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First red clover bloom

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Nothing brightens the yard in early spring like red clover. I hand-scattered 10 pounds of seed last fall. Today I found the first bloom, on the day lily bank. Soon there will be much more.

This is an iPhone photo. The iPhone is convenient for quick close-ups.

It’s not winter

A tiny peach

I don’t often think of so-called scripture. I identify as a creature of the Enlightenment, not as a “person of faith.” Nevertheless, I know an embarrassing amount of scripture, because it was beaten into me as a child and because Old and New Testament were required courses when I was a student. But lately I have been thinking of the 24th chapter of Matthew. In this chapter, Jesus is talking to his disciples about the End Times. It’s the chapter upon which much of evangelical eschatological theology is based. Verse 20 contains the words, “But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.”

How much scarier would this pandemic be if it had descended upon us at the beginning of winter, rather than at the beginning of one of the prettiest springs I can remember? Things hit the fan right at the beginning of gardening season.

Six years ago, we had made a valiant attempt here to build an irrigation system for the garden that drew water from one of the streams below the abbey. There is plenty of water just 500 yards down the road. That didn’t work, though, partly because we couldn’t find a pump with enough power to get the water up the hill. The water tank sat unused, overgrown with honeysuckle. It was possible to use well water for irrigation, but I’ve avoided that. Well water is pure and precious, and that water pump 305 feet down in the well won’t last forever. I don’t want to rush the day when the pump has to be replaced.

Then, two years ago, a new neighbor with lots of skills and energy worked out a means of getting water up the hill for his garden and for those neighbors who need it, including a neighbor who has a field of blueberries. It’s a heavy four-wheel trailer with tanks and pumps, pulled by his elderly Jeep. We moved our water tank to the side of the road so that the neighbor’s rig can stop in the road and deliver water. Problem solved! We also replaced the old drip lines. I’d swear that the cabbage plants grew an inch overnight after their first watering.

I’m determined to fight the insects, blights, squirrels, and raccoons to get as much out of the orchard as possible this year.

So I have one good thing to say about this pandemic. Its timing was perfect.

Week-old mustard

The water tank. The stream is down the hill at the bottom of the ridge.

The hydrant for irrigation water, gravity fed from the tank

Apple blossom


Carolina jasmine

The day lily bank


If you don’t want to watch the 2011 film “Contagion” right now, that’s certainly understandable. However, I watched it last night, and I found it to be more educational and encouraging than scary. Clearly a lot of research went into this film. I’m guessing that the screenwriters worked with experts in communicable diseases to work out the most probable ways in which a pandemic would develop and spread. Based on what we’ve all learned during the current pandemic, the film is eerily accurate.

“Contagion” reminds us just how predictable, and, eventually, inevitable this pandemic was. There really is no excuse for not having been prepared for it.

You can stream “Contagion” from several sources, typically at a rental cost of $3.99.

Update: New York Times: He wrote ‘Contagion.’ Here’s what he had to say about the response to the coronavirus.

Cinnamon rolls

I wish I could say that I made these cinnamon rolls, but I didn’t. I had my share of them, though. It is my good fortune that, by pure accident, I’m not sheltering in place as a household of one, plus one cat. There are travelers sheltering here, too, and do they ever have skills.

Rock Castle Gorge

Yesterday was a get-out-of-the-house day. The hike was to Rock Castle Gorge near Floyd, Virginia. The trail is near the Blue Ridge Parkway and is on land owned by the National Park Service. The trail follows a fast-flowing creek through the gorge. Many years ago, the area was sparsely settled. Now the pastures are mostly overgrown, but one abandoned house remains, with a well-preserved barn and outhouse. There are trout in the stream. We saw at least three fishermen.

These are iPhone photos. I didn’t want to carry the heavy Nikon camera on a six-mile half-uphill hike.

A real-world test for the authoritarian mind

There are three conditions of the human psyche that are puzzling and frightening to those of us who don’t have those conditions. Those conditions are authoritarianism, religious fanaticism, and not being very smart. All three of these conditions are commonly found in the same person. To have even one of them can be debilitating. To have two is doubly debilitating. Donald Trump, for example, is not a religious fanatic. But he is an authoritarian, and he is not very smart. For convenience in this post, let’s call the people who have these conditions Trump-Susceptibles, or Reds. Let’s call those who don’t have these conditions Not-Trump-Susceptibles, or Blues.

There is a certain symmetry here. Just as Blues are puzzled and frightened by Reds, so Reds are puzzled and frightened by Blues. Each group sees the other as dangerous. There is a certain way, though, in which the symmetry breaks down. Blues can understand Reds. Blues just look down on Reds as mean, addled, and stupid. But Reds cannot understand Blues. Understanding Blues is beyond the capacity of Reds. I would argue that Reds cannot understand Blues because of what I call Webster’s First Law: People cannot perceive above their own level. So Reds, lacking the capacity to understand Blues, say that Blues are under the influence of Satan, or that Blues are the agents of evil conspiracies such as Pizzagate. Smarter people can easily understand the thought processes of the not-so-smart. But the not-so-smart cannot easily understand the thought processes of smarter people. Religious fanatics who have no doubt that they know the mind of God and even the mind of Satan think that there is something wrong, and wicked, in those who don’t have their innate knowledge of the mind of God. God speaks to Reds; Blues wickedly refuse to listen.

