Sunday, April 28, 2013

Again, With The Fear And Loathing

If the news isn't bad enough you can always pretend it is...

Seems a good many good-hearted folks have been reading articles based on (or copied from) a press release from the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Justice Programs (OJP) titled Workplace Violence Rates Higher for Public Employees.

A concerned reader at the LinkedIn ASIS International group wrote:

SHRM reporter expands upon the increased risk of violence in the workplace. What steps have you taken in the private and public sector to address this? 
Statistics suggest that there has been a decrease in violence in the private sector, while the public sector has seen an increase. This certainly suggests that we should compare their approaches to the mitigation of violence in the workplace. While we would all like to suggest that these changes are due to the private sector embracing the publicized standards, there may likely be other factors that impact these events in the public sector.”

The complete report, “Workplace Violence Against Government Employees, 1994-2011,” deserves to be read in detail. As you can see above, the charts in it tell a very important story, one that seems to be escaping the writers of many headlines and the readers of many press releases.

In 1994, the rate of violent victimization in the workplace of government employees was 99.2 per 1,000. In 2011 it was 18.0 per 1,000. This represents a reduction in workplace violence of 82%!

In 1994 the rate of violent victimization of private-sector employees was 18.5 per 1,000. In 2011 it was 5.2 per 1,000. This is a reduction in on the job violence of 72%

There's even more to the story. 

“The higher rate of workplace violence in the public sector was due in part to the high rate of violence against law enforcement or security employees, which accounted for about 56 percent of workplace violence against government workers from 2002 through 2011.” 

That's right, over half of the on the job assaults are against law enforcement and security personnel. What happens when you assault a cop? You are neutralized, apprehended, arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and jailed...and the incident is added to the national workplace violence statistics.

As defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) the category “Violence and other injuries by persons or animals” (dba “workplace violence”) includes law enforcement and security personnel killed by strangers engaged in violent criminal activity. These are the Type I offenders. Homicide by Type I offenders are scarcely mentioned in the ASIS/SHRM ANSI Workplace Violence Standard. They are addressed in detail in OSHA 3153 "Recommendations for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in Late-Night Retail Establishments." Otherwise, this sort of workplace violence – cops and guards, cabbies and convenience store clerks, being killed and injured while mixing it up with bad guys while on the job – is addressed primarily in the officer survival and robbery-homicide prevention literature.

What most people think of when they hear – or use – the term “workplace violence” is violence by clients and customers (Type II), coworkers and former coworkers (Type III), and personal relations (Type IV). Together these categories comprised 130 fatalities nationwide in 2011. That’s 17% of the total.

Included in the unfortunate tally of workplace deaths in 2011 were 43 “unintentional and intention unknown” deaths and 37 deaths due to "animals and insects" (6% and 5% of the total, respectively).

Type I offenses, line of duty killings and robbery-homicides resulted in 325 deaths, or 42% of the total.

Suicide at work – which gets short shrift in most model WPV policies but is counted in the statistics used to promote them nonetheless – was responsible for 242 deaths. The next time you want to do something about workplace violence, try to remember that in 2011 nearly a third of all violent deaths at work (31%) were self-inflicted.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Scott Atran on Terrorism

Our response to terror is a bigger problem than the attacks themselves... 

Point of Inquiry with Chris Mooney and Indre Viskontas routinely does a great job presenting interesting people with important ideas.  That said, Mooney's interview this week with anthropologist Scott Atran is one of the best episodes they've done in a long while.  I download the free podcast from iTunes but there are other feeds.  Well worth a listen.

UPDATE: By way of Schneier on Security here's an excellent essay by Atran - covering much the same ground - for those of you who don't do ear buds. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

These Are Not The Weather Conditions You're Looking For

The view out the front window Sunday, April 20th, 2013...

Mind you, I'm not complaining about the weather - a tedious habit for which we Minnesotan's are notorious, just documenting an observation.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Exxon Hates Your Children

"We do not!" Exxon replies, "And we'll sue you for running an ad that says so."

Leave it to an oil company to give ecological activists a public relations coup.

Seems Exxon went and got it's collective corporate undies all wadded up over a satirical political advertisement an environmental group produced in response to an ugly tar sands oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas.

Veiled threats and spirited retorts are flying like chimpanzee poo in the primate house.  

Exxon might have folded on a bad hand, instead they went all in.  Now everyone has seen this hilarious 31 second spoof.  Oops.

