Recently in Society & Culture Category
--Me, and probably every other driver in Midland, Texas
- A driver in a pickup turned left in front of me after the signal had turned green for me to go through the intersection. Having driven in Midland for decades, I anticipated that and had slowed. What I didn't anticipate was the woman in the small sedan hugging his bumper and completely blocked from view who never came close to making a legal turn, and who glared at me for almost t-boning her.
- A few blocks later, I pulled up behind an overly (in my opinion) timid driver who stopped as soon as the light turned yellow, causing us both to have to wait for the city's longest signal (an admittedly subjective assessment but after a day at the office, it's entirely warranted, if you know what I mean).
- Every now and then, something happens that restores my faith in humanity and I think that perhaps there really is some hope for mankind. Then I read Facebook comments and come to my senses.
- Forget Ebola. What I want is a concentrated scientific and medical research effort to find a cure for that strange malady that results in the loss of use of a person's left index finger the moment they get behind the wheel of a car in Midland, Texas. You know, the finger that activates the turn signal.
- Similarly, what is it about grocery store parking lots that cause otherwise sane people to acquire the emotional state of a rabid menopausal bobcat with hemorrhoids? Last night, a "lady" almost rammed me trying to get to a parking space before me (and I wasn't even trying to park). Fortunately, I was able to nudge her walker out of the way with my truck bumper and get on with my business.
- In keeping with the mindset that anyone who drives slower than me is an idiot and anyone who drives faster is a jerk, I believe that women drivers don't use turn signals because they're too preoccupied with cell phones, and men don't use them because they think that communicating their intentions is a sign of weakness.
- If the Cold War turns hot and we have to start building bomb shelters again, I'm making mine out of the cardboard that Chobani uses in their four-packs. I'm pretty sure that stuff could withstand anything the Russkies could throw at it.
- I'm so Midland, I think the name of my city is an adjective. (Seriously, folks...stop it. Just stop it.)
- My insurance company insists on treatment for an undiagnosed malady before I can get a diagnosis.
- The cheapest alternative for the diagnostic treatment (and trust me when I tell you it was nothing exotic) still costs as much as a decent used car.
- The diagnostic facility misinterpreted my insurance coverage, and then never followed up to confirm it, until I pressed the issue.
- And once we resolved the insurance issue - and only then - they offered me a 75% discount on what they were planning to charge the insurance company*.
Lance Armstrong: Self-inflicted irrelevanceI'm still trying to decide how I feel about Lance Armstrong now that he's [apparently] coming clean - more or less, and no pun intended - about his use of PEDs during his cycling career. I've been a fan since his early days in the sport, and felt an inordinate amount of pride - even patriotism - in his seven Tour de France victories.
Missy Franklin: Glittering more than goldYou remember Missy, doncha? Sure, you do. She's the world-record-holding American swimmer who won four gold medals at the London Olympics last summer. She's also a 17-year-old high school student in Colorado who just turned down an estimated $3 million endorsement package in favor of staying in school in an attempt to live a normal teenager's life.
I graduated from Gainesville High School in May of 1940. I worked as an engine repair mechanic in Gainesville for about one year. I then went to work for Western Auto , where I was employed when I was drafted into the US army in February of 1943.
I went to Camp Wolters at Mineral Wells, TX for processing. From there I went into an anti-aircraft outfit at Palacios, TX. I served there for about one year. I was part of a gun crew that tracked planes to be shot down. While there the company was forced to make us march 40 miles. It was terribly hard on us and we decided to complain.
The gun crew I was on had ten members. We decided to talk to our commanding officer. He was not much help. We did find out that five of us had an IQ high enough to apply for Officer Training School. We were interviewed by a captain. He looked at me and said, "How old are you?" and I said, "I'm eighteen years, sir." He said, "You are too damned young to be a 2nd Lieutenant." He and I talked and he explained that my IQ was high enough to get into A.S.T.P. (Army Specialized Training Program.) I agreed to try it out. This training was for one year and I would be a 2nd Lieutenant in our engineering company, which would be building roads and bridges. He said I would go to Oklahoma A&M to get this training. I left my anti-aircraft outfit and went to Texas A&M for processing before going to Oklahoma A&M.
I stayed at Texas A&M for about two weeks before being sent to Oklahoma A&M, where I was assigned to a company of about 160 men and we lived in a dormitory. We went to class six days a week. We marched to class and to mess hall for meals. I lived in Main Murray Hall. Everything was going well until the middle of January when we were called out one morning and the commanding officer announced, "You are now members of the 104th Infantry Division and you will begin your new duty immediately in the desert, training." My new commanding officer was General Terry Allen, who was active in the African campaign.
We trained in the desert in Modesto, California about three months, then the 104th Infantry Division was transferred to Camp Carson, Colorado, for additional training. I had a 30 caliber machine gun as my weapon. I loved that weapon and when we fired for record, I fired a perfect score. I was a PFC (Private First Class).
We went on maneuvers (a large-scale tactical exercise carried out under simulated conditions of war) and I had my first accident. My job was to cut off a column of troops going uphill in a ravine and I ran down to cut them off, but when I got to the ravine I saw it was too wide and too deep and I could not stop so I tried to jump across. I made it to the other side but fell to the bottom of the ravine. When I fell, the machine gun hit the arch of my right foot and broke a bone in my foot. That cost me two weeks in the hospital.
I knew that we were going to be shipped out to Europe and the invasion of France was on schedule...I was afraid I would miss going overseas, so I aggravated everyone in the hospital to let me get back to my outfit. The lieutenant finally got tired of my griping and he released me back to my outfit. I could walk with a slight limp and was assigned to barracks orderly duty.
While stationed at Camp Carson, I was one of three soldiers who set a record by climbing to the top of Pike's Peak and back down in one day. We were in good shape. We tried to get to the top in time to ride the train down..well, we missed the train by about five minutes, so we had to return to the bottom of the climb. We made it down. I had blisters on my feet and my buddies had blood in their shoes. The M.P.'s (Military Police) caught us when we got to the bottom. After questioning us, they hauled us to our barracks and dropped us off. Our commanding officer recognized our injuries and assigned us to the barracks until we could work again.
1944 - The 104th Infantry Division finally went to Fort Dix, New Jersey. We stayed there a few days getting ready to leave the United States of America. The invasion of France had just started and we knew we would not be going to England, but would go directly into France at Omaha Beach, directly from USA. I and my machine gun fought in the hedgerows in Normandy and St. Lou. We could not go down a road because they were mined and the Germans had a habit of striking the road by aircraft. We followed the American tanks as they cleared paths through the hedgerows.
Our company had two machine guns. I had one, and the other machine gunner was an Indian from Arizona. We were a good team.
We moved into central France and finally got relief to go to Paris for a few days. The F Company, the one I was a part of, rode a train loaded with five gallon containers filled with gas. For some reason, we stopped on our way to Paris, and we noticed a number of French citizens near the train. We thought everything was O.K., but we decided to check ..and found the French were busy taking the cans of gasoline and stacking them between the rails. We rounded up the French and made them place the cans back on our train. We got to Versailles, then decided to go into Paris. We stayed at the St. Mark's Hotel in Paris, which was nice, hot showers, soft beds, cheap food and French girls! We ate and partied at a restaurant, and had a big time for about a week. We discovered where the officer's mess was, so we went early in the morning to eat free and ate up all the food that was prepared for the officer's. Another trick we learned was to watch where our waitress went to get wine when we ran out; we soon saw her go downstairs and return with a bottle of wine. Later we kept her occupied while one of the group went downstairs and came back with several bottles of wine at no charge.
When we left Paris we were stationed in the Maginot line across the river from the Siegfried line. We stayed there about a week. The Maginot line was a series of bunkers and the Germans had every entrance zeroed in with mortar fire. We had strict orders to not stand in the openings to our quarters because we would attract German artillery. The Germans were noisy people at night, so we played a trick on them. The 415th Regiment (Timber Wolf) had at least two soldiers who could howl like a wolf. Around ten o'clock at night one soldier would howl, then another, then another. Everything on the German side became quiet and then they would set off flares to see what we were up to. This would go on every night while we were in the Maginot line.
The 104th division moved through France, fighting Germans. One day we filled fox holes that had American GI's that had been killed. We were under fire from time to time and could not locate the Germans. We saw a number of haystacks. We had a meeting and decided to fire tracer bullets into the haystacks, when we did, the haystacks caught fire. This brought the Germans out and the infantry killed all of them.
The 104th division moved out through Belgium. The people in this country were very nice to American soldiers. We were invited to spend the night in their homes. We enjoyed their hospitality for good home-cooked food. We left there and moved into Holland.
In Holland I received a wound in my right foot from an 88 shell. The shell landed behind me and exploded. I was digging my fox hole and crawling in as I was digging. The 88 shell landed behind me and dirt covered me up completely. My buddies thought I had been killed; they were happy and shouted when they saw me come up out of the dirt. This is when I received my first purple heart. The medics wanted me to go back to first aid, but I refused after they removed the shrapnel from my foot. The 88 gun that fired the shell was 2,000 yards away from us. My friends carried my machine gun and ammunition and my pack.
