It’s Called Exponential Growth, Stupid

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The world and universe we live in operates according to scientific principles. That governs things like the rates of infection from a virus humanity has never before encountered. The response from humanity to exposure to this new virus is similar to when Native Americans were exposed to viruses like smallpox where there was no community immunity. It decimated the native population.

When this sort of illness is unleashed upon our population, mathematical relationships and principles become extremely important. In this case, the two figures are the infectivity rate, or Rowhich is the number of people that each carrier of the virus may be expected to infect, and the mortality rate, or fraction of people who will die once they contract the virus. In the journal Nature, this chart shows how the new virus stacks up against some of the other diseases feared by mankind.

Nature chart

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00758-2

This chart shows that the infectivity is estimated to be both much higher than the seasonal flu, and that the death rate is far, far higher. Higher even than the 1918 pandemic flu which was the last time humanity faced a global pandemic. Given these estimates, and observing the exponential growth in infections, it is the height of folly to believe that we will be able to “open up the country for business” in just over two weeks.

But that is what is being peddled by those who value money more than life. We face an enemy that has the potential to inflict more casualties than all the foreign wars the US has engaged in, during the timeframe of a few months. This wave of potential chaos sweeping across our nation’s health care infrastructure will finally open the eyes of this nation to the raging incompetence of the current administration.

It is certain that this administration has deliberately taken an approach that is aimed at protecting the popularity and electability of this President instead of focusing on the public health crisis we face. And now the evil is oozing out of those on the right on a daily basis, resulting in people saying that the “cure” (social distancing, closure of businesses), will have worse effects than the pandemic will cause. Thus we rescue our economy at the potential expense of millions of victims if we relax our social controls.

Only in an administration where the leader is violently anti-science would such virulent nonsense be allowed to be even breathed as potential policy. Only those who value the economy over the lives of so many future victims would dare to utter such folly. But that is the world we live in at present, where the fear of the deep state has overwhelmed the ability to respond to a real crisis that will not be bullied.

The real pity is that even with the duplicity and incompetence of this President on daily display, support for him is actually growing. Maybe part of that is a desire to pull together, and take common action against an invader. Maybe the naming of this virus by its location of origin is playing at the xenophobic gene, allowing us to turn against that country and all of its residents. Why blame our lax and inadequate response to this virus on the actions of our leaders when we can blame the Chinese?

It is not the bluster and false statements coming from this President that will decide the final outcome. Even if we do everything perfectly, and are able to slow the curve, we will likely have hundreds of thousands dying from this virus. But if we yield to the voices of incompetence and evil, and relax our vigilance just at the time when it matters most, we will be smothered by millions of bodies as the coronavirus tsunami withdraws from our shores. The difference between these future courses will be directly determined by the actions that our leaders take over these next few weeks and months. May we have the wisdom to choose the right course.

Only a Cold

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I caught a cold last week. It showed its ugly presence on Saturday, with spasms of sneezing, a sore throat, and a developing cough. In the four days since that time, I’ve persuaded myself that it is not the dreaded new disease (no fever or chills), and that the disease is receding as I would expect it to. But its appearance even in the time of increased precautions against viral invaders shows that the new virus can be just as sneaky and opportunistic.

It is amazing how quickly the world has changed. Last week at this time, we were still looking forward to taking a trip to Key West for some hedonism. That was before I saw a cumulative display of disease cases day by day since January. When you see for yourself that the rate of reported cases was increasing by 12% per day, the numbers came alive for me and told me that if we ran the risk of taking a trip, we were not going to have a good time. Even if we safely ran the gauntlet and did not catch the disease, our time of relaxation would be ruined by worrying about making it back in one piece.

Having a background in math and statistics made it clear to me that we are in a global exercise we’ve not gone through since 1919. When a new virus emerges and passes into the human population, one that no one has immunity to, and one that appears to have a significant mortality factor, you have to watch it closely in order to gauge its infectivity and its effects. What is ironic is that China and the US shared an initial response to belittle the potential harm that this virus posed. In China, this resulted in the doctor who raised the initial alarm being censured by the Chinese state, prior to the time that the doctor succumbed to the disease. In the US, the potential for an epidemic was ridiculed by the President and his favorite press sources. We heard about the Democratic hoax that was aimed at bringing down the President. Even today, as of March 17, you can see a post by Dr. Ron Paul decrying the response to this epidemic as being overblown. In both cases, China and the US, precious time was lost in responding to the emergence of this disease. They will only take this disease seriously when family members are stricken by the pneumonia this disease can cause, and those family members are turned away from all hospitals because they’ve had to ration respirators and only those under age 80 will be treated. That’s the decision they are making in Italy, having to ration their available slots to the younger population.

It is a bit jarring to hear myself described as elderly, but since I’ve now crossed the age 65 divide, I now fall into the target demographic for this virus. So far the effect for us has been canceled concerts and canceled trips, and a lack of church services. The chorus we’ve been working on for months, a performance of Carmina Burana scheduled for April, has not been canceled formally but since no one can rehearse for it, it is on borrowed time. Our children are out of the house, and though one son is working in retail and will likely take a hit, we are able to help him out if needed. If we are not hit ourselves by the virus, we will weather the storm relatively easily.

