Valentine’s Day 2021–Love Your Sweetie, Hate Your Fellow Man

Did Valentine’s Day 2021 put love, rather than the coronavirus, in the air? Well, yes and no. Retailers made sure we didn’t forget that the only acceptable way to show our love is to buy things, the more expensive the better, for our beloved. But warm and fuzzy feelings for our fellow man are AWOL; even managing civility for him is seemingly a challenge. Beware if you are of a different race from someone else–particularly if you are Asian American. Arrows are aimed at you, and they aren’t from Cupid; they’re a message (and not of love) from your neighbor.

The coronavirus isn’t the only thing spreading in this country. News reports indicate a wave of anti-Asian violence and harassment here in the U.S. Why racism against Asians and why now? Comments by then President Trump earlier in the pandemic referring to the “China flu” or the “Kung Flu” are believed to have spurred this animosity. Whoever said “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” was clearly clueless.

The loveless sentiment directed at Asian Americans affects millions of people. According to 2016 census figures, Asian Americans number approximately 21 million, a majority of whom were foreign born. In fact, Asian Americans constitute one-fourth of all immigrants who have arrived in this country since 1965. The overall population of Asian Americans is highly urbanized and are concentrated in California and the western United States. Their highest populations can be found in the areas of Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco. But in today’s climate, San Francisco’s Chinatown, the nation’s oldest and largest, may not be a safe place for Asian Americans. Their San Francisco treat could be hatred and violence rather than Rice-a-Roni.

Since actions speak louder than words, videos portraying physical assaults on Asian Americans have spoken volumes about the current climate of racial tolerance–or more accurately, the lack thereof. A gut-wrenching clip of a 91 year old man in Oakland’s Chinatown captured him being pushed face down into the sidewalk from behind in an unprovoked attack. Robbery was not the motive–hate and racism were the motivating factors. On the bright side, the attacker did have a mask due to the pandemic. (Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xq4mHOtPQD0 to see the video.)

Sadly, that attack is just one of a growing number of incidents where Asian Americans are the victims. The president of Oakland’s Chamber of Commerce cited more than 20 incidents of small businesses getting robbed and owners and customers assaulted recently. In light of such attacks, neighborhood safety patrols began handing out whistles in San Francisco along with Chinese-language pamphlets titled “How to Report a Hate Crime.” Under these circumstances, whistling while a Chinese small business owner works is not as peppy a thought as when the dwarves whistled while working in “Snow White.”

Where such physical violence occurs, women and people over age 60 are disproportionately targeted. Authorities suggest older Asians are targeted due to the stereotype they don’t report crimes due to language barriers. The physical attacks targeting senior citizens left many older Asian fearful of going out to shop for the Lunar New Year which fell on February 12th. 2021 may be the Year of the Ox, but such shameful behavior against seniors is frankly, bull.

Heartwarmingly, some people not only care about Asian Americans, but they have stepped up to the plate to help their neighbors of a different race. Take Jacob Azevedo, a Latino, for instance. Disturbed by the violence directed at Asian Americans, he put a call out on Instagram offering to accompany anyone in Chinatown going out to the store, running errands, etc. Jacob’s reasoning is likely based on what my dear Mom always said, “Safety in numbers.” In response, hundreds of people on Instagram offered to help. In addition, thousands of dollars were donated to help him buy a personal alarm device to be distributed to older Asians in the community. Now there’s an example of showing love to your fellow man.

Incidents of hate and violence against Asian Americans, sadly, have not been limited to the West Coast. The NYPD has created an Asian Hate Crimes task force to deal with the upsurge in targeting of Asians in the Big Apple. According to that department’s statistics, only one anti-Asian incident was reported in 2019. In contrast, during the first six months of 2020, which saw the initial rise of the pandemic, 20 such incidents were reported. New Yorkers aren’t known for their friendliness, but there’s no excuse for outright hate.

Other organizations are also reporting disturbing incidents. Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander–hopefully not pronounced Ape-y) Hate, an initiative formed in 2020, received over 2,800 reports of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans between March 19, 2020 and December 31 2020. Of these incidents, 71% were verbal abuse while physical assaults accounted for around 9%. Sure those numbers are way lower than the cases of the coronavirus, but even one incident of hate is too many.

The problem of targeting of Asian Americans in our country has received attention at the highest possible level. In response to this sad situation, President Biden signed a memorandum on January 26, 2021 directing federal agencies to explore ways of combating racism and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. And, of course, everyone knows that xenophobia is a big word meaning dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries, right? Hey, but wait. Aren’t ALL of us Americans ultimately from other countries? My ancestors, for example came from Ireland.

While President Biden is to be applauded for acknowledging the inexcusable behavior directed at Asian Americans and ordering steps to be taken to address it, government directives aren’t going to solve the problem. A change of heart is required because hearts filled with hate produce hate. Recognizing that someone of a different race is our neighbor and a human being deserving of the decent treatment we would ourselves expect helps to soften hearts hardened with hate. Unfortunately, it’s not only love that may be blind, but hate as well.

How ironic it is to see hearts displayed everywhere for Valentine’s Day 2021with all being urged to show their love to that special someone when hate is literally being dished out to certain others. Shouldn’t our behavior be consistent? We need to love our sweeties, certainly, but we also need to at least be civil to our fellow man–including Asian Americans. Even better, let’s aim to follow Jesus’ directive to love one another, and let’s do it not simply on Valentine’s Day but EVERY day.

Just WONDER-ing:

Is there an Asian American population in your community? Have you ever been treated poorly because of your race? How did that make you feel? If you haven’t, do you imagine it would be a pleasant experience? Does an individual’s racial background alone justify physical violence against him?

Super Bowl LV — Super For Social Commentary Not Sports

Sunday evening around 91.6 million people tuned in to Super Bowl LV (that’s 55 for those who are not fluent in Roman numerals). Were they all watching to see the matchup between the old quarterback, Tom Brady (formerly of the New England Patriots), with the almost 20 year younger Patrick Mahomes (soon to be a new daddy)? Probably not since viewership of the event dropped drastically this year. People needed to be doing something while downing all those game day snacks. But regardless of why they tuned in, this Super Bowl wasn’t super for providing exciting entertainment. It was super for touching upon important societal issues. Let’s check them out.

