Of Masks and Queues

Our governor here in Indiana has lifted the mask mandate. It is about time. We, Hoosiers, have been asked to wear a mask for about a year now and if there ever was any legitimate health reason to require citizens to wear masks in their daily lives, it has long since passed. The Chinese COVID-19 epidemic is receding. Vaccines are now available and probably the entire population has been exposed to the virus. There really is no reason to continue the mask mandates and lockdowns.

Yet, the order to lift the mandates has been surprisingly controversial. Those governors which have lifted their states’ mask mandates have been derided as science-denying Neanderthals even as COVID vaccines have become available and cases have been dropping. There is clearly no current justification for continued mask mandates and lockdowns if indeed there ever were. Why is there this insistence on compelling people to wear masks? I have a sort of a theory based on Chinese history. 

In 1644 the Manchus invaded and conquered China. Who are the Manchus, you might be asking? Well if you look at a map of China, the north-eastern part of China, north of Korea used to be called Manchuria.

These days it is called other names for various historical and political reasons, but never mind. The Manchus are the people who live in Manchuria.

The Manchus were a semi-nomadic steppe people much like the Mongolians. As is often the case when a less sophisticated people live alongside a more advanced nation, the Manchus came to admire the Chinese and began to adopt Chinese culture, settling down into cities and farms and importing Chinese artisans. Eventually the Manchu royal family, the Aisin-Gioro clan decided that they admired China so much that they should be the Emperors of China. They began to call themselves the Qing Dynasty and their king proclaimed himself Emperor

So, as I mentioned, in 1644, the Manchus invaded China. At the time China was beset with the usual political unrest, rebellions, and natural disasters which signified the transfer of the Mandate of Heaven from one dynasty, the Ming in this case, to the Qing so the Manchus were able to conquer China.

After they had consolidated their control, the Shunzhi Emperor decreed that every Chinese male must show his loyalty to the Manchus by wearing his hair in the Manchu fashion; his head shaved in the front and long in the back, gathered into a braid or queue. This decree was not popular, except among the toadies and collaborators among the Chinese. The Chinese viewed the Manchu as barbarians and had no desire to emulate them in any way. Moreover, Confucius had taught that as a person’s hair came from his parents, it was an act of disrespect to one’s ancestors to shave to cut one’s hair or beard.

After some initial resistance, the Chinese complied with this decree for the next two and a half centuries, as long as the Qing remained in power. For Westerners, the queue was the stereotypical Chinese hairstyle. Why was this? The Chinese outnumbered the Manchus by more than ten thousand to one. Why did Chinese men continue to wear their hair in a fashion they despised as a mark of their subjugation to a hated occupier? Well, for one thing, the Manchus were fierce steppe warriors, and the Chinese weren’t. Any man who refused to wear the queue was likely to be summarily beheaded as a traitor. A village where the men stopped complying could be destroyed.

Aside from that, China has never been a country that prizes individual liberty or great initiative from the masses. China has been a culture in which the common people were expected to obey their betters and let the Emperor and his Mandarin scholar-officials do the thinking for them. Obedience to their superiors had been pounded into the heads of the Chinese for two thousand years. And yet, the Chinese did resist. As the dynastic cycle progressed and the Qing began to decline, rebellions against the Manchus become increasingly common. The first thing the Chinese did when rebelling was to cut off their queues or let the hair in the front of their heads grow out. 

It seems to me that this insistence on continuing to mandate masks is less about controlling the COVID pandemic at this point and more about compelling a visible sign of submission to the regime, just like the Manchus required Chinese men to wear their hair in a queue. Why else should there be this insistence that everyone wear a mask, regardless of whether they have been infected? It seems to me that in a free country, the decision to wear a mask ought to be up to the individual. If you feel it is necessary to wear a mask to avoid contracting the coronavirus, by all means, wear one. If I believe that having had the coronavirus and been vaccinated believe that I am in no danger and therefore do not believe that wearing a mask is necessary, I shouldn’t be made to wear one. Why the name-calling and mask shaming? 

