Here Comes the Sun

Little darling, it’s been a long, cold lonely winter.  Little darling, It feels like years since it’s been here.

Here comes the sun.

Since Covid struck, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter, and it’s lasted for two years.  I used to travel to parties in New York regularly, but I’ve only been on three trips outside of Lancaster in the past two years.  All of them were for funerals.  The most recent was for my sister-in-law, Mrs. X, who passed away in February.

Now the pandemic is finally waning, but Mr. Putin is threatening us with another long, lonely winter, a nuclear one.  As each new sorrow arrives, I keep reminding myself of the words in the song Dedicated to the One I Love, “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.”

I think that we’re all anxious for dawn to get here.  At least, we’re starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel, and, fingers crossed, this time it just might be sunlight, not another Covid mutation or the headlights of another trainload of disasters heading our way.

People are slowly getting back to normal.  Restaurants are reopening.  The Fulton Theatre here in Lancaster recently reopened.  My friend Marianne in New York let me know that she is finally going to be able to see the Broadway show she bought tickets to before Covid hit and the lights went out on Broadway.  Normal is coming back.  Locally, we no longer need to wear a mask everywhere we go.  That might not sound like much, but it is a big psychological boost.

After 9/11, much of New York shut down and it was baseball that finally brought New York out of its doldrums and back to life.  Now Major League baseball is having a contract dispute with the ball players, but the Minor Leagues are unaffected by the dispute, and the Lancaster Barnstormers will be leading the return to normalcy here in Lancaster.

They ran a special promotion today for 2022.  You could buy 20 tickets for just $22.  The tickets are good for any home game during April, May, and June.  The gimmick was that the promotion was only available for 22 minutes this morning, between 9 a.m. and 9:22 a.m.  I’m not usually awake that early, but it’s not every day that tickets to see my favorite ball club can be had for just a buck.  So, I got there at 7:30 and I was the first one on line.  As soon as I stood at the ticket window, though, dozens of car doors opened, and other bargain-loving baseball fans emerged from their warm cars to queue up with me on the chilly morning.  There are only 28 home games during this span, but I bought 2 packages, 40 tickets.  As I held the big stack of tickets it felt like I held a little sunshine in my hand.  As I stepped out of the ticket office, I also felt some warm sunshine on my face.  Here comes the sun, I thought.  Here comes the dawn.

Let’s go Barnstormers.  Let’s go Lancaster.  Let’s go world.

It’s a new dawn, people.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

Ten-Cent Jimmy

It’s Presidents’ Day, and I have another chance to write about my favorite President, the much-maligned James Buchanan.  History treats him unkindly, but that is more to the credit of the rival newspapers of his day than it is the fault of Buchanan.  In this article, however, I will acknowledge some of the mistakes that James Buchanan actually did make, but I will also try to give his side of those stories.

Back in 1856, many newspapers were like the PACs of today.  They were arms of the political parties that supported them.  The newspapers of the South were Democratically controlled and those in the Northeast United States were mostly Republican controlled, and like FOX news today, they spread the word, not the truth.

There was a kernel of truth, however, in the pejorative nickname they gave to James Buchanan in the campaign of 1856.  They called him Ten-Cent Jimmy.  Times were different back then, and, as hard as it may be to believe today, the newly-formed Republican party of that day was trying to establish itself in the North by showing support for the working man.  They campaigned for wage increases.

Buchanan employed a staff to maintain his household at Wheatland, here in Lancaster, and he was known for paying low wages.  It would be politically incorrect to blame this on his Scotch heritage, but that might have been part of the problem.  This is one reason why his household staff often quit to seek more lucrative employment, and why he so rarely got a cook, who was actually a good cook.

During the campaign, when it was brought up, that laborers in the Northeast were working for only 10 cents a day Buchanan didn’t take umbrage.  He didn’t fight for wage increases.  The Republican newspapers were quick to pounce upon this wealthy man’s inability to sympathize with the plight of the low-paid laborers.  They nicknamed him “Ten-Cent Jimmy” and it stuck.

There was little else to criticize about the man, though, and James Buchanan became the 15th President of the United States, despite the continued onslaught of negative press from the new Republicans.

The Press also hounded him for interfering in the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott Decision, and they blamed him for what history records as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever.  The Supreme Court is known for making some awful decisions, so you know that to be the worst, it must have been really bad.

Actually, the Supreme Court didn’t make a decision in the case.  A Decision by them would have been bad, but they made it even worse by deciding to throw out the case entirely because they determined that the plaintiff, Dred Scott, being black, had no legal right to even present a case to the Court.  They leaked their intentions to throw out the case to the incoming President, James Buchanan.

