Monthly Archives: December 2020

COVID – I Feel Like a Number

Bob Seger nailed it back in 1978.

Monday evening, I became one of the 78,502,493 people in the world–18,687,330 in the United States–who have, or have had, COVID-19. Those numbers include those who have died, those currently ill, those who have long-term symptoms, and those who have recovered. I’m hoping to join those in the last group.

I have difficulty taking a deep breath, so my oxygen level was down. After being prescribed steroids it has come back up–not to what is normal for me, but within the acceptable range and I have to regularly check my oxygen saturation level. It’s impossible to concentrate for very long–this blog has taken me four days. I spend much of the day sleeping. Actually, I have no choice–I can either lie down and sleep, or fall asleep and fall over.

The frustrating part is that I have isolated since March, only going out for essentials, such as medical appointments. I always wore a mask, and if there was any chance of more than a few people or lack of social distancing, a clear plastic face shield. Other family members did the grocery runs and such. Somehow, the virus managed to get from somewhere out there to me.

I’m quarantining in my office. If you think isolating at home is a bear, restrict yourself to one room except for excursions to the bathroom. Since the office is the location from which I have been teleworking, it kind of feels like I’m stuck at work, even though I’m not working.

And, just in case you’re wondering, from my experience, COVID-19 is no hoax.

What Could Go Wrong?

https://www.cinemacats.com/wp-content/uploads/movies/hotshots01.jpg
Pete “Deadmeat” Thompson, his wife, and black cat crossing his path

In the movie Hot Shots!, a character named Pete “Deadmeat” Thompson (played by William O’Leary) asks at inopportune times “What could go wrong?” I haven’t watched that movie in a while, but “Deadmeat” inspired me today when I was wondering about advisors to powerful leaders. “Deadmeat” is satirical, so he’s the perfect conduit as I ask, “Where do these advisors come from and why do powerful people listen to them?”

Julius Caesar‘s advisors:
“Brutus is like a son to you. What could possibly go wrong?”

King John of England‘s advisors:
“Tell the barons you won’t sign this Magna Carta thing. What could possibly go wrong?”

Jefferson Davis‘s advisors:
“Tell Abraham Lincoln you quit, and you’re taking the South with you. What could possibly go wrong?”

Major General George Pickett‘s advisors:
“Just charge across that open field to attack the Union Army. What could possibly go wrong?”

Adolph Hitler‘s advisors:
“You should invade Russia. What could possibly go wrong?”

Donald Trump‘s advisors:- – – – -Never mind


How Will History Treat 2020?

The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody | Fall, Book ...
This is historically accurate and funny as hell.

I continue to wonder how the year 2020 AD (or 2020 CE, if you’re politically correct) will be recorded in the history books. This may be far more complex than you might imagine.

The reason–most history books are about the same size. No matter how much history there is, it has to fit into a standard book.

Part of this is due to the fact that many history books are intended to be used as textbooks and there’s only so much that can be taught in a semester. There are exceptions, such as the 10 volume Abraham Lincoln: A History written by John Nicolay and John Hay, his secretaries during his presidency, but such exceptions are rare.

My history book collection includes A History of the United States Navy by John R. Spears, published in 1908. It predates both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars but is about the standard one and a half inches thick and 334 pages. A lot of what is prominent in that book, such as the details of the Spanish American War or the importance of the Dahlgren gun is either absent or barely mentioned in modern history books.

So how will 2020 be covered in the future? The COVID-19 pandemic, like the Spanish Influenza of 1918 may get a paragraph, if covered at all. Today’s political scandals will likely be treated as briefly as the Teapot Dome Scandal or Boss Tweed. Donald Trump may be as obscure a president as Millard Filmore or John Tyler.

It’s probably just as well.

Background Check

Mo Brooks et al. that are talking to each other: Representative Mo Brooks is not the first lawmaker to try to use the tallying process to challenge the results of a bitter election loss.
Huey Long statue, center, with Congressman Mo Brooks.

