Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Good math+wrong premise=flawed conclusion

This morning I received a forwarded email message from a friend of mine. This marks the 4th or 5th time I’ve received this message from different people. Without repeating the entire thing, the gist of the message was that the Cash for Clunkers program was a profound failure because it ended up costing the government much more than it saved. This forward is yet another misguided attempt to discredit Obama/government policies. However, that’s not the point. The interesting thing about the message is that while the math is impeccable, the premise upon which it is based is completely wrong. For the record, the Cash for Clunkers program was an environmental effort-not necessarily economic. This situation brings home a point I used to try to make to my math students but is clearly lost on many adults. I used to tell them I don’t care how good a mathematician you are. If you don’t identify or understand a problem or issue correctly you’re going to arrive at the completely wrong conclusion regardless of how good a ‘mathematician’ you are. It all reminds me of the old saw “liars, damn liars, and statistics!” The world of mathematics is the perfect universe-only if used correctly. Otherwise, as we’ve seen, it becomes a weapon.

Monday, September 28, 2009

William Safire

"Knowing how things work is the basis for appreciation, and is thus a source of civilized delight." Thus spoke William Safire who passed away this weekend. To most people I imagine the name is only vaguely familiar but if you are like me and enjoy reading about words and language, then you know who he is-especially if you've been reading the New York Times Magazine. His column, On Language, appeared there for many years and he was generally regarded as the ultimate authority on the topic of our language. If not handled right, a topic like that can be dry reading, indeed, but Safire was very witty and he had a great sense of humor so reading him was a pleasure. I learned a great deal from him-mostly about the mistakes I was making when writing or speaking. Safire began his career as a speech writer for conservative presidents like Nixon and Reagan. Later he turned to 'punditry'. I'll miss his weekly pieces. RIP, Bill. You done good (oops, I mean you 'did well').

Friday, September 25, 2009

Spare the Rod, Save the Child

Spanking is one of the oldest forms of discipline. There are still many people who regard it as a perfectly legitimate form of corporeal punishment & they forcefully defend their right to raise their children as they wish. However the research in recent years is pretty clear. The more kids are spanked, the more likely they’ll emerge as violent adults. The key here is ‘the more kids are spanked’ suggesting that if kids are spanked only a little, then they won’t be violent or at least not too violent. If you still don't buy this, here's something that might help. I recently heard a report that suggests spanking also leads to lowered IQ scores in kids. The immediate reason offered for this was that it stands to reason lower IQ people are the ones most likely to spank, therefore they’d be producing lower IQ kids, but that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. There are plenty of very bright, intelligent people who believed in good old-fashioned spanking. My father was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, so there goes that theory. What does hold up, however, is the emerging science of neurophysiology. It seems that when children are spanked or otherwise exposed to violence, their brains produce substances that have an adverse effect on cognitive development, i.e. intelligence. So here we have a case of ‘hard science’ supporting what was previously just a hunch. This is a very typical scenario. Given enough time, there’s no doubt in my mind that science will answer all questions. Yet there is still going to be a significant number of people who have nothing but contempt for science and therefore disregard these findings. Their children will be the ones to suffer.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lunacy Unleashed

I've been making a half-hearted attempt to follow what's been going on at the UN this week. I read a little about Obama's speech and I've seen a little about the various issues being discussed but the thing that really stands out is the unbelievable lunacy of Libya's Muammar Ghadafi (I looked it up. Amazing at how many ways there are to spell this) and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (all sources I checked have this spelling). These guys are genuinely certifiable, and worse than that, dangerous. But what to do about them? That's the question. I think most people agree that Ghadafi is much less of a threat than the other. So it seems the world is content to just yell back at him. As for the other, his effort to gain nuclear power is pretty scary. Scary because if Israel receives credible evidence that Iran plans to use those nukes against it, they'll strike first. Then we have a(another) protracted war that is sure to involve the US. Never mind health care reform. This is the issue that's going to test the Obama administration. But not to worry. As past practice has shown, the Republicans will be right there offering all sorts of viable suggestions. And if you believe that, I've got some land in Florida I'd like to sell you.

