Archive for the 'Random & Miscellaneous' Category

07
Jun
14

Ralph Reed Swings Both Ways – Literally

Bill Maher had Ralph Reed, the founder of the Christian Coalition, on ‘Real Time with Bill Maher‘.

Maher carefully prepared for this discussion with Reed, using his understanding of Reed’s predictable inconsistencies. The discussion is actually a setup for (I fully expect) a commentary later by Maher.

I offer my version of that commentary after a summation of the discussion.

* * * *

Maher, regarding parenthood:

People don’t have to be married. They have to be there.

Reed’s response to Maher’s example of a successful, ‘less-Christian’ European culture was:

In America, the social science is …

Maher, regarding faith:

Faith: The purposeful suspension of critical thinking.

Reed, in response:

It’s a relationship, it’s not a set of rules. … When you feel that your eternal destiny is resolved, you have a peace …

Reed, acknowledging reality:

You don’t have to have faith to be a good person.

Maher, regarding charity:

Of course, but you can do those things without believing in magic.

Reed claimed, when asked specifically by Maher, to be a Biblical Literalist. When Maher presented inconvenient aspects of the Bible, Reed made the usual argument, that he could select (quote-mine) the scriptures to ignore these inconvenient things. Yet, he criticized Maher for that very fault:

You’re being very selective.

Reed doubled-down on his own contradiction, just in time for the end of (interview) time:

You could just as easily cite the dietary laws in the Old Testament … if you go to the New Testament, there’s a New Covenant that demonstrates that’s not the path to ultimate salvation. … You’re not going to get to heaven by observing do’s and don’ts and rules … you’re going to get to heaven by a personal relationship with God.

* * * *

My context for all elements of this discussion is the position taken by Reed, and millions of Christians, about LGBT rights. You know that position, that those people have chosen an immoral lifestyle, and that the health of society in general (not just of those who are Christians) requires that LGBT people be restricted from marriage, parenting, and buying cakes from a public bakery.

The authority for this position is the Old Testament, using a few indistinct passages which can be interpreted as condemnations of All Things Homosexual. You don’t need me to remind you further.

Where is Reed’s reliance upon the New Covenant? Jesus of Nazareth NEVER SAID a single word about gender choice or sexual lifestyle, except for what applies thoroughly to heterosexuals also.

I agree with something that Reed said,

You’re not going to get to heaven by observing do’s and don’ts and rules.

Yet “You’re being very selective” Reed is very selective in insisting upon adherence to certain Levitical rules.

Reed needs to actually believe in that “personal relationship with God” for everyone, not just the relationship that he has, and in the way he has it.

How personal is it for my relationship with God to be the same as Ralph Reed’s?

I differ from Reed primarily not by religion, or any emotional viewpoint. I differ from him by being able to apply some critical thinking, as contrasted to his purposeful (convenient) suspension of critical thinking.

That difference makes Reed unable to imagine an America in which un-married parents raise children who, demographically, are members of society who are as valuable as the children of married, or of divorced, parents.

Reed can, to support his preconceptions and biases, only depend upon – not the Bible – and – not his personal relationship with God – but the “… social science is very clear, that they’re more likely to …”.

Reed has no faith in America. He has only his refusal to critically think about the real possibility that America can improve in the same way that Europe has improved. It is sad and destructive for a person like Reed, who has a large influence, to be very selective in his citation of social science instead of using critical thinking and recognizing that social scientists find benefits to society in treating everyone, including those who are LGBT, according to equal and consistently-applied laws.

Maybe, the next time that Maher and Reed have a public discussion, Maher could attempt to learn what the hell Reed is thinking when he says “Yes” in answering a question about being a Biblical Literalist.

19
Nov
11

Occupy the Bible

I am often motivated by scripture readings in Sunday service to write about them from a different perspective than is customary. Recently, the Gospel Reading in our little ELCA Lutheran Church was the parable in Matthew 25:14-30. Christian commentaries and sermons on this parable typically describe it in terms of judgement (especially of the unsaved, who are “servants” (sometimes translated ‘slaves’) – entrusted with the monetary denomination “talent” representing God’s blessings to which we are to be faithful) :

14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country,
who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man
according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded
with the same, and made them other five talents.
17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord,
thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over
a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst
unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over
a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an
hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest
that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers,
and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance:
but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness:
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

My prior use of the term ‘perspective’ applies also to commenters other than me. Scriptures have been massaged, twisted, and misrepresented continually and forever. This parable (and its fraternal twin in Luke 19) is perfectly suitable to such misapplication. A natural example is found in American politics. Conservatives have, in this parable, the exemplification of some of their most persistant themes: the wealthy have earned more than folks like me because they have worked harder ; it takes money to make money ; it is the wealthy who make it possible for us to earn the right to continue working ; those who do not make the wealthy yet more wealthy are lazy and condemnable.

