In 1664, Daniel Defoe predicted Trump

For the year 2020, I proposed returning to the kind of year we had in 2015 when we spent two months in Oxford, England, visiting museums, concerts, lectures and evensongs. This year, we signed up for lectures, concerts, plays, rugby games and photo exhibitions – all of which have been canceled because of our current plague.

I all reminds me of what Daniel Defoe wrote about 1664 in “A Journal of the Plague Year:”

Plays canceled

Thinking of their graves might have “most happily led the people to fall upon their knees, make confession of their sins, and look up to their merciful Saviour for pardon, imploring His compassion on them in surely a time of their distress.”

But no. Instead, the people turned to “extremes of folly:” conjurors, witches, mountebanks, multitudes of pills, potions, and preservatives, odious and fatal preparations, some with mercury, charms, philtres, exorcisms, amulets and certain words or figures, particularly the word Abracadabra, formed in a triangle or pyramid, thus: —

Abracadabra

Defoe says he will not spend much time on these “follies,” but notes:

Trumpery

Trumpery!

As in “worthless nonsense,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. As in synonyms like: balderdash, baloney (also boloney), beans, bilge, blah (also blah-blah), blarney, blather, blatherskite, blither, bosh, bull [slang], bunk, bunkum (or buncombe), claptrap, codswallop [British], crapola [slang], crock, drivel, drool, fiddle, fiddle-faddle, fiddlesticks, flannel [British], flapdoodle, folderol (also falderal), folly, foolishness, fudge, garbage, guff, hogwash, hokeypokey, hokum, hoodoo, hooey, horsefeathers [slang], humbug, humbuggery, jazz, malarkey (also malarky), moonshine, muck, nerts [slang], nonsense, nuts, piffle, poppycock, punk, rot, rubbish, senselessness, silliness, slush, stupidity, taradiddle (or tarradiddle), tommyrot, tosh, trash, twaddle.

Sounds about right, and who knew Defoe was a fortune teller? This will go down much easier with a little hydroxychloroquine.

(To be continued)

My friend Don suggested this as “an addition to your historical Daniel Defoe reporting:”

A LETTER FROM F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, QUARANTINED IN 1920 IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE DURING THE SPANISH INFLUENZA OUTBREAK:

Dearest Rosemary, It was a limpid dreary day, hung as in a basket from a single dull star. I thank you for your letter. Outside, I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears. The streets are that empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that, he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t. He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza. I’m curious of his sources. The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us. You should see the square, oh, it is terrible. I weep for the damned eventualities this future brings. The long afternoons rolling forward slowly on the ever-slick bottomless highball. Z. says it’s no excuse to drink, but I just can’t seem to steady my hand. In the distance, from my brooding perch, the shoreline is cloaked in a dull haze where I can discern an unremitting penance that has been heading this way for a long, long while. And yet, amongst the cracked cloudline of an evening’s cast, I focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow. Faithfully Yours, F. Scott Fitzgerald ~ 1920

 

The plague: Should I stay or should I go?

This story, with some nice cheeky phrases, appeared in The Seattle Times this week about the “worried well” hitting the road to get out of the “germy epicenter of infections in Britain,” which would be London. Off the wealthy well went to the Lake District, Hebrides and Cornwall, where they thought they would be socially distanced only to find residents there very anti-social, as in “Go away” and quit bringing your disease here.

Same thing is also happening in the United States, where National Parks have been closed to keep people out. Residents in faraway places such as Methow Valley in Washington State are putting up Facebook warnings to keep your face elsewhere. The rich know the drill: Get an early warning of a pandemic, sell your stock and flee to your hidey-hole away from medical facilities, spreading the coronavirus as you go.

Nothing new here, as Daniel Defoe wrote in “A Journal of the Plague Year.” In 1664, when the plague hit England, the rich “thronged out of town.”

Rich leave

My daily check-in with TV stations to track the number of COVID-19 cases and the number of the dead reminds me of Defoe’s way of keeping track of the plague, following the parishes’ “weekly bill of mortality.”

Bills

So should Defoe’s narrator join those heading out of town? Defoe devotes many words on this decision, seeing it as directions to those who could face the same thing in the future, like in the year 2020.

