Webb Divorce

Shameful.  Painful.  Terrible.  I’m glad that I was mostly off of Twitter and Facebook for Thursday while my corner of the Internet reacted.  I’m done with him.  I’ll forgive him eventually, but there’s nothing that says that I have to maintain a relationship with him.  Call me what you will for the public unfollow: I will not care.

The Bag Man

“I look at this as an investment. When you ask me why I do this … let me ask you something. Who’s your favorite sports team? Most favorite. Who do you live and die with? What if I told you that if you gave me $10,000 right now I could guarantee you they’d be better? That if they were usually bad that they’d have a winning season? Or if they were just a game shy of going to a championship that they’d get there next season?”

SBNation’s Steven Godfrey met with some SEC bag men to talk about the bag man game.  My response, like many Southerners, is, “Yeah, and?”

As OSHA Emphasizes Safety, Long-Term Health Risks Fester

This story about the awful use of nasty industrial glues by negligent managers and equal negligence by OSHA is really disheartening:

“If the cost of compliance to our rules outweighs the penalties for breaking them, companies just take a ‘catch me if you can’ approach to worker safety and health,” [OSHA Director David Michaels] said. And serious violations of the rules should not be misdemeanors, he said, but felonies, much like insider trading, tax crimes and antitrust violations.

The NYT piece compares poor inspection regimes and fines for this kind of health risk — which is more pervasive and, frankly, more easily solved — with obvious and simple safety risks as well as the more absurd Federal fines for industry recalcitrance (dairy companies not paying marketing fees, FCC fines for indecent content).  Workplace safety can often be a series of small steps working towards larger goals.  I’m not sure that plant owners are so much dastardly as they are incompetent and ignorant.  OSHA and the EPA do workers few favors when evaluating new industrial chemicals and monitoring their use, but it’s frankly unconscionable to me that plants are run in this way, given that you’re trading short-term savings for long-term costs.  Of course, it’s all an affront to systems thinking.

This story is worth a read: it discusses the use of industrial adhesives in small-town western North Carolina furniture manufacturing plants.  You see the effects of the adhesives on the workers that use it, the doctor who treats many of these patients, and the gross negligence of Royale and OSHA in effectively managing the problem.  It’ll make you sick and want to write your Congressman, but the problem is that we’ll have a half-ass solution, more than likely.  But where my libertarian friends would argue that you can’t regulate your way out of a situation like this, I’m going to rebut that and ask what would be done in this situation with no downside risk at all.

Adam Omelianchuk on Rachel Held Evans; Me on Authority in Book Reviewing

Back in October, I put out a little statement on why I rarely participate in discussions of controversial theological books.  This was largely in response to the furore around Rachel Held Evans’s last book, which I haven’t read.  My friend Adam Omelianchuk has read Evans’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and I find that he had a lot of interesting things to say about it.  I’ll cheat and skip to his conclusion, although you should read the whole thing if interested.

So what are to learn from Evans’s book? That the Bible is a complicated book and that if we stick the word “biblical” in front of chosen topic we are inevitably selective and ignore passages that make trouble for our favored opinion. As much as I can sympathize with this point, it is somewhat banal. Whenever one engages the process of interpretation of Scripture, it is inevitable that one set of passages will be taken to interpret another set of passages. That’s just part of the process of interpreting Scripture with Scripture, a time-honored hermeneutical practice if there ever was one. Calvinists, Arminians, and Open Theists do this, as do Complementarians and Egalitarians, as does anyone who is trying to hear the central message of the Bible. It is true that we come to the Bible looking for things we want to get out of it; I guess I am just more optimistic that one can hold those things in one hand and work objectively through a method of interpretation that “gets at” what the writer was trying to say.

If that makes you want to read what is a critical review, I think that you should.  I like the timing of Adam’s response, because it’s clear that he’s taken the time to read it and has had time to formulate a response.  I think that the community of people that discuss theological books are like the people who rapidly rate software in app stores or post reviews of items on sites like Amazon with just a day or three of use of the product.  I trust the review of someone who’s had an item for six months and can tell if it’s cheaply-made or durable more than someone who went with “Rated ****, good value for my money, sounds good”.

When it comes to any book review, I simply question context: who is the reviewer, and does it seem that they’ve taken the time to read it well?  Often the former is easily deduced—this is the Internet—but one never really knows if a book has been carefully considered or read simply to be discarded.  [Or, in my case, thrown across the room because it was bullshit—one of Marcus Borg’s books.  I damn near broke the spine.]