Monday, September 21, 2009

More Adventures With My Two Grand Daughters

Well, it was another great day with my two little grand daughters. After Courtney and I saw Brooke off to school at about 8:40, we walked back to the house to start our morning adventures. It began with bubbles on the deck. Then Courtney found Brooke's little treasure bag and spread its contents all over the kitchen floor. I began to feel a little uneasy about this since Brooke is a tad possessive but I figured what could possibly go wrong. When Courtney's done, I'll put everything back and Brooke will be none the worse for it, right? The rest of the morning was spent playing school, watching two episodes of Caillou, the theme song of which continues to play itself over and over in my head. At about noon we went to the bus stop to greet Brooke. When Brooke got off the bus she had a very distressed look on her face. I asked her how her day was and she said she had a lot of homework. I reminded her that it was due on Friday, a whole 5 days away. That seemed to cheer her up a little. When we got in the house and Brooke spotted her little treasure bag. You guessed it. EVERYTHING was out of place. She asked me if I was the one who let Courtney get into it. Being the only other living thing around except the family dog, I admitted I let her play with it. After she managed to get everything back where it belonged we proceeded to do a science experiment. We mixed yeast with sugar and water in a test tube with a balloon over it. The idea was to collect the carbon dioxide that the mixture would produce. It was a success. Finally, as usual, we played doctor. I was the hapless patient who received several chicken pox vaccinations and several allergy test shots. Then Brooke got a band aid and a piece of cotton, pretended she was getting blood work and put it on her arm to fool her mother who of course played along. All in all it was another great day with my two best little girls. Soon there will be more adventures with the boys. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hello, Charter? Is This Customer Service?

Are you one of the unlucky few who are forced to use Charter Communications for cable/phone/internet? Yeah, yeah. I know. There's always ATT DSL or Direct TV or some other phone but I don't like DSL (too slow), and I don't have access to a satellite in my yard, so I'm left with Charter. Here's a short history of my adventure with Charter Customer Service:
1. August 1st-date of 2 year lock-in period.
2. Mid August-bill arrives NOT reflecting lock-in rate.
3. Next day-Trip to local Charter office. Bill is adjusted. Told to pay X amount.
4. Mid September-bill arrives NOT reflecting lock-in rate.
5. Next day trip to local Charter office. Lady who I spoke with before doesn't understand what happened. Sits me down with her boss to go over whole thing.
6. Two hours later-boss hasn't a clue what's going on but insists bill is correct!!! Un-freaking-believable! After a few well chosen words, I return home.
7. Two days later call Customer Service. Get some young gal in the Phillipines (honest). She sees almost immediately what happened and makes appropriate adjustments.

So there you have it. Maybe outsourcing customer service isn't such a bad idea. OK, so I had to ask her to repeat herself several times due to a very heavy accent but it was worth it. Word of advice, American companies. It's commendable that you're trying to keep jobs in the US, but the other side of this is the people you hire have to have brains. Just a thought.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Forty Two Years and Counting

Today marks the 42nd anniversary of Sandy and me. It also marks the 3rd anniversary of my son Peter and his wife Jennifer. If anyone wants to know the single most important factor accounting for 42 years of marriage-besides the obvious things like love, loyalty, shared values, children, etc-I would say it's the willingness to compromise and be flexible. Without that, in spite of the other stuff, a marriage is doomed. Obviously failures in the 'other stuff' can also doom a marriage-but not as quickly as one's inability to bend and compromise. So there you have it. My words of wisdom for the day. Tomorrow I'll be back to my normal self, ranting about something or other!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Gross Anatomy

I received an important anatomy lesson today from my 5 yr old grand daughter. It seems she was having considerable difficulty finishing her lunch but kept asking for a package of those little yogurt candies. I told her what I had heard millions of times as a kid and what I told my kids and what you've all heard many, many times, to wit: "If you have room for candy, you can finish your lunch." Now comes the lesson. I'll bet you didn't know that your stomach is divided into food group compartments. When one area was filled up, it means there's still room for other stuff in another spot. Hence, that's why she had no more room for the main part of the lunch but the dessert part was still empty. Bet you didn't know that. Listen and learn!

