Saturday, June 30, 2007

Saranac Lake High School Valedictorian Redux

Go here to read the other side of the "Valedictorian Bullying Story".
My first reaction was, “Oh boy, here we go again.” You see, this entire year seems to have revolved around graduation and who was (or wasn’t) going to be valedictorian and salutatorian. And with graduation being done and over with, I was really hoping we could leave this conflict behind. It seems that students’ reactions to this problem have evolved over the course of the year from surprise to disbelief followed by anger, then, finally, acceptance. Yes, many of us were unhappy with the outcome, but we knew that there was nothing that we could do about it. So we accepted it for what it was and moved on.

I believe that the Nashett family has failed to see the Class of 2007’s view when it comes to this topic. That Rebecca was able to graduate early is terrific. I myself think it’s great that she had the determination and perseverance to finish four years of work in three. But what about our own top grads who have worked hard over the past four years to win the top honors? I believe Rebecca’s hard work should be recognized but should not trump that of those who have worked for so long to earn what they have.
Unfortunately this story has far reaching effects. In todays Adirondack Daily Enterprise there is a letter to the Editor from Alaska. Here it is in its entirety:
To the editor: Dear Saranac Lakers: Most every day, either myself or my husband go to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and/or the Plattsburgh newspaper to read. You see, we’re looking to relocate to the area from Alaska and are getting acquainted with the various communities through not only reading the news there but through other avenues as well.

We’re looking at which community would best suit our needs in buying a home and property to set down roots, with special attention given to the needs of our gifted son’s education, as well as which community we would like to positively contribute to.

This Tuesday, June 26, in reading an article from your headlines, I was not only disappointed but appalled at the behavior from those at Saranac Lake High School toward the student Rebecca Nashett and her accomplishments. And seeing that the school administration there did little to curb the bad behavior toward this young lady is completely without excuse.

With that being said, I want you in Saranac Lake to know that you’ve been watched from as far away as Alaska. In the last several months of making calls and reading the news, and today with the article about the Nashetts and their daughter Rebecca, we have seen enough to know that Saranac Lake seems to be far less than the warm-hearted small town that we’re looking for. To ostracize one who excels to the extent as Rebecca Nashett has shows only a small-minded community, with envy and malice in their hearts for those that stand obviously heads above others, no matter the age or grade difference.

In closing, our family sends a big congratulations to the Nashetts and their daughter Rebecca for a job well done!!

And ... that we will be moving to a community in the Adirondacks in the very near future, but sadly, we can gurantee that it won’t be to the community of Saranac Lake. Please be aware of the type of example you are setting for all to see, even as far away as Alaska.


Rebecca Orchard

Seward, Alaska
The Internets have made the World a very small place. In the last few weeks many in Saranac Lake have shown Saranac Lake to be intolerant to gays and unable to handle administrative problems in our high school (I personally believe we have a very good school system at least academically).

Navassa Island - 150 Year Anniversary

Ever hear of Navassa Island? It was supposedly discovered by Columbus in 1504. You can read about it in todays New York Times. The USA has "owned" the 3 sq. mi. island for 150 years. The island is located south of "Gitmo", East of Jamaica and West of Haiti. According to the NYT article the island was valuable because it was made up largely of guano (bird droppings) which are high in phosphates. Had the reporter gone to the Navassa Island website maintained by the USGS they would have found that the phosphates are likely derived from guano, but guano that is 2 million years old. This material is known as oolitic phosphate.

To understand how it came about that the USA owns Navassa Island, read about the Guano Islands Act of 1856.
Whenever any citizen of the United States discovers a deposit of
guano on any island, rock, or key, not within the lawful
jurisdiction of any other government, and not occupied by the
citizens of any other government, and takes peaceable possession
thereof, and occupies the same, such island, rock, or key may, at
the discretion of the President, be considered as appertaining to
the United States. [and here]
The Navassa Island website is one of the most interesting websites I have ever visited. It is loaded with information and photos. You can "explore" the islands geology, biology and history. You can virtually "hike, sail, fly or scuba" the island.

