Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Military service academies still require cadets to run the concussion gauntlet by taking boxing

Dave Philipps has a disturbing story in the New York Times about the fact that boxing is required at all of the US military service academies.  But the class typically results in about 20% of all concussions.

Students who drop the classes because of concussion must retake the classes.

Now authorities are questioning whether such a philosophy if “initiation” really helps military readiness.  No brain injury is a good one.

And the story reminds one of Malcolm Gladwell’s column (July 21, 2013) some time back about the whole moral basis of football as an entertainment sport, since concussions are a serious problem in high school and college football.
Joseph Steffan’s book “Honor Bound” (Books, Oct. 10, 2007) never mentioned boxing as being required at the Naval Academy, as I recall.

Monday, September 28, 2015

DC Metro transformer fire incident does not bode well for power grid readiness

Washington DC’s Metro will need six months to replace a power transformer near the old RFK Stadium and Armory after an accidental fire damaged it. 
Local media have described the service changes here  which will affect rush hour and disrupt some people, especially in NE Washington.  Metro describes the situation here. The service reductions are related to lower availability of power at the station during extensive repairs.

I think the incident is worthy of mention here because of the extremely long time it will take to replace one transformer.  I’ve discussed this issue before here in relation to the possibility of major power grid transformer damage from extreme solar storms or even terrorist (localized or widespread EMP).  If it takes Metro six months to replace one relatively small unit, how long would it take power companies to fix bigger problems? There are transformer manufacturers in both Lynchburg and Roanoke VA, but many parts come from overseas.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A tour of the real slave relics in the Palmetto State; Pope slams "radical loneliness" in sermon in Philadelphia, and its avoidance of family formation

I was in the Carolinas this past week, and I did view a few exhibits that show the horrific experience for slavery as it was actually lived before the Civil War.
The most telling exhibit is probably the Slave Relic Historical Museum in Walterboro, SC, on Carn Street.  It’s closer to Charleston than Columbia, and a bit west of I-26.  It’s in an old house run informally by an African American couple.  The link is here. Photography is not allowed indoors.  The cost is $6.  There is a room completely furnished as it would have been in the 1820s, and the visitor can hold a heavy iron chain, like that used on the slave ships of the movie “Amistad”.

The Tuskegee Airmen Monument is a few miles to the west (film “Red Tails”).

The South Carolina Confederate Relic Room is housed inside the South Carolina State Museum, in the back portion, beyond the atrium.  Besides battlefield history, more slavery exhibits are available. The main portion of the SC State museum has many related exhibits of plantation lifestyle.

The Confederate Flag, removed from the Capitol, has not yet been displayed here because of politics.

The Capitol grounds, however, have a bronze sculpture African American memorial, 

The city of Orangeburg SC, 40 miles SW of Columbia, as the site of much unrest in 1968, at exactly the same time I was in Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, SC (immediately East of Columbia). Basic soldiers were technically on “red alert” the nights after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis on April  4, 1968.

The city of Charleston SC has a long slave-mart building on Market Street (E of Meeting) that is today a series of commercial arcades.  

The AME Emmanuel church was the site of a mass shooting of African-American prayer observers by Dylann Roof on June 17, 2015.  The property is still closed but visible on Calhoun Street, an easy walk from the market area.  Public parking in crowded downtown Charleston is available and relatively inexpensive.

The Pope is speaking about changes and depersonalization of modern culture (and “radical loneliness” and “fear of commitment in a limitless effort to fear recognized”) in Philadelphia as I write this post!  And the Schumann Piano Fantasy plays in my mind.   Later the Pope talked about the trend for young adults to put off marriage and postpone or avoid creating families (and complementarity) until conditions (and partners) are perfect enough.  Opting for marriage and family is "being brave" he said.  Note he is not talking about infidelity or unwanted teen pregnancy in the usual sense   He is criticizing the culture for not pushing or even allowing families to form in the first place.  My own life sounds like the perfect exanple, as someone who has "learned to live without a family" and even prosper better without one, He says young adults need to "take risk" to move toward commitment of marriage. This all sounds like the "Epilogue" in the Nonfiction part of my DADT-3 book. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

