I was prompted to write about this aspect of our modern lives by coming across a UK resource called BogusBuster. But these days we live in such a wired-up international world that BogusBuster has a much wider appeal that just the United Kingdom. This is what their home page says:
Not sure if an item you have found is fake? Think a site is dodgy? Submit a URL and we will use our fake-detecting software to establish if it is real or safe
Just off the top of my head I would say that at least 25% of the incoming calls we receive on our home telephone number are from scammers. I am also getting the odd call from a scammer on my mobile phone.
A lot of the calls are from women who purport to want to advise me about my investments. They appear to be out of the country. Tempted as I am to engage in the call in an attempt to find out more about them I resist and promptly put the telephone firmly down.
Anyway, a little more about BogusBuster from their About page.
BogusBuster is an independent resource that will guide you through everything scam related. Whether it’s tips to spot fake products on the internet or reporting a dangerous product being sold online, consider us your one-stop resource to being a smart shopper.
BogusBuster is co-funded by Innovate UK which launched a business competition in May 2020 to seek solutions to problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. As the virus spread, and communities ‘locked down,’ the spike in online shopping was significant. With this came a rise in those being scammed, so there’s never been a more important time to stay safe online. BogusBuster was created to keep consumers informed, ensuring they get exactly what they paid for.
BogusBuster is powered by SnapDragon, an award-winning brand protection company that’s been helping businesses across the world to fight fakes for over five years. SnapDragon founder’s experienced, first-hand, the damage caused by fake products when her own product was counterfeited. Fighting back, she founded SnapDragon to help protect and safeguard businesses, and consumers, from counterfeit crime. As the ‘Head Dragon’, she has built an expert and passionate team dedicated to identifying and removing fakes from sale, all over the world.
With scammers becoming more sophisticated, consumer safety is at the top of our agenda at BogusBuster; our regular updates, news, tips and advice will help to keep you safe and secure.
During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, scammers may try to take advantage of you through misinformation and scare tactics. They might get in touch by phone, email, postal mail, text, or social media. Protect your money and your identity by not sharing personal information like your bank account number, Social Security number, or date of birth. Learn more about these scams and how to report them.
This is a post about dogs being of comfort to the Californian firefighters. A post presented on The Dodo that I am republishing.
But yesterday afternoon came news that here in Oregon we have a blaze. As the Washington Post reported it, in part:
An unusually expansive outbreak of large and fast-moving wildfires threatens communities in three states Wednesday, with the greatest risks focused on Medford, Ore., and Oroville, Calif., as large fires advance in those areas.
In Oregon on Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced that four towns have experienced significant damage, and she warned residents to expect news of fatalities.
“Oregon has experienced unprecedented fire with significant damage and devastating consequences for the entire state,” she said. Brown said the communities of Detroit, Blue River, Vida, Phoenix and Talent are “substantially destroyed.”
But back to those Californian firefighters.
Dog Helps Comfort Firefighters Fighting The California Wildfires
Ever since she was a puppy, Kerith has been the bubbliest, most joyful dog, and her mom always knew that she was born to help people.
Kerith was originally being trained to be a guide dog for individuals who are blind, but ended up changing career paths to become a therapy dog instead. For the past year she’s been working with local firefighters, providing them comfort in times of need — and with the recent wildfires spreading across California, they need her now more than ever.
“Kerith has been going to base camps where the crews start their day before they roll out to fight one of the many wildfires in CA,” Carman said. “She lightens the mood first thing in the morning. We walk around to visit all the crews while they are getting ready for their day of fighting fires. Everyone wants to see her to get some love.”
As the fires rage across California, the firefighters’ jobs become more and more stressful as they work hard every moment of the day to save homes and lives. Kerith provides them a moment of relief and joy from the realities of their job — and when many of them see her, they can’t help but envelop her in a huge hug.
Kerith loves all her firefighter friends so much, and is more than happy to let them hug her close. She seems to know that what she’s doing is important, and that the hugs she’s getting are more than just hugs. She’s helping to bring comfort when the firefighters need it most.
“Kerith clearly loves what she is doing,” Carman said. “When she sees a fire engine she gets so excited because she knows she is going to see her firefighter friends.”
Hopefully the wildfires will be under control soon, but until then, Kerith will continue to give her firefighter friends as many hugs as they need.
I find it amazing that there are dogs such as Kerith who love to be loved. Now plenty of dogs fall into that category but Kerith is part of a team; the rest of the team are human and working their backsides off fighting fires.
I will leave you for today with a random photograph I found from the ABC News website of one of those fires in California.
Roll on the rain!
And a photograph taken at 11am PDT today of the hills to the East. It includes our own property.
