Jennie Orvino’s Blog: Piece of Mind
At the height of the HIV epidemic, singles learned how to have a “safer sex talk” with a potential partner. If precautions were taken, we were basically in the clear for sexually-transmitted infections. What to do, though, if a deadly, super contagious virus lives not only in our coughs and sneezes but in our very conversations, our intimate whisperings?
Sexting has always been a thing, pandemic or no. Ditto Zoom flirtations or Skype sex. What I have been considering during the time of COVID-19 are things consenting adults can do, at the recommended six-foot separation, when they’ve gone past the initial dating stage. As restrictions ease and space opens for sensual interactions in person, what are some creative solutions for lovers who don’t live together but were already at some level of intimacy before shelter-in-place?
One of my female friends calls the suggested “Creative Things You Can Do from Six Feet Apart” a “Cosmo-like list.” (I praise all women’s magazine for their grains of truth and usefulness). My sources are my own experience, personal growth workshops I have attended over the course of twenty years, conversations with a sex educator, advice from my physician, and input from peers and poets.
But first, some caveats.
My suggestions are meant to be progressive and have no time frame; there are more than an evening’s worth. Pick and choose. Use these prompts to stimulate your own imagination.
My intention here is to be gender neutral, but I am a female, and currently my sexual interests are men. Some activities I offer might be construed by a guy as c**k-teasing. If he’s in the same room with a person he likes who is doing such provocative things, it might be quite a challenge to keep his distance. Not that he will do anything criminally aggressive, but he might cajole or pressure his lover to relax their boundaries. Another possibility is that he will get sad or mopey or even angry from only looking and not touching. And then you have a lovers’ spat!
For me, as a vital, mature women, there is tension as well. I care for my partner (or potential partner) and want them to be happy. I also need relationship intimacy and desire satisfaction—in fact my health depends on it. So I rationalize, weigh risks and benefits. It’s a dilemma that has very few answers and precious little guidance.
If couples who do not live together decide to have contact sex, whether oral or intercourse, they should take precautions to reduce the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus. How to do that is a “Cosmo List” for another time.
What I am attempting here is to initiate a compendium of sexual-pleasure-from-a-distance that stretches the imagination and pushes the envelope. I welcome and encourage your additions!
Fetch your carpenter’s tape and mark off your room in six-foot intervals—from easy chair to couch, doorway to doorway, prop box to video screen. If you can find a private space outdoors, so much the safer, but still maintain your distance.
I’ve read reports of asymptomatic people who’ve attended choir practice and expelled virus droplets from enthusiastic singing that infected those nearby. Might the same be said for the heavy breathing or vocalizing that occurs during sex play? Distance is probably not enough protection if the partners become so deeply engaged. Then masks are a necessity rather than just a costume accessory.
I’ve newly discovered, through a referral from poet Bill Noble, a respectful source of real sexual experiences, with world-wide reach but originating in Australia. Beautiful Agony is a paid-subscription erotic website featuring head shots of user-submitted videos showing the participants having orgasms, without providing any visual description of what technique is being used or revealing anything below the neck and upper chest.
Men, women and non-binary people are featured on the site. Many of the video clips are lovely and compelling, almost meditative. And utterly appropriate to social distancing. You can watch Beautiful Agony’s Show Reel to get a sense of what it would be like to subscribe and contribute content.
My book, Poetry, Politics and Passion, contains the essay “A Face of Ecstasy” in which I describe my experience participating in the documentary film “Orgasm: The Faces of Ecstasy,” a 2004 project by now-defunct Libido Films and produced by the late Joani Blank, author, sex educator and founder, in 1977, of Good Vibrations—the second feminist sex toy business in the United States.
Posted on my website is a video of me reading that essay intercut with sections from the Libido/Blank film. Probably not many of my clients or employers have delved that far into the audio-visual section of Piece of Mind Creative. It is an obscure portion of my obscure website, but it is there for the clicking if you are curious. In my view, Joani Blank is the mother, or grandmother, of the Beautiful Agony cohort.
A few years ago, my friend who works as a mail carrier clued me in to the fact that the postal service was not supported by taxpayers, but by stamps and mailing services. Yet it is the most trusted of federal agencies, especially by rural residents. If you read Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, you know that she sent supplies for her journey to small post offices all along the route of her now-famous trek.