The bizarre price points at Turing Pharma

Dr. Mary J. Ruwart, libertarian author (I believe from Charlotte NC) of the “Healing our World” book series, has an interesting and detailed perspective on the recent controversy over Turing Pharma’s CEO Mark Shkreli, himself just 32, and his raising the price on a drug (Daraprim) used to treat certain parasitic infections in AIDS by a factor of about 50, to a whopper (without cheese) $750 a pill.  Her link is here
This event could have posed grave problems for some HIV patients.  The CEO has partially backed down.  Ruwart says that this result could come indirectly from misapplied FDA regulation.  It might have come from greed and short-term “shareholder capitalism” too, as the CEO’s background is hedge funds more than medicine.  Even Donald Trump loves to talk about "price points" to his apprentices. 
Will Jack Andraka’s pancreatic cancer test run into over-regulation?  There’s an oncologist in Philadelphia who personally profited over $10 million for developing a new, specialized vaccine.  I guess we don’t have objection to doctors getting rich (or even pre-med students) when they really invent something.  That’s more wholesome capitalism.

The name “Turing” seems ironic, doesn’t it.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope in Washington DC: emphasize people, not just ideas, but go easy on demanding specifics from volunteerism

There are many accounts of the Pope’s visit to Washington, as this one in the New York Times by Peter Bake and Michael D. Shear, here
But the Pope seems to have kept the personal aspect of moralizing to a minimum.   The Church should welcome refugees, whether from Central America or the Middle East or Africa.  But he did not come as far as suggesting that everyone with a “spare bedroom” should get in line to offer it.  He seemed respectful of concerns over security.
He also sees climate change as a fundamental moral challenge, to protect future generations, even those of a century from now. 
WJLA’s coverage is here. Thursday, before Congress, the Pope said "Most of us were at once foreigners."  CNN published his address to Congress here.  He did emphasize a political connection between undocumented migrants to the US and refugees in the Middle East.
The Pope continues to emphasize morality in terms of actions with real people, not just ideas.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Newspaper letters-to-editor question the selfishness behind some voices in the paid parental leave debate

Lela Moore has a compendium of reader reactions in the New York Times to a story of a father who had sued his employer for paid paternity leave. This was the case of Josh Levs at CNN (Time Warner), explained by Lovs in his own blog
Some readers point out that mothers need time to recover biologically from childbirth that fathers don’t need.  Others note that we have simply become too self-centered and narrow in our notions of equality, unwilling to let others have a benefit that we can’t use. 
But it does seem that the paid-family leave debate ultimately contradicts individualistic ideas of equality and libertarianism.  Ultimately, those who don’t have children or other family responsibilities (like caring for elderly parents) are expected to sacrifice for those who do.  And none of us can “choose” to get out of eldercare, something that belongs in the debate, as I found out last decade.
Ironically, the refugee crisis could turn all of this bickering on its head. The paid family and parental leave debate reminds one of the Parable of the Vineyards, the subject of a sermon this morning.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Monticello tour shows the paradox of Thomas Jefferson's slave ownership

Today, I visited Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s historic “little mountaintop” residence on the SE side of Charlottesville, VA (Exit 121 on I-64).  I’ve seen the main residence twice before, but there is a special expanded tour now.  But I visited (before going to LGBT Pride) specifically to take the 1 hour “Landscape of Slavery” Tour along MulberryRow. The Slavery app can be downloaded (link). . 

The tour physically was very short.  Shirley dealt with the question of Thomas Jefferson’s own conscience (which I asked).  

Thomas Jefferson personally considered slavery an abomination, but had no escape from his own hypocrisy because of the massive debts he had inherited. He kept detailed records of all the dealings with each slave.

Virginia law did not recognize slave’s marriages, and only the mother determined a baby’s status as chattel. A fertile young woman brought more money in the slave trade than an able-bodied man. But a woman’s market value dropped to zero after she could no longer bear children.  Slaves who even appeared to have insubordinate thoughts were often sold to go “South”, where conditions were harsher and life-spans shorter. 

Several slaves in the nailery and blacksmith shop had interesting histories which would lend themselves to movie screenplays if researched. 

Some of this material formed the backdrop for James Ivory’s 1995 film “Jefferson in Paris” (Touchstone) predicated on his supposed relationship with Sally Hemmings.

Today, there was a major event for Constitution Day on the grounds of Montpelier (James Madison’s home) near Orange.

There is also an exhibit showing the segregation in train service at a small museum at the train depot for Montpelier on Rt. 20.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Texas school district goes over the edge over student who brings home-invented clock to school; our intolerance of "risk" raises questions about social resilience

The media is ablaze with outrage concern what seems, in hindsight, the obvious overreaction of school officials in Irving, Texas when ninth grader Ahmed Mohamed brought a home-invented clock to school.  The latest Vox tweet is here.

