03 September 2020

USA's census (bonus: interstellar relief)

Russian-language Facebook ad for USA's 2020 Census.
I've been walking and driving all over greater Southeast Portland these last few weeks, going to addresses for which the U.S. Census Bureau believes it doesn't have 2020 Census information.

When I was hired as a Census enumerator, I affirmed (did not swear, dear Quaker elders!) that, for the rest of my days, I will not divulge any identifiable personal information gained from my interviews, so I'm not going to risk telling stories from my rounds, though it's tempting!

This AARP article prepared me for the possibility that some of my door-knocking would be met by stony-faced rejections. It has happened (sometimes backed up by big dogs!), but less frequently than I'd feared. About half of my visits have ended up with successful interviews of one kind or another. The other half is made up of all sorts of exceptions -- nobody home, the address didn't exist anymore, the address was vacant or under repair as of April 1 (national census day), it had become nonresidential, the door is answered by someone who didn't live there on April 1, and so on. Some visits are unsuccessful simply because I showed up at a bad time. Only a few have disputed the Census Bureau's need or right to collect the information.

I'm pleased to report that my Russian language has come in handy for a good number of visits, and I was again reminded of that special blend of warmth, humor, and pragmatism that I will always associate with our friends and neighbors during our years in Russia. With over a hundred thousand Russian speakers in greater Portland, I don't risk giving away anything private by mentioning these delightful encounters.

It's obvious that this decade's census has unusual challenges, both logistical and political. For my own part, I'm just glad to be able to participate in a government project I totally support.

Voyager spacecraft; source.
Do you need some relief from the relentless flow of stressful political news? Would you welcome a distraction from the reality that the U.S. presidential election is exactly two months away?

My time-tested advice: think about the scale of the universe. Even just our own interstellar neighborhood may be enough to allow the political machinations on our little planet to shrink to their proper perspective.

I remember the first time I read that the interplanetary probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were on their ways out of our solar system and entering interplanetary space. My first reaction: it took that long? They were both launched in 1977. Since leaving their last planetary assignments, they've been traveling outbound to the stars at the speed of roughly 15 kilometers per second (Voyager 2) and almost 17 kilometers per second (Voyager 1). That's over 35,000 miles per hour for Voyager 1, making it the speediest human-made object ever. 

Despite their high speeds, gained largely by using planetary gravitation as slingshots, they did not enter interstellar space until 2012 (Voyager 1) and 2018 (Voyager 2)! "But even at more than 11 billion miles from the sun, the Voyagers’ story is just beginning," writes Nadia Drake in National Geographic. They are still 56,000 years (Voyager 1) and 65,000 years (Voyager 2) from exiting the Oort Cloud, whose outer limit might be defined as the true boundary of our solar system.

Amazingly, we're still receiving data from the Voyagers, and may do so for a few more years before they run out of all resources. However, it has been decades since we've been able to change their courses -- and to the best of scientists' knowledge, their present trajectories make them unlikely to be captured by another solar system's gravitational forces for many millions of years, if ever. However, some time in the next 40,000 - 60,000 years they'll come within a few light years of several dozen stars, if anyone in those solar systems is keeping an eye out for them....

(Reminder: those several dozen stars are all part of a tiny neighborhood in our Milky Way galaxy, which has something like 100,000,000,000 to 1,000,000,000,000 stars -- some say 300 billion (American billions). Beyond the Milky Way there may be another 100,000,000,000 to 2,000,000,000,000 galaxies. And is our universe the only one?)

Don't you feel better already?

Awkward question from Micael Grenholm: Are American Christians worshipping America?

Drew Strait reviews the new book by Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States.

Mary Butler Coleman is tired of sitting in the balcony.

Meduza on Novichok and Navalny.

Two ordinary Americans posting on Twitter about Russia ... only I can't find them anymore!

Roger E. Olsen recommends three documentaries on Christians in the Germany of the 1930's. All three are available on Youtube. I've seen the first and second of these three, and can understand why Olson recommends them.

Argentina's Xime Monzón performs Slim Harpo's "Rainin' in my Heart" ... 


Nancy Thomas said...

Thank you for your work on the streets of Portland! (If I were to try and do that, Friendsview would put me in quarantine!) And for the link to the review of "Taking Back America for God."

Johan Maurer said...

Hello, Nancy! That book review was so thorough, you almost don't need the book. (Actually, since the Kindle version is reasonably priced, I think I'll get it.)