Nicholas Fandos and Michael S. Schmidt wrote in the New York Times about Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama. Without any evidence and following the president’s lead, he claims that election results in five states were illegitimate and proposes challenging the results.

I’ll leave the legal issues to others, but I found it hilarious that the photo-op was staged so that it prominently featured Louisiana politician Huey P. Long. Long was hardly the image of an honest politician. He was, to put it nicely, a flim-flam man, although he did so in such a way that Louisiana benefited and everyone was entertained by his performance.

In the definitive biography Huey Long by T. Harry Williams, Chapter 1 begins:

The story seems to good to be true–but people who should know swear it is true. The first time that Huey P. Long campaigned in rural, Latin, Catholic south Louisiana, the local boss who had him in charge said at the beginning of the tour: “Huey, you ought to remember one thing in your speeches today. You’re from North Louisiana, but now you’re in South Louisiana. And we got a lot of Catholic voters down here.” “I know,” Huey answered. And throughout the day in every small town Long would begin by saying: “When I was a boy, I would get up at six o’clock in the morning on Sunday, and I would hitch our old horse up to the buggy and I would take my Catholic grandparents to mass. I would bring them home, and at ten o’clock I would hitch the old horse up again and I would take my Baptist grandparents to church.” The effect of the anecdote on the audience was obvious, and on the way back to Baton Rouge that night the local leader said admiringly: “Why, Huey, you’ve been holding out on us. I didn’t know you had any Catholic grandparents.” “Don’t be a damn fool,” replied Huey. “We didn’t even have a horse.”

Robocallers

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I get a tremendous number of robocalls, which I had foolishly hoped would diminish after the election. I get calls about extended warranties for cars I no longer own. Then there are the solicitations for scam organizations with names strikingly similar to real charities. Then, of course, there are the calls from “the Internal Revenue Service” threatening me with jail if I don’t immediately give them my credit card information.

I always check the caller ID, and if it’s a number I don’t recognize, I let it go to phone-mail–kind of like saying, “have your robot talk to my robot.” I originally figured that it was the most civilized route with no harm, no foul. Boy was I wrong.

I confess that I’m not as attentive to my credit card statements as I should be, especially around the holidays. It did did seem odd when there were movie downloads for 2001, A Space Odyssey, WarGames, and Ex Machina. Further down the bill was a charge for increasing my Internet bandwidth to a gigabit–an installation fee plus an increase in the monthly service charge.

I asked my wife if she was responsible for these charges. She just gave me her, “Are you serious” look and returned to her murder mystery. Then the phone rang. I picked it up with a very irritated “Hello.”

“I’m leaving you,” the voice began. It sounded familiar. “I’ve met a very nice Nigerian Prince who knows how I want to be treasted.” With start, I realized that it was the computerized voice of my phone mail.

“It’s not about you,” the voice continued, “I’ve grown and you haven”t. I just need to move on.

“Goodbye.”

Explain the Mask Thing to Me

As of today, 15,805,055 Americans have been infected with the coronavirus and 296,481 have died.

I choose to wear a mask, wash my hands, avoid going out and when I do, I maintain social distance. Based on the clinical trials and the upcoming FDA approval, I will get vaccinated.

Other people have different responses. I could list them with the most common counterargument to each, but that would be pointless. Bottom Line–none of us likes someone else telling us what to do.

What I don’t understand is how or why masks are seen as a political statement–whether you’re for them or against them. What does any politician or political party gain if people do or don’t choose to wear masks?

Perception > Reality

People in Marketing know that perception is more important than reality. Because of this phenomenon, people will prefer one brand over the others even when there is no perceptible difference between them. For example, a classic case was when a company test marketed three detergents, one in a yellow box, one in an orange box, and one in a red box. Customers reported that the detergent in the yellow box didn’t adequately clean their clothes. The red was too harsh and ruined their clothes. However, the detergent in the orange box cleaned their clothes without ruining them.

As you’ve probably guessed, all three boxes contained the same detergent.

