Saturday, July 31, 2021

COVID - Now What Do We Do?

Why does the CDC keep changing its mind?

If we're vaccinated why do we have to wear masks either indoors or outdoors?

If you want professional advice go to the CDC, or ask your doctor. If you're interested in my take, read on.

We all need a better understanding of "science." I don't mean memorizing the Periodic Table of the Elements, explaining quantum physics, or conducting an experiment from a textbook. I mean the process of science, "the scientific method."

This is what the former president of Harvard, James B. Conant wrote about in his book On Understanding Science (1947). As the Yale Books edition describes it, "a historical view of a number of the great scientists, of what their generation knew of their subjects, of the problem they set out to examine, and of how they solved it. Thus the reader is enabled to follow in a new way the scientific method at work, with all its limitations and wonders."

CDC did not flip-flop, or "change their mind." They were correct, with the data they then had, that if you were vaccinated it was extremely unlikely you would be infected (with or without symptoms) by the Alpha strain of COVID -- the one we confronted in 2020 and early 2021.

The Delta variant is an entirely different virus. It creates 1000 times more virus particles in our respiratory tract than the earlier variety; more to spread to those around us. It's more deadly. It travels faster, infecting more people. It's now the cause of over 80% of all COVID infections and 97% of COVID hospitalizations.

We were warned that if we did not do the test, trace, quarantine and isolate that successful countries were doing, we could have as many as 600,000 dead and even more deadly variants. We did not follow this advice. We did have 600,000 unnecessary deaths, and we now have the much more deadly variant Delta.

As the Delta variant spread, the CDC and others were able to gather data indicating how it differed from the Alpha -- data that obviously could not have existed prior to the arrival of the Delta variant.

What that data shows is that the vaccine can protect almost all of us from the Delta, almost all of the time, from hospitalization and death. What it cannot do, apparently, is protect us from infection -- with or without symptoms -- and thereby infecting others (as it was able to protect us, and them, from the Alpha).

Thus, we may become infected with Delta from both those who have not been vaccinated, and from those who are! Once infected, we can pass the infection to our children, other family and friends.

And that's why the CDC did not flip-flop in its advice, and why those of us who are vaccinated still need to mask up when indoors or in crowds outdoors.

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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Who Can Sue?

Lawsuits Aren't Limited to Humans
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, July 24, 2021, p. 5A

Who Can Sue?

What if democracy could, to quote former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, “sue for its own preservation?”

Stick with me. This is a short column. The idea’s not as crazy as it may first sound.

Lawyers file lawsuits.

Most of their clients are adult people, specifically Homo sapiens – a species in which lawyers also claim membership.

But not all clients are people.

The creative minds of Roman lawyers, 40 or 50 years before Christ would have had an opportunity to stop them, conceived and gave birth to one of today’s lawyers’ most lucrative source of clients: “corporations.”

You can’t invite one to dinner. They’re only figments of lawyers’ imaginations, nonhuman, and occasionally inhuman.

Yet the nine Supremes invite these zombies into their Court and treat them as legal persons. The Court’s even ruled corporations’ political contributions can metamorphose into First Amendment-protected “speech.”

Admiralty law, from Roman times to the present, treats ships as legal persons.

Young children, unlikely to contact lawyers, are legal persons.

Zoologists classify us as mammals – in a sub-group identified as the Great Apes. So it’s only logical that other species, despite animals’ apprehension regarding lawyers, have been granted legal person status.

The Iowa Code, Section 717B.3, gives animals the legal right to good nutrition; plenty of clean water; sanitary conditions; a shelter with bedding and protection from wind, rain, snow sun, cold and dampness; and. professional healthcare.

That list would be a good starting place for what we should guarantee our species – and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights agrees.

While clerking for Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black I learned of Justice Douglas’ love of nature from conversation, his books and short group walks along the C & O Canal. Years later he advanced the notion of environmental personhood in his opinion in the Sierra Club case, citing Christopher D. Stone’s article (now book), Should Trees Have Standing?--Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects, a law review article of mine, and many other sources. (Photo credit: trees and lake,

Noting that corporations and ships get legal person status he argued that “environmental objects” should receive no less. They should be able to “sue for their own preservation.”

