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Sign of the Times

Photo of the head of a Native American chief

The killing of George Floyd and the righteous anger that followed it have thrust our society into a maelstrom of emotion over racial inequality, police reform, and a cultural reckoning in which the symbols of past injustices are being scrutinized and, in many cases, torn down.  Confederate statues are being removed or unceremoniously toppled from their lofty perches.  The Washington Redskins, after years of defiance, have announced that they are changing their name.  The U.S. Army has agreed to rename military bases named after Confederate generals (although Donald Trump opposes it).  And in Durango, Colorado, our little corner of the world, a controversy has arisen over a large sign of a Native American “chief” whom some regard as historical folk art while others view as a derogatory depiction of Native people.

I have to confess that when I learned of the controversy over the “Chief” sign, I struggled to recall what the sign looked like.  I’ve lived in Durango for three decades and have driven by, parked beside, and walked beneath that sign hundreds if not thousands of times.  I had reached that point of familiarity where I no longer saw what I had obviously seen numerous times, like knowing how to drive to a place on the other side of town although you’re unable to give someone directions because you can’t recall the street names.  When I was told that some Native Americans found the sign offensive, I had to Google the sign’s image before remembering what it looked like and questioning why someone might be offended by it.

Photo of the Chief sign in Durango, Colorado
Durango’s “Chief” sign has stirred a debate over whether it is folk art or a demeaning representation of Native Americans

As with any cultural controversy, people fall on both sides of the issue.  The sign’s owner argued in a letter to the editor of the Durango Herald that their Native American art gallery, Toh Atin, is a family business that has worked with Native people “as friends and partners for over 60 years.”  They purchased the sign years ago from the defunct Chief Diner and asked their Native artists if they approved.  “Nearly every artist we asked voiced their support and no one felt it was offensive,” the owner wrote.  Moreover, since the controversy arose, “the number of emails, texts and calls we have received from people who adamantly want the Chief to stay speaks loudly.”

One of the people supporting the sign was Pearl Casias, former chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.  In a letter to the Herald, she wrote, “To us, the sign represented a friendly place [referring to the Chief Diner] where Indians were welcomed.  None of us felt the sign was offensive.”  She added, “I believe the ‘Chief’ sign is an important part of local history that conjures positive memories for those of us who frequented the diner over a half-century ago.  It should be celebrated, not destroyed.”

For a different view, I’m turning to Faith Roessel, a Navajo Indian and Fort Lewis College alumna who serves on the Fort Lewis College Foundation Board, where I also serve.  As a child growing up in this region, later as an FLC student, and then as an adult, Faith appreciated the quality Indian art displayed in Toh Atin, but she came to realize, she wrote in a letter to board members, that what was also being promoted by the “Chief” sign was “the stale image of the ‘old west.’”  As a parent, she said, “I constantly remind my boys that we define who we are, others do not define (us).  I will readily admit this is much easier said than done, especially when I am up against distorted depictions of American Indians that undercut how I view myself, my community, and what I want for my children.”  Faith began seeing “the affable ‘Indian’ in a different light. . .  No longer did he represent a sign innocuously marking a store.  He was a representation; a fiction of how non-Indians saw us.”

It helps to put the “Chief” sign in the broader context of what is happening across the country as so many have been awakened to centuries-long inequalities and injustices minority communities have endured.  The anger, shared by many in the majority population, quickly morphed into protests, demonstrations, and violent confrontations with police.  Confederate statues, long a point of contention for many people, were targeted as symbols of racial oppression, and some local governments voted to remove them.  But this process was not swift enough for some people.  Unruly mobs (are any of them ever “ruly”?) took it upon themselves to decide which statues should remain and which torn down, dispensing the kind of vigilante justice mostly seen in old westerns when angry citizens break into the town jail and string up an accused without a trial.

Some people have suggested closing museums, expelling all reminders of an injust past, as though removing the evidence can expunge the guilt we’ve inherited from our ancestors whose perspectives and cultures were not as evolved as we believe ours to be.  This begs the question:  how will our distant descendants view us?  What mistakes are we making now that they will condemn when our choices and our opportunity to defend ourselves lie in the dust with our bones?

When does the past become history rather than a crime?  Should we condemn Mark Twain for having used the “n” word in Huckleberry Finn, arguably one of the greatest American novels?  Should we demolish the Washington Monument and rename Washington, D.C. and the State of Washington because our first president was a slave owner?  Should we burn the Declaration of Independence because it was drafted by another Virginian who owned slaves?  Should the Roman Colosseum be torn down because it was the site of the public slaughter of  hundreds of thousands of gladiators, slaves, and wild animals, all to the delight of ancient Roman citizens?  Should Auschwitz be leveled as a prominent site in the Holocaust?  Or should it be preserved as a reminder and a memorial?

We can’t rewrite history by destroying its artifacts.  Nor can we expiate our modern guilt over what transpired hundreds of years ago by consigning historical relics to the dustbin of present-day political correctness.

Illustrations of a stereotypical 1950's housewife
What if the “Chief” sign was instead a caricature of a 1950’s housewife?

I believe the past should be studied and understood but certainly not erased.  Whether we choose to honor certain ancestors and events is a matter of individual discretion, but having mobs determine which monuments and statues are culturally and politically acceptable denies the rest of us the opportunity to join the debate and make informed, democratic decisions.  The owner of the Toh Atin gallery shared a Facebook post regarding the “Chief” sign in which the author of the post wrote:  “Either the business and city respond appropriately to this petition, or a campaign will escalate, likely including protests at the sign, pickets and sit-ins at the business, raucous peoples’ occupations of City Council meetings, and if it comes to it, the removal of the statue by direct action.  This is their last chance.  They are on notice.”  This ultimatum is precisely the type of vigilante threat that all of us, as citizens in a democracy, should abhor.  Discussion, yes, debate, yes—but unilateral destruction of private property, no.  In another letter to the Herald, former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Native American, noted that “violence is the wrong way to rectify other wrongs. . . There may be differences of opinion on the ‘Chief,’ but surely we can agree that vandalism is not the American way to make change.”

The debate may make people uncomfortable.  But as Faith Roessel wrote, “If we are uncomfortable with all this, then I am hopeful.  It is in our discomfort that we truly learn, let our guard down and have the potential to exercise compassion toward each other.”

Some have argued that the “Chief” sign is folk art, part of Durango’s history, and should be preserved because it is part of the town’s history and heritage as an Old West mining and railroad town.  Would some part of that heritage be lost if the sign were removed?  Is it an historical artifact in the same vein as a Confederate statue?  Or the Bill of Rights, which was partially written by slave owners?  Or the Jefferson Memorial, which at least one of his descendants has argued should be destroyed?  I’ll ask the question again:  When does the past become history rather than a crime?  Is it ever acceptable to honor imperfect people who nonetheless did historically great things?  Yes, George Washington owned slaves.  He also led a ragtag revolutionary army against the world’s finest army at that time—and won.  He was our first president and refused to be named king, thus preserving our republic as a democracy.  As imperfect as America is, it was still built on democratic principles that we can honor in their intent if not always their execution, and we can continually strive to live up to the promise.

I’ve been approaching the issue of the “Chief” sign by asking myself, what if it were different?

A caricature illustration of a Jewish man
What if you were Jewish and the “Chief” sign was instead this image in front of a Jewish deli?

What if I were Jewish, and the sign depicted a caricature of a Jewish man with a hooked nose and greedy eyes instead of a Native American?  The Nazis published such images throughout Germany in the 1930s to dehumanize Jews.  What if I were a woman and the sign depicted the stereotypical happy housewife of the 50’s wearing an apron and holding a mop?  What if I were an African-American and the sign showed a sharecropper picking cotton?  Or an Asian-American and the sign, pointing to a gallery selling Asian-American art, was a caricature of a Chinese coolie?

How would I feel differently about the sign if its image depicted my race—my identity as a human being—in a demeaning and stereotypical light?  I think as we contemplate the “Chief” sign, or Confederate statues, or the brand name of a syrup, or the mascot of a football team, this is the question we should be asking.  Maybe the death of George Floyd will ultimately have served a much higher purpose.  Maybe it will have raised our collective consciousness about the impact of names, signs, symbols, and images on our fellow human beings who are in some way different from us but nonetheless an equal part of the patchwork of humanity living on our planet.  We can’t change the past and should not try to erase it, but we are not obligated to continue the prejudices and practices of our ancestors or to honor them if doing so dishonors, devalues, or stereotypes others.

As Faith Roessel closed her letter, she wrote, “oRather than trap American Indians in a time warp and depictions not of their making, I believe Durango is ready to embrace a newfound appreciation of modern day native peoples.  We are overdue for a relationship that underscores mutual respect and recognition of each other. . .  The ‘Indian’ of Durango ought to come down so it no longer casts a shadow over our young Indian students and native community and so that it no longer reinforces a stereotype to the out-of-town visitors who may never have encountered an American Indian in their lives.  I do not see myself in the face of that sign.  I pray you do not see me in that token image either.”

Durango’s “Chief” sign is privately owned and sits on private property, and that must be respected.  Perhaps the solution is not to tear it down but to replace it with a modern sign designed by Native American artists, a sign that is dignified and respectful and still points the way to one of the finest galleries of Native American art in our town.  Replacing the sign would be costly, but perhaps some townspeople would contribute toward facilitating the transition of Durango from an Old West town to a New West town, acknowledging the past while creating a more inclusive future.  Whatever the owner decides to do with the sign, we should at least use this controversy as an opportunity to have some uncomfortable conversations with each other, to educate ourselves about the effects of stereotypes and tokens, particularly on our children, and to surface the unspoken assumptions we make about each others’ identities.  Nothing will change without thoughtful dialogue and a willingness to hear and see others as they really are today instead of whom we assume them to be based on historically prejudicial pigeonholing.  Nor will anything change if our purpose in listening to others is not to hear them and understand their point of view but to entrench ourselves in our own arguments and think only of ways to strengthen them.

However flawed Thomas Jefferson might have been (as viewed from a modern perspective), he wrote the words that will forever define American aspiration:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal.”  We should all aspire to live that truth.  We now have the opportunity and obligation to reach that truth together.

 

Faith Roessel’s comments from her letter are used with permission.

Photo credits:  Photo of the “Chief” sign by Terry Bacon; 1950s housewife illustration:  ID 42096947 © Retro Clipart | Dreamstime.com; portrait of a Jew by Liusa @ shutterstock.com.

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Humanity: A Global Journey by Jim Foster

If you have subscribed to National Geographic magazine–or glanced through it in a doctor’s office while waiting for an appointment–then you’ve seen pictures of the seemingly infinite variety of human beings around our planet:  from Masai herders on the plains of Kenya to dancers at the temples in Angkor Wat and from Russian peasants celebrating a wedding in traditional clothing to novitiate monks at prayer in Myanmar.  Such photos remind us of the majestic, multicultural world we inhabit and of the fascinating differences that define us as well as the common humanity we share.  But what many of us glimpsed in National Geographic, Durangoan Jim Foster has experienced.  He has been an avid world traveler for much of his life and has captured life on Earth through his lens.  This photo journey, the first of two parts, presents a few of his photos of people around the world.

Two girls lighting candles at a church
Lighting candles at a church in Korsakov

 

 

Two Russian girls wearing scarves light candles at a church in Korsakov on Sakhalin Island.  This is a ritual repeated in churches of many denominations throughout the world.  We wonder what they are praying for.

 

 

 

 

 

A young indigenous Russian boy with a rope
A Russian boy demonstrates his skill with a rope

 

 

An indigenous Russian boy in Chukotka Province, opposite Alaska, shows his skill with a lasso-type rope.  He is aware of the camera but stays focused on his target.

 

 

 

Photo of a bartender at the Dung Beetle Bar in
The Dung Beetle Bar in Botswana

 

 

 

It’s happy hour at the Dung Beetle Bar in an Okovango Delta camp in Botswana.  Note the figurine of a dung beetle in the lower right.  Don’t be squeamish.  The drinks are dung-free.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of a Burmese woman smoking a fat cigar
A woman in Myanmar smokes a homemade cigar

 

 

 

A woman in Myanmar smokes a big, fat stoogie while balancing a bundle of sticks on her head.

 

 

 

 

Photo of newlyweds in Indonesia
Bride and Groom in Indonesia

 

 

These newlyweds are leading a march to their wedding feast on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of a Cambodian dancer at a temple
Dancer from the Royal Cambodian Ballet

 

 

A dancer from the Royal Cambodian Ballet poses in a temple ruin near Angkor Wat flanked by nearly identically garbed stone figures.

 

 

 

 

Photo of a neighborhood band in Havana
A neighborhood band playing in Havana

 

 

 

 

Neighborhood bands like this one are a common sight in Havana’s arts district.

 

 

 

 

Photo of a student sitting beneath a wall at Munich's modern art museum
A student at Munich’s modern art museum

 

 

 

A student catches up on studies while sunbathing along the colorful wall of Munich’s Museum of Modern Art

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of an Australian woman with a wombat
A young wombat nuzzles its keeper

 

 

In Australia, a young wombat nuzzles its keeper.  Wombats are burrowers with rodent-like teeth.  Full grown, they can be three feet long and weigh around sixty pounds.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of two Masai men wearing red robes
Masai herdsmen in Kenya

 

 

 

Two Masai herdsmen on the dusty plains of Kenya, friendly and perhaps amused by the photographer.  Note their beaded wrist and ankle bracelets.

 

 

 

Photo of two Tanzanian schoolboys
Tanzanian schoolboys mugging for the camera

 

 

 

With mischievous delight in their eyes, these two Tanzanian schoolboys take a break from class to clown for the photographer.

 

 

 

 

Photo of three bathers in an infinity pool in Singapore
An infinity pool in Singapore

 

 

 

This infinity pool atop a high-rise building in Singapore offers an unusual–and perhaps frightening–perspective on a modern, busy city.

 

 

 

 

All photographs are courtesy of James H. Foster, Copyright 2020.   All rights reserved.

 

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Trump/Covid-19 Timeline

Photo of Donald Trump

The year 2020 will become known as the year of the Covid-19 pandemic.  It will also mark Donald Trump’s worst year as president–the year he ignored the warnings, failed to listen to experts, dismissed and downplayed a deadly contagion until it was too late, and then tried to ignore it as the economy tumbled and he fought to be reelected while American deaths mounted and he blamed everyone but himself for his failures.  This timeline of the Covid-19 pandemic and Trump’s response to it paints an alarming picture of just how badly the president miscalculated and, when the country needed a wise, compassionate, and decisive leader, what we got instead was a buffoon whose failed leadership caused needless deaths and economic destruction.

 

Covid-19 originated in China, who initially covered up the outbreak, but the Trump administration was not prepared for a pandemic and spent more than a month dismissing the threat once it became known.

2017                Trump ignores the pandemic playbook and pandemic role play prepared by the Obama administration and given to his incoming team after the 2016 presidential election

2018                Trump fires the pandemic response team and cut the CDC’s Budget

2019                Trump ignores Intelligence warnings about the outbreak in China

12/18/19         House Impeaches Trump

12/31/19         China alerts WHO of virus outbreak

1/1/20             Trump refuses WHO test kits and instead denies the seriousness of Covid-19, even mocking it

1/3/20             White House, CDC and NSC informed by China of their outbreak

1/6/20             Countries around the globe begin to take action

1/7/20             Trump warned by US intelligence agencies of the dangers of this new virus

1/8/20             First CDC warning to the White House and public

1/9/20             Trump campaign rally

1/14/20           HSS drafts the Defense Production Act for President’s signature

1/14/20           Human-to-human transmission revealed in China

1/14/20           Trump campaign rally

1/16/20           House sends impeachment articles to Senate

1/17/20           CDC calls Covid-19 a low risk for Americans.

1/18/20           Testing centralized; begins in CDC labs ONLY- 4 tests. Other labs are forbidden to test

1/18/20           Trump golfs

1/19/20           Trump golfs

1/20/20           First case of corona virus in Washington State

1/22/20           Trump:  “We’re not worried about a pandemic.  We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. Not a pandemic. It’s going to be just fine.”

1/23/20           China fatality rate at 4%, locks down 11 million Chinese.

1/24/20           Trump praises China instead of taking action to prepare for prevention, testing and PPE. Obama playbook ignored. Instead, Trump systemically undercut or dissolved the systems, organizations, personnel and plans to address a pandemic crises.