I grew up living above a store in the business district of our town. The mail came through a slot in the door, so when I spent the humid Illinois summers at my grandmother’s house on the Fox River, “getting the mail” was a new and anticipated ritual. I was an avid letter writer, so putting up the flag on the gray metal box with our address numbers on it was something I did often from June to Labor Day. Today, in the time of coronavirus stay-at-home orders, my trip to my mail box—a black metal box with red signal flag mounted on a post across the street—is something pleasant that breaks up the day.
Even before the flood of “Save the Postal Service” petitions started to arrive in my email, the importance of this service had been on my mind. It began with an article published in The Bohemian back in 2013 by commentator, author and former Texas commissioner of agriculture Jim Hightower, and another by actor Danny Glover, “My parents proudly worked for the US Postal Service. Don’t destroy it.”
Glover’s point is that his family, and many families of color, had a path to the middle class through this institution. He wrote “African Americans have the most to lose from Postal Service cuts and the most to gain from innovative reforms that help the poor, like postal banking.”
The Trump administration’s intent is to sell off the postal service to for-profit corporations (to say nothing of Trump wanting to undermine Jeff Bezos and Amazon’s relationship with the USPS, totally out of political revenge for Bezos-owned Washington Post’s criticism of the orange-faced man himself). A presidential task force plan to move in that direction calls for privatizing parts of the service, reducing delivery days, closing post offices, and jacking up prices on most package and mail deliveries.
You can read about the reasons the postal service is in trouble in two segments on Democracy Now in an interview with American Postal Workers Union president Mark Dimondstein. Also hear or read why there is such an outcry to prevent the post office’s demise, which, without an infusion of money, is predicted to be bankrupt by this summer. Prominent congress people are demanding support for the Postal Service in the next piece of rescue legislation. (Email cannot deliver our prescriptions!)
Aside from the benefit to our nation’s “haves” to privatize everything from health care to education to water, they have another reason to wish for post office closures: disruption of democracy. During this pandemic, it is bad enough that meat processing employees (who cannot telecommute) now have to choose between money for their families and risking COVID-19. Should people be forced to choose between voting in person and risking the disease, as they did in the recent Wisconsin primary (thanks to the Supreme Court)?
There is no reason not to be making extensive preparations to vote by mail in November. Voting machines are more easily hacked than paper ballots, and there is no end to the lies tRump is spewing about the dangers of mail voting. Here’s an opinion piece on that from The Hill, “Let’s put the vote by mail “fraud” myth to rest.”
Read up, sign petitions, call your representatives, and use the post office when you can. I like to quote the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, who said that this is a time of “we” not “me.” Maybe you haven’t bought a stamp in years and get all your bills online and paychecks via direct deposit. But this is not the case for many of the “have nots” in America.
History will measure our greatness by the word WE not ME.
I started a story for a local publication, but the editor decided—not enough “there” there. I enjoyed interviewing the women associated with Safari West and the Oakland Zoo and wanted to give them a bit of a shout-out, with the hope that folks will support these institutions that really do care about research, conservation, and the well-being of the enormous diversity of our non-human neighbors on this finite planet. The question was “Are creatures in captivity benefiting from the lack of animal tourism?”
All they needed was a little privacy. Giant pandas Ying Ying and Le Le recently made world headlines by mating successfully after 10 years of cohabitation at Ocean Park in Hong Kong, raising hopes for an offspring for the vulnerable species. Perhaps Le Le’s libido was sparked by several months free of observation by throngs of tourists (the zoo has been closed to visitors since January 26 as a measure to fight the coronavirus). Or perhaps the zookeepers’ showing him video footage of other pandas doing the deed proved a useful how-to? A panda conservationist, Dr. Li Binbin, says, “These animals are shy and sensitive to noise, smell and objects around them. If they are stressed, they cannon indulge in normal behavior like mating.”
Reports of unusual behaviors in wild animals have proliferated on the Internet, from a lengthy video of a fox and skunk playing together in a Maine backyard to a puma descending from the Andes Mountains into Santiago, Chile, one of South America’s busiest capitals.
Aphrodite Caserta, public relations director for Safari West, “the Sonoma Serengeti,” says that the mammals, birds and reptiles from Africa that populate the private reserve don’t appear to notice the lack of visitors. “Our one thousand animals are wild and free to roam on 400 acres. They are interacting with their care-keepers daily, as they always do,” she says.
