Climate Change: When the Ground Shifts Under Your Feet

Sometimes we feel metaphorically, due to changes in our lives, as if the ground under us is shifting.

For the 11,000 people of Tuvalu, a Polynesian country in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia, the ground is literally shifting. To be more precise, the ground is sinking into the sea. In the foreseeable future, Tuvalu will become uninhabitable, perhaps even disappear beneath the ocean.

They’re talking about sea walls and artificial islands, but you know that’s not going to work. These are poor people, and there’s nothing on the island other than increasingly salty dirt and rocks and sand and dying palm trees — nothing that is worth saving. Offshore the coral is dying too, and fish feed on the toxins from dead coral and make the people who catch fish and eat it sick.

Fiji has offered the people of Tuvalu a home, but they don’t want to leave their island and culture and customs which — as it is for most of us — are tied to the land where we were formed and our temperaments shaped. I still talk of myself as having a Midwestern temperament like my father, even though I never lived on an Iowa farm the way he once did. It’s in my DNA.

I feel for the people of Tuvalu. Polynesia has always seemed like a paradise for me, far enough away not to have plastic washing up on its shores and toxins killing its coral. But that’s the least of their problems now, when the sea threatens to rise up and swallow them whole.

Panama 2018: Birthday Party on the Hemodialysis Unit

You may recall that I said how Minga is very social, and she makes community wherever she goes. When I sat with her on the hard plastic chairs along that long narrow corridor of the hemodialysis unit at the Hospital Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid in Panama City, I was touched to see her go up and down the line, checking on people who were part of the same group as she. Some of the others, mostly older women, did a similar thing. They shared tips on where to get big cans of powdered Ensure at the lowest price. They discussed symptoms. They offered each other encouragement. They talked about the rain, the crowded busses, the latest actions of their president. In short, they were neighborly… neighbors in treatment.

Now, Lily tells me, they planned a party for fellow hemodialysis patients celebrating birthdays in November, which includes Minga. The patients brought all the decorations and food. Minga brought a cake.

I’m not happy to see her still in that wheel chair — she needs to get back on her feet and walking or she’ll lose muscle strength to do so — but I love the look of joyful contentment on her face. That’s her daughter Ana, behind over Minga’s right shoulder. The others in the pic are patients, or family members. There are some quite young people who get dialysis. Their prospects are grim. You can’t live on dialysis forever, and the transplant list has thousands of names on it.

Climate Change: El Yunque National Forest

I know El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico very well, both from vacationing on the island and from my time in Peace Corps training at Camp Crozier. We had time to explore the island, and one of its treasures is this pristine tropical forest.

El Yunque has suffered a staggering loss of its insect population over the years, attributable to a warming climate. With the loss of insects comes loss of birds, butterflies, and other creatures farther up the food chain.

Does it matter if the world has fewer annoying bugs? Actually, it does.

Thirty-five percent of the world’s plant crops requires pollination by bees, wasps and other animals. And arthropods are more than just pollinators. They’re the planet’s wee custodians, toiling away in unnoticed or avoided corners. They chew up rotting wood and eat carrion. “And none of us want to have more carcasses around,” Schowalter said. Wild insects provide $57 billion worth of six-legged labor in the United States each year, according to a 2006 estimate.

The loss of insects and arthropods could further rend the rain forest’s food web, Lister warned, causing plant species to go extinct without pollinators. “If the tropical forests go it will be yet another catastrophic failure of the whole Earth system,” he said, “that will feed back on human beings in an almost unimaginable way.”–alert-national&wpmk=1

Lesley Stahl asked Trump about climate change on the 60 Minutes interview, and once again Trump reveals his vast ignorance. He said we’ve had bad storms in previous eras, and that the climate will swing back. I suppose had Stahl asked him if he thought the Arctic glaciers would magically reform, Trump would have changed the subject.

I can only imagine Trump’s befuddlement had Stahl asked him about insects.

Climate Change: Who Is Leading the Way?

A fifteen year old? In Sweden, that’s apparently the case. Greta Thunberg has been protesting on the steps of the Swedish parliament — a solitary figure calling Swedish elected officials to account. She reminds me of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas kids. I wish I had been like this as a 15 year old.

Sometimes the world makes so little sense that the only thing to do is engage in civil disobedience—even in a country as attached to its rules and regulations as Sweden is. Fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg has been protesting for more than a month. Before the country’s parliamentary election on September 9th, she went on strike and sat on the steps of the parliament building, in Stockholm, every day during school hours for three weeks. Since the election, she has returned to school for four days a week; she now spends her Fridays on the steps of parliament. She is demanding that the government undertake a radical response to climate change. She told me that a number of members of parliament have come out to the steps to express support for her position, although every one of them has said that she should really be at school. Her parents think so, too, she said—that she should really go to school, though she is right to protest.”

Destination Wedding

Ben and Sara made their annual trip to Munich for Oktoberfest, and then made a quick detour to the Caribbean to check out a few possible sites for their spring destination wedding.

Wherever this is, seems to me as if it would work just fine. 🙂

I haven’t had a Caribbean vacation for a long time, so plan to take some extra days wherever they decide to go. Looking forward. There’s lots about the Caribbean islands that I like, including aquamarine water, rum drinks, and conch.

