July 9, 2020

Bacon, Sir Francis, Not Fried.

By Glenn

Francis Bacon is in many ways the father of the Modern World.  In 1620 he explained why astronomers were making revolutionary breakthroughs studying the planets.  He called his work Novum Organum, or New Methodology.  The world knows his contribution as the Scientific Method.

The journey to Bacon took nearly eighty years.  The century before Nicolaus Copernicus imagined a solar system.  All of the Greek philosophers and Christian theologians before him insisted that the earth was the center of the “wanderers,” or “planets.”   Humans and saw seven lights move across the “heavens”. 

Over the next 80 years astronomers looked for evidence to support Copernicus and refute authority.  In one generation Tycho Brahe carefully plotted the position of the wanders.  In the next, Johann Kepler applied a new mathematical model to the heavens, an ellipse. 

As evidence mounted, both secular and religious experts resisted.  How could the sun be the center of all things visible?  Galileo Galilei, however, broke the dam.  With new technology, a telescope, Galileo made it possible for any school child to challenge ancient experts. 

Galileo pointed his telescope at the “wanders” and proved they were not heavenly lights at all.  They were physical bodies reflecting the light of the sun.  Each planet went through phases like the moon and the phases only match if the sun, not the earth, were at the center.

Bacon knew this history and explained why these great minds broke down centuries of accepted wisdom and common sense.  Astronomers knew that planets did not behave as established models predicted.  Instead of dismissing the data, they revised their model.  This change was a key to new discoveries, simply admitting the old way of thinking might be wrong.

The astronomers then painstakingly made precise, minute observations.  They measured each observable change and recorded the data.  Each data point was meaningless, however, in isolation.  True meaning came from the relationships among the data points.

Mathematics was essential to the rethinking of the cosmos. These men were educated in the fields of geometry and algebra. Their education allowed them to see pattern that common sense missed.   Bacon studied their method and simplified it: hypothesis, observe, record, conclude and retest the hypothesis. 

Bacon saw the utility of this method beyond astronomy.  In an unpublished essay, New Atlantis, he imagined a society that applied science to all human problems.  Instead of sending explorers out in search of gold and slaves, what if society funded explorers to seek out safer transportation technology or cures for diseases? 

Bacon’s predicted answer came true.  Modern societies followed Bacon’s advice and used the scientific method.  These societies lived longer.  They had greater freedom.   They were more prosperous.    It is not time to turn back now.  Millions of lives are at stake.  Scientists, not politicians nor preachers, will solve our Covid 19 problem.

July 2, 2020

Masked Tyranny

By Glenn

Governments protect and serve the people.  Laws protect us by keeping us from hurting each other.  Agencies serve us by performing essential tasks that are too expensive for anyone person to buy alone.  Over the course of the last hundred years government actions have improved our lives.

With every new idea, however, there was a backlash.  Corporations spent millions of dollars to incite public outcries of tyranny.  Each of those moments looks pretty foolish with hindsight.

Many of these debates center around product safety.  Over time consumers report the danger of everyday items.  No one likes to spend money on a faulty or deadly product. 

Companies on the other hand are reluctant to pull a product that sells well.   They create massive media campaigns to hide the danger and highlight the experiences of happy customers.

Cars are a great example.  They obviously transformed our lives in countless ways.  Unfortunately, the early cars were also deadly. 

When the government tried to mandate seat belts, and later air bags, car companies pushed back.  They successfully generated the fear that seatbelts killed.  When that eventually failed, they falsely claimed the safety features would make cares too expensive.

Too expensive?  What is a human life worth?

Another common product found in twentieth century America was cigarettes.  Millions of Americans experienced the pleasure of smoking this drug.  In 1964 the US Surgeon General Smoking documented the cancers associated with smoking. 

The tobacco industry fought back.  It spent millions hiring celebrities, and even doctors, to create doubt about government research.  It wasn’t until the 1990s that the tobacco executives admitted the smear campaigned.  

Since then we have slowly reduced both smoking and cancer related deaths.  One controversial move was to ban smoking in public places.   Bars and restaurants feared government action would drive away customers.   That fear never materialized. 

More than ever Americans love going to bars and restaurants.  Banning smoking not only made it a safer environment for workers and consumers, banning smoking also made these venues more pleasant than a smoke filled room.

The newest false claim of tyranny revolves around masks.  Cloth masks reduce the spread of Covid 19.  Many of us choose to voluntarily protect our neighbors.  Unfortunately, too few are.  If the government decides to mandate masks, it will not be for a wacky conspiracy.  Masks are based on evidence and science.  Wearing masks will save lives.