Trump’s grandstanding took precedence over a calm, reasoned, and effective response to the growing pandemic

1/28/20           Trump campaign rally

1/29/20           5 confirmed cases in the U.S.

1/29/20           Peter Navarro warns that half a million could die in U.S.

1/30/20           HHS Secretary Azar warns Trump of catastrophic effects in the virus

1/30/20           Trump campaign rally

1/31/20            820 tests to date—still in CDC labs only.     Despite numerous daily intelligence briefings during the month, Trump ignores the warnings.  WHO declares a Public Health Emergency.

2/1/20             Trump golfs

2/2/20             Trump:  “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” Travel restrictions from China implemented.

2/5/20             Senate votes to acquit. Then takes a five-day weekend.

2/6/20             11 confirmed cases in the U.S.

2/10/20           During a Trump campaign rally, he says, “They’re working hard.  Looks like by April it all miraculously goes away.”

2/12/20           Dow Jones closes at an all-time high of 29,551.42

2/13/20           13 confirmed cases in the U.S.

2/15/20           Trump golfs

2/19/20           Trump campaign rally

2/20/20           Trump campaign rally

2/21/20           Trump campaign rally

2/24/20           Trump:  “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.  The stock market is starting to look very good to me!”

2/25/20           Trump:  “CDC and my administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus.”

2/25/20           Trump:  “I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away.  They have studied it. They know very much. In fact, we’re very close to a vaccine.”

2/26/20           Trump:  “The 15 (cases in the US) within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”  He puts Pence in charge of the coronavirus task force.

2/26/20           Trump:  “We’re going very substantially down, not up.” Also “This is a flu. This is like a flu”; “Now, you treat this like a flu”; “It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for. And we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.”

2/26/20           Trump:  “Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low.”

2/27/20           Trump:  “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

2/27/20           16 confirmed cases in the U.S.

2/28/20           Trump:  “We’re ordering a lot of supplies. We’re ordering a lot of, uh, elements that frankly we wouldn’t be ordering unless it was something like this. But we’re ordering a lot of different elements of medical.”

2/28/20           At a campaign rally, Trump says, “So far we have lost nobody to coronavirus in the United States.”  His adoring crowd cheers.  He says that Covid-19 is the new #DemHoax.

2/29/20           2,434 tests in February at CDC labs; 754 at Public Health labs.  FDA loosens regulations on medicine/vaccine testing.

2/29/20           68 confirmed cases in the U.S.; first death is recorded.

2/29/20           Clinical labs are finally allowed to test. Over a month of critical response wasted. (April 18 Quote from The Lancet, a respected medical journal: “During the brief window when containment of the virus might have been a possibility, the CDC retained control of all testing, preventing external academic and commercial test development, and processing only about 100 samples per day. The US Food and Drug Administration has also created barriers through its requisite approval scheme for all diagnostics.”)

3/2/20             Trump:  “You take a solid flu vaccine, you don’t think that could have an impact, or much of an impact, on corona?”

3/2/20             Trump:  “A lot of things are happening, a lot of very exciting things are happening and they’re happening very rapidly.”

3/4/20             Trump:  “If we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work — some of them go to work, but they get better.”

3/5/20             Trump:  “I NEVER said people that are feeling sick should go to work.  The United State has, as of now, only 129 cases and 11 deaths. We are working very hard to keep these numbers as low as possible”

3/6/20             214 confirmed cases in the U.S.

3/6/20             Trump:  “I think we’re doing a really good job in this country at keeping it down.  A tremendous job at keeping it down.”

Photo of wrapped corpse
The death rates began climbing so rapidly that some cities could not respond to burial needs except with mass graves.

3/6/20             Trump:  “Anybody right now, and yesterday, anybody that needs a test gets a test. They’re there. And the tests are beautiful…. the tests are all perfect like the letter was perfect. The transcription was perfect. Right? This was not as perfect as that but pretty good.”

3/6/20             Trump:  “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it.  Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability.  Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”

3/6/20             Trump doesn’t want a cruise ship in San Francisco to allow infected Americans to leave the ship.  Trump:  “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

3/7/20             Trump golfs

3/8/20             Trump golfs

3/8/20             Trump:  “We have a perfectly coordinated and fine-tuned plan at the White House for our attack on Coronavirus.”

3/9/20             Trump:  “This blindsided the world.  No one saw this coming.”

3/11/20           WHO declares Covid-19 a pandemic.  Trump and Fox news continue to call Covid-19 a hoax and fake news while the U.S. reaches 1,285 confirmed cases.  Trump declares:  “This is the most comprehensive and aggressive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.”

3/12/20           Trump again calls Covid-19 a “foreign virus” and blames Europe for its spread to the U.S.  He imposes a ban on travel from most European countries.  Schools across the country begin closing and the NBA cancels its season.

3/13/20           1,896 confirmed cases in the U.S.

3/13/20           Trump declares a state of emergency     Some states begin restrictions on events and experts advise social distancing.

3/14/20           With the addition of clinical labs, a total of 10,000 tests have been conducted in US.  South Korea is conducting 10,000 a day with no nationwide shutdown.

3/16/20           After more than two weeks of urging by epidemiologists and medical experts, Trump finally urges safe distancing.  States begin to lock down.  Broadway closes.   In Europe, countries are closing their borders and banning large gatherings.

3/17/20           Trump:  “This is a bad one.  This is a very bad one.  This is a pandemic,” he tells reporters, “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

3/18/20           Trump:  “It’s not racist at all. No. Not at all. It comes from China. That’s why. It comes from China. I want to be accurate.”

3/18/20           The U.S. death toll to Covid-19 passes 100, and the infections have spread to all 50 states

3/19/20           A record 281,000 Americans file for unemployment this week

3/20/20           18,747 confirmed cases in the U.S.  When asked by a reporter what he would say to Americans who are scared right now, Trump replies, “I say you’re a terrible reporter.”

3/20/20           Trump announces that he will invoke parts of the Defense Production Act to increase the production of ventilators

3/23/20           Dow Jones closes at 18,591.93, its low point since 2/12/20.  The Dow has dropped by 37% in just over a month.  Trump panics at the devastation to the economy.  Trump:  “We can’t let the cure be worse than the problem.  America will soon be reopened for business.”  There are 43,847 confirmed cases in the U.S., 786 deaths, and now more than 100 people dying every day.

Photo of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo
At the peak of the crisis in March, the voice of reason most Americans turned to was New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

3/24/20           Trump says we are ending our historic battle with the invisible enemy.  53,736 confirmed cases; 1,011 deaths.

3/25/20           3.3 million Americans file for unemployment.  Congress agrees on a $2 trillion stimulus to rescue the economy.  Wall Street surges on the news.

3/26/20           US becomes world leader in Covid-19 cases.  At a G7 video conference meeting, a joint statement is scrapped after the U.S. insists on calling Covid the “Wuhan virus.”

3/27/20           103,321 confirmed cases in the U.S.  Trump signs the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.  The U.S. is now officially the global epicenter of the pandemic with more than 82,000 confirmed cases—a number that is rising rapidly.

3/30/20           Trump predicts that the country will be fully open for business by Easter and says that a “win” is near.  Daily coronavirus briefings have replaced Trump’s rallies, and he brags about his TV ratings.  Meanwhile, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says as many as 200,000 Americans could die from the virus even if the country takes aggressive action now.

3/31/20           164,620 confirmed cases in the U.S. and 3,170 deaths; Trump pushes untested drugs, Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin.

3/31/20           Resource acquisition and distribution is finally centralized, but only partially, allowing FEMA to steal resources ordered by states. Testing is far below requirements due to regulations, lack of equipment, and money.

4/1/20             Trump’s White House coronavirus briefings replace his rallies as his daily dose of public exposure.  Drs. Fauci and Brix become fixtures during the briefings.

4/2/20             Nearly one million cases globally.  U.S. hospitals running out of ventilators, masks, and PPE as hospitalizations increase dramatically.

4/2/20             6.6 million Americans file for unemployment

4/3/20             277,205 confirmed cases in the U.S.  In the absence of a federally coordinated response, states scramble to find essential medical equipment.  Massachusetts turns to the New England Patriots to fly masks in from China.

4/5/20             337,072 confirmed cases; 12,375 deaths.  As cases and deaths rise dramatically, Trump says, “We’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.  We can never be happy when we see so many people dying, but we’re going to be very happy at the job we did to keep the deaths down to an absolute minimum.”

4/6/20             374,328 confirmed cases in the U.S.  He continues to tout hydroxychloroquine, although medical experts say it is unproven and could be dangerous.

4/7/20             One American is dying of Covid-19 every 45 seconds

4/8/20             Trump says he will freeze funding for the WHO, which he falsely accuses of downplaying the pandemic.  Minutes later he denies saying what he just said.

4/9/20             Most people, even those with symptoms, still cannot get tested.  FEMA is diverting/stealing tests, PPE, and Ventilators that states ordered and purchased.

4/9/20             463,600+ confirmed cases in the U.S.; 16,500+ deaths

4/10/20           As mass burials are taking place in New York City, Trump says he wants a “big bang” reopening of the entire country on May 1.

4/13/20           578,178 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 23,401 deaths.  Trump:  “The president of the United States calls the shots.  If we weren’t here for the states, you would have had a problem in this country like you’ve never seen before.”

4/14/20           Trump denounces state governors who say they will reopen their states on their own terms.  Trump declares, “My authority is total!”  NY’s Governor Cuomo remarks:  “We don’t have a king.”

4/14/20           The Treasury Department announces that stimulus checks will be delayed while they add Donald Trump’s name to the checks.

4/14/20           CDC sends a 60-page “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework” to the White House, where it is shelved, releasing only 17 pages of excerpts that support Trump’s campaign to reopen the economy at all costs, even human lives.  Trump calls those dying of Covid-19 “warriors.”

4/16/20           667,592 confirmed cases in the U.S.  34,844 deaths.  Trump’s advisors tell him that if the governors call the shots on when to reopen their states, then he can’t be blamed if it’s too early.  He reverses course and says governors have the authority.

4/17/20           Trump encourages his base to protest state governors who will not violate his own guidelines for reopening their states

4/18/20           As protests over the lock down rise up across the country, Trump jumps on the bandwagon and tweets:  “LIBERATE MINNESOTA  LIBERATE MICHIGAN  LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” although those states do not meet federal guidelines for reopening

Sign in store window: closed until further notice
With the economy tanking and 40 million Americans out of work, Trump panicked and began pushing for the lock downs to end

4/16/20           758,809 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 40,945 deaths.  Trump:  “We would have had millions of deaths instead of it looks like we’ll be at the 60,000 mark.”

4/21/20           Trump temporarily suspends all immigration, while the feds continue to deport illegal immigrants, including many who have Covid-19

4/21/20           Republican governor Kemp of Georgia begins easing restrictions, despite expert advice not to and rising Covid-19 infection rates in his state

4/22/20           Trump backs away from his ban on immigration

4/23/20           After urging states to reopen, Trump criticizes George Republican Governor Kemp for opening George, saying, “It’s just too soon.”  CDC Director Redfield says the virus will return in the fall.  Trump says Redfield was “misquoted,” but Redfield says he wasn’t.  Dr. Fauci agrees with Redfield and incurs Trump’s wrath.

4/24/20           During his daily coronavirus briefing, Trump muses on whether drinking Lysol disinfectant or somehow shining ultraviolet light inside the body might kill the virus.  There is immediate backlash and the Lysol company says, “Don’t do it.”

4/26/20           The U.S. nears 1 million Covid-19 cases.  More then 200,000 people have died globally.

4/28/20           1,012,582 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 58,355 deaths.  Trump:  “I think what happens is it’s going to go away and whether it comes back in the fall we’ll be able to handle it.  We are very prepared to handle it.”

4/29/20           VP Pence visits the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis and refuses to wear a mask, although the Clinic requires it.  Trump announces a plan to expand testing, but the overwhelmed states can’t find the equipment, and Trump says the feds aren’t responsible for providing the equipment, while proclaiming that he is a wartime president and is in charge.

4/30/20           Dr. Fauci hails remdesivir, an experimental drug that could speed up recovery time in people infected with Covid-19.

4/30/20           During April, confirmed cases in the U.S. exceed 1.04 million; 60,966 deaths.  Total Tests completed by 4/30/20:  6.2 million, which is approximately 2% of a total population of 331 million.  Trump blames WHO and threatens to pull funding on 4/14.  He also blames the Chinese for not informing the world about the virus (which they did on 12/31/19).  And he blames Obama and the nation’s governors.  Demonstrations against the lockdown occur in some states.  Trump continues his campaign to prevent oversight of his pandemic response by bullying and intimidating or firing key officials and replacing them with his unqualified cronies.

5/1/20             More than 30 million Americans have filed unemployment claims.  Food banks are running out of food as demand spikes.  The Federal Reserve says the U.S. economy is in its worst shape ever.  More than half U.S. states will reopen partially by week’s end despite not meeting White House guidelines for reopening

5/2/20             The White House bars Dr. Fauci from testifying before a House subcommittee.  Trump increasingly disgruntled at Fauci not going along with the party line.

5/4/20             Trump admits that the U.S. death toll could reach 80,000 or 100,000, but praises his administration’s response to the pandemic while urging more states to reopen.

5/6/20             As the U.S. death toll passes 60,000, Trump says he’ll disband the coronavirus task force by the end of the month and pushes hard for the country to reopen.

5/7/20             33.5 million Americans have filed for unemployment.  Trump’s coronavirus task force now focused on reopening the country.

5/8/20             White House rejects a CDC report on how to reopen safely, says the report is “too prescriptive.”  More than 33 million have filed for unemployment.  The death toll passes 75,000.

5/8/20             1,283,929 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 77,180 deaths.  Trump:  “We may be talking about 95,000 people ultimately.”

5/9/20             Three White House aides have Covid-19

5/12/20           Attorney General Barr drops charges against Michael Flynn.  Trump says, “We have met the moment and we have prevailed” as U.S. deaths pass 80,000.  He claims that anyone who wants a test can get one, which is untrue.

5/13/20           Dr. Fauci warns that opening the economy too quickly could cause an uncontrollable outbreak, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.  He particularly warns about reopening schools.  Trump:  “To me it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.”

5/14/20           1,417,774 confirmed cases; 85,898 deaths.  Dr. Rick Bright testifies before Congress:  “Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be the darkest winter in modern history.”  Trump:  “We can say what you want about the flu, but I’ve never lost anybody to the flu.  People are dying anyway.”

5/15/20           The U.S. surpasses 10 million people tested for Covid-19 (barely 3% of the population).  Trump calls testing “overrated” and in one of his most inane statements yet says, “If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”

5/16/20           1,443,397 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 87,568 deaths.

5/16/20           Dr. Rick Bright, fired director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority cites the reasons why the U.S. leads the world in Covid-19 deaths.  In testimony before Congress, Bright’s key points are:

  • Refusal to heed early warnings from abroad
  • Refusal to listen t expert advice from within the U.S. healthcare system
  • Punishing those seeking to implement a timely strategy
  • Lying to the American public about the pandemic
  • Failing to provide enough tests soon enough
  • Failing to produce adequate medical equipment soon enough
  • Refusing to get samples of the virus necessary for work on vaccines and therapeutics
  • Prioritizing contracts for companies connected to Trump or the Kushner family
  • Failing to implement enforceable social distancing and face protection protocols
  • Failing to lead by example (i.e., Trump and other federal officials refusing to practice social distancing and wearing masks)
  • Failing to formulate a coordinated national response to the pandemic

5/19/20           1,508,957 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 90,369 deaths.  Trump announces that he’s been taking hydroxychloroquine, the unproven anti-malarial drug the FDA warns could cause heart problems and should not be taken outside of a clinical setting.

5/20/20           Despite dismissing testing 5 days ago, Trump says that the U.S. having the highest number of Covid-19 cases is “a badge of honor” because it means the country is testing more people.  “It’s a great tribute to the testing and all the work that a lot of professionals have done.”

5/21/20           Researchers from Colombia University say that if the U.S. had locked down just two weeks earlier than it did, 84% of the deaths could have been avoided.  Global Covid-19 cases surpass 5 million.

5/22/20           1,577,758 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 94,729 deaths.

5/23/20           Trump golfs as U.S. deaths near 100,000.  Medical journal The Lancet reports that hydroxychloroquine not only doesn’t prevent Covid-19, it has harmful side effects, including death.  But sales of the drug have soared after Trump endorsed it and said he is taking it.

