Happy Treason Day 2020!

In honor of today's date - July 4th, 2020 - I posted the following meme to social media.

Happy-Treason-Day-Ungrateful-Colonials

Most people appreciated the humor as it was intended. However, to understand the funniest part about that meme, you have to study American History. And by doing so, you learn that the early American colonists REALLY WERE a bunch of ungrateful colonials.

The "Taxation Without Representation" that the American Colonists were so quick to condemn was really England asking the colonists to pick up the financial burden for their recent freedom from French rule. The King of England had recently pushed the French out of the American colonies, but the average British citizen was sick of having to foot the bill for bailing out those pesky American colonials. So the King of England shifted the financial burden of freeing the American colonies back onto the American colonists, who resented the thought of having to pay for their own freedom, so they kicked the British out of America. The King of France, still licking his wounds from France's loss to England, gave the American colonists the money to do so. However, the average French citizen resented having to foot the bill for bailing out those pesky American colonials, so they overthrew their monarchy and killed the king.

And all of this was because the American colonists were a bunch of selfish jerks.

With that in mind, I say once again: "Happy Treason Day - You Ungrateful Colonials!"

Open-mouthed smile

Just Shut Up and Wear the Darn Mask

I've been trying to refute a great deal of bogus information that I've been seeing in social media about wearing masks in public, and I'd like to consolidate some of my responses from a few different posts into a single, standalone narrative.

I see a lot of people complaining about having to wear a mask, which is actually a pretty easy thing for people to do. But the point of wearing a mask these days has less to do with preventing people from catching the disease if they don't wear a mask; it's more about preventing people who are asymptomatic from spreading diseases to others. Quite often people with COVID-19 do not show any symptoms until long after they have acquired the disease, but they are still highly contagious. With that in mind, wearing a mask demonstrates your concern for other people's health, rather than a concern for your personal health. (And conversely, failing to wear a mask demonstrates your lack of concern for other people's health, rather than a lack of concern for your personal health.)

Think of it this way: when surgeons put on masks before entering an operating room, it's not because they're afraid of catching something from the patient - it's because they're afraid of of passing something to the patient. It's the same thing when you wear a mask; you may not be protecting yourself, but you're protecting everyone around you. Since most people do not show symptoms for over a week, you could infect an untold number of people before you even realize that you're the problem. So, out of courtesy for your fellow humans, you should wear a mask when you're around other people.

If you don't want to take my word for it, here's the CDC's latest verbiage from their website at https://bit.ly/3fAp0Jo:

"CDC continues to study the spread and effects of the novel coronavirus across the United States. We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms ('asymptomatic') and that even those who eventually develop symptoms ('pre-symptomatic') can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity - for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing - even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission."

And one more thing: people tend to post images they find that reinforce their personal opinions without checking for accuracy. But don't be so quick to believe an image that fits a narrative that you want to hear; you should treat everything with skepticism and always check for accuracy before posting. For example, one of the following images was posted to social media, and all it took was five minutes in Photoshop to completely alter the meaning and create the counterfeit image.

FAUX-MASK-WARNING

It's not perfect, of course, but the results would convince most people. If I bothered to spend another ten minutes editing, I could have made the alterations fool-proof. So don't believe something you see just because you want it to be true, because it's far too easy to create a false 'reality' these days.

The Racist Roots of Popular Product Names

There has been a great deal of public outcry in the wake of several companies' decisions to drop objectionable marketing identities from their advertising, most notably the characters of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Mrs. Butterworth, etc. (Note: I consistently use all three of those products; I hope that these companies' decisions do not alter anything but the product names.)

In any event, someone I know posted the following image to social media. As you might expect, several people responded to this image by claiming that the companies' decisions to rename their products and drop the marketing identities are an overreaction. And in the case of Aunt Jemima, their assertion was that it would erase the image of a successful African American woman.