There were 5 Southerners and 4 Northerners on the Court and the racially charged outcome was going to be determined by a vote of 5 to 4.  You can guess who was sympathetic to the black man’s case, and who was not.  Buchanan knew the effect the decision would have on the country, and he also knew that the country was already headed for a North-South Civil War.  He did not want the Supreme Court to make a decision that the public would see as a strictly North/South thing.  He could not get any of the Southern Judges to change their mind, so, to try to pour oil on troubled waters, he persuaded one of the Northern judges from Pennsylvania to change his vote.  James Buchanan was deathly afraid that a 5-4 strictly South/North split would upset the already fragile situation in the already North/South split country.  In his Inaugural Address, he pleaded with the country to calmly accept whatever decision the Supreme Court handed down in the case, and let that be the end of all the North/South bickering about the slavery question.  Two days later when the Supreme Court made public their 6-3 decision not to decide, the country exploded, and instead of putting the slavery question to rest, it divided the country even more.  By getting involved, Buchanan has taken the historical blame for what was really the Supreme Court’s bad decision.

Critics try to make it sound like the Court was leaning in favor of Dred Scott and a pro-slavery Buchanan swayed them otherwise.  That was never the case.  Buchanan was only trying to ease North/South tension by making a bad decision not look like such an obvious North/South decision.  He has been paying for that intervention for the past 160 years.  As Oscar Wilde said, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

The Supreme Court decision also cast Buchanan as Pro-Slavery, which he was definitely not.  In fact, he had purchased many slaves in Washington D.C. where slavery was legal, brought them to the Free State of Pennsylvania and given them their freedom.  He offered many of the freed slaves jobs in his household, but when they heard how little he paid his staff, most just thanked him for freeing them and went on their merry way.

Buchanan is also blamed for splitting the Democratic Party by not running for re-election in 1860.  Again, this was another negative that could be blamed upon his Inaugural Address where he made a promise to the American people to spend all his efforts on trying to heal the country and none on seeking re-election.  The soon-to-be 67-year-old President was still recovering from a bad case of National Flu at the time, so he was also admitting that he would be too old and sickly to run for re-election in 1860.  Instead of being given credit for his integrity, he made himself an instant lame duck, and the fighting began for the control of the Democratic Party.

The last point I would like to make is that he was vilified for not turning over control of the Party to Stephen A. Douglas, the powerful Senator from Illinois.  First of all, Buchanan personally detested Stephen A. Douglas.  When the unctuous Douglas gave him a $20,000 check for his 1856 Presidential campaign, Buchanan cashed the check, but he wrote the thank you note to Stephen “D.” Douglas.

Secondly, Buchanan correctly predicted that Douglas was only popular in states that were going to vote Republican anyway.  In the 1860 election, Douglas didn’t even win his home state of Illinois, a state that is now famous for being “the Land of Lincoln,” not the home of Stephen A. Douglas.  Douglas only carried one and a half states in that election.  He won in Missouri and split the electoral votes in New Jersey.  As Buchanan predicted, he came in second in all the states that the Republicans carried, and as Hillary Clinton and so many others have recently learned, you only win an election if you get the electoral votes, not the popular vote.

I could go on and on about the many ways that history has short-changed “Ten-Cent Jimmy,” but I’ll save them for another day.  I’ll just close by wishing everyone a Happy Presidents’ Day and give a special shout out to the wonderful folks who work so hard to preserve the home and history of James Buchanan at Wheatland, especially all the volunteers, who don’t even get ten cents a day for all they do.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

St. Vivian the Baptist

This week we celebrate President’s Day and my Mom’s birthday, so let me tell you a story about my Mom and a few Presidents.

Mom always gave her age as 21 plus.  In a way Vivian was both hiding and revealing her real age, as she was born in ’21, February 23rd, 1921.  So, doing the math…that would make her…21 plus.

Since George Washington was born on February 22nd, my Dad once joked that Mom was one day younger than Washington.  He only ever made that mistake once.  He was a tank commander in World War II, and fearlessly fought Nazis in Germany, but he quickly learned not to pick a fight with my mother. She would never surrender.

Mom grew up in Flood City — Johnstown, Pennsylvania — a town which has spent much of its time under water, lots of water.  There were two things to do in Johnstown back in the day, learn to swim or get out.  She got out.

She went to Nursing School in Brooklyn, where she was famous for two things.  One made the school proud, and one made them angry.  Nurse Vivian (as my brother Kevin refers to her in his Chronicle articles) was the first nurse to get 100% correct on the Nursing exam, and that made everyone proud.  Then she made them all mad.

Mom wrote a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, proudly noting her achievement and inviting the First Lady to attend her Graduation from Nursing School.  To the shock of everyone but my mother, Mrs. Roosevelt accepted.  Rather than feeling honored, the school executives were very upset because they knew that they would have to spend their every waking moment in the weeks ahead, preparing and polishing every inch of the school to get ready for the distinguished visitor.

FDR wasn’t the only President involved in my mother’s life story.  She previously had a run in with Abe Lincoln, too.

The country was in the middle of World War II and needed to sell War bonds to finance the operation.  Somebody got the idea of promoting the cause by having the nurses sing a song at the Lincoln Memorial.  The statue was undergoing some work and there was scaffolding everywhere, but that was no problem.  They were not going to be on TV.  This was the age of radio.

When the nurses gathered at the statue, everyone quickly found out that Mom’s remarkable intelligence was not accompanied by a beautiful singing voice.  They told her to stand way in the back and just move her lips, and not to sing under any circumstances.  Since she was not going to get to sing on the radio, she decided that there was another way to enjoy the field trip to the Lincoln Memorial.  She climbed the scaffolding and sat on Lincoln’s lap.  It was the age of radio.  You could do those things back then.

