Downsizing is a BITCH!

DOWNSIZING IS A BITCH

Note from editor: HE'S BACK! I can assure you that eshrink is correct when he says his children are part of the solution to he and mom's downsizing. Enjoy the read...I'm sure we can all relate. 

It has come to my attention that some of you readers have questioned my absence lo these past few months. Although it is true that old bloggers suffer from the same rules of nature in that their life is brief, this one survives in spite of having flouted all the rules which are designed to promote longevity. Indeed, I am back following my latest misadventure.

It all began innocently enough when following a visit to my son and daughter-in-law’s new home in a neighboring community, Barb suggested that it would be nice to be closer to them and to downsize. It is true that we had discussed our lack of need for our “dream” house since we basically lived in only 3 of its rooms.


There was however, the problem of Floyd, who would limit our choices were we to check into one of those assisted living warehouses, for he had become persona non grata in the neighborhood due to his penchant for attacking any dogs who exhibited the audacity to walk on his street. You may recall from my previous accounts that Floyd had long ago defeated the underground fence, thus allowing him to exercise his homicidal impulses and explore the neighborhood and beyond.

Nevertheless; we decided to look around, and our son Peter arranged for us to visit a couple of facilities, one of which consisted of a couple of rooms about the size of a small chicken coop, and another which had no vacancies with approximately 200 people on a waiting list. You may be asking why they bothered to show us their place. My question, too! Realtors assured us that the shortage of housing in the U.S. was further accentuated by the fact that baby boomers were now looking to downsize. In short, we found nothing that even remotely fit us (and all of our stuff).

DESTINY or Google’s Artificial Intelligence at Work?

As a result of our fruitless search, we returned home having given up on the idea of moving while attempting to convince ourselves that it was probably best to sit tight. However, on the following day, I found myself trolling through some computer stuff when I noticed an ad for a condominium located in the area where we had been looking. It had recently come on the market. As a matter of fact, it had suddenly appeared while I was looking at the screen. Now, I am not a guy who is big on destiny and all that kind of stuff, but that picture on the screen seemed to be calling to me. (Note: Editor and daughter Maggie says that’s digital targeting–the power of AI). Consequently, I dialed the number and made an appointment to see the place the following day.

There’s Always A Price to Pay


It was located in a quiet secluded neighborhood within a few minutes of major shopping areas. The sign at the entrance announced that the houses populating the development were villas so I knew it must be a classy place. There were several people walking their dogs and they all waved as we passed. I wondered if they were really that friendly or if such behaviors were mandated by the condo association. I would later learn that there were rules about virtually everything else. Indeed, those rules were documented in 43 pages of small print along with 21 pages of amendments.
My family have accused me of being an impulse buyer which may be partially responsible for the accumulation of the huge amounts of unused stuff in our possession, although my marriage to a collector of beautiful and momentous objects certainly played a part. With that in mind I spent at least five minutes carefully inspecting the place, before saying: “I’ll take it”. I quickly qualified my comment after realizing that Barb might also have an opinion, but she agreed, our offer was accepted and we were on our way to our latest adventure oblivious to what we had begun.

We had discussed our next move and I had developed a simple game plan for our downsizing. We would move the stuff we needed into our new digs, turn the kids and grandkids loose to grab what they wanted, and have an auction for what was left. Yes, the plan was simple, but its implementation not so much.

Floyd Friendly?

Floyd the dog

Floyd remained an unresolved problem. On one of our visits to the new “villa” he jumped out of the car and after an extensive search was retrieved by Peter near a busy highway some distance away. Those condo association rules I previously mentioned had a lot to say about dogs and it became obvious that Floyd would find it difficult to comply, and make it even more difficult for Barb and I to control his exuberance, which is often misinterpreted as aggression. We saw many residents in the condo neighborhood walking their fuzzy little dogs, and it was doubtful that Floyd, the hyperactive disobedient mongrel with a rap sheet, would ever fit in.


Floyd and Barb had developed a very tight bond and she was reluctant to lose him. I must confess that I had also been taken in by the feigning of affection by those big brown eyes. After much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, Barb relented when our yard man Steve, who is one of Floyd’s favorite people, offered to take him. She was partially convinced after Steve explained that he lived in the country where Floyd would have free rein.

The closing of the deal on the new place was uneventful. Fortunately. I took the advice of our realtor and insisted on an inspection of the place which resulted in the replacement of a defective HVAC. That thing about the best laid plans of mice and men turned out to be appropriate for the operation was largely down-hill from there.


STUFF

Our last move had been more than 35 years ago and we found that one can accumulate a lot of stuff in that period of time much of which has sentimental value. Some things were gifts, others items which had been bought as souvenirs or represented special times or places. There were what seemed like an endless parade of boxes of photos in albums, slides, framed or loose, some going back 5 generations or more. We decided to keep them all by promising ourselves that we would go through them all with the kids, identify all we could and digitalize them for safe keeping although in our heart of hearts we knew this would never happen. They now reside in 4 large boxes in our new garage.

Furniture however; presented a different problem for it goes without saying that 10 rooms of furniture do not fit very well in a 4 room house. Likewise, much china, glassware, figurines and all manner of doo dads had special significance to Barb, and there was no room for much of it. I wasted much time and energy fruitlessly arguing that point, (you would think that after 68 years I would know better).

As for me, I found myself emotionally attached to my tools. Through the years I had accumulated a lot of woodworking tools and all sorts of wrenches, pliers, screw drivers, and assorted gadgets along with the tools and materials to satisfy my favorite hobby of framing pictures which was one of the few hands-on activities in which I felt reasonably confident. I did move a few hand tools along with my 70 year-old collection of screws, nuts, bolts, washers and miscellaneous hardware which were categorized and labeled, my only feeble success at becoming organized.