Aunt-Jemima-Deception

There was a great deal of banter about erasing history in the name of social justice on the thread, which one person paraphrased as, "people are gonna see what they wanna see." What is ironic, however, is that most of the people failed to read the rest of the Wikipedia article about Nancy Green at https://bit.ly/2AGB6C6. Here's an excerpt to illustrate some of what they missed:

"Biography: Nancy Green was born into slavery on November 17, 1834, near Mount Sterling in Montgomery County, Kentucky.[4] She was hired in 1890 by the R.T. Davis Milling Company in St. Joseph, Missouri, to represent 'Aunt Jemima', an advertising character named after a song from a minstrel show.[3] Davis Milling had recently acquired the formula to a ready-mixed, self-rising pancake flour from St. Joseph Gazette editor Chris L. Rutt and Charles Underwood and were looking to employ an African-American woman as a Mammy archetype to promote their new product.[6]"

Now look up the "Mammy Archetype" at https://bit.ly/2zHHI2n:

"A mammy, also spelled mammie, is a U.S. stereotype, especially in the South, for a black woman who worked in a white family and nursed the family's children. The mammy figure is rooted in the history of slavery in the United States. Enslaved black females were tasked with domestic and childcare work in white American enslaver households. "

So here's the real story: while the actress herself, Nancy Green, may have found a modicum of success, she did so by portraying a racist caricature of herself. However, the text that is appended above the Wikipedia excerpt isn't true; Green was only hired as a spokesperson, and she was not a millionaire. The actual pancake product was created by Chris L. Rutt and Charles G. Underwood, not Green. When Rutt and Underwood couldn't make their product a success, they sold their recipe to the Davis Milling Company, who renamed their company after a racist stereotype from vaudeville shows of their day (see https://bit.ly/2YdmRO7).

Aunt-Jemima-Origins

So in deference to the original image that was posted, the Aunt Jemima character has extremely racist roots in history. With that in mind, it's not a question of people only seeing what they wish to see, it's a question of people choosing what they wish to ignore.

Coloring Historical Photographs - June 11th Edition

Following up on the B-17 image that I posted yesterday, here's a quick animation that illustrates how I added successive layers of color to create the finished image.

FYI - a few layers were combined to make the animation a little shorter, and the images in the video are not necessarily in the order that I colored them. I created a series of images based on the layers that I had created, but I did so after I had finished the image.

Freedom, Fanaticism, and Flags

Today I'd like to tackle what seems to be an uncomfortable topic these days: freedom of speech. The impetus for my discussion is that one of my family members recently posted a link to the following petition:

Remove the Confederate Flag From All Government Places

For me, the Confederate flag represents a failed attempt by a group of rebellious traitors to secede from the Union in order to keep their slaves, and I largely feel that way about statues of Confederate Generals like Robert E Lee. The Confederate Generals were traitors, and they do not deserve our adoration. There's a reason why we don't keep statues of Benedict Arnold around; despite his heroism and triumphs as a General for the Continental Army, Arnold sold out his country and fled to England, and his name has become synonymous with traitorship.

I say all of this in order to reinforce the point that if the Confederate flag went away tomorrow, I wouldn't miss it any more than I miss the Swastika. But here's some food for thought: the predominant argument that I see against the Confederate flag is that racist idiots use that flag as a symbol; but think about it - these same idiots also use the United States flag, and they also use the Christian cross. What should we ban, then? Should we also ban the flag of the United States? Should we also ban crosses? Where should we draw the line on what we allow in our society? When will enough be enough?

For some people, the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate, whereas for other people it represents their cultural origin. I personally think those people are misguided, but still - we do not complain about people who fly a Mexican flag to show pride in their heritage. Or a German flag. Or a Canadian flag. At my house we fly an Irish flag on St Patrick's Day in honor of my Irish roots. Let's make this more personal - should we deny someone the right to display an Iranian or Chinese flag just because our nation is upset with their nation of origin? Or should we respect their freedom of speech and allow them to display their pride in their heritage?

At the end of the day, the racist idiots of our society can use any emblem they choose as they spew their toxic filth, but that doesn't make the emblem itself a bad thing. If we're not banning Christian crosses, which have been used by the KKK and other stupid domestic terror organizations for over a century, then I think we can let the misguided people who think that the Confederate flag is a representation of their cultural heritage have their freedom of speech. That is what living in a free society is all about.

Once you start banning every symbol of cultural heritage that offends you, then you might as well start banning books next. And when banning books isn't effective enough, you might want to start burning books. And when burning books isn't effective enough, you might want to start locking up the people who write or say things that offend you. And when locking up the people who offend you isn't effective enough, then you're one short step away from becoming the very evil that you despise. Returning to my earlier thought, I have no love for the Confederate flag; to me, it is a symbol of cowardice, greed, immorality, and rebellion. But to ban the Confederate flag would deny others their Constitutional right to freedom of speech, and therein lies one of the fundamental dilemmas of living in a free society. Sometimes the problem with an idealistic goal like banning a flag is that it fails to take the full picture of its ramifications into account.