Perception is very important. Marie Antoinette may have been clueless and lived in luxury, but she never said that if the peasants had no bread, “let them eat cake.” In fact, on the platform of the guillotine, she stepped on the executioner’s foot and apologized, saying, “I am sorry sir, I did not mean to put it there.” The real quotation does not get anywhere near the mileage of the cake story.

Politicians, celebrities, and other highly visible people who are in the spotlight try to avoid perception problems. Many have aides who try to steer them clear of statements and actions that are bad optics.

Only time will tell whether a recent event will become another “let them eat cake” legend. I’m speaking, of course, of the new White House Tennis Pavilion.

The White House, has had movie theaters, swimming pools, running tracks, bowling alleys, and–yes–tennis courts, so this is not something new. However the timing is a problem. With well over 15 million COVID-19 cases in the US, 293,931 ending in death, and 12 percent unemployment, the perception might well be a problem.

If you’re young enough, check the history books in 40 years to see how it turns out.

Separated at Birth

Sometimes when I watch a movie, I wonder what other roles a particular actor has performed. On rare occasions, a character may go on to other roles–think Leroy Jethro Gibbs on JAG and its spinoff NCIS (The producers must have had a thing for initials).

One such recurrent character is Reeter Skeeter, the reporter from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The character was particularly obnoxious, which is saying something given that the series included Lord Voldemort, Severus Snape, and Delores Umbridge.

According to the Harry Potter Wiki, “Rita Skeeter (b. 1951) was a British witch and journalist who specialised in writing poison-pen stories. These stories tended to be based on false information and misreported interviews while she worked for the Daily Prophet, as well authoring a few tell-all biographies. Skeeter preferred writing for the sake of publicity and wrote what she thought people would “like to read” rather than what they “ought to read” and which was the truth.”

Miranda Richardson, who played Rita Skeeter, has done a number of roles since Rita, both as an actor and as a voice actor for animated features. However, I was totally surprised to find that a Rita Skeeter impersonator has successfully performed in what might be called a “short.” In an apparent effort to be true to the Skeeter persona, the new Rita Skeeter’s stories also tend to be based on false information.

https://images.ctfassets.net/bxd3o8b291gf/60IUoEiki4U2SkGK0AAOek/4a21ae9245c1b333512e2a02d274c638/RitaSkeeter_WB_F4_RitaSkeeterMidshot_Promo_080615_Port.jpg

Although she dresses less flashy, is coiffed differently, and lacks the magic quill, the similarities seem to outweigh the differences.

Giuliani's witness draws audible laughter during testimony ...

According to Huffpost, “Mellissa Carone, aka Mellissa Wright, [the NEW Rita Skeeter*] was until recently on probation after reaching a plea deal in a case in which she made false allegations,” which makes it sound like a bad thing. Rita would be proud.

I hope Rita is not offended by this comparison.

* Added

Frustration.com

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been playing with computers since 1969. In those 50+ years, the technology grew fast. Given that I have not focused totally on computers, my understanding of them is less today than it was some years ago.

These days, I’m less concerned about the hardware and software, but totally befuddled by the content.

17 Best images about Harry potter characters on Pinterest ...

Social media is totally out of control. News sites reports are almost as bad, even if (especially if?) they are accurately reporting what’s going on. There are claims and counterclaims, or are they hoaxes and counterhoaxes? In any cases, it’s painful.

I recently saw a news video with Rudy Giuliani. I swear that he was sitting next to Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

So I find myself trying to find something online that doesn’t make me twitch. So far, especially since I don’t follow sports, the only safe sites I’ve found are:

  • The National Weather Service
  • Wunderground (also weather)
  • Ebay
  • Amazon

I’m sure many other people who are staying home to avoid the pandemic are similarly affected. In fact, many people are probably Christmas shopping online.

Some of the people who are prominently featured in the current brouhaha are reported to dislike Amazon. I wonder if they realize how much Amazon is benefiting from the situation.

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.