Thursday, October 19, 2017

Seasonal obligation to the herd: get your flu shot

Yesterday I presented my arm and came away with a button and a band-aid.

Why suggest that this is not just to protect my personal aging body from the flu, that getting the shot also had a community benefit? If we are able to get the shot, we contribute to "herd immunity."

... vaccinating yourself vastly increases the odds that you won't get sick with flu this season, but it also protects everyone you come into contact with: your parents, your sister's new baby, the stranger on the bus who can't get vaccinated because of an egg allergy, and everyone who isn't able to weather an infection as well as you.

The idea of herd immunity is like a moat around a castle or the natural behavior of herd animals when threatened by a predator. The strong surround the weak to protect them from attack; in this case the vaccinated protect those who can't be vaccinated or those with low immunity from contact with the flu by halting the spread of the virus.

Cleveland Plain Dealer

At the risk of reading like an ad for the Kaiser Permanente system, I also have to say the HMO makes the annual flu vaccination incredibly smooth. They situate ranks of nursing students in the lobby who check your age and whether you've had past bad reactions and then give you a quick stick. This takes less than 3 minutes. So much personal and community benefit for so little time and angst ...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Rage in two kinds

It's not hard to find descriptions of the rage of Donald Trump's "base" -- those white, often rural, older, and predominantly male citizens whose disaffection stuck the rest of us with this vicious, blustering idiot. Here's an articulate sample from the National Review (via Kevin Drum):

Trump is stoking a particularly destructive form of rage — and his followers don’t just allow themselves to be stoked, they attack Trump’s targets with glee. Contrary to the stereotype of journalists who live in the Beltway and spend their nights at those allegedly omnipresent “cocktail parties,” I live in rural Tennessee, deep in the heart of Trump country. My travels mainly take me to other parts of Trump country, where I engage with Trump voters all the time.

If I live in a bubble, it’s the Trump bubble. I know it intimately. And I have never in my adult life seen such anger. There is a near-universal hatred of the media. There is a near-universal hatred of the so-called “elite.” If a person finds out that I didn’t support Trump, I’ll often watch their face transform into a mask of rage. Partisans are so primed to fight — and they so clearly define whom they’re fighting against — that they often don’t care whom or what they’re fighting for. It’s as if millions of Christians have forgotten a basic biblical admonition: “Be angry and do not sin.” ...

The Harvey Weinstein story ("revelations" only to those not placed to look or to see) is a unleashing a righteous rage just as deep, more wide, though not nearly so empowered. Here's Lindy West:

When [Woody] Allen and other men warn of “a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere” what they mean is an atmosphere in which they’re expected to comport themselves with the care, consideration and fear of consequences that the rest of us call basic professionalism and respect for shared humanity. On some level, to some men — and you can call me a hysteric but I am done mincing words on this — there is no injustice quite so unnaturally, viscerally grotesque as a white man being fired.

Donald Trump, our predator in chief, seems to view the election of Barack Obama as a white man being fired. He and his supporters are willing to burn the world in revenge. This whole catastrophic cultural moment was born of that same entitlement, of Trump’s paws and Weinstein’s unbelted bathrobe, of the ancient cycles of abuse that ghostwrote the Trump campaign’s real slogan: If I can’t have you, no one will.

Setting aside the gendered power differential inherent in real historical witch hunts (pretty sure it wasn’t all the rape victims in Salem getting together to burn the mayor), and the pathetic gall of men feeling hunted after millenniums of treating women like prey, I will let you guys have this one. Sure, if you insist, it’s a witch hunt. I’m a witch, and I’m hunting you. ...

West is certainly not alone; anyone who has looked at a Facebook feed full of "me too" over the last few days knows that.

The moment feels much akin to the heady times in the 1960s and 70s when 20th century U.S. feminism lurched awkwardly out of the lineage of previous freedom struggles. Only this time, the witches may indeed represent a broader swath of humanity (one that even includes a lot of well-raised men!) Time will tell; we women are good at endurance. The slogan from the South African freedom struggle seems on point.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dangerous trees

Northern California isn't the only region experiencing perilous wildfires in this season of weather disasters. Four people have died in scattered forest fires in Galicia and Asturias in Spain in the last few days. (That's where we walked on pilgrimage during September.) Thirty-five more people are reported killed further south in Portugal. Persistent drought fueled the outbreak. Politicians want to blame arsonists. But might there be an additional factor?

