Saturday, September 12, 2015

NAMM Marches Into Anaheim

With the sound of a pounding drum circle and the braggadocio of being the largest convention player in town NAMM announced on September 10th that it’s “moving into Anaheim.”

NAMM, for those who don’t know, is the National Association of Music Merchants, the trade association for the music industry. In primary partnership with the Anaheim City School District (ACSD) it has formed the Anaheim Creativity Council, a loose collaboration of parties committed to introducing elementary school children to music, not just as consumers but as players; young musicians in the making. ACC (not to be confused with AAC, the Anaheim Arts Council) says this collaboration should not issue in yet more meetings, preferring, according to Mary Leuhrsen, Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations, the softer route of digital information sharing through websites, databases and excellent electronic communications.

Music unlocks the key to children's souls
Those who have shared in the background to the roll-out event at the Honda Center, know that Dorothy Rose, Executive Director of the Orange County Symphony (OCS), was the prime mover of this initiative when she and Dr. Linda Wagner, Superintendent of the ACSD, set about a program to bring after-school instrumental music instruction to 13 (originally) schools, tutored by musicians from the OCS. Mayor Tom Tait pitched in on the initiative earlier this year with a public announcement at the school district’s art fair in May with his vision that within two years it should possible for every child in Anaheim to have access to a musical instrument and music instruction. Bob Gardner, President of the ACSD Board, declared at the same gathering that they would now completely reshape education in the district to address the WHOLE child by making the arts a core component of education.

NAMM was so impressed with this initiative that earlier in 2015 they made a huge donation to the ACSD to further the cause. Local teen singing celebrity, Sean Oliu, with his family, brought his enthusiasm to bear to get Mariachi bands up and running in two elementary schools.

What was not clear in Mayor Tait’s May announcement was whether every child in Anaheim meant exactly that, thereby impacting all the elementary school districts wholly or partly in the city, or just the ACSD, which, with 19,000 students, certainly accounts for a huge proportion of the children in Anaheim.

At the NAMM/ACSD rollout Mayor Tait repeated his vision for all children to have access to musical instruments. Even he was  encouraged to play the sax as  a child!

This is music to NAMM’s ears, because although they are a not for profit organization the prospect of providing and maintaining instruments for 19,000 children is a juicy prospect for the Music Merchants it represents.

The success of this venture will change the city’s culture. Families which have been disinterested in the arts will gradually become supporters and sponsors to the point where they become a part of a movement in which their kids, thousands of them, are now learning to play violins, flutes, clarinets and the like. Less time will be given to the synthetic, commercially overhyped, studio-engineered mush that passes for music as children tap into the rich seams of music that have characterized so much of American and European culture in the past. This is not to say they will all end up being classical musicians; but classical forms of music and instrumentation become the starting point for whatever modern music forms young artists will move into.

Prime movers in the Anaheim music initiative
And beyond question is the huge effect that the very act of learning to play music has on the development of the brain. Mary Luehrsen (left) says, “If you want statistics and science papers on this, we got them all. More than you could possibly read.” She is right. The impact of music is profound across a broad spectrum of child development, learning abilities, motivation, empathy and behavior. Implemented on a wide scale it is revolutionary.

Anyone who keeps abreast of the state of youth culture in many parts of Anaheim will know of baneful influences that rob kids of their innocence, inculcate a spirit of indifference to education, and coerce them into the gang-related activities. The police maintain maps of the gang distributions across  Anaheim! You would be amazed to see how gang territory has been carved out. Poverty, at-risk families, the prospect of finding personal identity through a gang, of quick kicks without the effort of work - all drag on our schools. For it only takes a few determined anti-social young people in a school to turn it into a disciplinary battle ground ...

Editorial note
The following paragraphs have been edited in the light of helpful discussion, September 14th, with the Superintendent of the AUHSD and Assistant Superintendent Manuel Colon.

... Watch these kids grow over the years and see what happens. Naturally, many will survive extraordinarily well, and dedicated teachers are frequently mentors and role models for success. But, we are always concerned about the drop-outs.  And not all who graduate are necessarily successful in college. Fortunately, with an emphasis on career, as well as college, readiness and the improved literacy stemming from Common Core, there are other pathways for young people to tread which are now making an impact. But looking back over the past generation we have still lost thousand of kids to poor education and the sense of helplessness. The reasons for this are manifold.

So what does the ACSD/NAMM initiative have to do with all this? It sets a determined trend that says we can slowly turn this round, affecting the development of every child and family. Music, and I mean the very act of learning to play music,  can be one of the most powerful formative influences on young children.

Here we are at the start of the 2015-16 school year and the ACSD has rearranged its budget so that  it can hire four full time music teachers. By this time next year they plan to have music teachers in all of their schools. This means that music will move from being an after school activity to being an integral part of the school curriculum. The magnitude of this planning is hard to overstate. And this is only a beginning.