Military Might. The United States may be facing problems with unemployment, the pandemic, and racial tension, but no one can question its formidable armed forces. Demonstrative exhibit #1 appeared as the National Anthem was ending and before the kickoff even occurred. Look! Up in the sky! A trio of bombers roared above the crowd in Raymond James Stadium to roars of wonder, delight, and approval.

In a first of its kind flyover, three Air Force Global Strike Command bombers filled the skies and deafened the ears of the fans assembled for Super Bowl LV. The composition of the aerial team displayed three generations of bombers, a testament to the air superiority of the good old USA. There were no bombs away, although it would be nice if these bombers could take out that pesky virus that keeps taunting not only our country but the entire world.

The oldest of the three bombers was the B-52 Stratofortress. Due to its age, it’s often referred to as a Stratosaurus. The nickname BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fellow) is also attached to the B-52. The U.S. Air Force has 76 of these BUFF’s costing $84 million each and costing $70,000 per hour to fly. Can you imagine what it must cost to fill up one’s tank?

The B-2 Spirit which flew in formation with the BUFF looks like a flying triangle. Only 20 of these bombers are in the USAF inventory at a mere $1.157 billion apiece (that’s billion with a “b.”) The Spirit is a stealth aircraft which is nearly invisible to radar. Thankfully, it can be seen by the human eye or flying over Raymond James Stadium would have been pointless.

The third member of the tri-bomber group was the B-1B Lancer, nicknamed the Bone. This plane, of which the USAF has 62, can do tricks which the other cannot such as hitting supersonic speeds, flying inverted, and changing wing positions during operations. Whether it can roll over and play dead was not disclosed and may be classified information. Hopefully, the ability to do these “tricks” justifies its price tag of $357 million.

As if the cost of these bombers isn’t jaw-dropping enough, the coordination required to pull off this tri-bomber flyover is also astounding. The bombers took off from three separate Air Force bases (Ellsworth, Minot, and Whiteman) in three different states (South Dakota, North Dakota, and Missouri) at three separate times, managing to meet up and fly over the stadium in Tampa, Florida. Oh, and due to the flight distance, mid-air refueling was required.

The Role of Women. Bombers weren’t the only thing that was up for the Super Bowl. The role of women in sports ascended to a new height during Super Bowl LV. Bombers were in the air before the game, and a woman was on the field during the game. She wasn’t a sideline reporter or a physical trainer. She was part of the officiating crew. Yes, for the first time in history a woman officiated at a Super Bowl.

You weren’t seeing things if you thought you saw a blonde ponytail peeking out from one of the officiating crew’s caps. The seven person crew contained Sarah Thomas, a mother of three and pioneer for women in the sports world.

Thomas has broken barriers in her career in officiating. In addition to being the first woman to officiate at the Super Bowl, Thomas was the first woman to work a major college game, to officiate a bowl game, and to be a full-time referee. She has worked in the NFL since 2015, with her stellar efforts at her job landing her the honor of being on the crew for Super Bowl LV.

The appearance of Thomas in the officiating world has also led to some change in terms used. During the Super Bowl she was the “downs judge.” That position was previously called the “head lineman.” With a woman filling that role, the term was altered to become more inclusive. Looks like Thomas was knocking DOWN some barriers with her work.

Made in the USA. U.S. citizens are often encouraged to buy American. The NFL followed that suggestion when it came to the game balls used during Super Bowl LV. All of the footballs were handcrafted with the help of machines right here in the U.S. These pigskins were birthed at the Wilson Football Factory in Ada, Ohio. Yup, those babies were, as Bruce Springsteen would sing, “Born in the USA.”

Wilson isn’t making bacon, but it does produce over 700,000 pigskins each year, including the ones specially crafted for use in the Super Bowl and commemorative ones for fans. Each team playing in the Super Bowl receives 108 Wilson footballs. Fifty-four of these balls are used for practice and the remaining 54 are utilized in the actual game. With 216 balls out there between the two teams, that’s a lot of game balls.

Pandemic Protection. And, of course, nothing that occurs these days is out of the reach of the ongoing pandemic. Super Bowl LV was no exception. Health concerns were front and center of staging the game. The game had to go on, but it had to occur in a socially responsible way.

The number of fans allowed to be in attendance was limited to 22,000, roughly equivalent to 1/3 capacity of the stadium. This restriction allowed for some social distancing. And all fans were required to be wearing masks. Kind of takes the the excitement out of trying to be seen on TV when your face is hidden behind a mask. Hey, but health and safety are more important than publicity.

In a fitting tribute, the NFL provided free tickets to 7,500 health care workers who had been vaccinated for COVID-19. Even though vaccinated, they were still required to wear masks. Better safe than sorry, right? With that many medical professionals in attendance, there was no need to be concerned about finding a doctor in the house if any medical emergency arose.

A sporting event such as the Super Bowl does not occur within a vacuum. It takes place within society and mirrors issues and concerns of the times. Sure, the main focus is sports, but taking the time to take a closer look reveals some interesting commentary on the society which holds the event. The Super Bowl winner received a trophy, but an astute fan received the opportunity to observe things about the context in which we Americans live.

Just WONDER-ing:

Did you watch the Super Bowl? Was the show of our country’s superior air power justified given the cost to exhibit it? Was it reckless to stage such a large public event when the pandemic is still such a health concern? What other societal tidbits did you glean from watching or reading about the game?

Disputed Elections–The U.S. And Myanmar, A Tale Of Two Countries

Did you hear about the disputed election held back in November? No, not that one. Surprise! One occurred in Myanmar, the country previously known as Burma. Weren’t aware of it? I’m not surprised.

Americans are so self-centered; we tend to ignore what is going on in far away places. But it would behoove us to keep up with events in other parts of the world. Why? For one thing, doing so will likely give us a different perspective on our own national situation. For another, what’s happening in Myanmar is forcing newly elected U.S. President Joe Biden to face his first major foreign policy test. Welcome to the job, Joe!

So, let’s begin at the beginning–always a good place to start. I’m betting most of us would be hard pressed to point out Myanmar on a world map. Well, the country’s located in Southeast Asia and shares borders with Bangladesh and China to the northwest, China to the northeast, Laos to the east, and Thailand to the southeast. As of 2017, it’s population was 54 million, 87% of whom are Buddhist. Myanmar is ethnically diverse with 135 different national races identified. Imagine how long their census form must be for race identification….

