of veal, and ripped off her necklace, cops said. She was treated at the scene but was not badly hurt.

“She’s extremely shook up,” Carmine’s owner Jeffrey Bank said of the victim on Friday. “It’s inexcusable, ridiculous.”

The tourists — Kaeita Nkeenge Rankin, 44, and Tyonnie Keshay Rankin, 21, both from Humble, along with Sally Rechelle Lewis, 49, of Houston — were given desk appearance tickets for assault, and released.

Kaeita Nkeenge Rankin said she and her party were not the aggressors.

“I’m 100% innocent,” she told the Daily News. “I’m going to talk to my lawyer and see what he allows me to say. But I can tell you it’s not true.”

The city started enforcing a vaccine mandate this week requiring people to prove they’ve been jabbed in order to participate in a number of indoor activities in the five boroughs. That includes eating at restaurants, drinking in bars, working out, going bowling and catching a movie or show.

As I understand it, the details of the incident are being disputed on a variety of axes. According one account, the women were vaccinated, had documentation, and were seated; the fracas broke out over something their hostess said when the women got up to leave before being served (because the men who had planned on joining them did not have documentation of their vaccination). I have no idea what the facts are, and I don’t really care; there was clearly an assault, and there’s no excuse for that, regardless of the details. These kinds of stories are catnip for people who like to turn local news stories into culture war fodder, but I’m not one of those people. That’s not what interests me.

Here’s what does. The incident above took place in a tourist-oriented establishment: Carmine’s, an Italian red sauce chain eatery. Those are the kinds of places that are going to be most assiduous about following the rules, because they know they are being watched. I had dinner outside tonight, and if you eat outside you don’t need to show evidence of vaccination. But I feel pretty confident that regardless of the stated rules and regulations, restaurants in Brighton Beach will not be checking the vaccine status of anyone dining indoors. Vaccine rates are relatively low in that predominantly Russian community, and the businesses there depend mostly on local customers rather than tourism, so I doubt there is sufficient local grassroots support from either owners or customers for actually enforcing a vaccine requirement. Indeed, I suspect if a business did start enforcing it rigorously, that business could start alienating its customers in a serious way.

Of course, it’s possible that the city will get sufficiently serious about enforcing the rule with escalating fines that local businesses have no choice but to comply. I doubt that’s what will happen; rather, I expect enforcement to be concentrated in tourist areas. But suppose they do really crack down across the board. Then the question from a public health perspective becomes whether that will be enough to encourage large numbers of people to get vaccinated (or, alternatively, to stay home rather than gather in other venues beyond the reach of the law). There again, I’m doubtful; spite is a hugely powerful emotion, as we’ve learned, and if a large percentage of a community is resistant to an externally-imposed rule, that element of mutual support would likely bolster resistance.

For all these reasons, I’m skeptical of venue mandates (as opposed to employer mandates) as a public health measure. Rather, they are a pro-business regulation that could have real value in areas where vaccination rates are relatively high and Covid is taken relatively seriously. There, a venue vaccine mandate would allow all businesses to follow a uniform rule, and thereby assure patrons in those areas that they won’t encounter an unvaccinated person in a restaurant, which will make them more comfortable dining in. That’s certainly the dynamic I’m already observing in the theater world, where overwhelmingly the theater-goers I talk to are reassured by the fact of a vaccine mandate, and express reluctance to go back to the theater at all if they couldn’t know for sure that everyone indoors was vaccinated. I don’t think that venue mandates do much to fight Covid, in other words, but in key areas they might well improve consumer confidence, and thereby bolster the economy.

I expect the opposite to be true, though, in areas where vaccination rates and Covid concern are relatively low. So a mandate, which of course would have to be uniform, is bound to create cleavages between business owners in different communities, not only because of any preexisting views on vaccines or Covid, but on how it affects their bottom lines. That’s something to consider when thinking about the political costs of imposing and enforcing these kinds of rules.

This is why in my own writing on the subject, I’ve focused on employer mandates: because I think they’ll have far more efficacy as a public health measure than other vaccine requirements. Quitting a job requires a much higher level of spite than deciding not to eat out, and employers have lots of arguments for demanding vaccination (from “our insurance requires it” to “we can’t afford to have a bunch of people out sick at once” to “because I’m your boss and I said so”) that employees kind of have to respect. If the goal is just improving vaccination rates, that’s where I’d focus our attention.

And if the goal is something else—like reviving tourism—then I think it’s worth being honest about what the goal really is.

On Here

I didn't have a column this week at The Week, so the only stuff to wrap is stuff I wrote for this Substack. There were three posts this week:

  • The first was about three articles in the previous week’s issue of The New Yorker, one about conflicts within feminist circles over transgender issues and gender ideology; one about the effect of genes on personality and aptitude and how progressive liberals are or aren’t handling that subject; and one about the rural women of Afghanistan and why they wound up frequently turning to the Taliban despite their brutally misogynistic ideology, because so often the American-backed government and its local allies treated them even worse. In all three, I saw signs of a far greater willingness to grapple with the world as it is than liberal publications like The New Yorker usually get credit for.

  • The second was about General Mark Milley’s reported calls to his Chinese counterparts reassuring them that America remained stable (even after January 6th, 2021), and was not going to attack China. I suspect that more is being made of these calls than is really there (Milley’s civilian boss claims he was actually in the loop the whole time), but the mere fact that he would brag to Bob Woodward about being insubordinate is indicative of a much larger problem of the bad habits that the national security state got into in the Trump years, something President Biden needs to deal with if he actually wants to take charge of American foreign policy, as he indeed seems to do.

  • The third was a recap of old writing of mine relevant to Yom Kippur, which was this past Wednesday night and Thursday, and I was mortified to find out (from a commenter) that I unaccountably failed to include links to some of the very pieces I was discussing and excerpting. That has now been corrected. My own Yom Kippur this year was delightful. Fasting was relatively easy; I didn’t get headachy or sick, just a bit punchy and pleasantly delirious as the day went on, which is precisely the objective. As I discussed in my 9-11 anniversary post, last year we had no in-person services, so a bunch of us put together a backyard minyan, which was an incredibly special experience (and a real high just to have pulled off—it was a lot to learn, and a lot to sing!) But I ultimately want to be back with my community as a whole, which to a great extent we were this year—with much lower attendance than usual, but with, I believe, a more determined spirit than usual. (And I suspect that attendance would have been even lower had we not all been required to be vaccinated as well as masked—an example of what I’m talking about when I say that these rules can bolster confidence in communities where vaccination rates are high and Covid anxiety is widespread.)

The World Elsewhere

Some of you may remember my post from a while back about Jewish achievement and whether the reason for it matters. If you do, you know I don’t really think it does. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in learning more about Jewish origins, both genetically and culturally—on the contrary, I am fascinated by that kind of thing. If you are too, then you really must subscribe to Razib Khan’s Substack, “Unsupervised Learning,” so you can read his post on what genetic science can tell us about the origins and history of the Ashkenazi Jews.