2020 daffodils2

But for the economy of the world, we are now seeing the issues caused by the streamlining of supply chains by linking to non-domestic sourcing of parts. For decades now, the maxim of running public corporations solely for the maximizing of return to the shareholders has caused businesses to rely fully on foreign partners, either for finished goods, or for creating semi-finished goods that get completed elsewhere in the world. Quality improvement processes preached the benefits of lean assembly lines, since excess inventory hid systemic inefficiencies. So more and more businesses performed global integration of their supply chains. That process worked well until there was a supply disruption at the original point of manufacture. If the ultimate goal is to have product available to sell, then some inefficiency may be needed to allow for supply chain interruptions.

The disruptions in supply chains will continue to ripple through the world’s economy for months to come. Add to that the immediate disruption in the lives of service providers who will be laid off from their retail and food service jobs in the coming weeks, and we have the potential for a huge decrease in economic activity during the year. Already the governments of the world are generating proposals for helicopter money to be shoveled out and spread across the land. All of it with money borrowed from our distant descendents. This crisis has the potential to turn into a debt implosion, with the destruction of much of the seemingly secure capital in the world through waves of bankruptcy and discharge of debt. Will this black swan event be the one that causes the world to fundamentally reset its economic system? Growing economic inequality and growing dependence upon government debt to sustain the illusion of economic growth are at the point of totally collapsing. When no one can keep the appearances up, what happens to the world?

The barren shelves in the stores and the anecdotes about pitched battles for the last shreds of toilet paper have shown us how close we are to unraveling as a civilization. As long as we had sports, and access to material goods when desired, and good restaurants to pig out at, then we were happy. But let us have one week where demand outstripped supply, and we see how thin the veneer of civilization is.

I figured that the tone of this post is so much bleaker than most of my posts, that I needed to leaven it with a reminder that there is still beauty in the world. The pictures are of my daffodils that have burst into glorious flower within this past week. Every year I have a couple of weeks of peak daffodils. This is their time, and a reminder that spring is coming, and better times are ahead. I leave you with a delight of daffodils. Stay well in the days ahead.

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Emmanuel Parish, Cumberland – A Gem

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The church on the hill. The hill that used to be where the fort stood back in the French and Indian war days. The fort where they dug trenches for the troops to walk through without risk of drawing enemy fire, trenches that were simply covered up by the church built above in 1850. Emmanuel Parish church in Cumberland Maryland has a history that can simply not be matched by many churches in this country.

Imagine a church located up above the hardscrabble town down by the river. Just across the river, a few hundred yards away, was Virginia. It was a common path for those traveling the underground railroad to take advantage of the tunnels underneath the church. Even though Maryland was a slave state, just a few miles to the north was the famous Mason-Dixon line and the free state of Pennsylvania. Today, the tunnels serve to store electrical switchgear, and the guts of the HVAC system. But always with an ear towards the past, and the footsteps of those who long ago passed through these trenches on their way to a hoped-for freedom.

My family was able to hear about the history of this church and learn the stories from its docent, Ron Growden. It was wonderful to hear him tell the stories and hear his descriptions of the church and its wonderful Tiffany windows and altar. As in many older main-line Protestant churches, the wealth of the church in the past still shines through the memorial gifts given long ago. Only this time, the gifts were manifested in three large stained glass windows commissioned from the Tiffany company. A scene showing the adoration of the shepherds was built, with the window aimed to capture the sun from the east, intended to direct the morning light of the sun  through the image of the Christmas star above the stable. Subtle shadings of blue in the Virgin’s dress were made by increasing the thickness of the glass, making the garment come alive.

Adoration of the shepherds

In the rear of the church, the windows represented the second coming, with angels carrying horns matched by the trumpet en chamade pipes extending perpendicular to the rear wall.

Second coming Tiffany

But for me, the real highlight of the windows was the one depicting the story of Rizpah. Though I am relatively familiar with the bible, I was unaware of her story. How she was a concubine of Saul, and had bore him two sons. How when David took over the throne, he gave Rizpah’s sons up with the other male descendents of Saul to the Gibeonites, and they tortured and killed them. Then Rizpah stood guard over their corpses both day and night to prevent their bodies from being desecrated by animals. In the depiction in glass, her image was borrowed from the statue in New York Harbor, and she held a torch in her hand that lit the ground around her and on the bodies of her sons suspended from crosses. The light that emanated from her torch was golden, and soft, but through Tiffany’s artistry, it becomes a striking focal point for the wall. It is difficult to turn your eyes away from the Art Deco influenced glass portrayal of a strong woman.

rizpah

Though the church has an extensive past, and the money available to the church in the past was evident in the art work made available for future generations, the present state of the church is similar to many other old main-line Protestant churches. Ron told us about the efforts to make the church part of a National Park Service site to commemorate the underground railroad, which would help to off-load some of the support costs for the building. But when we came back to the church the next day on Sunday morning, the morning of the annual meeting for the parish, the attendance was only slightly more than what we experience in our own parish church in Charleston, West Virginia. St. John’s Charleston shares a long history as a flagship downtown church in an Appalachian city worn down by deindustrialization. It too has vivid portrayals in stained glass, although it does not have anything like Tiffany windows to share. But the attendance at services continues to slide, and it seems like the type of religious service it offers is less and less desired as our nation continues its secularization.

Our son was outed at the church that day. He is actually an organist, and has lived in the area for over three years without having revealed that side of his skills to the community of organists. That is a community that is very welcoming, since there are fewer and fewer young organists coming along. Whether he takes advantage of the opportunity and begins an association with this church, I don’t know, but it never hurts to give a gentle guiding touch in a direction that his parents think will help him in his future life.