Besides nursing, Mom was also famous in South Ozone Park for the Halloween costumes she would make.  Mostly they were for her sons, but occasionally she got into the act, too.  Here she is as Groucho Marx.  “Say the secret word and the duck comes down.”

Groucho had a secret word, but Mom had a real secret.  I’m only revealing it now for the first time, because of all the flap about the Arizona priest who for decades baptized babies using the wrong words.  The Catholic Church ruled that all the Baptisms he performed were invalid.

That never would have been a problem if Mom had lived in his parish.  She was a devout Catholic and a nurse in the maternity ward.  No child was going to be put at risk of dying unbaptized and being denied Heaven while she was on duty.  As an insurance policy, she secretly baptized every child in the hospital who was born to a Catholic mom.  She might have secretly spritzed a few Jewish babies, too, but that has never been confirmed. Nobody was going to Limbo on her watch, and you can be 100% sure that she got all the words right.

Happy 21 plus Birthday, Mom.

Love,

Your 73-year-old son.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

The Next Elvis

I play a game online with some friends and we have to come up with a song with the day’s word in it.  Today, my Brother X brought up the Edwin Hawkins singers, and it reminded me of one of my favorite true stories.

Settle back, because I’m going to tell the long version.

As a child, I was diagnosed with Asthma and encouraged to play a wind instrument.  I picked one of the lightest, the clarinet.  As I grew older, I wanted to be cooler, so I switched to the saxophone.

As a teenager, I got into a Rock N Roll Band with John Karolefski and some friends from high school.  They weren’t impressed with my saxophone playing, so I only got to play two songs, Summertime (and the living is easy) and Tequila.  The rest of the time I banged a tambourine and sang lead.

Years later, when I went to boot camp in Great Lakes, they were looking for musicians for the boot camp band.  I auditioned and wound up in a company that was made up of musicians, drill team, and other assorted entertainers.  Seven of us played the saxophone and only a couple were ever needed, so I never once played with the band.

But I used it as an excuse.  Whenever my company was scheduled for the obstacle course or some other disagreeable duty, I told the company commander that I had band practice.  Then I would go to the band hall and goof off for an hour or two.  In nine weeks of boot camp, I never once set foot on the obstacle course.

About a year later, I wound up in Adak, Alaska with nothing to do when I wasn’t on duty.  So, I joined a band, a band so horrible that they let me play saxophone and be lead singer.  We rarely played anyplace, but we practiced frequently.

Fast forward to another year later, and I was stationed in Todendorf, a small town in northern Germany.  I was too busy having fun to form a band there, but I often spoke highly of my musical experience.  Rock band as a teenager.  Navy band in Boot Camp.  Rock band in Alaska.  Since Elvis had just finished his tour of duty in Germany, I was sarcastically referred to as his replacement, The Next Elvis.

There wasn’t a whole lot to do in the sleepy town of Todendorf, except drink and chase German girls, but that kept me busy.  Occasionally, though, we would go on a road trip.  We were only about a half hour away from the bustling city of Kiel on the North Sea, and there were plenty of discoes there.

The largest of the discoes was The Star Palast, which had a number of floors and held thousands.  We knew that this would be the place to be during “Fleet Week” when numerous American ships would be docked there.  So, when Fleet Week arrived, we put on our civvies and got to the Star Palast early.  There were numerous bars in the place, but we all went to the main bar near the stage and dance floor, where the owner tended the bar.  We took up all the seats at that bar.

My supervisor, Dave Johnston, a New York boy, was at the other end of the bar talking to the owner, and they kept looking over at me.  I ignored them, and paid more attention to the hundreds of German girls dancing with about a thousand American sailors.

The sailors were spending money like drunken sailors, and everyone was having a good time.  At the height of the evening, there were probably almost two thousand happy drunken people dancing to the beat.  It was the party to top all parties, but then something happened.

The owner walked away from Dave and approached me.  “He told me who you are,” he said to me.  “Who did he say I was?” I responded.  “He said you were the next Elvis.”  I looked at Dave and he was practically falling off his barstool laughing.  The guys around him, who were in on the joke, were laughing their asses off, too.

The owner pointed to the thousand sailors overrunning the place and asked me if I would do him the great honor of going on stage and singing one of my songs for the crowd.

Looking at all my friends, who were laughing hysterically, I tried to back out gracefully.  “I would love to sing one of my songs, but I don’t have my band here.  So, I can’t.”

He apologized for not thinking about that, but then said, “But since you are such a big Rock N Roll star in America, would you just go on stage and say Hello to all the Americans.  I’m sure that they would all appreciate that.”

He had backed me into a corner, and all my laughing friends knew it, but I came up with an out.  “Since my band’s not here, would it be okay if I got a few of these sailors to join me in a song?”

“Of course.  Anything you want.  Thank you.  Thank you.”

I climbed onto the stage, grabbed the mike, and said that I would like to sing a song to all the Americans in the crowd, if I could just get a few of them up on stage to sing with me.