Packing with a Twist: Paid by the BOX

In prior moves, Barb and I had packed up the stuff (correction: with major contributions by our four children…this detail was added by smith kid #4), but this time I decided to pass that chore on to the pros. I should have been prepared when the estimator told me that the guys who packed were paid by the number of boxes they filled. She had estimated that it would probably take 2 trucks to move our stuff, but we ended our move with 4 truckloads of stuff in the condo–most of which were in boxes. The boxes were stacked 3 and 4 high all through the place to the extent that there was no place to sit. There were so many boxes in the kitchen that it was almost impossible to unpack them. As we began unpacking the reason for so many boxes became obvious: paid by the box not paid to FILL THE BOX. Each box had wads of paper filling half the box and then just a few (sometimes ONE) For example, in one box I found a half-used candle about 4 inches long wrapped in a package about the size of a football. Those boxes disgorged enough paper to require 4 trips to the recycling center in addition to the truckload of cardboard boxes. Had we not moved, we would have saved not only a tree but a whole forest.


Naturally, it was frustrating enough to look for specific items hidden away in all those boxes and to get enough stuff unpacked to give us room to function at even a primitive level, but in the midst of it all Barb managed to complicate our problems further by having a very untimely heart attack. The roto-rooter guys (interventional cardiologists) unplugged and stented 4 coronary arteries one of which was totally occluded and the others more than 90% plugged up. The doctor said he was amazed that she had been able to even stay on her feet, but his prediction that I would not be able to keep up with her post-op proved to be fallacious for I have not been able to get a lick of work from her since the surgery.


Fortunately, the kids all helped out with some of the unpacking otherwise, rather than writing this I would still be trying to find my computer, wrapped in an armload of paper. In addition to the recycling center, there were multiple trips to Goodwill after we squeezed everything into our new house that it would hold. It has been over 3 months since the big move. Although we still have too much stuff for this place, It is cozy and we can now walk from one room to another without moving something.

Why is it so hard to let go of “stuff”

As for downsizing, that mission has been accomplished. The pain of “letting go” of treasured items was minimized by giving stuff to kids thereby burdening them with stuff which they will need to get rid of some day. We studiously avoided learning about how things went at the auction; although we know that some of that “valuable” stuff went for pennies. With an overstuffed 4 rooms and no basement or attic, whatever urges we may feel to accumulate more stuff are quickly extinguished.


Recently, I complained to one of my new neighbors about the pain of downsizing, and his response was “I know, we have all gone through it” referring to other neighbors in this 55 and over development. This started my thinking about why do we spend most of our lives accumulating stuff until it suddenly becomes a liability, then work hard to get rid of it. I asked Barb, a well known collector, why she collected stuff. Her reply was simply: “Because I like to look at it.” That shouldn’t have surprised me as Barb is a truly an “aesthetic” person at her core. She elaborated that all that “stuff” also reminds her of pleasant times in the past.

I presume there are other reasons that motivate us to accumulate and sometimes even hoard. There is that ego thing which says look at what I possess which is another way of saying look at me. Objects may stimulate intense feelings of nostalgia. I had a very special relationship with one of my grandfathers who was a carpenter. I still have some of his tools. When I look at them I visualize those gnarled hands working a piece of wood and I know that as long as I possess those tools I will never forget him. There is also the “I might need it someday” phenomenon which rarely happens. Although, I confess that I feel a special kind of exhilaration whenever I find the use for a screw or bolt in my collection.

Minimalists Anonymous!


Some millennials have advanced the idea of minimalism which would certainly eliminate the downsizing problem. Their philosophy is the less stuff the better. They would advise me to take a picture of Grandad’s tools, send it to the cloud and get rid of the tools. Advice that sounds like sacrilege of the first degree. I could no more experience Grandad’s tools in a picture than I could the Grand Canyon in a photo. Fortunately, the solution comes with having children whom you hope will not be minimalists, and will honor that stuff and the stories you tell about it. The minimalists insist that being bogged down with stuff hinders them from the enjoyment of more satisfying activities.


There are signs that this philosophy has taken hold by many. It seems as if reverence for old things has taken a hit as evidenced by the demise of the antique business. It makes me wonder if that same idea has fostered a disdain for longstanding traditions and ideals. Does it also prevent us from learning valuable lessons from the past? Minimalist ideas are also likely to have provided the impetus for the genesis of a “throw-away society” which is inevitable when people don’t want to keep anything, which contributes to the widespread pollution which surrounds us. It is true that the minimalist lifestyle does protect against the ravages of downsizing, and that their penchant for use of disposable products fits well into an economy in which consumerism is applauded. After all, the disposal of stuff means more stuff can be manufactured. We do glory in a burgeoning Gross Domestic Product, and wealth which is largely a measure of how much stuff a person has is generally admired and often envied, yet we profess great concern for the health of our planet.


As for me, I do not have enough walls for all the art I would like to hang, but I still have the tools and as I write this, I look at a knife hanging on the wall above my desk which has a scrimshawed drawing of a sailing ship on the handle. It was done by a close friend who is long gone from us. I get a warm feeling when I look up at it.

YOU CAN’T FOOL MOTHER NATURE

90 years on this big chunk of dirt has allowed me to witness a plethora of amazing things. The following blog points out that we’ve screwed up our share of things, and there is lots of bad stuff going on as we speak, but we have also done a lot of good stuff. I have consistently underestimated the ability of my fellow men and women to do amazing things, but I am even more impressed with this latest generation. They seem eager to involve themselves in politics and environmental activism, which leaves me hopeful that they may do a better job of listening to what Mother Nature tells us.

Thousands of scientists worldwide devote their lives in search of such understanding. There certainly will be more pandemics and other crises to come, and an understanding of nature is our only hope for defense or prevention. My hope is that these bright young souls will learn from our mistakes, for we truly are all in this together. We have been honored guests on this planet for only a short time, and lack of respect for our earth mother could further shorten our stay. To have “dominion” over all these wondrous living things carries with it an awesome responsibility. We ignore it at our own risk. In this post, I hope to illustrate examples of how we humans have attempted to control Mother Nature and the consequences I’ve observed.