I wish to express my appreciation to the church and to its website, for the pictures used in this post. The church’s website is https://www.emmanuelparishofmd.org/

July 2023 – A Possible Future

earthquake Though many things had slowed down in the past three years, the media onslaught did not. The news continued to assail its consumers, though now it teemed with stories about the Navy forcibly turning back Chinese relief supplies from reaching earthquake-stricken California. Stories ran about the ongoing fallout crossing the Pacific from North Korea, where huge areas still smoldered after the retribution for the squib nuke that landed near Seattle.

The round-up of dissenters continued apace in much of the rest of the US. Those who failed to consent to making a public profession of support to the Great Leader, awaited the knock on the door, often in the middle of the night. Many who had never seen the need for a gun, were scrambling to procure any kind of protection against the onslaught of supposedly legitimate law enforcement, and the masses of supporters in red hats who believed anyone not in complete agreement with them, was sub-human and deserving of torment and death. It was no longer a matter of winning the next election to reverse the direction of the country, it was a recognition that there would be no next election, that the current regime was instituting a measure of hereditary succession, thus ensuring that only the reality desired by the Trumpistas became the actual reality.

Still, the true realities of the economy occasionally stirred above the shouting of the party in power. Auto manufacture in the US never recovered from the supply chain disruption wrought by the original coronavirus outbreak. Indeed, the degree of economic international interdependence developed over the past few decades, became unraveled at breathtaking speed once it proved impossible to rely upon just-in-time inventory methods. Yet it was proving impossible to reconstruct the same supply chains domestically since no US based company had the resources to build the network of suppliers within this country. But the exhortations from the regime continued, and Potemkin factories were proudly displayed as being the answer for all to see.

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It was the huge quake striking California that really proved to be the death knell for the economy, and the country, to a large respect. The verbal warfare that had been waged between California government, and the Federal government, went hot immediately afterwards. An Executive Order implemented a travel ban into and out of the State of California. The POTUS declared that since they didn’t buy into his administration’s efforts, they could just recover from this disaster themselves. Pictures of the devastation flowed out despite the efforts of the administration to embargo even the knowledge of the extent of the death and damage. The worst came when international efforts to provide succor were turned back by the vessels of the Navy, firing upon the Chinese vessels. Small sailing vessels began to emerge from the coastline and headed both north to Oregon, and south to the Baja as desperate people tried to extricate themselves from the humanitarian disaster.

In Washington, one would never know of the extent of the disaster. All members of Congress had either professed allegiance in huge public ceremonies, or they were summarily dismissed and replaced directly by the President, using the façade of requesting suggestions from the Republicans of each state. The bureaucracy lumbered on, dissension crushed within its ranks. Still, all of the power, and thus the money, flowed through the government. The swamp grew larger and larger, its fetid maw swallowing all of the offerings proffered by the rest of the nation.

The rest of the world wept. Wept for those in California who were trying to recover from their natural disaster. Wept for those in North Korea who were killed in the initial deployment of nuclear weapons. Wept for those in both Korea’s whose lives would be forever altered due to the fall-out. But maybe most of all, wept for the country that used to be the symbol of freedom around the world, now irreversibly turned to the dark side and held under the sway of one man who believed himself better than God.

A Note In Farewell

Brothers Katamotzov  Blinky and Napoleon

He was a gentle giant. Napoleon Dynamite Kitty came into our family nearly 15 years ago, when our neighbor across the street alerted us to the existence of two kittens who had taken up residence in the engine block of his car that was about to be junked. He and his brother (later named Blinky) had apparently been abandoned and found a bit of shelter inside the car body. We took the two black cats in, and after receiving a clean bill of health from our vet, they joined our other two cats, Attack and Meezle. Unfortunately, the former alpha cat Attack was never able to adjust to the stress of having this usurpation of her domain, and she developed nervous system problems. So much that we ended up having to give her kitty valium for several months. But her problems persisted, and she eventually had a stroke and died just before the next Christmas.

We never knew if it was that he was looking for Attack, but Napoleon went missing right after we buried Attack in the back yard. He just flat out vanished. We put an ad in the paper (back in those ancient days when the classified ads still meant something). On New Year’s Day morning, we received a call from someone who said he thought he’d been feeding our cat. We checked the map, and though it was several miles away by road, it was only over the hillside and less than a mile away. So we hauled ourselves out of bed, and searched the area where Napoleon was spotted. We came away empty handed, and my wife and younger son eventually went on to church, where our then 11 year old son prayed for Napoleon’s return during the prayers of the people.

It was the following Tuesday, and my wife was in the den, when motion caught her eye. A black form was coming down the neighbor’s driveway, and making a beeline for our door. Carrie went into the living room, saw that Blinky was asleep on the sofa, and went to open the door. Napoleon came right on in, trying his best to tell her all about his horrendous adventure. He went directly downstairs from there and commandeered the cat feeders. We never knew for sure, but we suspect it was this period of deprivation that caused him to begin to bulk up. He was always a big cat, but he grew into quite a chonky cat after that, weighing over 25 pounds at the high point of his weight. We eventually went to an automated feeder to keep the amount available to them at a reasonable level, but since we had other cats, we couldn’t dial back the food by that much.

The one time you could really tell that Napoleon and Blinky were brothers was when they went downstairs to the basement together. They moved in synch, differences in body mass notwithstanding. You also could see their familial relationship when they fought. Every so often, one would begin to groom the other. The grooming grew more and more aggressive until we had a full-fledged KWF (Kitty Wrestling Federation) match going on. Napoleon, being larger, usually won these matches.