About a hundred drunken sailors climbed up, filling the massive stage.  I sang a spiritual song that was currently one of the top Rock N Roll songs, Oh Happy Day.  I didn’t even know the words, but I just kept singing “Oh Happy Day” and the drunken hoard behind me kept echoing the words.  The place went wild.

Nobody knew me, but a thousand drunken sailors cheered on a hundred of their drunken shipmates, who were on stage in a foreign land singing “Oh Happy Day” at the top of their lungs.  Before long everyone in the place was singing “Oh Happy Day” and having a great time.

Picture this, but instead of a choir, it’s a bunch of drunken sailors, singing to an even bigger bunch of drunken shipmates.

When the song was over, I said, “Thank you,” and invented the “Mike drop.”  I leaped off the stage, put a big smile on my face, and went back to my barstool and my buddies.  The owner scooped up all our bar tabs off the bar, and ceremoniously tore them in half.  “Thank you,” he said.  “You really are the next Elvis, and you and your friends will never ever have to pay for a drink in my club.”

My ruse worked, but that was the last time I ever went to the Star Palast.  When you catch lightning in a bottle, you enjoy the moment, but you know better than to ever expect to be able to catch it twice.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

A Tale of Two Countries

Both are called the United States.  Neither are united.

The recognized country is led by Joe Biden, a 79-year-old man, who desperately wants to lift up America, one more time.  He was part of the Obama team that got us out of the big 2008 Fiscal Crisis, and now he’s determined to solve two new big problems threatening our nation’s health – Covid and Division.

The unrecognized country is led by Donald Trump, a 70-something year-old man, who desperately wants to lift America’s wallet, one more time. His problem is also health, his own.  He’s completely power crazy.

When John Quincy Adams won the Presidency many years ago, he received congratulations from the entire world, except from his father, John Adams, the former 2nd President of the United States.  He asked his father why and dad replied, “No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it.  He will make one man ungrateful, and a hundred men his enemies, for every office he can bestow.”

George Washington did not want to run for a second term.  The silver tongue of Thomas Jefferson had to be summoned to convince the old boy to have another go at it.

After his second term, they tried to convince him to run again.  History praises Washington for stepping down, declining a third term, and showing that America was a Democracy, not a Monarchy.  One man isn’t king for life, and all that stuff..  In reality, Washington hated the job.  And when they begged him to run for a third term, he said, and I quote, “I’d rather be in my grave.”

Thomas Jefferson’s epitaph, that he wrote himself, oddly omits the fact that he was the third President of the United States.

My favorite President, James Buchanan, is often maligned for his eagerness to vacate the White House.  On the day that Lincoln was inaugurated, James led old Abe to the ceremony, and told him, “If you are as happy to be here as I am to be going home to Wheatland, then you truly are a happy man indeed.”

There are only a few Presidents who wished that they could have been President for longer than they were, Teddy Roosevelt, and the dead ones.

Teddy even headed up his own Bull Moose Political Party, in an unsuccessful attempt to win another term.  Grover Cleveland, our 22nd President was voted out of office, and his wife told the White House staff, “Take care of the place.  We’ll be back.”  and they were when he became the 24th President four years later.  He fought back to regain the title, but most of it was his wife’s idea.  He was never very crazy about being President.  Men who want to remain President are rare.  Most of the people who have held the job, realize the extraordinary toll it took on them, and are glad to leave when their days are over.

We’ve only had two Presidents from Pennsylvania, James Buchanan and Joe Biden.  Both coveted the job but were rebuffed for years and years, until when they were finally too old for the job, but the country was in serious trouble and turned to them in the Country’s hour of need.

James Buchanan wrote, “I had hoped for the nomination in 1844, again in 1848, and even in 1852, but now I would hesitate to take it.  Before many years the abolitionists will bring war upon the land.  It may come during the next presidential term.”

He wound up accepting the nomination in 1856, anyway.  He had served his country for so long, that it was all he knew how to do.  His nickname wasn’t Buck.  His adopted nephew James Buchanan Henry was called “Buck”.  James Buchanan was known simply as “the Old Public Functionary.”  He served in the militia, the state house, the congress, the Senate, Secretary of State, Ambassador to Russia, Ambassador to Great Britain.  After his fiancé died in 1820, he had dedicated his whole life to his country, and he didn’t refuse to serve his Country in 1856, when that Country was even more divided than today.

Most Presidents were glad to leave the White House.  Lyndon Johnson said, “I will not seek, nor will I accept my party’s nomination for President.”

Joe Biden should be enjoying his golden years, but he looked around and saw that he was the best, and maybe only, chance for Democracy to beat the juggernaut that was Donald Trump.  Like Buchanan, he is probably proud of taking the helm of the ship of state when it was floundering in a violent storm, but I’m sure he wishes that somebody younger might have taken the reins, instead.  Joe probably wishes that his son Beau was running the country today.

Donald Trump does not feel the same way about his sons.  Don Trump, Jr. probably will take over the franchise when Donald Sr. dies, but since the good die young, Donald Sr. might be around for a long, long time.  Poor, neglected son Eric, meanwhile, has been voted son most likely to turn states evidence when the shit hits the fan in the January 6th Investigation.