Friday, September 11, 2009

More About A WWII Hero

Some time ago I wrote about a man who I see every week at Masonicare (June 24, 2009). His name is Vern and he's 91 years old. He is a WWII veteran. While serving as a waist gunner on a B17 during his 4th mission, his plane was shot down by 3 German fighter planes called Focke-Wulf FW190s. The picture you see here is Vern standing in front of a plane exactly like the one that shot him down. Seven of the ten crew parachuted to safety. Three men were killed-one because he didn't have time to put on his parachute! The survivors were captured immediately. Vern avoided starvation by bribing guards. He traded cigarettes for bread and eggs. Today, Vern and I, among others, went to Waterbury-Oxford Airport to tour the vintage WWII planes there. I have posted on my web site a photo gallery of those planes. Yesterday Vern got to ride in the plane he flew in (B17). He was deeply moved by the memories it brought back. Take a look at these photos. They're worth the time. It would be good on this anniversary of a terrorist attack to reflect on how much so many people are going through for us. Here's the link:

Never Forget

September 11, 2001
There aren't many days when you can remember exactly what you were doing. Not even when my kids were born do I remember everything. One day though was the assassination of John Kennedy. The other is 9/11. I was on my way to school when I heard on the radio that my particular school had closed because a delivery truck took down the power lines in front of it. I was instructed to report to central office where I would be calling parents to explain what happened. On my way there, I heard the initial radio reports of planes crashing into the World Trade Center. More was learned as events unfolded and information came in. The school thing very quickly became unimportant. It was indeed a very sad day.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Not My Usual Rant

Surprise, surprise! This isn't my usual rant about stuff like the moron who interrupted the president's speech, Republicans who don't get it or gas bags like Patrick Buchanan on Imus this morning. No, this is about my day yesterday with my two grand daughters. After the 5 yr old got on the bus, the 3 yr old and I returned to the house. The first thing we did was play school. She was the teacher, of course, and I was a student. After I was told where to sit, we had story hour. She grabbed a book and while holding it upside down and turning the pages backward, she started telling me a story. It had nothing to do with the book she was holding but it was a great story-one she had heard before but recited very accurately. It's amazing what kids remember. That went on for a while until she got tired of it. After that we played doctor. She was the doctor and I the patient. I got several shots of course. After that she played on her own for quite a while with some of her dolls. After her lunch, we went to the bus stop to get her big sister. The after noon, the little one was taking her nap, the 5 yr old first did a project for her great grand mother. Then we played doctor. Both girls love to play doctor and I'm always impressed at how much they know. For example, the 5 yr old decided I needed several treatments with a nebulizer machine. While I was breathing that (a real one absent the asthma inhaler cartridge), she started me on an IV-actually calling it an IV. I asked her what that was and she told me it was a drip that would give me medicine. Then she instructed me to stop talking since she had just given me a shot that would put me to sleep while she treated my eye. This took place for quite a while until her mother got home. All in all it was a great day with two bright, happy little girls who never cease to take my mind off the aforementioned topics. However, stay tuned. While I've been painting I've been listening to MSNBC, getting more and more aggravated. I feel another blog coming on!!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My First Letter to the Editor

Herewith the text of my very first "Letter to the Editor":
To the Editor,
My admiration & congratulations to those teachers and administrators in the Newtown Schools who had the courage to show their students the president’s speech. To those of you in Newtown or anywhere else who didn’t, shame on you. You either chose to make a political statement by insulting the President of the United States or, at the very least, you caved in to the hysterical rants of the lunatic fringe-and make no mistake about it, ladies and gentlemen, that is exactly what they are. It may not be appropriate to silence them but surely we can ignore them.

Respectfully submitted,

George Stockwell

Oh, sure. That should clear things up!

