Keep X in Christmas

Many people take offense when the holiday on 25 December is referred to as Xmas, believing it ignores Jesus, whose birth it celebrates. Not so much.

One of the major hubs of early Christianity was Greece. The New Testament tells us that both St. Paul and St. Andrew (among others) preached in Greece. St. Andrew was crucified there, with his cross being in the shape of an “X”. Today, that shape is still referred to as Andrew’s Cross, such as in the flag of Great Britain.

The X is significant for a more important reason. The Greek word “Christos,” begins with the letter chi (pronounced “key”) followed by the letter rho. Perhaps you’ve seen the Chi Rho in a church or other religious site.

Christingles and other Christmas traditions | St Francis ...

Early Christians, when persecution began, would identify themselves to one another by doodling Christian symbols in the dirt with their walking sticks. To others, it was meaningless. It is believed among the symbols that Christians would recognize included a simple fish and the Chi Rho.

So, Merry Christo-mas!

Legacy of Arecibo’s Telescope

This aerial view of Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, taken on November 19, 2020, shows a hole in the radio dish panels created when a cable broke and crashed through the dish. The large platform above the dish has now collapsed as well.
© Photograph by Ricardo Arduengo, AFP via Getty Images

One of the most powerful tools for exploring the universe is no more. The radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico* collapsed this morning. It has essentially been out of commission since August when a supporting cable snapped; a second snapped in November and it was deemed too dangerous to attempt a repair. Today another section fell, completing the destruction.

We usually think of telescopes as having glass lenses to magnify visible light. Light, of course, is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Radio telescopes observe electromagnetic waves that have wavelengths longer than visible light. There is plenty to be learned at all wavelengths.

Probably the most memorable thing associated with Arecibo is that it was involved with SETI–the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence. The search itself is interesting, but more importantly, it was the driving force behind distributed computing. In other words, if you don’t have a supercomputer, like SETI, you can break the data to be analyzed and the algorithms into smaller pieces to be used to volunteers throughout the world. Eventually, after the analysis is completed and cross-checked, the date, like a huge jigsaw puzzle is put back together. Computer owners volunteered to let their computers run when they were not using them so that SETI could run its programs.

Today, Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) offers a wide variety of projects for computers to work on when they would otherwise be unused, including analysis of the global climate, the search for cures for various diseases, etc.

The Arecibo telescope may be rebuilt–or maybe not. In any case, it made major contributions to the scientific world.

* In case you’ve forgotten, Puerto Rico is a territory of the USA and its citizens are Americans, many of whom hope that Puerto Rico will soon become a state.

COVID Is Not Only Real – It’s Too Real

Workers in El Paso, Texas, move coronavirus victims from refrigerated trailers into the main morgue on Monday, November 23. El Paso County has seen a surge in coronavirus cases over the last month, and inmates have been recruited to help the shorthanded, overworked staff. Ivan Pierre Aguirre/Reuters (CNN.com)

I’ve worked in healthcare and have seen many people die, but I’ve never seen anything like this. People in stacked body bags, filling refrigerated trucks because the morgue is full. This is the type of thing that happens when weapons of mass destruction are used in wartime. It should not happen in 21st century American cities, especially since the recommendations–masks, social distancing, staying home, and hand-washing–could have prevented this.

COVID-19 has infected 13,723,671 Americans as I write this, which is over 4 percent of the entire population of the United States. Today there are 5,377,420 Americans who are currently infected. Some of those people may have mild or no symptoms. Others may suffer neurological or pulmonary problems for the rest of their life and. Unfortunately, 273,160 Americans have already died. Even those who have not contracted the disease have suffered loss of jobs, businesses, and homes.

Projections are that the numbers will rise in three weeks because of Thanksgiving travel and gatherings. Between Christmas and New Years, deaths from those infections are expected to peak.

I”ve never before seen a “hoax” that is this deadly.

Pardon Me?

I’ll never understand politics.

On one hand, the president pardoned Michael Flynn and the Thanksgiving turkey.

On the other, the Justice Department is in a hurry to execute five federal inmates before the inauguration. They have proposed that prisoners incarcerated in a state that does not allow capital punishment be moved to a state which does.

The approved pharmaceuticals for death by lethal injection are no longer sold for that purpose. Pentobarbitol has been used, which apparently kills by rapidly filling the lings with fluid–in effect drowning the convicted with their own bodily fluids. This sounds like a particularly nasty way to die, but federal judges, including the supreme court approve of its use.