Navassa Island is home to over 650 different species of animal and plant life. It appears to be home to the last Pseudopheonix palm tree known to exist. In 1999, Navassa was made a national wildlife refuge and is now administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Haiti disputes the ownership of the island.

Friday, June 29, 2007

NYT Science Section - All Evolution

Every Tuesday the New York Times publishes a Science section called Science Times. It would be remiss of me to forget to mention this weeks Science Times. This week every article concerns genetics, evolution or development.

The first article to draw my eye is called "From a Few Genes, Lifes Myriad Shapes" by Carol Kaesuk Yoon. It's about evo-devo, evolution-development.
The development of an organism — how one end gets designated as the head or the tail, how feet are enticed to grow at the end of a leg rather than at the wrist — is controlled by a hierarchy of genes, with master genes at the top controlling a next tier of genes, controlling a next and so on. But the real interest for evolutionary biologists is that these hierarchies not only favor the evolution of certain forms but also disallow the growth of others, determining what can and cannot arise not only in the course of the growth of an embryo, but also over the history of life itself.
The field of biological development has been reinvigorated by molecular biology. It provides clues such as how genes of the same family (pax6) in fruit flies to man control eye development.

Dr. Cliff Tabin, a developmental biologist at Harvard Medical School, points out that the Galapagos finches studied by Darwin no longer exist. Natural selection has resulted in birds that look very different due to the availability of different foods that are now found on the islands.
For while the species are descendants of an original pioneering finch, they no longer bear its characteristic short, slender beak, which is excellent for hulling tiny seeds. In fact, the finches no longer look very finchlike at all. Adapting to the strange new foods of the islands, some have evolved taller, broader, more powerful nut-cracking beaks; the most impressive of the big-beaked finches is Geospiza magnirostris. Other finches have evolved longer bills that are ideal for drilling holes into cactus fruits to get at the seeds; Geospiza conirostris is one species with a particularly elongated beak.
The birds with the bigger, different beaks simply expressed a gene already present, bmp4 earlier in development.
“There aren’t new genes arising every time a new species arises,” said Dr. Brian K. Hall, a developmental biologist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. “Basically you take existing genes and processes and modify them, and that’s why humans and chimps can be 99 percent similar at the genome level.”
Here is an important thing to remember in evo-devo.
“The genetic tools to build fingers and toes were in place for a long time,” Dr. Shubin wrote in an e-mail message. “Lacking were the environmental conditions where these structures would be useful.” He added, “Fingers arose when the right environments arose.”

And here is another of the main themes to emerge from evo-devo. Major events in evolution like the transition from life in the water to life on land are not necessarily set off by the arising of the genetic mutations that will build the required body parts, or even the appearance of the body parts themselves, as had long been assumed. Instead, it is theorized that the right ecological situation, the right habitat in which such bold, new forms will prove to be particularly advantageous, may be what is required to set these major transitions in motion.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Fast Computer

Twenty years ago, when I was working at Cornell I remember sitting in on a dinner conversation where the disussion concerned building a computer that could operate at one teraflop. That is, 1 trillion floating point operations per second. Sun Microsystems has built a computer that operates at 504 teraflops beating IBM's BlueGene/L which runs at 327 teraflops.

Not to be outdone IBM has designed a computer capable of 3 quadrillion or 3 petaflops called BlueGene/P.
The 1-petaflop Blue Gene/P comes with 294,912 processors and takes up 72 racks in all. Hitting 3 petaflops takes an 884,736-processor, 216-rack cluster, according to IBM. The chips and other components are linked together in a high-speed optical network.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Josh White Sings John Henry

Josh White played Blind Lemon with Paul Robeson as John Henry in the musical "John Henry" which opened on Broadway in 1940. White was an inspiration to a generation of singers. Is that Burl Ives sitting in the chair in the above youtube video?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

SLHS Valedictorian Bullied

Did you know you could graduate from high school in 3 years? You can with some careful planning and by working your butt off. That means no lunch period and no study halls. That's what this years SLHS Valedictorian did.

