Friday, May 7, 2010

Fear of Education?

We believe in public education in the United States, so we support it with our tax dollars.

In spite of that commitment, we seem afraid to let our young people learn too much. We teach them to read but not be literate. We sanitize history. We censor literature. We restrict science education. We seem intent on stifling our children’s’ curiosity and creativity, rather than encouraging it.

We give lip service to preparing them to reach their potential, but we end up preparing them only for corporate drudgery and consumerism. Instead of teaching them to self-manage, we train them to be managed by others.

Educating young people for a rapidly changing world can no longer be a one-size-fits-all training program based on today’s reality. Technology and globalization are creating a very different world in which our youth will compete.

To be truly prepared, they must have an understanding of the economic, political and social forces that shape the world. They must be aware of the media that shape their consciousness. They must be inquisitive and think for themselves. They must be able to recognize change and then adapt to it.

To solve global problems, our youth must be able to visualize beyond the confines of their own experience. They must have the knowledge and confidence to challenge the ruling elite, ideological extremists and xenophobic nationalists. They must truly understand history to avoid repeating it.

Critical thinking is not learned from a standardized curriculum. It requires curricula that address what it means to be critical citizens and teaches the skills to participate in sustainable democracy. Our young people will need the tools for civic engagement and self-management if we want them to remain free.

Helping our youth become critically engaged citizens is the goal of public education in a democracy.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Choices

As citizens of a democracy, we have choices.

We can remain ignorant and trust our government to protect us from political and corporate profiteers, swindlers, hucksters and liars; or we can inform ourselves about the issues and get involved in making changes.

We can allow the military/industrial complex to grow rich by selling us weapons of mass destruction that allow extremist politicians to further their imperialist ambitions; or we can insist that money be spent making a more peaceful, stable world for our children and grandchildren.

We can allow our schools to be starved by corporate warmongers, our media to be controlled by corporate interests, and our elections to be manipulated by corporate lobbyists; or we can take back control of our country.

Informed choices in a democracy are vital for its survival.

Applesauce

During the summer between my junior and senior years in college, I had a job working for a Hollis native. Peter Bell had a six-yard dump truck and a 20-foot box truck that he contracted out to local businesses. Both were fairly new, and Peter kept them in good working order. I was proud to drive trucks that were better than many other truckers with whom I worked.

Peter had a twinkle in his eye and a contagious smile. He was an unmerciful tease but a good boss. Since he was often gone when I arrived at his house in the morning, Peter gave me instructions for the following day in a phone call each evening.

I might have to go to a job site in the dump truck or to one of the apple storage facilities in the area with the box truck. I liked the variety and the fact that Peter trusted me to work without supervision.

Driving the dump truck usually meant hauling gravel, sand or some other aggregate from a local quarry to a work site over and over again. There were often several other truckers working the same job. As a large loader or power shovel loaded one truck, the rest would wait in line for their turn.

At one pit, the shovel operator expected each driver to watch his rear view mirror for a hand signal that the truck was full. You had to watch closely because the signal was a just quick lift of his hand from the control levers. If you missed it, you’d be reminded by a bump from the huge shovel bucket against the back of your truck. It only happened once, after which I remembered to be alert.

Then, I’d pull up to the scales if the material was sold by weight or drive directly to the work site if it was sold by the yard. After dumping the load at the work site, I’d retrace my route back to the pit. This would be repeated for the duration of the job.

Driving the box truck was much more interesting and varied. Peter had contracts with several apple packing and storage facilities in nearby Ayer, Massachusetts. Back then, apples were shipped and stored in one-bushel crates rather than today’s large bulk bins. The season started with delivering empty apple crates from the packing plants to various orchards in central Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.

At the packing plant, I loaded up the truck with about 600 crates and got instructions on where to deliver them. I could manage four or five trips a day depending on the distance to the orchard. Deliveries often took me on scenic back roads to beautiful hilltop orchards. I enjoyed the work.

Once the apples began to ripen, I drove to the orchards to pick up the fruit. Loading the truck with bushel crates of apples was hard work. The apples were rolled into the back of the truck on roller runs where I had to quickly stack the heavy crates to keep up. I had to lift, turn and stack crate after crate until the truck was loaded with 350 to 400 bushels of apples. Then I drove the truck back to the packing plant where I unloaded.

As the season heightened, the truck traffic at the packing plants increased. I often had to wait for two or three trucks to unload before a space at the loading dock opened up. Most of the drivers helped each other unload to keep things moving.

I remember one driver in particular—a large one-armed man who drove an ancient Brockway flatbed truck. I don’t know how he lost his right arm, but he could unload and stack full apple crates almost as fast with one arm as I could with two. He could also drive, shift and double-clutch that old truck with his left arm as well. I don’t remember his name, but he was friendly to this skinny college kid.

One afternoon in September, I drove up to an orchard in Ashby, Massachusetts to pick up a load of Macintosh apples slated for gas storage. The farmer was particularly proud of his fruit and cautioned me to handle them with care. I drove his precious cargo back to Ayer and got in the queue to unload. Several trucks pulled in behind me until there was a long line.

At this storage facility, I had to stack the crates on pallets—36 bushels per pallet. A forklift took the pallets out of the back of the truck and carried them into the storage cellar.

I finished loading the last pallet and walked to the cab of my truck to be ready to pull away from the dock. When I felt the weight lift off the truck, I put the truck in gear and pulled away. At that moment, the forklift operator decided to set the pallet back down to straighten it on the forks. The pallet fell between the truck and the loading dock spilling all thirty-six bushels of apples. The apples rolled out into the street and down the hill to the main street.

It was about five o’clock in the afternoon and the commuter traffic was heavy. In minutes, there was a huge puddle of applesauce in the street. I was extremely embarrassed as I picked up the broken apple crates.