To expedite the deaths of federal prisoners, the federal government is proposing [Click for link]:

  • Firing squad
  • Electrocution
  • Poison gas

So far, no word on the status of the guillotine, hanging, burning at the stake, or drawing and quartering, all of which were traditionally carried out in public. (In England and Europe, beheading was reserved for nobility.)

Perhaps if federal prisoners claimed that their religious beliefs required them to self-identify as a turkey, they might have a chance.

Supreme Court 5-4 Ruling

I’ve been pondering the recent ruling by the US Supreme Court siding with religious groups’ desire to bypass the COVID-19 restrictions and allow people to attend church rather than to maintain social distancing.

I’m a church goer, although for some time now I’ve been attending Mass via a video since I’m at high risk for COVID infection. Therefore, in fairness, I admit to somewhat of a bias. Not a significant one, but a bias nevertheless. Therefore, accept these as my personal opinions.

First, from a constitutional standpoint, I look to the preamble:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I personally believe that a rampant pandemic is a real and present danger to domestic Tranquility and the general Welfare. Infecting 100,000 people and killing 1,000 people every day does not seem to help secure our Posterity. Finally, a common defence is necessary for any danger, such as a pandemic, not merely military threats. I believe the founding fathers wrote what they meant.

Incidentally, the oft-spoken of separation of church and state is somewhat different than many believe. The First Amendment to the US Constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This places a restriction on Congress. Given that America fought for independence from Great Britain, which had the Church of England as its official religion, the founders did not want the same situation here. In this situation, I don’t see Congress as having had any involvement.

From a religious standpoint, I have at least three problems:

  1. Jesus was a healer. His disciples became healers. During the Antonine Plague of 165-180 AD, early Christians, who cared for their ill, had a higher survival rate than non-Christians who did not.
  2. Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were amazed at Him.” (Mark 12:17)
  3. Gathering for prayer is important, but there are other ways to pray. Jesus taught, “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6: 6)

I do not claim to be an expert on either Scripture or the law, but I do know how to think, and these are my thoughts.

The Other Thanksgiving Thing

Thanksgiving. The day in which we spend three hours preparing for dinner, twenty minutes for everybody to eat, and then three hours to clean up.

But wait, as they say on television, there’s more.

In my house, after Thanksgiving dinner is over and the guests (we always used to have guests) have left, the other tradition to kick off the Holiday Season is observed.

When no one is looking, I go down into the basement, to the far corner which was once the fruit cellar. Many of you may never seen a traditional fruit cellar. There are shelves, which originally held the Mason jars of home-canned fruits and vegetables. Underneath, is a small section where no concrete floor exists. Instead, there is a 3′ x 3′ patch of soil that was once used to store home-grown potatoes and carrots in the fall so they would remain fresh over the winter.

No one ever thinks to reach behind the patch of soil, which is just as well, because it is a perfect hiding place. I get down on my knees and prop the flashlight just right so I can see under the shelf. In the very back, where no one ever looks, is the target of my search.

I reach back and wrap my fingers around it and pull it out into the light. I unwrap the multiple layers of ancient cloth, then tin foil (Yes, tin, not modern aluminum) until its multicolored splendor is visible.

It is THE fruitcake that my family has been passing from one to another for generations untold. When my great grandmother gave it to me, she pulled me and whispered that her grandmother swore that it dates back to the days of King Arthur. If looking at it doesn’t convince you, the smell should, even though all fruitcakes smell the same.

I turn it over in my hands and ponder, “To whom should I gift it to this Christmas?”

Presidential Confusion

I don’t know what all the kerfuffle is about in Washington, DC. The Democratic candidate claims he won, while the Republican candidate claims he won. How silly. We all know that my good friend, Buford Thorndyke won by a landslide, even though all the votes had to be write-in.

President Select Thorndyke ran on a solid platform. The platform was 10 by 12 feet and constructed of state-of-the-art composite board, made from recycled milk bottles. With such a solid, attractive, and eco-friendly platform, the other candidates did not stand a chance.

Most importantly, Buford pledged to keep his campaign promises, which include:

  • Golfing whenever possible, weather permitting.
  • Visiting only friendly countries to shower them with gifts. This will encourage all the other countries to start being friendly with us, so they can get free goodies, too.
  • Ensuring that every desk in Congress will be equipped with a poo-poo cushion, a joy buzzer, and a case of Silly String to keep Senators and Representatives too busy to pass silly laws.
  • Appointing the most obnoxious politicians as ambassadors to faraway countries, then losing the paperwork so they can’t come back.

He made many more promises, of course. In any case, it’s no wonder that he won by a landslide. We will be in good hands.