Maybe it’s too early to answer this question, but we want to know whether this same strategy will characterize all of Anaheim’s elementary school districts? Magnolia has certainly begun very seriously to address the need for the arts in the classroom. But this time last year there were some school districts where you could not find the word arts in their school budget plan. Mercifully, the tide is turning.

We have our concerns

The grandiose way in which NAMM set the tone at the Honda Center roll-out could have given the impression that they were the only game in town that could make a  difference. Or at least, that they were the leaders. It was soon pointed out that there  are many other Orange County arts agencies that have powerful roles in bringing the arts back into our schools. With an improving economy more money is becoming available, but the changes are taking place with less of the volume and crashing cymbals of a music convention. Any ongoing collaboration needs to give full credence to these potential partners.

There was concern articulated that other art forms (dance, theatre, visual arts) seemed only to be on the periphery of the envisioned change. Those concerns are well founded. It is not good enough to say that these would follow along in the wake of a musical resurgence. Drama, dance, and visual arts are also in need of huge injections of funds and strategic planning to put those subjects back in the classroom.

Whereas it has become obvious that music makes a huge difference to growing kids, it has NOT been adequately appreciated that not all kids are talented at music and that other art choices in schools are essential. There are school board members and administrators who do not understand this, though they might pay lip-service to it. Move to south county, or San Diego county, or look at our local private high schools, and you see the integration and value of the other performing arts. This, however, is substance for another discussion.

The Anaheim Union High School District, represented at the roll-out, will have to make major changes within the next two years to accommodate the number of children coming into middle school with the ability to read music and play non-band instruments. It's a big challenge that needs much discussion to find solutions. We are not sure that this dialog between the ACSD and the AUHSD has yet taken place. All the middle schools have excellent band programs, but it would be a defeat of the musical aspirations generated at elementary school to give trumpets and horns to the new string players and tell them to play these instead. There would, perhaps, need to be orchestral teachers hired in all middle schools; there might need to be structural curriculum changes to accommodate these arts disciplines. Chorus will make a comeback, eventually. Theatre and dance departments will need fresh talent recruited. (Happily, although very underfunded, visual arts departments are strong in most schools.)

It doesn’t stop at middle schools, for even though high school counselors are focussed on steering teens into courses that will prepare them for college this should never, ever mean a diminution of arts opportunities. If Oxford Academy can turn out high quality graduates year after year and sustain a string orchestra (which, of course, means more than stringed instruments) why can’t other high schools? They will need to tool up for this because the demand will come, welling up from the elementary schools. We do not relish the thought of a school board breaking faith with its musical students by not having the teaching competence at each site to progress the talents of its instrumentalists. To have a district GATE orchestra will not be enough. Each school will need its own GATE-style orchestra.

Lastly, the name is a little pretentious. Anaheim Creativity Council. Anaheim Music Initiative might be more accurate. Unless all the arts come into full focus, with equal determination to get dance and drama into all schools, the word Creativity lacks sufficient content for the purpose. Of course the nonprofit Anaheim Arts Council, which has been around since 1977, is a poor church mouse compared with the nonprofit NAMM, or even the ACSD. But did not anybody think to say that the semantic field of arts names is getting a bit too cluttered to have both an Anaheim Arts Council and an Anaheim Creativity Council. Creativity? Arts? Kind of similar? Oh well, people with lots of money have always been able to call themselves whatever they wanted. Anaheim is not short of exemplars of this!

We wish the new collaboration well. It seriously needs to succeed, to change the climate in the city; and maybe, finally, get Anaheim companies to realize that investment in the arts is an investment in their own future. What they sow, they will reap, even if it takes almost 12 years for the first crop to come to fruition.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Open letter to Kim Davis – Rowan County Clerk, KY

Dear Kim,

You are being very brave in the face of huge opposition to your faith-motivated stand on the gay and lesbian marriage license issue. It must take huge courage.

PART 1. The basic issue

I’m writing because I would like you to be even more brave! Let me explain how, with a little personal ramble.

I used to be a pastor of a Baptist church in England. Like you I was a firm believer that the Bible was the word of God and if it spoke clearly on any given subject then it superseded any laws or edicts of men.

I was very troubled about gay people coming to my church; two gay men in particular. Well, we did not so much mind them coming, but we thought it would be an issue if they wanted to take communion, or become church members. So nobody really said anything because we didn’t want to be rude. But we believed, as I’m sure you do, that the biblical abhorrence of homosexuality was to be taken very seriously.

This put me in a bind when preaching the Word on Sundays. Occasionally I would encounter a passage from the Bible that dealt with homosexuality. I needed to teach my people faithfully, as I understood it, but there were these two gay men, sitting there together, listening and learning. It was quite hard to be true to our evangelical understanding of the Bible and not at the same time appear offensive to these two perfectly gentlemanly individuals. What was to be done?

