The Boll Weevil

Boll Weevil Monument

In the town square of Enterprise Alabama there’s a monument, a tribute that’s one of a kind—The world’s only statue erected to honor an agricultural pest. The story is straightforward: Local farmers’ cotton crops were being devastated by a little bug the size of a pencil eraser. The Boll Weevil, (Anthonomus grandis), was chewing up the delicate bolls, threatening to erase the sole source of income, the very livelihood and survival of those farmers, and of a vast portion of the U.S. economy.

Watching their way of life vanishing, destroyed by an insect that was barely visible, those farmers did something more enlightened than one might think. They saw the boll weevil for the wake-up call it was, the messenger bringing a long overdo but critical warning: Those farmers were chained to one crop, and when that crop was destroyed, they would be too. Did they despair? Did they wring their hands, or plant more cotton? Did they pray to the god of tilling and turning to intervene and banish the nasty pest sent to ravage their fields? What did they do?

(Anthonomus grandis)

They planted peanuts! Before long the message had spread across the American South: King Cotton, the one crop that had brought so much prosperity—and so much misery and division, depending on how similar the color of ones skin was to the color of that cotton—that dependence was about to destroy them!

Within a generation cotton had serious competition from peanuts, and corn, and flax, and numerous other crops. The Boll Weevil had been a herald of change, and people recognized it with a statue.


You know where this is going. I’m not fully prepared at this moment to suggest a statue in the town commons to the new coronavirus. Nonetheless, the potential that invisible bug has to reorder our lives is already apparent. Like the boll weevil, the virus is quite literally destroying whatever social framework and common order we once referred to as ‘normal.’

Those southern farmers once went about their lives. They ordered their seeds prior to each planting season, prepared the soil, cleared vast new acreage, drilled those seeds into the loamy dirt of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina. They turned their enslaved human beings into those fields to tend and nurture the crop. Then the boll weevil feasted; the cotton failed; those farmers looked beyond the wreckage, and changed their methods. So can we.

If we reap the opportunities the virus presents, we’ll be able to discern its origins, and repair the breach that allowed it access; to use the knowledge we’ve gained in crafting a vaccine, and turn that new weapon of understanding to other illnesses such as HIV, SARS, TB, or looming pathogens we’re told await us. We can use the current infestation to improve our health infrastructure, and to address the inequities it has revealed. We can see the way our current methodologies of agriculture and nutrition leave us exposed to viruses yet to be identified and named. We can understand that our current practices in those fields are harmful to the earth, and that many of them are simply unsustainable.

The statue to the Boll Weevil in Enterprise Alabama has been vandalized numerous times. Often enough that authorities have moved the original monument into a nearby train station/museum, where security cameras focus on it 24/7. There will be vandals. History is replete with them, and it’s been stained by the damage they’ve done, the burden those rapacious rogues have delivered on all of us. That’s the subject of a whole new post, especially in light of recent events in the U.S. Capitol, speaking of vandals.

So I close with a suggestion: Let’s be ready to thank the microscopic but mighty coronavirus for breaking open a door of ignorance. While it’s critical that we defeat this virus, it may be more important to learn from it. Thanks for reading.

20/20 Vision

It’s over. We made it. Well, most of us made it. Here’s to those who didn’t: Hail and farewell fine friends, it was good to know you. Sorry you’re no longer with us. The year that just passed into history was replete with loss. Future archivists will note the surge of headstones chiseled with the now ominous numeration.

But 20/20 was full of unprecedented opportunity as well. It would be a disservice to those to whom we bid adieu not to discern whatever lessons 20/20 offered. Like turning from 9/11 in disinterest, or ignoring the dead at Pearl Harbor. This discernment is a must.

The analogy is too easy to make, but I’ll make it anyway. Year 20/20 sharpened our sights, our foresight, our hindsight, and our insight, if we allowed it to. If 20/20 didn’t demand your focus and discernment and attention and introspection, then you were either oblivious to the world as it truly, awfully, gloriously is, or you were happily ensconced on Planet Clueless. If 20/20 delivered you to the eye chart of our collective existence, and sat you down, and forced responses from you, then here’s what I believe you may have seen as the sequential image enhancing lenses flickered past.

