History Monday #82

Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye

Normally when an organism goes the way of the dodo it’s a sad day in history. However, today’s #HistoryMonday features an organism that nobody will miss thanks to its dangerous effects on humans for centuries until it met its own mortality.

Scientists reading news of the eradication of the smallpox virus

On this day in 1979, a commission of scientists issued a statement of their findings that smallpox had been eradicated. The disease’s last naturally occurring case was diagnosed just two years earlier, which prompted the scientists’ announcement.

Smallpox or some form of the disease existed for much of human history extending from BCE to the Common Era. The virus is caused by one of two variants, Variola major or Variola minior. The virus was responsible for nearly a 30 percent risk of fatality for those infected. Smallpox is the only infectious disease afflicting humans that has officially been eradicated.

Prevention of the disease began late in the 16th Century in China which utilized inoculation. This technique would eventually spread to the West during the 18th Century and is credited for the Continental Army’s survival during the harsh winter at Valley Forge during the American Revolution. Inoculation involves usage of a weak strain of the virus being introduced to patients to trigger the immune system to create antibodies and establish immunity to the disease.

Eventually, vaccines that used a similar disease that affected cattle but was safe for humans helped the eradication of the Smallpox virus. By using this vaccine along with many other vaccines in the middle of the 20th Century by government intervention, many dangerous diseases have been kept in check.

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The use of mass vaccination from the smallpox virus led to modern societies developing a near-natural immunity to the virus. Yet, tribes who have resisted outside contact would likely be susceptible to the virus as observed during the Colonial period in the Americas and Oceania.

Smallpox was at least a passive actor in helping Europeans to conquer Native American populations in the Americas as there is anecdotal and scientific evidence that the Native tribes had no prior history with the virus.

Historical accounts differ, but intentional use of smallpox scabs and infected materials being used by Europeans against native peoples has given the idea of using remaining strains of the disease as modes of biological warfare. After the last few cases of smallpox were discovered, the World Health Organization (WHO) ordered the remaining supplies of the virus be stored at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR) of Russia. The WHO has attempted to install safeguards to keep the virus from being used for military purposes. Although some anti-biological warfare advocates suggest that all remaining strains be destroyed so nobody can use it for evil.

Other scientists working in epidemiology have demonstrated that similar viruses can be modified to affect humans like the smallpox virus but did so as part of an effort to research the history of the virus and create new vaccines.

Anti-vaccination efforts by concerned parents are also a concern if the disease’s is reactivated as well. If nefarious agents find ways to use the virus or a similar specimen as a biological weapon unvaccinated children and adults would be susceptible. This is why the supervision and restrictions from the WHO or CDC are important in keeping the virus in check.

Should the WHO destroy all the remaining smallpox strains?

Current Event Friday #85

It’s a vicious bi-cycle!

Here’s hoping you’ve got either got a good start on your Christmas shopping or finished with it. One product that won’t necessarily be recommended based on its commercial is today’s #CurrentEventFriday.

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A young wife trying her Peloton bike the first time after receiving it as a Christmas gift

If you missed it, Peloton rolled out an ad touting a couple’s yearlong use of their stationary exercise bike. The ad begins with last year’s Christmas and an objectively attractive young wife being gifted a Peloton bike from her husband. She documents her usage of the bike and presents her video diary of her exercise to her husband in appreciation as her Christmas gift to him this year.

The ad drew sharp criticism for promoting sexist and misogynistic themes. One critic alleged that the husband’s gifting of the bike amounted to torture since the wife’s facial expressions were clearly evocative of facial expressions torture victims display during their agony. Also, the ad panned out to show the husband had a handgun fixed on the wife demanding she ride the bike an exercise. Oh wait, that was just an imagined scene from that critic.  For all the criticism that Peloton faced, it experienced a backlash in the stock market and cost the company and its shareholders just over $1.6 Billion.

Getting your wife a gift that encourages exercise or housework isn’t exactly recommended for the modern household, but it can be appropriate in some circumstances. If your wife suggests she needs a Peloton bike so she can stay fit and the accompanying program will help her, get the bike. Similarly, if your wife has complained the vacuum quit working or she needs a new skillet, that’s fine for a Christmas present.

The outrage at the sexist gifts is somewhat bewildering since it patronizes the women featured in them. Christmas commercials featuring husbands who buy their wives cars are far more shocking and burdensome than an exercise bike. I can’t see how a husband is going to secretly spend $30,000 without telling his wife or her noticing. Even if she didn’t know I can’t imagine she’s going to be thrilled that he spent that much without cluing her in.

