Art/Science: Marianne North’s botanical paintings

Details from the Kew Gardens postcard box collection of Marianne North’s work. I’m delighted to have come across this, and know I’ll need to keep some of these for myself, though my pen friends will enjoy all the others!

If you’ve read any of my prior blogs, you know I love scientific illustrations, both by hand and with photographs, especially for botany. I’m delighted to now have a Kew Gardens (UK) postcard box dedicated to Marianne North’s botanical oil paintings.

Kew has a collection of more than 800 of her oil paintings, which were not only attractive, but also novel for her time: they were painted in oil paints, when the convention was watercolor; and they were painted with details of their native environment, not just on a white background. North had been impressed by Kew’s plant collection, and wanted to go to where those plants came from, to study them in the field. Though her father had died and she was unmarried, she was wealthy enough to ignore conventions requiring her to travel under a male relative’s supervision, and set off at age 40 to explore 15 countries over 14 years.

I love that she painted a pitcher plant that had not previously been documented by Europeans, which excited the botanists, who worked her name into the formal species name. (I always have an issue with Europeans naming things outside of Europe after themselves, rather than getting input from local people IN that region, but in this instance I’m consoled that they at least named it after a female artist who called their attention to it.)

Marianne North Gallery

More than 800 remarkable paintings cover the walls of the Marianne North Gallery. A vivid collection of 19th century botanical art, the gallery is a treat for both art lovers and adventurous minds. As a woman who defied convention, North travelled the world solo to record the tropical and exotic plants that captivated her.

I like her work; I like her convictions about including the natural settings, which themselves convey a great deal of information; and I am impressed that she could do so much in oil paint, which I think of as requiring more time (to dry especially) and requiring much heavier supplies (and solvents!). I like that Julia Margaret Cameron photographed her in Sri Lanka. (I hadn’t known that JMC even WENT to Sri Lanka…)

Kew’s collection isn’t an accident: North not only gave it to them, she paid for, designed, and staged the building her collection resides in. She could afford to share her work and love of plants on a rather grand scale, and she did.

I’m enjoying her work (I love many of the plants she loved), and love the quality of the postcard collection, which will allow me to ply my friends with her art.

Book: No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh

Book cover with SHINY letters! Nicely designed.

No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering
by Thich Nhat Hanh
published by Parallax Press, Berkeley, California
2014

I own and have read MANY books by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and talented author of many books on Zen Buddhism. I’ve seen him speak in an auditorium here in the Bay Area. No matter how many times I hear or read him, I find great clarity and some useful insights into Buddhist philosophy. While I joined a temple of a different Buddhist sect for several years and enjoyed meditating and studying with them, I return to TNH’s work frequently.

TNH’s work helps me be more thoughtful about living in the present moment, a key concept of Buddhist study. He writes about it many different ways in different books, but the key concepts always remain the same.

This particular book emphasizes that suffering of various sorts is a part of life, and that we need to acknowledge that. This isn’t some book about faking optimism, or always looking on the bright side of life [insert Monty Python song here]: it’s about admitting that our suffering is real, but not letting it consume us. (It’s refreshing to read this, when we know people who force optimism on us for their own comfort…) Discussions of how we compound our suffering by dwelling on particular misfortunes and berating ourselves over them ring very true, and can help us manage misfortune more thoughtfully, without tearing ourselves apart.

Like many of TNH’s other books, this has the main thematic writing plus a supplement with a different structure. This time, it is a sort of workshop to help us resolve conflicts with loved ones through being present and thoughtful about emotional pain. The words seem simple, but the approach is highly thoughtful, and presenting these concepts in such a clear fashion makes them less intimidating. Just the first step – telling someone dear to you who is in conflict with you that you are really THERE for them, fully present, that they have your full attention – this rings really true to me, and I can name times when that first step alone could have de-escalated difficult personal situations.

This is another thoughtful, easy to read, problem-solving book written in a calming, reasonable tone. I’m glad I picked it up.

Culture: 51st National Day of Mourning

Native Americans would appreciate it if the U.S. acknowledged that its national Thanksgiving myth is a myth; that Wampanoag generosity was rewarded with oppression; and that the Wampanoags are STILL fighting for their own land.

I’m sharing an article from Time of the current challenges the Wampanoags face – yes, they still aren’t properly recognized and need their land rights to be respected, which needs to be addressed (hello, Biden Administration) – plus a link to the livestream from the demonstration today.

Tribe Who Fed the Pilgrims Strives for Survival Amid New Epidemic

Many Wampanoag hoped that the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing would be a galvanizing event to remind people that they still exist

Information about the National Day of Mourning and details around this event can be found on the page for the United American Indians of New England (UAINE.org). The livestream below has many intersectional values – hello, Palestine and Black Lives Matter! – but also ensures that Native Americans speak for themselves.