5/24/20           Trump declares that churches are “essential” and demands that they reopen.  He says he’ll override governors who refuse.  Church attendance soars as a result; however, Trump skips church to go golfing again as the U.S. death toll climbs

5/25/20           Trump continues to refuse to wear a mask, even when all around him are required to do so.

5/25/20           In Minneapolis, George Floyd, a black man, is murdered by a white police officer, sparking nationwide protests.

5/26/20           1,643,499 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 97,722 deaths.  Trump:  “We would have had anywhere from ten to twenty or twenty-five times the number of deaths if we didn’t act the way we did.  And also if we didn’t act swiftly.”

5/27/20           1,681,418 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 98,929 deaths.

5/27/20           As the U.S. nears 100,000 deaths from Covid-19, Trump holds the last daily televised briefing with the coronavirus task force.  After this date, he shifts his emphasis from fighting the virus to reopening the country—despite the rising death toll across the country.

5/28/20           U.S. passes a grim milestone:  1,699,933 confirmed cases and 100,442 deaths.  In four months, Covid-199 has killed more Americans than in the wars of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined.

5/29/20           Protests occur in dozens of U.S. cities over the continued lockdown.  Covid fatigue is setting in.

5/30/20           Trump cuts U.S. ties with the WHO.

5/31/20           1,770,384 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 103,781 deaths.  Continuing large protests over George Floyd’s murder raise concerns about the Covid-19 infection rate increasing among protesters, who are shouting, not remaining socially distant, and, for the most part, not wearing masks.

6/2/20             Trump hasn’t spoken to Dr. Anthony Fauci in two weeks.

6/3/20             1,831,821 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 106.181 deaths.  Infections spiking in Latin America.

6/5/20             1,872,660 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 108,211 deaths.  Nearly 43 million Americans have filed for unemployment; the unemployment rate nears 20%.

6/8/20             New Zealand says it is free of Covid-19—no active cases.  1,942,363 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 110,514 deaths.

6/9/20             Nearly half of U.S. states reporting an increase in cases since the lockdowns have been lifted.  The U.S. officially entered a recession in February 2020.

6/10/20           U.S. exceeds 2 million infected with Covid-19:  2,000,464; 112,924 deaths.

6/11/20           Trump declares victory over Covid-19, saying that the virus is now reduced to embers and ashes.  The data says otherwise.  Pence tweets a photo of himself with campaign workers—none wearing masks and no social distancing.

6/12/20           Trump golfs.  He plans to resume political rallies and will require attendees to sign a waiver that they won’t sue his campaign or the venue if they become infected.

6/13/20           Trump golfs again.  2,048,986 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 114,669 deaths.

6/14/20           Pence praises the steady decline Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths across the country; however, the rate of infections in many states is climbing.  2.074,526 confirmed cases in the U.S; 115,436 deaths.

6/15/20           New York state lifts its lockdown; many people ignoring safe distancing and mask guidelines.

6/16/20          Hong Kong, Singapore, and Beijing imposing new lockdowns as infections climb.  States in the west, southwest, and south see an uptick in cases after restrictions are eased too soon.  2,114,026 confirmed cases in the U.S.; 116,127 deaths.

6/17/20          The number of new Covid-19 cases surged in some states–growing by more than 50% in ten states.  Pence says that the number of cases in Oklahoma has dropped precipitously–which is not true.  In fact, the number of new cases reached a high, including in Tulsa, where Trump is holding a rally on Saturday.

6/18/20          2,163,290 confirmed cases, but scientists suspect the actual number may be much higher; 117,717 deaths.

6/19/20          Trump says the virus is “fading away.”  More than 700 more Americans die from Covid-19 in the past 24 hours.

6/20/20          Trump holds a campaign rally in Tulsa, claiming beforehand that more than a million people wanted tickets.  The actual crowd is just over 6,000 in an arena that holds 19,000.  Many empty seats.  An outdoor overflow rally where 40,000 are expected is cancelled when only 25 people show up.  In the arena, there is little social distancing and few masks.  Eight Trump staffers test positive for the virus, along with two secret service agents.

6/21/20           Florida reports more than 4,000 new cases in a single day–a new record.  Eight other states are reporting record increases in infections.  Trump declares that Covid-19 is “fading away” and goes golfing.

6/22/20           The WHO reports the single largest increase in coronavirus infections globally.  Beijing closes down again. Rapid rise in cases in Brazil.

 

Photo credits:  Covid-19 death (By PPK_studio: shutterstock); NY Governor Andrew Cuomo (By Hans Pennink: shutterstock); Closed until further notice (JakeOwenPowell:  shutterstock)

 

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A Letter to the West Point Class of 2020

I am a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Class of 1969.  A group of my fellow graduates published the following letter on June 11, 2020.  It is intended for the 2020 graduating class at West Point, but the sentiments expressed are relevant to all Americans, particularly those who have been shocked and ashamed at the behavior of our president and his loyal supporters in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the threatened and actual use of the American military against peaceful protesters in the weeks following Floyd’s death.

West Point cadets marching
West Point graduates swear an oath to defend the Constitution

When we graduated from West Point and were commissioned in the United States Army or one of its fellow services, we took an oath to defend the nation and the Constitution.  The vast majority of our fellow graduates adhere to that oath, even after we have left the service and after a number of us have retired.  But Michael Flynn and Mike Pompeo are disgraceful examples of West Point graduates who have violated that oath and given their loyalty to a president who lacks common decency, lies habitually, and views himself as a dictator who can use the American Army against American citizens.  I join my fellow graduates who wrote the letter below in condemning those who prize loyalty over fidelity to the Constitution and in praying that these new graduates will remain faithful to the oath they are taking.

Fortunately, some senior past and present military leaders are finally expressing their outrage and concern over Donald Trump’s behavior and his abject failure of moral and ethical leadership. Four-Star Generals Colin Powell, James Mattis, John Kelly, Richard Myers, Martin Dempsey, and John Allen, along with Admirals Mike Mullen, William McRaven, and James Stavridis, among others, have recently spoken out against Trump.  Mattis called him a threat to the Constitution.  The latest military leader to speak up is the currently serving Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley.

General Mark Milley said today that he regrets joining Trump in his walk to St. John’s Church, where Trump cynically held up a Bible in an appeal to his base, and in which hundreds of peaceful protesters were routed with teargas and rubble bullets so Trump and his entourage could walk to the church.  General Milley said, “As senior leaders, everything you do will be closely watched.  And I am not immune.  As many of you saw, the result of the photograph of me at Lafayette Square last week.  That sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society.  I should not have been there.  My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.  As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”

National Guard troops at a protest
Using our military against American civilians is contrary to the oath West Pointers have sworn to uphold

I encourage you to read the letter below.  It embodies the true spirit of service to the nation and fidelity to the United States Constitution.  This is real patriotism, not the loud,  flag waving, MAGA-hat wearing charade on display at Trump rallies.  We should all be grateful that senior military leaders, as well as graduates of the United States Military Academy, are finding the courage to speak out.  This is a moment in our history when speaking out is essential.

 

A Letter to the West Point Class of 2020, from fellow members of the Long Gray Line

 

You are beginning your careers at a tumultuous time. More than 110,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, more than 40 million are unemployed, and our nation is hurting from racial, social and human injustice. Desperation, fear, anxiety, anger, and helplessness are the daily existence for too many Americans. These are difficult times, but we are confident you will rise to the challenge and do your part as leaders in our Army.

Like the classes before you, the Class of 2020 comes with varied life experiences from across America and beyond. You represent the country’s diversity of race, ethnicity, identity and beliefs. Your West Point journey has led you to this moment when, with right hands raised, you take an oath “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This oath has no expiration date. The burden of responsibility and accountability will both weigh on and inspire you for your entire life. Oaths are solemn, public promises with significant meaning and moral gravity. When they are broken, the nation suffers.

The oath taken by those who choose to serve in America’s military is aspirational. We pledge service to no monarch; no government; no political party; no tyrant. Your oath is to a set of principles and an ideal expressed in the Constitution and its amendments. Our Constitution establishes freedom of the press, of assembly, of religion, of equal protection under the law regardless of race, color, or creed — we cannot take for granted these freedoms that are but dreams in too many nations around the world.

By accepting your commission, you incur a moral purpose and obligation to provide for the common defense. In doing so you enable the nation to fulfill the full range of its aspirations. Today, our Constitutional aspirations remain unfulfilled.

The abhorrent murder of George Floyd has inspired millions to protest police brutality and the persistence of racism. Sadly, the government has threatened to use the Army in which you serve as a weapon against fellow Americans engaging in these legitimate protests. Worse, military leaders, who took the same oath you take today, have participated in politically charged events. The principle of civilian control is central to the military profession. But that principle does not imply blind obedience. Politicization of the Armed Forces puts at risk the bond of trust between the American military and American society. Should this trust be ruptured, the damage to the nation would be incalculable. America needs your leadership.

Postage stamp depicting West Point
This 1937 U.S. postage stamp bears the motto of the U.S. Military Academy: Duty, Honor, Country

Your commitment to your oath will be tested throughout your career. Your loyalty will be questioned, and some will attempt to use it against you. Loyalty is the most abused attribute of leadership. Weak or self-serving leaders will emphasize loyalty over duty under the guise of “good order and discipline.” Unfortunately, some will make a Faustian bargain and endeavor to please their commanders and advance their own careers rather than take care of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines in combat — which is not just a problem, it is a disgrace. America needs your leadership.

We, a diverse group of West Point graduates, are concerned. We are concerned that fellow graduates serving in senior-level, public positions are failing to uphold their oath of office and their commitment to Duty, Honor, Country. Their actions threaten the credibility of an apolitical military. We ask you to join us in working to right the wrongs and to hold each other accountable to the ideals instilled by our alma mater and affirmed by each of us at graduation.

Your West Point education is both a profound gift and a sacred obligation. Our Nation has invested in you and entrusts you with demonstrating the values we expect of our leaders. They rightfully expect some return on that investment. You have the support of the entire nation as well as the heartfelt bonds of our alma mater.

It is imperative that West Point graduates work daily to serve as “leaders of character.” When leaders betray public faith through deceitful rhetoric, quibbling, or the appearance of unethical behavior, it erodes public trust. When fellow graduates acquiesce to bullying, and fail to defend honorable subordinates, it harms the nation and the Long Gray Line. When fellow graduates fail to respect the checks and balances of government, promote individual power above country, or prize loyalty to individuals over the ideals expressed in the Constitution, it is a travesty to their oath of office.

On the eve of your graduation and joining the Long Gray Line and the Army officer corps, we, the undersigned, are resolute in our efforts to hold ourselves accountable to the principles of Duty, Honor, Country in selfless service to the Nation. We will not tolerate those who “lie, cheat or steal.” We pledge to stand for the sacred democratic principle that all are treated equally, and each person has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is not about party; it is about principle. Our lifetime commitment is to the enduring responsibility expressed in the Cadet Prayer: “to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won.”

Members of the Class of 2020, welcome to the Long Gray Line. We believe in you. We support you. As your lifetime journey of service begins, we pray that your class motto, “With Vision We Lead,” will prove prophetic. America needs your leadership.

Grip Hands,

Concerned Members of the Long Gray Line, a coalition of several hundred West Point alumni from six decades of graduating classes who collectively served across ten presidential administrations.

 

Photo credits:  Cadets in formation at West Point:  Joseph Sohm, Shutterstock; Soldiers at a peaceful protest in California:  Black Pebble, Shutterstock; U.S. postage stamp depicting the United States Military Academy:  neftali, Shuttestock; photo of the United States Military Academy:  ID 16015534 © Nancy Kennedy | Dreamstime.com

 

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The Spring of Our Discontent

Illustration of George Floyd

The three most indelible images of the spring of 2020 will be shuttered stores, socially distanced Americans wearing masks, and a white cop murdering an unarmed, handcuffed black man by kneeling on his neck.  As I write this, protests over the death of George Floyd are continuing across the country and beyond.  Most of the protesters are peaceful, but some have vented their rage or taken advantage of the chaos by rioting and looting.  The nightly scenes of burning cars and buildings and lines of riot police and National Guard troops shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at surging crowds recall the worst riots of America’s troubled legacy of slavery and the oppression of minorities.  It astonishes me that more than one hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, some Americans still cling to the inane belief that ethnicity and skin color matter, that one race can be superior or inferior to another.

photos of burning cars
The rage provoked by George Floyd’s death was an unfortunate but inevitable outcome of simmering racial injustice and police brutality

The turmoil following George Floyd’s murder is no doubt exacerbated by months of enforced pandemic isolation, record unemployment, and the dread many Americans must feel, not only about dying from this pandemic, but about the prospect of losing their homes or apartments and feeding themselves and their children.  When forty million working Americans are out of work and watching their savings dwindle, and when hundreds of thousands of small business people are closing their doors, many of them forever, and when we witness a corrupt and incompetent president failing to address the pandemic seriously until it’s too late—the general malaise in our communities manifests itself in depression and systemic anxiety.  Then another black man is killed at the hands of a white cop, and this time the look on the cop’s face is one of smugness and superiority as he kneels on the black man’s neck for almost nine minutes, even after his victim lies unresponsive.

It is a sad commentary on our society that this could still happen in 2020, that such police tactics as restraining a suspect by kneeling on his neck haven’t been outlawed decades ago.  The murderer, Officer Derek Chauvin, is a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police and has a long record of using excessive force.  With that record, why was he still employed as a policeman?  How could the Minneapolis Police Department not recognize his penchant for violence and either fire him or take him off the streets?  A week after Floyd’s death, we watched as two members of the Buffalo Police Department shoved an unarmed, white, 75-year-old protester to the pavement and then walked on, along with a dozen of their fellow officers, as the man lay there with blood pouring from one ear.  What, in God’s name, has happened to the idea that our police are sworn to serve and protect?

It is gratifying to see so many white faces among the hundreds of thousands of protesters who have taken peacefully to the streets.  For systemic racism and injustice is truly not an African-American problem.  It is an American problem.  It is a human problem.  And at this moment in our history, it is a political problem.

We have a president whose pettiness, racism, misogyny, and self-service are not only blunting an effective federal response to the crisis but actively abetting the divisiveness and anger Floyd’s death prompted.  Trump’s decision to use of the American military to contain the protests is what petty dictators do when their citizens rise up.  And his cynical photo op at St. John’s Church was one of the low points of his dismal presidency.  Holding up a Bible as an appeal to his base was callous and reeked of insincerity and political calculation.  Anyone who believes that Donald Trump is a Christian, or has even read the Bible, is drinking the Kool-Aid.  This is not to say that Trump is without religion.  The evidence from his life and behavior indicates that he does believe in a holy trinity:  Himself, Money, and Power.  That is what he worships.

He is a malignancy, but even worse are the banana Republicans who have compromised their Republican ideals—and Constitutional responsibilities—to placate him, feather their own nests, and avoid offending his base by criticizing him or opposing him in any way.  As shocking and sad as George Floyd’s death was, it has been more painful to watch the slow erosion of our democracy at the hands of a disgraceful president and Republican senators who have failed, despite Trump’s repeated assaults on our institutions, free press, allies, and treaties, to resist his unquenchable thirst for power and exercise their responsibilities as a key branch of our government and a check his excessive use of executive power.

Photo of lines of police
Police and National Guard troops were out in force to quell the worse of the rioting, but Trump wanted to mobilize even more troops to dominate the streets.

The banana Republicans have stood idly by as this wanna-be autocrat has taken greater and greater liberties.  Now we’re facing an existential crisis on multiple fronts.  The Covid-19 pandemic has taken over a hundred thousand American lives, many of which were unnecessary deaths, because Trump ignored the signs and dismissed the virus when it was clear to the experts that it posed a lethal threat.  Now millions of Americans are out of work, perhaps permanently, and hundreds of thousands of small businesses (and some big ones) will fail because of Trump’s belated recognition that the pandemic was real and would not, as he asserted, disappear through some miracle.  Now we have serious civil unrest because the racism and white supremacy Trump coddles has led to a black man’s death that has finally ignited the level of acknowledgement and activism that could lead to significant change, if not in the hearts and minds of those who support Trump, at least in the policing practices that led to Floyd’s death.

