Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On the Heroics of Schoolteachers

When I was a teacher, I (and many other teachers) determined that, if an armed intruder tried to get into my classroom, I would go Chuck Norris on him. I wouldn't do it to be heroic. Want to know why I would do it? First, my kids were that important to me (yes, every one of them) and I would do whatever I could to protect them. Second, as has been demonstrated from Columbine to Sandy Hook, the bad guy was probably gonna shoot at me anyway, so I had nothing to lose.

But all of the Sandy Hook teachers were heroes, both the ones who survived and the ones who died protecting their kids. They should be honored and rewarded the way heroes are honored and rewarded.

And I know I should call my kids "my students," but they were, and always will be, "my kids."

Monday, December 3, 2012

The fiscal cliff: a couple of ideas

Idea #1: Someone suggested that it would be very wise for the Republicans to acquiesce, and to accept Obama's (and the Democrats') proposal to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Warren Buffett and other wealthy people have pooh-poohed the Republicans' contention that when wealthy people are taxed more, they invest less; therefore, raising the taxes on the rich will not have the net negative effect the Republicans are predicting.

But the better reason to raise the taxes on the wealthy is that, four years from now, when we're in worse shape than we are today, the Republicans can point at President Obama and the Democrats in Congress and say, "See? We TOLD you it wouldn't work! But NOOOOO, you wouldn't listen!" It would give them a lot a lot of leverage for unseating all of those Democrats.

Idea #2: This idea has been floating through Facebook and email lore, and it's a perfectly sensible idea. The idea is that we take away all of the special privileges that Congresscriters enjoy, and make them live the same way the rest of us live: the same tax laws, Social Security payments, Medicare/Medicaid payments, health plans, and everything else. They have forgotten how normal people live, and they need to be made to remember.

And here's a third idea, tangentially related to the fiscal cliff and the financial mismanagement that brought us to this point in the first place:

Idea #3: It was indeed Warren Buffett who proposed a constitutional amendment that says, in essence, whenever Congress cannot balance the budget for a given year, all of the members of Congress automatically become ineligible for re-election.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Barack Obama is a Classy Guy

Like him or not, you have to admit that Barack Obama is a classy guy.

You may not like his politics, you may disagree with his philosophy, and you can even question his integrity if you want to. But you cannot deny that this president has class. I give you three undeniable examples.

Example #1: At the end of the inauguration ceremonies in 2009, the new president and his wife escorted the former president and his wife from the dais (where Mr. and Mrs. Bush had been honored guests), all the way through the capitol building, out the front door, down the front staircase, and to the steps of Marine One, the (new) president's own helicopter. Marine One would deliver the Bushes to Andrews AFB for their flight home aboard Air Force One, the (new) president's own airplane. Obama didn't have to do any of that. What is more, the Obamas escorted the Bushes alone, without any personal assistants, TV cameras or other hangers-on. Cameras were kept at a great distance - we wouldn't even know these details if it weren't for huge telephoto lenses on distant TV cameras. The four of them engaged in friendly (and private) conversation all along the way. The Obamas treated the Bushes with courtesy, kindness and the greatest respect. They parted at the steps of Marine One with smiles, sincere embraces and words of farewell. Then the president and his wife turned around, held hands, and walked back into the Capitol.

Example #2: In the midst of a bitter and hard-fought election campaign, the two contenders, Obama and Mitt Romney, took time out to attend and speak at the Albert E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, a black-tie affair held on Thursday, October 18, 2012 in Washington, D.C. Laying the campaign aside for a while, both men poked fun at themselves and at each other. The jokes were in good taste and bore not even a hint of mean-spiritedness. At the end of their remarks, each candidate praised the other and made special mention of the other man's family and of his role as husband and father, which (to paraphrase their words) was more important than being president.

Example #3: Obama likes having lunch, or tipping a beer, with different people of varying degrees of fame. These lunches are always great publicity opportunities and are exploited as such by the president's handlers - except for last Wednesday, November 29th. After having won re-election, Obama invited Romney to lunch, and they dined at the White House on Wednesday. It was a VERY private affair. Besides Obama and Romney, the only other people in the room were the waiters - no photographers, no staff, no members of the press. The conversation was cordial, even friendly, and strictly confidential. The only details that we got on the lunch were part of the menu (turkey chili, chicken salad). Romney arrived and left as a friend, or at least as an esteemed colleague.

Class doesn't depend on intellectual or political superiority, or on wealth or heritage. Class is something that comes from inside of you, no matter what your station in life. For example, you know that story about the NYPD beat cop who, on the frigid night of November 14, went into a store and spent $100 on socks and boots for a homeless man, then knelt down on the sidewalk to help him put them on? That cop had class.

President Obama has class, too. Cynics will add their own details to these three stories, or put their own spin on them, but these are just three examples of an indisputable fact: President Obama is a classy guy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I didn't vote for Grover Norquist

Here's a great illustration of why we should despise, and even get rid of, the unelected powermongers who prowl the streets of Washington, New York City, London, and other seats of power in the world.

Grover Norquist is the president of an organization called "Americans for Tax Reform." Twenty years ago, he started pushing newly elected Republican Congressmen (and women), or those who were running for election, to sign a pledge that they would never vote to raise taxes.

After 20 years of fiscal irresponsibility on the part of both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, our country finds itself in a difficult financial position. We need to implement our own "austerity measures" before they are dictated to us by someone else — like international banks and foreign governments. We are facing a fiscal crisis which can be resolved in several ways, most of them painful. One of the least painful ways is a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

I didin't say it was "painless." I said it was "one of the least painful." Don't be stupid.

You will recall that, on August 2, 2011, the U.S. Congress set up a bipartisan "supercommittee" that was supposed to break through the Congressional gridlock and come up with a solution to this fiscal problem while there was still time to act. As an incentive to getting things done, Congress wrote a Plan B into the legislation, a bitter pill that the nation would have to swallow on January 2, 2013 if the supercommittee failed in their mission. This was no secret to anybody — nor was the timing of Plan B, two convenient months after a critical national election. Congress as a whole may be a pack of idiots, but they're clever idiots.

At any rate, the supercommittee proved to be as fractious and stubborn as the body which had created it, and they hit their deadline without completing their mission. So Plan B kicked in, and the automatic spending cuts and other measures that it specified will also kick in, on January 2, 2013. These automatic measures, if activated, will severely impact the still-fragile economy and could drive the country back into a recession. Some wag coined the term "fiscal cliff" to describe the country's situation, and now everybody is saying it. I'm so sick of hearing the term that I get the urge to chew my leg off every time someone says it.

Now that the election is over, the executive and legislative branches are scrambling to find a way to deactivate this time bomb before it goes off. As I said earlier, one solution involves raising taxes.

Enter Grover Norquist.

In general, Democrats have always been eager to raise taxes, and Republicans have been just as eager to cut taxes, or at least not to raise them. For the most part, every tax vote that has come up in Congress for the past 20 or so years has gone right down party lines. Now, for the sake of the country, some Republicans are warming up to the idea of raising taxes on some people. This includes some powerful Congressmen who signed Norquist's pledge 20 years ago, such as John McCain, R-Ariz, and Lindsay Graham, R-N.C.

Now, Norquist is holding their feet to the fire, insisting that the pledge lasts forever and that they can't back away from it just because it's no longer practical or convenient. He compares the power of the pledge to the power of a mortgage or a marriage vow. (It's ludicrous that he should pick these two analogies, when homeowners are walking away from underwater mortgages and the ratio of divorces to marriages in this country exceeds 50%.) But a pledge not to raise taxes is not as sacred as a marriage vow, nor as legally binding as a mortgage commitment. And it ignores the fact that, in politics, practicality has to win out over ideology. We've had four years — actually, we've had 20 years, but the last four years are a representative sample — of a Congress ruled by ideologues, and you can see what a mess it has gotten us into.

Norquist has been in the news a lot this week, sounding like someone who's in charge of Congress. He is attempting to enforce his will through threats, blackmail, and innuendo. His tax pledge is an ideology that has blinded him to the current reality. He cannot see past the tax pledge, to what is really important for the country. He is no better than the members of the supercommittee, who couldn't see past their own positions and party platforms to work out a compromise and act in the country's collective best interests. Actually, he's worse than they were, because we didn't elect him.

Our Congresspeople should be accountable to us, the voters, not to some unelected lobbyist or to the president of a lobbying organization like Americans for Tax Reform. I didn't vote for Grover Norquist. I don't want him running the country. To grant him any measure of power in Washington is just plain wrong. We as Americans should stand up and, in one loud voice, tell Grover Norquist to "SHUT UP!"

John Cassidy, of the New Yorker, apparently beat me to the punch, publishing this analysis of Norquist two days ago.