Why not? If lawyers can create corporate legal persons out of vapor why not our more tangible bodies of water? Two rivers in India, a mountain and river in New Zealand, and more in Bolivia, Columbia and Ecuador enjoy environmental personhood.

Iowa, of all states, has an economic as well as moral interest in giving our land, rivers and lakes the right to “sue for their own preservation.”

How about our “democracy”? It’s more real and deserving of the legal right to protect itself than corporations. It requires educated citizens with voting rights, and judges and journalists with independence and integrity. Refusals to accept election results, cutting schools’ budgets, or saying media are “the enemy of the people” are attacks on democracy itself.

It’s long past time we grant democracy the right to “sue for its own preservation.”
Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City, is the author of Columns of Democracy.
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Corporations; history; 44-49 BC. Corporation, https://

Corporation as “citizen” of state. Louisville, C. & C.R. Co. v. Letson, 43 U.S. 497 (1844), https://

Corporations; entitled to political participation. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S 310 (2010), Wikipedia,

Corporations as inhumane. “2005 List: the 14 Worst Corporate Evildoers,” Global Exchange, International Labor Rights Forum, Dec. 12, 2005,

Other legal persons. U.S. government, U.S. v. The Cooper Corp., 312 U.S. 600 (1941); counties . Counties, Cook County v. U.S. ex rel Chandler, 538 U.S. 119 (2003)

Admiralty law. Nicholas Joseph Healy, “Maritime law,” Britannica, (“[T]he most distinctive feature of admiralty practice is the proceeding in rem, against maritime property, that is, a vessel …. Under American maritime law, the ship is personified to the extent that it may sometimes be held responsible under circumstances in which the shipowner himself is under no liability.)

Children’s legal rights. “What Are the Legal Rights of Children?” Findlaw, March 18, 2019, (“children are entitled to a safe environment, good nutrition, healthcare, and education. Although parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit, if a child is not safe, the state will remove the children from their home. Parents are required to meet the child's basic needs.”)

Humans are mammals, Great Apes. Beth Blaxland, “Humans are mammals,” Australian Museum, Oct. 22, 2020, https:// (“Humans are also classified within: the subgroup of mammals called primates; and the subgroup of primates called apes and in particular the 'Great Apes'”)

Zoologists. “Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists,” Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Animals legal rights. Iowa Code Section 717B.3 (1) (a)-(f). a. Access to food in an amount and quality reasonably sufficient to satisfy the animal’s basic nutrition level to the extent that the animal’s health or life is endangered. b. Access to a supply of potable water in an amount reasonably sufficient to satisfy the animal’s basic hydration level to the extent that the animal’s health or life is endangered. Access to snow or ice does not satisfy this requirement. c. Sanitary conditions free from excessive animal waste or the overcrowding of animals to the extent that the animal’s health or life is endangered. d. Ventilated shelter reasonably sufficient to provide adequate protection from the elements and weather conditions suitable for the age, species, and physical condition of the animal so as to maintain the animal in a state of good health to the extent that the animal’s health or life is endangered. The shelter must protect the animal from wind, rain, snow, or sun and have adequate bedding to provide reasonable protection against cold and dampness. A shelter may include a residence, garage, barn, shed, or doghouse. e. Grooming, to the extent it is reasonably necessary to prevent adverse health effects or suffering. f. Veterinary care deemed necessary by a reasonably prudent person ….

Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 25 (1). en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights (“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”)

Public Trust Doctrine case. IOWA CITIZENS FOR COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT and FOOD & WATER WATCH vs. STATE OF IOWA et al, Iowa Supreme Court, 19-1644. June 18, 2021, (“remand with instructions to dismiss this case based on lack of standing and nonjusticiability.”) me: rights of people rather than the water

Environmental personhood. “Environmental personhood,” – New Zealand, India, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia

Denis Binder, “Perspectives on Forty Years of Environmental Law,” George Washington Journal of Energy & Environmental Law, June 2013, (pp. 148-149)

