Archive for the ‘Society’ Category


Voyager I just keeps going!

August 17, 2013

Wow, Voyager I has reached the heliosphere, basically, the edge of the solar system. I remember well the day it was launched in 1977.  This is the first manmade object to reach this far out into space.  It is humanity’s first attempt to shake hands with other sentient beings.

Other spacecraft, Pioneer 10 and 11 for instance, had simple plaques.  Sort of a “Property of Earth” thing, but Voyager I and II have special records aboard that give a road map, greetings in 55 languages, and sounds from Earth, as well as visual instructions on how to play the record.

NASA still receives data from both units.  They will start to exhaust their fuel sometime after 2020.  We will lose contact but both travelers will keep going, hopefully to fulfill their ultimate goal of making contact.

There was a time when we reached for the stars.  Now…


Political Monday: Do We Need A National Language?

April 23, 2012

Depending on the source you use, the number of countries with an official language varies.  The number is high and sits around 146 out of 196 countries[i].  That works out to about 74% of all countries in the world claiming at least one official language.  The United States is not one of them.

While many arguments are made regarding an official language, both for and against the idea, most end up being political and leave the legitimate arguments behind.  Regardless of your position, by understanding the issues surrounding an official language, you will be better prepared to make up your own mind without the stupid political rhetoric bogging you down.

First, we must accept there is a de facto official language in use – Americanized English.  While many other languages exist in our daily lives, Americanized English (English) is overwhelmingly our primary language.  About 1.5% of people in the United States speak no English at all[ii] and almost all are first-generation immigrants.  Virtually all second-generation immigrants have, at least, a working knowledge of English.  Given its dominance, English is, in effect, our un-official national language.

So, why not just make English our official language?  As with most issues surrounding a group of 300 million-plus people, answers are not as straightforward as the question implies.  While it is easy to stamp a language as “official,” doing so may have unintended consequences.  For instance, what about our indigenous people, how do we consider their native languages in this debate?  For those of us that only speak English, we may not see the cultural significance of such a matter, and it does matter.  Recently, a young member of the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin was benched from the school basketball team for speaking her native language earlier in the day to a classmate[iii].  It is hard enough today for Native-American Tribes to hold on to their cultural heritage, if we put an official language in place, we must ensure we do not further trample Native-Americans in the process.

Had we, as a nation, been successful in our attempt to suppress Native-American language[iv], it would have negatively affected our war efforts in World War II.  We would not have had

Codetalker in WWII
(click on image to visit site)

the famous Navaho Codetalkers[v] .  Accepting, for the sake of argument, the suppression had the best of intentions, it remains a blatant example of how we are diminished if we do not honor the cultural differences within our boarders.  All citizens can take pride by having four-hundred bilingual Navaho-Americans in World War II.  Those same four-hundred Navaho-Americans have pride is providing their nations (the Navaho Nations and the United States) with service that saved thousands of lives.

About one-hundred years has passed since we attempted to educate away Native-American language and it seems today some of our educators are hell-bent on continuing the practice.  We cannot forget they are part of us.  It is not any “us against them” situation.  We need to honor their choice to preserve their cultural language.  Doing so enriches us, as a whole, along

Carlisle School Pupils (c 1900)

with our Native-American siblings.

Not having an official language has its downside too.  Part of being a nation is having a sense of oneness.  A common language is a primary means to reach that oneness.  Moreover, it simplifies communication and understanding.  It is all too easy to classify anyone promoting an official language for the United States as being racist.  Surely, there are those out there that see it with bigotry, but it is wrong to lump everyone in that category.  Even without English being our official language, knowing it provides benefits, including employment opportunities, education, and social connectivity, to name a few.  Without a basic knowledge of English, immigrants are limited to menial labor and advancement is severely impacted in a negative way.

Several years ago, I worked in an industry that had a high percentage of non-English speaking employees.  It presented management with a real problem in terms of quality, productivity, and worker-safety.  In a meeting to find a solution, it was proposed we train our managers to speak Spanish, as most of the workers in question did.  It seemed like a good solution until one of our senior managers, who just happened to be Hispanic, pointed out our flaw in thinking that way.  As he put it, “if you have a manager that has fifty Hispanic employees working for him and he leaves, you now cannot communicate with fifty employees until you find another Spanish-speaking manager.  It is better to train the fifty employees to speak English, if one leaves it does not have near the same impact.”  He further went on to explain it helps the immigrant employee feel connected to their new home.  It helps them become part of our national identity, and not just a visitor.

