The Casual Blog

Tag: sunflowers

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.

Considering sunflowers, and a proposal for survival: population control

Sunflowers--2

This week I spent some more time with the sunflowers at Dix Park.  There were a lot of pretty ones, including some at least eight feet tall, and others that had passed their prime.  I learned from signs there that sunflowers are the only flowers with flower in their name, and that they point themselves toward the sun during the day.  

Dix Park was formerly the site of Dorothea Dix Hospital, North Carolina’s first institution for the mentally ill, which was progressive when it was opened in 1856 and not so much so when it was finally closed in 2012.  The sunflower field is on top of a former garbage dump (officially, a “landfill”). The sunflowers are grown as an industrial crop that provides fuel for city vehicles.  

Sunflowers-0320

The connections between mental illness, institutions, garbage, and urban transport take us in one direction, but sunflowers take us in another.  They stand up tall and shine, and without any effort, cheer us up.  I put one on my phone for a new screen saver.

Sunflowers-0330

Last night Sally and I watched The Inventor, a documentary about Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos.  Holmes recruited investors with promises of revolutionizing medical testing with new technology. It turned out that the technology was not actually in existence.  There were hundreds of employees, including some trying to build a testing machine that corresponded to Holmes’s idea, but they never made a successful model.  

In the documentary, we see Holmes presenting herself and her idea, and she’s undeniably attractive and impressive.  It’s easy to see how a lot of successful and sophisticated people believed in her.  It isn’t altogether clear what she herself was thinking. The human mind has an amazing capacity for self delusion, so Holmes may have believed a lot of her own baloney.  It may be that she started out as a cockeyed big dreamer and, as the impossibility of the dream became clear, ended up as a wanton fraudster.    It’s an interesting psychological puzzle.Sunflowers-0431Speaking of puzzles, I finished Christine Korsgaard’s important  but sometimes difficult book, Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to the Other Animals.  Korsgaard is a brave soul. She challenges the almost-never-questioned assumption that humans have a right to do whatever they want to non-human life.  If there is no such right, what humans are doing to non-human life is monstrously evil.  For example, we kill more than 50 billion farm animals a year.  It’s not an easy subject.

Korsgaard suggests that the earth would be much better off without so many humans, which is almost certainly true.  I was surprised, though, that she doesn’t press more on the issue of restraining population growth as a bridge to a less broken world.  

Sunflowers-0293

Our politicians’ ridiculous fearmongering over immigrant invasions is a distorted-mirror reflection of a real problem:  there are too many people on the earth, and many more are coming soon. There are not enough natural resources to sustain all the people that are here with their existing and hoped for consumption patterns.  Those consumption patterns are already disrupting non-human life on a massive scale, including widespread extinction of entire species. At the same time, resource conflicts are disrupting various countries, creating millions of refugees, and undermining governments.

And the problems are getting worse.  The population, which is now around 7 billion, is still growing.  For all our current global population to have the American level of consumption would require the resources of 4 earths.  And we’re expecting 4 billion more humans by the end of this century, so we’ll be needing almost two additional earths.  

But we only have the one.  Climate change and other environmental problems, such as air pollution, fresh water loss, and soil erosion are all exacerbated by increasing populations in a negative feedback loop.  

Sunflowers-4374

Here’s a simple example:  as there are more people who need more food, a changing climate and environmental degradation will make it harder or impossible to grow enough food for all.  And industrialized agriculture, already a major contributor to climate change, in attempting to produce more food, will likely further degrade the environment.  For a fuller accounting of very possible near term environmental destruction mechanisms, read The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells.

At present, our default mode for addressing this population problem is to pretend it doesn’t exist.  There is, to be sure, a sense in which it could take care of itself: people in excess of the earth’s carrying capacity will likely die by the millions or billions.  However, adopting this solution would be horrible, not only for humans, but for all the non-human life that the desperate humans would extinguish in their losing struggle to survive.  

Sunflowers-0466

Beginning with better education on family planning, we could slow the pace of population growth, and eventually arrive at a population that could exist without irreversible planetary destruction.  Korsgaard suggests the possibility that reproduction might be regulated with some sort of licensing scheme. As she notes, we don’t let people drive cars without demonstrating the necessary skill set, but we have no skills requirement for parenting.  