I happened across a book called “Brain Sex” – quite an old book by now. Very well written, it drew upon wide research into the differences between men and women, and heterosexual and homosexual people in particular. I’m not going to start quoting from it now but I’d like to share with you what I discovered. Here are the points in brief (some of which many of us already know):
  • Basic gender differentiation is determined by the X and Y chromosomes. If you have two X chromosomes you are a female. If you have one of each, you are male. But, of course, it didn’t stop there.
  • The actual development of the very young fetus, and in particular the set of cells that will form into gonads and genitalia, is conditioned by hormones, not genes. That was a surprise. Furthermore, these same hormones impact the wiring of the brain. Yes, the brains of men and women are differently wired. Of course I speak generally and there is no space here to develop this.
  • When this “wash” of hormones (in minute quantities) hits the fetal brain and the primary gender cells, the mix of hormones might be slightly off. Too much (or too little) of one or another hormone could cause cells to develop contrary to the basic genetic sex of the fetus. The results may be mild or dramatic! You could get a genetic girl born with male looking genitalia. Or vice versa. And the effect on the hard wiring of the brain is similar. Here is a girl who feels and thinks more like a boy; or here is a boy who prefers boys to girls and yet who loves girls’ toys and dresses. It’s very confusing. The point is that the child has no control of this whatsoever. It’s how he or she is formed in the womb and molded by sex hormones.
  • When puberty comes these pesky hormones kick off all over again – about which the young teen can do absolutely nothing – reinforcing the sex profile first developed when the child was only a six week old fetus.
  • The growing self-awareness of young teens as to whether they like other kids of the same sex, or the opposite sex, is not a choice; it is a discovery of how they ARE; how they have been from before birth.
  • The effect of the puberty hormone release also affects the brain. The wiring may become more feminine in some boys and more masculine in some girls. These are the gays and lesbians. There is a huge range of possible outcomes. I have made this very simple so that we can all grasp it.

So I began to understand that God could not possibly judge someone for being what they are if they cannot help it. It would be like saying I reject little people because they are little – but they can’t help that. Hopefully God does not reject little people.

Three possibilities are used to summarize why some people might be gay or lesbian. 1) they made a moral choice to go that way; 2) they were influenced by others or some subculture to go for a gay lifestyle, or 3) they had no choice. They were born that way.

The only correct answer is 3. They were born that way. End of argument, unless you live with your head in the sand.

Then I began to wonder why God would be so discriminatory and judgmental about gays and lesbians if they could not help how they were? This made me very uneasy. I mean, VERY!

Of course there are those who then add to all this their personal revulsion about the sexual behavior of gays and lesbians. They do things that the human body was not designed to do! And you know what I discovered? That there are many heterosexual people who do ALL the things that homosexual people do. Do I need to be more explicit? I hope not. So why the revulsion?

This brings me almost to my conclusion – a very brave one; braver than your stand right now.

I had been in the ministry   for 20 years and was a well known and respected Bible teacher. I had two degrees in theology and related Christian studies. I did not really know anything other than pastoring and preaching. Sure, I always had to wrestle with my own doubts and failings – who doesn’t? But intellectually I was solid and honest with my Bible based beliefs.

Until then. Slowly I had to accommodate my mind to the fact that with regard to the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality it was written before people understood that gay people were as normal as straight people for they were, if you will, as God had made them. They were formed in the womb and popped out with no choice as to the sexuality they developed when only a ball of cells six weeks old. 

Then this: if God was going to condemn people for being what they could not help being then I was not sure I liked his program. That did not seem just, let alone loving. I wasn’t sure I liked him, and I told him so.

What to do? I could have changed my theology and become some pallid liberal who sits loose by the “inspiration” of the Bible and can therefore skip round or reinterpret what the Good Book says about homosexuality. But that would have been intellectually dishonest – to me, anyway. Many theologians hold views like that, and I am not going to debate them here.

Here is what I did. I concluded that with regard to homosexuality, the Bible was wrong! And if the Bible was wrong about this, then everything might begin to crumble. For what else could be wrong? It was no longer the inspired, infallible Word of God.

And I quit the ministry. In fact my discovery that the Bible was wrong was being rumbled by my elders and deacons and they gave me such a push that I had no choice but to go out into a world where I had no idea what to do next.

What do you do when you’re in your late 40s and you discover that the solid ground on which you had built your faith and public ministry is no longer solid? I tell you it ripped me apart. Of course I recovered in time, and I am by far the better for it. But that’s another story.

Kim, I said at the beginning that I wanted you to be yet more brave. And I do. I would like you to be brave enough – even though you have made such a huge stand on principle – to open your eyes to the possibility that you may be wrong. Not just that you may be wrong but, horror of horrors, that the Bible may be wrong.

Does that seem like everything will collapse? That’s where the bravery comes in, because it will. But I ask you to believe me when I say that being divested from a cruel and judgmental belief system is more liberating than you could ever image.

And there will be tens of thousand of people here in the Unites States who will welcome you and your extraordinary bravery. I will be just one if them.

