Tuesday, January 09, 2007

3,000 Human Lives Lost

More than three thousand U.S. soldiers killed in the Iraq War.

More than three thousand people killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001.

More than three thousand people await execution in the United States.

There is no direct connection between any of these except that each represents a pointless, though deliberate, waste of human life. Are humans still so primitive that they should still be collectively deciding to burn, poison, shoot, suffocate, or even stone one of their own kind to death?

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Related article in New Yorker magazine

Monday, January 08, 2007

Smithsonian Museum Promotes Showtime Smut

The Smithsonian Museum recently granted exclusive commercial access to Showtime networks. Showtime is now using Smithsonian Museum materials to create television programming that will lead more viewers to watch the pornography and other smut programming Showtime airs.

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If you do not subscribe to the Showtime cable network, or live near Washington, DC, you will not be able to watch Smithsonian programming created by Showtime. Sign up for Showtime now so that your family can watch shows with these titles: Masters of Horror, Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, Queer As Folk, Sexual Healing, Sleeper Cell, The L Word, The Underground Weeds, and White Boyz in the Hood after a Smithsonian Museum special on American History!

Showtime promotes boxing, an activity prohibited in most U.S. states. There is nothing to prevent Showtime from using Smithsonian archive materials to draw more viewers to watch boxing. What a great way to use the contents of our national museum!

From this point forward, all other commercial uses of Smithsonian materials will be subject to extreme scrutiny. If any commercial organization plans to use just a little too much Smithsonian content, that project will be stopped. How much Smithsonian content you can use will be determined by a secret contract between Showtime executives and Smithsonian Museum curators. In the meantime Showtime will profit from the Smithsonian Museum and share only a fraction of the profits with them.

Members of U.S. Congress know all about this dirty deal. They plan to do nothing about it. In fact, your Representatives and Senators are allowing the Smithsonian to cover-up the details of this sleazy affair.

The reason few people have heard of this deal is because the contract between the Smithsonian and Showtime is secret. The taxpayers that support the Smithsonian are not permitted to see the content of this contract.

How much longer will it be before you have to subscribe to Showtime before being admitted to the National Air and Space Museum or the National Zoo?

Write your Congressman or Senator to object to this sell-out of your national treasures. Write them before our national museum becomes nothing more than another cable TV channel.

The Smithsonian mission statement reads:

The Smithsonian is committed to enlarging our shared understanding of the mosaic that is our national identity by providing authoritative experiences that connect us to our history and our heritage as Americans and to promoting innovation, research and discovery in science.

but only through Showtime networks!!!

GAO Government Report

Washington Post article

Smithsonian materials only available to Video On Demand subscribers

Educational Use of Smithsonian To Be Prohibited

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Truth About China

I am well-aware that it is next to impossible to verify exactly where the deaths took place in China in 1989. Just as it is impossible to determine how many people are jailed for attempting to practice whatever religion they believe in or how many die in China's deadly coal mines each year. Huge areas of China remain off limits to outside observers of any kind.
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The point to remember about Tiananmen Square is that China brutally repressed its citizens one more time and Western nations finally stood up and took notice. They gathered together in protest, launched an embargo on arms shipments, and made the Chinese Communist leadership take notice.

Even if the embargo has not had the intended effect of stopping a military build-up, the West's reaction and the world's reaction to the events which took place around the time of the Tiananmen Square Protest in 1989 have made a difference in the lives of the Chinese people.

Finally, it must be clearly stated that all economic activity with China allows that brutal regime to continue supporting the genocide in Sudan, the sickening state of affairs in North Korea, Tibet, and Burma, and of course, the ongoing repression of the Chinese people. The Las Vegas casino firms of Wynn and the Sands, the equity investors on Wall Street, the U.S. firms trading with China, and the American shoppers buying cheap Chinese goods are all supporting a government that has absolutely no concern for human rights whatsoever.

