Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Something almost changed my life today

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Backdrop

Guns and violence, as they seem to appear daily on the American stage, are anathema to civil societies.  Indeed, America is mocked and ridiculed among all the advanced nations for the degree of gun violence that unfolds there so frequently.  Witness the Dylann Roof story that’s unfolded in just the last day.

I get it.  I really do.

But I also find some logic in the idea that citizens have the right to be armed in defense of themselves; whether it be against their government – or their peers.

Unfortunately, the way that logic of the Second Amendment works out in practice in America makes a mockery of the idea.  I think many of the people with access to guns in America are simply too stupid, opinionated and volatile  to understand the purpose and sense of the Amendment and have perverted it into something else entirely.

All of this came to mind for me today because of something that happened that could have changed my life in a moment.

A premonition

We were coming up from the Crémazie Metro Station on our way to catch the bus to the Rockland shopping centre when we heard a commotion behind us.  There were loud out of control voices, -bully-boy voices.  As we were moving up the escalators, Colette looked back to see what was going on and said that she hoped all what ever it was wasn’t coming our way.  I thought the same thing.

When we got to the top, where the ticket turnstiles are, I thought I’d go over and mention to the ticket agent inside the secure office (bullet proof glass and etc.) that there was some sort of a commotion below and that they might want to alert security.  But, just as I was approaching, a woman stepped up to talk with the agent and I didn’t want to wait or butt in.  And Colette was already moving up the next escalator to the street level becausee she hadn’t seen me turn aside.

We got outside and walked to the bus stop and got into a line that was forming there.  We both glanced behind us but nothing was happening so we forgot it.

In a few minutes, the bus arrived and we all got on.  But, once everyone was on, the driver waited.  Apparently he waits to leave on a specific schedule.

Reality finds us

We bagan to hear the commotion again now behind the bus and approaching.  And, in a minute, a very large and solidly built man with short hair and a mean look appeared.  With him was a second fellow that looked like an a animated scarecrow.  Both of them were, apparently, seriously blown away on drugs of some sort. And ‘P’ or Meth, as some people know it, was the drug I would suspect.

The bigger one was simply belligerent to  everyone.  The scarecrow just followed him and clapped his hands with some sort of demented glee at everything the other one did.  But I could see that under the scarecrow’s performance, that he was somehow the vassal of the larger man and that he was terrified of him.

It was clear, that the larger man was looking for anyone to stand up to him or defy him.  He wanted a violent confrontation.  His body language and eyes were full of it.

He walked to the side of our bus, where the front entry door was still open, and stood just outside and began to address the driver.  Colette told me that he also addressed a older black man who was in the seat immediately behind the driver.  He mocked and insulted both of them verbally and with hand and body motions.  He was partially talking to them and insulting them and holding a conversation with himself as to whether he was going to get on and ride the bus or simply walk.

I think he wanted to driver to tell him not to get on and then he would have come aboard and bashed the driver.  As I was looking at this fellow, I had no doubt that that’s what was potentially playing out.

The driver didn’t say anything.  Colette and I were two seats back from the front of the bus on the right side.  From there I couldn’t see the driver’s face because of the barrier behind him so I couldn’t sees how he was reacting to the threat; whether he was making eye contact with the man outside or not.

On the bus

Everyone on the bus was riveted and terrorized – wondering if this madman was going to come aboard.  Surely, if he did it, was going to be deeply unpleasant for all of us and possibly violent, if anyone attempted to put up any sort of resistance or make any comment.

He kept talking to the driver and abusing him verbally while the scarecrow kept dancing, clapping his hands and laughing with each new volley.

Cut to the chase

Now, let’s cut to the chase, as they say, and reveal what actually happened.

The man debated with himself and then after abusing the driver and the black man a bit more as his partner clapped and danced, he turned and walked on.  And the driver, cool as ice, so far as I could see, shut the bus door and we simply drove on asthe man hurled more abuse at us as we passed him.

That was a good outcome and I’m extremely happy that it worked out that way.  But that’s not why I’m writing this piece.  Here, I want to explore the other pathways; the ones that  almost happened.

Meanwhile, down the other path

As the man raved outside, my mind worked through several scenarios about what might happen if he came aboard.  Colette and I were very near the front so I thought it highly likely that we’d get tangled in it if thing got violent.

In one scenario, I thought of standing up and asking all the able-bodied men on board to help me repel this guy.  But it occurred to me that most people will reman passive and I might end up standing there alone after having declared myself an opponent.  That didn’t seem smart.

I also considered just remaining passive, like the driver, in hopes that things could be kept at a level below violence.  So what if a few of us were insulted?  It would rankle but no one would get hurt.

But it was a volatile situation and there was definetly another path events could follow and that was that he would board and violence would ensue.

Options and the law

At this point, I want to refer you back to the beginning of this piece where I’m talking about citizens having weapons for self-defense.  There can be valid reasons to have weapons for self-defense and I was looking at one right in front of me.

As I’ve indicated, I’m torn about this issue because I think the proliferation of weapons in America to mentally unqualified people has made the country’s Second Amendment a thing of mockery to the rest of the world.

But, personally, I  feel that I have the right to defend myself and I really don’t care what anyone else thinks about it.  The right is simply mine, granted to me or not. I’m taking is as an absolute given because this is my life and no one else cares about it like I do.

The laws we have can make it difficult to be both a legal law-abiding citizen and to defend yourself effectively.

For example, the law says that you can defend yourself, if someone assaults you first.

And it also asserts that you can use reasonable force to defend yourself.

I suppose in many situations, in a civil society, these two rules make sense.  After all, most of us understand why we have laws for the common good and most of us try to play nice.

But I found it all this to be slim comfort sitting in the bus waiting to see if this madman was coming aboard and wondering what I was going to do, if anything.

If push comes to shove

This fellow looked like he was on something like ‘P’ and I’ve read, multiple times, that people on such drugs can be tasered with little effect. And it can take several strong men to physically take them down and control them; powered by the drug and by unreasoning rage as they are.

Parts of this ran through my head as I watched him abusing the driver and debating with himself if he was going to come on the bus.

I was hoping that, perhaps, he’d move on.

Or hoping, that if he came onboard, he’d just be content to just abuse everyone verbally.  The experience would undoubtedly grate on our nerves and egos, but we’d survive that.

But it was the case that he’d come onto the bus and begin bashing people that I was really worried about and thinking about – because the other scenarios would, essentially, take care of themselves.

And this is where we get back to the right to self-defense because I could see that this might shape up to be an extreme case.

This could become a case where someone puts you into a corner where either you had to submit to a beating (or watching someone else get beaten) or resist.

And it could be that there was going to be precious little room to maneuver outside of those two possibilities.

Consider, as well, that the man was very probably raging on a powerful drug. Nothing about a confrontation with him was going to be subtle.

What to do?

So, should one wait to be struck first before considering that one could engage in self-defense?

Should one’s response to being struck be a measured response so that you didn’t respond, according to the niceties of the law, with an unreasonable amount of force?

Well, dear readers, I’ll confess to you that I wasn’t thinking much about any of that.  Most of that sort of stuff was after the fact thinking.

I’m not going there…

I was thinking to myself at that moment that any response to this fellow was going to have to be violent, sudden and it was going to either have to severely disable him or kill him.

Anything less, given his state, might put me and others in a spot wherein some of us were going to be severely beaten, crippled or killed. And don’t forget, that Colette was sitting just beside me.

As I alluded to a moment ago, much of this description of my thinking, which I’m laying out here, was actually after the fact thinking.

As the fellow was on the brink of coming on the bus, I was working out these possibilities, including the most extreme and violent ones, in a very immediate and visceral way.  It was like seeing several futures unfold in front of me all in a moment. And knowing what I’d be doing in each of them.

I wrote a poem many years ago that, perhaps, gives some of the sense of the moment:

Balance, the poised and easy flexing
to meet experience as it comes
Tai Chi on the high seas
while the lightening rips.

No fear to act, none to wait,
each as appropriate.

Will to avoid the ocean of error
least you never hear
the thunder’s laughter.

gallagher
28 Nov 84

How it was going to be

I knew several thing, intuitively:

If he began bashing, I wasn’t going to wait to be bashed.

If I went against him, it wasn’t going to be a measured response.