COVID-19 Update 11/14/2020

I had planned a different topic for today, but the increase in COVID-19 cases is too important to wait as the number of cases has jumped. The number of deaths has not increased at the same rate, but there are factors beyond number of cases.

  • Many COVID-19 cases require that the patient receive the high level of care available only in Intensive Care Units (ICUs). In some places we have already exceeded the number of ICU beds and ICU rooms have become double occupancy. In other cases, patients who have suffered a heart attack are moved out of the Cardiac Care Unit so that those beds can be used for COVID-19 patients.
  • Hospital staff is at risk, not only for being infected, but also from physical, mental, or emotional burnout. Dealing with patients who had not taken proper precautions and are now dying is especially hard. Imagine watching someone die as they say, “I wish I would have known,” or, “I wish I had been more careful.”
  • Personal Protective Equipment has been adequate, but as demand increases, the supply may not keep up.

My personal fear is that some people will relax because of the good news regarding vaccines. Unfortunately, the logistics of manufacturing 700 million doses, delivering them while frozen, and administering two doses to everyone takes time. Unfortunately, immunity is not instantaneous and the patient remains susceptible during the time between injection and the body producing its own antibodies.

Some people are anti-vaccine. If there are side effects, additional people may be concerned enough to also avoid the vaccine. A significant portion of the population must be willing to be vaccinated; herd immunity after the 19th century has been achieved by a majority of the population being vaccinated, not by a majority surviving the disease.

So where are we?

Daily deaths still vary depending on day of the week, which is probably due to some paperwork not being filed on weekends. However, there is a significant upward trend over the last few weeks and a moderate increase in the trend line. As ICU beds are filled and some patients shunted to normal beds, this bears watching.

Daily new cases show a significant increase since mid-October, which is also reflected in the trend line.

I get my data from Worldometer, so it’s no surprise that their graph is similar.

Anecdotally, there seem to be more superspreader events, for a variety of reasons. People are weary of the isolation and some do not believe the pandemic is real. Now that the election season is over, I suspect that the main events may be family holiday celebrations.

So, the same advice still holds:

  • Wash your hands
  • Wear a mask
  • Stay at home
  • Maintain social distancing
  • Avoid touching your face

Veterans’ Day

I’m a veteran.

Veterans’ Day was originally called Armistice Day. Fighting ceased in the “Great War,” which we now call World War One, at the 11th hour of the 11th Day of the 11th month. I have to wonder why they couldn’t do it immediately–how many other lives were lost waiting for 11:00?

Being a veteran changes people. When I came back from Southwest Asia, I was different. I didn’t notice it, but everyone else did, so it took a while for me to be willing to adjust to the new normal. Years later, I’m still working on it. I think I’m making progress.

I was in logistics, meaning I supported the warriors–the heroes. I spent time in combat areas, but I was never directly engaged in combat. Nevertheless, to this day, I tend to be hyperalert. I dream about still being in uniform. I also jump at any loud or surprising noises. My coworkers know that when they speak to me, at the first syllable, I’ll jump.

I came back without any combat induced physical injury. However, I was affected in other ways. I attended too many memorial services; the inverted rifle, boots, helmet, and dog tags at the front of the chapel were real. Often, there were more than one set. Each represented a real son, daughter, spouse, or parent that would not be coming home. I cannot describe the impact of those on me, but it affects me to this day.

Being a veteran changed me in other ways–good ways. I know what it means to be part of something much larger and more important than myself. I know the meaning of honor, courage, and commitment. I was blessed to learn these priceless lessons.

When I returned to the states and someone thanked me for my service, at first I didn’t know what to say. Over time, I realized that for me there was only one honest and appropriate response.

“It was an honor.”

COVID-19 Update 10/31/2020

Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | FDA

Whether it’s the second wave of the first surge or a second wave, the number of COVID cases has begun to increase significantly.

First the (sort of) good news. Deaths have more or less stabilized at average of just under 900 per day. There are exceptions, such as the 27-29th of October when there were over 1,000 deaths each day.

I cannot comfortably say that this trend will continue. The medical community has learned a lot and become more effective, but this stability in death rates cannot be expected to be maintained as the number of new cases increases. Once the number of cases that require intensive care exceed the available ICU beds, it can be expected that the number of deaths will increase. Reports are that this is already the case in El Paso, Texas where adult patients with non-COVID medical issues are being sent to a pediatric hospital to make beds available for pandemic patients.

DAILY DEATHS

Now for the bad news. The number of new cases per day has begun to significantly increase. Yesterday, new cases exceeded 101,000–a record number.

NEW CASES

Because the data now include over 150 entries, a sudden change over a short period of time tends not immediately impact the trend line. However, if the increase that began in late September continues, the trend will follow.

