Remember it’s ‘WE THE PEOPLE’

By Ande Jacobson

As I sit huddled at home as many of us have for almost eight months now, I see the world outside my windows, and I interact virtually with friends and family via phone, via text, and via Zoom (and boy do I look forward to those Zoom sessions). I never thought I would be living through a worldwide pandemic, and yet here we all are. In the US as I write this, we are also only a few days from the end being able to cast our ballots in the most important election in almost a century. In response to this election, rather than sitting back and waiting, I am heavily engaged in some necessary volunteer work for the Biden campaign as I mentioned in my recent essay, Taking Action! As I read reports of daily happenings, these words are looming large:

WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America

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Taking Action!

By Ande Jacobson

Stories. We all relate through stories. We use them from the time we’re small to help us learn language and other skills we need to function as members of society. We use them in our families to ensure that we don’t forget those who came before us. We use them in school as students and teachers to illustrate new concepts and explore the vast world around us. We use them at work to convey information. We use them for entertainment to draw out emotions. We use them throughout society to help understand where we are, and how we got here. We use them in politics to persuade and move people to take action.

Since before I reached voting age, I’ve held strong opinions on several issues that have never gone away. When I was in junior high school, I remember having a spirited debate with one of my favorite teachers over the just-recorded Roe v. Wade decision. We were on opposite side of that debate, and we were both invested in our perspective, but we also had great admiration for one another. We didn’t resort to any mean-spirited attacks. We did use personal stories to back up factual data that we presented. We told those personal stories to emphasize our positions, not to degrade or berate each other.

In the fall of my first year at university, I was excited to vote in my first gubernatorial election. On that ballot, in addition to the gubernatorial race, an infamous proposition – California’s famed Prop 13, the Jarvis-Gann initiative – was in the balance. I came home on several weekends that fall, and I swung by my old high school to talk with a few of my former teachers. I opposed Prop 13 because of the implications for what it would do to the schools in the state. Sadly, all of my former teachers voted for it along with legions of other CA voters. Three years later the state surplus ran out, and CA schools faced the beginning of a continuing funding shortfall that is still in play today.

In the 1980 presidential election, I was again poised to use my voice at the ballot box, but this time, as a young, idealistic university student, I really wanted to change the world. I didn’t want Reagan. I disagreed with the majority of his platform, and I thought he would hurt the country and specifically my family. At the time I also didn’t want Jimmy Carter, so like many other idealistic university students, I voted for John Anderson in that election. I learned a very important lesson that year. While it’s nice to think that a third party candidate can shake things up, the reality is that until we remove the money from politics, the only candidates that truly stand a chance are from the two major parties, and anything else is at best a protest vote, and at worst, a spoiler causing real damage. This has been born out in several subsequent elections where the popular vote went one way, and Electoral College another.

In the years since then, I have continued to vote in every election carefully researching the candidates and the issues, and casually discussing them with family and friends. I remember a heated discussion during the lead-up to the 1984 general election amongst fellow students and staff at work.

Until the last 20 years or so, I’ve voted strictly on the issues crossing party lines on occasion depending on the individual candidate’s platform and record. Since about the year 2000 I haven’t done that. The partisan divide has gotten so extreme that I can’t.

In 2016, I started writing some articles on social media and on at least one political website leading up to that election. That one felt different. I wanted to do something more, but I wasn’t sure how to get involved, so I wrote. I also had conversations with a very knowledgeable friend that percolated. We all know how 2016 turned out. That year, I had some very serious conversations with some good friends on various sides of the political divide. Since then, I’ve watched, I’ve listened, and I’ve written or spoken out. It wasn’t enough. Over the last four years, I’ve been more scared than I can ever remember being, and I’ve seen sides of some friends that I didn’t know they had. I still care about the issues, but it goes deeper than that now. In 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic that the United States is utterly failing to contain, our lives truly do depend on the outcome of this election. Beyond the pandemic, we’ve got a climate crisis that has been building for decades and must be addressed or nothing else will matter. You can’t tell stories if your species is extinct.

Being tired of feeling helpless and just voting, I decided to do more. Lots more. I’ve been spending some time each day volunteering for the DNC on their text team to help Joe Biden win this election. I started out texting voters. The DNC trains volunteers to use their tools. They are so supportive with volunteer moderators, staff members, and the vast community of volunteers all working together to help reach voters. We listen to voter concerns, give them verifiable, factual data, and we provide critical information on how they can register and make their voices heard.

Before long, I joined the text moderator team, and now I’m helping other volunteers reach voters on a daily basis. Even though I retired a few years ago, I’m finding a lot of the skills I developed throughout my career are coming in handy, and the sense of community and purpose is invigorating.

It’s getting busier, and soon it will be over, but instead of just sitting at home wondering and waiting, I’m doing something tangible. I’ve already voted. Now I need to continue to help get everyone out there who can vote to do so.