Friday, January 05, 2007

U.S. Building China's Air Force Despite Ban

China proudly announced today that it now has the capability of building advanced fighter jets. The Jian-10 fighter aircraft is widely known to be based on the U.S. F-16 jet fighter. In fact, the two aircraft look identical. The Chengdu Aircraft Company developed the fighter using F-16 plans provided by the United States, through Israel.

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There is one problem here, one big problem. Publicly, the U.S. and Europe claim to be enforcing an embargo on weapons sales to China. Since the bloody massacre of Chinese civilians at or near Tiananmen Square in 1989 there has been an embargo on weapons sales directly to China.

Will U.S. Congress ask Israel to explain why it is acting as a U.S. proxy helping China build major weapons systems? Do not hold your breath, members of the House of Representatives and Senate depend on Israeli government kickbacks of U.S. aid to Israel. AIPAC, the Israeli lobby will come down swift and hard on any U.S. politician that dares to initiate an investigation of how the F-16 plans got to China via the Israeli Air Force.

Does it matter that China received U.S. assistance while building the Jian-10 fighter? It does if anyone in the United States still cares about human rights.

Does it matter that we send billions of tax dollars to Israel each year and they turn around and sell our F-16 technology to China? It does if anyone in the U.S. cares about the spread of weapons of mass destruction. An F-16 fighter is a weapon of mass destruction, forget the other definitions, the F-16 is a delivery system for nuclear weapons.

Oh, that's right, U.S. President George W. Bush legalized all forms of torture, international kidnapping, aka extraordinary rendition, indefinite imprisonment without trial, and suspension of trial by jury. It is hard to remember that the United States no longer honors the Geneva Conventions. So what China did to those workers and students peacefully protesting in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989 does not really matter any more.

When China uses those Jian-10 jets to bomb and strafe Taiwanese cities, gives a few to North Korea, or sells a few to Burma, Iran, and Syria, remember who gave them the technology. The United States did that, all in the name of spreading democracy to that major communist trading partner, China.

Have fun shopping at WalMart this weekend. Be sure to check out all those products from communist China on nearly every shelf in the store. Great prices, huh?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Teaching Those With Autism - Part 2

Note: This is the second installment in this series. The first article can be found at this location.

In my last posting I emphasized how much effort I put into immersing myself into my participant’s world. My teaching style is exhausting for instructors who are expecting some sort of quick fix or neat trick for helping others to learn. I find there is often too much attention paid to the goal or destination of the training and not enough consideration given to the journey to that goal. I learned to teach as a bus driver but also by living in many different parts of the world. I find it important to stress how much about teaching that I learned from people of other cultures.
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One of many learning experiences I can recall from my days driving the bus was an encounter with a policeman. At some time during a long day of driving it seems I made a right turn on red at an intersection where it was not permitted. A few moments later a police car signaled me to pull my bus over. I opened the door and the policeman climbed up the steps all ready to give me a citation. At that point he looked back at my passengers. His expression was unmistakable; his face registered that cruel shock that ignorant people display when they see the severely physically disabled. He quickly apologized to me and practically ran back to his police car without giving me a ticket.

This incident happened in the first few days of my driving experience. Over the years similar events happened when other people boarded the bus for various reasons. I learned several lessons from these moments.

First, I learned how easy it was to upset the equilibrium autistic individuals rely on to make it through each day. The very slightest change in the bus route, due to road construction or the need to pick up new passengers, registered sharply with many individuals. This effect rippled through the bus when the less cognizant individuals sensed a disturbance in their neighbors. I learned how important it was to begin explaining any route change from the moment I began picking up passengers. I repeated this route change and encouraged them to explain these changes to each other. It became evident that I had to learn to use their own special communication channels, between individuals, if I wanted to be sure a message circulated properly.

The second lesson I learned from the policeman’s reaction was exactly how sensitive autistic people are to the way other people react to their physical appearance. To the uneducated it may seem like they are completely out of touch with all reality. In truth, quite the opposite is true. They are hypersensitive to external stimuli and easily stirred by the reactions of others, particularly the reactions of strangers or ‘normal’ people. My passengers spoke to me and each other at length about the way that policeman had behaved. In their rambling, somewhat disconnected speech, they expressed deep sorrow that people acted so revoltingly to their appearance and behavior. After all, they have little or no control over their appearance and involuntary muscle contractions. “Why do people act like that, Tom?” one man asked me.