The Big Fox Hunt

My first exposure to humans trying to control Mother Nature was when I was 12 years old. Once upon a time (as the saying goes) , I was excited to be asked to participate in a fox hunt. This was not to be replete with trumpets, and people dressed in red jackets on horseback, but rather a bunch of serious good old boys in blue denim bib overalls and wampuses. The hunt was to be composed of a combination of fox and rabbit hunters. Granted, there were some who fit into both categories, but the strategies were very different and required different canine talents. The beagle was the breed of choice for rabbit hunters while fox hounds were much larger.

The idea of a fox hunt had originated with the rabbit hunters after a several year decline in the rabbit population of the county which they blamed on the red fox, the rabbit’s chief predator. The fox hunters were all for the operation. WWII was in full swing, the depression was over, there was full employment and much of clothing manufacturing capacity was used by the military, all of which conspired to make fur coats desirable. Consequently, fox pelt prices were at an all-time high. The strategy for this hunt was to recruit large numbers of bodies (even kids) to walk behind a long line of dogs with the thought that the foxes would be driven towards a line of hunters with guns. Since a large portion of the male population was off fighting the war, many of us kids were recruited for the big hunt.

The plan was never implemented. Not surprising, since due to the war, gasoline was rationed and ammunition for hunting was not available. Nevertheless, the plan was a small example of man’s attempt to intervene into the much more comprehensive plan which had been devised by nature, or God if you will, long before Adam and Eve arrived on the scene.

Mother Nature fixed the Rabbit Problem

However, in this instance without human intervention, it did not take too many years for the rabbit population to rebound and the fox hunters to complain that their dogs couldn’t even “catch a scent.” Apparently, since the fox’s natural predators in our area had long since been deposed by the world’s top predator (humans), the fox population grew rapidly, soon overwhelming the rabbits. With their favorite meal no longer available, the foxes either moved on, or starved, and the rabbits rebounded without our help. Now that fur coats are no longer fashionable, rabbits are scarce, and foxes which were formerly rarely seen, are active scavengers in urban areas.

It seems as if the predator system worked well for a few million years until the new top dog came along, and set out to screw it up.

The Apex Predator

About 200,000 years ago humans evolved to become the new apex predator, and the system of checks and balances was upended. This new kid on the block was not nearly so athletic, as his competitors, nor did he possess the acute sense of smell, vision or hearing as did most of his competitors, but his huge brain coupled with his upright posture allowed him to develop the manual dexterity necessary to make tools and weapons.


Those skills were honed to an extent beyond the imagining of our distant ancestors, and also allowed us to totally dominate the planet as per the Biblical injunction: Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

There is little doubt that we have been compliant with the fruitful and multiply part, but negligent about “replenishing.” The World Wildlife Federation reports that in just the last 50 years we humans have been responsible for the extinction of 60% of the world’s population of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. [Source: https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/living-planet-report-2018 ] If the scripture is referring to the replenishment of the human population, no doubt we have done a good job and then some. Just during my time on this planet the population of the world has nearly quadrupled, standing now at nearly 8 billion. It is estimated to have been a paltry 5 million souls in 5.000 BC. [Source: www.worldometers.info/world-population/world-population-by-year/.]


Earth’s Population | Malthusians vs Cornucopians

In 1798, Thomas Malthus, an English economist and clergyman, warned that overpopulation would lead to world-wide starvation due to the limited ability of the earth to provide enough food [Link to “An Essay on the Principle of Population”]. Of course, his theory was later discarded by most as he failed to take into account the development of more efficient farming methods. Since his time, the population has increased 5 fold, 20% of the food grown in the U.S. is wasted, and although food shortages exist in some parts of the world, they are largely due to problems of distribution, wars, or climate change, yet there still remains debate between the so called “Malthusions” and the “Cornucopians” (futurists who believe progress and provision of material items for mankind can be met by similarly continued advances in technology) as to the limits of the planet’s ability to support life as we know it. With the mechanization of much of agriculture, farming has become much less labor intensive, and large families, which were a cheap source of labor, have become expensive.


There are also now widely available and effective means of birth control which at first glance would lead one to believe the world’s population was declining, but increased longevity and a decrease in infant mortality have resulted in an explosive increase. Yet, the Cornucopians believe in a future in which we will see a decrease in the world’s population and that technology will triumph to keep our planet sustainable. Currently, the world population continues to increase but at a slower rate than previously. The UN predicts it will stabilize at around 11 billion by 2050, but such predictions have proved inaccurate in the past.


Some governments continue to take note of Malthusian principles and have attempted to regulate population growth by either encouraging or limiting it, usually with disastrous results. The most recent example is China where a one-child policy was adopted in the 1960s after a period of famines was felt to have been caused by overpopulation. Enforcement procedures were sometimes drastic with enforced sterilizations as a penalty for non-compliance. The policy proved to be too successful as the slowed birth rate coupled with increased longevity has resulted in too many retirees, and a shortage of workers to support them. The country has now initiated policies designed to increase the birthrate, which so far, have not been successful. Contrasting, but equally draconian efforts by the communist dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausesca, to increase the population of his country in 1966, resulted in thousands of orphaned children that overwhelmed the orphanages of the country. Consequently, a generation of children were neglected as I described in a previous blog.

Malthus blamed much of the poverty and associated hunger of his day on hereditary factors setting the stage for development of eugenics in which governments initiated policies designed to limit population growth. In 1927, the Supreme Court led by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who famously said: “three generations of imbeciles is enough” approved forced sterilizations of the mentally disadvantaged, not our nation’s finest hour. A few years later, Hitler in his attempt to purify the “Aryan Race” decided it was much more efficient to simply execute those deemed “defective” and his gas chambers proved to be quite efficient in that regard. Although Malthus writings awakened awareness of potential problems in our environment, they also have demonstrated the dangers associated with social engineering gone awry.