When I got back to Peter’s house, he had already heard about my blunder. His insurance covered the loss, but I suffered much good-natured teasing by Peter and the workers at that storage facility. Every time I went there, I could count on being asked if I had applesauce on board.

Monday, April 12, 2010

WTF?

What is wrong with us? Have we become so brainwashed and jaded that we can’t see what’s happening? Our young people are being turned into murderers and war fodder by our feckless and imperialistic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And all we do is watch.

There is a video running viral on the web of a US Army helicopter gunning down 12-15 civilians in a Baghdad suburb in 2007. The grim video leaves no doubt that this was an unprovoked attack on civilians by young men caught up in bloodlust, and the Army’s response leaves no doubt it was deliberately covered up. Watch it and decide for yourself.

One of our primary military contractors, Blackwater (now euphemistically and nonsensically named Xe), murdered 17 Iraqi civilians caught in a traffic jam. Even with first-hand accounts by witnesses saying it was completely unprovoked, the murderers walked away.

Afghan investigators claim that US military forces covered up the massacre of five Afghan citizens following a raid on what turned out to be a baby shower. After first claiming US soldiers had stumbled upon the victims of some kind of an honor killing, military officials now admit that our soldiers were responsible. The Afghan investigators charge that American forces dug the incriminating bullets out of the women’s bodies to cover up the crime.

These are only a few of the hundreds of attacks by mistake or malice on the part of our soldiers, contractors and allies. This is how our Afghanistan commander, Stanley McCrystal, recently explained it:

“We really ask a lot of our young service people out on the checkpoints because there's danger, they're asked to make very rapid decisions in often very unclear situations. However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I've been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it. That doesn't mean I'm criticizing the people who are executing. I'm just giving you perspective. We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”

While we can’t let war crimes go unpunished, there is another side to this issue. What turns normal, well-adjusted young Americans into ruthless, cold-blooded murderers? What are we doing to our young people? Who bears the responsibility?

These wars have become an integral part of our culture, but we have no real sense of the extraordinary damage that is being done to the young men and women fighting in our name. Sure, we see a few of the success stories of those who have recovered from horrific injuries and started a new life with amazing prosthetic limbs, but there are tens of thousands more who have been crippled for life. And the suffering extends to their families whose lives are also permanently impacted.

The insidiousness of these wars is that the damage to the soldiers and their loved ones is profound, while the impact on the rest of us is minimal. And the military is deliberately hiding the carnage from us to keep from losing public support.

It is shameful, dishonorable and simply wrong to destroy the lives of our young people and then sweep them under the rug. We’re sending our solders on an imperialist fool’s mission into hell, turning them into murderers and war criminals, and then dumping them on the street.

It’s time to face the fact that we’re not winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqis and Afghans, but we can’t lay all the blame on the soldiers. Those who made the misguided and inept decisions that sent them there are also to blame.

The politicians, the military and the media tell us how we’re doing the right thing and we’re winning. That’s nothing more than self-serving propaganda.

There is no victory in Iraq or Afghanistan. All we have done is spill the blood of more than a million civilians and brought shame and disgrace to the United States. The atrocities of these wars have stained us and will curse our children and grandchildren.

We have killed nearly 5000 American solders and wounded tens of thousands more. And these are not quickly healed wounds. They include post-traumatic stress disorders, massive head injuries and severed limbs. We have destroyed families with repeated deployments.

In the process, we have squandered hundreds of billions of dollars that could have helped the country through this recession. We could have rebuilt crumbling bridges and highways, rejuvenated our failing schools and sent millions of young Americans to college.

But we didn’t. Instead, we burned through all that money and all those human lives to act out the imperialist fantasies of a small group of political fanatics and greedy mercenaries. And every American who doesn’t now stand up to a government run amok shares the blame.

As long as we continue to let this happen, the blood of these soldiers and civilians is on our hands too. As long as we continue to rationalize this war and these deaths, a little piece of us dies too. As long as we close our eyes to the immorality of this war, we extend it.

We can no longer lay the blame on soldiers, generals and politicians. We're now accomplices in their crimes.

It's time for you and I to stop this war.

Keith Hoffman—Watercolor Landscapes

Keith Hoffman recently relocated to Landenberg, Pennsylvania; but since his studio and gallery were in Jamaica, Vermont for many years, he’s still a New England artist to me.

I came across Keith at an outdoor art show in Vermont about fifteen years ago. I was so taken by his work that I visited his Jamaica studio a few weeks later and bought one of his paintings.



Keith excels at watercolors. His style is reminiscent of the mid-Twentieth Century greats, Ted Kautsky and Herb Olsen. Many artists consider watercolor the most demanding medium because it requires confidence and practice, and the ability to make corrections is limited.

Keith grew up in the New York City area in a family that included several commercial artists and illustrators who encouraged his interest in art. As a young artist, Keith taught painting classes. He did demonstrations for art organizations and university/high school art programs. He joined the prestigious Salmagundi Club and become the President of Long Island's largest art organization, the Art League of Nassau County.



Keith later relocated to Vermont to immerse himself in the rural subject matter that continues to be his passion. While in Vermont, he developed a reputation as one of the State’s finest watercolorists. He had numerous one-man exhibitions at the prestigious Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester.

Keith’s move to the Brandywine Valley area of Pennsylvania puts him in a region that has inspired artists like Howard Pyle and the Wyeths. He plans to open an arts center in Landenberg, where he renovated the upper floor of a horse barn into a studio.



He also works as an instructor at the Center for the Creative Arts in Yorklyn, Delaware and the Academy of Lifelong Learning in Wilmington. His work can be seen at galleries throughout the eastern seaboard.