Maybe you think this is going a bit far. Well, consider this:

Wearing a mask is presented more as a gesture of loyalty to “President” Biden and his agenda than an actual health measure. 

The Chinese wore their hated queues under the threat of superior force and lived in a culture that emphasized conformity. We Americans allegedly have a culture that emphasizes freedom and individualism and no one is threatening to chop off our heads for not wearing a mask, at least not yet. So what is our excuse? Why are we being intimidated into continuing to wear masks even as the pandemic ebbs? Are we really that easily frightened? What happened to the people who wear willing to fight for their freedom?

If you want to wear a mask go ahead. If you don’t want to wear one, don’t. That is what people do in a free country. We don’t let our betters tell us whether to wear a mask. We decide for ourselves. Let’s take off the masks and be free. 

Easter

We left the story of Jesus of Nazareth last Friday. He had been executed in the most painful and degrading way possible. His closest followers were dispersed and in hiding. It must have seemed that Jesus and his movement had ended in utter failure. But then, something remarkable happened. This something is commemorated by the Easter holiday. Although Christmas is the more popular Christian holiday, Easter is actually the most important holiday in the liturgical year as the celebration of Christ’s resurrection is theologically more important than his Nativity. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Gospel of Mark has the most concise account of what happened that first Easter.

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene,out of whom he had driven seven demons.10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.17 And these sign swill accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues;18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16:1-20)

Mark 16:9-20 seems to be a later addition. At any rate, the earliest manuscripts do not have those verses. Whether the original ending has been lost or Mark intended to end his account so abruptly is unknown.

Matthew has more details.

1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

The Guards’ Report

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:1-20)

Luke and John have more to say of Jesus after His resurrection but I won’t quote them here.

The date of Easter has been a matter of some controversy in past centuries. The date of Easter is related to the date of Passover. The calculations on which the date of Easter is determined are based on a lunisolar cycle like the date of Passover but the cycle is not the Hebrew calendar. Generally, Easter falls about a week after Passover but it occurs about a month later in three years of the nineteen-year cycle. Various groups of Christians have had different methods of calculating Easter over the years and these differences have led to bitter disputes. There is still a different date for Easter among the Eastern churches since they use the Julian calendar for the liturgical year while Catholics and Protestants use the Gregorian calendar.

Among Catholics and some Protestants, Easter is generally celebrated by an Easter vigil beginning the previous evening. At dawn, a mass or service begins, etc.

And, of course, many people celebrate Easter by finding Easter eggs and eating candy delivered by the Easter Bunny.

 

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday, the day of Jesus’s crucifixion. It may seem strange to call it “Good” Friday since being crucified wouldn’t normally be considered as part of a good day but the word good is used in an obsolete sense meaning holy. Good Friday is generally celebrated with fasts and vigils. In the Roman Catholic church, no mass is held on this day.

Once again, I will be using the Gospel of Mark to tell the story.

Mark 15

1Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

13Crucify him!” they shouted.

14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:1-15)

It would seem that this meeting of the Sanhedrin at night and before Passover was highly irregular and some have questioned the historicity of the Gospel accounts on that basis. I think that if the elders and priests of the Sanhedrin believed Jesus to be on the point of declaring himself the Messiah and leading a rebellion, they might not have been too concerned with fine points of legality in the face of a national emergency. Little is known of Pontius Pilate but in the historical accounts of Josephus and others, he does not seem to be the sort of man who had any scruples about putting a trouble maker to death even if he wasn’t certain of the man’s guilt. It is possible that he was impressed by Jesus’s force of personality. On the other hand, Josephus makes it clear that Pilate was a tactless man who did not like the Jews much. He was eventually recalled because his actions seemed likely to cause rebellions. Perhaps Pilate resented having the High Priest and others, who he might have considered semi-barbarians, insist on his crucifying a man he believed to be innocent. He might have refused just to be obstinate.