Even with the current list of obstacles, the speeches have encouraging solidarity for other groups around the world who have survived colonialism, and emphasis on a need to save the planet and ensure climate justice. The video is 5 hours long, but it includes real time video scenes from the march and other demonstrations – it isn’t all speeches. The pre-recorded portion of the program starts around 2:17, and it is a collection of remote testimonials and videos from many native cultures.

(Aside: one of the speakers from Puerto Rico sent greetings at the end of his speech in the Taíno language, which Wikipedia says is extinct … I recall reading that before, but Wikipedia’s page has a video of a speaker they say is speaking Taíno, and I’m more likely to believe someone speaking it than I am a Wikipedia article based on books from outsiders. While many Google search results insist that both the language and people are extinct, this article, “What became of the Taíno?” in the Smithsonian magazine takes a broader view, and allows people who self-identify as native speak. This touches on the topic of ‘who gets to decide what you are,’ which I think of often as a mixed-race person.)

Life: November 2020: COVID-19 Pandemic

So, in addition to dealing with the record-breaking and dramatic U.S. elections, we still have the pandemic to cope with.

COVID-19

This month, the U.S. surpassed 2 million confirmed cases and 250,000 deaths.

It’s bad. We have something like 4% of the world’s population but more than 20% of the COVID-19 cases.

Americans are even now traveling and visiting each other for Thanksgiving, so there are very grim projections for December. Extremely grim. Something like 40% of Americans surveyed planned interstate travel for the holiday.

I mean, we’re already at 2,000 deaths per day. Reuters reported in this article that there is a U.S. COVID-19 death every 40 seconds. But that isn’t enough to make some people change their plans.

From https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/, as always.

Some of the spread is persistent political toxicity – people recall that Republicans insisted that this GLOBAL PANDEMIC was just a hoax to make the U.S. President look bad. [eye roll] The heartbreaking story last week was of people in North Dakota denying on their literal deathbeds that COVID-19 is real, and abusing their hardworking nurses and other caregivers. (We really need to stop both-sides-ing partisanship folks. One particular side is dying of it.)

{My own circle’s COVID infection numbers are climbing VERY slowly, thankfully, and feel like they are tapering off from earlier seasons. I still have just one first degree friend who was infected (and was denied a test), but seven second degree contacts had it, and more than 8 third degree contacts… And that’s without having checked social media for a year to find out who in my wider circle has been infected.}

Vaccine Testing Progress

The good news is that the vaccine trials are going well. While the data is still being compiled, theoretically nearly all of the advanced trials are showing something over 90% efficacy, though the math seems to work differently for each of them.

I could just share the data, but why do that when I can also share an Oxford comma joke?

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Pfizer vaccine: effective, protective and safeModena vaccine: effective, protective and safeOxford vaccine: effective, protective, and safe

So, there is hope that we can get treatments next year, but they won’t be 100% protective, and we don’t know how long their protective effects will last. And some asshats still think the virus is a hoax, even as they are spreading it or dying from it, so getting people to use the vaccine or any other protective measure will be a challenge.

COVID Treatment and Prevention Risks (beyond the obvious nationalist ones here)

Plus, there are new variants of COVID-19, including a strain that leapt from domestic mink to humans, which is not a thing we need right now – it’s just another front to manage when we aren’t even managing the human infections. (See this article in Scientific American about the infection that has spread to more than 200 people in Denmark.) . This is yet another time when I gripe and say that everyone who eats or wears animals is endangering all of society with their lifestyle. Yes, there is the massive environmental damage and greenhouse gases, and water consumption, and land consumption, and related pollution – all of that – BUT ALSO these animal diseases jump to humans and spread around the world, and we really wish you would stop. Swine flu global pandemics, bird flu global pandemics, COVID-19 from an animal market as a global pandemic… I’m not even going to discuss Ebola.

HUMANS – learn from these pandemics – for all of us – PLEASE.

To me, a non-expert who reads lots of news, this feels like it means:
-ongoing major losses of life;
-ongoing need for funding and expansion of health support needs for people who have long term side effects (and a big expansion of health services worldwide);
-six months to another year of major precautions, perhaps followed by many years of less serious precautions IF we can manage long term immunity, with changes in design, ventilation, and occupancy of indoor spaces, and
-lots of hard work to recover in all the ways that matter to society.

This really is a world-changing event, and managing the changes will be a big challenge for us.

Life: November 2020: U.S. Elections

How do I even write about this month? There is so much. There is too much.

The Election

The biggest event dominating my waking hours in November was the 2020 U.S. elections. So much work, so much volunteering, so many campaigns, so much at stake – including the hope of breaking the cycle of having the Republican Party find new ways to disenfranchise voters, as well as a chance to stop the country’s slide into authoritarianism.