***update*** I write on Mondays. Three days later Governor Abbott comes around to issuing an order.

June 25, 2020

Barometer

By Glenn

In June 1944 Dwight Eisenhower faced a monumental choice.  He had to decide whether or not to risk lives of thousands of troops on the beaches of Normandy. He turned to the science of meteorology before making his decision.

Meteorology was still an adolescent science in 1944.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and the navy needed smooth sailing.  Ancient mariners simply watched the horizon for storm clouds.  Often the sighting was too late to save the crew.  The barometer improved their chances of survival.

At first the barometer settled in old philosophical argument. Did air have weight? The Greek philosopher Aristotle (c.350 BC) had said no. His answer was the authority until the 1600s.

Several Italians, including Galileo, reopened the debate. Each experimented with different instruments to measure air pressure. The debate was settled when scientists showed a link between elevation, or sea level, and air pressure. Air pressure was higher at sea level because more air rested above the instrument.  Air had weight.

By 1800, scientists learned that a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure preceded a storm. Seamen and farmers found this useful. Advanced warning saves lives and profits. Many of us now watch the morning weather to plan our day. The science is not perfect, but it is useful.

Eisenhower understood meteorologist limitations, and yet, he placed thousands of lives in the hands of scientists. They told him it would be calm enough to land. The successful landing helped bring the Second World War to an end faster. Scientist saved lives.

Today, the epidemiologists are warning of a storm ahead. Like meteorology, the science of germs has advanced over the last 100 years. It can save both civilian and military lives. We spent billions of tax dollars to protect our communities.

For a few months, Donald Trump and Greg Abbott listened to the scientists. The Governor ordered Texans to stay at home, reducing the spread of COVID-19. All of that effort is about to be swept overboard.

Just over 50 days ago, Greg Abbott at Donald Trump’s urging, decided to ignore the epidemiologists. Like the early sailors, we have been sailing into a storm. The politicians say, “Look at those blue skies. The storm is a hoax.” COVID-19 is no hoax. On Monday June 22, Greg Abbott admitted “To state the obvious. COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas, and it must be corralled.” Abbot, however, decided to do nothing to protect us.  It is every man, women and child for himself.  No lives matter.

Texas is sailing into a storm. The Governor of Texas read the barometer. He knew the scientific truth.  Instead of following the example of Eisenhower,  Abbot followed the lead of Donald.  Abbot is ignoring the science.  Are you ready to die on this beach? 

***UPDATE***

Since Monday, Abbot has taken a baby step and paused the reopening. We need more. Too little, Too late.

“Gov. Greg Abbott pauses Texas’ reopening, bans elective surgeries in four counties to preserve bed space for coronavirus patients”

June 18, 2020

Statues Erase History

By Glenn

Statues erase history; they do not teach history. The Confederate monuments across America erased the racists motivation of the rebels.  Worse, the monuments celebrated men who lost an election and used guns to change the results.  How do we know this is true?  Let’s look at their own words.

The Election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 triggered secession and the formation of the Confederate States of America.  The central issue in the election was the expansion of slavery into the Louisiana Purchase territories.  Previous generations of politicians had tried to compromise, splitting the land into free and slave territories.

In 1858 Lincoln said no more compromise: “In my opinion…‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

Lincoln opposed the expansion of slavery.  His campaign for the Presidency made his position clear: “We must not disturb slavery in the states where it exists…But we must, by a national policy, prevent the spread of slavery into new territories, or free states,…We must prevent the revival of the African slave trade, because the constitution does not forbid us, and the general welfare does require the prevention.”

Both Lincoln and his opponents knew that stopping the spread of slavery put it on “the course of ultimate extinction.”  The Texas Declaration of Secession was a response to his election. The controlling majority of the Federal Government excluded “the citizens of the Southern States…from all the immense territory owned in common by all the States on the Pacific Ocean, for the avowed purpose of acquiring sufficient power in the common government to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slave-holding States.”

Texas, like South Carolina before it, did not even wait for Lincoln to take the oath of office before leaving the United States of America.  They wrote a new constitution for the Confederate States of America.  Alexander Stephens, CSA Vice President, tried to reassure worried voters.  The new CSA Constitution meant little change for white southerners.  The old constitution had a fatal flaw, however.  It had started with the cornerstone that “All men are created equal.”

Everyone understood that a faulty cornerstone throws off the rest of the building.  Stephens proclaimed, “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

The Daughters of the Confederacy whitewashed this history.  When they convinced local communities to erect statues in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they used a sanitized version to bleach the ugly racism from the Civil War.  They used words like “States’ rights,” “property rights,” and “heritage”. They left out the fact that it was the States’ Right to authorize slavery.  They left out that “property” in question was another human being.  They left out that Southern heritage rested on the cornerstone of White Supremacy. Removing these statues will teach our children the truth that the USA victory over the CSA expanded Liberty and Justice for All.