As a company, we found we could use it as a benefit to our employees.  Something we ultimately did.  It decreased employee turnover, increased productivity and reduced OSHA related injuries.  The cost of educating employees was more than offset in the savings and increased profits the company enjoyed.  In the end, it was a true win-win situation.

The point is, there are benefits for immigrants learning to speak the language of the country they live in.  It does not have to be draconian in nature or repressive of culture.  In fact, as the Codetalker incident illustrates, we benefit from bilingual citizens and our citizens benefit from having a national identity.

The trick is how to establish a national language and honor cultural differences.  This is where the debate should be.  Let’s forget all the rhetoric and do something useful for the United States.  We must remember, no one of us is as smart as all of us.  Therefore, we must engage opinions that differ from our own to find the best solution to a problem.  We have a tendency to take ownership of ideas and this means we get defensive when we see them being attacked.  A better way to think about it is to take partnership in the solution.  Then the best points from all ideas can form the best solution possible.

The idea of an official language for the United States is not an earth-shattering topic.  If we do or do not pick one the fabric of our daily lives will not change.  This makes it a perfect topic to engage others of differing views and set our petty political personas aside.  Perhaps by taking a small step with a subject like this, we can learn to do the same on issues that really will shake the world.

[i] Wolframalpha. Wolframalpha LLC. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <>.

[ii] Shin, Hyon B. and Robert A. Kominski. 2010. Language Use in the United States: 2007, American Community Survey Reports, ACS-12. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC. Web,  23 Apr 2012.

[iii] ICTMN Staff.  “Student Suspended for Speaking Native American Language.” Indian Country Today Media Network, LLC, 7 Feb. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.  <>.

[iv] “Native American Boarding Schools.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <>.

[v] “The Code Talker Story.” Official Site of the Navajo Code Talkers. Navajo Code Talkers Foundation. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <>.


Tempered Response… On Second Thought!

April 5, 2012

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, by Honoré Daumier

When I was younger, I had the bravado to jump right into situations I really did not understand.  As I’ve said before, I was like Don Quixote, filled with half-truths, marching off to slay some dragon.   Worse yet, it was often a dragon of another’s making.  Over time, I’ve learned to let time temper my thoughts, my actions.

When I was in the Navy and had a few guys working for me, it was easy for me to get fired up when one of them had an issue like a pay problem.  So, I’d suit up and march off to war – me against the Navy paymasters.  The first few times, my unsophisticated attacks were easily repelled, more so by my lack of truth’s armor than anything my mystical foe did.  I’d go back, defeated, and explain why they were right and we were wrong so we were going to do things their way.  This did not sit well with me, but I learned from it.

I learned the dragon is not always wrong, the dragon often had valid reasons and cause for its actions.  I learned that people tell you what they think will influence you to take action on their behalf, while omitting pertinent facts that did not support attack.  I found I needed to weed out those with real issues, worthy of battle, from those that simply did not like a situation they often put themselves in.  Then when I found myself at the dragon’s lair, my thrusts and parries hit the mark and soon the dragon was subdued.  I learned to solve problems and gain the respect of my subordinates as well as from the dragon.

That is not to say I have given up tilting at windmills, all together, far from it.  All you have to do is read a few of my blog posts over the last two-years to see that is true.  No, I just don’t suit up for the urbane talking points of a particular issue.  In other words, I do a little digging to get below image someone else wants me to see.

Now days, there is a new minion whispering in my ear to suit-up and ride off to war.  It is one I invite in each morning with my coffee; it seems to know no bounds or limits on partial truths pushed forward.  Of course I am talking about the internet.  You can find support for most any opinion you have, but the question is the quality of that support.  Recently, I was accused of marching off to war with just such data or armor is you will.

