Recently in Thinking Allowed Category
UT System regents have approved Shaka Smart's contract as bball coach. Here are the terms. pic.twitter.com/XRCviuqV5L-- Matthew Watkins (@MWatkinsTrib) May 14, 2015
Murphy's Laws of Combat
- If it's stupid but works, it isn't stupid.
- If the enemy is in range - so are you!
- Incoming fire has the right of way.
- Don't look conspicuous - it draws fire.
- The easy way is always mined.
- Try to look unimportant - they might be low on ammo.
- Professionals are predictable; it's the amateurs that are dangerous.
- The enemy invariably attacks on two occasions:
- When you're ready for them.
- When you're not ready for them.
- Teamwork is essential, it gives them someone else to shoot at.
- A "sucking chest wound" is natures way of telling you to slow down.
- If your attack is going well; you have walked into an ambush.
- Never draw fire, it irritates everyone around you.
- Anything you do can get you shot, including nothing.
- Make it too tough for the enemy to get in, and you won't be able to get out.
- Never share a fighting hole with anyone braver than yourself.
- If you are short of everything but the enemy, you are in a combat zone.
- When you have secured an area, don't forget to tell the enemy.
- No combat ready unit ever passed an inspection.
- No inspection ready unit ever passed combat.
- Fortify your front and you'll get your rear shot up.
- If you can't remember, the claymore is pointed towards you.
- All five second grenade fuses are three seconds, or all five second fuses will burn out in three.
- It's not the one with your name on it - it's the round addressed "to whom it may concern" you have to think about.
- If you can keep your head while those around you are losing theirs, you may have misjudged the situation.
- If two things are required to make something work, they will never be shipped together.
- Whenever you lose contact with the enemy, look behind you.
- The most dangerous thing in the combat zone is an officer with a map.
- The quartermaster has only two sizes, too large and too small.
- If you really need an officer in a hurry, take a nap.
- If your sergeant can see you, so can the enemy.
- When in doubt, empty your magazine.
- The important things are always simple.
- The simple things are always hard.
- If you take more than your fair share of objectives, you will have more than your fair share of objectives to take.
View more details regarding the Proposed Airpark Bike Path.
- 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."
if anything they need to PAY BACK the money theyve stolen from us over the past 10 years
why not just stop importing oil, and stop putting money into terrorist pockets thus making our country vulnerable.
Pshh there should be a law against gas going above a certain price. And if for some reason it has to go above that set price for any length of time the oil companies should be fined and that money should be paid back by them to the American people during income tax as their way of saying sorry we are ripping you guys off here's your money back.
NOPE. Everybody I know is STRUGGLING. Why should THEY GET A BREAK-OF ANY KIND??? Let the ppl that go to work-EVERYDAY-get a break!
they make profits, why shold they get a break!
- The profit margin in the oil and gas industry is 6-8%. Perspective: this was lower than all manufacturers as a whole, and much lower (by a factor of 2-3x) than pharmaceutical and computer manufacturers. [Source]
- The oil industry generates almost $100 million PER DAY in revenue for the US Federal Government [Source]
- Between 2004 and 2008 the industry incurred more than $300 billion in income taxes, more than half of which went to the US Federal Government [Source]
- Oil prices are NOT SET BY OIL COMPANIES. [No source required; it's just fact, like the sun rising in the east]
- ExxonMobil is frequently used as the poster child for all the things wrong with the oil and gas industry. In the last three months of 2010, they earned a little more than 2 cents per gallon on gasoline, diesel and other finished products made and sold in the US. And gasoline sales made up only 3% of the companies net income. And as far as taxes go, over the past five years, ExxonMobil incurred a total U.S. tax expense of almost $59 billion, which is $18 billion more than it earned in the United States during the same period. [Source]
- And, finally, in case there's some lingering doubt, the US is not, has never been, and never will be (thanks to many factors, not the least of which is our own federal government) a member of OPEC. Sheesh.
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.
We had planned to bring in the new year at a dance, but after a little more than an hour, Debbie started feeling a bit queasy and we decided sticking around was in no one's best interests. So we headed home and spent the rest of the night streaming episodes of Dead Like Me via Netflix, her dozing on one couch and me on the other. We roused ourselves just in time to crawl into bed at midnight...not exactly the champagne toast that had been planned for the dance, but also not the worst thing in the world.
The good news is that she was feeling fine by morning, even arising at 7:00 and putting in some miles on the treadmill (while I slept...the best part). The only thing we can figure is that she had some kind of inner ear deal going, perhaps related to congestion in her head.
The lesson seems pretty clear, though. It's good - even advisable - to make plans, but it's better to recognize that we can't control everything, and that our ability to adapt and make the best of fluid situations is essential to our emotional well-being.
I don't make New Year's resolutions, but there's value in identifying areas in my life that need improvement, and being more patient and flexible is a worthwhile goal. Perhaps 2011 will be the year that brings some progress in that area. We'll just see how it goes (hey, I'm improving already!).
This came to mind as I continued to think about this post about the obvious (to me, anyway) similarities between songs by Joe Ely and Toby Keith. Rob left a comment linking to another comparison of two similar songs; that comparison involved an analysis that went well beyond simply hearing a tune and thinking it sounded very familiar.
And then I began to wonder what the criteria are for determining whether a melody is so similar to another that it can be deemed a violation of copyright. I suspect it's a pretty subjective judgment - but is it unnecessarily so? Music and mathematics have much in common, more so than I understand, and surely there's a way to perform an objective computation that would spit out a "percentage match" between two songs. And, indeed, a Google search for "mathematical comparison of two melodies" turns up a number of scholarly articles on the subject.