You can see Keith’s work at his website: www.khoffmanart.com/index.html. You can reach him by phone at 610-274-8123 or by email at kbhoffman@verizon.net.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Granny D vs. Judd Gregg

Doris "Granny D" Haddock died last month at age 100. She was a true New Hampshire hero.

She began her political career in 1960 when she and her husband successfully campaigned against an ill-conceived plan to create a harbor in Alaska by exploding nuclear devices. It was part of Operation Plowshare, a frighteningly naïve project to find peaceful uses for nuclear explosives. “Father of the Hydrogen Bomb” Edward Teller championed the project. He touted the harbor as an important economic development for America’s newest state.

Alaska’s political leaders, newspaper editors, the state university's president and church groups all rallied in support of the massive detonation even though there was no practical use for the harbor. Opposition came from the tiny Inuit Eskimo village of Point Hope, which would have been devastated by the bizarre experiment. A few environmental scientists and a handful of conservationists including Doris and her husband, Jim Haddock, successfully created enough public pressure to force the AEC to abandon the project.

Doris became interested in campaign finance reform after the defeat of the first McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill in 1995. So starting in 1999 at the age of 89, she walked the 3,200 miles from Pasadena, California to Washington, D.C. in 14 months to draw attention to campaign finance reform. Wearing her trademark wide-brimmed straw hat, she covered about 10 miles a day through deserts, mountains and forests wearing out four pairs of sneakers in the process.

In 2004, she ran for the U.S. Senate against incumbent senator Judd Gregg. Running a campaign funded only by small donations by individual contributors, she managed to garner 34% of the vote. Her well-funded Republican rival beat her with 66%. Following the election, Doris founded the Citizen Funded Election Task Force and attended its weekly meetings.

A former Congressman and Governor, Judd Gregg has been a consistent champion of special interests. He was the leading Republican negotiator and author of the TARP program, which bailed out financial institutions. He had a multi-million dollar investment in the Bank of America at the time.

In February 2009, President Obama asked Gregg to serve as Secretary of Commerce. At first he accepted; but he withdrew when the Associated Press reported that Gregg and his family profited personally from federal earmarks steered by the senator for the redevelopment of a Pease Air Force base. He claimed his withdrawal for the Cabinet position had nothing to do with his family’s real estate dealings.

Gregg explained his investments by saying, “I've throughout my entire lifetime been involved in my family's businesses and that's just the way our family works. We support each other and our activities.”

He subsequently stepped down from the TARP Oversight Board because of a busy schedule and announced he would not seek reelection. Since that time, he has done everything he can to derail the Obama Administration. As a lame-duck Senator, the Republican Party seems to have tapped him as to be their obstructionist mouthpiece.

Gregg admitted that his role was to stir up uncertainty among Democrats, hoping to trip up health care reform. He raised the specter that the reconciliation process will shut the Senate down, and questioned whether the president can use reconciliation.

He claimed that Congress couldn’t use reconciliation to fix a bill that hasn't yet been signed into law, even though Republicans repeatedly used reconciliation to push special interest legislation through the Senate during the Bush administration.

He added that the Republican Party had a whole host of procedural hurdles that they would throw in the way of healthcare reform including arcane parliamentary procedures to force Senate Democrats to vote on controversial legislative topics completely unrelated to health care. He pledged to essentially bleed the reconciliation process to death.

Gregg is a perfect example of how the Republican Party is more interested in protecting the status quo and covering their asses than in any meaningful reforms in healthcare, banking or campaign finances.

I can’t help but wonder how much better off New Hampshire and the country would be if a champion of democracy like Granny D had beaten Judd Gregg in 2004. I’m proud to claim her as a New Hampshire hero. I’m ashamed of Judd Gregg.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Favorite Rides

I’ve owned quite a few Volvos. I’ve driven at least one of almost every model over the last 45 years, and I recently had the chance to drive S60 and S40 loaner cars from my local dealer. They’re both terrific cars.

I like Volvo’s design philosophy. It puts function on the same level as form. And each new model has been a big improvement over the previous one.

Until recently, Volvos have been more stodgy than stylish, but there have been a few exceptions. The 1800 ES is still a head-turner. The 780 Bertone was a handsome car. The current S60 and S80 are as good looking as any sedans on the road today, and the C30 is a slick little sport coupe.

But favorite rides have little to do with beauty. They’re about emotion.

My hands-down favorite is my 1967 210 Duett. By today’s standards, it’s a primitive automobile. It doesn’t ride or handle nearly as well as today’s cars. It’s noisy to ride in, not particularly comfortable and has very little ventilation.


1967 210 Duett*

But it’s got heart. And it made people smile—particularly after I fitted it with oversized tires on bright orange wheels, a throaty exhaust and flowered curtains in the windows.

Like most Volvos, it was build to last. It had nearly 150,000 miles when I bought it, and I drove it for more than 150,000 more before retiring to my garage for restoration.

My second favorite was my 1984 242 Turbo coupe. Even by today’s standards, it was a performance car.

I still remember the warm spring day I got it. I signed all the papers, and the salesman handed me the keys. He asked me if I knew how everything worked. I replied I did, barely able to stifle my excitement.

As I drove out of the lot, I basked in the aroma of the tan leather upholstery. I opened the side windows and the sunroof to let out the hot air. The whine of the turbocharger was music. On the ride home, it was all I could do to keep my right foot from mashing the gas pedal into the carpet.


242 Turbo*

Once it was broken in, however, I had no hesitation. There were only a handful of production cars with better acceleration than the 242 Turbo in 1984.

The car was fast, safe and comfortable. It was also the only brand new Volvo I ever owned. I drove it for 275,000 miles before selling it. I now wish I kept it.

I never bought another new car after that. I like cars but have never cared about owning a new one.

