Sunday, October 17, 2021

Education in Texas

 One of the people I follow on Facebook is Heather Cox Richardson, a political historian who writes interesting posts about current events.  She wrote one yesterday (10-16-21) on a new Texas law which requires teachers to "present opposing views on controversial subjects." Like racism. And the Holocaust. That's right, Texas teachers may be expected to present "both sides" of the Holocaust. I didn't think the Holocaust had another side, unless you are a Nazi who believes in Aryan superiority - aka white superiority.

Worse, Texas has passed a bill on Critical Race Theory (S.B. 3), which will go into effect in December, laying out exactly what should be taught about what we used to call civics: "the fundamental moral, political, and intellectual foundations of the American experiment in self-government; the history, qualities, traditions, and features of civic engagement in the United States; the structure, function, and processes of government institutions at the federal, state, and local levels.” This new law essentially limits the study of these things to certain specific documents and people.

I don't want to quote her entire essay, it's quite long, but if you are on Facebook, look it up. We should all read it.

What blew me away were the items and people who may not be taught: the writings of George Washington! Anything about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings! The history of Native Americans and of "founding mothers and other founding persons!" Frederick Douglass! I could go on. It essentially restricts the history of the U.S. and its government to the brilliant deeds of a few white men, leaving out anything that might make white men look bad. Like systemic racism, and genocide of Native Americans, and the fact that until the 20th century, married women were essentially their husbands' property.

I stewed about this all morning - really. History is important to me. If we don't know how we got here, how do we know where we're going? And facts are important to me - if you don't know all the facts, you make wrong decisions. But as I stewed, something occurred to me.

These legislators have forgotten the Internet. (Based on observation of various elected bodies, many of the people elected barely know how to send email.) Many of the kids whose education they want to warp have access to the Internet, and know how to use Google, especially after the last year and a half of virtual learning. If you know how to ask the questions, the Internet will tell you anything you want to know, whether the State of Texas likes it or not. I encourage myself that at least some Texas kids may start wondering about what was left out, and asking the questions.

Sunday, September 19, 2021


 I had the impression that the anti-vax movement started with Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor, because of the flap around 1998 when he published a paper in the Lancet which suggested that the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine (MMR) had not been properly tested and could cause autism.  Usually publication in the Lancet means good research, but it turned out that he'd been paid to find out if there was evidence to support a legal case filed by parents who believed the vaccine had harmed their children.  He invented the evidence  to support his conclusion and his results couldn't be reproduced. By 2010 the British General Medical Council had ruled against Wakefield on several issues and the Lancet withdrew the paper.  Wakefield is no longer allowed to practice medicine in Great Britain.  This is just a summary, if you're interested in the Wakefield incident, read the linked article on him.

I got a lot of this from the History of Anti-Vaccination Movements, a 2018 article on the site History of Vaccines. I recommend the article to the interested.  It reminded me that people have been objecting to vaccines since before vaccines existed as such (the concept was developed by Edward Jenner in 1798).  The reasons aren't very different from what we're seeing now:  people don't trust doctors, or the government.  People don't like being told they have to do something.  People are afraid vaccines will harm them.

A lot of people on social media have been referring to the general acceptance of the polio vaccines in the 1950s, in the United States, as the standard for public acceptance of vaccines against a horrible disease, and comparing it to current rejection of the COVID-19 vaccines.  It was the exception.  There were public objections to the smallpox vaccine, to the Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (DTP) Vaccine, and of course to the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) Vaccine.  The only reason there were no objections to a vaccine for the 1918 influenza is because a vaccine was never developed. There were objections in 1918 to wearing masks.

Apparently people in the 1950s were simply more afraid of polio than they were of the vaccine, a reaction we haven't seen in the people refusing the COVID-19 vaccines.  At least until they're in the ICU.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Remembering 9/11

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack.  I didn't start blogging until several years later, so I don't have a contemporary record, but I remember it.  Boy, do I remember it.  Living in California, I was getting dressed to go to work when I found out about it - I was working at the Bank of America's Concord data center, in the email support team.  

I usually listen to the news on NPR while I'm doing things like that, and I kept hearing some very strange things.  I remember going downstairs to get some breakfast and calling out to my husband, "What the hell is going on?"  Back in 2001 we had a television that we occasionally turned on, and he had it turned on, and I got a look.

The attack happened at 08:45 EDT, which was 05:45 PDT, so by the time I got up and got moving it had been going on for some time.  (I'm not a morning person.)  By 07:00 PDT or so, which is my guess on the time I came downstairs, the attack had been going on for an hour and a quarter.  Both towers and the Pentagon had been hit, the south tower had collapsed, and hijacked Flight 93 was within 10 minutes of crashing in the field near Shanksville, PA.  