Thoughts on leavingHe’s a saddler, single but has a house with servants, a shop, warehouse and goods. The bills of mortality are showing 700 dead a day. But to leave, he would “hazard the loss not only of my goods, and indeed of all I had in the world.”

So he should stay, right? That lasts until his older brother shows up and tells him: “Master, save thyself.” Head for the country because “the best preparation for the plague was to run away from it.”

He takes his brother’s advice until it comes into his mind that “nothing attended us without the direction or permission of Divine Power.” Surely God “was able effectually to preserve me in the midst of all the death and danger that would surround me.”

Wait a minute, says brother.

Arabs

But give me a night to sleep on it, the narrator says. But mostly what he does is read the Bible, especially the 91st Psalm, verses two through seven, which ends “there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.”

That might be enough reason to stick around, but two events the next day made it official: The woman who was supposed to take care of his goods fell sick, and then he did, too.

But he didn’t die as there are many, many pages to go before we sleep.

 

Do viruses salute a flag of red, white and flu?

Describing coronavirus as a “foreign virus” seemed odd to me when I first heard it. Viruses seemed like part of the natural world, no nationality, no ethnicity, mostly to be avoided. But foreign? Do they carry passports? Do they salute a flag of red, white and flu? Did they ask for asylum before coming to the United States? And if so, why aren’t they in Mexico waiting for their court date?

Apparently this misguided notion of how viruses get around in this world is not unique to the coronavirus and its mis-namers. Daniel Defoe starts his “A Journal of the Plague Year” noting the same ill intention.

Start of Plague

We have to be suspicious of Defoe and how he describes the Plague of 1664. He was only 5 years old during that year. So what he remembers or how it impressed him as a child might not hold up too well to Snopes.com. Defoe’s career as an author and journalist had elements that Trump would love: His political enemies had Defoe thrown in prison for slander. On the other hand, the two men had several things in common: They both “participated in several failing businesses, facing bankruptcy and aggressive creditors.”

Defoe wrote the “A Journal of the Plague Year” 58 years after it happened. But he must have heard stories about the plague all his life, gathered information from written sources, interviewed those who survived and wrote it as a grown man walking through the streets of London observing what it must have been like. Literary journalism at its finest.

His version of the plague strikes a chord with what is going on today. Calling the pandemic a Holland plague or a China virus exposes that you are in denial that the sickness is here now and you must deal with it. You could do that. Or, you could say things like:

“. . . We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

“It will all work out well.”

“We have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five. And those people are all recuperating successfully.”

“Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”

“Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away,”

“It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”

“I’m not concerned at all. It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”

“It’s going to be just fine.”

Defoe records that those at the top in 1664 were slow to take action.

Government knew

Once the plague started getting around, concealment of sickness became a general practice.

Conceal the plague(To be continued)

 

 

Hawaii could be our only trip in The Year of the Plague

Boat whaleThe February Hawaii trip holds great fondness for me. Not just because of the successful whale-watching trip or the drive to Hana and around Maui on the once “forbidden-to rental-cars” road. The fondness is growing because it might be the only trip I take in this Year of the Plague.

All the time planning, getting camping permits, buying Kentucky Derby tickets, arranging hotel reservations, checking equipment for bike rides, kayak voyages and dreaming, dreaming, dreaming. About to be washed away while sheltering in place – as in staying home. And then Major League Rugby followed some of the minor sports by canceling its season. Tickets in Seattle, Atlanta and Denver, all in the trash.

I do have time to make my way through my reading list:

The Plague by Albert Camus

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuckman

And, of course, A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

Defoe editor note

Unfortunately, I will not be leaving these books behind on planes and in hotels as I usually do with my reading materials when traveling. When leaving the plane in Hawaii, I left behind a copy of the Ohio Farmer. Version 2The February 2020 issue had a scary story in it about “metabolic based resistance . . . occurs once weeds develop that can convert an active ingredient into metabolites that don’t kill the plant.” In other words, weeds that we can’t kill, sort of like viruses, only bigger. The weeds “continue stacking diverse herbicide-metabolism genes into their genetics,” spelling the end of chemical control of weeds, leading to a version of Tom Russell’s question: “Who’s going to hoe those beans when the Mexicans have all gone away?”