I think that a lot of Evans’s initial critics likely read the book in a huff, which is okay in general but poor practice in terms of preparing a review.  Evans spent a lot of time writing it—although Adam notes that she appears to lose steam in the last third of the book—yet I think you need to spend time thinking about a book if you are going to lend/demand authority to your response to the reading.  I think that too many high-profile theology types rush through book reviews purely knowing that their authority rests in their brand.  I think that’s a dangerous mistake.

When I began to recount the list of books that I read last year, I realized that I could spend a lot of time putting my thoughts back together on those books, but that doing a good job of describing any of them would involve re-reading them at least once to both get more out of them and to think of a good way of approaching the subject material and lensing that through to the customer.  I can think of one book that I’d like to re-read so as to present it to you: Nassir Ghaemi’s book on bi-polar disorder and how it can have positive effects upon leadership.  That first reading was for me; the next one can be for you.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate Adam on getting selected for a Ph.D. program in South Carolina.  Maybe I can make it over some weekend, Ochuk.

Should Teachers Carry Guns?




We all have fantasies of rescue when it comes to a story like Sandy Hook. We all would like to be the one who spotted Adam Lanza as he first lifted his gun at the glass near the school door and, quick-thinking, somehow tripped him up before a single first-grader had to see his face. We would like to be the person in the cartoon who sets up the bad guy’s pratfall. And by all means, if a shooter’s gun jams, if there is a moment, like the one in Tucson, when a woman can snatch the next clip out of his pocket, all of us should be ready to seize the chance. But serendipity and dreams of glory are not policy choices; reducing the number of guns is.

I think that we should be very careful to make policy changes in a post-Newtown world; you’ve already heard from me on that score.  But if we seek to arm teachers, I think that we should consider peak threat vs. average threat.  If we optimize our system for peak threat, we limit ingress to one or two access points, have an armed guard at each point, and arm all willing teachers.  Is that really what we want?  Because I worry about the fact that kids—curious, mischievous kids—are suddenly going to have more access to firearms than they ever had before.  I think that sizing for a peak threat in this case would create an average threat.

My personal aim would be to review all semi-automatic firearms with high-capacity magazines.  I’ve put 25 rounds through a Ruger 10/22 in under eight seconds.  It was fun!  It’s also impractical as a self-defense mechanism and completely useless in a hunting situation.  All of the Bill of Rights come with limits.  [And yes, the linked piece is strident and left of my position.]

Nature or Nurture: PTSD and the Amy Bishop Shooting

After surviving Amy Bishop shooting, UAH professor Joseph Ng launches research on PTSD

According to Eric Seemann, a psychology professor at UAH who is working with [UAH biology professor Dr. Joseph] Ng on the research project, most PTSD candidates never develop it. He estimates that only 10 to 20 percent are appropriately diagnosed with PTSD and that other candidates gradually recapture normalcy or suffer from lesser issues than PTSD.

“Most of the time, 85 percent, people do not develop PTSD,” Seeman said. “Why is that? Joe’s hypothesis is based on biological markers of resilience.”

Drs. Ng and Seemann are into some interesting stuff here.  You have the molecular biologist and the psychologist coming at the problem from the nature/nurture axes.  Who’s right?  That’s why you research.

“Every one of us has a different experience in terms of building up our immune system,” Ng said. “The day you were born, even by virtue of whether born by natural birth or C-section, will give you a different biome. So every human individual will have a different type of biome. That defines your immune system.

“So that means, why are some people more prone to getting sick? Or even to the extreme of being very sensitive to cancer? We said if that’s the case, if your immune system can be compromised or defined, is there a pattern of gene expression for immunity that may be associated with PTSD?”

Seemann brings an additional perspective to the study. In addition to possible biomarkers that Ng is searching for, Seemann said he believes environment plays a role as well in how PTSD affects a person.

I look forward to seeing what they find out.

Confronting Mental Health Realities

Storm Exposes Fragility of Mental Health System in City

“When you have the most vulnerable folks, all you need is one chink in the system and you lose them,” Dr. Rosenthal said. “Whether they lost their housing, or the outpatient services they usually go to were closed and they were lost to follow-up, they have become disconnected, with predictable results.”

Those predictable results? For the mentally ill who’ve landed inside the correctional system, 2/3 will re-offend.  Frontline‘s “The Released” gives an excellent look at the revolving door of mental health challenges with America’s bursting-at-the-seams prison population.

