Sunday, August 2, 2020

Super Hero or Wimp? The Staying Home Dilemma

Photo: Ed van der Elsken
By Madeleine Kando

Being on self-prescribed ‘lockdown’ since the pandemic began has not been very difficult for me. Why? In order of importance, I would rate my age, my life style, my expectations and my lack of social contacts.

My friend Jane, on the other hand is a social butterfly. She is only a few years younger than I, but I would qualify her as a ‘lockdown rebel’. When we first realized that there was this killer at our doorsteps, targeting the most vulnerable in the herd, Jane and I prepared ourselves for a Coronavirus long distance run. Time will tell if she is the hare and I the turtle, or vice versa.

While I am sitting at my desk, sweating profusely in the summer heat, reading New York Times articles that scare the bejesus out of me, Jane is running along the Charles River. She goes swimming across Spy Pond, flies to L.A. to see her sister and invites her many friends and neighbors over for social distancing dinners in her backyard.

I am sure Jane thinks I am a wuss. She keeps asking me over, but I always find an excuse so I won’t have to drive the 20 minutes to her house. Me, who in her younger years, hitchhiked across half of Europe, lived and worked in England, Holland and Spain, who most recently went deep sea diving in Belize and hiked in the jungle of Kauai where Jurassic Park was filmed. When did I turn into such a fraidy cat? Read more...

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

How to Win over an Anti-Masker



Why are some people so resistant to wearing face masks, even though there is ample scientific evidence that they prevent the Covid19 virus from spreading? It’s easy to say: ‘Well, they are misinformed. They are just plain stupid. They are selfish and not thinking of others.’ But covering your face to protect yourself from an enemy that you cannot see, smell, hear or feel is like trying to punch someone in the dark. Some of us have no problem following the recommendations of the medical experts, but to others, it seems pointless and not worth the inconvenience it creates.

The only ‘proof’ that this faceless, odorless, silent enemy exists at all, is the reported number of infected individuals and the many deaths, but even this horrible truth is not enough for some Americans.

These same Americans gladly don a gas mask when they see toxic fumes emanate from a chemical site. They don’t shout: “If God had wanted me to wear a gas mask, I would have been born with a gas mask.” They have no problem wearing a diving mask when they go deep sea diving in Belize (unless they are suicidal, of course). The welders among them do not invoke their ‘individual rights to choose’, when they are sent on a job, where highly concentrated ultraviolet and infrared rays would cost them their eyesight.

These same anti-maskers wear ski masks to prevent frost bite. Were they to visit Saudi Arabia, (which they never will, since it is Satan’s country) they would wear a Bedouin scarf to protect them from swallowing sand and coming back home the color of a cooked lobster. Their right to choose in those situations is as relevant as asking a starving person if they would rather eat now, or wait till next week.
To anti-maskers, the face mask has become the whipping boy of the Coronavirus, like the princes of yore, who had a whipping boy receive corporal punishment in their stead. They cannot tell the virus to take a hike so they refuse to wear a mask instead. Read more...

Thursday, July 9, 2020

America has become very Self-Destructive



A couple of weeks ago, I posted a piece, “America.” It was a pep talk to this country: I argued that throughout its history, whenever the US has faced daunting obstacles, it has ended up overcoming them - often spectacularly,- even if often slow on the uptake.

Most of you liked what I said, if for no other reason because it’s good to try to be positive once in while. Some of you did accuse me of being a brown-nose immigrant, one of those who slavishly embrace their adoptive country.

Actually, I am only high on America part of the time. The other half of the time, I am enraged by what this country is doing to itself. Today is one of those days:

EVERY country in the world is doing a better job warding off the Coronavirus than we are. We have become the epicenter of the pandemic. Covid-19 is becoming an American disease.

Both our absolute and relative infection rates are the highest in the world (apart from a few city states such as Bahrein and Qatar). Brazil, which not coincidentally is also ruled by a strongman, is a distant second. All other major countries have managed to beat back the virus - Italy, Spain, Britain, France and all the other European countries that were once in deep trouble. Read more...

Friday, July 3, 2020

Being Serious



One of the Black Lives Matter movement’s goal is to remove offensive statues and symbols that remind one of slavery and racism. Many (but not all) of these symbols are located in the old Southern Confederacy. For example, John Calhoun’s statue in one of Charleston’s major squares was recently taken down.