I tried to explain it to them essentially this way. I said many people do not know much about the world they live in. When they see different people, like people from other countries, they react in a bad way instead of a good way. It was that person’s actions that were wrong, it was not any fault of the people they were looking at. Of course I had to continue repeating this lesson for the remainder of that route to get the message across to even a few of the passengers.

At that time I figured my explanation was rather beyond their comprehension. Oddly enough when someone boarded the bus weeks later and again reacted like the policeman I heard these responses: “Not our fault. That lady was wrong. Not my fault.”

I also learned to carefully temper my emotional responses to avoid stirring everyone up. If another driver cut me off in traffic I remained calm. If someone on the bus threw a tantrum I attempted to calm them with soft words rather than shouting.

Note: This is the second installment in this series. The third article can be found at this location

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Secret Reports About You

A columnist for the Washington Post recently commented on Rep. Barney Franks efforts to do something about credit reporting agencies like Equifax. While I applaud Rep. Franks efforts to fix the problems with credit reports, I doubt his hearings will make the slightest difference in the way private data is bought and sold in the United States.

Welcome to the Information Age.
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I worked as a credit manager for a major retailer for 4 years and continue to study the major players including Equifax et al. Everybody knows they have multiple credit reports but do you know everyone also has a detailed health insurance report? And a car insurance report. And a work history report. And a combined local, state, and federal agency report. Equifax and several other firms efficiently gather every piece of data about you and sell it to anybody willing to pay, every single day. Insurance firms, hospitals, banks, and major employers buy these reports by the thousands, every day. Do not try to find out what is in these reports, by law you are not allowed to see the data. Are they accurate? Hardly, especially if you ever move or have a common name. Are they used to make decisions about your job, hospital care, mortgage, credit, and insurance rates? You bet they are, every day!

Crooks posing as legitimate businesses buy these reports just to steal your identity but you cannot get a copy of the report to check on the accuracy. If you scream and shout you might get a brief summary of the contents of some reports but you will have to pay $25, 50 or more than $100 for the service. When a company goes to buy the same report, including all the juicy details, they only pay a small fee, less than $5 in some cases. Employers, banks, and creditors buy these reports in bulk so the data firms like Equifax give them substantial discounts.

Several years ago, after many interviews, I was hired by a major company. The day before I was to start I received a phone call telling me not to bother showing up. No reason was given. I investigated and learned that the reason was a small note a former employer had included in a work history report filed with a major agency. The note was wrong but I had to hire a lawyer and spend months getting that little note removed from that big database. In the end, the reporting agency told me they had already sold my data to several other firms and the error would never be completely removed from all databases.

Recently my car insurance firm incorrectly placed an accident on my insurance record. A potential employer later asked me if I recently had any accidents. I honestly answered 'No'. The employer pulled an insurance report and denied me a job based on that report. When I contacted my insurance firm they told me they had made that mistake more than a year ago, it could not be corrected and would remain in my record. They went on to tell me that even if I changed insurance firms the error would be passed on to the next company.

A few states, including California, do allow consumers to lock their credit reports. The reporting firms like Equifax and credit giants like VISA and Mastercard are spending millions to reverse these laws and stop other states from passing similar laws. They absolutely do not want you to have any control over the way your credit or other personal data is handled. State governments have only recently decided motor vehicle and tax data should be protected in some way.

Not only must we live with our own mistakes but we must live at least 7 years with the mistakes that corporations make on our behalf. The Information Age is wrought with consequences unforeseen.

Previous post on the same topic: People Spying On You

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Teaching Those With Autism - Part 1

From 1983 to 1987 I drove a bus transporting severely mentally handicapped adults to work centers in Southeastern Pennsylvania. For nearly ten hours every day I listened with fascination to the speech of passengers diagnosed with autism, Down's syndrome, and other mental disabilities. When any passenger died we often mourned the loss of the individual as well as the vast knowledge base they had frequently demonstrated.
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One passenger was able to name every television show, the date the show aired, and the names of every actor, including guest stars, beginning from the day television broadcasts first began. Another man knew the names of every rock and roll musician, every album, and who played on every album, beginning from the early 1960's. Several passengers could perform complex mathematical calculations instantly. One woman could barely hold her head up to function but knew every lyric to every Christmas carol ever written despite being raised in a Jewish home.

I often spent evenings at a local library researching details about this esoteric knowledge that I would use to test these individuals during the long hours on the road. I never once stumped the television expert, the musical expert, or the woman who knew Christmas music. The others never, not once, gave an incorrect answer to a mathematical problem. In fact, they often carried out calculations to many decimal places, always correctly. For months, I was unable to quite figure out how they acquired this level of knowledge in any field.

I actually used my research about these talents to their benefit by developing a special method to train these individuals to perform important daily tasks. My understanding of how they learned led me to a method to teach each of them how operate the wheelchair lift built into the bus. I also taught them to understand all the medication taken by every passenger, to make certain each passenger was taking the correct dosage according to their doctor's prescription. I felt these skills were important enough that they needed to learn them, despite my work being in violation of various bus company policies.

Eventually others learned what I was teaching my passengers. The parents and guardians of these adults told me, often in tears, that they had not been able to teach these people these skills or any new skills for decades. To me it was a matter of understanding learning patterns unknown to modern educators, doctors, or most parents. I compared autistic learning styles to the way I assimilated foreign languages while living overseas. If you surrender your preconceived notions about learning you can learn to recognize inherent patterns in every communication context. I have learned Latino Spanish, Bengali, Haitian Creole, and many computer languages this way.

You might find it curious to know that I still use this technique today to develop complex technical training programs and documentation for business professionals. They also develop industry-specific learning styles, jargon, and acquire almost incomprehensible levels of technical details that eventually need to be understood by others. I rarely reveal that I learned how to do this from adults diagnosed as "severely autistic." It is my little secret or level of understanding that I wanted to share with you.

Note: This is the first installment in this series. The second article can be found at this location.

Monday, January 01, 2007

How Much Money Should You Earn?

In a recent interview for the Washington Post, Chief Justice Roberts complained about his $212,000 annual salary. I know how these complaints about pay get started. The Honorable Chief Justice needs to go home and tell Mrs. Roberts to consider the facts.
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The federal minimum wage is around $5 an hour, Mrs. Roberts. The median household income for people living in the United States was just over $46,000 in 2005 (half the people make less and half make more than 46k). Your husband makes more than four times that much, Mrs. Roberts, in a cushy job guaranteed for life. You should still be able afford a house in Fairfax with a Mercedes in the driveway and an HD television in the den. Pour another glass of Dom Perignon and learn to live within your means, Mrs. Roberts.

Judge Roberts had something else unusual to say in his Post interview, the judiciary should not be made up of the independently wealthy or people for whom the judicial salary represents a pay increase. The man appointed by George W. Bush to lead one of the three branches of national government wants to make sure rich and poor people never get to be judges. What's left Judge Roberts? There is no more middle class, your Republican party made sure that happened with the last six years of runaway spending.

The country has a national debt of trillions and trillions of dollars but not one single leader wants to acknowledge that fact. Exactly when are you and your rich friends going to wake up and see the debt crisis, Judge Roberts? This country is bankrupt and the leaders like you are riding down the road with blindfolds on.

Pay the steroid-addled football and baseball athletes millions each year. Pay the thieving corporate executives tens of millions each year. Make sure the bankers and lawyers get their millions every twelve months but keep the masses living from paycheck to paycheck. There's a sound fiscal strategy. We may not know what the income gap looked like at the end of the Roman Empire but I suspect it was not much different.

The median national income in China is around $1,000. In Haiti the median national income is less than $500. People living in the United States, especially chief justices, should be thankful for the money they make while their nation exploits the poor in other nations.