The murder of George Floyd provoked a greater outpouring of rage than any of the previous killings of black Americans by white cops, and as I watched the video of that cop kneeling on Floyd’s neck, I wondered why this killing had so much impact.  I believe it’s for several reasons.  The image of a white man kneeling on a black man’s neck represents not just a single instance of racial violence but is emblematic of centuries of oppression—from the slave trade to reconstruction and the birth of the KKK, and from Jim Crow and segregation to police violence during the Civil Rights movement of the sixties.  Also potent is the image of a black man dying by an assault to his neck.  The neck is a highly symbolic part of the human anatomy.  People are executed by being hanged by the neck.  African slaves, particularly males, were often restrained by collars around their necks, and in one of the most disreputable periods of our nation’s history, blacks were lynched by white mobs.  Photos of those lynched bodies are a painful reminder of the racial fear and hatred that are part of America’s legacy.  Black lives do matter.  All lives matter.

Photo of a woman wearing a mask
Compounding the anguish over George Floyd’s murder is the pandemic that has left many Americans feeling isolated and depressed.

Our nation is in crisis, and the only hope we have to reverse this ruinous course will come in November with the general election.  No significant change will come from a racist president whose response to these protests has been to call the protesters “terrorists,” order the military to dominate the streets, and threaten violence by proclaiming, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”  No significant change will come from a national leader who lacks empathy, has no understanding of the Constitution, and views himself as an all powerful dictator.  And no change will come while we have do-nothing Republicans in the House and Senate who remain silent and cower when their master speaks.

We need to vote Trump out of office.  Equally, we need to vote out the complicit Republicans who have actively or passively colluded with him.  Maybe, if enough Republicans are defeated, the remaining members of that grand old party will regain their senses and return to the Republican ideals that have made them essential partners in our democracy.  Thereafter, we pray that we will be reunited as a people, that we will finally make real strides toward racial equity and equal justice, that our government will act in a non-partisan manner and return to responsible free-world leadership, and that the Administration will benefit all Americans instead of one man and his family.

 

Photo credits:  George Floyd vector art:  ariyantodeni / Shutterstock.com; burning cars: Micah Casella / Shutterstock.com; line of police:  Claudio Schneider | Dreamstime.com; tearful woman wearing mask:  Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.

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Enough Is Enough! Images of Protest

During the week of nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, photographer Robert Greenberg and his wife Maxine joined a peaceful protest in Bethesda, Maryland.  These images capture something remarkable:  the diverse makeup of the crowd expressing outrage at the death of an unarmed, handcuffed African-American man.  Floyd’s murder has brought all races together in a concerted call for action to address racial inequality and police brutality.  Thanks to Bob Greenberg for sharing these photos.

Photo of protesters sitting on pavement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protester with fist raised

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protesters with signs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protester speaking to the crowd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

African-American protester

 

Protesters sitting on the street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protester with "I Can't Breathe" sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protester with child

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protesters sitting in the street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos courtesy of Robert Greenberg.  All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pandemic Life by Robert Greenberg

Photographer Robert Greenberg, who lives outside Washington, D.C., has captured some haunting black and white shots of life during the Covid-19 pandemic.  We all seen the masks, the covered faces, the looks of resignation and wariness in the eyes, the slumped shoulders, and safe distance between people.  Bob’s photographs put a partially concealed human face on the tragedy, as well as the despair of shuttered stores and lives and the emptiness of streets in a time when we dread continued isolation and pray for a return to normalcy.  I am offering these photos without comment.  They speak for themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs courtesy of Robert Greenberg.  Copyright 2020.  All rights reserved.

 

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April 13, 2020. Covid-19 continues to ravage our country

April 13, 2020.  During the past month, Covid-19 has galloped along, infecting more than 1.9 million people globally and killing 118,623.  The United States has 572,587 cases that have been counted, but because testing has been so inadequate (and remains inadequate), the exact number of infected people in America is unknown.  Likewise, more than 23,000 Americans have been declared dead because of the novel coronavirus, but that number is also suspect because it doesn’t not include people who may have died at home of the disease.  The economy is in free fall because so many businesses have been shut down.  Virtually all restaurants are take-out only, and all gatherings of people over a very small number have been banned.  None of the major league sport are playing, schools have been shuttered, retail stores are empty, and the disease is spreading rapidly among the military, firefighters, and police.  Most distressing is the situation at hospitals.  In areas hardest hit, hospitals are operating like third-world countries–with ragged staff, too few supplies, and precious few ventilators for the most seriously ill.  Trump and his allies continue to blame everyone but themselves for their slow response to the crisis and their inept handling of it since it began, but it’s clear to anyone who’s conscious that Trump has mismanaged this crisis from the start.  Initially, he dismissed the threat, saying that only a few Americans would become infected and claiming that a “miracle” would occur to wipe out the virus.  In his ignorance and arrogance, he has continually deflected criticism, given ventilators as political favors to Republicans like Cory Gardner of Colorado, and claimed that while he saw himself as a wartime president, he and the Federal government were “backups” to the states.  His horrendous misjudgments have cost lives, yet his staunchest supporters continue to think he walks on water.  His administration is a colossal farce amidst one of the greater natural disasters of the modern era.

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Nationalism and Its Malcontents

The cold wind of intolerance, authoritarianism, and nationalism is blowing across America and Europe. The unexpected rise of Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee in the United States and the recent political stirrings in Europe are oddly built of the same cloth. Intolerance of non-citizens, the belief that present governments have subordinated their countries best interests for outsiders, and the need for new leaders, whose view of their countries best interests seems to call for an upending of the joint efforts to build a collective defense system like NATO and an economic union like the EU. They are united in their belief that each individual country should do what’s best for their sovereignty, rather than build co-operative relations between countries.

—HuffPost, December 6, 2017

 

When Donald Trump vowed to “Make America Great Again!” he was echoing the campaign of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Back then voters sought renewal after the failures of the Carter presidency. This month they elected Mr. Trump because he, too, promised them a “historic once-in-a-lifetime” change.

But there is a difference. On the eve of the vote, Reagan described America as a shining “city on a hill.” Listing all that America could contribute to keep the world safe, he dreamed of a country that “is not turned inward, but outward—toward others.”  Mr. Trump, by contrast, has sworn to put America First. Demanding respect from a freeloading world that takes leaders in Washington for fools, he says he will “no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism.”  Reagan’s America was optimistic:  Mr. Trump’s is angry.

—The Economist, November 19, 2016

 

Nationalism is on the rise across the world.  From Trump’s victory in 2016 to Brexit to Neo-Nazi resurgence in Germany to anti-immigrant politicians gaining power in Italy, Turkey, Greece and other nations, we are seeing a new wave of nationalism, the strongest since Hitler rose to power in Germany in the 1920s.  In a rally in Houston in 2018, Trump said, “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, O.K.? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist! Use that word! Use that word!”  At the same rally, he denounced those who disagree with him. “Radical Democrats want to turn back the clock” to restore the “rule of corrupt, power-hungry globalists.  You know what a globalist is, right? You know what a globalist is? A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much. And you know what? We can’t have that.”

Trump at a political rally
Donald Trump leads his malcontents at a political rally

As many pundits and presidential historians have noted, Donald Trump is the most divisive president in recent memory.  He rose to power and maintains it by railing against those he sees as “evil others”:  immigrants, liberals, Democrats, members of the so-called “deep state.”  Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines nationalism as “loyalty and devotion to a nation, especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.”  Although Trump equates his brand of nationalism with patriotism, and he often wraps himself in the American flag and clothes his rallies in the stars and stripes, the dictionary says that patriotism, while emphasizing strong feelings for one’s country, “does not necessarily imply an attitude of superiority.”

The Evil Others

There is nothing wrong with having pride in one’s country, of course, but nationalism, unlike patriotism, veers toward an identity of exclusivity that leads nationalists to invent “evil others.”  For there to be an “us,” which nationalists value above all, there must be a “them,” others who are “not us,” who are different because they don’t share the nationalists’ heritage, birthrights, ethnicity, norms, values, or other aspects of their national identity.  When the people who share this national identity feel threatened or disenfranchised, it is easy to blame the “evil others” for their woes, and those others become excluded, feared, hated, and possibly repressed, outlawed, and exterminated.

Following a humiliating defeat in World War I, Germany faced burdensome war reparation payments and rampant inflation, which left ordinary Germans scrambling to survive.  The German government was inept, and communists were agitating for a socialist revolution.  Those circumstances opened the door for nationalist agitator Dietrich Eckart, his acolyte and successor Adolf Hitler, and their National Socialist Workers Party.  Hitler understood the mood of the nation and stepped in promising to “make Germany great again.”  He appealed to national pride and blamed Germany’s woes on its traditional enemies (Britain and France), on the communists, and, increasingly, on the Jews.  He found populist footing with his master race identity card and gained power by promising to restore Germany to its former glory.

As Hitler’s power grew, German politicians who might have opposed him were silenced by the fervor of his supporters, particularly those in the SA, the Nazi paramilitary arm, and an improving economy.  As the world emerged from a general depression in the early 1930s, the German economy improved.  Ordinary Germans were able to find jobs and feed their families, and they felt renewed pride in their German identity.  The foundation of Hitler’s rise to power was his ability to capitalize on the grievances of common people during a period of social stress and to blame Germany’s problems on enemies outside Aryan racial identity.  When he’d gained enough power to subvert Germany’s legal systems and not be challenged by the populace, he was able to take the next logical step—to purge the German nation (and then other nations) of undesirables (Jews, gypsies, communists, the mentally ill or infirm, and others he and his regime considered subhuman).

Nationalism is not inherently extremist, but when it is leavened by fear, resentment, and hate, it can twist violently to the right.  Movements to the left can be equally dangerous—witness the

Illustration of an elephant (Republication) punching a donkey (Democrat)
Nationalism requires enemies–an “us” versus “them,” an evil other to blame for all woes

purges by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.  Radical political swings to either extreme can yield polarization, hatred of the other, and societal acquiescence toward or participation in the elimination of perceived threats to the prevailing body politic.  When the dominant ideology in a state supplants the state, and when opposition to extremist rhetoric is silenced or suppressed, then the unthinkable can become thinkable as the norms that have governed moral and political right and wrong are perverted, and the new normal permits action against minorities or others who oppose the leader.

To be sure, every society includes a full spectrum of people who support the nationalist leader, on the one hand, or oppose that leader on the other.  Most people fall in the vast middle of the bell curve.  They are just trying to live their lives, go to work, raise their children, and pursue their version of happiness.  They have no strong political leanings or they don’t care enough, in normal circumstances, to become involved.  Given the opportunity, they will remain apolitical so long as their lives are essentially okay.  But nationalist drum banging and patriotic rhetoric (“Make American Great Again!”) can bleed the vast center and enjoin those middle-of-the-roaders, primarily the working class, in a movement to the right if the nationalist leader can persuade them that the threats he rails against are real (immigrants will take your jobs, liberals will allow criminals to roam the streets, other nations will cheat us or not pay their fair share for the common defense, climate change zealots will destroy industries like coal, Democrats will weaken our national defense, and so on).

Trumpian Conservatism

The danger of Trumpian conservatism comes not from the arch conservatives who support him because he will help them achieve their goals, no matter how repugnant they find the man personally.  The danger comes from the right-leaning middle who are inclined to believe the propaganda Trump spouts because they are concerned about their jobs, don’t perceive a brighter future for their children, or fear that immigrants and ethnic minorities will pervert their national identity.  White nationalists are especially fearful that immigrants and minorities will gain political clout as their numbers grow and will fundamentally change the way the nation looks, feels, and votes.  The malcontents of nationalism are the people from the vast middle who’ve taken MAGA to heart and support Trump despite his lies, boorish behavior, brazen attacks on opponents, and conspicuous displays of wealth and privilege, even as he proclaims himself the friend of working Americans.

Photo of a small Latino boy behind a metal fence
One of Trump’s Evil Others: an immigrant boy grasping a metal fence

Trump has steered these malcontents to the right by polarizing the country, wrapping his racism and nationalism is the flag of patriotism, and demonizing everyone who disagrees with him or points out his lies (hence, his relentless attacks on mainstream media, whom he calls “the enemy of the people”).  Trump’s brand of nationalism doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, but he understands that those who’ve bought his nationalist rhetoric aren’t up to scrutinizing him.  He has them in his pocket, just as Hitler had a growing percentage of average Germans in his pocket as he fervently spoke about the “evil others” who were keeping Germany down.

German nationalism in the 1920s and 30s should not be seen as an aberration but as a warning.  Don’t imagine that it couldn’t happen in America.  Already, the vast majority of hate-driven crimes since Trump’s election has been right-wing violence.  Anti-Semitic and racial animus are on the rise.  Hate speech is growing.  Increasingly, there is a divide between “us” and “them,” driven largely by Trump’ divisive rhetoric.  Trump is stirring the pot of malcontent, and he’s doing it for the basest of reasons:  to stay in power.  Trump has not been able to organize violence against his enemies, but he’s attempted it, notably in his rallies when he’ encouraged supporters to beat up protestors.  Robert Reich, former labor secretary under Bill Clinton, wrote, “The President of the United States openly identifies himself as a nationalist, calls for the jailing of his political opponents, attacks the press & cozies up to dictators, while Republicans in Congress stand idly by.”

Trump’s brand of nationalism, aided and abetted by his malcontents and Congressional Republicans who appease them, has not yet become full-scale demagogy and violent nationalism, but it has that potential.

Nationalism in the Age of Covid-19

On March 23, 2020, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump tweeted:  “THIS IS WHY WE NEED BORDERS!”  As the Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating in our country, his instinct is to protect America by keeping the Evil Others outside.  Secure our borders!  Build walls!  Allow no intruders to get in!  Isolate the country from the rest of the world!

Except this intruder, a virus so small it can’t even be seen in detail under a microscope, is incredibly infectious and would have gotten into our country no matter how strong our borders were or how high the walls.  To have prevented Covid-19 from reaching us, Trump would have had to seal the borders the moment the virus emerged, not months later.  He would have had to stop all travel into and out of the country and suspend all trade—an obviously impossible feat even for a president as grandiose in his puffery as Donald Trump.

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the march of Trumpian nationalism by exposing the folly of Fortress America.  The virus respects no boundaries or walls and is an insidious, unseen enemy.  Trump has been trying to label it the “Chinese virus” and thus blame an “other” for a national crisis that is exposing his failings as a leader, but as the numbers of infected and dead rise, it’s clear to everyone, even FOX News, that the “Us versus Them” strategy Trump relies on to rally his base is ringing hollow in the face of a global disease.

World map showing coronavirus spread
Covid-19 respects no boundaries, walls, borders, or political barriers. Its insidious spread shows the folly of Trump’s Fortress America

In the fight against this pandemic, battle lines can’t be drawn between liberals and conservatives, or Democrats and Republicans, or immigrants and America-born citizens.  We are all in this together.  To win the fight, people from every part of the human and political spectrum must cooperate, share resources, and sacrifice across the board.  So, for the moment, Trump’s polarization has been swept away by the rising tide of the infection and its impacts on the healthcare system, food and medical supply chains, and the stock market.  When we emerge from this crisis, we will likely see a very different country, and Trump’s nationalism will only triumph if he can convince the survivors that to prevent further pandemics we need to build higher walls, keep more people out of the country, and treat immigrants, particularly illegals, as mortal enemies.

It’s difficult to imagine at this point how Trump will later try to spin the Covid-19 pandemic so that it’s the Democrats’ fault or a failing of Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.  Trump is at the helm of the federal government, and his ship has been foundering as the crisis deepens.  He is trying now to re-write history and present himself as fully in command of this crisis, but his earlier dismissals of Covid-19 and its seriousness are on tape and will no doubt be replayed—as they should be—when the election nears.  No nationalist, no matter how grand his boasts or how loudly he tries to reshape history, can outrun a silent, unseen menace that has no regard for politics or respect for politicians.

To promote his brand of nationalism, Trump needs enemies, and with the presidential election coming in November, he will surely try to lay the blame on the Democrats.  To win, Donald Trump needs his loyal base, his mass of malcontents, his true believers, who numbly agree when a FOX spokesman declares that the coronavirus epidemic is “a Democratic hoax,” as Sean Hannity did just a few weeks ago.  Trump needs his malcontents to believe in the dream and the lie of Fortress America and to believe that all their grievances lie at the hands of Evil Others whom, they claim, are less patriotic and less righteous than they.  Trump thrives on division, not unity, and that will not serve him well as Covid-19 continues its unbiased devastation of people, our medical system, and the economy.

