Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Dutch Farmers' Protests: What is THAT all about? *

Did you know that Holland is the second largest food exporter in the world, second only to the United States? It is a country the size of Connecticut with 14 times more people per square mile. Imagine having to share your bedroom with 14 other people, that’s how densely populated Holland is.

There are many amazing things about this tiny country. It is home to some of the largest companies in the world, like Shell, Phillips and the ING Bank to name a few, and it is listed as one of ten countries with the highest quality of life in the world.

But the reason Holland has been in the news lately, has to do with a crisis the Dutch call the nitrogen crisis. In Dutch they call it the stikstof crisis. Literally ‘stikstof’ means ‘suffocating dust’, a much more appropriate description of what is going on with our environment. They call it a ‘suffocating dust’, not because it suffocates humans, but because it suffocates nature.

Air is primarily made up of nitrogen (79%), so you might wonder what’s wrong with a substance that we all breathe in, all day long? Well, when nitrogen mixes with other elements, it produces so-called reactive nitrogen compounds such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ammonia (NH3). Nitrogen oxides are released when fossil fuels are burned in traffic, industry and buildings. Ammonia emissions mainly come from agriculture when ammonia is released from both natural manure from livestock and fertilizer. Subsequently, nitrogen deposition occurs: the nitrogen compounds end up from the air in the soil and on the plants.

If you are a gardener, you might recognize this as the Ph balance of your soil. There is then a double impact. First, the nitrogen compounds act as fertilizer for some plants. They are usually the green, fast-growing species. These take over from the species that cannot tolerate nitrogen, which means plant species not only disappear, but in turn pose a threat to the animals that depend on them. Second, nitrogen deposits acidify the soil, something that certainly not all animals and plants can handle well.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Conflict Sociology Explains It

The latest mass shootings have resulted in a vehement discussion of the white supremacist domestic terrorism emerging in the US at this time. Experts are interviewed on all the channels, analyses are offered in countless articles, as to what motivates this upsurge of racist violence that is committed largely by young white men. 

Much blame is attributed to Donald Trump’s rhetoric. And it is true that this vile man is a facilitator for this emerging trend.

The ridiculous ease with which automatic firearms can be obtained in this country is rightly identified as an important factor, if not in the existence of white male rage, at least in the lethality of their rampages.

On the stupid side are all those who desperately focus on ANY issue in order to avoid talking about guns: Mental illness (as if the US had a monopoly on this), video games (don’t the Japanese have even more video games, and practically zero homicides?). You even hear that if we outlaw guns, we might as well outlaw fertilizer, as that can also be used to kill people.

But there is an obvious factor which I have not heard mentioned. One of Sociology’s major approaches is so-called Conflict Sociology. It provides what is, in my view, the most obvious explanation of the rise of what we can now begin to call neo-fascism in America: Read more...

Monday, September 30, 2019

To Strip or not to Strip: The Naked Truth about Nudity

An article in the New York Times about present day nudism, got me thinking about why it is that wearing clothes is such a natural part of our existence. Right now it is 90 degrees here in sweaty Boston, and as I am sitting here writing about being naked, my shirt is clinging to my body. Why? Why don’t I just type away naked? I am not a prude, I have nothing against naked bodies, including my own. Wearing clothes is just something I do, like breathing or eating.

It hasn‘t always been like that, you know. In many cultures throughout history, the norm was to go about naked. The Greeks, the Egyptians, they didn’t see the point of covering their bodies. Why create a fertile habitat for lice and other unpleasant parasites? Even some present day primitive tribes do not like covering themselves unnecessarily. Who can blame them? Aren’t clothes making life extra complicated?

If I could, I would travel back in time, step out of a time machine in 5th century BC Athens, go up to a local Greek Adonis and shake his hand, me fully dressed in jeans, t-shirt and sneakers. ‘Hi, my name is Madeleine, I am doing research on your dress code.’