Overpopulation and Pandemics

Scientists suggest that the overall human impact on the environment, due to overpopulation, with its accompanying overconsumption, pollution, and proliferation of technology, has pushed the planet into a new geological epoch known as the Anthropocene. A case can be made for overpopulation as a factor in many of the world’s geopolitical problems including wars, migrations, civil unrest, famine, and climate change to name a few, yet even in this global pandemic which threatens every life on the planet, little note is taken of how population density factors into this COVID-19 thing.


Pandemics have been around throughout recorded history. One study that analyzed the origins of 1415 diseases which infect humans, found that 62% originated via contact with animals. [Source: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2001.0888]. Indeed, the spate of epidemics we have experienced over the past few years, such as Ebola, SARS, Swine Flu, and COVID-19, etc., as well as the oft mentioned Spanish Flu of 1918, and bubonic plague are all said to be zoonotic diseases (meaning those that jump from animal to man). Even smallpox, the scourge that had figured in wars and other upheavals throughout history, and decimated native populations in the Americas, is felt to have jumped from a rodent flea to humans in Egypt 10,000 years ago. There are multiple factors that can lead to increased contact of wild animals with humans.

Humans & Wildlife

For example, I spent my early years hunting, fishing and roaming the hills where I now live without ever seeing a deer, but as I write this, there are five white tail deer grazing in my back yard and I live in a populated area. Deer are now considered a pest by many, especially farmers, who see their corn fields decimated. Naturalists are concerned about over population with its concomitant increase in Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), an illness that infects the brains of deer, moose, and elk, and is closely related to Mad Cow Disease. In an attempt to reduce the numbers, the legal limit per hunter was increased resulting in 184,465 legally killed deer in Ohio last year with little apparent effect. So far, there are no reports of CWD having jumped to humans, although we know of many examples of mutations in other microbes resulting in cross species vulnerabilities.


The increase in our local deer population is fueled largely by deforestation rather than what we see with most species, for deer are grazing animals and consequently do much better in open rather than densely wooded areas while with other species logging can totally destroy their habitat. There are multiple factors that put us in closer contact with wild animals due to infringement or destruction of their habitat or upsetting the normal balance of nature. We now see instances in which the reintroduction of predator species results in a healthier ecosystem, a practice which a few short years ago would have been seen as counterproductive. It has now become obvious that we humans did not possess the wisdom required for us to have: “dominion over…every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

Learning by our Mistakes

It is only by having screwed things up badly that we have begun to learn a little about how the whole thing works, but in putting this paper together I have been amazed to learn a bit about how it all fit together before we took charge, and began the process of exterminating species, and contaminating our soil, air, and water. We even managed to make the earth less hospitable to ourselves and all living things by messing up the climate. It required a lot of people to accomplish all that and as I mentioned previously, there are a lot of us. Ignorance is no longer an excuse, for we now know what needs to be done, and the only way for us to atone for our sins would be for all of us to work on putting it back together.

In the past, livestock farmers were well aware of the amount of pasture required for their herd and “culling the herd” via sending the less healthy or vigorous to the slaughter house was a regular practice. They are also aware of the increased susceptibility to disease that can result from over-crowding. The developers of factory farms find it more efficient to raise livestock in extremely crowded situations, and photos of hog farms show animals packed so tight they can barely move. This increases the risk of epidemic, yet these gallant entrepreneurs are not to be denied. They routinely add antibiotics to the feed, which many infectious disease experts suspect is a major cause of antibiotic disease resistance in humans, a good example of how our attempts to bypass nature’s rules cause even worse problems,

To date our only defense against the COVID-19 virus is so-called social distancing which could be more accurately referred to as asocial distancing and the use of a mask which also limits our non-verbal communications. Does that not speak to the possibility that our dense human habitats may contribute to our vulnerability to viruses? We humans have evolved into instinctually social or herd animals if you will, and herds of humans may now number into the millions.


We Are All In This Together

My research for this essay has shown me that we really are “all in this together” and I don’t mean just concerning the current pandemic. We are not only connected to our environment, we are an integral part of it. We are so interdependent that whatever happens to one species effects many others, and I am heartened to see that much research now focuses on ecosystems rather than individual plants animals or microorganisms. For example, such studies have resulted in a greater understanding of our symbiotic relationships that extends even to bacteria. Last evening, I watched a documentary on PBS about the rehabilitation of Yellowstone Park by the reintroduction of wolves. Their step by step exhibition of how the entire area benefited including animals, fish, birds and vegetation was remarkable. Other such experimental programs currently implemented in other areas of the world are reaching similar conclusions.


The question as to what is the optimum world population remains a subject of debate. It is clear that there is an inverse relationship between standards of living and population growth for we have witnessed populations decrease in those countries whose people become more affluent. Cornucopians present this as truth that overpopulation, if it exists, will be self-correcting while Malthusians point out that with affluence there is an increase in utilization of resources and acceleration of global warming, another damned if you do or damned if you don’t conundrum.


With the upper level predators such as wolves, coyotes, bears, bobcats, and eagles, etc., long gone via the efforts of the apex predator (us), the balance has been upset and many species have proliferated leaving them vulnerable to disease, as apparently happened with our deer population. With urbanization has come an increased interest in wild animals and urban sprawl has encroached on habitats. Many of the zoonotic illnesses are transmitted by bites of vectors, i.e., usually arthropods, such as fleas, ticks, or mosquitoes, or by direct contact with the body fluids of infected animals, as was the case with Ebola. Of course, such animals can be avoided, but bacteria and viruses have a genetic code that can spontaneously change. Such mutations may alter them in such a way that they may find a way to move from one human body to another, and when it does, an epidemic is on its way. The Center for Disease Control reports that 3 out of 4 emerging diseases happen this way as has the current pandemic. [Source: https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/basics/zoonotic-diseases.html ]

Measles & COVID-19

Back in the dark ages, when I was practicing family medicine, measles was an accepted part of life. Antibiotics, which had recently appeared on the scene, had proven to be worthless against viruses, and measles was largely accepted as the most communicable of all the infectious illnesses. Viruses were mysterious little buggers and as a matter of fact we had no idea as to what they looked like until the invention of the electron microscope in 1931. When this covid thing reared its ugly head, I was struck by its similarities to the measles virus. They both are spread by respiratory droplets, and are infectious before symptoms appear, two factors which conspire to make them highly communicable and very difficult to control, although, the covid 19 virus is obviously the more serious of the two.


