Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Science Night - How to Land the Space Shuttle 

This kid's lecture about the landing of the Space Shuttle is quite good, I think. What was the Space Shuttle? Lots of people growing up in today's America know it only from their history books. What was so special about it?

The basic idea of the Space Shuttle was to make a spaceship that was reusable. With the Apollo program, everything was discarded after one flight. The space shuttle could be flown, landed, and refurbished for another flight. I think Elon Musk's rockets that can land back on the launch pad are really a better and more efficient re-usability. It cost an huge amount of money to refurbish a space shuttle. But there was something else about the Space Shuttle that was very unusual as space vehicles go:

It was enormous. You could put a Greyhound bus in the cargo bay. I don't know how they could have built the Space Station without it. Several years ago, when the Americans and Russians were having a spat of some kind, a Russian official threatened to close off access to the Space Station. It was laughable. Without the Space Shuttle there would be no Space Station. But not that laughable, because, since the end of the Shuttle program, the Americans have had to rent space on Russian space vehicles to get their astronauts to the Space Station.

After the Space Station was built, the Shuttle wasn't efficient. Sorta like driving a Sherman tank to go get some groceries. You just don't need anything that huge to transport a few astronauts. So we look with anticipation to the launch of the SpaceX vehicle that will make the Americans the preferred transporter of astronauts.

Still, the science behind the Space Shuttle and how it flew is fascinating. Do take 17 minutes of your time and watch this. You'll enjoy it.

Question of the day: Why is it harder to land an aircraft without an engine?


Thursday, April 30, 2020

Science Night - How to Fly a Paramotor 

What is a paramotor? I call them "flying parachutes," because that's what they basically are. I can't be sure, but I am inclined to think that they emerged out of the hang glider craze in the seventies. By far the most popular hang glider when I was in college was the Rogallo wing, which was actually invented by a NASA engineer and was considered as a possible recovery system for the old Mercury and Gemini space capsules.

It was never actually used by NASA, and I am not sure why nobody thought of using it as a hang glider until the seventies, because it was actually invented in 1948. The only thing I remember it being used for in the late sixties or early seventies is for being pulled behind a motorboat with the pilot being on water skies. But it was when I was in college (Oregon College of Education) in the seventies (I graduated in 78) that people started jumping off mountains with them.

As I said, I can't prove the connection, but my theory is that somehow the skydiving craze and the hang gliding craze combined and produced the strange mutation known as a "paramotor."

They're easy to fly and a much lower cost way to have your own aircraft than buying a Cessna or something. But a caution: This looks easy, but you should not do it without professional training. Tucker Gott, the maker and star of this video came from a flying family. His grandfather was a hobby pilot—meaning that he had a private pilot license, and loved to talk about flying, but never did it professionally. But Tucker's mother was a commercial hot air balloon pilot. So this guy has been flying since he was very small.

I said all that to say that when you see an expert aviator like this, you may have the impulse to rush out and buy one yourself and head for the sky. Flying sports like this that do not require a pilot's license can be dangerous, because people may be inclined to think that the absence of license requirement means that you can just sorta pick it up on your own. Don't do that. You have the ability to become a very skilled paramotor pilot. But get a lot of training from professionals before you try it yourself. Overdo training on the front end of your participation in any flying sport, especially the ultralight variety. Better safe than sorry. I would also advise watching some crash videos, to see what kinds of mistakes lead to trouble. Most problems are simple to avoid, and would have been avoided if the pilot had gotten just a little more training.



Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Wuhan Virology Lab - Guilty or Innocent? 

Wuhan Virology lab that has been the center of controversy.
Click to read Zhang Pinghui's article in the Post.

Extraordinary article in the South China Morning Post in defense of the virology lab in Wuhan that has become the center of controversy as a possible source of the current Cornoa virus outbreak.

The South China Morning Post has itself been a center of debate relative to how much it is "controled" by Beijing. To be clear, the South China Morning Post is not and never has been a Chinese newspaper. It has always been a Hong Kong colonial paper going back to the beginning of the 20th century. As such, under the "one country, two systems" arrangement, China does not have the power to supress articles. But the South China Morning Post is not owned by westerners any more. Most recently, it was owned by the Kwok family, but was purchased a few years ago by Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba.

So there has always been debate about the extent to which the content of the South China Morning Post is "influenced" by Beijing. Generally speaking, I have had a favorable opinion of the South China Morning Post for a couple reasons:

  1. It is so much better than mainland papers whose content is either dictated by Beijing, or tightly restricted and censored.
  2. It is so much better than western papers (especially American) that are not subject to control by the Beijing government, but are woefully clueless about things China.
But this article concerns me. It seems an attempt to defend the lab and preclude the possibility that the virus may have leaked from it. Although she does admit that lab accidents have happened, she says that such accidents are are extremely unlikely at a lab of this security level. But her article contains a glaring omission.

