Fall of the empires

The golden age of Arab science

Medicine just like any field had to start form somewhere. Despite all of the medical miracles we see in everyday life there was a golden time of medicine. It occurred between the 8th and 13th centuries in the middle east. During this time of discovery the works of Hippocrates and many others where expanded upon and ended up spreading through to Europe. Why was this the case. Well actually this was due to religion.

From the Quran

“The scholar’s ink is more sacred than the blood of martyrs”

“For every disease, Allah has given a cure.”

Yet, the atmosphere of learning did not continue forever because of differences between the different religions … and the crusades did not help either.

https://faseb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1096/fj.06-0803ufm

Roman Empire

There were quite a few different factors leading to the fall of the Roman empire.

  • Economic troubles and over reliance on slave labor
  • Over expansion and military overspending
  • Government corruption and political instability
  • The loss of traditional values

This is quite a long list but all of these factors are fairly inter-related. The loss of traditional values could be seen as a major factor of government corruption. With that corruption should lead to instability as people have less faith in their institutions due to the abuse by their leaders.

The Roman empire was impressive as it included everything from Britain down thru Egypt and Spain over to Caspian sea. The larger the territory you have to defend, the greater the chances of incursion at the edges. This expansion worked while the empire was expanding as the some of the treasure that came back to Rome was in the form of slaves as craftsmen and to work the fields. When the empire could no longer expand and was spending to support the military this was an economic problem. One of the other economic problems was rich people fleeing to the countryside to escape taxes.

https://www.history.com/news/8-reasons-why-rome-fell

There can be many different empires whether or not they are times of science, fashion or actual populations. It is the history of the world that empires rise and and eventually fall. This is not always to the direct invasion of conquering legions but can be due to other factors.

The United States Empire (1945 – )

All of the examples fallen empires through history tell the tale of why the United States might have a rough road ahead of it. Despite some of the material losses during the two world wars it was blessed by not having problems of trying to build up a shattered industrial base like most of Europe or even its Allies such as the UK. The United States industrial base along with its military might rocketed the USA to superpower status in both military might, economic powerhouse and market to the world after World War II.

In the light of the current pandemic, certain weaknesses are coming to light that foreshadows problems. One of these is waning belief in science. I think this is most visible with the “anti-vaccine” movement. Just as recently as a few decades ago, getting a vaccine was seen as must have almost rock star type of event. Today people are refusing to wear masks in enclosed environments, tell tales of how vaccines will sterilize you and disbelieve the science behind global warming. You do not need to believe mankind is warming the planet to believe the planet is getting warmer ever since the industrial revolution.

Fiscal prowess. Most, if not all normal people have a certain amount of fiscal prowess. This might be iron clad self levels of self control or it might be no savings and no credit card company will give you a credit card. The same cannot be said for most governments and the United States seems to have a problem with fiscal restraint. The United States is still in a privileged position as all of its debts are issue in its own currency but this alone cannot save them. It is difficult to judge whether or not the wide margin of spending on the military versus other countries is justified or not but the spending is occurring through the use of deficits not through taxes. This is worrisome itself but at the same time this money is not being used to maintain the ever expanding infrastructure required by its populace (roads, bridges, police, public works, etc). It is just not realistic to build a bridge and then not continue maintenance on it over the decades. Otherwise it can fall apart or fall down.

What might be the largest but perhaps more subtle factor of the fall of empires is corruption and loss of traditional values. It surely does not affect someone in South Africa if a car dealership in Iowa is evading taxes through various shady practices. But one of the critical positions that the United States has had is the moral superiority when talking about dictatorships and human rights violations. These bragging privileges are becoming harder and harder to justify.

How would the USA of 1950 spoke about the country with these types of abuses? How can the USA convince the citizens of Russia about the rule of law and Democracy? How can the USA tell countries to clean up their act with this type of behavior. It is rather like the parent telling the child to do as I say not as I do.

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The filibuster – American democracy with a small twist

I had intended to do a lot of research into a lesser known device of American democracy – the fillibuster. The fillibuster an action to delay some action by talking. Perhaps the most well known example of this comes not from the houses of congress but from the film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” where Jimmy Stuart spoke for 24 hours in an attempt to prevent the vote on an appropriations bill.

However, the current rules for a filibuster in the US senate are a bit difficult to understand. Under the current rules if a Senator does a filibuster he or she cannot be stopped unless 60 Senators vote to end the “debate”. The last time there such a super majority of in the US Senate was in 1965 which was actually in both the Senate and the House.