In a recent blog post (read it here) I asked for a New York Times article[i] to be read on the subject of the sex-trade advertising in, owned by the parent company of another of New York City’s newspapers, the Village Voice.  I further called for people to vote on the matter by not supporting the Village Voice, and to that end the parent company, until they stop the practice.  Given the feedback, I had to wonder if I played Don Quixote one more time.

As I rule, I do not post responses to my posts that are obscene or outright vulgar.  Most regarding this blog were just that.  Still, there is one response worth pointing out.  It was by Clarence in Baltimore.  His response reads:

“I’d link you to plenty of refutations, but since you are too lazy to do any actual googling yourself (but simply accept these kinds of serious accusations at face value) I won’t bother.

Monkey see, monkey do. Perhaps I should be more charitable, but then it occurs to me that this is most likely a pattern for you and you’ve probably been a member of many a metaphorical lynch mob in your time.

The Village Voice deserves more intelligent, or at least more SKEPTICAL readers than yourself.”

This one made me ask myself if I’d been tilting again.  If is very hard to be impartial when self-refection is called for.  It is always easy to cut yourself too much slack.  Still, when juxtaposing my words and Clarence in Baltimore’s, I think I am not guilty of his accusation.  While my post deals strictly with the New York Times Op-Ed, there is plenty of material supporting its position.  Furthermore, I make a call for action based upon a reference.  I even supply a link to that reference, allowing the reader to make up their own mind.

The Village Voice’s response seems to be based on a First Amendment Right[ii].  Nowhere is it refuted that the Village Voice’s parent company profits from such ads placed in  That is my point – I will not knowing support a newspaper owned by a company that profits off the misery of others.  Clarence, on the other hand, seems to have no problem, at all, with a company making money literally off the backs of exploited women.  It is not the Village Voice reporting at issue; it is the business practice of its parent company.

Another point, this one just for Clarence, I have done the research.  Your refusal to post the source of your opinions shows the weakness of your argument as well as your own laziness.  Clarence, please do not feel you need to be “charitable” with me, I am more than capable of defending myself.

[i] KRISTOF, NICHOLAS D. “Where Pimps Peddle Their Goods.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 17 Mar. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2012.

[ii][ii] Powers, Kirsten. “Sex-Slavery Facilitators: Backpage’s Sleazy ‘Adult Ads'” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 30 Mar. 2012. Web. 05 Apr. 2012. <>.


Beach, Baseball, Edison, and Aaron

March 28, 2012

Hank Aaron saw his name bypass Babe Ruth's on this April 8, 1974 swing of the bat.

Springtime is here and the weather is warming.  My thoughts are returning to spending time on the beach and baseball, two of my fondest memories of childhood.  The beach is fun for almost everyone so it is easy to understand my thinking there, but baseball, how can baseball be such a fond memory?  Let me tell you.

Baseball just may be the perfect sport for a young man to learn; if there can be such a thing as the perfect sport.  It is full of life’s lessons.  If learned, the lessons will serve you well no matter what you undertake.  On the one hand it demands teamwork, on the other it allows you to perform as an individual.  At times you will share the joy of another’s achievements, other times the spotlight will be on you.  And yes, forgiving someone’s poor performance is required, just as you will ask your poor performance to be forgiven.  It is true that other sports allow the same things to a point, but it is in baseball they are best displayed.

What makes baseball different is standing at the plate.  When you do, it is one against nine.  Some might point out basketball has the free-throw line, and soccer has the penalty-kick.  They are certainly times for individual achievement, but it not the same thing.  In baseball every player takes turns at the plate at least three times in a game.  OK, American League fans, I know the pitcher does not normally bat but that is the exception and a debate for another day.

Growing up, I played little league but was never the greatest of players. Still, it was fun and that along with watching the Atlanta Braves play forms my memories.  Now, if you know anything about baseball and my age, you know that means I was a Braves fan during the “rotten” years.  Yet, watching them as a kid was pure joy for me.  It is hard to relate just how bad the Braves were back then.  Back then, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium held about 55,000 people.  The most I ever saw when I went to a game was maybe 5,000.  Regardless, there was something magical about it.  Simply being in the park was something special.  Every kid could feel the magic and every adult was a kid again.  Win or lose, it did not matter to me – I was there. I could smell the grass, I could eat the hot dogs, I could feel the sun, and I taste the clay dust in the air.  Besides, the Braves had their secret weapon to keep me watching, Hammerin’ Hank!  Watching Hank Aaron play baseball was delight personified for me and taught me lessons that went way beyond the game.

