According to news reports, the Government is considering a relaxation of restrictions and a return to work – but with people wearing masks1 and with monitoring of preventative measures. An obvious question is, if these measures are thought to be effective in future, why are they not being implemented now? And why not in the past? Will we be going back to work but also to contagion?
PRESSURE TO LIFT RESTRICTIONS
There is clearly some pressure to lift restrictions – many people want to be able to earn money and socialise as before. People want to go on holiday, get on with education and projects, visit relatives. Small businesses want to save themselves from bankruptcy or climb out of debt. And bankers and industrialists want to continue squeezing people for profits. The State too, in both its ‘national’2and municipal forms, wants to raise taxes to fund its essential services: power generation and supply, water purification and sewage treatment, health service, postal and electronic communications, public transport and road maintenance, fire-fighting, refuse collection and disposal …. To all of those pressures the Government seems to be bowing – but have they thought it through?
In Germany, which has lifted some restrictions, people have been obliged to wear masks in public but even so, the authorities are urging people to be cautious, that they “will have to live with the virus” for some time. In other words, “forget about going back to normal, probably for a long time”. Initial statistics show a rise in infection cases there after the lockdown easing. In Britain, especially England, trade unions have attacked the “mixed messages”from the Prime Minister, Boris Johnston, about returning to work as “potentially lethal”.3
So, about the pressure. Ordinary working people have bills, mortgages and rents to pay, small business people have the same and clearly a state needs to have money to fund essential services. Yes, and big companies and banks are pressurising too. And we all know how successful banks are at pressurising governments, don’t we? Especially our governments.
Apart from banks and building societies, the Government could ease the pressure on ordinary working people and small business people by declaring a moratorium on mortgages and rents for the duration of loss of earnings due to the pandemic. Yes, it would need to take powers to do that but wouldn’t most people support them in doing so?
The building societies, banks and big businesses wouldn’t support it however, all of which are interconnected. Well, when the banks and building societies messed up – and not for any reason like a pandemic, either – our governments forced US, the ordinary working people, to bail THEM out. In fact we’re still paying for that out of our national reserves and in cuts in all kinds of provision. A little bit of “comes around” would do them no real harm.
As to the finances to run the essential services of the State and of local authorities: end the tax write-offs, holidays and low taxation rates etc. And change the line on “We don’t want Apple to pay us the money which even the neo-liberal capitalist EU says they owe us!”. Yes, we DO want it – and we NEED it, ALL of it and NOW!
The German authorities, with a much more efficient and better-funded health service and financial reserves, have been warning its public about false confidence. Now and again we see some indications of that here in Ireland too.
OK, so a section of the public is not properly educated or just willfully ignorant – stupid even. But if when you introduce a lockdown to deal with a pandemic you talk about it being for an initial two weeks ….. what kind of message are you giving out? And if you tell most people not to bother with masks or gloves? And if in the early days of the pandemic told them firstly that public events would not need canceling4 and then that to attend outdoor events of up to 500 and indoor events up to 100 people5 was basically safe? If the responsible authorities never seemed to be taking it all that seriously until late in the day and even then have managed it quite lightly – are some people to be blamed for having false confidence?
Another cluster of infections has just come to light, ten meat processing plants accounting for 566 cases so far. Prof. Catherine Motherway, President of the Intensive Care Society was reported as cautioning that a lot more needs to be done before restrictions are eased. “We need to know that our health system can cope … find and isolate the cases and treat them.”6
FACE-MASKS NOW – BUT NOT EARLIER
According to reports, the Government will want us to wear face-masks when they relax the restrictions. But ….. weren’t they telling us from the start that there was no point? Wasn’t even the World Health Organisation playing down their usefulness?
Well, either they know they don’t work, in which case they just want us to feel safe enough to start the wheels of industry turning and the money flowing into the big accounts …. Or they know they do work, and they’ve been advising us wrongly all along.
That’s where my bet is and I’ve written about this already, weeks ago7. It’s bloody obvious that face masks must help prevent spread the virus and depending on the type and procedures employed, would also help protect the wearer to some degree. Quite a number of countries made wearing them in public obligatory. And now the Government will be doing that here too.
Good. But I just wonder how many people got sick – or even died – because the authorities discouraged them from wearing them earlier?
The Government has yet to specify where the masks are going to come from and, little respect as I have for any person prominent in the Labour Party, Alan Kelly TD is obviously correct when he says that the Government should be organising the production of those masks NOW!8
OTHER MEASURES AND MONITORING
Face-masks help you not to spread droplets on to other people – and you don’t know for sure whether you have the virus or not, because you can carry it for a few days before it starts to show. Good face-masks will help you not catch it from someone else too. But you really need gloves as well and a good procedure in removing the gloves and face-mask, combined with hand-washing. And of course, social distancing. To be honest, with all those being practiced, there should be no need for 2km distance from home limits on exercise or travel – or even for telling older people to stay indoors, vulnerable to depression and ill-health through lack of exercise and even to accidents in the home.
But, for effective measures, don’t they/ we need to know who is infected and who is not? And where the major infection points in society are to be found? Yes — and for that we need mass testing, which our Government has not been doing because of how the health service has been run down. Not even with sending test samples away (to Germany) for analysis!9
And then we need tracking, tracing where people think they may have got infected, who they may have infected in turn, testing them …. the proper pandemic scientific procedures. But our Government is hardly doing that either. We get the following estimates10 of infection sources based on people who tested positive: 34% close contact, 63% community contact, 3% travel abroad.11But what do these categories actually mean?
OK, “travel abroad” is reasonably clear. “Close contact” might mean family, close friends, lovers, elderly relatives in nursing homes (more about them further on). But “community contact”, which accounts for almost two-thirds of the total? Would these be neighbours, workmates? You know what I suspect? Shops and supermarkets – customers and staff – are a big section. Why? Because most people visit them at least weekly and the precautions taken there have been all along — and are still – inadequate. But the authorities don’t do the tracking to find out. Or if they have, they’re not telling us.
The fact that it was only last week that a high cluster of infection around meat-processing plants was revealed shows the need for testing, tracking and testing again and how little work on that level is being done. Ten sites with 566 people infected12 so far is not something that should be coming to light over two months after the first case was identified in Ireland.
Who will carry out the monitoring, ensuring best practice and compliance? I’d like to believe that whichever body the Government sets up will do a good job but unfortunately I doubt it. It was left up to the supermarkets and shops to monitor their own provisions and they did it late and inadequately13. The Government at first even left it up to the pubs whether to remain open or not! Now this body appointed by them, aware of the lack of enthusiasm of the Government to interfere with the business of making money, will be supervising and monitoring every factory, shop, depot and farm? Really?
In this small relatively low-industry state of the 26 Counties, the Health & Safety Agency recorded 22,500 non-fatal workplace accidents reported to it for the year 2017-2018, along with 48 fatalities. Remember that all generic studies maintain that most and possibly all accidents at work are avoidable and result from lack of awareness or of appropriate training, or of fatigue as well as from bad practices, bad supervision and badly-maintained equipment.
The understaffed HSA is not adequate to the task of monitoring even a representative sample of workplaces and relies a lot on accidents and breaches of regulations being reported to it; the trade unions in general are not up to the job either, especially with the low percentage of union membership of recent decades.14 So whichever agency is set up for monitoring good working practices during the pandemic, even if such adequate practices have been identified and published, is not likely to be up to the job either.
But at the very least that agency should publish its general guidelines and insist each workplace publish the specific procedures in place along with the underlying rationale. Then at least employees and public can see what they are, complain if they are felt to be inadequate and report those that are not being practiced. And gloves and face-masks at least should be provided for all, with work practices adapted to allow for them.
