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People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. Welcome to From On High.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Roanoke Times Spanked Again

Am I wrong in suggesting the Roanoke Times is the most ridiculed old media rag here in the Virginia blogoshere? I sometimes think I'm too tough on the poor folks at the Times, remembering the fact that the paper is, for most of its staff, just a stopping off point on the way to a gig with a real paper. And then I read similar criticisms - but of a more talented and rich quality than I could ever produce - from the likes of Old Zack over at Sic Semper Tyrannis, and I realize - training ground or no - these people bring it on themselves.

I almost tossed my lunch as I read Old Zack Deconstructing the Roanoke Times. Here's a sampling::
Callahan said lawmakers should emphasize those priorities and allocate any surplus funds to infrastructure needs, such as transportation, and to Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts. The state closed out the last fiscal year with a $544 million surplus. Early projections indicate the state will collect $1.1 billion more than forecast in the current fiscal year, said Robert Vaughn, the staff director of the Appropriations Committee.
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Oh, I guess those projections were only off by a smidge then. What's a billion dollars here or there. Um, remind me why we raised taxes again?
Read the whole thing. It gets even better.

Quote of the Day

But I do say this: The Democrats who are peddling the Big Lie of "Bush lied" are doing so either (a) deliberately to injure the cause of the United States and of freedom in the world or, as I think, (b) with reckless disregard of whether they injure the cause of the United States and of freedom in the world. What they are doing may suit their political needs, but it hurts our country.

Michael Barone, "I think it's a lie to say that the president lied," USNews.com, Nov. 14, 2005

Rules Of Engagement

I encourage all of you to email me your thoughts. You'll find a button (down and to the left) that, when you click it, will send you to my email address, all ready for your thoughts to be forwarded to me in a nanosecond. I truly appreciate your input.

Having said that, I'd like to make the following suggestion. Something I learned in my business dealings over the years is to step back and determine, before I write a single word, what it is I'm hoping to accomplish. At times, I've found praise to be a great eye-catcher and motivator - and it sometimes gets the attention of the correspondee in a favorable way. At other times, I'm terse. Just yesterday I sent an email to a subordinate who is behind on his weekly reporting (the corporate world, ugh) and, as it so happens, wrecked (in a relatively minor way) his company car last Monday. My email simply read:
Sir, your car is broken. Your fingers aren't. I need your reports for the last two weeks.
Hopefully I got his attention and he'll respond. The important thing to take from this is that it is the end-result that's important; not how I feel about myself after having bitchslapped someone.

Here's my suggestion: When you take the time to send me an email, don't start it out with "You don't know what you're talking about." I know it boosts your ego but it hardly influences any argument you may have intended to make.

I received such an email the other day. I'm not able to relay the substance of the email because I didn't read it in its entirety. The "you don't know what you're talking about" slam kinda ruined the moment.

Here's what I took away from what I did read: I recently wrote of the disheartening circumstances that West Virginians face in their efforts to stave off misfortune and the reader wanted to take me to task for my suggesting that government actions and environmentalism have wrecked the mining industry there, displaced families, and are depopulating the state. I resurrected the term used when referring to 19th century Scotland and the systematic depopulation that went on there - The Highlands Clearances.

It's unfortunate that the reader pissed me off right off the bat because he probably had a contribution to make on the subject. For all I know, he's an expert. But unlike him - he somehow knows what I don't know without knowing me - I haven't a clue what his background is. I'm not presumptuous enough to say, since he doesn't know me or what I do for a living, that he therefore doesn't know what he's talking about. And it would be unkind if I were to say such a thing.

Anyway, I remember the reader making this point (don't write me back if I misconstrue your argument, please): The reason the number of West Virginia's mines - as well as the number of its miners - has declined in recent decades has nothing to do with environmentalism; it has everything to do with the fact that the industry has moved away from underground mines in favor of surface mining (or mountaintop removal mining to use the pejorative term).

OK. I was less than congenial in my response to the reader so I owe it to him to take a moment and explore the possibilities.

First, I don't think it can be argued that either surface mining or underground mining are in growth mode in West Virginia (see statistics here and here). What the stats show is that underground mining continues to decline and that surface mining - which admittedly requires far fewer employees - is growing at a rate of less than 1% a year.

Here's something to ponder:

  • Crude oil is still trading at around $60 a barrel (trading yesterday at $55.81 on London's ICE Futures exchange).
  • There is a critical shortage of energy resources worldwide.
With these two factors in mind, why aren't the West Virginia coal fields erupting in activity?

Had the reader cited competitive factors relating to cheaper coal coming out of western U.S. fields, he'd have an argument. A good argument. But he implied, for some reason, that the decline in the number of West Virginia's miners had to do with surface mining, which, as I've shown above, is not a growth industry either.

And the inescapable fact remains: The world should be beckoning for West Virginia coal (and solar and wind and nuclear and petroleum and hydro) in order to alleviate the scarcity of energy we're experiencing - a problem that is going to accelerate in the future - but 97% of the state's reserves remain untouched. The state should be exploding with employment opportunities. But it's not.

Taking all this into account, then, I ask the question: Why are we willing to pay $55 for a barrel of oil but not willing to harvest grossly inexpensive coal from West Virginia mountains? To me, there is only one answer. Coal has its taboos. And its enemies. Enemies that champion themselves as fighting for the environment and against pollution, acid rain, rape of the land, blah, blah, blah.

If you're so inclined, please email me your thoughts on the subject. I'd like to know what you think. The free and open exchange of ideas is how I - and you - learn.

But please don't put a header on your email that reads, "You F***ing Moron." My wife reserves the right to use that epithet for her own purposes.

Dismiss The Appendix & Face The Wrath Of God

I received another email the other day, one that was very well-written, thoughtful, and challenging - and good enough to pass on to you. Actually the first email I received from this indvidual was in response to one of my posts to this weblog entitled, "Leave It To The Collegians" (see it here). It had to do with the fascinating trend in science that has come to be known as Intelligent Design, or I.D. for short.

The reader who contacted me made the argument - and he made it well - that I.D. doesn't rise to the level of science; that it shouldn't be part of a science curriculum; that it belonged in a comparative religions class; that it was religion in disguise. I'm paraphrasing of course.

I replied to his email with the thought - my belief - that I.D. isn't so much a theory as a refutation of another popular theory that we've all been taught to accept over the years - the theory of evolution. In studying the matter, it seems to me that the theory of evolution should be presented and then it should be followed with a "yes; but" - the but being I.D. And I cited two leading "authorities" in the "field," one of which is a mathematician and the other a biochemist. The reader came back with the following (I got his permission to pass it on to you):

Hi again Jerry,

Thanks for your reply. As for the name calling, I don't see a need, nor do I have a desire to do that sort of thing. I think reasonable discussion is much nicer for all involved, and it appears that you too appreciate that.

I've been thinking about this issue on and off today and came to some more thoughts, if you'll bare with me here. I was thinking about the idea of a "theory" which often non-scientists want to equate with a "hunch," or "wild guess."

The Oxford English dictionary defines a scientific theory as, "a scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts."

Scientists also speak of "gravitational theory" or "atomic theory," yet no one really challenges those "theories." Now, that said, I still think it is fine to challenge theories, scientific or not. I also think that science, in particular biological science, continues to do this with evolutionary theory. Using the scientific method they continue to look at the tenets of this theory laid out by Darwin in 1859. These three tenets being that populations of organisms have evolved, new forms of life are continually generated by the splitting of a single lineage into two or more lineages and that most (though not all) evolutionary change is probably driven by natural selection: individuals carrying genes that better suit them to the current environment leave more offspring than individuals carrying genes that make them less adapted.

Which got me to thinking of the contradiction in the two scientists who are proponents of I.D. As scientists, how can they really believe I.D. when there isn't an experiment that they can do which proves their theory? They can use I.D. to question evolutionary theory, but there isn't any science done to uphold their theory. If there is a scientist who could prove scientifically the existence of an intelligent designer, they would be famous and rich instantly, plus it would toss the known science world on its head. I thought of that Wendy's commercial when the person on the screen would say about other fast food restaurants: Where's The Beef? Keep in mind that unlike you, I haven't read any of their work.

I also happen to think that the idea of an intelligent designer is flawed--why would an intelligent designer "design" humans with an appendix, an unneeded piece in our bodies that, before surgery, caused many folks to perish at an early age? That is a side question I suppose, but at the same time I find that I am suspect of I.D.ers in that I can't help but think that it is just another attempt at putting their form of Christianity into the classroom where it doesn't really belong, in my opinion. In many ways, their tactics are working and that is unfortunate. At least in Dover, PA, the electorate chose to get rid of those school board members who support I.D.

Back to my first email -- like you, I believe that if you want to teach I.D. then do it in a religious studies or world history or philosophy class. Please don't confuse real science with pseudo science. And if people want their children to believe in a god or a supernatural being that they think has an interest in their lives, then they can take their kids to a church, mosque or synagogue of their choosing.

There is an article I read recently by E.O. Wilson, a professor of entymolgy at Harvard University and a scientist whose work I have read and like. He is one who thinks that science is really our greatest hope for the future of mankind, and in many ways I agree. His article is here:

http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8254&print=true

I'm not really sure what I am to be honest in terms of my own religious beliefs. That may sound odd, but in fact there are days when I'm an atheist and then there are days when I'm an agnostic like yourself.

All of this is sent in good spirit Jerry, food for thought and hopefully good discussion.

Thanks again for your blog and your reply to my email.

Take care,


Name Withheld

I replied to this wonderful email with an analogy. He brought up the subject of the appendix. I suggested that it is, perhaps, very human of us (I wanted to say American but I have no way of knowing where he's from) to assume the appendix has no purpose because we haven't found it yet. Most people (and every doctor on earth) have passed judgement on the appendix; Its purpose does not exist. But having not yet discovered its purpose doesn't mean it doesn't have one. Perhaps we should continue the search.

I feel the same way about God. When it comes to The-Big-Guy, I have far more questions than answers. And I have a big problem with people at both ends of the spectrum when it comes to the topic of religion. Just as I'm not willing to put a face to the Man (does He in fact have a beard?) or to accept - with righteous fury - that everything Jimmy Swaggert says is gospel, I'm also far from willing to reject God out of hand. For you atheists out there who just know He doesn't exist, I say: Show me your evidence. Of course, you have none. And yet you've determined that there is no God. You are obviously much smarter than me. Either that or you're relying on faith - faith in His non-existence - which is an interesting position to be in.

Anyway, my point is this. I enjoy and appreciate this kind of email. It is challenging and thought-provoking, and I learned from it. To the person who was kind enough to correspond with me, thank you.

As for the rest of you, I know I've bored you to distraction. Oh well.

I Need To Get a Life

What does it say about a person when he thinks of five different business emails he needs to send out while showering? (Ed: I know it's a misleading sentence, and I was going to fix it, but I kinda like it). What I'm saying is: I was in the shower and came up with a list of business associates and employees with whom I needed to make contact. Those persons happen to be in Columbia, SC, Washington DC, Rochester, NY, Boston, MA, and Thomasville, PA.

I dried off, dressed, and went at it.

Am I the only person who does his best thinking in the shower? What's up with that?