When pressed a bit further for anecdotes, Caserta speculates, “People ‘on safari’ can’t touch the animals, but we have a particular giraffe who is very friendly and likes to nuzzle the guests. It’s possible that he might be a little lonely.”
Ann Marie Bisagno, Oakland Zoo’s Zoological Manager, has this to say, “We thought the closure might be a nice relief for the animals, some peace and quiet, but the animals are missing seeing people. In particular, the chimps.” Bisagno asked the staff to have their lunches in front of the chimp exhibit, maybe show them some videos on their phones. A male eland in the giraffe exhibit approached a staff member walking by “and looked at us, as if to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’”
It’s true that some animals are indifferent, but certain species want more interaction, like the macaws and gibbons and other primates. While enrichment is part of the zoo’s routine in normal times, it is especially needed now when visitors are absent. Bisagno explains that “enrichment” can mean playing music for the animals, or, as in the enclosure for lions and tigers, hiding their food in boxes or palm fronds. Staff will also scatter elephant urine and zebra dung in the habitat, disrupting the atmosphere to get the big cats more active. She observed a group of giraffes turn to look in unison when they saw a lone employee walking by.
On April 1, the Oakland Zoo’s 110 part-time employees were laid off—that’s almost two-thirds of the entire workforce. Now, only essential personnel, made up almost entirely of animal care/zookeepers and veterinary hospital staff, are working. There are 750 native and exotic animals on the 100-acre site, managed by the Conservation Society of California.
Oakland Zoo Live Online
The Zoo’s marketing VP Erin Harrison says, “We’ve had to be creative in finding new revenue streams since the closure, so we launched Behind the Scenes Live in record time. This platform allows subscribers to log in every weekday at 2:30 p.m. (PST) for a 20-30 minute live interactive experience, featuring a different animal and interviewee each time. Viewers get to see things they would not usually see, even when visiting the Zoo in person. A sampling of topics for the week of April 13 include: “Monkey Business,” “Let’s Talk Tigers” and “Wolf Pack.”
During each broadcast, viewers get to ask questions by typing them into a chat feature. The four-person production team and a host who formerly worked at San Diego Zoo’s Kids Channel ensure professional quality. Anyone can subscribe to Behind the Scenes for $14.95/month; Oakland Zoo members get the first month free, then pay $9.95/month thereafter.
“We’re hoping to get enough participation in Behind the Scenes to offset any more layoffs,” Harrison says. “Having reserves was key to keeping us afloat for the time being. But those reserves will run out by August if the shelter-in-place isn’t lifted before then.”
Yes, all of us “creatures in captivity,” have adjustments to make.
In reading a New Yorker editorial in the middle of last night (not sleeping that well), I first learned about the howling. This morning, it’s front page news in our local Press Democrat. As a way of connecting with neighbors, we set up an audio uproar; in Sonoma County, it’s at 8 p.m. Like a communal OM, this sacred vibration unites us through the very air we breathe, releases stress, acknowledges our essential workers and first responders, and relieves our frustration. The kids seem to dig it.
The nightly howling, like my organizing the day around meals and online dance classes, creates a routine that gives the body something to look forward to.
We crave every act of physical pleasure at a time when we can’t hug each other as automatically as we used to, or touch our own household members if we are in self-isolation or quarantine. I’m thinking of calling into service that teddy bear I once cuddled as a prop for an acting class monologue.
The Nation magazine has generously suspended its firewall for reading online articles and I suggest you take advantage of it. Here’s a piece by one of my favorite Nation writers on (just) this week’s activities of the mad king: “Trump, our Grifter-in-Chief is a Global Menace.”
I’m less afraid of the virus than of the machinations of banana republicans who are tolerating the behavior of the “dear leader.” Perhaps they are supporters of herd immunity. Just let the virus run rampant through the population and see who’s left at the end. Force people to vote in person (as in Illinois this week) and get rid of a few more Democrats. It’s hard not to think some of the dystopian writings published over the past decades were premonitions.
Since I started this post, I’ve Zoomed and Facebook Live-d through two and a half dance classes, and tonight I’m tuning in to Left Edge Theater’s online play, “A Steady Rain.” I plan to sip some Balletto Pinot Noir and maybe discuss the performance with a friend afterward.
I wish you similar beneficial engagements on this Passover/Easter weekend. Bravo to all the creatives (the “second responders”) who are currently enriching our lives.