THE DISPOSABLE PEOPLE
As soon as the pandemic took hold in other countries, a high percentage of infected people were known to be healthcare workers – around 10% as an average. Even if you didn’t realise straight away that nursing homes were going to have a high rate of infection, as soon as you thought about healthcare workers you’d be quick getting to that point (and one step away from thinking about homeless hostels and direct provision centres etc too). Once you thought of the high vulnerability of those facilities, you’d make special provisions for them, wouldn’t you?
But no. No provision at all until a few weeks ago. No special issuing of guidelines for staff and visitors, insufficient PPE (protective equipment etc), low admission rates to ICUs for the infected ….. According to stats published at the weekend, 855 coronavirus-19 deaths have been associated with care homes and 740 of those were residents. And since the total deaths recorded within the state at that point were 1,429, well over half the deaths have taken place in care homes.
A shocking rate of attrition out of ineptitude for which the Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team should be held responsible. Or …. was it even worse than that? These facilities contain, on the whole, people who are no longer economically active, people some might even consider a drain on society’s resources. And often low-paid migrant workers caring for them. Could it be that they were all just considered “disposable”?
11Yes and most intelligent people wonder why the Government allowed people to travel to an international rugby match in a country swamped with the virus and, even worse, not have them quarantined upon their return. And for heaven’s sake, why people can still leave and arrive at our air and marine ports and sit on planes next to one another with cabin crew having to bend close to attend to them during the flight, do a turnaround and bend close to another group of passengers on the flight back.
We wish to draw your attention to what we perceive as a serious bias in your series The Natural World, a bias which is as unjust as it is unproffessional and, indeed, unscientific.
In your otherwise excellent film documentary series The Natural World you depict the wonders of our world and the many levels of interaction and responses to different environments within it, of plant and animal, of eater and eaten, prey and predator.
However, when any of us appear upon the scene, your narrative voice drops in volume as if to indicate the arrival of something sinister, the evil presence in this otherwise natural world. We are neither sinister nor evil, Mr. Attenborough – we are an integral part of this natural world, the same as all the rest.
You seem to delight to show footage of us pursuing the young calves and fawns of grazers, thereby seeking the sympathy of your human audiences for their plight and, in turn, hostility towards us. No doubt the omnivores among your human audience are able to disassociate themselves mentally from the relative immaturity states of lamb, veal, piglet, pullet, egg and sprat in their diet. But much more to the point – do we not have young too? And how do you – or your sympathetic audiences – imagine that our young get fed? Or what do you or they imagine stands between our cubs and dying of starvation?
We note also that it is not all higher predators that you depict in this way – not of course humans but not the great cats either. We laugh when we see you depict the lion, “the king of the jungle” as some kind of majestic monarch. Those of us in the African veldt know well that most of what he eats is what our brethren have chased and brought down before he has bullied us off what is ours. And the rest of his food is killed only by the females in his group. Among us, on the contrary, males and females all take part in the planning, the chase and the kill.
As a naturalist you know that all predators play a part in the balance of nature and generally cull the weak and unwary, strengthening the overall health of the prey species. As a naturalist, we would not expect you to have this bias against us and can only wonder whether perhaps as a child you had an unpleasant experience with a domesticated canid. If so we hope that you can put it behind you.
We trust you will consider what we have to say and hope that you will change your depiction of us in any future series.
Gárdaí ‘can’t’ enforce social distancing on visitors from the Six Counties…!
(Reading time text: 5 minutes)
Irish Republicans looking at the sub-headline could be forgiven for bursting into laughter, for the Gárdaí, in particular the Special Branch, the political police, have never had any reluctance in harassing, arresting and even refusing bail to Republicans from the Six Counties.
And likewise with their counterparts on the other side of the British Border, who have never had much problem enforcing and even exceeding their laws with regard to Republicans from the Twenty-Six counties.
However, according to a news report in today’s breakingnews.ie, day-trippers from the Six Counties are flooding into the picturesque coastal areas of County Donegal and ignoring Coronavirus-19 legislation. The report says that the day-trippers are from “Northern Ireland” which is nonsense of course, since Donegal is the real Northern Ireland, i.e the northernmost geographical point of the country. And it is in Ulster too, though not under British occupation.
Anyway, back to the main issue in the report, which is that Donegal residents have been complaining that the Gardaí there are not enforcing social distancing on day-trippers from across the Border.
It appears that the Gárdaí were applying the Coronavirus-19 restrictions but were told that they could not. Why would this be? The laws against theft, assault and public disorder apply not only to residents in Ireland but also to visitors – why would laws intended to control a pandemic be any different? Indeed, one would think they’d be, if anything, more enforceable.
Meanwhile, “a Gárda statement” quoted in the report states that “anyone visiting the State even temporarily is amenable to such criminal laws of this State while visiting here.”
So it’s the law, applies to everyone including visitors, so … what’s the problem?
There is a saying that states that “where there’s a will, there’s a way” and it is difficult to see an explanation in this case other than that for some reason there is no political will to enforce the law on visitors from the Six Counties. Of course, if they were Republicans attending some Republican event, well in that case ……
“THE VIRUS DOESN’T RESPECT THE BORDER”
According to a number of Donegal public representatives, local people have been bombarding them with complaints about the incursions and the lack of Gárda action. Councillor Jack Murray, from the Inishowen area, saying he had been “inundated” with complaints about Gárda failure to apply the legislation to people from the Six Counties, said that “the virus does not respect the Border and tackling it should recognise that.” Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, a TD (member of the Irish Parliament, the Dáil) for Donegal, lives in Buncrana, a popular destination in the holiday season. “This error is unacceptable,” he said, “considering that all government legislation goes through the Attorney General’s office.”
Clearly, a rational response to the pandemic would require either an Ireland-wide approach or a strict closing of the Border between the two administrations. The authorities on each side have done neither.
At the end of February, the first person recorded positive for the virus arrived in Dublin from Italy aboard an Aer Lingus plane and was permitted to travel on to Belfast – she is/was a resident of the Six Counties. No quarantine was ordered for the rest of the passengers. And so on.
Ineptitude of Governments apart, it has never made sense to partition Ireland on economic, geographical or human rights grounds. Now we see that it doesn’t make sense on grounds of pandemic control either. How does it make sense? Well, on the wish of the rulers of Britain to keep a foothold in Ireland and of their loyal subjects in the Six Counties to remain in domination of that foothold.
GENERAL PROBLEMS WITH 2Km LIMITS
To be honest, I have never seen the point of the 2km limit. Is it the case that you can infect or be infected by someone outside the 2km limit but not inside? Of course that does not make sense but how does this limit make any sense otherwise?
I don’t drive a car but if I did and were to get in my car in my garage, drive out to a secluded spot on the mountains, get out and walk, then return to my car and drive home, how would I have endangered myself or anyone else? If I went to a park or beach outside the 2km limit from my home and, while there, kept my distance from other walkers, how would I be endangering anyone?
The danger in general, we are told, comes from physical contact with people or being within two metres of them, when droplets from an infected person may reach us. Would that danger be reduced if everyone were obliged to wear a face-mask of any kind? Clearly. Yet not only are we not obliged to wear such masks in public but we are being actuallydiscouraged from doing so by statements from the HSE (and also from the WHO). Would the danger be reduced if, in addition to wearing masks, we wore gloves in public and had a safe procedure for removing them at home? Obviously – yet we are not being informed, never mind encouraged, in this regard either.
When plants first “crept” out of the sea and freshwater on to land, it was a perilous undertaking. The shore and in particular the sea shore is a very hostile environment, subject to battering and scouring action of wave, wind and wind-driven sand, alternating between inundation and desiccation and even both in the same day. Those early plants were not just explorers but colonisers and innovators; many died but those that survived changed the world, its very earth and atmosphere.