Two years ago, the Americans made several visits to the lab and expressed grave concern about the level of safetly employed there. They were very worried that an accident could produce a worldwide catastrophe, and were disturbed by the level of carelessness with which the lab was being operated.

Why did she leave that information out? If it's because she was not aware of it, then she is incompetent. But if she was aware of the concerns expressed two years ago and chose not to mention them, one has to question her objectivity as a journalist. Read what she says and see what you think.

Barring an unusual breakthrough, such as a whistle blower or something, we are still quite a long way from proving that the Corona virus came from that lab (if indeed it did). But just the same, it would be grossly irresponsible to eliminate it as a possibility. Hasty dismissals are just as irresponsible as any other rush to judgment. And it is nonsensical to call the belief that the Corona virus came from that lab a "conspiricy theory." Most people who believe it came from the lab also believe that it was an accident. An accident cannot be a conspiracy.

Mind you, there are still people who think it could have come from a natural animal to human transition. I know that for a fact, because I am one of them. I am not at all finalized on the idea that it came from this lab. But given the fact that circumstantial evidence seems to point in that direction, it should be investigated.

China is a sovereign nation, and as such China is sensitive about other nations telling her what to do (especially given the colonial history). But considering the fact that the Americans poured $3.7 million into that lab, and considering the grave concerns expressed two years ago, the Americans have good reason to request that they be allowed to investigate what role, if any, the Wuhan Virology Lab may have played in the current disaster.


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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

What is racism? 

This is a big subject. Hard to talk about it without bringing in so many side issues. It's very involved. To get the history, it may be to your advantage to give a listen to my podcast on the American Civil War, but you don't necessarily need to do it first.

Although I have been interested and concerned about this issue since I was a kid reading about the Underground Railroad, the thing that set me off this time was the media reaction to Trump's statement to the "Squad:"

[So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world, now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.]
Now as I explain in the podcast, Trump applied this statement too broadly. For three of the four people, it doesn't fit. I don't want to elaborate here, because I explain it in detail in the podcast. But for one of them (Ilhan Omar), it fits perfectly. It is not racist, and is entirely appropriate. So let me edit the above statement to make it apply to one person:
[So interesting to see a ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswoman, who originally came from a country whose government is a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world, now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why doesn't she go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested place from which she came. Then come back and show us how it is done.]
As you can see, the only thing I have changed is the reference (from three persons to one person). There is nothing racist about that statement. It is a very appropriate and needed exhortation. I certainly do not deny that Trump has said things with which I do not agree. But I could not agree with this one more. But it happens to be a criticism of a person of color, so to the media, it is automatically regarded as racist. That's stupid and dishonest. When you define racism as disagreeing with a Black person, you have robbed it of any significant meaning.

But, as I mentioned in the podcast, the thing that really set me off was watching a CNN "journalist" who was interviewing some folks about racism. She read a definition of racism from a dictionary, by which definition Trump was clearly not a racist. She then looked triumphantly at them as if she had just proven that Trump was a racist. This made me realize that I had to come up with a definition for racism that is so simple that even a CNN journalist can understand it. So here it is: A racist is someone who believes that moral qualities are genetically derived. That's it. Very simple. Even a CNN journalist could figure it out. I am not a racist. I do not believe it is right to present someone's ethic grouping as being morally inferiur. Genes are morally neutral. But I am a critic of culture. Culture is not morally neutral. As Frances Schaeffer said, "If there are no absolutes by which to judge society, society is absolute." I have been a student of culture since I moved to America when I was thirteen years old. I do believe that people of conscience should stand in judgment of culture when it strays from the moral standard God has written on our hearts--such as Confucius (孔子) in The Analects, which I read from in this podcast. So I guess you could say I am a culturist. Here then are the definitions we are going to be using in our discussion of this subject:

racism the belief that moral qualities are genetically derived

culturism the belief that some cultures are morally superior to others, or more precisely, that certain aspects of some cultures are morally superior to certain aspects of other cultures

If you don't like my definitions, you can throw them away when you finish listening to this podcast. But if you listen carefully, I hope you won't want to.