When it was announced that our shelter-at-home period would be extended through May 3, I clicked on the link to the Sonoma County Emergency website and the latest Order of the Health Officer. “Failure to comply is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment or both.”
I was looking for clarification on what were essential businesses. (Could I find a nursery where I could purchase spring vegetable starts?) Are face coverings now required, as in LA? (I had just seen a video of the U.S. Surgeon General making a “mask” out of two rubber bands and square of T-shirt material emblazoned with the name of a drug used to reverse opioid overdose.)
What about those teens playing basketball in the park and three adults sitting on a bench—with less than a foot between them—watching? (Would I go so far as to snitch on a neighbor for safety?)
Who would be on the list of ten people I would want at my funeral? (Funerals and burial services are allowed as long as not more than 10 are physically present.) I used this detail of the health order to prompt a writing exercise that yielded results both surprising and profound.
Now, there’s another month of isolation to get through. In the midst of anxiety, financial and physical suffering, stress and boredom all around, can I look for something to buoy and inspire me?
I see Gov. Newsom, along with a select group of other governors and local officials, stepping up and acting, perhaps, the way a President should?
I see 25,000 retired medical professionals volunteering for California Health Corps on the very first day it was announced.
I see creativity bursting everywhere, from a woman’s silken face covering that slyly incorporates a minipad, to the uncounted number of online concerts, Broadway plays, operas—all free, well, free if you have a phone, computer and internet access.
I can hear Patrick Stewart giving me a daily reading of Shakespeare sonnets or my friend David reciting the poems of Adrienne Rich, Ted Kooser, John Berryman and others from different spots around his San Francisco home and garden.
For a tiny fee, I can choose all or any of 16 virtual classes from Dance Arts, a studio 35 miles away from my home and difficult to attend very often in person. There are other free or subscription dance classes recommended by classmates I have yet to explore. I admit, it’s not the same as being there for a high-touch artistic pursuit, but the sessions give me plenty to work on until I rumba with my favorite teachers again.
And while spare time has yet to materialize because I have been working as a journalist and grant writer from home, I hope that sometime in the next month of “retreat,” I’ll get a start on my next book.
So, today, aided by morning clouds and rain, I will focus on the silver lining.
I had just finished watching the last part of a previously-recorded American Masters special on Miles Davis (“Birth of the Cool” — highly recommended) when my TV, usually tuned to KQED (our Bay Area PBS station), announced the next program on the broadcast schedule: American Experience, Influenza 1918. “Is this something I want to see right now?” I asked myself. Nevertheless, I tuned in.
The DVD of this documentary came out in 2006 and I’m sure it played a big part in inspiring my fellow citizens to get their flu shots each season. The programmers at KQED were right, I think, to air it at this time. (It is available to watch online until April 30). As the two epidemiologists who serve as the main talking heads for the film point out, when this horrible pandemic finally passed, amnesia overtook the country. Our leaders, as well as the population, had thought such a thing could not happen and didn’t want to believe that it could happen again. Magical thinking still prevails, as we have seen, at the highest levels of our government.
Margaret Harris of the World Health Organization said in an interview this morning that Hong Kong and other parts of Asia have responded so well to the current Covid-19 pandemic because they learned from their experience with SARS. They did not choose to forget the nightmares of the past, but chose to prepare for the nightmares of the future.
Based on the for-profit “just in time” manufacturing model, American hospitals do not/did not stockpile supplies; empty beds are not cost-effective. In the public health sphere, money has been gradually drained away at the Federal level over years, with special emphasis on the last three years!
To me, that was why the 1918 influenza story was so enlightening and relevant. At that time, the United States was in the middle of World War I, and those troop ships crowded with soldiers going back and forth to Europe were floating incubators of the flu. Medical people did not know then about viruses, undetectable with an ordinary microscope. Today we can sequence the genes of these insidious invisible enemies!
So here’s the contemporary parallel. “Captain of aircraft carrier struck by virus wants sailors off ship,” says an ABC news report. “In an unusually blunt memo, the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier has warned top Navy leaders that most of his ship’s crew of 5,000 needs to be quarantined ashore in Guam— because he’s concerned that keeping them on the ship would continue the spread of the novel coronavirus. Similar news reports here from The Guardian and CNN.