Having a half century of voting history to look at makes it somewhat obvious that it is seldom that a single party has this type of majority. Thus you will need to have members of the opposing party vote with to stop a filibuster. This is difficult if the filibuster is being done by one of the parties (e.g Democrats) in order to stop nah essentially kill a piece of legislation.

What this really means is that if one party can the minimum of 41 seats then they can be quite obstructive in the day to day workings in the Senate. This also means that it is possible that a party representing a minority of Americans can prevent the will of the majority.

This would be a odd type of democracy as it stands but even worse considering that each US state is assigned two senators which makes it possible for small states such as Rhode Island to have the same voting rights as a large state such as Texas. This makes is possible that a small group of small states might be having an over-sized importance on the issues voted on by the Senate.

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A new way of cooking

I don’t know how many commercials I have seen on youtube for Hello Fresh, but it is quite a lot. I do have to admit they make a pretty compelling case. You don’t need to leave the house, convenient in these covid times, to go shopping. Everything is not only delivered to you but it is the exact amount that you need to make dinner. I was pretty skeptical but my wife convinced me we should give it a shot.

Two meal delivery for four people

We have tried hello fresh for three weeks now and they have never been late, nothing has ever been missing, and you really cannot fault them for their menu selection. Each time I try and find a couple of menus for the next week I see more than a few that look appealing. I have even seen a fair few that appear to be vegetarian meals if that is your thing.

Two meals, refrigerator items in white bag

I guess it depends on your environmental leanings if this is a good service. Supposedly, we throw away a lot of food per person every year which is certainly a waste especially when there are others who might go to sleep hungry. Hello Fresh does ensure that doesn’t happen. All of the food you get is pre-measured or the appropriate size and is simply used up.

They also separated all of the items that need to be refrigerated into a separate insulated bag which is convenient. This bag is also made up of 96% recycled paper and to dispose of it you simply put this in the same bin as your newspapers.

I wish I could say that the food was fabulous, it was actually quite ok. I think that the different menus could have had a few more spices. In my opinion I thought they were a bit bland but that is my opinion.

The unfortunate side of this service is all of the packaging. You might be able to get an idea from the open bag pictured above. This contains two small containers of beans and two containers of tomatoes. There is really nothing wrong with the sizes but from what I can tell, they have all of their sizes based on a two person dinner and when you need food for more two you get twice as many containers.

This may or may not be the case for some of the ingredients you purchase at the store such as tomatos. Most of the tomatos are in a single size at the store. Hello Fresh does package their spices and other small ingredients in their own small package. There does not seem to be an excessive amount of packaging, well more than I might get at the store, but it just seems that I have a lot more to haul out to the trash at the end of the day.

At the very least, there is some additional shipping of food as well as more paper containers to be dealt with.

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From sugar makes you fat to vaccination beliefs

Well, does sugar really make you fat? This is perhaps too generic of an argument. A much better argument is that eating too many calories for the amount of exercise or movement you do. Sugar on my cereal each day might make me fat but might have no effect on my children.

Could I convince you that sugar is bad if I had a study? Would the author of the study matter? How about where the funding came from – a sugar company or a non-governmental organization on general nutrition?

I feel that “to vaccinate” vs “not to vaccinate” falls into a he said she said type of argument. It is very complex dealing with preservatives and stabilizers and has a lot of finger pointing.

Vaccines as well as foods also contain some substances for preservation. These preservatives help both foods and medicines to have a shelf life of more than a few days. This is one of those things that have helped us move from a society of hunters and gatherers living from day to day to a society that does not need to produce and use these items immediately.

Some of these preservatives, well for foods anyway, are reasonably familiar.

  • Salt
  • Nitrates
  • Sulfates
  • Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Benzoate and Benzene (ok, not so familiar)

A lot of Anti-vaxxers are concerned when they see things like Thimerosal which is a type of mercury as a preservative in vaccines. I get it, mercury is bad for you.

Con argument

Mercury? It is know to be harmful for the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract … need I go on?

Pro argument

Well, you wouldn’t want micro organisms living and growing in the medical juice we will be putting into your arm. It would undermine the entire reason for doing so.

Its complicated

The issue is actually more nuanced that this but what does tend to be the case is that you see very educated people on both sides of the argument. This should not be too surprising. In many different situations there are people on both sides of an argument.

The good or bad news is that both sides bring their own studies into the argument and this is where things can get a bit problematic. If there is a supporting study that suggests having a certain medicine has a terrible side effect then is the argument finished? Did one side win?