We moved from Holland into the Hurtegan Forest in Germany. We dug fox holes and spent two nights in them. The first day was spent aggravating Germans along a road 500 yards from our position. We ran about ten Germans into a rock house, where we attempted to shoot them, but we did not have the right guns for the job. One soldier, who was on a 155mm gun, came up to see what was going on and he said he would take care of it. His 155mm bullet made a direct hit on the house and that was the end of that.
The next morning we were preparing to move out when I noticed a new recruit standing under a pine tree. I told him to get into a fox hole because the Germans were near. He refused and a few minutes later I saw him fall. He was dead from a sniper's bullet. I was busy putting my pack on when I felt something hit my left side. The sniper had shot me. I did not lose consciousness. We located where the sniper was, and one of my buddies fired my machine gun until the sniper fell out of the tree where he was hiding.
The Germans began firing artillery while the wounded and dead were being taken care of by our soldiers. The medics were picking up dead GI's when the Lieutenant said, "Here is a live one..take him back to the medics." They loaded me onto the stretcher and carried me back., and at one time, they dropped me. I warned them if they dropped me again I would shoot them with my 45 pistol. We arrived at the medics, and there they cut my clothes off and were amazed at the damage the bullet had made. It was strange, but I felt no pain...I was probably in shock. The bullet had severed the tendons of my two middle fingers of my left hand. It shattered the bone in my upper arm, between the elbow and my left shoulder. The bullet stayed embedded in the muscle in the back of my left arm, where it still remains to this day. It destroyed the nerve of my left arm. I was told later by the medics that a German POW doctor put the bones back together as well as he could. I was shipped to a hospital in Paris for another operation, after which I was shipped to England for a period of time, and I had another surgery there.
While in England, I was in a ward with about one hundred wounded soldiers. I remember talking to a soldier in the bed next to mine. He had wounds to both arms. We looked around and every soldier, except the two of us, had one or two limbs amputated. I could get out of my bed, so I went to the doctor's office where he told me that we were in the amputation ward. That excited me, but the doctor told me that I would make it without losing my arm, and the soldier next to me would not have to suffer an amputation, either.
I remained in the hospital for a couple of weeks before the doctor came around to tell me that I would be shipped to Scotland, and from there I would be flying back to the United States. When we got to Scotland the weather was bad and the officer in charge came by and said all that were able to walk would travel by ship, and all of the "litter patients" would travel by plane. Needless to say, I became a "litter patient" and would be flying back to the USA. The medics carried me on a stretcher onto the plane. When we arrived in New York, I was carried on a stretcher from the plane, and to my bed at the hospital. I thought they would kill me when I got off my stretcher and crawled into my bed.
The next day I was loaded onto another plane and was flown to Modesto, California. En route, we spent the night in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The officer in charge came by my cot and said, "Siegmund, I know you are from Gainesville, Texas, so I sure don't want you to leave that bed and try to go to Gainesville." I assured him that I was in no condition to do anything so foolish! When we got to Modesto, I underwent more nerve surgery to repair the damaged nerve in my arm. I was in the hospital about two weeks, and after the surgery, I received full use of my left arm. The tendons to both fingers had been repaired while I was in the hospital in Paris, so they turned out fine.
When I left California, I was sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas for physical therapy. I spent about two months in therapy to strengthen my left arm.
In October of 1945, I asked what kind of discharge I would get. The officer said it would be a medical discharge. I told them I wanted a regular discharge, but they told me that I had too much disability for a regular discharge. Well, they sent me back to my ward at Fort Sam Houston. To make a long story short, they sent me back to receive a medical discharge, which I refused again, but I finally did get a regular discharge. I worked for the next six weeks at the Occupational Therapy Center at Fort Sam Houston. On January 10. 1946, I told the person in charge of therapy that I was quitting to go to Texas A&M University to get a degree in Animal Husbandry.
I hitchhiked to Texas A&M University and enrolled in Animal Husbandry. The following May I received some good news from the US War Department informing me that I had been awarded a medical discharge and I would be paid disability compensation at 40 per cent level, which I still receive each month. My left arm is strong and I delight in talking to people who want to know how I got wounded, and they all are amazed that I still carry the bullet that did all the damage.
Two months ago, I couldn't spell "cartographer," and now I am [on my way to becoming] one. As a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist, my duties include generating and editing maps, and I've found the learning curve to be challenging.
There are actually two different challenges. One involves learning the systems we use for mapping. Most of our engineering and geological analysis tools (for those in the know, we use Petra and GeoGraphix) include mapping modules, as do many of our online sources of production and industry activity data. Our company has a proprietary mapping application, and I'm also learning to use ArcGIS, one of the most powerful standalone GIS programs in existence. So, thus far I've used about six different programs, none of which I'd ever seen before August 22nd. Fortunately, they all employ similar conventions and processes, so the transition from one to another isn't that tricky. But like so many things in life, they're easy to learn and difficult to master.
Not one of mine.
The process of converting a three dimensional representation of the earth onto a two dimensional surface is called "projection," and humans have been experimenting with different kinds of projections for more than 2,000 years, trying to come up with the "best" way of locating geographical points of interest. The thing that all projections have in common is that they don't tell the truth...that is, none of them are completely accurate 3D-to-2D translations. They all distort one or more of the following characteristics: direction, distance, shape, or area. (For a nifty comparison of the more common map projections and their uses, advantages, and drawbacks, refer to this USGS resource.)
This is not just an academic or theoretical issue. The accuracy of maps has real and often significant implications. Maps can also be manipulated to achieve specific goals or serve specific agendas.
I'm reading a book entitled How to Lie With Maps by Mark Monmonier. I recommend it both as an easy-to-read reference for basic cartography, and as a primer on how maps are used to exert social, cultural, and/or political influence in ways that aren't necessarily ethical.
Anyway, while my specific job duties don't necessarily require that I understand some of the more esoteric cartographic principles, my natural curiosity about such things has led me to delve into a wide variety of resources, and if nothing else, I've learned how much I don't know. I've delved into the world of Great Circles, rhumb lines, sinusoidal projections, graticules, and azimuths.
That seems to be the story of my life. I keep telling myself that that's a good thing; it will keep my brain young. Someday, perhaps I'll even convince myself of that.
- Fifty-six years is too young for anyone to die, and it's a reminder that cancer sucks.
- His net worth was estimated to be in excess of six billion dollars. Only in science fiction stories can money buy more life. Keep that in mind when setting your priorities.
- Jobs was respected for his creativity, drive, and vision. But I never heard anyone talk about how much they loved him, or even liked him. He had a wife and kids, and I'm sure many people liked and loved him, but he'll be remembered for his achievements, not his character. I wonder if that's a legacy he'd be comfortable with.
Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun.
Your huddled hipster masses yearning to breathe free..."
- The seductiveness of the internet to cause one to do stupid things cannot be overstated. It's worse than alcohol or drugs in causing otherwise reasonable (and I'll give Rep. Weiner the benefit of the doubt here) people to do things that in other settings they'd find sick and laughable. You know, like we who are looking at him now do. "It couldn't happen to me," you're thinking right about now. Yeah, sure.
- But, I confess that I am sorely, sorely disappointed in the internet. What are things coming to when a grown man like Rep. Weiner strikes up an "illicit" conversation with a "26-year old female" and it turns out that he's actually conversing with a 26-year old female, and not a 48 year old bald guy in boxer shorts? Is nothing sacred anymore?
- Oh, by the way, did you catch Matt Laurer's interview with Andrew Breitbart on The Today Show? There was the faintest whiff of an inkling of the beginning of grudging MSM acknowledgment that, well, a blogger can actually be a legitimate source of news reporting.
- Morally, Rep. Weiner has some obvious shortcomings (we're not going to pander to the lowest common denominator and address any physical characteristics), but politically, his biggest weakness is an utter failure to lie convincingly. Did anyone in America buy his "I've been hacked" story? Nope. Even John Edwards did a better job. So, Rep. Weiner, next time you're in this position (and we'll never say "never," not as long as Andrew Breitbart is holding a few more cards), you'd do well to heed the advice of that great Texas sage, Delbert McClinton:
- The show will undoubtedly depict casualties in graphic fashion. What will be the effect of such scenes on viewers with family members or friends who are in actual harm's way?
- The doctors will surely be able to save some lives in the show. How does that play with viewers whose loved ones weren't saved? And when the inevitable medical failures occur, is there a "multiplier effect" for the grief and trauma of those who suffered loss in real life?
- Are there ethical implications of having actors portraying soldiers and being paid many times more than the salaries of those men and women in the military who are not acting but serving in the same roles?
- If the story lines play out true to "Hollywood" form, there will be subplots involving "foxhole romances," and dark humor. Will those things trivialize the real life-and-death drama of the ongoing war? And while there's no doubt that humor is a healing and strengthening technique even in times of intense stress, does it matter that such humor is originating from a writer's imagination? (I don't know if any of the show's writers have served in the military, and specifically in Afghanistan. That could make a difference in the answer to some of these questions.)