Other factors to consider include:

  • Preliminary data do not indicate permanent or long term immunity for those who have been infected.
  • Treatment options from hydroxychloroquine to Remdesvir do not seem to cure the disease. The best they have been able to do is to mitigate some of the symptoms. While recovery time was shorter when Remdesvir was administered, death rates among patients treated with Remdesvir were statistically similar to patients treated with a placebo. [Link]
  • COVID-19 outcomes are not limited to death or recovery. So called long-haul patients experience a number of long term–and possibly permanent–changes that impact the quality of life, in some cases severely.

My personal interpretation:

  • New cases will continue to increase until either an effective vaccine or a cure is discovered.
  • Given that a segment of the population chooses to ignore prophylactic measures, such as social distancing and wearing masks, numbers can be expected to continue to rise.
  • Family interaction during the holidays will increase infection rates as some people who are normally careful relax their safety measures due to the overarching importance of families.

I fear that many future holidays may be remembered in terms of the death of a loved one due to COVID. I have racked my brain trying to identify even a tiny new idea as to how to deal with the pandemic without success. The best I can offer is: 1) wear a mask; 2) maintain social distancing; and 3) practice frequent and thorough handwashing.

I Feel Like a Number

Numbers - Dr. Odd

I read a couple of things recently that made me feel like a number. The shorter of the two was “The Master’s Tools” by Arielle Pardes, which appeared in Wired 28.18. (I’ve been reading Wired for years and just realized that they don’t use months to mark their issues.) The other is the book Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America by Christopher Wylie.

Both detail how the seemingly innocent trail of Internet data we leave behind can be used by politicians to aim targeted messages at the most receptive audiences.

In a nutshell, the political message to a white, Catholic gunowner who lives on a farm is most effective if it is crafted differently from the one for a black professional who lives in a city. Facebook is one of the prime sources for the data that allows politicians–and other businesses–to slice and dice people and tell them what they want to hear.

Even if the message is not blatantly misleading, there’s something wrong with the inability to tell every voter the same thing.

I avoid Facebook and many other social media platforms because I do not want all kinds of information collected about me and sold to people who want to sell me something. I don’t like being a target.

Back in 1978, Bob Seger wrote the song, “I Feel Like a Number.” I thought I understood it then. I really understand it now. [Link to lyrics and audio]

Thanks for the warning, Bob.

The Amazing Randi

About James Randi - JREF
James “The Amazing” Randi
A bit Gandalfesque, don’t you think?

James Randi has made his last escape–this time from this world.

He called himself a conjurer, rather than a magician. He viewed his craft from a very pragmatic standpoint and had no patience with those who claimed to have supernatural powers. These included stage magicians, faith healers, psychics, and others.

When he was younger, he carried a check in his pocket, which he would give to anyone who could perform “magic” that he could not duplicate as an illusion. I forget the amount of the check (large for the time, but not by today’s standards), which eventually fell apart along the folds because no one ever qualified. Later, the James Randi Educational Foundation offered a million dollars to anyone who could perform any supernatural, occult, or paranormal action under test conditions agreed to by both parties.

At one point, he was the magic expert for Alice Cooper. The show opened with sparks flowing from Alice’s fingers when he first stepped onto the stage. Naturally, one does not want live, extremely flammable pyrotechnics on one’s fingers until necessary. He related how, before each show, he’d be with Vincent Fournier in the dressing room, chatting about whatever. Randi was fascinated how, when they got the three minute warning and he’d start attaching the squibs and Vincent would immediately go into character, transforming into Alice Cooper.

He wrote 10 books, most of which are available from Amazon, as well as many public libraries. However, if you’re not a magic aficionado, a great book to start with is Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind by Alex Stone.

The Amazing Randi earned his title of Amazing by teaching and researching as well as performing.

James, thanks, and I wish you well.

Too Much Star Wars?

I confess, there is a lot of science fiction I enjoy–to the point where I refuse to pick either Star Wars or Star Trek as a favorite. When Star Wars first came out, I saw it a number of times in the theater and had the movie on VHS cassette as soon as it was possible. (Kids, ask your parents to explain VHS.)

And, yes, I wish George Lucas had left well enough alone and not made all those changes to the movie. The original theater release did not need improving.

My older son and I watched it numerous times together. When my younger son was a baby and teething, colicky, or otherwise unhappy at night, I’d tell my wife that he wanted to watch Star Wars. She thought that was crazy, but when I took him into the living room, at the first chords of John Williams’s Star Wars theme music he halted his fussing. He’d snuggle into a comfortable position and was soon asleep.