Maybe. Having a study is good news as it shows why we should change our behavior but only if it was a good study. A good study should contain a lot of of the folllowing attributes.

  • Uses statistically large enough sample size
  • Clearly states the variables or constructs to be examined
  • Performed in a systematic way
  • It is based on some logical rationale and tied to theory
  • Provide data and methods
  • It can be replicated

Based on a lot of information I have seen about aluminium, sugar, transfats, … it is not usually possible to know if any of these or all of these attributes are being used. In many of cases, the studies seem to be done by the the group who wants to prove the result.

How to decide?

Well, the most important attribute from that list is “can it be replicated”. This is usually clarified by the term “peer reviewed” or replicated by an group of independent researchers.

Anyone can have an opinion and the opinions of a doctor, lawyer, or television star is no more important than your opinion. An opinion supported by studies and research is good but an opinion supported by independent studies and proven by others in the field is much much better.

If something cannot be “scientifically proven”, then perhaps this is less a scientific argument and more an argument of faith. Nothing wrong with that, but lets keep in perspective.

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The Upgrade

A couple of years ago my wife bought a HP pavillion gaming notebook. It has an Intel I7 with 16 gigabytes of ram and a one terabyte hard drive. Despite having windows 10 as the operating system it has been a great notebook. Everything has been just fine for gaming and photo editing but lately she has been complaining that her program cannot open up images to be edited. Well, it turned out that she was having space problems. It turned out that the windows partition was on its own 128gb m.2 drive which was full, and not a little full but virtually completely full with about 1 gigabyte free.

First attempted rescue

Back in the good ol’days the solution would be to get a larger disk drive and to clone the old disk onto the new disk. I downloaded clonezilla which would have been a great help. You had to be careful of which drive or partitions needed to be copied but the entire process could easily be done in a couple of hours.

I didn’t think the situation through and so I tried to fix my problem just like the olden days – well it didn’t work. I received a windows error and a blue screen. Despite all my efforts I was not able to boot the newly imaged drive with the old partitions.

I did some further investigating on the internet and came up with a second possible solution.

Second attempt

The good news is that I am not dealing with a dead hard disk. Microsoft actually created a backup tool to create a system image of the entire computer. This is really cool for a computer that has just been recently setup, even better when the computer has a single drive with a single partition. Some of the videos I saw on the internet suggested you can select which partitions can be backed up using Microsoft’s system image backup.

The notebook still worked fine so it was just a matter of backing up the operating system image and restoring it to a new hard disk.

However, as simple as this process sounds has a lot of steps a casual user wouldn’t feel comfortable doing.

I think having a SSD as the operating system disk makes for a really fast pc but it boggles the mind how most non-technical people deal with this type of partition full issue. My wife, initially couldn’t believe she had about 900MB free but her computer was “full”.

She is very hands on person but the video describes how to take the entire bottom off of the laptop. Not only is taking the bottom off your laptop too much for most people in this case it also involves tools that a lot of people don’t own. Consumer friendly laptops have a small door to access memory or hard disks or other laptops while others, such as the XMG Apex 15, have a easy to remove bottom.

Upgrades are not necessarily a technical challenge but between how most laptops are built and the process of installing or migrating Windows is too much for most people.

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Voted off the island

I was frankly happy when the US presidential election was over. It was a long tiring process that took forever and once it was over it still wasn’t really over. Cries of “fake news” and “election fraud” were scary initially until they appeared to be just political posturing – well in the worst possible way.

The election is really over, and the ex-President is now long gone. I was surprised to see a bit of news about one of the Fox News reporters. It seems that the veteran politics editor Chris Stirewalt was fired.

This could be a coincidence and that Fox News simply decided after the election they needed fewer staff now that the election is over? What is unique about Chris is that he, along with Bill Sammon, were involved in making the decision to call the Arizona election in favor of Joe Biden over Donald Trump. They called the state of Arizona but they also did this before all other news networks did. I guess you could even say that they scooped the other networks.

In the end it turns out that this was indeed the correct call but with Fox News calling the state for Biden I suspect they received a lot of negative feelings and feedback from both their viewers and the ex-President.

It is sad that someone who reported the facts should loose their job when others on the same network promote that there was fraud in the 2020 election but still retain their job.

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Excessive shaming, cover your ass or follow the leader

Just recently we have seen a rather unprecedented suspension of use by a number of public platforms for President Trump, now ex-President Trump.

