Using Vaccines Wisely

Using drones to deliver vaccines seems reasonable for places like Vanuatu.

But vaccines won’t help if folks don’t know how to use them correctly, or can’t.

Others avoid vaccines because they believe warnings from dubious sources.


Health, Illness, and Getting a Grip

Being healthy isn’t a mark of holiness. Neither is being sick. What counts is how we deal with what we’ve got. There’s a great deal more to say about that, but not today. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 828, 1509, 2211, 22882291, 22922296, 2448)

We’re reasonably sure that folks have been getting polio for millennia. Polio epidemics weren’t a problem until 1907.

I could blame the 1907 outbreak on the American Congress. They passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.

I think that was a good idea. But let’s say that I don’t, and have ‘old fashioned values.’ (October 16, 2016)

Applying an earlier century’s all-to-common spin on Christianity, I could claim that food poisoning “is a visitation from God.”

The early, and mid, 20th century had it’s oddball notions too. We’ve got a slightly different set today. They make just as much — or little — sense.

The last time a case of polio started in my country was in 1979.

Polio hasn’t been eradicated yet, so someone could catch the disease before entering the United States. That hasn’t happened since 1993,1 but I think routine vaccinations are still a good idea.

Polio isn’t the only serious disease, of course. But apparently some folks remember that it’s something to avoid. That makes sense. Panic? Not so much.

Researching this post, I learned about what one outfit called the “The Great U.S. Polio Panic of 2015.”

The disease acted like polio, but wasn’t. Several enterovirus D68 cases had been diagnosed, mostly in the Midwest, in 2014. I missed that “panic,” so it may have been limited to folks with specific reading preferences.

Polio in History

When I finally started walking, it was with a limp. I’ve talked about hip dysplasia, doctors, and why I take medical ethics a bit personally, before. (October 7, 2016)

This was the 1950s, so at least one person figured I’d survived a polio infection. It was a reasonable guess at the time.

Folks my age are among the last Americans whose parents might have reasonably feared another polio epidemic.

Polio epidemics started in the 20th century.2 The disease is much older.

Now that we know what to look for, scientists and historians have traced polio back several millennia.

I’ll grant that a retrospective diagnosis on someone who died three millennia back can be debatable. And often is. Debated, that is.

We don’t have photos or oligonucleotide mapping from Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty.

But we do have pictures. I think it’s likely that the priest pictured on that stele had polio, and survived.

We also have Siptah’s mummy, and some records from his time. He’s a pharaoh you may or may not have heard of, who lived during the Nineteenth Dynasty.

Something left him with a severely deformed left foot. A little over 32 centuries later, we’re reasonably sure that he had polio: or something that acted like polio.

The first clinical description of poliomyelitis, polio, was published in 1789. That’s when Michael Underwood described “a debility of the lower extremities.”

The disease had quite a few names in my language during the early 19th century: Dental Paralysis, Infantile Spinal Paralysis, Essential Paralysis of Children, Regressive Paralysis, Myelitis of the Anterior Horns, Tephromyelitis, and Paralysis of the Morning.

Jakob Heine wrote a medical report on Lähmungszustände der unteren Extremitäten in 1840. It’s pretty clear that the “paralysis of the lower extremities” he described was polio.

The disease wasn’t common. Outbreaks were scattered and small. We didn’t have polio epidemics before the 20th century. (August 21, 2016)

Iron Lungs: Not Missing the ‘Good Old Days’

Some folks recovered with no serious aftereffects. Some were crippled.

Some died because paralysis hit systems we use to breathe. By the 1950s, we’d figured out how to keep folks who couldn’t breathe on their own alive with tech like iron lungs.

It was an improvement on the ‘good old days,’ but not by much.

In 1952 the first practical polio vaccine was developed in a lab.

We’d learned, the hard way, that careful testing makes sense. I’ll get back to that.

Nobody died this time around, and the vaccine worked. Mass inoculations started in 1955. An average of about 20,000 folks were catching polio each year by then.

I went through an immunization sequence, and didn’t mind at all when an oral vaccine replaced injections.

Rio, 1904


(From Leonidas Freire, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

Brazil’s Old Republic picked its first president the old-fashioned way. Deodoro da Fonseca led a military coup that removed Emperor Pedro II.

Elections started a few revolts later. Women couldn’t vote, and the Política dos Governadores made sure unsuitable candidates didn’t get elected.

It wasn’t all bad news. President Francisco de Paula Rodrigues Alves apparently thought smallpox inoculations would be a good idea. I think he was right about that.

However, if half of what I’ve read about the program is accurate, it could be a case study in how not to conduct a public immunization program.

The 1904 Rio de Jainero ‘Vaccine Revolt’ was the high, or low, point.

Depending on who you believed, folks like the chap wielding a scalpel in that cartoon were to blame; or the broom-and-hatchet brigade.

My guess is that official attitudes hadn’t changed much since 1891, when the Inspector of Public Health reported that Rio promoted a “complete absence of moral virtue” among its inhabitants, who practiced “horrendous nudity and licentious behavior.”

A much more recent, and academic, publication’s author says that the problem was clashing cultural norms.

Government doctors didn’t see a problem with going into someone’s home and getting up close and personal with the missus and daughters. The folks with a “complete absence of moral virtue” didn’t have the same ‘doctor knows best’ attitude, and did see a problem.3

Rodrigues Alves caught influenza during a pandemic, and died in 1919.

Fears and the 50s


(From Anti-Vaccination Society of America, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

An Anti-Vaccination Society of America leader’s daughter died from sepsis after being exposed to smallpox vaccine.

I’m not unsympathetic, but think working to convince doctors that washing their hands was a good idea would have been a better idea. (October 30, 2016)

The Anti-Vaccination Society of America got started after a visit by William Tebb. He was for social reform, against vaccination, concerned about premature burial, and paid for a drinking fountain in Burstow, England.

The fountain was dedicated to memory of the 400,000 horses killed and wounded during the Boer War. Tebb was also gung-ho about physical purity, food reform, and teetotalism. A colorful chap, in a colorful century. (April 9, 2017; November 11, 2016; July 10, 2016)

America in the 1950s was colorful, too.

Rock and roll was getting popular, a particular brand of Christianity was on the move, and the House Un-American Activities Committee was hunting commies.

I said “colorful,” not praiseworthy.

That 1955 Keep America Committee flyer wasn’t, I think, mainstream.

But a decade later, I was running into folks who took such claims seriously. Some probably still do, with other vaccines on the ‘fear it’ list.

The third item of “the unoly three” was almost certainly a warning against the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act.

Congress said the Act would improve mental health care in Alaska. Land allocated to a mental health trust would generate funds for the programs.

Keep America’s story was much more interesting.

“…Mental Hygiene is a subtle and diabolical plan of the enemy to transform a free and intelligent people into a cringing horde of zombies….”
(Keep America Committee (May 16, 1955))

Zombies? Maybe they meant that metaphorically.

Other folks seemed equally convinced that the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act was an international conspiracy masterminded by Jews, the Catholic Church, or psychiatrists.

Alaska’s legislature passed a law in 1978 that allowed selling the Alaska Trust land. I’m quite sure they weren’t thwarting an un-American plot.

They said the land would be more useful in the hands of municipalities, and individuals; or as forests, parks or wildlife areas.

Claiming that mutant grizzlies enslaved Alaskan legislators with brainwaves from HAARP is tempting. But someone might believe me. That kind of trouble I don’t need.

A 1982 lawsuit led to a 1985 ruling that selling the land was illegal. A lot of different folks and outfits owned much of the land by then. The snarl got sorted out in 1994.

Some folks were still stirring the anti-Alaska Trust pot in 1992. Maybe that conspiracy theory will be revived, if the Alaska Trust gets into the news again.

I think the best conspiracy claims, in terms of entertainment value, are the ones involving space aliens.

David Icke’s lizard-men are among my favorites. As an example of such things, at any rate. He started warning folks that shape-shifting space-alien lizard-men rule the world in the 1990s.

Reasoned concerns about new medical technology, including vaccines, makes sense. The trick is sorting out facts and fears. (August 21, 2016)


1. UNICEF Drones


(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Drones are already being tested for commercial deliveries in many countries”
(BBC News))

Drone vaccine delivery trial for island nation Vanuatu
(June 14, 2017)

Lifesaving vaccines in the island nation of Vanuatu will soon be delivered to remote areas by drone.

“A partnership between the government and the United Nations children’s fund (Unicef) will see a trial on drone medical delivery next year.

“The country is made up of a string of more than 80 islands – once known as the New Hebrides – many of which do not have airstrips or good roads.

“Most of the people live in rural areas and farm their own food.

“Vanuatu’s director general at the ministry of health said the test was a milestone for the small island nation….”

Getting vaccines to folks who need them makes sense. So does letting recipients know what the vaccines are for, and how to use them. Better yet, having someone with a little training on site to answer questions and at least supervise inoculations.

I’m pretty sure folks at UNICEF have thought of that.

This looks like a good idea. Part of a good idea, at least.4

These ‘drones’ are unmanned aerial vehicles, aircraft that fly without anyone aboard. Some are updated versions of model airships used in 19th century music hall acts and radio-controlled model airplanes flying at least since my younger days.

The last I heard, fully-autonomous drones are still in the research and development stage.

‘Good Enough for a Story’

Given the human capacity for silliness, I’m pretty sure that someone’s going to have unreasonable fears of what UNICEF is ‘really’ up to.

The fears would make sense, in a ‘good enough for a story’ way.

UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, is part of the United Nations Development Group. For some, the UN connection alone would be enough for heebie-jeebies.

Add news like The Register’sflying robot killer death machines” article, and stand back. The ‘new world order‘ conspiracy theory could rise from its unquiet bed and — here we go again.

I think UNICEF, and the United Nations, aren’t perfect. But at the moment they are part of what we work with. If we’re doing our job. (June 18, 2017; May 28, 2017; May 21, 2017)


2. Measles: Avoidable Deaths


(From SPL, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Measles ‘tragedy’ kills 35 across Europe
James Gallagher, BBC News (July 11, 2017)

Thirty-five people have died in the past year from measles outbreaks across Europe, the World Health Organization has warned.

“It described the deaths – which can be prevented with vaccination – as an ‘unacceptable tragedy’.

“A six-year-old boy in Italy was the latest to die from the infection. More than 3,300 measles cases have been recorded in the country.

“The most fatalities – 31 – have been in Romania.

“But there have also been deaths in Germany and Portugal since June 2016….”

Measles isn’t as scary as the Black Death. It’s also a fairly new disease. Scientists figure it evolved from the rinderpest virus, about a thousand years back.5

Rinderpest was an often-fatal disease for cattle, so dealing with that virus was a priority. It’s now one of two diseases we’ve managed to eradicate.

Most folks who catch measles recover, if they can rest and don’t develop any of several occasionally-fatal complications. But since a few folks will die after getting measles, we’ve developed MMR vaccine.

The notion that MMR vaccine causes people like me6 comes partly from a fake 1998 article in The Lancet.

Result? A remarkable number of folks are scared of keeping their kids healthy. Not that they’d put it that way.

Bogus “scientific” research ranges from honest but stupid mistakes, through professional fraud, to crackpots and ethically-challenged journalists. Whatever the cause, it’s a bad idea. (April 28, 2017; December 16, 2016; August 26, 2016)

What’s sad is that MMR vaccine works, and should be available anywhere in Europe. Those folks didn’t have to die.


3. Congo Polio Outbreak


(From AFP, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Polio can only be prevented through immunisation”
(BBC News))

DR Congo polio outbreak ‘from poor vaccine coverage’
(June 14, 2017)

Two outbreaks of polio have been identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a blow to the goal of wiping out the disease from the world.

“The World Health Organization said there was a high risk the vaccine-derived virus could spread.

The strain of polio involved comes from areas with poor vaccine coverage.

A similar outbreak, linked to low immunisation rates, was confirmed last week in Syria….”

Karl Landsteiner and Erwin Popper isolated the poliovirus in 1909. Since then we’ve learned that it’s an RNA virus, a bit of RNA in a protein shell.

Some RNA viruses, like the ones causing the common cold, are more of a nuisance than a threat. Others, like poliovirus and the measles virus, are occasionally lethal.

A little over a century after Landseiner and Popper’s work, we have comparatively safe and effective vaccines that can protect folks from the disease.

But like any other technology, the vaccines won’t work unless they’re used properly.

Some vaccines, including those used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, use viruses that are weakened, but not dead. Inactivated vaccines, where the viruses are dead, are not necessarily safer.

Fear and Marketing

An emotionally-convincing tale could still be spun about the evils of vaccine, based on experiments done in the mid 1930s.

Decades after two disastrous experiments, McCarthism enthusiasts included “polio monkey serums” in their “sign of the unholy three” marketing flier.

Their “polio monkey serums” probably depended on memories of Dr. Brodie’s experiments for emotional impact.

The New York University researcher had tried a dead-virus vaccine on himself and several thousand children.

They didn’t die, but many developed severe allergic reactions to the vaccine. They didn’t have immunity to polio, either.

Dr. Brodie’s career was essentially over. He died a few years later, in his late 30s. I don’t know why, although rumors of suicide are plausible.7

Dr. John Kolmer tested a weakened-virus vaccine on several thousand children, the same year as Brodie’s experiment. They didn’t acquire immunity. Several caught polio. Nine of them died.8

Happily, other researchers kept working. I talked about that earlier.

Medical research is a good idea, if it doesn’t expose folks “to disproportionate or avoidable risks.” (Catechism, 22922295)

We’ve learned a great deal since 1935. My guess, and hope, is that Dr. Brodie thought his vaccine was safe for human testing. Using himself as a test subject certainly suggests that. The results were still tragic.

Vaccines used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, weren’t experimental. The problems in that case were — complicated.

Disease: One of Many Problems


(From Julien Harneis, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

Folks in that photo, taken on the Congo River in 2008, were refugees. They were living on abandoned barges. The barges had once hauled agricultural and industrial products.

Polio outbreaks are just one of the problems folks in the DRC face.

Folks have lived there for — a very long time: 90,000 years, at least. My guess is that it’s a whole lot longer. ‘It happened earlier’ seems like a common theme in our growing knowledge of Earth’s past, and ours. (June 16, 2017)

Folks living in the Congo basin should be prospering. Their land has abundant mineral resources, good farmland, a nice climate, and the Congo River. The Congo is one of Earth’s major rivers.

I think, and hope, the Congo will eventually be as filled with commerce as my continent’s Mississippi.

That is in a hoped-for future.

Today, the territory is a mess.

The 2016 Human Development Index ranked the DRC’s level of human development at 176 out of 187.9 There are worse places to live, but not many.

Appalling ‘Philanthropy’

“Congo” is the name European sailors used for the river. It was the Kingdom of Kongo and Kongo people’s major river.

“Congo” was arguably easier for Europeans to pronounce than the regional name, Nzadi O Nzere, River Swallowing Rivers.

“Mississippi” is what happened when Frenchmen tried saying Mshi-ziibi, “Big River.” And that’s another topic.

I won’t blame all of the Congo basin’s problems on Belgium. But Leopold II’s rapacious rule was a bad idea, and conditions haven’t been much better since.

From roughly 1390 to 1891, Kingdom of Kongo was a semi-independent nation, a sort of junior partner of Belgium.

Non-European slavers like Tippu Tip didn’t make life easier for folks living there. Neither did Portuguese merchants who were major clients of the slavers.

On top of that, the kingdom’s internal politics seem to have been rather intense.

In 1885 Belgium’s King King Leopold II told other European leaders that he’d be doing humanitarian and philanthropic work in Kingdom of Kongo. They apparently believed him, so until 1908, Leopold’s “Congo Free State” was the king’s personal property.

His notion of ‘uplifting’ folks living there was to relieve them of all the ivory, rubber, and minerals he could ship out. Even by the period’s standards, his conduct was appalling.

International pressure convinced Belgian’s government to rename Leopold’s Congo Free State as the Belgian Congo.

That lasted from 1908 to 1960. It wasn’t quite more of the same.

The territory has been independent since then, endured a succession of dubiously-ethical leaders, and has been renamed a few times. It is currently not the worst place on Earth to live. By a narrow margin.

Why Pay Attention?

Africa is a long way from Minnesota.

Why should I pay attention to what’s happening there?

I’m interested in the science involved in sorting out the polio outbreak.

And I must not pretend that my neighbors are limited to folks I know personally. (Matthew 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Matthew 5:4344; Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2530; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1825)

I think the World Health Organization’s polio eradication efforts are a good idea. We’ve got a pretty good chance of succeeding, too.

Not “soon” by American standards, maybe. But we’re down to a few dozen known cases a year. My guess is that we’re no more than a few decades from putting polio on the “eradicated” list, along with smallpox and rinderpest. Or could be, if we keep working.

This would be a good thing. (October 16, 2016; August 21, 2016)

Finishing the Job

I don’t have a problem with polio vaccine, partly because I’ve long since gone through the process. So have many other folks.

I also looked into how a vaccine-derived poliovirus happens.

Vaccines with weakened live viruses are safe and effective. That’s true only if enough folks in an area get immunized. Having creature comforts like water and sewage treatment tech helps.

Folks living in many, most, parts of the DRC don’t. Many didn’t get immunized.

Inadequate sewage treatment isn’t a problem by itself. Not where poliovirus is concerned. It’s still a good idea, for other reasons.

Where was I? polio, vaccines, sewage treatment. Right.

If everyone in an area is immunized, it won’t matter that kids get exposed to the attenuated poliovirus. The viruses will die if they don’t promptly reinfect another person. End of problem.

Even if an unimmunized kid gets infected with the weakened vaccine virus, the results are the same as if he or she took the vaccine normally.

The weakened virus will trigger an immune response, the kid acquires immunity, and the viruses die. When everyone’s immune, all viruses are dead. End of problem again.

However — viruses, including the one that causes polio, mutate and evolve rapidly.

With enough unimmunized folks around, a vaccine-derived virus strain will keep moving from host to host. There’s a chance that it’ll change into a fully active virus. Then we have a polio outbreak. Big problem.

Getting polio vaccine to folks is a good idea. So is making sure that enough folks get immunized. This is a job that, once started, should be finished.

I put links to a range of technical and non-technical resources below. I strongly recommend the Rotary’s “Understanding the recent polio outbreaks.”10


Dealing With Disease

I talked about medical history’s highlights recently, from the Ebers Papyrus and Hippocrates of Kos to Saint Hildegard of Bingen. (May 12, 2017)

St. Hildegard’s “Physica” and “Causae et Curae” helped lay foundations for the branch of philosophy we call science.

Nearly a millennium after St. Hildegard’s work, we’ve learned quite a bit. We’ve also acquired some very odd notions.

Some, not all, Christians act as if using the brains God gave us is sinful.

Some, again not all, scienists act as if they think a core value of Christianity is avoiding knowledge. Considering the antics of some Christians, I can understand their attitude: but don’t agree.

Some scientists, like Gregor Mendel, have been unequivocally Christian and Catholic.

Mendel’s experiments with peas and mice were much later recognized as groundbreaking genetics research. He was also an Augustinian friar and abbot, so his religious beliefs are fairly obvious.

Others, like Louis Pasteur, weren’t quite as blatantly Catholic.

In Pasteur’s case, I think some assumptions about his beliefs may come from his refusal to mix religion and science. Mendel didn’t either; but like I said, he was an Augustinian friar and abbot.

My culture’s recent history might make imagining someone rejecting either faith or science easy enough. Attempting a ‘scientific’ faith or ‘Biblical’ science is another option. But not, I think, a good option.

Trusting God, Within Reason

America’s ‘Bible thumper’ subculture was developing ‘creation science’ during my youth. Small wonder so many Americans assume that religion and reality don’t mix. (March 31, 2017)

My experience suggests that thumpers started losing their penchant for ersatz Elizabethan English around the time ‘creation science’ hatched.

Their ‘faith-based science’ details were new, but the basic ideas remind me of Hawkins’ imaginative effort to wrap new facts around his preferred reality:

“…Such is the Basis of Scripture, and such also is the legitimate deduction of History. But incontinent Liberality deceiving Faith, Reason, empty with the fumes of that same flattery by which we originally fell, cometh of the unhallowed embrace, and finding in the crust of the Earth certain animal Types….”
(“The Book of the Great Sea-Dragons, Ichthyosauri and Plesiosauri,” Thomas Hawkins, Thomas; p. 1 (1840))

Embarrassing as ‘creation science’ is, I don’t see it as a physically dangerous belief. Faith healing’s far end is another matter. It’s been quite a while since I’ve heard of someone dying because their religion was against medical treatment, so maybe it’s on the wane.

Getting and staying healthy is a good idea. Within reason. So is prayer. And science. (Catechism, 15061510, 2288, 2289, 2292)

The idea that God has anger management issues, and smites folks with disease? I suspect that was more common in the 18th century than now.

“for a man to infect a family in the morning with smallpox and to pray to God in the evening against the disease is blasphemy; that the smallpox is a judgment of God on the sins of people, and that to avert it is but to provoke him more; that inoculation is an encroachment on the prerogatives of Jehovah, whose right it is to wound and smite.
(Contemporary reaction to inoculation experiments by American physician Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, circa 1720)

“Smallpox is a visitation from God; but the cowpox is produced by presumptuous man; the former was what Heaven ordained, the latter is, perhaps, a daring violation our of holy religion.”
(A physician’s reaction to Dr. Edward Jenner’s experiments in developing a vaccine for smallpox, (1796) via Psychological Sciences, Vanderbilt University)

Repeating what I’ve said before, and probably will again, I take my faith seriously.

Reading the Bible, frequently, is important. So is trusting God, and God’s truth. (Catechism, 101133, 215217)

Faith means willingly and consciously embracing “the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Catechism, 142150)

“The whole truth” means just that: all truth. Not just the bits and pieces I like, or what we learned before some arbitrary date.

Since God created everything, including this universe, science and religion should get along fine. The same goes for faith and reason. (Genesis 1:1; “Fides et Ratio;” “Gaudium et Spes,” 36; Catechism, 159)

Living in Yesterday’s Tomorrow

The RCA Whirlpool “Miracle Kitchen” went on tour, starting in about 1956. It included a microwave oven: one of the more accurate ‘world of the future’ predictions.

Quite a few folks were talking about ‘miracles’ then, the futuristic kind.

“…’Miracles You’ll See in the Next Fifty Years’ pretty much summed up the attitude of the day. We weren’t just going to see advances or novelties; we were going to see miracles….”
(“Life in 2000 AD,” Tales of Future Past, David S. Zondy)

I can get nostalgic about the era’s silly ‘world of tomorrow’ enthusiasm.

I don’t think it made any more sense than today’s equally-silly pessimism. But imagining a future “where jetpacks were as common as galoshes,” as David S. Zondy put it, was fun.

Now that I’m living in ‘the future,’ it’s not as shiny as some folks expected. I like it, on the whole, and that’s yet another topic. (June 23, 2017; October 30, 2016)

The “Miracles You’ll See…” article in a 1950 Popular Mechanics magazine was, I think, overly-optimistic.

But folks who were my current age at the time, born in 1885, had reason to be enthusiastic about the next half-century. Particularly if they were like me, and remembered what living in ‘simpler times’ was really like.

Cholera and Miasma

The first cholera pandemic ran from 1817 to 1824. We don’t know how many died.

The second cholera pandemic, from 1829 to 1849, was probably just as bad.

Cholera went international again in 1852. That pandemic ran until 1860. The fourth cholera pandemic lasted from 1863 to 1875.

Details of the fifth cholera pandemic are debatable. Debated, anyway. What’s more certain is that it lasted from 1881 to 1896, and killed a lot of folks. Again, we don’t know exactly how many.

The sixth and seventh cholera pandemics, 1899-1923 and 1961-75, were more of the same. We haven’t had another one since. Outbreaks and epidemics, yes. Pandemic, no. That’s progress. Stopping cholera is also part of a job we haven’t finished yet.

I’m not surprised that we don’t have exact numbers for how many folks died in those global disasters. Survivors of an epidemic or pandemic understandably focus more on burying bodies and rebuilding their society, less on compiling records.

Another priority would be healing folks who are still sick. Or, better yet, keeping folks from getting sick in the first place.

Folks from Europe to China had noticed that disease was more likely near fetid swamps and other smelly places. Common-sense prevention, like not touching sick people, wouldn’t keep you healthy.

The most obvious common factor was contact with foul-smelling air.

Vitruvius, a 1st century Roman architect, noticed a connection between the “heavy, unhealthy vapors” of the Pontine Marshes and illness. (“De architectura,” Book I)

Miasma theory was the consensus scientific explanation for disease until about 130 years back. Other theories. like contingent contagionism, had been suggested. The contagionism-miasma debate was big among doctors in the 19th century.

The idea that disease was spread by tiny “seeds” was over two thousand years old, but ‘bad air’ seemed a more reasonable explanation. That, we could smell. And correlations between ‘night air’ and disease were well-documented. Causation seemed plausible.

Certainly more plausible than the idea that tiny little critters we can’t see are bad for us. That idea took a long time to catch on.

‘Magic Bullets’

Agostino Bassi found a tiny fungus that made silkworms sick. In 1844, he said that maybe tiny organisms caused diseases in humans, too.

John Snow traced the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak to a specific well. Meanwhile, scientists in Italy ignored Filippo Pacini’s isolation of Vibrio cholerae, the cholera bacillus. Miasma theory was really popular.

Eventually, Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch produced evidence that couldn’t be ignored. My guess is that today’s germ theory of disease isn’t the whole story.

I keep saying this: we have a great deal left to learn.

Paul Ehrlich’s 1900 Zauberkugel, magic bullet, isn’t “magic.”

It’s his name for a then-hypothetical agent that could be ‘aimed’ at disease organisms. I think naming something makes thinking about it easier.

In this case, it arguably helped Paul Ehrlich — he’s not the famous author — study human immune systems and develop Salvarsan, the first effective treatment for syphilis.

That was in 1910.

We’d used antibiotics for millennia, along with other ‘folk medicine’ cures.

What made some ‘medical miracles’ of the 20th and 21st centuries, including eradication of smallpox and rinderpest, possible was learning how some folk remedies worked.

It’s not ‘magic,’ and antibiotics aren’t ‘miracles.’ All they did was make it possible, after millennia of suffering and death, to finally cure — and prevent — many diseases.

Follks living in the 1950s had reasons for their enthusiasm and optimism.

They had problems, too; some of them very serious. So do we. But we have cause for enthusiasm and optimism, too. Reasonable optimism:


1 Polio; nearly gone, but shouldn’t be forgotten:

2 Polio history:

3 Rio de Janeiro, 1904:

4 Delivery drones and all that:

5 Measles background:

6 Autism spectrum disorder and me:

7 Suicide is a bad idea. (Catechism, 22802282) I’ve talked about what the Church says, and why I decided against it:

8 Polio science and technology, mostly:

9 Kingdom of Kongo to Democratic Republic of the Congo:

10 Polio, mostly:

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“A Writer Who is Catholic”

My #3 daughter has some of my qualities, and attitudes.

About four years back now, she vented frustration about writers, faith, and assumptions. She wasn’t nearly as loud as I’ve often been during ‘vents.’

When folks learned she’s a writer, they’d often say something like ‘oh, good: we need more Catholic writers.’

She’d say something like “I’m a writer who is Catholic, not a ‘Catholic writer.'”

I know what she means. She isn’t writing another ‘lives of the Saints,’ or book of prayers. She’s a Catholic who writes.

Another time, she said that Catholics doing ‘normal person’ stuff was a good idea. I think she’s right.

Being ‘in the world but not of the world’ includes being in the world. The idea shows up in John 15:1819 and 17:1416, and Romans 12:2.

What got me thinking about writers and being Catholic was something Fr. Robert Carr wrote recently about the ministry of presence.1 He was discussing urban priests, and the importance of simply being in the neighborhood.

I figure the principle applies to laity, too. We won’t do much good if we’re not around. Acting like we’re a few cards short of full deck doesn’t seem reasonable, either.

I’m not sure how ‘normal’ being a writer is. But for me it’s about as natural as breathing. And nearly as unavoidable. I suspect my daughter’s the same way.

Telling Stories

She’s writing a series of fantasy stories. Or maybe they’re science fiction.

These stories are not “Catholic” or “Christian.” Not overtly.

Religion isn’t part of their fictional landscape. Like the fellow said, “the book has not been baptized.”

That doesn’t bother me.

Having characters shouting “hallelujah” at intervals, or saying ‘dost thou’ instead of ‘have you,’ doesn’t make a story ‘religious.’

I can’t say that I miss the Biblese in films like “Samson and Delilah” and “The Prodigal,” and that’s another topic.

My daughter’s stories are set in a sub-creation2 that’s different in physical detail from the real world. But it works the same way on other levels.

I’ve known a few folks who don’t like fiction, particularly fantasy and science fiction. As long as readers don’t have trouble telling the difference between ‘real’ and ‘make-believe,’ I don’t see a problem with imaginary tales.

The ‘good guys’ in her stories often mean well, but sometimes do bad things: even by their standards. Her ‘bad guys’ do emphatically bad things, but at least one of them had been forced to behave badly.

She’s writing about human, and other, beings who are not perfect. Her fictional characters cope, or fail to cope, with that ancient wound we call original sin.3

I think there’s value in telling stories where folks act like people, decisions influence actions, and actions have consequences. A story can show how reality works without getting preachy. Or being “realistic.”

I think there’s also value in discussing sin, God, and cultural quirks, and that’s yet another topic. (April 23, 2017; November 13, 2016; July 10, 2016)

Doing What Seems Reasonable

I don’t think being a ‘Catholic writer’ is wrong. That attitude would be as silly as saying everybody must speak in tongues.

As 1 Corinthians 12 says, we’re not supposed to be cookie cutter Christians.

Being distinct, unique, individuals and cultures is a good thing. Forgetting that we all have equal dignity, not so much. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 18971917,19341938, 1957, 2334)

There’s more to ‘Catholic writing’ than prayer and devotional books, or collections of pithy and edifying sayings.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that sort of thing. But there’s a lot more, like William May’s “An Introduction to Moral Theology,” 2nd edition (2003). Light reading it isn’t.

I’d be a ‘Catholic writer,’ if I saw that as the best use of my abilities.

Instead, I’m a writer who is Catholic. Writing isn’t what I ‘live for.’ That sort of misplaced priority is a bad idea. (Catechism, 21122114)

But I love language, enjoy digging up facts, and sharing what I find. Writing seems like a reasonable thing to do. It’s pretty obviously part of my vocation.

Having a vocation doesn’t make me a priest or a monk. Everyone’s got a vocation. (August 14, 2016)

My daughter decided that writing a still-growing tale about folks living in an imaginary world was a good idea. I think she’s right.

I’d like to create something along those lines. I also enjoy writing about faith and reason, science and truth.

Science? In a ‘religious’ blog? I’ve talked about religion, reality, and why I think using our brains is okay, pretty often. (March 31, 2017; December 23, 2016; August 28, 2016)

Constants and Variables

I think it’s too easy for folks to assume that being Catholic and being old-fashioned are the same thing.

As I keep saying, faith and nostalgia aren’t synonyms. And the ‘good old days’ weren’t. (July 4, 2017; June 18, 2017)

‘We’ve always done it this way’ doesn’t make something a good idea. On the other hand, some things don’t change:

“Right is right if nobody is right, and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong.”
(“Life Is Worth Living” (1951-1957), Program 19, The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, via Wikiquotes)

Stealing was wrong when Nebuchadnezzar II had the Ishtar Gate built.4 It still is, and it will be when the 46th century begins.

It’s not true because it’s an old idea. It’s true because taking something unjustly violates natural law. (March 30, 2017; February 5, 2017; November 21, 2016)

Natural law doesn’t change. Theft is always wrong. (Exodus 20:15; Leviticus 19:11; Deuteronomy 5:19; Catechism, 19541960, 2408)

What’s stolen and how we deal with the issue? That changes.

Hammurabi’s law code, 125, talks about theft of property left in another person’s care, but doesn’t mention how copyright applies to DRM. The WIPO Copyright Treaty does. The WIPO treaty almost certainly doesn’t deal with all property disputes of the 5740s.

That sort of thing is positive law, rules we make up. They change as our cultures change. They should change, at any rate. Positive law works best when it’s based on natural law. (June 18, 2017; February 5, 2017)

Style, Substance, and Steampunk

Diehard fans of the King James Bible notwithstanding, there’s nothing ‘Biblical’ about antique English. Take this career advice from Lady MacBeth, for example:

“…Glamys thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be What thou art promis’d: yet doe I feare thy Nature….”
(Lady Macbeth, “The Tragedie of Macbeth,” William Shakespeare (1st performed ca. 1606, published 1623))

Better yet, don’t take her advice.

Imitating a bygone era’s language can be fun. It’s helped writers draw readers into historical settings.

Writers and artists dealing with imaginary worlds can get material by mining another era’s design aesthetic. Studio Foglio’s Girl Genius serial epic introduced me steampunk before I learned it was a new(ish) sub-genre, and that’s yet again another topic.

I was going somewhere with this. Let’s see. Writers, the “Alice” books, Girl Genius. Got it!

Stories, the ones folks read when they’re not assigned reading for some class, reflect reality: even if the setting is far from ‘realistic.’

One of these days I may buckle down and write about Castle Dampthorn, or do more excerpts from Otha Sisk’s “Notes of a Traveler.” Meanwhile, I’ll most likely keep writing the sort of thing you see here.

Surrounded by Beauty and Wonders

We live in a vast and ancient universe, surrounded by beauty and wonders.

It’s pretty much the same as it was a few centuries back. What’s changing is how much we’ve learned about how works.

We’re also learning how very much more we have left to learn. I don’t see a problem with that. (June 30, 2017; June 16, 2017)

Each time we learn something new about Earth’s long story, spot a planet circling another star, or get closer to understanding how reality works on subatomic scales, it’s an opportunity for greater admiration of God’s work. (Catechism, 283, 341)

Truth and beauty is everywhere. Noticing it, or not, depends on whether we decide that paying attention is worth the effort.

It’s expressed many ways: in words, “the rational expression of the knowledge;” “the order and harmony of the cosmos;” and “the greatness and beauty of created things.” (Catechism, 32, 41, 74, 2500)

God’s infinite beauty reflected in “the world’s order and beauty” tells us a little about God. Being curious is a good idea. A thirst for truth and happiness is written into each of us. If we’re doing our job right, it’ll lead us to God. (Catechism, 27, 3132, 341)

And that’s still another topic.

Posts, some more obviously related than others:


1 A priest’s view of being present:

2 Thinking about make-believe worlds:

3 Each of us is basically good, but deal with fallout from a really bad decision. We’re out of harmony with creation and God. (Catechism, 374, 396412)

Oddly enough, one of the most coherent non-Catholic discussions I’ve run across on the topic was in a Monty Python movie. More of my take on reality and original sin:

4 Quite a few scholars figure the core of Deuteronomy was written in Jerusalem during the 7th century BC. That would make what we call Deuteronomy 5:19, “You shall not steal,” fairly new around the time Nebuchadnezzar II’s day:

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Climate Change, Attitudes

I’ll be talking about Earth’s climate, China’s pollution problems, and icebergs: including one the size of Delaware. The big berg broke off from Antarctica this week.

The recent G20 meeting was mostly about economics, not climate change; but that didn’t deter the usual colorful protestors.

I’m not complaining about folks at the fancy-dress street party in Hamburg. If nothing else, they added a touch of human interest to an otherwise-dry international business meeting.

This week’s ‘science news’ post is even more — alternatively-linear? — than most. This list of headings may help you find what’s interesting. Or maybe not:


Global Warming, Climate Change, and Opportunities

If some of this month’s news seems familiar, maybe you’re remembering the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

This time around the event is a G20 meeting, but the bells and whistles are pretty much the same.

There’s a bit of overlap in the topics discussed. More about that later.

News coverage of the 2015 Paris conference ranged from the usual hysterics to comparatively calm reporting. This piece, from Reuters, even included some numbers:

EU ministers seek ambitious, binding deal at Paris climate talks: draft
Barbara Lewis, Reuters (June 25, 2015)

“European Union ministers are seeking an ambitious, durable and legally binding deal to curb global warming, enforced through five-yearly reviews, a draft of their position statement for U.N. climate talks shows….

“…It calls for five-yearly reviews to ensure temperature rises are capped at 2 degrees Celsius, the necessary limit according to scientists to prevent the most devastating climate change….”

For me, one of the more interesting things about the Reuters article was Barbara Lewis using the phrases “global warming” and “climate change.” Before then, I’m pretty sure that “global warming” would have been the crisis du jour’s sole moniker.

Updating the slogan is progress of a sort. I’d like to see an upgrade in assumptions otherwise-smart folks make about the issue: on both/all sides.

That sort of thing takes time; generations, sometimes. So I’ll use this as an opportunity to cultivate patience. And, of course, to talk about climate change, stewardship, and why I think using our brains makes sense.

About the “five-yearly reviews:” I think periodic monitoring of global conditions is a good idea.

If done sensibly, that should help us deal with existing issues, and keep new problems from getting out of hand.

Part of our job is ‘cultivating’ this world, keeping our home in good working order. (Genesis 1:2629, 2:15; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 339, 952, 24022405, 2456)

It’s not a new idea:

“The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.”
(Genesis 2:15)

I’ve talked about Genesis, clay, and getting a grip, before. (July 15, 2016)

I am a Christian and realize that we’ve learned a bit in the thirty or so centuries since parts of the Bible were written. (March 31, 2017; August 28, 2016)

I don’t expect to find detailed ‘how to’ discussions of the Corex Process in Genesis, or whatever tech we’ll be using in the 52nd century. God gave us brains, pretty good ones. Using them makes sense. (June 16, 2017; November 18, 2016; August 5, 2016)

Again, monitoring Earth’s environment regularly is a good idea. Like it or not, we have been affecting conditions here.

Happily, systems like NASA’s GOES and ISRO’s environmental satellites make data collection practical. Even better, as I see it, we can get objective data — not official reports which may have been edited by local, regional, or national authorities.

Assuming that we can set Earth’s thermostat? I think we may develop that tech well before the 52nd century. Today? We’re not there yet.

Learning the Right Lessons

I was — impressed — at the European Union’s decision that Earth’s average temperature would rise no more than two degrees Celsius, presumably over a five-year period.

It’s likely enough that we’ll eventually regulate Earth’s temperature with that sort of precision.

We’ve learned a bit about how Earth’s weather and climate work. We’ve even learned how to affect storms.

I think experiments in the early 1970s suggest that we don’t know quite how to control storms. Not yet.

Affecting local and regional storm systems seems like a first step in global climate control. I think it’s very likely that we will, given time, develop technology that lets us fine-tune our home’s environment.

Human nature being what it is, I’m pretty sure that we will begin managing Earth’s climate wisely somewhat later.

We may also learn, again, why some field tests should be on a planet where folks aren’t living. I’ll grant that we’re still not sure about the Black Hills Flood of 1972. (May 26, 2017)

The lesson of disasters like the Great Famine of 1315-17, London’s 1666 fire, Aberfan, and Fukushima Daiichi system failures, is not that technology is evil.

I’m quite sure God didn’t intend humanity to live by gathering berries and stalking aardvarks and warthogs. Not permanently. I’m also sure that developing agriculture and antibiotics wasn’t a mistake.

Like anything else we do, growing crops works better when we think ahead. The same goes for building cities and nuclear reactors.

We’re rational creatures whose nature includes curiosity. We’re supposed to notice the world’s beauty and order, learn its laws, and use that knowledge: wisely. (Catechism, 16, 341, 373, 1704, 17301731, 2293)

We don’t own this world. We’re more like stewards or foremen. Managing this world is part of our job. Using its resources and preparing for future generations, within reason, is a good idea. (Catechism, 24152418, 2456)

Change Happens

About the 2015 Paris climate talks, I think they were a good idea. Basically.

I’d better explain that.

I think Earth’s climate is changing.

Believing that Earth’s climate hasn’t changed, never changes, and won’t change, doesn’t match what we’ve been learning. (June 30, 2017; May 19, 2017; January 20, 2017)

I don’t “believe in” climate change. Not in the sense that I put it at the top of my priorities, or see it as my reason for living. That would be a bad idea. (Catechism, 21122114)

I don’t “believe in” an unchanging climate, either; for the same reasons.

Some folks apparently don’t like the idea of a changing climate. I don’t think that alters the objective reality we’re in.

I’m no more impressed by liberals who act as if their education was based on the works of Ehrlich, as interpreted by disciples of Malthus. (May 12, 2017; January 20, 2017)

Youthful Ideals

I don’t doubt the sincerity of ‘save the whatever’ folks, or their ‘back to the good old days’ counterparts.

But I do not agree with them. Not entirely.

Ignoring both/all sides of the ‘climate change’ sound and fury isn’t an option. Even if I thought the issue was a complete fabrication, many folks take it seriously.

That makes it a factor in today’s world.

Contributing to the good of society and taking part in public life is part of my faith, even if I’d rather keep my distance. (Catechism, 1915, 2239)

Besides, I never lost youthful ideals I developed in the 60s. Or a strong preference for attitudes that make sense.

Holding ideals that make sense takes a little work, but I think it’s worth the effort.

‘Lords of Creation?’

Maybe the folks in those penguin costumes thought the Paris goals were too small.

Some other folks probably think they’re too big, and that the Paris talks were a waste of time: or worse.

I’ve decided to see the 2015 climate conference as mostly good news. It’ll be even better if the various national leaders follow through on their promises.

There’s some reason to hope that the rhetoric wasn’t entirely empty. There’s been some progress in the last several decades.

European industry’s contribution to Earth’s atmospheric fug peaked in 1979, and has been declining since. Those are ‘good old days’ I certainly don’t yearn for.

The 2015 Reuters article said that Europe’s industrial pollution was about 10 percent of the world’s total. China was the world’s champ in that area, at 25 percent. That’s not an enviable distinction.

If everyone follows through, Earth’s air should be cleaner in a few decades. Like I said: good news.

Deciding that Earth’s temperature will go up no more than some set amount? That seems to involve some whacking great assumptions.

The biggest of the lot, I think, is that everything on this planet happens because humans are here: or at least everything that’s changing. That smacks of the old ‘lords of creation’ attitude that got us into this mess to begin with.

We’re pretty hot stuff: but we’re not that hot. (March 26, 2017; January 20, 2017)


1. Fancy Dress at G20


(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Many of the protesters in Hamburg were demonstrating against Donald Trump’s position on climate change”
(BBC News))

G20 Hamburg: Leaders fail to bridge Trump climate chasm
BBC News (July 8, 2017)

Leaders of 19 nations at the G20 summit in Germany have renewed their pledge to implement the Paris deal on climate change, despite the US pulling out.

“Deadlock over the issue had held up the last day of talks in Hamburg but a final agreement was eventually reached.

“It acknowledges President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement without undermining the commitment of other countries….”

I’m not sure why events like the 2015 climate talks and the 2017 G20 Hamburg summit inspire protests in fancy dress.

Maybe it’s a European thing.

Likely enough, the idea is to get a photographer’s attention.

The ‘coal kills” set got international coverage by dressing as angels at the Place de la République in 2015. I suppose there’s a certain publicity value in costumes.

There’s no small amount of theater involved in politics. A candidate drove a tractor into a political convention I was at, quite a few years back.

Nothing wrong with theater, provided that there’s substance, too.

Dancing Cigarette Packs

The (dancing?) globe performer in this year’s photo op was entertaining. I’m not sure how we’re supposed to respond.

Maybe there’s a slogan on the Pacific Ocean. Or maybe the point is to attract attention to the stage, and the message came later.

The demonstrator’s costume and pose reminded me of old ‘dancing objects’ commercials. I think that Old Gold carton and matchbook are from the 1950s.

We don’t see that sort of thing any more. Partly because the powers that be decided that cigarette and beer commercials are bad for us. Partly because advertising gimmicks change as years go by.

The G20 summit isn’t about climate change, by the way, or President Trump.

Sustainable Development and G20


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Police and anti-summit protesters clashed for a second day”
(BBC News))

G20, or Group of 20, is a get-together of brass from the top 20 governments and banks.1

Folks who don’t like governments and banks generally show up to protest. I don’t know how they feel, getting upstaged by the ‘save us from Trump’ bunch.

Anyway, this time around G20 will be talking about inclusive growth. They’re for it, apparently. That makes sense to me. I figure anyone with business interests would want as many comparatively-wealthy customers, clients, and partners as possible.

G20 will also discuss how to make the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development work. That’s probably a ‘Trump’ connection. There’s a mess of other topics on the table, too.

About sustainable development, I see it as a basically good idea. Fossil fuel shortages aren’t a crisis yet, but we’re burning through a finite supply.

Besides, we’ve learned that combustion products are bothersome; or worse.

I could do with a great deal more common sense in sustainable development’s details. But the basic idea, acting as if future generations matter? That, to me, makes sense.


2. “We’ll Always Have Paris”


(From AFP, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“How will Mrs Merkel manoeuvre around Mr Trump?”
(BBC News))

G20: Merkel’s mission is to co-opt Saudis and Russia to embarrass US
Roger Harrabin, op-ed, BBC News (July 7, 2017)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is battling to prevent US President Donald Trump undermining the world leaders’ united front on climate change.

“At the Paris climate deal, all world leaders spoke in favour of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees but that was after a massive diplomatic effort by President Barack Obama made membership of the climate club a moral imperative.

“He and the French hosts created such an atmosphere that even the normally foot-dragging Russians and Saudis committed to the deal, despite their long history of slowing progress in climate negotiations behind the scenes.

“They own vast fossil fuel reserves of oil and gas and fear they will stand to lose if the world shifts away from fossil fuels.

“Many a UN climate conference has drawn to a semi-successful close, only for the chair to wearily announce ‘objection from Saudi Arabia’.

“The task for Chancellor Merkel and her allies is to bind these two nervous bedfellows into the great climate alliance between the EU and China, leaving the US looking out of touch….”

Even if the Paris climate deal2 is as successful in its way as “Casablanca,” I suspect it won’t be as well-remembered as the 1943 film.

On the other hand, the Paris deal has memeorable elements.

Two American presidents involved, Obama and Trump, are both colorful.

That’ll help folks recognize the names in the 2090s. So will America’s role in today’s world. Like it or not, America is a major player these days.

Look at it this way: you may remember that Franklin D. Roosevelt was president in 1943. But unless you’re Bulgarian, you may not remember Simeon Sakskoburggotski. He’s the last Bulgarian Tsar.

His father, the second-to-last Tsar, was arrested a few days after Stalin declared war on Bulgaria. He was executed a few months later, along with quite a few other troublesome folks. That was in 1943. Simeon was six at the time. A referendum voted him out in 1946.

I suppose someone may have wondered about the 97% approval vote for Bulgaria’s new regime. But with the Soviet army hanging around, I’m not surprised at its acceptance.

Simeon went into exile, and became Cadet Rylski No. 6883 at Valley Forge Military Academy and College. After a few decades of assorted education and career moves, he returned to Bulgaria and served as Prime Minister from 2001 to 2005.

Simeon’s experiences make a dramatic story. But I’m guessing that most Americans know more about “Casablanca’s” plot than his biography.

That’s not a criticism of Americans. It does, I think, tell something about what gets remembered, and why.

Bulgarian Backgrounder

Bulgaria is currently one of those places that don’t often make the headlines.

This isn’t the heyday of the Odrysian kingdom. That was between Plato’s time and the Vikram Samvat’s first year.

Old Great Bulgaria was a big deal in its day, too, but few folks west of the Avar Khaganate — where today’s Hungary and Romania are, more or less — remember the great Kahns now.

The First and Second Bulgarian Empires lasted a bit over three and two centuries, respectively. That era ended around the time the Kalmar Union started, when Chaucer was writing “Canterbury Tales.”

A thousand years from now, Bulgaria could be as important as Indonesia is today. As I keep saying, change happens.

I’ve drifted off-topic again. Where was I? G20 summit, Barrak Obama, Bogart, Bulgaria. Right.

Opinions

Roger Harrabin’s op-ed credits President Obama with getting “all world leaders” to support “limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees.”

That’s accurate, in an extent.

Mr. Harrabin may or may not be right about the German chancellor trying to keep President Trump from sullying President Obama’s “moral imperative.” I figure results of this G20 meeting will be praised, vilified, and — occasionally — discussed until the next meeting.

About Obama and the 2015 Paris talks, he was there. He probably affected the outcome. I’d be surprised if he hadn’t.

Quite a few top leaders said they’d keep Earth from getting more than two degrees Centigrade warmer. As I said before, I don’t see that as something to be preen over.

I don’t know about “all,” but let’s say Mr. Harrabin meant ‘all the ones who matter.’ That agrees with what I’ve read.

The two degree declaration wasn’t the only result from Paris.

Europe’s leaders said they’d cut emissions by 40 percent — at least — compared to 1990 levels. Their target date was 2030. That was probably carbon dioxide emissions, but I figure dialing back any industrial effluvia is probably a good idea.

Carbon dioxide is one of the top four ‘greenhouse gasses’ Earth’s atmosphere. I talked about that, and laughing gas, last week. (July 7, 2017)

Water vapor is a greenhouse gas, too. Oddly enough, I haven’t read a thing about efforts to regulate it. That doesn’t bother me.

I figure we’ll be better off if we learn much more about how much carbon dioxide, water, and all, “should” be in Earth’s atmosphere — before we start tinkering with the controls.


3. Chilling News


(From M.Hoppmann/AWI, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Iceberg names follow a convention that uses a letter followed by a number”
(BBC News))

Antarctic iceberg: Giant ‘white wanderer’ poised to break free
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (July 5, 2017)

Everybody is fascinated by icebergs. The idea that you can have blocks of frozen water the size of cities, and bigger, sparks our sense of wonder.

“British astronaut Tim Peake photographed one from orbit that would just about fit inside Central London’s ring road. But at 26km by 13km (16 miles by 8 miles), it was a tiddler compared with the berg that is about to break away from the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

“A rift has grown across the edge of the Larsen C Ice Shelf. A thin, 5km-long section of the floating shelf is now all that prevents a 6,000-sq-km berg from drifting away into the Weddell Sea….”

I’ve talked about the Larsen C Ice Shelf and the Halley VI research station before. (February 17, 2017; January 20, 2017)

The last I heard, Halley VI’s planned move ended in February.

Folks with the British Antarctic Survey, BAS, decided to wait until the Antarctic winter ends before moving back in. That’ll happen in November, barring unforeseen events.

The Larsen C Ice Shelf crack that’s been in the news lately started a long time ago. But it’s nobody’s fault.

That may not be what you’ve read in the papers.

A Silly Response to Silliness

Picking up bits and pieces I’ve seen here and there — naming no sources, I’m acting like a journalist for once. The more colorful sort, not one who bothers about fiddly facts.

Now, in the tradition of the Great Moon Hoax and supermarket tabloids —

Atlantic ocean temperatures have been increasing since the late 1940s. Former president Franklin D. Roosevelt remains unavailable for comment.

Sources close to the White House confirm that President Harry S. Truman allowed development of thermonuclear weapons and continued use of coal-burning electric generators. Truman did not, however, authorize clean-running fusion power plants.

Keep going like that, and I might get an ‘impeach Truman’ initiative started. Some folks might forget that he died in 1953.

Or did he? Someone started the Harry S. Truman Scholarship in 1975. Suspicious!

Sorry about that. What’s sad is that the last few paragraphs aren’t all that different from what I see in the silly side of the news.

The point I had in mind is that the Larsen C crack has been growing for decades. What’s new is that a huge iceberg broke free as a result. That happened Wednesday, July 12, 2017.

As an NPR piece pointed out in January, bits of ice shelf have been breaking off for a long time. It’s a natural phenomenon.

For me, it’s also an opportunity to talk about icebergs.

Look Out Atlantic, Here It Comes!


(From NASA/SUOMI NPP/SIMON PROUD, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“This view of the iceberg was taken by Nasa’s Suomi NPP satellite”
(BBC News))

Giant iceberg splits from Antarctic
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (July 12, 2017)

One of the biggest icebergs ever recorded has just broken away from Antarctica.

“The giant block is estimated to cover an area of roughly 6,000 sq km; that’s about a quarter the size of Wales….”

That’s a big bit of ice. Not the biggest ever, though, or even the biggest we know of.

“…The new Larsen berg is probably in the top 10 biggest ever recorded.

“The largest observed in the satellite era was an object called B-15. It came away from the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000 and measured some 11,000 sq km. Six years later, fragments of this super-berg still persisted and passed by New Zealand.

“In 1956, it was reported that a US Navy icebreaker had encountered an object of roughly 32,000 sq km. That is bigger than Belgium. Unfortunately, there were no satellites at the time to follow up and verify the observation….”
(Jonathan Amos, BBC News)

The Wikipedia page about Iceberg B-15 says “Iceberg B-15 was the world’s largest recorded iceberg….”

Astute readers will check Wikipedia’s footnote and see “…the largest iceberg recorded by satellite photography….”

The rest of the footnote mentions the 1956 sighting, and adds that since satellite photography wasn’t available then, estimates about the berg are “less reliable.”

Fair enough. And that’s why I read footnotes.3

About the Larsen-C iceberg — BBC is British, so they use British comparisons. This berg is about a quarter the size of Wales. Since I’m an American, I’ll say it’s roughly the size of Delaware. Either way, it’s big.

I gather that the berg’s official designation is iceberg A68. That’s not a particularly catchy name, so I’ll suggest a few: Big Bergy; Iceland South; Bergworld; South Delaware.

I don’t know how big iceberg tourism is around Antarctica. It’s a bit far from Earth’s biggest population centers. I found some academic discussion of the topic, which doesn’t connect all that much with the ‘climate and environment’ theme I’m doing this week.

I did find a pretty good iceberg FAQ, from Earth’s northern hemisphere. Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism’s IcebergFinder.com includes an Iceberg Facts page with background information. They discuss where icebergs come from and how they’re formed.

Since it’s a tourism site, they also answer this question: “How close can you get to an iceberg?” It boils down to ‘not very, if you plan on surviving.’

Icebergs, Growlers, and Bergy Bits


(From ESA, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The drift paths (red lines) of countless bergs have been tracked around the Antarctic continent (black). This collective history strongly suggests the Larsen block will head for the South Atlantic”
(BBC News))

Jonathan Amos, I’m back to the BBC News article now, says that bits of ice floating in the ocean aren’t all icebergs: only the ones covering 500 or more square meters.

Smaller than that, and they’re called “growlers” or “bergy bits.”

Icebergs have names, sort of.

Icebergs from the Larsen C Ice Shelf are “A” icebergs, followed by a sequence number. The “A” says that the iceberg comes from Antarctica’s “A” quadrant.

So how come it’s “Larsen C Ice shelf?” The “C” in the ice shelf’s name means that it’s the part between Larsen B and Larsen D. Larsen A is farthest from the mainland, Larsen D is closest.

The iceberg naming system’s run by the U.S. National Ice Center. The U.S. weather service and navy started working together in 1956. That outfit was renamed the National Ice Center in 1995, when the Coast Guard got involved.

All of the above started after the Titanic got up close and personal with an iceberg.4

Sliding Icebergs

We’ve learned quite a bit since then, and developed tech that lets us study icebergs and Earth’s ocean in fine detail. Finer than before, anyway.

One thing we learned was that sea level around Antarctica is a bit higher than it is elsewhere, by about a half-meter.

We figure it’s the winds whipping around Antarctica that’s pushing the water up.

The difference isn’t much. But when you’re looking at an iceberg nearly the size of Hawaii, it’s significant.

The big berg that’s broken off will slide ‘downhill.’ It won’t go straight north, since Earth is rotating. That brings the Coriolis force into play.

Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis published a paper in 1835, describing this inertial effect in rotating systems. He had waterwheels in mind, but other scientists realized that the Coriolis force applied to weather systems, too.

Most of an iceberg, about 90%, is below water; so the lowest parts occasionally scrape along the seafloor. That makes ‘doodles’ like the one in that image, and makes predicting just where an iceberg will go more complicated.

Tracking icebergs is important, since shipping routes go through iceberg territory.

Passenger ships like the Titanic are a small fraction of the world’s vessels.

The British merchant navy was the biggest for centuries. They’re still one of the major players, but these days British ships account for about 3% of the world’s tonnage.

With so many folks directly or indirectly depending on ocean transport, avoiding a replay of the Titanic disaster with any sort of ship is a high priority.

Lessons Learned

One of the lessons learned from the 1912 Titanic incident is that having tech is only part of the picture.

Folks using the tech have to know what it’s for and how to use it.

Getting everyone involved on the same page also helps, I think. I’m no great fan of regulation, but realize that having rules can be a good idea.

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, SOLAS, treaty dates back to 1914. It defined minimum safety standards for construction, equipment, and operation. Folks signed off on a major revision in 1974.

It wasn’t the first set of rules for shipping. The Rhodian Sea Law, Nomos Rhodion Nautikos, for example, is well upwards of a dozen centuries old. The more recent Hanseatic League had rules, too; and that’s another topic.

I’d be astonished if everyone was happy about the SOLAS treaty, some because they resented ‘foreigners’ telling them what to do, others because it didn’t demand higher standards, still others for more reasons.

Accidents still happen. The steamer Taiping and freighter Chienyuan collided in 1949. We don’t know how many died. Estimates go up to about 1,500.

Most were folks trying to get out of China, before the current regime’s troops caught them. That most likely explains why something like twice the ship’s rated capacity were on board.

Cargo vessels can have trouble, too.

The April 16, 1947, Texas City disaster wasn’t, quite, a shipping accident. But it involved shipping, so I figure it counts.

