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.
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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...

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Science Fiction Becomes Rality




It finally happened. Armageddon has arrived. For over a century, we have been treated to various forms of science fiction. A large portion of this genre’s books and movies has always been apocalyptic - presenting one scenario or another about the end of the world, or at least the end of humanity.

I grew up devouring the works of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip Dick, Robert Heinlein, H.G. Wells and many others.

Wells’ The War of the Worlds came out as a radio adaptation in 1938 and as a classic film in 1953. Other classics that mesmerized me as a child include The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Television added a flood of Science Fiction, including Star Trek (the original series, 1965-1969, still my favorite, followed by multiple subsequent “generations”).

Meanwhile, by the end of the 20th century, Hollywood was inundating the market with mega productions of questionable quality - such films as Independence Day (1996), Mars Attacks (1996), Armageddon (1998), Deep Impact (1998) and many others.

Even I tried my hand at the genre: (See my Humanity’s Future: The Next 25,000 Years). At least, my book is not apocalyptic. It goes more along the optimistic prognoses found in many episodes of Star Trek - predicting humanity’s progress rather than downfall.
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