… and the World Keeps Spinning

If there is any side benefit from the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s aiding some research scientists. A concurrent reduction in worldwide vibration, has accompanied the precipitous worldwide drop in human activity.

Automobile, heavy equipment, train and aircraft movement, factory operations, construction activity, all contribute to “crust vibrations.” Scientists monitoring seismic activity have to adjust measurements to account for what they refer to as “background seismic noise.” With the decrease in human noise, they are able to get more precise readings. With the better data they can more accurately predict volcanic behavior or pinpoint the epicenter of an earthquake.

Meanwhile, humans are not the only species inconvenienced by the coronavirus. With restaurants closed, the rat population must travel further afield to find something to eat. With little in restaurant dumpsters and all of us cooking at home and creating more food waste… well you can figure it out.

Earth and the Pandemic

Planet Earth is indifferent to the covid-19 breakout. Wildlife has noticed, though. After many generations of human development pushing animals further into the brush, the pandemic-caused sheltering-in-place is giving the animals a chance to creep back into territory that once was theirs. Coyotes have been spotted checking out the Golden Gate Bridge and wandering along Chicago’s storied Michigan Avenue. Monkeys in India have entered homes, opening refrigerators to look for food.

Griffith Park, home of the Los Angeles Zoo, now has opossums, skunks, deer, bobcats and even a lone mountain lion running around unmolested outside its gates. The absence of automobile traffic has reduced the squirrel, rabbit, snake and toad roadkill in the park to near zero.

The world-wide reduction in vehicle use and factory production has cleared the skies. Air pollution has reduced by half in Paris and a third in Los Angeles. Carbon dioxide levels are still rising, but not as fast as last year. If you believe in unicorns, you may even fantasize a world not being suffocated by burning fossil fuels.

Wild animals aren’t alone in taking advantage of now-deserted streets. Police are seeing an increase in drivers traveling at extremely high speeds. A Washington state trooper ticketed one at 122 mph and one at 133 mph in a day. “So driving 127 mph or 120 mph in a 60 mph zone will definitely get our attention and we will be able to introduce ourselves to you!”

And in Orange County California, city officials, fed up with skateboarders ignoring the “Closed” signs at the skateboard park, dumped thirty-seven tons of sand into the troughs. It worked. Skateboarders were unable to use it. So dirt bikers showed up to replace skateboards with motorcycles.

Baseball Fun with the Mavericks

Portland’s professional baseball club was a charter member of the Pacific Coast League, formed in 1903. They became the “Beavers” in 1906.

My brother Mark and I would go to the immense — for minor-league — Multnomah Stadium. We paid 25¢ — I think it was 25¢ — to sit on a wooden bench in the bleachers. We were always hopeful, but never did catch a home-run ball. Sometimes we’d go late; the gates were opened up after the sixth inning, so we could sit in the grandstand for free..
The Beavers team was a fixture in the Class-AAA PCL until 1972, when the owner moved them to Spokane. The following year, a new team, the Mavericks, took their place in the stadium and in the hearts of Portland baseball fans .

Television actor and one-time minor-league ballplayer Bing Russell formed the team and joined the Single-A Northwest League. The Mavericks were the league’s only independent team, having no affiliation with a Major-League club. Instead, the Mavericks held tryouts open to all comers. The roster was a collection of has-beens looking to have one more season and never-weres. Bing’s actor son Kurt was on the opening-day roster. Former major-league pitcher Jim Bouton, by then more famous — or infamous — for his tell-all memoir “Ball Four”, joined the team for the 1975 season.

The Mavericks were known and became beloved for their free-spirited, nothing-to-lose approach to the game. They posted a winning record every year and finished first in their division four out their five seasons. They also attracted greater attendance to games than the Beavers did. The Mavericks never won the Northwest League title, but they came so close in 1977, their last season, that Bing Russell ordered championship rings. According to Bouton, the rings were fitted for their middle fingers.

The Class-A Mavericks lasted until a new Portland Beavers club joined the expanded Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 1978. The PCL offered Russell $26,000 to shut down the Mavericks. His response was that the offer was missing a zero. The $206,000 buyout was the highest ever for a minor-league franchise.

Some evenings after work I’d go with my wife and two daughters to the then-renamed Civic Stadium to watch the Beavers play. We brought sandwiches (made by the girls’ mother) and purchased beverages and snacks at the park. We could always find good general-admission seats. Bonnie and Maureen grew up to become hard-core hockey fans. The Beavers left for good in 2010 when Civic Stadium was renovated into a soccer-only facility.