Why do I support Joe Biden? Again, this goes back a few years, and I will freely admit that through the primaries earlier this year, he wasn’t the one I wanted to win, though I have admired his public service for many decades. Although I voted for Elizabeth Warren in the primary, I’d be very happy with Joe Biden as our president.

Back in October 1992, during the general campaign between Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, I had the privilege of taking a trip to Washington, D.C. Had I known I’d soon be sent there for work many, many times, I might have gone someplace else for that vacation, but nonetheless, I was there for a week with a very dear friend. We saw all the sites playing tourist for that week, but one thing sticks out in my mind more than any other from that trip. We got to sit in the gallery on the last day of the 102nd Congress Senate Session. It was a big day in the Senate. Three senators retired that day – Garne, Rudman, and our long time CA senator, Alan Cranston.

Those retirements and the tributes that accompanied them were touching, but even that wasn’t the thing that struck me. This was the day after George H. W. Bush appeared on the Larry King show during that campaign. One senator decided to make quite a spectacle on the Senate floor that day. He took the floor and wouldn’t yield, lambasting the Democratic nominee with innuendo and false accusations. Three senators tried to get him to stop and failed. Finally, Joe Biden got him to yield, though I don’t recall exactly how he was able to do that. What I do remember is that Joe debunked every accusation with verifiable, factual data, and then turned the body to address a critical humanitarian effort that needed immediate attention. That’s the Joe Biden I voted for. That’s the Joe Biden we need in the White House.

Please vote like your life depends on it, because it does.

Joe Biden’s Campaign Website
Joe’s Vision (his plan for America)
Volunteer for the campaign
Democratic Platform
Letters From an American
Trouble – when the story matters more than reality

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Trouble – when the story matters more than reality

By Ande Jacobson

In theater or in literature, an author’s vivid imagination can be a wondrous thing. A writer can spin a captivating tale limited only by the bounds of their imagination and their ability to capture their vision in words. If told well, such a story can be divorced from reality yet still provide compelling entertainment for its audience. In this context it’s not only acceptable, it’s desirable, and viewers or readers can find escape through immersion in such a story. It can be enjoyable to suspend disbelief enough to imagine what might be, and it can even inspire people to positive action to improve a situation in reality. Science fiction has long posited potential advances, both good and bad, that are sometimes achieved at a later time. The communicators used in Star Trek in the 1960s were intriguing. They allowed people to communicate over long distances from wherever they were with a tiny device seemingly by magic. Decades later, they came to life in the real world as flip phones as a phase in the evolution of mobile technology. Granted, there were significant differences in range, clarity, and required infrastructure, but the similarities were striking given various designs inspired by the fictional story. Since then, mobile technology has advanced in the form of smart phones and devices, delighting consumers and titillating the minds of creative engineers to continue to push even further. Continue reading

Eclipsing Reality

By Ande Jacobson

Years ago, although I lived and worked on the west coast, I spent a good deal of time near Washington, D.C. on some temporary work assignments. On these extended trips with my technical team, I had some time to explore the various museums and monuments on the weekends after some very long work weeks. Little did I know that one such outing would blossom into a vivid lesson on how easily people can be swayed by exaggeration or even completely false information presented as fact, eclipsing reality in dramatic fashion. Continue reading

The magic of the written word

By Ande Jacobson

Writing can be a powerful tool. Written words have the power to induce strong emotions. They give us a way to record history, events, and ideas. They can entertain and inspire. In telling a story, a writer is often trying to elicit a strong response in their readers. As a reader, it can be quite enjoyable to lose one’s self in a well-told story that runs us through a variety of emotional responses.

With the ubiquity of text messaging, the internet, email, and social media, many of us are thrust into the role of writer as well as reader on a daily basis. We share ideas and concerns as we connect with friends and foes, often making new friends along the way. We debate, we cajole, we support, and we entertain through our written exchanges. And sadly, we can sometimes push people we care about away. Continue reading

My magical, musical journey: Part 4 – my return to organized music

By Ande Jacobson

As I mentioned at the end of Part 3, something was sorely missing during the dark years when I wasn’t involved in any organized ensembles. I still played my instruments at home and whenever I would drop by my mother’s house to visit. At some point during every visit, I would play a little ragtime or Chopin on her piano. She really didn’t want me to get my own piano because she was afraid that I would visit less often if I could play comfortably at home. Also, she really enjoyed it when I would bring my clarinet with me and play along with her for a bit. Still, between my own personal practice, the occasional simple duet with mom, and attending professional productions from time to time, I still had a pretty big hole in my life. Work was going well, and I eventually married a very dear friend. The marriage didn’t last, but it would turn out to be a very pivotal point in my life, especially musically. Continue reading