Myanmar gained its independence from Britain in 1948. A coup in 1962 began a half century of military rule. For approximately the last decade, the country has experienced democracy and was emerging from decades of strict military rule and isolationism. But that progress came to a screeching halt with a military coup on Monday. Tanks appearing outside the gates of the Parliament building tend to interrupt the normal flow of daily (and democratic) activities.

Monday’s a difficult day to begin with, but a pre-dawn raid made things especially dicey for Myanmar citizens. The country’s military detained recently elected (or not depending on which side you believe) President Suu Kyi and seized control of the country. The junta also removed 24 ministers and deputies from the government alleging election fraud. Around 400 members of Parliament are reportedly being detained in a large guest house (well, duh, it would have to be large to accommodate 400 “guests”) in the city of Naypiydaw. House party!!

So what happened in the November election? (In Myanmar that is.) The incumbent president’s National League for Democracy won the election by a landslide, taking 396 out of 476 seats. This result allowed the president to continue in power for 5 more years. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won only 33 seats, and they were none too happy about their poor showing. In fact, they were very sore losers.

The military alleged “voting malpractice” claiming millions of irregularities in voter lists. Nevertheless, the country’s election commission announced on January 29th that there was no evidence to support such claims. The evidence of fraud was deemed, at best, “disputed.”

The commander of Myanmar’s military, Gen. Ming Aung Hlaing, had a letter sent to the president ordering a recount of the election results and a delay in the opening of Parliament “or else.” Oooooh! The “or else” of course was Monday’s coup and the president’s detention.

For President Suu Kyi, this result is déjà vu all over again. She and the military go way back–and not in a good way. Aung San Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent resistance against the military dictatorship that kept her under house arrest for 15 years. At age 75, she may not make another 15 years of detention.

Gen Hlaing has now assumed (translate “grabbed”) power. The armed forces, so he says, are only assuming control for one year under emergency powers granted under Myanmar’s constitution. (And another emergency is likely to conveniently appear at the end of that one year, I’m thinking.) Myanmar’s military, officially known as the Tatmadew, already has its fingers pretty deep in the country’s political pie. The constitution, ratified back in 2008, guarantees the military 25% of the seats in parliament. Who wants 25% when you can seize power and have 100%?

And what does assuming power look like for Gen. Hlaing and the Tatmadew? It’s repressive. Phones, TV broadcasts, and the internet were cut or hindered by the military to counter dissent. Needless to say, Gen Hlaing doesn’t see eye to eye with the U.N. which considers the internet to be an essential mechanism for people to exercise their right to free information.

Back in the U.S., news of the coup has been met with concern and disapproval. In years past, the U.S. showed its disapproval of military rule of Myanmar with economic sanctions. Since the Southeast Asian country is heavily dependent on overseas aid, money speaks louder than words to Myanmar.

U.S. sanctions were lifted in 2016 after elections were held and a civilian government was established. Moves towards democracy meant more U.S. aid. President Biden has called on Myanmar’s military to relinquish power. To back up this request, he has threatened the imposition of sanctions. Moves away from democracy mean economic backlash for Myanmar. But perhaps General Hlaing is in it for personal power and not the financial stability of his country….

The tale of the disputed November election in Myanmar is a sad one. It also played out quite differently than the tale of the disputed November election here in the U.S. Both situations involved claims of election fraud, calls for an investigation of voting irregularities, segments of the country being unhappy campers at the results, and concerning incidents at the seat of government.

But unlike Myanmar, it was rioters, not tanks, showing up at the legislative seat of the U.S. Our government did not undergo a fundamental transition. Our democratic process remains intact; the change we experienced was the in name of the president and the political party in power.

Both countries are facing difficult times and have citizens with vastly different views as to how things should be run. As bad as Americans believe things are in our country right now, I’d still rather be in the U.S. than in Myanmar. And I have free access to the internet to tell you that.

Just WONDER-ing:

Had you heard there had been a coup in Myanmar? Does democracy have a chance of succeeding when the military is entrenched in the legislative process? Does the U.S. have a right to voice an opinion as to how another country should be governed? If there’s going to be an election dispute, would you rather be in Myanmar or the U.S.?

Going Down–What’s Up With Slowing U.S. Population Growth?

Feeling down after all 2020 threw at us? Morale isn’t the only thing that’s down in our country. The national population growth has headed south as well. What’s up with this decline?

In addition to votes being counted in 2020, people were too. While the number of votes for a presidential candidate are only a concern every four years, ongoing tabs are kept on the U.S. population. And when I say ongoing, I mean daily. The estimated population of the good ole USA was 332,108,584 as of January 26, 2021. Baby born? Add one. COVID-19 death? Subtract one.

While a number is interesting, the direction the numbers are going is even more interesting–and concerning. The U.S. population (which is equivalent to 4.27% of the worlds’ population for you number nerds) grew only 7% between 2010 and 2020 according to a Census Bureau estimate. This is the slowest national population growth since the Great Depression. What depressing news!

Recent figures reveal sixteen states have lost population. These unfortunate members of the union, in no particular order, are California, Massachusetts (thank heaven for spellchecker!), Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Hawaii, Connecticut (spellchecker to the rescue again!), Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi (I knew how to spell that without spellchecker), New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. The biggest drops in population between mid-2019 to mid-2020 were in New York and California.

So what’s the big deal if the population dips in a particular state? Well, it is a big deal to the remaining residents of the state. Their state may lose federal funds and federal representation due to the dwindling numbers. New York, for example, is expected to lose a seat in Congress and an electoral vote. (Ah, yes, it always comes back to politics.) Accordingly, those states enumerated above will not consider themselves in a “Sweet Sixteen” list.

The number of residents in a few states are down, but how do the bean counters arrive at the conclusion that national population growth has slowed? I don’t know if there’s an app for it (there seems to be one for everything else), but there is a mathematical formula to use to determine annual growth; these figures can be compared from year to year. Fortunately there is no “x” in the formula, so I can understand it. Births – deaths + net migration = population growth. In layman’s terms, I’d explain that calculation as coming – going + showing up.

One of the reasons for the decline in U.S. population growth is low birth rates. According to a CDC report, the number of babies born in this country hit the lowest level in three decades in 2019. Oh, baby! Additionally, there has been a five year downward trend in the birth rate. Things are so bleak that Americans are not populating the country at a rate that allows replacement of the current population.