I’ll not mention the plagues that bedeviled us overtly in 2020. There’s no use in pricking that achy scab. It will heal; we know that. Indeed, that understanding, that lens, is perhaps the central vision we’ll take from the eye chart we’re presently viewing: We do endure; crises come…and crises go. We go on. Always. This lens is important.

Another lens clicks over, and it shows clearly that, however much we speak of ‘normal,’ and however much we wish to return there, we now see that normal wasn’t working. And it will not, ever again. With that lens in focus, let’s be unafraid to look more closely at what a new normal could—must—look like:

Bravo to those scientists and epidemiologists and vaccinologists who’ve given us at least the promise of emerging from this miasma. And to those on the front lines in health care, bravissimo! This new normal, in deference to, and in payment to them, would be our collective transition to their old normal, the vision they’ve seen for a very long time. We may take dubious comfort in ‘the virus came out of nowhere,’ or ‘no one saw it coming.’ But that’s a fallacy. It’s a convenient lie among ourselves. Those people noted above saw it coming. They sang, and danced, and posted, and wrote, and paraded about exactly what it would be, and do, and look like…and we ignored them. So here must be our new normal: We must focus on what experts and scientists put in front of us, whether their view is comforting or harsh; whether soothing or disturbing. It cannot matter. We must see their view, and assimilate it. Because here’s the thing. They’re still warning us. They’re telling us it will happen again. It will. We’ve not seen the last of it.

Thus another lens clicks into place. How much time, and energy, and resources, and money, and attention did the world exhaust in 20/20? It defies calculation. Yet for all the distancing, and masking, and hand sanitizing, and new protocols to defeat the scourge, with all the resources spent on its eradication, where is the intense, laser-focused time and energy toward preventing the next virus? Are we preoccupied with it? No. Are we prepared for it? No. Do most of us even acknowledge that SARS-Cov-3 could well be waiting in the wings as this is written? No. It could arrive tomorrow, a mutation, or an entirely new virus and we’d be exposed yet again. Thus the new normal I propose: No need to identify the source of the current virus; we already know whence it came: It came through our frantic and reckless intrusion into a world where we don’t belong, our transgression of a natural boundary between territories. The virus is simply proof that such crowding is not without consequence. In a sense, comforting or not, the system worked.

To whit: Human trespassing in animal habitats, and the ingestion of the flesh of those animals by humans has shown itself to be the awful, devastating, world-changing risk we’ve been repeatedly warned about. Once again, ‘the virus came out of nowhere,’ or ‘no one saw it coming’ do not work. Despite our collective, powerful, food industry-driven wish to continue ingesting animal protein, it is beyond harmful, into irrational. Until humans make the conscious decision to shift to a plant based diet, viruses will haunt us, and punish us, and kill us, and disrupt our lives. Again. We can look away, complain that this particular lens is faulty, or clouded, or angled poorly. But here’s the fundamental truth: Those scientists and epidemiologists noted above are well aware of the source of these viruses, but confronted with our voracious carnal appetites, and the monumental lobbying power of special food interests, they’re powerless to prevent their spread.

So another lens clicks into place: Unless and until we look without flinching at the source of our information, and the powerful and monied manipulators of it, our view will be purposely clouded, craftily skewed by the vast riches associated with and empowered by that manipulation. We’ve seen the recent deselection of one virus, and its human manifestation. He will be gone January 20th. But the hidden viruses in our political system, those duly elected people beholden to corporate interests instead of constituents must be identified and removed as well. The year past has allowed a rare kind of clear vision of that plague to emerge. It’s been too easy to see the open scandal, the venal self-enrichment, and the shameful nepotism that has perhaps existed forever. Has there ever been a better, more propitious time in our history to expose the rot and rubble in our system of governance and refresh that system so it serves us all? I don’t believe so. We have a vaccine for that despicable plague. The Vote. Let’s inject it, and begin to heal.

It would be easy to view 20/20 through a judgmental, a sour, a harshly disparaging lens. It robbed us of much wealth—financial and otherwise. It took away those we loved, and that which we can never replace. It pushed us toward mistrust, and fear, and an unstable dizzying existence we don’t like very much.

But 20/20 opened our eyes as well. Here’s hoping 2021 does not deliver normal. Here’s hoping a new vision can emerge, and that the lens it provides fills our new glasses with hope and joy and a better world.

Happy New Year to all. And stop eating animals.