If there is anything good about measles, it is the fact that people who contract it develop a lifetime immunity. Since nearly every old person like myself had it in childhood, it is classified as a childhood disease. It has been shown that if 70 to 80% of the population is immune to a communicable disease, its spread is limited. This phenomenon is referred to as herd immunity and is the latest very bad idea to come from the White House’s latest false prophet sycophant, a guy whose day job is reading x-rays. His plan is to allow the virus to infect everyone except for the elderly (I like that part) and immune compromised. One person predicted this would lead to 1.2 million deaths and totally overwhelm our hospitals’ ability to care for the sick. Sweden did initiate such a policy, which was disastrous, resulting in 10 times more deaths than had occurred in neighboring Denmark. In addition to those problems, it is not even clear how long immunity lasts after recovery, if at all.


Science Is Simply A Search for the Truth

As has occurred at other times in history this pandemic has brought the world to its knees although some countries have definitely done a better job at handling it than we have. For more that a half century we have been warned by the scientific community that pandemics were inevitable, and by not heeding them we now pay a price, yet we seem to have learned little for anti-science views persist. As previously mentioned in other blogs, science is simply a search for truth. It is a discipline that seeks to understand the marvelously complex mechanisms which operate our universe. It is not a religion, but the knowledge it provides can and should enhance the reverence of the faithful.


The Questions We Need to Ask

As is usually the case with studies of natural phenomena, this covid pandemic leaves us with more questions than answers. Are we really the apex predator or does this invisible particle which infects us deserve that title? Is this pandemic nature’s way of culling the herd? Is there an optimum level of population above which the system cannot function? Does our technology possess the power to undue the damage we have done to the world or perhaps a better question is do we have the will to do it? My Grandmother said: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. For years epidemiologists have warned us of the inevitability of pandemics. We have turned a blind eye to research on preventive efforts and now suffer the consequences. Let’s hope this one will be a wake up call.

Trump Potus Tweet bullying Greta Thurnberg

DON’T MESS WITH GRETA!

If any of you are regulars on this beat, you may have noticed that in deference to our increasing susceptibility to Trump fatigue, I have suspended my analyses of the Donald’s behaviors. You may rest assured however that they have not gone unnoticed, and that I have watched with great interest the current fruitless attempts to remove him from office.

 

It is appalling that, though judged obnoxious by most, his behaviors have been accepted and even admired by a large segment of the populace. His extreme repetition of lie after lie overwhelms truth. His cozy relationships with authoritarian rulers of the world is worrisome as is his impulsive and inconsistent decision making. He seems to find The Constitution to be inconvenient, and probably feels that without it, those pesky democrats could be forced to shut up and do as they are told. Meanwhile, those who praise him are granted the keys to the castle no matter their political leanings.

Those issues and others were bad enough, but now he has really pissed me off by attacking my heroine Greta Thunberg, a bona fide 21st century Joan of Arc. Although the Nobel Prize committee did not follow my advice by awarding the prize to Greta, she was named “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine.

Upon learning of that, Trump the tweet master, posted as follows: “So ridiculous, Greta must work on her anger management problem, then go to a good old-fashioned movie with a friend. Chill Greta, chill.”

Trump Potus Tweet bullying Greta ThurnbergAs one perfectly willing and able to take on the most powerful man in the world, Greta responded by changing her twitter profile to read:

“A teenager working to resolve her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old-fashioned movie with a friend.”

He obviously did not know who he was “messing with.” When asked if she would consider discussing her views on climate change with the president, Greta replied that in his case “It would be a waste of time.”

Mr. Trump was named “Person of the Year” upon his election in 2016, and has complained that he was not similarly rewarded in subsequent years. He does have a valid point as Jim Kelly, managing editor of Time, has defined an honoree as: “the person who most affected events of the year for better or worse.” For example, Hitler and Osama Bin Laden have been named in past years, so perhaps we should consider our dear leader for the dubious honor. I doubt he would care much as to which category he belonged as long as that magnificent head of hair was accurately depicted on the cover.

To be jealous of a teenage girl must be particularly difficult for a malignant narcissist. However, now that he has rid himself of those who did not always suck up and has surrounded himself with sycophants, he should recover. Meanwhile, in spite of my dismay, there is also some relief in hearing Senator McConnell guarantee that Trump will not be removed from office. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I am concerned as to the effect his being cornered could have on his already precarious mental state. The down side is that a not guilty verdict may well reinforce his conviction that Article II of The Constitution gives him the power to: “Do anything I want.”

Since I was a latecomer to the “Greatest Generation,” I confess that I have not always been enthusiastic about turning the keys over to today’s crop of teenagers. However; I am in awe of the activism of Greta’s generation (Click here to read Business Insider’s definition of Gen Z). The movement she started was inspired by the “March for Our Lives” movement to end gun violence, which was organized by survivors of the Parkland Florida High School massacre. Their march on Washington produced a crowd rivaling the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration (I trust he hasn’t heard of that comparison).

Only months after Greta began her protests alone with a hand-made sign in front of the Swedish parliament building, this petite 16 year-old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome has millions of followers in 150 countries, and is now the most recognizable climate change activist in the world. She has also been recognized in NATURE magazine as one of the 10 most influential people in science.