- Will the show's writers be able to keep their personal opinions about the war out of the story lines, or will Combat Hospital be a vehicle for propagandizing a specific political viewpoint? And if the program promotes an agenda or perspective that's the slightest bit at odds with American military goals and strategies, how might that feed the enemy's own propaganda machine and morale?
And here's how out of touch I am: I didn't even know Michael was no longer on "The Office."
Here are the details behind the map:
|County||# of People Into Midland||Avg Income Per Capita - In||# of People From Midland||Avg Income Per Capita - Out||Net Change in Population||Net Income|
|Kern Co, CA||30||24,200||0||-||30||726,000|
|Los Angeles, CA||51||18,200||18||38,800||33||229,800|
|San Diego, CA||50||18,800||23||13,000||27||641,000|
|San Bernadino, CA||38||17,200||0||-||38||653,600|
|San Juan, NM||24||53,700||0||-||24||1,288,800|
|Dona Ana, NM||34||18,300||18||14,200||16||366,600|
|Tom Green, TX||201||18,400||117||21,900||84||1,136,100|
|Fort Bend, TX||66||39,900||46||39,800||20||802,600|
It's difficult to draw any conclusions from this data without making some shaky assumptions. There's no explanation regarding methodology or clarification regarding the source of the data. There is a footnote that explains that the IRS doesn't report inter-county moves for fewer than ten people, which does explain why it appears that no one moved in or out of Midland County from or to any states other than California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma.
- Language: 13% speak Mandarin as their first language, vs. 5% Spanish and 5% English
- Nationality: 19% are Chinese, 17% Indian, 4% American
- Religion: 33% are Christian, 21% Muslim, 13% Hindu
- Livelihood: 40% work in services, 38% in agriculture, 22% in industry
- Living Environment: 51% live in urban environments
- Literacy: 82% are literate
They've also created a visual that represents the "typical" human inhabitant, a composite image of a man's face using 7,000 human figures (each figure representing 1 million people). The face is that of a Han Chinese man:
The magazine also compiled the characteristics of "the most typical human" (there are over 9,000,000 of them!). The results are presented in entertaining fashion in the following YouTube video.
Original link via Neatorama
Anyone driving faster than me is a jerk.
I doubt that any law enforcement office in the state is adequately staffed to deal with the flood of calls regarding someone's idea of "dangerous driving," and I don't understand how response time could be adequate to deal with a truly dangerous situation. In addition, there's the possibility for abuse. Your neighbor parked his trash can on your side of the property line? Well, just call him in for "dangerous driving." How about if the car in front of you is sporting a bumper sticker for the "wrong" college, or the driver is of the "wrong" ethnic group? Without some accountability built into the process, those things alone could lead someone to file a report.
Then there's the subjective assessment of what constitutes "dangerous driving." The guy who routinely rolls the stop sign at the end of your lightly-traveled cul-de-sac is in technical violation of the law, but is he driving dangerously?
In fairness, according to the above-linked report, this idea seems to have some traction with local law enforcement officials, so I'm obviously missing something. I simply worry that a law like this shifts the ability to be a jerk and/or an idiot from the steering wheel to the cell phone.
In memory of the world's first "fitness guru," here's a YouTube video of the first episode of his television show, which began in 1951 (one of the few things on the net that was broadcast before I was born, by the way).
Link via Neatorama
We may mock his fashion sense and manic sincerity, but the fact is that many of his ideas have stood the test of time and have been scientifically validated.
There was nothing about being at A&M, in the band, in the Corps, that was comfortable for me. There were more students at the university than the entire population of my hometown, and more people in my chemistry class than in my high school. As a fish in the Corps, I was not just the low man on the totem pole...I couldn't even see the totem pole. The 300-member band seemed like more of a rugby scrum with a musical score than the finely-tuned group I was used to in high school. Sure, we looked awesome when viewed from the grandstand fifty yards away, but our steps (well, mine, anyway) were powered by pure adrenaline-fired fear: fear of being the one guy (no girls in the band back then, nosireebob) seen to miss a step; fear of being decapitated by an out-of-control trombone player; fear of missing a note. OK, strike that last one. None of us fish dared play a note while marching; we were too busy concentrating on the steps.
It was hard to imagine being in a more alien environment...and then I found myself in the stands at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge (properly pronounced "bah-TONE roooooooozh") surrounded by tens of thousands apparently insane screaming Cajuns (I later learned that those terms were completely redundant, as a matter of normal circumstance) anticipating a feast on our sad Aggie carcasses. Yes, this was my first experience with LSU college football, and if I'd known what a reference to Mad Max and Thunderdome meant back then, I might have had some context for the event.
We came into the football game as huge underdogs, a position we'd earned through much hard work, and which would continue to accompany us throughout my college career. (We actually celebrated beating TCU, and everybody beat TCU; no kiddies, this was before TCU learned how to play Big Boy football.) So it was no surprise that A&M trailed LSU late in the fourth quarter, albeit by a surprisingly thin margin. But a loss is a loss, and the mostly inebriated LSU fans (at least the ones I could see, the ones who openly carried their fifths of Southern Comfort into the stadium, a practice that I still believe was encouraged) were rowdy and enthusiastic in their affirmation of our incompetence.
Suddenly, the inconceivable happened. Who was that guy running for his life, carrying an oblong leather object, being chased by a pack of Tigers? And why was the stadium suddenly and fearfully silent? And why wasn't I paying more attention to the game instead of worrying about how many pushups I'd be doing on the long bus ride home?
History was being made on that field, and I was clueless. The immediate consequences quickly became obvious as A&M's Hugh McElroy turned a short pass into a 79-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left in the game, and the Aggies upset LSU 20-18. A&M fans departed the stadium quickly and in relative quiet, since they weren't sure about the laws regarding carrying firearms on the LSU campus. For its part, the Aggie Band left in formation, with the outer row of cadets handing their instruments to others so they could act as bouncers for any irate Tiger fans attempting to penetrate the ranks. (An unwritten rule was that any outsider who intruded on one side of the band's formation was escorted through the interior to the other side, albeit slowly and painfully, if you get my drift.)
The historical significance of that game wasn't obvious to me, other than understanding that A&M had just beaten LSU, which almost never happened. Honestly, it wasn't until I read this story this morning that I realized the greater significance: Hugh McElroy, who scored that miracle touchdown, was the first black player to start for A&M, and his was the first score by a black player. If this ground-breaking achievement was noted in the Bryan-College Station or A&M press at the time, I missed it (which certainly could have been the case). I'm pleased to see that the story is getting some coverage now, in anticipation of an A&M/LSU rematch in the Cotton Bowl on Friday.
A&M lost the remainder of its games that season. I lasted one year in the Corps and the band, electing not to return despite earning a unit award, and I never really developed a clue. But that evening in Baton Rouge will be forever embedded in my memory. And, fortunately, I now have an even better reason for remembering it.
In pulling from its virtual bookshelf the disgusting The Pedophile's Guide To Love & Pleasure: A Child-Lover's Code of Conduct, Amazon proved that even the largest retailer is not immune to public pressure, and that community standards - however fragmented or ill-defined - still carry weight in the marketplace.
The only surprises in this situation are that (1) Amazon decided to sell the book to begin with, and (2) that it tried to support that decision with a "freedom of speech" argument. In this case, the right to freedom of speech should be strongly trumped by the basic tenets of human decency, the violation of which threatens the foundation of our society. If that sounds overly dramatic, then you're just not paying attention.
One of the first websites to break this story was TechCrunch, and this article focused on an interesting phenomenon: the apparent reliance on "the Red States" and "Middle America" to be the moral gatekeepers for America. I suspect the public outcry against this book was more widespread than that, and I would caution any one group from thinking it has a monopoly on the moral high ground in general, but to the extent that "Red State" residents succeeded in convincing Amazon to change its corporate mind, I proudly claim citizenship in that group.
Lesson #1: Boys will be boys. I'll never understand the attraction of breaking out a bottle of tequila - regardless of how exotic the brand - and posing with a raised glass (actually, a plastic cup) for a group photo. But that ritual was reenacted Saturday evening by the same group of guys who did it in high school (albeit without the premium brand, or digital recording).
Lesson #2: Survival is not a basis for close friendship. If you weren't good friends in high school, you won't be good friends forty years later just because you show up for the reunion. We thoroughly enjoyed getting caught up with our classmates, and we were all cordial and genuinely glad to share the company. But after you've heard about kids, grandkids, parents, pets, and jobs, there's not a lot left to discuss. At that point, you revert to shared past experiences, and the old cliques become operative once more. The cool kids gravitate toward one another, just as they did four decades ago, and that inevitably means a few people land on the fringes. It's nobody's fault; it's just human nature.
The practical implication is that while we enjoyed visiting with people we hadn't seen since the last reunion, there's no great attraction to the suggestions that we all go on a cruise or have a get-together to celebrate a certain upcoming collective milestone birthday. True friendship is hard work, requiring a mutual investment of time and energy, and graduating from the same high school at the same time is, in and of itself, insufficient as a foundation for such a relationship.