Richard Nixon didn’t want to go.  So, it was only Teddy Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, and Richard Nixon, who were forced to vacate the office before they actually wanted to.

And now, Donald Trump.  One year into the Biden Presidency, Trump still hasn’t conceded.  He’s still holding on, which is Joe Biden’s second problem.  If this was a third world country, he could just shoot him.  Or a drone could accidentally  “go off course” and blow up Mar a Lago.  But Joe Biden is a decent man.  He won’t stoop to the tricks that Donald Trump would stoop to in a heartbeat.

How do you take the high road, and succeed?  I don’t know.  If it was me, I would just have the CIA put exploding golf balls in Trump’s golf bag whenever he had a foursome that included Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

Take Your Turkey and Stuff it

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors… many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted.

Edward Winslow, November of 1621.

You might notice that Edward didn’t mention Thanksgiving, but rather “in a special manner rejoice together.”  The people we know as Pilgrims, who were known to the people of their day as Separatists, and who referred to themselves as Saints, had a completely different meaning for Thanksgiving.  It wasn’t a day to rejoice together in a special manner.  It was a solemn day of prayers.  They had plenty of those before their first Harvest festival, which today we refer to as the first Thanksgiving.

The first Thanksgiving Celebration was actually held in 1863.  It was the brainchild of Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, who is more famous for penning the well-known poem, Mary Had a Little Lamb.  She wrote to President James Polk in 1846 to push for a National Celebration of Thanksgiving.  He ignored her request.  When Zachary Taylor became President, she presented the idea to him and he, too, ignored it.  Sarah Hale was a determined woman, though, and she continued to present her idea unsuccessfully to Presidents Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan.

When she presented the idea to President Lincoln, he was quick to see an opportunity in it. He thought that he could use the theme of Pilgrims and Indians happily eating together to calm things down during the Civil War when people were divided. It was a nice unity story for him to tell, and he loved making up stories.  So, in 1863 he signed into action “A National Day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”  Thus, was born the first Thanksgiving Celebration.

In truth, on that first harvest celebration 400 years ago, the local Indians weren’t actually invited. The Pilgrims were shooting off guns in celebration, and the Wampanoag Indians had a treaty with the Pilgrims that each would come to the aid of the other if they were attacked. So, when the Indians heard gunfire, 90 warriors headed for the Pilgrim village. When they showed up, they were welcomed because they showed up with five deer.  Don’t believe that picture of all the ladies in their cute bonnets rushing around to feed everyone, either. Of the 28 women who came across on the Mayflower, 24 died before that first harvest. And more likely than not, Massasoit and his tribe of Wampanoag Indians only stayed for three days because the Pilgrims had beer.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

I’m with Stupid

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring; There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.”

-Alexander Pope

I was listening to a panel discussion the other day and one of the panelists said that it seems there are way more stupid people than ever before.  I started to nod my head in agreement, but then I stopped to think about it.

IQ tests are designed so that the average score will be 100.  I remember reading that to maintain that 100 average, the professionals who make up these IQ tests have had to make them a little bit harder every year, because people, in general, are getting smarter.  It doesn’t seem that way at times, like when I watch an old “Jaywalking” video, or other shows like that where they ask people on the street very easy questions that they can’t answer.  They make us all look stupid, but, as a species, we are really getting smarter.

Way more people can read than ever before.  I think that the illiteracy rate is close to 0%.  Here’s a chart showing the steady progress we have made since 1870.

The percentage of people graduating college is going up.

All the metrics indicate that people are getting smarter.  So, why did I reflexively start to nod my head in agreement with the panelist who stated bluntly that there were more stupid people today?

There was a time when most of us Americans thought that most of us were talented and smart.  When we weren’t screaming “U.S.A., U.SA., U.S.A.,” we we’re chanting “We’re #1.  We’re #1.”  We’re a proud people, and we have a lot of reasons to be proud.  We were the first people in the history of the entire world to put men on the moon, and we brought them back alive.  Years ago, we Americans prided ourselves and our neighbors as being the best at everything, except maybe hurling or soccer. Now, we’re still number one in Military Spending and Beef Production, but we’re way behind in other areas.  We’re not even rated #1 overall anymore.  According to U.S. News and World Report we’re #6. In many areas, we’re not even in the top 10 anymore.


When we look at America’s report card today, it’s not one my parents would sign willingly.  Today, we’re obviously not the best at everything.  Our comparative rating against the rest of the world is steadily going down, but we’re not getting dumber.  The rest of the world is just improving faster.

We only think that Americans are getting dumber because we see so many dumb posts on the Internet.  We forget that this is not really a reflection of us as a whole.  “Empty barrels make the most noise,” and the Internet is ground zero for empty barrels.  You can post almost anything.  It doesn’t have to be factual, or peer reviewed.  It could be something as completely ridiculous as Nicki Minaj’s friend of a friend’s testicle size after getting a Covid vaccine tweet.  Nobody has to back up or prove anything they say.  (Present company included.) 