Vox links to a statement from the school official and police department that it says is appalling. Texas law requires detention of any student presenting an object intended to provoke alarm.
Is this a case of Islamophobia?  It may be hard to maintain that, when one considers that school districts have suspected elementary students for toys that remotely resemble weapons. Apparently the invention was for a science class project and should have been anticipated by the teacher. 
The latest news is that the student has not been charged and seems to have been allowed to return to school -- but follow the media on that. 
It seems a simple matter of common sense,  that we all pay for the crimes of a few.  It doesn’t take many domestic gum rampages, or much violent extremist rhetoric (that doesn’t have to be about Islam) to force people to become intolerant to give others any slack at all.  When I was working as a substitute teacher in 2004-2007, school districts were just beginning to come to terms with the idea that material founded in social media, written either by students or teachers, could be interpreted in many ways.  I had my own episode with this kind of intolerance with my own “screenplay” being found online in 2005, as I have reported here before.

This sort of thing has an impact on our total “collective” social resilience. I don’t accept door-to-door sales calls – partly out of time issues, but partly out of concern of a remote threat of security issues (home invasion).  I don’t have a big family social support system, so if something happens to me, the buck stops with me, even if it is because of someone else’s fault or crime.  But think what this means if everyone thinks this way.  A lot of people can’t make a living, and a lot of local causes can’t raise money.

Terrorists know this.  So “socialization” has a moral component.

As for Ahmed, President Ohama and Mark Zuckerberg (who perhaps has more influence on the world than the president and, for that matter, than Donald Trump) want to meet him.  Jack Andraka started a discussion about this on Twitter today, link.  Jack reports that something similar happened with his equally gifted older brother, Luke, at his Maryland high school, in his book "Breaktrhrough" (Books, March 18, 2015). 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Former female Army officer mentions draft in arguing women shouldn't serve in infantry

Julie Pulley has a now disturbing commentary on p. A17 of Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, “Women in the Infantry? No thanks”, link here. The online title includes, “As a former captain and airborne soldier in the U.S. Army, I’d say be careful what you wish for.”  The conservative aphorism.
The story relates to a debate going on in the Pentagon following the completion of females in Army Ranger and Navy Seal courses. 

But what grabbed my attention was her mention of the 1981 Supreme Court opinion Rostker v. Golberg, which had held that the practice of requiring only males to register for Selective Service (for any potential draft, which has not actually been in effect since 1973) is constitutional. She asks if equality considerations should mean that women should be drafted into the “infantry” at an equal rate. Ask Israel.

It’s interesting that, while she considers the draft unlikely, she is conceding that sometimes mandatory service can be justified, and that there are situations in life where biological gender really matters.  And that’s after decades of progress in equality. But her beliefs molded the world that I grew up in.

I can remember, on my first pass during Army Basic at Fort Jackson, SC in 1968, having been recycled – and then encountering a soldier in AIT from my earlier company, a draftee, and indeed he had “gotten” infantry.  Whereupon I went into a movie theater to see Truman Capote's “In Cold Blood”.

Today, on a day trip to Cape May, NJ (after riding the Ferry from Lewes-Rehoboth), I visited the World War II coastal defense observation fire tower, 72 feet tall, which I climbed.  There were all kinds of military exhibits about American coastal defenses in the early days of WWII.  Civilians experienced blackout and the prohibition of photography.  I hadn’t realized Nazi U-boats had been so close to the shore.

As I recall, Donald Trump got out of the draft, high lottery number and some other little deferment. But he’ll make us strong, he says. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Cato Institute hosts form on Pope Francis and capitalism

Today, Tuesday September 15, 2015, the Cato Institute in Washington DC held a panel discussion, broadcast live from its website, “Blessing or Scourge: Capitalism Through the Eyes of Pope Francis”, link. This session anticipate the Pope's visit to Washington DC September 23 (at the Cathedral at Catholic University).

It featured John Garvey, president of Catholic University, Michael Sean Winters, a journalist with National Catholic Reporter, and Jay W. Richards, from “The Stream”, moderated by Marian L. Tupy.
I caught the last part of the video;  I had an appointment today and could not attend the event.
Fortune has “5 quotes” from Francis, where he has talked about the “idolatry of money” (as with the Golden Calf metaphor when Moses received the Ten Commandments), link here.  
The National Catholic Reporter Joshua J. McElwee reports that Francis defends his criticism of capitalism, here.
And Kevin Clarke, in the Washington Post, reports that Francis is no Marxist, but will challenge the world’s leading capitalist power, here
The Pope’s reported “dung of the devil” remark in Bolivia (near Lake Titicaca) has attracted controversy. He’s also attracted free trade and colonialism, and exploitation of low wages overseas.