Nationalists like Hitler and Trump don’t need truth on their side as long as they have supporters whose grievances make them gullible.    They just need a well-oiled propaganda machine, which Trump has, and media outlets like FOX and Twitter available to trumpet their messages.  And they need a mass of malcontents who are willing to believe that the world really is an “Us versus Them” struggle and that the people the leader identifies as enemies—Jews, communists, Democrats, liberals, the Deep State, the mainstream press, immigrants—are to blame for all of their woes and are mortal threats to their national identity.

 

Photo credits:  Nazi flagbearers:  Everett Historical @Shutterstock.com; Trump rally:  Shot Stalker @ Shutterstock.com; elephant punching donkey:  Susilo Hidayatk @ Shutterstock.com; boy behind metal fence:  tcareob72 @ Shutterstock.com; Coronavirus:  ID 174295771 © Buddhilakshan4 | Dreamstime.com

 

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March 22, 2020. Covid-19 is spreading like a wildfire in the U.S.–32,000 infected and 400 dead

March 22, 2020.  Covid-19 is continuing its relentless march across the American landscape with more than 32,000 known to be infected and 400 dead of the disease.  Barely a week ago, there were 1,500 known infections.  Now, there are more than 300,000 known infections worldwide, and nearly 700 people died yesterday in Italy alone.  The world is in an economic meltdown as non-essential businesses close and millions of people lose their jobs.  The U.S. federal government is talking about a bailout approaching $2 trillion.  Medical supplies are in very short supply–impossible in some cases to get them, and everyone fears that as the virus sickens more people our hospitals will become overwhelmed, and thousands of people could die simply because hospitals can’t treat them or they don’t have enough ventilators.  The disease is especially dangerous for older people or those with preexisting conditions, but a 12-year-old girl in Georgia is on life support right now and could die of Covid-19.

In our lifetime, we have seen many tragedies, but none quite like this one.  The news changes so rapidly it’s difficult to keep up with it.

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Carol Salomon’s India: A Human Photo Odyssey

Carol Salomon and Norman Broad had a long and extraordinary trip through India in 2018.  In this photographic odyssey, I am exhibiting some of the best of her photos, focusing not on the well-known tourist sites, which they visited, but on the people of India in everyday settings.  Her people are the heart and soul and India, as these photos attest.

 

Photo of five Indian children
Children in the Coconut Islands

 

These children in the Coconut Islands were returning home from school.  They’re hamming it up for the camera, jazzed by the sheer joy of being noticed by strangers.  Tourists were not a novelty to these children, but each person with a camera was another chance to say, “Look at me!”  Only the girl in the white dress seems unimpressed.

 

 

 

Photo of a small market stall in New Delhi
Coca-Cola stand in New Delhi

 

This tiny market stall on the streets of New Delhi shows how millions of Indians make their living.  The proprietor will spend most of his life here, waiting for thirsty passers-by the buy a bottle of water or a Coke.  He’s one of the fortunate ones.  He has a stall, a space on a busy street from which to sell his wares.

 

 

 

 

Photo of a girl selling flowers
A girl selling flowers in Baranasi, a city on the banks of the Ganges River

 

 

 

This girl with captivating eyes was selling prayer flowers on the banks of the Ganges.  The flowers are floated in the river as a religious offering.  She was a natural salesperson–beguiling and persistent.

 

 

 

 

 

Girl balancing on a tightrope
Girl balancing on a tightrope

 

 

A girl in black balances on a tightrope, wheeling her way across with two small urns stacked on her head.  She’s had lots of practice and must be good.  Landing on the rocks below would not be pleasant.

 

 

Photo of of white-bearded holy man wearing a blue turban
Holy man wearing a blue turban

 

 

 

A holy man wearing a blue turban in Amritsar.  The Golden Temple is in northwestern India, near Pakistan.  It’s a place of continuous worship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of a beautiful young girl with big brown eyes
A beautiful young girl with big brown eyes

 

 

 

This beautiful girl with big brown eyes gazes at the camera, her face a portrait of both the promise and apprehension of youth.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of two women doing laundry and letting it dry on stacks of straw
Laundry day on a rooftop in Mumbai

 

 

Two women folding laundry that has dried over stacks of straw.  It is a chore endlessly repeated.  Though it’s a warm day, they are covered from head to foot to protect themselves from the sun.

 

 

 

 

Photo of a street beggar in orange
Street beggar in orange

 

 

 

He walks with a cane and has just a small cardboard box of wares to sell, but this streetwise old man in orange crinkles his face up in a smile.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of three young novice monks in red robes
A trio of novice monks beside a stone wall

 

 

Three boys, novices in red robes, take a break from prayer and meditation.  Like the masters of their faith, they cast deep shadows.

 

 

 

Photo of barbers working outdoors in Baranasi
Street barbers ply their trade in Baranasi

 

 

 

 

Need a haircut or shave?  These street barbers in Baranasi are happy to oblige.  No barber pole needed.  Just squat and wait your turn.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of men on a fishing boat hauling in the net
The catch

 

 

Men net fishing from a pier haul in their catch.  When you have no boat, a pier will do.  The fish will come to you.

 

 

 

 

Photo of four women sitting on the banks of the Ganges River
Women along the Ganges River socializing and making sacrifices to float in the water

 

 

 

Women sit on the banks of the Ganges River in Baranasi, making sacrifices to float on the water while catching up on the latest news.

 

 

 

Photo of women dancing during a festival
Women dancing during a festival of lights

 

 

During a festival of lights in Calcutta, women celebrate with dance and song.  This festival, associated with the lunar month, lasts for five days.

 

 

 

Photo of a woman's hands with elaborate henna tattoos on her palms
Woman with elaborate Henna tattoos on her palms

 

 

 

 

A woman in Kerala shows her elaborately henna-tattooed palms.  Henna, or mehndi in Hindi, is a vegetable dye used to create body art like this.  Hers is an especially intricate hand design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All photos courtesy of Carol Salomon.  Used. with permission.

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Covid-19 Bulletin #5

Covid-19

By now, the coronavirus pandemic is firmly embedded in our national consciousness.  The pandemic has infected well over 150,000 people globally, including–at last count–3,000 Americans and around 60 deaths.  The numbers keep climbing dramatically, and no one knows how many people are actually infected because our country lacks adequate testing.  Trump and his administration have tried to blame the lack of testing on Obama, but we all know this is not true.  Trump’s failure as a leader is entirely to blame.  Nonetheless, here we are with a dramatically changed life.  Most sporting events have been cancelled, along with concerts, museums, Broadway, cinemas, conferences, Disneyland, and other large gatherings of any kind.  Schools have been closed in many states, including NYC, the country’s largest school system.  Universities and colleges are moving from classrooms to online education.  France has closed restaurants, bars, cafes, and clubs across the entire country.  Italy is on lock down, and Spain has ordered its citizens to stay home.  Many companies in the U.S. have told their employees to work virtually.  Most cruise lines have shut down, and airlines have cancelled flights or restricted them to certain locations.  The lines at Costco and WalMart stretch around the block, and many store shelves are empty.  It’s nearly impossible to find hand sanitizer, toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaning products like Lysol and Clorox.  In one of the grocery stores in my hometown, men were seen stuffing grocery carts with nothing but bags of potato chips.  It seems the world has gone mad–and we aren’t anywhere near the peak of this pandemic yet.  

 

This is Covid 19 Bulletin #5 from Dr. Sheila Sund.  The news about Covid-19 has been so ubiquitous that the content of Dr. Sund’s bulletins has now become glaringly familiar to anyone who is paying attention.  However, it is to her credit that Dr. Sund began sounding the alarm weeks before the general public became aware of the potential severity of this outbreak.

Dr. Sheila Sund is a retired hospice and palliative care physician in Oregon.  She became involved with disaster medicine following the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009. As part of a statewide workgroup, she helped developed Oregon’s Crisis Care Guidance—guidelines to direct healthcare response during a public health crisis such as pandemic or mass trauma. She served as Director of the Marion County Medical Reserve Corps and physician representative on Oregon’s Region 2 Coalition for Healthcare Preparedness. She has given over one hundred presentations to community, healthcare, and business groups throughout the Pacific Northwest on topics ranging from earthquake preparedness to pandemic response.

 

Chinook CERT Plus – COVID-19 Bulletin #5, March 9, 2020

 

Don’t focus on numbers

“Marion County confirms first case of COVID-19.” “Cases in Oregon double in one day.” When we see this, it triggers an acute feeling of alarm. But these numbers tell us nothing new—they reflect increased testing, not increased disease spread. That doesn’t mean the risk isn’t real. It’s just confirmation of what we should have already known—COVID-19 is “here.”

So far, we have no way of knowing where we are on the growth curve – day 5, 15 or 30. Our best clue will be increasing cases identified in Marion County hospitals. In the meantime, your best action remains hand washing, disinfecting, and minimizing time spent in large groups, particularly if you are older or have underlying medical problems.

Most importantly, if you feel sick, STAY HOME, even if you suspect it’s just a cold or the flu! If possible, isolate yourself even from family members until symptom free for 24 hours.

 

We’re all going to get it, so let’s just get it over with. FALSE!

I’m hearing this sentiment more and more, but it is incorrect. It’s true that most people will get through this pandemic with just a week or two of illness. But in the meantime, COVID-19 could decimate the population over age 70.

Age US population Fatality rate Potential deaths
70-79 23 million 8% 1.8 million
80 and above 13 million 15% 1.9 million

(Based on current COVID-19 estimates)

For comparison, annual seasonal flu deaths in the US 2010-2019 ranged from 12,000 – 61,000.

Most deaths occur after 1 or more weeks in the hospital. So even if you feel callous about this specific demographic group, their use of medical resources will affect everyone. The more we can slow the spread of coronavirus, the better off everyone will be.

 

Mitigation Instead of Containment

The goal of mitigation is to decrease the expected number of new cases infected by one current case (the reproductive number). If it drops to less than one, the pandemic fades away. In practical terms, mitigation is anything that decreases interpersonal contact in the community, including cancellation of group gatherings, work and school closures, isolation of known cases, and even limitation of travel or quarantine of entire communities.

Yet we can’t really enforce mitigation in this country. Ultimately, it comes down to individuals choosing to put the good of the community over their personal interests, despite economic or social hardship.

If someone is exposed to a confirmed case, they may be instructed to implement one of the following measures immediately. Prepare yourself and your family now!

Exposed, but no “close contact” AND no symptoms:

  • Social isolation – no group gatherings, maintain 6 feet boundary from others. Shopping allowed.
  • Self-monitoring – watch for any signs of illness, possible required temperature checks
  • Active monitoring – public health assumes responsibility for conditions of your isolation and monitoring

Exposed with close contact, but no symptoms:

  • Quarantine, usually at home, for 14 days. No contact with family members or pets. Use separate bedroom and bathroom. Wear mask whenever other people are present. If symptoms develop, 14-day clock resets.

Close contact: being within 6 feet of an identified case for “prolonged” time OR having direct exposure to their respiratory secretions (e.g. coughed or sneezed on).

Exposed and symptomatic, or become symptomatic during self-isolation or quarantine:

  • Isolation, usually at home, for 14 days minimum, under same criteria as quarantine.

 

Other Preparedness Tips

There is no need for a run on the grocery stores or Costco, but if there are things you need or chores you should be doing, it’s time to stop procrastinating. Do them now. The more “caught up” on life you are, the better prepared you will be for any sudden changes.

Manage COVID-19 anxiety!

  • Limit time spent reading about and planning for COVID -19
  • Use reliable sources and avoid social media discussions
  • Continue to follow normal routines as much as possible
  • Take time for reality checks:  What is happening in your life now, not what may happen in the future
  • Do deep breathing or meditation

Perform meaningful actions:

  • Prepare guest bedrooms
  • Organize emergency supplies
  • Think of enjoyable things to do even if social isolation imposed
    • Catch up on book reading
    • Time for home projects, crafts, or gardening
    • Family time
    • Time in nature
  • Address COVID-19 anxiety in kids and teens -what are they reading or hearing in school?
  • Share NPR’s “Just For Kids: A Comic Exploring The New Coronavirus

 

Photo credit:  ID 175225651 © Photovs | Dreamstime.com

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POSTPONED: Taimane Gardner is Coming to Durango

NOTE TO READERS:  Since posting the following article about Taimane Gardner, Covid-19 has shut down our world.  Music in the Mountains has decided to postpone its 2020 summer festival, so Taimane will not be appearing this summer.  Hopefully, her concert will be delayed by no more than a year, but we don’t know yet when it might be rescheduled.  For the time being, I’d suggest clicking on the YouTube links below to hear some of her music.  I will update when I know more.  Meanwhile, keep your social distance and stay safe. 

 

Taimane Gardner, one of the world’s premier ukulele players, is coming to Durango, Colorado, this summer as part of the annual Music in the Mountains festival.  She will appear at the Chocolate Indulgence event at Cascade Village on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

I first saw Taimane perform in New York City at a nightclub in the Village.  I’d never heard of her and would not have gone to the club had I not been assured by Denise Leslie, the ukulele maven of

Photo of Taimane Gardner
Ukulele virtuoso Taimane Gardner

the Four Corners region, that this was a not-to-be-missed performance.  I’d learned that Taimane was from Hawaii, so I was expecting the beachcomber and swaying hula music you hear at a luau.  Then this beautiful waif appeared on stage with her tiny ukulele and enigmatic smile, and when she started playing I was dazzled by three things:  (1) I didn’t know an ukulele could make those sounds, (2) I’d never seen anyone play a string instrument that fast, and (3) this young woman could play everything from Bach to Led Zeppelin.  She is a virtuoso with a repertoire that encompasses the surf sounds of the sixties, and classic rock and roll, and flamenco, and hardcore, strait-laced classical, and she can morph from one genre to the next in mid-flight.

Taimane has long, nimble fingers that move across the fretboard with a precision and grace you normally see in world-class pianists—and if she hit a single wrong note, I didn’t hear it.  She began playing the ukulele at five and was discovered by Don Ho at thirteen, when he invited her to join his variety show at the Waikiki Beachcomber.  In her teens, she studied with renowned ukulelist Jake Shimabukuro, whom most of us would not know, but in Hawaii he would be like studying guitar with Jimi Hendrix.  Now in her early thirties, Taimane has performed around the world and has become not only a master of the instrument but a captivating performer as well.

On stage, she doesn’t stay anchored to the floor the way many instrumentalists do.  She dances and roams with restless energy, sometimes prancing, sometimes gracefully bowing and carving up space to an inner rhythm that seems to flow from her music but at a different tempo, her face lit by a secret smile I could not interpret.  I didn’t know if she was smiling at the joy of performing—capturing the ecstasy of her moments on stage—or if she was smiling at her connection with a captivated audience, or if her smile derived from the sheer pleasure of weaving such lyrical tales from the instrument in her hands.  Perhaps it’s all three.

Here are some YouTube clips showing Taimane in performance.  These clips showcase her virtuosity as well as the range of her repertoire:  from Bach’s Toccata to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, to Chris Isaak’s Wicked Games (performed in a beautiful Hawaiian setting), to a medley of surfing classic tunes, to Beethoven’s Für Elise like you’ve never heard it, to her standout performance at TEDx in Maui.  These clips will introduce you to one of the finest instrumentalists you’ll ever hear, but there’s nothing like seeing her in person.  Music in the Mountain’s Chocolate Indulgence this summer will be a don’t-miss event.  The chocolate will be provided by sponsor Animas Chocolate Company.  What could be better?  Delectable chocolates, cocktails, and Taimane Gardner.  You’ll be dazzled.

 

Bach’s Toccata like you’ve never heard it:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JX13LwnZss

Led Zeppelin meets Beethoven:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJ-_ZO9AlMo

Performing Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game in a beautiful Hawaiian setting:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqvSY3Hnij4.

Playing a medley of surf tunes:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgmo-ljwLfY

Performing Für Elise:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPjIYtGaJKA

From TEDx Maui:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yDM2hp78L4

 

Photo credits:  Photos of Taimane Gardner courtesy of Music in the Mountains.  Used. with permission.