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. [28][a]29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.(Mark 15:16-32)

Luke has one of the thieves taking Jesus’s side.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Crucifixion is probably the most painful method of execution ever devised. The victim is slowly asphyxiated as he hangs on the cross. It was not uncommon for a man to linger for days writhing in pain the whole time. In addition to the pain, crucifixion was meant to be a humiliating, shameful punishment. Only the lowest of the low were crucified, which might have been a stumbling block to early Christian proselytizing.

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[c] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph,[d] and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

Those words were the first verse of Psalm 22. Matthew’s account parallels Mark’s but Luke and John report different last words.

46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[e] When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:46)

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.(John 19:28-30)

John adds another detail.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”[c]37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37)

Strange as it may seem, the breaking of their legs was an act of mercy since they would die sooner. It was surprising that Jesus had died after only being about six hours on the cross.

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:42-47)

To anyone on the scene, this must have seemed the end of the matter. Jesus of Nazareth was dead and his followers scattered. It would seem that, at best, he would only be a minor footnote in history.

 

Holy Thursday

Today is Holy or Maundy Thursday, when many Christians celebrate the Last Supper.

The Lord’s Supper

12On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”

16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”

19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?”

20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.

24 “This is my blood of the[covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.”

26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

27“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’

28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

30 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”

31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. (Mark 14:12-31)

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of the climax of his earthly ministry.

Jesus Comes to Jerusalem as King

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matt 21:1-11)

 

Palm Sunday is often celebrated by palm leaves to worshippers in churches. If palm leaves are not available locally, then other tree branches may be substituted. In many churches, the priest or other clergy blesses the palms and they are saved to be burned at Ash Wednesday the following year.

The actual date of Palm Sunday, like Easter, varies from year to year because the date is based on a lunisolar cycle like the Hebrew calendar. The date differs between Western and Eastern Christianity because most Eastern churches still use the Julian calendar for their liturgical year, even though the Gregorian calendar is universally used for civil purposes.

Palm Sunday begins Holy Week or the last week of Lent.

 

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey
Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Nightfall

A couple of months ago, I discovered the science fiction/horror classic The Nightland by William Hope Hodgson. The Night is a poignant story of love and adventure set in a dying world millions of years in the future. In the Nightland the Sun has long ago gone out and the world is shrouded in an eternal night without even the Moon or stars to relieve the darkness of the night sky. The surface of the Earth is frozen and uninhabitable and life is only possible at the bottom of a canyon hundreds of miles deep where there is still some warmth from the Earth’s cooling core. There the last remnant of humanity survives in a gigantic pyramid-shaped Last Redoubt besieged by monsters and eldritch forces of evil. There is no chance for humanity to break the siege or defeat the evil forces arrayed against it. They can only wait until the Earth Current which powers the defenses of the Last Redoubt fail at last and the evil forces destroy them.

This story has made quite an impression on me and lately, I find myself thinking about endings. Maybe it is because I am getting older and can see the end coming, Maybe current events seem to be pointing towards the decline and fall of the American Empire as we watch. Whatever the reason, I have been thinking about the end of all things.

The Nightland was written in 1912 and so the science in the book is more than a little dated. We now know that the Sun is powered by nuclear fusion, not by gravitational collapse, and is going to continue burning for billions rather than millions of years. We also know that the Sun will grow hotter and brighter as it exhausts its hydrogen, that it will become a red giant and will swallow Mercury, Venus, and probably Earth before settling down to become a white dwarf slowly cooling down to become a black dwarf. The Earth, assuming it survives, will have long since become uninhabitable, and the human race, unless we have colonized other star systems, will be extinct.

But what about the universe as a whole? Assuming we have learned to travel the vast distances between the stars and made new homes on other planets, how long can we expect to survive. How long will the universe last? Will the world in fire or ice, as the poet said?

Well, the universe certainly began in fire, according to current scientific theory. To be less poetic, the universe began in a state of extreme temperature and density being very much smaller than it is at present, perhaps even beginning as a singularity of infinite density and infinitesimal size. From this point, the big bang, the universe began to expand very rapidly in the process, creating the matter that currently makes up the universe.