I don't think any of our classmates read the Gazette, but in case any of them come across this, I want to stress that this is in no way meant to be a judgmental assessment of them. I think of all of them with fondness, and that fact that we never formed any deep, long-lasting bonds is more my fault than theirs.
Life takes us in different directions, and while the rare occasions when it brings our paths together are special, I feel no great desire to prolong them when other, more meaningful relationships await.
Heresy? Perhaps. But a survey that measured Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists and agnostics knew more, on average, than followers of most major faiths. In fact, the gaps in knowledge among some of the faithful may give new meaning to the term "blind faith."
In an exchange on Facebook someone asked me how I would craft a survey to measure "religious knowledge." I said I haven't a clue, but I'm pretty sure there's no way to assess the results of the entire history of human beings searching for God. Further, I don't think there's anything to be gained by the attempt.
I do believe that people of faith should learn as much as they can about the history and tenets of that faith, and in an increasingly diverse society, understanding important aspects of other religions is also valuable. But for many of us, it's not about what you know, but Who you know. Being able to answer Bible "trivia" won't get you to Heaven, and having an intellectual grasp of the moral imperatives of the faith isn't important if you won't apply them in daily life.
This is hardly news, as certain areas of Texas - especially in deep South Texas - have had a hallowed tradition of allowing dead people to vote. And it's not a practice that's limited to Texas. According to the article, several others states display the same phenomenon:
- Alabama - 7 counties
- Indiana - 12 counties
- Kentucky - 12 counties
- Mississippi - 17 counties
- South Dakota - 17 counties
- Alabama - 10%
- Indiana - 13%
- Kentucky - 10%
- Mississippi - 21%
- South Dakota - 27%
- Texas - 5%
Note: Here's the original report by the Washington Times
The useful element of this sort of criticism isn't that the fact that people in the status quo don't like your idea. Of course they don't. The interesting question is: what about the world as it is would have to change for your idea to be important?
We're foolish not to be open to feedback about our ideas, plans, tactics, and strategies. The key is to examine - and filter, accept, or discard - that feedback within the context of what we think we know that those providing the feedback don't.
The Dollar ReDe$ign Project brings many of those attempts into a central location, and it's interesting to scroll through the wide range of variations put forth by designers.
The design firm of Dowling Duncan provides one of the more innovative approaches, with a vertical layout (based, the company says, on research into how we actually use currency) and different lengths for different denominations. The latter would solve one of the great pressing problems of currency, and that's how to make it easier for sight-impaired people to distinguish among the different denominations of bills. But, of course, putting a living president on a bill is simply not going to fly, for any number of reasons. Nevertheless, their attempt at tying each bill's amount to a symbolic historic reference (e.g. $50 = the 50 states of the Union) is laudable.
Then, there are the designs put forth by Mark Scott, a Brit (many of the designs are submitted by non-US residents apparently eager to help drag our currency into the 21st century). Sensing the inevitability of ubiquitous corporate sponsorship, he's replaced the usual political and historical references with symbols representing iconic American brands, such as Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and the NFL. I'm especially fond of the $50 Apple bill, although I'm sure Steve Jobs would prefer that it appear on a $100,000 note.
There are scores of designs on this site, some of them quite whimsical (including a 10 cent note with the inscription "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?").
Hat tip: Subtraction
I'm pretty skeptical about the relevance of the study cited in the post, as are most of the commenters. If nothing else, showing male undergrads photos of tattooed female models* is, frankly, a really dumb idea if you're trying to assess anything other than libido. But, perhaps I'm not giving the students enough credit.
I was almost able to type that last sentence with a straight face.
*I readily admit that tattooed models are not equally attractive. For example, compare this to this.
Take Sid, for example. He's a seven year old Belgian Malinois, and a four year veteran of the Midland Police Department's K-9 Unit. We got to meet Sid (albeit not up close and personal, as he was on duty and not in a socializing mode) and his partner, Officer Simpson, along with another K-9 cop, Officer Garcia. Sid was born in Belgium and received his early training there. The local officers have to learn many commands in Dutch because that's how the dogs are acclimated.
The department has shifted to this breed, away from German Shepherds, because of the latter breed's tendency to injury, especially hip problems. The Malinois are slightly smaller and lighter, and thus less injury prone (only about 1% suffer from hip ). They still have a powerful bite (900-1000 psi), and are highly intelligent.
Debbie and I were interested to hear that all veterinary services for the police dogs are provided by Dr. Bobby Boyd (a fellow Fort Stocktonite) at the Tall City Veterinary Hospital. I asked how the dogs responded to office visits. The answer is, "not too well." For everything but routine shots, the dogs are muzzled and often sedated in order to protect the clinic personnel. (The handlers hold the dogs for their shots.)
By the way, a fund has been established to help pay vet bills for retired police dogs. If you're interested in making a donation, you may do so at Dr. Boyd's clinic, which is located at 4606 W. Wall St.
We also visited with Bryce Pruitt, a firefighter who drives Midland's only ladder truck. The truck made an appearance at our gathering, much to the delight of all the kids (of all ages - there's nothing like a big honkin' fire truck to make a boy out of a man!). That ladder truck makes all of the fire calls in Midland (and, in fact, was on the job at that terrible blaze that destroyed the home under construction at GreenTree last night), so its crews stay plenty busy. The ladder truck carries no water or hoses, but has a fitting and pump that allows water to flow from external sources up the ladder to where it can be directed to where it's needed. Oh, and the truck gets about 3 miles per gallon around town, so that should make you feel a little better about your SUV.
Later in the evening, our city councilman, Jeff Sparks and his wife Val made an appearance. We were his fifth or sixth stop for the evening.
This was an enjoyable time for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the chance to thank some of the police officers and firefighters who are on the front lines. It was a privilege to meet them.
And it's a source of pride that Midland, Texas, ranks among the most active cities in the US in participating in National Night Out. If your neighborhood isn't participating, perhaps it's simply waiting for someone to step forward. In our case, that someone was Berry Simpson. Perhaps next year, in your neighborhood, it could be you.
Update: Berry has posted photos from this event to his Flickr account. Yours truly appears multiple times, but you shouldn't let that stop you from checking out the pictures.
Some will take issue with Mr. Krauthammer's pragmatism (paraphrase: we'll always have catastrophic oil spills, so why not make sure they occur in less sensitive areas?) and I think he's minimizing a couple of immutable realities of the industry (oil is where you find it, and the "easy" oil has been found), but his point is nevertheless valid. By forcing oil companies to explore in areas where the environmental and economic effects of [inevitable] mistakes are magnified, those who claim to be advocates for the environment have actually done it a disservice.
Of course, logic and reality have never been the Environistas strong points. Some of them are the same people who object to wind farms off the coast of New England because they'll spoil the view.
This is a rather striking example of combining tech savvy with insight into human nature and psychology. No wonder he actually landed a job with this approach. [Link via Neatorama]
Excuse me? First, I feel compelled to remind Lindsay that she's made a series of choices in her life that have relegated her to the B-list (at best) of impaired and out-of-control wannabes. Having a talking baby make fun of her (even subliminally) would actually be a step up for her.
Setting aside the fact that in 1986 (the year of her birth, in case she can't remember) the name "Lindsay" was the 46th most popular girl's name in the USA (and the variant "Lindsey" ranked even higher, at 39), I think she should give careful consideration to the implications of claiming an exclusive association with certain descriptors. If her lawsuit is successful and thus requires that every time we hear "Lindsay" (or, if we have a discriminating ear, "Lindsey") we think of her, then it will have to logically follow that we'll also bring her to mind whenever we hear "pathetic," "narcissistic," and "delusional."
Then again, perhaps that horse has already bolted the stable.
Update: This just in - Oprah and Madonna are suing Lindsay and her lawyers for associating their names with hers.
The author decries our economy's continued reliance on fossil fuels, but implies that as long as we're going to drill for oil, we ought to stop doing it where it costs so dang much money.
He then quotes another apparent genius in the field:
I'm sure the chairmen of Exxon, Chevron, and BP are at this very moment slapping their collective foreheads and exclaiming with great vigor, "why didn't we think of that!? We should just drill where it costs less!"
After reading that, I quickly checked the address bar of my browser to make sure I hadn't been redirected to The Onion without noticing.
Interestingly, those assertions are the most reasonable things put forth by the author, as he then attributes various natural disasters around the world to the pain caused to Mother Earth by poking holes in her skin. Seriously.
He even provides Bible verses to back up his thesis.
OK, on further review, this isn't a bit funny.
Link via The Oil Drum
The party's gone public, grab your dancin' shoes
Pass it around 'til we all get stoned
We'll all come down when the money's all gone.
Everybody's livin', everybody's high
Everybody's sellin' so buy, baby, buy
Everything's had and nothing is owned
Around it goes 'til the money's all gone.
When the money's all gone we'll get back to work
Get back in the garden, get back in the dirt
It's an ill wind doesn't blow some good
We can put it back together the way that we should.
It might not be the worst thing after all...