There are about 320,000 known species of plants, a total that does not include most hybrids, sub-species or selectively-bred varieties. Botanists exclude from the term “plants” some of the green and all of the brown sea algae as well as the fungi and bacteria. The vast majority of plants are coloured some variety of green because of the action of photosynthesis inside them, which attracts the blue and red ends of the light spectrum but does not absorb green, which is why we see them in that colour. Some 260,000 to 290,000 species produce seeds but algae does not. Mosses and ferns, which are plants, produce spores instead, in common with fungi (which however are not plants).
We study life to place it in an order, to simplify understanding but life diversifies into a huge array.
Plants are pioneers, colonisers, innovators and builders at least comparable to the animal kingdom, to which they are related and, I would argue, with a superior record.
Plants first “crept” out of the sea and freshwater during the Ordovician period, around 470 million years ago; they were non-vascular (without “veins”) and without roots, like mosses and liverworts. It was a perilous undertaking. The shore and in particular the sea shore is a very hostile environment, subject to battering and scouring action of wave, wind and wind-driven sand, alternating between inundation and desiccation and even both in the same day. Plants on land carry the genes of the early explorers, pioneers, survivors – high in endurance, adaptability and innovation.
But why abandon the seas, lakes and rivers in the first place? Presumably there is always a pressure in nature to explore niches and new territory, thereby escaping pressures of population, predation, competition and consumption of available nutrition … And while some life-forms specialise in particular environments and nature also pressures in that direction, ultimately that is a highly dangerous strategy, general adaptability to food sources and environments being the best bets for long-term survival and multiplying – as shown by homo sapiens, for example.
First ashore, establishing a literal (and littoral :-)) beachhead, might have been a kind of algal slime. Perhaps it survived only while wet, died, was replaced by other migrants …. but probably at some point some carried survival pockets within them, able to regenerate when moistened anew. Or it might have been some moss or liverwort, later a branched and trailing plant but dealing with the same problems and developing a similar strategy for survival.
We can imagine a conversation, in which one plant organism on the shore questions another:
“It gets so dry here I feel I am going to wither and blow away.”
“Just hang on there. We’ll get rain soon. And there’s always dew at night.”
“I can hardly wait. Remind me why we didn’t stay where were were, with all that lovely moisture.”
“Getting eaten by other life-forms. Competition for light.”
“Oh, yeah. Sometimes I forget.”
REACHING DOWN, STANDING UP
In lakes, plants could simply float upright in the water reaching towards the light (and avoiding being covered in sand or silt) as many water plants do today, or on the surface, as algal mats and bloom do, or for example the various types of “duckweed” that not only float but multiply to cover the whole pond surface. In the sea and in fast-flowing rivers however, fixed plants needed to grasp surfaces and developed means of doing so; but these were not roots as such – more like anchors. Later, as they colonised the land, most plants did indeed develop roots not only to anchor themselves in the ground or to cling to difficult surfaces but also to bring up water, the tap roots for this purpose often going quite deep. Roots also brought up nutrients.
The roots also made it possible to cling to inhospitable surfaces, including even the perpendicular or overhanging and also to exploit cracks and fissures by tunneling into them. In the course of this activity, plants changed their immediate physical environment, by helping to break down stone and also by trapping material blowing in the wind.
But why set up home clinging to a cliff or today, a wall or a chimney stack? Well, plenty of sunshine, for one thing, no competition for another! Of course, not much soil there or even none at all for nutrition – but still, most things in life are a trade-off, right? How did the seeds get up there in the first place? Wind … or birdshit.
Of course, some of the colonisers developed other ways to cling to surfaces, as was the case with the mosses, lichens and liverworts. And they also trapped material and contributed their own to it as they died, regenerated, died …. But without roots that only works when you keep low and hug the ground. If you want to grow tall to reach for sunlight and if you want to exploit soil, you need roots.
Plants at first fed almost exclusively on sunlight it seems, broken down into sugars by chlorophyll in photosynthesis. But those that developed roots also, probably as anchors to prevent themselves being blown or washed away, or to help them grow tall and compete with other plants to catch the sun, learned to draw up water and to feed on nutrients in the soil – phosphates, nitrogen, potassium etc. Some, like the legumes, beans, peas and gorse for example, even learned to extract one of the gases that make up air, nitrogen and, with the help of a bacteria, to fix and store nodes of it around their roots.
Once you have roots, why not grow stems, branches, trunks, whereby you can reach higher and higher, for more unimpeded sunlight and outpacing the competition perhaps. Your building material will need to be tougher, especially for trees, bushes and shrubs, to bear the weight, withstand the winds …. but flexible enough to stretch as you grow. Having the ideal material already in cellulose, all that is necessary is some kind of hardening process. A plant might explain to puzzled humans: “Think of keratin and how the same basic substance has been used to make stuff as varied as feathers, fur, human hair and beetle carapaces.”
If you were a plant that had learned to spread fast over distances to catch the sun, covering ground and clambering over obstacles, you might find one day that there is another way to reach towards the sun – climb up the plants that are reaching up there! Don’t invest in slow build-up and hardening of cellulose – go for fast growth and gripping or winding ability instead, or turn some of your leaves into grasping tendrils. Some climbers such as lianas in the tropics and ivy and honeysuckle in Ireland, are perpetual climbers, remaining in position throughout the year (although the honeysuckle will lose most of its leaves in the Autumn) and extending during the growing seasons. Others climb only in the Spring and Summer and die afterwards, for example bindweed and runner-beans.
Most plants have leaves, which is where the photosynthesis takes place; they are in fact sunlight collectors and the plants deploy them to best effect to catch the available sun. Quite a late development, they were flanges on the stems first before becoming appendages further out of the plant’s main body. Most leaves are intricately veined and contain many different layers and parts and it is within them that photosynthesis takes place but strangely, they are mostly short-lived and in cold seasons even in perennial plants, with a few exception, all but the conifers let them fall.
The greater the volume of material created by plants, the more there was to decompose with their deaths or seasonal decline. Bacteria, already long existent on the planet, evolved to feed on this detritus and break it down into soil, which the same plants or others could turn to their advantage as a medium in which to anchor but also from which to draw nutrients. Other organisms evolved to live on and break down cellulose too, the main building material of plants: fungi, gastropods like snails and slugs, woodlice, termites …..
The plants, with the help of bacteria and other organisms, were creating the environment below them!
But they were and are doing more than that: they are also creating an environment immediately around them. The most concentrated examples are perhaps rain forests, tropical, temperate and cold-climate, retaining a surrounding moisture-laden air, in which not only the local tree species thrive but also providing ideal environments for ferns, algae, orchids and epiphytes and, of course, mosses.
Away from forests, sphagnum moss creates a mini-atmosphere around itself and as generations die, their bodies create a spongy moisture-laden medium. This bog is quite capable of existing on an incline, with much of the water being retained by the vegetation and ‘soil’, as may be seen in a number of examples in Ireland, such as parts of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains.
Plants, especially trees, discharge oxygen into the air and consume carbon dioxide during the daytime, for which reason they are sometimes called “the lungs of the world”. They have not only created an environment for themselves, below, around and above but also for so many other life-forms – including ourselves.
LEARNING TO LIVE IN DIFFERENT CLIMES
Plants that adapted to grow in arid areas developed fleshy ‘leaves’ and often stalks, in which to store water and sometimes long tap roots to find that water. But extensive shallow root networks are good too, to collect the occasional rain water that is quickly absorbed into the soil or otherwise evaporates. The “pores” on leaves through which plants absorb carbon dioxide and allow the gas-exchange necessary for photosynthesis (stomates) also permit evaporation of water, hence many dry-condition plants have fewer of them. Some only open to collect carbon dioxide in the cool of the night and store it for use on the following day. Plants grow trichomes, tiny bristles, underneath their leaves but some arid-dwellers grow them also on top of their leaves; these ‘trap’ a layer of air that prevents or slows evaporation.