It shows the extent of the smoke; the nearest run of trees across the photograph are on our property.
Still continuing with another dog-free day because this is a supremely important topic: Dementia.
I’m well into my 75th year and have poor recall. I do everything to fight the loss of memory. We are vegan, or technically pescatarian, we both go to the nearby Club Northwest twice a week and I ride my bike every other day.
The number of cases of dementia in the U.S. is rising as baby boomers age, raising questions for boomers themselves and also for their families, caregivers and society. Dementia, which is not technically a disease but a term for impaired ability to think, remember or make decisions, is one of the most feared impairments of old age.
Incidence increases dramatically as people move into their 90s. About 5% of those age 71 to 79 have dementia, and about 37% of those about 90 years old live with it.
Older people may worry about their own loss of function as well as the cost and toll of caregiving for someone with dementia. A 2018 study estimated that the lifetime cost of care for a person with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, to be US$329,360. That figure, too, will no doubt rise, putting even more burdens on family, Medicare and Medicaid.
There’s also been a good deal of talk and reporting about dementia in recent months because of the U.S. presidential election. Some voters have asked whether one or both candidates might have dementia. But, is this even a fair question to ask? When these types of questions are posed – adding further stigma to people with dementia – it can unfairly further isolate them and those caring for them. We need to understand dementia and the impact it has on more than 5 million people in the U.S. who now live with dementia and their caregivers. That number is expected to triple by 2060.
First, it is important to know that dementia cannot be diagnosed from afar or by someone who is not a doctor. A person needs a detailed doctor’s exam for a diagnosis. Sometimes, brain imaging is required. And, forgetting an occasional word – or even where you put your keys – does not mean a person has dementia. There are different types of memory loss and they can have different causes, such as other medical conditions, falls or even medication, including herbals, supplements and anything over-the-counter.
Older people wonder and worry about so-called senior moments and the memory loss they perceive in themselves and others. I see patients like this every week in my geriatric clinic, where they tell me their stories. They forget a word, get lost in a story, lose keys or can’t remember a name. Details vary, but the underlying concern is the same: Is this dementia?
Normal memory loss
As we age, we experience many physical and cognitive changes. Older people often have a decrease in recall memory. This is normal. Ever have trouble fetching a fact from the deep back part of your “mind’s Rolodex”? Suppose you spot someone at the grocery store you haven’t seen in years. Maybe you recognize the face, but don’t remember their name until later that night. This is normal, part of the expected changes with aging.
What’s more of a potential problem is forgetting the name of someone you see every day; forgetting how to get to a place you visit frequently; or having problems with your activities of daily living, like eating, dressing and hygiene.
When you have troubles with memory – but they don’t interfere with your daily activities – this is called mild cognitive impairment. Your primary care doctor can diagnose it. But sometimes it gets worse, so your doctor should follow you closely if you have mild cognitive impairment.
You want to note the timing of any impairment. Was there a gradual decline? Or did it happen all of a sudden? This too you should discuss with your doctor, who might recommend the MoCA, or Montreal Cognitive Assessment test, which screens for memory problems and helps determine if more evaluation is needed.
When memory loss interferes with daily activities, see your doctor about what to do and how to make sure you’re safe at home.
There are numerous types of severe memory loss. Dementia tends to be a slow-moving progression that occurs over months or years. Delirium is more sudden and can occur over hours or days, usually when you have an acute illness. Depression can also cause memory changes, particularly as we get older.
Dementia and other brain issues
Alzheimer’s dementia is the most common type of dementia, followed by vascular dementia. They have similar symptoms: confusion, getting lost, forgetting close friends or family, or an inability to do calculations like balance the checkbook. Certain medical conditions – thyroid disorders, syphilis – can lead to dementia symptoms, and less common types of dementia can have different kinds of symptoms. Alzheimer’s has a distinct set of symptoms often associated with certain changes in the brain.
Focusing on safety and appropriate supervision, particularly in the home, is critical for all people with dementia. Your doctor or a social worker can help you find support.
It’s also important to be aware of two other things that can lead to decreased mental functioning – delirium and depression.
Delirium, a rapid change in cognition or mental functioning, can occur in people with an acute medical illness, like pneumonia or even COVID-19 infection. Delirium can occur in patients in the hospital or at home. Risk for delirium increases with age or previous brain injuries; symptoms include decreased attention span and memory issues.
Depression can happen at any time, but it’s more common with aging. How can you tell if you’re depressed? Here’s one simple definition: when your mood remains low and you’ve lost interest or joy in activities you once loved.