While walking through this region we made a surprising observation: where farmers had until recently grown pines in wood lots meant for paper and pulp production, they are now planting eucalyptus trees. They explained that these exotics would mature in 25 years while pines required 50.

Importing eucalyptus was evidently controversial. The Australian native species can be a hazard waiting to ignite as Californians have discovered.

... eucalyptus trees can exacerbate deadly fires. Their sap is flammable, and so is their bark, which flies off when burned, igniting new fires up to 100 yards away.

L.A. Times

In Spain we saw signs of vocal opposition to imports:
These trees may be more a part of the problem than part of a solution to rural areas' economic stagnation.

Monday, October 16, 2017

We must learn to hold more than one idea at a time

What kind of world are we living in? I mean, here's the New York Times passing along strategic advice that speaks to what has all my life seemed the necessary but impossible condition for successful left projects. David Leonhardt writing about defending gains in health care access from the Trump bulldozer:

Just as Trump has both short-term and long-term goals, so should his opponents. For now, the priority is minimizing coverage losses, through outreach, lawsuits and lobbying. Doing so will also help the larger priority: preventing repeal, which would cause far more people to lose insurance than Trump can on his own.

“This stuff is really bad,” the health care expert Aviva Aron-Dine said, referring to last week’s announcements, “but it’s not nearly as bad as repeal. People should be able to hold both of those ideas in their head at the same time. Nobody should despair.”

This is in support of Get America Covered, an activist effort to mobilize people to do the job that the GOPer government refuses to do: get eligible people enrolled in subsided insurance plans. Trump can make it hard to get in and more expensive to the government, but the law continues to require subsidies that make insurance relatively affordable to many people.

Read about Get America Covered, and pass the word on.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Over 26 years ago ... she spoke out

As women today, AGAIN, struggle to demand that powerful male sexual predators JUST STOP, watch the courageous woman who forced this near-universal female experience out into the light.

Anita Hill deserves credit for putting truth before the world.

Elders amid the California fires

My friend Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By highlighted the particular sufferings of Puerto Rican old people in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Even if their houses survived, elders are particularly vulnerable in a prolonged period without electricity, or easy access to clean water, and to stocked food stores. The weak response from the Trump administration and from too many mainlanders has made a perilous situation worse.

Bennett's post led me to take a particular look at how Northern California media is covering the plight of elders in our current siege of firestorms around Santa Rosa, Calistoga, Napa, Sonoma, and surroundings. There seem to be two notable themes.

Elders are particularly at risk when electricity and modern means of communication fail. This is not just about elders being not perhaps so decisive or fast moving in an emergency as younger people. According to an account in the Mercury News:

For the hundreds who remain missing, their families are holding out hope that their loved ones are also safe but simply unable to communicate.

That turned out to be the happy case for Nanette Williams, whose 96-year-old aunt Nora Hennings was found alive by sheriff’s deputies in her Santa Rosa home just feet from fire-scorched earth. With no cellphone, no computer, no email and no car, she’d had no way to get in touch but had come through the fire relatively unscathed. ...

[Carmen] McReynolds, like Hennings and a number of people her age, doesn’t have a cellphone, computer or email address. The telephone at her home isn’t working, and authorities won’t let the family friends who have volunteered to drive by her house close enough to investigate.

Volunteers with the Timber Cove Fire Department stopped by McReynolds’ cabin near the Russian River on Friday afternoon. Family hoped she had fled to the cabin, which she’s owned since the 1960s. But she wasn’t there. A neighbor in Santa Rosa told the family that police and firefighters had been in the area when the fire broke out, urging residents to evacuate. “We hope she got rounded up,” said Coke. “But there’s no sign of her.” ...

To be old in a rapidly changing world can amount to falling out of connection in times of extreme societal stress. There may be few practical remedies beyond applied neighborliness, but that seems a scary truth.

