“Empty Planet – The Shock of Global Population Decline” by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson

Published 2019 by Crown Publishing, 240 pages plus footnotes and index.

This book (found at my public library) took me entirely by surprise, and caused me to look on climate change (and certain other social problems) differently, and with somewhat more optimism.

The authors discuss a future drop in human population, NOT (as has often been predicted) due to climate related calamity, but due to changes in human reproductive behavior. These changes comprise the “demographic transition”, defined in Chapter One, entitled “A Brief History of Population”. For eons, the human race simply struggled to survive. Following the retreat of the last Ice Age, agriculture allowed population to increase through a series of stages, beginning with high birth rate coupled with high death rate, moving through periods of imbalance and ending (in “developed” societies) with low birth rate, long life and low death rate. Bricker and Ibbitson believe the entire global population will arrive at the latter pattern within the next two or three generations. Hence, human population with stabilize relatively soon, and then continue to fall slowly.

Having grown up reading The Population Bomb and The Limits to Growth, I was startled by this book and read it very carefully. I’ve asked the opinion of friends and even my favorite demographer (a relative), and I eagerly await their responses.

Actually, I heard the warning call of this change a few years ago. In 2015, China reversed its “one child policy”. I was VERY surprised, and failed to recognize the significance of the change. Come to think of it, 25 years ago I heard a Russian woman described as a “hero mother” because she had TWO children. I didn’t understand what was behind this.

What do demographers measure, in addition to absolute population? Birth rate is crucial. How many babies does each woman have? “Replacement” is pegged at 2.1, to allow for the fact that not all children survive to become parents. At this point, it all starts to feel personal. I had two babies. So did my parents. But their parents had 7 and 3 surviving children! What changed? American families left the farm. (The post World War II baby boom, in case you are wondering, was an aberration.)

Bricker and Ibbitson attribute falling birth rates to the education and subsequent increased employment of women, and to urbanization. They consider these changes unlikely to be reversed.

I think Empty Planet went to press just before the flareup of immigration as a “hot button” topic in the US. It would help if people on both sides of the issue would settle down and read this book! Immigrants and refugees are not identical. Most people, most of the time, prefer to live where they were born.

What do Bricker and Ibbitson project for the future? Both are Canadian, and their other collaborative publication (The Big Shift, 2013) deals with Canadian politics and culture. They expect the future big winners (nations able to maintain their populations and to innovate) to be Canada, the African states and (maybe) the United States. “WHAT?!” you squawk. Better read the book!

At some point, an entirely new concept is introduced – the post national state. I’m still trying to get a grip on it.

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“Drawing Fire – A Pawnee, Artist and Thunderbird in World War II” by Brummett Echohawk with Mark R Ellenbarger

University Press of Kansas, 2018, 215 pages plus Glossary (Native American Terms and Phrases, also designations of weapons), Dramatis Personnae (Echohawk and his comrades used both Native and mainstream names, as well as tribal affiliations) and Index. More than one hundred portraits, sketches and photographs.

In early June, my local public library featured a display of books about World War II, in honor of the D-Day anniversary. I grabbed two books. Drawing Fire caught my attention because of the generous inclusion of artwork, most produced on the battlefield by the author.

Don’t you love the name Echohawk? Brummett Echohawk was born in 1922, into a Pawnee family long connected with the American military. At age 18, he joined the Oklahoma National Guard. His unit, which included more than 1000 Native Americans, was deployed in the retaking of Italy in 1943. This memoir is a battlefield classic.

Echohawk identified as both a soldier and a warrior, bringing TWO lives, languages, skill sets and worldviews into the war. “Warrior” carries profound cultural/spiritual weight in addition to what English speakers generally mean by “soldier”. In addition to being bilingual, the Pawnee (and members of other tribes) used sign language (hand signs) which improved their communications. They also used animal calls to communicate between units, usually just to say “We’re here, good night” but occasionally to warn of danger.

It’s not clear to me just how Echohawk wrote these memoirs. Diaries and journals are discouraged (forbidden?) on the battlefield, because they could reveal classified information to the enemy. Echohawk was a diligent artist, drawing at every opportunity. Some of his sketches are on stationery provided by the Red Cross – many are tattered and stained. Most are annotated with names and locations. He sketched prisoners of war as well as soldiers from various allied nations. Many of his subjects were his closest friends, not all of whom survived.

The recapture of Italy was grueling and sometimes seemed impossible. At one point, Echohawk’s infantry division was told to prepare for the possibility of being overrun and captured. He ripped out the front page of his Bible, because it identified his Army unit, but then he hid it in a sketchpad. The native American fighters discussed their dilemma – Pawnee warriors (who call themselves “Men of Men”) do not surrender, but American soldiers follow orders, surrendering if their superiors tell them to.