Sometimes people have recurring episodes of depression; sometimes, it’s prolonged grieving that becomes depression. Symptoms include anxiety, hopelessness, low energy and problems with memory. If you notice signs of depression in yourself or a loved one, see your doctor. If you have any thoughts of harming yourself, call 911 to get help instantly.
Any of these conditions can be frightening. But even more frightening is unrecognized or unacknowledged dementia. You must, openly and honestly, discuss changes you notice in your memory or thinking with your doctor. It’s the first step toward figuring out what is happening and making sure your health is the best it can be.
And, as with any disease or disease group, dementia is not a “character flaw,” and the term should not be used to criticize a person. Dementia is a serious medical diagnosis – ask those who have it, the loved ones who care for them or any of us who treat them. Having dementia is challenging. Learn what you can do to support those with dementia in your own community.
Please, if you are of the age where this is more than an academic interest then read the article carefully and especially that piece of advice towards the end:
But even more frightening is unrecognized or unacknowledged dementia. You must, openly and honestly, discuss changes you notice in your memory or thinking with your doctor. It’s the first step toward figuring out what is happening and making sure your health is the best it can be.
As is said growing old is not for cissies.
None of us can put off the fateful day when we will die and in our case we do not believe in any form of afterlife, in other words we are confirmed atheists, so all we can do is to live out our remaining years as healthily as possible and loving each other and our precious animals.
But having said that I know that all of us want to live out our lives with healthy, active brains and it’s clear that we can’t leave it to chance.
In closing, I recently purchased the book Outsmart Your Brain written by Dr. Ginger Schechter (and others). It was just $9.99 and contains much advice regarding the best foods and exercise for a healthy brain. I recommend it!
Astronomers have learned that the pull of gravity can sometimes overcome the strong magnetic fields found in great star-forming clouds in space. The resulting weakly magnetized gas flow can feed the growth of new stars.
Astronomers have known for decades that stars like our sun form when giant clouds of gas and dust in space – sometimes called molecular clouds – collapse under their own gravity. But how does the material from interstellar space flow into these clouds, and what controls the collapse? The image above helps illustrate an answer to these questions. It’s a composite, made with data from SOFIA – an airborne telescope designed for infrared astronomy – overlaid on an image from the now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope. This composite shows that the pull of gravity can sometimes overcome the strong magnetic fields found in great star-forming clouds in space. And it shows that, when that happens, weakly magnetized gas can flow – as on a conveyor belt – to feed the growth of newly forming star clusters.
A statement from the Max Planck Institute in Bonn, Germany, explained:
A major finding in the last decade has been that extensive networks of filaments permeate every molecular cloud. A picture has emerged that stars like our own sun form preferentially in dense clusters at the intersection of filaments.
Now look back at the image above, which shows the Serpens South star cluster, a star-forming region located some 1,400 light-years from Earth. In that image, you see a dark filament in the lower left. Now notice the “stripes” on the image, which astronomers call streamlines. They represent magnetic structures, discovered by SOFIA. The astronomers said these magnetic structures act like rivers, channeling material into the great star-forming cloud.
As you can see in the image, these magnetic streamlines have been dragged by gravity to align with the narrow, dark filament on the lower left. Astronomers say this configuration helps material from interstellar space flow into the cloud.
This is different from the upper parts of the image, where the magnetic fields are perpendicular to the filaments; in those regions, the magnetic fields in the cloud are opposing gravity.
The scientists said in a statement from Universities Space Research Association (USRA) that they are:
… studying the dense cloud to learn how magnetic fields, gravity and turbulent gas motions contribute to the creation of stars. Once thought to slow star birth by counteracting gravity, SOFIA’s data reveals magnetic fields may actually be working together with gravity as it pulls the fields into alignment with the filaments, nourishing the birth of stars.
The results were published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Astronomy on August 17. The lead author of the new study is Thushara Pillai of Boston University and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany.
In 1835, the French philosopher Auguste Comte wrote of the unknowable nature of stars:
On the subject of stars, all investigations which are not ultimately reducible to simple visual observations are … necessarily denied to us. While we can conceive of the possibility of determining their shapes, their sizes, and their motions, we shall never be able by any means to study their chemical composition or their mineralogical structure … Our knowledge concerning their gaseous envelopes is necessarily limited to their existence, size … and refractive power, we shall not at all be able to determine their chemical composition or even their density…
He was, famously, wrong.
He couldn’t have envisioned the range of tools available to modern astronomers. It’s a beautiful thing that, nowadays, astronomers can not only learn about the compositions of stars via their studies of their spectra, but also probe the deeper mysteries, going all the way to the births of these colossal, self-luminous balls in space.
Bottom line: Astronomers have learned that the pull of gravity can sometimes overcome the strong magnetic fields found in great star-forming clouds in space. The resulting weakly magnetized gas flow can feed the growth of new stars.
