It's about time for another word from my favorite Canadian lawyer, who is struggling to balance principles and parenthood. (12-minute video)
Maybe it's a good thing that my only Australian source concentrates on cooking. I hear the situation is even worse there.
Southwest Airlines has been getting some bad press recently, but we've recently had a wonderful experience.
I'm very disappointed that they caved in to pressure to implement a vaccine mandate for their employees. I would have respected them much, much more if they could have held out against this wrongful policy.
That said, I was impressed, and pleasantly surprised, by what happened to us.
We were scheduled to fly Southwest, and more than a little concerned about their recent cancellations, especially the news stories of people waiting several hours to get help, and not being able to reschedule any sooner than three days away.
Sure enough, the night before we were scheduled to fly, we received notice that our flight was one of the ones that was cancelled. Before we could even get through to the Southwest website, however, we receive another notification:
We have rebooked your flight for you.
Not only did it happen quickly, and with no effort on our part, but they had actually put us on a better flight than the one that was cancelled. It left three hours later, giving us a more comfortable start, yet arrived at our destination an hour earlier, because it was a direct flight instead of requiring a plane change in Baltimore. True, our new flight was packed to the gills and we were among the last five people to board the plane, but at that point we felt nothing but gratitude.
Kudos to Southwest for making a potentially terrible situation into something almost pleasant.
And many thanks to all of you who prayed for our trip!
My constant prayer since the start of the development of the COVID-19 vaccines has been that the knowledge gained would lead to an effective vaccine against malaria.
When I last checked the Johns Hopkins site, the total estimate of COVID-19 cases since we started keeping track have been a little less than 237 million. (Just how accurate that guess is, is another issue.)
In that time period, there have been approximately 382 million cases of malaria, a debilitating disease that cripples economies, and preferentially kills young children.
But there is good news. While there is still much room for new vaccine-development techniques to improve the situation, there is now a vaccine for malaria. It was developed by GlaxoSmithKline* and proven effective six years ago. Finally, after futher testing, has been given the green light for mass vaccinations in sub-Saharan Africa.
"Effective," in this case, is only 40%—I said there was room for improvement—and requires a series of four shots, given at five, six, seven, and 18 months of age. In a part of the world where health care is often less than stellar, I imagine this will be a challenge to implement. But malaria is a much trickier disease than, say, COVID ("comparing them is like comparing a person and a cabbage") and this is a huge milestone.
It causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark. — Revelation 13:16-17
College is a time for wide-ranging, speculative discussions, and among my fellow students in the early 1970's this Bible verse was a popular topic. We were hard-pressed to imagine a world in which people would consent to having marks imposed on their bodies: tattoos were so rare that most of us had never seen one, and the now-common practice of implanting informative microchips in pets was 15 years in the future. The microchip itself had barely made any impression on our lives—my choice when doing my physics homework was between long, laborious hand calculations and a long trek through the snow to a small room where half a dozen chunky, very basic calculators had been made available to students.
Even more puzzling was how having or not having this "mark of the beast" could be the gateway to commerce. The marketplace still ran on cash and checks.
How much can change in 50 years.
Suddenly, in Canada, in Australia, in Switzerland, and in parts of the United States, the marketplace and much more are now gated by vaccination status. Society has been divided as by a sharp sword between the haves and the have-nots; the clean and the unclean; the ones who are free to travel, attend school, eat at restaurants, and even hold their jobs, and those who are not.
I am not saying that the COVID-19 vaccine is the Mark of the Beast. It seems clear that the Mark will involve some form of blasphemy and idolatrous worship, and this does not—although, frankly, the efforts to invalidate religious exemptions to vaccine mandates have me wondering a bit about that.
However, it is now crystal clear is that what seemed impossibly fanciful back in my college days is not only possible, but can sweep over even a free and democratic country with little effective opposition. Whatever that Mark may be, we have opened the door.
I'm overwhelmed with all the news that begs comment and threatens to overwhelm the ordinary life events that I like to post for family and friends. This one pops to the top of the backlog because it is good news, and we can always do with some of that.