The war ground on and on. Everything was in short supply, even water. The soldiers rigged improvised weapons and haunted the first aid stations (from which the injured were being evacuated) to replace their destroyed uniforms and to scavenge parts for their guns. The scale of waste and suffering and loss is hard to comprehend.

Echohawk survived the Italian campaign, returned home and died in 2006, after a distinguished career as artist and illustrator. Read this book!

 

 

 

“The Case of the Felonious Friend” and “The Question of the Dead Mistress” – Asperger’s Mysteries by EJ Copperman and Jeff Cohen

 

The Question of the Dead Mistress (An Asperger's Mystery Book 5)

Among the forms of “identity politics” emerging in American culture is the “disability” subculture. The Americans with Disabilities Act (now almost 30 years old) prohibited discrimination based on disability and codified the concepts of accommodation and accessibility. As always, the devil is in the details. The past three decades have been spent working them out, and along with this has come a cultural shift in how “disabled” people see themselves and interact with others. So, logically, a genre of “disability literature” is appearing.

I stumbled on the Asperger’s Mystery series at the Library. The series dates from 2014 and the books I read are #2 and #5 (I think).

When I started reading The Case of the Felonious Friend, I found the language, which is in the first person from an Asperger’s point of view, to be unpleasantly choppy. But an early plot twist caught my attention and I got used to the author’s cadence. A very good mystery read, with the advantage of being set in New Jersey, which I found amusing!

The protagonist, Samuel Hoenig, has spent his life learning how to get along with “neurotypicals”, that is, those of us who aren’t on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. It’s a struggle, and he works hard at it, with help from his mother and a psychologist. He owns a successful business called Questions Answered. He has two close neurotypical friends (his work partner and a taxi driver named Mike). Samuel is the only character with Asperger’s in The Question of the Dead Mistress. There’s a romance in the works. If this series unfolds like other mystery series (for example, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone books), it could go on for MANY more volumes.

I’m not giving the plots away. If you like mysteries, read these books! Another good series with an Asperger’s protagonist is Graeme Simsion’s Don Tillman/Rosie series. That’s romantic comedy, not mystery. I reviewed one of these here.

A young person with Asperger’s syndrome is much in the news recently – Greta Thunberg of Sweden, 16 year old climate activist. She has kicked the conversation on climate change to a new level (crisis), addressing international bodies with an enviable level of composure. She’s a notable leader in our difficult times.

So what does it mean to be neurotypical? Hard to say, when “normal” cannot be defined. Usually, it refers to anyone NOT on the autism spectrum. But a new concept, that of “neurological diversity” is emerging, and it is broader. It might include brain injury survivors and stoke victims, who think and function differently from their earlier baselines, and who may (or may not) consider themselves to be disabled. It might include dyslexics. Oliver Sachs wrote about many people whose brains seem to operate “differently”.

I recommend the Asperger’s Mysteries for mystery lovers and anyone looking for new and interesting avenues in contemporary fiction.

 

“Finish Strong – Putting YOUR Priorities First at Life’s End” by Barbara Coombs Lee

This is an excellent book and I’ve already sent a copy to a family member who is dealing with the very serious illness of her husband. I think all my “baby boomer” contemporaries need to read it. I’m tired of hearing people say it’s “too soon” to think about old age. “Later” has a way of arriving unannounced.

One of the best things about this book is that it critiques the use of “advanced directives” and acknowledges how often they are ignored. I think my father was resuscitated three times against orders, in the last two weeks of his life (1997). The eventual decision to switch to “comfort care” made his last hours peaceful.

Ms. Lee’s discussion of hospice care (at home or elsewhere) is severely at odds with my experience and perception. Her experience is both longer and broader than mine. Maybe at some time (decades ago?) and some place (not New Jersey), hospice provided the idyllic and thoughtful care she describes. But MY “here-and-now” observation suggests that hospice care has been completely commercialized and is just one more service provided by giant “health care” corporations determined to squeeze every possible dollar out of sick people and their insurance carriers.

I could write an extensive rant, but I won’t do it here. I do wish to note that two of my close friends, whose experience with hospice is more extensive than mine and who hold relevant professional credentials, agree with my opinion. One of these individuals is a licensed clinical social worker, the other a hospice chaplain.

Another substantive concern of mine is that Ms. Coombs seems to assume that one’s PCP (primary care physician) will be involved at all stages of illness and death. It seems to me that this is rapidly becoming less likely. Even among people with insurance, some simply don’t choose a PCP, relying on urgent care instead. My insurance company encourages use of urgent care for things I think of as primary care issues, so my number of PCP visits (and opportunities for discussion) may drop.