Then there's this article with the enchanting title of Statistical Comparison Measures for Searching in Melody Databases (PDF format). Such research has undoubtedly informed the technology behind such music identification software as Shazam and SoundHound, which are so scarily effective as to be, as they say, indistinguishable from magic. In fact, Slate described in layman's terms the approach employed by Shazam:
Obviously, it's much more complicated than that, and Shazam's co-founder, Avery Li-Chun Wang, published a scholarly paper (PDF) describing the technology in more detail. And as good as Shazam is, some think SoundHound works even better (it will also identify melodies that are simply sung into a microphone). Unfortunately, SoundHound's explanation of its technology laps over into the magical realm with its references to "Target Crystals," and the company is obviously protecting intellectual property.
In any event, I wonder if these math-based, objective comparisons of melodies have ever been used in a court of law to determine copyright infringement, and if there are any quantified guidelines to be used by judges and juries in making such calls. Gee, if there was only some way of searching a database...
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 unusual for two reasons. First of all, there's this "asking permission" thing: who does that in the Wild, Wild Web? Sadly, all too few. Source code is too easy to "borrow" and embedded graphics too easy to download. So, props to the organization that approached my client.
But I'm afraid they lose all that goodwill based on the second reason that the request is unusual. You see, the organization had approached me a couple of months ago about redesigning their website, and they had specifically mentioned my client's site as one they'd like to emulate. I worked up and sent a quote for the project, and never heard from them again.
Until yesterday, that is, when my client emailed me to see if I had a concern about granting approval for the aforementioned request.
I'm kind of on the fence about the ethics of this situation. On one hand, I don't retain any intellectual property rights in the work I do under contract for a client. So, if the client wants to give away his design, that's entirely his call. And while there may be some implied copyright issues in play, we couldn't actually prevent another organization from "borrowing" the source code and adapting it for their own purposes.
But as I told my client, as a designer I find this situation akin to going into Dillard's and trying on a pair of shoes to make sure they fit and look good, and then ordering them online from Zappo's. If the second organization wants to hire another designer to do their website, fine...but I'd really prefer that they actually require that designer to do something other than adapt my work.
Perhaps I should feel flattered that someone wants to copy the design (although it's really nothing special). What do you think...am I being too sensitive?
Are we raising a generation of nincompoops? And do we have only ourselves to blame? Or are some of these things simply the result of kids growing up with push-button technology in an era when mechanical devices are gradually being replaced by electronics?
I'm increasingly convinced that the learning process is at least as important as the thing that's learned. We were discussing the other evening the many "useless" things we learned in high school and college: quadratic equations, queuing theory, organic chemistry, how to use carbon paper. With an infinitesimally small number of exceptions, none of these things are important to our careers or everyday lives, and we all knew that even as we were going to class, so why bother?
I think the value was in the mental processes needed to figure out those various things. We were challenged to solve problems that seemed well beyond our grasp, and regardless of whether we mastered the arcane knowledge, our minds were improved by the attempts.
I fear that nowadays, when so many teachers are required to gear their instruction to standardized testing, memorization has been substituted for thinking. Life is not a multiple choice test, it's an essay exam that we're constantly writing. Or at least it should be. My fear is that for many in the upcoming generations, it's just a series of sound bites and text messages, and that we're eventually going to pay dearly for the mental laziness that we've given our children permission to adopt.
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.
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.
I walked outside a few minutes ago to check the mail, just in time to see an Animal Control truck pull up to a house directly across the street. The driver, a slightly-built blond female, jumped out of the truck, carrying a noose-on-a-stick, and made a beeline (dogline? canineline?) for what appeared to be a youngish pit bull crossbreed, chocolate brown with some ugly long scars across its right side. No collar or tags...dead meat, in other words. The dog made the AC truck immediately. Could have been the smell of panic-striken dogs and dead cats...a easy call for an obviously street-smart canine. In an instant, he (or she...hmmm...I didn't notice...just assumed...) was past the officer like a K-State running back through this year 's Nebraska d-line and was gone around the corner in the blink of an eye. They really need to teach those AC officers the theory of getting the proper angle on the ball carrier...um...fleeing dog. The officer ran back to the truck, yelling something into her shoulder-mounted 2-way (just like on COPS!), squealed a u-turn and was off after the offender. I don't know if she ever noticed me.
I'm what you call a "dog person." I can anthropomorphize with the best of 'em, when it comes to man's best friend. The scene I witnessed was not something I enjoyed, as there was no imaginable happy ending. The dog gets caught; it's too ugly/aggressive/demanding/alive and no one will claim it...in a few short days it will be put down. Or, the dog escapes, to...to what? Hunger, fighting, more scenes like today? It's not something I want to dwell on.
What I wonder, however, is what it's like to have a job like that. One where you have to drive insanely through a quiet neighborhood, dive out of a truck in a clumsy attempt to capture a dog - a DOG! - that is obviously quicker, stronger and more desperate than you'll ever be. You know in advance that you won't succeed, and that you've probably got an audience...if not on the sidewalk, surely peering through curtains...and, worst of all, that you're viewed as The Dogcatcher, enemy of all that is good and kind in the world. But here's what I think, or at least what I hope: only someone who loves animals works in Animal Control. I'm willing to give the blond lady the benefit of the doubt; she's just doing the dirty work required to clean up the mess left behind by an uncaring and/or irresponsible owner. It's not the dog's fault and it's not her fault. We can root for the dog, but if we really care about animals, we'll root for the officer.
I don't know about you, but that's hard for me to admit.