In very wet areas, plants learned to remain active by a number of strategies. Of course they originally came from aquatic environments but for some of them, returning there again after adapting to dry land, produced challenges (think of the changes necessary for land mammals to evolve into seals, otters, dolphins and whales). Nevertheless we have lilies growing in shallow water with wide floating leaves, rushes with upright blade-like leaves growing inside the water margins, thin spears of rushes in damp and water-logged land. That too is the preferred environment of some other plants and grasses, including the rice plant. And of the willows, alders and hazels growing on the banks and stabilising them. In the tropics and semi-tropics, mangroves do a similar job to willows but on a much grander scale – and they tolerate seawater too.
The alder, a tree with a high toleration of water around its roots, is thought to have been the major post-glacial coloniser of Ireland, following the retreating ice across the land. It is the only native tree which though not an evergreen produces cones, an indication of its early adaptation to cold climate. Cones, when closed, protect the seeds inside against continual freezing and thawing and, when the cones begin to dry and automatically open in spring and summer, allow the seeds inside to drop out to the ground, to be carried by river or on the wind. A closed cone collected and brought home will open as it dries; shake it then and the seeds will fall out. Alder timber, incidentally, remains waterproof for centuries, witness the wooden piles in Venice.
Adapting to cold seasons required protective materials, structures and timing. The deciduous trees (and it is worth noting that many trees have both a deciduous and an evergreen version for different climes) shed their leaves and close down for the winter, the sap retreating down to the roots. Were the sap to remain in the exposed branches it would freeze, expand and destroy them. The leaves drop because they no longer receive anything from the tree; it is going into a kind of hibernation, in preparation for the coming winter.
Many of the conifers have downward-sloping branches, to allow most of the snow to slide off, rather than break the branches with its weight. People who live in areas with heavy snowfall also tend to live under sharply sloping roofs. The “leaves” of the conifers are small, narrow and hard so that most snow falls through them and are also covered in a waxy polymer to withstand freezing. The plant cells can be emptied of water to prevent freezing but a dense waxy residue keeps them open for refilling. So, of course, they have to be tolerant of dehydration. Concentration of sugars also lowers the freezing point and small flexible conduits for water resist the formation of large ice bubbles that can burst those “pipes”.
Seeds know which way is “up” and which is “down”, which is quite an amazing thing; the tap root of a seed, germinating in the dark, goes downwards while its shoot grows upward.
In fact, the plant seed also knows the right time to germinate – too early in many climes and it will be killed by frost, too late and it will have insufficient time to develop before the next cold period or will be unable to compete with other seeds that sprouted earlier, depriving the late-comer of sunlight and possibly nutrients. The decision is made by a number of factors feeding into a small cluster in the seed tip, consisting of preventative and initiator command centres. When the initiator section’s hormones exceed that of the preventative, it is time to germinate. Not very different from our brains’ decision-making process, is it?
Also, cut a living branch and often the plant will mobilise to produce one or more shoots at the cut-site. But should that cut be enclosed within soil, the tree or bush will produce roots instead – it ‘knows’ the difference. This knowledge the gardener takes advantage of when she “air-layers” a shrub or tree by nicking a branch, then covers the cut with soil wrapped in a plastic bag, waiting for a root to develop and then cutting the cloned sapling free, ready to plant.
Without eyes, plants are also capable of detecting where the light is; if one places a climbing plant seedling in a dark cellar with a small window high above, the plant will climb towards the window, striving to reach the light. The sunflower and the flowers of some other plants turn towards the sun, following its progress across the sky. Many flowers, including those of the dandelions and daisies all around us at this time of year, close when the day ends. A “Swiss Cheese Plant” I once had managed to slip one of its suckers — like a long surface root — down the back out of sight and when I eventually discovered it, the sucker had gone under the carpet and had extended around six feet towards the window.
Of course, it may have been searching for moisture.
Plants can sense moisture and do go looking for it, something at which eucalypts are particularly adept. Unfortunately, this can cause problems for other trees and shrubs growing in the same area, as the eucalypts suck up the water from greater depths (the eucalypt doesn’t care however nor do some of its planters). During the severe drought in parts of the USA last year, it was reported that trees were breaking open water pipes with their roots to get at the precious liquid. It appears that the reports were mistaken but instead the roots were extending towards the detected moisture from leaks in the pipework. Of course, then the roots might widen the gap ….
Some plants at least are also ‘aware’ of being attacked, for example by an infestation of caterpillars. Those that have reserves of a defensive poison at their disposal are not only able to deploy it but also to communicate to other nearby trees of the same species, so that they too deploy the poison – before the caterpillars have even reached them! It is thought that the trees communicate underground, through their roots.
Plants also know when their offspring have reached enough numbers and a sufficiently advanced stage so as to put their energy into maturing them, rather than producing more growth or even more seeds. Presumably they receive a chemical signal when enough roses have bloomed, been fertilised and the rose hips, the fruit containing the seeds, are swelling. Likewise when the beans inside a runner-bean pod have swollen and will shortly be ready to burst the pod and drop to earth. Gardeners know how to fool the plants into continuing to produce for a longer period by “dead-heading” dying flowers and picking runner-bean pods when they are still very young.
THORNS, SPINES, POISONS, GAS – AND HELPERS
Among the many features that plants have developed are an impressive array of defences. Filamentous algae, with low mass investment and constantly renewing, probably did not need defences nor perhaps did the plants that first came ashore. Defence against what, after all? But later, as soon as animal life began to develop on land …..
Here in the north-west of Europe we are familiar with thorns and spines on the trunks and branches of the rose and briar, blackberry, gooseberry, gorse, blackthorn and hawthorn. It is not always on the trunks and branches that the sharp spikes are to be found, as we are reminded by the prickly leaves of the thistles and holly. Thorny and spiny defences are repeated around the world on other plants from acacias to cacti and many others. Thorns stab, rip and tear but spines lodge in the skin and continue to irritate, some forming sites of infection.
Well at least you’re safe among grass, right? Not necessarily, for example the dune builder grasses, marram or beach grass, can cut the skin of mammals moving through it. In other parts of the world they have aptly-named ‘sword’ and ‘saw’ grasses. Some of these cut with a thin edge but many with tiny hair-like spines growing on the underside of grass blades, called trichomes, defend against herbivorous invertebrates but may also cause “grass itch” in some people.
Mostly, these are a defence against grazing animals or protection against the theft of the plants’ fruits. Other plants have developed poisons, which they employ not only against mammal and bird grazers but also against insects such as caterpillars (as commented earlier) and locusts; examples in Ireland are the foxglove and the deadly nightshade or belladonna, a relative of the tomato and potato. Another is the hemlock, a relative of the carrot, parsley and angelica plants – even its sap can burn your skin. An invasive shrub or small tree, the cherry laurel, carries arsenic within its wood, leaves and berries and can be seen in many gardens, parks and growing wild around much of Wicklow.
But trees have also been observed to emit chemical compounds that attract the enemies of parasites or grazers feeding on the trees.
Poisons can be employed against competing plants too, as does the hydrangea, a shrub with lovely luxuriant flowers in your garden (or indeed in a public park in Howth) but a seriously invasive plant in the wild as it eliminates its competition and grows unchecked. It does this by a relationship with a bacteria around its roots that produces a poison to kill competing vegetation. However, the native pine also produces an allelopathy in its discarded needles, inhibiting the germination of other plant seeds and growth – it is not only the blocking of sunlight that keeps pine forests so free of undergrowth.
The onion carries an aroma warning that rough handling of the bulb will produce a gas attack on eyes and nasal passages, as known to any who have handled them in food preparation.