The flight 93 hijacking seems to have begun around 09:31 EDT.  At 09:57 EDT, the passengers took a vote and decided to attack the hijackers, so during that period of a little over 10 minutes from 09:57 to 10:10 EDT when the hijackers crashed the plane, there was an active fight going on for control.  This is about when I came downstairs to have breakfast.

Well, I still had to go to work, so I ate breakfast.  And since this was during the period after my right knee went bad and before I got it replaced, I drove to Concord for work.  Everyone in my department was trying to follow what was going on back East.  I remember someone taking one of the TVs they used for video training and faking up an antenna with a wire coat hanger.  They trundled it, on its wheeled trolley, over to one of the windows where it would pick up a signal, and managed to get a news broadcast covering the attack.  In fact I think they hooked up antennas to two TV monitors.  After that, everybody wandered past there regularly to see what was going on.  I remember thinking, at one point that afternoon, I have projects to work on, and nothing I can do here will affect that.  So I went into my cube, away from the TV, and tried to get some work done.  I don't recall what I was working on or whether I succeeded in getting anything done.  

I don't have any other particular memories of the day, although I'm sure I had the news on the car radio as I drove home, because I always do.

This is hardly great history, but it's what I remember of an event that changed our world, so I thought I'd share it.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Cops and Guns

There has been a lot of public discussion lately of why police are armed, and why armed police are called to situations which could be - and maybe should be - solved with something other than armed force.  This is especially the case when unarmed people of color end up being shot.  On one NPR discussion the other day, I heard a commentator ask why cops need guns anyway; and I didn't hear anyone respond with the reason that came to my mind.

Full disclosure here:  I am a community policing volunteer, and have been for over a decade.  I'm on the steering committee of a local council that is supposed to be a conduit between Neighborhood Watch groups in our area and the police.  I've worked with a number of cops, who were about as varied as most groups of humans.  As for their attitudes toward people of color, I couldn't tell you.  The neighborhood I live in is about as white and upper income as Oakland, California gets.  But I never heard of any of the cops we worked with shooting anyone; and believe me, in this area when a cop shoots someone, it makes the news.

But why do cops need to be armed?  British cops aren't, among quite a list of others.  I say American cops need to be armed because Americans, as a group, are armed.  In a 2017 survey cited in Wikipedia, there were 120.5 firearms for every 100 citizens in the U.S., the vast majority of them not registered.  And Money magazine says that, during 2020, nearly 40 million guns were bought legally (note the caveat!), and another 4.1 million just in January 2021.  There are literally more guns than people in this country.

This has nothing to do with how cops are trained to handle situations, or their general attitude toward people of color, which is a whole different issue.  But an unarmed policeman in America would be an absolute sitting duck.  He assumes the people he's looking at are  armed because, in fact, they may be.

Our problem in the U.S. today is not cops with guns.  Our problem is too many guns, generally.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021


 We will all remember January 6, 2021.  That was the day a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building, pushing past the Capitol Police, breaking windows to get into the building.  If you were living under a rock and missed this, you can find details in any major newspaper or online; I followed it on CNN and in the New York Times.  You might prefer the Washington Post, which provides the coverage free.

Donald Trump sat in the West Wing and watch the television coverage as his supporters mobbed and ransacked the Capitol Building, forcing the evacuation of Congress.  I watched the coverage and was amazed that I saw so few firearms among the mob, although one woman was shot and killed.  I gather from CNN that as the situation got worse, his staff begged him to go on television and try to calm the mob, and he refused.

These people think they are patriots; I think they are a mob.  I know Donald Trump is no patriot; his only interest is his own interest, the state of the country means nothing to him, as we can tell by the way he ignores the pandemic death toll.  Unfortunately, Donald Trump is one of the greatest con men since P. T. Barnum, and he has somehow managed to convince these people that everything he says is gospel, and if he says the election was rigged, it must be so.  So the "patriots" mobbed the Capitol building and accomplished - absolutely nothing.

I suspect today's rally was intended to whip up the crowd to where they would do something, anything, to stop the certification of the electoral college vote, in hopes of delaying Biden's inauguration.  It failed.  Congressional leaders have already said they will continue the process tonight.  

It is not patriotism to refuse to accept the outcome of an honest election, just because a liar says it wasn't.  It is not patriotism, when an election has taken place and been certified by every state, to try to overturn the results because you don't like them.  I've voted in a number of elections where I didn't like the results.  I don't care what their t-shirts say, nobody who took part in that mob was a patriot, and I hope any who did actual damage (like, breaking windows) will be arrested and charged.

I have two worries about this.  First, Trump is in office for 2 more weeks, what in God's name will he try now?  Second, all these people will still be around after Joe Biden is inaugurated.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

The 1918 Flu and Shakespeare

If that sounds odd, it was in fact the subject of On the Media's Thanksgiving podcast, which I listen to today while on my exercise bike.  The name of the podcast was No Ado about Much, but  you can listen to the segments individually at the links below; the whole thing is about 50 minutes long.

