Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Who You Calling a Zealot?

Who writes Lauren Green's copy anyway?

I was planning to read Reza Aslan's latest book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, eventually, but after the simple-minded, shabby, and shallow treatment he received at the hands of Fox newsreader Lauren Green (watch it and be gob-smacked) I just had to go buy the book and bump it to the head of my queue.  Hell, I might just buy a copy of his earlier work, No god but God (Updated Edition): The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, just to make my share of the backlash complete.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Stars My Destination

Gully Foyle, victim, madman, criminal, savior...

I've been catching up on classic SF novels from the golden age.  Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, which was more aptly titled Tiger, Tiger when first published in 1955, was a Sunday's reading very well spent.  The story of a marooned spacer who seeks bloody vengeance after being left adrift in a derelict space vessel, starts simple and gets more intricate.  The desperate protagonist, Gully Foyle, is no hero when we meet him, descends into foul criminal violence, grows in complexity as the plot unfolds, and eventually lays claim to his humanity.  I have not read Bester before but will again.  The Stars My Destination is a real page turner, so one hopes his Hugo Award winning The Demolished Man is even better.  We'll have to see.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fire In The Lake

France Fitzgerald's Pulitzer Prize winning history delivers...

One day in the late 1970s, while attending the University of North Dakota, I was told by a older student who had spent his youth and his innocence as an American GI "busting his hump" across South Vietnam, that this was the best book ever written about America's involvement in Southeast Asia. Here I am, some 40 years later, much older than he was then, finally learning the truth of his sage advice. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam remains thoughtful, incisive, and passionate while maintaining a sense of detached credibility.  Frances Fitzgerald wrote Fire in the Lake in a series of layers, each building upon those that precede and underlie it, Vietnamese, French, American. Her writing is dense with detail, yet skillfully fluid.  I won't pretend its 590 pages flew by, but each one was as important for its content as it was enjoyable for its craft.  Much of what I thought I knew about American involvement in Vietnam at the time, and in the decades since, was woefully incomplete until.  I regret waiting so long to read this fine history of one the most formative issues of my generation.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Varieties of Religious Experience

There is nothing new under the sun...

The Varieties of Religious Experience (Being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered in Edinburgh 1901-1902) has been around for well over a century.  I hit the planet 56 years later (yeah, more than half a century ago).  If I'd read Varieties forty years ago my life would have been immeasurably improved.  This has all been worked through before.  Written by physician and philosopher William James, who is also regarded by many as the father of modern psychology, it shows both its age and its prescience.  I used his chapter on Mysticism while working on my Master's, but only just now got around to reading it whole. Varieties is both a century-old time capsule and a valuable piece of timeless wisdom.

The big questions are not new.

If you have an e-reader you can read Varieties for free.  If you have an MP3 player you can have it read to you.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Word for World is Forest

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

The Word for World is Forest (1972) is well-written and none too subtle indictment of European colonialism, Manifest Destiny, racism and slavery in America, and the Vietnam war (not that subtlety is called for when addressing these unfortunate topics). Other Le Guin novels deal with concepts so foreign the pleasure of reading them comes at some effort. This book's 189 pages flew by in a single afternoon.  Loved it!
PS, This unscheduled treat came to me by virtue of whiling away an hour at the local Half Price Books.  A very nice read for only $2.00.  I found a volume each by Nietzsche, Murray Leinster, and Andre Norton for a buck a piece.  Also scored an unused Loreena McKennitt  CD for two hundred cents as well (somebody didn't like their St. Patrick's Day, gift but I do!).  Glad Half Price Books isn't a tavern or my liver would be in serious trouble...

Monday, July 22, 2013

When Making a Call for Moral Leadership

Choose your statistics carefully...

A LinkedIn peer posted a link to a 9 July 2013 post at The Sentinel blog titled Gun Violence Empowered by Massive Police Layoffs: A Call for Moral Leadership.  It's a heartfelt call to reconsider the wisdom of cutting funding for the law enforcement agencies that protect our communities.

"Trenton gun violence empowered by mass police layoffs leaves 120 people shot in 6 months" as published by The Trenton Times on July 8, 2013 is a tragic commentary on the negative consequences of diminishing law enforcement resources for American communities.

The article links to a chilling video of what appears to be a criminal on criminal gun battle in Trenton in May of 2013.

The author continues by republishing a 2010 post on the topic which at that time correctly stated:

Parenthetically, a recent published report held this title: Police Fatalities jump 37 percent in 2010...

I posted the following response:

The law enforcement fatalities count you use is from 2010.  The numbers were even worse in 2011; why not use those?  Or you could use the 2012 statistics

“127 federal, state and local officers have died on the job so far, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported — 23 percent fewer than the 165 who were killed last year.