The story started in March 2020, when a 16-year-old high school student went on a trip with her band to Disney World in Florida. Nothing unusual about that: it happens evey year, from all over the country. Our kids did it with their band—though they didn't have so far to go. In fact, my siblings did the same thing, coming from Pennsylvania, some 40 years ago.
But this was early 2020, and a week after returning, the girl came down with symptoms that caused her doctors to believe she had COVID-19. She was hospitalized for a day or so, and posted to her friends, on Instagram, a photo of her with a breathing mask that said that she had beaten the coronavirus and that they should "stay home and be safe."
It is anyone's guess how and why this led to the police knocking on her door and demanding that she delete her post, under threats that included arrest for either her, her parents, or both. I'm guessing that the school got tired of fielding panicked calls from parents who feared for their own children and it snowballed from there, but who knows? The girl complied, removing her post, but subsequently filed a lawsuit on the grounds that her First Amendment rights to free speech had been violated.
Here's a 15-minute analysis with more detail.
It is indeed good news when the courts rule in favor of our Constitutional rights, even in a very small case, because small cases can set very big precedents. My only regret is that it takes so long for the judgement to come. Vital as such judgements are, they can't undo the harm done. In the 18 months since that fateful Instagram post was taken down, how much other damage was done? How much damage will continue to be done by those who disagree with this judge and believe they can get away with violating the Constitution, at least for long enough to accomplish their purposes?
Subsequent events have shown that we—as a country and individually—are not much more prepared to have our world turned upside down in an instant than we were on September 11, 2001, and I include myself as chief of sinners. (Five-minute video. Warning: some language, and it will probaby tear you apart.)
Somehow, we must do better.
Living unprepared is foolish. Living in fear is faithless.
Somehow, we must do better.
President Biden's new vaccination mandate is blatantly unconstitutional, to use the most polite words I can think of at the moment. And it is becoming abundantly clear that this doesn't bother him. As with the eviction moratorium and several other recent Executive Branch actions, the courts will no doubt rule against it. But as with the others, by then the damage will already have been done. Even the courts can't unvaccinate someone, can't undo the stress of job loss, can't make up the losses of the small landlords who depend on regular rental income, and certainly can't fully restore the faith of small business owners who have discovered just how easily the government can take control of their lives.
Here is Canadian lawyer David Freiheit's nine-minute legal analysis of the situation.
The Constitution exists for a reason, and when our elected officials stop respecting the supremacy of the Constitution it is a big, big problem, and that is as much true for the United States as it is for Canada.
I don't care whether it's Prime Minister Trudeau, President Biden, President Trump, Governor Cuomo, Governor DeSantis, or the lowliest city mayor—I fear an increasingly powerful Executive at all levels.
I fear even more those who think this executive power is a good thing as long as they are in favor of whatever is being mandated.
Back in 2008, I first posted the clip that is pretty much all I remember from the movie, A Man for All Seasons. I brought it back again in 2012. I don't know if it says more about the State of the Union or my own mental state that the third, fourth, and fifth reprises are all in 2021.
What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ... And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide ... the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast ... and if you cut them down ... do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
I'm reminded of a story from an otherwise long-forgotten sermon of my experience: Martin Luther, we were told, was once asked by a member of his congregation, "Why do you preach justification by faith every week?" Luther replied, "Because you forget it every week."
Finally, someone—someone whose work I respect—has said what I have been saying since the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns. I'm tired of being laughed at, and much worse, when I point out that it is inconsistent to excoriate people who resist some of the anti-pandemic measures, while at the same time themselves not thinking twice about driving a car. Both are actions that can endanger others, but most of us have decided to give automobile dangers a pass. We think so little about them that we tolerate, even joke about, impaired driving, speeding, road rage, poorly-maintained cars, and driving without a license or insurance coverage. Cracking down in these areas would no doubt make a huge difference in automobile injuries and fatalities. But even then there would be dangers from weather, from carelessness, and from that wasp that flew in the window and is crawling into your ear. (The last really happened to a friend of ours, who managed to get off the road safely—I'm not sure I could have.)
You want to protect yourself and others? If you can't walk to where you are going, stay home.
But of course we don't do that. The consequences would be too great.