My Adonis would be wearing nothing but a loin cloth, or maybe a toga fastened at one shoulder with a clasp. With a flick of his finger he would undo that clasp and the whole shebang would drop at his feet, exposing his Adonis body before I could say ‘booh’. Then he would cross his arms, look at me as if to say: ‘Now, your turn’.

I would have to unlace my sneakers, fumble with my fly and worm my way out of my skinny jeans, roll my T-shirt up my torso, pull it over my head, all the while trying not to look too much like a scarecrow, undo my bra, and take off my underpants. My Adonis would be standing there, tapping his foot, looking impatiently at the sundial, pick up his toga, sling it over his shoulder, clasp it with another flick of his finger and walk away, thinking ‘What a nut ball’. Read more...

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Happy Birthday, Ata

I wrote this short essay when my mother, Ata Kando, was still alive.
It is her birthday and even though she is no longer with me,
it is today of all days, that I miss her the most.

February, 2016

Soon, I will go to Holland for another visit to Ata, my soon to be 103 year old mother. If I am lucky, she will still be able to see my face, probably only the outlines, but her memories will fill in the blanks. She has had enough practice, taking pictures of her children in her long career as a photographer. Her most beautiful photographs are those of her three children. We were her surrogate models, since there was never any money for professionals.

Since I left Holland and the circle of photographers to which my mother belonged, I have always looked forward to my visits and the inevitable submersion into the world of photography. Bookshelves full of the most amazing photography books, boxes and boxes full of slides, negatives, contacts and prints. It felt like I was given the key to a candy store with no limits to how much I could gulp down. This is what I remember as the child of a photographer: a world of art that has shaped who I am. Ata was driven by a need to create and she used us, her children as the clay.

We spent our childhood vacations in southern Italy, wrapped in white sheets, pretending to be Greek Gods and Goddesses, frolicking amongst the Roman ruins of Paestum. While common sense families climbed the snowy mountains of Austria in heavy hiking boots and parka's, my sister and I had to wear flower crowns and skirts made of pine branches, impersonating nymphs of the Alpine forests. Where was justice, I asked myself, as I had to lay still on my brother's lap with an idyllic Bavarian scenery in the background, red ants crawling up my pants, only to be told that I would ruin a masterpiece if I dared move?

Ata had a simple fairy tale in mind, which later was published as 'Droom in het Woud' (Dream in the Forest), a dreamy and sometimes mystical story. They are brilliant, beautiful photographs and well worth the annoyance that they caused in my young life.

But back then it felt like I had to sit still a lot, smile a lot, jump off beach cliffs with cardboard cut-outs in the shape of wings taped to my ankles, because I was supposed to be Hermes, the messenger of the Greek Gods. Or balance an oversized clay urn on my head, because I was the perfect Athena. Read more...

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Midsommar and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

The Sixties were formative for me, as they were for anyone of college age at that time. I was heavily involved in the Peace and Civil Rights movements, I dug the music and the sex, not so much the drugs, and I examined some of the cult-like groups, as my doctoral major was social psychology.

The Counterculture was both for better and for worse. It was the last time that society had a true “prise de conscience” (Awareness experience). The contrast with today is vivid. The “normalcy” to which we have returned consists essentially of materialism and survival mode. We basically don’t want to be bothered (by stuff like the Muller Report or global issues).

The problem with the Sixties was that chaos is not a sustainable long-term state. It had to stop. On the other hand today’s “normal,” unsatisfying and cacophonous as it is, is likely to go on for a very long time.

Two movies which raise issues and remind us of that time period, are Midsommar and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The former is a horror film directed by Ari Aster. It takes place in Sweden. This movie surprised me. I had no prior idea of what it was about. I had read something vague about a “summer festival,” so I thought it might be about some Swedish version of “Burning Man,” or something like that.

 According to Rotten Tomatoes, the movie critics give it an 83% approval rating. One reviewer calls the movie “upsetting” (but worthy) (Minneapolis Star/Tribune), another one says that Aster is the next Kubrick, another one writes that the film is “superlative, disturbing horror,” another critic says that it’s “unsettling and truly terrifying,’ etc. So I am in good company. Read more...