I’d rather use the saved depreciation and interest on other things. Besides, I get real pleasure out of getting the maximum service out of a car. It’s passive recycling. And Volvos are well suited to recycling.

*Neither of these photos are my cars. The Duett belongs to an acquaintance from New Jersey and the 242 is a photo I found online. I lost the only good photos of my Duett and 242.

Common Goals

One-fifth of the people in the world are non-religious. They include doctors, scientists, bankers, farmers, teachers, social workers, truck drivers, food service workers and police officers in every country of the world. They include conservative and progressive thinkers. Most of them lead good and honorable lives.

I have personally observed there are many decent and socially responsible people who never go near a church. And we all know that some of history’s greatest villains cloaked themselves in religion.

The selfish and corrupt individuals in both religious and non-religious groups are a tiny minority. Most of us share similar values and ideals. In fact, we share far more similarities than differences.

We all want happy fulfilling lives. We all want to live in peace and safety. We all want our children to prosper. We all want to feel good about ourselves. I don’t know about you, but these four things add up to 95% of what I want out of life.

The biggest single difference may be that non-believers look inward for answers and believers look outward.

Neither way is better. They're simply different paths toward the same place: to be at peace with oneself.

If we are to survive on this ever-shrinking planet, we must respect each other’s beliefs. We must set aside the 5% of things on which we disagree and work toward allowing all of us to enjoy the 95% on which we do agree.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Union Shop

After my unpleasant experience with the Brass Shakes, I wasn’t anxious to work in another factory. But being a married art school student, I needed a summer job that paid well.

So I applied for a job at Gregg and Sons in Nashua, New Hampshire, a cabinet manufacturing company owned by the family of our lackluster New Hampshire Senator, Judd Gregg.

I started working in the basement making up packets of screws and nails for the assembly line. Each tiny brown paper bag had to contain just the right assortment to assemble a particular cabinet. I followed a daily instruction sheet and put the stapled bags in labeled trays.

It was cool and quiet in the cellar, and I worked alone listening to a small transistor radio. The shop union rated the various packets at a different hourly rates; so if I worked fast, I could make bonus in addition to my base salary. I was doing quite well when, on my third day on the job, the personnel manager came down with my job application in hand. I figured I was in hot water for something.

“How do you like it here so far, “ he asked.

“It’s nice down here away from the hot weather,” I replied.

“It says on your application that you’re going to art school. Have you ever done any pin striping?”

“A little on trucks and cars.”

“Do you want to try some striping for us here at Gregg?"

“Sure.”

He led me upstairs to the finishing plant where he introduced me to the foreman, a muscular, square-jawed guy dressed in black chinos and a fitted black golf shirt. He had a dark tan, close-cropped gray hair and deep, gravely voice. I don’t remember his name.

“Follow me,” he growled.

As we walked back through the finishing plant, my ears were assaulted by the constant howling of a sawdust exhaust fan and the wailing screams of saws, planers and joiners on the upper floor of the building. The assembly conveyer clattered as it moved finished cabinets past a workstation where five men put on hinges and door pulls with whining pneumatic screwdrivers.

The noise level was so loud that you had to shout to communicate with anyone more than a couple of feet away. The hot summer air was thick with lacquer fumes. While it was a step up from the brass foundry, a pre-OSHA cabinet factory certainly was no picnic.

In the back corner of the production floor, a huge pile of white lacquered cabinets was stacked next to a low workbench. On the other side of the bench was an empty space.

The foreman explained how they mixed brass powder with clear lacquer to produce the striping paint and gave me a handful of dagger stripping brushes.

“Put a gold stripe around the edge of each drawer and each door,” he instructed. “Make sure the thickness of your lines stays the same.” Then he turned and walked away.

I mixed up a batch of paint to the right consistency and began striping.

This was going to be easy. I had a steady hand and worked quickly. With pin striping, smooth quick strokes are the only way to get good results.

An hour or so went by. I had already done about fifteen cabinets and was feeling pretty smug. I was going to show them how it’s done.

Suddenly I heard the foreman’s gravely voice. “Hey! What are you doing?” he barked as he hurried up to my bench.

I looked around. I couldn’t see anything wrong.

“You’re going way too fast,” he scolded. “This job is rated at four pieces an hour. If you keep this up, they’ll raise the rate so no one else can make any money. Put all of those cabinets back on the other side and then go back and make the lines a little wider. And don’t do more than six an hour. That’ll give you time and a half. Just don’t screw it up for the next guy.”

He turned and walked away.

I began transferring the finished cabinets back to the unfinished pile. I could feel the stares of the guys in the nearby hardware workstation.

This was my first taste of union protocol. Here I thought I was making a good impression, and I was already rocking the boat.

Just then, the break buzzer sounded. Workers from the paint shop streamed by on their way to the break room. I joined the hardware crew and as they followed.

“Don’t let him bother you,” one of them explained. “He’s just looking out for us.”

In the break room, I noticed that many of the paint shop guys had hacking coughs and were continually blowing their noses into the paper napkins. Most of them didn’t wear their particle masks during the hot summer weather. Those masks afforded little protection against chemical fumes anyway.

There was a record heat spell a few days later. The temperature in the plant was almost unbearable. After some of the workers opened the windows, a guy from the front office came around and closed them. He said the open windows let in dust and the clerestory roof with its fans was designed to keep the building cool.

This sparked a sit-down strike. I kept working at first, but one of the hardware guys warned me not to be scab. Tempers were as hot as the afternoon sun. So I cleaned my brushes, covered my paint and sat down on my bench.

The foreman and the front office guy came walking through, waving their arms as they shouted at each other. They reminded me of two baseball managers after a bad call.

A few minutes later it was over. We were sent home an hour early due to the heat.