America could have been better prepared, but alas, as with the climate crisis, denial and wishful thinking abound. The direct connection between climate change and mutating viruses is elucidated in a 1995 book, The Coming Plague by Pulitzer Prize-winning medical journalist Laurie Garrett. I admit I owned the book, read some of it, but donated to the Sonoma Public Library about 10 years ago. Little did I think I would want it today… and Amazon is all sold out.
Put this episode of American Experience on your watch list, but I would view it after the kids have gone to bed.
Buoyed by several days of perfect Spring weather, I spent many hours in the yard weeding, trimming and tending to my garden beds. Yesterday, I put up wire trellises, dug in Paydirt compost and planted sugar pea seeds directly in the soil. According to the package directions, if I sow in early Spring (how much earlier can one get but the day after Equinox) I will harvest in 68 days. I also tucked in some leftover celery seeds that grew last year without a fuss.
Thus, I committed an act of faith—I will be alive and well at the end of May to pick these crunchy, vegetal treats.
At five p.m., a huge black tent of cloud blew over from the east; it unloaded a flashing, crashing thunder storm and sheets of hard, cleansing rain. The twin teenage girls who live across the street were out under their carport giggling and playing because it was warm, friendly moisture, not usual for these parts, reminiscent of summer storms in the Illinois of my childhood.
Almost as quickly as the storm came on, it passed over. I put on my pink sneakers and ventured into the quiet, freshened air. A rainbow led me east past sun-kissed landscapes for more than 30 minutes, and then 30 minutes west, following my own outbound footprints in muddy gravel. I saw not one person outside a vehicle. Speeding Round Table and Domino’s delivery cars hinted at supper hour when I started; it was sunset when I finished.
I worried that my pea seeds may have floated out of their designated holes into a less socially-distanced order, but I could understand that. I am craving company too.
I’m used to being alone. I’ve been self-sufficient for 25 years and have lots of to-do projects on my list. But what I miss right now is ranting and raving to someone else about the lies, misinformation, and inhumanity exhibited by the occupant of the oval office—day in and day out, making a scary situation so very much worse. While there is plenty of money to keep building his useless and destructive border wall, there is not enough money for Personal Protective Equipment for our medical personnel who are risking their lives and the lives of their families to care for the current sick. And the sick to come.
In an interview with Jon Cohen of Science Magazine, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, expressed his frustration—illustrated plainly on television by what has become an internet meme of him putting his hands over his face as the president blathers yet more nonsense.
When the reporter asks why Dr. Fauci “stood by while the president said so many things you disagree with” (on a press conference platform that was too crowded with zombie-faced minions), the good doctor replies, “But I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down.”
If only he would!
May I, in the eternity of the pandemic’s next 68 days, be bold and creative enough to (yes a metaphor) jump in front of that microphone to “push down” cruelty and hate, and replace them with insight, compassion and love.
Maybe I write my review blogs more easily because movies hold still, while the news cycle continues relentlessly. For the past three years, the daily barrage of avoidable atrocities perpetrated by the grifter-in-chief has been both infuriating and numbing. Even as I wrap my compost in past days’ newspapers, I notice an article I missed: “Trump policy change ends in bird deaths.”
Across the country, birds have been killed and nests destroyed by oil spills, construction crews and chemical contamination. In the last fifty years, the bird population in the United States and Canada has declined by 29%, or 3 billion. The endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, Noah Greenwald, says that the administration’s disregard for the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other protections, including not reporting bird deaths as required, “is not only bad for birds, but also cruel.” Cruel is a word that has been used over and over in print about this president and his henchmen, and I wonder if there is a way to make that overused word even stronger (cruelissimo?)
Which brings me back to Italy, the Vatican, and the film The Two Popes, directed by Fernanco Meirelles, who also made City of God, a powerful depiction of life and crime in the favelas of Rio de Janiero. The popes of the title are Benedict XVI (the German, Joseph Ratzinger, played by Anthony Hopkins) and Francis (Argentina-born Jorge Bergoglio, played by Jonathan Pryce). Interestingly, while the name Benedict was taken 16 times, the name of the humble, animal-loving saint, Francis of Assisi, was never chosen by a pope before 2013.
The story is an adaptation of screenwriter Anthony McCarten’s stage play about the interaction of these two prelates over several days in 2012 when Cardinal Bergoglio comes to Rome seeking permission to resign. Their fascinating and revealing conversations come from opposite ends of the Catholic church’s conservative-liberal spectrum, and could be a model for how Republicans and Democrats might positively engage today.