The brothers liked to tag-team hunt as well. Out in our yard an endless supply of voles, mice and chipmunks lived, and we often could see them pairing up against a hapless critter, until either they tired of the chase, or the animal became an extra meal. Carrie quilted a wall hanging of two cats in a room with a fish in a bowl, and I provided the title of the Brothers Katamotzov Pondering Their Next Crime. Blinky and Napoleon were the Brothers Katamotzov.

Napoleon had his way of demanding lap time. I would be in the den working on the computer, when I felt an insistent head butt on my leg. Looking down, Napoleon would be looking up at me, going “Aren’t you going to go someplace where I can join you?” Then I would get up and move to a recliner, and this fat blob of a cat would race across the room to jump up on my lap. But I am not pretending that Napoleon was my cat. No, he was definitely Carrie’s cat. While my lap time was in the morning, hers was in the afternoon, and he blessed innumerable quilts that Carrie made. He would sit patiently on her lap while she sewed down the binding, putting up with the periodic movement of the quilt as she turned yet another corner, and had to readjust the quilt. Napoleon would fall asleep, paws outstretched to provide a bit of purchase against the edge of the loveseat. It was even better when Carrie decided to join him in a bit of a snooze herself. I would come downstairs only to see the two of them providing each other warmth and fellowship.

Both boys developed thyroid issues at the same time. We had noticed that Napoleon was losing a bit of weight, what we didn’t realize was that the weight loss was due to an overactive thyroid. We faced the choice of active treatment, including the possibility of killing the thyroid glands with radioactive iodine, or active pharmaceutical treatment, or a passive approach of adjusting their menu to provide only food that did not contain iodine. Such pet food does exist, at a cost of over $50 for an 8 pound bag, and a similar amount for a case of 24 cans of wet food. We elected that option, since by this time we only had the two brothers with us, and we could easily control the food choices. What was difficult was weaning Blinky away from table scraps. He had grown used to sharing our meals, and could be quite insistent in requesting his share. What we compromised on was giving the boys a bit of a can of their special food at night. Soon the begging for table scraps was greatly reduced, but both cats grew to expect and love their extra meal at night.

As they grew older, they became less adventuresome. A few years ago, their supremacy in the neighborhood was challenged when our neighbor across the street got married, and as part of the package deal, an indoor/outdoor cat named Harold was part of the entourage. Well, Harold did not recognize the neighborhood pecking order. In fact, it took Napoleon getting little notches out of both ears before he ceded his local reign as top cat. Both brothers decided it was better to stay inside than to challenge the interloper.

Both boys were due for injections this September. Just before they went in, I noticed that Napoleon seemed to be breathing differently. Shallow, with more frequent breaths. So I brought that up when we were at the vets. A quick x-ray later, and we discovered that the lungs had filled up with fluid and he was only breathing with the bottom portion of his lungs. We had fluid drained the next day, and he improved, but the x-rays now revealed shadows on his lungs. The vet said that it was likely cancer, but that we could help deal with the symptoms with lasix and an herbal preparation that dealt with excess lymphatic fluid. Otherwise, we could try invasive treatment at a veterinary hospital 150 miles away, where he might be subjected to chemotherapy or surgery. For a 15 year old cat, that would not be fair to put him through that. We agreed to the fluid draining and to squirt pharmaceuticals into his mouth. The first round of fluid was relatively clear, and Napoleon’s breathing improved significantly.

 

But it was only a little more than a month later that we could see him laboring again to breathe. We took him in again, and could see still more fluid in the x-ray. This time, the fluid they took out looked turbid, with reddish color hinting at blood as well. We had to leave him for a couple of days while we visited our son in Richmond, and it was with trepidation that we returned that weekend, not knowing whether Napoleon made it through the time alone. He had survived, and was just as loving as ever. What was different was that he now needed assistance to get up onto the sofa. He was weakening before our eyes. Our next appointment was the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and that weekend, he blessed two quilts, one for Andrew our younger son, and one for a great-nephew. But on that Tuesday, we took him in knowing that he likely would not be alive when we came back. The x-rays revealed that not only had fluid filled the outside of the lungs, but there was now fluid inside the lungs as well. Very shortly he would have drowned on dry land. We asked for a few minutes to call our sons so they could say goodbye. One never knows for sure what an animal is thinking, but he rubbed his head against the phones where familiar voices appeared. Then they took him back and gave him a sedative, before bringing him into the room with us for the final injections. His end was peaceful, and I could not help but think that we were easing him across the rainbow bridge, rather than trying to hold on for another few days of life that would have been increasingly stressful and painful. That’s the one thing I noticed, is that he never seemed to be in pain. For that, I will always be grateful.

Farewell, our gentle giant Napoleon. His brother Blinky still soldiers on, but we realize that we may be on borrowed time with him as well When a cat gets to be over 15 years of age, you never know when something will come up that marks the end of your time with your faithful companion. Enjoy them while they are around.

 

Thomas Beckett and Donald Trump

3 dollar bill

“Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” This statement, changed slightly over the centuries, was attributed to King Henry II of England in 1170 A.D. While not explicitly ordering someone to go out and murder the Archbishop of Canterbury, that indirect request caused four knights to travel to the cathedral where they murdered Thomas Beckett. It is perhaps the most famous example where actions were brought about due to the statements of a powerful man. Yet no one could hold the King as being directly responsible for the death. After all, he did not order anyone to commit the act. Still, the statement of this monarch was directly responsible for blood to be spilled.