To complicate matters, I’m running through PCPs like Kleenex. Four in five years, not my choice…  Is this happening everywhere? Within the primary care practice I use, even rather serious illness may be handled by a nurse practitioner. (I hope they show more longevity than physicians.) And, when one is hospitalized, visits by the PCP aren’t scheduled. I understand a specialist called a “hospitalist” is in charge. My observation (based on family experiences) is that often, NO ONE IS IN CHARGE.

Another good thing about this book is that it emphasizes values and spiritual considerations at the end of life.

Is this a depressing book? No! It’s full of practical suggestions, and offers hope that patients and their advocates can, with persistence, get more responsive care.

French Creek State Park, Phoenixville, PA

This is the third in my series state park reviews (see entries from June 3, 2017 and June 14, 2018). These are my perspectives on camping:

  • I’m a car/tent camper.
  • I camp with a group, ranging up to 35 people on, say, 10 sites.
  • My group is multigenerational.

Thanks, JM, for selecting French Creek and getting us organized!

I camped at French Creek several times in the past, and I’ve sometimes lauded it as “State Park Heaven”. Yes, it really is THAT GOOD! I first awarded that accolade when my kids were small. Instead of beach swimming, French Creek offers a pool. It’s big and beautifully designed, with lots of shallow water where kids play happily. The pool area is surrounded by grass and then a fence, decreasing the chance of a child wandering off. (Camping with kids poses ALL KINDS of challenges, but is usually worth it.) Because of the pool, those camping trips were the only times I ever brought kids home CLEAN. Wow!

We’ve never used a “group” campsite. They don’t have flush toilets. ‘Nuff said…

This year we were located on a “pet friendly” campsite loop, which made sense. Some years, our group has included dogs, maxing out at SEVEN one time! As it happened, none this year. Many of the sites near us had electrical hookups, which means (for the uninitiated) that campers could power up their huge, giant RV campers and go wild, enjoying all the comforts of home (air conditioning, sound systems, etc.) We felt out of touch with the surrounding culture, which included a light show projected up into the trees, and, on one site, a four by six foot screen showing NATURE SPECIALS. Like WILD PLANET. No kidding.

A camper always worries a little about noise, especially in the morning. Which will it be – children, dogs, rap music, someone who can’t resist chopping wood? No wood chopping this year, and babies/children not a problem. But the dogs! The first morning we heard only the occasional bark. But the second morning ONE DOG disrupted us repeatedly beginning around 6:30. My husband described it as the William Tell Overture of Barking, and began fantasizing about the Lizzie Borden school of conflict resolution. We restrained ourselves. So did everyone else! The third morning, all was quiet.

I offer the following advice to those who camp with dogs: if you can’t quiet your pet in the early hours, put it in the car and GO AWAY. Drive to the nearest Wawa, buy a coffee and CHILL. Come back after 8 am. Or put your dog on a leash and take a long walk. Be a good neighbor! (Goodness, I once resorted to putting my CHILD in the stroller and taking a 6 am walk…)

So what’s good about French Creek in addition to the pool? There are so many miles of well marked trails. And next door is Hopewell Village National Historic Site, both educational and entertaining.

We were thrilled to learn that the Natural Lands Trust has opened a new area near the French Creek called Crow’s Nest Preserve, with MORE trails and abundant natural wonders. Pennsylvania offers so many opportunities to be outdoors that, even on a peak weekend, you generally don’t feel crowded.

The final benefit is that French Creek is only two hours from home, and the trip takes us against the current of shore traffic. Easy!

Childhood Fears – The Bomb, Driver’s Ed and Amtrak

My corner of the internet is busy debating the impact of “active shooter” drills and other safety measures on the mental health of children. One author asked if any other generation of American children has known so much fear. Symptoms of anxiety are becoming widespread.

I remember my fear of The Bomb. I was born in 1949. By the time I was in elementary school, the Cold War was in full swing. The arms race was hot. By age 8, I participated in “flash drills”. I was taught to “duck and cover”, but it wasn’t at all clear what that meant. Protect the back of my neck? When the local emergency siren sounded it’s weekly test (noon on Saturday), I flopped down with my face in the grass with my arms protecting my head. I wasn’t frightened.

Things gradually ramped up. I lived near Hartford, Connecticut, and I was told Hartford was probably a nuclear target because of an aircraft factory (Pratt and Whitney). I knew that bombs were delivered by airplanes, so the air traffic in and out of Hartford’s Bradley Field and along the northeast corridor frightened me. Then I was told that the planes that delivered bombs were up so high that we wouldn’t hear them. This didn’t exactly help. I was afraid of invisible radiation.

