The Casual Blog

Tag: covid-19

Getting through the pandemic, no thanks to Trump

Sunflowers at Odom Farm in Goldsboro, NC

After several months of trying to avoid Covid-19 virus by minimizing human contact, I’m not quite myself, and I suspect that’s true of many others.  I’m not a particularly social person, but it turns out I’m more social than I thought.  I miss those little human contacts, even the ones that were never going anywhere, like the friendly smile of a stranger that will always be a stranger.  

I’ve gotten to be a big believer in masks to slow the spread of the virus, but they are not fun.  I don’t so much mind the personal discomfort, but I do mind not seeing the faces of others.  We communicate a lot with our uncovered faces, and lose a lot when they’re covered.  Perhaps we’ll eventually develop new capacities to distinguish people and their emotions from just their eyes, the way sightless people can do with sound.  For the time being, it seems like we’re going blind with regard to other faces.   

We’re now in uncharted psychological territory.  I’m guessing that there’s more anxiety and depression across the land.  There have been reports of more domestic violence and suicide.  Though staying home may reduce anxieties for some, and even lead to new inner pathways.  

In any case, it looks like we’re going to be here for a while.  Whatever our current anxieties or anxiety solutions, they will likely be changing as time goes on, because that’s how things work — they change.  I’d like to think they could only get better, but I see no good reason to be confident of that.  Though they might.

It would be unfair to blame Trump and Trumpism for the pandemic.  But it seems completely fair to note that T&T have made a bad situation a lot worse.  By minimizing the seriousness of the health threat and discouraging sensible and practical responses, Trump and those who enable him have been responsible for many deaths, with more to come.

Most everyone now knows that Trump is thoroughly incompetent, unqualified not only to be president, but for even the most minor position of responsibility.  No reasonable person would engage him to water their houseplants, because he would almost certainly let them die.  Then he would blame their death on the family dog.

Most of us recognize that when we have a big problem, we need a smart expert to help.  But not Trump.  This week he and his minions conducted a mudslinging campaign against the leading expert on the pandemic in his administration, Dr. Anthony Fauci.  Dr. F is the rarest of birds in Trumpland:  a person who is qualified for his position and tells the truth.  So why did the Trumpists try to discredit him?  Dr. F declined to follow the T line of pretending the pandemic was a minor matter and well under control, and instead acknowledged the likelihood that it wasn’t just about to go away.  

Trump’s ordinary playbook for dealing with a crisis involves various combinations of pretending there is no crisis, blaming someone else for it, and creating some other crisis to distract from the first one.  He’s tried all of those with the pandemic, with predictable results (that is, persuading only those Fox News viewers who will believe anything).  So of course, he blames Dr. Fauci.  

As Trump’s poll numbers keep going down, he keeps trying his old playbook, including fear mongering directed against minorities, foreigners, and liberals.  But I noted a new element this week.  The Times reported that “tensions with China are rising,” with “some” thinking that a new cold war may be developing.

I wondered, who is feeling those tensions and doing this thinking?  I’ll speak for myself:  not I.  I’m feeling no such tension.  I do not feel directly threatened by China, and don’t observe any threats to my neighbors.  

If I lived in Hong Kong or India, of course, it would be quite another matter. China has a brutal authoritarian government that has expansionist ambitions, so it behooves us to watch it closely and oppose it non-violently.   But I’ve seen no evidence that China wishes to have a war with us.  

Although I am not tense about China itself, I am somewhat tense because of the possibility that the Trumpists may think a conflict with China would be beneficial to the president, for the same reason that racism and xenophobia are beneficial:  they distract from other problems.  

The pandemic has demonstrated anew that Trump views the only point of his presidency as getting reelected.  That is, he doesn’t think he has a duty to protect the public, the troops, or anyone, other than himself.  He’s prepared to let vast numbers of people die from Covid-19 if it helps his reelection chances.  So, although it would be disastrous, it would not be out of character for him to try to get reelected by staging a wag-the-dog war with China or someone else.

But I’m hopeful that if he starts down that path, the top generals and other officials will take their Constitutional oath seriously and decline to follow unlawful orders.  We may survive, with Hurricane Trump moving out to sea.  We soon may be able to start the hard work of cleaning up the damage and starting to address our real problems.

I visited these sunflowers last week at Odom Farming Company in Goldsboro, NC.  They have a lot of lovely flowers, and are happy to have visitors, if you check ahead.

Missing Florida, processing some photos, and picturing hell

Osprey at Jordan Lake

I’d planned to be in Florida this past week photographing the big birds there, like egrets, wood storks, and roseate spoonbills.  With the coronavirus pandemic still in full force, that wasn’t possible, but I did get to spend some time at our area parks, including Shelley Lake and Jordan Lake.   It was good to be outside with our local birds.

Although I didn’t capture any images that were singular, I was happy to practice getting better exposures.   I also enjoyed experimenting with the raw images in Lightroom, Photoshop, and other apps, with a view to improving my processing skills.  Here are some of the results using bird shots I took this week, as well experiments with Sally’s orchids.  The white one lost its flowers a few days after the last shot of it.  Hope it will come back next year.  

These days there’s a lot of background fear and worry, and no simple solution to all our ills.  But I’m finding it helpful to spend some time focusing on moments of beauty and peace, and also spending more time meditating.  I discovered some good new (to me) resources on YouTube, including some guided meditations by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield.  I don’t think I’m anywhere near nirvana, but I’m happier and more peaceful.  