The total fertility rate in the U.S. for 2019 was 1.7 children per women. (Calling King Solomon to determine how we get 0.7 of a child.) That rate is below the required replacement fertility rate of around 2.1. (Who has these 0.1 children???) In fact, the fertility rate has been below replacement since 1971. Birth rates are sinking to an all time low. Yikes! Are those of us living in the U.S. the next to be placed on the endangered list?

There were significant drops in December 2020 births compared to 1 year earlier. So much for being on lockdown creating a baby boom….This large drop in birth rates is likely to continue for months because, as some sociologists believe, there is societal and economic uncertainty. Who wants to bring a bundle of joy into the world when there is unrest, tension, divisiveness, and financial woes? (Caveat: This presumes the couple was planning to get pregnant.)

But low birth rates are not the only culprit for the declining denizens of our country. Aging residents are adding to the loss. Who are these aging residents? Raising my hand as a proud member of the Baby Boom Generation. We BB’s are babies born from 1946 to 1964 during the post World War II baby boom. Based on 2019 figures, BB’s account for 23.5% of the U.S. population, an estimated 73 million people. About 10,000 BB’s a day reach age 65. In fact, by 2030, all BB’s will be 64 or older. Yup! The country is graying and not growing.

In addition to declining birth rates and aging residents, immigration cutbacks have fueled the downward trend in population growth. In 2016, our country counted around 1 million immigrants arriving; that number fell to 595,000 in 2018-2019. The smaller number of immigrants resulted not only from immigration restrictions put in place by the Trump administration, but from the perception of residents of other countries that the U.S. had fewer economic opportunities than before. Money makes the world go round and drives immigration.

And, of course, we’d be remiss in not pointing a finger of blame at COVID-19 for having a recent hand in this downturn. Mortality resulting from the pandemic bumped up the number of deaths and sent the population growth lower. So far, 430,000 individuals in the U.S. have lost their lives due to the virus with the 500,000 death mark rapidly approaching. (Wear a mask, wash your hands, and social distance, people!)

The pandemic has affected the number of births as well as the number of deaths. With bars and restaurants closed and social gatherings restricted, the opportunities for encounters leading to casual sex and unplanned pregnancies have plummeted. Well, perhaps that’s not an unwelcome result, eh?

Whether or not the figures produced by the 2020 Census expected in March provide an accurate population count, a specific number of residents isn’t the point. The key concept is that our nation’s population growth is slowing. But having less people in the U.S. to bicker with each other and damage our environment is not a bad result of lower population growth. Now if we could only manage downward population growth of the coronavirus.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you see lower population growth in our country as a negative? Were you aware that BB’s were such a large portion of the U.S. population? Should immigration restrictions be eased to allow for more population growth in our country? Why or why not?

Pardon Me!

If you’ve heard the words “Pardon me” in our nation’s capital recently, it’s likely the phrase had nothing to do with being polite. Instead it was a plea to keep the requestor out of the big house, and I’m not referring to the White House. I mean prison. With the Trump administration drawing to a close, folks were eager to receive a presidential pardon. But exactly what is such a pardon and how does one obtain one? I’ll pardon your ignorance if you don’t know and enlighten you.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it also doesn’t help anyone understand what is going on in current events. While fully comprehending what a coronavirus is and how to combat it requires some scientific background, presidential pardons aren’t as difficult to wrap your brain around. In fact, a citizen can readily grasp the concept and its parameters without being Albert Einstein. All it takes is a short civics lesson.

Everyone’s heard of the Constitution, right? Sure. That important document contains the basis for the power of a president to issue a pardon. Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the Constitution states, “The President…shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” Short and sweet, isn’t it? It’s a mere one sentence long with no mention of spike proteins and antibodies to confuse us.

This succinct constitutional provision answers some important questions, i.e., who, what, and when. The who is the President of the United States. What he can do is to grant pardons for federal offenses except in impeachment cases. When he can do that is while he is POTUS. That’s why there was a buzz of activity to seek pardons as 2020 wound down and Inauguration Day (Biden’s not Trump’s) approached. Once sworn in, Biden is POTUS and possesses the power to pardon.

Note that Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 gives the president virtually unlimited power to issue pardons. The only restrictions on his power are that he hold the office of POTUS, that he cannot pardon state offenses, and that he cannot pardon offenses in impeachment cases. He does not have to give a reason for granting a pardon, and his action is not reviewable by other branches of the government.

Just whose idea was it to allow POTUS to have such great power? Think Broadway. The answer is Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father made even more famous by Lin Manuel-Miranda’s smash musical “Hamilton.” Hamilton pushed for this presidential power and even advocated for it in the Federalist Papers. Somehow this portion of Hamilton’s career failed to rate a song in “Hamilton.” One can only hope for a sequel to the play to address this oversight.

If someone is pardoned, the punishment for the federal crime is set aside. But POTUS simply granting a pardon isn’t all that is necessary for the punishment to be avoided. The person to whom the pardon is granted must accept the pardon. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Wilson in 1833 ruled that a pardon can be rejected by a convict, and that a pardon must be affirmatively accepted for the courts to recognize it.

Why in the world would someone reject a pardon? One reason is that applying for and accepting a pardon is seen as an admission of guilt. While a pardon provides a get out of jail (or don’t go to jail) card, there is still a stain on the individual’s record of having acknowledged he did wrong.

A pardon may be granted before an individual has been found guilty or even charged with the commission of a crime. These types of pardons are known as presumptive pardons. For example, in September 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor, Richard Nixon, for any offenses connected to the Watergate scandal. At that point, Nixon (not so fondly known as Tricky Dick) had been accused of obstruction of justice, but he had yet to be charged.

Unresolved is whether a president can pardon himself. This issue has never been tested in the courts because, to date, no president has taken such action. That step was considered by Nixon’s lawyer and rumors swirled that President Trump might attempt that action, but no self-pardons materialized.

How does one request a pardon from POTUS? Applications for pardon must be submitted to the creatively named (NOT!) Office of the Pardon Attorney for review and recommendation as for the action to be taken. POTUS, of course, does not have to follow the recommendation of the OPA (Office of Pardon Attorney). He can also elect to pardon an individual on his own initiative. For example, on December 22, 2020, President Trump issued 20 pardons; of those pardons, only three were tied to petitions submitted to the OPA.