The other theme in coverage of elders' vulnerability is the casualty report as tear-jerker. Perhaps I'm being unfair to reporters here. In the midst of a vast, terrifying, ongoing disaster, pulling out human interest stories from the chaos seems an obvious journalistic device. And stunned, grieving relatives make appealing sources. Still these accounts feel over-saccharin and a little too canned. Two specimens of the genre from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Charles and Sara Rippey were the first casualties to be identified. They were also the oldest — he was 100 and she was 98. They had been married for 75 years and they died together during the first night of the fires as flames engulfed their condominium at Napa’s Silverado Country Club. They met in grade school in Wisconsin and married on March 20, 1942. They were so well known in the Napa community that the Napa County Register carried an announcement of their diamond wedding anniversary this past spring. ... Mark Rippey, one of their sons, was interviewed on KPIX television and said Charles died trying to save his wife. “From where they found his body, he was trying to get from his room to her room,” he said. “He never made it.”

... Carmen [Berriz] met Armando in Cuba, when they were 12 years old. They both left Cuba after Castro came to power and met again in Florida. They were married in Miami in 1962 and moved to Southern California the next day.

After 55 years of marriage, she died in his arms. Mrs. Berriz was 75. When the fire came, the Berrizes were unable to escape, so they held hands and jumped into the swimming pool of their rented house. They hoped to outlast the fire. He held onto her, but she died. He was badly injured.

All the deaths (and injuries) in the fires are tragedies. But all deserve to have their stories recounted with as few maudlin cliches as possible. And elder deaths are particularly subject to the temptation among overwhelmed journalists to have recourse to vapid banalities.
Meanwhile, my bank is urging me to contribute to the Red Cross. Before I took off for Nicaragua last week, the message was about Hurricane Irma. This week it is fires. I'm skeptical. Journalist Jonathan Katz makes the case that earnest Red Cross appeals may even do more harm than good.

The problem, as Katz sees it, is that the Red Cross is a dysfunctional organization that excels at raising money but has shown little evidence of its ability to spend that money wisely or meaningfully. The Red Cross takes in close to 3 billion annually, refuses to open its books to the public, and, according to Katz, has consistently failed to produce a useful breakdown of its spending after major disaster efforts.

... Red Cross perpetuates a tendency we all have to see disasters as opportunities for charity. As a result, we spend far less time thinking about how to prevent disasters in the first place. “It’s always about relief, always about helping people after it’s too late,” Katz said.

“No one makes the world a worse place when they donate to the Red Cross,” Katz told me, “but if they do donate and assume that’s enough, we’ll keep repeating this cycle over and over again.”

Obviously people need immediate help: shelter, food, clothes and the like. And perhaps the Red Cross is good at this sort of aid. But these horrible fires should also be forcing us to think about patterns of urban/rural development and land use, all in the context of a radically warming climate.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

They know

In Waslala, Nicaragua, on the edge of what we might call civilization, they know. Climate is changing and how humans live in the only world we've got has to change. This sign hangs in the office of El Porvenir in the town. This non-governmental organization, on whose board I have the honor and responsibility to serve, collaborates with rural communities to build water and sanitation facilities while protecting and preserving the health of forests, watersheds, and the land itself. In the Anthropocene age, we're all responsible, for worse and possibly for better.

How's this for a lovely site for a water tank, 1.5 kilometers from most of the clump of 65 families this little system serves -- and another several kilometers from the spring water source on the hill in the distance?

Intrepid members of the board had to scramble down muddy roads and ford a flooding stream on local horses. I'm sure our kindly Nicaraguan hosts thought many of us pretty inept!

Here's a San Francisco-based engineer from the board mugging with the Nicaraguan engineer who is supervising this project. There is joy in this work.

Of course the real payoff will be when the system is hooked up and taps like this one begin to provide water to each household.

Water does not remain clean and available without our cooperation; that's a message for our time. The good people touched by El Porvenir remind themselves and their communities of this every day. There are no days-off. But there is much we can do, together.

Friday, October 13, 2017

From Siberia with love

Back in the USofA; my home turf is on fire; and Trump and the GOPers continue to try to destroy everything decent, generous or responsible about this cantankerous democratic republic. So time for some (moderated) escapism.

For the last six weeks in spare moments and on airplanes, I've been delighting in the more than 400 pages of Ian Frazier's Travels in Siberia. After all the dispiriting reading about Russia I've indulged in lately (see this and that) this gentle, humorous, thoughtful book was a pleasant reminder of other facets of that huge opaque country.