Having provided my Star Wars bona fides, there are some things I see as beyond normal. I periodically get science fiction stories pushed to me on the Internet. Most recently, I ran across “Star Wars: 10 Things You Never Knew About X-Wings.”

The article (post?) goes into detail, such as:

Focusing on the main three X-Wings, the T-65B sits at 13.4m long, 11.76m wide, and 2.4m deep, weighing ten metric tons and going at a max acceleration of 3,700 G (G-force, the force acting on a body of gravity) a max atmospheric speed of 1,050 kph, and one hundred MGLT (Megalight per hour, the relative sunlight speed in realspace).

The T-70 has the same width but a shorter length and depth/height of 12.49m and 1.92m compared to the T-65B. It goes 50 more kph, 10 more MGLT, and with 100 more G-force. Upgrading one more, the T-85 is by far the biggest, at 15.68m long, 13.65m wide, and 2.7m deep. The T-85’s speed is again, by far, the most impressive at 3,800 G, 120 MGLT, and 1,300 kph max atmospheric speed. All of this information is available in the Rebel Starfighters Owners’ Workshop Manual. 

I’ve seen records of archeological digs that were less specific.

Sometimes, even science fiction has TMI (too much information).

Strict Interpretation of the US Constitution

There’s been a lot of talk, lately, as to whether the law, particularly the US Constitution should be interpreted to reflect exactly what was written or whether the law adapts with the times. I am an analyst, so I am cursed with need to make sense—to the best of my ability—of issues of importance that are presented to the masses. I do not claim superior intelligence nor do I do believe I have extraordinary understanding of legal subtleties or political intrigues. I do however view myself as a responsible American voter trying to prepare for the time I will spend in the voting booth. I ask questions when I do not know the answers. However, sometimes the best way to find the answers is to ask the right questions. In fact, the questions are often more important than the answers.

Just for the record, I have sworn an oath to protect and defend the US Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. I will continue to honor that oath for as long as I live. I take the US Constitution seriously, just as it deserves.

There is a mad dash to nominate and approve a new Supreme Court Associate Justice in the weeks before the next presidential election. The primary goal is stated as to appoint an associate justice who will interpret the constitution so as to reflect the exact intention of the those who wrote and signed the original US Constitution in 1787. The founding fathers were responsible for creating the Great American Experiment, which is both wonderful and yet remains an experiment.

A story, which is generally accepted as true tells us: Benjamin Franklin was walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when someone shouted out, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin supposedly responded, with a rejoinder at once witty and ominous: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

I believe we may be facing just that question.

The founding fathers planted the seed; for the past 230 years, those of us who love America have tried to nurture that seedling and the plant as it has grown. In my opinion, some parts of the republic have done well, while others need more tending, including some weeding and pruning, even today.

The thoughts and ideals of the founding fathers were based on their times and their norms, which is why many people today believe that the Constitution should be interpreted based on today’s norms. This is not necessarily a new idea. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and the third US President wrote to James Madison, the fourth US President and who is considered the Father of the Constitution.

Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of nineteen years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right (Emphasis added). It may be said, that the succeeding generation exercising, in fact, the power of repeal, this leaves them as free as if the constitution or law had been expressly limited to nineteen years only. In the first place, this objection admits the right, in proposing an equivalent. But the power of repeal is not an equivalent. It might be, indeed, if every form of government were so perfectly contrived, that the will of the majority could always be obtained, fairly and without impediment. But this is true of no form. The people cannot assemble themselves; their representation is unequal and vicious. Various checks are opposed to every legislative proposition. Factions get possession of the public councils, bribery corrupts them, personal interests lead them astray from the general interests of their constituents; and other impediments arise, so as to prove to every practical man, that a law of limited duration is much more manageable than one which needs a repeal.”

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. ME 7:459, Papers 15:396

Inasmuch as Jefferson’s suggestion was never implemented, we have kept the US Constitution, more or less as written. It’s true that there have been 27 amendments, although the 18th amendment (Liquor Abolished) was negated by the 21st Amendment (Amendment 18 Repealed).  Therefore, there have actually been 25 changes to the US Constitution since 1787.

The first 10 amendments, commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights, were ratified in 1791, only four years after the main body of the Constitution, and given that they were primarily the work of James Madison, I propose that it is fair to include and accept that they, too, accurately reflect the will of the founding Fathers.