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March 12, 2020. Seismic shifts in American life as Covid-19 spreads

March 12, 2020.  The stock market plummeted more than 2,000 points today, after a plunge of 1,400 points yesterday.  We are now officially in a Bear market, stocks having lost nearly all their increased value since Trump took office.  There are now more than 1,500 cases nationwide, with 40 deaths, and the numbers are growing significantly each day.  The truth is that no one knows how widespread the virus is because of inadequate testing, which Trump blames–once again–on the Obama administration.  Yesterday, Trump suspended all travel to the U.S. from every European country except the U.K., which, ironically, has more Covid-19 cases than most other countries in Europe.  Meanwhile:

  • The World Health Organization officially declared Covid-19 to be a pandemic.
  • Italy is on a total lock down.
  • France closed all schools today until further notice.
  • The states of Ohio and Maryland have closed all schools.
  • Broadway has closed all shows.
  • The NBA has suspended its season, as has Major League Soccer and the National Hockey League.
  • Disneyland is closed indefinitely.
  • Princess and Carnival cruise lines have suspended all cruises
  • More than 250 colleges and universities–including Durango’s Fort Lewis College–are suspending onsite classes.  Henceforth until further notice, all classes will be held virtually.
  • The NCAA cancelled March Madness.
  • The PGA tour is proceeding without fans.
  • The NFL is cancelling is annual meeting.
  • Museums around the country are closing, and several movie premiers have been delayed.
  • NASCAR will hold races without fans.

These cancellations are just as of today.  More are expected as the nation braces for more Covid-19 impacts.

 

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March 9, 2020. Tumultuous day due to Covid-19: stock market plunge and Italy and Israel impose radical sanctions

March 9, 2020.  Today, the stock market plunged 2,000 points in one of its worst days in two decades.  Investors are fearful that Covid-19 will cause a global recession.  Meanwhile, the Saudis sparked an oil trade war with Russia, and the global oil market crashed.  Meanwhile, Israel has imposed a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine on anyone entering Israel, and CNN reports that Italy has now imposed a lock down on the entire country.  As Covid-19 continues to spread, the reactions from around the world are troubling, and the endgame on this situation is impossible to predict.

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March 8, 2020. U.S. Covid-19 cases pass 500

March 8, 2020.  As of today, there are 521 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the United States.  Twenty-one people have died, and the virus has now spread to 33 states and the District of Columbia.  The death toll is more than 3,500 people globally, with over 105,000 infections.  The Grand Princess cruise ship, with more than 3,500 guests on board has been isolated at sea but is now scheduled to dock at the Port of Oakland.  President Trump had not wanted the Grand Princess to dock, although it carried thousands of U.S. citizens, because allowing them back on U.S. soil would raise the number of infected Americans, and the optics for the president would look bad.

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Covid-19 Bulletin #4

This is Covid-19 Bulletin #4 from Dr. Sheila Sund.  Covid-19, which is the proper name for the coronavirus that is currently spreading around the world, is a far more dangerous virus than the flu (twenty times more lethal than the flu), and it is likely that the rate of infection is much greater than what is known and being reported by the media–because no one knows how widespread the infection actually is.  As of today (March 3, 2020), more than 130 Americans have been diagnosed with Covid-19, and ten have died.  The numbers are growing daily.

Dr. Sheila Sund is a retired hospice and palliative care physician in Oregon.  She became involved with disaster medicine following the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009. As part of a statewide workgroup, she helped developed Oregon’s Crisis Care Guidance—guidelines to direct healthcare response during a public health crisis such as pandemic or mass trauma. She served as Director of the Marion County Medical Reserve Corps and physician representative on Oregon’s Region 2 Coalition for Healthcare Preparedness. She has given over one hundred presentations to community, healthcare, and business groups throughout the Pacific Northwest on topics ranging from earthquake preparedness to pandemic response.

 

Chinook CERT Plus – COVID-19 Bulletin #4, March 6, 2020

COVID-19 vs Seasonal Flu

Without a doubt, seasonal flu is a huge health problem. United States experts estimate 32 million cases and 18 thousand deaths from flu – just this year!

But as a virus, flu is “nicer” than COVID-19. A flu patient on average infects only 1.3 other people vs COVID-19’s 2.3 people. Functional time lost from flu averages about 3.5 days, whereas patients with COVID-19 may be sick for 7-14 days. The hospitalization rate for flu in the United States sits around 1% and the death rate rarely exceeds 0.1 %, whereas worldwide estimates for COVID-19 currently stand at 15% hospitalized and 3.4% dying.

Although these numbers are definitely overestimated because of testing patterns, they are still much higher than flu. And while both illnesses are disproportionately bad for older, sicker people, COVID-19 also seems to sicken and kill younger people at higher rates than seasonal flu.

Most importantly, as a society, we’re “used” to flu. Healthcare systems are prepared for it and there’s a reasonably effective vaccine. >55% of the population is fully immune in any given year. Ultimately, most healthy people consider flu an annoyance, not a problem. But we are not used to COVID-19, it is spreading rapidly, and we are definitely not prepared.

Medical Surge from COVID-19

Many parts of the United States healthcare system are overburdened at baseline. They are not capable of handling a rapid increase in very sick patients from COVID-19.

Using Marion County, Oregon, as an example:

  • Licensed hospital beds:  ~550  (~500 at Salem Hospital, one of the four largest hospitals in Oregon).
  • Average occupancy Salem Hospital (2018):   80%  (During flu season, this number can reach 100%).
  • Average “available extra beds” for COVID-19:  ~110.

If we assume 10% of patients require hospitalization, our “extra” beds could be filled by the time we have 1000 local cases (the current estimated number in Seattle).  Although that’s about 45 days from the first local infection, it’s potentially only 10-15 days from the time a local outbreak is first recognized. Care may also be limited by limited critical care beds, ventilators, sick hospital staff, and shortages of supplies and medications.

Meanwhile, at the clinic level, staffing drops from illness, quarantine—and parents staying home with kids when schools closed. At some point, healthcare for all patients could deteriorate, even if they don’t have COVID-19. And that’s one big reason why I personally am far more concerned about COVID-19 than seasonal flu!

Community Spread of COVID-19 – What should you do?

We will not know when COVID-19 arrives here. In fact, it might be here already, given the major outbreak a few hours north. Once in the community, it will spread. Most of the time, you will not know who is sick. It just becomes a game of odds—and your personal approach to risk!

Example: Marion County, Oregon – population ~ 350,000

 

Days into cluster

~Number of cases

~% of county infected

Day 0 (1st patient)

1

Day 30

100

0.03%

Day 45

1000

0.3%

Day 60

8000

2.3%

Day 75 65000

19%

 

No hospitalized patients have been identified in Marion County yet, so we are probably earlier than day 30 which means your odds of picking it up in the community are extremely low. Once it is identified, there may be another 30 days before community risk starts to climb significantly.

Risk will always be higher from what you’ve touched than who you are with—an object carries the risk of everyone who touched it since the last time it was disinfected.

 

COVID-19 Caution Spectrum – it’s your choice where you fall on it

  • Gambler:  Go about your business normally. The odds are in your favor.
  • A Little Cautious:  Follow recommended hand washing and avoid hand contact with others.
  • More Cautious:  Add cleaning and disinfecting routines.  (Particularly objects and settings where things are touched by many people.)
  • Getting Anxious:  Add avoidance of settings with multiple people within 6 feet for >15 minutes.  The greater the number of people together, the greater the risk
  • Quite Anxious:  Add gloves in stores, no group gatherings, work from home
  • Paranoid:  Minimize contact with people

For significant underlying medical conditions or over age 80, move up the caution spectrum!

AT ANY CAUTION LEVEL:  IF YOU FEEL SICK, STAY AWAY FROM PEOPLE UNTIL ASYMPTOMATIC FOR 24 HOURS!!!!

            Do not work. Do not go to school. Minimize contact with family members.

            Wear a mask around others if available (keeps you from spewing germs).

Many cases of COVID-19 will be mild and symptomatically similar to flu and other viral illnesses, yet much more contagious. You can’t tell if you have COVID-19 or a different infection, but you could be spreading it if you go out in public.

If everyone with mild symptoms stays home until better, community spread will slow.

 

Photo credit:  ID 174295771 © Buddhilakshan4 | Dreamstime.com

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Ocean Plastic Pollution

We are polluting our oceans with plastic at an unprecedented rate.  An already alarming situation is becoming worse every year.  We are some facts:

  • Nearly 18 billion pounds of land-based plastic enters the world’s oceans every year. That is equivalent to a garbage truck full of plastic every minute.
  • We recycle only nine percent of the plastic produced every year. The rest is discarded, and some of it winds up in the ocean.
  • The world’s oceans contain five massive patches of floating plastic. Once such patch, located between California and Hawaii, is the size of Texas.
  • The amount of plastic in the oceans has increased twentyfold in the last two years. It is an escalating problem and is getting worse each year.
  • It is estimated that one million sea birds, over a hundred thousand sea mammals, and millions of fish are killed by plastic waste in the ocean every year.
  • The danger is not just large pieces of plastic. A greater danger is microplastic, tiny bits of plastic so small they cannot be seen (technically, less than 5mm in size)—but they can be consumed by fish and other marine species, which means that you can consume microplastic every time you eat fish or seafood.
  • The average person consumes 70,000 bits of microplastic every year. Some of that comes from bottled water.  Ninety-three percent of all bottled water contains microplastics.  Moreover, ninety percent of table salt contains microplastic.  Microplastic is so ubiquitous in our food supply that we don’t know when we’re consuming microplastic or how to reduce our consumption of it.
  • Americans use more than 200 billion plastic bags every year and only one percent of those are recycled. The rest wind up in dumps or in the ocean, and plastic takes more than 400 years to decompose.

 

What you can do

  1. Recognize that this is not a political issue; it is a human issue; it is a planet issue. And it won’t be solved if we don’t face it squarely and act.
  2. Plastic pollution in the oceans does affect you, even if you live in the Great Plains or the mountains of Colorado.
  3. We are all part of the problem and can be part of the solution.
  4. What you can do:
    1. Educate yourself on the problem—and then educate your children and others.
    2. Vote out polluter politicians like Donald Trump and his do-nothing Republican supporters.
    3. Write to your elected officials and demand action.
    4. Write to corporations that use plastic packaging and fast food chains that use plastic and demand that they cease or refuse to buy from them.
    5. Contribute to or join nonprofits dedicated to ocean clean-up like The Ocean Cleanup and Free the Ocean.
    6. If you live near a coast, participate in beach clean-ups.
    7. Stop using so many plastics. Take cloth grocery bags to the supermarket and refuse to use plastic bags.
    8. Drink bottled water from glass containers, not plastic.
    9. Purchase fresh produce rather than produce packaged in plastic.
    10. Recycle plastics rather than throwing them away.
    11. Join groups dedicated to preserving the environment.

 

Photo credit:  ID 149866173 © Liia Galimzianova | Dreamstime.com

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What are the ten best rock albums of all time?

According to The Top Tens, the ten best classic rock albums of all time are:

  1.  Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
  2.  Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin
  3.  Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
  4.  The Wall by Pink Floyd
  5.  Back in Black – AC/DC
  6.  Moving Pictures – Rush
  7.  Paranoid – Black Sabbath
  8.  Led Zeppelin II – Led Zeppelin
  9.  Who’s Next – The Who
  10.  Are You Experienced – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Naturally, everyone who reads this list will disagree with some choices.  Bruce Springsteen is not on this list.  Nor is Tom Petty.  Personally, I think Dark Side of the Moon is one of the finest, if not THE finest, album ever recorded, but I’m not sure if falls into the category of classic rock.  Rock and roll grew out of performers like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry and Bill Haley and the Comets.  That was classic rock and roll.  But if you throw heavy metal and pop music and poetic meditations (like Pink Floyd) into the mix, then this list would be pretty representative of the great “rock” albums of all time.

What do you think?

 

Source:  https://www.thetoptens.com/classic-rock-albums/

 

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Robert Greenberg’s Landscapes

Photo of Zabriskie Point at sunrise, showing the silhouette

In his travels around the world, photographer Robert Greenberg has captured some stunning land and cityscapes.  Here is a selection of some of my favorites from his global photo safaris.

Photo of hikers in Death Valley
Hikers pose in the Artists Drive in colorful Death Valley

Artists Drive is an alluvial fan carved into the Black Mountains in Death Valley.  The hikers waving at the photographer offer scale in this vast landscape of purple, green, red, and yellow rock formations and deposits of oxidized iron and manganese, among other minerals, that  spewed forth during Miocene-era volcanic eruptions.  With such a colorful palette, it’s easy to understand why the area was so named.

 

Photo of hikers walking down a long, white road in Badwater Basin
The long, salty road in Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin is a popular hike in California’s Death Valley National Park.  At nearly three hundred feet below sea level, it is the lowest point in North America.  Salt, deposited over the centuries by rain and a spring-fed pool, has created the long, white path shown in this photo.  At the far end of this long salt flat, a sign 284 feet above the bed reads, “Sea level.”

 

 

Photo of sand dunes in Death Valley
Death Valley sand dune

The sand dunes of Death Valley create a sweeping desert panorama of beautiful emptiness.  Shadows lie over the mountain range in the background, smothered by the blues, whites, and grays of an overcast sky.  Barely visible in the distance are hikers exploring a landscape that nature has set aside for plants and creatures who thrive on dessicating winds and soaring heat.

 

Photo of a hiker in Golden Canyon
Golden Canyon, land of solitude and meditation

 

A solitary hiker ponders the orange hills and cliffs of Golden Canyon in Death Valley.  Though the trail is clearly marked, you can become lost in the stark and solitary beauty of this landscape.

 

 

 

Photo of a yellow rapeseed field outside Christchurch, New Zealand
A rapeseed field outside Christchurch, New Zealan

Outside Christchurch, on the South Island of New Zealand, farmers cultivate rapeseed, a brilliant yellow member of the mustard or cabbage family.  Rapeseed, valued for its oil-infused seed, is a global source of vegetable oil (second-largest) and protein meal (third-largest).  Here, beyond a broad expanse of rapeseed flowers, are the craggy hills and snow-capped mountains west of Christchurch.

 

Photo of Fox Glacier in New Zealand
Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Fox Glacier is fed by four alpine glaciers in the southern alps of New Zealand.  Like other glaciers globally, it is retreating at an alarming rate.  In this image, tourists observe its blackened retreating face–a craggy expanse of dust-covered ridges and valleys shrinking against the onslaught of global warming.  You don’t dare venture closer.  Though this frozen wasteland looks solid, it is deceptively unstable.

 

 

Photo of France's Mont-Saint-Michel
Mont-Saint-Michel

Mont-Saint-Michel is a World Heritage Site off the northern coast of Normandy in France.  The island is accessible in low tide, but treacherous at high tide.  In 1433, during the Hundred Years War, a small French garrison drove off an English army, leaving Mont-Saint-Michel unconquered.  Its isolated location made it ideal as a prison site centuries ago, but it is now visited by more than three million tourists annually, few of whom remain behind bars.

 

 

 

Photo of Golden Canyon in Death Valley
Twin bastions of Golden Canyon in Death Valley

Rugged outcroppings in Golden Canyon rise above the Death Valley desert floor like castle ramparts guarding against intruders.  The landscape here is vast and unforgiving.  We can pass through and admire nature’s masterworks, but we dare not linger.  Golden Canyon is alluring but inhospitable.

 

 

Photo of Crater Lake, Oregon, at morning
A smoky morning at Crater Lake

Crater Lake, Oregon, is the deepest lake in America.  Nearly two thousand feet deep, it is known for its crystal clear, icy blue water.  It was formed nearly eight thousand years ago when a volcano, Mount Mazama, collapsed.  In this image, a streak of yellow sun glow illuminates a shimmering streak across the water.  The land still lies in cool shadow, creating a smoky visage where all seems calm and peaceful.

 

 

 

Photo of Pokhara, Nepal
Pokhara, Nepal, a sleepy city in the foothills of the Himalayas

Pokhara, Nepal, lies at the foothills of the Himalaya mountain range.  The peak shown upper left is Machapuchare, which anchors one end of a long ridge forming the backbone of the Annapurna massif.  Pokhara is the site of popular tourist hiking trails for those wanting a taste of the Himalayas without the extreme effort required to scale the snowy peaks beyond.

 

 

 

Photo of Crater Lake at night, showing the Milky Way galaxy
The Milky Way over Crater Lake

The Milky Way over Crater Lake.  Fill your screen with this image and turn off the lights.  The Milky Way appears as a great white sash drawn across the night sky.  In the dim glow of sunrise, thousands of stars are visible, pinpricks of light that appear as small, white smudges because of the long time exposure required to capture them.