It’s a public policy problem with no easy solutions, but it’s still one worth tackling.  If it’s less expensive to provide mental health support to convicts to keep them from returning to prison than it is to house and patrol them on the inside, then I think that we have a financial and a moral incentive to make that change.  Blanket public policy changes regarding the mentally ill can have disastrous consequences, but we can try some things.  That’s the beauty of a multi-level governmental system: we get small populations where we can experiment with good governmental solutions.  More of the same just won’t cut it.

In the confusion, some patients lost contact with their families and caseworkers. At Community Access, the same case managers who struggled to get hospital treatment for the young woman with the meat cleaver had to hunt for an elderly female tenant who had been taken to Bellevue by the police before the storm. The police had picked up the older woman for public urination near a schoolyard. But two weeks after the storm, which knocked out Internet access and telephone service at the apartment building, neither the staff nor her sister could find her.

Dorca Rosa, the elderly woman’s case manager, eventually located her at Gracie Square Hospital on the Upper East Side, behind several locked doors.

“I cried when I saw her,” Ms. Rosa said. “I found her in horrible conditions. She was lying in her own feces, she had a fractured leg and the provider could not explain how her leg was fractured.”

Don’t Sell Yourself For Free

Why You Should Want to Pay For Software, Instagram Edition:

Under these conditions, companies have to sell themselves because they do not have a sustainable business. And when they’re sold, they either A) get shut down or B) become part of an advertising machine, like Facebook’s.

Truly, the only way to get around the privacy problems inherent in advertising-supported social networks is to pay for services that we value. It’s amazing what power we gain in becoming paying customers instead of the product being sold.

In a world where I have the money to support it, I probably toss Facebook US$20 a year in return for a premium service with 1) no ads or 2) a guarantee that people who choose to see my updates will see all of them, rather than their current algorithm that requires you to Promote status updates or Life Events.  I use an or because I’m quite sure that Facebook makes more than $20/yr off of me in ads, and the current price for me to promote a status is US$7.

Instagram’s new ToS has me considering discontinuing my account.  I’ve only used it for a few weeks, and while it’s nice, I could do without it.

Sunday Reading: 20 Jun 2010

Eep. A month off from these. Not that I haven’t been reading, but I’ve just not made time on Saturdays to write these. That’s my one trick with these; the other is that I power this with Instapaper.

Sunday Reading: 16 May 2010

Here’s your Sunday reading for today, May 16th:

  • Better Off Deadbeat: Craig Cunningham Has a Simple Solution for Getting Bill Collectors Off His Back. He Sues Them. [dallasobserver.com] Now, I don’t think that suing fraudulent and/or abusive debt collectors isn’t altogether a bad thing. That said, it appears that Craig Cunningham and his cohorts have no intention of paying back all that they owe. If Cunningham was using the proceeds from the lawsuits to settle his outstanding debts, that would be one thing. But it doesn’t appear that’s what he’s doing. For more on this phenomenon, Rogers Cadenhead’s Workbench has similar coverage, with more links.
  • The Fifty-Nine-Story Crisis [duke.edu]. This is a great story of engineers blowing the whistle on themselves, fixing the mess they made, and doing right by the customer and accepting the consequences. Own your failures.
  • The Devil at 37,000 Feet [vanityfair.com]. This is the story of Gol Transportes Aereos Flight 1907 and its collision with an ExcelAir-owned Legacy 600 private jet. In combination with the previous link, it’s important to note: in complex systems, one mistake is rarely fatal. Rather, it is a series of small mistakes, concentrated in a terrible cascade, that is deadly.
  • The little pill that could cure alcoholism [guardian.co.uk]. God forbid that we should try anything off-label with long-generic drugs. I’m not saying that Dr. Olivier Ameisen has cured alcoholism: complex diseases rarely have simple cures. This is, to me, more a story of how modern medicine is just as much about profits as it is improving lives.
  • The Oracle of Silicon Valley [inc.com]. Tim O’Reilly is the man, in my opinion. I am a huge fan of private businesses, because they are not driven by “returning value to the shareholders”. Sometimes, I think that venture capital and public offerings are the things that suck the very lifeblood out of companies with a distinct vision for their marketplace and customers. It’s obvious that people are in business to make money; money is not, however, everything. As anyone who’s spent five minutes looking at the stock market will tell you, this chase for the short-term valuation, the bump, is just chasing fleeting things. Let us build lasting things, things with value.