These are plausibly, if superficially, supported by the parable. Perhaps it is the reluctance of politicians to be specific about religion that has kept this connection from being exploited. Even so, there are many who bend Christianity to their secular purposes. Either I am oblivious, or they haven’t yet focused upon this parable.

It is (I think) not too late to preempt such arguments.

The parable begins “For the kingdom of heaven is as …”, which explicitly announces that it is a spiritual lesson, not a management or financial seminar. Even so, it is odd that the kingdom of heaven might be compared to anything involving such a nasty person as the master (“Lord”). Be careful to note that the master did not gift the money to the servants – it, and all profits derived from it, belonged to the master.

The servant element might explain why this parable has not been appropriated by conservatives. Folks who aren’t wealthy will probably relate to the servants. That makes a rather strong statement about the distribution of money and influence in America. Conservatives appeal for support of the wealthy, which is not an original attitude – even for slaves.

The master did not participate in the investment activity. He was a ‘passive’ investor who did not even provide guidance before he “straightway took his journey” and returned “after a long time”. This is our current situation. It is only the wealthy who have spare cash and the capacity to risk it on investments which require no work. Rather than being people who work 50? 100? times harder than their employees, they must acknowledge that “I reap where I sowed not”. That is, they purchase seed which they do not even plant, then take the profits of the work of others.

My co-workers & I work plenty hard. Someone would have to work 24/7 to work merely 4 times harder than we do. The wealthy aren’t especially smarter than anyone else, either. The stock market has been shown to have fractal price behavior over time. It is a chaotic system, perfectly unpredictable. Those who ‘make a killing in the market’ are seldom geniuses. They also are not idiots. They are lucky. I am not referring to the fictitious ‘you make your own luck’. This is true chance, unaffected by merit or unworth.

The servants had no money of their own to risk. They risked something less tangible. The wicked servant might have paid for his poor choice by being sold to a less forgiving master. What might have happened if, as in real life, one of the servants had LOST money? People who are not wealthy understand the harsh reality of such risks – loss of job, health insurance, or savings.

For those who want to have reality-based opinions on this subject {WARNING – some math ahead}, here are a few references: ‘Pareto Distributions in Economic Growth Models‘ describes how “the concentration of the wealth can be interpreted as the result of the extraordinary concentration of risk bearings.” ; ‘Market Efficiency, the Pareto Wealth Distribution, and the Lévy Distribution of Stock Returns‘ finds specifically “chance, rather than differential investment ability, is the main source of inequality at the high-wealth range.” ; ‘Why it is hard to share the wealth‘ provides a brief commentary on structural forces in wealth inequality – without the gnarly math of the first two references.

16
Oct
11

Saints and Science

The Roman Catholic Church (and others similarly, I believe) has a system for designating a hierarchical status of Sainthood – and various lesser beatified statuses – to deceased notables.

The Scientific Method, which has produced vast changes and improvements in knowledge and the human condition, is a rather different system. The following is a brief (especially for including just one aspect of the Scientific Method) comparison and contrast of the two systems.

The system for canonizing (a higher step in beatification) a Roman Catholic Saint is formal and specific. Well, sorta specific. The position of ‘Promoter of the Faith‘ has disappeared and is replaced by the ‘Promoter of Justice‘. These positions ostensibly have the same function – to provide evidence against a candidate’s canonization – but very different procedures. Now, skeptical or contradictory evidence is considered only if church authorities are in the mood.

The net process for achieving Sainthood is, essentially: (1) die (2) be popular with a bishop who can make a convincing case for your coolness (heroic virtue) ; this gets you on the ‘OK to pray to‘ list (3) get lucky enough that a sick person (or other person in need of supernatural intervention) prays to you for healing, instead of praying to an actual Saint or to the all-powerful God of the Universe (4) get luckier, so that the sick person claims that a prayer to you has healed them ; this is irrespective of any medical treatment they received (5) get so terrifically lucky that the sick person was not so horribly ill as to die (6) get lucky all over again with another person in need of supernatural intervention.

The Roman Catholic Church will examine these fortuitous events according to these generalized criteria: (1) is the candidate dead? (check!) (2) did someone pray to the candidate for something to happen? (check!) (3) did that something happen? (check!) (4) did someone else pray to the candidate for something to happen? (check!) (3) did that something happen? (check!). That makes a Saint.

The Roman Catholic Church will NOT examine these fortuitous events according to these generalized criteria: (1) did lots (thousands? millions?) of people pray to the candidate for something to happen? (2) did those somethings not happen? (3) did lots (thousands? millions?) of people pray to non-Catholic, or even non-Christian, dead persons for something to happen? (4) did those somethings happen without benefit of Church sponsorship? (5) did the two somethings that did happen, happen for non-supernatural reasons (medicine, human intervention, a generous donor)?