And, if at all possible, I wasn’t going to allow myself to get trapped in my seat with him over me in the aisle.

I also instinctively knew that if I was standing in front of him in the aisle and the game was on, how I was going to take him down.

Unpleasant images ahead

My apologies, dear readers, if this is graphic but I want you to remember that in this scenario this man is younger than me (I’m 67 now and he’s probably in his 30’s) and heavier than me and he’s very probably in an unreasoning drug induced rage.

I carry a Leatherman tool on my belt. It’s a multipurpose tool with, among other things, two separate knife blades; one standard and one serrated; both just under three inches long.

If it came to it, I was going to take him down violently and probably fatally.

Knife handle in the left hand with the blade facing to the left.  Left hand sweeps up and to the right in a tight arc, right hand comes and cups the base of the knife’s handle and then a short, sharp and violent drive into the left side of his neck driven by my right arm and then driving left to right across his neck.  The object being to cut through the front of his neck and windpipe and one sudden violent move.

He might stand and lash out for a few moments after that but he’d be on his way to the floor soon.

Something almost changed my life changed today

Afterwards?  Well, that would have been a life changer.

I would have waited for the police and I would have been hoping that the other folks on the bus were going to back my account of the events.

I would have been sure that the next few months, and maybe more, were going to be a nightmare for me as the Canadian authorities worked out their opinions of what had happened on the bus and if I was culpable for defending myself and the others on the bus.  The issues of self defense and unreasonable force would not have failed to come up.

The remaining part of our vacation to Vancouver for July and August would have been blown as well as our trip to the U.S. West Coast in September and, in all likelihood, Colette would have to return home while I worked things out.

Summary

I was a bit quiet over the next few hours, after that bus ride, just thinking about all that might have followed, if things had gone just slightly differently.

I would have deeply regretted the end of our vacation and the ensuing chaos in our lives.

It could have had a bad effect on our relationship.  I have no idea how Colette might have absorbed the idea of me killing someone right in front of her; regardless of my justifications.

As for the guy on drugs who was out of control. I have to say I’d have had no regrets.  I think when people step beyond certain bounds and force others into extreme acts of self defense, that they have abrogated their own rights.  All things considered, I think the world would be far better off with one less of the type who would permit themselves to trod that path.

Post-script

I want to say that in my three months in Montreal, I’ve never encountered a ‘hardcase’, other than this one fellow.

This story is not meant in anyway to deminish my admiration for Montreal. It is a peaceful, lovely, and law-abiding place which I have come to love.

Idiots, like this hardcase, can occur anywhere.

It is nice, because we live in civil law-abiding societies, that the half-life of people like this on the street, is generally pretty short.

 

One Twin Exercises, the Other Doesn’t

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

– Health is hugely important if you like being on the planet.  I’ve been an exercise junky all of my life and, at 67, I think it is paying off nicely for me.

– Of course, nothing is for sure and I could drop tomorrow.  But for today, I’m deeply pleased at how I’m weathering the aging process.

– You are what you do.  You are what you think.  it does’t get much simpler than that.

– dennis

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Identical twins in Finland who shared the same sports and other physical activities as youngsters but different exercise habits as adults soon developed quite different bodies and brains, according to a fascinating new study that highlights the extent to which exercise shapes our health, even in people who have identical genes and nurturing.

Determining the precise, long-term effects of exercise is surprisingly difficult. Most large-scale exercise studies rely on questionnaires or interviews and medical records to establish the role of exercise. But these epidemiological studies, while important and persuasive, cannot prove that exercise causes health changes, only that people who exercise tend to be healthier than those who do not.

To prove that exercise directly causes a change in people’s bodies, scientists must mount randomized controlled trials, during which one group of people works out while a control group does not. But these experiments are complicated and costly and, even in the best circumstances, cannot control for volunteers’ genetics and backgrounds.

And genetics and upbringing matter when it comes to exercise. Genes affect our innate endurance capacity, how well we respond to different types of exercise, and whether we enjoy working out at all. Childhood environment also influences all of this, muddying the results of even well-conducted exercise experiments.

All of this makes identical twins so valuable. By definition, these pairs have the same DNA. If they were raised in the same household, they also had similar upbringing. So they can provide a way to study the effects of changes in lifestyle among people with the same genes and pasts.

Some past studies had found that older identical twins whose workout habits had diverged over the years tended to age differently, with greater risks of poor health and early death among the sedentary twin.

But no studies had looked at young twins and the impacts of different exercise routines on their health. So for the new study, which was published this month in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers at the University of Jyvaskyla and other institutions in Finland turned to that country’s extensive FinnTwin16 database, which contained twins’ answers to questionnaires about their health and medical conditions, beginning when the pairs were 16 and repeated every few years afterward.

The researchers were looking for young adult identical twins in their early- to mid-20s whose exercise habits had substantially diverged after they had left their childhood homes. These twins were not easy to find. Most of the pairs had maintained remarkably similar exercise routines, despite living apart.

But eventually the researchers homed in on 10 pairs of male identical twins, one of whom regularly exercised, while the other did not, usually because of work or family pressures, the researchers determined.

The dissimilarities in their exercise routines had mostly begun within the past three years, according to their questionnaires.

The scientists invited these twins into the lab and measured each young man’s endurance capacity, body composition and insulin sensitivity, to determine their fitness and metabolic health. The scientists also scanned each twin’s brain.

Then they compared the twins’ results.

It turned out that these genetically identical twins looked surprisingly different beneath the skin and skull. The sedentary twins had lower endurance capacities, higher body fat percentages, and signs of insulin resistance, signaling the onset of metabolic problems. (Interestingly, the twins tended to have very similar diets, whatever their workout routines, so food choices were unlikely to have contributed to health differences.)

The twins’ brains also were unalike. The active twins had significantly more grey matter than the sedentary twins, especially in areas of the brain involved in motor control and coordination.

Presumably, all of these differences in the young men’s bodies and brains had developed during their few, brief years of divergent workouts, underscoring how rapidly and robustly exercising — or not — can affect health, said Dr. Urho Kujala, a professor of sports and exercise medicine at the University of Jyvaskyla who oversaw the study.

Of course, the study was small and not a formal randomized trial, although it involved identical twins.

But Dr. Kujala said he believes that the results strongly imply that the differences in the twin’s exercise habits caused the differences in their bodies.

More subtly, the findings also point out that genetics and environment “do not have to be” destiny when it comes to exercise habits, Dr. Kujala said. For these particular twins, whether their genes and childhoods nudged them toward exercising regularly or slumping on the couch, one of the pair overcame that legacy and did the opposite (for better and worse).

The rest of us can do likewise, Dr. Kujala said. Even if the input from our DNA and upbringing urges us to skip the gym, we can “move more,” he said, and, based on this study, rapidly and substantially improve the condition of our bodies and brains.

– To the original article:

School of thought: On the dangers of intellectualism

Monday, February 16th, 2015

– A discussion going on here in New Zealand about the role of intellectuals in society.  But, I think it is relevant for any advanced western society especially now as business-centric neoliberalism is in its ascendency and seriously needs questioning.

– dennis

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The recent uproar over comments by writer Eleanor Catton (here) showed that there are still dangers in being a public intellectual in New Zealand. Some Kiwi thinkers talk about their experiences with Philip Matthews.

What happens when you lift your head above the parapet? You must be prepared for the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism.

“Public intellectuals need to be as tough as Special Olympics athletes,” says David Rutherford, chief commissioner of the Human Rights Commission.

He should know. Not because he considers himself a public intellectual – in fact, he does not – but because he came to the commission after running Special Olympics in Asia Pacific.

Yet he knows how it feels to be on the receiving end of official opprobrium for speaking his mind. Despite being government-appointed, by then justice minister Simon Power, he has taken public flak from Prime Minister John Key and MPs Nick Smith and Gerry Brownlee for his commission’s stance on spying, Christchurch red zones and democracy.

Rutherford is in a rare, sometimes difficult position as a state-funded fly in the ointment. Critical public intellectuals? Despite excusing himself, he sees the need.

“While New Zealanders are pragmatists who value common sense I also think most of us know we need people who challenge our thinking and the status quo.”