I always leave behind a copy of The Liberty Press, so people can keep up with the Mighty Tigers, the town’s sewer and water problems and a library expansion in a town of 1,000. You never know what you might read there. Did you know that the real name of the Big Bopper (as in “Chantilly Lace”) was Jiles Perry Richardson?

Who knows what good will come of my leaving behind my copy of the Washington Thoroughbred? Someone might contact www.blueribbonfarm.com to learn the stud fee for Atta Boy Roy, a horse I always liked even though I lost money on him. How could I with a horse that had both Secretariat and Seattle Slew as great grandparents? The plane cleaner who ponies up enough money to pay the stud fee might have a horse in the Kentucky Derby that maybe, some years from now, I might see run, and probably lose money on it.

We have done one trip since Hawaii, driving halfway across Oregon to deliver a grandson to his parents who had driven up from California. With Seattle University doing online classes only, the grandson, a junior at SU, went home where the governor has ordered him and his family to stay. Which seems a long ways from the Feb. 14 issue of The Week magazine I left behind at our hotel. The headline, not a lead headline, was: “China: Is it doing enough to control the coronavirus?” Yes, said an editorial in China’s Global Times. No, said the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. The dead: 420; infected: 20,000. We should remember Li Wenliang, the ophthalmologist who warned about the new illness, got carted away in the middle of the night by police and accused of spreading rumors. He has since died of the disease.

The Diamond Princess has just started a two-week quarantine with 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew members. Since then, more than 700 on board tested positive for the virus.

Another headline: “Coronavirus: Should you be afraid?” No, the article said, worry about the flu.

If only.

Wolf Creek

A Seawolves win without me

Thanks to Ben Cima, Peter Tiberio, Siti Tamaivena, Nakai Penny and the rest of the hard charging Seawolves, I can no longer credit my not being at the game for why they won. That means I can go back for the rest of the games at Starfire this season. Thanks to the rugby gods.

Missed last night to honor a theater date made with friends some time ago. Won’t happen again. Also added Tribe app to my phone, which kept me updated, sort of. I did not sneak a look during the play. A nice reward when the curtain fell.

Ian, my source inside the stadium, sitting in my seats, said the “team looked like last year. Exciting open running. Fly half back and played great. Did not miss a kick.”

I would have been worried when the Seawolves were down 0-14, but Ian says, “They had more possession in the attacking half.”

Coming back for a 44-29 win after being down two tries and conversions shows a nice bit of character. Gotta like that.

My predictions for this weekend as a 2-2 split between the East and West Divisions were right on. Should have bet it instead of Kentucky Derby prep race, the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, where my horse came in fourth:

San Diego over New Orleans: Yes, SD 25-21. West wins

Old Glory over Austin: Yes, DC 28-19. East wins

Seattle over New England: Yes, Seawolves 44-29. West wins

New York over Houston: Yes, RUNY 31-23. East wins

A happy and an unhappy thought after watching the New York-Houston game Sunday afternoon. Happy that New York made the last minute try to win by more than seven points. Houston would have gained a bonus point before that, leaving them tied with Seattle for third place in the West.

Unhappy that Houston’s Stadium, a rugby only facility with no lines on the field except those devoted to rugby, had many, many empty seats. Didn’t look to me like there was a row of seats with all of them filled. Obviously the owners there are committed to rugby and the Sabercats, but some work on attendance needs to be done.

Utah is one point ahead of the Seawolves in the West Division. A Seattle win against Utah on Saturday would put the Seawolves in second place, which, if this were May 31, would mean playoffs.

March 7, 6 p.m. at Starfire – I’ll be there.

Now let me tell you about the play . . . R. Hamilton Wright is no longer braying like he used to. He’s mellowed out some and fit well as a character whose mistress shows up at his house to chat with his wife before asking if these two retired scientists at a failed and leaking nuke plant would agree to risk their lives to . . .

 

 

What’s wrong with MLR’s Western Division?

Major League Rugby’s Eastern Division, with three new teams this year, makes you wonder what happened to the Western Division.