Over the history of civilized man, the desires of the monarch have been put into action by those who wish to curry favor with those who hold power. It has been an implicit meme in our society, made resonant with all of the portrayals of the mafia kingpin whose utterances of a desire are carried out in deadly spays of lead. Yet the kingpin could claim clean hands, since his hand did not touch the gun that applied the fatal touch.

So now, with the current administration, we have a President who excels in indirect commands. You will not find his fingerprints on a decree requiring the Ukraine to publicly announce the commencement of investigations into allegations of malfeasance by those who wished the Don ill back in 2016. You will not find his voice recording explicitly stating that if the Don heard the dulcet magic phrases referring to the commencement of investigations, the Don could make life for Ukraine so much better. No, in the manner of those Mafia Dons of the past, this Donald made his wishes known by indirection. And since he did not explicitly state his must-haves, he could proclaim that his conversations were “perfect”, and that he had done nothing wrong.

So thoroughly have his sycophants adjusted to life under the sway of this man, they race to face cameras where they chant the magic phrases of “no quid pro quo, conversation was perfect, nothing to see here, move along.” The division of the country along party lines continues, and within the chamber that will serve as jurors, no one expects enough defections to result in the removal of the charlatan occupying the office of the Presidency. The sole question is whether enough Republicans will vote to convict to result in a bare majority of Senators agreeing that the egregious acts of this President deserve the ultimate constitutional rebuke. The entire nation will get to see the leader of the Supreme Court serve in a constitutionally-proscribed role as the Chief Justice. And we will get to see whether anyone even gives a crap about what is being discussed before them.

The one statement that Donald Trump made back in 2016, that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any of his supporters, still rings true. Seeing all of his adoring throngs at yet another of his campaign rallies, watching interviews of these supporters either crying at the thought of the unfairness of Donald’s persecution, or wax indignant about the unfairness of the process of impeachment, gives a glimpse into the mindset of those who still believe that this President is working on their behalf.

I never believed, as I grew up and learned about US history in school, that I would ever see an administration simultaneously so completely incompetent and corrupt. To those who believe that the unraveling of the decades of regulation is good, it is my sincere wish that you get to enjoy the fruits of environmental degradation in the years to come. I took part in the very first Earth Day. As I recall, we went around alleys in our city of Lincoln and helped to clean some stuff up. But that was back when Lake Erie was a dying, fetid pool of water. That was when a feeder stream to Lake Erie had enough hydrocarbons on its surface to burn. That was barely 20 years since deadly smog enveloped a town along the Monangahela river. My father-in-law was going to college only a few miles away from that environmental disaster. I was proud that through the combination of technology and regulation, we’ve been able to get to the point where the air and water in this nation are much cleaner than they were. But this President and this administration obviously views all environmental laws as an unjustified taking from the businesses which would flower once again if only they were freed from the dictates of Washington.

It has been said by those who apologize for this President’s behavior, that we must judge this President by what he has done rather than by what he says. So, with that in mind, let me recite a few of the accomplishments of this administration.

  • Abandoned diplomacy by leaving many positions in the State Department unfilled, and denigrating many remaining employees as not being sufficiently faithful to the President.
  • Appointing many to Federal judgeships who were either designated as being unqualified, or appointing those whose positions lie at the extreme of the conservative spectrum.
  • Abandonment of scientific principles by pulling out of international agreements aimed at solving environmental problems.
  • Allowing meat processors to undergo self-inspection, with the role of Federal inspectors reduced to oversight, thus unleashing future disease outbreaks in the consuming public.
  • Implementing simplistic and incapable policies to control immigration and asylum on the southern border, resulting in the imprisonment of families and enforced separation of family members, with no plans to enable these families to reunite.
  • Undergoing naive diplomatic efforts (since we obviously don’t need diplomats) thus worsening the situation in both Iran and North Korea.
  • Ensuring that those who were defrauded by for-profit educational institutions remain on the hook for the funds borrowed for their bogus education.

I could go on reciting the wonderful accomplishments of this administration, but at this time I do not see the point. For each of the points I list, there are some who say, yes, that is exactly what I wanted our Federal government to do. I wanted it to get out of the way of business and for us to reduce our involvement with international agencies. All I can say is that I hope those people enjoy their salmonella-enhanced diet, while former allies abandon us in future disputes, and while North Korea spreads its nuclear tentacles over the Pacific Ocean. And while the enhanced fires burn across our country, spreading smoke and dust into the lungs of hundreds of millions, those same people can dip their toes in the flooding along our eastern coastal cities that now occurs in synch with the lunar cycle. Maybe a little salt water intrusion will let them know that they indeed made the correct choice back in 2016.

 

Transition to Medicare

health insurance

There must be one heck of a lot of money to be made in signing people up for Medicare Advantage and/or Medigap policies. Otherwise, I would not have been subjected to literally hundreds of phone calls over recent months leading up to my 65th birthday. I have been extremely fortunate, having held family health insurance since retiring from my corporate job nearly 5 years ago. So I had been insulated from any external sales pressure trying to entice me to buy health insurance. That ended this year, when hordes descended on my phone lines (both land-line and cell), attempting to get me to establish a relationship with someone who cold-called me asking if they could be my friend to assist me in choosing Medicare supplemental insurance coverage.

I was fortunate in that my employer, anxious to shed me from their legacy cost structure, offered both a stipend for ongoing medical insurance, and the assistance of a contractor that steered me through the enrollment process. The stipend will not cover the total amount of Medigap and Medicare part D insurance, but it will pay a good portion of it. I am now through the process, although I now am vulnerable to the annual enrollment period for Medicare recipients where I can change my supplemental carrier, if I so desire. Having had all of 2 months of coverage, so far I do not have adequate experience to want to change carriers.