This need has become enormously topical in the wake of the response to writer Eleanor Catton’s comments at a literary festival in India last month. Catton talked about New Zealand’s “neoliberal” orthodoxy, the reluctance of our authors to pen manifestos, the general underfunding of the cultural sector and the tensions that come when individual artistic success is somehow “owned” by the rest of the country.

Key did not like it and criticised her tenuous Green Party affiliations. In an infamous segment on Radio Live, broadcaster Sean Plunket attacked Catton as “ungrateful” and suggested that state funding, whether it comes from arts body Creative NZ or a job at a tertiary institution, should buy the New Zealand government unquestioning promotion abroad.

Everyone with an opinion waded into the debate. Which was good and healthy.

But a greater issue went mostly unexplored. Do we have public intellectuals? If so, who are they and how do they feel now about what they do?

So we set about identifying a dozen public intellectuals, some established and some lesser-known.

They were sent standard questions about whether they considered themselves public intellectuals, what the role involves, the risks of being public and their assessment of support from universities, media companies and the general public.

Only one declined. Psychologist and broadcaster Nigel Latta resisted applying the label to himself and opted not to join the discussion, as “I think this whole incident has been completely overcooked so I’ll politely decline the offer rather than contribute to the already overboiled pot”.

Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci defined intellectuals as those whose work is based on the possession and exercise of knowledge. New Zealand writer Bruce Jesson said that the role of an intellectual is to be a critic of society as well as a servant of it and saw no difference between being a servant and a critic.

Gramsci and Jesson’s lines appear in the introduction to Speaking Truth to Power: Public Intellectuals Rethink New Zealand, which is almost 10 years old but highly relevant to the Catton debate.

The anti-intellectual strategies of former prime minister Robert Muldoon, who mocked intellectuals as “snobs” and “ivory tower types”, are close to those practised by Key and Plunket.

And when academic Laurence Simmons wrote in the introduction that “while we revel in the global branding of our sporting heroes, our adventurers or our show-business successes, we shrink from acknowledging the influence and legacy of our thinkers who question the way things are”, he all but predicted the Catton story.

If the Catton furore had a prequel it was the art and media controversy around New Zealand’s installation at the Venice Biennale in 2005.

The exhibition by the et al collective was repeatedly misrepresented in the media and as it was part of et al’s art practice to not speak directly to media, misunderstandings accumulated.

Stung by the bad publicity, Creative NZ commissioned a major report and opted not to return to Venice until 2009. From now on, the “creative team” should include people with “recognised public relations skills”, the report said.

The Venice report found that “one prominent New Zealander stated that the ‘deliberately obtuse manifesto was hard to understand’ and went on to explain that the New Zealand public like it straight up and down and are impatient with things that are perceived as too hard to understand”. Anti-intellectualism was taken as gospel and applied as a marketing strategy.

As in the Catton story there was an idea that if the government has funded art, the artist is obliged to do positive tourism promotion abroad. Was Venice about art or New Zealand Inc networking?

That was under Helen Clark’s Labour government but belittling of academics and experts has also been a feature of Key’s government. Besides Rutherford and Catton, there was the time architecture writer and presenter Kevin McCloud was dismissed as “a tourist” by Brownlee when he offered opinions on the Christchurch rebuild. Leading academic Dame Anne Salmond was attacked as “shrill and unprofessional” and “high and mighty” by Attorney-General Chris Finlayson when she opposed spying legislation in 2013.

Even Whale Rider star Keisha Castle-Hughes was told to “stick to acting” by Key when she voiced an opinion on climate change in 2009.

But none of the previous criticisms generated anything like the coverage accorded to Catton. Partly this was because of Catton’s international status as a Man Booker Prize winner, partly because she responded so calmly to her critics on her blog and partly because the conversation raised deep issues about intellectual discourse in New Zealand.

University of Otago politics lecturer Bryce Edwards thinks that Catton emerged with more fortitude than ever and that it was Sean Plunket who lost face. He sees the Catton story as a lightning rod for wider discontent about politics and the media.

Salmond, in her response to our questions, says: “Some fundamental matters act as flashpoints, where debate spirals out of control.

“This is partly because some groups with vested interests do not welcome public scrutiny of their activities and actively seek to suppress it. This happened in the Dirty Politics saga, for example.”

Salmond believes that “the tone is set from the top”. In attacks on Catton and some journalists, “the responses have been quite vicious and designed to damage people’s lives and careers. The quality of public debate in New Zealand is increasingly nasty and that’s a matter for concern.”

Some of our media is courageous and some is obsequious to those with wealth and power. As for our universities, “they are increasingly required to dance to the tune of vested interests, from politicians to corporate funders”. This is dangerous for democracy and works against creativity, innovation and the free flow of ideas, Salmond adds.

Economist Gareth Morgan dislikes the term “public intellectual” but concedes that he has been working in the public eye since 1982 and has lately enjoyed the luxury of applying his research skills and resources to subjects ranging from climate change, public health, fisheries management, tax and welfare, and obesity to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Morgan has estimated that five years of work on his Treaty book will have personally cost him $600,000 by the end of 2015.

“In order to educate myself I research and write a book and then share those learnings with the public at large, often starting a national conversation on the topic.”

One great example was the national conversation Morgan started about the threat of cats to native birdlife.

And while others must wear criticism from politicians, media or the public, Morgan seems immune. He believes his experience as a public thinker has been largely positive.

“My experience is that the public love the conversation. Further, I find that when we become well-informed, the public is incredibly rational and balanced. Eventually it steers our politicians in the right direction.”

Writer and investigative journalist Nicky Hager generously opened his discussion by listing others he would name as public intellectuals. The Dirty Politics author rates political scientists Bryce Edwards and Jon Johansson, economists Rod Oram, Bill Rosenberg, Brian Easton and Marilyn Waring and science lecturers Mike Joy and Nicola Gaston.

“There are plenty of people who will defend those in power,” Hager says.

“My picture of a public intellectual is someone who is willing to challenge established interests and ideas on behalf of the public, and provide a counter narrative.”

When Dirty Politics appeared, Hager was attacked as “a screaming Left-wing conspiracy theorist” by no less than the prime minister.

He says it is “sadly common” for those who speak on public issues and are attacked to then bow out of public life.

“Large numbers of people in New Zealand are pushed out of public roles and effectively lose their freedom of speech in this way. That is a large part of what Dirty Politics is about.”

In Speaking Truth to Power, Hager argued that the “tall poppy syndrome” is the establishment’s way of cutting down critics rather than the authentic response of the man or woman on the street. Not anti-intellectualism but “a punishment of alternative views”.

He believes that New Zealanders are open to and appreciate the work of public intellectuals, even if they might not use the term.

“There is a wide appetite for intelligent discussion and ideas. But there seems to be little active support and the media in particular should do more to encourage them. The media could start using thoughtful and informed people for commentary instead of people offering celebrity and ignorant controversy.”

Remember the incest gaffe?

Former ACT leader Jamie Whyte knows how it feels to be personally attacked for dissenting views.

Within weeks of assuming the party leadership, Whyte was ridiculed for his belief that the state should not intervene if adult siblings wish to marry. He quickly learned that what is acceptable for rational but politically naive philosophers is taboo for politicians.

Attracting ridicule is an inevitable risk, he says. Sometimes it is deserved, he adds.

Even the public intellectual label “rightly attracts ridicule because it is pompous and suggests that some kind of authority comes with it. None does. No one’s opinions are worth any more than the arguments or evidence that supports them,” he says.

“Vilification is also a risk. If you discuss sensitive topics, such as race, sex and religion, you are likely to upset people. Some will accuse you not only of being wrong but of being wicked. I notice a trend towards arguing not about what people have said but about whether they should have said it.

“Many people seem to believe they have a right to go through life undisturbed by being confronted with views contrary to their own.”

So is New Zealand hostile to intellectuals? Not especially. Whyte sees that English-speaking countries generally have a healthy scepticism about public intellectuals compared to continental Europe.

“Politics is no more intellectually downmarket here than in the UK, US or Australia. Perhaps there is less commentary from intellectuals on TV but that mainly results from the lack of think tanks and similar organisations that aim to push ideas into the media.

“The lack of these organisations results from our small population. To put the matter in perspective, you might ask whether life is better for a public intellectual in New Zealand or in Kentucky, which has the same population.”

