Covid or not Covid?

July 5th, 2020. The spread of the Corona virus in the U.S. is reaching a level so high that the chances of beating the pandemic are becoming slimmer by the day. What do I mean by that? When the spread of the disease is in the 2-5% , it is possible to contain the spread by convincing people to avoid contacts with others. Basically, chances of contracting the disease (We still know little about how it spreads) are one in 50 to 20, meaning that one in 20 or 50 random people you meet are infected.

If one in 4 Covid tests are positive, like in Arizona currently, the chances of being in the presence of someone infected increase dramatically, meaning that one in four people you randomly meet are infected.  Not good! 

I am now convinced that my chances of getting infected over time are 100%, even if I stay put at home and only go out to get food. What about the cleaning lady who comes every other week? Or the folks dropping a package at my house?    Their chances of getting infected are increasing by the day too.  Lethality is dropping somewhat and doctors are finding better ways to mitigate the impacts of the disease in those infected but this is of little comfort for millions of Americans who may be in a high risk category (I just turned 65…)

As of today (Juy 5th,) there are about 3,000,000 confirmed Covid cases in the U.S, with 132,000 attributed deaths.  If everyone in the population gets infected, this would mean nearly 15 million Covid-related deaths.  Significant!  As a benchmark, 600,000 die of cancer and 38,000 die in traffic accidents in the U.S. every year.  

Bottom line:  It may be too late to reverse the course of this disease even if a vaccine is found and tested soon.  Too many are already infected as the progression of the disease shows.  Moreover, we don’t know how long the immunity of a vaccine or the so-caled “herd immunity” would last.  So, what is the best public health strategy if it becomes increasingly likely that everyone in the U.S. will get it?

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Why I now support Bernie Sanders

I have been supporting Pete Buttigieg since the beginning.  I liked his poise, his intellectual stances, his moderation, his ability to answer complex questions.  But at the same time I kept thinking about my kids, their peers and their future.  I have been able to earn enough during my prime working years to save for retirement.  Many in my kids’ generations however live month to month, unable to afford college, even community college, working days and nights to make ends meet and spending their extra cash on credit card interest.  To them, Bernie Sanders is the answer.

Why are Millenials and Gen Zs so devoted to Bernie?  I think I figured it out, and as I did, I became a convert myself.  Morality is more important than power.  Bernie speaks with a moral voice, consistent and uncompromised and that, I think, is why he will win the hearts and minds of voters.  Will he win?  He might, but if he does not, he will have accomplished something far more important:  He will have reawakened and rekindled the hopes of our diverse country in morality, in equality and in the rule of law.

A few weeks ago, Bernie was briefed by U.S officials that Russia has been trying to help his campaign as part of Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2020 presidential election as related in this article by the LA Times.  His unequivocal, uncompromised and moral response got me to switch my vote: “Here’s the message to Russia: Stay out of American elections.”  His response was in sharp contrast from President Trump’s, minutes before, who dismissed the reports and said that this was “a rumor” started by the Democrats.

What about socialism?  Our country is already half way there!  Just take a look at how much our Government spends to help and assist various groups: social security, healthcare for the poor and the elderly, food stamps, grants to non-profits of all kinds. Oh, and what about small watershed grants, coral reef conservation, farmer loan guarantees, rural community development grants, high energy cost grants, and more and more…

The stock market may appear to be doing well but our country is not doing well by many other measures:  Ability to save, drug epidemics, lagging healthcare results, increasing suicide rates (using readily available firearms), and poor education results compared to other countries.  If elected, Bernie may not be able to affect much of that, but in the meantime, he is changing our discourse and painting a brighter, moral future.  And for that, he has my vote.

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Acorn to Arabella

I don’t have cable so YouTube is my TV entertainment… I recently watched a few maritime videos after which YouTube suggested other maritime-related pieces. That’s how I came upon “Acorn to Arabella“, a project based in Western Massachussetts to build an old-fashionned wooden sailboat. The two young men in charge document their journey with a series of YouTube videos as the sailboat takes shape.

You can find a lot more info about the project on the website above, on Facebook and by watching the YouTube episodes (see beow), but I thought I would share a few reasons why I like this series:

  • The project is about building this old-fashioned wooden boat while leveraging social media to attract viewers and creating a community of volunteers and sponsors. To me, this is a perfect combination of the old and the new, and hopefuly a sign of things to come. One of the young men is a skilled craftman while the other is a videographer and photographer.
  • Construction of the Arabella sailboat is based on old-fashion techniques and hard work. There is a focus on manual labor, home-made and old-fashioned ingenuity, rigs, gears and recycling. For instance, wood is harvested and shaped by the team, tools are designed to build copper rivets on site and valuable items from a similar old but no longer serviceable boat are recycled for use in Arabella.
  • Presentation and narration are articulate, professional, honest, detailed and complete but never feel boastful or commercial. The videos are of professional quality, well edited and scripted, and progress is fun to watch without requiring a huge amount of concentration… (it’s not like I am going to build my own boat tomorrow…)

To me, this is an honest, cheerful and heartening story of skill, determination and community, and a welcome respite from the day-to-day barrage of bad news. Take a look!