To no one’s surprise, presidential pardons are often controversial. Just two days before Christmas, POTUS delivered a very special present to two men to which he is connected. He pardoned Charles Kushner, his son-in-law’s father, and Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager. That wasn’t jingle bells these men heard but the sound of freedom from punishment.

But President Trump is hardly the only president to use his pardon power to take controversial actions. On his last day in office, President Jimmy Carter pardoned his own brother who was serving time for a federal drug-related offense. President Clinton pardoned billionaire tax evader and fugitive Marc Rich and his wife Denise, generous donors to Bill and Hillary. Boy did those donations ever pay off!

While President Trump issued a flurry of pardons before leaving office, including 52 on the day prior to Biden’s inauguration, he did not use the power excessively. Only 112 can be attributed to him. FDR, in contrast, issued the most pardons of any president–3,687. President Obama ranks #4 on the list of presidential pardons granted with 1,927.

Whether you agree with the existence of this presidential power or to whom the pardons are granted, having presidential pardons in the news is a positive thing. The topic provides Americans with the opportunity for a civics lesson. Even better, it offers something other than COVID and contested elections to hear about. Pardon me if I am thankful for that development!

Just WONDER-ing:

Is the presidential pardon power too broad? Does it pass the sniff test for presidents to pardon family members and political donors? Does it surprise you that Alexander Hamilton was the Founding Father who proposed the granting of this power?

Our House–In The Middle Of A Mob

Every house has its domestic drama, and the People’s House, better known as the U.S. Capitol, is no exception. But whereas drama at the family home might simply involve raised voices and slamming doors, recent drama at the home of the U.S. Congress involved pepper spray being utilized, shots being fired, and windows being broken. The People’s House found itself in the middle of a mob.

The lyrics to British band Madness’ song “Our House” aptly describe the events of January 6, 2021. (It didn’t take long for the new year to hit the skids, now did it?) The second verse of this pop hit released in 1982 states, “Our house, it has a crowd. There’s always something happening and it’s usually quite loud.”

Newsworthy events typically take place at the seat of our country’s legislative branch, but they are normally verbal battles between sparring political opponents. A mob overrunning the premises is something new and quite disturbing. And the buzz about what happened is really loud.

The People’s House, of course, is nothing like the house you or I live in. For one thing, it is way older than any of our residences. The original structure was completed in 1800 and has undergone a number of expansions and renovations.

As you likely did not learn in school in American History, the Capitol Building’s expansion accomplished in the 1850’s utilized slaves for construction labor. Yes, the Northerners wanted to make sure this job was completed before they invaded the South to do away with the terrible institution of slavery. Apparently it was do as we say and not as we do….

The sheer size of this “house” distinguishes the Capitol from the residence of John Q. Citizen. The Capitol Building, a National Historic Landmark, is the 5th tallest structure in Washington, D.C., and its grounds cover approximately 274 acres. Its location would warm a realtor’s heart concerned with location, location, location. The People’s House is situated on Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall.

And you think you get tired of visitors to your house? You’ve got nothing on the legislative branch. Three to five million people from around the world visit the People’s House each year. Nevertheless, the numbers have plunged since the Capitol Building has been closed to the public due to the pandemic.

The uninvited mob which rudely and illegally entered the People’s House on January 6th will, of course, unexpectedly add to the number of visitors in 2021. An accurate number of those who “stopped by” for a visit that day cannot be obtained. Even a reliable estimate of the unruly crowd is difficult because aerial photos are not permitted in Washington, D.C. due to security concerns. And, after January 6th, I’d say the security concerns are way bigger than folks imagined they were.

While Americans were shocked at the violence which unfolded on January 6th, this event was not the first time that violence has touched the People’s House. In 1814, just a few years after the building’s completion, it was partially burned by the British during the War of 1812.

But that’s a long time ago, right? Well, fast forward to March 1, 1954. On that date four Puerto Rican nationalists attended a debate on an immigration bill by the House of Representatives. In a desire to publicize their desire for Puerto Rican independence from the U.S., they shot 30 rounds from semi-automatic pistols from a visitors’ balcony in the House chamber. Yes, they definitely got everyone’s attention. Five representatives were wounded, but thankfully all recovered.

Sounds like the People’s House needs to have some security, huh? Perhaps a big dog like some homeowners? The security in place is the U.S. Capitol Police, a force established in 1828 with a currently authorized sworn strength of over 2,000 officers. (NOTE: That number is down since two officers died as the result of the events of January 6th.) The mission statement for the Capitol Police is to “Protect the congress…so it can fulfill its constitutional and legislative responsibilities in a safe, secure and open environment.” That was apparently Mission Impossible on January 6th.

The Capitol Police were expecting protestors on that date, but they were not prepared for the size of the crowd. Reports indicate that the crowd was likely double what was anticipated per FBI reports. Accordingly, the People’s House Protectors were caught off guard.

The Capitol Police knew company was coming, i.e., people participating in the planned “Save America March.” Barriers were in place around the perimeter, and riot gear was handy. President Trump addressed the crowd on the Ellipse that day–the day Congress was meeting to count the results of the Electoral College vote and to certify Biden’s victory in the presidential election. After his speech, the crowd marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building.

And the rest, as they say, is (sad) history. Barriers were breached and rioters forced their way into the People’s House. They took the Senate Chamber, physical altercations occurred between mob members and the Capitol Police, shots were fired, and gazillions of selfies were taken. The occupation lasted several hours during which time offices, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s, were entered and looted. Talk about a messy House!

Because of the insanity in the nation’s capital, the mayor of Washington, D.C. declared a 12-hour curfew beginning at 6:00 p.m. Undaunted, Congress reconvened around 8:00 p.m. to continue their legislative duties. Vice President Mike Pence addressed the reassembled legislators saying: “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today: You did not win. Violence never wins….And this is still the People’s House…Let’s get back to work.”

The Congress, as well as the entire nation, has some tough work to do. The country is clearly a house divided. Getting our house in order will take more than replacing the broken windows in the People’s House. The house in “Our House” may have been in the middle of a street, but the People’s House was in the middle of a mob and is now in the middle of a national crisis.

Just WONDER-ing:

Had you heard the U.S. Capitol referred to as the People’s House before? Have you ever visited the Capitol Building? Did you think violence like what occurred was possible in this country?