When the money's all gone.
There's only so much that can go around
The top goes up but the bottom goes down
Call it what you want to
Tell me I'm wrong
We'll all find out when the money's all gone.
When the money's all gone we'll get back to work
Get back in the garden, get back in the dirt
It's an ill wind doesn't blow some good
We can put it back together the way that we should.
It might not be the worst thing after all...
When the money's all gone.
Lose a little, you can scream and shout
But you gotta lose big 'fore they bail you out
They'll buy the bank so they can take your home
They don't need you anymore when the money's all gone.
When the money's all gone...
When the money's all gone.
When the Money's All Gone
Jason Eady & Kevin Wilkins
I've been listening to Jason Eady's music a lot lately, especially the preceding song from the album of the same name. The iTunes Store puts his music into the Country genre, but I think that's too limiting for the mixture of delta blues, zydeco, rock, and gospel that wraps around lyrics that manage to be simultaneously intelligent and catchy. When The Money's All Gone is a perfect example. It's as good an economic commentary as you'll find in the Wall Street Journal, and a heck of a lot more danceable.
Needs: The cost of food has dramatically risen since the earthquake. In the past, $1.50 would cover the cost of supplying a hot meal for the children in the village. Due to limited supplies, that cost has risen to $4.50 per meal. The goal of the HAPI (Haitian Artisans for Peace International) is to meet the basic needs of the children, knowing that having those needs met will contribute to a more peaceful lifestyle and sense of community. Checks can be made to HospiceMidland to help supplement the expense of providing hot meals.
Rays of Hope has found t-shirts that have feelings faces with French expressive words that would complement the work we hope to do in Haiti. Fifteen dollars would cover the cost of getting a t-shirt to the kids and families in Haiti.
Rays of Hope knows that children in our community might want to give to the Children in Haiti. We would like to collect the following inexpensive items to be distributed to the children in Mizak. Items can be brought to Rays of Hope by Tuesday, March 2nd.
- Small containers of playdough
- Bright colored pipe cleaners
- Permanent markers
- Bright colored index cards
- Beach balls
- Individual packets of Kleenex
- Inflatable Balloons (not water balloons)
- Small thick combs
Rays of Hope is honored and humbled by the opportunity to participate in this relief effort. We appreciate your support of the expansion of our mission. Thank you.
Checks should be payable to HospiceMidland (designate Haiti Relief) and mailed to:
c/o Vicki Jay
911 West Texas
Midland, Texas 79701
100% of the donations will go to the Haiti Relief.
I don't see much fisking nowadays (which could be attributed to the fact that I don't spend much time reading political blogs) and I miss it just a bit. So it's good to know that the practice hasn't vanished completely, and in fact has been adopted by the edgier members of the Legacy Media.
Following is a clip of Glenn Beck applying a proper fisking to the infinitely annoying Arianna Huffington. Now, I'm not a big GB fan; his style occasionally approaches the Infinite Annoyance that Huffington has somehow managed to exceed. Nevertheless, our ideologies have much in common, and he's an equal opportunity skewerer when it comes to calling out chumps on both sides of the political aisle (and, believe me, there are plenty of them...enough to fill out, say, a whole branch or two of federal government). And, as he shows in the following video, Beck knows how to administer a proper fisking. Enjoy. (Link via Little Miss Attila)
I must be one of the few people in America who don't have a similar story to share. I'm pretty sure I've read the book and I think we still have a copy somewhere in our home library, but frankly, it made absolutely no lasting impact on me. I can't recall a single detail from Catcher other than the name of the lead character, Holden Caufield. And all this talk about the author and the book has stimulated no desire whatsoever to find the book and [re]read it.
A friend recently tagged me via Facebook for the "15 Books That Affected Me" meme. While I didn't respond (Sorry, Joe; nothing personal, but I don't do Facebook memes. I don't do much of anything Facebook, but that's another story.), I did spend about thirty seconds thinking about it, and in light of today's Catcher lovefest, it seems appropriate to list at least a few books from my youth that did stay with me.
I was a big fan of science fiction as a kid, and while that ardor has cooled somewhat over the years, the books I remember most tend to come from that genre. Robert Heinlein's New Agey (the term hadn't been invented at that time, AFAIK) Stranger in a Strange Land made an impact on me, as did Harlan Ellison's short story collection, The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World. And, of course, the list wouldn't be complete without Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and its prequel, The Hobbit. (And in the interests of complete transparency, there was that one summer when a copy of J. D. Southern's scandalous novel Candy circulated between beach towels at the Fort Stockton public swimming pool, the "best" passages easily found by their dogeared pages.)
I wish I could point to more intellectually sophisticated reading material - and my reading habits really were more varied than they may seem - but there it is. Salinger and Catcher may have shaped a generation, but I never got on that particular bus.
In a relatively short amount of time, Napoleoni posits that (1) most terrorists couldn't care less about the ideology of the group with which they're aligned - they're in it for much more self-serving reasons; (2) the pre-9/11 US economy benefited greatly from money-laundering activities used to finance terrorist and criminal organizations around the world, because - let's face it - everyone wants US dollars; and (3) the Patriot Act essentially shut down those money-laundering activities, causing a massive flight from the dollar to the Euro; Europe is now the center of those illicit activities, and is enjoying something of an economic boost as a result.
If you can spare fifteen minutes to watch the following vid, I think you'll be challenged by what you hear. I gained a new perspective on terrorism and the implications for how it might be more effectively fought...and perhaps why it's not being fought equally on all fronts.
So, the theory was that by installing cameras - and alerting the driving public of their presence - motorists' behaviors would be positively modified and the result would be fewer accidents. Well, not so fast (pun intended). In the Chicago area, a study of intersections fitted with these cameras showed either no change in accident rates, or increases in those rates, presumably from an increase in rear-end collisions as drivers suddenly realize that the intersection they're approaching has a camera and decide not to chance making the yellow light. For some states that actually bothered to check such statistics, the decision was made to ban the cameras.
It's hard not to be cynical and figure that the real reason cities want cameras at their intersections is to increase traffic citation revenue. If they were really serious about reducing accidents at such intersections, they'd either increase the amount of time the yellow light stays on, or increase the time before the green light for cross traffic switches on, or both. Both of these things have proven effective in reducing accidents at intersections.
I hope the city of Midland will be cautious in any consideration it's giving to installing such cameras.
And, in yet another fine example of the the law of unintended consequences, creative punks have learned how to use those cameras to harass their enemies.
I don't remember how I came across this article, but I've kept it open in a browser tab for several days even though I hadn't taken the time to look at it in detail until this morning. I hadn't realized that the photographer had added an audio commentary to each photo - a brief glimpse into the process, the situation, or most interestingly, the character of the subject of each picture.
Those comments are what elevate this presentation over the normal portfolio (setting aside the fact that there perhaps has never before been such a compilation of political power by one person at one time). The photographer is careful and diplomatic with his observations, but not to the point of banality (OK, there are some banal comments, but they're excusable). And, occasionally, his remarks tell more than the photos themselves. Be sure to listen to the commentary accompanying the image of Robert Mugabe, president/dictator of Zimbabwe.
By now, you'd have to be in a coma not to have heard the account of the Belgian man who was diagnosed as being "brain dead" for 23 years, but was recently found by doctors to have normal brain function and who further claims that he had been conscious through the entire period. He's now communicating via a special keyboard and thus is able to finally share his heartbreaking story with the world.
Or is he?
I saw a televised report of this story this morning on a national news show, and what I saw was a "facilitator" using the man's finger to type on a keyboard. I was puzzled about a minor detail: how does she know what he wants to type? The "facilitator" is said to be specially trained to detect - and interpret - faint movements by the subject, and translate them into coherent communications. This is a wonderful skill to possess...if indeed it actually exists.
James Randi thinks it's a "cruel farce," and lays out his impassioned case against "Facilitated Communication," of which, he says, this is simply the most recent example.
I sincerely hope Randi is wrong about this, for the sake of the man's family at the very least. And I'm torn between wanting to believe that this man's new-found communication ability is real and his relationship with his loved ones restored, and wanting to believe that he didn't really endure 23 years of conscious silence. I have a hard time imagining anything worse than the latter.
[Link via Neatorama, but original skepticism all mine.]
Statewide, media have provided coverage of the anniversary. Perhaps the most widely seen coverage will be the story in the current edition of Texas Monthly Magazine. I haven't read the article, but by all accounts it's an accurate and even moving description of the disaster, as well as an unexpectedly sensitive treatment of the tradition and meaning for A&M students. (I say "unexpected" because Texas Monthly has a reputation for being biased toward A&M's arch-rival, the University of Texas.) The website also has an interesting video about the creation of the photo on the cover of the magazine, which features a computer-generated version of the bonfire. (Perceptive viewers will notice that a Mac was used for the 3D modeling.)
Locally, Jimmy Patterson has written an article for the Midland Reporter Telegram about the anniversary of the bonfire collapse. He's done his typically excellent job in reporting, and the only quibble I have with the article is one that probably isn't his fault anyway: if you're going to refer to the aforementioned University of Texas using the Aggie acronym, it's "tu" (lower case). I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk that up to an editor's eye.