Let’s consider the Satan angle, for example. A must-read this morning is the Washington Post piece ‘I would rather die than kill the country’: The conservative chorus pushing Trump to end social distancing. The article quotes R.R. Reno, editor of the religious journal First Things, as saying that “sentimental humanists” are behind the closing of public accommodations because of the corona virus. “Satan prefers sentimental humanists” to do his handiwork, Reno said. There you have it. Reno believes that he knows the mind of Satan. And Reno believes that Blues are doing Satan’s work. According to Wikipedia, Reno holds a Ph.D. from Yale. Presumably he is smart, so he has two of the three debilitating conditions — authoritarianism and religious fanaticism.

They claim that their concern is about the economy, or about the world that their children will inherit. I don’t buy that. Either they’re trying to deceive us on their true motivations, or they’re deceiving themselves. Their true concern is that they might lose their power.

Reds are a minority. Yet somehow we Blues find ourselves in a nightmare in which Reds hold the White House and the U.S. Senate, and the Reds all around us are gloating. Trump’s fear, obviously, is that a collapse of the economy will take away his only hope of holding on to Red power. Because Trump, and other Reds, see nefarious conspiracies and Satan behind anything that frustrates what they see as God’s work, they see the corona virus as a wicked plot — a hoax — invented by Blues. Reds all over the country have gotten the message, and now Reds out in the hinterlands are all abuzz about it. (See the Facebook meme below, which came from the Republican Party group in my county. Note the message of the meme, that this is all just an evil conspiracy by Blues.)

I would not be at all surprised now to see Reds organizing gatherings (not to mention defiantly going to church) to teach us Blues a lesson.

No one knows what course this pandemic will take. But certainly one possibility is that people who are authoritarians, religious fanatics, and not very smart are going to get sick and die in larger numbers. Their defiance of the devil’s work done by us Blues could cost many lives, though, and not just Red lives. If thousands of students return to Liberty University as the corona virus is spreading rapidly, what might happen? Jerry Falwell Jr., like Donald Trump, is so sure of what’s inside of his Red mind that he’s willing to bet a great many of other people’s lives on it. Red power is at stake, so to them it’s God versus Satan, and they expect God to protect them.

No one knows what’s going to happen, so I am not going to make any predictions. But the probabilities don’t seem to be on Trump’s and Falwell’s and Glenn Beck’s side. How many Reds will follow them, and for how long? If thousands of Reds go along with them and expose themselves to the virus, then that would be, at the very least, a fascinating test of the real-world consequences of the Red world view. It also could diminish the number of Reds in the American population.

As for me, I’ll be watching their experiment closely. And I’ll be doing my damnedest to stay as far away from them as I can.

Update 1: During the Trump era, Russian propaganda as carried by has shown a peculiar alignment with Republican propaganda in the United States. As with all propaganda, we need to do our best to figure out whose interest it serves.


Decadent like the late Roman Empire, the West is committing suicide through its irrational response to Covid-19

West can’t cope with Covid-19 because of DOCILIANS, the pampered herd whose demand for ZERO RISK actually risks killing thousands

Compare this with Fox News:

Fox News’ Brit Hume: It’s ‘Entirely Reasonable’ the Elderly Would Want to Die to Save Economy

Update 2: New York Times: The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals.

Update 3: Politico: A far-right rallying cry: Older Americans should volunteer to work.

Are you focusing on food, too?

Cabbage, just planted

I confess that, a week ago, I felt as though this all might be just a game of Doomsday. As the news gets worse, everything has started to feel more and more real. After thinking about it for a while, it seems likely to me that food is even more important than avoiding the virus, though both, obviously, are the top priorities. With food in mind, Ken finished planting the spring garden today.

The calculus may change according to the situation, but right now the protocol is to go out for fresh foods (and as much storage food as possible) at the early-morning seniors-only hours that many stores have scheduled, including Whole Foods and Walmart. At that hour, the shelves should be better stocked, and there should be fewer people in the store.

I got out the books on foraging today. Who knows how bad this might get? Wild foods might be a great help.

As always, please comment with ideas and reports from your part of the world.

Burning brush on the garden plot

The old tiller gets a workout.

Ready to plant. The soil here is naturally red. The dark color is from all the organic material that has been added to the garden over the past 11 years.