Quite a system they’ve got there, there in that Roman Catholic Church. Hell, folks could pray to Dusty Cat (may he rest in peace), have nice things happen, and the Holy See wouldn’t consider his feline soul to be beatified. It should – no real, substantial difference there. Dusty’s soul was beautiful, though.

Science is a bit less hierarchical. It can be political and competitive, but such is not always a detraction. In fact, as with the Free Enterprise System, competition is good.

The Scientific Method is fundamentally the opposite of beatification. Beatification seeks proof. Hey, we all want proof, right? It’s what we are evolved to seek – a correlation such as ‘eat red stuff, get sick‘ or ‘prayer, then healed‘. The Scientific Method instead seeks falsification.

Prior to the Scientific Method, science was not terribly different from beatification. The result was that it was subject to ‘false positives‘ – favorable results that were unrelated to the supposed cause. It too often ignored contradictory evidence. Vast amounts of work were wasted on alchemy, which really went out of its way to ignore negative results. You couldn’t falsify an alchemist’s pet supposition or belief.

All that sort of b.s. diminished to a tiny remnant when science began to depend on falsifiability. Gee, sometimes science falsifies falsifications! It has become absolutely insistent on only accepting results which have survived many attempts at falsification. In fact, even after a scientific theory – we don’t use the word ‘Law‘ any more – is accepted as ‘true’ (good enough for practical work), Science still re-checks periodically. The recent news from CERN‘s OPERA experiment regarding superluminal neutrinos is the latest example. CERN’s press release (not a peer-reviewed article claiming a reliable result) indicated the possiblility (with reservations noted) of neutrinos moving faster than the Cosmic Speed Limit – the speed of light. Everyone suspected a systematic error, and, by golly, there was one. But scientists always try. Newton (you know – the guy with the apple and that Law) needed some correction, and Einstein might get some too!

We owe modern life and the accelerating progress of knowledge to the Scientific Method. As for deceased Saints causing actual miracles, “Paris Hilton will win the Nobel Prize for Physics before that happens.

11
Dec
10

How Heavy is a Lightning Bolt?

I am about to embark on a new phase of my Electronics Design Engineering career, with Mid-Continent Instruments. My very lengthy hiatus and search for employment gave me the opportunity to reflect on my work. This is one small example for which I can feel that pride is justifiable.

Cardinal Scale Company, while I worked there, was faced with significant new competition for truck scales. Toledo Scale (Now Mettler-Toledo(TM)) had developed one of the first ‘digital’ load cells. Load cells are the transducers which convert weight into electrical signals which can be processed by instruments. Every highway weigh scale uses them. The signals are so tiny – susceptible to error if anything gets between the load cells and the instruments – that no devices can be connected to them which provide effective protection from electrical upsets (such as lightning strikes) without degrading the signal. Digital load cells place the instrumentation within the cell, and communicate to other instruments with high-level computer signals.

Cardinal wanted to be able to quote a digital product when Toledo was a competing bidder for a truck scale. Cardinal’s load cell consultant was confident that he could have no confidence in Hillbilly Engineering, so he asked a couple of fellows he knew at Analog Devices (a major electronics company) to take a look. The two, a Manager and a Senior Engineer, visited and were (since the consultant wasn’t in town then) shown around by me, Big R, my Engineering buddy, and Brownie, our excellent Mechanical Engineer. We toured the facility, talked shop, and went to lunch. We talked about the digital load cell project and some more electronics esoterica. After lunch, Big R stopped me in the Cardinal parking lot and asked, “Jim, did you hear him (the Senior Engineer) tell you that he left his PORSCHE at the airport?” Sometimes I simply need to be slapped – the Engineer had been dropping hints to me. I asked him, “So, how much is a good Engineer worth?” His reply made the entire visit memorable: “A good Engineer is worth a king’s ransom.” I wasn’t smart enough to pursue that bounty at that time.

Analog Devices declined the opportunity to design the load cell. Despite our lack of competence to do so previously, we were mysteriously chosen to design the new Cardinal product. Big R would handle testing (which was rigorous but achievable, because he built the test equipment), Brownie would design the core mechanics, and I had the electronics. The project went as smoothly as could be realistically expected, and the new Smartcell(TM) – a trademarked name which I created – was excellent and gained ‘type certification’ for use in commercial weighing. The excellence of the Smartcell was to be demonstrated very soon.

Truck scales, typically used in outdoor installations, are subject to ugly weather. That includes lightning. A lightning strike near an analog-load-cell scale sometimes destroys the load cells. The flimsy protection which can be provided for analog cells is, itself, often damaged along with the delicate transducers welded inside the cells’ stainless-steel housings. My design of the Smartcell provided the robust protection that digital technology allowed. It was difficult, however, to test that protection during design. It’s hard to simulate lightning on a cheap budget. Maybe I should have asked Big R to make the tester instead of doing it myself.