Tufted titmouse at Shelley Lake

I used to worry about the possibility of going to hell.  In the religious tradition I grew up in, hell was a real place, ruled by Satan, where sinners were sent after death to be tortured forever.  I eventually came to think that the likelihood of there being such a place was close to zero, and that worrying about it was a waste of time.  But it’s interesting that the concept of hell has had such a long life, and continues to terrify people today.  

I learned more about hell in an interview with Bart Ehrman on Fresh Air a few weeks ago, and just finished his new book, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife.  Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at University of North Carolina, contends that the notions held by most Christians of the afterlife are not found in the Bible.  Rather they were made up by various early Christian writers to support religious theories and emotional needs.

It’s good to know that the horrifying idea that God set up a massive system for never ending torture is not universal, and is actually a relatively recent (around 1,800-year-old) invention.  Christian ideas of hell have varied with respect to the brutality and intensity of the torture, including some with extremes of sadism.  But even the milder versions are peculiar.  Our experience is that we get accustomed to almost any pain or misery, and nothing lasts forever.  The oddity, and impossibility, of unending, unstoppable agony does not seem to have struck many people.  

In the interview on Fresh Air, Ehrman mentioned that he was confident that hell did not exist.  He seemed to think people suffered unnecessarily because of the concept, and that they’d be happier without it.  I think that, too.

On the other hand, I’ve been re-reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book on the meat industry, Eating Animals, which depicts a truly hellish reality.  Every year, billions of sentient creatures — cows, pigs, chickens, and others — are brought into existence by humans who treat them with unspeakable cruelty.  Humans inflict suffering on these animals on a scale that truly defies comprehension.  Then they kill them and eat them.

The horror of the meat industry is most apparent in its cruelty to billions of individual animals, but it also produces a lot of suffering less directly.  It is one of the largest contributors of the greenhouse gases that account for global warming. It introduces steroids, antibiotics, bacteria, and viruses into the human food chain that account for a lot of sickness and death.  

The meat industry is also a place of misery for the workers who kill and cut up the animals.  Slaughter houses are some of the most dangerous workplaces in America.  Many of the workers are immigrants who are too desperate and powerless to demand safe conditions and reasonable pay.

It was therefore not a huge surprise that there have been serious Covid-19 outbreaks in industrial meat operations.  But the reaction of President Trump was surprising, and even for him, perverse.  He issued a declaration that the meat industry was essential infrastructure under the Defense Production Act and must therefore remain open.  He didn’t say how this was to be accomplished if the workers in large numbers got sick and died.   

So is the meat industry, with its enormous profits based on cruelty and lies, essential?  It’s hard to see how that could possibly be.  We can certainly survive without meat, and hundreds of millions of people do so every day.  In fact, eating a healthy plant-based diet is a lot better for the human body.  I’ve been doing it for twenty-some years, and I’m here to tell you, it’s been good.  

Perhaps, along with a lot of death, Covid-19 will cause more people willingly or unwilling to eat less meat and more plants.  Once we factor in all the health gains from less meat-related disease and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, we might have a net gain in the survival rate.  There could be a win-win — less animal cruelty, less human suffering, and more health and  happiness. 

Spring, the morphing pandemic, meditating, and catching up on movies

Looking southwest from our apartment at new construction

It’s definitely spring.  It always amazes me how fast the hardwood trees here leaf in, once they get started.  Just in the last week, things have gotten very green. 

Looking west from our apartment

Raulston Arboretum is closed because of the pandemic, and so I won’t be seeing the big irises this year.  I did spend some time with the tulips in Fletcher Park, and made a few images I liked. I experimented with intentional camera movement to get an impressionistic effect.

The pandemic seems to morph every few days into a more severe disaster, with a mounting death toll and more severe disruptions to ordinary life.  It’s painful to see a very big chunk of our nest egg disappear as the stock market plummets. It’s painful to be isolated from loved ones and unable to do our usual activities.  

I’ve been clearing some extra time for meditation and listening to some new lessons on managing thoughts and feelings.  Just sitting still and observing the breath can go a long way toward calm and peace. There are free lessons on the free app, Insight Timer.  

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is normally a highlight of early spring for us, and we were sorry it was cancelled.  But on the bright side, we’ve been seeing some good movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Last night, we watched Just Mercy, a fictionalized version of the non-fiction book of that title by Bryan Stephenson.  It’s about a young black lawyer with a Harvard Law degree who sets up a non-profit practice in Alabama to help prisoners on death row.  

The dramatic elements come from the racists who threaten him with violence and his clients with execution.  It’s never emphasized, but worth noting, that the real Stephenson, with his talent and a Harvard degree, could have made a fortune in a big law firm, rather than take big risks for almost no money.  He had extraordinary courage and compassion.

This week we also watched Harriet, a biopic about the great abolitionist Harriet Tubman.  Slavery is something we know about, but the more I learn, the more I find I still need to know.  Tubman was an extraordinary person who managed to get herself out of slavery and then risk death to free dozens of others.  Cynthia Erivo is a powerful and touching Tubman.  

We also saw Bombshell, a fictionalized account of Fox News under Roger Ailes and his culture of exploitation, sexual and otherwise.  John Lithgow is a wonderfully evil Aisles, and Charlize Theron is a convincing, bombshellish Megyn Kelly. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News is an amazingly effective propaganda organ, and getting some perspective on its workings is worthwhile.