Some light and color for Black Monday

Just as the self-quarantine began two days ago, a car rolled in with the abbey’s best friend, who promptly got to work on the overgrowth. If such a bleak and scary time had to occur, what good fortune it is that spring (rather than a winter) is bursting out all over. The neighbors are out walking and visiting and gathering flowers, but everyone maintains the six-foot distance of self-quarantine. The refrigerator and the cabinets are full. The kitchen is running full tilt. I hope that all of you are as well situated.

The news is terrible and seems to be getting worse. The whole world seems strangely unified, focused on the same thing. Then again, I think I’ll take that statement back. Here in the U.S., at least, we seem divided into the usual two groups: Those who try to understand and work with reality, and those who try to deny reality and work against it. It feels as though something historically important is happening.

I’d love to see your comments on how things are in your part of the world.

Goodbye, Pete Buttigieg

I am saddened this evening to learn that Pete Buttigieg has dropped out of the race for U.S. President. I admire him for doing it, though. He is a realist, so he has taken a realistic look at the numbers. I feel sure that one reason he announced this decision two days before Super Tuesday was to give Super Tuesday voters a chance a chance to rethink and redirect their votes. I see that as noble act and as a mark of his high character.

Here in North Carolina, early voting has been going on for two weeks and ended yesterday (Feb. 29). I am greatly surprised to see that overall early-voting turnout by young Democrats is down from 2016. Early voting by older Democrats, age 71 and up, actually rose 39.8 percent from 2016, a stunning increase. What does this mean? I’m afraid we won’t really know until the final results are in after Tuesday and we see who those older voters voted for.

Both my favorite candidates — Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg — are now out of the race. I’m afraid that, as an older Democrat, I may not be typical. It would seem that most older Democrats don’t trust young people as much as I do.

Update: There is a saying in the corporate world, “Hire for character, train for skills.” Being able to recognize character (or the lack of it) is the key to that. This is character:

Lest we forget: Nature bats last

“The Course of Empires: Destruction.” Thomas Cole, 1836. Click here for high-resolution version.

About two years ago, I reviewed Kyle Harper’s book The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire. Harper drew on new climate research and what we might call archeological microbiology to remind us that political histories are only partial histories. Nature bats last. Are you listening, Donald Trump?

Harper’s book was reviewed in all the right places. Here are some short reads on the book in the L.A. Review of Books, The Atlantic, and Foreign Affairs.

About the painting: The painting above by Thomas Cole is part of a series called “The Course of Empire.” There are five paintings in the set: “The Savage State,” “The Arcadian or Pastoral State,” “The Consummation of Empire,” “Destruction,” and “Desolation.” You can see all the paintings on Wikipedia.

Trump & Company have been saying this week that the coronavirus is being hyped by Democrats to spook the stock market and take down Trump. As for hype, I don’t know. But one thing is certain: We Democrats are delighted to see Trump swept up in a situation that he and his goons can’t lie, cheat, and spin their way out of (though they’re trying). We’re daring to hope for the near-impossible: That Trump’s inability to control a pandemic and the stock market will help members of the Trump cult see how feckless and corrupt Trump really is.

The downturn in global markets is looking pretty serious. My guess, though, is that the coronavirus is the last straw, not the cause, of the market correction. There have been many warning signs and ominous economic indicators. I’m surprised that the market held up for as long as it did.

How scared should we be of the coronavirus? There are some things that I think are particularly disturbing. Rush Limbaugh says it’s just a cold. But colds — or flu, for that matter — don’t have fatality rates approaching 2 percent. The words “difficulty breathing” are very scary words. Bloomberg has reported that two-thirds of the critically ill patients required a month or more on mechanical ventilators. Just how much equipment do hospitals have available for providing “invasive breathing support”? You don’t want to get this virus.

Much has been written about how to prepare for the possibility of pandemic. The most important thing, it seems to me, is to have enough food and supplies stashed away that you can stay home, possibly for weeks at a time. That preparation, if not already done, needs to be done now. If the situation worsens, groceries stores may be overwhelmed even as supply lines break down.

I want to mention a powerful voice for sanity and support in a time of plague and poison politics. That’s Heather Cox Richardson, who posts on Facebook pretty much every day on each day’s significant events. She is a professor of history at Boston College. I have pre-ordered her new book, which will be released April 1: How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. If you search Facebook for her name, you’ll find her.

Update: I have long identified as a left-wing prepper. Here’s a nice piece in the New York Times about what that means, by someone who, like me, has a San Francisco attitude toward being prepared: How to Be a Smart Coronavirus Prepper: Instead of freaking ourselves out, we need to plan for a difficult future every day.

I would add a bit of advice to the ideas above, based on my experience. Canned food and frozen food are practical only if you are diligent about rotating your stock and watching expiration dates. Otherwise, I’d suggest looking into the storage food that is sold mostly into the right-wing prepper market. These are large buckets of dried foods. The food is packed in Mylar, and vacuum and nitrogen are used to extend shelf life. These foods are supposed to keep up to 25 years if properly stored.