Professional writers produce novels, non-fiction books, plays, screenplays, newspaper and magazine articles.  Social media is just batting practice for anybody who wants to take a swing at writing.  So, there will naturally be plenty of unedited and stupid posts on the Internet.  There may be a few clever things written on social media, but the rocket scientists are busy writing for peer-reviewed journals of Rocket Science.  The Brain Surgeons are also busy elsewhere.  So, if you’re looking for really intelligent stuff, you’ll probably have to venture beyond social media.  You’re not going to find the most factual information on the Internet.  You’ll have to read a book, or Kindle a book, or do something like that.  You know what the old Elton John song says, “You can’t find gold in a silver mine, and you can’t drink whiskey from a bottle of wine.”

So, despite what it looks like on Facebook, we are getting smarter.  The bad news is that as much as we tend to underestimate the intelligence level of others, we also tend to overestimate our own intelligence level.  Once again, the blame goes to the Internet.

Google and Wikipedia put an incredible amount of knowledge at our fingertips, which gives us the illusion of knowing more.  We start to feel like we know things, just because we’re able to look them up, and the faster we can look something up, the more we assume that we know it.

So, you may not be as intelligent as you think you are, but, at least the people you know aren’t nearly as stupid as you thought they were.  According to the statistics I’ve shown and the people who make up IQ tests, the country is definitely getting smarter.  We only look stupid on the Internet.

“U.S.A.  U.S.A.  U.S.A.”

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

Equal Time

I rarely disagree with Neil deGrasse Tyson, but I watched a video he did about Evolution and there was one area where we disagreed.  What makes it even odder is that I agreed with the Creationists he opposed, and I almost never agree with them about anything.

Tyson’s point was that since there is so much more evidence for evolution, Creationists should not be given equal time.  I totally agree that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, but I would like to see the Creationists be given equal time.  I don’t think that Science teachers should be forced to present both sides, though.  The Science teacher should present the scientific evidence for evolution, and a Creationist should present whatever evidence they have for Creation.  Then each side should be given time to rebut the other’s argument.

I feel the same about other disputed issues, such as the Holocaust and the Holocaust deniers, even though I know for a fact that the Nazis ran concentration camps.  How do I know this?  My father, a tank commander in WWII, helped liberate the prisoners in one of the camps.  He, personally, shot the lock off the gate.

So, why do I think that the weak side of a disputed subject should be given equal time?  I have three reasons.  First of all, the side with the most supporters isn’t always right.  Gallileo Galilee was alone against the Inquisition when he spoke about the Earth revolving around the sun, instead of vice versa.  It turns out that he was absolutely right, but the lesser minds of his day condemned him for this thinking, because they had the power and greater numbers.  Today, I, too, am in a great minority.  Nine out of every ten people believe there is a Supreme Being who controls the universe.  I don’t.  If there was still an Inquisition, I would be declared a heretic.  But might doesn’t necessarily make right, and I feel that my minority opinion is well-worthy of equal time in a discussion.

Secondly, I think that the best way to shut up dissenters is to give them a chance to state their case and face rebuttal.  That is what science is really all about.  Scientists come up with theories to explain things and then other scientists try to confirm those theories or prove them wrong in a never-ending struggle to get closer and closer to the truth.  Nothing is automatically accepted as true just because somebody powerful says it.  Isaac Newton was a brilliant physicist, who developed the Law of Gravity that explained everything from apples falling from trees to correctly predicting the orbit of planets and their moons around the Sun.  Newton was a recognized genius in the field, but that didn’t stop Albert Einstein from announcing that there was really no such thing as a gravitational force.  Instead, he wrote, what we call gravity, is actually a force caused by acceleration and the warping of the space-time continuum.  Don’t ask me to explain that.  I’m no Einstein.  I’ll defer to a Neil deGrasse Tyson’s video on that subject.

It’s ironically funny that mostly everyone believes in gravity, which Einstein stated doesn’t actually exist, because there is a “Law of Gravity.”  That law is just a way of mathematically calculating and accurately predicting results, not a proof that those results are caused by a force of gravity.  Darwin’s evolution is challenged by Creationists and many others because it is a “theory” of evolution.  We think of a theory as a hypothesis, a guess, a feeling, a hunch.  For scientists, though, the word theory has a completely different meaning.  In science, a theory is a well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural world.  Darwin’s “theory” of evolution by natural selection has stood up to extensive scientific scrutiny for over 160 years, and, believe me, many people, especially Creationists, have tried desperately to prove it wrong and failed.

Many Holocaust deniers rest their claim on the fact that there is no lock on the gas chamber door at Dachau.  How could it be used to kill people if there was no lock on the door?  Creationists, attempt to deny evolution, based upon things written in the Bible, and they claim that they must be right simply because the Bible is infallible.

It turns out that the chamber door in Dachau today is not the same door that was there during the Holocaust.  That one did lock.  It also turns out that the Bible is not infallible.  It is loaded with inconsistencies and many outlandish claims that just don’t hold up to scrutiny.  Supposedly God created light on the first day.  We all know the words, “Let there be light.”  Then God created plants on the third day, but He didn’t make the Sun that generates the light that plants need for photosynthesis until the 4th day.  The Bible may be the greatest story every told, but it should be filed under fiction, not used as scientific proof of anything.