This is the toughest time of your life. The agony will be intense. But it’s a pathway not only you, but millions of others, need to tread.

PART 2. Gay marriage

Let’s come now to same sex marriage. The very term evokes strong antipathy with many people, for reasons we all know. By definition, it is said, the only valid marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

It’s interesting how some Christians have tried to corner the market on the definition of marriage claiming it is a God-ordained institution specified in the Bible.

This resonates strongly for the Christian believer, but in fact the scope and definition of marriage owes far more to history, geography and culture than to the Bible. The ancient Chinese, Greek and Roman peoples did not know about the niceties of Christian marriage. But their men and women still married each other, as they did in countless other cultures where the joining of a man and woman was a great event, often representing some compact between the two families, and with the prospect of children. From slaves, serfs and servants to the high born marriage has had roughly the same definition for centuries.

I find that in many ancient cultures gay marriages also took place! Not surprisingly it seems that the practice, though allowed, was not as widely acceptable as heterosexual marriage. But it was no secret.

In the United States the mindset about traditional Christian marriage has been very deeply rooted in our culture. But cultures and attitudes change. More and more people refuse to be bound by the religious definitions of the few.

Here, in my opinion, is the crucial issue. I have shown already that being gay is not a choice. So the extension of rights and opportunities to gays and lesbians through marriage is a matter of justice.

Gay people who love each other, and choose to live together have, until recently been denied the many hundreds of special provisions made for married people with regard to tax regulations, healthcare, funerals and wills, banking, and so forth.

If there were not so many special provisions for married, straight people, there might not be an issue. But this simple question is unanswerable: why should gay people, who want to commit their lives to each other, be denied the rights extended to straight couples simply because the hormonal “wash” at six weeks in the womb, set them up to be homosexual?

In our modern age it is a monstrous travesty of natural justice that equal treatment should not be extended to gay couples. Of course, there is no way the thousands of relevant rules and regulations can be picked though and modified to accommodate gay couples equally. There is only one quick, simple remedy. Let them be married on equal footing with other couples.

And that’s where we are now. Deep emotional or religious reasons might make individuals balk at the changes. It takes a very brave decision to let go of outmoded principles to embrace the reality of our modern culture.

Remember, I have shown that the biblical attitude to gays and lesbians is hideous, and based on cultural and scientific ignorance from over 2000 years ago. It is morally indefensible to contend that what the Bible says on the subject comes from a heart of infinite justice and love. And if God really did utter all those biblical condemnations of  homosexuals, then I do not believe that THAT God even exists. The Bible was tempered by the prejudices and beliefs of a bygone era. We now know so much more. We have moved on.

So we come to our conclusion. It takes a brave person to change their mind. It can be personally costly and emotionally confusing – as it was for me. But that’s where courage comes in. For whatever the personal cost, we sometimes have to change our minds, free ourselves from the prison of an unreal belief system, and give space for other people to live their lives the way they deserve to.

Kim, ponder these things carefully as you continue your struggle to try and maintain your conscience against so much social pressure.

It is no longer brave to stay where you are. The only brave thing to do is to change. Many have done it before you. You will not be alone.

Wishing you wisdom, courage and humility.

Yours, with care and tenderness,

Michael Buss
September 1, 2015

Moir, A and Jessel, D. Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women. 1992
History of same-sex unions,

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Climate Change Debate in Anaheim Stays Cool

The recent Climate Change debate at Servite School was almost certainly a first for Anaheim, if not for all of Orange County. Sponsored by Anaheim’s economic watchdog group, CATER*, the stage line-up gave those who attended an opportunity to hear from divergent views about the significance of global warming and whether it’s affected by human activity, or could be arrested by human intervention.

The headliner was billed as Dr. Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute.

A quick preliminary internet search for Dr. Michaels soon indicated he is a climate change “skeptic” meaning, presumably, that he would be in that small percentage of scientists who are not fazed by the more alarmist concerns of the remaining 95% of scientists engaged in the study of global warming. But this would be a premature and prejudicial judgment, for everyone should be allowed to speak for themselves rather than be labeled by one-line sound-bites.

In this tightly time-controlled debate, introduced by his sister-in-law Victoria Michaels - an Anaheim resident - Dr. “Pat” pitched in with his 15 minute presentation.

He was followed by rebuttal speakers, Mark Tabbert and Dr. John Hoaglund III, after which CATER attorney, Greg Diamond, engaged him in informal conversation before the final Q&A wrap-up. So much for the outline of the 2-hour event.

In many respects the evening was a conglomeration of enlightening snippets and lengthy missed opportunities. That was largely due to three factors:  presentation of material that was too complicated for a mixed grass roots audience (which includes me); a misunderstanding of the word “rebuttal”; and inability to stick to the point.