Plants employ some poisons continually but others selectively, as in ripening seeds (for example in the seed pods of the laburnum) or in sensitive growing tips (for example the fiddleheads or curled growing tips of bracken, toxic to grazers). The daffodil is a lovely plant and safe to handle but digging up the bulbs and mistaking them for wild onions can have fatal consequences for the eater. And as we have seen elsewhere, leaves can become poisonous as trees mobilise chemicals from tree to tree when under attack by caterpillars.
However, some plants welcome insects as protectors too, as for example with a species of ant that lives in some acacias and helps keep the tree free of pathogens.
When considering plant poisons we are reminded too of the stinging nettle, which introduces its defence to us in childhood, never to be forgotten. In North America, one would always remember a brush with its poison ivy. The Giant Hogweed, also a member of the carrot and parsley family but invasive to Ireland, causes a very painful rash following bare skin contact.
There are many localised wars going on out there.
FLAUNTING FLOWERS – AND FLIERS, SAILORS, ROLLERS AND HITCHHIKERS
Along with all their other innovations, plants evolved some very impressive ones in procreation, particularly in dispersing the next generation. Pollen, a fine powdery substance that is the equivalent of mammal sperm could be and was spread by the wind. The development of the flower and blossom brought in a partnership with animal pollinators to greater efficiency. Attracted by nectar and to some extent pollen, both insects and some birds visited male plants flaunting their flowers and unconsciously picked up pollen which they deposited at another flower they visited, thereby soon fertilising female flowers.
Flowers were developed in a huge variety of shapes and colours in order to attract pollinators — and then came smell. Some botanists speculate that scent was first used by some plants to discourage insects and grazers which, if true, is amazing enough. To then go on to develop scent to attract pollinators is a leap that staggers the imagination. Flowers and blossoms using smell are particularly noticeable at dusk and night, a time when flowers are hardly visible, when presumably they are visited by moths.
Early plants did not have seeds so the whole paraphernalia around them had to be developed from other existing parts with originally different functions (some of us could convert a bicycle, a machine for locomotion, into an electric power generator but still ….)
Behind the flowers of many species is a little node which when fertilised begins to swell and form a fruit, with the developing seeds inside — or single seed in the case of Prunus species, the plum family, for example. This is another amazing trick of the plant – it has produced attractive fruits, full of sugars when ripe, to attract animals (such as ourselves) to pick them and either discard the seeds as we eat the fruit or pass them through our gut to be deposited on earth — along with a handy dollop of manure. A botanist investigating the occurrence of isolated copses of trees on the grassy plains of the South American Pampas concluded that horses were eating the nuts of the parent trees some distance away then, as they travelled across the plains, at some point defecated with some intact nuts among their faeces: some years later – a grove of trees. Of course horses have only been in the Pampas for a few centuries and probably the other local grazers don’t eat saplings.
Nuts are also stored in different caches by some mammals and birds, for example here in Ireland by squirrels and magpies. They don’t always dig up all the stores later – perhaps they forget where some of them were – and in the spring, those nuts become saplings.
Well enough. But producing fruit and nuts is a lot of work and depends on the assistance of animals, especially mammals and birds, for dispersal. Some plants scorn to use them and instead employ the wind. Dandelions, thistles and many other plants send their seeds off on downy parachutes, often to land kilometres away. Some, like the sycamore, grow “wings” on their seeds which, when dry, spin away on the wind and not only that but when they strike mud are sometimes twisted by the wind on their “wing” to ‘screw’ the seed into the soil.
Many plants with pods, for example the legumes, will have their pods crack open when dry to “spill the beans” upon the soil. That is not good enough for the gorse or furze, the pods of which explode on a summer’s day, shooting the seeds away. One such day I sat among gorse bushes on Killiney Hill and was startled to hear what sounded like a weak pistol shot. Then another …. and another …. and all around me the bushes were shooting out their seeds, the lucky ones to create new bushlets (yes, I did just make up that word) the following year.
The casings of chestnuts, both edible and the ‘conker’ variety hit the ground, some cracking open as they do so and roll away from the tree. The casings of the edible ones are spiny, which no doubt afford the nuts inside some protection from being eaten (and trodden) until they are covered by fallen leaves or strike a root into the ground. Again, the lucky ones will become saplings and, enough sunlight (and goats) permitting, grow to become trees. The Mexican “jumping bean” rolls itself away from its parent, turning over and over, albeit slowly.
With fruit and nuts we saw plant offspring being cached or stowing away inside birds and mammals. But some hitch-hike on the outside too, like the burs that work their way into animal fur and into our woolen clothing. These are seed cases covered in tiny hooks, said to have been the inspiration for the invention of velcro fastenings in clothes. The cleaver or “sticky-back” may attach many of its small burs to a passing mammal, while the burdock, with its much larger burs, is more likely to hitch a ride in ones or twos. Tiny seeds of many grasses stick to wool, fur and hair too, especially when damp. But many other grasses with larger seeds, including cereals, grow “ears” with spikes attached to each seed and these too, when dry and ready to go, get picked up by the wool or fur of passing traffic.
The pines even use forest fires to spread seeds from inside their cones on the hot wind – each seed has a little vane around it to help it sail the wind. Sure, many will burn before they sail or blow into another fire – but some will survive. The alternative is just to burn.
The coconut, on the other hand, floats its fruit to distant shores – it is not for tourist brochures that the palms grew fringing tropical beaches. Falling coconuts roll away from the tree too – if they don’t hit some unfortunate large animal first. Many other plants use floods to populate different areas, often creating stronger banks or islands as their offspring grow, sometimes even changing the very course of a river or stream. The various willows and alders are adepts at this, as are many kinds of reeds and rushes.
The latter kind of colonisation may be by seeds but there are other methods too: severed branches or leaves that grow roots into water, uprooted saplings, tubers and bulbs. Bulbs, rhizomes and strings of tubers have been used by many plants to store food for offspring, nascent new plants hiding below or on the ground. Even when a field of potatoes is harvested, there are often tiny potatoes remaining that escaped the harvesting procedure – the following year, they may be seen, sprouting new plants.
Some plants are capable of employing all of the various methods of reproduction and distribution: seed, tuber, branch or leaf regeneration.
A somewhat similar method to strings of tubers – and possibly their actual origin – is the underground runner, like a root running just below and parallel to the surface, sending out shoots upwards and roots downwards at intervals, each of those becoming a new plant, a clone. Many grasses employ this procedure, some bunching close like the bamboo and others spreading away in different directions, as for example with the couch or scutch grass. The latter may be to the despair of the gardener, who however will use runners of the strawberry to grow new fruiting plants.
Grasses are a late and special kind of plant that can be grazed down to ground level and grow again, year after year. This provided a renewable food source for animals that could convert its leaves and seeds into sufficient energy – enter herds of goat and sheep, horse, donkey, zebra, deer, antelope, bison and cattle! And therefore enter their predators too, in particular the big cats, canines and – homo sapiens. She in turn would domesticate some of those species, including another predator as helper, the canine. That combination would change the world quite significantly and when homo sapiens learned to cultivate some of the grasses for their seeds, i.e cereals, well ……!
NB:Thanks to Oisín Breatnach for editing work (all subsequent errors etc are mine) and Osgur Breatnach for reminding me of the onion in a separate discussion.
To wear a face-mask or not? This article seeks to clarify some of the issues of conflicting advice around the advisability or otherwise of people who are not healthcare frontline staff wearing face-masks.
There has been some discussion around this on social media and in my sphere some of it particularly tense and even illogical. I have observed at a number of times throughout my life that the reaction of some people to a stressful situation is to create more stress around it – as human behaviour one assumes it must have a function, though I find it difficult to see what it might be. However, the question, with possible repercussions to general safety from the Coronavirus-19 is a serious one.