All the videos on YouTube

Year-and a half summary
Akiva

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Israel to launch moon spacecraft

Amazing news!  According to Newser, Israel will launch this week (Feb 18 2019) what it hopes will be the first private spacecraft to land on the moon   The landing craft, dubbed Bereshit, or Genesis, will fly atop a SpaceX Falcon rocket that will be launched from Florida on Thursday (Friday morning time in Israel.)

In the photo to the left, Opher Doron, general manager of Israel Aerospace Industries’ space division shows the moon lander being readied in a clean room near Tel Aviv.  The small craft, roughly the size of a washing machine, will have to make several orbits before landing on the moon.

 

In related news, I have myself designed a space vehicle designed to fly to the moon.  The vehicle is similar to the Israeli moon lander and also roughly the size of a washing machine.

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2019: New blog page on Family History

Jan 2019: I have been working on my family tree for a while and it has been a wonderful experience!  My family tree is available on MyHeritage.com. I plan to present my family history in the form of a series of chapters or stories which I will post here as they become available.  My ancestors’ family names include (so far):

Markowicz, Wysocka/Wysocki, Bresler, Olej, Goldberg, Nitka, Tondowska/Tondowski, Laskier, Kujawska/Kujawski, Russek, Liwerant/Liverand, Horowitz, Szif.

The places where my ancestors are from include:

Poland: Zdunska Wola, Warta, Lodz, Burzenin, Nieszawa, Wyszogrod, Widawa.
Belgium: Liege, Antwerp and Brussels

My extended family includes many more surnames and places.  Branches of the family are found in Israel, Brazil, France, the U.K., the U.S., Canada and many more.

Stay tuned…

Posted in Family History

Welcome 2019!

Welcome 2019! 2018 was the end of the “anything is possible” era: Man to Mars, hyperloops, Trump lies, the stock market can grow forever, etc. This notion that anything goes is about to meet reality. The World has limits, the Earth has limits, we, as humans, have limits. We know it, but most of us behave like we don’t.

2019 will bring reality back into the mix: The manned mission to Mars will be infinitely delayed, the hyperloop will remain empty, climate change will bite us where it hurts. Trump will still lie but it will no longer matter… Happy new year! There is work to do!

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Dominique Markowicz

My cousin Dominique Debora Markowicz was born July 17, 1958 in Liège, Belgium, sixty years ago today.  She was three years younger than me. On December 15, 1973, at the age of 15, Dominique very sadly passed away in a traffic accident in Brussels.  I did not know Dominique well, I met her a few times when I was young, but everyone who knew her was and remains deeply affected by her amazing lust for life.

I am quoting from a book of remembrances that was put together for her memorial service:

“The problem was her laughter… no way to stop it!  In ancient Greek class, we invented all sorts of games to try to get her to laugh in class…”

“One day, Dominique and her dad are called in to school to see her physics professor. Your daughter is too boisterous in class, he said, too loud.  Behind her dad’s back, Dominique silently puts her index finger on her lips, telling the professor to stop and remain quiet.  Her professor stopped talking and smiled…”

                                                                        Carine

“I knew Dominique since 1968 when she joined our school in the 5th grade. I can see her in sixth grade, at a swimming competition. I can still hear her laugh when I congratulated her for helping us win that day”

“I saw her in classes occasionally as I was walking through the school. She was always active, asking questions, responding, and paying attention to her professor, to the lesson and to her friends in class”

“I can see her at school were our path crossed a million times, and each time, there was a smile. Dominique’s smile was everything. Her love of life was everything.  And this is how we will see her forever.

Marc Vandervennet
Principal
Athénée Royal de Woluwe-Saint-Lambert

« Fifteen years. Fate is so cruel, Dominique.
We miss your smile and your kindness so dearly.
In class, your seat is open, but it is taken in our hearts.”

                                               C. Meurant, Physics Professor

“One day, we came to school together.  We sat on the steps, outside. It was windy.  I like the wind, Dominique said, and then we chatted. I felt like I discovered you for the first time that day, even though we knew each other’s for years… I have loved you since that day and you will always be my best friend”

                                                          Christine

This is my yahrzeit candle to you, Dominique.  Your memory is a blessing.

 

 

Please leave a comment if you knew her or wished you had.

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Trump versus Obama

I know, you are expecting some heavy political discourse here, but I will be brief.  My friend Amy posted this great video on Facebook. Make sure you see the punchline below the video…

But Chancelorette Merkel was not rolling her eyes whith Obama. Maybe she had something else on her mind…

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March for Their Lives – The Times They Are a-Changin!

