On being ... left wondering

By Ingrid Sapona 

I’m sure you heard the news this week about the rupture of Russia’s natural gas pipelines (Nord Stream 1 and 2) in the Baltic Sea. The rupture seems to have been discovered by Denmark who first noticed a patch of bubbles caused by gas welling up in the water near the island of Bornholm. The flow of Russian oil and gas to Europe has been a focus of western news for a long time, as Germany and other countries relied on it for their energy. Since February, of course, the pipelines (not to mention Ukrainian nuclear power facilities) have become especially newsworthy as Putin has used them as tools of war. 

With those facts as the backdrop, it isn’t surprising that the cause of the pipeline rupture would garner a lot of attention. Clearly the issue of whether it was a deliberate act of sabotage, and if so, by whom, will have political consequences in ways I’m sure many of us can’t begin to imagine. So, in a news story on the front page of the Thursday New York Times – three days after the discovery – the headline was: Burst Pipelines Seen as Attack, But the Mystery is Who Did It.  

But the ecological consequences of the leaking gas has garnered barely a mention. I did see one New York Times article on Wednesday by Stanley Reed, a London-based writer energy writer, that mentioned the environmental impact. About half way through the 39-paragraph article (yes, I counted) there was this cryptic (not to mention concerning) sub-heading: The environmental impact appears alarming. Finally, I thought, someone is covering the issue. 

But the measly five paragraphs under that sub-heading only talked about the fact that natural gas consists of methane, which is a significant contributor to global warming. (According to the article, estimates are that the gas leaking could amount to about 1/3 of Denmark’s annual emissions, so not an insignificant amount.) But, it was the last of the five sentences under that gob-smacking subheading that I think is deserving of further reporting: “Scientists hope that the gas, which is rushing to the surface and dispersing into the atmosphere, will not have a major [italics are mine] impact on animal and plant life in the waters around the leak.” Clearly we all HOPE that, but how about some details – or follow-up – as to the basis for this hope? 

Lately I’ve been frustrated about some news stories that are talked about from really just one angle. The Russian pipeline is an example, but another one was a story related to the tragedy in Uvalde. The story I’m talking about was the one about the school police chief (Pete Arredondo) being fired. When I first heard the news, I didn’t quite understand how the school district could fire the chief of police. In my experience, school boards typically don’t have that much political clout. 

It was only after reading a few reports that I realized Arredondo was not the chief of the Uvalde Police Department – he was the chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District police force. Confused, I ended up looking up the school district. It serves seven communities and has about 4150 students in total, from PK through grade 12, in a county of about 25,000 residents. 

I had never heard of a school district having its own police force. But, apparently, it’s not uncommon in Texas for school districts to have their own actual police forces. Why is it that? Of course, that’s a rhetorical question – it’s because (sadly) America is a violent society. But why is it that the news stories around the Uvalde massacre seemed to only focus on laying blame for the response? Why were there no stories about whether by accepting armed officers in the schools, not to mention having a school district-funded police force that is separate from the local police, society is facilitating the acceptance of violence. 

I know that sometimes reporters simply don’t have details that can help us understand all implications of an event. (Russia activating reservists is a perfect example of a story where I suspect western reporters don’t have solid information about what constitutes a reservist.) But lately I feel that journalists, editors, and consumers of news approach stories with blinders, focusing on the most immediate consequences only. Meanwhile, aspects of a story that will have broader implications later are glossed over or ignored to our (future) peril. 

Am I the only one who feels this way – or are there angles of news events you wish you knew more about? Of course, wishing to know more doesn’t change things that have happened. But, maybe by talking more about various angles of stories and events we’ll be better able to anticipate long-term impacts that we do have time to change. 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona 


On being… at a historic turning point

By Ingrid Sapona 

The death of the Queen on September 8th should not have come as a real surprise, given her age. And yet, somehow it did catch me by surprise, not to mention it brought great sadness. I know I’m not alone in feeling both those things. (I wonder if Liz Truss was as surprised by the news, having just met with her about forming a new government.) 

Of course, I knew the death of the Queen also meant the accession of Charles to the throne. I hadn’t really thought about whether he’d change his name – I guess that was the fashion at a time, much as the cardinal that becomes Pope takes a different name. In any event, I’m glad Charles didn’t, as I think referring to him as King Charles will be enough of an adjustment for now. 

British historians have already commented that the Queen’s death marks the end of the second Elizabethan era. Of course, from our vantage point it’s hard to know what this era will mean 100 or 200 years from now. But, if history is any guide, the era that just ended will represent different things to different people — much as, say, the Georgian and Victorian era do. For example, to me the Georgian era (1720 to the 1830s) simply conjures an architectural style while the Victorian era (1837-1901) brings to mind various moral precepts. 

My fear is that when historians reflect on what the end of the second Elizabethan era marked, they will say her death was the end of civility, decorum, and selflessness as virtues to aspire to. Indeed, I worry that the Queen’s death in 2022 will be a mere footnote to the early decades of the 21st century, which will be remembered for the emergence of leaders whose path to power was through division of society by stoking hatred, intolerance, and violence. 

For quite some time, many of us have watched with shock and dismay as the U.S. seems to be tearing itself apart. I’m sure that to some, such a statement seems alarmist or perhaps even absurd. And yet, denial and disbelief are further symptoms of the problem at the heart of our concern: Americans seem to be taking democracy for granted. 

Democracy requires work and diligence to survive. It is built on the principles that everyone’s rights are equal and that no one is above the law. When those principles are compromised, the system will collapse. And when it does, what do Americans think will happen? Given the proliferation of guns in the U.S., how can anyone doubt that civil war is a real possibility. But, unlike the previous civil war – this time there won’t be an obvious boundary line. I believe the term for it is guerrilla warfare.  

I do feel a glimmer of hope that the U.S. will wake before it’s too late because others have finally begun openly talking about the dangers of the current political atmosphere and the potential for civil war. Indeed, on September 1st – a week before the second Elizabethan era officially came to a close – the President of the United States warned that the U.S. is at inflection point. 

Inflection point, indeed… and not just in the U.S. The recently chosen leader of Canada’s federal Conservative party – Pierre Poilievre – has taken from Trump’s playbook and gained success by spreading conspiracy theories, making ridiculous claims (for example, buying cryptocurrency is the best way to protect oneself from inflation), by railing against the media, and encouraging fringe protest groups. Many believe that Poilievre’s extremist rhetoric will not translate into a majority victory in a federal election, but that’s the same kind of denial that ended up seeing Trump in the White House in 2016. My hope is that Canadians realize the dangers of such complacent views before it’s too late. 

It would be wrong to say that I envy the Brits for their realization that the Queen’s death is a turning point in history, but in a way I do. This period of mourning has provided an opportunity for them to reflect on how their system of government works. All the news reels and commentary about the Queen’s remarkable sense of duty and her ability to keep her views to herself should be more than just a source of wistful pride. Hopefully it reminds Brits of the traits they have so long aspired to – you know, that whole Keep Calm and Carry On attitude. 

Unfortunately, people in the U.S. and other places do not seem to realize that their countries are also at a turning point in history – a dangerous one in which politicians and others have made voicing hatred and taking up arms to threaten others normalized. I guess the question is whether such normalization is ok with you. Remember, both action and inaction play a role in shaping history. So, what type of society do you want to live in – and what’s your role in shaping that society? I hope you decide the answers to those questions before it’s too late…  

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona