Boston Charlie, Partridges in Pear Trees and Me

This is the season of jingle bells and mistletoe, cyber sales and glitter bows. Evergreen festoons and plastic reindeer strung above our streets remind us that Christmas is coming.

America’s holiday season is in session.

I was out, legally masked, for Black Friday shopping.

More accurately, I was out shopping on Black Friday. I got gas and groceries, neither of which qualify as holiday purchases.

Picking up yogurt and coffee reminded me of Walt Kelly’s rewrite of “Deck the Halls.” How or why that routine reminded me, I don’t know.

Or maybe the words emerging from memory had more to do with Advent’s imminent advent than pushing a shopping cart.

Either way, I’m still working on my ‘starting Advent’ post. It’s somewhat serious. What I’m doing here isn’t.

Yesteryear’s Peace, Light and Decking

Let us remember, as shopping days dwindle and holiday anxieties grow, these words from days gone by:

“Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alla-garoo!…”
(Walt Kelly (1948 or thereabouts)

A Dozen Days and Uncle Ben

Some folks prefer more conventional traditions.

Let us therefore also recall a musical celebration of geese a-laying, leaping lords and pipers piping.

“…On the twelfth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Twelve drummers drumming
Eleven pipers piping
Ten lords a leaping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight maids a milking….”

And let us not forget Yogi Yorgesson’s holiday ballad.

Now, perhaps more than ever, these words resonate with the holiday experience:

“…Back in the corner the radio is playing
And over the racket Gabriel Heater is saying
‘Peace on earth everybody and good will toward men’
And yust at that moment someone slugs Uncle Ben….”
(“I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas,” Y. Yorgesson (1949))

Then again, maybe not.

Posts of Christmas past:

Posted in journal, poems | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving 2020: Pandemic Peril and Perspectives

This year’s Thanksgiving is the first one affected by COVID-19.

Mainly because SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, didn’t exist a year ago. Or hadn’t spread to humans. Or was spreading to humans without anyone noticing it.

Whatever was happening last November, SARS-CoV-2 wasn’t identified until December.

The COVID-19 outbreak became a Public Health Emergency of International Concern last January. By the end of March, it was an official pandemic.

The disease has killed upwards of 1,380,000 folks so far. We still don’t have a ready-for-humans vaccine.1

Conspiracy Theories and the Usual Suspects

The COVID-19 pandemic is scary.

Maybe that’s why some folks insist that it isn’t real.

Or that it’s a bio-engineered population control plot spread by 5G mobile phone networks and polio vaccine.

And that America, China, Jews, Muslims or whoever are the Master Villains.

For all I know, someone believes that America, China, Jews and Muslims are in cahoots.

I figure the disease is real. So is the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

This year’s conspiracy theories are real only in the sense that some folks believe them.

On the ‘up’ side, I’ve yet to see a pandemic-themed End Times Bible Prophecy get traction.

Maybe there’s one in the works. We’ve got a great conjunction coming December 21, a few days before Christmas. Jupiter and Saturn will be closer in Earth’s sky than they’ve been since 1623.

Or maybe it’s too soon after the recent “Blood Moon Prophecy.” Which fizzled.

Two American preachers took a recurring and predictable sequence of lunar eclipses, stirred in snippets from Joel, Acts and Revelation, and got at least their 15 minutes of fame in 2014 and 2015.

I don’t know why folks believe conspiracy theories, End Times Bible Prophecies and Ponzie schemes.2 And that’s another topic. Topics.

Or maybe not so much.

I suspect that at least some folks have short memories. Or, putting a positive spin on it, have achieved mastery of living in the moment.

The “Unprecedented” Precedent

Headlines abound with superfluous superlatives: announcing that something’s the biggest, hottest, coldest, longest or whatever-est ever seen.

Sometimes they’re right.

And sometimes maybe they’re not:

The Boston Herald’s “unprecedented” headline may make sense.

I’ll willingly believe that Interfaith Social Services of Quincy, Massachusetts, has never had so many families without holiday meals and so few turkeys.

But “Colorado Families … Unprecedented Thanksgiving?”

I’ll grant that all or nearly all folks living in today’s Colorado weren’t there during the 1918 pandemic. But Colorado was not uninhabited back then. Not even after Charlie Phye, Jessie May Hines-Phye and their six children died.

They weren’t the only folks living in Colorado at the time.