 

 

 

 

Photo of downtown St. Louis, Missouri, taken from the Gateway Arch
St. Louis, MIssouri, from the Gateway Arch

Downtown St. Louis, Missouri, from the Gateway Arch (the shadow of the Arch is visible in the lower center part of the image).  The monumental building in the center of the image is the Old Courthouse, site of many trials in the 19th Century.  Cityscapes like this show both the symmetry and orderliness of human life and suggest the hive of busyness and chaotic activity underneath.

 

 

 

Photo of Western Brook Pond Gorge in Newfoundland
Western Brook Pond Gorge, Newfoundland

 

Here at the edge of the North American continent, this ice-age gorge cuts its path to the sea.  Rugged cliffs on either side show the path of ice as it built a deep glacier that later retreated and left this landscape.  This image shows the rugged beauty of the area but cannot capture its size and scale.

 

 

 

Photo of Zabriskie Point at sunrise, showing the silhouette
Zabriskie Point at sunrise

Zabriskie Point at sunrise.  Located in Death Valley, this area is named for Christian Zabriskie, general manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, whose 20-mule teams transported borax from the valley to the coast.  A solitary observer watches the golden glow on the horizon as it slowly sweeps away the black of night.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits:  All photos are courtesy of Robert Greenberg and are used with his permission.  Copyright 2019.

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Covid 19 (Coronoavirus) Bulletin #1

Photo of a coronavirus

This is Covid 19 Bulletin #1 from Dr. Sheila Sund.  Covid 19, which is the proper name for the coronavirus that is currently spreading around the world, is a far more dangerous virus than the flu.  Despite what Donald Trump said on television several days ago, Covid 19 is twenty times more lethal than the flu, and it is likely that the rate of infection is much greater than what is known and being reported by the media–because no one knows how widespread the infection actually is.

Dr. Sheila Sund is a retired hospice and palliative care physician in Oregon.  She became involved with disaster medicine following the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009. As part of a statewide workgroup, she helped developed Oregon’s Crisis Care Guidance—guidelines to direct healthcare response during a public health crisis such as pandemic or mass trauma. She served as Director of the Marion County Medical Reserve Corps and physician representative on Oregon’s Region 2 Coalition for Healthcare Preparedness. She has given over one hundred presentations to community, healthcare, and business groups throughout the Pacific Northwest on topics ranging from earthquake preparedness to pandemic response.

On February 28, Dr. Sund published the following bulletin on Covid 19, and she has graciously allowed me to reprint it on this blog.  As she publishes future bulletins on Covid 19, I will reprint them here as well.  Stay tuned.

 

Chinook CERT Plus – COVID-19 Bulletin #1, February 28, 2020

How bad is Covid-19?

Based on evaluation of 72,000 cases in China:

“Mild” symptoms (not hospitalized): ~81%.   Mild cases can still be sick for up to 14 days

Serious illness (hospitalization): ~14%

Critically ill (intensive care): ~5%

Fatality rate ~2% overall.   < 1% if young and healthy, 14.8% if age 80 or above

My note: serious illness does not usually occur until the second week of the illness

Covid-19 is already a pandemic by the traditional epidemiology definition:

Uncontrolled spread of an infectious agent on at least two continents

My note: there are strong social/political/economic reasons why official organizations and governments avoid labeling something as a pandemic – even when it is!

Official case counts are misleading, both in the United States and internationally.  Patients are counted only if they have a positive test, yet:

  1. The availability of testing is limited in many places
  2. Testing is limited to the sickest patients or those with known case contact

Before Feb 27, a sick patient could only be tested in the United States if they had visited China or had contact with a known case.  On Feb 27, criteria were expanded to travel from six countries, but otherwise, patients without known exposure can still only be tested if they are not just hospitalized, but critically ill.

My note: Given the rapid spread of cases around the world, it seems highly likely there are already clusters of infection with community spread within the United States. However, with current testing limits, these will not be identified until someone within the cluster becomes critically ill (such a patient was identified just today in Lake Oswego). Given the typical time course of the illness, these patients will already have been infectious for at least seven days.

 

Personally, I am taking this illness very seriously. I implemented my family’s infection control plan this week, which affects four households (including one in Lake Oswego!). I’m working on putting it all in writing, and then will share with you. But in the meantime, here is the most important tip of all – WASH YOUR HANDS! (Read on.)

 

YOUR COVID-19 PREVENTION TIP OF THE DAY

WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS.

 

Hand washing instructions (yes, there is a correct way!)

1) Wet hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off tap, and apply soap.

2) Lather hands and rub front and back to wrists, between fingers, and under nails

3) Scrub hands for at least 20 second (hum “Happy Birthday” twice)

4) Turn faucet back on and rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

  5) Dry hands using a paper towel

 

Hand washing at home

Pump liquid soap at every sink

Does not need to be antibacterial

Use paper towels even at home during times of increased infection risk

Damp hand towels can harbor germs

Dispose of paper towels in non-touch trash can – foot pedal, magic hand wave.  Not inside cabinet

Use hand cream frequently

 

Hand washing in public

Gather paper towels before washing hands

Use one paper towel as barrier from counter – set other towels on it

          Wash hands as above, drying completely with paper towels

Avoid touching public surfaces after hand washing

Use paper towels to turn off sink, open trash cans, and open doors

Option: Ziplock bag with hand soap, paper towels, and hand sanitizer for public use.  Keep plastic bag “clean” – store inside purse/bag

No touch public surfaces – set on paper towel

 

When to wash hands in pandemic

Every 1-2 hours when out of home in public

Before leaving public location – avoid contaminating your car

          As soon as you enter house (touch as few things as possible first)

Before touching any food, including packaged snacks or restaurant food

After contact with potentially contaminated things in home (groceries and supplies, outside door knobs, shoes, backpacks/purses)

Toilet, etc – just like always

 

Hand sanitizer

Use only if you can’t wash your hands!  Why? You can’t disinfect something that is dirty!

Germs hide in oils and grime…and hands get dirty very quickly.

Sanitizers work best if hands are clean

Sanitizers must be at least 60% alcohol

          Rub gel over all surfaces of hands and fingers until dry (~20 seconds)

 

Photo credit:  Coronavirus (ID 171082256 © Dgmate | Dreamstime.com)

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Can Science Be Trusted?

Female chemist holding a beaker with a yellow fluid

Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic philosopher and the last of Rome’s Five Good Emperors.  He reigned from 161 to 180 and is known for his Meditations, a philosophical treatise in which he wrote, “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.  Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”  Science as we know it was in its infancy during his time, but he understood the foundations of science and its ability to enlighten us as much as anyone before or since.  He said, “Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.”

photo of two scientists looking at the double helix
Science is an iterative process for discovering the truth about nature

I was reminded of that statement during a 2018 trip in which I met a man who said that science couldn’t be trusted because “what they believed a hundred years ago is not true today.”  I pointed out to him that Copernicus discovered—in 1543—that the sun is the center of our solar system.  His heliocentric model of the solar system is indisputably true and has stood the test of time.  In 1600, William Gilbert discovered the Earth’s magnetic field, which was true then and remains true now.  In 1675, Anton van Leeuwenhoek discovered microorganisms in pond water.  That was as true then as it is today, although today we know much, much more about microorganisms thanks to centuries of scientific progress.  The mercury barometer was invented in 1643, the speed of light measured in 1676, the electric battery created in 1800, anesthesia discovered in 1846, x-ray in 1895, and so on.

In point of fact, much of what scientists discovered prior to 1918 was truthful then and is truthful now.  This is not to say that science doesn’t continually refine what we think to be true or discover new truths that alter our understanding of the world in which we live.  Scientists are driven by insatiable curiosity and are motivated to discover the truth.  In science, only truth matters—real truth, discoverable truth, replicable truth.  Not myths or fantasies or propaganda, not opinions or biases or clever misdirections.  Just the truth.  Because only in the truth about what things are and how they work can you build automobiles that run for a hundred thousand miles or more, and televisions that deliver crisp, color images time after time, or computers that store billions of bytes of information and calculate far faster and more reliably than human beings, or medicines can cure illnesses, or machines that can make other machines, or build and launch spacecraft that land men on the moon.  Science is the foundation of modern life, not religion or political persuasion or the lies we tell ourselves to justify our beliefs.

Does science ever get it wrong?  Of course, because science is a never-ending process of experimentation, observation, and theory.  Scientists are constantly testing what they think they know and are open to re-discovering truth when their earlier theories or incomplete observations demonstrate that what they believed to be true wasn’t true.  But with each iteration of observation and discovery, they either confirm what is thought to be true or correct it.

 

An experiment is a question which science posts to Nature, and a measurement is the recording of Nature’s answer.

                                                                                                                                    —Max Planck

To say that science can’t be trusted because what scientists believe to be true today may not be true tomorrow is to miss the whole point of science—which is to continually improve upon our knowledge of the universe by constantly challenging what we think.  Knowledge evolves because our observations keep getting better, because our methods improve, and because we build upon both the successes and mistakes of the past.  Scottish chemist William Ramsay, who discovered the noble gases and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1904, said, “Progress is made by trial and failure; the failures are generally a hundred times more numerous than the successes; yet they are usually left unchronicled.”

Two engineers working at a machine
Technology is one demonstrable proof of the efficacy of science and the scientific method

What distinguishes science from religion is that in science truth is objective.  It is subject to verification and correction if further observations, experiments, and measurements prove that something initially thought to be true isn’t.  But in religion, truth is highly subjective—it is based on religious texts (most of which differ from each other and are often contradictory), myths and beliefs passed down through generations that cannot be verified, and the teachings of shamans or other so-called holy people (some of whom drive Mercedes and live in mansions while preaching humility and sacrifice).

This is not to say that religion has no role in people’s lives.  Albert Einstein said that “science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind.”  For many people, religion offers a solace that cannot be found in objective fact, but it is foolish to substitute religious “truth” for empirical, scientific truth, just as no amount of prayer will repair a broken automobile if what you need is a new fuel injector.

If groups of people have faith in a deity and worship that deity because it brings them comfort or salvation or a path to an afterlife, more power to them—as long as they don’t force their beliefs on people who don’t share their faith or kill others in the name of their religion.  Reflecting on the tragedy of 911, American physicist and religious skeptic Victor Stenger once noted that, “Science flies you to the moon.  Religion flies you into buildings.”  I am not suggesting that religious belief is always as evil as the insanity that led the 911 hijackers to kill thousands of innocent people, but religious belief clearly is that evil sometimes.  The Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, the depredations of ISIS, and other mass religious-based killings through history prove that religion, no matter how honorably conceived, is capable of horrific deeds.  Science is not blameless either in the harmful treatment of human beings.  After all, scientists created Zyklon B, the gas the Nazis used to exterminate Jews, and atomic bombs, which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki and pose an unending threat today.

That science is capable of creating instruments of destruction is evidence that science is amoral—and the definition of that word is important.  Something that is amoral is neither moral nor immoral; it is unaware of or indifferent to questions of right or wrong.  Science is the search for truth and understanding, and that understanding can create escalators as well as poison gas.  It’s up to us to make wise and moral decisions about how to use science and technology, just as it is up to us to use religious belief for good rather than evil.

American statesman and President John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  His observation reminds me of a story I read as a teenager.  A man was cursed by a voodoo priest, and he asked his friend if he should be worried about it.  His friend asked if the man believed in voodoo.  The man said he wasn’t sure, and his friend replied, “If voodoo is not real, then nothing will happen.  If voodoo is real, then it won’t matter whether you believe in it or not.”

Female chemist holding a beaker with a yellow fluid
Science is about observation and experimentation. They provide the insights into nature’s secrets.

So it is with science.  The reality of existence, which we know through scientific truth, is verifiable and immutable.  Truth doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not.  The truth is the truth as much as we can discover it through observation, experimentation, measurement, and rational understanding.  Can you trust it?  Can you trust science?  Yes, as much as you can trust your toaster (which is an artifact of scientific discovery) or your Velcro fastener (another scientific artifact), or the fact that the Earth is round and revolves around the Sun.  As Neil deGrasse Tyson says, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”  Remind yourself of that the next time you turn on your radio and hear music.

I’m going to close with one more quote about science, this one from Galileo.  He said, “In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”  He may have been talking about himself, inasmuch as he was threatened with death by the church for discoveries that violated church dogma.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what hundreds, or thousands, or even millions of people believe.  If those beliefs are wrong, and can be proven wrong through scientific discovery, then the truth will prevail.  It will prevail because dogma is not verifiable, and when the winds of change wear thin the veil of superstition and myth, the truth will remain and will eventually be acknowledged and accepted, even by hosts of doubters who wished it were not true because it violates their convictions.

 

Photography credits:  Biochemists looking at helix (ID 76839435  © Sergey Khakimullin | Dreamstime.com); two engineers (ID 119421001 © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com); female chemist looking at yellow beaker (ID 144745268 © Souvik Sarkar | Dreamstime.com)

 

 

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Antarctic Odyssey by Debra Parmenter

Photographer Debra Parmenter shot nearly five thousand images while on a three-week excursion in the South Atlantic and Antarctica. This photo odyssey presents an eclectic mix of some of her favorite images.  For Debra, photography is more than an avocation; it is a compulsion.  The camera is an extension of her soul, of the beauty she sees in nature.  Her aspiration is not to capture the perfect image, which she believes is impossible, but to constantly strive to capture the feelings she has as she witnesses the unfolding immensity and grandeur of the world she’s experiencing.

 

Photo of the South Shetland Islands in Antarctica, two triangular-shaped tall mountain peaks
South Shetland Islands

After a rough two days crossing the Drake Passage from South Georgia Island, the National Geographic Explorer came to the South Shetland Islands off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.  These massive triangular peaks stood like sentinels guarding the entrance to the southern continent.  The two icebergs (center and right) were both much taller than our ship.  The Shetlands were a welcome sight.  Once beyond them, the seas were considerably calmer, a relief from the gale we’d been sailing through.

Photo of a massive blue glacier atop a tall black cliff in Antarctica
Blue Glacier atop a Cliff in Antarctica

This blue glacier, the product of the snow and ice fields behind, was once much thicker.  Global warming has caused it to melt more rapidly, hence the waterfalls cascading down the black face of the cliff.  The ice has turned blue because of compression.  Air bubbles form in new ice; as the ice is compressed, the air bubbles grow smaller until the ice absorbs all the colors of the spectrum except blue, which is reflected back.  Blue ice forms over thousands or hundreds of thousands of years and is the oldest ice in Antarctica.

A huge bull elephant seal bites the neck of a cow seal as part of a mating ritual
Elephant Seal Mating Ritual

A large bull is nibbling on a cow’s neck, which she does not appear to enjoy, but these animals are not known for their delicate manner.  The bulls can grow to fourteen feet and weigh four tons; the cows top out at eleven feet and 900 pounds.   Elephant seals spend most of the year at sea, feeding on squid and fish.  They can dive as deep as 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) and stay submerged for thirty minutes.  The king penguins in the background are oblivious to the amorous activity taking place farther up the beach.

Photo of an elephant seal pup attempting to suckle from a man's blue coat at his elbow
An Elephant Seal Pup Attempts to Suckle from a Blue Elbow

Elephant seal pups are hungry and very curious.  This pup approached naturalist Michael Nolan, seeking a meal.  Their mothers provide milk during a month of lactation, during which the pups gain about twenty pounds a day.  Once they’re weaned and their mothers leave, the pups may seek other cows willing to feed them (or down coat elbows if no cows are available).  These pups are known as “double mother suckers.”  After the cows mate again and return to the sea to feed, the pups typically fast for a month before going to sea themselves and learning, without their parents’ help, how to be elephant seals.

Photo of tens of thousands of king penguins on the shore of South Georgia Island
Massive Colony of King Penguins on South Georgia Island

This massive colony of king penguins on South Georgia Island extends both left and right of the view area of this photograph and may contain more than a hundred thousand mating pairs as well as thousands of “oakum boys,” the yearling penguins distinguished by their brown feathers.  As the oakum boys mature, they moult into their adult plumage of silver-gray and white feathers.  While their parents return to the sea to feed, the oakum boys hang out in crèches of hundreds or thousands of chicks; when the parents return, they find their chick and feed it by regurgitating some of the food they’ve consumed.  King penguins were nearly hunted to extinction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Now that hunting has halted, their numbers are returning.  South Georgia Island alone is believed to have 1.6 million king penguins.