I’m not alone in my concern about authoritarianism: the current administration and the GOP have been sliding that way for a while. This is measurable, and has been observed outside of the U.S.:

Republicans closely resemble autocratic parties in Hungary and Turkey – study

The Republican party has become dramatically more illiberal in the past two decades and now more closely resembles ruling parties in autocratic societies than its former centre-right equivalents in Europe, according to a new international study.

This also was a trend prior to this administration, and I view this administration as more of a symptom of white conservative extremism than a cause. There are some studies which have supported this view:

Opinion | New study connects white American bigotry with support for authoritarianism

Since the founding of the United States, politicians and pundits have warned that partisanship is a danger to democracy. George Washington, in his Farewell Address, worried that political parties, or factions, could “allow cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men” to rise to power and subvert democracy.

Political scientists Steven V. Miller of Clemson and Nicholas T. Davis of Texas A&M have released a working paper titled “White Outgroup Intolerance and Declining Support for American Democracy.” Their study finds a correlation between white American’s intolerance, and support for authoritarian rule. In other words, when intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people, they abandon their commitment to democracy.

—from https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/trump-effect-new-study-connects-white-american-intolerance-support-authoritarianism-ncna877886 – it’s very interesting, and worth a full read!

Add to this the fact that as projections favored the Democratic ticket, DT began screaming about fraud even before the election started, while his fans publicly planned to brandish weapons at voting locations and some even plotted to kidnap Democratic governors he had targeted, and… it really felt like I imagine Germany felt in the 1930s.

For many of us, this election wasn’t just about minor policy differences, but whether or not we will live in a democracy.

So, when the counting started and/or results trickled out on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd, it felt like the entire country – the center, left, and what was once the mainstream conservative population, at least – was tense and fearing violence. With pandemic ballots coming in by mail in larger numbers than in prior elections, results trickled in day by day, and it was agony for me to even hold out hope. By Saturday, November 7th, the results were clear – Biden & Harris won the White House for the Democrats – and celebrations broke out in the streets (though not close to my own sleepy/boring neighborhood).

From https://wethepeople.care/page/view-post?id=428 and various people on Twitter

Next, the courtroom dramas began, with overt announcements of an intention to throw out ballots – especially those from areas with many persons of color.

To add to the drama, the international community felt slow to offer Biden their congratulations (points to France for sending 7 November congrats!), with lots of foot-dragging from authoritarian leaders such as Putin and Xi. And the official responsible for funding presidential transitions would not do so.

Things turned another, more-final feeling corner just this week.

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It has been 23 days since Joe Biden was elected the 46th President on the United States.🇺🇸Since then, Trump and his allies have lost 38 separate lawsuits and won 1.🥳 Trump hates when I tweet this, so please don’t share it.🤦‍♂️

Now we’re watching someone capable choose a capable cabinet, and only vaguely remember what people who are well-adjusted act like. The transition is being funded. Even autocrats are belatedly congratulating Biden.

We’re mentally processing the fact that millions of people still want authoritarian leaders. We’re processing the fact that the election was a landslide and was record-setting, but that notorious individuals in the Senate and House maintained their seats and still have the support of enough of their constituents to maintain power, which limits the options for fixing voter suppression in their regions. And that a runoff in now-blue Georgia is set for early January, and remains wildly important, so we can’t relax.

Also, NOW there are nonsensical editorials by conservatives & Republicans telling Democrats that a big victory like this should be treated like a loss, and Democrats winning means that people really want Republican policies… Also, that the same people who wore shirts that literally said “f*ck your feelings” should be treated with great sensitivity over their election loss. And that their ideas, no matter how terrible, should be seriously considered again, unlike how they approached our ideas. And that all of the corruption and law-breaking in the current administration should be forgiven, legally and politically.

No, just… No.

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I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t want to “unite” with the people who kidnap and jail children, ban Muslims, discriminate against transgender troops, and are committing criminally negligent homicide–or their supporters. I want them held accountable. That would unite us.

Accountability would be a better theme! Tolerance and forgiveness for corruption just begets more corruption.

So, this month has been exhausting. And I haven’t even gotten to discussing the pandemic…

Life: A Walk In the Park, Literally

I left the house!

2020.10.31 Golden Gate Park Walk, San Francisco

20 new photos added to shared album

Autumn is my favorite time of year, especially because of the warm, clear evenings…

If you look at my photo diary at mobilelene.blogspot.com, you will have already seen these, but the gallery is a bit more inclusive. These aren’t great photos, but they do celebrate the pleasure of being outdoors in gorgeous weather, while being passed by entire families in adorable costumes wandering through the park to or from Halloween gatherings…. Yes, there were dogs in costume, and no, I didn’t photograph ANYONE’S costume – I was there for the park itself.