June 12, 2020

Justice?

By Glenn

Justice is at the heart of social stability. Injustice provokes disobedience and rebellion. The American Revolution demanded justice in an era when few could be heard in politics.  Have you ever taken a moment to ask yourself, what is justice?

One of the most famous declarations of justice can be found in the Code of Hammurabi (1754 BC).  “If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.”  Literally it is a call for revenge. “You hurt me; I’m going to hurt you.”  Historically, however, it is a call for restraint. Punishment needs to be proportional to the crime committed. A person who loses an eye cannot claim another’s life.

Not everyone in Hammurabi’s empire was equal.  “If he put out the eye of a man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.”   Disputes between freemen required equal justice.  Disputes between a superior and an inferior required unequal justice.

The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras expressed justice as the number four. We need to remember that the Greeks didn’t have the Arabic number 4 (four).  Greeks used dots to represent an amount. The number four appeared as four (4) dots (.) equidistant from each other in the shape of a square, one in each corner ( :: ).  Pythagorean justice required making it equal on all sides.

Christianity moved beyond mere equality.  Jesus expanded on another idea found in Hebrew scripture: mercy.  Just as God is merciful humans should also be merciful.  Jesus called on his followers to turn the other cheek. This idea rejected the vengeful call for an eye.

Mercy found few supporters in Imperial Rome or the Christian kingdoms that followed Rome’s fall.  Far more common was despotic justice.  A government accusation resulted in death, torture, and imprisonment.  Each crime required a criminal and the government’s need to make a show of force.  As long as someone paid for the crime, guilty or not, justice was served.

The authors of the United States’ Bill of Rights rebelled against despotic justice and developed a modern system of Justice.   Five of the ten amendments protect people accused of a crime.  These amendments limit the ability of the government to punish a person accused.  They establish a process for discovering justice.  Government officials must have a reasonable suspicion, gather physical evidence and convince of jury of the accused peers.   

None of these ideas applied to livestock.  During America’s early Republic, African American slaves were livestock.  Only after the Civil War did the 14th Amendment expand these constitutional protections to African Americans as citizens.  Unfortunately, Jim Crow laws used segregation to turn back the clock.

We are now well over 200 years into the American experiment with justice.   Justice brings peace.  Our Constitution states that every person has a right to due process.  No government official, including police officers, can violate those rights by appointing themselves judge, jury and executioner.  Either we enforce the Constitution or there will be no peace.  Limited government is the only path forward.

June 5, 2020

Say His Name: George Floyd

By Glenn

“As the former Chief of Police in Sherman, and now the Sheriff of Grayson County, I have always held firm to the belief that every officer involved in a situation requiring an investigation deserves due process and I withhold my final opinion until a thorough investigation is completed. But, in the case of George Floyd, through the video evidence I have seen, video evidence that sickens me, I do not believe any investigation can conclude anything other than Mr. Floyd’s death is the direct result of the actions of the officer(s) impeding his ability to breathe. These officer(s), and any officer who knowingly stood by and did nothing, should be charged to the fullest extent of the law.” Tom Watt, Grayson County Sherriff

“There is no need to see more video. There no need to wait to see how “it plays out”. There is no need to put a knee on someone’s neck for NINE minutes. There IS a need to DO something. If you wear a badge and you don’t have an issue with this…turn it in.” David Roddy, Police Chief, Chattanooga, TN

“When I first watched the video of the Minneapolis officer, I didn’t need to wait for more information to come in. I didn’t need to wait for the investigation to conclude before I made an assessment,” Ziman wrote on Facebook. “When you place your knee on the neck of a human being for over eight minutes – a human being who is handcuffed and pleading that he can’t breathe – there is no defense.” Kristen Zima, Police Chief, Aurora, IL

“On behalf of the men and women of the Fayetteville Police Department, we would like to extend our prayers, sympathy, and condolences to the family of Mr. George Floyd and the entire community of Minneapolis, Minnesota as they, and our nation, mourn this tragic death. The videos that have been release of Mr. Floyd’s death are extremely disturbing and painful. Police officers should treat all citizens with dignity and respect, and we should be held to the highest standards of conduct. The death of Mr. Floyd, which has horrified our nations, is not reflective of the mission and integrity of the Fayetteville Police Department or the community we serve.” Mike Reynolds, Police Chief, Fayetteville