Each time Hank came to bat I’d hold my breath.  On a side note, those of us that are Braves fans call him Hank in admiration.  I promise you when I met him, face to face, it was all “Mr. Aaron.”  I had the pleasure of meeting him one time in Atlanta when I was in my 30s.  I had met a good number of famous people by then and was largely unimpressed, but when I met him I was giddy like a teenaged school girl meeting a pop-start.  It was just one of those publicity things the he must have done 10,000 times but he was kind and suffered idiots, like me, with grace.  I hope every kid gets to meet one of their personal heroes, even meting them years later as an adult is a remarkable feeling.

I remember the excitement in 1974 when Hank broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. Times were very different back then.  The idea of a black man breaking Ruth’s record did not sit well with some.  They even sent death threats and all sorts of stupid stuff like that.  All I knew was Hank broke the record and I was proud.  I was a white boy from South Georgia, proud of a black baseball player in Atlanta that broke a record.  In my eyes, he stood for something.  He stood for devoting yourself to a task, doing it well and being the best at it. When you are a kid, you do not care what color your hero is, he simply is your hero. He was my hero then, truth is, he still is my hero today.  Another point that I did not even consider until years later, he did it all without the drama sports stars of today seem to fill their lives with.  Now days, a kid picks a hero only to see them disgraced by their own actions.  It is sad really.

But back to my breath holding and Hank at the plate, this is where baseball has a little something different than other sports.  There Hank was, at some major league park while I was Mallory Park Little League field on St. Simons Island.  We stood, inches from the plate, he at his and me at mine.  A pitcher 60.5’ away was about to throw a hard, little rocket right by our faces and it was up to us hit it with a bat.  This was our chance to shine.  You get to hit the game winning home run or a World Series grand-slam, at least in my mind that is how I dreamed it.  For Hank and the other professional baseball players, they really live it.

As nice as that is, it does a player little good to be in it only for the glory of standing at the plate.  Hank proved you can break all sorts of hitting records and still be on a losing team. It takes teamwork to win games.  Without question Hank Aaron was hired for his batting.  Still, he brought more to the game than that.  As an outfielder, Hank won three consecutive Golden Glove awards.  The Golden Glove is awarded yearly to the players that exhibit the best defensive play, the time when the player is part of the defensive team effort.  This is what Hank proved to me: good batting earns runs, good fielding earns wins.

So it takes both, team work and individual achievement to win baseball games.  Simply put, this is the lesson; life takes teamwork and individual achievement to be successful.  None of

Thomas Edison

us lives in a vacuum.  Our individual achievements mean nothing without the teamwork that makes them count.  What could Gates be without Allen?  What would Jobs be without Wozniak and Wayne?  What would Edison be without Tesla?  What would the Babe be without “Murderer’s Row?” Yea, what would Hank be without the Braves?

There are times in life when you are part of a team, other times you stand at the plate alone.  Sometimes you will get the hit (succeed), sometimes you won’t.  The point is to try, to simplyput yourself out there and try.  The only guarantee is you won’t hit the ball if you don’t stand at the plate.  Even a great man like Hank Aaron struck out over 1,300 times.  All great people know this experience; Edison had hundreds of successful ideas.  How many unsuccessful ones did he have that we know nothing about?  Edison’s failures came in private or were known by but a few, they were personal and still he went on.  Aarons’ strikeouts were on a much larger platform and very public, he too went on.  The true disappointment is not striking out, or failure if you will; it is not having the guts to stand at the plate.  Edison knew this, Aaron still does.



A Gullible World

March 27, 2012

We are gullible, humans, I mean.  We believe things we hear though presented with absolutely no evidence to back it up.   Oh, some of us have grown cynical from the experience of years and do question, but in the end, even the most cynical amongst us has a seemingly pathological need to believe what we are told.  Especially if that something supports a position we favor.