I worked on one bonfire during my five-year stint at A&M. As a freshman in the Corps of Cadets in 1970, about the only thing I remember is how long the four-hour work sessions were, and how short the four-hour rests seemed. I was perpetually sleep-deprived anyway (that being the typical state of a Corps fish), so the bonfire work is really just a hazy memory. It was also the hardest work I'd done in my life up to that point.
The fact that I never participated in another bonfire construction (I didn't return to the Corps after my freshman year) probably puts me in that shameful "two-percenter" category, but it's a fact of Aggie life that far more students didn't work on the bonfire than did. That doesn't lessen my respect for the tradition it represents.
However, I also agree with a number of commenters on the Texas Monthly article who point out that the bonfire is not Texas A&M, nor are the rich heritage and traditions of the university diminished significantly by its absence.
My wife and I visited the on-campus Bonfire Memorial a couple of summers ago, on a day so brutally hot and humid that it was all we could do to muster the energy to walk from the car to the Stonehenge-like setting where the twelve students who perished were honored. But we found the memorial to be so moving that we spent more than an hour reading the stories of those young people, and watching other visitors move respectfully along with us, no one speaking above a whisper. To me, that desire and ability to honor fellow Aggies is the most important tradition of them all, and as long as that doesn't change, the A&M heritage is secure.
You'll also be struck by how these tough, well-trained fighting men are reduced to blathering by the sight of their overjoyed dogs. Dogs have a way of doing that to us, don't they?
No word on what cats think.
Thank you, one and all, and may God bless you for your dedication to your fellow Americans. And for those of you in active duty, rest assured that you (and your families) are in my prayers each day.
I find no small comfort in believing that for every Fort Hood mass murderer (I refuse to type his name), there's at least one Chiune Sugihara.
Even on those occasions when I put my money where my mouth is, it's for stuff that I don't really care much about anyway. Debbie will bring home two or three new shirts for me, and it bothers me not a bit to toss an equal number of old ones (I have shirts that originate further back into the 20th century than is comfortable to admit). But if I get a new iPod, do you think I'm deleting an old one? Heck, no. One can never have too many iPods.
I'm sporadically successful in convincing my wife to discard old drinking glasses or mugs when she buys new ones, but even that's an uphill battle. Who knew one could develop a sentimental attachment to crockery?
What we do try to do is not acquire stuff that we won't use and enjoy, or to expend so much of our income on acquiring things that there's nothing left to give away to others. Frankly, I feel pretty good about the balance we've achieved in creating a comfortable lifestyle. And I'm dead certain that our sense of well-being would not be improved by shoehorning it into 96 square feet.
That the toughest restrictions of the proposed ordinance will be softened or even deleted seems to be a foregone conclusion. The only question that remains is why any private citizen will be willing to volunteer his or her time for future task forces or study groups. I can only imagine the frustration that the drilling ordinance committee members are feeling now.
I didn't bother to attend any of the public hearings for the proposed ordinance, having experienced the debate last year as our neighborhood sought to insulate itself from the more unpalatable side-effects of drilling on immediately adjacent acreage. The outcome of that debate was never in doubt, as the oil and gas interests waved thinly-veiled threats of expensive lawsuits and gave only lip-service to the idea of compromise.
I will admit that my thinking about this issue was clarified through the process, and for what it's worth, here's where I now stand.
- The city cannot legally prevent drilling within its jurisdiction, nor should it try to override well spacing regulations that have long been established by agencies which have significantly more expertise in such matters. The "taking" or condemnation of mineral interests through excessive limits on drilling is a legitimate legal and even ethical issue; regardless of how surface owners may protest, in Texas, the mineral owners' rights have primacy.
- That said, the city is also under no obligation to ensure the profitability of drilling within its jurisdiction. To clarify, it's irrelevant for an oil company to protest on purely economic grounds any ordinance or regulation that is designed to protect residents and help ensure orderly residential and commercial development of the city. Every piece of legislation or regulation, whether at the federal, state, or local level, adds cost to the oil and gas development process. The industry deals with a huge regulatory burden on a daily basis. And yet, miraculously, drilling continues, and profits are made. What should not be overlooked is that there is a level of oil and gas pricing that makes the burden of these regulations insignificant from a financial perspective, and when oil prices hit more than $140/barrel last year, it forever removed the force of the argument that the economics of drilling for oil in the formations around Midland just can't support the least bit of additional regulation. If the city deems that a concrete block wall costing $100,000 (a figure I have a hard time believing, by the way) is a reasonable way to shield a producing oil well, the driller will just have to factor that into his economics and if they're too thin, then he'll have to wait for prices to make them better. History has shown that they will.
Here's a tip: just because a song mentions Jesus and Mary - even as proper nouns instead of exclamations - doesn't make it a "spiritual."
Confession: I still have Tarkio Road, the album from which this song came, on vinyl. And, yes, I knew what I was buying when I bought it.
The only surprise about this is that the author is apparently surprised, writing: When it comes to sharing the road with cars, many people seem to assume that such accidents are usually the cyclist's fault -- a result of reckless or aggressive riding.
Really? Perhaps he runs with a cycling crowd with a heightened feeling of invincibility or an enhanced death wish, but pretty much every bicyclist I know hits the road with the fear that it and its motorized occupants will hit back. In addition, that 90% figure stated above is probably accurate with respect to the accidents leading to cyclist deaths in our area. Many of them occurred on flat straight roads with no visibility issues; the drivers just veered over and struck the cyclists from behind.
Findings like these are all the more reason why a safe passing law is needed in Texas, especially if accompanied by an education campaign.
An interesting footnote to the study is the finding that the third leading cause of cyclist accidents in the study was from drivers opening their car doors in the path of the bicyclists. I find this interesting because I don't personally know of a local bicyclist who has experienced this. I guess it's a function of cycling in a heavy urban area with lots of on-the-street parking. On the other hand, I suspect that at least a few of these "accidents" were actually caused by frustrated drivers stuck in gridlock who noticed cyclists moving through the line of cars.
As "Newsroom Stew" puts it, it does seem odd to suggest that Midland should follow Austin's lead in, well, just about anything (full disclosure: Stew and I are both Aggies, and predisposed by genetic make-up to disagreeing with just about anything coming out of Austin), but in this case I think they're getting it right. Of course, Stew was probably referring more to the ban on texting while driving more than the safe passing issue, but I do agree that both would be welcome additions to our local ordinances.
It doesn't hurt that the ACLU is opposed to them.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) created the "Drive A Clean Machine" program with an explicit goal of removing proven polluters from state roadways. It offers a cash voucher up to $3,500 for the trade-in of a vehicle that's at least 10 years old, gasoline-powered, and that has failed an emissions test.
Interestingly, this program can be used in conjunction with the federal program, so that those fortunate few who qualify can receive up to $7,500 towards a new car. In fact, I had dinner last night with a recipient of this governmental largess. He's now driving a cool little Kia instead of an SUV with 200,000 miles and a steadily burning "check engine" light.
So, why haven't we seen this program trumpeted in the endless dealership ads in our area? Simple. The state program is limited to residents of 16 (out of 254) Texas counties. Presumably, these are the counties deemed to have the worst air quality in the state and thus most likely to benefit from the removal of the "clunkers." All of the counties are in the Austin, Houston, or Metroplex areas (wonder why Bexar County - San Antonio - was left out?).
The program also has a number of other restrictions, including limits on the income of the buyer and cost of the new vehicle (which doesn't actually have to be new; some used vehicles qualify).
Unlike the federal program which gives only lip service to environmental motivations, the Texas program is explicitly tied to a measurable (albeit still non-quantifiable) benefit to the environment.
And while we in the Permian Basin may be tempted to chafe a bit at not having access to this program, we should find consolation in (at least) three things. First, we live in an area where man-made air pollution* is simply not an issue. Second, the process for taking advantage of the state's program makes the federal program look like child's play; the feds could learn something about bureaucracy from the TCEQ. And third, we don't have to live in Austin, Houston, or the Metroplex.
*Let us agree not to discuss blowing dust.
Please consider making a donation to a very good cause, especially if you're a resident of West Texas (or just wish you were!). The work they're doing is saving and improving lives in more ways than we'll ever know. You can donate online via MFH's website.
This is the advice on the official White House blog, contained in a post entitled "Facts are Stubborn Things." And, as the White House is no doubt finding out, so is ill-considered, foolish advice.
My guess is that firstname.lastname@example.org is already choked with countless reports of "fishiness" related to the proposed health reform package. But I'll bet many of those reports aren't exactly what the White House had in mind when it came up with this boneheaded idea (I'm talking about the email forwarding request, not the health reform bill, but only because "boneheaded" isn't adequate to describe the mess of the latter).
If I was thinking about reporting "fishiness" to the White House, I'd probably email them the text of the bill itself, because no opinions or rumors or exaggerations could possibly match the scary reality of the bill itself.
