Memorial Day–Don’t Forget To Remember

Have big plans for Memorial Day? Going to the beach? Having a cookout? While having a fun is not the purpose for Memorial Day, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time on the holiday. But while doing so, surely you could take a least one moment out of your day to remember those serving their country whose time on this Earth ran out prematurely. a

Memorial Day became a federal holiday back in 1971. Yet, a quarter of a century later in 1996, a boatload of U.S. citizens still hadn’t figured out what it was for. (Hint: It’s MEMORIAL Day.) A Gallup Poll taken in May 1996 showed only 28% of Americans knew the meaning of the federal holiday. Even worse, a group of kids touring Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. that same month erroneously thought the meaning of Memorial Day was that it was when pools opened for the summer. Let’s give those school children a big fat “F” in civics.

For those who failed civics, Memorial Day was set as a time to remember and honor military personnel who died in performance of their military duties serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. The holiday is observed on the last Monday in May; in 2021, that day is May 31st.

The significance of Memorial Day is greater the more that is known about American history. Let’s take World War II for example. Even if someone wasn’t alive during that conflict, everyone is familiar with it from media exposure whether that be television (“Hogan’s Heroes” and “McHale’s Navy”), movies (“Saving Private Ryan,” “Fury,” and “Darkest Hour”), or books (Flags of our Fathers and War and Remembrance). While we may be entertained by stories set during World War II, we should also be aware it was the deadliest conflict in history with 3% of the world’s population, some 70-85 million people, killed. Of those deaths, U.S. military personnel accounted for 407,300 of them, a figure that is larger than the estimated population of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2017And where would Americans be today without the sacrifices of those men and women killed during that horrible war? Would we be speaking German? Japanese?

But the impact of the number of casualties was not merely on those who were killed. Each death was of an individual who was a child of someone, and that parent suffered the devastating loss of his/her child. Siblings, significant others, and friends also experienced loss. How uncaring are we if we do not recognize those losses and heartache suffered as a result of duty to one’s country–your country and my country?

In the abstract, it may be difficult to mourn for people we don’t know. So, let’s put a face on the faceless to help you. We’ll start with name, rank, and serial number: Joseph A. Doyle, Jr., First Lieutenant, O-828978. He served in the U.S. Army Air Forces as a pilot with the 757th Bomber Squadron, 459th Bomber Group, Heavy. Lt. Doyle entered the service from the state of South Carolina, but he never returned to the Palmetto State. Lt. Doyle died in a plane crash in Italy during World War II and was buried in the 77 acre Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy along with 7,844 of his comrades in arms. Who is this man? He’s my Uncle Joe, a man I never had the honor of meeting. A man whose loss deeply hurt my mother, his sister with whom he was very close. They are the two people in the picture at the top of this post.

So how can we honor my Uncle Joe and all those other men and women who gave their lives for us? Note that United States is abbreviated U.S. which letters spell “us.” A country is made up of its people, and we the people were the reason these military members served and died. The least we can do is give them a moment of our time on Memorial Day–literally a moment.

The National Moment of Remembrance Act , Public Law 106-579, December 28, 2000, established a specified time for Americans to pause for a moment of silence at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day. Why pause? To demonstrate gratitude to those who died for our freedom. This time was chosen because it is a time of day when most Americans are likely to be making the most of their freedoms. It is a symbolic act of unity for all to pause for 60 seconds. This action is simple really. Just do as Diana Ross and The Supremes urge and “Stop! In The Name Of Love.” The fallen gave up years of their lives. Can’t we manage to show some love and honor and give up 60 seconds to remember that?

What are you supposed to do for those 60 seconds? How you remember and honor the fallen is up to you. Perhaps you can reflect on the horrors of war and what they had to endure to serve us. You might say a pray of thanks for brave and selfless men and women who had a sense of honor and duty. It will take slightly more than a minute, but I’d encourage you to listen to “Taps” being played. That haunting song will surely stir you to recognize the toll which military service often takes. A link to a military produced video of the tune can be found below.