We see them progressing from an awkward late night face-off after they have each dined alone (alternating close-ups on both men as they talk), to an amiable lunch of pizza and orange soda in a back room of the Sistine Chapel. Pope Benedict says grace a bit too long for his hungry companion who rushes an “amen,” but then the Hopkins character bites into his slice with the gusto of a teenage boy.
Director Meirelles expertly weaves in the backstory of future Pope Francis; the film is, in effect, a biopic of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. We watch the young man come to the realization of his priestly vocation, giving up his girlfriend but not the tango he danced with her. We witness him grapple with his role during Argentina’s “Dirty War” and struggle to protect his Jesuits from the military dictatorship. These flashbacks are both beautiful and horrifying, and help the viewer understand history’s nuances and compromises.
I won’t say more about The Two Popes except that the performances by Hopkins and Pryce are absolutely superb.
I was also pleased to learn that the current Pope has both a profound message about social justice and expertise in my favorite dance, Argentine tango.
With a birthday in July and a love of tropical beaches, I am feeling the loss of solar-powered personal energy today, although I know we here in wine country need the rain. It’s just that in higher elevations this water from heaven should be snow, arctic seas that should be frozen over are not, and Alaska has sustained its warmest weather ever in 2019. In Australia, their summer bushfires have pushed the air quality in Sydney to 12 times above “hazardous.” The area burned in “Oz” is three times what was lost in Brazil’s Amazon fires this year—record-breaking itself, in quantity, devastation and toxic pollution.
I have been moved by the many thousands of activists from all over the world, especially the young people of Extinction Rebellion and indigenous leaders, who have converged outside and around the U.N. Climate Summit in Madrid for the past two weeks. Time Magazine has named 16-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden its “Person of the Year,” while Brazil’s president calls her a “brat” and the U.S. president tells her to “go to the movies” and dismisses her urging “a course in anger management.”
I’m quoting below Greta’s insightful plenary address at the climate conference, where she speaks very frankly. (It is a longer than usual post) I always find it wonderful to hear her voice, and hope you will link to Democracy Now and watch/listen. In fact, I recommend this entire week of on-site programming by the Democracy Now team headed by Amy Goodman. Their climate issues coverage is second to none, on this occasion and always.
GRETA THUNBERG: “A year and a half ago, I didn’t speak to anyone unless I really had to. But then I found a reason to speak. Since then, I have given many speeches and learned that when you talk in public, you should start with something personal or emotional to get everyone’s attention, say things like, “Our house is on fire,” “I want you to panic,” or “How dare you!” But today I will not do that, because then those phrases are all that people focus on. They don’t remember the facts, the very reason why I say those things in the first place. We no longer have time to leave out the science.
“For about a year, I have been constantly talking about our rapidly declining carbon budgets, over and over again. But since that is still being ignored, I will just keep repeating it. In chapter two, on page 108 in the SR 1.5 IPCC report that came out last year, it says that if we are to have a 67% chance of limiting the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, we had, on January 1st, 2018, 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit in that budget.
“And, of course, that number is much lower today as we emit about 42 gigatons of CO2 every year, including land use. With today’s emissions levels, that remaining budget will be gone within about eight years. These numbers aren’t anyone’s opinions or political views. This is the current best available science. Though many scientists suggest these figures are too moderate, these are the ones that have been accepted through the IPCC.
“And please note that these figures are global, and therefore do not say anything about the aspect of equity, which is absolutely essential to make the Paris Agreement work on a global scale. That means that richer countries need to do their fair share and get down to real zero emissions much faster and then help poorer countries do the same, so people in less fortunate parts of the world can raise their living standards. . . .
“And why is it so important to stay below 1.5 degrees? Because even at 1 degree, people are dying from the climate crisis. Because that is what the united science calls for to avoid destabilizing the climate, so that we have the best possible chance to avoid setting off irreversible chain reactions, such as melting glaciers, polar ice and thawing Arctic permafrost. Every fraction of a degree matters.
“This is my message. This is what I want you to focus on. So please tell me: How do you react to these numbers without feeling at least some level of panic? How do you respond to the fact that basically nothing is being done about this, without feeling the slightest bit of anger? And how do you communicate this without sounding alarmist? I would really like to know.