Before we consider some specific passages of the Constitution, let’s first mentally adjust our perspective to social norms of the Founding Fathers in the mid eighteenth century:

  • Only gentlemen could exert significant power. A gentleman was first and foremost a landowner. In many cases the land that they held had been granted by the British Crown before the War of Independence.
  • A gentleman was invariably white.
  • Every signatory of the US Constitution was a male.
  • Every signature on the Declaration of Independence also belonged to a man.
    • The closest was Mary Katharine Goddard, who was Baltimore’s Postmaster and an important journalist. She was charged with publishing the Declaration, so at the bottom of the broadside, issued in January 1777, the following appeared, “Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard.”
  • Suffice to say, women could not vote. I find no record of female judges until Esther Hobart Morris served as a Justice of the Peace in 1870.
  • At the time of the Founding Fathers, women were considered chattel (property).

Given these conditions and how they conflict with our norms and mores today (Thank, God) I have a difficult time accepting that strict interpretation is the best approach for the Twenty-first century.

The primary responsibility of the Supreme Court is to review legal decisions to ensure that they agree with the US Constitution. A strict constructionist sees the gold standard as the writings of the Founding Fathers. The Constitution, for example does not address issues concerning communication beyond the printed page. The telegraph, radio, television, internet, and smartphones are outside the instructions left by the Founding Fathers. While the Founding Fathers were well familiar with issues of property and the navigation of the seas, they had no concept of vessels that operate below the seas, in the air above the land, most assuredly of people and equipment that exist and operate above the Earth, on the Moon or on other planets.

Given that, let’s examine some original sections of the US Constitution. The following sections of the original Constitution may have been amended, but the original statement, and therefore strict interpretation best reflects the Founding Fathers’ intention.

  • Section 2, third paragraph: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
    • Women counted in the census, although they could not vote.
    • Native Americans were excluded from both being counted and voting.
    • “Other Persons”—in other words slaves—counted as 3/5th of a person, giving states with slaveowners more clout than other states. The more slaves in a particular state, the more representatives that state would have. At the time of the Revolution, the population of the United States is believed to be somewhere between 2.5 million and 4 million. There were about 450,000 enslaved “other persons,” although I cannot determine how they were enumerated in the total.
  • Further down in Section 2, third paragraph, “The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative.”
    • The 450,000 “other persons” is believed to include an estimated 400,000 slaves brought from Africa to the Colonies plus another 50,000 who had been born in the Colonies.
      • Americans in all 50 states owned slaves at that time.
      • The “breeding stock” aspect of slavery was a profitable business
    • The effect of the headcount of both freemen and the 3/5th count of slaves on representation was not trivial. In 1790, New York had 6 representatives, Pennsylvania had 8, while Virginia had 10. The number of slaves tipped the balance in Virginia’s favor.
    • Based on the original verbiage of the US Constitution—“The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each Shall have at least one Representative.” The forefathers were looking at a small number of people in a huge landmass, but today, it’s different. Based on strict interpretation, today, we would be entitled to 11,013 members of the House of Representatives.
  • Section 8, paragraph 7 points out that the Congress shall have the Power “To establish Post Offices and Post Roads.” A strict interpretation expected Congress to establish, operate, and maintain a Post Office. Back then, there were not necessarily roads in existence to provide postal communication. The Post Office needed to build and maintain those roads. Nowhere does it say that Congress can abdicate their postal responsibilities onto a pseudo-governmentally-owned-corporation or hand it over to a political sponsor to disenfranchise voters.
  • Section 8, paragraph 12 states that Congress has the authority “To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a Term longer than two Years.” The Founding Fathers did not want a standing Army because of the mischief that standing armies in Europe had caused.
  • “To provide and maintain a Navy.” The United States was and is a maritime country. In the time of the Founding Fathers, we were separated from European powers by the ocean, yet we needed to free travel through the ocean in order to maintain trade and commerce.
  • “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel invasions
    “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” During the Civil War, for example, the armies of both the North and the South primarily consisted of state militias.
  • Besides slavery being legally recognized, the Constitution in Article IV, Section 2, runaway slaves were to be returned to their owners. This was superseded by the 13th Amendment, which was passed in 1865—well after the Founding Fathers had passed into history.
  • Since the Bill of Rights was written by the Founding Fathers and reflects their views, the 9th and10th Amendments are especially important:
    • Amendment 9 – Construction of the Constitution: The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
    • Amendment 10 – Powers of the States and the People: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The Federal Government has expanded its authority into areas and in ways that would have shocked the Constitution’s signatories. This has resulted in rights of the individual and the state being impacted–sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

To interpret the Constitution as the Founding Fathers intended is not possible. In college, when a question on an exam asked what an author meant by a particular passage, I would answer in two parts:

  1. No one knows except the original author.
  2. Having established that, the interpretation that you taught is—and I’d regurgitate whatever the textbook or lecture opined.