“From the start of academy training, recruits must understand that they have an absolute duty to put public safety first. There must be zero tolerance for dishonesty, as well as consequences for officers who fail to follow their training. In the Houston Police Department, which I am privileged to lead, we instill in our men and women the certainty that policy violations regarding truthfulness will lead to termination — or, as we put it, “If you lie, you die.” Art Acevedo, Police Chief, Houston, TX and President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

June 2, 2020

Banks of the Rubicon

By Glenn

Written by a friend. You need to understand what is happening right before your eyes.
______________________________________________________________

So let’s just be very clear about a few things. Last night, Federal Law Enforcement was ordered to use violent tactics to disperse peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park. These protesters last night were not violating any law, they were not looting, and yet they were forced from the park with clubs and tear gas. The reason? Trump wanted to co-opt a church for a hypocritical photo op with a Bible to shore up his increasingly shaky support among white Evangelical voters. Leaving aside for the moment how despicable it is that the president did not attempt any moment of racial reconciliation, did not attend a mass at St. John’s, did not pray, and didn’t even make a speech of any kind, a much bigger deal happened last night.

The President of the United States ordered Federal Law Enforcement to attack a crowd of citizens that were, to the best of anyone’s knowledge right now, merely exercising their First Amendment Rights under the US Constitution. The purpose? A gratuitous presidential photo op. And yet, the officers obeyed him— this is deeply problematic and destructive to our democratic republic.

Now, Trump is threatening to deploy the military against U.S. Citizens within the borders of the United States. If that order is given, it will be, by definition, an unlawful order that cannot be obeyed. The powers of the president, in his civil capacity, or in his capacity as commander in chief, do not extend to issuing unlawful orders, and all presidents and military personnel (all government officials) take an oath to uphold the Constitution.

Last night shows us that we really may be at the banks of the Rubicon here, folks.

May 29, 2020

Good Samaritan

By Glenn

The gospels are a rich source of wisdom.  In simple parables, they offer role models for good behavior. They also highlight some bad behavior. Often these parables take an unexpected turn and contradict common sense. The Gospels turn our common beliefs on their heads.

One of my favorite parables is the story of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans trace their lineage through Israelites who never experienced captivity in Babylon. Unlike Jews in Jerusalem, they sacrificed on Mount Gerizim instead of in the Temple. These ritualistic differences created animosity between the two groups.

When Jesus chose a Samaritan as an example of a good neighbor, it contradicted common sense.  Jesus often turned to Samaritans as examples of good behavior. They may have worshiped differently, but they exhibited behaviors that reflected the Gospel.  Like the woman at the well, Samaritans in the Gospels were kind and hospitable to strangers.

The context of the parable of the Good Samaritan is a test or trick set for Jesus. A scholar of the law, or lawyer, asked “Teacher…what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded by asking the lawyer what the law said.  The lawyer said to honor the Lord your God with your whole heart and to love your neighbor as yourself.

The first part of the answer was common sense. Who didn’t know this?  The second part contains the wisdom of the Gospel.   It held a surprise.  The lawyer then asked, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus proceeded to tell the story of the Good Samaritan.  

The Samaritan stopped to help a stranger in need.  He dressed the stranger’s wounds, gave the stranger a ride on a donkey and then even paid for the “hospital” care in the inn.  This behavior was in stark contrast to the Priest of the Temple and a Levite.  Both hurried by the stranger in need.

Why would they do such a thing?  They had their relationship with God to attend to.  They couldn’t worship God with blood on their hands.  Blood was dirty.  God was clean.  They couldn’t worship God if they too were dirty.  Their relationship with God mattered more than their love of neighbor.   They couldn’t risk offending God to help their neighbor.

How many people today are doing the same thing by rushing off to a Church service?  Just like the Priest and the Levite they have more concern for their personal relationship with God than the safety of their neighbors.   There are countless examples around the world and the United States of Covid 19 spreading in Church assemblies. 

Doctors, nurses and hospital staff then have to step in to clean up the mess.  They are the Good Samaritans.  On Tuesday night the city of Sherman announced that 5 firefighters now have Covid 19.  How many times in the past months were they called upon to put their lives at risk to save others?  

Who will you be?  A Priest?  A Levite? A Good Samaritan? Can you stay home for Love of Neighbor?

May 23, 2020

Normal Hygiene?

By Glenn
Topics:
Covid 19
Meism

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What is normal?  Normal is what we have been doing most, if not all, of our lives.  We don’t notice the abnormal unless it is a large or sudden disruption to our normal.  Most of the time, it is not.  Our lives and habits slowly change overtime.