Just read that paragraph just before the end of the article: “He couldn’t have envisioned the range of tools available to modern astronomers. It’s a beautiful thing that, nowadays, astronomers can not only learn about the compositions of stars via their studies of their spectra, but also probe the deeper mysteries, going all the way to the births of these colossal, self-luminous balls in space.”
What a long way we have come from just, say, 50 years ago.
It would be easy to get lost in the article in a scientific manner, and that would be entirely appropriate.
But there’s another beautiful way to get lost in the article; by dreaming of outer space and forgetting just for a moment or two this Earthly planet we all live on!
I was browsing the photographic forum Ugly Hedgehog the other day and saying thank you to some people who had said kind things about a few photographs I had shared. One person who had left a comment put in his signature block that he came from Adelaide, Australia. Part of my thank you was to inquire how things were in Adelaide.
Well blow me down when that person, Ron, came back to me and we then transferred to email and shared our backgrounds.
This is what Ron said in his first email:
You have had an interesting life over the years…
Love the Shepherd, we had one after we first got married..
Broke my heart so badly when he went I could never have another one.
I still think about him after all the years.
I retired at 55 years of age as I was with the government; I was a mechanical engineer with CSIRO designing new welding technologies along with many other projects over the years.
Sadly not the way I wanted to retire as my spinal injuries made it impossible to do the things I wanted to.
One of my biggest disappointments was having to give up my archery.
I’ve been doing photography for many and it has been a god send as it’s something I can still do.
We moved into a Lifestyle Village ( semi retirement) six and a half years ago as I was unable to look after the old house any more so I thought I’d let someone else worry about that..LOL
We try to get over to Sydney and Melbourne every year for a week or so but this year we missed out due to you know what.
Well, off to the shops now,
And when I asked about the spinal injury, Ron added:
Hopefully you had no damage from your storm…
My spine, mostly my cervical spine, was damaged about 50 years ago in car stupidity.
I refuse to call it an accident.
I was sitting at a red light and a guy ran into my rear doing about 80-90 kilometers an hour without touching his brakes.
He was actually looking out of his side window!!
Over the years, and several operations and ongoing treatments, the pain got worse.
I’m now in pain all day every day.
At least the plates and screws keep things together.
Lorraine (wife) is my carer and when I get really bad, she gives me an injection of morphine mixed with some other “stuff”.
They discovered some years ago that my body doesn’t absorb oral meds very well.
My neurosurgeon then put me onto morphine.
Usually have one jab every two to three weeks.
At least I get one or two days of relief.
The rest of the time I just grin and bare it…LOL
I joined the Hog in 2012, November I think.
Sadly, my good friend, also a Hog, died earlier this year.
He lived in north NSW in a small coastal town called Maclean.
Say Hi to Jeannie for us.
This is a photograph of Lorraine.
And this is a photograph of Harry.
And let me treat you with a few more photographs, some from “very old scanned film shots so not the best.”
But that’s a sharp reminder of the consequences of not paying attention to the road in front of you. All those years ago!
Dogs bring people together from all over the world!
How Do Dogs Find Their Way Home? They Might Sense Earth’s Magnetic Field
Our canine companions aren’t the only animals that may be capable of magnetoreception A terrier fitted with GPS remote tracking device and camera (Kateřina Benediktová / Czech University of Life Sciences
Last week, Cleo the four-year-old yellow Labrador retriever showed up on the doorstep of the home her family moved away from two years ago, reports Caitlin O’Kane for CBS News. As it turns out, Cleo traveled nearly 60 miles from her current home in Kansas to her old one in Missouri. Cleo is just one of many dogs who have made headlines for their homing instincts; in 1924, for example, a collie known as “Bobbie the Wonder Dog” traveled 2,800 miles in the dead of winter to be reunited with his people.
Researchers led by biologists Kateřina Benediktová and Hynek Burda of the Czech University of Life Sciences Department of Game Management and Wildlife Biology outfitted 27 hunting dogs representing 10 different breeds with GPS collars and action cameras, and tracked them in more than 600 excursions over the course of three years, Michael Thomsen reports for Daily Mail. The dogs were driven to a location, led on-leash into a forested area, and then released to run where they pleased. The team only focused on dogs that ventured at least 200 meters away from their owners.
But the researchers were more curious about the dogs’ return journeys than their destinations. When called back to their owners, the dogs used two different methods for finding their way back from an average of 1.1 kilometers (about .7 miles) away. About 60 percent of the dogs used their noses to follow their outbound route in reverse, a strategy known as “tracking,” while the other 30 percent opted to use a new route, found through a process called “scouting.”