Pope Francis and the Most Recent Sex Scandal Investigation

I’m disposed to think better of Pope Francis than I did of his most recent predecessors, who were cranky old conservative men fixated on Catholics following the rules. Yet his response to the Pennsylvania grand jury findings about sex abuse of minors by Catholic clergy in parishes across the state is completely inadequate. Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick is still a priest, although he is not currently allowed to serve in active ministry and has given up his precious red biretta. Cardinal Bernard Law, the architect of the cover-up in Boston, is in a cushy job at the Vatican. There is not much action yet visible, only the repeat assertion that abuse of minors will not be tolerated and the Church is sorry all this nastiness ever happened. Um….. we’ve heard that before. We’ve heard it often, since the Globe blew the lid off the story in Boston in 2002.

In his letter to Catholics worldwide, the Pope says there will be no more cover-ups. But he offered no plan, no concrete actions that are in any way different from what’s gone on before. And Pope Francis is the guy in charge. Cardinal Wuerl, who was in power in Pennsylvania during much of the period covered by the grand jury report, is still head of the Washington D.C. diocese — a cushy job if I ever heard of one. If Pope Francis wants to send a message about no more cover-ups, he might do something to call Cardinal Wuerl to account for his role in Pennsylvania. Or he could send Bernard Law back to Boston to face his accusers. Or Father McCarrick could become plain old Ted. Absent something concrete like that, Pope Francis looks and sounds completely ineffectual.

The rubric under which the cover-ups happened was the belief that “causing scandal for the Church” was the highest evil. No, guys — the highest evil was sexually abusing children and young adults, and seminarians who came to the Church out of a sense of call to God’s service and instead were lured into Uncle Ted’s bed.

The Church is also viscerally opposed to looking at the all-male clergy thing, which clearly isn’t working and probably never has. Although sex abuse of minors occurs in all kinds of settings, the rampant abuse in Catholic Church culture is notable and can’t be easily explained away.

If I were the parent or grandparent of children being raised in the Catholic church, I wouldn’t let those children to be unsupervised anywhere near a priest — and I’d want that supervision to be non-clergy and include women. Someone has to keep an eye on these guys, because clearly their church hierarchy isn’t.

Trump and Iran

When we invaded Iraq, the Bush administration felt sure that Iraquis would welcome us with open arms and be thrilled with the U.S.-type civil administration that Paul Bremer attempted unsuccessfully to put in place.

During the war in Viet Nam, Lyndon Johnson and most presidents before him believed that the South Vietnamese would side with the invading United States over their own people.

Now Trump and Pompeo are saber-rattling in Iran, trying to appeal to the Iranian people over the heads of their own leaders. If either American had any idea of our history of meddling in Iranian politics — engineering the 1953 CIA-assisted overthrow of duly elected Prime Minister Mossadegh in favor of installing the hated Shah, for starters — they might have second thoughts. That Trump and apparently Pompeo are completely ahistorical may represent the worst of the lot in presidential policy teams, but U.S. policy makers have never been given to humility. I suspect Lyndon Johnson went to his grave never quite understanding how a “piss ant little country” could defeat the mighty U.S. military.

I’m really tired of Trump’s saber rattling, and Pompeo’s screed against what he calls an Iranian kleptocracy might better have been applied to Russia.

I have no doubt Kushner is on the line to Israel right now, ginning up contingency plans for the two countries to bomb Iran.

Where does this Dr. Strangelove presidency end?

Being the Last Man Standing

Quite improbably, there is a man living alone in the Amazon jungle. He’s thought to be in his 50’s. He is the last surviving member of an indigenous tribe whose other members were killed in the 1990’s, perhaps by ranchers.

That means he’s lived alone and been self-sufficient for twenty or more years. It’s a long time. The government helps him indirectly, by leaving seeds and tools where he can find them, and by trying to keep loggers and ranchers and drug dealers who might harm him away. The man shows no desire to make contact with other people — he fired an arrow at a representative from the National Indian Foundation who tried reaching out to him.

The government of Brazil sees the man as a symbol of “resistance and resilience”, and believes he has a right to live out his life in his chosen way.

I’m a pretty introverted person, but I’d have a really hard time living entirely by myself in any environment, much less a jungle. I can barely imagine what this man has survived, using only what is available around him. I wonder if he ever had a partner, or children, or whether he misses the others from his tribe. If he does, he shows no signs of giving up on life.

Panama 2019: Already Underway

I’ve tried renting a few different places in Buenaventura, and have pretty much settled on my favorite place: a villa only a few steps from the ocean and from the main hotel pool. July is early to book, but I’ve been following the availability online and someone has nabbed the week after the time block I’m looking at. All I need is for someone to book a four day weekend in the middle of my intended three week block and I’m cooked until February or early March. Another complication is that the Pope is coming to Panama on January 23 — bringing crowds and higher airline and hotel ticket prices.

Looks like this year’s trip will have to be nailed down much earlier than usual.

I was able to find a decent flight to Panama City on January 17th, and so I went ahead with booking the villa from January 19-Feb. 8. I’ll stay one more night in Panama City, and then return home on February 9.

Fun to anticipate.