Things came to a head one day. My mother was cooking dinner using the pressure cooker. (Nothing like having a bomb in your kitchen.) The valve got blocked. Fortunately there was a safety valve, which popped loose. The escaping steam made a loud, horrible, screeching, completely unfamiliar metal-on-metal sound. Assuming we had been bombed, I panicked and headed for the basement at a dead run. My mother intercepted me, explained the problem in the kitchen and helped me settle down. I’m lucky. No one mocked me. I’ve shared this as a funny story from my childhood. But it wasn’t funny.

We lived with fear. My parents, survivors of the Depression and World War II, didn’t tell us everything was going to be okay.

How did I “get over” my fear? I learned denial! Hey, we all use it. If we really thought about all the things that can go wrong in life, none of us would get out of bed. Surely we wouldn’t get into automobiles or airplanes. Not today, we tell ourselves. Not in my town. Not me. I first utilized denial the summer I was eleven. I was going to Girl Scout camp for two weeks. It’s hard to explain how happy and excited I was! And I thought “The Russians won’t drop the bomb while I’m at camp.” So I forgot about it, set it aside, and went off to spend two weeks in a tent. It was great. What’s wrong with denial, if it makes it possible to live with something you can’t change?  I knew perfectly well nothing had actually changed between the US and Russia.

I remember the controversy, when I was in high school, over gory auto accident movies. My high school offered Driver’s Education. Some movies went to extremes – showing decapitation, etc. Some teachers insisted everyone had to watch all the blood and guts. Other teachers allowed some students to be excused. I don’t remember the details. I wonder what is current practice. I do know there’s some educational research that may help those who make these decisions. Does putting a wrecked car in which a young person died in front of the high school reduce that chance of prom night tragedies? I wish I knew.

Here’s another experience I want to share, from the perspective not of a child but of a parent. The threat in question was train safety. Amtrak, understandably, wants to keep people (especially children) OFF THE TRACKS. One of their approaches (early 1990s) was to show a safety movie, and one target captive audience was children in schools near train tracks, most of which are not fenced. (Never mind that NO child in our town crossed a track to walk to school.) My son was traumatized. The movie was very upsetting. As a substitute teacher, I had the opportunity to see the film, and, yes, it was shocking. After some general safety discussion (don’t walk on the tracks, look both ways if you must cross), the film showed two children on the tracks. One has boasted that he will stand on the tracks until the train “almost” hits him. Another child tries to pull him off. With a roar and screaming whistle, the train thunders toward them and the screen goes black. I’ll bet my son wasn’t the only child to get upset.

A school shooting is a different type of threat. Parents and teachers are straining themselves to the utmost figuring out how to help and protect today’s children.

So much to consider… children need to learn train safety, fire safety, pedestrian safety, and now, some things about firearms. Our responsibility as adults is to protect children and, over time, teach them to protect themselves. It’s not easy.

We all experience fear. Parents and educators face incredibly difficult decisions. We need to talk.

We are all in this together. WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

Riley C Howell, age 21 – Rest in Peace

On April 30, Riley Howell charged a gunman in a classroom at University of North Carolina/Charlotte. He was shot point blank. His action undoubtedly saved lives. The toll was two deaths and four injured.

The graduation picture released by Howell’s family is heartbreaking. Howell radiates happy energy. He is described as a fearless athlete who loved a challenge.

Why did he charge the shooter? Did he expect to die? We won’t ever know.

In my reading, I encountered someone who might offer insight. Frank Delaney’s book Simple Courage – A True Story of Peril on the Sea describes an incident that happened in 1951 in the north Atlantic. Delaney recounts that when Captain Kurt Carlsen had safely evacuated all crew and passengers off  his disabled bulk cargo ship Flying Enterprise, a young sailor/radio operator jumped from a tug boat to the foundering ship. Why? The risk was extreme. He didn’t know Carlsen. Possibly Carlsen would have survived without him. Together, for two weeks, they struggled to salvage the crippled ship, finally leaving it just before it sank.

I wonder what we could learn, if it was possible to speak to that radio operator. (Not having the book in my hand, I don’t know what he said, if anything.) If he is living, he would be at least 90 years old. My review of Simple Courage can be found in this blog dated April 22, 2014. (Interestingly, Amazon’s web site includes a review of Simple Courage by Senator John McCain, who found the book “absorbing, thrilling and inspirational…”)

Howell’s loved ones can frame this however they choose, remember him as a hero or regret his split second decision or both. Their lives will never be the same. My heart aches for them.

Before I could even post this, another tragic death has occurred, of a high school student in Colorado, in similar circumstances.