In 2014, Netflix produced a documentary film about the Portland Mavericks. “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” is available to stream. Give yourself some baseball fun in these social-distancing times.

The Potato vs. the Economy

Ireland became part of the United Kingdom in 1801, but as a conquered country. The population was eighty-percent Catholic, the majority living in poverty. Until 1829, Catholics were not allowed to own property. Most of the land was owned by English, many of them absentee landlords. Their agents managed the properties and collected rent with almost no regulatory oversight. Most Irish farmers were tenants “at will,” subject to eviction at the whims of the owner or the owners’ agents. The farmers produced peas, beans, honey, rabbits and fish, most of it exported. The tenants themselves subsisted primarily on potatoes and water.

Continue reading “The Potato vs. the Economy”

Epidemics Through the Ages

  • 1157 B.C. — Ramses V, Egyptian ruler, dies, apparently from smallpox.
  • 430 B.C. — Disease, probably typhoid fever, after devastating Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt, reaches Athens while Spartan legions were laying siege to the city. Two-thirds of Athenians died, leading to Sparta’s victory.
  • 162 — Roman legions are infected with smallpox while doing battle with Parthians, near present-day Baghdad.
  • 541 — “Pestilence,” aka Bubonic Plague, breaks out in northeastern Egypt.
  • 542 — Pestilence reaches Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, becomes known as “Justinianic plague” after emperor Justinian.
  • 543 — Justinianic plague arrives in the city of Rome; Britain in 544; Constantinople again in 558; Constantinople a third time in 573; Constantinople yet again in 586.
  • 1347 — “The Black Death” lays waste to a third of Europe’s population in four years.
  • 1518 — Smallpox arrives in Hispaniola, probably brought by Spanish, the first “virgin soil epidemic” in the Americas. The disease takes out a third of the indigenous population, easing the way for Spanish conquest.
  • 1606 — The Globe and other London theatres close because of Bubonic Plague. Performances of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Macbeth are postponed. (The Globe burned down in 1613, when a stage-prop cannon misfired. The theatre was rebuilt and reopened a year later. Puritans closed it for good in 1642, because that’s what puritans do.)
  • 1817 — Cholera breaks out in India, near Calcutta. It spreads east to what is now Thailand and west to Oman and as far down as Zanzibar.
  • 1829 — Cholera again. India to Russia, through Europe and the United States.
  • 1916 — The first epidemic of Polio, a disease around for most of human history, breaks out in Brooklyn, New York and spreads from there. New York City suffered two-thousand deaths. Six-thousand died in the U.S. The disease re-emerges in the 1940s and 1950s.
  • 1918 — So-called “Spanish flu” emerges suddenly in U.S., then Europe, then everywhere. Fifty-million people died during the next-year.
  • 1952 — Salk vaccine begins the eradication of Polio. Eight years later, the Sabin oral vaccine virtually wipes out Polio.
  • 1958 — Vaccine begins eradicating smallpox. More than a billion persons died from the disease over the centuries.
  • 2010 — Cholera breaks out in Haiti. Ten months after an earthquake killed 200,000 Haitians, displaced a million more and damaged sanitation infrastructure, sewage dumped in a river by a U.N. peacekeeping base started the epidemic. The infection struck 665,000 persons, 8,183 of whom died.

Click here for a pandemic overview from Elizabeth Kolbert.

Thriving on Coronavirus

So we thought plastic was on its way out? California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont have banned plastic bags. To encourage reusing bags, some areas require merchants to charge customers for paper sacks.

Oregon and California have also limited the use of plastic straws.
Not so fast says the covid-19. Just as we’re getting used to bringing our own cloth bags to the grocery store, plastic manufacturers think they may have found their savior in the pandemic. The plastics industry is lobbying hard to overturn bans on single-use plastics. They argue that disposable plastics are the best option for safety and the general well-being of population during this crisis. (Plastic is “disposable” only in the sense that after one use it’s thrown away, out of sight until it turns up in the ocean or elsewhere.)

In the short term, this may be the way to go. In the long term, as John Maynard Keynes said, we’re all dead. But a plastic bag takes as long as a thousand years to decompose. At some point we’ll have to face up to that reality. And what to do with medical waste is another growing long-term problem.