In San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, protesters just brought down the statue of Ulysses Grant, the country’s 18th president. He, of course, led the Union forces which defeated the South and ended slavery. However, he married into a slave-owning family. The San Francisco action also brought down the statues of Father Junipero Serra, the 18th century Spanish missionary and that of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star Spangled Banner. He owned slaves.

In Washington, D. C., New York, Raleigh N. C., New Jersey, Sacramento and elsewhere, offending statues, symbols and names were removed. Some of these represented confederate leaders; some were historical figures who had mistreated native Americans (E. G. John Sutter); some were US Presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

So far, so good. Some historical revisionism is in order. By all means, rename most places, monuments and institutions that bear the names of people like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. These men were traitors. Their statues are best kept and viewed in museums, as is done for instance in Berlin. There, Nazi paraphernalia can be viewed by museum visitors without offending holocaust survivors. I also laud removal of confederate flags from events such as NASCAR. I have always felt that the display of confederate flags is a bit as if Germans today were to wave swastikas. Read more...

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Tree Killers

By Madeleine Kando

My husband and I live in a quiet part of a suburban town in Massachusetts. Many moons ago, as two young immigrants from Northern Europe, we didn’t know where the wind would blow us. We could have ended up in Iowa or Texas, but we lucked out and settled in New England.

If there is one adjective to describe this part of the country, I would vote for the word ‘green’. The further up you go, traveling through New Hampshire or Vermont towards the Canadian border, you enter The Great North Woods, also known as the Northern Forest. It is spread across four northeastern states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York and collectively covers 26 million acres, about the size of Holland, Belgium and Denmark combined.

But here it is equally green. Our property is nothing special, a little piece of land, about an acre, including a very modest ranch house. But at this time of year, our yard is bursting with life. An amazing array of birds, gold finches, chickadees, bright red cardinals and noisy blue birds all flock to our bird feeders, patiently waiting their turn to feed.

Many little creatures share our property. Chipmunks race back and forth, their cheeks stuffed with treasures, grey squirrels chase each other for fun or love, jack rabbits munch on clover, their jaws working overtime, and we see the occasional fox or deer come by to pay us an early morning visit.

There are Norwegian maples, lilac trees and dogwoods growing out of the unusually tall grass, since we don’t believe in giving our lawn a crew cut. But what I cherish the most, are the majestic white pines that have lived here for much longer than any of us. New England is the opposite of the vast expanses of the prairies of the mid west. Here, trees are king and the king of kings is the white pine. Read more...

Saturday, June 20, 2020

America



The world is going through one crisis - the pandemic.

America is going through three: the pandemic, Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump.

I come across a lot of negativity about America’s response, both from a domestic and from an overseas perspective:

We are the pandemic’s epicenter. The number of American Covid-19 patients is approaching a staggering two and a half million, and it continues to increase by twenty to thirty thousand PER DAY. Meanwhile, most other major nations - in Europe, Asia, New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere - have turned the corner, their case numbers declining rapidly. All the same, the US is eagerly re-opening its economy and holding mass rallies, come what may. When I drive somewhere in the city, NOT ONE in twenty pedestrians I see in the streets wears a mask.

No wonder that some overseas observers are saying that “America has given up.” This was the title of a recent Atlantic article, as well as the words of the prime minister of New Zealand.

One thing I find little of, is any sort of compassion for this country. Read more...

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Is Tyranny Winning?



I recently read Timothy Snyder’s ‘On Tyranny’ (2016), a short but very rousing book. It made me realize, that I spent my entire life, which is quite long by now, under a system of government whose values I have always taken for granted. It is called Democracy.

But nothing about it should be taken for granted. Since Trump became our President, I realize how ‘unnatural’ this order really is. It is ‘unnatural’ in the sense that were it up to nature, things would be arranged quite differently.

Nature doesn’t give a fig about the ‘rule of law’, about ‘freedom’ or ‘equality’. You won’t see a gazelle stop dead in her tracks while fleeing from a cheetah and say: ‘Hey, stop right there! I have my rights too, you know!’ We made up those rules and those concepts because it made living together a lot safer, freer and ultimately more enjoyable.

I was born and fled a country that had a tyrannical regime. Hungary was part of the Communist block for almost 60 years and, even though I was a child when I left, there was enough talk in our family about the dangers of totalitarianism. I should have recognized what was happening in the US a lot sooner than I did. Besides, being a septuagenarian, I have had enough time to learn how to recognize rot when I see it. But I didn’t. Like many of us, I suffer from complacency and a sense of entitlement.