My Monarch Caterpillar Adventure (Continued)

by Madeleine Kando

I resigned myself to the agony of waiting for 14 days before Julie and Max would emerge from their chrysalis.

A week passed, but on the morning of the 7th day, Julie disappeared, chrysalis and all. I suspected foul play, since the adult butterfly does not eat the empty chrysalis, and there was nothing hanging from the underside of the milkweed leaf.

You have no idea how long I spent scrutinizing every inch of the large plant. I was devastated. Max was still there, with golden droplets encircling the upper end of the cocoon, like a golden necklace. The breeze shook him gently back and forth, but he was strongly anchored by his two pro legs.

How naive had I been, thinking that by the time a caterpillar turns into a cocoon, predators wouldn’t be interested. A chrysalis looks so much like a hanging green leaf.

‘Ok. That’s it’, I thought. ‘This is too much for my blood pressure.’ I decided to take matters in my own hands and quickly set up a terrarium in my sunny living room. I know, its not kosher to interfere with nature, but by now Julie and Max had not only taken up a special spot in my garden, they had morphed into semi-pets. Wouldn’t you do anything to protect your cat from marauding predators?

Max, whether he liked it or not, was gently transported on the leaf and branch that he was attached to. I stuck the branch in a vase, filled it with water and covered the whole thing with mosquito netting. Just because he was now indoors, didn’t mean that some house spider wouldn’t try to turn him into lunch.

Another agonizing week went by. I read somewhere that moving is more stressful than divorce. Max wasn't married, so I wouldn't have blamed him if he had not survived. It was hard to tell what he was up to, being wrapped up like that. I was nervously looking for signs of discoloration, which would mean that some parasite got hold of the chrysalis. Read more...

Sunday, August 18, 2019

My Monarch Caterpillar Adventure

When I did the usual rounds of my vegetable garden this morning, I saw one of the stems of my milkweed plant covered with tiny yellow spots. They were moving. I know nothing about yellow moving spots, so I googled it and found out that they were aphids, known to damage milkweed plants. I cut off the stem and put the whole thing in a bowl of water. Aphids do not qualify for equal rights protection, in my book.

My milkweed plants are sacred territory. I planted them for the sole purpose of attracting monarch butterflies, which are fast disappearing. If you don't know this, monarchs can only live off of milkweed. The plant provides all the nourishment the monarch needs to transform the caterpillar into the adult butterfly.

Lo and an behold, I saw a magnificent yellow and black striped caterpillar on one of the leaves. And a few feet away, hidden under a leaf was another one. I named them Julie and Max. Maybe Julie is a boy and Max is a girl, but that’s ok. Now, every day, I check on them.

Yesterday Max disappeared. I checked the underside of leaves, the stems, the tops. No Max. Maybe a bird had taken him? Maybe he didn’t like his residence and had moved on, although I doubt he could have traveled far, even with all his legs.

Today, as I was watering my pepper plants, I saw Max lying curled up in a spiral on one of the leaves. He wasn’t moving, so I thought he must be dead. Just to be sure, I snipped the leaf and gently slid Max back on one of the milkweed leaves. Almost immediately his antennae wiggled, his head popped up and he began to crawl up and down, making constant U-turns. What was he doing? Did the fall cause brain-damage? Did he loose his sense of direction?

He then found a milk-weed pod and started to scrape off the skin until some milk came out which he started to drink. ‘Good old Max, you sure gave me a fright’, I thought.

Julie is no trouble at all. Since I discovered her, she hasn’t moved much from her original spot. She eats, sleeps and poops a lot. When one leaf is half eaten, she moves on to the next, then takes a nap. Maybe I am imagining it, but it looks like she is gaining weight. I read that a caterpillar’s skin doesn’t grow or stretch, so it has to go through 5 moultings before it turns into a chrysalis. Cannot wait for that to happen. Read more...