The inescapable theme of Frazier's five journeys through Siberia is the incomprehensible extent of Russia's massive stepchild region. Stretching over nine times zones, comprising nine percent of the earth's land area, and home to only 40 million people, this is truly the "back of beyond." Terrible sub-zero cold dominates the usual image of the place, but Frazier's summer drive across the region was hot, dusty and mosquito-plagued, quite a different set of hardships. Tzars and commissars dispatched their enemies to Siberia to die; contemporary oligarchs treat the land and its people as a great open pit mine for oil, gas and minerals. And yet some of the least disturbed land on the planet remains in the harsh environs north of the Arctic circle. Frazier is a beautiful narrator of both horrors and delights, such as this description of a night camping by Lake Baikal:

When a wave rolls in on Baikal, and it curls to break, you can see stones on the bottom refracted in the vertical face of the wave. This glimpse, offered for just a moment in the wave’s motion, is like seeing into the window of an apartment as you go by it on an elevated train. The moon happened to be full that night, and after it rose, the stones on the bottom of the lake lay spookily illuminated in the moonlight. The glitter of the moon on the surface of the lake—the “moon road,” Sergei called it—fluctuated constantly in its individual points of sparkling, with a much higher definition than any murky water could achieve. Light glitters differently on water this clear. I understood that I had never really seen the moon reflected on water …

Frazier's one-over-lightly survey of Russian history aims to capture what made the nation seem so unlike either Europe or its Asian neighbors. Until modern times, Russia was subject to a series of invasions from fierce tribes from the remote steppe, repeated waves of murder and pillage. He suggests:

[I] actually can’t help returning to [the question]: namely, how Russia can be so great and so horrible simultaneously. I think one answer is that when other countries were in their beginnings, developing institutions of government and markets and a middle class and so on, Russia was beset with Mongols. That is, Russia can be thought of as an abused country; one has to make allowances for her because she was badly mistreated in her childhood by the Mongols.

Among historical Russians, he holds up the aristocratic insurrectionists, the Decembrists, who tried to overthrow the tzar and bring Russia into Europe in 1825; those who survived the failure of their coup were exiled to Siberia. He ponders what their story can suggest to people in the US.

With the Decembrists as a point of comparison, I have increased my respect for America’s Founding Fathers and the men they led, who seem to have believed even in their unconscious that King George III of England really was no better than they were. They were fortunate, perhaps, that to them King George was kind of a theoretical idea, being so distant from them physically.

True equality is a difficult concept to hold in the mind. I believe we Americans have lost our grip on it today. I know that in my case, I can tell myself that I’m just as good as a billionaire and even believe that it is true. But when I’m in the actual presence of a powerful person, my own concept of equality gets blurry, and I have a regrettable tendency to truckle, if only to be polite.

I don't think that goes for all of us, but perhaps it is true for too many. The Cheato is probably curing many of any respect they may have had for wisdom signaled by possession of great wealth.

Frazier's opus is a worthy "long read". Siberia (and Russia in general) is too large for facile description or certainly facile conclusions. Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

"Nicaragua, Nicaraguita"

Another pretty picture of tropical paradise, in no way representative of our strenuous trips to El Porvenir water projects, but a nice memory to share while stuck in Houston waiting to see whether/when we can fly into San Francisco despite smoke delays. 

More normal blogging soon enough. 

On the road again

Watershed improvements in progress.
For the next week, I'll be in Nicaragua attending the board meeting of El Porvenir. This non-profit project
partners with the people of Nicaragua so that they can build a future for themselves. Clean drinking water is at the core of El Porvenir; sanitation is necessary to ensure that the water is clean. In addition to sustainable water and sanitation projects, we work with communities on health and hygiene education and reforestation.
We'll be visiting sites where work in ongoing and helping staff evaluate how we're doing on our tiny piece of meeting the United Nations' Water and Sanitation Sustainability Goal. (Yes, there is such a thing. North Americans blithely ignore the UN, but in much of the world UN standards are assisting development for better lives.)

I don't know how much connectivity I'll have in Nicaragua, so for the next week blogging will be sporadic or perhaps just photos.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Lake at the coffee plantation at Selva Negra

In fact most of this trip has involved swollen rivers and mud flows that knocked out bridges. Hurricane Nate didn't hit Nicaragua directly, but the storm and torrential rains have caused deaths and left major damage. And meanwhile the staff and board of El Porvenir conferred usefully. 

But for a minute late this afternoon the sun came out. 

Friday, October 06, 2017

Friday cat blogging

Never fear. Morty is not alone with America to keep him company. 
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