My magical, musical journey: Part 3 – the college years

By Ande Jacobson

This piece of the journey picks up where part 2 left off. When I started college, I was torn. I loved music with every fiber of my being, but I also very much loved science and math. I wanted to become a doctor, but I still considered majoring in music for a very brief moment. I knew that to get into medical school, one only had to fulfill the required coursework and take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), but they could major in anything they liked. Still, I loved math and science, so I decided that I would major in the sciences, but still pursue my music somehow. Long story short, I never got into medical school. In fact I never even applied. Along the way, I switched from majoring in biochemistry to electrical engineering (still heavily in the math / science realm), and I pursued my music as well, just not as a major or even a minor. I also made one very firm decision before I got to the campus to start my first term. I never wanted to march again. Continue reading

The performing arts during a pandemic

By Ande Jacobson

With the country in the throes of an ever expanding pandemic, all non-essential group activities have been suspended. This is of course a necessary measure to help slow the spread of a serious health threat. Numerous businesses are affected, and many won’t recover with such a sustained stoppage of commerce. Not unlike sporting events, this is also a particularly devastating blow to the live performing arts where audiences normally gather to enjoy the efforts of artists presenting theatre, music, and dance right in front of them. Audiences cannot gather in person at this point, and realistically with social distancing, performers can’t perform in their normal fashion either since that would put them in close proximity to one another. In an attempt to keep the arts alive, even in these difficult times, this situation has sparked a widespread and creative use of technology. Continue reading

The leapling’s struggle

By Ande Jacobson

29 February only occurs in years divisible by 4, and for centennial years, only in those divisible by 400. This little oddity has been written about in verse in that famous poem that has become a favorite mnemonic for remembering how many days each month contains:

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February alone,
And that has twenty-eight days clear
And twenty-nine in each leap year.

29 February also figures prominently in musical theater in that Gilbert and Sullivan favorite, The Pirates of Penzance. In the G&S story, the hero, Frederick, through an unfortunate accident had been apprenticed to a pirate in his youth. He was slated to be released from his servitude on his 21st birthday. Alas, the lad was a leapling (one who was born on 29 February). Because of this unfortunate birth date, he wouldn’t have the 21st occurrence on the right date until he had lived for 84 years. The story of course doesn’t end there, but it takes a few interesting turns along the way.

There are also many more pragmatic issues associated with 29 February in the world of software. Julian Day 060, i.e., the 60th day of the year, occurs on 29 February in leap years, and on 1 March the rest of the time. This can serve to inspire many software tests to make sure that the accounting is correct. Of course the larger problem is at the end of a leap year rolling into the next year since there are 366 days rather than 365 before rollover should occur. The year 2000, the first centennial year since entering the computer age, was predicted to be the end of every computer system. Software engineers the world over prepared for the rollover into that year, across JD 060, and for the rollover into 2001. The world didn’t end, and although there were a few small hiccups in some systems, there was no worldwide computer shutdown.

Other concerns surround when to credit a birthday for leaplings in non-leap years. Does it fall in February the day before the date should occur, or in March, the day after? There is no real consensus in the leapling community for when to observe one’s birthday when there is no 29th in sight, and solid arguments can be made either way. Fortunately, a standard has evolved where official documents and events depend on one’s birthday to keep it in one’s birth month, at least in the US.

The real struggle for leaplings occurs when they reach what would normally be their eighth birthday as a child. For people born on every other day of the year, there is no confusion. Their birthday rolls around on the same day each year, and they get a year older. When one is young, these events are often cause for great joy as they get closer to being able to achieve various milestones in their lives. When one gets much older, the number of years tends to be less important, until they get to those decade milestone birthdays. But when a child reaches the age of eight, most of the people in their lives insist that no, they are only going to be two, and this can present a difficult obstacle. After all, what eight-year-old wants to be a toddler?

By the time a leapling approaches age 12, they start to enjoy the idea that they are only “3” and yet can do things a toddler could potentially only dream of doing, or more likely couldn’t even comprehend. After that, the game ensues for the rest of their lives.

Still, many milestones will occur on the wrong day, and quite possibly in the wrong month. Decade milestones only fall on 29 February every 20 years, rather than every 10 like they do for everyone else. And 29 February only falls on a Saturday every 28 years.

29 February is unique day. Be kind to the leaplings in your lives.

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My magical musical journey: Part 2 – high school acceleration

By Ande Jacobson

This piece of the journey picks up where part 1 left off, the summer before my freshman year of high school. Leaving junior high behind, there was a lot ahead, and that summer was an eventful one. Normally, the incoming freshman class didn’t start band rehearsals until school commenced in the fall, but this particular summer was different. The band had been invited to participate in a massive summer parade as part of the Lions Club International conference in San Francisco, so there was no time to lose. The high school’s band was an award winning organization known throughout the western region as a top notch marching band. Their strength wasn’t in the drum corps style of marching or field shows. They thrived on military-style street marching competitions where everything, including standing inspections of the uniforms, hair length, musical interpretation, and marching precision was scored. My class, as incoming freshman, had a lot to learn in short order. Continue reading