It is understandable; the way we learn lends itself to it.  As infants we absorb all we are exposed to without question.  As toddlers, magical thinking rules our thoughts.  In grade school, teachers take on the almost divine quality of being wellsprings of truth and wisdom.  By that time we gain our footing and form our own precocious thoughts, seriously questioning what we are told seems to be an alien concept.  Our societal norms also lend to the process, did your mother ever tell you to “respect your elders” or something like that, when all you did was ask a question?

We break free from this sort of restriction in our teenage years but only to a point.  Having a stopping point is a good thing too, as society would not function if we did not have some level of civility and trust.  In a sense, we collect people we trust and accept with little or no question what they tell us.  The further they are from that central trust, the more we hold suspect what they say.  This sort of acceptance works for the benefit of the circle (society) but against the interests of the individual.

As we grow, we develop a system of tiered trust.  Trust is broken into a series of circles; each with its own level in a sort of hierarchical index with the most trusted, and smallest, circle closest to us and expand from there.  For example, you may trust your family the most, then your friends, then your work colleagues, then your acquaintances, and so on.    The problem with this approach is once in a circle you have that trust level; even at times it may not deserve it.  For example, you trust your dad.  He has been a rock you have counted on your whole life.  It seems you can ask him anything.  If he happens to be a plumber, it is safe to assume he knows much about it.  What if you have an electrical question, he may or may not be so good a source.  You need to challenge what he tells you in that case.  Not to doubt him, but to ensure you have the right information.  Often the level of trust we give a person allows them to influence us beyond their expertise.

When we take our nature into account, it is easy to see how we, as a society, go off the rails from time to time.  For not only do we unilaterally trust members of our various circles, in many cases we grant members the ability to include others we do not even know into that circle.  Back to the dad example, if our father trusts someone, we are likely to trust them too.  This is where our gullibility comes into play.  You father may know to trust someone only on one or two issues, if that is not made clear to you, you may end up trusting them in ways your father never would.

This sort of associated trust really comes into play in our larger circles. While everyone is different, we do tend to fall into similar groupings.  Politically, most people are either conservative or liberal.  We grant to people within our group trust they have not earned.  This leads us to accept as true views that support our preconceived notions.  It limits our input to only things that support our conclusions and can lead to very bad results.

In 2003, this type of thinking allowed Americans to rigidly draw a circle around ourselves and march off to an unnecessary war.  To be a “good American” you had to be patriotic, and to be patriotic you had to support the government without question.   The result of such thinking speaks for itself.   Another example happened in 2008 with the election of President Obama.  Conservatives painted him as a communist in the vein of Stalin working to deliver the United States to Satan, while liberals saw his as the reincarnation of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy combined, marching us towards utopia.  Neither side looked at Barrack Obama the man.  Neither side understands today Barrack Obama the President.  Conservative circles prevent seeing him as the centrist he is and go off on tangents, like chasing his birth certificate.  Liberals are no better as they see him as the harbinger of radical change which also prevents seeing him as a centrist.

For instance, on the issue of gun control, always a hot-button topic for both conservative and liberals, President Obama has liberalized federal laws for carrying concealed weapons in National Parks.  Still, conservatives whip up fear that “he is coming for your guns!”  Liberals, on the other hand, do not see President Obama is not with them on the issue of gun control, he has taken a centrist position.  Yet, neither side can see the truth, as they only take input from within their particular circle.

The point is this, if you belong to a circle or group or anything that does not allow you to question as a condition to belong, you need to ask yourself if you should belong.  For Republicans, it is not enough to be Republican, you have to prove it.  They even have a term for those members not Republican enough, RINO – Republican In Name Only.

So there it is, we are gullible.  We are predisposed to it.  Yet, that does not mean we must accept it.  Both scientist and engineers are taught to be critical thinkers, to question everything.   This is a throwback to the liberal education President Wilson spoke of one-hundred years ago when he addressed the Phi Beta Kappa Chapter at Cambridge[i] with his Spirit of Learning speech.   Liberal education is not in the political sense of the word liberal but rather in the free exchange of ideas and a way of thinking that pulls in opposing opinion to arrive at a larger truth.  It is the means by which truly meaningful opinions are formed.   It is how we take input without the need for rigid circles that stand between us and truth, between us and understanding.