At Cato, Richards drew a metaphor where there should be a meeting of “moralism” with “economism” – pragmatic regulation. But George Soros says that, calling for better regulation (after 2008).

A woman in the audience asked a question about liberation theology.  I recall hearing a sermon about this topic while driving a rental car through Nova Scotia in the fall of 1978.

An attorney, sounding rather moderate in his own views (like a mainstream Democrat) pointed out that capitalism changed in the 1980s from regulated capitalism, with some concern for the common good, to shareholder capitalism.  That in turn has led to excessive concern with short term earnings, to the detriment of long term future for a business.  That is simply a bad business model.

If you talk about the “common good”, or about countering “pauperism”, or containing the destabilizing effects of inequality, you have to drill down to some expectations about individual behavior, and cast these needs into a moral framework.  One idea would seem to be that if you benefit from inheritance or unearned advantage (supported by the unseen sacrifices of others) you must give back.  Inheritance by definition constrains some personal choice and autonomy. The idea of “you must” seems hard to reconcile with freedom.

There even is a concept as to how we should see others who are less “lucky”.  Should we simply remain harmless, or beneficial in ways that aren’t costly, or should we take up their causes and make them emotionally valuable.  I find this idea daunting, but it is the paradox around “minding your own business” that seems to drive a lot of parables in the Gospels.  It’s harder for the rich to make it to “heaven” (the Rich Young Ruler) because it is hard to reach out to someone whom by previous definition you must think less of.  Do we have to become “right-sized” and “live in one another’s shoes?”  Do we need a more distributed sense of consciousness?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Well-to-do Maryland school district to eliminate final exams for high school students

Montgomery County, MD (suburb northwest of Washington DC) is ending the practice of giving high school students two-hour final exams, according to the Washington Post story by Donna St. George, link here

The assertion is that reviewing for finals and giving them takes too much instruction time.

When I went to high school, senior high started in tenth grade, and we had three hour exams, two a day, at 9 and 1.  These experiences were considered vital for college preparation.

There was a tendency even back in the late 1950s for most final exam questions to be free response rather than multiple-choice.  For American History, we had to answer ten out of 25 questions.  In tenth grade English, I recall something about analyzing the motives of characters in both Julius Caesar and Silas Marner. 

In undergraduate school, at George Washington, exams were two hours.  But at the University of Kansas (graduate school) they were three hours.  In math, a final exam would typically have ten problems, sometimes with a choice of questions to answer.

In high school, some calculus courses divide final exams (in northern Virginia) into two sections: without calculator, which have to be turned in first, and then with calculator.

Speaking of academia, it’s about time that teen medical innovator Jack Andraka arrives at Stanford to start as a freshman.  The academic calendar says the semester starts Sept. 15, later than many universities.  Facebook headquarters aren’t far away.

Friday, September 11, 2015

US Army's "Spirit of America" presentation does mention the draft, but glosses over it

The second act of the U.S. Army's “Spirt of America” today, reviewed in full on my Drama and Music Reviews blog, contained a section on the Vietnam war where a soldier did talk about being drafted.

He says that he finished Basic Training and soon went to Vietnam.  He then talks about unit cohesion in battle. He did return unharmed, but many men did not (and over 50,000 died).

Actually, he would have gone to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) first, had a month leave, and then been told to report for deployment.  On the East Coast, most soldiers (especially draftees) reported to Fort Dix, NJ, to be flown to Oakland CA and then Vietnam.

Later the presentation does mention the switch to an all-volunteer Army shortly after the unstable peace agreement was signed in January, 1973.
But it would have been nice had the play spent a little more time on the impact that conscription and the deferment system (replaced by a lottery in 1969) had on young men and families.

There is still a Selective Service System and young men are still required to register (ages 18 to 25).  

The Supreme Court did uphold the right of Congress to implement male-only conscription in 1981. 