The Grandcamp was getting loaded with about 2,200 tons, 2,100 metric tons, of ammonium nitrate.

The cargo was for farmers in Europe, part of the post-World-War-II recovery effort.

Ammonium nitrate is good fertilizer, and comparatively safe: if it’s carefully handled. Houston port authorities wouldn’t allow the stuff in their harbor, since folks aren’t always careful.

Someone had arranged for this load to get shipped at inappropriate temperatures, a lapse in judgment that let the stuff start heating up. Longshoremen reported that the bags were warm, but loading the Grandchamp proceeded. Another lapse in judgment.

After someone noticed smoke in the Grandchamp’s cargo hold, the captain had the hold steamed. That’s a good idea, if your cargo is stuff like wood or grain. Ammonium nitrate? Not so much.

The Grandchamp’s hatches blew off around 9:00 am. Yellow-orange smoke poured out. Someone noticed that seawater touching the Grandchamp’s hull was flashing into steam. Then the ship exploded.

That ignited ammonium nitrate that had been loaded onto the High Flyer, a ship docked about 600 feet, 200 meters, away. The blast also destroyed an onshore chemical plant, ignited refineries and storage tanks; and pretty much anything else flammable.

We’re not sure how many folks died. Recovery teams found 405 identifiable bodies. Unidentifiable parts indicate 63 more deaths. 113 folks simply disappeared.

The Texas City port was a busy place, and not everyone was on someone’s payroll or crew list. The death toll may have been higher. About 5,000 were injured, 500 homes destroyed. It was a mess.

I don’t think anyone’s rules will keep folks from making daft and deadly mistakes. But like I said, I think they help.


4. “Fish Gotta Swim and Birds Gotta Fly – – -“


(From Chongqing Liangjiang Voluntary Service Centre(?), via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Industrial pollution in Hebei province, found by the Chongqing Liangjiang Voluntary Service Centre.)

Chinese anger over ‘acid pollution’ images
Beijing bureau, China Blog, BBC News (April 26, 2017)

Recent aerial photographs of extensive pollution at industrial sites in northern China have caused a public outcry, and calls for action from the authorities.

“The images, taken by a drone, show a cluster of dark red and rust-coloured pits occupying a big patch of land in a village called Nanzhaofu in Hebei province.

“The NGO which broke the story, Chongqing Liangjiang Voluntary Service Centre, said preliminary tests it conducted showed the waste water in the pits was strongly acidic.

“The pollutants have been been there for years, it said, meaning the underground water might have been contaminated….”

This is an example of why I don’t mind folks who aren’t part of a government sharing what they’ve noticed.

It’s not that I think government officials are malevolent. But they’re human, and might miss something. I see not wanting awkward facts to get out as more selfish than actively destructive, but the effects can be bad.

It’s generally a good idea to have someone else take an occasional look.

The same principle applies with writing and proofreading. Proofreading my own work isn’t nearly as effective as having someone else look for errors.

I doubt very much that someone thought poisoning folks in Nanzhafu would be a good idea.

Maybe those waste pits seemed like an inexpensive way to get rid of industrial byproducts. The original intent might have been what Americans call saving tax dollars, or cutting overhead.

An official returning a personal favor may have deliberately overlooked the toxic waste. That sort of thing is a tradition — probably everywhere. I’m not saying it’s a good tradition.

Whatever decision-making process was in play — BBC News gave these translations of how some folks responded:

“…’Those photos are shocking, the authority has been doing nothing, I am so angry!’ one social media user said.

“‘My aunt is from that county in Hebei, she died from cancer two years ago. Her grandson is suffering from cancer and her mother in law has cancer too,’ said another.

“‘I thought it was just coincidence but now I don’t. The government has to provide us a safe environment.’…”
(Beijing bureau, China Blog, BBC News)

The problem here isn’t so much not having government standards. It’s not having the standards followed.

China’s Environment Minister, cited in the South China Morning Post, said 36.3% of samples from heavy polluting industrial land and surrounding soil didn’t meet existing standards.

This could become an even more serious issue, since some of that land is slated for urban development.

The good news is that it looks like folks who are supposed to be in charge are apparently aware of the problem. Even better, they say it’s a problem. That’s two steps toward cleaning up the mess.

My guess is that folks have had trouble with someone not taking out the garbage, or taking it out and putting it somewhere inappropriate, for as long as we’ve been around.

I’m pretty sure that folks who should have known better have tried lying their way out of trouble, too. With the usual results. Happily, that may not be the case here.

What’s been changing, rapidly, is what sort of ‘garbage’ we produce, and the tech we’re using.

But I doubt that anyone really hankers for the ‘good old days’ of frequent famines and plagues. (June 25, 2017; May 12, 2017; October 30, 2016)

And I’m certainly not anxious for a return to pre-NEPA/EPA America.

That didn’t solve all our problems, which reminds me: I don’t know what Flint, Michigan, officials were thinking. Maybe they really didn’t know or remember what they’d decided. And that’s yet another topic. (April 7, 2017)


5. “- – – But They Don’t Last Long if They Try”


(From Reuters, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Chinese officials said they were evaluating plans to deal with heavy air pollution in many cities”
(BBC News))

Beijing pollution: Police force to combat toxic smog
BBC News (January 8, 2017)

A new team of environmental police will try to reduce hazardous levels of toxic smog engulfing Beijing, the city’s acting mayor has said.

“The police will look for local sources of air pollution, including open-air barbecues and dusty roads, Cai Qi says, according to Xinhua state news agency.

“The mayor has also promised to reduce coal consumption by 30% this year.

“Many residents have been forced to stay in their homes for days at a time to avoid breathing the poisonous air.

“The public has been calling on the government to do more to address major sources of smog, including reducing China’s reliance on coal-fired power plants, the primary source of electricity in the country.

Officials say unfavourable weather conditions in the capital have prevented pollutants from dispersing….”

Conspiracy theory enthusiasts, take note.

Vitality, a Canadian company, is bottling air and selling it — mostly to folks in China, India and South Korea:

‘Obviously’ this is a capitalist plot to subvert — no, that won’t wash. South Korea and India aren’t workers’ paradises. Or would that be paradies? Paradees? Never mind.

Here’s another ‘plot’ idea: the bottled air isn’t from Canada, and it’s not air.

It’s hypno-gas, manufactured by space-alien shape-shifting lizard-men: part of their plot to enslave humanity. You know that’s true, since there’s no proof. This shows how cleverly they’re concealing their involvement.

More seriously, Vitality sells each eight-liter bottle of compressed Canadian air for about C$32 a bottle. The bottle includes a spray cap and mask, and provides about 160 breaths.

That could get expensive for folks who breathe regularly.

Cities, a Song, and a Smog Brick


(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Maybe it seems like I’m picking on China. That’s not what I have in mind.

I think China is going through what places like England and America experienced over the last few centuries. On the whole, they’re going through the process faster than we did.

Beijing, for example, apparently skipped the manure crisis that threatened London in the 1890s, and is now dealing with their equivalent of London’s 1950s death fog.5

I’m talking about China’s situation because industrial and urban pollution is a very real and current issue for folks living there.

Besides, I’ve got these photos from 2015.

“A performance artist used a vacuum cleaner to suck up particles in super smoggy Beijing to make a brick of condensed pollution.

“Beijing has been swamped for days in a beige-gray miasma of smog, bringing coughs and rasping, hospitals crowded from respiratory ailments, a midday sky so dim that it could pass for evening, and head-shaking disgust from residents who had hoped the city was over the worst of its chronic pollution.

“But ‘Brother Nut,’ a performance artist, has something solid to show from the acrid soup in the air: a brick of condensed pollution.

“For 100 days, Brother Nut dragged a roaring, industrial-strength vacuum cleaner around the Chinese capital’s landmarks, sucking up dust from the atmosphere.

“He has mixed the accumulated gray gunk with red clay to create a small but potent symbol of the city’s air problems….”
(Chris Buckley, Adam Wu; The Seattle Times (December 1, 2015))

I think this sort of art may help, in the same way that the Tom Lehrer “Pollution” song helped folks stay focused on the issue. That’s where I got the “Fish Gotta Swim and Birds Gotta Fly” / “But They Don’t Last Long if They Try” headings.


“Imagine” and Assumptions


(From Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur, used w/o permission.)

I spent my youth in the 1960s. I wasn’t the craziest of ‘those crazy kids,’ but I was to great fan of the status quo, either.

In a way, it’s a bit surprising that I didn’t opt out of Christianity.

Having sensible parents almost certainly helped. They took their mainstream Protestant beliefs seriously, and weren’t crackpots or jingoists.

But toxic versions of Christianity had morphed legitimate patriotic sentiments into something very ugly. (July 4, 2017)

‘End Times Bible Prophecies’ didn’t, and don’t, help. (August 7, 2016)

I eventually decided that religion was not necessarily a psychiatric disorder. But I sympathize with folks who didn’t have my opportunities, and arguably-obsessive research habits.

The crazy ones aren’t just ‘those people over there.’

I occasionally run into self-identified Catholics whose expressed beliefs are every bit as toxic and screwball as their rabid Protestant counterparts. I figure they’re sincere. But I’m sure they’re wrong. (November 15, 2016)

Don’t agree with sentiments like these, either, but think I understand what’s behind them:

“Sometimes I wish I was religious so I could have an excuse for hating people.”
(Seen on Twitter, 2015; traceable to reddit.com, December 28, 2011)

“…Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace….”
John Lennon, “Imagine” (1971)
(posted oldielyrics.com)

I’ve sometimes felt that replacing the United States Congress with lava lamps would save money, and produce about as much good sense as what we have now.

I wouldn’t recommend it, though. We’d need someone to interpret what the blobs were ‘saying.’ That might be worse than the system we’ve got now.

It raises an interesting question, though: do we really need any government?