But wait. Is she really a member of the Class of 2007? Should she be included in the "competition" for Valedictorian? Some students at SLHS did not think so. Todays front page Adirondack Daily Enterprise article is titled "Parents say top grad was bullied"
By overloading her class schedule for the past three years, Rebecca Nashett was able to graduate a year early. The policy of the district is that officials must be notified at the beginning of the school year of a student’s intention to graduate early. According to her father, Nashett met with school officials in the second half of her freshman year to discuss condensing a full high school curriculum into three years. But the administration’s policy was to wait until the beginning of the third year to determine if she was eligible to graduate early or not.

“We were concerned about this kind of thing happening, which is why we thought it would be good if she could get moved into the Class of 2007 earlier,” Lawrence Nashett said Monday.

As it turned out, some students felt frustrated that Rebecca Nashett grabbed the top spot halfway through senior year.
This hardworking student was treated very unfairly by her fellow students, some of her teachers and by a cowardly school board.
Several seniors approached the Saranac Lake Central School Board early this year, asking for intervention to block a third-year student from being valedictorian. Instead, the board voted in February to do away with the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian in favor of a tiered system like colleges often use to recognize high-achieving graduates.
Her father has a few words to say about what happened also.
Friday’s commencement ceremony for the Saranac Lake High School Class of 2007 was a fitting culmination for a year of turmoil and emotional bullying directed against the school’s highest achieving student. This story began more than three years ago when a brilliant eighth-grader decided to overload her high school schedule with heavy-duty academic courses, taking almost no study halls or lunches. Her plan was to condense a full high school curriculum into three years, graduate early and pursue a six-year doctoral program in pharmacy.
It appears the school board and the high school principal really dropped the ball on this one. You have a Valedictorian of a graduating class. The student in question was a member of the graduating class whether she was a 3 or 4th year student. If you are going to name a Valedictorian you name the student with the highest cumulative average.

Personally, I agreed with the decision to do away with the Valedictorian and Salutatorian designations. It is much classier, in my opinion, to award degrees magna cum laude, summa cum laude and cum laude as the school board decided. But you can't decide to do that in the middle of a school year. And, if you are going to do that you should wait 2-3 years before you institute the policy so as not to disappoint 1st, 2nd and 3rd year students that are already in the "competition".

Moreover, students that "win" Valedictorian and Salutatorian status are often only tenths of a point apart from each other. Also, the difficulty of the curriculum is not taken into consideration.

In any case, I salute Rebecca Nashett as the Valedictorian of the SLHS Class of 2007. As her father points out she has learned a life lesson.
The valedictorian went to sleep Friday night numb with emptiness. But she studied her lesson first, and it is a sad, black mark against our school system, its administration and our community: Too many people are mean-spirited, small-minded, spiteful and unwilling to recognize hard work, good character and high achievement.
There seem to be more and more small-minded people coming out of the woodwork in Saranac Lake.

Will Nuclear Power Solve Our Energy/Environmental Problems?

I don't know whether it will or not. But if you want to discuss the use of nuclear power intelligently, I highly recommend that you listen to Prof. Richard Muller, UC Berkeley as he lectures on the mechanics of nuclear energy. This is lecture #7 in the series "Physics for Future Presidents". Lecture 8 is also on Nukes using some interesting analogies such as bird flu.

Whither Dick Cheney?

The Dickster has been in the news a bit over the last week. The Washington Post has published a four-part article about the man, his power and his "shadow government".

Part 1 is "Working in the background". It describes the power and influence of Dick Cheney in the Bush Administration. No going to funerals for him. He's the most powerful VP in history.
Cheney preferred, and Bush approved, a mandate that gave him access to "every table and every meeting," making his voice heard in "whatever area the vice president feels he wants to be active in," Bolten said.