While we're at it, here are some other people who should shut up and keep their power-hungry paws and their fat, padded asses out of the halls of power in Washington, D.C.:

  • Donald Trump
  • Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton
  • Bank presidents, bank lawyers, banking organizations, and lobbyists acting  on behalf of banks
  • Uh, the same thing, this time substituting "auto company" for "bank" and "banking"
  • The same thing again, this time substituting "insurance company"
  • The same thing again, this time substituting "investment firm" or "finance company"
  • Any special-interest group representing a privileged minority of Americans
  • Actors, musicians, sports superstars and anyone else trying to parlay their fame into power - unless they run for office and get elected

And here are some people that we should see and hear more of in Washington. Somehow, these people come across as wise, as speaking up in behalf of the American people instead of themselves. Both the legislative and executive branches would do well to heed their advice.

  • Warren Buffett
  • Mitt Romney, the private citizen
  • Meg Whitman
  • Wow, this is a frightfully short list!


Some of those paws are money-grubbing paws, not power-hungry paws. But the first rule of power is "Power follows money," so in my mind there's not a lot of difference between them.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Teachers vs. idiots: The teachers finally win one!

This blog obviously has a soft spot for good teachers who have been unjustly treated by their employers. Most stories of this genre do not have happy endings. Here's one that does. Sort of. At least, the good guy wins.

In April 2006, Jeffrey Leardini was teaching sixth grade at Community House Middle School in the Charlotte-Mecklenberg (North Carolina) School District. One of his students, a girl, wasn't doing very well in his class. After she received one poor grade too many from him, she decided to do something about it. So she reported that he had been "inappropriately touching" her - that is, touching her in "sexually suggestive ways." And she got four of her friends to report that he had touched them, too.

This was Leardini's eighth year of teaching. According to everything I've read about the case, he was an "excellent" teacher, who got "glowing reviews". He acknowledged, in response to questions from a reporter in the Charlotte Observer, "that he squeezed shoulders, patted arms and touched students' heads as part of his teaching style."

Teachers used to be able to do that. Female teachers can still do that. But in this enlightened century, male teachers would be wise not to touch anyone, no matter how innocent or accidental the touch may be. It's a lesson that a few male teachers are still learning the hard way. It's not fair, and it's definitely not justice, but it's reality.

But this isn't a story about who Leardini did touch. It's a story about who he didn't touch.

Leardini was immediately pulled from the classroom. In a meeting with Kay Cunningham, of the district HR office, he was told that the district had a "no-touch" policy, and he was advised that "he had no choice but to resign immediately or be terminated." She assured him, however, that if he resigned, there would not be an investigation and she would note on his record that he had "resigned voluntarily."

For a teacher who has been trying hard to do all the right things, who has been trying to make the classroom a safe and comfortable place where students can concentrate on learning, and whose mind has never even considered this kind of behavior, accusations like this can be devastating. I can imagine that he was so shocked as to be at a complete loss for words. He wouldn't be able to come up with anything in his defense because he had never considered having to defend himself from anything like this. And when Ms. Cunningham was so belligerent and threatening, of course he felt like he had no choice but to resign.

So he did. He resigned. His personnel record, in addition to a copy of the complaints against him, noted that he had "resigned in lieu of dismissal" and that he was "not eligible for rehire" — which was the kiss of death to his teaching career. Nobody would hire him with that kind of black mark on his record.

Then Cunningham faxed an "urgent" case summary to the police, and eventually criminal charges were filed against Leardini. I don't know for sure, but I would guess that that's about the time he decided to hire a real lawyer. Either Leardini got a really good lawyer, or Leardini has a really good brain between his ears. You see, he knew he was innocent. And that counts for a lot. And eventually, he and his lawyers found out a few important things:
  • The girls' lies were exposed, and their conspiracy was uncovered.
  • The district did not have a "no-touch" policy, at least not before April 2006.
  • The district didn't even follow the policies it did have in place.
  • He was entitled to a full investigation of the allegations before the district could take any action, but nobody had told him that. Remember, Cunningham had told him he had "no choice" but to resign or be terminated. She lied to him.
  • He had been bullied and misled into resigning.
  • He had been denied his right to due process.
So in June 2009, he filed a lawsuit against the school district. All he wanted, he said, was to have his name cleared, to have his teaching job back, and to have that "resigned in lieu of dismissal" notation changed to "resigned voluntarily." The school district, like all of the other school districts that have been featured on Zyzmog Galactic HQ, had some idiots on the payroll that thought they could win the lawsuit. So they refused his terms.

So the suit went to trial. In February 2012, nearly six years after he had been falsely accused and wrongfully terminated, a jury awarded him $1.1 million from the school district, and  $52,000 from Cunningham.

The idiots at the district, when they realized their own misbehavior been exposed and that they had lost the trial, went pale and immediately filed an appeal. By the laws of the state of North Carolina, the appeal went automatically to mediation. Eventually the two sides worked out a deal whereby the district would pay Leardini, not $1.1 million, but $680,000. That's still cheap, compared to the cost of an unjustly tarnished reputation and a ruined career.

As part of the settlement, the district had to remove the complaints from Leardini's file and replace them with a copy of the mediated settlement. They had to remove the "resigned in lieu of dismissal" and any other mention of "disciplinary action" or "termination." But these were only symbolic moves. They couldn't replace the six lost years, or his shattered future.

Leardini's lawyer, Luke Largess, says he hopes that the school district has learned a lesson. The words of a  district spokesman, however, reveal that the district hasn't learned a thing. You can read their exact words in the sources listed below.

In the years between 2006 and 2012, Leardini moved as far away from North Carolina as he could get. He's now a manager at a Petco in San Diego, California.

According to news reports, Cunningham no longer works for the district, so good luck collecting on the $52,000 she owes. It doesn't say whether she quit or was fired, or where she is, but she has had six good years to move elsewhere and cover her tracks. For all we know, she's bullying naïve teachers at another school district somewhere in the U.S.

His accusers got away with no punishment at all. Being minors, their names were never revealed, so they haven't had their reputations dragged through the mud like Leardini has. Today, they're probably freshmen at UNC Charlotte, or at Duke University. They should feel right at home at Duke.

NBC News
Charlotte Observer
Triangle News14
And here's a Washington Post article from 2000 about a similar incident. The school mishandled it at first, but they quickly set about to make things right.

Here's an article that appeared in Charlotte Magazine, written in December 2006. At that time, things were looking pretty bleak for Leardini. This is an extremely well-written article about the incident, and it's still relevant today.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

About obesity and bullying

Yahoo! News repeated this morning's story about an obese on-air TV personality, the viewer who called her out on her obesity, and her response to him. Oh, and everyone else's response, too.

(This next paragraph should be read in a snarky tone.) Because I have my very own blog, I'm going to comment about the issue here, rather than letting my comments get lost in the noise at Yahoo! or at WKBT-TV. (Okay, no more snarkiness. Let's get serious now.)

Jennifer Livingston is a TV news anchor at WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She has been obese for several years. She has a husband and three children, none of whom (to my knowledge) are obese.

One of WKBT-TV's viewers, identified as Kenneth W. Krause, wrote a letter to Ms. Livingston, chastisting her for her continued obesity, and on the surface, although the letter is kind of rude in parts, it's not obscene or mean-spirited. It's actually a rather well-written, short, persuasive essay. Here's how it appeared on the FB page of her husband and co-worker, news anchor Mike Thompson:
"It's unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn't improved for many years. Surely you don't consider yourself a suitable example for this community's young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you'll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle."
What Mr. Krause didn't know was that Ms. Livingston has a thyroid condition that makes it difficult for her to shed the unwanted weight, that aside from her weight she's in pretty good physical shape, that she works out regularly and that she participates in 5K runs and triathlons. Had he been in possession of these facts, he may have worded the letter differently or not written it at all.

(Who first publicized the letter? Did WKBT-TV or Mike Thompson get Mr. Krause's permission to post his letter online? If they didn't, they may have violated the law, or at least simple etiquette. And no, two wrongs do not make a right.)

Ms. Livingston has many friends. I don't know her personally, but I think it would be easy to be friends with her. There's just this one little thing that bothers me: her response to Mr. Krause.

Ms. Livingston's employer, co-workers, family and friends rushed to her defense, publicly and privately. Her husband appeared on Good Morning America with her, talking about the letter. Ms. Livingston did an on-air editorial on WKBT-TV about the letter, and here's where I disagree with her handling of the situation.

She said, "I think, in his mind, he [Krause] views himself as being helpful which is what I think a little bit of the problem is. ... He doesn't see that the way that he approached it was clearly hurtful to me. He's trying to shame me into losing weight. That's not being helpful. That's being a bully." She followed that with a reference to October being National Anti-Bullying Month, and went on to speak, passionately and articulately, about the problem of bullying.

But Mr. Krause wasn't a bully. And his letter didn't constitute bullying.