The six teams out here on the Left Coast and points inland have been in the league since it started in 2018. Yet the division has three teams with no wins, Austin, Colorado and yes, the Seattle Seawolves. All of the teams in the Eastern Division have won at least one game, including the newbies: Washington, D.C. Old Glory, New England Free Jacks and the Atlanta Rugby ATLs (gotta be a better name than that).

And in matches between the two divisions, the East has won eight of 10. The only Western wins came against the New England team, Utah on Feb. 15 and San Diego on Feb. 23.

Otherwise, it’s a stuck record: Atlanta over Utah, Toronto over Austin, New York over Austin, Toronto over Houston, Washington, D.C. over Seattle, New Orleans (the only East team that is in its third year) over Colorado, Washington, D.C. over Houston and Toronto over Seattle.

There are four East-West matches the weekend of Feb. 29 and March 1: San Diego at New Orleans, Washington, D.C. at Austin, New York at Houston, and yes, New England at Seattle.

So far, New England has been a punching bag for the Western Division, but their only win came against Rugby United New York, a team that ended up in the playoffs last year and on Feb. 21 signed Hanco Germishuys, a U.S. Eagle back rower who played for Colorado the past two years. And don’t forget Mathieu Bastareaud, a 285-pound center, come over from France. Free Jacks blew away Austin and squeaked out a win against Atlanta, 22-19.

Not a pushover for the Seawolves on Sadie Hawkins Day this Saturday, Feb. 29. Reading the Free Jacks’ account of their game against San Diego – which was interrupted on my TV by people driving cars in a circle and announcers with Southern accents – is mostly about mistakes, a comeback and further mistakes for a 30-21 defeat. Their roster is loaded with players from Japan, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia.

My bet on East-West rivalry this coming weekend: a 2-2 split with San Diego over New Orleans, Old Glory over Austin, New York over Houston and Seattle over New England. Don’t make me wrong.

What’s wrong with the Seawolves?

So if you had a newspaper covering the Seattle Seawolves instead devoting space to a bunch of second stringers playing slow football or a hockey team that isn’t here yet, a beat reporter would be asking the question, “What’s wrong with the Seawolves?”

The two-time champions have started the year with a 0-3 record, and the home opener Saturday, Feb. 22, a 39-17 drubbing by the Toronto Arrows, has diminished our hopes here that the Seattle team can make the playoffs, still months away.

But before we get there, someone has to answer the question: What’s wrong with the Seawolves?

Possible answers:

  1. Injuries. Lots of them, which have kept most of the team’s overseas signings off the field.
    Ross Neal
    Ross Neal

    Ross Neal from England has a broken hand. Harry Davies from Wales is hobbling around in a walking cast after surgery to his foot. I asked him if he came here for USA healthcare, and he said, “No, it was better from where I came.” (It’s Trump’s fault!).

    Harry Davies
    Harry Davies

    Ryno Eksteen has been out from the beginning with a cut foot. David Busby from Ireland played last night, but there was no sign of FP Pelser, another South African.

 

Cima
Ben Cima kicking

And then there is Ben Cima, on a concussion protocol after a nasty collision in the Tasman Mako game on Jan. 26. Scott Dean came in for Cima at stand off and kicked his way to glory and a win. He started there in the first two games in the regular season, both defeats. So the coaches tried Shalom Suniula there last night. He’s a better inside center where he has more time to distribute the ball and set up plays. And Jeff Hassler is a better wing than he is a center. But nice to see him back on the field after recovering from his injury. Also good to see Stephan Coetzee back out there.

  1. What’s missing? Besides Cima, who isn’t there this year who was there last year? Olive Kilifi? The USA Eagle prop is now an assistant coach with the Seattle Saracens, the amateur club in town. (And he reminds us that the Saracens play Glendate, CO, Merlins on Feb. 28, Friday at 7 p.m. at Starfire Stadium). Kilifi was injured much of last year, and as another prop on the Seawolves pointed out, they still won games.
    Front rows
    Front row props Tim Metcher, Djustice Sear-Duru and Jake Ilnicki
    Front row 2
    Prop Kellen Gordon

    And putting Tendai Mtawarira on the Team of the Week after the Seawolves-Old Glory game was an insult to the Seawolves front row who pushed, lifted and dominated the set scrums against Washington on Feb. 16. Bring up No. 2, Mr. Producer, and let’s see the Old Glory front row pedaling with their feet off the ground.