[i] ‘The Spirit of Learning’, in Woodrow Wilson, College and State: Educational, Literary and Political Papers (1875–1913), ed. Ray Stannard Baker and William E. Dodd (New York and London, 1925), vol. 2.


The Murder of Trayvon Martin

March 22, 2012

Some events we read about in the news are hard to understand.  Other events seem to be stupidly obvious.  While the events that lead to the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida may seem to be in the former, I assure you, they fall firmly in the latter.

To understand the sad events that lead to this young man’s death, we need look no further than personal choice.  It is not the choices of Trayvon or the Martin family we need question.  No, it is the choices made by George Zimmerman that we must examine.  Further, it is choices of a police department that continues to bury its head in the sand and a state that passes laws that stand in the way of justice.

First let me deal with the issue of not looking at Trayvon’s actions.  This young man walked to the store, then tried to walked home.  How dare him!  He did not steal, he did not accost, he simple went to the store, bought some Skittles, and was walking home.  He made no questionable choice at all.  His life ended due to the choices of others.

George Zimmerman, on the other hand, made all sorts of questionable choices.  The most obvious being:

  1. He chose to be part of a neighborhood watch program that is neither organized nor registered by the local police.  Makes me wonder if he was really part of a group at all.
  2. He chose to arm himself with a concealed weapon while on Neighborhood Watch.
  3. He chose to follow Trayvon, both in his car and on foot.  In other words, Zimmerman created the situation that lead to Trayvon’s death.
  4. He though being African-American made Trayvon “suspicious.”
  5. He ignored the police dispatcher’s instructions not to follow Trayvon.
  6. He confronted Trayvon; neighborhood watch is a “watch and report” organization.
  7. He shot and killed an unarmed teenaged young man that he outweighed by about 100 pounds.

There are many more bad choices George Zimmerman made but how many do we need to see before we understand the bigoted truth of his nature?

The state government, as well as the Stanford Police Department have choices they need to answer for too.  For the state, the choice to pass their “no retreat” law, which seems to be the basis for Zimmerman’s limp defense, needs to be questioned.   At the very least they need to explain why this young man’s death can be justified by such a law.  Of course, the truth of it is they cannot, their simply is no justification.  What is the claim, he was justified because Trayvon was armed with a dangerous pack of Skittles?  He was carried Skittles for crying out loud!  Just how dangerous could he have possibly been?

As for the Stanford police Department, it is their choices before and after the killing of Trayvon that need review.  Here are just a few of their questionable choices:

  1. They took Zimmerman’s word rather than properly investigate.  They failed to take into account prior reports by neighbors about Zimmerman’s aggressive behavior.
  2. They coerced witnesses to change their account of events.
  3. They allowed an investigator with a history of ignoring violence against African-Americans to lead the investigation.
  4. They did not test Zimmerman for drugs or alcohol after the shooting.
  5. They failed to take into account Zimmerman called 911 over 40 times since January of 2011.

There are many more for the police department too, but again, how many do we need to see before we understand they failed to properly handle this case?

This is not a pleasant topic.  It is not something I wish to write about.  Still, it must be written about.  It must be addressed.  What is my discomfort compared to the loss the Martin family is dealing with?  What is your discomfort in me forcing you to think about it?

We may not be able to lessen that loss but we can see they receive justice for a son being taken from them.  Look, let me stop all the niceties and be bunt, in my opinion Zimmerman executed this young man and he must account for it.  As sad as this is, the actions of the police department’s failure to see this for that it is, a murder, further plunges the family into despair.  It further violates them.   Florida has laws that allowed this moron to carry a concealed weapon, then claim self-defense.  He used that weapon to murder.  It was his choice to do so.  Let us choose to make him pay for it.  The police department chose not to do their jobs; they should pay for that too.


Village Voice Empowering Pimps!

March 18, 2012

Everyone should read this NY Times article. I think a general boycott of the Village Voice is in order and I like reading the Village Voice. I for one will not read it again until they stop this deplorable practice.

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