I want people to understand that the various measures we are taking against this pandemic also have great consequences, ones that are not as immediately obvious as ending up in a COVID hospital ward.
George Friedman says it well in his article (from which I took my own post title), COVID and Cars. Unfortunately, it is behind a pay wall, but I've extracted a few quotes.
Every year in the United States, about 40,000 people die in car accidents. Some 1.35 million die in car accidents globally. In fact, they are the eighth-largest cause of death in the world. In the United States, about 3 million people are injured in automobile-related accidents.
These numbers exist despite all the efforts made to make cars safer. The reason cars aren’t banned is because the economic and social consequences of doing so would be devastating. The supply of food and other essentials requires trucking. Maintaining friends and seeing family require cars. In the United States, our ability to use land efficiently depends on cars to sustain a dispersed population. Yet this dependency carries a risk. In the back of your mind, you are aware as the ignition is turned on that you may die. You dismiss this possibility, of course, and proceed with your life.
What has happened is that a known risk of death and injury has been measured against the necessities of life, and a calculated risk has shown that tolerating the chance of death and enjoying the benefits of the car is preferable to seeking to eliminate car deaths by eliminating the car. The principle that death must be fought by all means is not practiced in the case of car deaths because a more subtle calculation takes place.
It’s a reminder that in most actions of human life there is a possibility of death or injury, but a life without those things would be impoverished. You can live without many things for a short and predictable period. Living without them indefinitely creates pressures on individuals and society. The trade-off between death and life is the human condition.
The idea that we can go on indefinitely with each new chapter forcing us to shelter in place is a superficial view of what will happen. As with automobiles, where we risk death on every ride and where many find it, the risk of COVID-19 will be integrated into our thinking, and we will make choices.
If you really want people not to act stupidly, it might be better not to shout continually to them and all the world how stupid they are. Most people do have logical reasons for their actions, and if you want to change their behaviors, it helps to make a serious effort to find out why they do what they do.
I confess: I chose this particular post title because I'm curious what Facebook will do with it. But it's also true that it's about nonsense.
Today I came upon this article in the Tampa Bay Times. Two things reminded me of why following the news isn't good for my blood pressure.
As the pandemic takes another turn for the worse, Florida health experts are struggling with infrequent and incomplete data releases from the state. The state stopped reporting daily COVID-19 infection and vaccination data on June 3.
Sounds scary, right? How can one make decisions without data, and Florida has stopped reporting COVID-19 information.
But no. As the next sentence reveals,
Instead, it sends out weekly reports every Friday
Weekly data ought to be good enough for anyone; in fact, I'd rather get the numbers only once a week, since it smooths out the unhelpful bumps caused by daily reporting variations, e.g. the spike on Mondays because not all agencies file reports on Sundays.
We are far too addicted to instantaneous data, even if it has little significance. Feeding Central Florida hour-by-hour hurricane updates when the storm is still over a thousand miles away does no one any good. We already know what basic preparations we must make just in case it comes our way, and it's 'way too early to make evacuation decisions. Too much data only leads to panic and unwise behavior.
Most annoying from the article, however, is the attitude of this hospital spokesman:
“The reality is that I see a lot of people get sick from COVID, but I haven’t seen people come in with serious side effects from the vaccine,” Wilson said. “I haven’t seen anything bad happen to anyone for getting the vaccine.”
What does this say? It says that this person has no idea why rational and intelligent people would hesitate to get the COVID-19 vaccine. It reveals that she views them all as stupid and stubbornly ignorant. I know many people who have not yet been convinced to take the vaccine, none of them stupid, many of them much more knowledgeable about the risks and benefits than most of us who never questioned the wisdom of getting our shots.
No one I know is worried about present side effects, which is what this hospital representative is addressing. Their concerns are primarily that long-term side effects are completely unknown, because there simply has been no "long-term" as yet. For that matter, we are equally ignorant of the long-term effects of a COVID-19 infection itself. After all, it was decades before post-polio syndrome was recognized. If there are long-term negative side effects of the COVID vaccine, they may be significantly less than the side effects of getting the disease. Or they may be worse. We. Don't. Know.