  • Twitter
  • Youtube
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Snapchat
  • Reddit
  • Twitch
  • Liquid Web
  • Shopify
  • stripe
  • paypal

A lot of these were social media sites but this list also includes some payment services. It is possible that these were suspended to prevent any further encouragement of the rioters. An impartial view of the of the ex-President’s inability to tweet out his important thoughts might be a good preventative measure but is it censorship? Well, I guess using the textbook definition it is certainly censorship. Does this prevent him from communicating and reaching his political base?

Well, I suppose that is complicated. As the president of the United States, now former president, he commands the ability to simply hold a speech and the reporters from the various large news organizations come running. So it is definately possible for him to communicate with anyone willing to listen. It is my personal opinion that ex-president Trump liked to communicate via Twitter due to the control he was able to exert.

You do not have to like him, his style or his politics to see he knows how to resonate with a crowd. He is very good at controlling his image and Twitter was perfect. He could say what he wanted and he didn’t have to face down a room of reporters who might ask difficult questions. Worse still those reporters would then have either audio or video of any answers which can be used at any point to tarnish his image.

Beyond censorship

There are probably as many different opinions as people on should you be able to turn off the leader of a country’s microphone. Whether or not you agree this is an acceptable method you might wonder about some of the other different organizations who are now shunning ex-President Trump.

It is difficult to know when to cut bait in any situation. I think the most generous person in the world might be able to look at some of the things Trump had said in the media or on social media and suggest this was beyond poor taste. Yet, like anything in life, once you start to acquiesce in a situation you become more and more invested. The more invested the hard to stop any given activity.

The recent protest, riot or attempted coup probably seemed like a convenient spot for most organizations to terminate their relationship. Once a few organizations terminated their relationship it was easier for everyone else to jump on the anti-Trump train.

Much in the way that President Trump has been maintaining his image over the decades he is now victim of other organizations doing the exact same thing – maintaining their images. His polarizing ways and his alleged connection with the activities on January 6th are exactly the things that in my opinion would have gotten most other people banned from most social media platforms. It is actually just easier for most of these organizations to use the fine print in their contracts to get rid someone who could be a brand problem in the future.

Free Market

It was probably harsh realization to the ex-President but there is another example from the news that supports a companies free will decisions. That court case went all the way to the supreme court which agreed that the bakery was not required to make a wedding cake for same sex couple. Companies, just like people, don’t have to do business with people they if they don’t want to.

It is impossible to know the exact reasons why these companies have broken their ties but it is a free market decision.

You don’t have to like ex-President Trump to know that things will be much much harder for him. It is quite likely with all of these organizations abandoning ex-President Turmp he could see a negative financial impact on his fortune.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/danalexander/2020/10/16/donald-trump-has-at-least-1-billion-in-debt-more-than-twice-the-amount-he-suggested/?sh=5106e6784330

The only thing that seems somewhat obvious is that if the market knows that ex-President Trump is in a bad financial situation that some of the financial sharks will be circling and waiting for the best time to make a deal – which will probably be the worst time for ex-President Trump.

Free markets and free will are great when everything is going your way but nothing lasts forever.

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Name brand recognition or coincidence

When you work or live outside of the USA you sometimes want to have a taste for the familiar. It is actually surprising just how many products that have a big footprint in the US have little or no market presence in other countries.

It has been ages since I wanted a peanut and jelly sandwich but I do like to have peanut butter from time to time on my bread. Because peanut’s are not native to Europe a lot of peanut based foods are also not so common here.

I don’t have a favorite local brand as they keep changing at my local supermarket. I bought some a while back and I didn’t think anything about it until my wife surprised me with an actual US peanut butter.

It was then I notice the similarity. I do not think that most people in Europe know anything about Jif peanut butter but I was surprised to see my local peanut butter looking similar to a familiar brand.

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The dirty business of politics in the 21st century

I don’t know how old you need to be to have heart the following saying.

damned if you do and damned if you don’t

Of course this phrase has the dictionary definition of an unwinnable situation. I have been watching the drama play out in Washington DC and it is difficult to know what the actual politicians think. I see news clips or bloggers talking about how in private the politicians are saying there was no fraud in the presidential election but nothing on the record.

I do rather wonder if this is partly because those politicians or vice president are in an unwinnable situation but one with rather serious consequences.