According to the study authors, both tactics have merits and drawbacks, and that’s why dogs probably alternate between the two depending on the situation.
“While tracking may be safe, it is lengthy,” the authors write in the study. “Scouting enables taking shortcuts and might be faster but requires navigation capability and, because of possible errors, is risky.” Data from the scouting dogs revealed that their navigation capability is related to a magnetic connection (Kateřina Benediktová / Czech University of Life Sciences)
Data from the scouting dogs revealed that their navigation capability is related to a magnetic connection. All of the dogs who did not follow their outbound path began their return with a short “compass run,” a quick scan of about 20 meters along the Earth’s north-south geomagnetic axis, reports the Miami Herald’s Mitchell Willetts. Because they don’t have any familiar visual landmarks to use, and dense vegetation at the study sites made “visual piloting unreliable,” the compass run helps the dogs recalibrate their own position to better estimate their “homing” direction.
Catherine Lohmann, a biologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who studies magnetoreception and navigation in such turtles tells Erik Stokstad at Science that the finding of the compass run, however, is a first in dogs. This newfound ability means that they can likely remember the direction they had been pointing when they started, and then use the magnetic compass to find the most efficient way home.
To learn more about how magneto-location works for the dogs, the study authors will begin a new experiment placing magnets on the dogs’ collars to find out if this disrupts their navigational skills.
Courtney Sexton, a writer and researcher based in Washington, DC, studies human-animal interactions. She is a 2020 AAAS Mass Media Fellow and the co-founder and director of The Inner Loop, a nonprofit organization for writers.
This is, as I mentioned earlier, a most interesting article. I can’t wait to read more in The Smithsonian. We actually subscribe to the paper version of the magazine. So fingers crossed that in time there will be a further report from Catherine Lohmann.
I have written about the dog’s nose before. Or rather I have written about the dog’s sense of smell;
Dogs’ noses just got a bit more amazing. Not only are they up to 100 million times more sensitive than ours, they can sense weak thermal radiation—the body heat of mammalian prey, a new study reveals. The find helps explain how canines with impaired sight, hearing, or smell can still hunt successfully.
But I wanted to draw your attention to an article in 2017; June 26th to be precise. In an article called What a nose!
Here’s how that post opened.
Two items that recently caught my eye.
The power of a dog’s nose is incredible and it is something that has been written about in this place on more than one occasion.
But two recent news items reminded me once again of the way we humans can be helped by our wonderful canine partners.
The first was a report that appeared on the Care2 website about how dogs are being used to search for victims in the burnt out ruins following that terrible Grenfell Tower fire. That report opened, thus:
Wearing heat-proof booties to protect their feet, specially trained dogs have been dispatched in London’s Grenfell Tower to help locate victims and determine the cause of last week’s devastating fire that killed at least 79 people.
Because they’re smaller and weigh less than humans, urban search-and-rescue dogs with the London Fire Brigade (LFB) are able to access the more challenging areas of the charred 24-story building, especially the upper floors that sustained the most damage.
Because I read recently, on the EarthSky website, about dogs in Australia that are being trained to detect Covid-19 in humans.
These dogs are trained to sniff out the coronavirus
What does a pandemic smell like? If dogs could talk, they might be able to tell us.
We’re part of an international research team, led by Dominique Grandjean at France’s National Veterinary School of Alfort, that has been training detector dogs to sniff out traces of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) since March.
These detector dogs are trained using sweat samples from people infected with Covid-19. When introduced to a line of sweat samples, most dogs can detect a positive one from a line of negative ones with 100% accuracy.
Across the globe, coronavirus detector dogs are being trained in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Belgium.
In the UAE, detector dogs – stationed at various airports – have already started helping efforts to control Covid-19’s spread. This is something we hope will soon be available in Australia too.
A keen nose
Our international colleagues found detector dogs were able to detect SARS-CoV-2 in infected people when they were still asymptomatic, before later testing positive.
When it comes to SARS-CoV-2 detection, we don’t know for sure what the dogs are smelling.
The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) given off in the sweat samples are a complex mix. So it’s likely the dogs are detecting a particular profile rather than individual compounds.
Sweat is used for tests as it’s not considered infectious for Covid-19. This means it presents less risk when handling samples.
Covid-19 sniffing dogs in Australia
Here in Australia, we’re currently working with professional trainers of detector dogs in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. The most common breed used for this work so far has been the German shepherd, with various other breeds also involved.
We are also negotiating with health authorities to collect sweat samples from people who have tested positive for the virus, and from those who are negative. We hope to start collecting these within the next few months.
We will need to collect thousands of negative samples to make sure the dogs aren’t detecting other viral infections, such as the common cold or influenza. In other countries, they’ve passed this test with flying colors.