So, I spent the summer working half of the time and looking busy half of the time; and I was getting paid time and a half. When I got bored and management wasn’t around, I worked in the hardware station helping those guys make bonus.

I left for art school in Boston just after Labor Day, even more determined never to work in a place where human welfare is less important than company profits.

Craig Pursley

Craig Pursley began drawing as a child. His ability grew with him, and Craig was already doing freelance artwork in high school. At the age of 17, he was chosen Nebraska's Outstanding Young Artist.

He graduated from Colorado State University and began teaching art at the middle school level. He also exhibited in art shows and worked as a police sketch artist.


Big Eddy

Craig moved to Southern California in 1983, where he began working for the Orange County Register newspaper as an illustrator, a job he held for 23 years. During that time, he specialized in portraits of sports, political and entertainment figures for the paper. His series of “Dreamscape” illustrations were the most successful in the paper's history.

Craig’s continuing freelance work included illustrations for the California Angels, Topps and Upper Deck Baseball Cards.

In 2002, Craig and his wife, Julie, moved to New Hampshire. Now he divides his time between here and California and enjoys painting in both states.


Copper Teapot

Craig exhibits in numerous art shows and has won many Best of Show and First Place awards. He had two one-man shows in 2008—one at Villas & Verandas Gallery in San Juan Capistrano CA and the other at The Banks Gallery in New London NH.

While his portraits and still-lifes are superb, it’s Craig’s landscapes that really resonate with me. His drawing is superb and his painting masterful. Craig’s eye for lighting and atmosphere rival some of 20th Century America's best impressionist painters.


Making Hay

Take a look at Craig’s work on his website at pursleyart.com. If you’re up this way, visit his gallery—the American Heritage Gallery of Art in Bath NH. Craig’s work is shown in other galleries as well. Contact him at 603-747-3050 or craigpursley@roadrunner.com for pricing, availability and a list of other galleries.


Windsor


Girl with the Sapphire Necklace

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Drone Syndrome – Part 2

The new arms race has already gathered momentum. Thirty to forty other countries around the world have begun to build, buy and deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), 

They’re showing up at international weapons expos and air shows. Countries ranging from Iran to China to Israel are showing off their new UAVs. The fact that Lebanon's Hizbullah is already using unmanned spy planes armed with cameras to spy on Israel means they're already in the hands of at least one extremist group prone to terrorist attacks.

We’re in for a rude shock if we if we think we’re the only ones with the ability to use armed UAVs to attack another country. Remember ten years ago when we couldn’t even imagine terrorists using commercial aircraft as weapons against us? 

This new technology presents a real threat to the United States and its allies. The future holds a world in which foreign robotics will equal or even surpass our own—a world where terrorist organizations can purchase UAVs capable of delivering deadly explosives into the countries of their enemies.

Most of this technology is commercially available right now. It’s only a matter of time before UAVs fall into the wrong hands, giving even small regional terrorist groups the capability to wage war without casualties. All it will take is money. 

This is the beginning of the biggest change in military strategy and capability since the invention of the airplane. That technology was available to our enemies within ten years after the Wright Brothers flight at Kitty Hawk. With today’s communication and computer technology, sophisticated UAV technology will be available to our enemies in less than half that time.

They may not have the satellite or supercomputer capability to control their UAVs from the other side of the world, but they don’t need it. The technology that agri-business uses for unmanned crop dusting is commercially available. These same drones could be easily and inexpensively converted to carry explosive warheads or disperse chemical or biological weapons. 

Those of us old enough to remember the need for air defense strategies in the mid-twentieth Century, may live to see that need reborn. The proliferation of this relatively inexpensive yet extremely deadly technology harks the birth of still another arms race—anti-UAV weapons.

These UAVs can be very small and made from hard-to-detect materials. They can use low heat-producing propulsion systems. They can fly at very slow speeds at very low altitudes. This will make them very hard to detect by radar and for heat seeking missiles or jet aircraft to destroy.

Given our government’s proclivity to enter into unprovoked, imperialistic wars and the resources it will take to stay ahead in this new arms race, it looks like any hope of lower taxes and a peace dividend have evaporated. 

Probably for good.

Hummer R.I.P.

The original H1 military HumVee was a vehicle to be reckoned with. It was big, powerful and could go almost anywhere; but it was obsolete almost as soon as it was put into production. I liked it.

When it was first made available as a commercial vehicle, every testosterone-filled guy who ever had a Tonka truck as a kid wanted one. It was a no-compromise ride.

Its price and limited production, however, put it out of reach to all but a few movie stars, professional athletes and entrepreneurs. That’s when General Motors made one of the mistakes that would lead to its downfall. They started producing the H2 and then the H3--two silly Hummer wannabees for macho wannabees.

The energy crisis handwriting was written on the wall in big bold letters when GM brought out these two poseurs. They were based on existing truck models with none of the purposeful looks or capabilities of their progenitor. They were simply badly-timed, gussied-up harlots put out there to make money for their pimps at GM.

It’s not clear whether any other company will be foolish enough to buy this bloated brand. The military no longer wants the H1. It doesn’t look like there’s a market for the ugly baby sisters. Hopefully this icon of ridiculous American gluttony will die a quiet death.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A question for my elementary school teachers

I’m sure you all meant well and thought you were helping when you told me:

“You’re so smart. You just need to pay attention.”
“If you stopped daydreaming, you could do anything.”
“You’ve got so much potential. You just need to try harder.”
“If you paid attention in class, you could do so well.”
“You could get all ‘A’s if you only applied yourself.”

Didn’t any of you ever stop to think how demoralizing and shaming it is to say those things over and over again to a young child?


So the biggest lesson I learned in elementary school was: “You’re smart, but you’re a defective, lazy kid who can’t be successful.”