Any change like that would be controversial, of course, and perhaps we’d conclude that’s not a good approach.  But if we’re hoping to avoid horrendous destruction of human and non-human life,  we need to get creative and get to work; there’s no time to waste.  At present, our governments aren’t working on the population problem, or even talking about working on it.  How can that be OK?

 

My new Trailhawk, sandcrabs, sunflowers, and busing

Yates-4271

My new slightly used ride down the hill from the sunflowers at Dorothea Dix park

When I was in Maine at the and of June, I had a rental car I really liked:  a 2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. It was about the same size as my Mazda CX-5, and drove similarly on the highway.  But there were things I liked more about the Trailhawk: its seats, which fit me well, and its instrumentation, including a big touchscreen.  I liked its off-road capabilities, including a locking rear differential and towhooks to get pulled out of the mud. Also, I really liked the color:  velvet red pearlcoat. 

So I read some reviews and did some market research, and the day after I got home I traded in my Mazda for a red Trailhawk.  Later that week we took it to the Outer Banks to visit sister Jane and her family. We watched the 4th of July fireworks at the Currituck lighthouse from their deck, and shot off a few Roman candles.  I got up before sunrise with a plan to take pictures of sanderlings and other shorebirds at first light, but didn’t find the necessary birds.  

Yates-3286

Sandcrabs at Corolla, NC

I did, however, see a lot of sandcrabs.  They’re small and well camouflaged, and they can skitter quickly.  In places where I glimpsed a couple, I got down on my belly with my large zoom, and waited for them to get comfortable with me.   

Yates-3271

I’m sure the families walking by  on the beach thought I was a strange bird as I lay there.  But it was worth it. Eventually the tiny crabs came out of their holes, and I saw them working on different projects, like finding food and scaring off their enemies.  Though I wouldn’t call them beautiful, they are fascinatingly complex.  

Yates-3300.jpg

I was reminded of a sweet essay in the Times a few weeks ago my Margaret Renki titled Praise Song for the Unloved Animals.  Renki writes of the hard work by some of nature’s relatively unphotogenic pest controllers and garbagemen, like opossums, vultures, bats, and field mice.  She even finds a kind word for mosquitoes who are food for chimney swifts and tree swallows. She appreciates the complex interconnectedness of life. I’m sure she’d be happy to add sandcrabs into her list.  Yates-3812.jpg

We took the Trailhawk up to the beach area where cars are permitted, and verified that it will go on the sand without getting stuck.  We hunted for the wild horses that live there, and managed to spot eight of them.  

Yates-3878.jpg

Back in Raleigh, I got up early three mornings this week to check on the sunflowers at Dorothea Dix park.  There were many of them! I tried to look at them in different ways. These pictures were my favorites.   I also got a shot of a little fawn on the edge of the sunflower field.  It was bleating loudly for its mommy.   It watched me for a long moment, then started to run towards me, perhaps thinking I could help find her.  I waved my arms and told it I didn’t know where mommy was, and the fawn turned and ran into the woods.  

Yates-4066

I never particularly thought of myself as a sunflower person.  And definitely never thought of myself as a Jeep person, or a person who liked red cars.  But if we’re attentive, we sometimes discover things about ourselves we didn’t know, and get past our prejudices.  

Yates-4343.jpg

Speaking of prejudices, there was a very fine essay in the Times yesterday  by Nikole Hannah-Jones about school busing.   Hannah-Jones has a great short summary of US system of separating black kids from white ones in our schools, which we still haven’t fixed.  She also decodes the political language. Back in the sixties, and now, Instead of saying, we don’t want our white kids going to school with black ones, we said, we don’t like school busing.  Using the language of “busing” allowed us to conceal from ourselves our racial prejudice, of which we are — and should be — ashamed.

Yates-4260.jpg

Hannah-Jones points up that busing was pretty effective in places and at times in undoing some of our legacy of segregation.  I think schools are only one part of repairing the damage of that system. Facing up to extreme inequality in income, jobs, housing, and health care are still on the to-do list.  But desegregating our schools is important, and doable. It is likely to involve buses.   

Yates-4209.jpg