I am looking forward to an enjoyable holiday on the 31st. But I will not forget to remember what the day is about. I will be flying my American flag, I will say a prayer of thanks for Uncle Joe and all those who have served and died for our country, I will pause for a moment of silence at 3:00 p.m., and I will listen to “Taps” with a catch in my throat. Please don’t forget to remember the meaning of the day.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you know or are you related to anyone who gave his/her life during performance of military service? What’s the best way to honor someone who made the ultimate sacrifice for his/her country? Were you aware a National Moment of Remembrance was established? If so, how have you observed it?

Hole-y Cow! Earth Found To Have Black Hole For A Neighbor

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a black hole! But wait. You can’t see a black hole. Nevertheless, really smart astronomers at Ohio State University managed to discover a black hole right here in the Milky Way near Earth. Yikes! What should we know about this intriguing but scary celestial neighbor?

Let’s being at the beginning. First of all, exactly what is a black hole? While Sheldon and pals on “The Big Bang Theory” may understand all the science involved, I frankly couldn’t tell you anything about a black hole except it is something to be avoided in space. But Darth Vader fits that description, so a bit more detail is needed.

Black holes appear to be appropriately named. They emit no light of their own and “gobble up” (yes, a highly scientific term there) everything including light. With no light, things are dark, i.e., black. Accordingly, black holes are invisible. The philosopher in me is screaming, “But if you can’t see it, does it really exist? Is it near the tree that soundlessly fell in the forest?” But I digress.

So we can’t see black holes, so what are they? Black holes are points in space which are so dense that they create deep gravity sinks. The gravity pulls so strongly that even light cannot escape. A boundary around the mouth of a black hole called the event horizon is the point past which something that crosses can never escape. Cue Kansas’ “Point Of Know Return” playing in the background; of course, with black holes, it’s the point of NO return.

Albert Einstein first predicted the existence of black holes in 1916 with his theory of relativity; however, the term “black holes” was not coined until 1967 by American astronomer John Wheeler. In 1971 the first physical (as opposed to theoretical, I suppose) black hole was “spotted.” (Um, how do you spot what’s invisible?) The first image ever recorded of a black hole was not obtained until April 2019; it was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope. This scientific instrument spied with its lens eye a supermassive black hole, Messier 87, in the Virgo cluster. (Cool, my Zodiac sign is Virgo!)

Black holes have been found then, but how are they formed? According to scientists (because I personally wouldn’t have a clue), black holes form because of stellar death; in ordinary terms, this means the center of a very big star falls in upon itself or collapses. Once a black hole forms, it sucks up dust and gas from around it allowing it to grow. Black holes comes in various sizes from small to supermassive. The latter have masses equal to more than one million suns together. What bright person does this math? (Pun intended.)

Hearing details about a black hole make me a bit nervous. Who wants to get sucked into one and never emerge? Not me! And, to increase our anxiety, be aware scientists estimate there are as many as 10 million black holes in our Milky Way Galaxy alone. In fact, a supermassive black hole dubbed Sagittarius A sits at the center of the galaxy, some 26,000 light years from Earth. (Whew!) Ginormous Sagittarius weighs in at an approximate whopping 4.3 million solar masses.

Even scarier? The recently discovered black hole is pretty close to our home planet. It holds two records at this point– smallest black hole discovered and closest black hole to the Earth. “Closest” is a relative term, though. This black hole is (GASP!) 1,500 light years away. That’s still too close for comfort for me!

Our newly spotted celestial neighbor is located in a faint constellation known as Monoceros. For those of us who are not Latin scholars, this word means “unicorn.” Thus, the black hole has been dubbed the Unicorn. It is considered “tiny” because it is merely three times the mass of the sun.

Since this black hole is so “tiny” and also invisible, just how were Ohio State scientists able to detect the Unicorn? The Unicorn’s companion star, a red giant known as V723 Mon, ratted it out. It seems most known black holes are discovered because of their interaction with a companion star which creates lots of X-rays which astronomers can see. These companion stars are connected to the black hole by gravity. The gravitational pull from the black hole can distort a star into a football-like shape with one axis longer than another.

Because of the gravitation pull from the Unicorn on its companion star, scientists detected a wobble in V723 Mon. Their research ultimately led to finding the Unicorn and publishing credits in the Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in April announcing its discovery. Rats! I don’t subscribe to that publication and missed reading the announcement. But, should you want to plow through the scientific mumbo jumbo, the OSU scientists’ article can be found at https://academic.oup.com/mnras/article/504/2/2577/6261635?searchresult=1.