  • 1918: When the flu came to CSU
    Kate Jeracki; with additional research by Mark Luebker, Office of the President, Vicky Lopez-Terrill, Cory Rubertus, University Archives and Special Collections; College News, Colorado State University (March 23, 2020)
  • Gunnison Colorado
    Influenza Encyclopedia, University of Michigan Library
  • The Phye Family
    Judy Walker, Dr. Adrienne LeBailly; The Pandemic Influenza Storybook

I’ve learned to expect puffery, exaggeration and outright misdirection in headlines. I understand that news editors are obliged to beguile readers. Even so, the long-established “unprecedented” precedent annoys me.

“Dread of Influenza Peril” — Thanksgiving and the 1918 Pandemic

Etzel and Page Avenues, St. Louis, Missouri, in 1918: another case of the flu.
(From St. Louis Post Dispatch, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

Spanish flu article from The Argonaut. (November 27, 1918)Today’s COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just like the 1918 “Spanish flu.”

But it’s not entirely different.3

Back in 1918, some folks were wearing face masks. Some weren’t. And a distressing number of people were dying.

Newspapers were discussing current events, rules and the menacing malady.

My language has changed a bit. These days, SATC stands for Sex and the City. In 1918, it was short for Student Army Training Corps.

Judging from context, I’d say that [redacted] in the “Dread of Influenza…” headline meant thwarted or stifled.

Family, Health and Travel Decisions

'If you do travel,' Thanksgiving 2020, CDC.Fast-forward to this Thanksgiving season.

Some of us are wearing face masks. Some aren’t. And a distressing number of us are dying.

My state’s health department and the CDC say that staying home is a good idea.

I think they’re right.

But the idea is arguably a hard sell. Thanksgiving and Christmas are my culture’s two top times for family get-togethers.

Deciding to skip something we’ve done for generations isn’t easy.

Family is important. Health is important. So is working for the common good. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, One/Two/Article 2 Participation in Social Life/II: The Common Good, 1882, 22072211, 22582317, 22882290)

Like I said, it’s not easy.

As of Tuesday, it looks like about half of us decided that changing Thanksgiving travel plans was a good idea.

Coronavirus: Millions travel for Thanksgiving despite warnings
BBC News (November 24, 2020)

“…Three million people are reported to have already travelled through US airports from Friday to Sunday.

“But the number is around half the usual figure for Thanksgiving travel….”

Holiday Plans

Streaming together for ThanksgivingMy household and I will be staying home this Thanksgiving.

Partly because my wife and I have graduated from mom and dad to grandma and grandpa.

And partly because health issues make staying put a reasonable option.

My personal plans include watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The Macy’s website says coverage is “only on NBC,” and on “Verizon Live.” Maybe I can see their ‘come in and shop’ celebration again this year. It depends partly on me finding it online.

My family plans are of the ‘whatever happens, happens’ variety. Nobody, happily, is expecting me to coordinate events.

Which reminds me. I’d intended to include the following links, so here they are:

COVID-19 and Sauk Centre’s Hospital: “a Really Big Deal”

I’m not happy about Sauk Centre’s hospital being designated as a COVID-19 facility.

But the decision seems reasonable, given how many folks are getting sick.

I sincerely hope CentraCare Sauk Centre’s staff get the equipment they’ll need.

CentraCare to make Sauk Centre a COVID-19 hospital
Kirsti Marohn, MPR (November 19, 2020)

“Central Minnesota’s largest health care provider announced Thursday it will designate its hospital in Sauk Centre to care exclusively for patients with COVID-19.

“Starting Monday, COVID-19 patients from around the region who do not require ventilators or high-volume oxygen will be cared for at the western Stearns County hospital….

“…’Telling someone from Sauk Centre that you are now going to be delivering your baby in Melrose — to the outsider, that seems like an 8-mile drive,’ he [CentraCare-Melrose administrator Bryan Bauck] said. ‘To the insider … that’s a really big deal, because my local facility is having to change and react to help better serve our communities and respond to the COVID-19 surge.'”

And it’s nice to see someone recognizing that getting our health care facilities reshuffled is “a really big deal.”

Waking Up: Always a Good Thing

One more thing, and I’m done for today.

This week’s big holiday is “Thanksgiving.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is still in progress. Regional hospitals are running out of room for patients.

I haven’t caught COVID-19, but I’ve still got diabetes and a mess of other health issues.

And nobody’s abolished war, poverty or infomercials. With so much dreadfulness going on, what do I have to be thankful for?

For starters, I woke up this morning. That’s always good. Which is why “I thank you, Lord, for having preserve me during the night” is part of my morning prayer routine.

And that’s yet another topic.

More, mostly this year’s pandemic:

1 Something new:

2 Same old, same old:

3 Pandemic? Been there, done that:

Posted in discursive detours | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arecibo Radio Telescope 1963-2020

Part of the Arecibo radio telescope collapsed this summer. A supporting cable had snapped.

Another cable gave way this month.

I’d like to be writing about plans to repair the dish, replace aging cables and restore the historic observatory to usefulness.

Instead, I’ll be taking a quick look at the Arecibo observatory’s origin and achievements. Make that achievements of scientists using the radio reflector.

What? No Space Alien Conspiracies?

‘There’s never a crackpot around when you need one!’

The Arecibo radio telescope started bouncing signals off planets and listening to radio waves from the stars in 1963.

Finding reliable information about the facility’s technology and science was easy.

But my quest for good conspiracy theory was an effort fraught with frustration and ultimately futile.

I found a few offhand mentions of ‘many’ conspiracy theories whirling around the big dish. Several quick searches this week uncovered a bogus crop circle near the Chilbolton radio telescope, back in 2001. And that’s it.

And I found that while checking out the “Arecibo message:” a 1974 technology demo. Or publicity stunt.

The Arecibo message is real enough. It’s a digital 73 by 23 raster cooked up by Frank Drake, Carl Sagan and others. The idea was that space aliens could decode it.

Maybe so, but I think it’s anyone’s guess how they’d interpret the 1,679 pixels. Maybe I’ll talk about that some time. Then again, maybe not.

Sic Transit Gloria Arecibo

A Professor, Sputnik and an Act of Congress

(From University of Central Florida, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Iconic Puerto Rico telescope to be dismantled amid collapse fears
Paul Rincon, BBC News (November 20, 2020)

The iconic Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico is to be dismantled amid safety fears, officials have announced.

“A review found that the 305m telescope was at risk of catastrophic collapse, following damage to its support system.

“It concluded that the huge structure could not be repaired without posing a potentially deadly risk to construction workers….

“…Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of the US National Science Foundation (NSF), which funds the telescope, said in a statement: ‘NSF prioritises the safety of workers, Arecibo Observatory’s staff and visitors, which makes this decision necessary, although unfortunate.’…”

The facility’s official name is National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, NAIC.

Its nickname, Arecibo Observatory, refers to Arecibo, Puerto Rico: a town about six miles north of the radio dish.

The observatory’s story starts about six decades back. Cornell University’s William E. Gordon was studying Earth’s ionosphere in the 1950s. He figured that he’d learn more by bouncing radio waves off it, and started pushing for a big radar reflector.

The Cold War was in progress. Sputnik’s successful launch prodded America’s government into taking satellites and ballistic missiles seriously.

Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act in 1958. That legislation launched NASA and ARPA: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Advanced Research Projects Agency.1

And, thanks to W. E. Gordon’s ionospheric interests, the Arecibo Observatory.

World’s Biggest: 1963-2016

(From University of Central Florida, used w/o permission.)
(Arecibo dish damage, August 2020.)

Professor Gordon pointed out that a thousand-foot-wide radar dish would open a new window for astronomers. Metaphorically speaking.

With it, scientists could look for a ring current around our planet, bounce signals off Venus and Mars and even look for hitherto-unobserved “radio stars.”

The astronomical kind, not entertainers like Jack Benny and Edgar Bergen.

Gordon also said that maybe orbiting satellites would leave an ionization trail. If they did, the thousand-foot radar dish could detect them.

Construction started in 1960. The Arecibo dish was finished in 1963.

Maybe something like the Arecibo Observatory would have been built without Cold War concerns. Eventually. But I figure that the theoretical prospect of tracking satellites helped get government support for Gordon’s massive antenna.

The NAIC dish was the world’s largest until China’s 500 meter radio telescope came online in 2016.2

An Unexpected Spin-Orbit Resonance

Less than a year after Arecibo’s first light, scientists found something unexpected. And, for many, unbelievable.

Astronomers had learned that Mercury is close enough to our star to be tidally locked.

Mercury could, and probably was, rotating in sync with its orbit 88-day orbit.

Observations of the planet seemed to confirm that one side of Mercury always faced our sun. Every time Mercury was far enough from the sun to be seen, astronomers saw the same features.

In 1964, Gordon Pettengill’s team said that they’d determined that Mercury rotated once every 59 days.

