Thanksgiving 2020–Picking Through The Bones Of A Turkey Of A Holiday To Find Positives

As Thanksgivings go, Thanksgiving 2020 will undoubtedly go down in the books as a real turkey. How enjoyable is it to celebrate a holiday when we are told to stay home and stay away from everyone except immediate household members? The pandemic has cast a pall on the entire year, and now it is robbing us of traditional celebrations. But if we pick through the bones of this turkey of a holiday this year, positives can be identified. Yes, really!

Let’s Talk Turkey

Thanksgiving and turkey go together like peanut butter and jelly. It is hard to imagine one without the other. While we may not have Grandma, Uncle Horace, cousin Betty, and the rest of the clan around the Thanksgiving table, mercifully, we can still have a turkey gracing it.

About 40 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving according to the National Turkey Federation. While TP has at times been scarce during 2020, there are no turkey shortages across the board. So, if you want to gobble down some turkey for Thanksgiving, you will not be disappointed.

That having been said, however, there is a challenge facing Americans. Consumers are facing a harder time finding smaller turkeys to serve for their big holiday meal. Kroger found that 43% of its shoppers planned to celebrate Thanksgiving with only those in their immediate household. Thus, there’s no need for a ginormous turkey to fill the special turkey platter. The pandemic has driven up the demand for smaller turkeys.

This shift in demand is good news for male turkeys who are also known as Toms. Most large turkeys (defined as more than 16 pounds) are male. Most small turkeys are female and are called hens. Preparing smaller turkeys is thus going to result in a hen party this Thanksgiving.

We Gather Together

The Centers for Disease Control, familiarly known as CDC, has recommended people not travel for Thanksgiving due to the pandemic. So gathering together with kith and kin who do not live in the local area is pumpkin pie in the sky for those who adhere to this advice. CDC is such a party pooper! Right now that acronym seems to stand for Cancelling Desired Celebration.

Despite the ban on in person gatherings, people can still gather together–just not in the traditional Thanksgiving way. Using technology, relatives and friends may share a meal albeit virtually. In the past? TV dinners. Now? Zoom dinners.

Gathering together is such an integral part of celebrating Thanksgiving that the hymn most associated with Thanksgiving is “We Gather Together.” But the back story of this hymn provides a better understanding of something else which Americans can be thankful for despite an ongoing pandemic.

The hymn, of Dutch origin, was written in 1597 and its words were set to the music of a well known folk tune. The song had nothing to do with a holiday. It celebrated the Dutch victory over the Spanish at the Battle of Turnhout. The Protestant Dutch were fighting a war of liberation against Spain’s Catholic king who forbade them to assemble for worship. The king basically told them, “Don’t Gather Together!” To stick it to the king, then, the victorious Dutch thus gleefully sang “We Gather Together.” Well at least they sang that idea in their native language.

Although the pandemic may have altered the look of church services with congregants wearing masks and socially distancing, Americans of faith can still be thankful this Thanksgiving. There is no government prohibition against assembling to worship as one sees fit. We can gather with those of like faith whenever we choose–Thanksgiving or any other day of the year.

Pilgrim’s Pride

After a turkey, the Pilgrims are the probably the most familiar thing about an American Thanksgiving. In fact, the holiday is based on what the Pilgrims did hundreds of years ago. Even though the pandemic has radically changed how the holiday will be celebrated this year, everyone can be thankful that a modern celebration looks nothing like the one the Pilgrims observed.

Sure the pandemic has caused an ever mounting and ghastly death toll in 2020. But the Pilgrims had it way worse. The 53 Pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving had survived the long journey on the Mayflower and the first winter in the new world. Disease and starvation struck down HALF (that’s 50% for those of you who are mathematically challenged) of the original 102 colonists. Thankfully COVID-19 is nowhere near decimating half of this country’s population.

If Americans have to scale back their celebrations, they will surely have an easier time than the Pilgrims did. Their celebration lasted for three days, and there were no paper plates, refrigerators, and microwaves back then. Sounds like lots of work for the Pilgrim womenfolk–who are believed to have only been four in number by then.