The video below contains a discussion about Kanye West. In the video, Bakari Sellers says "This is what happens when Negroes don't read." This is a reference to a Chris Rock comedy routine from the nineties. You don't need to watch all of that comedy routine, but if you can manage to endure the first three-and-a-half minutes, you will hear the statement that Bakari Sellers paraphrases in the video below. Clearly, Sellers is saying that Kanye West belongs to the category of Black people to whom Chris Rock is referring. That is unfair and disgusting. Listen yourself and see what you think.

Book List:

The Warmth of Other Suns

Gone With the Wind

Movie List:
Green Book

Mississippi Burning


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Sunday, March 29, 2020

An Ounce of Prevention 

It's very simple: Throw away your face mask and wash your hands. The video above shows how most cases of the Corona virus start from hand contact. So what about face masks? I am going to explain:

Face Masks.

There is a lot of debate about face masks, so if you're confused, I don't blame you. Basically, a face mask protects other people from you, it does not protect you from other people. Why is this? It's because surgical masks are not designed to, nor are they capable of filtering out a virus. To a virus, the smallest hole in a surgical mask is a mile wide. The face mask does not hinder it in any way. So why do surgeons use them? Because they do protect other people from you if you cough or sneeze. When you sneeze the sneeze comes out into the air in droplets. Those droplets seem small to you, but to a virus that droplet is a tsunami. It swallows the virus. The mask cannot stop a virus, but it can easily stop that tsunami. So don't ever think that surgical masks don't work. Hospitals have to be sterile. So there is no way surgeons would use surgical masks if they were not effective in preventing the spread of germs (from them to their patients). So of course they work or they would not be used so widely by medical professionals. They just don't work the way you think they do. .

The feeling about masks differs very widely between Americans and Asians. It amuses me to see how people regard their mask as protection from something that is much, much smaller than the smallest hole in their mask. But there is a very important reason why they are more needed in Asia than in America. In China, as in most Asian countries, people travel on crowded subways. If someone coughs or sneezes, you will not be protected if you are wearing a mask. But you will be protected if he is wearing a mask. But how do you get him to do that? If there were a big sign at the subway station saying, "If you are sick, please wear a face mask," how many people do you think would be wearing a mask? In China, not very many. In Japan people typically wear a face mask when they have a cold, in order to protect the people around them. But in China this is not common. People here generally cough or sneeze into the air.

But if you require everyone who gets on the subway to wear a face mask, everyone will be protected. So I don't know...maybe it's a good thing people think that a face mask protects them from other people, because then they will all wear one. But it's troubling to see people getting all upset about a shortage of masks, as if the face mask could actually keep them safe. I saw one picture of a man in Hong Kong who was in tears because he could not get a face mask. I wanted to tell him, "Don't worry, if everyone else is wearing one, won't need one." I think Hong Kong people are a little superstitious about face masks anyway. Believe it or not, there is actually a Fengshui master in Hong Kong who is teaching people how to cast a spell on their face masks to make them more effective.

In America, people typically drive to work in their cars. There's no reason to be wearing a face mask when you are by yourself in a car. If you have a carpool, then it might be a good idea for all of you to agree that you will wear a face mask. That way, if someone in your car pool has a cold or something, he will not have to be embarrassed about wearing a face mask, since everyone else is wearing one too. But again, wearing a face mask does not protect you from someone else. And if it makes you touch your face more often, you're better off without it.

Hand Washing

When we think about the spread of disease, people tend to think of bacteria. So alcohol is commonly used because it kills bacteria. But the Cornoa virus is not bacteria. It is a virus, and you cannot really kill a virus, because a virus is not living. But it turns out that an ordinary bar of soap is deadly to a virus. This article explains why:

Generally, I think that ordinary bar soap is probably more effective at dealing with a virus than hand sanitizer. But a bar of soap has one great weakness: It is pretty much useless without running water. So if you have running water, a bar of soap would be more effective. If not, then hand sanitizer would be better.

Does it matter how long you wash your hands? I don't know. Don't obsess about that. Just grab a bar of soap and wash your hands. As for face masks, if it makes you feel better, wear one. But if it inclines you to touch your face more often, then get rid of it. It's doing more harm than good.



Saturday, February 29, 2020

Science Night : Red River of Life 

This is a very old film, but it is very good. It will give you an understanding about how the blood brings oxygen to the body and then removes the carbon dioxide.

The makers of this video way back then could not have anticipated how the blood and the importance of flow of the blood to life would influence the issue of abortion. But it's important, because those who support the slaughter of the innocent are characterized by a galling lack of integrity. Here is Pete Buttigieg on abortion:

Then again, there's a lot of parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath, and so even that is something that we can interpret differently.
Not surprised that he doesn't quote the "parts of the Bible" that he says support his crazy idea. His idea is not only unscriptural, it is unscientific. Throughout the pregnancy, the baby is getting oxygen through the mother, who is breathing. It's not like the baby is a fish and then suddenly becomes a human.