If I were trying to convince someone to get vaccinated, I'd take their concerns seriously. I wouldn't shut their ears by calling them stupid and ignorant. I'd admit that we simply don't know and can't know what the long-term effects of the vaccine will be, but that to the best of our knowledge (if that is truly the case) they are likely to be less serious than the risks of getting the disease, both immediately and long-term.
It's a calculated risk we take with every vaccine, with every medical procedure, indeed every time we get into an automobile or do anything in life.
Neither coercion nor contempt have a good track record at changing people's minds. Making an effort to understand their point of view guarantees nothing, but it's a much better place to begin.
I LOVE the Independence Day parade and festivities in Geneva, Florida. I've written about it many times. We were small in numbers this year, but infinitely bigger than in 2020, when there was nothing at all. Thanks to Liz, our organizer and director-by-necessity, and to the good people of Geneva, marching in the parade was still a blast. The event organizers tell us that our antics are "one of the most frustrating things, and yet one of the things that the parade goers enjoy the most."
Thanks to the fact that the Fourth was a Sunday this year, Geneva's party was held a day early. And the federal holiday is a day late, so we enjoyed three days of festivities. Less happily, our neighbors have been making it a week-long holiday with their fireworks. It's a good thing the drought has broken.
The best part of the parade is interacting with the crowd, and hamming it up with my cymbals as we march along. Porter does the same with the water wagon (and its following shark). All it takes is a willingness to leave all pride and self-respect behind as the parade steps off.
I'll have to admit that the cymbals get heavier with every year, and running to catch up with the band—after letting a small spectator "help me out" by banging the cymbals—now leaves me a bit winded. It's a good thing Porter (aka Gunga Dad) is always ready with a drink to keep me hydrated!
The people of Geneva are always so warm, friendly, and encouraging. They love our country, their heritage, and their band. We didn't start in Geneva; 30 years ago we were the World's Worst Marching Band and played gigs not only in Central Florida but as far away as Atlanta and Philadelphia. Geneva at its worst couldn't outdo the heat of Atlanta's Independence Day parade, when Peachtree Street's pavement melted under our feet and (thanks to Gunga Dad) we were the only band not to have someone faint. But when the World's Worst Marching Band put itself out to pasture many years ago, Geneva welcomed us as their own.
One of the exhibits we checked out this year was a travelling exhibition of artwork created using wood from The Senator, our much-beloved and long-lamented bald cypress, which was the oldest in the world when it was destroyed by a careless drug user in 2012. I was expecting something tacky and touristy ("Get your gen-u-wine Senator key ring here!") but it was nothing of the sort. Rather, it was moving and respectful, telling the story of the tree and displaying beauty from ashes through art.
At last, Christmas drew near, and we focussed our activities nearer home. Christmas Eve saw us in church, of course, with some of our guests pressed into service in our hand chime choir. Hand chimes are not nearly as beautiful as handbells, but they are what we had. We didn't even have a handbell choir until it emerged as a desperation move to give our choir a way to make music when rehearsing and singing were forbidden. In this we were oppressed, not by the state, but by our very own bishop, whose rules were far more draconian than the governments'. I had so looked forward to being able to share with our family the absolute beauty of our high church worship, especially on such a special day, but it was not allowed to be. Nonetheless, we were grateful to be permitted in-person services at all. We were there; God was there. And some of us went back later for the midnight mass.
Credit for the above three photos Anke Cirillo of Three Point Photography
And then it was Christmas! Happiness is a house full of family.
After Christmas we boldly got together with our long-time friend and former choir director for one of our spontaneous music-making sessions. It's impossible to describe what a glorious outpouring of joy there is in these events. I do have a few recordings I treasure, but out of respect for the true musicians who don't always appreciate having their impromptu experimentations broadcast to the world, I'll leave it to your imagination. We had singing, piano, harmonica, viola, recorder, hand chimes, and all manner of percussion. If I could do this every night I know my mental state would take a drastic turn for the better. And the interaction between me on the tambourine and our granddaughter on the maracas was pretty good physical exercise, too.