S”ince the Paris Agreement, global banks have invested 1.9 trillion U.S. dollars in fossil fuels. One hundred companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. The G20 countries account for almost 80% of total emissions. The richest 10% of the world’s population produce half of our CO2 emissions, while the poorest 50% account for just one-tenth. We indeed have some work to do, but some more than others.
“Recently, a handful of rich countries pledged to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by so-and-so many percent by this or that date, or to become climate-neutral or net zero in so-and-so many years. This may sound impressive at first glance, but even though the intentions may be good, this is not leadership. This is not leading. This is misleading, because most of these pledges do not include aviation, shipping, and imported and exported goods and consumption. They do, however, include the possibility of countries to offset their emissions elsewhere. . .
“Without seeing the full picture, we will not solve this crisis. Finding holistic solutions is what the COP should be all about. But instead, it seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition. Countries are finding clever ways around having to take real action, like double counting emissions reductions and moving their emissions overseas and walking back on their promises to increase ambition or refusing to pay for solutions or loss and damage. This has to stop. What we need is real, drastic emission cuts at the source.
“But, of course, just reducing emissions is not enough. Our greenhouse gas emissions have to stop. To stay below 1.5 degrees, we need to keep the carbon in the ground. Only setting up distant dates and saying things which give the impression of that action is underway will most likely do more harm than good, because the changes required are still nowhere in sight. The politics needed does not exist today, despite what you might hear from world leaders.
“And I still believe that the biggest danger is not inaction. The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening when in fact almost nothing is being done apart from clever accounting and creative PR.
“I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel around the world. And my experience is that the lack of awareness is the same everywhere, not the least amongst those elected to lead us. There is no sense of urgency whatsoever. Our leaders are not behaving as if we were in an emergency. In an emergency, you change your behavior. If there is a child standing in the middle of the road and cars are coming at full speed, you don’t look away because it’s too uncomfortable. You immediately run out and rescue that child. And without that sense of urgency, how can we, the people, understand that we are facing a real crisis? And if the people are not fully aware of what is going on, then they will not put pressure on the people in power to act. And without pressure from the people, our leaders can get away with basically not doing anything — which is where we are now.
“In just three weeks we will enter a new decade, a decade that will define our future. Right now we are desperate for any sign of hope. Well, I’m telling you there is hope. I have seen it. But it does not come from the governments or corporations. It comes from the people, the people who have been unaware but are now starting to wake up. And once we become aware, we change. People can change. People are ready for change. And that is the hope, because we have democracy. And democracy is happening all the time, not just on Election Day, but every second and every hour. It is public opinion that runs the free world. In fact, every great change throughout history has come from the people. We do not have to wait. We can start the change right now. We, the people.”
This is a review of Tel Aviv on Fire, directed by Sameh Zoabi; it came out in limited release in the summer of 2019, although I just saw it on NetFlix DVD. Sly and well-written, the film is part satire, part social commentary. I found it very funny, very human, and the interaction between the two leading men—Assi, the Israeli checkpoint commander, and Salem, the charming, but hapless Palestinian aspiring writer for a “daytime drama” produced in Ramallah—to be full of heart and humanity. The film’s title is also the title of the soap opera—a show beloved by both Arab and Jewish women who are important to Assi and Salem.
Rotten Tomatoes gives it high marks, and I agree with the reviews listed there, especially: “this comedy is an enjoyable respite from the bleakness typical of the conflict’s stories…a genial illustration of the belief that all of these people are more similar than they are different.”
My delight in this film, unfortunately, coincides with yesterday’s declaration by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the U.S. does NOT consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law. Washington’s reversal of a 41-year-old policy is a gift to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, currently under indictment for corruption, who needs the political support from his buddy Trump (the same character, with his son-in-law Kushner, who has scuttled any pretense of being an honest broker in any “peace deal.”)
Of course, the United Nations and other world leaders protest that merely “declaring” what is or is not a violation of international law by Israel is not the prerogative of the United States (See comments by spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric during a press briefing on Tuesday in New York,).
My point is: artists like filmmaker Zaobi are to be praised for enlightening us through comedy. (The DVD extras include a terrific interview with him—if you can ignore the awful static-camera, wide angle of the segment). Just like Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and other late night show hosts prove, there are many ways to influence the hearts and minds of audiences, and Tel Aviv on Fire is one of them.