If the text I quoted really was the full content of his letter, then you can call it criticism or negative feedback, which is always hard to take (and even harder to hand out without sounding rude). Or you can call it off-base, because he didn't have all the facts. But reread his letter. It's not a "bullying" letter.

Krause wasn't picking on Livingston just because she was fat, or vulnerable, or a member of a target group. Nor was he picking on her repeatedly, or from a position of power or invulnerability. Nor was he anonymous. As far as we can tell, this was the first time he'd written her, even though he'd been observing her for many years. Nor was his decision to write her a spontaneous thing: if you read his words carefully, you'll see that the thought about it for a long time before writing. He even offered constructive suggestions in addition to his criticisms.

Instead of going public with her accusations of bullying, Ms. Livingston could have phoned Mr. Krause and engaged him in a private dialogue, and then gone public with the dialogue and a resolution. That would have demonstrated some real class. Instead, she overreacted, tagged him with a label he didn't deserve, turned the tables on Mr. Krause, and and subjected him to "bullying."

You may not think so, but look at what happened: hundreds of WKBT-TV viewers (and then the whole country) dogpiled onto him, throwing insults and verbal abuse his way, on the WKBT-TV website, Mr. Thompson's FB page, and dozens of other websites that carried the story, without giving him a chance to resolve the issue amicably, present his side of the story, or fight back. That is bullying.

(Actually, Mr. Krause did submit a follow-up statement to WKBT-TV, which they published and Yahoo! repeated. Interestingly, he's sticking to his guns.)

More importantly, Ms. Livingston has cheapened the terms bully and bullying. Any time someone throws out an accusation like bully, racist or sexist, falsely or without justification, it diminishes the power of the accusation and makes things more difficult for the next person who needs to use it legitimately. Remember the parable of the boy who cried wolf.

To conclude: While Mr. Krause may owe Ms. Livingston an apology for not getting all the facts before he wrote his letter, Ms. Livingston, Mr. Thompson, WKBT-TV and many other people owe Mr. Krause an apology for labeling him a bully and giving him his undeserved 15 minutes of living hell.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Today's cool picture

This is a photo of a live fire drill during an annual training exercise in Paju, South Korea. The gun is a 155 mm howitzer. What qualifies this photo as a "cool picture" is that little football-shaped blob near the top center of the picture. It's not a football. It's not a bird. And it's not Photoshopped - that's the real thing.
You have just seen a photograph of a bullet — a really big bullet  —  in flight. Mr. Lim, we applaud in your general direction.

(AP/Yonhap photo by Lim Byung-Shick.)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mark Miller: Another Life Well Lived

Local builder, artisan, and businessman Mark Miller passed away July 5, 2012, of a heart attack. The heart attack was a surprise to everyone, and an autopsy revealed that Mark was such a superfit athlete that he had an enlarged heart. In the words of his 10-year-old daughter, the muscles of Mark's heart had grown so big that the nerves couldn't keep up with them. When the heart attack hit, he was relaxing on the couch reading a book, after having spent an enjoyable morning with his girls.

This strong and gentle man had enjoyed the perfect life with his sweet wife and young daughter, and although his passing was a time of sadness, it was also a time of comfort and peace – and cheer, actually. He had prepared well for the eventuality of his death, and he and his family knew that death is just a transition between two phases of living, and that they will be reunited one day. Until that day, Mark will live on through his legacy: the things he made with his hands, the property he beautified for his family, the hundreds of young people he coached in cross country, and the friends and other people he touched in his lifetime.

Mark Miller, August 26, 1959 - July 5, 2012

Mark's family hosted a Celebration of Mark's Life on their beautiful property yesterday. It would have been Mark's 53rd birthday. I was invited to speak at the celebration. There was no eulogy or sermon, only people from the different circles Mark had lived in, telling about the influence Mark had had on them. Here's what I said:

I’m speaking for all the parents of all the kids that Mark and Kathy ever coached. Three of our children ran XC at Loveland HS, and so we got to know Mark and Kathy very well: we did lots of pasta dinners, killer hikes, Rattlesnake runs, and Fall River Road runs.

Mark and Kathy have been a team for as long as I can remember, but Kathy asked me to concentrate on Mark in my remarks. I don’t know if I can separate the influence of the one from the other, but I do know that Jason, Kellie and Lori, especially Kellie, thought the world of Mark. If he had asked Kellie to run across Lake Loveland without getting her ankles wet, she would have done it for him. 

They called him their coach, but Mark was a masterful teacher. By example and by precept, he taught our kids a lot, about running – about life – and about believing in something. We have observed over the years that it takes a special breed of kid to be an XC runner: with only a few exceptions, it's the ones who are serious, studious, smart, and more importantly, morally upright – "righteous" might be a better word. Mark was always careful to nurture and encourage those character traits, and the kids responded to that nurturing. As a result, in addition to Molly, he has a posterity that numbers in the hundreds. 

If you count all of the runners like Kellie, then the 128th Psalm finds real fulfillment in Mark's life: 

1      Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; 
            that walketh in his ways. 
2      For thou shalt eat the labor of thine hands: 
            happy shalt thou be, 
            and it shall be well with thee. 
3      Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine 
            by the sides of thine house: 
            thy children like olive plants 
            round about thy table. 
4      Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD. 
5      The LORD shall bless thee out of Zion: 
            and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem 
            all the days of thy life. 
6      Yea, thou shalt see thy children's children, 
            and peace upon Israel. 

Kathy, thanks for everything you and Mark have done for our children. May God give you peace.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Your smartphone is using you

I've always enjoyed reading what William H. Davidow has to say about anything. He's an intelligent guy, with a broad range of both interests and knowledge, and when he feels passionate enough about something to write about it, his words are definitely worth reading.

And when he writes about how technology — more specifically, computing technology — is taking over our lives and our brains, it's worth sitting up and paying attention to what he has to say. In the article, "Our Tools Are Using Us" (the online title is different, but I like the original title better), he points out that computing and communications technology has evolved faster than the human brain's ability to handle it  —  that is, the brain's ability to control it or to manage it. The end result is that it is controlling us instead.  As Davidow puts it, "The tools are making the rules."

If you were led to this blog entry by an alert in your mailbox, a news item in your Facebook account, or any kind of beep from your iPad or smartphone, you are caught in the trap. And if you found this article because you were on the Web during business hours, and you're still reading it, you are also caught in the trap. I mean, I'm glad you're reading this, but consider the control that technology has over you. You may think that you chose to read this, but, in a frighteningly real sense, technology made you read it.

(And the fact that I'm even typing this right now, and putting a pointer to it on Facebook, reveals that I'm also caught in the trap.)

One of the concerns about this technology trap is that it is ruining the face-to-face social interactions that are the threads that (used to) hold society together. For one example, I think of the high school athletic events that are so different today because, instead of focusing on the action on the field or chatting with fellow spectators, all of those soccer moms (and dads, and siblings, and friends) have their heads bent down and are working their smartphones through mittened hands.

Davidow cites John M. Staudenmaier, a scholar who once observed that "the quickest way to end a deep and meaningful conversation was to glance at your watch." That was in the days before smartphones. What would he say now, when personal, human-to-human contacts are similarly devalued by a beep or a buzz from our iPhones and Androids?

It took a long time to train my family that they didn't have to answer the telephone in the kitchen every time it rang. Now we need to train ourselves that we don't have to jump to our smartphone, iPad, or computer every time it calls for us. We are not Pavlov's dogs.

One of the best ways to tell someone, without words, that they matter to you is to ignore your ringing or buzzing cellphone when you're having a conversation with them. What a powerful message that sends to the person sitting there in front of you!

The other major concern about the technology trap is what it does to you, yourself. People used to have hobbies: working on cars, fly tying, model railroading, woodworking, boatbuilding, sewing, knitting, pottery, scrapbooking, photography, leatherwork, stamp collecting, and on and on. Now instead, they find something to do on their monster-sized, 1080i, HDMI television screens, and they fiddle with their smartphones or laptop computers at the same time. You know you do. Technology has captured you and enslaved you.

Even the cleansing and healing power of the mountains is ruined by these devices. The summits of Colorado's fourteeners are now polluted by remarks like "Wow! I have four bars up here!" and the ritual "Hi.... We made it.... Yeah, I'm at the top." And the sounds of nature on the hiking trails are drowned out by the music that leaks out through too-loud headphones.

Remember that some of the surest signs of an alcoholic are remarks like:
"I'm not addicted to alcohol. I can take it or leave it."
"I can stop drinking anytime I want."
If you have said anything like this about your electronic gadgets or about Facebook or (shudder) Blogger, either aloud or to yourself, then admit it. You are, to some degree, addicted to technology.