Here's a link to the full-size YouTube. PS If anyone knows how to size YouTube embed html so it auto-sizes for this Blogger format feel free to steer me toward some instructions.  Thanks. 

With Regard To My 2013 Reading List

Reality has diverged from the plan...

I have (had?) a plan for what books I mean (meant?) to read in 2013.  I've been reading a lot more fiction instead of, or along with, the planned reading.

The Black Death by Phillip Zeigler

Modern Man in Search of a Soul by Carl Jung

Downtiming the Night Side by Jack Chalker

The Eye of the Monster by Andre Norton

Calculated Risks: How to Know When Numbers Deceive You by Gerd Gigerenzer 

To the Stars by Harry Harrison

Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons

Days of War, Nights of Love: Crimethink For Beginners by Crimethink Workers Collective, Nadia C., Frederick Markatos Dixon and NietzsChe Guevara

Frank Herbert: The Works by Bob R Bogle

The Terror: A Novel by Dan Simmons

The Vanquished Gods: Science, Religion, and the Nature of Belief (Prometheus Lecture Series) by Richard H. Schlagel



Toxophilus by Roger Ascham

Planet of Exile by Ursula K. Le Guin 

Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, by Rudolph Bultmann and Five Critics.  Edited by Hans Werner Bartsch and translated by Reginald H. Fuller.   

Bultmann and his peers were deep into a sophisticated and nuanced theology one does not encounter among our current surplus of evangelical apologists or the ascendant wing of Roman Catholics that seem intent on stealing the Religious Right's conservative credentials.  Fascinating stuff.


Time Tunnel by Murray Leinster 

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan

There is little in Zealot not already covered by White, Frederiksen, or even Ehrman, but Aslan has a very engaging story telling style so the The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth feels more accessible.   

Days of War, Nights of Love: Crimethink for Beginners 


The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzgerald

I regret waiting so long to read this fine history of one the most formative issues of my generation.  

So this is where the plot for "Fern Gully," "Dances With Wolves," and "Avatar" came from. 


The Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James

Varieties is both a century-old time capsule and a valuable piece of timeless wisdom. The big questions are not new. 


Hybrids by Robert J. Sawyer 

I enjoyed this as much as I did "Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved" by Matt Rossano. Can't believe this has been resting on my bookshelf for three years... 


Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved by Matt Rossano

This is a book I wish both William Lane Craig and Richard Dawkins would read. Religion need not be God-breathed or factual in order to have played an important role in human flourishing, evolution, and progress.  

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

Before I read Meacham's carefully researched and finely detailed biography I was ambivalent about Jefferson - the author of the Declaration of Independence who bedded a female piece of property and who enslaved his children by her until his death. Thanks to Meacham I still hold that ambivalence, but with more and better reason.  


On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not by Robert A. Burton, MD

An area of deep interest to me is the nature of strongly held belief.  Understanding how we come to know we're right and that others are wrong speaks to some very human impulses.  It may also hold the key to moving beyond our current fixation with red state, blue state, conservative, progressive, abortion, gun control, religion, global warming, and other inflammatory topics playing out on the battle lines of the Culture War.

Robert A. Burton, MD came to my attention by way of Dr. Ginger Campbell's thoughtful Brain Science podcast.  He's been on twice. In Dr. Burton's most recent appearance he discussed his latest book, A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves

After listening to the show I chose to check out Burton's first book, On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not, which Dr. Campbell reviewed in BSP #42.  It did not disappoint.  At once philosophical, scientific, well-written and entertaining, On Being Certain informs us (or reminds those who have been studying the topic recently) that most of our mental processes operate at an inaccessible subconscious level, that many of our decision are made before we are consciously aware of them, are then experienced as a "feeling of knowing," and then rationalized as needed.  That is a daunting and somewhat frightening notion; an important idea that calls for careful consideration.

When it comes to promoting a deeply human understanding of the New Testament there are few writers I like better than Elaine Pagels. In "Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation" she uses the Revelation of John, the last and most controversial book of the New Testament, as a starting point for an examination of the many other apocryphal revelations and apocalypses circulating in the pre-Nicene Church as the pious and the powerful wrestled with what it meant to be Christian, Catholic, and heretic. 

