There’s Donald Trump, and then there’s the Coronavirus, The East African locust Invasion, and the Iowa Caucuses

Which of these four events (OK, Trump may not yet be at event level) would you rather be hit by? Right now, during this first week of February, 2020, they’re big news.

My first reaction is to call them a reality check on us, on our long held assumption that we, man/woman, is in control of his world. Well he’s not, as these four events seem to be saying.

In so many ways things are now, as they’ve always been, out of our control (although often, as in the case of the Iowa Caucuses, due to our own mistakes). Iowa didn’t have to be that way, nor did Trump have to be our president.

Furthermore, while it’s true that we are in control in as much as we can make babies — there are nearly 8 billion of us now alive on the earth, all of whom were once babes in arms, probably a new record for mankind — we cannot assure their survival beyond a hundred years or so at most. What kind of control is that?

“Hi Granddad, why don’t you come over to see us more often, you’ve only got a few years left to live.”

The locusts have free range, as do the viruses, and probably no less the faulty computer software. And lest we forget, there’s Donald Trump so far out of anyone’s control, including his own selfcontrol something that may never have been given him even while in his mother’s arms.

In what follows I’m not giving a column to Donald Trump. I’ll have more to say about him, and he is an often recurring name in my blogs. The three columns below will be for the East African locusts, the Chinese Coronavirus, and the Iowa Caucuses. This will be my first experience with a three colunmn central space.

Let’s Spray

“Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow.” So said God, rather vengefully, according to Moses and Aaron. But although the locust infestation wreaking havoc on east Africa is of biblical proportions, it is not a portent of end times, said experts at a press conference in Nairobi this month. Still, the finger-length bugs spell big trouble for the countries most affected.

It is the worst locust invasion in decades for Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. One enormous swarm, recently over north-eastern Kenya, contains nearly 200bn of the creatures and occupies a space in the sky three times the size of New York City. There are dozens of swarms in Kenya alone. And the un’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (fao) warns that the number of locusts could increase 500-fold by June, when it is hoped that drier weather will check their spread.
The insects eat a lot. A swarm the size of Paris consumes the same amount of food in one day as half the population of France. Crops such as millet, sorghum and maize are a big part of their diet, making life even harder for the 12m or so people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia who are already hungry (see map). Northern Uganda and South Sudan are also at risk; swarms are just 200km away and moving fast.

February 4, 2020

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As China grapples with a mysterious coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 420 people and sickened thousands, the country’s 1.4 billion people are asking what went wrong. Senior officials are engaging in an unusually blunt display of finger pointing.

So many officials have denied responsibility that some online users joke that they are watching a passing-the-buck competition. (It’s “tossing the wok” in Chinese.)
The Chinese people are getting a rare glimpse of how China’s giant, opaque bureaucratic system works — or, rather, how it fails to work. Too many of its officials have become political apparatchiks, fearful of making decisions that anger their superiors and too removed and haughty when dealing with the public to admit mistakes and learn from them.
“The most important issue this outbreak exposed is the local government’s lack of action and fear of action,” said Xu Kaizhen, a best-selling author who is famous for his novels that explore the intricate workings of China’s bureaucratic politics.

By Li Yuan, in the NYTimes February 4, 2010
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The Caucuses

To excite the most Americans possible and have its best chance of toppling President Trump, the Democratic Party needs a sorting of candidates that’s coherent, a system that inspires faith, a process that makes participants feel respected and heard.
Iowa provided none of that on Monday night. Instead it staged a baffling spectacle resistant to any timely, definitive verdict. More than 12 hours after the actual, physical caucusing at hundreds of locations across the state had finished, there were still no official results, just resentments, recriminations and reports that a newly intricate manner of counting had proven laborious, a newly developed app for it hadn’t worked as planned, a backup phone line had jammed and the campaigns had been asked to join a pair of emergency conference calls with state Democratic officials.

Maybe there’s a moral here about dreaming too big and reaching too high. Maybe there’s just a terrifying repeat of the party’s awful luck in 2016.

Frank Bruni, in the NY Times, February 4, 2020
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