In today's America, we have become accustomed to politicians who justify the slaughter of the innocent. But when we have to listen to someone who claims that the Bible supports that idea, it is more than a little annoying.

I don't want to obsess about a small town mayor running for president who doesn't have a ghost of a chance of getting elected. But I do want to emphasize that the Bible does not address this issue in vague interpretive statements. Here is what the Bible says, and it could not be more straightforward:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. (Leviticus 17:11)
The life of the flesh is in the blood. Abortion stops a beating heart. And when you stop a beating heart, you are taking a life, and God will surely hold you to account.

Again, the makers of this film could not have anticipated the importance of what they were saying for the purpose of addressing the modern issue of abortion. But the message in this film destroys any notion that you can view a living child with a beating heart as a mere blob of human tissue.

Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. (Ecclesiastes 11:9)

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Friday, February 28, 2020

Why a Woman Cannot Be Elected President 

Recently there was a conflict between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. She accused him of saying that she could not be elected president. He denied it. This podcast is not about which one of them is telling the truth. The question of whether or not Elizabeth Warren can be elected president is moot, because in fact, no woman can be elected president, and the reason why that is true trumps (no pun intended) any petty discussion about one particular woman who is running this time. This is really one part of a two and potentially three part discussion, as follows:

  1. Why cannot a woman be elected president?

  2. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? In other words, should a woman be able to be elected president?

    If we decide the second question in the affirmative, then

  3. What needs to be done to make it possible for a woman to be elected president?
So for this particular episode, our focus will not be on what should or should not be. It will be on understanding why it is currently not possible for a woman to be elected president. Once we understand why it is the way it is, we can then proceed to a discussion about what should be accepted, and what, if anything, should be changed.


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Monday, January 20, 2020

Science Night : Space Suits 

It's actually like a small spacecraft for one person. The space suit is designed to protect astronauts when they are in space, but outside the space station or other spacecraft. When we see astronauts in these things, we don't realize what goes into making them, and the kinds of problems that they have to address. As we contemplate the development of new kinds of spaceships, the space suit remains one of the most extraordinary technological developments in aerospace history. I still don't get how a suit like this can protect against the hideous extremes of temperature in space. The range is five hundred degrees (250 degrees above zero to 250 degrees below zero). But they manage to do it. Another problem in space is that, since there is no atmosphere, astronauts can be hit with tiny particles travelling at very high speeds. It all just seems very risky. But to this day, no astronaut has ever died in a space suit in space.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Ming & Qing : Lessons for a Dying Culture from Two Dynasties in China 

Years ago, the faculty at the Software College (Beihang University) where I was teaching bused us to a retreat near the place where the Qing Dynasty began. It is called "Shanhaiguan" or "Shanhai Pass" (pictured above), and it is very near where the Great Wall meets the sea at Laolongtou (Old Dragon's Head).

The story I was told at the time was that the government minister from the Ming Dynasty opened the gate to let the Manchus in because the Ming had become so corrupted. The real story is a bit more complicated, and there is some dispute about the details, but one thing is beyond dispute: For the entire Qing Dynasty, China was ruled by the very people the Great Wall was built to protect them from. But lest you think that this means "walls don't work," it is important to note that, as one of my students pointed out to me, "you can't say that the Great Wall never worked." He's right. If the Wall had never worked, there would probably not have been a Ming Dynasty, or at least you could safely conclude that it would not have lasted nearly as long:

Ming Dynasty (1368 ? 1644 A.D.)
Qing Dynasty (1644 ? 1911 A.D.)

You see, the downfall of the Ming was not due to the failure of the wall. It was due to a failure of the culture. The point is that the best wall in the world cannot protect you from yourself. So the Manchus came in and the Ming Dynasty was over. As I said, the Manchus ruled China throughout the Qing Dynasty. But who were they? The Manchus were descendants of the Jurchen people, who ruled the Jin Dynasty. Chinese dynasties can be confusing, because, for example, the Jin Dynasty did not rule all of China, just a portion of it in the Northeast, so it ruled concurrently with the Song Dynasty and therefore is often not listed separately as a dynasty in China. The Jurchen were overthrown by the Mongols, and I guess it can be assumed that there was some intermarriage between the Jurchen and the Mongols. The Manchus were the descendants of the Jurchen, but really the Jurchen just changed their name, although it is true that the people group had changed too, as it became, although predominantly Jurchen, probably a mixture between Jurchen and Mongol. So I guess you could say that the Manchus were essentially Mongolized Jurchens. I say this to emphasize the the Manchus were not irrelevant barbarians who came out of nowhere. Both the Jurchen and the Mongols had been intimately involved with China. The Mongols, you remember ruled all of China under Kublai Khan. Kublai Khan was the first emporer of the Yuan Dynasty. You may not be as familiar with the Jurchen, because their dynasty was actually sort of a sub-dynasty, as I mentioned earlier.