Part 2 is "Wars and Interogation". It was Dick Cheney who wanted to go to war with Iraq and it had little to do with 9/11. Dick wanted war with Iraq long before that. Furthermore, the USA "torture" policy is all Dick Cheney.

"Once he's taken a position, I think that's it," said James A. Baker III, who has shared a hunting tent with Cheney more than once and worked with him under three presidents. "He has been pretty damn good at accumulating power, extraordinarily effective and adept at exercising power."
Part 3 is "Dominating Budget Decisions".
In Bush, Cheney found the perfect partner. The president's willingness to delegate left plenty of room for his more detail-oriented vice president.
I don't see Bush as someone so much "willing" to delegate, but rather he has to delegate power because he is completely clueless about how to run a government. Bush was more or less elected as a figurehead with Cheney tagging along to actually run the government. This has worked out well for Cheney. He has all the power of the executive but with none of the oversight or accountability.

Part 4 "Environmental Policy" will be published tomorrow.
Dick Cheney steered some of the Bush administration's most important environmental decisions -- easing air pollution controls, opening public parks to snowmobiles and diverting river water from threatened salmon.
There are also two editorials in todays Washington Post concerning Dick Cheney. The first, "A GOP Plan to Oust Cheney" is by Sally Quinn. She proposes that the GOP should oust Cheney based purely on concern for our country. Who would replace him? Evidently, Fred Thompson is the only person acceptable to the GOP base. This would also give Thompson a leg up on running for President. Since Cheney will be getting his "batteries" replaced this summer there is a perfect excuse for "honorably" letting the man go.

The second editorial is "He's Not Going Anywhere". by Eugene Robinson.
The vice president, whose Secret Service code name is "Angler," really does know all the angles. And above all, he knows how to survive. His onetime mentor Donald Rumsfeld is gone, his onetime top aide Scooter Libby is on his way to jail, yet Cheney -- defiantly, disastrously, unbelievably -- remains. It will take years to uncover and undo all the damage he has wrought.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Rev. Gary (from Bloomingdale) on Homosexuality

From the "intolerance section" of todays Daily Enterprise. A letter from Gary "the good ole days were better" Shene professing his "facts" on homosexuality. Here it is.
The debate of whether gays should be allowed to marry in New York has jumped to the forefront in the last few days. I listened to “Talk of the Town” and the many comments on this subject and came to the conclusion that there is really no answer to the debate.

Firstly, is it a sin? Only if there is a God, and if so, only he knows whether it is or isn’t. So any debate cannot come from a religious point of view, as the Bible teaches that such would be considered judging, and it says that judging others is wrong.

Is being gay natural? Is one born gay? Putting God and religion aside, I do not know of any other form of life on earth that practices homosexuality; anyone that believes that thing about the penguins in the New York zoo, I got a bridge to sell you. I personally know people who WERE gay and now aren’t, and vice versa, so that sort of tells my common sense that no one is born gay.

I believe the general public has a view of homosexuality that is very clouded. It is a choice, not a condition; it is something someone DOES, not who or what someone is.

Loving someone of the same sex is not unnatural; we love our sisters, cousins, people who aren’t related to us. The question is, where do we draw the line on our sexual yearnings that have nothing to do with love?

Should one’s sexual yearnings dictate the laws of our society? If so, we had better hope, as a nation, that pedophiles and child molesters don’t get any more support, or we’ll be legalizing them; after all, their desires are of a sexual preference just as gays’ or straights’ are. What if one wants to marry both a man AND a woman? Where does it end?

If the law gets passed by the Senate, so what? Laws change, and we must obey them, no matter how we feel. I can remember when abortion was considered murder, as many of you can. A law may not be right, but it’s the law all the same, and to live in this society we must obey them.

Let’s face facts: Society is changing, sex seems to be the most important aspect of life nowadays, self-indulgence and narcissism seem to be the direction of our culture, and these trends and fads will only grow and grow. Whether or not these changes are for the good of our country, only time will tell, although as much as I try, I can’t shake that feeling that it’s the start of a slippery slope and we’d better give much, much thought to the decisions we make that will have far-reaching consequences on our children and the future.