Apisai Naikatini? Api always gave the team at least a strong half. That allowed Brad Tucker to play wing forward (who says he likes playing second row and wing forward, finding challenges in both positions). Tucker, Riekert Hattingh and Nakai Penny at back row with Vili Toluta’u and Eric Duechle coming in as reserves. No drop off in talent there.

Phil Mack
Phil Mack

Phil Mack? He has been the coaching steadfast since day one, leading the team as player-head coach after last-minute call-up the first year and then as player-assistant coach last year. Now he’s the full-time assistant coach. Time to get back on the field? He’s a steady influence there, and he could play scrumhalf with JP Smith at No. 10 until Cima reappears.

  1. Culture. The team talks about that a lot, from owners, coaches and players. Ask Toluta’u about bringing new players into the fold, and he will talk about “getting them into our culture.” Second paragraph in the team’s media press kit defines that as:

“The organization strives to develop, cultivate and expand the sport of rugby in the US while empowering discipline, duty, respect and the spirit of inclusion both on and off the pitch. The Seattle Seawolves aim to foster a winning culture by enabling its members to meet their true potential while pursuing excellence in the MLR competition. Community outreach is a key tenet (not “tenant,” Rebecca and Kate!) of the Seawolves’ philosophy, and the organization strives to continually help enrich and give back to the greater Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest.”

Mack seems to bring that onto the field. He probably would not say much, but meeting his eyes when a player was not meeting “their true potential while pursuing excellence” would not be a pretty sight.

And no one connected to the Seawolves ever talked more about culture than Kevin Flynn, who served last year as team manager. Now he continues that with the Seattle Saracens where he has been president for many years. Is there some one with the Seawolves who can get them re-connected to the culture where they do community outreach, help enrich us and start playing together?

Getting everything right is going to take some time, but time they have. The Seawolves can come in third in their division over Utah, Austin and Colorado. They beat Houston, the second place team in the Western branch of the league, in the playoffs. Hand San Diego, the first place team, their second defeat against the Seawolves this year and then go on to meet the winner of the Eastern Division (which is looking very strong these days).

What could go wrong?

 

 

If you could re-pursue your career, I might shoot big cats

PantherWhen Shannon Wild presented her show “Pursuit of the Black Panther” in Seattle, we asked when the photographs and videos she had shot would be seen on TV. She said she hoped they would be on Nat Geo Wild in March.

Looking at the Nat Geo Wild upcoming shows, we find:

“The Real Black Panther”
One-hour special premieres Winter 2020; produced by Symbio Studios
The hot, dry, deciduous jungles of South India are no place for a melanistic leopard. But Saya is different. He is the only black panther in the entire Kabini Forest, and he’s got one thing on his mind: to take over and make this leopard paradise his own. But Scarface, the current ruler, won’t give it up easily. With one eye on his prey and the other on the ever-changing skies, Saya must befriend the sun and the clouds to master the shadows so that he can move unnoticed and hunt successfully. Between these trees lies an untold story — one that defies the laws of natural selection. Furthermore, it’s a story of astounding adaptability and success. Told in first-person narrative, this is the journey of Saya — the real black panther.

That may be the show Wild spoke of, but the above promo frames things in a much different way than how Wild depicted her adventures.

The TV promo seems to portray a standoff between wild cats (“Told in first-person narrative”? Meow, meow, grrrr!).

Wild’s presentation at Benaroya Hall on Jan. 14, 2020, seemed to be more about her versus all things that would foil her pursuit of the Black Panther, including being bitten by a cheetah, losing track of the elusive panther for weeks at a time and getting thrown from a truck and breaking her back.

Wild’s photographic career started in 2004 when she opened a pet photography business in her native Australia. As she showed the audience some of the pictures she had taken of cats and dogs, she explained her photographic philosophy: focus on the pets, pose them in natural settings, fade out the background and have vibrant colors in the photo. Also, she said, it helped to win the trust of the pet and be “welcomed into their world” – on the ground, close to the pet.