Our first installation, at a landfill in Florida (Lightning Capital of the World!), had a close strike about a month after installation. Every piece of equipment in the scale house was destroyed. One Smartcell was damaged, and it was returned to Cardinal for the attention of my failure analysis skills.

The Smartcell electronics were inside a housing of 1/4 inch stainless-steel pipe. External connections were made via a hermetically sealed, welded feedthru. Transient protection was in an external extension pipe with a press-in plug. Removal of the plug revealed a mess. I extracted the detritus of an electrical calamity, and installed new transient protection components.

Big R tested the repaired Smartcell. It had been restored to flawless performance, even remaining precisely calibrated.

There were many Engineering decisions which resulted in the transient protection being both very simple and (obviously!) robust. It was a ‘no-brainer’, once some serious thinking was applied. The Smartcell had several other innovations which may appear in a future blog.

24
Aug
10

Self-Defense – or – Self-Delusion?

It is an American mythology that access to a handgun is equivalent to effective self-defense. No other country maintains the persistent attitude that individuals may not be safe unless they own and sometimes carry handguns.

This subject came up during my last visit to the shooting range. The Fort Crowder Conservation Area has an excellent outdoor range, with 25, 50, and 100 yard stations and a clay-target field. It is a good example of the effective use of public revenues to serve hunters & recreational shooters, practice for self-defense, and law enforcement. There is also a separate archery range.

Some fellows shooting .40 cal and 9mm discussed the difficulty of hitting a target that is shooting back. After a while, I settled into conversation with ‘Doug’ (pseudonym), who is a 75 year-old former policeman. He described having been a former champion in Cowboy Action Shooting. CAS is an awesome sport. Baseball may be America’s Pastime, but CAS, Rodeo, and Lumberjack Competition are the Great American Sports.

Doug made a distinction between private and law enforcement use of handguns. Law enforcement officers cannot have the same options as private citizens. Sometimes, they must pursue a dangerous, armed suspect. Even with significant advantages in training and practice, they are vulnerable to the low-probability shot from a desperate fugitive. If there is some distance between a private citizen and an assailant, this reality dictates that the best defense is additional distance and use of cover.

Even with close encounters, Doug noted that law enforcement officers cannot be assured of effective handgun use. Encounters of 5 to 20 feet distance may result in very few hits on an assailant. Their placement, crucial to effectiveness, is at least as problematic. Doug could not describe how much poorer the situation would be for a private citizen who is not highly trained and practiced in such a tactical situation. My own performance is not especially good under ideal conditions: the 25-yard 17×11-inch target had just 14 hits in 21 shots from my .380 Beretta Model 1934. It was my Dad’s backup handgun (ankle holster) in the Postal Inspection Service. His aim was much better than mine.

After my brief discussion with Doug, I was determined to seek the comments of another Cowboy Action Shooter. ‘Dee’ (his real name!) is a former Army Sargeant with extensive experience. He served in the Persian Gulf War, Central America, and many other places. He was a military competition shooter, trained in tactical operations. He also practices open carry with his dual revolvers.

Dee uses a dual holster with cross-draw on the left. This allows him to shoot with the right hand while reining his horse with the left. With his dramatic handlebar mustache, he certainly looks like a Cowboy Action Shooter!

Dee says what many experts say about self defense (with or without firearms): situational awareness is vital. Self-defense situations are too varied and complex to depend upon any panacea. One generality which he did offer was, “The goal should be to get out of the situation”, with an exchange of gunfire being an option of last resort. He expressed concern that “dilettantes” regard firearms use as comparable to scenes in movies and games, without realistic regard for the danger to neighbors and family. Such folks have, as primary deficiencies, a “lack of committment” and a failure “to assume that whoever you’re facing is better than you”. It is clear that Dee, a person who is prepared to use handguns for self-defense, does not think that very many folks can do so safely, effectively, and with a likelihood of an improved outcome from dangerous encounters.

Dee confirmed my advice about firearms: most people who choose to have firearms at ready should have a 20 or 12-gauge shotgun with birdshot loads. Long-barrel weapons are more likely to be well-aimed under stress, and they are much less likely to endanger their owner or people outside of the nearest walls.

There is much research material for those who are interested in the profound complexities and difficulties of shootings. The New York Police Department has an ‘Analysis of Police Combat‘. The Rand Corporation has also studied the NYPD firearms training & review process. The “Practical Firearms Training” video series by Philip Van Cleave is a cautionary lesson from an advocate of firearms.

Thanks to Dee for his contributions to this blog.

21
Jul
10

Lolihoma! – a novel by Richard Vladimir Hammerstein II

Act I

Curly Curlert, cowboy poet, arrives in New England Territory in 1620. He is seeking a quiet place to live while he writes the Great American Poetry Book. He rents a room from Ellerberry, Aunt of farm girl Loli. Curly falls in love with 12-year-old Loli at their first meeting. Unfortunately for Curly, Loli already has a boyfriend, dark-hearted farm hand Jughead. Unfortunately for Curly, Aunt Ellerberry falls in love with him. Unfortunately for Aunt Ellerberry, Jughead secretly lusts for her.