If, on the other hand, we consider the Constitution to be a more current document, we would have to include the following conditions added by those who were NOT the Founding Fathers. These are not all-inclusive, but do reflect the most significant changes after the Founding Fathers passed on. A strict constructionist should, by rights, ignore every one of these since they are not from the Founding Fathers.

  • The abolition of slavery
  • All persons born in America or born anywhere to at least one American parent are citizens.
  • Voting cannot be denied or abridged on the basis of sex, race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
  • Congress can lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.
  • Attempts to legislate morality, such as Prohibition, have not succeeded.

I recommend that we admit that we’re no longer an 18th century agrarian society and act accordingly.

COVID-19 Update

I continue to track coronavirus cases, as I have since 24 May 2020. My simple linear progression is no longer adequate for anything more than broad statements. I defer to the experts and their more complex models.

However, as any analyst will tell you, there is still a lot that can be learned from the data, even if the search for future activity is taken off the table. Here are some findings and postulations that I find interesting:

There are a fair number of footnotes to the data. Some states try to backdate cases or events for a variety of reasons. It could be plain old human error, processes that are not robust enough to handle the large numbers of cases, or even an attempt to have better optics.

The daily data always decreases over the weekend. I don’t think fewer people get sick or die on weekends, but I can see the paperwork not being filed until the regular workweek.

The rate of increase for new cases has slowed, but not flattened or showing a decline. It is still showing an increase between now and the end of the year. Similarly, the number of deaths continues to rise, but not as steeply as before, hopefully indicating the benefit of experience by healthcare workers. In other words, they are more effective using the tools they’ve had, rather than a miracle drug, although Remdesivir shows promise.

Remdesivir is expensive—$3,100 for a course of treatment in the US but only $2,340 in other developed countries. The rub here is that US taxpayers reportedly invested $99 million for Gilead Pharmaceuticals to develop the drug.

As of Saturday 10 October 2020, the United States has had 7,945,505 cases of COVID-19 resulting in 219,282 deaths. Another 5,089,842 patients recovered, which means there are still 2,636,381 active cases.  These patients may never recover, but may suffer from COVID-19’s various symptoms for the rest of their lives.

Testing is still an area that is somewhat vague. It is reported that 117,601,422 tests have been administered, but there are many anecdotal tales of people having difficulty getting tested. Reports indicate that elites, whether sports stars or politicians, are tested on a regular basis, while regular citizens are reportedly refused.

I wonder what is considered a COVID-19 test. The most definitive test involves inserting a long swab into the nasopharynx, which is quite unpleasant. I can’t see the elites tolerating this on a daily or weekly basis, so maybe they’re using a less accurate but more tolerable test.

Sadly, I believe we’ve got a long way to go before we can relegate COVID-19 to the history books.

Russki TV – “Better Than Us”

Better Than Us | Drama Quarterly

I confess! I’ve been watching a science fiction series on Netflix that was produced in Russia. The tempo–at least for the beginning was slower than I’m used to–but it still was worth watching. Apparently, it was originally called Better than Human, but some other show had copyrighted that name, so it was re-titled as Better Than Us.

In a nutshell, a bot (android) by the name of Arissa has transcended the usual robotic norms, including Asimov’s rules. She has gained a sense of right and wrong, although sometimes, the way she expresses them is a bit oblique. Why? Because she has a sense of self and a sense of morality.

As Winston Churchill noted, Russia–including (in my opinion) Russian entertainment–is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

As I said, the tempo is a bit different than American TV, but interesting and worth watching nevertheless.

Oh, be aware–the closed captions do not match the translated speech, but, hey–what the hell.

Tyler’s Grandson Dies

News sources have reported that John Tyler’s grandson died on September 26, 2020 [Link to CNN]. I mean no disrespect to Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., the grandson, but the media did leave out a few significantly interesting details. Many of us see (and dread) history as boring collection of names and dates, dry as toast, and impossible to make interesting. Just as the devil is in the details, so too are the exciting–and sometimes lurid–details of history.

John Tyler was not elected president, but was vice president to William Henry Harrison. You may remember their famous campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!” Harrison’s victory against Tecumseh at Tippecanoe earned him the nickname.* When sworn in as president, Harrison only served 31 days before dying; the cause of death was from a disease, although exactly which disease is still debated.

This was the first time a president had died while in office, so there was little guidance as to how to handle it. Harrison’s cabinet wanted Tyler to be referred to as “Acting President,” but before they could make that official, Tyler announced that he was president. Period. However, he was often referred to as “His Accidency,” but most likely behind his back.