The Package Is (Still) In The Mail–Distressing Delivery Delays

What’s in your mailbox? A better question might be what’s NOT in your mailbox. Mine has been annoyingly empty on several occasions recently. What’s up? The crushing volume of deliveries to be made during the holiday season has resulted in a behemoth backlog.

Santa delivered Christmas presents in a timely fashion, but U.S.P.S. is still working on getting an unprecedented volume of such packages to their intended destination. Despite the desire for the “swift completion of their appointed rounds” by mail carriers, that goal was unattainable in 2020 continuing on in to 2021. Don’t blame snow or rain or heat or gloom of night for the delays. Let’s unmask (pun intended) the culprit. It’s COVID-19 and the consequences thereof.

The coronavirus achieved more than simply infecting millions and killing thousands here in the United States during 2020. It altered our lives and how we carried out regular tasks and celebrated cherished holidays. The crafty coronavirus even toyed with the postal service and took it for a roller coaster ride. The strategy was the classic good news/bad news scenario. The good news was that the U.S.P.S., which has seen steep declines in volume over the past few years, saw an unprecedented surge in business; the bad news was that this astronomical volume was a tidal wave which swept U.S.P.S. underwater unable to keep pace with the delivery demands. Glub! Glub!

The pandemic created a perfect storm which has paralyzed the postal service. Quarantines and illness among the 644,000 postal employees caused a shortage of workers. According to the American Postal Workers Union, nearly 19,000 U.S.P.S. workers were in quarantine at the end of 2020. And, of course, the end of the year (think Christmas) is a bad time to be short on workers when it’s the busiest delivery time annually.

As the availability of postal employees went down, the demand for deliveries skyrocketed. Because of health concerns, people opted not to personally deliver packages in their local area. It’s safer to mail it, they concluded. Because of health concerns, people thought it best not to travel to spend the holidays with family back home. We’ll have to mail their gifts to them instead, they concluded. Because of health concerns, people shied away from going to malls and other shopping venues where public contact was required. Let’s buy it online and have it shipped, they concluded. Bottom line? Everything had to be delivered. Hear that sound? It’s the tidal wave crashing over the head of U.S.P.S.

The role e-commerce played in the Christmas crush was huge. On Cyber Monday alone online shopping totaled $34.4 billion, an increase of 20% from 2019. During November and December 2020, e-commerce sales were up 33% from the previous year. While many online retailers utilize private delivery services such as UPS and FedEx, those services imposed deadlines for receipt of items for Christmas delivery. Senders who missed the deadline had no choice but to turn to U.S.P.S. to get massive amounts of their items delivered. And many of us, me included, are still waiting for our packages. And waiting. And waiting.

Where are these endlessly “in transit” packages? Widely circulated on the internet are pictures of U.S.P.S. processing and distribution centers across the country filled to overflowing with them. According to a December 28th news report, bays at the Cleveland Post Office were packed with boxes that had yet to be gone through. Due to the sea of incoming packages, trailers were obtained to hold them at annexes in the area. News articles contain stories of folks whose packages traveled to a center in New York and haven’t moved for weeks. I can see a package wanting to hang out in a center in Florida during the winter, but who wants to cool their heels (literally) in New York in December?

In addition to packages, the backlog has affected mail service as well. Letters, cards, and bills have been delayed also. No one ever likes to receive a bill, but it is even worse if the bill isn’t received until after its due date. A postal worker in a Philadelphia postal plant reported that one cannot even move in the building because so much mail is stacked there. So, the check you’re awaiting is not in the mail, it’s in a stack apparently.

Delivery delays are an issue despite the postal service having hired 50,000 seasonal workers in anticipation of increased holiday business. U.S.P.S. reported to Congress that first class mail was delivered on time only 78.9% of the time during the week of November 28th. This figure was far below the service’s goal of 96% on time delivery. To deal with the historic backlog, Sunday deliveries were expanded in some cities with high volume, and employees were required to work a great deal of overtime. With extended work schedules, some postal carriers are now literally working in the gloom of night.

But don’t be too hard on the U.S.P.S. They aren’t the only mail service suffering from delivery delays. Across the pond, the U.K.’s Royal Mail is behind on deliveries as well due to “exceptionally high volumes of post.” A reported online shift to shopping due to the pandemic means that 200 million more parcels were in their post this year. I say, old chap, that’s a lot!

As frustrating as not receiving a gift or an order in a timely fashion is, if that’s the biggest complaint you can make right now, be thankful. How many people did not live to see Christmas due to COVID-19? How many individuals lost their jobs due to the coronavirus and couldn’t afford to buy Christmas gifts to be delivered? Delayed delivery of a package simply means postponed enjoyment; in the context of a pandemic, its better late than never.

Just WONDER-ing:

Have you experienced delay in receipt of mail or packages in the past few weeks? Did you purchase anything online over the holidays to avoid going out publicly to shop? At what point does a delay during peak shipping times become unacceptable?

The Whole World’s Your Oyster Unless You’re In Apalachicola

The end of 2020 approaches. Hallelujah! How about celebrating the demise of this dreadful year with a decadent treat? You could slurp down oysters on the half shell or, if you are more refined, dine on oysters Rockefeller. Whatever your pleasure, you won’t be eating any oysters from the oyster capital of the world because harvesting of wild oysters from Apalachicola Bay has been shut down through 2025. Add yet another black mark to the list of what has transpired in 2020.

So oysters cannot be harvested from one particular location. What’s the big deal? Well, it is a big deal. In the first place, Apalachicola (familiarly “Apalach” to locals) has historically produced 90% of Florida’s oysters and 10% of the nation’s supply. The annual harvest dropped from 3 million pounds in 2009, worth around $9 million, to less than 21,000 pounds in 2019. The supply of oysters in Apalachicola Bay is dwindling. Bye, bye bivalves! Needless to say the economy of Apalachicola, a small town with a population around 2,300, has taken a huge hit and the lives of many of the residents dependent on that industry have been devastated.

But it isn’t just people who have been impacted. The lack of oysters is a troubling sign for the environment. The loss of Apalachicola Bay as an oyster source is evidence that the capacity to produce oysters naturally is waning. The oysters harvested from this area are from some of the last commercially worked wild oyster beds in the country. Almost all the other oysters produced are farmed. Wild, naturally produced oysters are more appealing to me that ones that are artificially farmed. Of course, those of you who are grossed out by the yuk factor of oysters (they look slimy but taste delicious) could care less how they come to be on your plate.