Photo of a long line of penguins walking along a rocky shore
The March of the Penguins

A line of Adélie penguins waddles along a rocky shore, either returning from the sea or marching towards it.  The Adélies live in small colonies and are widely dispersed around Antarctica.  The floating ice beyond the rocky outcrops includes “growlers” (ice that rises no more than three feet out of the water, “bergy bits” (ice rising between three to thirteen feet out of the water), and icebergs, which are taller than thirteen feet.  Mammoth icebergs will eventually devolve into bergy bits and growlers as they slowly melt, but in the icy waters of Antarctica that process could take decades or even centuries.

Photo of a beach crowded with elephant seals and king penguins
A Crowded Beach at Dawn

King penguins, including a few oakum boys, share the beach with sleeping elephant seals.  One fat fellow on the left of the photo looks like a large boulder—and weighs as much—but that’s an elephant seal bull.  The penguins and the seals get along with each other on crowded beaches like this one so long as everyone observes proper beach etiquette and doesn’t become a nuisance.   Debra took this photo on a cold morning with rough seas, white water assaulting the shore at the upper left, mist drifting over the animals in the background, fog obscuring the mountainside beyond.

Photo of a blue iceberg with three penguins standing on it.
Penguins on a Blue Berg

Three Adélie penguins are perched atop a blue iceberg.  As it melted, this iceberg tipped on its side.  The flat slope angling toward the sea would once have been the flat top of the iceberg.  Now it’s a perfect platform for show-offs.  The Adélie on the right looks like a snowboarder, his feet planted, his wings spread, ready to start his slide.  With his dirty chest and cocky attitude, he’s Shaun White of the Antarctic.  Indeed, just after this photo was taken, he slid down the ice and did a nose dive into the sea.  Debra gave him a score of 9.2 (he wobbled a bit on his takeoff, but he had a clean landing, with minimal splash). 

Photo of a twisted blue iceberg shaped by the sea and the wind.
Iceberg Shaped by Sea and Wind

This delicate, twisted blue iceberg had a long blue neck like partially melted ice cream and small arches and windows on its craggy body.  It’s likely decades old, having calved from a glacier and drifted out into open water where twin artists—sea and wind—have conspired to etch and shape its surface.  Such natural beauty is omnipresent in Antarctica—and transitory.  Change may take minutes or months, but this iceberg will already have evolved to some other form, maybe as beautiful as shown here, but with rough seas and high winds, it may also have become as nondescript as the two growlers in the foreground.

Photo of an isolated pair of buildings in Antarctica during a snowstorm
Isolated Outpost in a Snowstorm

Antarctica is the most isolated continent on Earth and the least inhabited.  Small outposts like this one on the Antarctic Peninsula are few and far between, as they say.  Perched on a rocky outcrop covered with snow and ice, it is accessible only from the sea and is inhabited only in the spring and summer months.  It’s difficult to imagine spending much time here.  Everything necessary to make it habitable must be brought in, storms are frequent and often violent, and unless you are a scientist, you’d spend much of your time maintaining the buildings and machinery and digging out.  If you prefer solitude, however, and the endless beauty of this frigid environment, such an outpost could be nirvana.

Photo of a mountain side in Antarctica with massive glaciers on top the mountains and flowing down to the sea
Epic Glaciers in Antarctica

Light from the setting sun illuminates massive glaciers formed over centuries of snowstorms on top of these mountains.  The snow accumulates and settles, compressing the snow beneath until it forms ice.  The glaciers, hundreds of feet thick, slide inexorably toward the sea, forming the staunch white cliffs shown here on the edge of the continent.  Eventually, the glaciers are pushed out into sea and calve as fissures form, grow, and weaken, giving birth to icebergs as large as cities—and sometimes larger.  Sights as epic as this one are evidence of nature’s power, persistence, and patience.

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How Donald Trump Wins

His Five Strategies for Conning His Constituency

He is a deeply flawed leader–a vain, narcissistic self-promoter; an exemplar of moral turpitude; an absurdly uninformed, undisciplined and inarticulate thinker; a grandiose misfit who can’t

Photo of Donald Trump with one arm raised
Donald Trump with arm raised

tolerate criticism and lashes out at every slight, deriding opponents with schoolyard taunts and blatant misrepresentations.  He is scandalously hostile or indifferent to our closest allies but embraces dictators and tyrants like new-found best friends.  And he lies, so shamelessly and so often that truth is obscured in the chaos of the noise and confusion he creates.

He is our president.

How he won the presidency—and how he maintains a loyal following among a devoted minority of Americans—is a case study in the art and practice of manipulation.  He longs to be incomparable among men, and while he is a deeply flawed leader of our nation he is unquestionably a great flimflam man, perhaps the greatest in history.  Flimflam is the art of fraud and deception, a con game achieved by clever manipulation of victims.  Donald Trump practices this dark art through the accomplished use of five strategies:  ignoring, counterattacking, obfuscating, agreeing (and then disregarding), and minimizing contamination.  He uses these five strategies so predictably that they’ve become behavioral tics, his signature moves for confounding both his allies and his enemies.

Ignoring Controversies

One of Trump’s most frequent strategies, especially in dealing with issues that would derail a normal president, is to ignore the issue long enough for it to die on the vine.  He has done this successfully so far with the Stormy Daniels controversy.  An alleged affair with a porn star is tawdry enough to rank with Bill Clinton’s use of a cigar with Monica Lewinsky, but Trump has simply declined to respond to the allegations with one notable exception—when he lied on Air Force One about not knowing about Michael Cohen’s payments (just days before the election) to Daniels to buy her silence.  But for that one slip, Trump has consistently ignored the Stormy Daniels controversy and allowed his minions to deny the affair and deflect Michael Avenatti’s ongoing attacks.

Photo of Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti
Porn star Stormy Daniels and attorney Michael Avenatti

The Daniels affair has generated ongoing buzz because Avenatti (Daniel’s attorney) has doggedly pursued it in the media, but Trump has been more successful in ignoring his affair with former Playboy model Karen McDougal, with whom he had an ongoing relationship after First Lady Melania Trump gave birth to their son.  It is arguably more morally repugnant to have an affair while your wife is nursing a baby than to have a one-time romp with a porn star, but the McDougal affair has faded into the recesses of public memory because McDougal lacks an Avenatti bulldog.

Ignoring his affair with Karen McDougal has worked beautifully for Trump.  So has ignoring the controversy surrounding White House aide Kelly Sadler’s comment that they could ignore John McCain‘s opposition in the Senate “because he’s dying anyway.”  That impolitic blunder made huge waves in the press and brought well-deserved ire down on a White House insider who crudely attacked a war hero and highly respected Senator.  Trump dealt with the controversy—by ignoring it.  He refused to address the aide’s comment and did not fire her, as most normal people would, and his minions chose to deflect attention to the outrageous comment about McCain by attacking “leakers” in the White House.

Trump also deftly ignored the criticism following his Oval Office meeting on immigration when he said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”  Likewise, he ignored criticism of his failure to condemn far-right extremists in Charlottesville, Virginia, who marched through the streets carrying torches, screaming racist remarks, and attacking counter-demonstrators.  In both cases, his unpresidential behavior drew widespread bipartisan ire, and he dealt with it by ignoring it.  Trump knows that news cycles have a short half-life and when people become preoccupied with the latest controversy the previous one loses steam and fades into the dustbins of memory, disregarded by his loyalists and deflated in the minds of detractors whose endurance, after all, does have limits.

Counterattacking Opponents

Trump has frequently said that he is a counterpuncher.  What this means is that he allows no slight, insult, or opposition to go unpunished.  He uses this strategy to defend against the most serious threats to his self-image or position:  Hilary Clinton’s candidacy, the firing of James Comey, the Mueller investigation, and credible vocal critics.  He counterpunches principally through ad hominem attacks, labeling his opponents “Crooked Hilary,” “Slippery James Comey,” “Crazy Bernie (Sanders)”, “Goofy Elizabeth Warren” and “Pocohontas,” “Little Rocket Man (Kim Jong-Un), “Dickie Durbin,” “Liddle Bob Corker,” and so on.  In an unusual moment of candor, Trump revealed his purpose in using these schoolyard put-downs to 60 Minutes’ Leslie Stahl when she asked why he relentlessly attacked the press.  He replied, “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.”

Photo of Josef Goebbels
Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels

That is Trump’s strategy in a nutshell:  to discredit his opposition through relentless accusations and name-calling, which he knows will stick in the minds of many rank-and-file voters if he repeats it often enough.  As Nazi Propaganda Chief Josef Goebbels once observed, “The rank and file are usually much more primitive than we imagine.  Propaganda must therefore always be essentially simple and repetitious.”  Trump knows this better than any living politician.  If you append a simple, demeaning moniker on an opponent and say it frequently enough through mass media, you can discredit your opponents and persuade millions of people to believe the worst about them, even if they’re lies.

The Mueller investigation of Russian meddling in our 2016 election is the most serious threat to Trump’s ego, credibility, and presidency, and his counterattack on Robert Mueller is consequently more complex though it’s essentially the same strategy.  Through a rotating team of lawyers, he has sought to denounce the investigation as unconstitutional, politicized, and unfair.  Many of his Twitter attacks are focused on the Mueller investigation, wherein he repeats the words, “Witch hunt,” “no collusion,” and “angry Democrats.”  His lawyers, notably Rudy Giuliani, frequently appear on news channels berating the investigation for one reason or another.  Giuliani confessed recently that they were attempting to damage Mueller’s credibility enough to undermine any subsequent attempt to impeach Trump.  Never mind that the truth matters and that Russian meddling in our democracy is a serious and ongoing threat to the country; their only aim is to protect Donald Trump.  And it appears to be working.  An alarming number of Americans today believe the Mueller investigation is politically motivated.

Creating Alternate Realities to Obfuscate the Truth

A common Trump strategy is to blatantly lie so as to create an alternate reality.  His charge last year that the Obama administration wiretapped his campaign phones is one example.  There was absolutely no truth to this charge, but to Trump the truth doesn’t matter.  His aim is to make noise and distract both his supporters and detractors with conspiracy theories so patently ridiculous that only fools would believe them—and plenty of fools do.  They’re the same fools who argue that the Earth is flat, that NASA faked the moon landings, and that our government masterminded the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon.  The lunatic fringe is eager to believe such nonsense, but a sizable part of the population is also gullible because they want to believe Trump’s claims.  They support the conservative tide he represents and are willing to believe it’s possible that Obama, whom many of them hated, could have stooped to wiretapping his political enemies. Here, confirmation bias is working in Trump’s favor.  People are inclined to believe something that confirms what they already think is true, so if Trump’s claims the Democrats are to blame for separating immigrant children from their parents–a claim Trump has made many times although it’s untrue–people in Trump’s base are inclined to believe it because they are already biased against Democrats.  Similarly, Trump has claimed that Democrats want to protect criminal gangs like MS-13.  This is another blatant lie, but enough of Trump’s supporters will believe it because they want to believe Democrats are weak on crime.

Just a month ago, Trump was promoting what he termed “Spygate,” the idea that the FBI planted a spy in his campaign.  He railed against this phony offense on Twitter, and many of his supporters ate it up.  Trump’s been trashing the FBI (largely because of their role in the Mueller investigation and because the hated James Comey used to direct the agency), so Trump’s more gullible loyalists could well imagine that he’d been wrongly spied upon by our own government.  When Congressional leaders heard the classified account of what the FBI actually did, the Spygate charge lost its luster.  No less a conservative Republican than Trey Gowdy said there was nothing to Trump’s Spygate charge, and Paul Ryan later confirmed Gowdy’s conclusion.  Both of these Trump-manufactured conspiracy theories were nonsense, but he doesn’t care.  His goal is to use fake facts to create noise in the system, to rile up his supporters and dominate the news cycles until he uses Another Next Big Lie to sow more confusion.

Like a good propagandist, Trump understands the value of symbolism.  He surrounds himself with American flags, military bands, and members of the military.  He professes outrage at NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem and uses the media to excoriate them, saying not only that they should be fired but that they should leave the country.  He wraps himself in the symbols of patriotism and denounces his opponents for being unpatriotic.  In the 1930’s, Hitler did the same thing in Germany, and the Nazi flag became a symbol of righting all the imagined wrongs that Germany’s enemies had inflicted on the Motherland.  Hitler built his power base by excoriating his enemies and adopting German patriotism as both a rallying cry for his supporters and a weapon against his detractors.  When Trump declares that Democrats are unpatriotic, you should not believe it–but many people will, particularly those in his polarized base–but also many people who might be on the fence.

Illustration of Donald Trump and an American flag
Donald Trump and the American flag

Appearing to Agree—and then Disregarding the Agreement

During his presidential campaign, Trump was repeatedly asked to make his income tax returns available.  He delayed by saying that his returns were being audited, so he could not release them.  The IRS said that an ongoing audit did not matter; his returns could be released.  But Trump stuck to the assertion that he couldn’t release his returns until post-audit.  Then the election came and went, and he still hadn’t released his returns.  Afterwards, when people asked for his returns, he said he won the election without releasing his returns, so it obviously didn’t matter to the voters.  He still hasn’t released any returns.

With this strategy, Trump appears to agree with someone, makes excuses why it can’t happen right away, and then allows the issue to become a non-issue by delaying until it no longer matters.  Another example of this strategy is his response to the Parkland, Florida mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  In the horrific aftermath of that massacre when there was so much emotional fervor about gun control and taking steps to curtail the violence in our schools, Trump met with some Stoneman Douglas survivors and parents, and he earnestly promised to take steps to curb school violence, including some gun control measures.  He spoke loudly and (in)sincerely in a cabinet meeting about not being afraid of the NRA.

Then he appointed a commission to study how to end school violence, and he put Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in charge of it (surely the best way to ensure that nothing beneficial will come from it).  Recently, the DeVos commission said they were studying many ways to curb school shootings but were not looking at guns as an issue.  So much for Trump being unafraid of the NRA and being invested in ending school violence.  Just over two months after the Parkland shooting, he was a headline speaker at the NRA Convention.  When Donald Trump appears to agree with you, watch out.  He is as insincere as a con man’s smile and slipperier than a smooth-soled shoe on ice.

Minimizing Contamination

Here is a warning to Trump’s close friends:  you may be in-house now but if stuff sticks to you you’ll be out-house soon.  Among Trumps close friends who’ve felt the wind on their backs as they’ve

Photo of Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen leaving a Federal courthouse

been dumped are Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, and Michael Cohen.  Trump demands unconditional loyalty, but his own loyalty to others is barely skin deep.  His strategy, when scandal strikes nearby, is to minimize the contamination by distancing himself from the infected party.  After Paul Manafort came under Mueller’s microscope, Trump’s staff spun the idea that Manafort was a minor player in the campaign.  Trump dismissed him as having served only 45 days on the campaign.  Likewise, after Michael Cohen’s woes deepened, the official line was that Cohen actually did very little legal work for Trump and is no longer representing Trump.

Trump’s White House washing machine has a huge spin cycle operated by the likes of Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and no distortion of the truth is too large for these intrepid image cleaners.  They can make the dirtiest laundry look and smell brand new, or at least they try hard.  Many  people can see through this charade and recognize the attempt to manipulate reality, but enough other people will be fooled to make the effort worthwhile.

 

The pattern here is as evident.  If an issue is an embarrassment to Trump that he can’t make go away he will ignore it until it drops off the front page.  If an issue is serious, he will counterattack, usually through ad hominem attacks or he’ll try to create an alternate reality based on big, bold lies.  If he can’t avoid an issue, he may appear to agree and then disregard the agreement later, and if the issue is an insider who’s caught in a scandal, he will minimize the contamination by distancing himself.  What these strategies rely upon is the gullibility of a large part of Trump’s audience and his willingness to misrepresent the facts in order to create noise and confusion.

This is how Donald Trump wins.  It’s how he’s always won, and it’s how he will continue to win.  God help us if the country’s best interests get in the way because nothing matters to Trump except winning.

 

Photo credits:  Trump with arm raised:  Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com; Trump in front of U.S. flag:  VILevi / Shutterstock.com; Trump at rally:  a katz / Shutterstock.com; Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti:  JStone / Shutterstock.com; Michael Cohen:  JStone / Shutterstock.com.