After his term expired, Tyler initially worked as a representative of Virginia on a commission to avoid a civil war. He eventually saw it as insurmountable. In 1861, Tyler voted for the secession of the slave-holding states and volunteered for appointment to the Congress of the Confederacy. Later, when elections were held, he was elected to its House of Representatives, but died before its first session.

Tyler was the only president to be buried under a flag other than the United States Flag. He was also the only president to be considered a traitor and an enemy of the state.

I told you history was interesting.

*It always strikes me as odd that so many American “heroes” main accomplishment were push Native Americans from their own land. Put another way, they coveted their neighbors’ land and commited murder to obtain it.

FUD

I spent almost a decade working for a major medical equipment manufacturer. that made and sold products like CT and MRI scanners. These came with price tags in the millions of dollars, so competition was fierce, and customers wanted to make the best possible decision as to the best product.

Our most significant competitor was General Electric whose products were very good. Picker International, the company I worked for, would often be the first to introduce new technology. We used to joke that sometimes that the leading edge was actually the “bleeding edge.” GE might have lagged behind, but by doing so, they were able to observe and then develop a competitive, yet more mature product.

One of the sales tactics we often faced was referred to as FUD–Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Competitors would ask customers if they were sure that the new technology would work. What if this or what if that? Our biggest competitor could end their sales pitch with the following statement:

No one ever got fired for buying GE.

The statement was true. However, I don’t know of any case in which someone got fired for buying a GE competitor. Nevertheless, this the argument carried a lot of weight and was difficult to counter because it is impossible to prove or disprove a negative.

FUD is a powerful persuader that is not dependent on specific, proven facts.

Now that you know what FUD is, look for it in today’s political rhetoric

The US Constitution

Yesterday was Constitution Day, which marks the signing of the US Constitution on 17 September 1787. With all of the turmoil in our society, I struggled to figure out how to write about it without throwing gasoline on anybody’s fire. This is the best I can do.

The constitution is a marvelous document both imperfect and the product of its time. Twenty-five times it has been amended (There are 27 amendments, but the 18th [Prohibition] and the 21st [repeal of Prohibition] cancel one another).

While much of the constitution describes the mechanisms of government, but to me the very soul of the Constitution is its preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

These days I read about people demanding their constitutional rights—a just and reasonable demand. However, without making a judgement about their position, I wonder how many of these people have actually read the Constitution. [Related story]

Sadly, it seems there are too few who acknowledge their responsibilities, as well as their rights. Members of the military and elected officials swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution from foreign and domestic threats. I have experience with the military, and believe most are, in fact, committed to that oath, to the extent that they are willing to give their lives to do so. I do not have a similar personal familiarity with elected officials. However, I do not believe death is a significant risk for them. As near as I can tell, their risk seems to be limited to not being re-elected.

I suggest that one of the responsibilities we share is to have some familiarity with this marvelous document. I urge everyone to read the US Constitution.

Better yet, make it a habit to read it once a year—on Constitution Day.

Anti-Social Media

In the early days of the Internet, its primary users were academics who saw it as a forum for the free exchange of ideas. As such, it was afforded some legal protection by Section 230, which says:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

That’s Section 230 in its entirety—short, sweet, straightforward. However, as we know, no good deed goes unpunished. Today, much of the internet is used as to present falsehoods, launch attacks, conduct illegal transactions, etc. all while remaining anonymous.

Why? Section 230 treats “interactive computer services” as conduits, like telephone companies. The phone company (supposedly) neither knows nor cares about what you say on the phone. On the other hand, newspapers, radio, and television must adhere to certain guidelines. For example, they cannot broadcast the tone used by the National Weather Service for emergencies unless it’s either an emergency or a clearly identified test. Likewise, certain language is prohibited.

The infamous website Backpage, protected by Section 230 until it was shut down, acted as a link for sex—including sex with minors. How many of these “sex workers” were, in fact, victims of human trafficking?

So, what’s the difference between communication and content providers? I see at least two major differences:

  • Telephone conversations are between two people or, in the case of a conference call, to a group of people who choose to participate. In any case, the audience is limited in some manner.
  • Mass media, like newspapers, radio, and television are intended to be available to anyone.

To my mind, social media are, today, more like mass media. In fact, I don’t see a fundamental difference. So why aren’t they regulated like other mass media?

Money.

The owners of social media have made so much money that I believe it is unlikely, if not impossible, for any control to be imposed.

When I write a blog, even when I’m aggressively challenging someone’s position, I endeavor to write factually, civilly, and coherently. I hope someday, this will be the norm. With Section 230 in place, this is unlikely.