Even worse, oysters are what is called an indicator species which tells about the overall health of an estuary. A drastic reduction in the oyster population does not bode well for the environment in which they grow. In 2013 the federal government declared Apalachicola Bay a disaster area. The environmental situation is so dire that the State of Florida is utilizing a $20 million grant to help restore the bay. That’s right. We need money to mend the mollusk milieu.

The mollusk milieu, Apalachicola Bay, is an estuary in north Florida where freshwater rivers meet the Gulf of Mexico. One of those rivers is the Apalachicola River which is named for the indigenous people who used to live along it; this water body is Florida’s largest river by volume. The resulting water combination when the river meets the Gulf is a brackish, or slightly salty, mix ideal for growing plump, salty oysters. Mmm, mmm.

A number of factors have contributed to the decline of the health of Apalachicola Bay. These factors include the BP oil disaster, droughts, Hurricane Michael, and the lack of freshwater from upstream. Droughts have left the bay lethally salty for the oysters who thrive in brackish water. An increase in salt in the water also increases the presence of oyster predators, which include fish and birds. Apparently humans are not the only ones who enjoy slurping down the mollusks.

On top of years of drought which have devastated the wild oyster beds, Apalachicola Bay has been receiving less freshwater from upstream. Blame the northerners! In this case, the northerners are the residents of the Atlanta metropolitan area.

Hotlanta uses water upstream as a water supply for several million people and has been drawing more and more water. Less freshwater means increased salinity in Apalachicola Bay, a threat to its oysters beds’ vitality. A three decades-long water war in the courts has been waged between the states of Georgia and Florida regarding the upstream water use. As the states slugged it out in the courtroom, back at the bay the oysters were dying off.

COVID-19 may be killing off humans, but by their actions humans are killing their environment and the oysters naturally produced in Apalachicola Bay. The moratorium on harvesting wild oysters in the Bay offers an opportunity to turn the situation around. The five year closure imposed by Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee this month gives wild oyster reefs time to regenerate. The ban could be lifted prior to the elapse of five years if the oyster populations rebound.

Failure of the oyster population to make a come back would be a sad historical event. Humans have enjoyed oysters, which are packed with nutrients, for thousands of years. These saltwater bivalve mollusks which typically range in size from 3″ to 14,” (14 inches? Egad!) even rated a mention in Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” The bard’s play contains the line “the world’s mine oyster.”

Although most of us don’t go around quoting Shakespeare, we’ve probably all heard someone say in conversation, “The world’s your (or my) oyster,” meaning there is the opportunity to achieve great success. Unfortunately, the world literally is the human race’s oyster. Far from achieving success, it appears that we have driven our habitat to the brink of environmental disaster with the wild oyster beds in Apalachicola Bay on the frontline of casualties. With no oysters available, understanding lines from Shakespeare is going to be even more difficult.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you eat oysters? If so, what’s your favorite way to eat them? How alarming is it to you that the ability to produce wild oysters is dwindling? Were you aware that the phrase “the world’s my oyster” has it origin in a Shakespeare play?

COVID-19: The Grinch Trying To Steal Christmas 2020

A plot is afoot to steal Christmas, but the usual suspect isn’t the culprit. There’s a new grinch in town here in 2020, one that wasn’t created by the beloved Dr. Seuss. But just like the Grinch who targeted Whoville, this grinch also wants to stop Christmas from coming. The strategy is similar, however, with the trappings of Christmas being eliminated. Who is the mastermind of this evil plot? It’s not a who, it’s a what. It’s COVID-19.

The coronavirus has altered life as we know it during this calendar year. Schools went virtual, sports teams played in bubbles, and people worked remotely. Holidays were affected as well with gatherings at Thanksgiving discouraged. Up next in the crosshairs is Christmas. All we should want for Christmas is to actually have one because what we will get won’t be what we are accustomed to or even want.

Deaths from COVID-19 have now exceeded 300,000. That’s the equivalent of the entire population of St. Louis or Pittsburgh being wiped out. This context is hardly the backdrop for celebrating “the most wonderful time of the year.” But, regardless of what is going on in the world, December 25 remains on the calendar.

Getting together with family will make it feel like Christmas, right? Well, it might if you could do that. Good luck with achieving that Christmas tradition. The Centers For Disease Control (“CDC”) believes that the safest way to celebrate is to stay home with the people with whom you live. Oh, joy to the world–not. Our immediate family members are likely already on our last nerve from quarantine, lockdowns, and social distancing, right?

In particular, things aren’t looking very golden in the Golden State for the holiday gatherings. Gov. Gavin Newsom issued regional stay at home orders on December 3rd, and most of the state is under those restrictive orders. Stores are limiting the number of people allowed inside at one time; retail stores can have a maximum of 20% capacity. Wineries are among the numerous businesses required to close, nonessential travel is banned, and private gatherings of ANY size are off limits. No dine in eating is allowed; thus, you have to get your Who hash to go. Oh what fun it won’t be for Californians….

How about a lively Christmas party to inspire some cheer? That plan is doomed to crash and burn. Michael Osterholm, newly appointed by President-elect Biden to his coronavirus advisory board, has flat out stated: “There is not a safe Christmas party in this country right now.” Realizing how popular his comment would be, Osterholm went on to remark,”I don’t care if I am accused of being the Grinch that stole Christmas.” Sorry, Mr. Osterholm, COVID-19 has already laid claim to that title.

Well, never mind about the gatherings and parties, there are still gifts to be received to make Christmas merry and bright. But exactly what gifts might you be receiving? You thought that getting socks or underwear for Christmas was bad, huh? How about getting a shot? In response to the pandemic, the U.S. has begun its most ambitious vaccination campaign ever.

This attempt to combat COVID-19 has also succeeded in compounding the stress of Christmas shipping of gifts. With millions of doses of vaccine clogging the supply pipes, distribution of Christmas gifts has been bogged down and delayed; many will likely not timely receive their Christmas gifts. But it’s a good news/bad news situation. The bad news is that there’s a delay in gift receipt; the good news is that the gift will probably be received in 2021–which is only good because it will no longer be 2020.

How can tiny doses of a vaccine be such a strain on the shipping infrastructure? It’s because those Pfizer doses need VERY special handling. They must be kept in ultracold temperatures. Yup, I’d say -94 degrees Fahrenheit is ULTRAcold.