– To the Original:  

 

The dark side of being the ‘gifted kid’

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

In an effort to tend to their diverse learning needs, the administration divided the GATE students into two groups Morgan termed the “Perfects” and the “Clods.”The Perfects were all high-achieving gifted kids—those who could sit still and listen to their teacher and, therefore, scored higher on tests.

Morgan, on the other hand, was a Clod.

The Clods, Morgan says, “were all over-excited. All hyper-sensitive. There were sensory issues running wild.” Chaos reigned in the Clod classroom. “No one could sit still. We were all talking back and yelling over each other.”

– I was a gifted kid in the sixties – I graduated High School in 1965.  

– My school district, in Long Beach, California, had a program where they put the gifted kids all together in a class.  This wasn’t our only class as most of us had four to six different classes per day. But, once a day for an hour, we’d gather in this special class.  I can’t even recall what we did there.

– And we were a wide mix.  Everything from the Scholarship bound student class leaders to the serious misfits (like the perfects and the clods in the quote, above).  

– I can’t recall that this class had much of an effect on me other than to make me realize that I had something in common with some of the kids who seemed to excel in everything – like popularity, academics and sports.  Though, at the time, I couldn’t imagine that I would ever get it together to be like them.

– After reading this article, I think I would define myself, luckily, as closer to being one of the ‘Perfects’ – as opposed to being one of the ‘clods’.  

– Oh, I had problems at school – but they were nurture problems that derived from a disruptive home (alcoholism) and not nature problems that were inborn into my nervous system.

– This is hugely interesting read.  And, if you have gifted kids, or if you were gifted yourself, you are sure to learn something here.

– dennis

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Those who think exceptional students have it made don’t understand that being brilliant can have dark implications, writes Swerve’s Marcello Di Cintio.

Reed Ball started playing Monopoly with his family at age three—and beat them.

In the early 1980s, he was one of the first kids to have a “portable” computer, a 10-kilogram Amstrad PPC512. Reed brought it to class until one of the school’s bullies knocked it out of his hands and down a stairwell. Reed was a math whiz, and used to correct his teachers’ science errors. When they warned him he would get lead poisoning if he kept stabbing at his own arm with a pencil, Reed replied, “actually, it is graphite.”

Just before he graduated from high school in 1991, Reed developed software for a major oil company that converted old blueprints into working documents.

He began his studies for a degree in mathematics that September, but flunked out a year later.

Then, when he was 21 years old, Reed Ball swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills.

He died quietly with his pet kitten, Solis, beside him and his computer still on.

“Reed never fit in,” says Jennifer Aldred, one of his longtime schoolmates. “My heart broke for him.”

Aldred recalls Reed’s math skills and his heavy computer, but what she remembers most about Reed was how he used to twist his slender body around the legs of his desk.

He would tie himself into such knots that the caretaker would be summoned to rescue Reed by taking apart the desk with a screwdriver.

Reed’s entanglements serve as an apt metaphor for the school life of severely gifted children.

For those who feel weird and wrong and struggle to find like minds among their peers, school itself can be a contortion. Reed’s exceptional life and early death inspired Aldred into a career in gifted education. She and her colleagues work to help children like Reed untwist.

His tragedy reveals what can be at stake for these kids. 

Our most brilliant children are among our most vulnerable. The challenge of teaching them is finding a way to nurture their souls and ease the burden of their extraordinary minds.

“Giftedness is a tragic gift, and not a precursor to success,” says Janneke Frank, principal of Westmount Charter School and a local guru of gifted education:

The gifted don’t just think differently, they feel differently. And emotions can ricochet out of control sometimes.

To speak of giftedness as a disability seems counterintuitive. Part of the problem is simply semantic; the word “gifted” suggests an advantage and does not conjure up the intense challenges these children can face.

Intelligence test results also fail to tell the whole story.

Quantitatively, giftedness is rather easy to define. A child is considered gifted with an IQ at or around 130—about 30 points higher than those of us with average brains.

But IQ scores alone don’t reflect the range of psychological issues that trouble many gifted students.

Gifted children might express heightened physical sensitivities to light, touch and textures. Parents of some gifted children have to cut the tags out of their kids’ clothing, for example, or buy specially-designed socks with no seams. More serious, though, are the emotional challenges. Gifted children are more prone to depression, self-harm, overexcitability, and learning deficits.

A gifted student might be so paralyzed by her own perfectionism, say, that she refuses to hand in any assignments.

The same 10-year-old who can set up the school’s computer system with the proficiency of a college-educated tech might also throw a tantrum like a toddler if she’s not invited to a birthday party.

Another child might be so affected by a piece of music that he won’t be able to focus on anything else the rest of the day.

Aldred, too, was an eccentric and gifted child. She traded her eraser collection for a classmate’s cast-off eyeglasses, and fashioned herself a set of braces from metal paperclips she pilfered from her teacher’s desk.

“I was delighted with the look,” Aldred says, even though the glasses made her eyes hurt and the paperclips lacerated the inside of her mouth.

When I smiled, blood dripped down my teeth.

Eventually Aldred modified her design to include eyeglass frames without lenses and plastic-coated paperclips that didn’t cut her gums.

Aldred believed with heart-pounding certainty that her school was the sort of enchanted forest or magic kingdom she read about in the books she loved. In addition to the glasses and fake braces, Aldred wore gowns, crowns and glitter-covered wings to school to be ready when this magic revealed itself. Aldred had absolute faith the dream world she yearned for was perpetually at hand.

Looking back, Aldred wonders if this fantasy represented her own contortion.

Like Reed’s twisted body, Aldred’s belief in magic was her way of coping with a real world that made little sense to her.

It was an attempt at resiliency—to somehow scream ‘but this is what I see’, even when a thousand forces tried their best to tear it from me. — Aldred

Those forces succeeded eventually.

Aldred’s teacher confiscated the glasses and banned her from raiding the paperclip jar. Aldred started to leave the wings and crowns at home.

Parts of me died in those early years. When I started teaching, the only thing I wanted to be sure of—especially working with gifted kids—was that no part of them died. — Aldred

In Aldred and Reed’s time, schools offered little programming for gifted students. Aldred briefly attended a “cluster group” at Prince of Wales Elementary. The school administration yanked the smartest kids from each grade out of their regular classes and grouped them together for special learning. No doubt the developers of the program meant well, but the effectiveness of the pull-out class seems rather dubious.

“We sat in dark rooms where we imagined different ways to build stuffed animals and played chess for a while,” Aldred remembers.

Colin Martin—Aldred’s cluster classmate who used to play Monopoly with Reed, on multiple boards at the same time, in Reed’s parents’ basement—says the program aided the school bullies by assembling all their favourite victims in one convenient location.

After graduating from high school in the early ’90s, Aldred left Calgary for Queen’s University, where she completed honours degrees in English and fine arts, followed by a bachelor of education with a focus on gifted learning.

She returned to Calgary for her practicum and, by coincidence, ended up teaching back at Prince of Wales.

By this time, more sophisticated programs were available for Calgary’s gifted students.

Prince of Wales was, and remains, one of five schools running the Calgary Board of Education’s Gifted and Talented Education program, or GATE. In addition, Westmount Charter School offers “qualitatively differentiated educational programming” for gifted students.

Both programs require potential students to undergo psychological assessments and score high on intelligence tests to identify their giftedness.

At Prince of Wales, Aldred was charged with teaching English literature to GATE students. She’d taught Shakespeare’s plays to “regular” teenagers in Ontario, and suspected she’d have to find simplified versions for her younger charges at Prince of Wales.

She was wrong: “They just got it.”

Her gifted students took to the poetic language immediately and grasped the metaphorical elements in the text better than students 10 years older.

When Aldred taught a unit on Arthurian legend, her students showed no interest in the illustrated children’s anthologies Aldred brought for them.

Instead, they looted the stack of academic treatises and primary source material on Aldred’s own desk.

One nine-year-old girl hauled away a 900-page copy of The Mists of Avalon. She read the entire book that night and returned it, exhausted, the next morning.

What delighted Aldred most about her first gifted class was that despite their sophisticated grasp of the material, the GATE students were still children.

They believed in magic the same way she used to.

 Intellectually, they were at a university level, but they were trapped in these little kid bodies that still believed in unicorns.
— Aldred

Their enthusiasm for the material astonished her.

