Thursday, February 25

The New American Civil War and the New American Nomadism

Michael Vlahos was the first academic to publicly raise the question of whether the United States of America was heading into what he termed a new civil war. I can't recall when he first discussed the question on John Batchelor's radio show, where he has been a regular commenter for several years, but it was at least three or maybe four years ago. In any case, at the time his observations sounded preposterous, at least to me, and I confess to smirking when he told John he was teaching a class at Johns Hopkins University to explore the question.

That was then. The many headlines about civil unrest in the USA during the past year make the prospect of a civil war less preposterous, or at least a more popular subject for discussion. On February 19 Michael appeared on John's show to discuss his latest blog post, Show Trial: Bellows of Civil War - "Strongarm political theater stokes the fires scorching our constitutional order." (Audioboom podcast JBS Show: Part 1 and Part 2 ). The show trial he's referring to, actually two of them, are the impeachment trials of Donald Trump.

I should add that Michael and John are not predicting the outbreak of a civil war, they've been asking whether one could occur in the relatively near term. But they've been asking at such length and in such detail, with references to the actual civil war in the USA, it's obvious they believe there is a clear danger of another American secessionist war in the not too distant future.

Below are the notes at Audioboom on the Batchelor-Vlahos discussion, although I recommend that you also listen to the podcast. Following the notes I'll relate my thoughts on the civil-war question.

(The term 'show trial' relates specifically to the infamous courtroom 'trials' in the Soviet Union, which weren't trials as we understand them in a democracy. The accused had already been found guilty by the prosecutor and appeared in court only for the charges to be read out and the sentence handed down.)  
Michael E Vlahos: @JHUWorldCrisis; Johns Hopkins; in re: Are we in a civil war? Looking for road signs.

The escalation becomes obvious only after violence starts. One indication is the show trial of the president at the beginning of the pandemic; then a second show trial ending with a not guilty verdict in the Senate in February 2021.

A show trial is part of the narrative that, here, the Democrats seek to establish. Blue [Democrat] and red [Republican], global and national, urban and rural.

The Speaker of the House announces a commission to investigate 6 Jan events. Why? The new president [Biden] had said, “Enough about Donald Trump.”

Strategy of persecution/inquisitions of red; now charged with being potentially criminal. In operatic terms, the show trial of February is the basis for creating a criminal case against red, being called an evil, terrorist element [by] blue-controlled media. Leading to an emplacement of an anti-red pogram, institutional stance by the dominant agencies of law enforcement.

Donald Trump was the bridge, is now left behind. “Now the Republicans are the party of terrorism.” This commission, like the 9/11 Commission, which provided impetus for the War on Terror, and all of that stripped away civil liberties and protection for Americans; the Patriot Act.

Blue’s goal is to put aside the electoral factor that’ll keep them in power, instead create a dispensation from outside politics to criminalize red. Will criminalize the popular dimensions of red. GOP [such as Romney]: You can be rump Republicans, Vichy collaborators. The others will be “terrorists.”

Blue will then be in total control.

HR 1: bill that’ll upend electoral politics by creating a system inherently and forever going to wire outcomes in any election for blue; doing this via shenanigans to allow blue to dominate for the next several generations.

Anyone will be able to vote with no oversight or control. Reminiscent of 1860s [U.S. Civil War era].

My view is that they didn't have the NSA in Abraham Lincoln's time. They didn't have the WTO either. Nor did they have large pensions for retired American military personnel, if they had pensions at all in those days, as well as other benefits of being enlisted in the military in today's USA.

Which is to say I believe there is no chance there will be another secessionist war in the United States. Any attempt at secession would be nipped in the bud, and without a shot fired.

All it would take is the tactics used by the Democratic Party to portray the Republican Party as the party of terrorists in the wake of the January 6 incursion by Trumpians into Washington's Capitol building -- tactics which relied heavily on a compliant media and a badly informed public audience.

Add to this the machinations of tacticians in the U.S. defense and intelligence fields should any real threat of secession emerge. By the time those characters were finished fooling around with the nation's head, Americans would be too confused and fragmented in their views to get up a serious secession movement, let alone die fighting for it.