Once operational, detector dogs in Australia could be hugely valuable in many scenarios, such as screening people at airports and state borders, or monitoring staff working in aged care facilities and hospitals daily (so they don’t need repeat testing).
To properly train a dog to detect SARS-CoV-2, it takes:
– 6-8 weeks for a dog that is already trained to detect other scents, or
– 3-6 months for a dog that has never been trained.
Could the dogs spread the virus further?
Dogs in experimental studies have not been shown to be able to replicate the virus (within their body). Simply, they themselves are not a source of infection.
Currently, there are two case reports in the world of dogs being potentially contaminated with the Covid-19 virus by their owners. Those dogs didn’t become sick.
To further reduce any potential risk of transmission to both people and dogs, the apparatus used to train the dogs doesn’t allow any direct contact between the dog’s nose and the sweat sample.
The dog’s nose goes into a stainless steel cone, with the sweat sample in a receptacle behind. This allows free access to the volatile olfactory compounds but no physical contact.
Furthermore, all the dogs trained to detect Covid-19 are regularly checked by nasal swab tests, rectal swab tests and blood tests to identify antibodies. So far, none of the detector dogs has been found to be infected.
Hurdles to jump
Now and in the future, it will be important for us to identify any instances where detector dogs may present false positives (signaling a sample is positive when it’s negative) or false negatives (signaling the sample is negative when it’s positive).
We’re also hoping our work can reveal exactly which volatile olfactory compound(s) is/are specific to Covid-19 infection.
This knowledge might help us understand the disease process resulting from Covid-19 infection – and in detecting other diseases using detector dogs.
This pandemic has been a huge challenge for everyone. Being able to find asymptomatic people infected with the coronavirus would be a game-changer – and that’s what we need right now.
A friend to us (and science)
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised about dogs’ ability to detect Covid-19, as we already know their noses are amazing.
Their great potential in dealing with the current pandemic is just one of myriad examples of how dogs enrich our lives.
We acknowledge Professor Riad Sarkis from the Saint Joseph University (Beirut) and Clothilde Lecoq-Julien from the Alfort Veterinary School (France) for first conceiving the idea underpinning this work back in March.
Maybe because years ago he gave me blanket permission to republish his essays. Maybe because he and I are more or less the same age. Maybe because in my more quieter, introspective moments I wonder where the hell we are going. And Tom seems to agree.
Have a read of this.
Tomgram: Engelhardt, The Unexpected Past, the Unknown Future
[Note for TomDispatch Readers:Even in this terrible moment, TD does its best to continue offering an alternate view of this increasingly strange planet of ours. And I can only do so because of the ongoing support of readers. (I just wish I could actually thank each of you individually!) If you have the urge to continue to lend a hand in keeping TomDispatch afloat, then do check out our donation page. For a donation of $100 ($125 if you live outside the U.S.), I usually offer a signed, personalized book from one of a number of TD authors listed on that page and you can certainly ask, but no guarantees in this pandemic moment. Still, you really do make all the difference and I can’t thank you enough for that! Tom]
Let me be blunt. This wasn’t the world I imagined for my denouement. Not faintly. Of course, I can’t claim I ever really imagined such a place. Who, in their youth, considers their death and the world that might accompany it, the one you might leave behind for younger generations? I’m 76 now. True, if I were lucky (or perhaps unlucky), I could live another 20 years and see yet a newer world born. But for the moment at least, it seems logical enough to consider this pandemic nightmare of a place as the country of my old age, the one that I and my generation (including a guy named Donald J. Trump) will pass on to our children and grandchildren.
Back in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, I knew it was going to be bad. I felt it deep in my gut almost immediately and, because of that, stumbled into creating TomDispatch.com, the website I still run. But did I ever think it would be this bad? Not a chance.
I focused back then on what already looked to me like a nightmarish American imperial adventure to come, the response to the 9/11 attacks that the administration of President George W. Bush quickly launched under the rubric of “the Global War on Terror.” And that name (though the word “global” would soon be dropped for the more anodyne “war on terror”) would prove anything but inaccurate. After all, in those first post-9/11 moments, the top officials of that administration were thinking as globally as possible when it came to war. At the damaged Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld almost immediately turned to an aide and told him, “Go massive — sweep it all up, things related and not.” From then on, the emphasis would always be on the more the merrier.