It is worth remarking that some bad advice and information about the Coronavirus-19 has circulated on social media and even been given by Governments. I myself have seen advice on drinking hot drinks as an effective remedy and I am aware that the President of an East European country claimed that drinking vodka killed the virus or prevented one contracting it. Why anyone should wish to put out unscientific advice about such a serious matter is beyond me but it has happened a number of times from different sources.
FACT AND ARGUMENT
There is general agreement that the primary method of contamination by the virus, especially in the case of no physical contact with an infected person, is by droplets from a person who has the virus passing it on to us. The method of passing these droplets might be sneezing, coughing, spitting (for example unintentionally, during speech). The virus then lingers on our face until we convey it to our mouths by touch from the infected area, or by inhalation etc, from whence it proceeds to infect our lungs.
That being so, it is completely counter-intuitive and appears to contradict logic to say that masks would be of no preventive use whatsoever. However, intuition is sometime wrong and many times what has been promoted as “common sense” has turned out to be merely an expression of prejudice or ignorance – or belief in an individual or institution. So maybe a face-mask provides no protection, right? Well no, because frontline health practitioners are wearing them and in fact there is some agitation about their not being available in sufficient numbers for their use.
A SCIENTIFIC ARGUMENT AGAINST EFFICACY OF FACE-MASKS?
OK, so what is being said by the main group of face-mask-usefulness deniers, from my observation, is that the particular face masks used by those health professionals, with a filter, is a good defence against contracting the virus from direct contact with infected droplets to the face. But only those. OK, that might be so, in which case we’d expect to be given a rational scientific reason. However, no-one arguing with me has supplied such an explanation nor have I seen scientific argument justifying it. In fact, I have seen, quite apart from my “common sense”, scientific evidence that seems to show that other types of face-mask do indeed help to prevent direct droplet infection.
So why are some authorities arguing against it? A conspiracy theorist might suggest those who rule us don’t want the expense of supplying us with those masks but, considering the effect this pandemic is having on our economy, I would be inclined to dismiss that explanation. What I tend to believe instead is that the authorities fear that wearing such masks will give us a false sense of security, leading to incautious behaviour and a greater chance of contracting and spreading the virus.
If that were so, why don’t they give us the best advice all around about face-masks but still strongly advise us about the other precautions, such as wearing gloves, washing hands with soap, keeping a distance of six feet etc? I would assume they don’t do that because they don’t trust us, they think most of us are stupid. The behaviour of some during this pandemic would indeed seem to prove their point which in some ways might not be surprising; if you deprive people of responsibility for most things that regulate their lives, it’s somewhat contradictory to then expect them to act responsibly. But in fact, most people have been acting responsibly – and caringly. And neither the Government, the HSE or the capitalist concerns are in a great position to be lecturing us on our lack of responsibility – but I leave that for another day’s discussion.
I am not a scientist and I have not done a huge amount of research but I think I have done enough to convince me that wearing of most kinds of face-mask in public does indeed provide some protection against direct contaminated droplet contact. And in fact, even many of those who say it would not give the wearer any protection do admit that it would give other people some protection from an infected person. And since one can be carrying the virus for some days without exhibiting signs of it, surely everyone should be wearing a face-mask in public? EVERYONE!
When I was employed managing teams working with homeless people and/ or substance misusers, our health safety advice was to assume that anyone we worked with was HIV positive. Because you can never know for sure.
The advice being put out from the HSE is that in the case of this virus no face-masks except the special ones work. However, the World Health Organisation began in the early days by saying it would help but lately says only that it would only help to prevent its spread. Well, well …. only help to prevent its spread? ONLY?
COUNTRIES ENCOURAGING OR ENFORCING GENERAL FACE-MASK WEARING
A number of Asian countries insist that the level of transmission in their countries is much lower than in some European countries and they ascribe that to the universal wearing of face-masks. Czech Republic says the same. I have not seen statistics to confirm those claim but nor have I seen a statistical refutation. The US Centre for Disease Control recommends everyone wear face-masks.
I have seen reported an experiment which seems to prove that the droplets do not pass through a cotton-and-paper barrier (see the accompanying video for the experiment and also practical demonstration on how to construct such a reusable face-mask from a T-shirt). I have also read an article in the well-respected medical journal The Lancet, discussing the scientific merits of the arguments for and against.
I think the evidence tends to support the case that wearing most kinds of face-mask does help protect the wearer but the fact that they help in preventing the spread to others should be enough on its own to encourage us all to wear them.
There are some social issues with wearing the masks that have emerged in some parts of the world and I list the ones I have come across:
STIGMA: People may shun someone wearing a mask as they consider the wearers to be infected. So what, if they have an effective role? And isn’t countering this a job for the responsible authorities, community organisations etc?
EXCLUSION: Some facilities may refuse to permit entry to people not wearing face-masks, as is apparently the case in Hong Kong. But the exclusion has a fairly simple solution.
EXPENSE & RACKETEERING: Yes, we saw some examples of that here in Ireland with some suppliers of latex etc. gloves and hand sanitiser gel. If we learn how to make effective ones we can overcome this problem but, in any case, the benefits of wearing the mask outweigh the negative aspects involved in supply.
WHO SHOULD WEAR THE MOST EFFECTIVE FACE-MASKS?
Some people have put forward the argument that no-one but the front-line health professionals should wear the most effective models and I have even seen posters on the internet telling people not to wear one unless they are infected. Their reasoning is that there are not enough of these available to supply those who need them most. Well that seems to make sense except that their condemnation is often directed at the occasional non-healthworker person wearing such a mask rather than at the Government and HSE which have not laid in sufficient stocks.
Is it an issue that many people are wearing the special face-masks and that is the reason health-workers are not being supplied with them? Certainly there has been no evidence of this in Ireland.
Some concede that certain high-risk groups are entitled to wear the special face-masks also, which is very gracious of them.
On a personal note, my special mask was given to me as a gift, I did not seek it nor was I aware of its special nature when I received it. In addition, on a number of counts I do belong to a high-risk group; readers are free to believe or disbelieve me but I do not intend to explain that or to justify it.
On this and other general questions I would encourage people to concentrate on the overall issue and to be a part of the solution rather than add to the problem.
Feel free to comment on the scientific and practical points made in this article but please do not respond with purely personal opinions or those substantiated by restricted sources (e.g “HSE professionals have told me”) and without dealing with sources and points listed here.
Staff wearing gloves (at last) but no masks. Distance instructions for shoppers at staffed checkouts but no masks — and what about floor staff, tending shelves, collecting empty baskets, ANSWERING QUERIES FROM CUSTOMERS AT CLOSE RANGE? !!
“Every little helps”? TOO LITTLE!
Criminal neglect by big employers of their staff and also, in the long run, of the wider public. And the unions?!!
Lots of empty spaces on shelves by the way. And I remembered the toilet paper!
I went shopping tonight. No, not a stock-up raid — actual shopping. Of course, I forgot the actual thing I went to get — toilet paper. No shit! (well, not until I buy some, anyway). So I got some other stuff I would need soon.
I was glad for once, especially for the safety of the staff, to see the self-checkout machines there and happy, for a change, to use them. Even though the machine could not understand why my bag was “too heavy” (a small-medium backpack!). So a member of staff had to keep approaching to tell the machine I was all right and to carry on, which kind of negated the whole safety aspect.
Of course safety has nothing to do with why these machines were installed, nor even customer satisfaction but to reduce the number of employed staff (who still have to keep attending to machines that misunderstand the shoppers or vice versa).
But NOT ONE OF THE STAFF WAS WEARING DISPOSABLE LATEX GLOVES OR FACE MASKS.
NOR DID I SEE A HAND SANITISER DISPENSER.
THEIR EMPLOYERS SHOULD BE OBLIGED TO PROVIDE THESE BY LAW IF THEY DO NOT DO SO VOLUNTARILY.