You could always get clothes or jewelry, but I’d safely guess that as most Americans enjoy the benefits of a nation with plenty those aren’t really worth buying. The fact we have Goodwill, Salvation Army, Plato’s Closet and other second-hand clothing stores is evidence most of our clothes and jewelry are too much anyways.

Anymore, I’ll ask for books at Christmas and probably one Lego model, because I’m a guy that still likes Legos. Buying books for my parents is my usual go-to present and I can see that books, music, or other artistic projects would be worthwhile.

Of course, homemade presents whether food, crafts, or whatever are probably worth more since they are unique and made out of love for the giftee. And even if you can’t think of anything to give, time spent with friends and family are more important. Speaking of which, most of the Peloton ad did seemingly show that the wife enjoyed being involved in the exercise program the entire year she documented as well as sharing time with her husband this Christmas thanks to him helping her stay motivated to be fit. Personally, I would like to see the critics of the commercial spend less time on social media that is overwrought melodrama divorced of actual human contact and spend their time with real people having real conversations about meaningful topics.

Should the husband have gifted the wife the Peloton bicycle?

Poetry Wednesday 80

Robert Frost is known for “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” while I will be known for “Listening to Love Songs on Lonely Evening” in today’s Poetry Wednesday.

“Listening to Love Songs on a Lonely Evening”

Silly love songs are made enough.

Yet they’re still making that dumb stuff.

Takes me to my limit—up here.

To get better, I will get tough.

 

My mind usually calmed by beer

Tonight, it’s still on, stuck in gear.

She turned me down and made me cry

For a long while, call it a year.

 

Other lovers are out and nigh.

To see them, wish that was me—sigh.

Look out below before I leap

Off for such a dangerous high.

 

True love is heart to heart, it’s deep;

But silly love songs are for sheep.

And that’s what I count before sleep.

Cause I know what counts before sleep.

 

© 2019 Ryan Stroud

History Monday #81

Make the Americas Independent from European Meddling Again

“Leave me alone!” An interjection bandied about when an individual is fearful for damage to their person or property can also be applied to a collective of people. Today’s #HistoryMonday deals with just such an instance.

Pres. James Monroe (1817-1825)

On this date in 1823, Pres. James Monroe during his State of the Union proclaims a new U.S. foreign policy initiative that would become known as the “Monroe Doctrine.” Although named for the President delivering the address, it was largely the work of his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. Essentially, the Monroe Doctrine called for an end to European interference in the American hemisphere while asserting U.S. neutrality in regard to future European conflicts.

Having experienced European conflicts reaching the North American continent, U.S. officials worried those same European powers might seek to re-establish their influence after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. News had reached the U.S. that France planned to restore the Spanish monarchy in exchange for Cuba. While France was hopeful to move forward, Prussia, Austria, and Russia formed the Holy Alliance which endeavored to re-establish Bourbon rule over Spain and its colonies, many of whom were establishing their independence.

Great Britain supported the Monroe Doctrine for many of the same reasons as the United States—a near monopoly on trade in the New World. Great Britain offered to draft a joint statement with the United States asserting that other European nations should remain on their side of the Atlantic Ocean, but recent memories of the War of 1812 led the United States rejecting the joint statement and writing the version asserting United States influence alone.

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The effects of the Monroe Doctrine would play out over the course of the next several years, and eventually on this same day in 1845, a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine was established by Pres. James K. Polk in a State of the Union, termed Manifest Destiny.

While the Monroe Doctrine insisted that European nations should refrain from interfering in affairs in the Americas, there was no promise or requirement that the United States would follow the same idea. Following in the path of his hero, Pres. Polk followed the lead of Pres. Andrew Jackson and attempted to expand the United States further West, including the Republic of Texas.

American Progress by John Gast shows the Westward expansion of America under Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny is known for its three important traits: 1) The special virtues of the American people and their institutions. 2) The mission of the United States to redeem and remake the west in the image of agrarian America. 3) An irresistible destiny to accomplish this essential duty.

Feeling that God or Providence had established America as a special nation, it was incumbent on its people to promote those values and virtues to all across the continent. Of course, with an admonishment to European powers, this is easily accomplished.