The summer months, though, were filled with calls asking if I needed assistance. It became obvious that the coverage rates were high enough to justify scores of call centers placing calls to me, solely because I was identifiable in their databases as a 64 year old and therefore needing their assistance. The best one was one that my wife fielded when I was not available, where they asked her if she was the one in the family who made health care decisions. We are phone luddites, with both a land line and cell phones, and the land line does not have caller ID, so any call was at least answered. In most cases when I could learn their purpose in calling me, I said firmly but politely, “I’m sorry, I’m not interested,” then hung up before someone could begin their sales pitch. I feel sorry for those whose job is in a call center, since they encounter the worst of humanity. I definitely do not wish to inflict them with additional angst from an uninterested caller.

What is interesting in this day is that we are hearing a call for adoption of a Medicare for All program as part of several candidate’s platforms. These platforms also call for the abolishment of private health insurance as part of an implementation plan to convert to a single-payer system. Well, the current Medicare system certainly has room for private insurance plans to fill in the gaps around the basic core. And it is clear that a government mandate to forcibly give up current insurance coverage, however inadequate it has become due to higher deductibles and higher copayments, will create significant resistance among many American voters. What would seem to be a better way would be to create an alternative option for health care coverage. For those who currently hold health insurance, a mandate could be placed upon employers that they offer the public option as one of the available options for employees to choose, and that employers have to provide a subsidy equivalent to what they are providing with their current insurance package. Then the public option would be enabled to begin to unravel the excessive overhead found in current for-profit insurance coverage. Over time, this will result in the public option costing employees less, while providing better coverage due to reduced deductibles and co-payments.

For those who do not currently have employer-based health insurance, this public option would be placed upon the health care exchanges, and people would be able to select a plan with greatly-reduced premiums. If the marketplace is allowed to function properly, the competition from a public option will result in insurance providers trying to match the public pricing. The cost for health care will bend lower over time, and if the public option ends up becoming the preferred option, then we may find ourselves in a situation where a Medicare for All system is the de facto choice, without it ever being mandated as a de jure choice.

The march towards progressivism in the Democratic party at present has flaws built into its logic. It presumes that there is such a pent-up demand for their prescriptive solutions to the ailments of our society that this nation will choose a mandated big-government program. My fear is that if such a proposal is adopted officially by the Democratic nominee, the disgust that permeates US society towards Federal Government mandates will result in the re-election of the current President. That would be the greatest tragedy of all.

 

Holding the Centre

debris

 

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

W. B. Yeats wrote this in a poem 100 years ago today. His was the generation that fought, slogged, and bled through WWI. Yet the prescience of his words shine today like gems glittering on a crown crushed underneath the treads of some mechanized machine. Those who believe the world is not under the sway of evil forces and conspiracy theories are pushed aside in the public space by those who are convinced of the existence and omnipotent control of these malevolent actors. Those who are on the fringes of belief in this world are the most strident in proclaiming their thoughts, especially with the tools of the internet aiding and abetting their efforts.

Their efforts did succeed in the election of the current president of the US. He has since then worked to both confirm and fulfill the conspiracy theory beliefs. Most of the time this has caused significant damage to the world order. The one effort capable of causing the most permanent damage has been the unraveling of the international order. The institutions put in place by the US leadership in the post-war environment have undoubtedly cost much for the taxpayers of this nation. Yet the costs saved by not having destruction brought to our shores, were worth orders of magnitude more than what we had paid.

Today though, we face the hard truth that our position of privilege in the world order is at risk. Because of the misguided beliefs of the current President, his administration has systematically applied a sledgehammer to the institutions and relationships forming the foundation of the international order. Trade deficits with a country? They’re cheating us. Tack on tariffs. Self-defense organization? Show me the money from the participants. They’re cheating us, freeloading off of our hard-working taxpayers. A people fighting alongside of our troops, working to maintain a safe haven amidst a series of nations bent on eliminating their presence? They didn’t fight with us at Normandy. Therefore it is perfectly fine to abandon them to the mercies of yet another despot found in Ankara.

As we climb out of the rubble-strewn remains of the international order after this President has completed his reign, we will have the difficult task of reconstructing the structures torn down as an act of vanity. One can only hope that the shards of the political system in this country will realize that there actually are things more important than party. There are truly existential crises we face, and if we keep punting them down the field, one day we will find that we’ve run out of room to kick. Reality will attack us, the laws of physics will strike, and we will find ourselves defenseless against the onslaught we’ve brought onto ourselves. One can only hope that the world can begin to rectify the problems we face without resorting to using our most destructive weaponry, because then we will really see what rubble looks like.

Like it or not, we have to act communally as a species. We do not have the luxury of being able to pretend we are an island unto ourselves, able to withdraw into our turtle shell and avoid uncomfortable interactions with those heathens living outside of our borders. Technology and population growth have conspired to ensure that we must face our problems together rather than as separate cells.

In the past 60 years, we’ve gained a perspective on our place in the universe. Photos from space have shown our planet is just a cosmic speck, and we are truly alone in our region of space. We’ve also gained the technology to show that though we can identify hundreds of exoplanets beyond our solar system, not one has shown itself to be capable of sustaining the type of life we take for granted. We should have gained the wisdom to realize we have to fix our problems by ourselves, since there will not be help provided from afar if we muck things up too badly on our planet. But rather than generating a movement to foster common action, we seem to be splintering into self-interested corners of our globe and putting up barriers against “others”.

Damn it, we must look beyond the shallow appeal of ethno-nationalism and race-baiting. We must realize we are unique, and special, and humanity has much more in common than we differ. Let’s throw off the shackles we keep trying to apply to ourselves, limiting our vision and reach. Let’s work together to make this a truly wonderful planet, where all groups can work to achieve great things. Will it be easy? No, especially since the politics of opportunism seem to be replaying the events of the 1930’s. But what we must all realize is that shared sacrifice is better than running headlong into a wall of warfare. The culture of Ayn Rand inspired greed has infected the US and the Republican party over the past few decades, and there is less appetite for communal action. It is now past time to reverse this trend.

A study of history (I know, that discredited tool of the elites) shows societies almost never fail by being taken over from without. Overthrow happens when there is a significant underclass that develops in a nation that does not share in the benefits of the society. The underclass eventually seizes control through normally bloody means. The recent elections showed the stirring under the surface that such an underclass is forming and will not put up with their continued neglect. Having elected one president who pandered to this underclass, but has not delivered on his economic promises despite his protestations about it being the best economy ever, they are likely to reach out for unreasonable hopes on the left side of the political spectrum. It is the center, where practical solutions to real problems exist, which will be pushed aside as ever more desperate hopes are expressed on both sides of the political spectrum. The energy on the right will reach out to engage the energy on the left, and those in the middle will be caught without their own hope of escape of the carnage unleashed upon society.

 

The Silence of Sounds

neon

Hello darkness, my old friend

I’ve come to talk with you again

We’ve entered the darkness once again. The darkness of Mordor sprawls across the landscape, pouring out of its source in the now-fouled house of White.

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

The vision that has crept across this nation over the last few years is the stale vision of white superiority, the failed belief that European civilization is superior to any other version found across the globe. The seeds have found fertile ground and have sprouted.

And the vision that was planted in my brain

Still remains

Within the sound of silence

The visions I have seen over the last few years can never be unseen. Children crying as they are separated from their family by a government that cared so little for them that they could not set up a system to eventually reunite parents with children. Humans crowded into chain-link cages. Lit tiki torches marching along Charlottesville streets, eliciting the famous “Good people on both sides” quote. And still the silence remains deafening from the Republican members of Congress.

In restless dreams I walked alone

Narrow streets of cobblestone

As in a trance, we march. No, not alone, but en masse, thousands and thousands in protest. The energy that we all had those first days. But as time passed, the momentum has slowed, while the acts of evil continue to spew from the powers wielded by this administration. It now seems that we do march alone, if at all, trying to stem the tide.

‘Neath the halo of a street lamp

I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed by

The flash of a neon light

That split the night

And touched the sound of silence

Every so often, something so egregious manages to break through the din of the mundane atrocities littering the landscape. It might be a joint meeting with Putin attended only by the principles and an interpreter. It might be a fawning show of sycophancy in the cabinet meeting where all pledged eternal devotion to this dour denizen of denial. It might be a report of an attempt to extort the leader of a nation into doing opponent research for his next campaign. Things so brazen, so outrageous, that I cannot but believe that this surely will break through the stone wall isolating his supporters from his true nature. But each time, I turn away disappointed as his spin control succeeds in removing the outrage from the nation’s discourse.

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share

And no one dared

Disturb the sound of silence

The cacophony emanates from the television shows. One side fawns, makes every excuse for the behavior, and claims the real villainy came from those who would deny his immense electoral victory. The other side squirms, is so eager to denounce the actions that they violate their journalistic ethics and report poorly sourced stories that are eagerly denounced by his supporters. Both sides talk over the other side, and no one is convinced or persuaded to change their opinion. Now the opposition is more interested in purity tests than it is in the nuts and bolts of selecting a candidate who can take down the tyranny spreading from its center.

“Fools”, said I, “You do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you”

But my words, like silent raindrops, fell

And echoed in the wells of silence

I took up the mantle of a blog shortly after the election. I shared items of science, of daily life and the changing of the seasons, and politics. Lots and lots of politics. I enjoyed especially the pieces I put out that used satire to express a point. For a long time, I was part a forum where active discussion occurred on all types of posts. I enjoyed my “minor league forum” and was a respected poster and commenter. Then, the forum disintegrated, and I fell into a bit of a posting depression. It is difficult to continue to pour out your thoughts when you get little or no feedback. I have felt that my words were indeed, echoing in the well of silence.

And the people bowed and prayed

To the neon god they made

The neon god that took over the office of the President represented all of the glitter and gloss that a celebrity could muster. Yet when all is said and done, there is no more substance there than a bunch of gas excited by an electrical current.

And the sign flashed out its warning

In the words that it was forming

And the sign said

“The words of the prophets are

Written on the subway walls

And tenement halls

 

Maybe Banksy has it right. All art is temporary, and the ephemeral nature of a painting on the side of a building is as good and as valid as any old Dutch masterwork from the Renaissance. Yet in this day of the 4-hour news cycle, where a provocation can be answered with a response and then superseded by the next outrageous announcement or act, maybe there is a place for things that have a little more substance, and stability. Maybe things like the Constitution have a place as guidelines for our body politic to do its job and not just either fawn in supplication, or wail and bemoan in protest. Maybe, just maybe, we should place duty to the nation ahead of party and take real action.

 

And whispered in the sound of silence”

Instead of Simon and Garfunkle, let’s let William Shakespeare have the last word: It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Words to the Sound of Silence copyrighted by Paul Simon.