You need to give yourself the same consideration, when you're all alone, that you would give to your conversational partner in that paragraph above. Here's how Davidow does it:

I have shut off most alerts and reminders on my computer and smartphone. I check for e-mail on my own schedule, just a few times a day. At home, I have built a physical wall around the virtual world. I let myself read news on my iPad anywhere in my home, but I answer e-mails and conduct business only in my office. I heed Staudenmaier’s advice and never end important conversations by glancing at my smartphone. My iPhone is never ­present when I am out with my wife, listening to the challenges my kids are facing, or playing and laughing with my grandchildren.
Personally, there are times when I take my phone out of my pocket and leave it in the car or in another room, so that I don't have to serve it when it beckons. There's a special place I go to, in the south end of Denver, where I even choose to take off my wristwatch and put it in a locker, so that I can forget about time and concentrate on eternity for a while.

I close with Davidow's own parting shot:

My advice to you is to take control of your tools. I promise your life will be better if you aren’t constantly checking to see if you’ve got mail.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Penalty of Leadership

“In every field of human endeavour, he that is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership be vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work. In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recognition; the punishment, fierce denial and detraction. When a man's work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few. If his work be mediocre, he will be left severely alone    if he achieves a masterpiece, it will set a million tongues a-wagging. Jealousy does not protrude its forked tongue at the artist who produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass or to slander you unless your work be stamped with the seal of genius. Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who are disappointed or envious, continue to cry out that it cannot be done. Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a mountebank, long after the big would had acclaimed him its greatest artistic genius. Multitudes flocked to Bayreuth to worship at the musical shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he had dethroned and displaced argued angrily that he was no musician at all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could never build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the river banks to see his boat steam by. The leader is assailed because he is a leader, and the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership. Failing to equal or to excel, the follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy    but only confirms once more the superiority of that which he strives to supplant. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world and as old as human passions    envy, fear, greed, ambition, and the desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader truly leads, he remains    the leader. Master-poet, master-painter, master-workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through the ages. That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live    lives.”

That was the text of an ad called "The Penalty of Leadership," which was printed in the Saturday Evening Post in January 1915. The ad was from General Motors, and was written by Theodore F. MacManus under the direction of the CEO, Henry Leland. Leland founded Cadillac Motor Company on August 22, 1902. In 1909, he sold Cadillac to General Motors, and a few years later he became CEO and saved GM from bankruptcy. 

The ad was a response to a competitor's accusation that GM's  new water-cooled V8 engine was unreliable. GM has reused the ad several times over the years to promote its products. The ideas behind the ad apply to more than automobiles — they apply to the front-runners and the visionaries in any field.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

He just opened his mouth, and something stupid fell out

Okay, first Democratic "strategist" Hilary Rosen said something stupid about Ann Romney. Then Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner said something stupid about Barack Obama. Now a Republican candidate for the Senate from Missouri, Todd Akin, said something stupid about women in general. He really put his foot in it good.

Basically, he was repeating some pseudo-legalistic pseudo-science invented (according to NPR) by a conservative southern politician some decades ago and repeated by a few (but fortunately, not very many) conservative southern politicians since then. It was offensive to all women who have been through the trauma of rape, and especially those who found themselves pregnant as a result. In fact, it devalues the women in Africa, India, Bangladesh, China and the Far East who have suffered rape and pregnancy as a consequence of war.

I think he was sincere in his apology today. But once again, as with Hilary Rosen, I don't think the apology went far enough. He apologized for "one word and one sentence" and then said that he didn't think those should negate all the good things he's said and done. And he's absolutely right. But if you looked behind the "one word and one sentence," you could see the core beliefs of a man who you may not want to entrust with the power to make laws. I'm not talking about being pro-abortion or anti-abortion, either.

For myself, I will decide who to vote for, based on what they have said and what they have done, and not what others have said about them. If Akin were from Colorado and not Missouri, he would have lost my vote yesterday.

The Wrong Side Absolutely Must Not Win

One of my friends (a real one, not a FB one) saw an article on and suggested that I read it. In today's political climate, which is at turns divisive, extremist, absolute and contrarian, the author of this article channels Jonathan Swift to warn us about something really important. The article is called The Wrong Side Absolutely Must Not Win . I'm not going to post the text of the entire article here, because I'm hoping that after November 2, nobody will need to read it again. But it's really important, right now.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Florida deputies: Andrew Lee Scott's mother and fiancee speak out

In the case of Andrew Lee Scott, the young man who was mistakenly shot and killed by Florida sheriff's deputies in Leesburg, Florida, Drew's mother and girlfriend have finally spoken in public.

The occasion was a press conference called by their attorney, Mark NeJame.

Drew's mother said that the sheriff's office still had not contacted her to offer condolences. Sheriff's office spokesman Lt. John Herrell said that the sheriff "plans to reach out to the family and has offered the services [of] the agency's chaplain," according to an article in the Orlando Sentinel. It's been a month, for Pete's sake! When does Sheriff Borders "plan" to "reach out" to the family? Before or after the election, in which his job is at stake? Why didn't he "reach out" a month ago, instead of blaming this whole thing on the victim?

Drew's girlfriend (this article doesn't call her his fiancée) said that she and Drew were "cuddling" on the couch when they were startled by a pounding at the door. Since the door didn't have a peephole, and the porch light was broken, and the deputies were not standing near the window, Drew ran to his bedroom to get his (legally registered) gun before answering the door. Interesting details: he was holding the gun in his left hand while he cracked open the door with his right hand. The shooting started as soon as he opened the door. She was a few feet behind him, and I will suggest that if she had remained on the couch or stood beside him, she would be dead, too.

I'm not too impressed with the attorney. News articles are confused and contradictory about whether  he has filed a wrongful-death suit yet, or whether he's just making noise about it. The timing of the news conference is suspect, being a day before an election primary (or is that a primary election?) for Lake County Sheriff. Lawyer NeJame insists that that's purely concidental. And the video of him on Fox News Orlando (announcing a lawsuit six days ago, making things even more confusing) is not particularly awe-inspiring.

NOTE: This is the third article that has appeared on Zyzmog Galactic HQ about the Andrew Lee Scott shooting. Look backwards through the Table of Contents to find the first two.

A government that really works: is that too much to ask for?

Today I'm reprinting an article from ABC News. I was going to write a blog entry like this anyway, but I found this article by Amy Walter while I was doing research for my entry, and she says it so much better than I would have. Excerpting it wouldn't have done it justice.

If ABC or Ms. Walter asks me to take it down, I will, but I wanted to post a copy of it here because I've noticed that articles like this on the mainstream news outlets have a tendency to expire. They disappear after some length of time. This one deserves an extended life. It's something that all politicians need to keep in mind, both before and especially after an election. And as Ms. Walter points out, the rebuke applies to all political parties.

An Ideological Battle that Voters Don't Want

In picking Rep. Paul Ryan, whose eponymous budget plan has become synonymous with political polarization, Mitt Romney assured an ideological campaign where a debate over the role of government will be front and center. It is a debate the Obama campaign and partisans on both sides are also eager to have. But it’s not a debate that swing voters want.

They aren’t as interested in choosing whether government should be more active or less. They are more interested in simply having it work.


This debate is the culmination of four consecutive wave elections — elections where each side (wrongly) assumed a mandate from the American public.

It started in 2006 when, fed up with one party control, voters tossed Congressional Republicans out of power. Once, the party of “outsider” Republicans had turned into creatures of Washington. Voters saw them as gluttonous, self-absorbed and more interested in retaining power than using their power to help the little guy.

Two years later, voters elected a president who promised to break the partisan gridlock and to focus on an agenda that transcended party and special interest groups.

Yet, elected as a counter-weight to previous GOP rule, Democrats turned out to act much like them. They passed legislation on party-line only votes. They pushed a health care law through Congress, but failed to make the case for how it was going to help people survive a flailing economy.

Fueled by this frustration, voters put Republicans back in control of the House in 2010. But like the Democrats before them, Republicans mistook the election as a mandate for their own ideology — an ideology that saw compromise as a dirty word. And, less than two years after providing the energy for the 2010 sweep of Congress, the tea party is an unpopular than ever.

Six years after voters sent a message to Republicans that they were sick and tired of a government that was polarized and self-absorbed, they find a political system that is as polarized and ineffective as ever.

Each wave election has ultimately produced a class of politicians who are convinced that their victory was about them rather than a repudiation of the tactics and behavior of the other party. They were convinced that voters were choosing an ideology, when in reality they were simply trying to punish the folks who put ideology over accomplishment and compromise.


Which brings us to today. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney argue that this election provides voters with a very stark choice between two competing ideologies. One that says that government can be part of the solution (Obama) and one that says that government is getting in the way of the solution (Romney).

But there are plenty of voters out there who are more concerned about function than ideology. They aren’t spending their evenings debating the benefits of Hayek or Keynesian economic models. They are just trying to figure out which candidate is capable of getting something done. They will reward the politician who succeeds in getting things moving again. But that shouldn’t be taken as proof that voters are endorsing the philosophical underpinnings of that success.