Eventually, the Monroe Doctrine would be set aside by Pres. Roosevelt and other scholars. Following the end of World War I and the establishment of the League of Nations in 1919 and the United Nations following World War II in 1945, a new idea of multilateralism replaced the Monroe Doctrine. This new concept promotes World nations working together for a common good. Eventually this concept gave rise to G8, the World Trade Organization (WTO), NATO, and other entities. Critics of this system argue these organizations which establish and enforce legislation promote globalism and ignore national sovereignty and customs. Much of Pres. Trump’s nationalism is a rebuttal of this policy, and he has argued that Russian and Iranian influence in Venezuela is in conflict with the Monroe Doctrine. Following that assertion, Pres. Trump’s foreign advisors have argued that the United States wouldn’t hesitate to resist interference in the South American nation and establish democratic reform there as well.

If some of the ideas of the Monroe Doctrine sound like the refrains of the Pauline family of Libertarian politicians you’d be right. Both Rand Paul and Ron Paul are concerned that the United States abandoned the doctrine with the Spanish American War and adopted an interventionist model that glorifies colonialism and the state. Ron Paul in particular has advocated a return to the origin story that we worry about what happens in the Americas and leave everyone else alone unless we are forced to defend ourselves and interests.

Should we return to the Monroe Doctrine and let other nations worry about the Eastern Hemisphere?

Current Event Friday #84

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but some aren’t sure what they’re beholding

“Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?” While this line evokes memories of a Saturday Night Live game show skit featuring Adam Sandler, it’s fitting for news of a new concept vehicle being released this week. The reactions to the vehicle are today’s #CurrentEventFriday.

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Tesla’s new Cybertruck

Known for their technological endeavors and futuristic pursuits, Tesla revealed their new concept of a pickup truck. Their other models including the Roadster are trendy vehicles that those with money are willing to purchase. Even the SpaceX program promoted by Tesla’s founder and spokesman Elon Musk are popular among techies. However, the Cybertruck drew negative attention for its odd shape and features.

While the coupe and sedan models are sleek and utilize flowing curves, the Cybertruck is angular and features sharp lines and resembles the efforts of young boy’s drawing of a truck. When antique cars began featuring flowing curves as a break from the angular and boxy look, they eventually became a standard for several decades of older models.

So, it’s possible the Cybertruck inspires other automakers to follow the look, the unbreakable windows might give some consumers pause. Musk invited an audience member to damage the vehicle to prove its toughness, while the body survived the windows were not as lucky. Although the windows didn’t completely break, they did resemble a dropped cell-phone screen.

For what it’s worth, Elon Musk claims that several thousand orders have already been placed for the Cybertruck. If that’s true, more power to them. Obviously, Tesla is a known brand and its devotees are going to be inclined to purchase whatever the company rolls out.

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Powell Motors’ Homer

Admittedly, when I saw the news about the Cybertruck it was hard not to be reminded of the Homer model created by Powell Motors on The Simpsons. Yet, its creator was cobbling together random qualities and features with no thought of how they should work together. Elon Musk and his staff have some intelligence when assembling the Cybertruck and considered what materials and features work together.

Would you buy a Cybertruck?

Poetry Wednesday 79

Everyone gets the “Jukebox Blues” a time or two

“Jukebox Blues”

Choices, choices, so many songs to choose from

Drop a roll of coins in the slot, pick my favorite album

You had my number every time, but played me like that jukebox

Slap a fiver on the bar, knock back some Jack on the rocks

 

Spending my days like quarters, nickels, and dimes

Rejoicing in the former days, for the good and the bad, all the past times

Happy to listen to country or that old-time rock ‘n’ roll

Music speaks deeply into my soul

 

Left my stupor at home and sat myself up on the bar stool

Don’t want to hear our song any more

If only I could remove C-34

That’s silly of course, an errand fit only for a fool

Finding the best choice, maybe it’s about loss, or maybe about love, it’ll be the right song

Enjoying the lyrics and tune, singing them over and over all night long

© Ryan Stroud 2019

History Monday #80

Una catástrofe en el Mar Caribe provoca una batalla de custodia internacional.

¡Patria o Muerte, Venceremos! For one family, the choice between the two options gained literal and historical significance. If you’re not a hispanohablante, the motto of Cuba translates in English as “Homeland or Death, We Will Overcome.” Today’s #HistoryMonday deals with consequences of choosing a homeland over death and who overcame.