Firearms-related deaths fell to 49 this year, the memorial fund reported — down a third from 72 last year and even below the 10-year average of 57 from 2001 to 2010.

Traffic-related incidents remained the biggest hazard, however, as they have been nearly every year since the late 1990s. But they, too, fell significantly, from 60 last year to 50 this year.

The NHTSA and the memorial fund launched their own Officer Safety Initiative in August 2011, funding research and public information campaigns around police safety in traffic-related incidents.

A breakdown for 2012 wasn't reported, but the campaign noted that 42 percent of officers killed in auto crashes over the last 30 years weren't wearing safety belts. It said nearly all those deaths were preventable.”

According to a 2012 report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund linked to from the article:

“Fourteen officers died from job-related illnesses, which includes heart attacks. Five officers were fatally stabbed and three officers fell to their deaths. Two officers were killed in a helicopter crash, two were beaten to death, one died in an airplane crash, and one died in a boating incident.”

Or you could use the mid-year numbers for 2013 

“51 Law Enforcement Fatalities Nationwide in the First Half of 2013:Firearms-related fatalities decrease to a 57-year low and traffic-related fatalities hit a 34-year low”

I have yet to hear from the author.   

The problem of violent crime and its impact on law enforcement officer safety in America is as complex as it is important.  When the indicators show the problem is getting worse we must understand the problem so that we can act.  When the situation improves we must also dig into the facts to find out what is working.  Before calling a community to action we must understand today's problem.  To do that we need to use today's statistics.

UPDATE 22 July 2013: He posted a reply. 

Thanks to each of you...W..., Michael, J..., for your insightful comments and professional replies.

In turn I asked him if he would be modifying his 9 July 2013 blog post to acknowledge the marked improvement in the statistics.

UPDATE 23 July 2013: His reply and my comments in response.

“My July 9, 2013 blog highlights serious issues in Trenton, NJ with 120 people shot in 6 months”

I didn’t know if that represented a change, but another Trenton Times article, “Trenton sees 19 homicides, sharp increase in shootings in first 6 months of the year” explains that violence has been increasing for several years and that 2013 is on track to set a sad new record for homicides in that deeply troubled community.

“…and refers to a previous December 30, 2010 blog expressing a concern of diminishing law enforcement resources. Essentially, this is the heart of my concern as memorialized in the post, ‘America must not allow its communities and honorable law enforcement profession to be victimized by this current trend of layoffs. There is a way to be financially sound without undermining what is critical to the very heart of our communities and the nation itself: public safety.’"

If there is a way for Trenton to become financially sound without undermining public safety I expect many will be all ears, but the days of spending money we do not have – regardless how noble the cause – is coming rapidly to an end in America. Otherwise, the more recent statistics suggest that the law enforcement community has found ways to preserve and protect its own even with reduced funding – or that officer safety and law enforcement funding are not directly correlated.

“Although past statistics are noted, my post is not meant to be purely statistical; that is for statisticians whose insights are appreciated, but to evoke insightful responses on the complexity of the issue and possible solutions."

Statisticians collect data and transform it into information for use by policy makers and thought leaders like you. Using outdated statistics does not “evoke insightful responses.” To the contrary, it provokes an emotional reaction rather than a thoughtful one. Frightened people may be easier to lead, but we should not scare those we serve – accidentally or deliberately – if we are seeking well-reasoned solutions. When we sound a call for moral leadership we should be careful to do so only while applying the highest ethical standards ourselves. 

UPDATE 23 July 2013: He countered, in part, as follows:

Although we differ in opinion and style, it is important that professionals always apply ethical standards that are respectful toward others without being judgmental, uncharitable or aggressive in tone.

In my opinion, dignity, courtesy and the ability to disagree, collaborate and educate without being disagreeable are the hallmarks of a true professional and educator. 

FINAL UPDATE 23 July 2013: The author and I resolved the friction caused by our differences in opinion and style in an off-line communication.  All is well.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wondrous Healing

Shamanism, Human Evolution, and the Origin of Religion...

I enjoyed Wondrous Healing: Shamanism, Human Evolution, and the Origin of Religion, by James McClenon as much as I did Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved by Matt Rossano

In Wondrous Healing, McClenon makes a compelling case that our hominin ancestors benefited from being receptive to the hypnotic effects of flickering firelight, group chanting, rhythmic percussion, and simple dances.  The ease with which we could be hypnotized by enjoyable community rituals contributed to the effectiveness of folk remedies for health problems that feature a significant emotional component or highly subjective symptoms.  Similar health and longevity benefits are still seen in "church going" populations today.  Such benefits resulted in competitive advantages that added up over time, reinforcing themselves generation after generation.  In time such reinforcement contributed to group cohesion, speech, music, dance, and religion in the form of shamanism. 

Can't believe this has been resting on my bookshelf for three years...