Heard on the Today show this morning: Newt Gingrich calling for the defeat of Obama's health care proposal-whatever it may end up looking like. Instead he suggests rather than having one bill to handle the whole issue, have 8 or 10 smaller pieces of legislation that handle particular aspects of the thing, i.e. one for drugs, one for insurance companies, one for tort reform, etc. Great idea, Newtie. Let's make it even more confusing and complicated than it already is. And this from a guy who pretends to be the head of the conservative movement-the very people who cherish simplicity. What an idiot! But watch out for him. He's going to be a player in next presidential election.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Leaping off the front page of my morning newspaper is the following headline: "Obama speech causes ire" The cause of this 'ire', it seems, is a message President Obama would like to video tape and have delivered to the nation's schools. The crux of the message is that students should take their education seriously, study hard and be responsible. The gas bag nay-sayers who are opposed to this are saying he's preaching socialism. Can you believe it? These people have officially stepped over the line of sanity. It's bad enough they've been filling the airways with unbelievable hypocrisy on deficit spending, national health care, the stimulus package, you name it. Now they have a problem with Obama suggesting students work hard and take ownership for their lives. Isn't that awful? But wait a minute-isn't that what our conservative friends have been saying all along? Isn't that what the Republican party is all about? Of course it is, but that's not the point. It doesn't matter what Obama or his administration says or does. They're going to be opposed because that's what they do best. These people are idiots! They need to open their ears and close their mouths. Spineless school officials across the region have bowed to their blathering by giving some schools the 'option' of showing Obama's address. What morons. Parents have far more to fear from these ignoramuses than they do from the President of the United States. Unbelievable!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Kids & Technology

I was watching with great admiration my 5 yr old grand daughter play on my computer this morning. She didn't have school today (teacher in-service) so she stayed overnight. When she got up this morning, we played school (her favorite game) for a while and then she decided to play Kid Pix on my computer. It's amazing how quickly she picked up the skills she needed to use that application. Her 3 year old sister is right behind her in terms of skill development too. I've taught all ages of people on computers-preschoolers to senior citizens- and there's no question the kids have the edge. The seniors, bless their soles, have the most difficult time. The mouse is what causes their problems-along with trying to remember the differences between buttons, icons and folders. Added to that is the fact that PCs, unlike Macs, have TWO buttons on the mouse. Then there's the hand/eye coordination problem. It's very tough for them. On the other hand (no pun intended) Kids very quickly pick up on all of that stuff. As I mentioned, my grand daughter was using an application called Kid Pix. It can be confusing because the more an application can do, the more complicated it is and Kid Pix can do a ton of stuff. But none of it was a problem for my grand daughter. She quickly mastered it and started creating some really neat stuff (which can be seen on my website, http//georgeswebpage.com/kidswork. Sorry, couldn't resist the plug). The corollary to this story is the amount of learning that was going on while she was 'playing'. Some folks who don't know any better tend to believe that nothing can possibly be learned if it's so much fun. That, of course, is ridiculous. But rather than launch into a discussion of this misunderstanding here, I'll leave it for another blog piece. In the mean time it really doesn't matter how old you are. Keep trying and keep learning. Like me, it won't be easy but eventually you'll get it!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Agenda

There's a popular video circulating on YouTube which originated on a piece John Stossel did on the ABC news program 20/20. The main idea is that if Obama gets his way with national health care reform, the health care system as we know it today will be destroyed. Research will grind to a halt, appointments and procedures will be delayed or even disallowed, all manner of consequences. This is yet another outrageous example of biased reporting. All the people who make these claims have yet to explain the following:
I get appointments & schedule procedures & tests whenever and where ever I want-and in a timely fashion. I choose my doctors, hospitals, medicines (with my doctor), and what ever treatment regimen I want. Who is my insurance company? Medicare, that's who. Wait, isn't Medicare run by the government? How's that possible? You mean you don't have to worry about all of those dire warnings with HMOs? Yeah, Right!! Get with it, people. You're being hoodwinked by the nay sayers. Turn John Stossel and others of his ilk off and watch a good movie on some cable channel instead, or, better still, read a good book!