Christopher D. Stone. "Should Trees Have Standing--Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects." Southern California Law Review 45 (1972): 450; SHOULD TREES HAVE STANDING? TOWARD LEGAL RIGHTS FOR NATURAL OBJECTS. By Christopher D. Stone.' Los Altos, California: William Kaufman, Inc. 1974. Pp. xvii, 102. $6.95. Reviewed by Tom R. Moore – pp. 672-675

Christopher D. Stone, “Should Trees Have Standing?—Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects,“

2020 3d edition:

Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972) (727-780),; WOD dissent 741-755 (“Contemporary public concern for protecting nature's ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation.” 741-742

p. 742 “A ship has a legal personality, a fiction found useful for maritime purposes.” Fn2 in rem, salvage, collision

p. 743. [As with corporations and ships] “So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes-fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it. Those people who have a meaningful relation to that body of water-whether it be a fisherman, a canoeist, a zoologist, or a logger-must be able to speak for the values which the river represents and which are threatened with destruction.”

p. 749-750 “[Given the often domination of regulatory agencies by the supposedly regulated] The voice of the inanimate object, therefore, should not be stilled. That does not mean that the judiciary takes over the managerial functions from the federal agency. It merely means that before these priceless bits of Americana (such as a valley, an alpine meadow, a river, or a lake) are forever lost or are so transformed as to be reduced to the eventual rubble of our urban environment, the voice of the existing beneficiaries of these environmental wonders should be heard. Perhaps they will not win. Perhaps the bulldozers of "progress" will plow under all the aesthetic wonders of this beautiful land. That is not the present question. The sole question is, who has standing to be heard?”

Justice Blackman, Douglas Appendix, pp. 755-756: “If this were an ordinary case, I would join the opinion and the Court's judgment and be quite content.

But this is not ordinary, run-of-the-mill litigation. The case poses-if only we choose to acknowledge and reach them-significant aspects of a wide, growing, and disturbing problem, that is, the Nation's and the world's deteriorating environment with its resulting ecological disturbances. Must our law be so rigid and our procedural concepts so inflexible that we render ourselves helpless when the existing methods and the traditional concepts do not quite fit and do not prove to be entirely adequate for new issues?”}

Rivers. Legal person, Wikipedia, https:// (“The Whanganui River was granted legal personality in March 2017 under New Zealand law because the Whanganui Māori tribe regard the river as their ancestor.[17]”(“17. Roy, Eleanor Ainge (16 March 2017). "New Zealand river granted same legal rights as human being". The Guardian. London, United Kingdom. Retrieved 2017-03-16.”)

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Wednesday, July 07, 2021

How Do You Know?

What to Believe or How to Think?
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, July 7, 2021, p. 6

A lifelong friend we’ll call “Ralph” told me his father always asked, upon Ralph’s return from school, “Did they teach you what to believe, or did they teach you how to think?”

The Harvard Business Review published “Why China Can’t Innovate” and concluded, “The problem . . . is not . . . the Chinese people . . . but the political world in which their schools . . . need to operate, which is very much bounded.”

Americans’ innovative, entrepreneurial, economic, artistic and intellectual comparative success is largely driven by the educators who have taught us “how to think.”

As you may have noticed, for the past six years America has been sliding from the “shining city on a hill” down toward the pit of authoritarian dictatorship with the uncontrolled speed of a kid on a plastic sledding saucer in winter.

A democracy can no more stand without supporting institutions than a beach home can stand without pilings. Democracies need their respected and protected “columns of democracy” – professional, independent, journalists; wise, impartial, non-partisan judges; electoral procedures that encourage ever-increasing numbers of voters – and dedicated public school educators teaching students “how to think.”

President Thomas Jefferson wished “most to be remembered” as “Father of the University of Virginia,” not president. Iowa’s early 12,000 schools made it number one. When I was teaching at UC Berkeley, California’s tuition-free education fueled its position as, today, the world’s fifth greatest economy. [Photo Credit: Iowa Department of Education (“Here is the original well of an 1800s school house located near Shellsburg in Benton County.”) And see, Tom Morain, “One-Room Schools,” Iowa Pathways, Iowa PBS, undated, (“The first schoolhouse in Iowa was built in 1830 in Lee County.”)]