I was privileged to attend the March for Our Lives in DC yesterday.  My daughter was working and could not accompany me.  Much has been written about the event already but I wanted to relay a few personal observations.

Logistics: Only in America!

The event was extremely well organized from a logistics point of view.  Lots of volunteers were guiding participants from Metro stations to the site of the march.  Many streets around the Mall were blocked off.  T-shirt and other vendors had badges authorizing them to be there.  There were lots of portable toilets and water stations around.  Military trucks were blocking streets a few blocks North, I guess to protect against a Nice-style attack.  Small ambulances were there to reach into the crowd if needed.  Some Metro stations were closed to prevent overcrowding in escalators and tracks.  There were large screens and impressive sound systems to broadcast speeches and entertainment. Bottom line, the local governments, Metro and the event organizers worked together flawlessly to help crowds move smoothly and create a safe environment.  To me, this is an exceptional example of democracy at work, and of the commitment to freedom of expression.

Can you see me?

Amazing Program!

The program of speakers, singers and short videos also demonstrated a level of sophistication that is only found in the United States.  We know that celebrities contributed significant money to the organization of the event and it showed.  The program included about 20 speakers, all high-schoolers or younger.   Entertainers included  Jennifer Hudson, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, Common, Vic Mensa, Andra Day, Miley Cyrus, Lin Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt.  I can’t say that I recognized them all but the younger crowd definitely did.  Many younger marchers knew the songs and were singing along.   I am sure there is a marketing angle to this, as there is to everything in this country.  Still, I enjoyed these talented artists and the live music.

The train is coming…

Some short “high production value” videos were presented between speeches and entertainment, all narrated by high-schoolers.  Cogent, smart, well made!   The speakers included young folks from Florida but also from Chicago and other cities affected by gun violence.  Smart!  Naomi Wadler, an eleven year old girl from Alexandria, Virginia spoke on behalf of  African-American women who were victims of gun violence whose stories aren’t told.  I am sure that professionals were behind the student but it did not take anything away from them, it channeled their energy and made it better and more effective.

In the end, everyone was waiting for Emma Gonzalez’ speech.  She was last and she did not disappoint.  All these kids (sounds pejorative to say kids, I know) are so articulate but Emma is in a class by herself.  I went through Twitter last night and folks were calling for her to run for President!  Her bold personality, poise, honesty, sincerity and authenticity gave me goose bumps.  After reading the names of the MSD victims, Emma paused and stood still.  The crowd went silent too.  I have never heard such silence while surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people.  Not a sneeze, not a cough, not a murmur.  One minute, two minutes… the silence became unbearable but also inescapable…  four minutes, five minutes.  Then she finished her speech.  Six minutes and twenty seconds was the length of the attack on her school in Florida.  It felt like an eternity.  If you can, click on the link and watch the speech for yourself.

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The 2nd Amendment makes as much sense today as the Steam Engine…

We all know how the United States is struggling with how much access should citizen be given to guns.  The underlying basis for granting citizens access to guns is that it will prevent Government tyranny.  My thesis here is that this notion is as outdated today as the steam engine is.  Government tyranny cannot be prevented by guns in the hands of anyone.

Most countries strongly regulate fire arm ownership.  The impact on the number of mass shootings is plain to see in the graph from Vox.com to the left where the US is clearly an outlier.  Are these guns a credible antidote against Government tyranny today, which is the stated purpose of the Second Amendment?

In my view, the notion that guns in the hands of a well-regulated Militia could guard against such possible tyranny makes as much sense as traveling from New York to San Francisco by steam train in the age of the Boeing 787…

You’ve Got Mail…

Owning guns may have made sense back then, but today the Government of the United States is vast and decentralized.  Perhaps too vast some would say but that is a topic for another post…  Would a Militia equipped with firearms be of any practical effect against a Government military that uses helicopter gunships, radar- and laser-guided missiles,  satellite photography, artificial intelligence?  (see how the US military destroyed a poorly equipped Russian militia in Syria a few days ago.)

Today’s Government is nothing like the Nation’s founding fathers could have imagined. It is far more complex and relies heavily on technology.  Government today is made of rules, regulations, procedures and automated systems as much as it is composed of people.

Sadly, we have now seen first hand what attacking a Government is like in the information age.  Hacking government information systems and leveraging social media, in fact, are proving far more effective than firearms could ever be, including:

  • Stealing government official email account passwords
  • Access via compromised Government employee or contractor
  • Embed spyware deep inside computers, gaining almost total control of those computers to eavesdrop on most of the world’s computers, even in the face of reboots, operating system re-installs, and commercial anti-virus products,
  • Concealing spyware in hard drives,
  • Leveraging social media to spread lies and bend public opinion,
  • Etc…  (see NSA’s ANT Division Catalog of Exploits for Nearly Every Major Software/Hardware/Firmware for more info)

The Second Amendment is an empty promise that is being perpetuated by the National Rifle Association in order to sell guns. 

Let me know what you think…

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