The indicator climbed the temperature gauges and the ice caps melted. The seas rose and in many of the more developed societies, the rich and better-off had to relocate from scenic coast sites further inland, having to move again as the seas moved higher still but some, the more cautious and far-seeing among them (not a trait in great supply among their kind), transferred to mountains.
The prices of property rose and the construction industry had another boom, which was great for those who had directorships or investments in construction companies or materials. Or in banks, which gave out interest loans like they would be out of fashion the following year (which they well might, some said with a laugh – but a hollow one).
In the less-developed parts of the world, all the fishing communities had to move further inland and fishing was harder, with lines and nets getting entangled or shredded on the branches of trees and shrubs that were now submerged. Besides, the waters were polluted with flooded sewers, drains, latrines, dumps ….. and plastic.
Some of the nuclear power stations had been built near coasts and they were flooded. Some had exploded, causing unimaginable disaster. Well, what used to be unimaginable. Vast areas of sea, including all that lived in them, from algae and plankton to the great whales, suffered radioactive contamination.
Wind and wave turbines were swamped too and wrecked by storms. Oh, the storms! The changing climate brought great heat to formerly temperate and cold climes while those that had been hotter grew sometimes cold, sometimes even hotter. Those changes created cyclones, hurricanes, great storms that destroyed so many constructions of all types.
Overall, the greatest impact of all this on the human population of the planet was a huge loss of generated energy. Oil and gas fields began to run out and remaining extraction installations to cease working as they were wrecked by storms, flooded or destroyed by climate protesters.
Electrical energy became scarce. Entertainment companies, which would normally have done well in times of disaster, went bust since fewer people could receive their programs. The Internet was taken over by governments for civil defence. All kinds of sophisticated equipment could no longer work. Radio replaced TV in most homes and mobile phones went out of fashion. Bicycles soon outsold cars.
Human-powered friction generators of many types began to be produced. Batteries of all kinds were in great demand, especially the rechargeable ones. Solar panels reached astronomical prices on the black market, the only place they were available. People were killed over them: sometimes as gangs fought for control over a diminishing supply, sometimes as someone was sold a dud and went looking for the seller for a refund.
Now, a strange thing happened – they began to run out of oil-based material. Hard plastic was still around but leak-proof and waterproof polythene bags were hard to find. So too with oil-based material used in clothing, such as acrylic. Bark could be used for clothing but there weren’t enough trees to keep up with the demand. There was less wool and leather as the sheep and cattle herds diminished. After awhile, that was less of a problem as there were less humans to clothe anyway.
Employees of State companies and departments considered essential – by their employers – lived in walled communities protected by watchtowers and armed guards. And the rich lived in there too. Being rich meant a lot less than it did in the good old days but still a lot more than most people had now: meals every day, hot and potable cold water in good supply, good shelter, access to waste disposal, available medical supplies and recreational drugs including alcohol, armed protection and transport for self and small family circle. Security workers of all kinds became highly valued and former gang members formed themselves into security companies. Some police departments became private security firms and so also did some military. Although they didn’t talk about it most of the time, the rich lived in fear that their security compounds, walled villages and high-rise fortresses would be overrun. Or that their security services would stage a takeover, which is why they generally employed two companies at the same time and kept them in competition with one another.
Another fear was that there would be no replenishing of their huge stocks of food and goods when they were all used up, which was going to happen someday. Not enough production was still going on and what there was tended to be exchanged in barter, rather than coin or scrip.
The poor lived in fear too and not just of starvation or of getting sick without access to medical services but of gangs taking what little they had left or of abductions of self or of family members to supply services of all kinds to gang members. Of wars between gangs. Of being in the wrong gang area when a rival gang staged a takeover.
Huge sections of the human population were wiped out, through loss of essential services, starvation, exposure, dehydration, fire, heat, cold, drowning, epidemics, resource wars with other states or internally. Along with them went pets that did not succeed in becoming feral and cattle, sheep and horses. The pigs went feral pretty successfully, overall as did some chickens. Many, many specialised species or in fragile ecosystems became extinct. Over time, some new species began to evolve.
It is said, though the story might be apocryphal (a word perhaps suitable for an apocalypse), that in one of the compounds of the rich overrun by a gang or insurrectionary group, depending on which version one hears, a former petroleum magnate put on trial was asked why he and his kind had not stopped destroying the climate, even after it became clear to even the most stupid politicians (which can reach a very high level of stupidity) what they were doing to the world.
It is said he related the fable of the frog and the scorpion.
In case you don’t know the story, it goes like this: A scorpion wants to cross a river but knows he can’t swim well enough to do that, so he goes in search of a frog. When he finds him – the frog of course keeping his distance – he asks him to take him on his back across the river. The frog replies that as soon as lets him on his back, the scorpion will sting him and the frog is not ready to die yet.
The scorpion pleads with the frog, who sees that the scorpion really means it. And it would be very handy for a frog to have a dangerous animal like a scorpion in his debt. So he agrees.
The frog hops down to the shallow water and the scorpion gets on the frog’s back. The frog tenses in fear but nothing happens. The frog starts to swim, feeling more and more relaxed. Halfway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. As the poison courses through his body, the frog speaks to the scorpion: “Why did you do that? Not only did you break your promise and kill me but you will die now too, you will drown.”
“I know,” says the scorpion. “I just couldn’t help it. It’s in my nature.”
It is also said that in another compound overrun by hostile forces, as a couple of drug company executives were being taken out to be shot for crimes against humanity, including climate destruction, one of them turned to the other with a smile.
“Cheer up”, she said, “It was fun while it lasted.”
DUBLIN AUDIENCE AT AFRI PUBLIC MEETING CHARMED AND INSPIRED BY FORMER MEMBERS OF USA ARMED FORCES WHO ARE ON TRIAL FOR BREACH OF SHANNON AIRPORT SECURITY ZONE.
Veterans for Peace Members Ken Mayers and Tarak Kauff,US-based anti-war campaigners, last Wednesday evening clearly impressed members of a Dublin audience by their dedication. Both men are awaiting trial in Ireland for exposing U.S. war crimes and the violation of Irish neutrality at Shannon Airport and are at liberty only within the jurisdiction of the Irish State on a combined bail of €5,000.
The bail was paid by anti-war campaigner Ed Horgan, a former army commandant and UN peace keeper and the sum is twice the amount of criminal damage they are accused of having caused to the airport’s perimeter fence, as well as unlawfully trespassing into a taxiway. They did so in order to inspect a US plane to ensure it was not carrying war material or personnel, in violation of Ireland’s Constitutional neutrality. Campaigners have long demanded that the Irish State itself carry out these inspections but despite evidence that the State’s neutrality is indeed being violated by US Planes landing at Shannon, successive Irish governments have insisted in taking USA Government denials on trust.
The public meeting was opened by Joe Murray, Coordinator of Afri and Emer Lynam, newly-elected Vice-Chairperson of Afri Ireland, introduced the speakers.
The elderly campaigners, in their “Veterans for Peace” sweatshirts, addressed the audience about the reasons for their actions and their commitment to opposing US militarism which they stated was a major cause of misery around the world, including to serving members of the military themselves (quoting a figure of 22 suicides per day), along with being a major cause of world pollution. Ken Mayers explained that the USA has 800 military bases around the world in addition to its 400 on its own territory, the infrastructure, fuel expenditure and waste of the total which he stated is a major cause of pollution. (This is presumably without even taking into account the use of nuclear-generated power and disposal of radioactive material, or depleted uranium projectiles, such as used in Iraq or the Agent Orange defoliant used in the Vietnam War.)
Both men belong to an organisation called Veterans for Peace which campaigns against the US militarisation of the economy, war, interference in the affairs of other states and for better treatment of veterans. Recently they also supported a campaign against concentration camps for migrants along the US-Mexico border.