The only way anyone can change things is by voicing your opinions to your representatives, although that doesn’t seem to go as far as it used to. Like it or not, the liberal left seems to shout much louder than the conservative right.

In the end, if there is a God, he’ll sort it all out. If there isn’t, it won’t matter, will it?

Garry Shene


Declassify Iraq WMD Report?

Democrats and Republicans want the White House to declassify a report a Iraq WMD. The White House objects. Why?
But the White House believes the declassification would trigger another round of negative news media coverage and Democratic-led congressional hearings, said a Senate Republican, who asked to remain anonymous because of ongoing private discussions.
Why on earth would the White House think that the report on Iraq WMD will lead to negative press and Democrat-led congressional hearings? Surely the report had solid evidence that Iraq possessed WMD. Afterall, that is why we went to war with Iraq.

Michael Moore or Paris Hilton: Who Will CNN Choose?

Dumb question. Why interview a film maker that has made an important movie about our broken health care system when you can interview a blond, bimbo, ho?
"She will be on for the hour," Bridget Leininger told Reuters. "We had (filmmaker) Michael Moore originally scheduled for that time."
I fear for our country and not because of terrorism.

North Country Community College TV Ad

Is it just me or is the North Country Community College TV advertisement REALLY annoying. What is with that music anyway? The simplistic powerpoint presentation is bad enough but the music is enough to drive one crazy. It's even on their website now and can scare the hell out of you if your speakers are turned up too loud.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bobby Kennedy Jr. (Thimerosol Activist) is Coo Coo

Bobby Kennedy is still pushing the "autism is caused by thimerosol-containing vaccines" story. There just is not good evidence showing that thimerosol-containing vaccines are a cause of autism. For example, from a review by Doja and Roberts:
Our literature review found very few studies supporting this theory, with the overwhelming majority showing no causal association between the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine and autism. The vaccine preservative thimerosal has alternatively been hypothesized to have a possible causal role in autism. Again, no convincing evidence was found to support this claim, nor for the use of chelation therapy in autism.
Sure you can find published papers such as this one by Geier and Geier claiming otherwise:
Significantly increased adjusted (sex, age, vaccine type, vaccine manufacturer) risks of autism, speech disorders, mental retardation, personality disorders, thinking abnormalities, ataxia, and NDs in general, with minimal systematic error or confounding, were associated with TCV exposure.
But look a little more closely at the "Institute for Chronic Illnesses, Inc. background here. It's pretty hard to take these guys seriously (they are also quacks).

A new study supports the lack of association of thimerosol with autism:
These findings support the consensus that exposure to ethylmercury in thimerosal is not the cause of the increased prevalence of autism.
On top of these studies both the CDC and the Institute of Medicine report that "There is no convincing evidence of serious harm from the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines".

[Note: Currently, in the USA, no thimerosol-containing vaccines are given to children under the age of 12]

Health Care Lobbyists Invited to Watch "Sicko"

900 lobbyists invited - 11 show up.

15 Questions for Congress on Health

Research America! has a healthcare questionaire for Senators and Representatives to fill out. Questions such as:

3. Which of the following statements best describes your view of our current health care system?

a. Overall, the health care system is working and needs only some minor adjustments.
b. Significant changes are needed to make our health care system work.
c. Our health care system is broken and needs a complete overhaul.


4. Do you think it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health care coverage or not?
a. Yes
b. No
c. Don't know

Neither of my Senators nor my Representative has completed the questionaire yet. To find out if yours did and to see their answers go here.

You can also compare the answers of up to three congressmen. For example: Rep. Durban (D-IL) believes the healthcare system needs "significant changes" whereas Rep. Obama (D-IL) believes the system needs a "complete overhaul".

The majority of congressmen have yet to respond to the questionaire. If yours hasn't you can email them from the website and encourage them to do so.