Of course, now that you've read this, I suppose you're obligated to report The Gazette's "fishiness" to the White House. All I ask is that you please spell the name correctly.
Cash for Clunkers: More Immoral Environmentalism?
July 31, 2009 9:10 AM | Posted in: Society & Culture
Once a month, I volunteer at our church's benevolence office, where we interview people in need of financial assistance and try to determine whether and how we can help them. Most of these folks are unemployed or under-employed, and often we find that they lack basic everyday transportation that would allow them to get and keep a job. Midland's bus system, although much improved, does not always provide the flexibility of routes and schedules that allow people to count on them for their work commutes.
Which brings us to "Cash for Clunkers" which, as you already know, is a federal government program designed to reward people for trading in their old gas guzzlers for new, more fuel-efficient vehicles. CARS (Car Allowance Rebate System) was funded with $1B of your and my money, and will theoretically remove at least 220,000 older cars from the roads (assuming the maximum allowance of $4,500). That sounds fine and dandy, although it still represents only about 1% of the total number of passenger vehicles in the country and the incremental overall gains in fuel economy will be trivial.
Setting aside the issue of taxpayer money being used yet again to try to influence private behavior, I find it sad, if not immoral, that all the cars being traded in will simply be crushed* and consigned to a junkyard. There are a lot of people in the country for whom ownership of a "clunker" could mean a chance to climb out of a poverty-stricken or abuse-laden situation.
Yet again, we see that actions taken in the name of environmentalism have negative consequences on the human condition. Similar to (although I'd argue not quite as heinous) diverting corn to make fuel rather than food, these actions argue that a future "greater good" is being served, but the hypocrisy is that human beings are being harmed now.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that those who are able to take advantage of CARS are doing bad things. Not at all. I'd use it if I could; after all, it's my money they're handing out. I simply wish the program had a better ending.
*Wonder how many of these "clunkers" will actually get scrapped, rather than ending up in, say, Mexico?
Amazon had a recent "stumble" in which it unilaterally and without warning deleted a couple of books from its customers' Kindle e-book readers, citing "licensing issues." Amazon's founder and chairman, Jeff Bezos, later apologized profusely for doing this, but the damage to the company's credibility has been done.
Perhaps that's not a fair way to put it, though. More likely, the innocence of consumers has been punctured with respect to acquiring their books electronically, and I think that's probably a good thing. Ulin's article raises a number of interesting questions, but in the end, Amazon (or any other company in the same business) can exert only the control that we permit. As with any other purchase, an informed consumer is the best guard against commercial impropriety.
If we're really concerned that our "shared informational heritage" won't be properly stewarded by Amazon, we shouldn't be buying, er, licensing e-books from them. That's a decision each of us has to make on our own.
To add insult to injury ("injury" being defined as the inconvenience of having to reschedule meetings to work around the limitation of one vehicle for two busy adults), the shop has yet to call me, unbidden, to report the status. I've had to call them every day to find out what's going on, and not once has the other party apologized for the lack of progress or failure to keep its promises.
This is unacceptable treatment, especially coming as it does from one of the largest dealerships in the city, one that claims to pride itself on treating the customer properly. Normally, I wouldn't have any recourse, but given that we've started shopping for a new vehicle, the cost to this dealership of its poor service will be tangible: we've bought our last four cars there, but the next one (and any thereafter) will be purchased elsewhere.
The lesson for all of us who provide services to the public is simple: never underestimate the importance of communicating with your customers and clients. And don't believe for a moment that there are details too small to matter.
*By "minor" I mean something that any qualified, competent mechanic could do in a few hours. That obviously excludes me, which is why the car is in the shop, and not in my garage.
My feelings are less mixed now. Since the signs were posted, someone has broken or shot five or six of the lights that line those paths, the first obvious evidence of vandalism since we've been here. I can't help thinking there's a connection, but rather than feeling more strongly that the signs are a mistake, the criminal behavior of some people seems to validate the wisdom of the decision to post them (even if they so far appear to have absolutely no impact on behavior).
I know; this could have been the work of a resident, but I don't believe it is.
On the surface, it's easy to see why the plan was rejected. The development would have placed almost 100 "modular homes" into a neighborhood of houses sitting on 1- or 2-acre tracts, spoiling the "rural life in the city" ambiance of the area. It's understandable that current residents would want to maintain the character of their neighborhood, and it's difficult to imagine anything more antithetical to that character than a bunch of tract homes on tiny lots.
But a couple of the quotes from the article reveal a more sinister motivation. The story refers to "residents who would not fit in," and the perception that while the development would have included "some good people," it also "would have brought in some undesirables."
So, the implication is that while the homes might be eyesores (in relation to what makes up the original neighborhood), the real concern is that the people who live in them just don't meet some arbitrary measure of acceptability.
It's unfortunate that we tend to judge people in this fashion. Your perceived worth is determined by the size of the structure you inhabit, or the nameplate on the car you drive, or the tags on the clothes you wear. None of us would ever publicly admit to this practice, but we all do it to one extent or another. We justify it because at some point in our lives we were either taught to do it, or we saw an example of behavior that somehow supported the judgment and allowed us to broadly extrapolate it to, well, everyone.
It's ironic that to some extent, in some fashion, to someone else each of us falls into a category of "those people." (If you disagree, I can assure you that you're now going to be judged as "one of those hypocrites.")
I don't know how we overcome this tendency (and you'll noticed that I use "we" a lot, because I'm not immune). A good beginning might be to see others as God sees us: imperfect beings who nevertheless are deeply loved. It might not make us any happier to have a trailer park in our backyard, but we might come to view the residents as friends rather than adversaries.
If you've visited our neighborhood, you would probably agree that the ponds and surrounding landscape are unique in our city - a literal oasis in the desert (or at least in the pasture). As word has spread, we've seen an increasing number of folks coming out to walk the trail and enjoy the scenery. It's also become a favorite setting for professional photographers wanting a outdoor scene as a backdrop for engagement, graduation, and family photos. And a number of people from adjacent neighborhoods have included our area in their regular walking routes.
The majority of visitors seem to be well-behaved and respectful. We've seen a few older teens loitering around, looking like they're up to no good (hey, youse kids get off my lawn, y'hear?!), but no obvious signs of mischief have been left behind. However, I've been told that more threatening and/or suspicious activity has been observed by others.
I think that letting people get out and roam around the common area is a good marketing tool for the developers. That's what sold us on building out here.
But, I can also understand that some people don't like having a steady stream of strangers driving and walking around their property. The area is private property, not city-owned or maintained, and we pay for the upkeep via our homeowner association dues.
In any event, my opinion wasn't solicited, and that's just as well, because I'm not sure what I would have recommended. The one thing I am sure about is the appropriateness of the request that owners pick up after their animals. I doubt that anyone would argue with that.
Since drafting this, I've learned that at least one good reason for the signs is to provide the police with the justification to respond to complaints about loitering or other quasi-illegal activity. Since this is private property, without such signs their hands are apparently tied to some extent.
Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain is a delightful rarity: a treatise that will pass the strictest scholarly and scientific scrutiny while being completely accessible - and fascinating - to the layperson. The author, Maryanne Wolf, is a professor of child development at Tufts University near Boston, and she also directs the Center for Reading and Language Research. Her passion is developing a better understanding of how the human brain re-organized (and re-organizes) its own circuitry to permit people to communicate through the written word. But her research isn't limited to the historical or theoretical; she's also determined to find ways to cope "when the brain can't learn to read." And her focus isn't limited to the past or present; she's doing her best to look into the future to see how our transformation into a digital society might affect our reading skills.
The book is less than 250 pages (with another sixty pages devoted to notes, sparing the casual reader a slog through the omnipresent footnotes that mark an academic text), but its breadth and scope are expansive. Wolf takes us through the known history of writing, starting with clay tokens dating to 8,000 BC and which represented the first accounting records; to Sumerian cuneiforms and Egyptian hieroglyphics; to the first alphabet (attributed to Semitic workers living in Egypt around 1,900 BC); with a detour through Greece to explore the surprising condemnation of writing by none other than Socrates, who believed that the access to unsupervised reading would lead to undisciplined thinking, erroneous conclusions, and the destruction of memory.
The author then describes at length what goes on inside the brain when we read. Thanks to advances in brain mapping, scientists can now literally see the process of reading played out across the brain, beginning with visual recognition of the words, followed by word-specific activation, phonological processing (connecting letters to sounds), and, finally, semantic processing (assessing varied meanings and associations), all of which takes place in the normal reading brain in .2-.5 of a second. If this sounds overwhelming, never fear. Wolf considerately places this jargon-heavy science into a neat package of italicized text, and points out that those who aren't all that interested can skip to the next section and be no worse for having done so.
Then, having described how the brain is supposed to handle the process of reading, she delves into those situations where it doesn't work that way. She spends a great deal of time on dyslexia, a syndrome that still isn't fully understood although great strides are being made in that direction. If nothing else, Wolf offers great hope to those who have children or other loved ones who are having difficulty learning to read. She urges calmness and patience in the case of children who seem to be "behind the curve," as the acquisition of reading skills varies greatly among individuals.