Dr. Patrick Michaels
Dr. Michaels began his segment with a clear, simple slide: Global warming is real and it is affected by human activity. There was no doubting the mastery of his subject, and he surely made every effort to pitch his message at a level we could understand. I think it came to this:
·      The planet has warmed and cooled on many previous occasions over millions of years for reasons completely unconnected with human activity. Humans were not even there! The temperature variations have been far more extreme than anything we are seeing now, and the Earth survived.
·      Since global temperature measurements have been recorded we have become more and more sophisticated at making those measurements, many of them by  satellites.
·      Graphs charting the uptick of global warming over the last 80 years (or so), while not all identical, are clear about one thing – the trend upwards is a straight line NOT a progressively upwards curve. Michaels’ red laser pointer flitted erratically over a chart showing two straight upwards trend lines, then in the space above these, an upward curving red line (purportedly Government data and projections) with NO data points, clearly wildly different from the scientific measurements. His point was that official government warming projections are demonstrably false and tending to alarmism.
·      We are in a natural swing period of global warming that fundamentally has nothing to do with the huge amounts of carbon dioxide we are spewing into the atmosphere.
·      This is not to discount that some warming is due to excessive CO2 production by human agencies, but that its influence on the overall warming trend is minimal and that even if the carbon producers of the world tightly reined in their excesses this would make very little difference to the overall (straight line) rise in global temperatures.
·      Dr. Michaels touched on the economic implications of attempting to combat global warming much as if to say we are largely wasting our money on the effort. At least, I think that’s what he was saying. Doubtless I could clarify his message by resorting to articles and videos all available on the internet. But our job is to stay on task and cover this debate.
·      In a Pew Research survey of national priorities, terrorism ranked at the top with climate change right near the bottom. He should have been challenged on his interpretation of the chart, but this never happened.

As with the Pew Research chart, his presentation begged several very important questions which may or may not have derailed Michaels’ apparent theses. But these challenges were not taken up in the so-called rebuttals, and only one of them in the closing minutes of the Q&A.  These areas were missed opportunities.

I said so-called rebuttals. A rebuttal is not simply any alternative viewpoint. Rebuttals cannot be written in advance, unless one has the text of the proponent’s presentation or speech. A rebuttal is an argumentative device in which the opponent takes various statements or theses from the main proposition and attempts to refute them on the facts, showing why the conclusions were wrong. With the possible exception of a quick flash of argument between John Hoaglund and Patrick Michaels in later discussion there was no rebuttal. This was a huge missed opportunity.

Mr. Mark Tabbert
So we come to the first rebuttal, as indicated in the program, by Mr. Mark Tabbert. The unfortunate man took the stage in some discomfort, has arm in a sling, telling us he had just fallen off his bicycle and broken his arm (or was it shoulder?) and two ribs. He also declared “I am not a scientist!” As from this moment I immediately knew it would be impossible for him to say a single word that in any way whatsoever would find holes in Patrick Michael’s arguments and leave him gasping further to explain himself.

Of course, I have also Googled Mark Tabbert so now I know more about him than I did when he spoke for himself. He is a lobbyist/presenter for the Citizens Climate Lobby with a mission to educate members of Congress on the dangers of global warming and persuade them to adopt policies to stringently reduce the impact of CO2 emissions, and so forth. Well and good. But all he did was fill his time with a somewhat unprepared assortment of excessively long anecdotes - what he does, who he has met, names of Congress people who support his lobby group. It would have been to his benefit to make an impassioned appeal to us all to read up on the details of the Citizens Climate Lobby and join the fight. But he didn’t even do that. This was a completely wasted opportunity and most certainly not a rebuttal.

Dr. John Hoaglund III
John Hoaglund III is a specialist in groundwater modeling, hydrology and environmental forensics. If you can unpack the implications of these areas of expertise you will see John Hoaglund takes the view that it’s worthwhile to aim for achievable goals for sustainable groundwater usage and the management of CO2 emissions.

Once again, his presentation was not so much a rebuttal as an alternative view of aspects of Patrick’s presentation. I got the distinct feeling that when the time-keeper cut him off after 15 minutes, he had not managed to summarize his main points and clinch his argument. Others will have taken away differing memories but I think John was saying this:

