We are all going to die

I debated posting this at all because it's a downer, and there's nothing particularly new here. But it is on my mind so here goes.

We are all going to die. The total morality rate is 1. The question is how we live, how and when we die. Times like these force us to think about how we live, how our choices affect not only our own lives but also the lives of others.

I'm a numbers guy. It may seem callous and cold to speak of life and death as if it's a calculus problem. And indeed, that is a risk. But the alternative, to be willfully ignorant of the numbers, seems to me criminal. If we are to make informed decisions, numbers matter.

So, here are some key numbers emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic.


I had a dream

Submitted by cvining on

I dreamt I was in a reception line at a formal event. At the head of the line was the President of the United States, shaking hands one by one.

He took my hand firmly as I stepped forward for my turn. I leaned slightly toward him and said "We have something in common, you and I."

"Really? What's that?"

I let his strong grip pull me closer, and spoke in a hushed tone so only he could hear: "Neither of us belongs here."


Martin Luther King Jr's constructive use time

Submitted by cvining on

Can't find it right now, but one of my friends posted an old video, an interview with Martin Luther King, Jr, one of America's greatest leaders of all time. That post reminded me of MLKs "Letter from Birmingham Jail."


You've heard of it, no doubt. But if you've never actually read it, do so now. It will stay with you and inform the rest of your life. As you read, remind yourself he's in jail at the time, writing in long hand. No cut and past to craft the words. No internet or even (gasp) books to look up references. Just his mind. And time. Time he used constructively.

One part that impressed me is his response to the plea to wait before taking further direct action:

"Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively."

Time itself is neither friend nor foe. It's what you do with it that makes all the difference.


Jack and Jill

Submitted by cvining on

Jack and Jill
Went up the Hill
To beg for something safer
Jack fell down
Blood all around
And Jill died crawling after

Up Jack got
He, badly shot,
Remembered in the paper
Empty stares
Thoughts and prayers
We mourn the dead tenth grader

They call B.S.
Children address
This homegrown bloody terror
Endured in school
Just so you'll
From tyrants slightly safer

Stop the guns
The deadly ones
That leave our children slaughtered
The tyranny
You fear is thee
Killing our sons and daughters

Stop killing our sons and daughters.
Stop. Killing. Our. Sons and Daughters.

(Placed in public domain. No rights reserved.) 


Green, Brown, or Tan

Submitted by cvining on

I am Sam.
Uncle Sam.
That Sam I Am.
That Uncle Sam.
I do not like that White House man.

Do you like green, brown, or tan?

I do not like them, Uncle Sam.
I do not like green, brown, or tan.

Would you like them here or there?

I would not like them here or there.
I would not like them anywhere.
I do not like green, brown or tan.
I just don't like them, Uncle Sam.

Would you like them were they housed?
Would you like them thrice deloused?

I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them thrice deloused.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green, brown, or tan.
I do not like them, Uncle Sam.

Would you loan them a small box?
Would you feed them bagels? Lox?

Not in a box.
Not even lox.
Not in a house.
Not thrice deloused.
I would not feed them here or there.
I would not feed them anywhere.
I would not help green, brown, or tan.
I would not help
Any man.


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If-- by Rudyard Kipling

Submitted by cvining on

Dear Friend,

This poem comes as close to religion for me as anything I know. It is written to a boy but applies equally to a woman. Perhaps you may find it some help, as I have, when facing life's sometimes difficult choices.



If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, 
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, 
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, 
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: 
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken 
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, 
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: 
If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings 
    And never breathe a word about your loss; 
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you 
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ 
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, 
    If all men count with you, but none too much; 
If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Casey At The Bat

Ernest Lawrence Thayer

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, “If only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We’d put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.”

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a hoodoo, while the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despisèd, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile lit Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ‘twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt;
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance flashed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
“That ain’t my style," said Casey. “Strike one!” the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore;
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew;
But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, “Strike two!”

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered “Fraud!”
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate,
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

This poem is in the public domain.

H.L. Mencken Interview from 1948

Submitted by cvining on

Dad was a great admirer of Mencken and I was recently inspired to look up this interview with the man, made on June 30, 1948 a few months before Mencken died:

I was a teenager the last time I heard that interview, which I'd stumbled upon at the local public library. On hearing it again just now I am quite taken by how much influence it apparently had on me. Attitudes about hard work, religion, skepticism and even vocabulary. I still occasionally use the word 'ombibulous', a word of Mencken's invention meaning to drink any known alcohol drink.


LIGO - A Tale of Great And Small

Submitted by cvining on

By now everyone has heard of the recent detection of gravitational waves produced by two black holes colliding a billion miles away. By the time those waves reached us here on Earth they moved us (you, me, everything, the entire planet) a tiny fraction of the diameter of a proton. A. Proton. Not a fraction of an atom. A tiny, tiny fraction of a proton.

For a mere fraction of a second, we were able to detect that motion. As miniscule an effect as it was, and over so brief a time, it was still enough to cause me to get off my butt and drive about five hours to look at the machine built for the specifc purpose of detecting gravity waves.

I propose to describe my visit and some of my impressions here.

I'll begin with: What is a gravity wave? Here's the way I think of it. First, everything that has matter or energy has gravity. Which means everything attracts everything else. And when something moves, it turns out that it gives off waves. It's a bit like waves in water. Throw a rock in the water: waves come off. A boat moves through the water: waves come off.

But we're speaking of gravity waves. So, the moon moves around the Earth: waves are given off. With a water wave, it's pretty easy to see the water move. What exactly is moving when the moon gives off gravity waves? Space itself is moving. Ripples traveling through space. And everything they pass through ripples too.

The moon, even though it's very close, gives off gravity waves much to small for us to detect. Turns out, only really, really big events will even have a chance for us to detect. That's where black holes come in. Turns out, they can generate gravity waves big enough for us to detect, even though they are so very far away.

OK, at this point I suggest you go visit this website where the physicist Brian Green explains gravity waves to Stephen Colbert:


‘The Senator Be Embezzling’

Submitted by cvining on

A fascinating tale of a state Senator's experience in prison after conviction for obstruction of justice related to violation of federal campaign laws. He's smart, educated and white, thrown into federal prison, full of men exactly unlike him. It's a kind of expose of prison life in the US and well worth the read.