As prologue: I’ve long known that I am too sensitive to images to have them crowding my daily awareness . I don’t have a TV and I’ve never had a newspaper habit. I don’t view news sites on the web. In this way, for several decades, I have avoided having the visual evidence of the “news” entering my consciousness. I’m probably one of the few who has never seen news images of the towers falling on 9/11. (On the other hand, because I lived in NYC at the time, I saw quite a bit of what occurred that day and in the aftermath.) I protect myself from secondhand imagery in this way, which also has the advantage of not causing me to endure tons of media nonsense and lies. Still, I do listen to NPR every day, although even that often makes me angry and irritable. I’m not wishing to avoid the world, just meet her on my own terms.
The News: But as often happens, two news items drifted into my consciousness this morning while I was lingering in bed. The first is the resurgence of dengue fever in the US, notably in Key West, but there have been new pockets of infection along the gulf coast and in Puerto Rico in the past few years. The second is the addition of two new elements to the periodic table. In my dreamy state with the radio on, I felt that these two events must be interrelated somehow.
The new elements, yet unnamed, fit into the periodic table at numbers 114 and 116. Physicists make new elements by smashing the nuclei of two known elements together, in this case, calcium with plutonium and calcium with curium . I guess this happens in an atom smasher—whatever that looks like. Since calcium is numbered 20 (for the 20 protons in its nucleus), it is simple enough math to see that if you combined calcium with plutonium (94) or curium (96) you would end up with the nuclei of 114 and 116. Both of these elements degrade in seconds or less. They are very unstable, which is to say: radioactive with a very short half-life. In other words, the center doesn’t hold.
And dengue fever? It is a virus that is transmitted by mosquito. It remains quite prevalent worldwide in tropical climates, typically it causes a very bad viral illness with fever, a rash, and severe bone pain, but in its most virulent form, it can be deadly. There is no vaccine for dengue and the key to prevention is mosquito control. It reminds me that communicable diseases still rank high it global morbidity and mortality; and yet in the US, it is easy to ignore the burden of global suffering this causes, until it comes ashore.
The connection? I don’t know, but I feel there is a connection. Maybe it is how we can’t solve seemingly simple problems, while we are busy creating new, more deadly ones? That may be too alarmist. Certainly, I’m not opposed to looking into molecules and atoms for what we can learn about what our planet is made of; I’ve even used the periodic table as a symbol for my daily blogging—signifying my desire to break things down into their elements, to see beyond the surface of things to uncover what is inside.
I think my edginess as these two stories juxtaposed in my morning is more about the skewing of our priorities, how we decide what is important, the way we spend (waste) our resources, the inadequate attention to human suffering, the inability to take in a broader picture and see things whole. Something like that.
It all reminds me terribly of William Butler Yeats’ The Second Coming.