The first half of the podcast,  Why the Press Downplayed the 1918 Flu, covered an interview with John Barry, author of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, and explained in detail that leaders on both sides in World War I refused to admit the existence of the flu after it hit the battlefields, for fear of admitting weakness.  (Does this sound familiar??)  Worse, in the U.S., wartime censorship and an attempt to "boost morale" essentially forbid any mention of the ongoing public health emergency in the press.  The Sedition Act of 1918 made it a criminal offense to publish (or say!) anything that offended the government, cast it in a bad light, or interfered with the sale of government bonds!  I was amused that the only U.S. newspaper mentioned as writing about the 1918 'flu was in San Francisco, which published a front page headline "Wear a mask - save a life"!  San Francisco was very far away; a Pennsylvania paper was coerced into not mentioning the flu!

The net result of this - unless you have (or had) a relative who lived through the 1918 pandemic, you may never have heard of it, until you grew up and began to read the history they didn't teach you in school!  That's how I learned about it.  My parents were born in 1907 and 1912, so they were children when it happened; but they never mentioned it.  The  U.S. lost an estimated 675,000 people to the 1918 flu, out of a population of about 103.2 million.

It wasn't just the U.S. that forbade discussion of the 1918 pandemic.  One of my favorite detective authors is the great Dorothy Sayers, whose first novel, Whose Body?, came out in 1923.  Lord Peter Wimsey, her detective hero, was an officer in World War I.  He came home with a case of "shell shock" - we call it PTSD today.  In Whose Body? and a couple of other early novels, Lord Peter had shell shock attacks that essentially incapacitated him for a short time.  But I never heard any mention of the 1918 flu in her novels.  She must have lived through it; she was born in 1893.  But the English didn't mention it, and so she didn't.

So what about Shakespeare?  The second half of the podcast was How Shakespeare Became an American Hero, was an extended interview with James Shapiro, author of Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and FutureAs Mr. Shapiro points out, the plays touch some very sensitive subjects for Americans:  Othello, in particular - a white woman married to a black man!  Listen to hear the story of the world's worst dinner party, where John Quincy Adams sat next to Fanny Kemble, the great British actress, and mansplained to her why Othello was so disgusting!  Romeo and Juliet became an issue because there are places where Romeo expresses emotion.  The 19th century American insistence that a man should never show emotion actually meant that American actors had trouble playing Romeo - in at least one case, Romeo was played by a lesbian!  And The Merchant of Venice - how awful to see a Jew insisting on his pound of flesh from a Christian!  And let's not even get into the issue of who is allowed to play Hamlet!

Seriously, the discussion goes into why we Americans never did, and don't now, talk much about some subjects - I think we're slowly beginning to, but it doesn't hurt us now and then to be reminded of where we've been and why it wasn't a great idea.

Saturday, November 14, 2020


 The pandemic is on everyone's mind these days, as it should be.  So far there are 54,318,841 cases world wide, and 1,318,044 deaths to date.  (Worldometer).  In the U.S. we have 11,226,038 cases and, so far 251,256 deaths.  (Worldometer - U.S.)    This is terrible.  And the restrictions placed on us to try to control it are irksome, and it's spiraling out of control because we're getting tired of them.

But in a historical context, how bad is it really?  A little over a million dead worldwide, out of a population of 7.8 billion.  That's one in 6,000 people, world wide, roughly .017% of world population.  In the U.S., with a population of 331,740,396, it's one in about 1,320 people, or .76% - worse than the worldwide stats, but then we are the number one hotspot these days.  Population statistics from the World Population  Review for the U.S..

A recent Candorville cartoon claimed that the 1918 flu killed 1 person in 75.  This is a little simplistic, because estimates of the total number of deaths range from 17.4 million (.95% of world population) to 50 million (2.7%) to 100 million (5.4%).  World population at the time was estimated at 1.8 billion.  (Numbers from the Our World in Data article on the Spanish flu.)

Compare that to our estimate for the coronavirus of .017% of world population and .76% of U.S. population.

For an even more horrific example, consider the Black Death (bubonic plague) which devastated Europe in the mid-14th century.  Wikipedia says it "is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe's population." That's between 1 in 3 and 1 in 6 people.  It took until 1500 to reach the population Europe had in 1300.  And at that period, medical knowledge was rudimentary and hospitals were run by religious orders. We now know it was caused by a virus carried by rats and fleas; the actual cause of the bubonic plague wasn't identified until the mid-19th century. So people died from a nameless disease and didn't know where it came from.

I'm not saying we have it easy right now.  I'm just suggesting it could be worse.  We're also flooded with news about our pandemic, every day, all day, on general media sources and social media.  We've also come to believe that modern medicine can cure everything, because up till now it's done a pretty good job overall.  So we have trouble believing it can't cure this.  It may yet, there are promising vaccines on the way.  Until they get here, mask up and remember - it could be worse.