The Greatest Raid of All by C. E. Lucas Phillips


A common argument offered by Christian apologists is, "Why would the apostles and other early Christians have died for something they didn't believe in?"  In The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom, author Candida Moss, a skilled story teller and a thorough academic, has answered that question with great thoughtfulness and in deep detail.  While intended for a popular audience, The Myth of Persecution is rigorously methodical and carefully referenced.  Unlike like many other overly earnest volumes on such topics, it is also emotionally engaging in its presentation.  After carefully laying a historical foundation in the first five chapters, Moss builds an imposing edifice in the last three, explaining how the largely inaccurate myth of persecution has been put to poor use by the Church, Christians, and Western political leaders since the 4th century. The Myth of Persecution is as entertaining as it is erudite, as important as it is troubling.  The Myth of Persecution is an important book for anyone interested in history of Christianity.  If attempting to understand religion is your thing this book is worth your time.

The Qur'an: Arabic Text and English Translation, by M.H. Shakir (translator). I’ve been picking away at this mostly using the M.M. Pickthall translation on my iPhone.

UPDATE: Better yet, I am now using an iPhone app titled Listen The Holy Quran (Koran) - Arabic Recitation of All Suras and their English Translation by  Perhaps now I can make some progress in drive time...



I've long been a fan of the controversial 1988 film adaptation by Martin Scorsese, but I have only just now read Nikos Kazantzakis' 1953 novel.  I still prefer Scorcese's deft departure from the text, casting a 12 year old Juliette Caton as Satan; otherwise the novel offered no disappointments.  The Last Temptation of Christ is at once fine literature, subversive theology, pious heresy, beautiful art, and a page turner.  What a rush.  Amazing stuff.

Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss

The story is as old as I am and may be the grand-daddy of all generation ship stories. Many since have borrowed heavily from it. Great fun!


From Jesus to Christianity: How Four Generations of Visionaries & Storytellers Created the New Testament and Christian Faith, by L. Michael White

I enjoyed L. Michael White's "Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite" so this seemed a good bet. I was not disappointed. While there is some overlap between this and White's other book, they are complimentary rather than repetitive. If you're interested in pre-Nicene Christianity this book belongs in your library.  


A densely plotted story about a very alien world fully realized, but not my favorite Vinge. 

When's the last time you were actually scared by a ghost story? If you're ready to risk that dread enjoyment again it is my privilege to encourage you to sample the work of Soren Narnia. I first encountered The Complete Knifepoint Horror when I entered a Goodreads Giveaway drawing for a copy. The cover art alone is the stuff of nightmares. I didn't win, but every time I saw the image on the cover - something horrible recoiling from something even more horrible - I was drawn back to it. I did a little digging and learned that it's available in all the usual places in all the formats one expects these days. If you visit his website the author will even give you a copy, just so there is no rational reason not to come to where he is. Still, the best - or worst - way to encounter Soren Narnia's stories is to have them read to you. Me, I listen to Knifepoint Horror at night, in the dark, with my bedsheets pulled up to my chin, just the way I enjoyed such stories as a child. My fitful sleep, and my night terrors, have not been the same since. Soren Narnia has written many other stories, but first I must survive my exposure to this anthology. There is no turning back. These stories will leave little indelible burn marks on your soul like the afterimage that floats on your retina after you look at the sun a little too long. Your decision. 


Humans (Neanderthal Parallax #2) by

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Stories We Tell Ourselves About Ourselves

The role of fable, legend, and myth...

Here are three recent podcasts that examine our use of story to explain, valorize, and understand our origins, our lives, and our destinies.

The Great Cauldron of Story: Maria Tatar on Why Fairy Tales Are for Adults Again, from On Being with Krista Tippett.

Our stories need not be factual to hold truth.

Image Credit: "The Damsel of the Sanct Grael" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti from

SCENE III. The English camp.

My favorite scene from my favorite Shakespeare adaptation...

Kenneth Branagh's "Band of Brothers" speech from Henry V (1989) 


O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in
That do no work to-day!


What's he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:

If we are mark'd to die, we are enow

To do our country loss; and if to live,

The fewer men, the greater share of honour.

God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,

Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;

It yearns me not if men my garments wear;

Such outward things dwell not in my desires:

But if it be a sin to covet honour,

I am the most offending soul alive.

No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour

As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!

Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,

Let him depart; his passport shall be made

And crowns for convoy put into his purse:

We would not die in that man's company

That fears his fellowship to die with us.

This day is called the feast of Crispian:

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,

Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,

And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

He that shall live this day, and see old age,

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.

And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'

Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,

But he'll remember with advantages

What feats he did that day: then shall our names.

Familiar in his mouth as household words

Harry the king,
Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.

This story shall the good man teach his son;

And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remember'd;

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day