Bush’s top officials were eager to take out not just Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, whose 19 mostly Saudi hijackers had indeed attacked this country in the most provocative manner possible (at a cost of only $400,000-$500,000), but the Taliban, too, which then controlled much of Afghanistan. And an invasion of that country was seen as but the initial step in a larger, deeply desired project reportedly meant to target more than 60 countries! Above all, George W. Bush and his top officials dreamed of taking down Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein, occupying his oil-rich land, and making the United States, already the unipolar power of the twenty-first century, the overseer of the Greater Middle East and, in the end, perhaps even of a global Pax Americana. Such was the oil-fueled imperial dreamscape of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and crew (including that charmer and now bestselling anti-Trump author John Bolton).
Who Woulda Guessed?
In the years that followed, I would post endless TomDispatch pieces, often by ex-military men, focused on the ongoing nightmare of our country’s soon-to-become forever wars (without a “pax” in sight) and the dangers such spreading conflicts posed to our world and even to us. Still, did I imagine those wars coming home in quite this way? Police forces in American cities and towns thoroughly militarized right down to bayonets, MRAPs, night-vision goggles, and helicopters, thanks to a Pentagon program delivering equipment to police departments nationwide more or less directly off the battlefields of Washington’s never-ending wars? Not for a moment.
Who doesn’t remember those 2014 photos of what looked like an occupying army on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of a Black teenager and the protests that followed? And keep in mind that, to this day, the Republican Senate and the Trump administration have shown not the slightest desire to rein in that Pentagon program to militarize police departments nationwide. Such equipment (and the mentality that goes with it) showed up strikingly on the streets of American cities and towns during the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
Even in 2014, however, I couldn’t have imagined federal agents by the hundreds, dressed as if for a forever-war battlefield, flooding onto those same streets (at least in cities run by Democratic mayors), ready to treat protesters as if they were indeed al-Qaeda (“VIOLENT ANTIFA ANARCHISTS”), or that it would all be part of an election ploy by a needy president. Not a chance.
Or put another way, a president with his own “goon squad” or “stormtroopers” outfitted to look as if they were shipping out for Afghanistan or Iraq but heading for Portland, Albuquerque, Chicago, Seattle, and other American cities? Give me a break! How un-American could you get? A military surveillance drone overhead in at least one of those cities as if this were someone else’s war zone? Give me a break again. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d live to witness anything quite like it or a president — and we’ve had a few doozies — even faintly like the man a minority of deeply disgruntled Americans but a majority of electors put in the White House in 2016 to preside over a failing empire.
How about an American president in the year 2020 as a straightforward, no-punches-pulled racist, the sort of guy a newspaper could compare to former segregationist Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace without even blinking? Admittedly, in itself, presidential racism has hardly been unique to this moment in America, despite Joe Biden’s initial claim to the contrary. That couldn’t be the case in the country in which Woodrow Wilson made D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, the infamous silent movie in which the Ku Klux Klan rides to the rescue, the first film ever to be shown in the White House; nor the one in which Richard Nixon used his “Southern strategy” — Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater had earlier labeled it even more redolently “Operation Dixie” — to appeal to the racist fears of Southern whites and so begin to turn that region from a Democratic stronghold into a Republican bastion; nor in the land where Ronald Reagan launched his election campaign of 1980 with a “states’ rights” speech (then still a code phrase for segregation) near Philadelphia, Mississippi, just miles from the earthen dam where three murdered civil rights workers had been found buried in 1964.
Still, an openly racist president (don’t take that knee!) as an autocrat-in-the-making (or at least in-the-dreaming), one who first descended that Trump Tower escalator in 2015 denouncing Mexican “rapists,” ran for president rabidly on a Muslim ban, and for whom Black lives, including John Lewis’s, have always been immaterial, a president now defending every Confederate monument and military base named after a slave-owning general in sight, while trying to launch a Nixon-style “law and (dis)order” campaign? I mean, who woulda thunk it?
And add to that the once unimaginable: a man without an ounce of empathy in the White House, a figure focused only on himself and his electoral and pecuniary fate (and perhaps those of his billionaire confederates); a man filling his hated “deep state” with congressionally unapproved lackies, flacks, and ass-kissers, many of them previously flacks (aka lobbyists) for major corporations. (Note, by the way, that while The Donald has a distinctly autocratic urge, I don’t describe him as an incipient fascist because, as far as I can see, his sole desire — as in those now-disappeared rallies of his — is to have fans, not lead an actual social movement of any sort. Think of him as Mussolini right down to the look and style with a “base” of cheering MAGA chumps but no urge for an actual fascist movement to lead.)