 

The Making of Great America

uncle sam

Once upon a time, there was a great nation. This nation was great because it told itself it was great. It reckoned it had the divine right to push its boundaries from sea to shining sea, and if there happened to be a few inhabitants who already were living on the land, well, they just did not understand the divine right to be great, and they could be pushed aside. Cordoned off onto poor patches of land, stripped of their ancestral traditions of following the migratory herds, a defeated people found solace in the white man’s whiskey, and still they suffer generations later.

Of course, it was agricultural might that first defined greatness. And in one portion of the continent, that agricultural might was lashed into existence upon the backs of the workers, descendants of those who were kidnapped and stacked in ships like cordwood, hopefully to survive the trip across the Atlantic. The fortunes of Southern gentlemen and ladies depended upon the forced labor of the original black gold. When a civil war was fought, it was only with the greatest reluctance that an appeal to morality was made to place the North on the side of the liberation of the slaves. Of course, once the war was over and slavery was outlawed, the nation’s attention to the well-being of the former chattel was limited. Politics, you know. It was easier to withdraw from an occupation, and let the former slave states reenact their social order, only now under the charade of a free black population. Never mind that those free blacks were only free to rent a plot of land owned by the original aristocracy, and live in those hovels that were cobbled together. Some of these hovels I used to drive by as late as the 1970’s, still occupied by those tied to the land by economic links as sturdy as the chains worn a century before.

Yes, we were a great nation. So great that we went a gross of years from the founding of the nation, until half of the population was allowed to vote. Even today we see remains of the sentiments against women’s suffrage resurfacing. Online forums decry the liberalism represented by women’s votes, as if white males held the absolute key to logic and reason. The attitudes that poisoned the nation’s mind in the past still bubble in the nation’s consciousness, now seasoned by those who troll the internet.

Yet, as a statement echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King shows, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” For even with the sins of the past still in living memory, this nation did do great things. It built an infrastructure linking every corner of the nation. It developed technologies that gave humanity freedom to travel across the globe. It created technologies that revolutionized how humanity communicated, and controlled the natural world. And once it became apparent that the new technologies had poisoned the air and land and water, it set about to reverse the poisoning and clean the environment. Long-standing evil was dealt with by legislation, and by applying Federal forces to oppose the remains of racism across this country. You may not be able to change the hearts of humans, but you can put in place a legal structure that limits the damage that human cruelty can cause.

This nation did mobilize and oppose the fascism that engulfed multiple continents in armed conflict in the mid 20th century. We truly became united and with the assistance of those damned Russian commies, made Europe whole again and eliminated the scourge of nationalism and ethnic purity. We also were generous in supporting western Europe in its reconstruction, developing structures that even today help to keep conflict at bay. But we found we needed an enemy in order to keep our military industries vibrant and profitable. We found it in communism, a variant of socialism deemed to be an existential threat. It was necessary to build immense inventories of incendiary devices which could rain down death and destruction on a scale unprecedented in human history. We had to build them to counter the ones that they built. Humanity’s primal urge to provide security caused us to teeter upon the edge of extinction in order to satisfy all parties who worshipped at the trough of the war machine. Still, it was not enough. We had to engage our implacable adversaries in physical battles across the ocean, where the immediate stakes were unknown, but the mythology of the domino theory drove us to commit hundreds of thousands of soldiers to these front lines. And we found it useful (no, we said it was necessary) to support autocratic regimes in other sections of the world in order to prevent the spread of socialism.

We spread seeds across many different countries. The resulting crops have caused many of the problems we face today. From Iran, our support of the Shah grew a crop of religious fanatics who overthrew the existing order, and expressed their implacable enmity against us. Even today, forty years later, we cannot reconcile with the proud people of Iran due to the resentment we fomented by our support of a hated regime. In Central America, our support of those who opposed socialistic parties made it possible to counteract communism without spilling American blood. The crops that grew there though, have come to fruition in the weak regimes of the existing governments, and the growth of criminal gangs, directly resulting in a flood of migrants we struggle to contain. In Afghanistan, the band of religious fanatics we supported in the 1980’s to oppose Russian invasion, still works against us as they strive to purify their country. Everywhere you look, this nation’s acts of the past are brought back to us as the problems plaguing us in the present.

The veneer of civilization is thin. This nation is only about a week away from total chaos if our electric infrastructure is damaged. Yet our current administration believes we can and must abandon the interconnectedness of the world that offers the only hope of stitching together a global fabric of peace. It is long past the time when we could pretend that we could go it alone and maintain and yes, improve our standard of living. Yet the electorate fell for a bogus promise to return us to a state of supposed greatness in the past. And when that sentiment was released, we also released the barely buried racism and misogyny and ethnic nationalism that our veneer of civilization kept contained. Those who now call for a return to normality will be upset at how deep the damage the cult of Trump has inflicted.

There are signs of hope. Some politicians have called for sweeping change in order to address a host of interconnected problems. But since that change challenges the status quo, it is denounced and ridiculed. What is obvious is that we are in real danger of completing the bifurcation of this nation into warring camps, incapable of understanding each other, and not wanting to show any empathy for points of view other than their own. We will not become a great nation until we deal with the underlying flaws that we’ve buried over the decades. Seeing some of those flaws exposed in the past few years has been scary. This coming electoral cycle will show us which way this nation will go. May we choose the side offering hope for the future, instead of the side offering fear and division, just like we selected back in 2016.