We do, but as usual I won’t leave it at that.

Machiavelli’s Book

Some scholars say that “politics” didn’t have sleazy connotations until folks started reading Machiavelli’s “Il Principe,” “The Prince.”

That’s likely enough, at least in post-Roman Europe.

A less-than-sunny view of politics is hardly new, though:

“…nam qui dabat olim imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, panem et circenses….”
“…The people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things — bread and circuses!…”
(“Satire X,” Juvenal, ca 100 AD, via thelatinlibrary.com and Wikiquote)

“Your princes are rebels and comrades of thieves; Each one of them loves a bribe and looks for gifts. The fatherless they defend not, and the widow’s plea does not reach them.”
(Isaiah 1:23)

An early version of “The Prince” existed somewhere around 1513. The printed book came out in 1532, a few years after Machiavelli’s death.

“Il Principe” is noteworthy as literature, partly because it was written in vernacular Italian; not Latin. Machiavelli wasn’t the first to do that. Dante finished his Divine Comedy in 1320,6 and other authors were writing in their native languages, too.

Machiavelli followed the traditional mirrors for princes style, familiar since the early Middle Ages.

Most ‘mirrors’ were intended as textbooks for young or inexperienced monarchs. Think of them as self-help books for kings.

Folks are still arguing whether Machiavelli wrote “Il Principe” as a serious ‘how to’ manual for ethics-free rulers, a satire, or something else.

There’s considerably more agreement on how much influence the book has had.

Quite a few European rulers read the book, or at least knew about it: including England’s Henry VIII. That may or may not have helped him decide to set himself up as a mini-pope.

Propaganda and Turf Wars

I think blaming Henry VIII, the Thirty Years’ War, Age of Enlightenment, and French Revolution on “Il Principe” gives the book too much credit.

There was a lot going on; including Gutenberg’s printing press, socioeconomic fallout from the Black Death, and serious imbalances between northern and southern Europe. (March 17, 201; November 6, 2016; August 14, 2016)

I think folks who wanted a more egalitarian society and better-informed public were on the right track.

Assuming that science, education, and good healthcare will solve all our problems — and seeing religion as a problem? I don’t see faith and reason that way. (April 28, 2017; October 30, 2016)

The notion arguably took root in 18th century’s Enlightenment. I think I understand why folks who lived after the Thirty Years’ War assumed that religion brings death and destruction. I see it more as a massive turf war.

My generation is more likely to remember the Cold War. I’m not entirely unsympathetic with Russia’s rulers wanting direct access to the Atlantic. But I also see the viewpoint of folks who were and are ‘in the way.’

There were real social and ideological issues involved, some of which had a religious angle. But I think the ‘Satanic commies/angelic America’ attitude made about as much sense as enthusiasm for a ‘worker’s paradise.’

Small wonder John Lennon’s song is still so popular.

Obedience, Within Reason

I’ve talked Ur-Nammu’s law code and international law before. (October 30, 2016)

I don’t think either are perfect. But I think government, some sort of authority, is a good idea. That is a far cry from assuming that all governments are good governments.

That brings me back to whether or not government is really necessary.

Folks throughout history have consistently cobbled together some sort of government.

It hasn’t always been a “government” in the American sense, but I suspect that most humans won’t willingly live as completely isolated individuals.

We’re very ‘social’ critters. We seem to like each other’s company, and having some way to coordinate what we do and how we make decisions. Some of our decisions work out better than others. (March 19, 2017; February 17, 2017)

I think we need some sort of government. (Catechism, 1884, 1898)

That is not even close to thinking I should blindly follow any daft, destructive order given by my territory’s boss. Blind obedience is a bad idea, and I shouldn’t do it. Some things are wrong, even if the boss says ‘do it.’ (Catechism, 2313)

Acting as if God outranks a king is what got Thomas More and John Fisher killed. Doing what’s right isn’t necessarily a ‘success’ strategy. Not in the short term. (July 24, 2016)

The difference between a “good” government and the other sort is a matter of legitimate authority. (Catechism, 1897)

Natural Law, Twitchy Folks

I see a government as “good” to the extent that follows natural law.

As long as folks with authority work for the common good, and everyone’s reasonably comfortable with the system, details in how we pick leaders is up to us. (Catechism, 18971917)

Natural law, ethical principles written into reality’s source code, don’t change. How we apply them does. (Catechism, 19541960)

At the moment, my civilization’s using variations of democracy. America’s been tweaking a system that I see as a representative democracy with a dash of meritocracy, plutocracy, and assorted other ‘-cracies.’

It’s not perfect, but it’s been working moderately well for something like two centuries. I don’t see the basics of our system changing in the next century or two. A few millennia from now, that’s another matter.

Western civilization is — twitchy — compared to some. I don’t see that as good or bad: it’s just the way we are. (July 24, 2016)

Take the last 26 centuries, for example; starting with Psamtik I re-unifying Egypt, and the Neo-Assyrian Empire dissolving. Corinth replaced their traditional hereditary priest-kings with tyrants around that time. Quite a few other Greek city-states followed suit.

That’s roughly when Japan’s Emperor Jimmu conquered Yamato.

Folks living along the Mediterranean’s north shore had trouble with some tyrants. Big trouble. The word still has unpleasant connotations. They tried quite a few other governing styles, including early versions of what America currently uses.

Rome’s Republic became an empire, which fragmented after about five centuries.

Then Charlemagne became Emperor of the Romans, starting the Carolingian dynasty. Four dynasties later, Saxons and Franks were emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. That lasted until 1809.

Henry VIII of England was, by act of Parliament, ‘imperial:’ but never an emperor.

A little over two centuries later, English colonists in North America got fed up with micromanagement, revolted, and set up a federal republic. Folks in a whole lot of other places did pretty much the same, with varying outcomes.

Our first version didn’t work, so we scrapped that and are currently tweaking our Constitution. A few more centuries, and we may try something else.

Like I said, twitchy.

Meanwhile, back in Japan, Akihito, of the dynasty Jimmu founded, is the world’s only emperor. It’s a largely ceremonial role at the moment, but that could change in the next millennium or two.

Folks aren’t all alike. We’re not supposed to be. And that’s yet again another topic.

More, mostly about Earth and stewardship:


1 Economics, climate, politics, and all that:

2 More climate stuff:

3 Footnotes and a big iceberg:

4 More icebergs, Saint Brendan of Clonfert, and a famous ship:

5 Pollution, China, and London’s death fog:

6 Machiavelli, mostly:

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Pythagorean Dribble Glasses

The diagram shows how a Pythagorean cup works. It’s a thinking person’s dribble glass, sort of. The cup, pan, and ladle in the photo is a yuza no ki. Both are gadgets used for teaching moderation.

The yuza no ki is in the Ashikaga District, 足利郡, in the Tochigi Prefecture. It hasn’t been since around 1896. Ashiga District, that is. Not officially.

The cup might be.

Again, it’s a learning tool. Empty, it’s tilted. Pour a little water in, and it goes upright. Pour in more, and it tilts again.

Pythagoras of Samos lived about 25 centuries back. Scholars seem to accept the idea that Pythagoras was a real person, although stories about him don’t add up any better than those about Homer. (July 7, 2017)

Pythagoras generally gets credit for showing how the Pythagorean theorem works. Or maybe it was someone in Mesopotamia, India, or China.

The Pythagorean theorem says the square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the other two sides of a right triangle. Tweak it a bit, and it’ll describe similar relations in non-Euclidean space and n-dimensional solids.

Pythagorean Cups

Non-Euclidean geometry may have given H. P. Lovecraft fits, or not, and that’s another topic.

Depending on who’s talking, Pythagoras invented the Pythagorean cup as a practical joke, or to teach moderation.

I don’t see why he couldn’t have had both in mind, which reminds me of St. Philip Neri, and that’s yet another topic.

Apparently Hero of Alexandria used Pythagorean cups in his robotic systems.

That’s probably a reference to Heron’s fountain. Heron is another version of Hero’s name, yet again another topic.

Let’s try this again.

A Pythagorean cup is a dribble glass. It’s a cup with a column in the middle. The column is hollow, with a little pipe inside, and a hole near its base.

The cup works fine, as long as you don’t fill it past the top of the inside pipe. If you do, Pascal’s principle of communicating vessels kicks in, and the cup’s contents pour out the bottom.

Soren Sorensen Adams (re-)invented the dribble glass. His other contributions to Western civilization include the snake nut can and joy buzzer.

Pascal’s principle of communicating vessels is also called Pascal’s law. Pascal’s rule about binomial coefficients is something else. You probably don’t need, and may not want, to memorize all that stuff.

Blaise Pascal didn’t draft Pascal’s law the way Robert A. Taft and Fred A. Hartley, Jr., sponsored the Taft-Hartley Act. That’s — you guessed it, more topics. (March 24, 2017)

Now, finally, here’s the point of this post.

Moderation is a good idea.

3 There is nothing better for man than to eat and drink and provide himself with good things by his labors. Even this, I realized, is from the hand of God.

“For who can eat or drink apart from him?”
(Eccelsiastes 2:2425)

Enjoying Life: Within Reason

If that doesn’t sound “Biblical,” I’m not surprised.

Many of America’s assumptions and attitudes about faith tend toward the “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” style. The ones I run into, at any rate.

I’ve talked about Jonathan Edwards and Mark Twain before. Also Hippocrates and health. (May 12, 2017; March 5, 2017)

Temperance, the Catholic version, isn’t steadfastly refusing to enjoy life. “Blessed are the miserable, for they shall spread misery” is not in the Beatitudes. (July 10, 2016)

God creates a good world. Enjoying what’s here, within reason, is a good idea. The trick is remembering that ‘I want it’ doesn’t always mean ‘I should have it.’ We should think before acting. (Genesis 1:31; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 17621770, 1809)

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:

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