The third reason why I think that contrary opinions should be given equal time is because I believe that given enough rope and public exposure, Creationist, Holocaust deniers, and other conspiracy theorists will eventually hang themselves.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

Religious Rights

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says employers must provide reasonable accommodations for workers who have sincerely held religious beliefs — unless doing so poses an undue hardship.

It’s been in the news a lot lately with anti-vaxxers hoping that they can use this religious loophole to avoid vaccine mandates and, thus, save their jobs.  Good luck, I say.  I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get a religious exemption for decades because I have long believed that my acceptance of marijuana as a Rastafarian sacrament should allow me to be able to get high legally and spiritually.

It turns out that I cannot get a religious exemption, and that’s not simply due to the fact that I am a professed Atheist, but because religious exemptions do not apply to substances that the Federal Government considers illegal.  So, knowing this section of the law, I never bothered to try and grow dreadlocks in case I might have to make a court appearance.

Fortunately, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does allow medical marijuana, and my hip pain qualifies me for a medical exemption, so long as I scream bloody murder whenever a doctor touches my leg, and I tell them that on a scale of 1 to 10 my pain is at least an 11.

My Pain Level when asked

Religious exemptions work differently from Medical Exemptions, though.  You cannot just get a note from your, priest, rabbi, iman, minister, Pope, ayatollah, witch doctor, or shaman.  This wouldn’t work, anyway since all major religions have recently encouraged their flocks to get vaccinated.  No Church wants to lose parishioners, especially not the parishioners who put paper money in the collection plate.  Pope Francis even says that getting vaccinated is a sign of love.  Christian Scientists, who notoriously believe in the power of prayer over medicine and medical care, do not ban vaccinations. 

God works in mysterious ways, though.  There are new religions springing up, that will give anti-vaxxers a letter promoting a religious exemption, as long as you demonstrate your devotion to the religion by making a good-faith contribution to their church. 

Even this doesn’t always work, though.  Before granting an exemption, employers may probe whether an employee’s religious belief is in fact sincere. They may ask questions about your vaccination history or church attendance.  Those Christians, who only see the inside of a church on Easter and Christmas, don’t qualify.  If the employer determines that your belief is not sincere, it may deny the exemption request.  Getting a Religious exemption now is harder that getting a Conscientious Objector deferment from the Army during the Vietnam era.

Even if an employee’s religious belief is determined to be sincere, it’s still the employer who decides what the reasonable accommodation will be. It does not have to be the accommodation you want.  It could be that they will allow you to remain employed by the company, but you will be put on unpaid leave until either the mandate is changed, or you get vaccinated.

There is another way, though, to get a “reach-around” Religious exemption.  You can claim on high moral ground that you do not put anything in your body that used fetal cells in the research, testing, or production of the product.  The current vaccines all used fetal cells in the research, even though they did not actually use fetal cells in the production of the vaccine.  So, easy peasy, right?  Not so fast.

There’s a big gotcha in this approach to a Religious exemption.  Your employer can force you to sign a sworn statement attesting to the consistent strength of your conviction.  You must state that you do not use ANY products that used fetal cells in the research, testing, or production of the product.  No big deal, you might think, but fetal cells have been around for decades, and they were used in the research or testing of acetaminophen, albuterol, aspirin, Benadryl, Claritin, Ex-Lax, ibuprofen, Lipitor, Motrin, Maalox, Pepto Bismol, Preparation H, Prilosec, Sudafed, Senokot, Tums, Tylenol, Zoloft, and maybe even Flintstone vitamins.  I’m still “researching” that one on my own.  Before you sign that sworn statement, are you sure that none of these items ever appeared on your credit card statement?  Remember that CVS or Walgreens might even have you in their database with a list of every drug they ever sold you.

Think about it.  It reminds me of that car rental scene with all the “F-Bombs” in Airplanes, Trains, and Automobiles?

If you’ve ever taken a Tums for the tummy, you’re f**ked.   Your employer can deny your Religious exemption on the grounds that your objection to fetal cell research is bulls**t. 

Okay, let’s say that your employer believes that you should be granted a religious exemption, they can still deny your case if it causes them undue hardship, and thanks to the tireless work of the Republican party, anything that costs a corporation money is considered an undue hardship.  So, in that case, take another look at the above graphic.  You’re still f**ked.

So, anti-vaxxers, who refuse to wear masks, I leave you with the immortal words of Harrison Ford in the movie Air Force One, “Get off my plane.”

Peace and Love, and all of the above,

Earl

Is God Stupid?

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” 

-Carl Sagan

One thing I’ve learned in the past year is that it is next to impossible to change somebody’s beliefs with facts.  Whatever we believe is locked into our minds and no mountain of facts to the contrary will change our mind.  The reason is because of something known as Cognitive Bias.  Our brains will only accept “facts” that confirm our belief.  We dismiss as false, those that are counter to our way of thinking.

So, a discussion of our beliefs, will often only lead to an argument, which nobody wins.  We do this all the time on social media.  The key to a good discussion, I’m told, is to listen to the other person.  First try to find common ground and work from there.

How do you find common ground?  Practice.