My dad used to tell of a big break from his normal.  As a child, he spoke French at home.  Like many Cajun families, French was the normal at home.  When he went to school, however, the school forced him to speak English.  He experienced real physical pain for living normally.  Because of that change in his life, English was always my normal.  

The last 200 years of human history has been one wave after another of change.  It is hard to think of any aspect of the human experience that remains untouched by change.  If we took a group of humans from 300 years ago and dropped them into today’s society, everything, except their human anatomy, would set them apart.  Their language, manners, and clothes would mark them as abnormal.  Most of all, there would be a chasm of personal hygiene between us and them.

If you have ever seen pictures of nineteenth century children in long, open gowns, you probably thought “how cute.”  You may not have known the ugly reality behind that cuteness.  Diapers are a recent addition to personal hygiene.  Before diapers children simply squatted where they were to defecate or urinate.  Parents then used a handy shovel and pail of sand to scope and absorb the waste.  Safety pins destroyed this normal.  Thankfully, diapers are now normal.

Adults were not much better.  Bathing was often a once a year event.  It was common sense that dirt and grim made it harder for people to get sick.  Even doctors didn’t wash their hands on a regular basis.  In 1847 Doctor Ignaz Semmelweis showed with data that hand washing could reduce the death rate in obstetrical clinics.  Since Semmelweis’ proposal disrupted the normal, his colleagues rejected his idea as absurd.  Today, most of us take a daily bath, wash our hands after using the restroom and before eating.  It is now normal.

Public health also evolved in the nineteenth century but not until the very end.   Most cities were open cesspools.  Both humans and animals used the streets to relieve themselves.  In the 1880s cities like Paris rediscovered Roman sewage systems and transformed their environment cleaning the streets and redirecting the waste into vast underground channels.  It took laws to create a new normal.  Now, humans and animals must find a better spot.  Humans must to clean up after their animals. 

There is so much about personal hygiene that we take for granted today.  Our imaginary group from 300 years ago would find none of it normal.  What would they think of the sign “No Shirt. No Shoes. No Service”?  Would they think we are crazy?  Maybe, but it is simply an evolving aspect of public health.  We wash our hands and cover our bodies to protect our neighbors.  

Masks are no different.  They reduce our chances of infecting others with Covid 19.  They’ve been proven effective in Asia.  Until there is a vaccine to protect us from each other, masks should become as normal as diapers, going to the bathroom, flushing a toilet and washing your hands. 

May 15, 2020

Sacrifice

By Glenn

Sacrifice means giving something up today for a better tomorrow. Self-sacrifice is a key virtue.  We give of ourselves to better those around us.  Our communities honor those among us who excel at self-sacrifice.

Recently, we have seen the rise of an old and ugly form of sacrifice: the sacrifice of others.  A small, vocal and threatening minority has taken to the streets with guns to protest the call for us to sacrifice. Like drunk drivers they are demanding the freedom to sacrifice others. 

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has been pretty direct about the need for sacrifice. “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’”

Patrick wants Americans over 50 to risk their lives for young people to go to work. Patrick wants to create the impression that he would bravely join this death march for seniors. But would he?  Donald Trump sits in the White House and is tested every day.   Everyone around him is tested every day. When they test positive, the workers, not Donald self-quarantines.   Everyone in the White House now wears a mask… except Donald.   Do you think the Texas Lieutenant Governor would behave any differently than Donald?

I don’t.  I’ve happily lived in Texas for more than 25 years.  For those 25 years conservatives have been cutting taxes and sacrificing public education. I’ve never had a tax cut.  My taxes always go up. Whose taxes have conservatives like Patrick cut?  Not mine, and I bet, not yours.

What we are witnessing then is an ugly call to sacrifice others.  Implicitly Dan Patrick is asking seniors to accept death for others to make a profit. Don’t believe, however, that the sacrifice would be limited to seniors. Doctors, nurses and the entire staff at hospitals will face increased danger as the young enjoy their “freedom” to spread COVID-19.  

Dan Patrick is also basing his call to sacrifice seniors on a false assumption. Younger Americans do get COVID- 19. Not only do they face respiratory issues, but they die from blood clots, organ failure and heart attacks.   There is growing evidence that the disease attacks children. 

Self-sacrifice is a virtue. Sacrificing others is cruel.  At moments like this it is typical for real leaders to ask for shared sacrifice.  We should all do our part to limit, not increase, the danger to those around us. 

Could you imagine a person sitting in World War II London demanding lights as NAZIs dropped bombs in the middle of the night?  

We know how to do this. We know how to fight both the economic and health threats in our society.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt showed the way. President Roosevelt battled the Great Depression, War on two continents and polio. He didn’t quit because it was too hard.  No, he fought on because surrendering meant more suffering.