It’s pretty frightening to think about being sucked into a black hole that is a celestial neighbor here in our galaxy. That’s not neighborly! Perhaps we should simply focus on things right here on Earth. Then again, the federal government now appears to be publicly confirming the existence of unexplained UFO sightings here. Maybe our newly created U.S. Space Force can figure out how to push any unfriendly aliens into the Unicorn. They won’t be back to bug us if we can accomplish that!

Just WONDERING:

Did you have any idea that millions of black holes are thought to exist? Had you heard about the discovery of this celestial neighbor? Does the existence of black holes put your view of man’s capabilities to control the world/space around him into a different perspective?

Nonuplets For Mother’s Day–Oh, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby!

This past Sunday, Mother’s Day, afforded the opportunity to specifically celebrate the moms and the mother figures in our lives. For one mom, the day took on added significance this year. A Malian woman expanded her family five days beforehand. She didn’t add one child to her brood or even two. NINE little ones, nonuplets to be precise, prematurely entered the world to give their mom quite the surprise gift for Mother’s Day.

We’ve all heard of triplets and quadruplets and possibly even quintuplets. But nonuplets? I’d never heard that word before. For word nerds like I am, you may be interested to know the term “nonuplets” comes from the Latin word “nonus” meaning nine. Actually, my thought when learning nonuplets were a thing was that I wanted “non-a” that. Giving birth to NINE babies in one sitting–or lying as the case may be? Nope. Producing one baby at a time was difficult enough for me. Whew!

If you’re thinking nonuplets are pretty rare, you’d be correct. This particular situation is the first time on record a woman has given birth to nine surviving babies at one time. Two previous sets of nonuplets have been documented. One set was born in Australia in 1971, but two of the babies were stillborn. In 1999, a Malaysian woman delivered nonuplets, but none of the babies survived more than six hours.

What’s even more amazing about the Malian nonuplets is there’s no indication their birth mother, 25 year old Halima Cisse, conceived as the result of any fertility treatment. Apparently the nonuplets are Demonstrative Exhibit A for the proposition humans can, on their own, indeed have litters. In contrast, the infamous Octomom, Nadya Suleman, a single American woman without a job, produced octuplets (that’s 8 babies for any prefix-challenged readers) back in 2009. Her babies (litter?) were conceived as the result of fertility treatments, specifically IVF. Her octuplets all survived and are now 12. (Oh, my! Eight children to be in their teens at the same time????)

So why was the birth of nine babies a surprise to this Malian mama? Certainly her pregnancy would be clear if she was carrying that many at one time. Well, doctors only saw seven fetuses on the ultrasound. Numbers eight and nine were an unexpected bonus at the time of delivery. Perhaps the statement, “But wait, there’s more!” was heard in the delivery room.

Although the mother lives in Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries, she gave birth in Morocco. Why was she traveling abroad while experiencing a high risk pregnancy? Her pregnancy, in fact, was the very reason she had to leave Mali to deliver. Her home country was not equipped to provide the special care required, so the Malian government ordered their pregnant citizen to be transferred from a Malian hospital to Morocco for such care. Halima was flown to the North African country in late March and admitted to a private clinic, Ain Borja, in Casablanca.

Halima’s pregnancy was no piece of cake. She spent two weeks in the hospital in Mali before her admission to the Moroccan clinic where she arrived at 25 weeks into the pregnancy. With full gestation set at 40 weeks, that point in the pregnancy was very early. A dangerous premature delivery was feared imminent. Thanks to the nonuplets, their mother had gained between 66 and 88 pounds consisting of babies and amniotic fluid. Who knows how much she would gain if she went full term. Alas, we’ll never know as Halima began having contractions at 30 weeks.

The babies’ delivery was quite the operation–literally. Ten doctors and 25 paramedics were assembled to assist with the C-section. That must have been one BIG delivery room to fit such a crowd inside. Tensions were high as each fetus faced 50% odds of being stillborn. Their mom had a rough time, experiencing heavy bleeding requiring a blood transfusion. Five boys and four girls emerged, all weighing between 1.1 and 2.2 pounds. Five of the babies were immediately hooked up to ventilators after birth, and all were placed in incubators due to their weight. These incubators will be their homes for the next two to three months.

Meanwhile, back in Timbuktu (yes, really), Halima’s husband, Adjudant Kader Arby, keeps the home fires burning. He is caring for the couple’s older daughter and not fretting about the babies’ future. He’s expressly stated that he’s not worried, noting “God gave us these children. He is the one to decide what will happen to them.” While I don’t know the medical prognosis for these numerous little ones, I do envision a future for them involving lots and lots of diaper changing and feedings for their parents to handle. Not sure if a Sam’s Club is located in Timbuktu, but the nonuplets’ parents will definitely need to buy in bulk.

Raising multiples, especially nonuplets, is undoubtedly a daunting task. Thankfully, multiple births in the United States are rare; per 2019 data from the CDC, only 87.7 births out of 100,000 in this country were triplets or more. My own family claims one of these rare events as I had triplet uncles. Although fraternal, they looked identical as kids and would switch identities as it suited them to the great frustration of my dear grandmother.

Because of this family history, my biggest fear with my first pregnancy was having triplets. I’ll never forget the amused response of the medical staff member on base when I asked if I could be carrying triplets. He said, “Ma’am, you be waaay bigger if you were having triplets.” In light of Halima’s weight gain and pregnancy complications, I’m blessed to say I only carried one baby at a time. Nonuplets make for interesting news but for a difficult pregnancy and motherhood.

Just WONDER-ing:

Have you ever heard the term nonuplets before? Have there been any multiple births (triplets or more) in your family? If fertility treatments are utilized, is it responsible to attempt multiple births? How many babies is enough for one pregnancy?

Teen Cheerleader + Snapchat + School Suspension=Momentous Supreme Court Student Free Speech Case

Reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic fill school days for most students. But Brandi Levy’s high school education focused heavily on civics, the U.S. court system in particular. Her instruction was as up close and personal as one can get; she became a party in a federal lawsuit stemming from her suspension from school. Future students will learn about Brandi since her case is now before the United States Supreme Court which has the opportunity to determine how far schools can go in policing off campus student speech.

Today’s “speech” isn’t your father’s speech. Oh, no. The concept of “speech” evolves with the times. Brandi’s “speech” which got her into trouble was a Snapchat post containing a certain four letter word beginning with the letter “f.” She used this word not once, not twice, but FOUR times. To visually illustrate her speech, Brandi’s post included a picture of her and a friend raising their middle fingers. Get her message loud and clear?

What was Brandi so upset about? The 14 year old was frustrated (to put it mildly) that, as a rising sophomore, she did not make the varsity cheerleading squad but would have to remain on the JV squad for another school year. Egad! What’s a troubled teen to do? Vent on social media.

And vent Brandi did. Her eloquent post read, “F— school, f— softball, f— cheer, f— everything.” Although undeniably related to school (hey, the post expressly used the word “school”), the “speech” did not occur at school or even on a school day. Brandi was at a local convenience store on a Saturday, and she wasn’t wearing school clothing (such as a cheerleading outfit.) The post was transmitted on Snapchatto 250 of her closest friends, some of whom were classmates and fellow cheerleaders; it would automatically self-destruct in 24 hours–plenty of time to be wiped away before the school bell rang Monday morning.

But the best laid plans of men, and of teenage cheerleaders, often go awry. A Snapchat friend saw Brandi’s post and screenshotted it. She then shared the picture with another high school student who was the daughter of one of the cheerleading coaches. (The plot thickens!) Needless to say, the coach was less than pleased with this “speech.” Other members of the cheerleading team also raised complaints. As a result, Brandi was kicked off the cheerleading team for the school year for violating school and team rules requiring students to avoid “foul language and inappropriate gestures.” The school’s athletic director, the principal, the school superintendent, and the school board all sided with the coaches.

Brandi’s parents, who were previously unaware of their daughter’s Snapchat antics, did not take her suspension lying down. They did what any normal American parent would do–they filed a lawsuit. The case, brought in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in September 2017, alleged the school had violated Brandi’s First Amendment rights by restricting her off-campus speech. And the district court judge agreed, resulting in Brandi being reinstated on the cheerleading team. Rah! Rah! Rah!

Undaunted, the Mahanoy Area School District appealed the lower court’s decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Once again, a ruling was entered that the school district had violated Brandi’s First Amendment rights; the school district failed its test in challenging the lower court ruling. The June 2020 appellate court decision held schools “cannot censor students’ off campus speech based on a fear of disruption of school activities.”

Did the school district concede and go back to concentrating on providing a quality education for its student population? Nope. It appealed to the highest court in the land, the United States Supreme Court. The Supremes were going to be hearing only the fifth students’ speech case in its history, and the first one it had heard in over 50 years.

Oral arguments were heard presented to the Supreme Court on April 28, 2021. But the wheels of justice grind slowly, so it will be months before an opinion is issued. Meanwhile, time marches on. Brandi, a 14 year old high school sophomore when this story began, is now an 18 year old college freshman.

The disposition of Brandi’s case turns on the interpretation of a Vietnam era Supreme Court decision issued in 1969, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. Oh, the memories this case name evokes of me studying constitutional law in law school! But I digress. In Tinker two siblings wore black armbands to school to protest the ongoing war. The high court sided with the Tinkers holding students don’t shed “their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Clearly, the high court did not buy the contention students should be seen at school but not heard as to their personal opinions.

While the Tinker court ruled in favor of the protesting students, it did recognize the authority of the schools to regulate speech that would “materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate school discipline in the operation of the school.” Because of the special characteristics of the school environment, a distinction was made between speech at school and speech off campus. The Tinkers wore their armbands to school, so their speech was undeniably an on campus event. But Brandi’s speech occurred on a weekend at a 24 hour convenience store. Those facts were compelling to both the district court and the appellate court below who ruled in Brandi’s favor. School districts and 50 million public school students are waiting with bated breath to see if the Supremes agree.

The Mahanoy School District’s counsel argued the off-campus location of Brandi’s speech was not dispositive. With remote learning due to COVID, a brick and mortar school isn’t the only “campus” where learning is occurring. OK, but it was Saturday and Brandi was at a convenience store not in front of her computer doing a history lesson, just sayin’.

Counter arguments to the school district’s position involved a common sense proposition. While schools have the power to regulate students they are supervising, that power ceases when they aren’t supervising a student. Brandi’s Snapchat “speech” was made outside school hours in a non-school (and even non-home) environment. Shouldn’t the parents be regulating student behavior and speech during non-school time and in non-school locations?

I’m not a Supreme Court Justice, but I am a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar and have been in the impressive courtroom where the Justices sit in the high backed chairs before red velvet curtains to hear oral arguments and announce their decisions. What would I rule? Drum roll, please. It’s Brandi for the win!

Why would I rule this way? First, the speech occurred in an off-campus location during non-school hours. There is no connection between Brandi and the school at that point other than she is a student who attends that school. Second, the power to regulate students is utilized to prevent “material and substantial disruption” to school. What such disruption occurred? Students say ugly, profane, unkind, impertinent things about teachers, coaches, and each other all the time. If every statement like that merited suspension, I dare say there’d be no students left in the classroom. Third, where does a school district’s authority stop? Are they big brother watching and listening to a student’s words no matter what the location? Fourth, it’s a parent’s job to supervise students during non-school time off-campus not the school’s. Fifth, I give you the First Amendment. Free speech means, well, free speech. The whole point of having the amendment is that what we say will often be unpopular and not well received. (Like “Down with King George!”) We wouldn’t need speech protection if everything said were words all enjoyed hearing.

Although I’d rule in Brandi’s favor, I by no means condone the speech she made. It was impolite, rude, and disrespectful. Bottom line? Brandi had the legal right to say what she did, but just because she could do it does not mean that she should have. Anyone have a bar of soap handy? Uh oh, that may lead to a case about “cruel and unusual punishment.

Just WONDER-ing:

If you were a Supreme Court justice, how would you rule? Everything has a limit. Where do you draw that line for free speech? For the school’s power to regulate its students?