We visited several playgrounds and natural parks, including taking the Black Point Wildlife Drive on the east coast. It's a favorite of ours, and a lovely place to see birds. On this trip, however, the more exciting views were of another sort:
And what's a trip to that part of the state without a stop at the Dixie Crossroads restaurant?
We continued to enjoy our final days of this visit, trying not to think too much about the upcoming long trip to Miami and the even longer trip across the Atlantic. And the 10-day quarantine awaiting them back in Switzerland. But they survived all that without catching COVID-19, and so did we. We are so grateful to Florida for welcoming our overseas family, to Switzerland for letting them come (and return), and to all whose efforts made this visit possible. I hadn't fully realized the toll these pandemic restrictions had taken on our mental health until we were reminded of what we were missing. I believe this visit came just in time, and I'm so glad we made the joyful choice.
This December visit seems more than six months distant, given that January and February brought us vaccines and the beginning of more freedom, at least in Florida. It would be April before the Northeast opened up enough for another healing family visit ... and that's a story for another post.
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Since it changed hands, I haven't found the Babylon Bee as interesting as it used to be. Or maybe Facebook has only been showing me their worst efforts recently; sometimes I think Facebook is a conspiracy theory dream all by itself.
In any case, this one is funny on more than one level. Be sure to watch to the end; it's only two minutes long.
I'm guessing not many of my busy blog readers will find it a worthwhile use of 14 minutes to see the latest Viva Frei video, about more Canadian craziness, but I'm sure it could easily happen here. I'm very pleased that we now have two bona fide medical doctors in the family, but I'm beginning to wish we had a lawyer as well.
The short version is that a couple from Alberta was accused of being in contempt of court for violating a court order that they were not a party to, and had not been served notice of. Let that sink in a minute. Spoiler alert: after lawyers representing them pushed back, the Crown retreated, but came after them from a different angle, successfully getting a court injunction against their planned, peaceful protest on private property.
Apparently their protest violated Alberta's strict lockdown regulations, so the Crown had a case for fining the couple for the violation. I believe that suspension of Constituional and/or Charter rights (freedom of assembly, of peaceful protest) in the name of public health has been grossly misused, but that's not the issue. Let it stand for the moment.
What a conviction for contempt of court (either in the case that was withdrawn or through the injunction) does is up the cost of the protest significantly, adding criminal penalties and potential jail time to the fine. One could speculate that the initial imposition of the regulations went through proper legislative procedure (thought I doubt it), but this is an egregious attempt to impose harsher penalties than the law provides for.
Be that as it may, I enjoyed learning about the two types of contempt of court and more about how the system works.
I've never claimed to be a prophet (those guys are supposed to get it all right), but every once in a while I surprise myself. Looking back through old posts, I found this, which I had posted on January 1, 2020:
Being a Floridian, and one who has enjoyed several cruises, I was naturally intrigued by the following Viva Frei episode in which attorneys David Freiheit and Robert Barnes discuss Florida's lawsuit against the CDC's shutdown of the cruise industry. The video is just under 14 minutes long.
As I said, the story was of mild interest to me from the beginning. It was already on my "blog about this, maybe" list. However, it turns out to have a personal angle that makes it even more compelling. Unfortunately, I can't talk about it for privacy reasons, but it serves as a clear though pleasant reminder that no matter how nameless and faceless the machinations of government and business seem, there are real, everyday people behind them all. We forget that to our peril.
Last Sunday, Viva & Barnes revisited the story, reporting that the judge, instead of ruling on the case, sent both parties to mediation. (The relevant part of the video is 26:18 - 28:29.)
Here is another example of what a difference "spin" makes in news reporting. Barnes clearly sees the mediation order as an indication that the judge would rule in favor of Florida if he had to, and as a way for the him to let the CDC save face while keeping himself from being accused of "killing granny." However, most news articles I read have reported it as a setback for Governor DeSantis, and pointedly place the blame for cruise ships fleeing Florida, not on the CDC's restrictions, but on both DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for forbidding discrimination against people who have not been vaccinated.
I certainly hope that Barnes is right, and more accurate in his analysis of the judge's inclinations than he was of the judge's gender—though these days I'll admit the latter is a trickier call than it ought to be.