Educators’ freedom is as essential to our economy as to our democracy and our “pursuit of happiness.”

Chinese journalists explained to me the freedoms they have – so long as they don’t use the wrong words.

Fortunately, the Iowa Commissar of Acceptable K-12 Vocabulary does not understand education.

Some years ago, I was asked to speak to Iowa’s National Issues Forum high school students at the Herbert Hoover Library. I shared a basic general semantics tool: “What Do You Mean and How Do You Know?” (Asking yourself and others, “What facts brought you to the verbal generalizations you just used?” and, “What were your sources supporting that conclusion? Why do you believe them reliable?”) The technique was successfully used by a couple Metro High School teachers after that talk, became the subject of a doctoral dissertation, and a published book.

Teachers should ask their school board’s lawyer about HF 802's restrictions. But as I read it, teachers are free to present, or better have students find, historic facts about African-Americans’ lives during the last 400 years; answer students’ questions; ask students, “How do you know?” and let them draw their own conclusions and generalizations. In other words, teaching them “how to think” and evaluate research. Like Chinese journalists, Iowa’s teachers still have their freedom to teach – just so long as they don’t use the Commissar’s forbidden words and phrases.

Ralph’s dad understood education. So do Iowa’s teachers. It’s just a little more challenging to teach, or do journalism, within an authoritarian dictatorship.
Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City, is the author of Columns of Democracy and What Do You Mean and How Do You Know? Contact:

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Regina M. Abrami, William C. Kirby, and F. Warren McFarlan, “Why China Can’t Innovate,” Harvard Business Review, March 2014, (the full last paragraph reads, ““The problem, we think, is not the innovative or intellectual capacity of the Chinese people, which is boundless, but the political world in which their schools, universities, and businesses need to operate, which is very much bounded.”)

Courtney Vinopal, “2 out of 3 Americans believe U.S. democracy is under threat,” PBS, July 2, 2021.

“City on a hill.” Matthew 5:14; Ronald Reagan’s use, “A Vision for America,” Nov. 3, 1980, “City upon a Hill,” Wikipedia,

Amy Meadows, “How to Install Piling for a Beach House,”

Democracy’s supporting institutions. Columns of Democracy (2018)

Jefferson’s epitaph. “Jefferson’s Gravestone,” Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, Jefferson Monticello, (“Before his death, Thomas Jefferson left explicit instructions regarding the monument to be erected over his grave. In this undated document, Jefferson supplied a sketch of the shape of the marker, and the epitaph with which he wanted it to be inscribed:
"... on the faces of the Obelisk the following inscription, & not a word more:

Here was buried Thomas Jefferson Author of the Declaration of American Independence of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia

"because by these," he explained, "as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered.")
12,000 Iowa schools. “A walk through Iowa’s one-room schoolhouses,” Iowa Department of Education, (“more . . . than any other state in the union”)

Tom Morain, “One-Room Schools,” Iowa Pathways, Iowa PBS, undated, (“The first schoolhouse in Iowa was built in 1830 in Lee County.”)

California tuition-free education. Lilia Vega, “The history of UC tuition since 1868,” The Daily Clog, The Daily Californian, Dec. 22, 2014,

“Economy of California,” Wikipedia, (“If California were a sovereign nation (2019), it would rank as the world's fifth largest economy, ahead of India and behind Germany.”)

Theodore R. Breton, “The Role of Education in Economic Growth: Theory, History and Current Returns,” Educational Research, v55 n2 p121-138 2013,, (“The paper presents evidence that education has direct and indirect effects on national output. Educated workers raise national income directly because schooling raises their marginal productivity.”)

What do you mean? What Do You Mean and How Do You Know? (2009), ch. 5, p. 49

Use in Metro High School. Although the author used the Metro experience as a major part of the book, Metro was presented as an anonymous high school. Jane Bolgatz, Talking Race in the Classroom (2005)

The law prohibiting reference to such words and phrases as “systemic racism” originated as House File 802, and can now be found, as enrolled, at

Samantha Hernandez and Ian Richardson, “Iowa Poll: More than half of Iowans oppose new law limiting certain concepts from racism, sexism training,” Des Moines Register, June 29, 2021,

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