Since the big bang, the universe has continued to expand, becoming ever larger and cooler. The question of whether the universe will end in fire or ice depends on whether that expansion will continue forever or whether at some point it will stop and the universe will begin contracting back to a hotter, denser state, perhaps all the way back into a singularity. Maybe the history of the universe is a never-ending cycle of expansion and contraction. Maybe the universe will end in fire to rise again from its own ashes like the phoenix

That doesn’t seem to be the case, though. The does not seem to be enough matter in the universe to slow its expansion and in fact, the rate of expansion seems to be accelerating due to a mysterious force scientists call. dark energy. If current theories are true, the universe will end in ice. We are living in a universe that will grow ever larger, colder, darker, and emptier without any definite end. The stars will die out as they exhaust their nuclear fuel and after some time there will not be not hydrogen gas in space to create new stars. The galaxies will be filled with the corpses of stars, bodies of degenerate matter such as white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes.

Over the limitless eons, the black holes will attract most of the matter in the universe to themselves with their immense gravitational pull, and eventually, the universe will consist almost entirely of black holes.

This is not quite the end, though. Black Holes do not last forever. According to Stephen Hawking, black holes are not entirely black. For complicated reasons having to do with quantum mechanics, black holes actually emit a small amount of thermal or black body radiation. As they emit this radiation, black holes slowly lose mass, until eventually a black hole is unable to hold itself together with its gravity and it explodes. Paradoxically, larger black holes emit less such radiation than smaller ones. At present, a black hole will take in far more matter and radiation than it could possibly lose through Hawking radiation, but as the universe grows cooler and emptier, black holes will begin to lose mass. This will only happen in the far, distant future and the process of black hole evaporation will take an inconceivably long time, but we are talking about such immense stretches of time that all the thirteen billion years from the big bang to the present is just an eyeblink.

The last events that anyone will observe, if any observers exist, will be the very occasional, perhaps once every billion years, death of a black hole. After the last black hole is gone then night will fall and the universe will be shrouded in darkness, eternal and inescapable. Even matter itself, as we know it will no longer exist if protons decay, as some theories suggest.

Or, maybe not. All of this assumes that our current understanding of the laws of nature over the long eons is correct. It may not be. In fact, it is more than a little presumptuous to imagine that we can know what is really going to happen in the distant future. The universe is full of surprises. In particular, not very much is known about the mysterious dark energy that is accelerating the expansion of the universe. The term dark energy seems to me to be a sort of place holder, a short way of saying we don’t know what it is, or anything about it. For all anyone knows, dark energy could reverse itself and cause the universe to contract. Even if our ideas about the future of the universe are correct, they may not be complete. There may be emergent properties in the universe, yet to develop.

To understand what I mean, imagine some form of intelligence arising in the seconds after the big bang. These beings might consider the future of the universe as growing ever colder and darker over such unimaginable lengths of time as days, years, or centuries. They could have no conception that such objects as stars or planets, or even atoms might develop, filling the universe with light and life. In like fashion, it is possible that new forms of matter and energy might develop in the extremely distant future. There could be lifeforms spanning thousands of light-years living for eons who look back on our time as simply the last stage of the big bang, never imagining that anything could live in the dense, hot universe of the past. Perhaps night will not fall, but the universe will continue to be filled with life in forms we cannot imagine.

Maybe the universe will end in fire, maybe in ice, or maybe there will never be an end, just a continual evolution into new and very different forms. Perhaps we will never know.

 

St. Patrick’s Day

Today is St. Patrick‘s day and I thought it might be appropriate to write about St. Patrick. So, who is St. Patrick and why does he get a day? Not very much is known for certain about his life. It is possible that his story has been confused with one Palladius, a missionary who became the first bishop of Ireland. Still, Patrick wrote a short autobiography called “The Declaration” or “The Confession” as part of a letter which seems to be genuine.

Get out snakes!