In other words, voters are looking less at ideology and more at competency. And that’s not something that either side has been able to show that can deliver.

Friday, August 3, 2012

"Never had a real job" - Karma, round two

Loose-cannon Democrats have not cornered the stupidity market in this election year. Republicans are now taking their turn in the arena.

Remember back in April, when Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said (in an interview on CNN) that Ann Romney had "never worked a day in her life," and then Rosen got buried in the blowback, and abandoned by her fellow Democrats?

Well now, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said (in an interview on Fox News, yesterday) that Barack Obama has "never even had a real job, for [God's] sake."

Huh. According to, Barack Obama is worth $11.8 million. He didn't inherit that money from his father. According to his résumé, he worked hard for at least part of that money. I think that working hard for your money is what constitutes a "real job," don't you?

I guess it depends on how you define a "real job." If Speaker Boehner means that Obama never had to punch a time clock, then he may have a point. (Then again, he may not. Maybe Obama worked at McDonald's when he was a teen. Surely, that would qualify as a "real job.")

What's makes Boehner's statement really stupid is that, only a few sentences earlier, he said "Sometimes I have to catch my breath and slow down because the rhetoric in this campaign is just so over the top."

Watch for the blowback.

Florida deputies and Andrew Lee Scott - more news

I'll warn you right now that some of my sources for this entry are not terribly objective. One has an obvious bias. But they're doing their best to state facts, and you can determine for yourself the truth of what they say.

First is a report from WOFL in Orlando, originally written on July 15 and updated on July 29. This report states that on the day after the shooting, the owners of the apartment complex were seen installing a new door at the entrance to the apartment where Andrew Lee Scott was killed, "because the one it replaced was full of bullet holes." WHAT?

Were they firing through the door? Why? How did they know, then, that Drew had a gun? And second, what if a second, innocent person had been standing behind the door when the bullets tore through?

The WOFL report also contains a statement from a witness that makes a couple of disturbing claims, but I haven't found a corroborating statement yet, so I'm not going to repeat it.

Second is a report from Central Florida News 13, written on July 23. This report states that Drew's fiancée and family have hired an attorney and will be conducting their own investigation into the shooting. In my original posting, I pointed out that nothing had been said about any girlfriend or family. Now we first hear about them, not from the police, but from News 13. The article also suggests that the FDLE investigation will be completed 30 to 45 days from when it started, which puts it in mid-to-late August.

(By the way, John, the guy is the fiancé. The girl is the fiancée. The difference is subtle, but significant. Blame it on the French.It's their language.)

Third is an article in a blog called "The Right Side of the Lake," written on July 31. This blog carries an obvious bias and has a clear agenda, which is to expose corruption and other badness within the Lake County Sheriff's Department. I won't comment further on that agenda, since I want to focus on this one incident, but it's important to recognize the bias before you read the article. The blog's author places the shooting in context with everything else going on in the department. He makes some claims, based on his own digesting of the facts of the case, which do make it more disturbing.

He says, based on the official incident report, that the "attempted murderer" the deputies were hunting wasn't really an "attempted murderer;" he was an assault-and-battery suspect. The escalation to "attempted murder" happened two hours after Drew had been shot.

He says, again based on the official incident report, that the alleged assault and battery was really just injuries suffered in a fight. Jonathan Brown, the "attempted murder" suspect, had been involved in a fight at somebody else's apartment, and had beaten up the other guy. Two important facts emerge about the other guy: first, his injuries amounted to a scraped elbow and cuts around his eye; second, the fight was because this other guy, the so-called "victim" of the assault, had just finished punching his girlfriend in the face; third, the victim, the guy who punched his girlfriend in the face, was the son of a lieutenant in the sheriff's office.

He quotes sources as saying that "eight to eleven" shots were fired, and that five of those shots, not four, hit Andrew Lee Scott. Unfortunately, he doesn't qualify his sources, other than to say that they're "close to the investigation."

To follow the blogger's train of thought, then, the adult son of a cop beat up his girlfriend, and was then beaten up himself. Other cops, friends of his dad, took off after the guys who beat the kid up, and ended up making a terrible mistake and killing an innocent man instead.

Remember, I pointed out at the beginning that the Right Side of the Lake had a bias and an agenda. Let's wait for the FDLE report before we accept RSoL's conclusions. As my friend Amanda has pointed out, it's way too easy in cases like this to paint the cops as the bad guys because things get distorted or misstated (or omitted) in the media. Let's not rush to judgement.

But let's not sweep it under the carpet, either. Drew's life mattered. His death should matter, too.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dropbox: Reliable storage in the cloud

I'm still not convinced that the cloud is totally reliable. Some regional power failure episodes have made the news because they have caused some cloud services to go offline — not a good thing if your business depends on cloud-based data storage or applications.

For that reason alone, I have been cautious about using cloud services at all. But for about a year, I have been using Dropbox as a cloud storage solution. Consider this an unsolicited testimonial: I have been satisfied, pleased, even gruntled, with Dropbox's performance.

I have been using Dropbox three different ways:

1. Instead of a USB memory stick. It's a simple thing to access Dropbox, either directly or through a browser window, to transfer files from one of my computers to another. I can even upload a PDF file to Dropbox from my PC, and view it on my iPad/iPod/iPhone/Android device. And if I'm on a machine without Dropbox installed, I can still upload or download files using any Web browser.

2. With friends, family, and co-workers. I think this is the strongest use of Dropbox. I have swapped photos and documents with family and friends; and I have shared important files with co-workers and colleagues while working on collaborative projects.

3. With multiple operating systems on one computer. My work computer is a Windows box, but I also have several virtual Linux boxes running on it. Dropbox lets me share files seamlessly between Windows and Linux. It's cleaner and easier to use than any of the usual file-sharing solutions.

A basic Dropbox account is free, and gives you 2 GB of cloud-based storage space. Dropbox has an incentive program whereby you can increase the size of your storage space (up to 16 GB) through referrals and other means. If you want, you can also buy more storage space: 100 GB will cost you $10 per month, for starters.

Dropbox is fast, robust, and simple. It doesn't require a lot of space on your computer. If it's not installed on a computer you're using, you can still get to your files using a Web browser. If you really  want to (heavy sigh), you can integrate it with your Twitter or Facebook account. 

And (nerd alert!) if you want to build it seamlessly into your next software project, Dropbox has a versatile API, and SDKs for all the operating systems that it supports.

Dropbox doesn't know I'm posting this, and they're not going to reward or recompense me in any way. I like my reviews to be honest, unbiased, and independent. See my article, "Blogging for Dollars," for more information.

Oops - the secret's out

It's a good thing the Obama administration has such a tight hold on operational security. I'm sure that the rebels in Syria are both impressed and reassured by it.

To quote the header of a news item today:

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, sources familiar with the matter said."

It seems to me that somebody inside the Obama administration doesn't understand the concept of "secret."

Friday, July 27, 2012

Let's pay teachers babysitters' wages: part two

In my previous post, I made a lot of noise about teachers' salaries. Some of you may think that I'm just riding my hobbyhorse again, and that I'm just another unqualified loudmouth, making noise. I'll concede the "making noise" part, although I wish it was more effective, but let me assure you that I am qualified to speak on the subject. I'll give you my qualifications in a minute.

First, I will point you to a couple of people whose qualifications are without question: Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari have been working with public school teachers for 10 years, and are founders of the 826 National tutoring centers and producers of the documentary "American Teacher," according to the New York Times. In an editorial entitled "The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries," they present an indictment of the current system, and a convincing case for a radical realignment of teacher salaries.

Some of you won't like the article, because it makes way too much sense. Did you know that teacher turnover costs American schools over $7 billion dollars a year, the cost of hiring and training new teachers? Annual turnover in urban school districts in the U.S., according to Eggers and Calegari, is 20%. Compare that to national averages of 1% in South Korea, 2% in  Finland , and 3% in Singapore.

What do those countries do differently? They recruit top graduates to be teachers, they treat them better, and they pay them fairly: South Korean teachers make more than 3 times as much as their American counterparts.

By the way, students from those three countries are the top performers, worldwide, on standardized tests.

Eggers, Calegari and I keep calling for better pay for teachers. (I first spoke out about this in October 2006.) But nobody's listening. I predict that one of two things will happen: either we, and others like us, will get tired of calling, and will eventually shut up, and America will end up with the shoddy education her citizens deserve; or other people will add their voices to ours, and the noise will get loud enough for our leaders to notice and take action.

My qualifications to speak on the subject of teacher pay:

I worked as a teacher, and I was one of the 46 percent of teachers who quit within the first five years. I loved teaching. The low pay was one of the reasons I quit. The unemployment that I collected while I was actively looking for another job was only a little less than my teaching salary.

I was an engineer before and after my teaching stint, so I know how much professionals really make.

One of my daughters taught for two years, and although she loved her subject, her students, and the teaching profession, she quit to go back to college and get an MBA. It was a tough choice for her, but in the end she told me that she had looked far into her future and decided that she didn't want to be poor her whole life.

Another daughter enters the teaching profession this fall, and we'll see how long she lasts.

My sweet wife has been teaching for seven years. I know how much money she makes, and I know how the salary negotiations go every year. The teacher's union always gives in, and the administration always makes it look (in public) like the teacher's union has been greedy. The fact is that teacher pay in this district, already below the state average and well below the national average, has not even kept up with inflation for the past 7 years. But that's a topic for another posting.

I have known former teachers in many other professions, and all of them, every single one of them, told me that they quit teaching because of the low pay, not because they didn't want to teach. A social studies teacher, state champion diver and high school diving coach became an investment banker. A history teacher became a journeyman electroplater. A music teacher (not my daughter) became an applications engineer. And the list goes on.

Let's pay teachers babysitters' wages: Another modest proposal

Scott and Sadie, the morning deejays on Big Country 97.9 FM, said this morning that the average babysitting rate today is $12.75 per child. I don't know where that factoid came from, but let's run with it.

In April 2011, I stated that a typical teacher sees 80 to 100 students per day. That was based on survey statistics and professional experience, so I think it's still a valid number. Let's split the difference, and say it's 90.

Math time! $12.75 per student, times 90 students per day, times 182 instructional days per year, comes out to:


Think about it. If we paid public school teachers the going rate for basic child care, we would see the following changes in our educational system:

1. EVERYBODY would want to be a teacher.

2. That means that the best and brightest college students would aspire to become teachers rather than lawyers, accountants, salesmen, engineers, and doctors.

3. Schools could be VERY picky about whom they hired.

4. Therefore, the overall quality of teachers would increase.

5. It's a high probability that the overall quality of teaching, and hence of a public education, would increase.

Think of the difference that would make in the nation's health and well-being, 10 to 20 years down the road, when the students taught in this high-quality system take over as the movers and shakers in society.

Instead, the average K-12 teacher's annual salary, nationwide, hovers around $44,000 (see We are forcing our teachers to work for only 20%, one fifth, of what they're worth. That's slave wages.

Some of you may object that teachers aren't doing "basic child care," and that therefore we shouldn't be paying them basic child care workers' wages. AND YOU'RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. We should be paying them more — MUCH MORE. Give me a number. I dare you.

Some of you are still using the old objection that we don't need to pay teachers more because they get the summers off. Look again at that number. It's calculated on only 182 instruction days. If you want teachers to work 250 days a year, like the rest of us, then their annual salary should be:


Besides, for those of you who still think that "teachers get the summers off": some do, it's true. But I've seen many teachers in coffee shops, filling out applications for summer jobs so that they can afford to teach again in the fall. I've known teachers who moonlight at coffee shops, bars and restaurants, during the school year, to make ends meet. According to Eggers and Calegari, fully 62% of teachers work outside the classroom to make ends meet. I've seen many other teachers who spend their summers taking college courses (which they pay for themselves) to keep their certifications current. "Summers off" - pfsssh.

I'm not talking about "funding school districts." I'm talking about "paying teachers." But since the two are interrelated, I will say that we need to reform the way we fund school districts. Stop blaming the teachers' unions for the high teacher salaries - there aren't any "high teacher salaries." The highest average teacher salary, by state, is only about $59,000, and the highest starting salary is only $39,000.

The way public-school teachers are paid in the United States is a national embarrassment, and something that we as a nation should be ashamed of. Let's pay teachers what they're worth.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Great Man: Covey's Next Great Adventure

I can remember the first time I read Stephen R. Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the exercises he had you, the reader, do was imagine your own funeral, and what you would want people to say about you. Then he said, essentially, to live your life in such a way that, after you die, that is what people will say about you. He used this exercise to illustrate a more general principle of leadership and achievement, which he encapsulated in the phrase "Begin with the end in mind."

Aside #1: I used to teach that principle to my 7th grade math students, as a strategy for solving word problems.

Aside #2: Somebody once told me, after going through the funeral exercise, that the one thing they'd really like to hear at their funeral is, "Hey, look! He just moved! He's not really dead!"

No more asides. Stephen R. Covey passed away this week, at age 79. I'm not writing an obituary or a eulogy for him. You can find a lot of those on the Web. They're all very complimentary, and I get the feeling that when Covey went through this exercise himself, in the early 1980s, he probably wrote something a lot like what you can read today.

No, I want to go in another direction. Covey was not without his critics. They accused him of writing "platitudes" and of "stating the obvious." Uh, yeah. Durr.

There's a joke among high school English teachers, about the kids who say "Why do we have to read Shakespeare? It's just a bunch of old clichés."

Covey always said that he wasn't the first one to think of the principles embodied in the Seven Habits. He cited Peters and Waterman (In Search of Excellence) and Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People), who came before him. But the words and phrases used to describe the Seven Habits have become so common, so universal, so obvious, that they are now referred to derisively as "platitudes." A measure of their success is that they have become fodder for jokes, parodies, spinoffs, knockoffs, TV scripts and movie scripts — not to mention abuse and misuse by the clueless.

Like the clichés in Shakespeare, Covey's platitudes had to start somewhere.

Postscript: In case you missed them, here are Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

1. Be proactive.

2. Begin with the end in mind.

3. Put first things first.

4. Think "win-win."

5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

6. Synergize.

7. Sharpen the saw.

Now, go read the book. You will never be sorry.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Florida deputies shoot and kill wrong man; claim it was his own fault

UPDATE: See "Florida deputies and Andrew Lee Scott - more news" for the view from August 3rd.

Okay, this really happened.

And there has been no hint of compassion, or regret, or remorse, or personal mortification, or anything from the perpetrators. There has been a heap of justification, of blaming the victim, and perhaps even of cover-up.

Sheriff's deputies in Lake County, Florida, were looking for Jonathan Brown, a suspect in an attempted murder. They got information that he was staying in his apartment in the Blueberry Hills apartment complex, in Leesburg, Florida. So they went there, at 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 15. I guess 1:30 on a Sunday morning is a good time to capture a suspect.

They saw Brown's motorcycle parked in the parking lot, and the engine was still warm. They could have staked out the place, and waited 5 or 6 hours for the suspect to appear, and then taken him with a minimum of disturbance to anybody. But oh, no. They got excited. It reminds me of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Disney's Robin Hood: "This time, we got him fer sure!"

So they knocked on the door of apartment 114, the apartment right in front of the motorcycle. Okay, I guess it's a logical assumption to make, right? What a stupid assumption! Sometimes, when you come home after work, somebody else is already parked in front of your apartment, so you park somewhere else. Or you live on the second floor so you park somewhere at random. Or you know the cops are after you, so you try to throw them off your scent, just a little bit. Anyway, they had his address, right down to the apartment number, and it wasn't apartment 114.

(It turns out that Brown was in the adjacent building, where he was arrested shortly after this incident concluded — without deputies banging on his door.)

So, yeah. They knocked. At 1:30 in the morning. According to some witness reports, there was no answer, so they knocked repeatedly. According to other witnesses, they didn't knock; they BANGED, POUNDED, loudly enough to wake other residents. Then they kicked the door open and went inside. Without ever announcing themselves.

Now, imagine what was going on inside the apartment. The resident, who, by the way, is not Jonathan Brown, but a perfectly harmless and innocent man named Andrew Lee Scott, is startled awake by someone knocking on his door in the middle of the night. He sits bolt upright in bed, wondering what's going on and waiting to see if whoever it is knocks a second time.

Fearing that it might be a burglar, he grabs the gun he keeps — legally — for self-defense, and creeps towards the front door, ready to defend himself and his family. There's a third knock at the door, and then the door comes flying open. Acting in self-defense, he raises the gun and points it at the intruders who come bursting through the door.

Now we go back to the deputies' side of the story. After they kicked open the door and entered the apartment, they saw someone pointing a gun at them. Gee. Imagine that. In a state with the famous "Stand Your Ground" law, and after they had busted down his door without saying that they were cops.

So they reacted the way any cop would do, when faced with the business end of a gun. They shot him. Cops are trained not to shoot unless they intend to kill, and these cops thought they were facing a murder suspect.

But they shot him four times.

It only takes one bullet to bring someone down. The rest were excessive, panic shots, the result of poor training. (At least it wasn't as bad as the cops in New York City in February 1999, who killed an unarmed immigrant named Amadou Diallo, in the entrance to his own apartment building. At nearly point-blank range, four cops fired 41 shots at him, hitting him with 19 bullets. They were acquitted at trial.)

Still, these Lake County deputies squeezed off four shots, when one would have been sufficient.

After the guy was down, deputies realized they had the wrong man. Andrew Lee Scott was not the man they were looking for. So what did they do next? They conducted an illegal, warrantless search of his apartment. According to their report, they found "drugs and drug paraphernalia," which items they used to justify their illegal entry.

I don't know a state in the Union where possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia justifies a cop shooting you to death. And even if he'd only been wounded, and they had decided to arrest him for the drugs, the charges would have been thrown out of court because of the illegal search. There was no warrant, and no probable cause.

Lt. John Herrell, a Lake County Sheriff's Department spokesman, said "When we knocked on the door, the door opened and the occupant of that apartment was pointing a gun at deputies and that's when we opened fire and killed him." There's a bit of disagreement on this statement. First, I don't know who this "we" is, or whether Herrell was one of the three deputies involved in the incident. Second, news reports don't agree on whether, as Herrell stated, the deputies knocked, the door opened, and the "occupant" was there with a gun pointed at them. Some witnesses saw the kind of damage to the door frame that only happens when a door is kicked in. Other accounts of the event say that the deputies were inside the apartment when the "occupant" confronted them. And other accounts, which must be from the deputies themselves, vary as to whether the gun was pointed at them, or simply in the victim's (or "occupant's") hand.

Like I said, it's a cover-up. Or it will be a cover-up, unless FDLE can move fast enough.

And here's the best part of the whole thing: the sheriff's department lays all the blame on the victim. Herrell said: "It's just a bizarre set of circumstances. The bottom line is, you point a gun at a deputy sheriff or police officer, you're going to get shot."  Apparently, that's true even if the cops come busting into your house without saying a word to you at 1:30 in the morning, with their own guns drawn and ready to fire.

(This should remind you of yet another incident, in November 2006, when Atlanta cops conducted a no-knock raid on a house whose only resident was an 92-year-old woman. They rushed into her bedroom, where she fired one shot at them from an old "rusty revolver," and they fired back. They fired 39 shots, killing her with 5 or 6 bullets and wounding each other with the rest. They planted three bags of marijuana in her house to recover as "evidence." They were convicted at trial.)

Not a word has been said about Andrew Lee Scott's mother, wife, girlfriend, or other family members. Scott was 26 years old. Somebody's got to love him and miss him. The sheriff's office has not made any (published) statement of condolences to his family, or regret for the unfortunate incident. All we have gotten from them, through the media, is a weak "Well, it was his own fault." And now that they're under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, they're not saying anything.

Please don't get me wrong: I'm not pro-drug or anti-police. In fact, thanks to the antics of Our Neighbor From Hell, we have become closely acquainted with, and are on good terms with, our local police department. However, we are thousands of miles from Florida, thankfully, and we will never have to deal with Lake County's style of "to protect and to serve."

Let's summarize a few things:
1. They decided to make a move on this guy at 1:30 in the morning. If they weren't cops, the move they were contemplating would be called "breaking and entering" at the least, and a "home invasion" at the worst.
2. They went to the wrong address. They saw the motorbike and jumped to an erroneous conclusion, even though they had the correct address in their hands. By the way, that was simultaneously a perfectly logical and stupid-beyond-common-sense conclusion.
3. They didn't announce who they were. If someone knocks on my door at 1:30 in the morning and doesn't say anything, they had better tell me who they are, or I'll be in fear of my life, too.
5. They bashed in the door and entered the apartment, according to some accounts.
6. They shot more than once.
7. After they realized their mistake, they searched the apartment.
8. They justified their actions, and they blamed the victim.
9. The sheriff's office is circling the wagons, and refusing to acknowledge possible errors in judgment or training.
10. The sheriff's office is not showing an ounce of sympathy for the victim or his family, and no compassion for anyone but their own people.

I do not advocate any kind of citizen retaliation against the deputies involved in this unfortunate incident. You will notice that I haven't mentioned them by name, even though their names and a great deal of other information about them is available on the Internet. The Internet today is too full of haters and kooks, who would make life miserable for these officers and for their families. That's not the way Drew would want to be memorialized, and I don't think he would advocate that kind of behavior. One innocent life has been destroyed already; let's not hurt anybody else, okay?

UPDATE: See "Florida deputies and Andrew Lee Scott - more news" for the view from August 3rd.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Something about bullies

This may or may not help those of you who have problems with bullies, but let me give it a try. Here are four  vignettes from when my family was young, stories about bullies. There's a lesson to be derived from all four stories, taken together, but I'll leave the lesson for you to figure out.

First story:

When my oldest son was almost three years old, and my oldest daughter was about a year and a half, we moved to California. We lived on a cul-de-sac with three other houses. Sometime during our residency there, a young family from Texas moved into one of the other houses. This must have been a year and a half later. They had two boys, about the same age as our children. We thought they would play well together.

Well, one day my daughter came into the house crying. She'd been playing with the younger boy, and he had decided it was time to dump a bucketload of sand over her head. That same day or thereabouts, my son ran into the house, not crying, but obviously frightened, because the older boy had been threatening to hit him with something. After we made careful inquiries of our children, we found out that these boys had been displaying a increasing pattern of aggression and bullying.

Second story:

For various reasons, we did not want to approach the parents about it. It wasn't out of cowardice. We talked it over and simply decided that that wasn't the right thing to do.

I had grown up with an older sister who liked to bully me. As a child, I had been on the scrawny and uncoordinated side, so I got picked on at school, too. I don't know if I'd actually call it "bullying." If it was bullying, it was really lightweight bullying. But I had resolved that, when I grew up, my children would never have to submit to bullying.

I had just finished reading Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. The book had convinced me that, in matters of self-defense, a pre-emptive nuclear strike was much more effective than a graduated response, when it came to stopping a bully. So the next Monday night, for family activity night, I taught my four-year-old son and three-year-old daughter how to punch a bully in the nose. I showed them how to cock their fists, and how to throw a good punch. I had them practice on my arm until they could really make it hurt. I showed them where to aim, and taught them not to worry about any body part except the nose.

Third story:

One Saturday I heard a child's screaming from the direction of the cul-de-sac. Looking out the window, I saw the younger Texan running for home, screaming bloody murder, and my daughter sitting calmly on the curb, playing with her dolls.

I strolled out to the curb, sat down beside her, and casually asked her what had happened.

In a calm, matter-of-fact voice, she said, "Cody was being mean to me again."

I asked, "So what did you do?"

In that same calm, matter-of-fact voice, she replied, "I punched him in the nose."

I patted her on the head, said "Good for you," and went back into the house. She kept playing with her dolls. Never even looked up.

He never bullied her again. I'm not kidding. True story.

Fourth story:

Would you believe it? A day or two later, I again heard screaming from the cul-de-sac. This time I raced to the window in time to see my son chasing the older Texan back to his house, my son's right arm extended straight out in front of him, with his fist extended like a cavalry sword. (The screaming was coming from the Texan.)

Not exactly the technique I had taught him, but okay. It worked.

When my son eventually came back in the house, I asked him what the screaming was about.

"Travis was being mean to me."

"So did you punch him in the nose?"

"No, he ran away too fast."

You know how there are times in your parenting when you're not allowed to laugh, or make that little snorting noise, or even show a tiny smile? Yeah. This was one of those times. I think I managed a calm, "Oh. Okay."

And just like in my daughter's story, the boy never bullied my son again. No kidding.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

VirtualPilot3D: Not from Australia anymore

When I first started sniffing along the trail of ProFlightSimulator, it appeared to be "owned" by somebody in Australia, at a bogus address along the Sydney waterfront. My original "whois" on the URL showed it registered to a known Internet scammer in New Jersey. Now it points to an anonymous hosting service in Los Angeles, California

This latest version, VirtualPilot3D Tee Em, hides its tracks very well. A "whois" query points to a P.O. box in Denver, Colorado. The disclaimer claims that VirtualPilot3D is "governed by the laws of Sweden".

Never, ever, buy from anybody online if you don't know who they are, and where they are, in the Real World. (Especially if they claim to have FAA Certification.)

VirtualPilot3D is NOT "FAA Certified"

I may be going out on a limb here, but I really doubt it.

In my previous posting, I noted that VirtualPilot3D Tee Em claims to be
FAA Certified And Used As A LIVE Training Platform For Actual Pilots.
 It takes a lot of guts, or a startling absence of brains, to make a claim like that if it isn't true.

I searched online for VirtualPilot3D's FAA certification. Couldn't find it.

I searched online for "faa certified flight simulator". I found a lot of products out there, matching this description. One costed US $5995; another costed US$7500. Compare those prices with the US$289.95 price of VirtualPilot3D, and you start wondering what the catch is.

The catch is simple: it's not FAA Certified. They're lying.

How can I be so sure? It's simple. I went to the FAA's website and looked at National Simulator Program's list of certified Flight Training Simulation Devices. If you want to duplicate my research, you can start at .

If you want to see what a real FAA certified flight simulator looks like, have a look at this system from Elite. Note that I'm not endorsing Elite here; they just turned up on my Google search.

Look at the list of aircraft that the Elite system supports. Then look at the list of aircraft that VirtualPilot3D supports. I don't know why the FAA would certify any simulator that included "Santa's Sleigh" or a "Willys Jeep" in its list of supported aircraft.

For the sake of curiosity, scroll down to the bottom of the Elite page, and look at the heading "Compatible Software". Microsoft FS and X-Plane are both listed there, but as far as I've been able to determine, neither MS FS nor X-Plane claim to be FAA certified. They're compatible with Elite simulators, that's all.

(Yes, VirtualPlane3D really is $289.95. That's the full retail price for the VIP Premium Package. When you place an order, they'll start at $67.00 and work their way up.)

VirtualPilot3D: Same Scam as Before

Less than two months after they re-re-re-re-released their scam under the name "Real Airplane Simulator", the ProFlightSimulator people are back with "VirtualPilot3D™". I thought the was a particularly nice touch. It pretends to add credibility to the product. I mean, nobody would trademark a scam, right? That's right. They didn't trademark it. They just added the ™ to the name.

The VirtualPilot3D website looks just like all the other websites: bogus testimonials from people who don't really exist, screenshots swiped from FlightGear and other simulators; Ron-Popeil-worthy prose; a deeply discounted price (for free software published by somebody else and essentially stolen by these guys); a promise of free lifetime upgrades (which the free software also provides); and a 100% satisfaction guarantee which, according to the poor suckers who have tried to exercise it, isn't worth the paper it's (not) printed on. And just like all those other websites, it's a scam.

I've written about this scam several times on Zyzmog Galactic Headquarters. It's a pernicious thing that I know I won't be able to eradicate, but if I can save at least one person from being fooled and ripped off by these crooks, then it's worth the effort.

There's a flood of ads for VirtualPilot3D on Facebook. I encourage you to click on the "X" or "Hide this Ad" for each ad, and tell FB that it's "Misleading". FB hasn't figured out yet that it's a scam, but if they get enough feedback from their users, they might catch a clue.

In the meantime, if you click through on one of those ads, and end up buying VirtualPilot3D Tee Em, then good luck to you. I warned you.

UPDATE: I just reread the VirtualPilot3D webpage and noticed they're trumpeting the product as "FAA Certified." I'll be posting something else about that.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Contempt of Congress

The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, is moving ahead with plans to charge U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder with "contempt of Congress", for his refusal to cooperate in the Congressional investigation into the horribly mismanaged, criminally botched, gun-running program the Justice Department was running on the Mexican border.

That's what the papers are reporting.

But hey, if you want to charge someone with "contempt of Congress," then you're going to have to charge me too. The archives of Zyzmog Galactic Headquarters show just how much contempt I have for the currently seated Congress of the United States.

In fact, if the honorable Speaker is going to charge me and AG Holder with contempt, he might have to charge 240 million other Americans with the same offense. According to the latest polls, between 75 and 79 of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job right now, and it would be fair to say that most, if not all, of those 75 to 79 percent have nothing but contempt for today's U.S. Congress.

Here is a measure of our contempt:

Dear Senators and Representatives: have you stopped being idiots yet? How's that budget coming? How about that tax code rewrite? Social Security reform? Have you stopped messing with our schools? Have you stopped catering to the banks, the insurance firms and the other too-big-to-fail companies that do more favors for you than we, the average Americans, can do for you?

Are you still blindly voting the party line? Are you still spending money that isn't yours to spend? Are you still voting to give to the military, things that the military has said they don't want, and don't need? Are you still filling the pork barrel for your state, for your constituency, even to the point of making "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" deals with your colleagues who have their own pork barrels to fill?

Have you rewritten things so that your families and fortunes are subject to the same challenges and difficulties as the rest of America, or are you and yours still exempt from so many of the rules and regulations the rest of us have to live under?

Are you still quietly voting yourselves pay raises or other emoluments that the rest of us cannot get? Especially those of us who are still without a job, even though we voted to send you to Washington?

Do you feel even the slightest twinge of guilt after reading this, or do you instead feel as much contempt for the American people as they feel for you?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Another School District Run By Idiots

It looks like Central Bucks East isn't the only high school with sawdust-for-brains administrators. Ross Sheppard High School, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada appears to have gotten their admins from the same place. Here's another article about choices, consequences, students who are learning the wrong lesson about the two, and a teacher who got in trouble because of it. This article is from the National Post, a Canadian newspaper. I'm reprinting it here in toto, just in case the online story disappears. (They do that, you know.) 

Let's make this clear: Mr. Dorval had been a teacher for 35 years. This is not a case of a teacher who, after 35 years, slacks off and coasts into retirement or, on the other hand, becomes a curmudgeon because he doesn't care anymore. This is a teacher who, after 35 years, still cares about his students and wants to see them succeed. He takes a stand against a wrongheaded policy that is destined to turn them all into failures, and he gets punished for it. Give him credit for having the courage to take a stand, and give the school board  a collective thump on the head for their STUPID policy.

Now, here's the article.

Edmonton teacher may lose job for refusing to let kids skip assignments
Joe O'Connor Jun 2, 2012

Lynden Dorval tried to talk himself out of it. He understood the stakes.

You push back against school administrators, swim against school policy and you become a marked man, an “insubordinate” problem teacher with a bull’s eye on your back.

But the problem was the more he thought about it, the more Mr. Dorval, a physics teacher at Ross Sheppard High School in Edmonton with 35 years’ experience, became convinced of what he had to do — even if it cost him his job.

“I knew it was going to be a lot of stress,” he says. “But I just couldn’t talk myself out of it. It was the right thing to do.”

What he did, over the past 18 months, was what he had done for over three decades when a student didn’t submit an assignment, skipped a test or missed an exam: he pulled out his red marking pen and gave them a zero.

It was a lesson in consequences, one contrary to the school’s no-zero policy, an official dictum Mr. Dorval willfully ignored.

After repeated warnings from the principal to toe the line, the renegade was hauled before a school board hearing. Three days later, on May 18, he received a letter informing him he had been suspended indefinitely. He suffered the consequences.

Mr. Dorval fully expects to be fired in the coming months.

“It was against my principles not to give zeros,” the 61-year-old says. “Through experience, I found that giving a zero — a temporary zero; the students could come to me to make arrangements to do something to erase that mark — was the most effective way to get students to do the work.

“It put the onus on them. I could see some other method working with younger kids. But these are high school students. They are becoming adults. They are getting ready to step out into the real world and it is time for them to start taking responsibility for their own actions.”

The anti-zero argument goes something like this: Getting a goose egg discourages students. Zeros are not a measure of intelligence but a matter of behaviour. Kids should only be graded for what they do — not for what they don’t do.

So … why do anything?

Mr. Dorval gives the example of a student who transferred to his class from a non-zero class. The student completed six of 15 assignments for his previous teacher and, since he was only graded for what he did, had a 63% average. Mr. Dorval made it clear to the boy that missed work meant zeros on his watch.

“With me, he did seven of seven assignments,” he says. “It is right there in black and white.”

Other teachers at Ross Sheppard expressed support for Captain Zero, telling him they wished they had the courage to do what he did.

And he understood why they didn’t. Being younger, they had a career to think about. After 35 years, his career was nearing its end.

Ron Bradley, principal of Ross Sheppard and the man responsible for adopting the No Zero Rule, declined to take my phone call Friday. A school secretary directed me to the local school board. The board did not return messages.

In the vacuum, however, is the voice of common sense. We all have it, those of us who somehow survived high school. And we all know the voice speaks the truth: Life is about consequences.

It is a series of tests.

Don’t submit the job application and you won’t get the job. You get a zero. Skip work, tell the boss to shove it, neglect to file your taxes, miss a mortgage payment, bounce a cheque or get a speeding ticket, and what happens? You pay for it.

‘When I was a student it never occurred to me that if you did not do something that you wouldn’t get a zero’
It is Newton’s Law: for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. Unless, of course, you are a student at Ross Sheppard high or some other institution where every missed assignment is met with an excuse.

And not from the kids, but from an apologist administration that encourages serial irresponsibility by offering second, third, fourth — and 10th chances — but not zeroes, never a zero.

Lynden Dorval knew it was wrong. He had had enough. So he picked up his red marking pen and stayed true to his conscience. It is a choice, he says, he would make again.

“When I was a student it never occurred to me that if you did not do something that you wouldn’t get a zero,” he says.

“Things like exams — I would never think about not writing an exam. I would never think about asking a teacher to write it later.

“It was just assumed, even if you were sick, that you went to school and wrote the exam. You went to school and you did the work.”

National Post

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