That millions of kids who chose to protest the inaction of we adults on the issues of gun violence and climate change could hardly be explained as simply an excuse to skip school. I have listened to excerpts from the speeches of several of these kids and have been incredibly impressed by their knowledge and vision. They demand action in place of platitudes. One of those high school kids from Parkland in an address at the D.C. rally made that clear when he stated in his speech: “Stand for us or beware. The voters are coming.”

March for Our Lives Protest in Washington D.C. prompted by Parkland High School Massacre

It all leads me to think the world will soon be in good hands. Go get em’ kids! The Greatest Generation is counting on you!

Sign about Greta and the children acting more like leaders than adults Climate change Global warming

Greta and Global Warming

Greta Thurnberg speaks at the U.N. about Climate Change  The recipients of this years Nobel prizes have recently been announced. My candidate, Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish girl, was not among them. She received fleeting notice in the press following an impassioned address before the United Nations in which she shamed we “adults” for our failure to seriously address the issue of climate change. She was sharply critical of those who consider only economic factors in the face of 30 years of science warning of the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, which she says has resulted in the world to be now in the “early stages of a mass extinction.”

 

Greta was an unlikely person to become a world-famous climate activist. She was socially awkward and extremely shy, which is not unusual in cases of Asperger’s syndrome, especially for Greta who was further afflicted with Selective Mutism. However, Greta has refused to see herself as disabled and regarding her diagnoses says: “It makes me see the world differently. I see through lies more easily. I don’t like compromising. To be different is not a weakness. It’s a strength in many ways, because you stand out from the crowd.” This is a link to Greta’s biography.

 

Indeed, this remarkable young person has stood out in a crowded world. In addition to her U.N. speech her accomplishments include inspiring children’s uprisings throughout the world including the September 20th “School Strike for Climate” involving an estimated 4 million people world-wide which had preceded her address at the U.N.

Greta was born into an apparently supportive and relatively affluent family along with a younger sister. There is little information available as to her early childhood. However, one could assume there were the usual problems associated with the presence of an autistic spectrum child in the family. Her mother is an opera singer, who is famous throughout Europe, and her father is an actor. From what I could ascertain, it appears her parents have been supportive of Greta in her political activities. From the available history, it appears that Greta was not in special classes, but preferred to sit silently in the back of the classroom. At the age of 8, her class was shown a series of documentaries about climate change that would change her life.

 

She became obsessed with the climate issue, or in Greta’s words: “those pictures were stuck in my head,” which is a common problem for those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Three years later, she had become severely depressed, and unable to function. “I kept thinking about it (climate change), and wondered if I am going to have a future.” She was finally able to overcome her Selective Mutism, and confess to her Mother how the obsession had come to dominate her thinking and crowd out every other thought. Should Greta’s mother ever lose her voice and be unable to sing, I suggest she might find a promising career as a psychotherapist as her response was exactly what was needed. She listened attentively, and acknowledged the seriousness of the issue without the hollow reassurances and platitudes we are often tempted to issue in such situations.

 

For Greta, this was an “ah-hah” moment. After listening to her recitation of all the facts that Greta had collected regarding climate change, her mom was converted on the spot to a full-fledged environmentalist. Eventually, she would even stop traveling by air, install solar panels on their home, and join Greta as a vegetarian. Apparently, Greta was inspired by her parents’ response and began to think she might be able to influence others to share her concerns about climate change. “That’s when I kind of realized that I could make a difference.”

 

At age 15, Greta entered a climate writing competition held by the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, and was declared a winner. Her essay titled ‘We know – and we can do something now’ was published which brought her to the attention of an activist who mentioned the strike by the Parkland Florida students who were seeking to change gun laws. She liked the idea of a school strike, and immediately set out to recruit fellow students. She was not deterred when none would join her, but found an old board on which she painted ‘Skolstrejk for Klimatet’ (school strike for climate). Equipped with her sign and some hand written flyers, she initiated her one-person strike by sitting alone outside the Swedish Parliament building.

One of the news people covering parliament paused to interview her and wrote a brief article. The following day Greta was joined by others in her strike and the numbers continued to grow for the next 21 days until the Swedish national elections took place. The story was picked up by other news outlets, and social media. As a result of her rapid rise

to fame, Greta was invited to speak at a climate rally in front of thousands of people. Her parents were reluctant to allow her to do it due to their concerns about her selective mutism. However; Greta was adamant that she must speak out and said of her disorder: “Basically it means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.” The speech was delivered in flawless English and declared a rousing success.

 

Since that first debut, her speeches and interviews have gained huge audiences. As with this most recent rendering, she speaks on her subject with authority and nary a slip of the tongue. Her English is impeccable without a trace of an accent. The U.N. speech was a climax to the worldwide school strike, but she was not done yet for the next day she announced on twitter: “I and 15 other children from around the world filed a legal complaint against 5 nations over the climate crisis through the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. These 5 nations (France, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey) are the largest emitters that have ratified the convention.” During that U.N. visit, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak to the U.S. Congress Committee on Climate Issues. She bluntly told them, I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists and take real action as she explained why she was attaching the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report on Climate Change to her testimony.

 

It appears to me that the world has taken little note of what Greta and her buddies have accomplished, but then I guess it is not considered as newsworthy as a Trump tweet. In like fashion, it seems that the climate gets little notice in spite of all the bad news that seems to confirm the accuracy of climatologists’ frightening predictions. If anything, all that bad stuff they have been talking about for years is taking place more rapidly than predicted. In the U.S., our most recent crisis involved flooding in the northeast and fires in the west, but there is no place in the world left unscathed.