It is one thing to be the unpopular kid on the play ground who has the fear a bully might take away your lunch money or generally harass you. Can you imagine in what position the politicians are in. They know that there is a republican base of approximately 74 million people who seem to be supporting President Trump in all he does. Just a week ago, a pretty small group of those supporters took their beliefs quite a bit farther and occupied the capital. The group that went all the way and broke into the capital appear to be more hard core than most. They must be in order to travel from their home, most of which were outside of DC, just to attend this event and create this chaos.

Now imagine that some of these people live in your home district or somewhere in your state. I can only imagine that one reason the politicians are so quiet about their Trump opinions is that they can imagine a lifetime of having a flaming bag of poop on their door step, cars scratched in a parking lot or worse.

I think that all politicians on both sides of the aisle have this in their mind but what about vice President Mike Pence. Before January 6th, he had pretty much two choices.

  • Preside over electoral vote counting in ceremonial role
  • Somehow try and overturn the election in favor of Donald Trump

With these two choices he must have felt like he somehow won the worst job in the world – quite literally.

His current boss is not at all understanding of anyone who does not fulfill his requests. If Mike Pence fails to overturn the last possible opportunity overturn the election the chance his boss would show some understanding was slim. He might be fed to the “not so understanding” Trump base creating problems with disgruntled voters for years to come. The net result could be those flaming poop bags or toilet paper on Halloween at the minimum. If he looks behind door number two and somehow overturns the election, he will also be vilified by the non-Trump base, have the opportunity for toilet paper and such on Halloween. Door number two doesn’t seem any better but it gets worse.

If he had tried to fool with the electoral vote process, it would have eventually been overturned by the Supreme Court and go down in history as a traitor to democracy.

damned if you do and damned if you don’t

All of this hassle for this ceremonial vote counting. Is it any wonder that he did not choose to take up the congress request for him to implement the 25th amendment of removing Trump from office. He has been thrown under the bus while he was with his family in the capital building. He was probably concerned that “… even worse” might happen to him from the Trump supporters if he had removed the President even a few days early.

I think it is possible to not respect the vice president at all and still feel a small bit sorry for him. Not for his politics as he has pretty much determined his own future but that the constituents in this political game are taking this too far.

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Covid 19 problems real or imagined

I received a email about death. I am not going to post the entire email but it was related to the death of a generally healthy doctor in Florida a few weeks after taking a covid 19 vaccine. The facts of this is as follows:

  • died 15 days after first injection of vaccine
  • Death of thrombocytopenia(ITP) which is a lack of platelets
  • Light drinker (on social occasions)
  • Non-smoker
  • generally fit who did outdoor activities

According to my email, ITP autoimmune condition, is the third most common problem after getting an influenza vaccination. It is always sad when someone dies before their time has come which is why Covid 19 is such depressing disease. It has been the straw that has been breaking the back of many people who have other health condition. Sure, eventually they would have also succumbed but this might have been years or decades later.

Was this death the result of a vaccine? It is difficult to say but we can say that as of the writing of this blog, Jan 12, 2021, approximately 29 million doses have been administered and there does not seem to be any other people who have had this reaction.

This could indeed just be a rare autoimmune reaction or latest disease caused by something else. The numbers that came up during my research were perhaps a few thousand cases a year for ITP. The human body is pretty complex, there are also a number of other autoimmune diseases that occur that have not yet been blamed on Covid 19.

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Systemic Lupis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Graves disease
  • Celiac disease

I was not aware that these more common diseases are actually autoimmune diseases and between all of them they cover millions of unhappy people each year.

Fun fact. People with celiac disease cannot eat foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and other grains. It is because of this disease that it is possible to find so many gluten free products in the supermarket.

It is also possible to anaphylactic shock when getting a vaccine or some injection which also can be quite serious but can be brought about by a number of different external factors succh as insect bites, foods, medications, latex exposure or exercise. It is also possible to have an anaphylactic shock for no reason whatsoever.

Yup, all of this actually sounds similar to something my father once said. If you give a can of (your favorite soft drink) to one million people someone will probably die. Indeed, nobody wants to die from something as mundane as a vaccination but some of the Covid 19 alternatives are worse.

  • Permanent heart damage
  • Permanent lung damage to the air sacs in lungs
  • Strokes or seizures
  • chronic fatigue
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Blood clots and blood vessel problems
  • death

I guess all of this focuses around your risk horizon. If you think that big pharma will kill you you can roll the dice and see how you fare with Covid 19.

I am not a medical physician so none of this is advice but I am going to give the vaccine a chance. The second worst thing that can happen is a mutation that give me X-Men powers.

Stay healthy.

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