13 DAYS IN JAIL THEN BAIL ON CONDITION THEY DON’T APPROACH ANY AIRPORTS
Ken Mayers, 82 years of age and Tarak Kauff 77, spent 13 days on remand in Limerick jail, where their toilet did not flush unless they poured buckets of water into it. Other than that, they said they were treated well and the other prisoners treated them “like celebrities”.
The reason for their bail being refused during that period was Garda objections that they would flee the jurisdiction. Tarak Kauff exposed the illogicality of this ‘fear‘ to the Dublin audience, explaining that they had taken their action at Shannon knowing that they would be arrested and wanting to use the trial to expose what was going on at Shannon airport: “For us not to attend that trial, they would have to physically drag us away from there!”
They were eventually granted bail on condition they remain within the Irish state and having to surrender their passports, due to Garda objections again that they might flee, also not to approach any airports. On July 10th the High Court turned down their appeal against these conditions, though the judge said that he might review that decision if the case were to be moved to the Dublin District Court, where the waiting list was much longer. The defendants and their solicitor, Michael Finucane, will be seeking to have the case heard outside Clare, where it is believed a fair trial relating to a Shannon protest is unlikely. A trial date is expected in September or October.
“THEY POSTPONED MY HONEYMOON”
Ed Horgan took the floor after Mayers and Kauff to speak about the one million total of children killed in the Middle East as a result of war and sanctions and urged action to prevent further loss of children’s lives.
Then Emer Lynam opened the meeting to questions.
In reply to questions from the audience about the cost to themselves, Ken Mayers revealed he was due to be on his honeymoon by now with his bride.
Ken Mayers was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island. From Princeton University he entered the US military as a Second Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, rising to Major until he left the organisation in 1966 in disgust with US foreign policy. In Berkeley University, California he gained a PhD in political science where, according to the AFRI event page, he became a peace and justice activist, which he has been ever since and six years on the Veterans For Peace (USA) Board of Directors, five of them as national treasurer.
Tarak Kauff, ex-military too and also from New York, said that he missed his wife and daughter but both were supportive of what he was doing, being activists also (see short letter from his wife in Links and References). According to Afri’s FB page, he’s a former U.S. Army paratrooper (1959 – 1962), a member of Veterans For Peace, the managing editor of VFP’s quarterly newspaper Peace in Our Times and was a member of the VFP National Board of Directors for six years. He has organized and led delegations of veterans to Okinawa; Jeju Island, South Korea; Palestine; Ferguson, Missouri; Standing Rock …. and Ireland.
Asked what kept them going, they stated the importance to act against injustice. Kauff in particular declared that “to resist is human” and that he wished to be fully human. He said that no-one could tell another what he or she could do but one only had have the courage to ask oneself that question …. and then the courage to act upon the answer.
“IRISH PEOPLE JUST COME UP AND SHAKE OUR HANDS, THANK US FOR WHAT WE ARE DOING”
Both expressed gratitude and a degree of amazement at the warmth of their welcome and appreciation by members of the Irish public. Kauff gave an instance of the Lisdoonvarna pub where the management would not accept payment for their food and drinks. “People just come up to us and shake our hands and thank us for what we’re doing,” the veteran said, “and we don’t get that in the USA.”
Donations from the public fund them and, at the moment, they live in student accommodation at Limerick University, rent free – though they will need to find alternative accommodation in September.
Asked about popular feeling in the USA, Ken Mayer explained that the US public are exposed to a systematic system of propaganda and misinformation. However their anti-war organisation is very wide with many members and that there were optimistic signs with popular protest about the treatment of migrants along the US-Mexican border and fuel pipeline resistance in New York State and in Standing Rock. However, a little later, Tarak Kauff said that the outlook was not promising but that not resisting was no choice — even if he knew the world was going to end next week, he would feel he had to resist in order to fulfill his human potential.
Earlier in their presentations, Kauff alluded to Ireland’s historic struggle to overthrow its powerful oppressor and called people to oppose the most powerful enemy in the world today – the US State. He said that a stance taken by the Irish Government today would have a strong progressive ripple-effect around the world.
RESISTANCE IN MUSIC AND SONG
Music for the evening was provided by veteran campaigner John Maguire who sang a song he had composed back at the first demonstration at Shannon airport, with a chorus that the audience soon got the hang of and joined in.
RoJ performed a song also of his own composition, accompanied by Paul O’Toole on guitar and Nimal Blake on cajón. Later, O’Toole also sang a song of his own, about the child who lost both his arms to US imperialist ‘smart-targeted’ bombing, then going on to sing one of Dylan’s numbers. Both RoJ and O’Toole are long-time professional performers and have produced CDs of their material.
All performers were warmly applauded.
The evening was a fund-raiser and it could be seen that the collection bucket, although covered, was stuffed with notes. Ken and Tarak also have a Fund Me appeal and Afri is also receiving some donations for them through the Internet.
I am rubbish at predicting broad election results. But the mass media is predicting, on early returns, a huge electoral swing in Ireland towards the Green Party — at least in the municipal elections.
As I type these words the other candidates who failed to get elected as municipal councillors in the Irish state — or barely scraped through — will be licking their wounds. The Greens will be celebrating, of course, spouting their analysis of what this means, of a huge change in the Irish people, of climate change awareness ….
And the media will be parroting them.
MORE OF THE SAME
I don’t believe the voting results are because of any great change in the consciousness of the Irish electorate — in fact I think it’s basically more of the same.
Why then the electoral surge towards the Greens? I don’t think that climate change issues — or more accurately the public perception of them — are enough to explain it, though it will no doubt have influenced some voters. I think the fundamental reason is that the Greens are not Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour or Sinn Féin. True, they are tainted from partnership with FF in the past but that was only a couple of them and a lot of water has gone under the bridges of Irish rivers since then.
I wouldn’t trust the Greens in power as far as I could throw an iceberg but I think what I’ve said above is the reality.
The 26-County electorate has traditionally voted either FF or FG into power. The latter normally needed another partner to form a majority, which Labour opportunistically gave them and later the party always paid the price, while a few of its leaders got fat pensions out of it.
Apparently every Irish government since the intervention of Hunger Strike candidates in 1981 has been a coalition, which testifies to an electorate generally unconvinced by either main party. But since the bank bailout, the electorate seems to have been even more disenchanted, voting for outsiders in the race and hedging their bets between parties, like spreading the risk in investments.
In the 2011 General Election, the voters kicked out FF to the lowest vote in the party’s history along with wiping out its Green party partners and, apart from voting in a lot of independents (mostly left-wing ones), they gave most votes to the party most likely to dislodge FF, which of course was FG. And they spread the risk by giving Labour a lot of votes. Despite the hopes of the electorate this coalition basically gave us more of the same — privatisation of lucrative state services, mismanagement of others, expanding housing crisis and austerity measures.
So they put in a lot of SF in another year and what do they get? A party that votes in Dublin to hand over Council land to speculators because SOME ‘social housing’ will be built on it. Resignations of elected representatives through alleged internal party shenanigans. A party that has long ago lost interest in organising a base for anything except voting — a mirror, in fact, of FF in the past. And which, while playing sectarian politics in the Six Counties has supported — and implemented — austerity measures of the British State.
Media commentators will search for many reasons for this change — youth vote, middle-class vote, climate change consciousness and general environmental awareness. I think there is a more fundamental reason which the commentators would probably rather not acknowledge, since it questions, not the viability of this or that party, but the whole system.
I don’t believe the people have any great faith in the Green Party and this elections seems more of the same behaviour of the electorate. Change the faces every so often — and spread the risk.
Nor do I blame the electorate — for what visible and realistic alternative has presented itself?