I decided to begin small, with something I believe 100% that only a tiny percentage of others do not believe.  According to the Scientific American Magazine, more than 1% of Americans believe that the Earth is flat.  I, like more than 98% of Americans, believe that the Earth is round, not perfectly round like a ball, but certainly not flat.

Before I got involved in a live discussion of my own, I decided to watch one on YouTube and practice listening to someone with an opposite viewpoint on something.  It was a half-hour program where three scientists discussed the shape of the Earth with three “Flat Earthers.”  My own cognitive bias kicked in automatically, and I immediately assumed that the scientists would be smart and the Flat Earthers would be stupid, if not outright morons.  So, I paused the program, trying to get that thought out of my head.

I couldn’t.  That’s the power of cognitive bias.  I was already prejudiced in favor of the side that held my beliefs.  Finally, though, I convinced myself to try to withhold my opinions until I had, at least, heard everyone speak.  That lasted only a few seconds, as the moderator began the show by asking them if they believed that God created the universe.  As an Atheist, I was pleased than none of the scientist professed to believe in an Almighty Creator.  I was kind of shocked, though, that only two of the Flat Earthers, Wendell and Shelley, did believe that God created the Universe.  Ed didn’t, and I found myself unable to keep from thinking of him as the “smart” Flat Earther. 

Then, each side was asked to present the reasons for their belief.  Wendell went first.  He was a Bible scholar and a Creationist, who believed that every word in the Bible was literally true.  He presented several of the hundreds of Bible passages he found that implied that the Earth is flat.  He knew his Old Testament and his “facts” very well, and I no longer thought of him as stupid, but rather just misguided.  My cognitive bias had budged a tiny little bit, but not much, and I couldn’t find any common ground with him.  What proof did he have, outside of Bible verses?  Well, he had a landscape picture that he took in California, and the area looked very flat.  I found that less convincing than his Bible verses.

Then Shelley presented her case.  She had formerly believed, as she was taught in grammar school, that the Earth was round, but her study of many ancient religions showed her that they all believed in a flat earth, and she therefore changed her belief.  Her entire argument consisted of “facts” from ancient religions, and I couldn’t help but think, she’s the stupid one.  Then she mentioned that she had graduated from West Point.  I don’t think that a college degree necessarily proves you are smart, but I do believe that it means you are not stupid, unless your family donated millions to the school just to get you in, or if you were a star athlete who the faculty was warned not to fail, if they ever wanted to get tenure.  So, I changed my mind about her.  She wasn’t stupid, and she had studied the subject extensively.  She just hadn’t studied both sides of the issue.  She didn’t study modern scientists, because she felt they were all paid to go along with whatever story the government was trying to sell.  She got all her information from ancient peoples who didn’t know any better, people who had never looked through a telescope.  We had no common ground that I could find.

Then Ed went.  I had pre-determined that he was the smart one.  So, I listened carefully.  He was a skeptic.  Good.  I’m a skeptic, too.  We had common ground.  He knew the arguments on both sides but had decided to do his own research.  Wasn’t that what I was doing, sort of?  So, we had even more common ground.  Then, our connection was broken.  His research consisted entirely of studying conspiracy theories on the Internet.  He hadn’t bothered checking with NASA or other scientific organizations because, as far as he was concerned, they were all involved in a government plot to keep people from knowing the truth about the faked moon landing.  He was just using one conspiracy theory to try to prove another.

Damn, I had really been hoping for him to be the smart one, the guy who would present some fact that would at least make me stop and think.  It was not meant to be.  I failed.  I was unable to find any common ground with any of the Flat Earthers.

The three scientists presented the usual facts that scientists present in such debates.  When ships sail out to sea, we see less and less of them, until all we can see is the top of their masts, because of the curvature of the earth.  When we witness the shadow of the Earth on the moon during an eclipse, it’s always round, which is only possible if the Earth itself is actually round, and if you went to the top of the Empire State building you would not be able to see the light from the city of Chicago a thousand miles away, because of the curvature of the earth.

The three Flat Earthers made the weak argument that if the air wasn’t so polluted you would be able to see the lights of L.A. from N.Y.   They insisted that a ship sailing to sea would not appear to dip below the horizon.  The entire ship, not just the mast, would just appear smaller.  Then the debate was over.  Nobody changed their mind, especially not me.  I never expected to change my mind though.  I just wanted to listen to somebody with a completely different opinion.

I did try to keep an open mind throughout the discussion, but in the end, of course, I believed the scientific evidence over the supposed evidence contained in the Bible, the “Word of God.”  I couldn’t believe that any of the hundreds of references in the Bible to a flat Earth that Wendell had amassed would be deemed as actual facts by anyone.  The flat shape of the Earth and its supposed position in the center of our universe with the sun revolving around it were just the ignorant thoughts of ancient people who had never peeked through a telescope.  They certainly had never seen the edge of this supposedly flat Earth.  My conclusion was that using the Bible as a source of scientific facts was even more useless than using Playboy as a textbook on human anatomy.  Either the Bible was written by ancient people who knew absolutely nothing about science, or it was the divinely inspired Word of a God who was very stupid.

So, I failed to find any common ground with this particular group of conspiracy theorists, but I’ll keep looking.  Maybe I’ll find it elsewhere.  The world is small, and it goes around.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl