Category Archives: Memo to me

Racism, how healthy thou art

In Racism is Real, Brave New Films illustrates just a few areas where bias lurks for people of different ethnic backgrounds. In what, to many white people, are everyday life events, actors illustrate different experiences documented in research studies. Go ahead a watch it now. It’s brief—only about as long as a TV break.

Perhaps you saw it in the spring of 2015 when it was first airing. At that time, the film got some coverage from the press. For example, Ana Swanson of the Washington (DC, US) Post suggested

[I]f you have any doubts about whether racism still exists in America, this 3-minute video from Brave New Films, a California-based company that makes films to spur political activism, might clear them up. The video counts down eight reasons that racism is still very real in America, using research from Yale University, the American Civil Liberties Union and the New England Journal of Medicine, among others.

Ave. Number Killed per US state per 100,000 White Black
10.4
(3.9)
18.3
(6.5)

Now, please add one more statistic. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation reported the number of deaths due to firearms per 100,000 population by race or ethnicity for the year 2013. Guessing that these numbers haven’t changed much in the last couple of years, I took a look at them. Some states did not report numbers because there were not sufficient data or because reporting the data would identify specific individuals. To get an idea of the difference by white and black groups, I eliminated the states where there were not per 100,000 rates for one or the other group. Then I simply tool the mean (and standard deviation) for the remaining 34 states. Those are the data you see in the table.

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Thm Lone Bellow

It took me many months (like until just today) of listening to and watching videos of performances by The Lone Bellow to realize that I didn’t know the names of the band members. What! Who are thm?

I’ve been listening to them while I work. I’ve hummed their songs while I drive. I can sing along when I watch the many variants on their YouTube channel. A couple of songs have been ear worms from time to time.

I’ve been telling people about this group that blends their voices together so well. I’ve bought tickets to see them perform in March. I’ve told people to watch for when the come on tour in their neighborhoods.

But, wait! Who are they, individually? Well, in addition to the content on the site I noted in the first paragraph, one can always consult the Wikipedia entry. But I realized tonight that, after this intense romance, I didn’t know the names of these folks.

In a way, who cares? They’re a band, a troupe, a happy, non-threatening gang; a choir who play instruments, too. Some energetic singer folx…. And we’ll see them at the all-ready sold-out show at the Southern in March!

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Gunning for me?

How many guns do you own? Using data from the International Small Arms Survey, Max Fisher of the Washington Post reported that there are 270 million weapons in private hands in the United States, or about 9 for every 10 US citizens. In an informal survey, I asked a lot of my friends whether they owned guns, and they said “no.” Thus, there must be a lot of people who own more than one to balance out my social circle.

lots of guns lying on a table

But, you know, there’s big money being made from guns and ammo. That’s a point that Bill Moyers makes in his editorial (print version; video version linked to accompanying image) that aired 4 January 2013 on his TV show. It’s a dandy of a commentary that includes a clip of Wayne LaPierre making that extraordinary statement about bad and good guys with guns, echoes of Archie Bunker, and a real-life gun dealer who quit selling guns. That’s why, as Mr. Moyers reports, the gun lobby suppresses discussion about sensible control of weapons. Watch the video of his editorial.
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Talk about dying

Have you ever had someone close to you recognize that death is not just inevitable, but that it is likely to come in the nearer, rather than farther, future? I am close with some elderly people who have said to me “getting old is for the birds” and even “sometimes I wish I could just die.” We all know someone who’s a bit elderly. Perhaps it’s a parent or an uncle. Maybe it’s a neighbor who still lives alone independently, and you check on her.

I have several in my life (not counting myself). So, in July of 2011 I was quick to read a column by Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times entitled “Waiting in the dark with Dad.” In it he told about his elderly father taking a fall one night and his mother, unable to get the father up, waiting through the night with him until they could get to an emergency room.

For other folks, incurable and advancing disease rather than age may be the primary driver of impending death. Still, many of the end-of-life concerns are similar. What does one do to set things straight? How does one face the prospect of being a burden on others? Will there be pain and suffering? Which trip will be the last and how much fun can one wring out of it? Will that advance medical directive be honored? (My sister suggested she might have “Do Not Resuscitate” tattooed on her chest!)

After examining his own parents’ situation, Mr. Lopez has delved into the topic more broadly. The result has grown into a series of articles discussing divergent views of problems faced by elderly folks. Over the past few months I’ve passed along links to and discussed that first and several other columns by Mr. Lopez about his thoughts on his ailing father’s end-of-life situation. The Times has collected a dozen (as of today) of Mr. Lopez’s related columns and has them displayed together under the headline “Matters of life & death.”