Snyder meant to write On Tyranny as a manifesto, a wakeup call for people like me, who are asleep while walking around. People who say things like ‘It will work out’, ‘It is just temporary’ and ‘This cannot happen here’. But there is nothing ‘exceptional’ about America. Even though the country was founded on democratic principles to fight tyranny, nothing prevents a tyrant from taking over that system. The only advantage America has, Snyder says in his Prologue, is that we can learn from Europe’s past mistakes. Read more...

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Social Change



My question, today, is: How is our world going to change in the near future, as a result of the unprecedented turbulence caused by the dual whammy of pandemic and social unrest?

Now is an excellent time to listen to sociologists. A major subdivision of Sociology is Social Change/Social Theory. The classical literature in this field includes Emile Durkheim, Norbert Elias, Michel Foucault, Thomas Kuhn, Karl Marx, Max Weber and many others. It would be interesting to discover what these people might say about current events.

The immediate trigger for the current global crisis is an inadvertent event - the Covid-19 pandemic. Then, on top of this, and on top of the consequent economic crisis, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis in a gruesome and graphic way captured on video and witnessed by the entire world.

In and of themselves, pandemics may not lead to massive social change. I am not familiar with what happened during and in the wake of the 1918 pandemic, or the 14th century Black Death, or other plagues. By most accounts, the 1918 pandemic was soon curiously forgotten.

Logically, one could expect such events to have profound consequences - good and/or bad. These consequences may be demographic, environmental, economic, political, social, psychological and cultural. Read more...

Monday, June 1, 2020

What is going to Happen?



First came Donald Trump. Then the Covid-19 pandemic, followed by economic collapse. Then George Floyd’s unspeakable murder, followed by mass demonstrations and civil unrest across the entire country (and even internationally).

The list of crises afflicting this country never stops. Are we cursed?

I have always felt that I am able to put major events in some sort of perspective, able to give them some meaning. But right now, I am unable to do this. My mind is buzzing with questions, but I have zero answers, zero predictions. The only thing which I do see is that America is facing mounting challenges.

Until George Floyd’s murder on May 25, this country was “only” facing the triple threat of the pandemic, economic collapse, and “Rightism.” This triad is discussed brilliantly by Abram de Swaan in the Dutch weekly De Groene (May 6, 2020). The author assesses the three major crises faced by the Western democracies at this time: The pandemic, the ensuing economic collapse, and the emergence of right-wing, authoritarian, populism in many countries. (See Abram de Swaan)

Then, a new crisis took over. The massive nationwide protest against police brutality and institutional racism - the “Black Lives Matter” movement - literally replaced the Covid-19 crisis. Since May 25, you can channel surf the news and look for the latest on the pandemic in vain, as MSNBC, CNN and the other media focus almost exclusively on the mass demonstrations. It is as if the pandemic were over. Very strange. Read more...

Monday, May 18, 2020

How Speaking Can Spread the Virus



When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the benefits of wearing face masks to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, he said that “they are helpful in that they protect others from you “breathing or speaking moistly on them.”

The word ‘moistly’ caused a universal uproar. Comedians had a field day as usual, but Trudeau was actually giving an appropriate and descriptive name to one of the major avenues of infection, which is our own speech.

One of the reasons COVID-19 spreads so quickly is that it is transmitted from people who are asymptomatic. But if they don’t sneeze or cough on you, how are they actually infecting you?

Research is now showing that coughing and sneezing are small potatoes compared to the amount of aerosols people emit while they speak. Coughing and sneezing are like brief but potent rain showers, whereas speaking is a day long drizzle, with smaller drop sizes that can penetrate deeper into the lungs of the unfortunate recipient. They also remain airborne longer, since they are smaller.

It is not just speaking that releases more particles than coughing or sneezing. A person who decides to declare their love by bursting into a serenade, is actually emitting 6 times more airborne droplets than if they were merely reciting a poem.

If things weren’t bad enough, it turns out that people with loud voices emit an inordinate amount of particles. Not only are they a danger to your ear drums but they actually are equivalent to the fire breathers of yore.

Although the louder you speak the more particles you emit, the study also found that certain units of speech generate more aerosols than others. For example, the "E" sound in "need" produces more particles than the "A" in "saw." Read more...