Photo Brief History: Elian Gonzalez anniversary
Elián González

Twenty years ago, on this date in 1999 three Cuban refugees were rescued by fishermen off the coast of Florida. Fourteen Cubans had departed Cárdenas, Cuba in a boat four days earlier to escape the oppressive rule of the Communists in the Caribbean island. The boat’s engine failed shortly after departure and the fleeing party lingered in the water for several days being bombarded by the elements and a storm before eleven of them perished.

Among the trio rescued by the fisherman was a 5-year-old named Elián González. The young boy’s mother had taken the boy against his father’s wishes when they departed on Nov. 21. Sadly, the mother Elizabeth Brotons Rodríguez was among the passengers that perished in the journey.

González’s mother along the many others fleeing hoped to take advantage of The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. The act provided an incentive for Cuban refugees to petition for asylum provided they made landfall in the states. This policy termed Wet Foot/Dry Foot offered several thousand visas to Cubans fleeing their homeland and its Communist regime if they could hopefully set foot in the United States. Any refugees recovered in the waters were to be returned to Cuba.

The fisherman who recovered Elián González and the other two survivors turned them over to the U.S. Coast Guard which began a process that kept Americans and Cubans enthralled by the media reports of what was playing out. After the U.S. Coast Guard treated Elián, they turned him over to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) who released Elián to his great-uncle, Lázaro Gonzalez, a resident of Miami’s Cuban expat community, pending an asylum hearing.

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Although Elián had relatives in Miami, who were excited and willing to care for the boy, his father demanded his return. Given that Elián was unable to set foot on U.S. soil, he should have been returned to Cuba based on the U.S. policy of Wet Foot/Dry Foot.

The U.S. family members applied for asylum for Elián in hopes that he could eventually become a U.S. citizen. The claim for asylum was first heard by a U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida who ruled the father was the only person who could petition for asylum on the boy’s behalf, the U.S. relatives appealed to 11th Circuit Court of Appeals who awaited the Miami relatives to appeal the asylum claim in May of 2000.

An INS agent removes Elián González from family members in the U.S. to reunite the boy with his father

While the legal process and Elián’s time in the U.S. was watched with awe and curiosity, the means by which Elián was removed from the Miami house drew shock and criticism.  Nearly six months to the day from Elián’s retrieval, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ordered federal agents to recover Elián with force and eventually returned him with his father at Andrews Air Force Base a few hours later.

Eventually the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s ruling. The Miami relatives asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, but the Supreme Court declined to hear the case in June 2000. As the Miami relatives had exhausted the legal process by that point Elián and his father returned to Cuba.

Elián became a figurehead for both Cuban-American expats and the Cuban government. Cuban refugees and their descendants claimed Elián wanted to be in the United States and enjoy its freedoms while Fidel Castro and the Cuban authorities argued that Elián was abducted by the mother and being illegally held by his American relatives.

Elián has stated in more recent interviews that he saw Fidel Castro as a great man and like a father to him. He also added that his familia Americana had pressured him to believe that his father was a bad person and that he shouldn’t want to return to his homeland. Elián has since refuted most of the Miami family’s claims.

Following Andy Warhol’s claims, Elián González that everyone would have fifteen minutes of fame, the boy eventually returned to a normal life in Cuba and graduated from the University of Matanzas in July 2016, receiving a degree in industrial engineering and gave a speech recognizing Fidel Castro and the Cuban President’s revolutionary efforts.

The story inspired two films, the first a made-for-television entry in 2000 titled A Family in Crisis: The Elian Gonzales Story, starring Esai Morales as Elián’s father and Alec Roberts in the title role. More recently, Elián was released as a documentary in 2017, and features exclusive interviews with Elián González and his family in both Cuba and Miami while being narrated by Raul Esparza.

Elián’s story brought Cuban-U.S. relations to the fore after several decades of dormancy following the initial concerns in the sixties after Castro’s Communist Revolution of 1959. Of course, the same focus on the two countries was restarted in the last few years as Pres. Obama loosened restrictions against Cuba and ultimately with Fidel Castro’s resignation as President and eventual death.

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A chug-boat assembled by Cuban refugees attempting to escape to the United States 

From the 1959 Revolution and escapes from the island by political dissidents, Americans have admired the resourcefulness and desperation of the refugees. Media portraying the crafts assembled to aid in the escape are well-known. Even during my vacation in Key West, a mere ninety miles from Cuba the local botanical gardens feature an installation of recovered chug boats that visitors can see in person rather than just by photos. Some of these boats are amazing what was cobbled together by refugees like Elián and the dozen others escaping the island.

Should Elián González have been returned to Cuba?