After days of unrequited advances, Aunt Ellerberry tells Curly to marry her or leave. Curly plays for time by agreeing. Jughead is enraged and tells Aunt Ellerberry about Curly’s true feelings. A distraught Aunt Ellerberry becomes history’s first victim of a hit-and-run when she runs into the street and is struck dead by a smelly British vehicle.

Act II

The Box Social is the primary social event in New England Territory. It features a crude auction of feminine virtue to unvetted males.

Curly arranges to pick up Loli from the box social in his Sussex, a horse-manure-powered tricycle. He takes Loli to a vacant barn until he can think of a creative way to tell her that her Aunt is dead while simultaneously molesting her. Loli informs him of the ease of his task by singing “I Cain’t Say No“.

Loli is really seeking Curly’s favor to be allowed to take part in the school play. In exchange, Curly gets her to accompany him on a drive through upper New York in the Sussex. Curly is trying to escape paranoid visions of Jughead which came to him in a dimly-lit, unfocused dream sequence.

Loli becomes ill and Curly takes her to be bled. While Curly waits for her impure humours to be relieved, Loli is abducted by Jughead, who is after something to replace the late Aunt Ellerberry.

Curly never gets a single damn word of poetry written.

10
Jun
10

Deep Drilling With Shallow Thinking

Update : This post appears in the Sunday, June 13, 2010 editorial section of the Joplin Globe.
It is also available at the Joplin Globe online.

Deluded folks have said that the Deepwater Horizon oil will follow the magic carpet of Gulf and Atlantic water circulation and go away. Beach paradises in the U.S. will stay white and squeaky clean! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!!! Just listen to these deluded folks and real, sticky, oily problems (like the tar balls now on Florida’s beaches) won’t bother you.

The deluded folks are wishing for more than magically-clean beaches. They are wishing that Big Oil and Big Business won’t get blamed for a giant oil spill. Some pundits and politicians have another way to keep Big Oil and Big Business from being blamed for messes. They say that it’s the government’s fault!

They say that the disastrous events in the Gulf of Mexico would not have been so bad if there were less government. They say that companies such as British PetroleumBP – would have been better prepared to handle a catastrophe in mile-deep water if BP didn’t have to deal with environmental regulations. If allowed to conduct business freely, then current events would not include beaches awash with tar balls.

This is a lie. Even contractors, developers, and small jurisdictions (towns & cities) can handle environmental regulations and still do their work competently. And government has mostly let companies like BP tell government how to supervise oil wells.

BP gave the U.S. government an ‘Environmental Impact Statement‘ in its application for a permit to drill the Deepwater Horizon well. Typically, a public review process allows criticism of an application. The process doesn’t really allow for criticism of an application to interfere with its approval. Criticism may force an applicant to re-write the paperwork, but only enough to make the paperwork meet statutory requirements.

The fact – that there is no proven and practiced means to promptly fix a well blow-out in mile-deep water – will not stop an application from being approved. There may be a statutory requirement for a *statement* in the application regarding oil clean-up, but there is no requirement for demonstrated capability.

That statement does not constitute a burden to BP or any other company. What has BP done, while the U.S. government practiced laissez faire oversight? Has BP spent its corporate resources on developing effective means to clean up oil spills? We now know that, in certain years, BP’s R&D (research & development) budget for this was $0.00zero. Not minimal. Not insufficient. Not less-than-we-think-necessary. Not we’ll-spend-just-barely-enough. Zero.

While money gushed from our pockets into BP’s bank account (recent profits have been about $2 billion per month), smaller companies have attempted to develop ways to clean oil spills. Their efforts seem to have been of little interest to Big Oil. There hasn’t been a new or more effective oil-spill management technology in decades.

The reason is simple. BP and Big Oil have little incentive to be environmentally responsible. It gets in the way of those who would ‘get ‘er done’. It uses some of today’s profits (which are sacred) to preserve a future for beaches, fisheries, and more.

This is why President Eisenhower warned us about letting Big Business run everything – writing the regulations and legislation, and buying the regulators and legislators. BP has gotten what BP paid for. We have gotten the very proof that some pundits and politicians are lying to us.

About that Environmental Impact Statement of BP’s: it said that, in the event of a spill at the Deepwater Horizon well, no oil would reach beaches. You know, no oil – zero. Kinda like that R&D budget they had for oil clean-up.

06
Jun
10

An Open Letter to Superintendent Kapp, Prescott Schools

Dear Superintendent Kevin Kapp,

It is understandable that recent events have presented a difficult end to your tenure as Superintendent of Prescott Unified School DistrictThe Smart Choice“. The kerfuffle about the Miller Valley Elementary School mural illustrates that racial relations in America are delicate and complex. There was no way that such a mural, depicting students, could have been commissioned without difficulty. Someone, in a society that still includes both the misguided and the vicious as well as the astute and the righteous, would have found fault – possibly rightly, if the mural’s depictions had been other than those we have seen.