Unlearning that has been extremely difficult for me.

Recent studies indicate that 5-8% of children today have attention difficulties, and those are only the ones who are being treated. Like me, 75% of those kids continue to have problems as adults. And the numbers are on the rise.

Other studies suggest that 45-50% of prison inmates have ADHD.

We don’t know what causes this or why it’s rising. It may be genetics, birth complications, juvenile head trauma, allergies or chemical sensitivities. It could be too much television, video games or Internet. While it’s important to learn why the numbers are so high, it’s just as important to stop undermining the self-esteem of those children who struggle with it.

If we add early intervention strategies for dealing with attention difficulties into our elementary schools, there will be fewer expensive special education plans. Fewer children left behind. And fewer high school students who end up dropping out of school.

When we learn to help rather than discourage these children, we'll produce more successful adults and fewer inmates.

That would generate a huge economic return-on-investment for a country with the largest inmate population in the world. With 7% of our citizens in prisons (two and a half million inmates) at an average of $47,085 per year, we spend $117,712,500,000 per year incarcerating them.

It would also make us a much more productive and humane society.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Finast Lady Treatment

I have a game I often play when I'm out and about. If I run into a person working in a bank, store or restaurant who looks unhappy, I make it a point to get their name from their name tag. Then I smile and use their name when I address them. Almost every one of them warms up and smiles back. When I see them again, I do the same thing.

It started about thirty-five years ago when the customer service person in the Finast grocery store where I shopped was a real sourpuss. I started using her name and smiling when I talked with her, and she began using my name and smiling back.

One time I walked up to the service desk holding a banana like a gun and demanded she give me all the money. She laughed out loud; and almost every time I saw her after that, she commented on it. My kids refer to my game as giving someone the Finast lady treatment.

It's fun making people smile. It makes them feel good and gets me better service.

Corporations are not people.

Even though most of the founding fathers were liberal capitalists, they believed that corporations were not people and did not have the same rights as people. After all, they had just fought a war against King George and his greedy lapdogs.

Many of the thirteen original colonies began as commercial ventures with proprietary charters granted to English bureaucrats and businessmen. They satisfied their labor requirements with indentured laborers brought from England and later with slaves. At the onset of the Revolution, four of the colonies—Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Maryland were still privately chartered.

The founding fathers strongly believed in regulating trade. That’s precisely why the Constitution granted the Federal Government regulation of commerce. It's incorrect to conclude that this regulation of commerce only applied to tariffs between the thirteen original states or that the founders were supportive of corporations. They believed that corporate charters should be a regulated privilege not a right.

This belief was supported by the states as well. Almost all the states included language in their constitutions to regulate corporations. Most believed that the granting of a corporate charter was a privilege that carried no rights and could be revoked whenever corporate activities were not in the general interest of the state or the people.

In the early stages of the industrial revolution, corporations flourished. They gained more power and more influence. They began to fund campaigns and establish friends in high places in this country, just as they had in England. This began a one hundred and eighty year period of lawsuits and court decisions based on hair-splitting semantics that culminated in January with the current pro-corporate, activist Supreme Court’s decision to grant corporations the same rights as citizens.

Corporations are not people. They do not have the same rights, morals or ideals as individual people. They do not vote and should not participate in elections the same way people do.

This ruling will cause a flood of corporate cash into politics. If you think candidates have been bought and paid for in the past, wait until you see the upcoming election cycle.

The Supreme Court ruling that corporations can support candidates without limit means that even foreign corporations can buy as many Congressmen as they can afford by funneling money through Delaware-based subsidiaries. It puts our democracy at a very dangerous historical crossroad.

It’s critical for the American people to reestablish our control over corporations by passing an amendment to the Constitution restricting corporations. It’s what the founding fathers intended, and it’s what will keep our democracy alive.

No Child Thrown Away

I was a well-behaved child in school. Except for daydreaming, I was never a behavior problem.

I stayed in my seat, didn’t say much and slid through twelve years of public school. My biggest body of work in high school was a thick loose-leaf binder full of car drawings.

My grades were mediocre. No one excited me. No one inspired me. And no one reached out to me. It felt like I didn’t matter.

Nowadays I’d be diagnosed ADD. Not hyperactive—just difficulty staying on task.

I don’t say this to blame anyone or shirk my own responsibility. It’s just what happened.

I'm now the school board chair in my community. We have about 80 kids in pre-K through eighth grade. My good friend, Tom McGuire, is the District Administrator and the best educator I've ever met. I have learned a great deal from him.

Tom believes that every child is entitled to an education that accommodates different learning styles. He believes every child wants to learn. And fair is not that every child gets the same, but that every child gets what they need to succeed.

Human diversity is inevitable and desirable. No two children learn alike. No child sets out to fail. And no child wants to be thrown away.

Because of my own experience, I want our school to help every child succeed—including those well-behaved but uninspired kids who can’t stay on task. I want our school to offer a curriculum that offers a broad spectrum of learning opportunities—where no child feels like they don’t matter.

Every child has a gift. Far too many of the difficult students fall through the cracks; and they're often the outside-the-box thinkers that our country most needs.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Surreal Conflict

Here’s the surreal aspect of the conflict between religious and non-religious thinking.

The world’s most powerful organized religions—Christianity, Judaism and Islam—are based on mythical ideology that is put forward as fact.

Those who doubt these mythologies are dismissed as evil and dangerous heretics. They have historically been the target of incarceration, banishment, public execution and holy wars.

Non-believers who have science and logic on their side are continually challenged to refute these myths. They are expected to defend their non-belief in the myths of the believers.

This presents a conundrum. How do you prove that something doesn’t exist? The burden of proof would logically be on those who believe, not those who don’t.

The same enigma has led to wars between believers of disagreeing myths. Christians and Moslems have been at war for a thousand years because each side dismisses the others’ myths. Ten of thousands have died over differences in folklore.

It’s like fighting over whether the paintings of Salvador Dali are better than the paintings of Rene Magritte.


Galatea of the Spheres - Salvador Dali


La Therapeute - Rene Magritte

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Brass Shakes

My first year of college didn’t go well.

I was a naïve kid from a small town in New Hampshire. I didn’t fit in with the rich prep school types. I didn’t like my alcoholic ex-Navy roommate. And I wasn’t interested in the courses. So I took a year off to figure out what to do next.

I went back to my summer job at Silver Lake State Park; but when fall came, I was out of work. I stopped for a haircut at Dick Navaroli’s barbershop in mid-September. The shop was located next to the Red & White, downstairs from Dick's apartment in the old hotel building everyone called The Block.

Dick was a nice guy and a good barber, and he loved to talk. When I walked in, Jack Boyd was sitting in the brown leather upholstered barber chair with a crisp, light-blue barber’s cloth snapped around his neck. Dick chattered away as he finished the haircut.

“What’s Mr. Karl up to today,” he asked. Dick always called me Mr. Karl.

“Looking for a job,” I replied

“What are you looking for?” Jack asked as Dick brushed the loose hairs off his neck with a powdered neck duster.

“Anything that pays well.”

Jack sized me up. I was a skinny eighteen year-old kid. “Think you can handle a tough job?”

“What kind of a job?”

Dick unsnapped the barber cloth and drew it aside. Jack stood up and looked me in the eye. “You know where Nashua Brass is?”

“Yes.”

“Be there tomorrow morning at eight. I need some help in the foundry.”

Then he paid for his haircut and left.

“That was good timing,” Dick said as I climbed into the chair.


I was there at eight sharp the next morning. Jack showed me around the old brass foundry. There was a furnace room with two big furnaces and a large molding room where a dozen men worked. It probably hadn’t changed in a hundred years, and OSHA was still eight years away.

The pay was good, so I took the job.

When I punched in the following morning , Jack introduced me to Lionel Ledoux, an avuncular French-Canadian in his early 50s who spoke with a thick accent. Lionel would be my work partner and mentor.

The daily routine was simple. For most of the day, we sat at grinding wheels in one corner of the molding room, removing the flashing from brass castings. Flashing is the extra material left by seams in the mold. It was a mindless job, interrupted every two hours when we helped with the pour-off.

Lionel and I hit it off right away. He talked constantly in his hoarse, gravely voice as we sat at adjacent grinding wheels. He was a diligent worker who had been at the company for 22 years. The high point of his week was Saturday night out at Duke’s, a bar and strip club in nearby Tyngsboro, Massachusetts.

“You come with us this week,” he said.

“I don’t have an ID.”

“Not to worry. You don’t need one with me.”

When a bell rang, we strapped on leather leg protectors that looked like something a baseball catcher might wear, a thick leather apron and heavy leather gloves with cuffs that went almost to our elbows. Then we walked to the furnace room for the pour-off.

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc that has been made by man for several thousand years. The copper and zinc are melted together, and the molten liquid is poured into a mold made by packing fine sand around a master pattern in a casting flask. The pattern is then removed leaving a cavity with a channel for pouring in the molten brass. After pouring, the brass cools and solidifies, and the sand is removed.

The melting point of copper is about 2000 degrees F. The furnace room was the closest thing to hell that I ever experienced. The heat from the furnaces was overwhelming, and the roar was deafening.

The furnace operator was a huge bald man who wore a strap undershirt under his apron. His muscled arms and shoulders were covered with sweat and grime. In the glow from the furnace, he looked like a guard at Satan’s door.

Recessed into the floor in front of the furnaces was an oven for preheating large ceramic pots to the same temperature as the molten brass. When the cover was pulled aside, you had to straddle a three-foot wide, 2000° hole in the floor, reach in with a pair of long-handled tongs and lift out a twenty-five pound pot that was wedged in among a bunch of others.

There were no guardrails. It was so hot you couldn’t breathe. And the heat dried out your eyes almost instantly. It was the most frightening task I’ve ever faced.

After lifting the pot from the oven, it was locked into a large iron clamp and a long iron bar slid though a ring in the clamp. Lionel and I then carried it by the iron bar to the furnace, where it was filled with molten brass.

The pot had to be held very steady when the big furnace tilted foward. If the hot molten spilled onto the cool concrete floor, it spattered like water in a hot frying pan. Once filled with molten, the whole thing weighted about 150 pounds.

We then carried the pot out to the molding room where the molders would pour the molten brass into their casting flasks. There were three teams of two men, and each team repeated this procedure several times during each pouring. It was a hot, dirty and dangerous job.

One morning during my second week, a molder bumped a full pot of molten against the side of his casting flask as he began to pour. Molten brass spilled to the floor and spattered everywhere. A glob of it bounced up onto my left leg between the apron and my leg protector and set my jeans on fire.

I struggled to brush it away and put out the fire with my left hand while holding my end of the iron bar in my right and without spilling any more molten. The foreman saw what was happening and rushed over. He summoned another molder to take over for me while I went to his office for first aid.

The burn was painful but not serious, and the foreman dressed my wound.

“You handled yourself pretty good out there,” he said. “Somebody could’ve really got hurt.”

After that rite of passage, I was accepted.

Several weeks later, I came down with a strange ailment. Every night, I felt like I was coming down with the flu. I was feverish, nauseous and ached all over. I went to bed early and by morning was fine. I assumed it would pass.

It didn’t. One morning after a particularly bad night, I mentioned it to Lionel.

“Oh that’s just the brass shakes,” he told me. “I still get them. You get used to it.”