Adding to the typical stress of the holiday season is more bad news on the COVID-19 front. A mutant strain has reared its ugly head in the U.K. This new variant of the virus may be up to 70% more transmissible and is “getting out of control” per their Health Secretary Matt Hancock. As a result, a tier 4 lockdown, the most restrictive lockdown, was imposed there on Sunday. Meetings with ANYONE outside one’s household are off limits. In addition, flights from the U.K. have been banned by over 40 countries, including Spain, Russia, and Canada. Will Santa be forced to avoid jolly old England when he takes flight on Christmas Eve?

All these COVID consequences point to the modern coronavirus being a grinch like the well-known Dr. Seuss character. The fictional character was a grumpy old creature who attempted to put an end to Christmas by stealing the trappings of the holiday from the Whos in Whoville. The Grinch stole presents, decorations, Christmas trees, and even (GASP!) the roast beast.

Because of the immense popularity of the Seuss story, “grinch” is now included in dictionaries as an informal noun meaning a killjoy or spoilsport. COVID-19 has certainly put a damper on Christmas by stealing people’s ability to gather with others, travel to be with family, get presents shipped in a timely manner, and have asense of peace and well-being. Yes, we’d have to call the coronavirus a grinch.

But in the classic story, Christmas came without the items stolen by the Grinch anyway, and the Whos rejoiced on Christmas even in their absence. Dr. Seuss, who drove a car with a license plate that read “GRINCH,” used this story to criticize the commercialization of Christmas. In the end, his Grinch came to the realization Christmas “perhaps, means a little bit more” than just presents and feasting.

Are we as insightful as Seuss’ Grinch and realize that Christmas is about more than the trappings surrounding it? Think we’re are smart as the Whos? Will we be able to experience the joy of the real meaning of Christmas–the love of God expressed through the birth of his son in a humble stable? Let’s not allow the grinchy COVID-19 to rob us of Christmas–the real one.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Are decorations, ornaments, gifts, and trees essential in order to experience Christmas? Do you need material things to bring you joy during Christmas? Can you be grateful about what the Grinch and COVID-19 teach us about the real meaning of Christmas?

Twinkle,Twinkle Christmas Star–The Great Conjunction of 2020

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel here in 2020. That light is not simply the figurative conclusion of a year consisting of an unending series of unfortunate events. A literal light awaits as 2020 draws to a close–the Great Conjunction of 2020.

For writers and literal types like I am, you may be confused. What’s so great about but, since, though, unless, and since? No, it’s not that type of conjunction. A conjunction is also a term used by astronomers; it describes what occurs when planets appear incredibly close to each other in the sky because they are lined up with Earth in their respective orbits. During a conjunction both planets can be seen in the same field of view in a telescope. Later this month Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in our solar system, will align for the viewing pleasure of us Earthlings.

Conjunctions themselves are not that rare. Why, there are numerous conjunctions appearing in this blog post alone; but I digress. Astronomical conjunctions happen every 20 years. In fact, Jupiter and Saturn last had a conjunction in May 2000. So why is their conjunction, which is slated to appear low in the southwestern sky on December 21st, deemed “Great”?

In the first place (always a good place to start), a meeting of Jupiter and Saturn in the night sky is referred to as a “great conjunction” because it happens less often than the conjunction of other planets. Their upcoming conjunction really is a HUGE deal. The last observable conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn appeared in the night sky four centuries ago–just before dawn on March 4, 1226. That was a bit before my time, so I’ll have to take the astronomers’ word for the occurrence of that event. To put the timeframe for the last observable conjunction in perspective, Genghis Khan was alive and attempting to conquer the known world then. While a great conjunction also occurred in 1623, it was not visible on Earth; the alignment was too close to the sun thus obscuring its visibility.

This type of heavenly event will not be repeated any time soon either. NASA indicates the next great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn will not occur until March 15, 2080–likely after my time. Thus, it is now or never for me and many others to see a conjunction between these two planets.

Now that we are all excited about this momentous astronomical event, exactly when can we see it? Mark your calendars for the last solstice of 2020 which will occur on December 21st. In case you’ve forgotten what you learned in science way back in elementary school, this approaching solstice is when winter officially begins. December 21st will be the longest night of 2020 in the northern hemisphere. So, the Great Conjunction of 2020 will brighten the darkest day of the year for us northern hemisphere dwellers.

But it is not just the date would be observers of the Great Conjunction of 2020 need to know. This planetary alignment can only be seen right after sunset. It will appear low on the horizon, so locations with buildings could block a view of the horizon. Plans must be made as to when and where you should be for successful viewing. Dinnertime may have to be pushed back to accommodate this gazing activity.

Assuming you are at a good location at the right time on the evening of December 21st, what will you see? Astronomers indicate the alignment will look like a double planet. While Jupiter and Saturn will appear to be physically close, just 0.1 degree apart viewed through a telescope, in reality they are nowhere near each other. The two gas giants are actually hundreds of millions of miles apart.

During the Great Conjunction of 2020, there will be a bright light in the sky because Jupiter shines brighter than any star above. However, Jupiter is not as bright as the moon. Experts indicate the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn might produce a Christmas star as the lights of these two planets merge and appear like a single point of reflected light to the naked eye.

Speaking of a Christmas star, legendary German astronomer Johannes Kepler proposed that the Star of Bethlehem, a prominent element in the Christmas story, was really a planetary alignment. He pointed to a rare triple convergence of the planets Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus. According to Kepler, then, it wasn’t the stars that aligned at the time of Jesus’ birth but the planets.

While I’m no scientist like Kepler, I do love to gaze up at the twinkling stars and bright planets and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. I’ll be outside on the evening of December 21st taking in some history–the Great Conjunction of 2020. How fitting that at the end of the most difficult year most of us have endured, God is giving those who will be viewing the alignment a reminder that there is a light for this dark world. The Star of Bethlehem led the wise men to find Jesus, and perhaps the Great Conjunction of 2020 will lead some modern men (and women) to do the same.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you enjoy stargazing? Have you ever heard of a conjunction–the astronomical kind, that is? Does it make any difference to the Christmas story whether the Star of Bethlehem was actually a star or planets aligning? Is the timing of the Great Conjunction of 2020, a year of such pain and struggle, coincidental?