And infrared data from Mercury’s night side showed insufficiently cold temperatures.

Astronomer Giuseppe Colombo saw that Mercury’s Arecibo/Pettengill rotation value was roughly two-thirds of the planet’s orbital period. Colombo suggested that Mercury’s orbital and rotational periods had a 3:2 resonance, not 1:1. As it turns out, he was right.3

Pulsars, Planets and Prudence

(From University of Central Florida, used w/o permission.)
(Arecibo dish damage, August 2020.)

More discoveries came from the Arecibo dish:

  • 1968: First solid evidence that neutron stars exist
    • Periodicity of the Crab Pulsar (33 milliseconds)
  • 1974: First binary pulsar
    • PSR B1913+16
  • 1982: First millisecond pulsar
    • PSR B1937+21
  • 1989: First direct image on an asteroid
    • 1989 PB/4769 Castalia
  • 1990: Pulsar PSR B1257+12 discovered
    • Later found to have three planets
  • 1994: Mercury’s polar ice mapped
  • 2008: Prebiotic molecules methanimine and hydrogen cyanide detected
    • In starburst galaxy Arp 220
  • 2010-2011: Bursts of radio emission from T6.5 brown dwarf 2MASS J10475385+2124234
    • The first radio emission had been detected from a T dwarf

I figure there would be more, if a cable hadn’t snapped August 10, 2020. Followed by another giving way November 6, 2020.4

I’m sorry to see the Arecibo radio telescope go.

But I think NSF director S. Panchanathan is right. Safety matters. And restoring an aging radio reflector isn’t worth risking someone’s life.

Science, Safety and Greater Admiration

As far as I know, the Church doesn’t have rules against fixing radio telescopes. Or rules that say we must fix them.

We do, however, have rules about human life, science and safety.

Exposing someone to mortal danger without a really good reason is a bad idea and we shouldn’t do it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2269)

Science and technology are good ideas, part of being human. If we’re doing it right, paying attention to this universe lets us experience greater admiration for God’s work. (Catechism, 3536, 282283, 341, 2293)

But ‘it’s for science’ doesn’t make risking someone’s health or life okay. (Catechism, 22932295)

I’ve talked about this sort of thing before, and probably will again:

1 Radio astronomy and politics:

2 Opening a new window:

3 Mostly Mercury:

4 Arecibo’s science highlights:

Posted in science news | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holiday Hodgepodge: Lights, Health, Pandemic Paranoia

Osakis Hosting Holiday Light Parade
AbbeyOnAir, 98.1 – Minnesota’s New Country (November 17, 2020)

“…Tractors, lawnmowers, golf carts, cars, any vehicle you can decorate is welcome to be part of this festive holiday event….”
(photo by Isaac Schweer)

The Osakis Chamber of Commerce parade sounds like a good idea. Provided that they take pandemic-related precautions to keep folks comparatively safe. I’m guessing that this year’s sidewalk watchers will be spread out more, and wearing face masks.

But I won’t be going. Even though Osakis is only 20 minutes down the road. Standing on a central Minnesota sidewalk after sundown in early December isn’t my idea of a good time.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still around, and making a difference. Maybe that’s this post’s unifying idea:

Macy’s Parade

I’m not sure how Macy’s and NBC plan to have their Thanksgiving Day parade “live from 34th Street.”

Not in detail, that is. I’ve read that Macy’s will be setting up balloon-towing vehicles for a promenade around Herald Square in New York City.

The Macy’s website is long on assurance, short on details. What I saw of it, at any rate:

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

“…Since we aren’t marching down the streets of NYC this year, the only place to see all the performances, gigantic balloons & fabulous floats is from the comfort & safety of your home.”

News: Good and Sort-of-Good

The Masked Minnesotan Rides AgainI got good news this week. Lab results said that my A1c number is significantly lower than it was three months ago.

And, this is the good news part, it’s in the normal range.

Among other things, that means there will be no change in my medications.

That’s not exactly good news, since I’d prefer not having more than a half-dozen prescription bottles on my desk.

On the other hand, no change in meds means that my smorgasbord of health problems hasn’t added a buffet or salad bar.

Our family doctor said he wanted to keep me out of the clinic for the next six months. Seems that he’s expecting issues related to COVID-19 over the winter.

I’d say he has a reasonable concern. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped. Two promising vaccines may or may not be useful. And America’s holiday season will be interesting this year.