Meanwhile, it’s great to have palliative care programs such as Hospice (ask your doctors and nurses) and support services via Family Caregiver Alliance (search “end-of-life care”; it’s a US org, but I imagine there are comparable or better orgs in other countries) and Compassion in Dying (also mentioned in one of Mr. Lopez’s columns). This dying stuff is worth discussing. Thanks to Mr. Lopez for talking about it.

I hope you read all the articles, but I recommend you start with the one about Mr. Lopez’s mother waiting in the dark with his father.

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La-la-la Labor Day. Let’s sing along

It’s just a marvelous day to remember that most of us, even we professors, are working stiffs. So, I was listening to some music that made me wiggle, shuffle, clench my teeth, stamp, say “arrgh,” and smile. Here are a few of those tunes with links to performances by certain artists (but there’ve been many others’ covers of these, too):

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Good biz buddies

Businesses I can see doing business with: Certified B Corps.

Certified B Corporations are a new type of corporation which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Corps are unlike traditional businesses because they:

  • Meet comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards;
  • Meet higher legal accountability standards;
  • Build business constituency for good business

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Junk mail’s gotta go

daily info graphic on junk mail

Yikes! I ought to do some fact-checking on the data here, but these numbers are awe-inspiring.

In the 1990s or so I began using the Direct Marketing Association’s mechanism for opting out of direct mail. I only have case-study level data, but I can testify that we don’t get as much junk as this graphic indicates we would. We also don’t get as much as some of our friends say they get. I’ve used the DMA for some of my family and seen a substantial reduction in the junk they get, too.

Now, I’d like to see it apply to the horrible marketing I saw in the just-completed election campaign.

The image is linked. Thanks to Jay and Tim Willingham for another good one.

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It sez “freedom of speech”

It does. It sez it righ’ cheer:

Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech….
Amendement I of the U.S. Constitution, ratified 15 December 1791

And I have the good fortune of living in a community that has (since 2006) a monument dedicated to that very idea and (since 1819) a university founded on quite similar ideas:

“This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”
Thomas Jefferson in a letter to William Roscoe, 27 December 1820

I plan to run past geographical spots marking both these ideas this morning for my 4 July 2010 run: The TJ Center’s “Community Chalkboard” and the University of Virginia (where I have the privilege of working). Although I’ll celebrate other things during my run and later today (including the other clauses of the first amendment to the US Constitution, which are in the words surrounding those I’ve excerpted in the first extraction here), I’ll be especially grateful for this one. In an era when powerful financial forces have nearly free reign to amplify their political opinions, at least I still have the authority to speak my own.

Of course, I mostly speak my views in this nearly chaotic medium we call the Internet where people turn to learn lots of things, including misinformation. That’s the importance of the second excerpt. We, the people, just need to “follow truth,” that is, learn to winnow sense from nonsense. Free speech means that people are free to say things that simply are not true. And, I fear, we too often do not recognize that we are saying things that are not true (see my earlier post about Thomas Kida’s marvelous book, Don’t Believe Everything You Think), ’cause there’s a lot of nonsense on the Internet.

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1st to 17th bdays?

Dear Little Baby

I hope you have a happy birthday, today. I suspect your parents and many others will provide a big party for you. You may not understand much about birthdays, and it’ll be a many moons before you understand these celebrations. That’s O.K., because this is your first one. What do you know? You’re just learning.

After perhaps your third birthday, you’ll get the idea that birthday parties are pretty exciting for parents. Parents help to make them exciting for you by associating your annual start of another year around the our Sun with special foods, gifts, animated talking, and even some bouncy, jumping movements.

Over the years (in keeping with pretty fancy educational programming, even if your parents didn’t know that they planned it that way) these things will gradually change. For example, in few years, the food aspect will be less about cake and ice cream and more about where you’d like to go for dinner and the movements will become be less bouncy-jumpy and more about hugs (still about closeness!). The talking will change from “ga-gah-goo-goo” to remembering previous birthdays or tolerating other guests at the birthday party when they say, “Oh, I remember you when you were just this big” (thumb and fore-finger held closely together).

As should be the case at this early party, your parents will be very closely associated with your birthday celebrations. That’s because these celebrations are especially important to them, too. That’s because they get to be at the party. That’s because it’s really great for them to see you…just to see you, to marvel at your very existence. Just to feel their chins muscles move up and the corners of their eyes crinkle. That’s because, each year, they’ll be so happy to have loved you for another year.

Enjoy this one as best you can. You’ll come to anticipate these little events, I am pretty sure.

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In case you missed it

There is a blog at least loosely associated with Mr. Deity: Mr. Deity Fan.

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