At any rate, after Shanhaiguan, the Manchus were in charge. The corrupted and decrepit Ming had been replaced by the Qing. But was the Qing Dynasty really an improvement? Listen to this lively debate presented by the Sinica Podcast and decide for yourself:

This debate was held at the Beijing Bookworm which is (or was) over in the Sanlitun (expat bar street) area on the east side. It's interesting, but as you might expect, it focuses on the comparison between the two dynasties. I am more interested in the transition. But not just the transition from the Ming to the Qing. The end of the Qing Dynasty is also of interest. So maybe the grand question could be phrased as: "What is the end of a Dynasty like?" or "What makes a dynasty rise and fall?" This is a question most Americans do not understand well, because America has only had one dynasty, and Americans do not read history much, so they tend not to be aware that no dynasty in history has lasted forever. Dynasties rise and fall. If you look at Chinese dynasties (especially the Ming and Qing) you see that they both lasted just under three hundred years. The American dynasty will be 300 years old in 2076. If the American dynasty lasts no longer than either the Ming or the Qing, it has less than fifty years left. Can a dynasty last longer than that? Yes. The Zhou Dynasty lasted longer than 800 years. But the Zhou Dynasty went into decline in the latter half. It's a separate subject for a different time, but I believe that the writings of Confucius may have extended the Zhou Dynasty far beyond what might otherwise have been likely.

Here's my point: I believe that the American dynasty has entered a period of decline. I don't see the American dynasty lasting another fifty years. No way. Because Americans have no conception of what makes dynasties rise and fall, they tend to talk about "eliminating poverty," or "making America great again." But to make America great again, Americans need to understand what makes a dynasty great. Can you guess what it is? If you said, "democracy," that's the wrong answer. The one thing above all others that makes a dynasty great is righteousness:

Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people. (Proverbs 14:34)
But as you can see, the statement has two sides to it. Sin..corruption..dishonesty..these things erode the foundation of a culture, making it extremely unstable and vulnerable to attack. So when it comes to the basic inescapable reality that all dynasties governed by sinful man ultimately decay, the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty are more alike than they are different. The Ming and Qing both had their rise, and tney had their decline and fall.

When a dynasty dies, so much goes with it. One of main casualties is language. Don't get me wrong--when the Qing Dynasty came to an end just over a hundred years ago now, that was the end of Manchu rule, but not the end of the Manchus as a people. I have known several Manchus. There are ten million of them alive today. But there are exactly nineteen native speakers of the Manchu language left in the world. It's gone.

So what about the American Dynasty? Is it more like the Qing or the Ming? I am not sure it matters. They both fell eventually, and the American dynasty will too, perhaps sooner than we think. Is there any way to forestall the decline of the America dynasty? Sure. I just mentioned the Zhou dynasty, but with many dynasties the decline is actually not a straight line. It goes up and down. God has extraordinary forbearance toward a culture and a people who want to turn from the wrong and do the right:

If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; if my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2nd Chronicles 7:13-14)
But when is the last time you entered a church or place where believers gather and found them on their faces before God, begging Him to have mercy on their country? Is there any place in America where you see Christians focused on praying for their country? They seem to be focused on fighting for the right to talk about politics without losing their non-profit status. America is a democracy, so it is understandable that citizens would be thinking about how best to exercise the freedom and responsibility they have been given. But even in the years since I left the United States in the mid-noughties I have seen a moral decline in America beyond what I could have imagined. Politics alone will not address this issue.

And what about China? I am often asked about this. This is perhaps the most frequent question I hear. I always say that China is a country at the crossroads, trying to decide which way it is going to go. If the people follow after truth and justice, then China will become a great country. But if they follow after money and power, then China will become a very dark place. And this direction will be shaped by the masses, not by the ruling elite. It is righteousness that exalts a nation. And it is corruption and dishonesty that bring it down.



Friday, January 10, 2020

Gospel of John 

The Venerable Bede translating the Gospel of John on his deathbed.



John 1:1In the beginning was the Word...This lesson introduces the Logos. At issue is the identification of the Logos as indeed God. Of note is the fact that the original Greek says, "God was the Word," not "The Word was God (or a god)"

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