Let me close with an apropos thought from Adlai Stevenson: "My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular. Where it's safe to say what’s on your mind, especially when everyone disagrees. Where it's safe to believe what you believe, especially when everyone else’s beliefs stand elsewhere. Where it’s safe to swim against the current and be perfectly safe from the other fish."

With that in mind, my personal objections to the Confederate flag are secondary to others' right to freedom of speech, and that's exactly how it should be. Freedom of speech does not guarantee freedom from offense; to have freedom, you must accept its consequences.


UPDATE: I occasionally watch John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, and a few years ago he posted the following video, wherein he presented some of the same feelings that I have about Confederate symbols; namely that most of them belong in a museum. We should not attempt to erase all symbols of darkness from our sordid history, but we should place some of those symbols in the proper context, and I think that a museum is the best way to do that.

Coloring Historical Photographs - June 10th Edition

I found another interesting photo in an aviation forum that looked like a good candidate for colorizing, in this case it was the crew of the "Hell's Angel's" B-17 adding the numbers for their latest bombing mission. (Which looks to be just shy of 40 missions.)

B17-Hells-Angels-Before-and-After

You can read more about this B-17 at: https://bit.ly/3hvp4Mg.

By the way, for those who've never seen it before, Jimmy Stewart helped create an Air Force Training/Recruitment film in 1942, wherein he describes the duties and responsibilities of a B-17 crew. (Although if you know your B-17 history, you can tell that the video is of a very early version of the aircraft, and not the version that saw most of the combat during the war. Can anyone else point out the most-important differences?)

PS - Despite having created this film, during the war Jimmy Stewart flew B-24s.

Winking smile

The Awesome Spectacle of Cygnus X-1

Back in my high school days when I was playing in rock bands, we would try to play Rush's Cygnus X-1, because it was nearly impossible to pull off. And it is probably for that reason that Rush didn't play it that often, either.

However, Rush pulled out all the stops on their final R40 tour, and they added this epic piece to their set list. But when the DVD was released sometime later, you couldn't appreciate the full spectacle of just how awesome the lights and lasers were during this instrumental.

The other day I happened to discover someone's cell phone recording from the back of the theater during the R40 show, and I combined it with the DVD's stage footage to create the following picture-in-picture video. (The picture-in-picture overlay kicks in around the 20-second mark.)

For all of the Rush fans out there - enjoy. For all of the non-Rush fans, it's okay - Geddy doesn't sing on this one.

Winking smile

Coloring Historical Photographs - June 3rd Edition

I found another interesting photo in an aviation forum that looked like a good candidate for colorizing, and here's the "Before and After" views. I can't imagine how cold it was in these WWII airplanes, but the scarf, gloves, leather boots and fleece lining that the pilot is wearing would seem to suggest that it was pretty cold. It's because of sacrifices from guys like this that we still have England.

Sailor-Malan-Before-and-After

After a bit of research, it appears that was a photo of Adolph Gysbert Malan, and you can read more about him here: Sailor Malan: a Battle of Britain Pilot.

Those Who Do Not Learn from History…

There is an old adage which states, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it," and I think that history is replete with examples that have proven that statement again and again. It is from that same perspective that I would like to share the following thoughts from one of President John F. Kennedy speeches, which are just as true for today's world as they were true in his circumstance almost 50 years ago.

JFK"The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives.

We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives.

It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the facts that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all. Those who do nothing are inviting shame, as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right, as well as reality."

11 June 1963

You can read and listen to the full text of this speech on the JFK Library website by using the following link:

Radio and Television Report to the American People on Civil Rights, June 11, 1963

Yeah, well, that’s just like your opinion, man

I have mentioned in several previous blogs that I love conspiracy theories; and as I have said before, I do not believe any of them. But still - it is a never-ending source of amusement for me to see what others are gullible enough to believe.

However, I should explain how I typically respond to conspiracy-related information that I know is bogus when it is posted to public forums:

  • If I see that someone has posted something inaccurate that is based on their mistaken beliefs and is clearly harmless to anyone, I usually have a quick laugh and move on.
  • If I see that someone has posted something inaccurate that is an urban legend or a hoax, I often point them to a fact-checking website like www.factcheck.org in order to stop the spread of false information.
  • If I see that someone is posting information that is deliberately misleading and harmful to society, I will also point them to a fact-checking website like www.factcheck.org, but I will also ask them to stop posting information that will harm others.

I freely admit that I am not the "Internet Police." It is not my job to point out every instance where someone has posted bogus information. And - to be honest - that job would take far too much time. However, people's reactions to correction vary widely; some people are thankful to discover that they were posting something that wasn't true, while others are deeply offended that anyone would question their judgment. This latter group of people has recently become very, very dangerous. The world is struggling with the mounting death toll of a global pandemic, and the last thing that we need is people posting bogus information about it.

I have made it abundantly clear in previous blogs how I feel about anti-vaxxers. Several of the anti-vaxxers that I know are well-meaning people, even though they mistakenly believe something that is fundamentally wrong. What many of these anti-vaxxers believe has been refuted time and again, but they ignore all of the evidence to the contrary, and they cling to their inaccuracies with a passion that resembles radical religious zealotry. I continuously see incorrect information strewn about by these anti-vaxxers, which stirs up a great deal of unnecessary fear of science. As a direct result of that fear, other people have been avoiding medical treatment that will save lives. (Even though people in developing nations are crying out to receive that same medical treatment.)

As I have pointed out in the past, our nation - the United States - has been blessed with amazing health care. Decades of successful vaccination programs have eradicated some diseases, and rendered others nearly moot - at least within our shores. This has resulted in domestic complacency with regard to immunology, while countries around the world are still grappling with infectious diseases and clamoring for treatments that we take for granted.

All of this discussion leads me to a conversation that I had earlier today with an anti-vaxxer who was claiming that the USA's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was a corrupt company that was only in the business of selling vaccinations for profit. If you'll refer to my second point above, you'll see how I initially reacted. I pointed out the errors that the ill-informed anti-vaxxer was posting, (for example the fact that the CDC is actually a government agency that is funded by tax dollars), and I referred this anti-vaxxer to the www.factcheck.org website to correct the other misleading information that was posted.

As you might imagine, this did not sit well with the anti-vaxxer. As I mentioned earlier, this person was deeply offended that anyone would question their judgment. And in reply to the facts that were presented to refute the inaccuracies that this anti-vaxxer had posted, I was told something to the effect that I was entitled to my own opinion.

yeah-well-thats-just-like-your-opinion-man

The problem with that argument is that people are entitled to their 'opinions' when they are discussing something trivial, like whether the Pittsburgh Steelers are more important in the history of football than the Patriots. (Hint: they are.) But when it comes to actual science, opinions do not matter - facts matter. And facts do not care about your opinions.

When this anti-vaxxer continued to push the issue and post messages that were ultimately going to lead people astray, I shifted from the second point in my list of responses to conspiracy theorists to the third point. At our current stage in world history, the fear of life-saving immunology that anti-vaxxers continue to promote is intolerable; it is anti-science, anti-reason, and anti-facts.

As far as the CDC is concerned, a basic study of its duties and responsibilities show that its collection of scientists are fully-employed in trying to investigate and find treatments for thousands of diseases; such as HIV/AIDS, Cancer, Tuberculosis, Alzheimer's, Hepatitis, Diabetes, etc. They are also responsible for researching and preventing a host of occupational and public health issues. Their workforce of more than 15,000 employees has over 50% with advanced degrees; many of them doctors who are specialists in their respective fields of virology, pathology, microbiology, immunology, epidemiology, etc. These specialists will often have at least a decade of formal education in their fields, then another 10 to 30 years of experience within their chosen specialty.

With all of that in mind, it takes a special kind of hubris for an anti-vaxxer to assume that they know more than these thousands of well-educated and brilliant minds because he or she read a blog that agreed with their pre-existing opinion, even though their pre-existing opinion is baseless and easily-refutable nonsense.

The following video sums this up nicely.

In the end, of course, nothing that I said could convince this anti-vaxxer that he or she was wrong. This person continued to cling to the mistaken opinion that vaccines are the evil by-products of a world-wide plot involving the CDC, the WHO, and a host of other organizations and individuals. I realized that there was nothing that I could do, so I left this anti-vaxxer to his or her delusions, although I wished that neither this pandemic nor the next would claim the life of someone in his or her family.

But, you know, that's just like my opinion, man.


UPDATE: I had originally meant to add the following video from PBS to this post. It's from a few years ago, yet it explains some of what is happening in today's world quite well.