Above, Kathy shows Shannon Wild a photo of our pet cat Lily.

But after seven years of pet photography, Wild decided she wanted to photograph wildlife. So off she went to the Indonesian islands to photograph what she called “a true living dinosaur,” the Komodo dragon.

Somewhere along the line, she met Russell MacLaughlin, a photographer and videographer from South Africa. After a courtship of one week, they married. That was six years ago.

She moved to Africa and started photographing the wildlife there, using some of her pet philosophy but also learning more about cat behavior: When to hold ground, when to leave. Which didn’t always serve her well.

While photographing a cheetah in an enclosed reserve, she knelt to adjust equipment and should have recognized what the cat was doing: moving around behind her. The cheetah jumped over Wild’s back, clamped jaws down on her left arm and started squeezing it just like a cheetah would do to an antelope’s windpipe to kill it.

Russ and others rushed forward to pull the cat away. The video of her after 20 seconds in the cheetah’s jaws showed her laughing and making jokes “because I was embarrassed” before she went into shock.

She’s left-handed and lost the use of the arm for three months, but learned that “the most dangerous animal is the one you don’t see coming.”

But it didn’t stop her from pursuing wildlife. She and Russ collaborated with Shaaz Jung, a “big cat specialist,” to start filming the “panther pardus fusca,” the leopard in the Kabini Forest, part of the Nagarahole National Park in India. And how is a leopard a black panther? As the National Geographic says on its website: the result of a gene that causes a surplus of pigment in the skin or hair of an animal so that it appears black. (If you look at the third photo on this page you can see that the black panther has spots, as in a photo Wild showed in her presentation.)

The leopards in Africa spend a lot of their time in trees. Not so in India’s forest. There they are on the ground, which makes it harder to find and film them. Wild’s camera crew also had restrictions from the park: Film between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., stay on the roads, etc.

WildAnd leopards don’t sit up and pose like pets do. Wild told about waiting four hours to get 10 minutes of the leopard in the open.

Then one day the leopard showed up with nasty scars across its face and damage to one eye. Leopards are territorial, and if another tries to encroach, well, a fight is in the offing. The leopard disappeared for eight weeks, and Wild and crew did not have enough footage yet to make a show.

They searched and waited, filmed wild dogs, Asian elephants (40,000 muscles in their trunks!) and stopped because they had too much footage of these animals.

Above, if you had 40,000 muscles in your trunk, you could do this. Saul video shot in Africa.

Finally, the panther reappeared. Thin but healed, a white scar across its face. Still had two eyes. Filming resumed. Until a nasty turn in a truck carrying Wild and her amazing equipment) sent the unbolted things flying. Equipment bolted; Wild not. Four broken vertebrae and weeks to recuperate. She adopted Phoebe, a pet cat, as in a small, kitty variety, that gave her “a reason to get up in the morning.”

When Wild returned, it was the rainy season, when the forest grows lush and it’s harder find and see the leopard. They learned the behavior of the animals, the sounds and were continuously listening, finding the animal’s territory, basically sharing their lives. You can get quite close, Wild said, as you become irrelevant: Neither prey nor enemy.

Until finally, there was enough footage and soon, Wild hopes, the show will appear on Nat Geo Wild. Don’t miss it if you love seeing wildlife in their natural setting.

Which I do. I envy Wild for her job filming big cats, probably our favorite on a fall trip to Kenya and Tanzania. Would love to do that full time, except that I would find these lion cubs I shot in the first video below so cute I would try to pet them. That would make me an enemy, soon to have my windpipe crushed.

This is why I get so excited about rugby

Andrew Shaffer, a huge Seattle Seawolves fan, put together this video clip of the first two seasons of the professional rugby team here in the Pacific Northwest and posted it on Facebook.
If you ever wondered why I get so excited about the game of rugby, have a look.
Seawolves play a preseason game Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, at 7:30 p.m. at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila.
Regular season starts Feb. 9 with the Seattle team in San Diego, the team they beat to win the championship last year. Game will be on CBS Sports network. Then on to Washington, D.C., Sunday, Feb. 16, to play a newcomer to Major League Rugby, Old Glory DC. That game is on Roots TV here in Seattle.
First home game is Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, 7:30 p.m. at Starfire Stadium. It will be shown on CBS Sports network.
And as every retired player says, “Wish I could still play,” but I’ll be in the stadium having a grand time.