·      With the ability of geo-physicists to drill to huge depths to extract ice cores from both the Arctic and Antarctic we have been able to construct pictures of global climate that go back millions of years. These, as we now know, clearly show the ice-ages with which we are all familiar, and suggest reasons for the vast swings in past global climate. To this extent Michaels and Hoaglund were on the same page. But as the latter observed, every little wiggle on this graph of climate variations over the millennia, represents dozens of PhDs! There is so much science underlining an apparently simple graph that no one person can know it all. Most scientists are obliged to respond to many questions with an honest “I don’t know.”
·      Many factors influence global warming and cooling, not least of which are luminosity – or the strength of energy pumped into Earth’s energy system from the sun. The sun does not emit energy at a constant rate; Earth’s orbit and tilt are sufficiently eccentric not only to produce our familiar seasons, but over longer periods, other oscillations. (The Milankovitch cycle, I subsequently found out). Albedo, or the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface, also affects warming when snow covered areas, the ice caps and other glaciers, diminish.
·      Impact from asteroids, volcanic eruptions, tectonic movements, all affect climate, sometimes very radically.
·      The most dramatic recent changes to earth environment have been from human causality.
·      Contrary to the first speaker’s assertions we can and should attempt to reduce human impact of the current climate swing. The more that industrial agencies can be persuaded to work together rather than each pursue their own agendas, the better.
·      I think John had us at a disadvantage with the use of terms with which many of us would not be familiar. He needed to explain them. It only takes 15 seconds to tell us that Holocene is the last 11,700 years of Earth’s history – since the last ice age. But maybe I missed that, just as I had to look up Milankovich and distinguish that from John Malkovitch. Hey, it takes time for ordinary people to grasp this words and treat them like bread and butter. And much of this section of John’s presentation was based on a chart so complicated, with the laser flickering around, that it was hard to know what to take away.
·      Lastly Dr. Hoaglund took us to the amazing Nebraska Sand Hills – which form a massive soak area into the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest ground water supply in the United States. The point was? – the time-keeper ended his 15 minutes!

What about rebuttal? There were a number of issues raised by Patrick which he jokingly said he had lived through in spite of the “Chicken Little” scares at the time. These included the population bomb, global cooling,  acid rain, ozone depletion, etc. John later admitted he would have like to taken up these issues to show that human intervention CAN in fact change environmental conditions. But at the time, the opportunity went begging.

The Conversation with Greg Diamond and Patrick Michaels was most interesting not so much for good conversation but for observing body language and quantifying the volume of words Greg can utter before he actually gets to the point, if he ever gets there at all. I’m not suggesting that Greg does not have great contributions to make but marshaling his thoughts in order to present clear, succinct argument, is a communication problem that we cannot overlook. He has the stage, and the opportunities mostly wandered off into fogginess.

It soon proved prudent to call Dr. Hoaglund to the stage to join the discussion. And we see this: Greg sits upright in his chair, head inclined upwards towards a microphone which was clearly too high, and which he could have lowered and thereby looked more comfortable. He is on edge, trying to man-up to his task. Patrick takes the microphone off its stand, moves his chair way from Greg and sits back with the mic cradled in his chest. He is a man at ease. Confident against all comers, ready to dismiss their arguments as one would swat a mosquito. John then takes the center chair over to the left lectern, sits with elbows on knees supporting his head. It is the position of undue deference, even irritation at the superior attitude of the main speaker.

The conversation revealed one crucial plank in the Michaels’ argument; that whatever we try to do to mitigate global warming it is largely useless. And he pulled intellectual rank with a lofty putdown of Greg by citing atmospheric rates of methane absorption in the upper atmosphere, inviting Greg to show how that might be changed by reducing vehicle emissions (or something like that).

We had to wait until the end of the public questions to rattle Dr. Michaels’ cage. Did he know about the effect of global warming on the melting the ice caps and the break up of ice sheets? To which he tartly replied, “Of course I do!”

And that was one of the potentially most important issues of the evening – gone in a second. (See below. )

Although (as John Hoagland said) 50% of the audience would probably not agree with him or Patrick Michaels about the age of the Earth because they were evangelical Christians,  much of what came from the platform was still more than most of us could follow!  The ability to take complex matters and reduce them to understandable form without undue sacrifice of technical or philosophical content is a great communication skill. At least - thank you speakers - you did not insult us with shallow rhetoric. You made us think!

The CATER organizers did a great job to organize and control this event and can only learn the lessons and build on this to go ahead and arrange yet more debates on matters of great public interest.  I am not sure, apart from higher educational institutions, who else would do this.

The audience was clearly pleased to have been there. They have plenty to mull over.

Thoughts from the writer.

The matter of melting ice is very important. Michaels showed us that atmospheric warming is more straight line than the Al Gore hockey stick.

There is a huge difference between the amount of heat energy in a system as compared with the temperature of a system. Remember those schooldays experiments on melting ice and boiling water? Does the term latent heat come back to mind?

When ice melts at zero degrees Centigrade it turns into water at the same temperature. So what? It takes a large amount of heat energy to loosen up the “frozen” molecules into the more mobile “liquid” state. And even more to induce liquid water to evaporate into gaseous form. The heat that effects these transformations is called latent heat – and it has to come from somewhere. In simple terms it comes from the air – which for a while reduces air temperature. 

Translate this to melting glaciers: what would otherwise be increasingly hot air in the atmosphere is cooled down by the heat transfer into the ice to melt it. Increasingly warmed air therefore remains at a more constant temperature. The implications of this are HUGH! It raises so many questions that should have been aimed at Dr. Michaels (even if he came back with replies that would have left us speechless.)  Michaels focused mainly on atmospheric temperatures, and did not get to the impact of warming on our oceans. 