This doesn't rule out chatter about secession, but we have seen how well counter-chatter works in today's USA. Five minutes after the chatter starts, the counter-chatterers are busy at their laptops.

There is, however, an appreciable challenge to the United States holding together even without threat of secession. The challenge is rooted in the dissolution of a class of Americans who form the backbone of this country -- people who had always worked hard in the attempt to keep up a middle-income existence. Significant numbers of these Americans, many of them finding they were too broke to retire, were forced into a nomad-like existence by the Great Recession and now they're being joined by refugees from the Great Pandemic.

They're living in tents, motorized trailers, and RVs and working low-paying jobs where they can find them. In the process they have forged a community of people helping others survive the rigors of nomadism in the 21st Century.

Now, a 2020 film about the nomads has been released in the USA -- Nomadland -- to plaudits from the movie biz and the mainstream media. (See Time Magazine's laudatory February 15 report, "What to Know About Nomadland and the Real-Life Community Behind the Movie."

This new nomadism has been unstructured -- it's still a stretch to call it a 'movement' -- which is one reason the nomad community has been growing for years under the media radar. Another reason it's been ignored for so long by the media is that it's not political. It's just many Americans from different backgrounds and political persuasions coming to the same conclusion about the futility of trying to keep up a traditional middle-class existence while carrying a crushing debt burden, or finding themselves crushed by it with no job, no savings left, and no house.

As American nomadism becomes more structured, you may trust the Democratic and Republican parties and the federal government won't take it lying down. And they will be prodded to action by businesses and banks that depend on Americans trying to keep up their house mortgages. So there will be all kinds of attempts to co-opt nomadism, some of them relatively benign as with commercializing the lifestyle, and some scary.

So where to now for nomadism? The answer depends on many factors, but I think an important one is that the movement converges with others -- the survivalists, the ever-increasing number of Americans fleeing the cities, back-to-nature 'green' advocates, and Americans pushing back against the huge amount of U.S. land that the federal government controls.

But I think at the top of the list is the large number of Americans who are now completely disenchanted with politics. The entire structure of American society in this era is formed by politics, to the point where the sense of community has been supplanted by it. I think many Americans are rebelling against this inhuman state of affairs.

What they've lacked is action paths -- ways to reconnect with each other without politics. The new nomadism offers one such path, and can provide inspiration for other paths. This will be a pioneering effort, but America was settled by pioneers.

About the photographs in this post

The first one is from a Daily Mail report headlined, "A THIRD of Americans walk around in a zombie-like concussion daze because of a lack of sleep and stress, new study of college athletes finds."

Only a third? They need to expand the study.

The second photo is a scene from Nomadland.


Sunday, February 14

Another gift of Covid as slowly sanity dawns in the medical profession

Hooray for Betsy Morris and the WSJ Life & Arts Section! 

Now, just wait until mainstream medicine discovers people need lots of sunlight without sunblock lotions to maintain health.

And note the only time many young city people spend in the sunlight is when they're staging political protests in parks. Is this flight to the outdoors an unconscious drive for better health?  I'm not sure I'm joking. 

For Better Health During the Pandemic, Is Two Hours Outdoors the New 10,000 Steps?

By Betsy Morris
February 14, 2021
The Wall Street Journal

[Emphasis and notes throughout are mine. BTW you can also listen to this article. See the WSJ page for the link.]

The physical and mental damage inflicted by Covid has doctors, researchers and others racing to tap into nature’s therapeutic effects

Will two hours in the park become the next 10,000 steps?

As people spend more time indoors, a mountain of scientific research says spending time in nature is critical to health and increases longevity. That means being in fresh air, under trees and away from cars and concrete—on a regular basis. And, no, the Peloton doesn’t count.

“There’s an urgent need emerging in science and at the gut level to increase the nature experience. This field is just exploding,” says Gretchen Daily, a professor of environmental science at Stanford University.

The benefits have been clear to scientists for some time, but the pandemic has made the matter more urgent. The physical and emotional toll the virus has taken, especially in urban areas with little green space, has galvanized doctors, researchers and others to tap into nature’s therapeutic effects.

Spending time in the woods—a practice the Japanese call “forest bathing”—is strongly linked to lower blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones and decreased anxiety, depression and fatigue.

