Weekly Letter to the President
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ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
April 10, 2020
Mr. President: This quiet is a new phenomenon. Bird calls no longer punctuated by
the roar of a passing jet overhead; few cars on the road; no intermittent stops and
starts of the bus on the road; just no sound except birds , the occasional gust of wind,
and even rarer; a thunderstorm and shower.
The postman is still doing his rounds, masked of course, as are competing message
and parcel delivery services. For workers in general, it is limbo. No factories
humming as before, no shops, restaurants, department stores, malls, in fact few
business transactions. Wall Street is still open in a lackluster sort of way, and Warren
Buffet warns against any buying or selling -- bottom fishing can be hazardous if old
sayings like 'trying to catch a falling knife' have any truth to them.
Across the world, it is an economic slowdown with experts estimating a drop in growth,
even perhaps a recession. For our beleaguered planet, however, less human activity
means less pollution and that is the silver lining in this ominous cloud. But that is not
all. Good news is being reported on the entomological front.
Monarchs might be facing disaster in North America but there has been a resurgence
for butterflies in the
UK. The warm summer of 2019 has boosted numbers.
Painted Ladies migrating from as far away as North Africa to Europe and the UK are
in numbers not seen since 2009 when 11 million arrived. Counts taken over three
weeks estimate 30 times more than the previous summer (2018), which was also
warm. An ubiquitous butterfly, the painted lady is found on all continents except
South America and, of course, Antarctica.
The good news includes other species. Peacock butterflies had their best summer
since 2014 recording a 235 percent increase over last year, and the marbled white
rose in numbers by 264 percent helped by the warmth to move up north as far as
The struggling small tortoise shell numbers rose to 70,000, the highest recorded
since 2014; gatekeepers were up 95 percent, red admirals 138 percent, even the
day-flying six-spot moth saw a 64 percent rise compared with last year. Last year, the
small tortoise shell had the worst summer in the history of the count, hence the 167
percent rise in its numbers has been a relief to conservationists. As were the clouds
of painted ladies, half a million in just three weeks, for butterflies also serve as food
for other creatures like birds, dragonflies, hedgehogs and others.
There is also good news for bees. Scientists have developed a silver bullet from their
gut bacteria that is effective against colony-killer varroa mites and the deformed wing
virus (DWV) they help to transmit. So reports Science (Jan 31, 2020) in a descriptor
note (pp 504-7) and full research article (pp 573-6).
Animal pollinators like bats, birds, butterflies and bees pollinate 75 percent of our
crops and over 75 percent of flowering plants. In numbers these amount to 1200
crops and over 180,000 plants, representing more than $212 billion (nps.gov) in
Finally, from a group of small Indonesian islands near Sulawesi comes the discovery
of ten new birds, five new species and five subspecies, added to the scientific record
(Science News, Feb 1, 2020, p. 7). Notable in color are the vivid scarlet Taliabu
myzomela honeyeater, and the Togian jungle-flycatcher sporting an iridescent blue
head and a canary yellow front. Then there is the shy and elusive Taliabu
grasshopper-warbler, one of a group of brown birds with cricket-like songs that vary
Our earth, this wonder book of why and what keeps surprising us with new pages. Or
is it a palimpsest written upon and rewritten?