Looking for a depressing book? I’ve got a good one for you

Meredith bookIf you’re looking for a 675-page, depressing book, I have just the thing for you: “The Fortunes of Africa: A 5,000-Year History of Wealth, Greed, and Endeavor” by Martin Meredith. As a survey history, it’s informative and well written, and I’m glad I read it after visiting Kenya and Tanzania.

But when you consider what has happened to the people there, enslaved by the Pharaohs 5,000 years ago and then ruled by the likes of Jean-Bedel Bokassa, Robert Mugabe and other pillagers, that’s what makes this depressing.

Meredith reports that Africa has the highest levels of poverty and the lowest levels of life expectancy. When the book was published in 2014, only a quarter of the continent’s workers had stable, wage-paying jobs; two-thirds made their living through subsistence activities or low-wage self-employment. Between 1960 and 2010, African food production fell by 10 percent while the rest of the world’s went up 150 percent. The number of undernourished Africans is 250 million in its population of 1 billion. The entire African continent’s economic output is 2.7 percent of the world’s economy, equal to $1.7 trillion, about the same as a single nation such as Russia.

There’s gold, diamonds, minerals, metals, arable lands and oil, oil, oil, but where has the money from those resources gone? Some to foreign corporations, but most of it into the pockets of that long list of corrupt ruling pillagers. The last chapter in Meredith’s book is a country-by-country, billion-dollar-by-billion-dollar ledger of corruption in Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa. In recent years, corruption has cost Africa $148 billion annually, “more than a quarter of the continent’s entire gross domestic product.”

The overall population of Africa is increasing faster than any other part of the world. Forty percent of Africans live in cities with miles of slums and shantytowns that lack sanitation, clean water, paved roads and electricity.

Meredith head 1Meredith concludes with this from a United Nations report: “ ‘The unfolding pattern (in Africa) is one of disjointed, dysfunctional and unsustainable urban geographies of inequality and human suffering, with oceans of poverty containing islands of wealth.’ The urban crisis, it concluded, posed a threat not only to the stability of Africa’s cities but to entire nations.”

Which leads us to some questions that were raised in an earlier post here: Should the United States government, either through its military or through diplomacy, be involved in sorting out this mess? Could we mount a humanitarian effort that would be effective? Should the U.S. stay to get our hands on the resources before Russia, Islamic terrorists or China do?

And the Chinese influence is growing in Africa. As Meredith points out: “While Western powers continued to lecture African governments about corruption, transparency, human rights and democracy, China made no such demands. In pursuit of Africa’s riches, it was prepared to set up deals with dictators, despots and unsavory regimes of every hue, with no strings attached.”

Those questions about should we stay or should we go are now being addressed by the U.S. military commanders in Africa, according to a New York Times article published Dec. 24, 2019. Defense Secretary Mark Esper expects an initial decision in January.

Pulling out could mean abandoning a $110 million airbase in Niger being used to launch drone attacks. It could mean running out on French forces fighting extremists in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. (Hey, you colonized them so here’s the bill.)

In re-shifting the 200,000 service men and women the United States has overseas, it could mean confronting China and Russia more directly (Does the Commander-in-chief know about that Russian part?). It could mean endorsing Esper’s priority to get away from years of counter-terrorism deployments that try to “maintain minimum stability but without much prospect of definitive solutions.” He wants to quit going after “extremists who lack the demonstrated ability and intent to attack the U.S. on its own soil,” according to officials quoted in the NYT story.

So we might leave behind some intelligence forces, and if we learn some country is sponsoring, say, a training camp for Saudi Arabia pilots or some such, we might bomb it to smithereens, hoping we miss wedding parties, which we did not in Afghanistan.

The U.S., military or otherwise, could mount a humanitarian effort that could feed, water and save the African population, which is expected to reach 1.2 billion by 2050. That may be a naïve notion. Or, walk away, keeping American lives and treasures here at home. That may be heartless, placing Africa in the hopeless category. And that’s very depressing.