Wolf comes by this advice honestly; her children are dyslexic, and she and her husband had several dyslexic ancestors. She presents compelling evidence that dyslexia isn't an unmitigated curse, as there are too many examples of brilliant dyslexics whose contributions to culture and society through the ages are unmistakable and invaluable. In her words, dyslexia, with its seemingly untidy mix of genetic talents and cultural weaknesses, exemplifies human diversityñwith all the important gifts this diversity bestows on human culture.
Finally, Wolf ponders the implications of a digital society, where the traditional written word has been replaced by pixels and sound bites. If the book has a weakness, it comes here, as the subject is given relatively short shrift. But at least one set of questions illuminates one significant source of concern:
I can't think of anyone to whom I wouldn't recommend this book, but I think it's an especially valuable and enlightening resource to three groups. First, educators who teach reading will benefit from the author's insights about how the human brain learns to comprehend the written word. Second, parents of young, pre-literate children need to understand the long-term significance of that seemingly simple things - like merely talking to their children - can have on their ability to achieve effective literacy (pay close attention to her thoughts about "the war on word poverty").
The third group is perhaps less obvious. I think that writers, professional and otherwise, will benefit from Wolf's perspective about the purposes of reading. Writers would do well to internalize the quote that introduces this post and ponder the implication that their words are most successful when they provide not an end, but a beginning ñ a jumping off point where their readers build upon a foundation in ways that the author may not be able to conceive.
That's Jason's actual arm doing the sketching in the video. I thought it was a great piece of work, and quite effective in communicating basic concepts in an appealing fashion. (I'm a sucker for ads that incorporate drawing; the current UPS "whiteboard" series of TV commercials comes to mind.) My curiosity was also piqued by the pairing of a New York artist with the Texas Bar, and I wanted to know more about the project. I couldn't find anything online so I took the unprecedented blogging step of doing some actual research, thereby avoiding my usual tactic of just making something up. I emailed Jason with some questions, and he very graciously carved out the time to answer them. Here's the transcript.
Jason: I think a producer at the group that was in charge of making the films had seen a film I made with a friend, Meredith Zielke, called How To Draw A Giraffe on the Wholphin Website and contacted me.
Where were the videos shot?
Each video looks pretty clean, almost as if each was created from a single uninterrupted shot. Was that indeed the case? If so, how many takes were required to get the final version of each?
Jason: Yea, each one had to be done with one shot. The editors changed speeds on some parts (you can notice it at the end of each film because I was writing too slow) but each one was done in one shot. They took three or four full attempts at each. A couple of times I would stop because I messed something up or there were a couple cases of going through the whole script and then people deciding something needed to be reworked. While I was doing it I was nervous but I was happy with the direction and I think they came out well.
Apart from doing the drawing, what was your role in the creation of the stories? Did you have input to the scripts?
Jason: Scripts were completed before I did the drawings so I was completely out of the equation for their production, but as we figured out timing with the drawings we realized that some things in the script could be reworked. I gravitated toward visual things and parts of the script were not very visual - things needed to be educational the whole way through so we hopefully found a balance.
Did you also narrate the videos?
What was the biggest challenge you faced in this project?
Jason: I was fairly nervous the whole way through. I wanted to be producing visually stimulating things that were also learning tools. I needed to be producing them in the order presented at a particular timing. Things were altered a little with the pace changes but I was trying to avoid that where I could and make things easier for editors (and more pleasing for viewers).
I also want to again thank Jason Polan for taking the time to give us a behind-the-scenes look at the project.
The subtitle to B.R. Myers's A Reader's Manifesto is An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose. This slim (89 pages) volume is indeed an attack, and it apparently struck its intended targets. After one lukewarm attempt at self-publishing the original manuscript under the title of Gorgons in the Pool, it was picked up and published as a severely-edited article in the July/August 2001 edition of The Atlantic Monthly, where it generated a strong enough response to prompt Myers to publish the book in its "original tone and length."
A Reader's Manifesto is the literary critic's version of The Emperor's New Clothes. The author makes an impassioned case that a lot of what passes for Serious Writing nowadays is overwrought, hard to read and impossible to comprehend, and, well, pretentious. He not only names names, holding up specific passages from highly acclaimed and award-winning authors, but takes on those professional book reviewers who, he says, have fallen victim to the siren song of literary hokum.
By turns, Myers examines passages from novels by the following authors:
- Annie Proulx - Winner of the 1993 National Book Award and 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (The Shipping News) and most recently revered for writing Brokeback Mountain.
- Don DeLillo - Winner of the National Book Award for White Noise (1985), the PEN/Faulkner Award for Mao II (1991) and the first American winner of The Jerusalem Prize.
- Cormac McCarthy - Winner of the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award for All the Pretty Horses
- Paul Auster - Recipient of the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
- David Guterson - Winner of the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award (Snow Falling on Cedars)
Myers contrasts passages from the writing of these authors with excerpts from acknowledged past masters such as James Joyce, Saul Bellow, Honoré de Balzac, Samuel Beckett and even Louis L'Amour. These comparisons are often amusing, generally biting, and bound to be encouraging to anyone who's ever picked up a "modern novel," read it, and then wondered silently and perhaps a little ashamedly, "just what the heck was that all about?"
At the risk of making him sound a little paranoid, here's one of his conclusions.
Whether you agree with the strategy Myers employs in skewering specific authors - and I must admit that he's very good at it - it's hard to argue with his main premise, that "great prose isn't always easy, but it's always lucid," and that the reader has a sacrosanct right to dismiss works that don't meet that criterion.
If Jackie Collins, Tom Clancy and Stephen King (all authors which Myers refuses to condemn for their popularity) write books that prick your imagination, then there's no shame in reading them. And if the Literary Elite have a problem with that, well, it's their problem, not yours.
This book was intended to be controversial, and I recommend it to every aspiring writer as well as anyone who feels the call to be a book reviewer. It's both a lens and a mirror, useful for clarifying one's personal tastes and aspirations in literature.
In May, 2001 25 men and one boy set out across the Sonoran Desert, determined to cross into southern Arizona, between Yuma and Nogales, from their native Mexico. Crossing into the US was easy; finding their way to civilization was deadly. Fourteen of them perished in the attempt. Luis Alberto Urrea reconstructs the details of this tragedy and presents them in an absolutely compelling account entitled The Devil's Highway
The Devil's Highway is a geographic area that corresponds roughly to the Cabeza Prieta ("dark head") National Wildlife Refuge, an area the size of Rhode Island with a permanent human population density of zero. A hundred consecutive days of 100°+ temperatures is not unheard of, and parts of the area average only 3" of rain each year. It also happens to be a popular conduit for those entering the country illegally from Mexico.
Urrea is a gifted author - this book was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction - and a tireless investigator. The breadth and depth of research that went into this quick-reading work is a reminder that being an author is difficult labor and there are no shortcuts.
Having recently read Urrea's wonderful novel, The Hummingbird's Daughter, I knew that while he loves Mexico, the country of his birth, he doesn't view it or its history through rose-colored glasses. Nevertheless, I wondered how he would tell this story within the context of the ongoing controversies surrounding illegal immigration. In a recent poll, 85% of Americans agree that illegal immigration is "a problem," and 55% say that it is "very serious." Illegal immigration, especially from Mexico, is a hot button issue to many; emotions run strong on all sides of the debate, and it's rare to hear or read an even-handed discussion of the issues. But that's exactly what Urrea gives us.
He gives us a matter-of-fact overview of the economic and political realities that cause so many Mexicans to view migration to America as their only hope for a life above the subsistence level. He shows us the frustrations and dangers of being a member of the US Border Patrol, La Migra; he also reveals the tolerance and even compassion that many of the BP agents have for those they capture and turn back. It's telling that most illegals will tell you that they'd much rather be caught by La Migra than by their own immigration police. La Migra carry life-saving bottles of water; los federales attach battery leads to body parts.
Urrea also provides some analysis of the costs and benefits that accompany illegal immigration, leaving it to readers to decide whether the math works for or against their perceptions.
But the most important thing he does with The Devil's Highway is put faces and lives and families and aspirations onto those otherwise anonymous masses about which we see only reports on the 10:00 p.m. news. The result is uncomfortable, because it injects humanity into the situation and that turns our nice black-and-white, well-focused picture of How Things Should Be into a muddy gray swirl that, for me anyway, will defy re-separation.
Urrea accomplishes something else, probably unintentionally but still important to those of us who live in or near the desert. He describes in great clarity the unforgiving nature of the desert, the way it can turn the unprepared into corpses almost before they understand what's happening.
The Devil's Highway is a thought-provoking look at an issue that has perhaps more immediate relevance than any other now facing our nation. It should be required reading for everyone who wants to debate illegal immigration... regardless of the side they take.
As always, in the interest of full disclosure, you should know that this book was provided to me at no cost and for review purposes by Time Warner Book Group as a part of its Online Marketing program. And, once again, I'd like to thank my personal Book Angel, Miriam Parker, for recommending an excellent work.