I left Nashua Brass soon after. I never got a chance to take Lionel up on his invitation to Duke’s.

I’ve since learned it was metal fume fever, also known as brass founders' ague, brass shakes or zinc shakes, and is caused by exposure to fumes from zinc or magnesium oxide. The symptoms are caused by an immune reaction when the inhaled fumes injure the cells lining your airways. It also modifies proteins in your lungs. The modified proteins are then absorbed into your bloodstream, where they act as allergens. Continued exposure can lead to leukocytosis, kidney failure and death.

I often wonder how much longer Lionel lived.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Drone Syndrome

Forty years ago, I worked for a military contractor. The longer I worked there, the more I came to dislike the job. When I could no longer live with myself, I quit.

In many ways, it was a great place to work. I worked with a bunch of very creative, highly motivated people. The pay was good with almost unlimited opportunity for overtime. The benefits were excellent. And job security was all but guaranteed.

The problem was that we were building weapons. When you’re building things like bomb fuzes, you lose perspective.

Bomb fuzes were the predecessors to today’s smart bombs. Screwed into the nose of a bomb, they determined when the bomb exploded, maximizing enemy deaths and infrastructure destruction.

One of the more bizarre projects was a Frisbee-like grenade that was designed to hover over the enemy in the swamps of Vietnam and direct the blast of metal shards down onto them.

We also built radar systems for anti-aircraft missiles and cannons. They were easier to rationalize since they were defensive weaponry.

Periodically, we were shown films on how our products worked, all cloaked in clinical terms of efficiency. The films included tests demonstrating the relative destruction of buildings by bombs detonated at different altitudes. Or the destruction of drone target planes by rapid-fire cannons that sounded like a giant fart as they fired 3,600 rounds per minute.

These days, drones have gone from prey to predator. They’re controlled from secret, remote sites halfway around the world by military personnel who might as well be playing video games -- except they’re not games. These men and women go to work and kill people thousands of miles away and then go home for supper.

And there lies the problem. War has become too easy.

American drones are being used in an ever-widening war in the Middle East. They give our military the ability to extend war into countries with whom there is no declaration of war. Like those bomb fuzes forty years ago, they are the predecessors of “Terminators” that will secretly carry out assassinations of suspected enemies and attacks on suspected targets.

Killer-drones have already been used in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Shrouded in secrecy, these technological predators have taken the decision to make war out of the hands of Congress and the American people. They have erased international boundaries. They allow our military to launch secret attacks 24/7/365 almost anywhere in the world against real and perceived enemies based on secret intelligence to which we’re not privy.

These enemies have often not been where the intelligence suggested, and innocent civilians have died. The use of these drones is turning us into the terrorist assassins that we so doggedly pursue—assassins with no accountability.

This is a frightening and significant development. It will most certainly initiate a rapid proliferation of new unmanned tactical weapons. Like the escalation of bomb technology born in World War II, it signals the beginning of a new arms race.

And the irony is that we’re the world’s only military super-power. The others are gone.

Our military budget already accounts for nearly half of all global military spending. Major nations like Russia and China are reducing military spending. So we’re creating an arms race with whom? For what purpose?

The only winners will be the military-industrial complex that I once worked for – the arms manufacturers, advanced weapons labs and think tanks that churn out strategies for future military domination.

It’s a one-nation race to the poor house.

Stephen Huneck

A Vermont folk artist and businessman who I admired took his own life this week. The papers said he was despondent over financial difficulties and being forced to lay off most of his employees.


Joy Ride

Stephen Huneck loved art and loved dogs. He combined those passions into a body of work that many artisans never accomplish. He was a self-taught artist, print-maker, woodcarver, furniture builder, gallery owner, childrens’ book author, illustrator and entrepreneur. He built a beautiful home, studio and gallery complex called Dog Mountain in St. Johnsbury, Vermont that included a unique chapel for dogs (www.dogmt.com/chapel) and ran another gallery in Woodstock, Vermont.


The Chapel at Dog Mountain

I once met Huneck and told him I how much I liked his work. I always hoped to sometime have a chance to talk with him at length. It’s a grim reminder never to put off taking time to talk with people you admire.

I wanted to ask him how he found time to cram all the things he did into his life. How he developed his quirky sense of humor. How he came up with his ideas. How he overcame his debilitating injuries. And how he balanced his art and business.

In addition to Huneck’s artistic ability, droll humor and keen sense of design, I admired his high standards of craftsmanship. His eccentric furniture was sturdy, beautifully built and flawlessly painted. His hand-made picture fames were perfectly mitered and finished. His art prints and greeting cards were beautifully printed on high-quality paper. And the detail on the chapel was exquisite.


Lab Rocker

His work is held in both private and public collections including the Smithsonian Institution, New York's Museum of American Folk Art and the Contemporary Museum of Art in Sydney, Australia. Stephen Huneck was a guy who I thought had the world on a string.

His suicide really resonates with me. I’ve had several bouts with depressions in my life. The worst one lasted for several years after my father died. During that period, my advertising agency floundered, forcing me to lay off loyal, long-term employees. Then a friend and business partner turned out to be a pathological liar who cheated me out of thousands of dollars, caused me to lose my investment property and nearly lose my home.

It was a period during which I struggled to find any reason to continue. I was obsessed with thoughts of suicide. Thanks to some excellent books, medication, a good therapist and a supportive family, I bounced back.


Selective Hearing

I can’t help wishing I could have had that talk with him. Told him I was once where he was. That I know how hopelessly overwhelming depression can be. And let him know he could be happy again. But he probably wouldn’t have listened any more than I would have back then.

Each one of us is valuable in our own way, but it seems more tragic when a person who has given the world so much joy feels so much pain and failure.


Tiger Maple Mini Chest