The Pilgrims’ guest list was rather lengthy as well. Ninety Wampanoag Indians from a nearby village gathered with them. That puts having 20 family members over for Thanksgiving dinner in perspective, huh? But the Indians were well-mannered guests and brought a hostess gift–5 freshly killed deer. I guess it is the thought that counts because such a gift would make me lose my appetite for a big holiday meal.

We, of course, could use the Pilgrims as inspiration for adhering to CDC guidelines this year. An outdoor meal is suggested. Turkey, but not deer, al fresco it is! See? There really are some positives to be found in this turkey of a Thanksgiving 2020.

Just WONDER-ing:

Will you be abiding by CDC guidelines for observing Thanksgiving? If so, how? What positives can you find in this surreal Thanksgiving 2020? Have you ever stopped to think about the details of the first Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims?

Droid Dogs Now Defending Democracy

Veterans Day celebrations last week honored both humans and canines who served their country. Future celebrations may look a bit different though because military working dogs (MWD’s) have gone high tech. How high tech? Let’s say Arf2D2. That’s right. The U.S. military is now beginning to use robot dogs.

While computerized canines are something new, dogs have been used by the U.S. military since Revolutionary War times. Man’s best friend was tasked with killing rats in the trenches in World War I. Over 10,000 trained dogs were deployed during World War II to serve as scouts, sentries, messengers, and mine detectors. Today military working dogs are used by the Marines, Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, and the Navy. It remains to be seen if there will be any Rocket Rovers in the Space Force.

Living, breathing MWD’s are typically one of three breeds–German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois. But the newest MWD to be used is a breed apart. In fact, it’s not even alive. It’s a robot.

These electronic canines are already on active duty in the Florida Panhandle. The 325th Security Forces Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City is the first unit to operate robot dogs to patrol alongside them. These “semi-autonomous droids” are being used to provide extra security while guarding the base, a 38 square kilometer compound. Who knew there was much left to guard after Hurricane Michael pretty much flattened the base which is having to be rebuilt?

The day before Veterans Day, the Tyndall unit gave a demonstration of their new equipment/service members. Actually, the robots they presented evoke more of a Halloween feel to me. I mean how creepy is it to have a faceless dog with four legs and no teeth by your side?

So what’s so great about having a robot dog to help with patrolling operations? (That’s other than the obvious that they won’t pick up fleas and ticks outdoors, don’t have to be fed, and won’t need potty breaks.) A big plus is that this “dog” can patrol areas not desirable for humans or for vehicles. It can be programmed with a patrol route which is monitored by a Security Forces “electronic security sensor system NCO.” I guess that NCO is the technical equivalent of a handler.

And this handler doesn’t even have to be out on patrol. Oh, no. He/she can drive the dog with a virtual reality headset within the cushy (well, at least opposed to being out in the elements) Base Defense Ops Center. The handler will be able to see exactly what the dog sees through the dog’s mobile camera. Verbal commands can be issued through a radio attached to the dog. “Play dead” might be difficult to do, though, since technically the robot dog isn’t alive to begin with.

Although the electronic canine is not armed (and has no teeth), it does have some other cool features. Night duty? No problem. The robot is fitted with various sensors to allow for infrared night vision. If desired, gas sensors can be included. Given the location, being beset by a hurricane is probably more likely than a gas attack.

So from where were these robot dogs procured? A defense contractor based in Philadelphia developed them as part of an Air Force Research Lab contract awarded back in April. Reading between the lines, we can conclude that it is easier to develop a robotic dog than to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

The developer, Ghost Robotics (see, I told you this sounded more like Halloween than Veterans Day), calls their product a Vision 60 UGV. The UGV stands for unmanned ground vehicle. OK, is it a dog or a vehicle? Who knows since most details on the UGV are under wraps. For example, no one knows if the electronic canines will be issued dog tags.

What do we know about the dog droid? Ghost Robotics claims the robot is “unstoppable.” Their product, it says, can operate in any terrain or environment. Because of its reduced mechanical complexity (such as lacking a face and teeth perhaps?), the electronic canine has increased endurance, agility, and durability.

So far, the robot dogs have performed well. According to a September 3rd press release by the Air Force, they were involved in an exercise conducted at Nellis Air Force Base. The manmade MWD’s were sent outside aircraft located in the Mojave Desert to scout for threats before human service members deplaned. The dogs, through their mobile cameras, allowed the troops to obtain visuals of the area while staying close to their aircraft. From all indications, this test of a component of the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) was a success. Cut and paste this link to see what the droid dog looks like in action:

But just how much are these electronic canines costing the taxpayer? Who knows, but the likely answer is “a lot.” Another dog robot, called “Spot,” is being sold by engineering company Boston Dynamics for a mere $74,500. Spot can walk up to three miles per hour, climb terrain, avoid obstacles, and work in spaces unsafe for humans such as decommissioned nuclear sites. See Spot walk. Walk, Spot, walk. Even better, Spot has a “follow me” AI (artificial intelligence) feature. You want to make sure Spot follows you because you wouldn’t want $74,500 to run off chasing a rabbit.

Spot has been used in the civilian world. It was deployed in Singapore to enforce social distancing due to COVID-19 at the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Par theme park. That’s right. If those park guests get too close to one another, just sic the droid dog on them. Perhaps the electronic canines even barked orders for folks to stay six feet apart.

No matter how well the UGV works, the military has indicated it is not intending to replace Fido with Arf2D2. Some things a robot dog simply can’t do. Without a face, it’s impossible for a droid dog to lick your hand or give you a look of love or loyalty. Droids may be primo patrollers, but they’ll never be man’s best friend.

Just WONDERing:

Were you aware that real dogs have had such a long history with military action? Are robotic dogs a good investment for the military? Why or why not? How could droid dogs be used by the Space Force?

Latest COVID Casualties? Minks–Fur Real

Deaths from coronavirus continue to mount with some countries heading into a second lockdown. Over 1.3 million people have died from COVID-19 during 2020 with the end apparently nowhere in sight. While that’s scary for humans, the situation is much more dire for minks. Minks? Yup. Fur real. They are toast because if COVID-19 hasn’t killed them, man will.

We all know what a mink is right? It’s a furry animal whose skin is used for stoles, etc. for human adornment. (Insert “GASP!” from readers who are PETA supporters.) More specifically, minks are dark-colored, semi-aquatic, carnivorous mammals who are members of the weasel family. Other members of this family include otters, weasels, and ferrets.

Minks are valued for their luxurious fur. Denmark is the world’s largest producer of mink fur with about 17 million furs produced annually. Unsurprisingly, that country is also one of the world’s largest mink exporters with most of the furs being exported to China and Hong Kong. Aha! We’ve identified something not made in China.

The furry critters are grown on farms. Guess that shows what I know; city girl that I am, I thought it was grains and vegetables which farmers raised. But, no, 1,139 mink farms are located in Denmark mostly in the northern part of the country. Between 15 and 17 million minks call Denmark home. With that country’s population slightly under 6 million, minks outnumber humans there. However, the Danish mink population is about to be wiped out one way or the other.

Outbreaks of COVID-19 have ravaged the Danish mink farms since the summer. Part of the problem is that the minks are kept in crowded conditions which are ideal for spreading a virus. Although minks which catch the virus suffer similar symptoms to humans, the course of the virus’ progression is much more rapid. Most of the infected minks are dead by the day after their symptoms appear. Well, at least they didn’t suffer long.

Even more disturbing than the death of the minks is the fact that, according to the Danish Health Minister in a press conference held November 4th, half of the 783 human cases of COVID-19 in northern Denmark “are related” to the mink outbreak. While some humans (non-PETA supporters) don’t mind minks giving us the fur off their backs (literally), they do mind minks passing along coronavirus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned the coronavirus is going from humans to animals and back to humans. Each time there is such a transmission, the virus can mutate. Health experts say mutations show a decreased sensitivity against antibodies meaning a COVID-19 vaccine could be less effective. Therefore it is crucial to stop the back and forth transmission between humans and minks. How will the transmission be stopped? The solution is bad news for the minks. They are going to be killed not for their fur but as a preventative health measure.

Unfortunately, outbreaks at mink farms have continued in Denmark despite repeated efforts to exterminate (fancy schmancy word for kill) the infected animals. Thus, more serious measures have to be taken. How serious? The minks are going to be totally wiped out.

Denmark plans to kill its entire herd of minks. That’s up to 17 million minks headed to that great mink farm in the sky. The Danish police, army, and home guard are to be deployed to speed up the killing process. Not only will the furry creatures be killed, but their pelts will be destroyed as well. This culling of the minks is estimated to cost around $800 million and may lead to the end of the mink industry in Denmark. (Insert “Hurray!” from PETA supporters.)

American minks should be nervous. Could the same fate await them? Quite possibly. In 2011 there were 268 mink farms in the United States. Per USDA, American mink farms produce over 2.5 million pelts each year. Wisconsin is the leading mink-producing state followed by Utah. In October, officials reported approximately 12,000 mink had died of COVID-19 on farms in Wisconsin and Utah. If not killed, those minks definitely need to be wearing face masks.

One positive which may come out of the 2020 pandemic is that it could hasten the end of the controversial fur industry. Fur farms are already banned in many countries such as Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Although fur farming is not (yet) banned in the United States, California has set housing requirements for minks that make fur farming cost-prohibitive. In addition, a ban on the sale and manufacture of fur has been imposed by the City of Los Angeles. Hollywood lights are okay; Hollywood minks are not.

Public health concerns related to COVID-19 may just be the nail in the coffin for the fur farming industry. Who needs fur in 2020 anyway? With lockdowns and stay at home orders, there’s nowhere to wear a mink stole anyway. Possibly a mink face mask, but not a fur coat. While a ban on fur farming would provide a brighter future for later generations of mink, it’s curtains for Danish minks, and possibly American minks, now.

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware the coronavirus could be transmitted back and forth between humans and animals? Is it acceptable for minks to be bred in crowded conditions merely to be killed so humans can look marvelous? Is killing the entire herd of Danish minks the best option to prevent further spread of the virus? If not, what should be done?

Voting–Fun Facts For Well-Versed Voters

Say the word “election,” and people’s eyes will glaze over at this point. The 2020 U.S. presidential election was divisive, ugly, and LONG. But there’s so much more to voting than the candidates and the issues. Let’s learn some interesting facts about voting that everyone can enjoy and even agree on.

There’s nothing new under the sun, and that includes voting. It’s not a modern process. The ancient Greeks utilized voting in running their affairs. Of course, they did not use voting machines and had never heard of a hanging chad. Their methods were much simpler.

A show of hands was one way the ancient Greeks voted; you can’t get much simpler than that. But raising hands did not provide much secrecy. A more private voting method was to use pebbles. (That’s the stones and not the sugary breakfast cereal.) Voters were issued a pebble to place in one of two urns to indicate their choice. When the voting was completed, the urns would be emptied and the pebbles counted to determine the winner. But keep an eye on those pebbles! The disgruntled supporters of the loser might decide to swipe them and fling them in protest.

The use of pebbles by the Greeks is reflected in modern English vocabulary. The word for the study of elections, psephology, derives from the Greek word for pebble, psephos. Now we all have a fancy academic word to drop at the next cocktail party we attend. Oh, wait. There’s a pandemic and social gatherings are discouraged. Try using the word in a post on social medial instead.

Italians were a bit more refined than the Greeks. They didn’t want to use pebbles off the ground to conduct important political business. Our term “ballot,” the paper on which a vote is marked, means “little ball” in Italian. In places like Venice where voting was done secretly, small balls were used to indicate a vote.

In our country, prior to the Revolutionary War (that’s before we were even a country), ballots were cast by voice. All in favor of that method say “Aye.” Voters would call out their selection at a polling place–typically a courthouse or a town hall. Having voters with loud voices would have been a plus back then.

Today five voting technologies are currently in use: hand-counted paper ballots; mechanical lever machines; punch cards; optically readable paper ballots; and electronic voting machines. The use of punch cards in Florida led to a massive controversy in the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Whether the presence of chads resulted in a valid vote was the subject of legal action. That’s chads as in pieces of paper still attached to the ballot after punching a selection and not men with that name.

While in 2020 the big question was who would be elected president, a more basic question is who would be doing the voting. Campaigns were launched, often involving celebrities such as Jane Fonda and Katy Perry, to encourage citizens to get out and vote. Some fail to take that civic responsibility seriously and don’t vote. But that’s the consequence of freedom in the U.S. Citizens must be allowed to choose to be irresponsible.

Getting the vote out is not as big an issue in some other countries. Take Australia, Belgium, and Turkey for instance. Voting is compulsory there. And by compulsory, I mean it is illegal not to show up and cast your vote. While compulsory voting does wonders for increasing the voter turnout rate, it hardly guarantees an informed electorate. To avoid a fine, some voters merely show up and vote randomly. They will check a box, any box, simply going through the motions of voting; no informed choice is actually made. I guess it would be “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe. Now I’ll have to vote for Joe.”

In the United States, it’s taken for granted women will be voting. Political commentators instead discuss which candidate is likely to get the female vote. Women voting is a more novel concept in other countries such as Saudi Arabia. It was not until 2015 that women were given the right to vote there.

The age of the U.S. presidential candidates garnered much attention in 2020 with both men in their 70’s. But what’s the voting age for those who decided the fate of these elderly politicians? A voting age is the minimum age a individual must attain before he is eligible to vote. That magic number in the U.S. is currently 18. Yup, it’s scary; teenagers have an actual say in the fate of our country.

But the voting age has not always been 18. The 14th Amendment, which was enacted back in 1868, gave men (but not women) the right to vote at age 21. The Vietnam War, though, caused much political and societal upheaval and provided the impetus for lowering the voting age to 18. Proponents of that change argued it was unfair 18 year olds could be drafted to serve their county and risk death in battle yet they could not vote. The rallying cry was “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” Well, at least that was a bit more civil than the “Hell no, we won’t go” anti-draft chant.

The Voting Rights Act of 1970 reduced the voting age from 21 to 18 for national elections. The following year saw the ratification of the 26th Amendment which prohibited state and federal governments from using age to deny a U.S. citizen who was at least 18 the right to vote. As a result of that amendment, the voting age became 18 for all elections.

How low could the voting age go? Well, attempts have been made to lower the voting age to Sweet Sixteen. San Francisco’s voters on Tuesday failed to pass Proposition G, which would have allowed 16 year olds to vote in citywide elections. The rationale behind the campaign was that by that age teenagers can drive (we won’t speculate on how well) and may be working and paying taxes. A similar proposition in San Francisco was defeated in November 2016. Apparently 16 wasn’t so sweet for voters in ’16.

While Americans are clearly divided as to who should be their president, they can all agree on some things about voting. No one can deny that the process has been around for a long time and has progressed since the practices of ancient Rome. We may think the opposition candidate has rocks in his head, but at least we aren’t voting with pebbles. Woman can now have a say in how the country is run; the same is true for young men eligible to fight for their county. And with the tidbits presented in this post, voters young and old alike can have voting topics other than the results (do we even have them yet?) of the 2020 election to talk about.

Just WONDER-ing:

If you voted in the 2020 presidential election, what voting technology was utilized? Is 16 too young to be the voting age? Why or why not? Should voting be made mandatory in the U.S.?