  • Some examples include Venice where the current flooding is the worst ever recorded.
  • There is also the Amazon rain forest still ablaze with nearly 3800 square miles destroyed in the past year compliments of Brazil’s president Bolsonoro, a rightwing climate change denier. This is a triple whammy, for in addition to its role in producing oxygen, it sequestered large amounts of CO2 which is released back into the atmosphere as it burns.
  • We just experienced the warmest July ever recorded while 24 billion tons of ice melted in Greenland.
  • With an ice sheet in some places nearly 2 miles thick, there is enough ice there that when melted will raise sea levels 23 feet.
  • Michael Bevis, lead author of a recent publication by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science states that we are now at a tipping point beyond which there will be no stopping the melt which is now increasing at 4 times the rate which had been predicted. If that trend is not reversed many coastal cities throughout the world will soon be immersed, resulting in mass migrations from our most densely populated areas.
  • It has recently been determined that the arctic permafrost is now melting much faster than had originally been predicted and liberating methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. It has long been known that warming oceans contribute to more violent storms, but recent studies have shown that they are becoming acidic due to absorption of CO2, threatening not only reefs but all manner of marine life on which millions depend for sustenance. It has been said that the major grain producing areas of the world are particularly vulnerable to drought and even becoming deserts.

 

The news is not all bad however. I have heard that some renewable sources of energy are now less expensive than fossil fuels. How ironic it would be if pursuit of the mighty Dollar, which led us down this rabbit hole, would ultimately be our salvation. If we make more money using other energy sources, the fossil stuff will be left in the ground where it belongs. As for me, I put my hopes on Greta and her several million friends although She has said: “I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic.” Her wish may be coming true for Time has recently published a story about a world wide epidemic of “eco-anxiety.”

 

Greta Thunberg: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic”

Most would agree that Greta is different. Unfortunately, “different” is often used with a negative connotation. Perhaps, we should use another adjective, such as special, extraordinary, bold, courageous, dedicated, to describe those who are “different” for throughout history we have seen many who were saddled with the label of “different” accomplish amazing things. In some whom we call savants we witness areas of genius in the face of severe limitations.  Greta, realized that she was not ordinary and said: “That’s when I realized I could make a difference”, and she has.  You go Girl!

Editor’s Note: While editing eshrink’s blog, I found this blog post from Scientific American that previews a book written about scientists actually underestimating the rate of climate change and what can be done about it.

 

Sign about Greta and the children acting more like leaders than adults Climate change Global warming

Mother Earth from Space

Global warming and climate change continue to affect our habitat. Mother Earth will survive. Humans may not. ALWAYS LOVE YOUR MOTHER!

 

Farm Life

While on my way to visit kids and grandkids recently, I passed through some of the most lush farmland in the country.  In western Ohio and eastern Indiana one can see for miles in all directions for the land is tabletop flat, and the soil is nearly black.  Early settlers must have concluded that they had indeed reached the promised land.  It is difficult to imagine an area on the planet more suitable for farming, and it has been utilized as such for two hundred years or more.

During the last forty years of traveling this route, there have been dramatic changes in the landscape for this is the age of corporate agriculture with its
“factory farms”.  Gone are the fences, farmhouses, barns, silos and houses that identified family farms.  In their place are huge expanses of unadorned land reaching almost to the horizon with a lone house and machinery shed surrounded by shiney metal granary bins visible in the distance.

On this trip, I noticed a bulldozer in one of those fields which was in the process of demolishing a house.  It had also attacked a group of trees surrounding the house and there was no evidence of the barn and silo which must have once resided there.   I wondered about the family who had lived in that house and worked that soil.  I wondered about how many generations had lived there and how many kids grew up there.  I wondered about what had led them to sell out.  Was it the amount of money offered, poor management, crop failure, or simply a lack of interest by the kids and their desire to pursue an urban life?

Whatever the history of that house, I felt sad to see that it would soon be obliterated for it provided further evidence that a way of life which had existed for thousands of years would soon be gone.  200 years ago more than 90% of people were involved in farming while today it is less than 2%.  Early on man learned that planting his own crops and domesticating animals was more efficient and less risky than hunting for food.  As he became more proficient he was able to barter and later sell what was left after he fed his family, a tradition which survived until recent times.  In the last century that system was turned on its head as farmers joined the evolving culture of specialization.  Rather than growing food for his family and selling what was left, he sold what he produced and bought food for his family with the proceeds.

During my adolescence I was fortunate enough to spend a year living on my Grandparents farm.  It was small, and operated primarily as a source of food for the family; consequently it was diversified with cows, chickens, pigs, a huge vegetable garden, and a field of corn large enough to feed the animals.  Although they did sell some eggs and milk the primary fruits of their labor was to provide food for the family.  To live there was to be in harmony with nature.  I found it very satisfying to eat what I had labored to help nature produce.  I have been a “city slicker” all my life, but I still cherish that year I spent learning the most important lessons of my life.

With the age of specialization such farms as my Grandad’s are seen as very inefficient.  Consequently we now have chicken farmers, turkey farmers, hog farmers, dairy farmers, grain farmers, fruit farmers, beef farmers, truck farmers (vegetable growers for you who are unenlightened) and even fish farmers.   Furthermore many of these may be even more specialized producing a particular species of animal or variety of vegetable or fruit.

After a group of investors buy several adjoining farms and clear them of obstructions like buildings and fences, one man on a huge air conditioned tractor can till, sow, fertilize, and reap more crops than could all of the previous occupants combined without even breaking a sweat.  The weed problem was long ago solved by soaking the ground with chemicals which prevent unwanted vegetation from appearing, so forget those long days in the hot sun hoeing a field of corn one stalk at time.

Much about these changes are laudable for in a world in which the World food Program reports 795 million people do not get enough to eat, food production needs to be done as efficiently as possible. Another statistic that floored me was that while we struggle with the problem of childhood obesity 100 million children in developing countries are underweight, and malnutrition is the norm.

There is much about the demise of the family farm, and proliferation of large corporate farms which causes concern for many of us.  Farm subsidy programs are a major source of contention which not surprisingly are popular with farmers, but not so much with others.  In these programs, crazy as it may seem farmers are sometimes paid for not growing crops.  This costs taxpayers 25 billion dollars a year, most of which according to an article in the February 14, 2015 issue of the Economist “goes to big rich farmers…..”.   As nearly as I can tell, this is designed to protect farmers from price fluctuations by limiting production.   What a comfort   to know your business is insured against losses by the federal government.  That type of business welfare appears to be even better than the type enjoyed by “big oil”, or Wall Street.  Little wonder that “agribusiness” has expanded rapidly.   I can’t help but wonder if that subsidy money might be better spent by paying farmers to grow stuff and using the surplus to feed those kids who go to school hungry.  25 billion dollars should buy a lot of corn flakes.

Environmentalists are also in a tizzy over modern farming techniques with good reason.  In 2015 there were 190.4 million tons of fertilizer used worldwide with its runoff causing all kinds of problems.  For example, in my area of the world it is deemed responsible for the pollution of Lake Erie with toxic algae affecting the fishing industry among other things.  There are reports of so called “dead zones” in streams where fertilizer run off is said to reduce oxygen levels to a level incompatible with the life of fish and other aquatic organisms.

The debate over other health issues which may be associated with fertilizers rages on between the environmental community and the major chemical companies.  There is also speculation about impurities such as heavy metals which could have a more long lasting effect on the soil.   However there seems little doubt these chemicals have had a major effect in increasing food production.

Even more contentious are the disagreements as to the effect of insecticides and herbicides.  These substances are after all powerful poisons which are spread over wide areas.  Many entomologists believe that one type of bug killer (neonicotinoids) is largely responsible for the demise of large numbers of bees which are so necessary to pollinate many of our fruits and vegetables. . Neonicotinoids are still widely used in the U.S. while they have been banned in Europe, enough for a cynical old tree hugger like myself to lose even more confidence in the EPA. It also seems logical that the widespread use of weed killers could adversely affect wildlife populations.  Once again, skeptical me does not find the reassurances of giant agribusiness companies that these substances are innocuous very comforting.

Livestock farms pose even more disturbing scenarios.   The December issue of Scientific American published an expose of the effects of antibiotic use in livestock “the looming threat of factory farm superbugs”.  Animal rights advocates have  long complained about the policy of close confinement of animals and chickens in order for them to require less feed and gain weight faster.  The author of this article visited a hog farm to find 1100 pigs housed in a 40 x 200 foot building, which allowed them little room to move or to avoid lying in their own excrement.  Such conditions raise the risk of infections which could decimate the herd, the solution for which is to give them antibiotics.

blog-pigs

Recently researchers have found evidence of drug resistant bacteria in these animals.  In one study 70% of pigs tested were positive for MRSA, the drug resistant staphylococcus which has become a major problem for hospitals nationwide, and now shows signs of entering the population at large.  They have also found those same organisms in workers on these farms.   In addition to the risk from undercooked pork, the bacteria can also be transmitted from handling raw meat from infected pork, chicken, or beef.  With that in mind it is important for those preparing meats to wash their hands thoroughly after handling them.

In most cases the format for the pork factories is different than for grain farms.  It appears that in most cases, the company does not own land, but pays a farmer to raise their pigs until they are old enough to butcher.  What is most disturbing about the Scientific American piece is their assertion that researchers who wish to investigate this problem have been denied access to these farms on orders by the corporations who own the pigs. This prompted Dr. James Johnson at the University of Minnesota to say “Frankly, it reminds me of the tobacco, asbestos, and oil industries”.  “We have a long history of industries subverting public health”.  The response to this potential epidemic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been tepid at best, while the Netherlands and Denmark outlawed such animal antibiotic use years ago.  The mantra that business is over-regulated in the U.S. does not seem to apply in this case.

There is also the   problem especially in the pork business of what to do with the manure.  It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that raising 30 or 40 thousand pigs a year in one spot could result in a lot of pig poop.  The problem has been solved by building “lagoons” in which to dump it.  Believe me if any of you have ever had a whiff of pig shit, you will know that lagoon is not a very appropriate designation for these super cesspools.

blog-water

It does not take a high powered scientist to understand that odor might be the smallest part of the problem.  The leak into an aquafer for example could not be very healthy for those downstream.

Last but not least is the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMO) about which there does not seem to be a consensus.  There are those who think foods from these seeds may be unhealthy, and others who express concern over the dangers of tinkering around with DNA apparently concerned that some Frankenstein plant form might evolve.  Those on the other side of that fence point out that we have been doing genetic engineering for many years, by creating hybrids, selective breeding, or by grafting one part of a plant on to another.  They also suggest we look at dogs who exist in hundreds of varieties, who although genetically different from each other all have the wolf as their ancestor.

One very promising development of this science has been the ability to develop plants which are drought resistant.  It is also reported that it may be possible to produce plants which are unaffected by pests.  If that were to come to pass we might be able to eliminate the use of some of those pesticides which certainly would not be a bad thing.  On the other hand, once again we face that same old conundrum, forced to decide if the good resulting from the implementation of a new technology outweighs the bad.  Unfortunately, we are often unable to anticipate the bad.

At this point you may be thinking that many of these thoughts are colored by the nostalgic meanderings of an old man, and of course you would be correct.  Although I am saddened by the losses of a subculture, I am heartened and amazed at the scientific achievements witnessed during my lifetime.  One of these is how it has been made possible to yield so much food from our soil.  My grandfather would be amazed to learn that his one acre which had produced 50 bushels of corn could now yield three times that much.

So far innovations in farming have allowed us to increase food production to grow at a faster pace than the world’s  population; therefore refuting Malthus’s prediction of world -wide starvation.   The big question that remains open is whether such innovations will be able to keep up with a continued increase in world population especially while facing the challenges of climate change, if we will be able to do this without killing the goose that lays the golden egg.