Patrick, or Patricius was a Roman who lived in Britain. He may have been born around 387 and lived until 460 or possibly 493, so he lived during the twilight of the Roman Empire in the West. At the age of 16 he was captured by raiders and enslaved. He worked as a shepherd in Ireland for about six years. He managed to escape and return to his home, but then he became a priest and returned to the land where he was a slave and worked to convert the pagans to Christianity. He seems to have been very successful during his lifetime, though there were many other missionaries in Ireland. He helped to organize the Church in Ireland and is supposed to have traveled to Rome to seek the Pope’s assistance in this endeavor.

According to legend, Patrick died on March 17, so that date has become his feast day. He has never been officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. He became known as a saint long before the modern procedure for canonization was developed. He is, obviously, the patron saint of Ireland, and also Nigeria, Montserrat, engineers, paralegals, and the dioceses of New York, Boston, and Melbourne.

There are many legends about St. Patrick. The most widely known is that he chased all the snakes out of Ireland, thus ruining the local ecology. Another is that he used the example of the three-leaved shamrock to illustrate the trinity.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all the Irish, and Irish at heart, out there!

Sorry about the green text. I couldn’t resist.

Pi Day

English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University o...
English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University of Technology, applied physics, seismics and acoustics Deutsch: Pi Pie (π-Kuchen), hergestellt an der Technischen Universität Delft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For all of the nerds out there, including me, today is international Pi Day, the day when we celebrate our favorite mathematical constant. Pi Day is best celebrated by pi memorization contests, walking in circles, and, of course, eating pies, or is it pis? I think I will celebrate by writing a little about pi.

Pi or π is, as everyone should know, the ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference. Pi is an irrational number. By this, they do not mean that pi makes no sense but rather that pi is a constant that cannot be expressed as a ratio of two integers. Numbers like 2 or .445 or 1/2 can be expressed as a ratio of two integers and so are rational. Numbers like pi or the square root of any number that is not a perfect square, the square root of 2 for instance, are irrational. An irrational number expressed in decimal form never ends or repeats but continues to infinity. Thus, there can never be a last digit of pi.

The symbol π was first used by the mathematician William Jones in 1706 and was popularized by another mathematician, Leonhard Euler. They chose π, the Greek equivalent of the Latin letter p because it is the first letter of the word periphery. Π, by the way, is not pronounced “pie” in Greek but “pee”, just like our p. I don’t think that international “pee” day would be nearly so appealing.

Although the symbol for pi is relatively recent, the concept is very old. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians knew about it. Pi is even mentioned in the Bible.

23 He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits[o] to measure around it. 24 Below the rim, gourds encircled it—ten to a cubit. The gourds were cast in two rows in one piece with the Sea. (1 Kings 7:23-24)

Properly speaking, the line around the “Sea” should have been 31.5 cubits but the ancient Hebrews were not very knowledgeable about geometry and measuring techniques were crude.

There is no particular reason to calculate pi to so many digits. No conceivable application of pi would possibly take more than 40 digits. Still, the challenge of calculating pi to the farthest digit possible has been an irresistible one for mathematicians over the years.

Around 250 BC, Archimedes was the first mathematician to seriously try to calculate pi. He used a geometric method of drawing polygons inside and outside a circle and measuring their perimeters. By using polygons with more and more sides he was able to calculate pi with more precision and ended determining the value of pi as somewhere between 3.1408 and 3.1429. Archimedes’s method was used in the west for more than eighteen hundred years. The Chinese and Indians used similar methods. The best result using the geometric method was the calculation of pi to 38 digits in 1630.

With the development of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz in the 1660’s, it was possible to calculate pi using infinite series, or the sum of the terms of an infinite sequence. The best calculations with these methods were done by the mathematician Zacharias Daze who calculated pi to 200 places in 1844 and William Shanks who spent fifteen years calculating pi to 707 digits. Unfortunately, he made a mistake with the 528th digit. Meanwhile, in 1761 Johann Heinrich Lambert proved that pi is irrational.

Computers made the calculation of pi much faster so pi could be calculated to more digits. ENIAC calculated pi to 2037 places in 1949. This record didn’t last long. A million digits were reached in 1970. As of  2011, pi has been calculated to 10,000,000,000,050 places.

Pi is not just used in geometry. There are a number of applications of pi in the fields of statistics, mechanics, thermodynamics, cosmology, and many others. Here is a list of just some of the formulae that use pi. It seems you can find pi everywhere.

With that in mind then, happy pi day! For your enjoyment here are the first thousand digits of pi.

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510
  58209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679
  82148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128
  48111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196
  44288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091
  45648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273
  72458700660631558817488152092096282925409171536436
  78925903600113305305488204665213841469519415116094
  33057270365759591953092186117381932611793105118548
  07446237996274956735188575272489122793818301194912
  98336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798
  60943702770539217176293176752384674818467669405132
  00056812714526356082778577134275778960917363717872
  14684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235
  42019956112129021960864034418159813629774771309960
  51870721134999999837297804995105973173281609631859
  50244594553469083026425223082533446850352619311881
  71010003137838752886587533208381420617177669147303
  59825349042875546873115956286388235378759375195778
  18577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989

Books of Color

You would think that the late-night show comedians would find all sorts of fodder for comedy in the ongoing campaign to cancel anything and everything that might possibly be the slightest bit offensive, especially such silliness as putting warnings on the Muppet Show and canceling six Dr. Seuss books, but you would be wrong. According to this recent article at the blog Hollywood in Toto, the comedians didn’t find the cancellations worth making fun of. Instead, they mocked those silly conservatives who just don’t see the necessity of eliminating every vestige of racism from our culture and who imagine there is really some sort of cancel culture going on.

It goes without saying that today’s late night comics won’t mock the new Biden administration.

They’ve made it crystal clear their shows are progressive propaganda first and foremost. Speaking “truth to power” comes in a distant second. Some nights it ranks dead last.

When you wait nearly a year to call out a corrupt governor, that’s all the proof you need.

These comedians still could, in theory, pay attention to the culture wars attacking beloved institutions. Take Disney+ inexplicably slapping warning labels on classic episodes of “The Muppets.” Just this week the Dr. Seuss estate decided to stop publishing six of the author’s works because a very select few believe they contain racist imagery.

That’s despite Dr. Seuss’s own stepdaughter swearing he didn’t have a racist bone in his body.

Enter Stephen Colbert.

The far-left “Late Show” host chortled about the Dr. Seuss cancellation, ignoring the decades of joy his books have given children across the globe.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

“It’s a responsible move on their part … they recognize the impact of these images on readers, especially kids,” he said. What impact? Kids have read these books for decades without any impact save giggles and hugs from their parents.

So Colbert is firmly on the side of the cancellers and the censors. I guess he is less a comedian than a propagandist. That might be why he is not very funny. Comedy, by its nature, tends to be subversive. Authoritarian comedy is seldom very funny.

But it is this next part that made me stop and think.

He then cued up Fox News clips to mock anyone calling this another “Cancel Culture” moment.

If you’re worried your books shelves just got a bit duller, he advised, why not add tomes written by authors of color to cushion the blow?

“It’s fun to read books written after the ’40s,” he said with a twinkle.

Authors of color? What kind of an idiot selects books based on the color of the author? All last month, during Black History Month, Amazon kept offering me suggestions for Black authors I might be interested in, I wasn’t the slightest bit interested. My reasons for choosing a book to read simply do not include the race of the author. For nonfiction, I want a book about a subject I am interested in learning about and I want the author to present the information clearly and interestingly. For fiction, I want an interesting and entertaining story with characters I can relate to. I do not see how, in either case, the race or nationality of the writer matters at all. I could not possibly say how many of the books I own were written by authors of color. I would have to pull down each book from the shelf and look to see if there is a picture of the author on the cover to get an idea. I am not that interested.

As for the comment about books written since the 1940s, well many of my favorite authors, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, George Orwell, wrote their best works during the 1940s, and most of the greatest books ever written were written decades and centuries ago. I am not sure if there have been all that many books that have been written in recent years that can compare with the great classics, certainly, none that have, as yet, stood the test of time. If the censors and the wokescolds have their way there won’t be any books worth reading at all.