Rampantly Raging Death and Dramatic Drumbeats

(From Minnesota Department of Health, used w/o permission.)
(Minnesota deaths related to COVID-19, March 21-November 18, 2020.)

As of today, we 2,961 folks have died from COVID-19, and 49 may have died as a result of the disease. That’s not happy news. Neither is what looks like the start of a second wave.

I think having the data publicly available and online is a good idea.

As for what public officials and Minnesota Public Radio are saying —

My hat’s off to Minnesota’s Governor Walz and MPR, for adding drama to my news feed.

Latest on COVID-19 in MN: ‘Darkest part of this pandemic’
MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) News (November 17, 2020)

“…the disease’s rampant, accelerating spread is forcing the hand of public health officials. By Thanksgiving, Minnesota could be seeing more than 10,000 new cases reported daily, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters….

“…With COVID-19 raging now, Walz and public health authorities made it clear that the current situation is worsening as the virus runs largely unabated across the state….

“…’It is no secret that the country, and especially the Upper Midwest, is in the grips of the darkest part of this pandemic,‘ Walz told reporters Monday, hours after the Health Department reported more grim data on the state’s accelerating pandemic.

“While the governor expressed hope of a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ amid news of effective vaccines on the way, he acknowledged the drumbeat of cases, hospitalizations and deaths will continue….”
[emphasis mine]

Monday’s Death Toll in Rural Minnesota

In sharp contrast, Lakeland Broadcasting’s update had all the pizazz of a weather report.

COVID-19-related deaths reported in Chippewa, Swift and Stearns Counties
JP Cola, Lakeland Broadcasting (November 16, 2020)

“…Statewide there were 31 more deaths reported to the Minnesota Department of Health, putting the state’s death toll now at 2905.

“As for additional cases of coronavirus, there were 7559 reported in Minnesota Sunday. The state’s total is now at 223,581, and of that number, 172,873 have recovered. There was also a record number of test results reported, just over 60,300….”

I’m not sure what accounts for the difference in tone.

Speculation and a Serious Subject

Maybe Minnesota’s governor and other public officials figure we won’t pay attention unless they get us riled up. Or assume that we can’t act rationally unless we’re scared silly.

Or maybe the Governor’s and MPR’s rampant, raging drumbeat is simply the way city folks express themselves.

Living in an increasingly diverse country, I’ve learned to accept cultural differences. And that’s another topic.

Or maybe not so much. I’ll grant that emotion, particularly fear, is a powerful motivator.

But I strongly suspect, and hope, that most of us don’t want to spread a potentially-lethal disease. And I think many of us can understand common-sense advice.

I also think we can act sensibly. Which is arguably easier, if experts and authority figures aren’t trying to frighten us into using our brains.

Streaming Together for Thanksgiving

(From CDC, used w/o permission.)
(Here’s an idea, from the CDC: have a virtual Thanksgiving Day meal.)

Norman Rockwell's 'Freedom From Want' painting.I don’t envy public health officials.

Particularly when doing their job includes telling folks that a traditional family get-together is a bad idea.

The last I heard, Thanksgiving is still a time when many American families gather.

It’s a joyful and/or stressful holiday, depending on family dynamics.

It’s also, this year, a chance for college kids to infect everyone else. Or get infected.

Not that college students are more likely than anyone else to desire disease and death for those closest to them.

I don’t envy students who will be choosing between staying in a dubiously-disinfected dormitory and risking the welfare of their siblings, parents, grandparents and other kin.

This year’s Halloween was very quiet here in Sauk Centre. My guess is that Thanksgiving will be, too.

Sound, Fury and the Usual Paranoia

Great Seal of the United States, reverse side, colorized.Maybe I’d achieve fame, of a sort, by passing along fervent warnings that THEY are plotting to CONTROL us with face masks.

Or that COVID-19 vaccines are really a sinister means to REWRITE OUR RNA: no doubt with nefarious intent!!!!!!!

But I won’t.

Even though I saw ‘face mask’ and ‘RNA’ warnings this week.

There’s quite enough sound and fury online, without me adding to the mess.

The “RNA” thing has potential to become a popular conspiracy theory’s centerpiece.

Two promising COVID-19 vaccines actually do use messenger RNA. If or when they’re approved, they’ll be the first of their kind passed by the FDA.

I probably won’t take time to delve into the practicality of mind control through face masks. Honestly, that’d be weird even by Japanese monster movie standards.

But I might talk about the allegedly-malevolent messenger RNA thing. There’s interesting science involved.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:

Posted in journal | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments