Sam WHITBY #238
Letters to the Editor

from Sam WHITBY in CMO #238

@. . . .   How are you? We are well. I have had a few opportunities to observe Jupiter and Saturn. Last night I had fair seeing and was able to observe Jupiter's Red Spot. I have looked at Mars a couple of times, but it is, of course, still too far away for details to be seen, at least with my telescope. This morning I saw the space shuttle. If weather permits, we should be able to see the shuttle closing in on the ISS tomorrow morning. The weather may be a problem. We had our first light snow about two weeks ago, and we are expecting flurries tonight and a more significant amount on Sunday and Monday.
 With the exception of having to hear too much about the U.S. election debacle, life has been rather mundane. One high point occurred last week. As we marched the cadets to the midday meal, one of the cadets called out to me. At first I told him to be quiet in formation, but he was persistent. He insisted that there was something he had to show to me. He then pointed off in the distance and pointed at a large bird with a white head and white tail, identifying it as a bald eagle. He said that he knew I would not want to miss seeing that bird. Later, I asked him how he knew the bird was an eagle. He responded that I had told him what eagles looked like. It was then that I realized that at least one young man had been listening to me. That sort of realization makes one's day.
 Bluebirds have been passing through Virginia. We have also, appropriately, had lots of the little birds that we call snowbirds.
 Apolitically but amicably yours,
(1 December 2000)

@. . . .   About the snowbirds, I will tell you a little story. In 1986, when David was a baby, my parents planned to come to visit my family and see the baby. It snowed that morning, and, while we were waiting for my parents to arrive, my wife noticed that there were many small gray and black birds in the yard. She asked what kind of birds they were, and, when I told her snowbirds, she thought I was teasing her. It took all my persuasive power to convince her that the birds have their common name from the folklore belief that their appearance signals the arrival of snow. To my knowledge, it really does no such thing. The birds are residents here in the winter, snow or no snow. That is the pleasant part of the story. An unpleasant part of the story is that later in the day, after my parents came to visit, we received the terrible news that the Challenger had been destroyed.

  I will write to you of political news later, but let me just mention that in theory our highest court is non-partisan. We will see how it really turns out to be.

(2 December 2000)

@. . . .   I have been waiting for a quiet moment to try to send you my understanding of the current political situation. It is my wish that you do not bore the readers of your CMO with the political views of this amateur. Mars is much more interesting.
  First, my understanding of the Supreme Court is that the division is more ideological than political. It is inconceivable that any Court Justice would express a political preference or express support of one party over another. Nonetheless, there is an under-lying difference of philosophy among the various Justices, that is being exploited by the parties. On the one hand, there are the more or less strict constructionists, who view the Court's rule narrowly, limited to interpreting laws as expressed in the Constitution. Republicans, for the most part but with a few exceptions, lean more to this view. On the other hand, there are the judicial activists, who see the role of the Court as being more flexible and more active in promoting social change that they see as positive. Democrats, again with some exceptions, tend to this view. One reason that many people have found this election to be so potentially critical is that the president who will be inaugurated in January will probably have the chance to nominate new members of a Supreme Court which is, at this time, fairly evenly divided among the conservative and liberal ideologies. The next Supreme Court will make decisions that will have an enormous impact on our nation for years to come.
  The ideological division mirrors another division that is very deep in our society. We read that " we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [humankind] are created equal". . . "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights . . . " Our form of government has a philosophical basis that is rooted in what some call the Judeo-Christian ethic. Those who hold that the basis is still valid tend to see the laws as valid and conservative. The liberals see the law as something that can be tampered with ad infinitum. On the one hand, truth is truth; on the other, it is just another way of trying to get what you want. We have, therefore, the examples of Bill Clinton and O. J. Simpson, as exemplars of the second philosophy.
  As a lighter example of the same philosophy, a story of David's childhood comes to mind. His mother told him not to eat a certain type of hard candy, for she was afraid that he might choke on it. Soon thereafter, she found him chewing a piece of the candy. He said, " I'm not eating the candy, Mama. It just fell into my mouth, and my teeth started jumping up and down on it."
  Moving from philosophy to procedure, I admit that our actual voting procedures could undoubtedly be improved. The Japanese practice, as I learned of it from you, of having a voter write in the name of the candidate, certainly seems to make good sense. I doubt, however, that it would be accepted here, for many would argue that it would discriminate against those who do not have the necessary skill to write the name of the candidate. One might ask why such an individual's vote should be counted anyway. I think that presently we are bending over so far backwards in the attempt to include everyone's vote because in the past certain kinds of voters were routinely not included. I do not know this from my own experience, but it is reliably said that voter qualifications, allegedly establishing literacy, were used to keeps black Americans from voting. The vast majority of people realize that such was wrong, and they try so hard not to go back to the bad old ways that maybe we go too far toward being tolerant, maybe not.
  I have had numerous black friends make statements indicating their lack of trust in the political process. The Democratic Party benefits enormously from the votes of black Americans. I saw a color-coded map (no pun is intended ) that showed that Gore's support was over-whelmingly urban - and presumably black, while Bush carried over-whelmingly the rural parts of the nation. The division of America along racial lines is very worrisome to me. One reason why I hope that all the votes WILL be counted is that I want all of us to be sure who really won the election.
  Perhaps you will read this message on some evening when insomnia is a problem, and it will effect a cure, thereby doing some real good in the world.
  I will send later a couple of light hearted items in regard to the election. If the jokes do not translate well, perhaps they were not really funny to start with.

(5 December 2000)

@. . . .   Thank you for kindly forwarding the link to the Cassini images, which I have enjoyed very much. We have missed out on having heavy snow so far this year. Yesterday we had slightly less than an inch of the white stuff, and it has been so cold that we still have most of that. The weather man is calling for snow tomorrow.
  I hope that tou and your family are well. The Whitby family sends its wish for your Merry Christmas.

(20 December 2000)

Samuel WHITBY ( VA, USA ) :