The accounts which I have read include at least two motivating factors for the critics of the original mural. One factor was that the principle (largest, dominant) figure is Hispanic-American. A bigoted critic, questioning the artists’ depiction, linked this element to the presence of an African-American as President of the United States – as if that self-revelatory question might be worthy, in a healthy society, of more than a ‘so what?‘.

The other factor was a purported need to ‘lighten’ the dark complexions of the mural to satisfy critics. That vile suggestion is reminiscent of an era when the mulatto, the quadroon, and the octoroon had differing (and fairly specific) social standing. Our family is interested in knowing (perhaps through genetic testing) more about our valued racial heritage. We also speculate about what some ‘pure white’ bigots might learn if they developed the same interest. We truly are a society with deep connections, which are too aften hidden instead of being treasured.

The critics of the original mural have earned a small comment. Their actions, possibly instigated by a bigoted critic’s comments on his radio show, included yelling “nigger” and “spic” when driving past the mural. It isn’t merely that such people are racists – they are also cowards who sublimate their nasty internal filth on an inanimate object.

Your most recent actions have been redeeming both for yourself and for your community. There is no redemption for the others I have mentioned without their personal confessions and long self-examination.

The apologies which you and Principal Jeff Lane have offered will serve to make Prescott and America a better place. For those who read this open letter, I provide a selection of your comments:

I got a wonderful feeling of pride.
We made a mistake and we’re sorry.
The original intent: absolutely celebrate the four beautiful children on this mural.
We gave the artistry back to the artists.

{Apart from the lesson in racial relations, the last statement
also provides wise advice in the practice of Management.}

Superintendent Kapp, I am happy for you, Principal Lane, the children depicted in the mural, and for your community. May this episode continue to provide opportunities for contemplation and for progress in our relationships with our neighbors.

Postscript
It’s a nice mural! I hope that more schools do something similar. Artists are ‘Mural Mice‘ Pamela J. Smith and R.E. Wall.

27
May
10

Fuzzy Wuzzy or Killing Machine? The Case for Responsible Pet Ownership – Part 1

My favorite Guest Blogger, the Little Red-Haired Girl,
has returned to share her concerns about a topic that is important to very many of us.

    Human beings have been fascinated and beguiled by their fellow non-humans for hundreds of millennia.  We have studied, bred and successfully domesticated cattle, horses, cats, dogs, sheep, chickens, goats, camels, llamas, emus, geese, ducks, parakeets and many more animals than I could possibly name here.  Our motives for doing so relate to our need to be able to understand and control our environment and to have a ready supply of food, labor, transportation and other materials at our disposal.  Finally, a very important motivation, and one that I would like to focus upon in this article is our need for companionship
     Our pets, or as some term them, our companion animals, are an important part of the human experience.  Our ‘critters’ melt our hearts with their innocence and their affectionate ways.  For some of us, they complete what would have been an empty nest, filling a void left by an absent child or spouse.  They make us laugh, wonder, and even give us a reason to get up in the morning.  (I’m thinking of my eleven-year-old tabby Beamer, and the way she insists that I wake up every day at 5:30 a.m. whether I want to or not!) To sum it up, they become a part of our family. 
     Like any family member, though, they have their ups and downs; their good and bad traits.  As with other family members, often we become so emotionally involved with our pets is hard to act with the necessary objectivity when problems arise. Two issues have been in my mind lately and were precipitated by separate and seemingly disparate incidents.  The first issue relates to some recent attacks by pit bull terriers in our area: one involving a toddler who was bitten by a relative’s dog, the other involving a woman out walking her Yorkie, and who was attacked by two pit bulls roaming at large in the neighborhood.  The second issue relates to the irresponsible ownership of exotic or wild animals, as exemplified in the horrific attack of a pet chimpanzee upon a Connecticut woman and the subsequent tragic events following the attack (the chimp’s owner just died a few days ago, possibly because of the stress she underwent after this all went down.)
   At the risk of raising some hackles (and I know I will) I would like to first discuss (calmly, please!) the issue of dog breed legislation.   Let me preface this by saying I have never been personally attacked by a breed of dog considered ‘dangerous’, although one of my children has been.  I will elaborate on this attack a bit later because it is a very telling incident, and says a lot about the emotional blindness that some people have about the breed of dog they choose to own. Yet all dogs have a set of behavioral characteristics that are universal in varying degrees.  Let’s look at some of those behavioral characteristics.
     First, and probably most important, dogs show ‘pack’ behavior.  That is, they understand a hierarchical society with an alpha leader (can be male or female, by the way) who determines when, where and how the other animals eat, sleep, breed and rank in the pack.  Pack behavior is a combination of aggression, submission and cooperative behavior.   Responsible dog owners educate themselves about dog behaviors and breed-specific traits and take on the role of alpha animal in the relationship with their pet. 
     Other dog behaviors of note relate to the way dogs feed, mate, play and mark territory.   Here are some of the behaviors that when not controlled can give owners headaches at least, and at worst result in personal injury and legal trouble. Dogs dig, bury, herd, mark territory, track and trail.  They show aggression when they feel threatened or when a stranger intrudes upon their territory.  Do dogs know the difference between right and wrong?  As far as we know and can determine, no, at least not in the way human beings understand the difference between right and wrong. Dogs act on instinct and it is up to we humans, who supposedly possess higher intelligence and morals, to act the part of the alpha animal and give their pet a place in the hierarchy that makes them feel comfortable and secure.
     If we start from the premise that dog behaviors are instinctual and that the dog’s owner is responsible for controlling the dog’s behavior, we can assume that laws governing owner responsibility are reasonable and necessary for public health and safety.  Most people agree that these laws are a good thing.  But now let’s talk breeds. 
     This is where the humans start to get a little emotional.   So I’m going to pose the following question knowing full well that the hackles are now beginning to rise and that pulse rates are already starting to go up.  Why do pet owners choose dog breeds that have (rightly or wrongly) been deemed ‘dangerous’?  This is a question that has been studied by psychologists over a period of several decades, and especially over the past thirty or so years that the incidence of dog attacks have been more widely reported in the media. 
Let’s start with a list of the ten most ‘dangerous’ breeds of dog.  According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the Centers for Disease Control, the ten most dangerous breeds of dog are as follows, roughly in this order, with descriptors of the most typical bred-in behavioral characteristics.
10.  Dalmation : sensitive, intelligent, can be human aggressive.
9.    Boxer : energetic, playful, headstrong.
8.   Presa Canario : not generally human aggressive, can be dog-aggressive, powerful, fearless.
7.   Chow Chow : independent, aloof, needs lots of behavioral reinforcement.
6.   Doberman Pinscher :  alert, intelligent, loyal.  Only attacks if feels threatened.
5.   Malamute :  Energetic, needs lots of exercise, may become destructive if bored.
4.   Husky : Energetic, intelligent.  Not a good guard dog due to gentle temperament.
3.   German Shepherd :  intelligent, alert, confident, fearless. 
2.  Rottweiler : great guard dogs, keen territorial instincts, aggressive temperament.
1.  Pit Bull Terrier : people-friendly, not good guard dog for that reason, can be dog-aggressive.
     It strikes me as obvious why people choose to own dogs from this list.  Many of the behavioral traits listed here are positive ones.  And yes, different breeds possess the aforementioned characteristics in varying degrees; moreover, each dog is unique and has a special appeal for each owner.  I myself am partial to Boxers and would like to own one someday.  But I am going to wait until my cats have gone to kitty heaven, and maybe even until after I retire to take on this demanding breed, who will doubtless require close attention and training.
     In the name of journalistic balance and fairness, I feel it necessary to show another list, this one consisting of the ten most family-friendly breeds and I wouldn’t be surprised to find some of the same behavioral traits on the list.  Let’s see if my theory holds true…my sources were the Animal Planet website, petcentral.com and dogobedience.org.  These are in no particular order:
1.  Newfoundland :  gentle giant, tends to drool.
2.  Pug : very sociable, not aggressive, good family dog, not good guard dog
3.  Staffordshire Bull Terrier (related to pit bull terrier) : Not prone to human aggression, but can be dog-aggressive.  Good alert barker, but friendly.
4.  Labrador Retriever : energetic, needs lots of exercise, not aggressive.
5.  Keeshond : intelligent, good alert barker, but not human aggressive
6.  Golden Retriever : intelligent, not human aggressive, good service dog.
7. Collie : gentle, active, but can be aggressive if poorly bred.
8.  Standard Poodle : intelligent, active, not human aggressive.
9. Irish Setter : Energetic, good alert barker, not human aggressive.
10. Pit Bull Terrier : people-friendly, bred for dog-aggressiveness, so best to have as a single pet.
     Yes, it’s beginning to look as though there are some common traits here.  I’m seeing lots of : “active, intelligent, not human aggressive, can be aggressive if poorly bred, can be dog-aggressive, gentle giant, good family dog, not good guard dog,” etc.  
     Finally, I’m going to cite a list from Dog Obedience Advice.  Here is a list of some breeds to treat with caution, in that they have been known to show aggression toward humans.  In no particular order:
1. Chow Chow
2. Old English Sheepdog
3. Llasa Apso
4. Rottweiler
5. Chihuahua
6. Toy Poodle
7. Dachshund
8. Jack Russell
9. Giant Schnauzer
10. Cocker Spaniel (Cockers are especially worrisome as a fair number of them are prone to a genetic disease called ‘rage syndrome’ where they will suddenly snap into spontaneous violence, not against strangers, but against family members.  Sadly, when this defect is found, it is best to put the dog down.)
     If you take a quick gander again at the first list I made, probably the most striking commonality you will find is that these are all big muscular dogs.  List #2 and #3 contain medium and small breed dogs.  The dogs on all three lists are also quite popular breeds.  It stands to reason if you have a decent-sized population of a given dog breed in a particular area, and if you are compiling a list of severe attacks, you will probably come up with a higher percentage of the so-called ‘dangerous’ dogs.  A Rottweiler or a Pit Bull will certainly do more damage than a Chihuahua, although a Chihuahua may be more aggressive.   Pit bulls have a particularly lethal bite style, a bite-and-shake Terrier bite style and they are bred for ‘gameness’ (fight to the death) and have an extremely high tolerance for pain.  Pit Bull bites can cause deep tissue damage, ripping muscle from bone, and these dogs have almost preternaturally strong jaws.  
     Am I saying that Pit Bulls are ‘bad’ dogs?  No, no, and again . . . a big NO !!! But it would be disingenuous for me, or for any Pit Bull owner, to say that the potential for fatal injury is not there.  The fact is that nearly 70% of fatal dog attacks in the United States and Canada over a 27-year period from 1982 until 2009, were by a combination of Rottweilers, Presa Canarios, and Pit Bulls and their mixes, with Pit Bulls leading the pack. My sources are a study by Merritt Clifton, the editor of Animal People, a periodical for animal advocacy, and a three-year study of fatal dog attacks at DogsBite.org, another animal and victim advocacy website.  Perhaps it is a bit simplistic for me to say this, but the more I learn about dog breed legislation (which the HSUS is against, by the way) the more I have come to believe that irresponsible dog ownership is the greatest factor which results in dog attacks.

In memory of Dusty, brother of Beamer and nemesis of Zule, whose troubled life ended too soon.

14
Mar
10

Hey! Get This . . . , Commenters!

You may now comment on blogs without being registered and logged in.

Your name and email is still requested, and I will look at comments before exercising my mediocre judgement about whether they should be seen by decent people.

Hey! Get This . . . – this is the 30th post!

I am very interested in your impressions of my efforts so far. I hope that you have snooped around to also look at the tidbits other than the posts. My Mother & my daughterIt isn’t hugely important to me to have my ego (despite its expanse) assuaged. The very process of writing in a slightly disciplined manner is personally valuable. Your interests and thoughts are valuable to me whether they are lauditory or (now, I struggle for the right word) indicative of my deficiencies. Thoughtfulness, cleverness, humor, and even sarcasm (who, me?) are eagerly desired.

Yes, Mother, I have deficiencies! Folks, someday I will introduce you to my Mother. Even if you find my writing of only modest interest, you will be happy to meet her and see for yourself how she can, perhaps like your Mother or Grandmother, be so very missed. So, stick with me!

Thanks to the handfuls (and occasional small crowds) of folks who have been visiting so far. Hey! What do I know about decent people, anyway?

05
Feb
10

Cadmium and Kids – WARNING

It’s time to remind your friends and family who have small children:

DO NOT LET YOUNGSTERS HAVE INEXPENSIVE METAL JEWELRY.

Imports of some metal jewelry and toys from China have been found to contain high levels of cadmium. Read Cadmium Kids’ Jewelry: Toxic Metal Found. This is a highly toxic metal, with insidious effects similar to those of lead if ingested by chewing or swallowing.

There are important industrial uses of cadmium. In my field – electronics – cadmium is a vital anti-corrosion coating material for equipment such as wiring connectors. Such proper uses for cadmium never expose children.

I emailed Senators Bond and McCaskill, and Rep. Blunt, to request that they contact the appropriate agencies for emergency action.

Rep. Blunt’s staff replied 29Jan2009 with an email about lead legislation (which does not concern cadmium). I responded with a renewed request. A reply is pending.

Senator McCaskill has not responded.

Senator Bond’s staff contacted me by phone this afternoon. The staffer informed me that, 3 days ago, Senator Schumer has introduced Senate Bill S2975 Safe Kids’ Jewelry Act. Read SCHUMER LEGISLATION TO BAN TOXIC HEAVY METAL CADMIUM FOUND IN CHILDREN’S JEWELRY. Senator Bond will follow the Environment and Public Works Committee findings and then consider whether to co-sponsor and support the bill. I asked the staffer to tell Sen. Bond that I hope that he does so as soon as possible.

The WalMart perspective: Wal-Mart Pulling Children’s Jewelry With Toxic Metals.

Contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives. Tell them that S.2975 is urgently needed.




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Intellectual Property Notice

All original material Copyright James R. Stone 2010, except where specifically noted. Some images licensed under Creative Commons, or GNU Free Documentation License, or unlicensed and public domain.

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