With the temperature at 50, sunny skies overhead, and no wind chill to put a damper on things, folks were outside—walking, riding bikes, and I even saw a young couple tossing a baseball back and forth. In the midst of winter, this was a balmy day in Michigan.
Much of my Saturday (like every other Saturday) was spent driving around the countryside, delivering this week’s edition of our newspaper. Some of the dirt roads had been packed, making for a smooth ride, while others were littered with potholes, the water from recently-melted snow turning them into mud puddles, and jarring both me and my car as we passed over them. And as the mud splashed, my car became dirtier and dirtier. The proprietor of the car wash will smile when he sees me coming.
The headline news on the radio was about rescue efforts in Turkey and Syria in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, with survivors being dug out from the rubble of collapsed buildings. But as the frontline reporters stated, with each passing hour this happy result is becoming less and less a realistic expectation .
The death toll on this morning was pegged at over 24,000. People who, prior to this natural disaster, were living normal lives, going about their business, with no hint that death awaited. And there are also the thousands and thousands of survivors struggling to get by and somehow refashion their lives.
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There was a report as well about a new law passed by the Republican-controlled legislature in Utah banning gender affirming care for transgender youth. In introducing the segment, the host Scott Simon noted that “The legislation prohibits young people from getting a range of treatments, from puberty blockers to gender-affirming surgeries for people under the age of 18” adding this in one over 306 similar bills introduced by state lawmakers (around the country) over the past two years.
Irony is always an aspect of human behavior I find interesting—not to mention irritating.
There were, in my judgment, two instances of irony regarding this law which, I should add, may or may not have merit. You’ll forgive me, though, if I suspect an ulterior motive at play rather than merit.
Anyway…in interviewing a pediatrician who cares for these young people struggling to find their identify and who also counsels their families, Simon said: “Supporters of banning these treatments say that there's just not enough research, it's too new and that banning the treatment should allow for more research to be done. Are they wrong?”
To which the doctor replied, “Well, our bill actually doesn't allow us to do any research. It doesn't allow people to be put in studies to determine the long-term effects of some of these medications.” As if this wasn’t Catch-22 enough, the doctor pointed out that puberty blockers have been used for 30 years, for a number of conditions, including when puberty comes at a very early age.
Still another instance was when Simon asked “What are your concerns as a physician who treats individual patients you come to know—you come to know them and their families?”
“That it takes a long time for most patients to come to their own terms with what they feel, with who they are,” the doctor said. “And that process can take years in and of itself. And then it takes the families time to come together, and they come to us and seek treatment, or where do I go from here? And then we're saying that the government has come in and said, well, we can't help you. They're stepping into that relationship that takes years to develop and deciding that these kids should not be allowed—or these families, I should say, because it's never kids alone—it's families and kids seeking the appropriate care and finding the right path forward for them, which is different in every family, as I would say with almost anything. But it concerns me that the government is now coming into our exam room and deciding that this is not appropriate.”
I often hear Republicans—past and present—warn us of government taking away individual liberties and undermining parental rights. But then I’ve heard Democrats sounding the same alarm on other issues. Yet, too often we find public officials hellbent on using the power of government to regulate the otherwise legal and seemingly benign behavior of their fellow citizens.
I guess it depends on which liberties and which rights are at stake, not to mention the political calculations, which seem to motivate these courses of action.
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An article in the newspaper that I’m delivering tells of a third-grade girl who wrote a letter to President Joe Biden, expressing her concerns about climate change and the lack of urgency in adults to mitigate its ill effects. Lots of people, young and old, have sent letters to the Chief Executive. However, in this case she got a reply. Which made it newsworthy. At least her grandfather thought so when he called me to pitch the story.
In my interview with the young lady she mentioned endangered wildlife, the flooding of coastal areas due to melting icepacks, and the hole in the ozone at the South Pole. There are, of course, other threats posed by a warming climate as it relates to the future well-being of humans. and of all life. But the bottom line is that, at age eight, this girl is worried about the world she and her generation will inherit.
The President mentioned his Administration is seeking to increase the use of clean energy, including solar and wind energy, as a solution. It’s not lost on me that, as I deliver the paper with this article in it, I’m driving by dozens of yard signs proclaiming “No Utility Scale Solar Plants.” They are in response to concerns by many residents that solar power companies will successfully lease hundreds of acres of farm land and vacant parcels in this rural area and—instead of grain, soybeans, corn, hay, and livestock not to mention trees and larger wildlife—there’ll be a sea of metal solar panels.
The township boards are responsible for enacting ordinances regulating this land use, which seemed easy enough to do when there were no companies proposing this kind of development. With the possibility very much real, the board meetings have been crowded with upset constituents.
Some of the comments have been critical of landowners who have signed leases or are considering the option, characterizing it as “greedy.” At the same time, and sometimes from the same mouth, comments are made on the need to protect farm land, preserving it to grow food and to raise crops to feed livestock.
To which some of the farmers, although certainly not all, reply that a way of protecting farms is making them economically viable, which is not always a given with an ever-changing and capricious commodity market and with ever-rising production costs. Leasing part of their property to solar companies, they contend—as do their supporters—would offset this by providing a stable source of income. A trade-off, if you will. And it would help provide clean energy.
But, while all concerned own their respective pieces of property—large and small—none are islands complete unto themselves. What’s done on one piece of property by the owner, can and does impact the neighbors. What’s not allowed to be done on a parcel or area of land also has an impact.
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Still another news article I came across mentioned that our destiny (as humans) will more and more be about ‘good’ dirt and an adequate source of clean water. The changing climate—be it man-made or a natural cycle— is producing droughts in large swaths of this nation and around the world, with the hotter temperatures and lengthening warm-weather season also altering the ecological balance now in place with pests and weeds. If this trend continues or worsens, those areas with productive soil, an ample water supply, and congenial growing conditions—will become more and more valuable. As such, the reporter pointed out, they’ll become more and more the property of well-heeled companies and individuals who have the financial ability to purchase the land and produce the food.
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On a balmy day in Michigan, with the sun bright overhead, the news of earthquakes, intrusive laws, the threat of climate change, whether the use of farm land has room for solar projects or should be used solely for agricultural purposes, and human destiny tied to earth and water seems surreal.
But, of course, those stories, along with everything else going on—are very real. And cause for concern and comment.
Steve Horton is a mid-Michigan journalist and editor-publisher of the Fowlerville News & Views—a weekly newspaper.
Excellent piece, Steve.
Thank you for your reflective commentary.