So, what kind of a person chooses books based on the color of the author? Maybe the sort of person who buys Books by the Foot. The sort of superficial person who is not so interested in the ideas contained in books as much as impressing people by seeming to read the correct books. Why else would someone care about the race or color of the author, than to demonstrate that they are woke or politically correct in their reading and thinking? Maybe the sort of person that becomes a late-night propagandist.

As for me, I am going to keep on reading the books I want to read and am going to ignore the suggestions from Amazon and Stephen Colbert that I should read authors because of their color because, unlike the people on the left, I am not a racist.

Dr. Seuss is Racist

I don’t think anyone expected this, but the woke have decided that something as innocuous as Dr. Seuss’s books are racist and must disappear into the memory hole, Unfortunately, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company that oversees the publication of the late author’s works rather than standing up for freedom of expression and literary contest, has decided to yield to the small minority of extremists who see racism everywhere and end the publication of six books that are considered to be particularly racist.

Dr. Seuss became the latest target of “cancel culture” Tuesday when six of his children’s books were yanked from publication  because of their alleged racism.

The company that oversees the publishing of Dr. Seuss’s works said  it scrapped the six books — “If I Ran the Zoo,” “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!” and “The Cat’s Quizzer’’ — because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”

“We believed that it was time to take action,” DSE told The Post in a statement.

“We listened and took feedback from our audiences including teachers, academics and specialists in the field, too, as part of the review process.”

The move came on what would have been the 117th birthday of the late author — who has traditionally been feted by schools across the country March 2 as part of “Read Across America Day.”

President Biden even avoided mentioning Dr. Seuss in the traditional annual presidential proclamation Monday marking “Read Across America Day.”

While Dr. Seuss — whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel — remains one of the world’s most popular children’s authors three decades after his death, his books have come under fire in recent years for how they portray black people, Asian people and other groups.

If I Ran the Zoo,” for instance, has been panned for depicting Africans as “potbellied” and “thick-lipped,” as one biography of Seuss put it.

It also describes Asian characters as “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant” from “countries no one can spell,” notes a 2019 paper on Geisel’s work published in the journal Research on Diversity in Youth Literature.

And “Mulberry Street,” the first children’s book Geisel published under his pen name, contains a controversial illustration of an Asian man holding chopsticks and a bowl of rice whom the text called “A Chinese man Who eats with sticks.”

“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” said DSE, which works with Penguin Random House  on their publication, in an official statement.

The company — asked by The Post if there were other titles under review to be nixed —  suggested there could be.

“Dr. Seuss Enterprises is committed to identifying how they can make meaningful and lasting change in their catalog and entire portfolio,’’ the group said.’

A racist book

They should probably just get ahead of the curve and stop selling Dr. Suess’s books altogether since there is sure to be something some oversensitive wokescold is going to find in each one. Maybe they should hire some new author, someone chosen to check off as many diversity boxes as possible, never mind if he, she, or xe can actually write, to create new, politically correct books to teach children to read. Of course, children probably won’t be as interested in reading the new politically correct Suess, but learning to read is probably a racist means of enforcing white supremacy anyway.

It occurs to me that if we keep canceling everything that could possibly be considered objectionable or that must be considered in a historical context, we are not going to have much left to read or watch or listen to. Certainly, the great classics of Western literature, theater, music, and cinema will have to be jettisoned. Even if a particular piece is not problematic, its creator has surely expressed a (forbidden) opinion at some point. Besides, any aspect of Western Civilization must be considered racist and white supremacist by default. Probably the classics from other traditions will have to go too. We can’t risk exposing the snowflakes to cultures with very different values and societal norms, at least not without a trigger warning.

All that will be left, if the cancellers have their way will be bland, politically correct works with every word and expression carefully sifted and parsed to avoid any possibility of offending any member of a “marginalized” group, heterosexual White males are fair game. These woke works may not be very entertaining or informative and no one will really want to read or watch them, but at least they’ll show off the producers’ virtue, such as it is in our brave, new world of wokeness.

I think I’ll stick with Dr. Seuss and the old books.