 The Selective Services link is here

There was talk about resuming the draft in 1980 after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and curiously it was in early 1981 that the official services-wide ban on gays in the military, the “Old Ban”, was promulgated (the famous “123 words”).  Talk resumed in 2001, as Charles Moskos, a major author of “don’t ask don’t tell”, then advocated repealing DADT and restoring the draft.
Later today, WJLA talked about “Certain Sensitive National Security Matters”, 28 classified pages, about individuals associated with the 9/11 attacks.  This seems to have something to do with prominent men in Saudi Arabia.  More will come out about this, to be sure. It will be covered on “Full Measures” on ABC Oct. 4. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

"Eviction" of DC Crime and Punishment Museum sets a disturbing example for other companies with "controversial" customers

This story is not about a policy issue, but it seems to illustrate an important problem for small businesses when they lease space or services from larger companies.

The Washington National Museum of Crime and Punishment will close after business on September 30, 2015, because the landlord has ordered it to vacate the premises immediately at the end of the lease.  The Museum wensite sites “unforeseen circumstances” (link ). The lease had held a clause that the landlord could refuse to renew if the business didn’t meet certain sales threshholds.  ABC News has a news story here. The Washington Post has a story here.  Here is another story in BizJournal, link .

The Museum says it will look for another location and try to conduct some tours.  But it appears to be auctioning some exhibits. 

That’s the part that is disturbing.  Why would this be the landlord’s business?  Why would the landlord care if the Museum paid the rent on time properly?  Does it really believe that lower sales means it will miss rent in the future?

I don’t know if the landlord got a cut in ticket sales, and whether that was part of the arrangement.  If so, it could have simply raised the rent and allowed the Museum to operate and raise its own prices if it needed to – but that could have threatened sales volume.

Maybe the landlord did not like the subject matter that the museum displayed, and feared it could affect future value of the property. That idea is scarier. 
It is true that sometimes larger businesses do feel that the behavior of customers, who on the surface comply with all agreements, can affect their long term image or viability or could even make them targets.

I see that I last visited the Museum and wrote about it around April 1, 2015.

Friday, September 04, 2015

European migration crisis can complicate our own handling of illegal immigration from or through Mexico, and even asylum seeking for LGBT

Amanda Taub, responding to the image of a particular drowned refugee from Syria, has an impassioned essay on Vox, that the United States could do more to share the burden of taking refugees from the war in the Middle East, link here.

And NBC News has a photo gallery showing a refugee’s life with a relative’s family in Michigan, with enough illustrations to create a short film, here.

Comments to these stories on Facebook make the valuable point that the US could take care of its own homeless first, before taking in more refugees.  Yet CNN today is reporting that there are 60 million displaced people in the World today, the largest number since World War II.

I’ve covered this migration problem on my International Issue blog, but there is certainly a connection to domestic problems.  The issue shares aspects in common with the problem of Central American migration through Mexico, with the problem of processing “illegals” and especially children once they’re here.  And there is the “anchor baby” issue as Donald Trump keeps reminding us. Furthermore, there is a terrible, if smaller in volume, issue with LGBT asylum seekers from authoritarian countries in Africa and especially, also, Russia, since 2013.

Another issue will be religious:  some people would be willing to accept “the idea of” non-Muslim (or specifically Christian or Jewish) refugees only, an idea already driving some right-wing politics in Europe and perhaps the US and Canada.  

Generally, the United States and particularly Canada are willing to let in refugees who already have relatives in the US willing to take them in and sponsor them.

But it would seem likely that churches could organize efforts to pressure politicians to do more about this issue, and to pressure their own members to get involved in hosting activities, even at considerable personal risk, as “matters of faith”.  I could see how policies regarding inheritance (“unearned wealth”) could get brought in. I have a Wordpress posting on this from early 2014 here.  This issue came up in southern cities with the Cuban refugees in 1980. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

"Black Lives Matter" supports transgender in Houston; Six separate trials in Baltimore on Freddie Gray will tax jurors

The site “News 2 Share” reports, in a story by Dina Kesbeh, that in Houston “Black Lives Matter” has held a rally for transgender women, link here. Trey Yingst has continued to report in August from Ferguson, MO.   It would seem to me that the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team might be able to bring that area some change of heart by its performance in the playoffs and likely World Series.

The media is widely reporting that the six officers in the Freddie Gray case will be tried separately, according to a ruling by Baltimore circuit judge Barry Williams, as in the Baltimore Sun story here. Vigorous demonstrations, disrupting traffic but peaceful, were reported in Baltimore today.

The decision probably means finding six impartial juries, which are likely to have to be sequestered.  This will be a real personal sacrifice for the jurors.