The day after she read aloud the first three lines of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of her students came to class dressed as the Queen of the Fairies.

Some of these kids acted as if they’d been waiting their whole life for Aldred to bring them Shakespeare, or Sylvia Plath, or Margaret Atwood. “For me, as a teacher, it was a dream come true,” Aldred says.

After her practicum, Aldred earned a master’s in gifted education at the University of Calgary.

By then, her experience convinced her that gifted students should have their own classrooms and not be scattered among the general school population.

I believe hugely in a congregated setting. — Aldred

To argue against integration also feels counterintuitive.

The separation of the gifted may seem unfair and discriminatory; parents of “regular” kids often wonder why resources and special classrooms are devoted to gifted students.

Kathy Stone, the mother of gifted twin boys, remembers an irate father standing up at a meeting with a school superintendent to protest funding a gifted program.

“I am so sick of hearing that elitist crap,” Stone remembers the man saying.

He called gifted kids arrogant, complained that they already have everything, and rejected the idea that they needed ‘country club programming.’

“Kids are all the same and should be treated the same,” he continued.

Nearly all teachers and parents of gifted students, however, consider congregated classrooms essential.

 

People say it teaches the kids not to get along in the real world. I believe it is about survival.
— Aldred

Gifted kids need a place where they can feel safe and accepted for all their various intensities. A place where they can be themselves, quirks and all.

Janice Robertson agrees: a congregated gifted program may well have saved her son’s life.

Janice had long been concerned about Mark (both their names have been changed).

He was an exceptionally smart kid who taught himself to read by the time he was two years old.

But a darkness always hung behind Mark’s brightness.

“He would say things like, ‘I’m just going to hurt myself,’” Janice remembers.

He used to bang his head on the floor and once, when he was three, pointed to a digger on a construction site and said, “I’m going to ask that digger to dig a hole and put us in it and bury us.”

Mark’s early schooling in Saskatchewan proved difficult. He behaved poorly. Mark threw things around the classroom, made animal noises during quiet reading time, and hurled snowballs at cars at recess.

The school principal called Mark’s parents with reports of misbehaviour several times a week.

A doctor wrote Mark a prescription for Zoloft, an anti-anxiety drug, but the medication had no effect.

“He was driving himself and everyone else crazy,” Janice says. She decided to have Mark tested for giftedness.

These tests are expensive. The Wechler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), one of the most common tests used to determine giftedness, costs anywhere between $800 and $2000 to administer.

In most cases, individual teachers will identify a child who should be tested and recommend the school cover the cost. But without a teacher’s referral—or if the school’s budget for testing runs dry—parents must foot the bill.

Mark’s family was fortunate that they could afford the tests, but many lower-income families cannot.

Gifted-education advocates like Aldred and Frank worry that many gifted children are not being identified at all.

Mark scored well into the gifted range and was eligible for special programming, but the gifted programs in Saskatoon’s public school system did not start until Grade 5.

Mark’s parents decided they couldn’t wait.

The whole family moved to Calgary and Mark started the GATE program at Hillhurst Elementary.

After about a year into the program, Mark settled down and his grades improved.

He wasn’t as bored. There was not as much need to create chaos to keep himself entertained.

Most importantly, though, was that Mark had found his tribe. “People understood him better. He made more intellectual connections.”

Occasionally, Mark clashed with kids “outside his little clan,” Janice says, but never with his fellow GATE classmates. These were his people.

Mark continued with the GATE program until Grade 11, when he enrolled in a hockey program at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. (A true eccentric, Mark played goal.) Now he studies engineering at Queen’s University.

As it turns out, his roommates in Kingston are old classmates from the GATE program in Calgary.

Without that program, Janice says, Mark would have fallen apart.

I honestly believe if we hadn’t gotten him into that segregated program he would have dropped out and started dealing drugs somewhere. Mark would have ended up killing himself or someone else. — Janice

Not all students feel saved by gifted education, however.

Alyssa Morgan needed to be saved from her gifted program.

 

Morgan had always been an odd kid. For as long as she can remember, she has never been able to stand tags on her clothing and can’t wear anything made out of corduroy or polyester. “I’ve worn jeans and a cotton T-shirt for basically my entire life,” she says.

Morgan started to notice her own giftedness in Grade 3 when she started to find school unbearably dull. Morgan often snuck out of her classroom to read books in the library. When she did attend class, Morgan pestered her teacher with constant questions.

It was like an itch I couldn’t scratch. The thirst to know and understand everything. — Morgan

Morgan’s parents didn’t worry too much about their daughter’s eccentricities until Grade 4 when a substitute teacher—and mother of two gifted children—recognized something exceptional in Morgan’s misbehaviour. The substitute teacher suggested testing Morgan’s IQ. She scored a 137 and started in the GATE program at Nellie McClung the following year.

In a way, Morgan was lucky she was such a pain in the ass. Gifted boys tend to act out much more often than gifted girls. Young males tend to combat their boredom by disrupting the class.

Often their frustrated teachers send them to be tested for behavioural problems only to discover that the little monsters have off-the-chart IQs. Gifted girls, however, are more likely to turn inward. Their silent brooding may be interpreted as nothing more than feminine coquettishness, and their giftedness may be overlooked.

Initially, the GATE program was everything Morgan wanted. “The first two years I was in that program were incredible,” she says.

Her teacher assigned expansive projects to the class. They discussed concepts, shared ideas, and approached each piece of curriculum from several angles at once.

Every single day I was coming home bursting at the seams with all of this. — Morgan

At the family dinner table, Morgan rambled on about how she learned about pi. About Archimedes. About the pay system of the ancient Incas. “It got to the point that my parents said ‘You need to stop and let everyone else talk about their day as well.’”

The GATE teachers at McClung knew how to manage the various excitabilities and sensory issues of their students. Morgan’s Grade 6 teacher, Michelle Odland, gave the students regular “body breaks.” Allowing them to get up and run around the class a few times a day helped their concentration.

Odland also wrapped everyone’s desk in sheets of paper so that they could doodle nonstop if they needed to. When some of the more sensitive kids complained about the constant buzz of the fluorescent tube lighting, Odland strung up Christmas bulbs everywhere to provide a calmer, quieter light.

“She would constantly ask ‘What’s bugging you?’” Morgan says. “This was a teacher who understood we weren’t just a bunch of kids that were really, really smart. She offered us emotional support.”

But Morgan’s dream education ended when she left McClung and started junior high at John Ware.

In an effort to tend to their diverse learning needs, the administration divided the GATE students into two groups Morgan termed the “Perfects” and the “Clods.”The Perfects were all high-achieving gifted kids—those who could sit still and listen to their teacher and, therefore, scored higher on tests.

Morgan, on the other hand, was a Clod.

The Clods, Morgan says, “were all over-excited. All hyper-sensitive. There were sensory issues running wild.” Chaos reigned in the Clod classroom. “No one could sit still. We were all talking back and yelling over each other.”

The Clods’ teachers lacked Mrs. Odland’s talent for teaching gifted kids. Instead of assigning big projects, most teachers handed out worksheets. Students were not encouraged to debate concepts anymore, and were expected to simply sit, listen and behave.

We did not have enough teachers who actually understood what gifted is. — Morgan

Before long, the students turned on each other. Gifted students are rarely bullies, but without an outlet for their various intensities the Clods of Nellie McClung vented their frustration on Morgan.

The teasing and abuse escalated throughout junior high and into high school. 

Morgan hid most of what was happening from her parents. “They were aware there was bullying, and would give advice and pep talks, but they were not aware of the levels I was being attacked,” she says.

Morgan did not elaborate on the details of all she endured, only that the incidents culminated in something she calls the “Terrible Awful.”

She finally fled the GATE program altogether in Grade 11.

Now 21, Morgan is studying journalism at the University of Vancouver Island. Her gifted eccentricities endure. She hauled 400 books into her tiny dorm room when she moved in, for example, and recently spent an entire night reading all the case files and grand jury testimony in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson.

The “Terrible Awful,” though, still haunts her.

Morgan’s doctor recently diagnosed her with PTSD.

“I did not handle what happened to me the appropriate way,” Morgan admits, but she believes much of the blame lies with her GATE teachers.

The people who failed us were those who didn’t know what gifted was. Had my teachers been better, none of this stuff would have happened. — Morgan

Mercifully, Morgan’s story is an anomaly. Most gifted students thrive in the programs designed for them.

But her experience exposes the vital role of the teacher in gifted education.

Congregation, though essential, is not enough for some of these students. They need educators who possess a holistic understanding of giftedness.

In Canada, no specific training is necessary for gifted-education teachers.

In the U.S., teachers of the gifted need to have special certification.

“Here you just have to be alive,” Frank says. Very few teachers possess a gifted-focused master’s degree like Aldred.

Principals and administrators assign teachers to gifted programs based on interviews and on the teacher’s interest.

At Westmount, Frank looks for teachers who display flexibility in their thinking and are intellectually honest.

An ideal teacher of the gifted must also be creative and humble.

If you are paralyzed by someone being smarter than you, please do not go into giftedness. — Frank

Above all, Frank says a teacher of the gifted needs to understand that “these students are wired differently.”

Gifted teachers “encourage students, in their authentic search for self, to make conscious choices towards the good.”

Empathy is key.

For this reason, Frank believes the best teachers of the gifted are gifted themselves.

Frank understands the suggestion may rankle some, but no one understands the nuances of giftedness better than those who have endured them first hand.

Thankfully, gifted education tends to self-select for gifted teachers anyway. Many of those who apply to teach gifted programs, Frank says, display the same exceptional traits their potential students do.

Frank and Jennifer Aldred both admit that there is little gifted students can learn from their teachers, at least intellectually, that they cannot learn on their own. Exceptional kids can speed through a year’s worth of school board curriculum in a matter of hours. “I will never know more than they do,” Aldred says. They need teachers and programs that focus not on the magnificence of their brains, but on the fragility of their hearts.

Unless their heart is intact, no learning can happen. — Aldred

She quotes from Galway Kinnell’s “Saint Francis and the Sow,” a poem she teaches her literature students:

…sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely

– To the Original:  

 

Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down To 2 Basic Traits

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

– I like it when science ends up saying what many of us have known intuitively.  

– There’s a lot of wisdom in this piece and, if you can see that your relationship isn’t likely to endure after reading this, I’d suggest you deal with your relationship ASAP by making it your highest priority.  

– Either mend it or end it.  

– Life is far too short to waste a significant part of it enduring a relationship rather than reveling in it.  

– It’s your life.  Make it into what you want it to be and remember, there’s no more powerful technique to shape your life than to give away that which you want to get.

– dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.

Every day in June, the most popular wedding month of the year, about 13,000 American couples will say “I do,” committing to a lifelong relationship that will be full of friendship, joy, and love that will carry them forward to their final days on this earth.

Except, of course, it doesn’t work out that way for most people.

The majority of marriages fail, either ending in divorce and separation or devolving into bitterness and dysfunction.

Of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages, as psychologist Ty Tashiro points out in his book “The Science of Happily Ever After,” which was published earlier this year.

Social scientists first started studying marriages by observing them in action in the 1970s in response to a crisis: Married couples were divorcing at unprecedented rates. Worried about the impact these divorces would have on the children of the broken marriages, psychologists decided to cast their scientific net on couples, bringing them into the lab to observe them and determine what the ingredients of a healthy, lasting relationship were.

Was each unhappy family unhappy in its own way, as Tolstoy claimed, or did the miserable marriages all share something toxic in common?

Psychologist John Gottman was one of those researchers. For the past four decades, he has studied thousands of couples in a quest to figure out what makes relationships work. I recently had the chance to interview Gottman and his wife Julie, also a psychologist, in New York City. Together, the renowned experts on marital stability run The Gottman Institute, which is devoted to helping couples build and maintain loving, healthy relationships based on scientific studies.

John Gottman began gathering his most critical findings in 1986, when he set up “The Love Lab” with his colleague Robert Levenson at the University of Washington. Gottman and Levenson brought newlyweds into the lab and watched them interact with each other.

With a team of researchers, they hooked the couples up to electrodes and asked the couples to speak about their relationship, like how they met, a major conflict they were facing together, and a positive memory they had. As they spoke, the electrodes measured the subjects’ blood flow, heart rates, and how much they sweat they produced. Then the researchers sent the couples home and followed up with them six years later to see if they were still together.

From the data they gathered, Gottman separated the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages.

When the researchers analyzed the data they gathered on the couples, they saw clear differences between the masters and disasters. The disasters looked calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story. Their heart rates were quick, their sweat glands were active, and their blood flow was fast. Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time.

But what does physiology have to do with anything? The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal — of being in fight-or-flight mode — in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger.

Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other. For example, each member of a couple could be talking about how their days had gone, and a highly aroused husband might say to his wife, “Why don’t you start talking about your day. It won’t take you very long.”

– More…

 

 

Thoughts from friends

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

– I have some excellent friends,   People whose thoughts and minds I admire for many reasons.   We do not always agree on all things but I always respect their thought processes and their integrity.

– I’ve occasionally posted things here on Samadhisoft that my friends have written to me in personal correspondence.  Today, I’m going to do so again. With a few changes to remove names and identifying E-Mail addresses, I should be able to publish their words and still leave the authors anonymous.

– To set the stage, the first E-Mail here was between myself and a friend who is from India but now lives in the U.S.  He and I are discussing the election of India’s newest Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and other various subjects.  

– Later, I forwarded my Indian friend’s  E-Mail to another astute friend of mine, an American, and I found his comments to be highly interesting and thoughtful as well.

– All of it is good food for thought and I hope you find it so as well.

– dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = =Round one  = = = = = = = = = = = =

This original thread began because I’d commented to my Indian friend on a story I’d seen in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.  It might help to read that article to place the following discussions in context.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/mar/14/new-india-gujarat-massacre

My friend’s response:

Hi Dennis,

Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat…well, he is the product of RSS, a Hindu outfit which has existed for at least 70 years. There were riots, and Muslims died. Since then  the arguments rage if he really turned a blind eye to them. A Muslim MP, Ehsan Jaffri, in whose home many Muslims felt safe, was torched alive, and there was a massacre. His widow is still fighting it out in various courts.

But you have to understand a few things also. Hindus are in majority in India, and highly divided in their votes. Muslims, a minority,  are mainly used as vote banks by various “secular” political parties.

So the politicians promote the already existing cultural differences between the two religions. It is easy to fan flames because the formation of Pakistan in 1947 was a bloody carving out of Indian flesh, and thousand s died, and books like Tamas, and A train to Pakistan and various movies have kept the flames alive, and there are people still alive who have seen the carnage. Only when they are all dead, can this holocaust be forgotten.

To woo Muslims to use as election fodder, various political parties offer them freebies which are the cause of angst among Hindus. The Muslims don’t’ help either. They can marry Hindu girls after converting them to Islam, but woe betide the house in which a Hindu boy marries a Muslim girl! They can marry four times,bringing home 4 wives, –which is the origin of Modi’s statement “we five, breeding twenty five”. Hindus can marry only once, and there is a real fear that in time, Mulsims may outnumber Hindus.

Next, they are not so educated, preferring to go to work (like China’s home factories) and they fight everything modern. For instance, Polio drops, photographing humans and contraceptives are against their religion. Because the Holy Qoran says so!!! So say the Maulvis! Of course, Muslims don’t read the book to verify the statements. And can you imagine the living standard of a little educated household, having 5-6 children, and adults?

Then, the triple Talaq. Any man can divorce his wife just by saying Talaq thrice. No maintenance, no support  of any sort. And very few of their women are literate or have any skill except the domestic ones.

All these horrify us. Look, my family rented out two rooms on the ground floor to a Muslim couple. They mentioned kids, and we thought that it would be the normal 1-2. In two rooms, one kitchen and one bathroom, the couple, their four sons, two of them with wives, with four small kids of their own, live! Can you imagine that? We tried to get rid of them, by telling them to go, and raising their rent to triple the normal…no effect. Every Sunday when they hang out their washing, it looks like the laundry of a major hospital! They have no furniture, and when I step into their rooms, frankly everything stinks.

And whenever there is an India-Pakistan match, Muslims cheer for Pakistanis! In a war, they hope Pakistan wins! Every terrorist apprehended in India, (except the group responsible for the Samjhauta Train bombing) are Muslims–fighting a Holy War against their own country.

All the other religions here Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism have originated here. Christianity and Islam have originated in the deserts of Israel and Arabia. We don’t relate to the stories–of deserts and tribes etc. But the Christians are doing good work–Mother Teresa, and many others here. Most of us have attended Christian churches and go to Christian hospitals.

The Muslims have spewed nothing but hatred. I have spent 12 years in Hyderabad, where there is a majority of Muslims, and I know what I am writing about. Many Hindu girls used to be kidnapped–and sold to Arabian Sheikhs.

A typical Hindu family consists of husband- wife, his parents, and their children–about one or two. Frankly we can’t afford more, because we have to educate the kids, build a home, look after our parents, and save for the future. We have to have furniture, all the modern gadgets, and a vibrant social life.

Well, previously, though tensions simmered, these problems were solved by walled cities within cities–the Hindu area, and the Muslim area. But since their home factories started manufacturing bombs–can you imagine, in a one and a half room apartment in Mumbai, a husband-wife, and their daughter and son put together bombs, and placed them in crowded areas in Mumbai, killing many people. The women wore the long black veil in trial court–they are too modest to show their faces, but not too modest to plant bombs!–sympathy for them has fast eroded.

We are in the majority, so we have to keep quiet–as human rights exist only for the minorities!

Now for the first time, there is a leader in India who is a Hindu, and proudly so.

Is he Hitler? Only time will tell!

But he is not corrupt personally–no personal life, no property, does not drink, smoke, is a vegetarian..and is highly popular in his home state which is the most developed one in the country–building canals across deserts, flyovers, a safe and single window clearance for investors…it is the only state where you can call up a government official over the phone and ask for information, and he will either let you know, or promise to research and call you back–and does that. ( I tried it). No corruption is tolerated in Gujarat.

And Modi is promising that for the rest of India…and even Muslims agree that development will include them.

There are other religions in India too. Parsees the fireworshippers, descendents of Zoroastrians, Jews, atheists..so silent that we don’t even realize that they are different….until they occupy the top posts…Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, many army officers, bankers the Wadia family, the Tatas….they do good, always.

The Jews are on record stating that India is the only country where they have never been persecuted. In the Mumbai blasts, a synagogue was attacked and the young Rabbi family was killed–by Muslim terrorists from Pakistan.

We have had no problem with anyone because: they want the same thing every same person wishes for–to live in peace, in his or her own way. India, under Hindus has never attacked any other country in the last 10,000 years of its existence.

Muslims? They call all non-believers Kafirs. Their religion ensures Jannat (Paradise) for anyone who kills Kafirs. (This is not in the Holy Qoran–I read it.) But they believe all their Maulvis tell them. Kasab, the terrorist taken alive in Mumbai blasts, thought that the dead bodies of those who were ‘martyred’ while killing Kafirs–in Jihad (Holy War)– would never rot, but keep giving off a scent like roses. Till the Judgement Day, so that Allah can recognize them and reward them with Paradise. He broke down when he was shown the decomposing bodies of his comrades

They believe that all knowledge is in the Qoran. If it is not there, it is not knowledge, but the Shaitan (Satan) at work, gulling us.

Muslims used to work in the Gulf countries, and many other nations, as blue collar workers. In my childhood in Hyderabad, the richest people were Muslims, who sent home money in dollars.

Now they are welcome –nowhere. Non-Muslims in India–the educated workers employed in various industries in the whole world, are the ones doing well now. Many countries balk in issuing visas to Muslims and Pakistanis.

When a bill was moved in the parliament to settle alimony on a divorced Muslim woman, it was opposed. Unislamic!  Such women are a burden on their families, or forced into petty crime.

France is having trouble with the veil.

All of these are shaping the psyche of the youth. Many Muslim engineers are working to destabilize India–bombs, arson, cybercrime etc. It is just as though they could have been good , but something in their chromosomes does not let them be.

Of course, not all Muslims are bad.  But since all the bad guys are Muslims, this has cast a pall over them all.

– and thus ends my Indian friend’s E-Mail.

= = = = = = = = = = = Round two = = = = = = = = = = =

– And here begin my second friend’s comments:

Dennis, thanks for this.  I found [your friend’s] message interesting.  I don’t know a lot about Indian culture, but as you know I studied religion in college, and India is both crucible and carnival when it comes to religious beliefs, a birthplace and meeting place.  This has been true for millennia.

I share [your friend’s] leeriness when it comes to Islam.  Oh, not those Muslims who practice a watered-down version of their religion, as many do in the West — I fear the fundamentalists.  Actually I consider fundamentalists of any religious stripe dangerous.  I have always said religion is fine — as long as it is kept in a cage with all its teeth pulled out.

To the degree that religion addresses deep existential issues — “Why are we here?” — it is not just beneficial, but inevitable.  It answers a deep-seated need in people, and a society that relentlessly suppresses religion or outlaws it (the Soviets, the Nazis) at some point goes off the rails.

Americans in the U.S. have lived in a religiously pluralistic and tolerant society for so long, they don’t always keenly appreciate the dangers here, until there is a Waco compound incident.

If people relinquish control of their lives by handing themselves over, body and soul, to a religious paradigm, then they leave themselves vulnerable to the a-rational (and therefore potentially ir-rational) components of religion.

Religion is like alcohol — a moderate amount makes life more pleasant and is even good for you; too much is a scourge.

What I believe is that a society must be guided by a strong civic spirit, that civility is crowned queen of the virtues.  Why?  Because otherwise, we’re blowing up buses.  Religious fervor is not the only fuel for such evil — the Nazis were secular and they shoveled people into ovens — but religious fundamentalists are often troublesome.  I am not thinking of the Amish and Mennonite communities, which embrace a living-apart ethos; I’m thinking of those Muslims and Christians who, on the basis of their faith, feel compelled to violently re-make the world around them.  They disrupt civil society because they consider it sinful.  They do not want people to have freedom, because that freedom can only be used to veer away from God’s will (however that is defined).

This is why I am not in favor of unbridled pluralism: not all beliefs or views should be tolerated, but rather only those that are compatible with the ongoing health and welfare of society.  Do not harbor those who would destroy you!  Why should you?  Throw ’em out!  Anyone who advocates violence or terrorism is a terrorist, regardless of the etiology of their beliefs.

In other words, I don’t care if you consider yourself a Muslim, Christian, Militant Taoist… if you advocate violence against people, your ideology and organization must be contained and disposed of, its leaders imprisoned, monitored, exiled, in rare cases perhaps executed (a dead person has no ability to act; their volition is utterly neutralized).  This is for the good of the whole.

If I were king, religious groups would be monitored. Those leaders preaching violent fundamentalism would literally be apprehended in the dark of night, along with their spouses and children, and processed out — assets frozen, imprisoned, documented, exiled, banned from the United States.  The phones of their friends and family would be tapped and they would be monitored. Those who crossed the line would face the same fate as their leaders.  Those found with bombs or weapons would be imprisoned and perhaps executed as enemies of a free society.

If this sounds like some paranoid, McCarthy-esque totalitarianism, I can only say that I think such an extreme response is merited by religious fundamentalists.  They’re dangerous.  Not because their beliefs are odd.  Strangeness of beliefs (virgin births, golden tablets buried in the Earth, alien overlords) are the stuff of religion.  It is the posture the religion takes towards greater society that is the issue. Those who prepare to make war must be treated as traitors and enemy combatants.  Because that’s what they are…

As for [your friend’s] comments… a world where radical Muslims are not welcome anywhere… where does that lead?  Either they abandon their beliefs in order to live more fulfilling lives, or they gravitate into increasingly hermetic, tightly-wound, and shrill communities, even more prone to violence.  The status quo is dangerous.  India should ban radical imams, mullahs, ulamas, and their madrassas, because they are just fuel for the fire.  You want to be a radical Muslim?  Move to Pakistan.  We don’t want you here in the world’s largest democracy; this place is for those who want to live in peace with each other.

I read a commentary a few weeks ago written by a Christian Pakistani, a medical student, who made it clear that Pakistan is an extreme and benighted society held back by its religious fundamentalism and intolerance.  So he fled to the West, and is now a med student at Columbia.  We have one more doctor, Pakistan took another step towards the 12th century. And you know what?  That’s their choice.  As long as they remember we have a nuclear knife at their throat and they better never mess with us, as long as they are afraid of us, I don’t care what they do. You don’t talk to crazy people, you contain them.

This is why borders still matter: they are more importantly boundaries of culture than boundaries of trade and resources.  And culture trumps.

– and so my second friend’s e-mail ends.

– The world is a complex place with so many points of view.   I strongly agree with the second writer; we should have no place for those who will not allow us our freedoms to live and let live and to respect each others beliefs.  I do not want to return to the past.
– dennis

The FBI’s Bitcoin address

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

The capture of ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ has significant implications for the future of the Bitcoin industry.

Earlier this month, the FBI announced the capture in San Francisco, of a young individual by the name of Ross Ulbricht. Allegedly he is the man behind Silk Road, a black market website only accessible through the Tor anonimising network.

bitcoinSilk Road allowed the trading of all sorts of illegal goods and services, from malicious software to hard drugs, through a user-friendly, Amazon-like interface. Its founder was known by the pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts“, also known as DPR, and had become a sort of online ideological celebrity for radical libertarians.

Silk Road relied on the booming Bitcoin currency to enable hard-to-trace payments between buyers and sellers. Rapidly gaining global reach, Silk Road was a profitable endeavour, and DPR amassed a multi-million dollar fortune in Bitcoins. As it was to be expected, law enforcement agencies were on the hunt to shut down Silk Road and to capture its notorious founder, who in the meantime, had started giving interviews to the media.

The first chapter of Silk Road’s downfall, which began with the news of Ulbricht’s capture, reached its end on October 25. On that day, a long series of transactions, each for 324 Bitcoins and totalling over 144,000 Bitcoins was recorded in the Bitcoin public ledger. Later that day, the FBI revealed that the transactions where made by them in order to transfer the funds from DPR’s Bitcoin wallet to another one under their control. The way in which the funds were transferred, in chunks of 324 Bitcoins, conveyed in itself a message: That the FBI had indeed gained control of at least one of the main Silk Road wallets. When typed into a phone’s numeric pad, the number 324 spells “FBI”.

The Federal Bitcoin Reserve?

In Bitcoin, all transactions are public and it is easy to verify any movement via a web browser. The catch is that while Bitcoin addresses are public, the system provides no information about who owns any given address. A user can nonetheless choose to make public his or hers Bitcoin address, which is what the FBI did. The FBI’s Bitcoin address is 1FfmbHfnpaZjKFvyi1okTjJJusN455paPH, and its balance and transactions can be monitored by anyone in real time simply by pasting it to Google and clicking on the first result.

– More:  

 

Pentagon weapons-maker finds method for cheap, clean water

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

– A-hem.  Yes, it will be very nice if this is true.  And I’d like to believe it is.  But….

– Well, you knew there was going to be a ‘but‘ didn’t you?

– On one hand, the conspiracy theorists (who generally are a bit light on their science education chops) are always telling us how it’s possible to run cars on water or to pull energy straight out of the air and that they know for a fact that a fellow named Bubba in Alabama or Colorado has got it all working in his garage and has showed hundreds of people … but that the government is doing its best to shut him down.  But Bubba’ll sell you a kit quietly for $39 in the mail if you’d like to get in on it all early before the rush.

– But there’s the other side of this phenomenon as well.  And that’s when we see these exciting new discovery announcements like the one I’m blogging about now in relatively reputable publications.

<cynic>

– Do I sound cynical?  

– Well, for me cynicism began all the way back in the early 80’s when I read an article in OMNI magazine that a Dr. Bussard down near San Diego in La Jolla had made a breakthrough in the theoretical physics of nuclear fusion.  Even then, we all knew that if fusion could be made real, it would be a world shaker.   This fellow had, apparently, started a small company, International Nuclear Energy Systems,  in preparation for taking all of this ‘live’.

– I took a day off from work and drove my motorcycle down from Long Beach (100km or so) to find these people.  I was going to beg and cajole my way into working with them – for free, if I had to.  

– I had an address for their company in an industrial park.  But Dr. Bussard wasn’t there when I called so I talked with a receptionist and looked at some flashy pamphlets.  After she said, ‘no’, the boss wasn’t in, I told her how far I’d come, she took pity on me and gave me a home address and told me I might try there.  So, I rode off again and eventually I found a very upscale looking house near the sea also in La Jolla, I think.  

– I knocked on the door and a young woman in her early 20’s answered.  ‘No’, her father, Dr. Bussard, wasn’t home.   I asked if she knew much about his work and told her how impressed I was with what I’d read and why I wanted to meet him.  ‘No’, she knew it was a big deal but she didn’t know a lot about it.

Truthfully, I think she found me of more interest than the fusion stuff and she asked me in to visit which rather amazed me.  But, I digress.

– I left my contact data and as much of my enthusiasm as I though I could convey through her and I departed back to Long Beach no wiser than I’d come.

– Well, nothing ever happened from any of this.  The world was not shaken by a new fusion technology and, other than that magazine article, I never heard of any of these folks again until I stopped this evening to do a bit of long-after-the-fact research.  

– You can read about some of what I found here and here. 

The fellow’s name was Robert Bussard and he was, in fact, quite a famous scientist and he was the inventor of the Bussard Ram Jet.  But his fusion ideas were, apparently not to be.

– Then, we can all remember the fiasco over cold fusion, yes?  

– And then, as well, a few months ago, I read that a new way of storing energy had been discovered and it was going to revolutionize the world.  Because now we could gather up sunlight power all day, store it and then release it at night.   All they needed was a few months to perfect the process.

– And look!  Here’s another.   In this one, we’re going to store the energy in a certain semi-magical molecule.  We’ll be able to just carry this chemical around quite safely and then, when we need the energy back, it’ll just ‘pop’ out in the form of heat.   Is that cool or what?  Yeah, right.   Just a few months or years away.

</cynic>

– So now, in this article, we have a new way to make cheap, clean water?   Well, maybe.  I mean I am hopeful but so many of these breakthroughs seem to, in the end, go pfffff to nowhere.

– I had a female friend years ago that loved to give me a bad time about things in general,  And she just loved to say to me that, “I was always patting the bed and telling folks how good it was going to be but that nothing ever happened.”   And then she’d laugh and laugh (smile).   Somehow, that anecdote seems appropriate.

– Anyway, please enjoy the article.  

– I’m going to go off now and see if they’ve found pieces of the Ark on top of Mount Ararat (again).  It’s an exciting quest.   You can follow along here:  ,   or  

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

* Filter could sharply cut energy needed to remove salt from water

* Officials say firm has patented process, looking for partners

* Cheaper seawater purification could help ease water security fears

A defense contractor better known for building jet fighters and lethal missiles says it has found a way to slash the amount of energy needed to remove salt from seawater, potentially making it vastly cheaper to produce clean water at a time when scarcity has become a global security issue.

The process, officials and engineers at Lockheed Martin Corp say, would enable filter manufacturers to produce thin carbon membranes with regular holes about a nanometer in size that are large enough to allow water to pass through but small enough to block the molecules of salt in seawater. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

Because the sheets of pure carbon known as graphene are so thin – just one atom in thickness – it takes much less energy to push the seawater through the filter with the force required to separate the salt from the water, they said.

The development could spare underdeveloped countries from having to build exotic, expensive pumping stations needed in plants that use a desalination process called reverse osmosis.

“It’s 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger,” said John Stetson, the engineer who has been working on the idea. “The energy that’s required and the pressure that’s required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less.”

– More…  

– Research thanks to Tony H.

 

Happy Holidays

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

I’d like to wish everyone happy holidays.

Remember, give what you want to get and be a light unto yourself.   You are the only person, really, whose thoughts, intentions and behaviors you can control.   Be an artist – create something beautiful.

And remember also to do your best at every moment – and then let it go,  Because, if you do your best, then you cannot possibly be responsible for the outcome; whatever it is.   Buy yourself this freedom.

– dennis

 

Two excellent movies in two days

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Last night, I watched “The Hunter“.  A film that takes place in Tasmania about 2001.

Tonight it was “The Tracker“, which takes place in New Zealand just after the Boer War.

Both excellent and recommended.