And who ever imagined that an American president might actually bring up the possibility of delaying an election he fears losing, while denouncing mail-in ballots (“the scandal of our time”) as electoral fraud and doing his damnedest to undermine the Post Office which would deliver them amid an economic downturn that rivals the Great Depression? Who, before this moment, ever imagined that a president might consider refusing to leave the White House even if he did lose his reelection bid? Tell me this doesn’t qualify as something new under the American sun. True, it wasn’t Donald Trump who turned this country’s elections into 1% affairs or made contributions by the staggeringly wealthy and corporations a matter of free speech (thank you, Supreme Court!), but it is Donald Trump who is threatening, in his own unique way, to make elections themselves a thing of the past. And that, believe me, I didn’t count on.
Nor did I conceive of an all-American world of inequality almost beyond imagining. A country in which only the truly wealthy (think tax cuts) and the national security state (think budgets eternally in the stratosphere) are assured of generous funding in the worst of times.
The World to Come?
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the pandemic yet, have I? The one that should bring to mind the Black Death of the fourteenth century and the devastating Spanish Flu of a century ago, the one that’s killing Americans in remarkable numbers daily and going wild in this country, aided and abetted in every imaginable way (and some previously unimaginable ones) by the federal government and the president. Who could have dreamed of such a disease running riot, month after month, in the wealthiest, most powerful country on the planet without a national plan for dealing with it? Who could have dreamed of the planet’s most exceptional, indispensable country (as its leaders once loved to call it) being unable to take even the most modest steps to rein in Covid-19, thanks to a president, Republican governors, and Republican congressional representatives who consider science the equivalent of alien DNA? Honestly, who ever imagined such an American world? Think of it not as The Decameron, that fourteenth century tale of 10 people in flight from a pandemic, but the Trumpcameron or perhaps simply Trumpmageddon.
And keep in mind, when assessing this world I’m going to leave behind to those I hold near and dear, that Covid-19 is hardly the worst of it. Behind that pandemic, possibly even linked to it in complex ways, is something so much worse. Yes, the coronavirus and the president’s response to it may seem like the worst of all news as American deaths crest 160,000 with no end in sight, but it isn’t. Not faintly on a planet that’s being heated to the boiling point and whose most powerful country is now run by a crew of pyromaniacs.
It’s hard even to fully conceptualize climate change since it operates on a time scale that’s anything but human. Still, one way to think of it is as a slow-burn planetary version of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And by the way, if you’ll excuse a brief digression, in these years, our president and his men have been intent on ripping up every Cold War nuclear pact in sight, while the tensions between two nuclear-armed powers, the U.S. and China, only intensify and Washington invests staggering sums in “modernizing” its nuclear arsenal. (I mean, how exactly do you “modernize” the already-achieved ability to put an almost instant end to the world as we’ve known it?)
But to return to climate change, remember that 2020 is already threatening to be the warmest year in recorded history, while the five hottest years so far occurred from 2015 to 2019. That should tell you something, no?
The never-ending release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has been transforming this planet in ways that have now become obvious. My own hometown, New York City, for instance, has officially become part of the humid subtropical climate zone and that’s only a beginning. Everywhere temperatures are rising. They hit 100 degrees this June in, of all places, Siberia. (The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of much of the rest of the planet.) Sea ice is melting fast, while floods and mega-droughts intensify and forests burn in a previously unknown fashion.
And as a recent heat wave across the Middle East — Baghdad hit a record 125 degrees — showed, it’s only going to get hotter. Much hotter and, given how humanity has handled the latest pandemic, how will it handle the chaos that goes with rising sea levels drowning coastlines but also affecting inland populations, ever fiercer storms, and flooding (in recent weeks, the summer monsoon has, for instance, put one third of Bangladesh underwater), not to speak of the migration of refugees from the hardest-hit areas? The answer is likely to be: not well.
And I could go on, but you get the point. This is not the world I either imagined or would ever have dreamed of leaving to those far younger than me. That the men (and they are largely men) who are essentially promoting the pandemicizing and over-heating of this planet will be the greatest criminals in history matters little.
Let’s just hope that, when it comes to creating a better world out of such a god-awful mess, the generations that follow us prove better at it than mine did. If I were a religious man, those would be my prayers.
And here’s my odd hope. As should be obvious from this piece, the recent past, when still the future, was surprisingly unimaginable. There’s no reason to believe that the future — the coming decades — will prove any easier to imagine. No matter the bad news of this moment, who knows what our world might really look like 20 years from now? I only hope, for the sake of my children and grandchildren, that it surprises us all.
This is such a powerful essay written from the heart of a good man.
I, too, wonder and worry about the next twenty years. Indeed, there are the stirrings of a book in my head. How that younger generation are reacting to the present and, more importantly, how they will react and respond to the next few years?
I’m 75 and really hope to live for quite a few more years. Jean is just a few years younger.
But much more importantly I have a son, Alex, who is 49, and a daughter, Maija, who is 48, and a grandson, Morten, of my daughter and her husband, who is 9.