2012-02-09 / Musings


Q: “How long do I have?”

— Peggy Kessler, making inquiry in July, 2001, after receiving a diagnosis of stage IV pancreatic cancer

A: “We did a lot of tests on you, and I never saw one thing stamped on the bottom of your foot that said you were going to die in two months. You have no expiration date.”

— Peggy’s memory of the response she received from Dr. Alfonso

Mellijor of the Cancer Treatment

Centers of America

“E pluribus unum, my friends; sine qua non.”

— Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the U.S.A.

“...and he smiled at me — pa rum pum pum pum. Me and my drum.”

— Katherine K. Davis,

Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone,

“Little Drummer Boy”

There was a distinct telling, a memory: A promise that there would be no one quoting anyone in this column. Who promised? To whom was the promise made? Upon whom can there be calling as a witness? How could there be a column without quotation, citation, insinuation, and conflagration? Is there witness protection?

Perhaps Andrew Jackson could be my witness. Who better to go for witness than the Old Hickory Dickory Doc slave owner who sent the natives packing, gave the enemy spoils to the victor, and was military governor of a Florida taken from both Spain and the Seminoles? When folks called him a jackass, the beast became the symbol of the Democratic party. Jackson was wounded so frequently in duels that he rattled like a bag of marbles. The populous loved him so much that he was called King Mob.

He knew it well: It is out of the many that there is the one. This is the essential condition: sine qua non. Wisdom comes out of many mouths it seems, out of both babes and jackasses. And seers, perhaps. And we can read the words in many places. On the Great Seal and on our American currency.

Maybe it’s the only thing we can read, really. For better or worse, for richer or poorer.

In medicine, sine qua non refers to a sign the absence of which signifies the absence of the target disease. The test for such a sign would be highly sensitive, rarely missing the condition. So a negative test would be very reassuring.

But we know that the default position, the null hypothesis, can never be proven. It can only be accepted or rejected. So, let’s say we null hypothesize no expiration date, no wolf waiting, no thief at the gate, no problem. If we cry wolf and are wrong, we make a type I error, a false positive. If we do not sound the alarm and are wrong, we make a type II error, a false negative. And so?

Are we so adverse to the final verse? The bottom line suffixed and suffused and submerged? Silent.

Peggy Kessler is still alive, living in Valley Springs, S.D., in a home she coowns. She is a registered Republican. She answers her phone and her personal e-mail. Is that enough evidence to move you to reject the null hypothesis?

The sine qua non phrase first appeared in the work of Boethius in a longer form: conditio sine qua non.

This longer Latin phrase can be translated: But for this, that could not be. This sixth-century philosopher wrote about the weal of fortune and death. He wrote his most witnessed work, “The Consolation of Philosophy,” while awaiting execution in exile. It is the imaginary dialogue between himself and Lady Philosophy, philosophy personified as a woman. Facing his own death, Boethius wanted to preserve the purity of the ancient knowledge.

Andrew Jackson continued his work. As do other drums and pirates.

Everything is sine qua non. And, so? How does that influence the null hypothesis witness protection pogram? ¦

— Rx is the FloridaWeekly muse who hopes to inspire profound mutiny in all those who care to read. Our Rx may be wearing a pirate cloak of invisibility, but emanating from within this shadow is hope that readers will feel free to respond. Who knows: You may even inspire the muse. Make contact if you dare.

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