Scientists have repeatedly found that human anticancer natural killer cells significantly increase after walks in a forest. In one such study, published in 2010 in the Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents, the number and activity of killer cells increased in a group of twelve healthy men after two walks, each two hours long, in a one-day trip to a forest park in the Tokyo suburbs. So did anti-cancer proteins, according to the research led by Qing Li, an associate professor at the Nippon Medical School. Cortisol in the blood and adrenaline in the urine significantly decreased. The effects lasted at least seven days, the researchers found.

Time in a forest is linked to decreased inflammation, which has been implicated in chronic disease.  [Note: And, increasingly, Covid]

“People are deciding whether or not this type of coffee bean or that type is better for you, when there is such an obvious health tool at your disposal. You literally just walk outside. People don’t know,” says Jared Hanley, co-founder and CEO of NatureQuant, a startup working on an app for users to track the time they spend in nature much like they count steps.

A study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports in 2019 found the 20,000 participants were significantly more likely to report good health and well-being when they spent 120 minutes or more in nature a week. The good vibe peaked at 200 to 300 minutes a week. Anything less than two hours didn’t make a difference.

There still is a lot researchers don’t know, like how physiologically nature influences health. They are racing to find answers by scanning brains, quizzing people to see how cognition is affected by different environments and planting a full-grown forest in a schoolyard to learn how much and what type of tree canopy is needed to curb air pollution and alleviate asthma. [Note: LOL]

Pediatricians at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, Calif., have been so concerned about the lack of nature in their urban patients’ lives that they write prescriptions for it. Every year, “we ask: Do they have access to outdoors and green spaces? If no, they automatically get a referral to our program,” says Nooshin Razani. One Saturday a month “we invite them to nature outings with us,” she says. In clinical trials, Dr. Razani found that every park visit decreased parents’ stress and increased children’s resilience.

Kaiser Permanente and retailer REI are plugging forest bathing. Engineers are quantifying the health benefits of green space using satellite temperature maps, geographic mapping systems, pollution and census data and even Lidar, the remote sensing technology in self-driving cars.

NatureQuant has devised a tool that scores locations—down to the residential address—from “Nature Deficient” to “Nature Rich” based on surrounding natural elements that correlate with good health.

Many people know intuitively that nature is good for you—but still don’t spend that much time in it. The average adult spent 11 and a half hours a day consuming media in 2019, according to Nielsen. 

Note:  The average time looking at computer screens had increased to 13 hours a day by March 2020]

In 2019, half of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed by the Pew Research Center said they were online almost constantly. A 2017 survey for the federal wildlife and park agencies found it “increasingly normal to spend little time outside.”

Gretchen Daily, at Stanford, thought it would take “a really immersive experience” in nature to produce a significant benefit. As research, she assigned 45-minute walks to each of two groups. One group walked through the hills, the other down a busy, but still tree-lined thoroughfare. “I was shocked,” she says. On a series of cognitive tests afterward, “there was a massive difference. It’s not like they were in Yosemite or the wilderness,” she says, but the hill walkers performed dramatically better. Bottom line, she says: “A 45-minute walk in nature can make a world of difference to mood, creativity, the ability to use your working memory.”

Natural Capital Project, a global partnership she founded, is about to launch a software tool that maps the return on investment in nature, including the health benefits of green space.

Brent Bucknum, founder of the Hyphae Design Laboratory in Oakland, Calif., along with other scientists is studying the biophysics of vegetation in neighborhoods in Louisville, Ky., to test urban greening the way a new pharmaceutical would be tested. In one case, he is measuring the direct impact on residents’ health—asthma, heart disease, dementia—before and after planting 8,000 trees. Data from satellites and drones isn’t reliable enough to measure it or establish a causal relationship. The research is meticulous and “epically expensive,” he says. He, too, plans to launch a company with his findings.

“It’s great to simplify things for people but we see the problem as a much more complex web of components,” he says. Very small environmental fluctuations from one backyard to another can result in big differences to the health of people who live there. Such rigorous research takes time, though. Now there is more public interest in nature and health than scientists can keep up with, he says, and “I think we should leverage that.”

Write to Betsy Morris at