Sure, the ocean and atmospheric system of our planet may easily be able to respond and cope with increased greenhouse gases in its own way. It has in the past. But this time we - the over–populated human race - are also here, making matters worse through industrial greed and political indifference. This time, we stand to be the major losers as nature readjusts itself to absorb the abuse we have thrown at it.  Greg’s plea, joined with John’s argument, that we should at least do something rather than nothing should not easily be ignored.

Mark Tabbert would tell us that his Citizens Climate Lobby is working on it, along with many others.

·       The debate took place in the Anaheim Performing Arts Center at Servite, Thursday 20th August at 7pm. CATER is Anaheim’s economic watchdog: the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility.

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From the web…

Lazy or Lost

Oh dear - I forgot how to access and post to this blog. Made me look lazy or lost!

But I've figured it out - and now I am back, live.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

George Bush whines about oil

So the Saudi's wouldn't play ball and increase the oil supply, huh?

Mr President, if you had not screwed up the post-invasion of Iraq you would have had all the oil you needed - from Iraq, and at a price that would stopped the cost of gas from skyrocketing. The war would be paid for and Iraq would be well on the way to reconstruction.

We would not be discussing drilling in Alaska.

Neither would the United States be so hugely in debt; we would not have suffered the death of over 4000 soldiers; we would be viewed more favorably by the rest of the world and YOU, Mr President, would be popular. You would have a legacy to be proud of.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Is homosexuality immoral?

Is homosexuality immoral?

Peter Pace - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - believes so, which underscores his reasons for allowing gays into the military on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell basis.

Hillary Rodham Clinton dodged giving her opinion when first asked, and then clarified her position. She disagrees with Pace.

Look, if you get the thought categories wrong, you make Pace's mistake and get stuck in Clinton's (temporary) cleft stick.

Homosexuality is not a choice. It is just how some people are. You may debate the genetic predisposition, the hormonal imbalances, etc., all you like, but unless you are a head-in-the-sand Born Again dead-beat, the matter is settled. And, please note, heterosexuality is the same. It's just how some (okay, most) people are.

So what is the real thought category? Simply this - heteosexuality is neither inherently moral nor immoral; but heterosexual people are capable of behaving immorally. It follows that homosexuality is not inherently moral or immoral. But homosexuals are equally capable of behaving immorally.

Morality is normally a matter of behavior not essence.

Of course, you are now free to make your case for what is or is not immoral behavior. That's up to you and your personal criteria.

But if Peter Pace had understood this crucial distinction he would not have laid himelf open to such criticism; nor would Hillary have had to dodge her questioner.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Collecting US telephone numbers

So the NSA is collecting telephone numbers! But why is the press so coy about pressing for the purpose?

Bush says the database of phone calls is not being used for [data] mining or trolling. But we have no reason to believe what he says.

1. You can look for patterns of activity. For instance, suppose the NSA suspects terrorist cells are active in, say, Chicago. Then you look for numbers of calls from Chicago to Pakistan, or Palestine, or Iran, etc. Compare the proportion of those calls with calls from other cities. As soon as you find statistically significant uplift of calls in one location you lift out those calls and apply closer inspection and analysis. You are now a small step away from actual phone tapping (avoiding the FISA courts, of course!) .

2. The database also contains a staggering web of connected calls. Suppose a particular location in Chicago makes many calls to the Middle East, you can follow up on all his other phone calls (shall we say to other US locations), and then see if any of these make calls to the Middle East. And so forth. The pattern and networks could be very complex and the implications might be quite benign. But as soon as there is good reason to suspect unusual activity you jump straight to phone tapping.

Quite neat, really. But is it ethical or constitutional? That's the debate.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Three years in Iraq

The very fact of a three year anniversary of the war in Iraq is an indictment of the appalling misjudgments of the Bush administration.

It was with gung-ho optimism that Bush, Cheyney and Rumsfelt sent the troops in to remove Saddam confident that the job could be done quickly with a small, efficient fighting force; that the people would come out into the streets greeting the Americans as their liberators hailing the dawn of freedom and democracy; that the commercial opportunities for wealth creation would be enormous; that a new stability would come to the Middle East as friendly Iraq became an alternative base for troops rather than the increasingly uncertain Saudi Arabia; and that abundant oil supplies would be ensured.

After the initial conquest of Baghdad President Bush declared Mission Accomplished. All that remained was to find the WMD and destroy them.

The judgments that formed the invasion policy were so hideously wrong that both Iraq and the USA are paying for it dearly with bombing, death, near civil war and the worst ever national debt. It is a nightmare scenario that the stupid, shortsighted neo-con naivete of Washington could not conceive.

Whatever rousing talk spews forth from the mouths of Bush and Runsfelt (Cheyney is almost silent) that the job must be completed and we must not cede the day to the enemy by running home - we must never cease to hold the White House responsible for their ghastly failure to understand the true nature of terrorism and the longstanding mistrust of American foreign policy and hatred of American cultural imperialism by most of the Islamic world.

Intellectual realists knew this to start with.

Hatred towards a perceived oppressor does not easily die. It took over 30 years in small Northern Ireland to get the IRA to abandon guns and bombs (and we're not sure they've done it yet). The Israel/Palestine question is no nearer to resolution than it has ever been. The Tamil Tigers never were defeated; the Mujahadeen drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan and the Viet Cong saw the US Army out of View Nam.

Terrorism survives because the seed bed in which it grows consists of ordinary people; families with women and children, who feel aggrieved by a cause that strikes at the very core of their beliefs and way of life. No propaganda changes their minds or hearts. Children learn to hate the enemies their fathers kill as soon as they are old enough to speak. There is no question that their cause is righteous and their tactics morally justifiable. Women tend the wounded and bury their sons because love for their men is a strong as the gunman's hatred of the oppressor.

You cannot eliminate these profound convictions - so different from ours, by rounding up suspects and incarcerating them in interrogation camps carefully positioned beyond the reach of law and inspection. Bombing does not change hearts, it hardens opposition; and that works both ways, from both sides. Only killing on such a scale that approximates to genocide or ethnic cleansing can eliminate this kind of opposition. This was been the solution of the Nazis, and miscellaneous African states including the Sudan. It was the policy of Saddam Hussein - although he was restrained from completing his ambitions. It is the philosophy of Hamas towards Israel.

Unless the United States is prepared (with its Iraqi friends) to kill all the family support systems that nurture the men we call terrorists, terrorism will remain alive and vicious. Since this is an impossible moral position for the United States to take it follows that the USA cannot defeat terrorism by engaging in armed struggle. Only dialogue and diplomacy stretched out over decades can bring a change.

The conservative mentality of the voters of the United States did not see this three years ago. They marched to the tune of "We must support the Commander in Chief in the hour of peril" and "We must never undermine our troops who are in harm's way." This veneer of loyalty only glossed over the widespread political immaturity of American voters. But three years on the veneer is wearing very thin. The President is widely unpopular (Hello - we tried to tell you he was not up to the job, but you didn't listen!). The war is now perceived as a mistake (Hello - we told you to start with, but you wouldn't listen!). The oil and other revenues that would have flowed from a clean take-over of Iraq have turned into bottomless pits of financial loss.

The President is now stomping the country again on a sort of one man crusade to turn the tide in favor of his mistakes. But he is no orator. Others write his speeches and lend some respectability to his arguments. But get him off his prepared rhetoric and he is incompetent and inarticulate; probably an embarrassment to his colleagues back in the White House. His Social Security reform program foundered as soon as his words died from his mouth. His Medicare reform has run into huge problems. His fine words of support for the post-Katrina recovery program have left millions of voters cynical that he exercises any moral leadership at all. Scandal and sleaze dogs his staff including the office of the Vice President. Let's face it - the hubbub over a semen stained dress was a picnic in the park compared with the dreadful mess this inept President has led us into.

Sure, there is no easy way out of Iraq. But talk about certain victory is a tactical and rhetorical mistake. There can be no victory. We can only look for the best possible solution; and an expensive and bloody one at that.

The Democrats need to come clean about their own political idiocy when the war began. They were trounced into supporting the President because it would have seemed fundamentally disloyal to America, at the time, not to have done so. They were in a bind. Based on the intelligence they had they gave reluctant support. It was very hard to crystallize a policy to oppose the invasion. Yet the warnings of a flawed basis for the invasion were all there.

Remember, Hans Blix and his team spent months following up on intelligence passed to them from the US on likely weapons locations or nuclear facilities. They consistently found none. Did nobody piece this together - US intelligence was consistently WRONG?! Iraqi scientists were being flown out of the country and questioned about Saddam's programs, and the UN team could not gather sufficient evidence to build a case for WMD.

But so convinced was Bush - egged on by Cheyney and his backdoor non-intelligence from Chalabi - that they were right that he brushed Blix aside like some irritating fly and plunged in to sort the matter out himself.

Democrats - that was all open to you at the time. But you lacked the political insight to make a stand on this. You therefore got dragged into the Bush invasion folly. There were other methods that could and should have been pursued. Unfortunately such methods as those proposed by the French were simply held up to ridicule and as a mark of American intellectual power we renamed French fries Freedom fries. Democrats should have been quicker off the mark to denounce Bush's freedom lies.

In time, the propaganda to the American people changed. So there were no WMD. No matter - the freedom of the Iraqi people is what mattered. Saddam needed to go anyway. The USA was now embarking on a great drive to deliver democracy to the world as the philosophical cure to terrorism. Well now - that is another story.

For now, we are marking the third anniversary of a war of such growing unpopularity that much as we feel for our troops fulfilling their Mission Impossible, we must take the opportunity to say again that the whole bloody mess is a direct consequence of the stupid and foolish judgments of an inept neo-con administration, and the sooner the people can vote next November to correct the folly they put in power by the last popular election, the better. Democracy at home might begin to win.