Influential Prose

Kevin McLeod's Portfolio

Conservatism in the Defense of Air Safety is No Vice

I grew up in small aircraft. My father was a private pilot and took me along often, showed me the landscape of Saskatchewan from 5,000 ft before I learned to ride a bicycle.

We always had copies of Flying magazine around at home, a publication with a deep and dedicated stable of editors and writers who knew how to tell a story and impart important lessons learned. “I Learned About Flying From That” remains a regular feature, and the Bax Seat column was like basking in the presence of a wise guru.

The history of early aviation is littered with accidents, leading to pilots who are a conservative lot; the classic explanation is “There are old pilots and bold pilots but there are no old, bold pilots.” The deliberate and systematic approaches to greater air safety evolved to the point where it has become the safest form of travel we have.

The lessons learned along the way were painful, acquired at the cost of lives. Professional pilots regard the safety aspects of aviation with the same gravity as gun safety, if not more so – the potential loss of life is greater, and will likely include their own. As I read Flying, visited airports, learned from my father, attended air shows and observed conversations, I soaked up this conservative mindset shaped by reality.

At 16 I began taking flying lessons and soloed. After a couple of weekends of practice flights, the next step was ground school.

A cross-Florida trip with Dad between Vero Beach and Clearwater.

 

And here I became very apprehensive, because I was hard of hearing. I knew very well how safety was a part of every aspect of flying, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch everything that was said. I didn’t know ASL at the time, and even if I did, finding an interpreter and paying for it would be a huge hurdle – there was no ADA law then.

Maybe I could’ve – literally – winged it. I’ve always done well on written tests and I’d already demonstrated I could pass flight tests. I knew if I were able to do commercial flight at all it would be in remote areas, the Alaskan bush or lake-hopping for tourists, places where radio-controlled airspace wasn’t a hurdle.

But faced with a choice between incomplete knowledge that could kill myself and others and doing what I most wanted to do in my life at that point, I knew safety was the most responsible choice.

In retrospect, working in such isolated locations would’ve restricted an already stunted personal social growth due to being hard of hearing. I ended up going to Gallaudet instead, learned ASL and became immersed in the Washington, DC area deaf community. My political outlook as a mature adult is firmly progressive. But there are fields of human endeavor where conservatism is the best option.

In flight, as in life, we are all in this together.

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Written by Influential Prose

March 20, 2016 at 9:34 am

Negotiated Limits

No matter what the limits are, there’s always someone trying to negotiate it.

This is one of the basic laws of managing a building full of teenage boys. This is why my boss is a hardass about limits. He knows – give an inch, take a mile, and away it goes. He’s the wall, the policy. And that’s a very useful role in an environment of constantly tested limits.

What we have now in the American financial sector is the equivalent of the cool kids having overrun the wall and now managing matters on their own. Glass-Stegal set limits. They were removed.

We’ve seen this twice now, through the Depression and the Great Recession. We can’t take another hit like that. It might be survivable, but it won’t be the same country when it’s over.

Bernie Sanders is the only candidate running now who isn’t subservient to the forces running rampant on Wall St. He understands that capitalism can work well, but requires close supervision. That’s what’s needed, sooner the better.

Time magazine recently featured Bernie on its cover, paired with a laudatory profile of the man, but it dismissed his chances of winning. Nice guy, can’t win, end of story.

Is there really a limit to Bernie’s appeal?

That is now being negotiated.

Written by Influential Prose

September 21, 2015 at 9:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

How to Pop a Parachute on Another Planet

The Martian atmosphere lies low and thin. There’s not enough of it to land softly by parachute alone. But when you come screaming in a little over 3.5 miles per second, it’s almost more like water than air.

The Mars Science Laboratory hit the atmosphere at 13,000 mph and slowed to 900 mph on atmospheric friction alone. Peak heating during this period is twice as hot as melted rock, or lava.

Then it popped a parachute. There’s enough atmosphere at the altitude of six miles – about the same height as a jet airliner over Earth – for a parachute to slow everything down a lot.

Here’s that parachute during indoor testing on Earth:

 

Even in a very thin atmosphere, popping a chute at 900 mph creates a lot of stress, about 9 Gs. How do you test for that? With a helicopter, a rocket sled and a lot of very strong cable. Watch to 4:00 to see the big picture:

The parachute worked. It was used less than two minutes. But that was long enough for the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter to capture a photo of the rover under parachute with the HiRise camera:

 

You can do more than see this parachute. You can ride it down. Twenty seconds after the parachute was deployed, the heat shield was dropped while the rover was 5 miles above the surface and falling a bit over 500 mph. That’s where the ride begins:

 

Images have been captured of the parachute in its final resting place.

It’s still blowing in the Martian winds.

Written by Influential Prose

July 3, 2015 at 4:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Physics for Curious Teenagers

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Physics is often an intimidating subject because it encompasses so much – it is the foundation for how everything else works. Our understanding is advanced and growing, but not yet complete. There are still holes, and this is where the excitement lies – exploring the unmapped territories, standing on the shoulders of giants and seeing farther than any have seen before. The easy parts have been mapped, and the hard parts beckon. Teens with the academic capacity for this subject can benefit from strong parental encouragement and support. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs are proliferating, and physics provides a reliable foundation for these areas. Check your teen’s school to learn about local courses.

Particle Physics
The most fundamental questions have been asked for centuries. Where are we from? How did we get here? Physics is part of our pursuit for answers. By examining the most basic building blocks that everything is made of, we discern the properties of both matter and energy, and how matter is essentially a form of energy. Chemistry, organic chemistry and biochemistry, the basis for life, all originate in particle physics. It’s like the “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” shows, but this is the detective work of reality – physics underlies a lot of criminal investigative work.

Fermilab, the U.S. Department of Energy’s powerhouse of particle physics, offers a solid list of books on physics for regular people, and the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh offers a selection of engaging physics books for teens — such as the “Manga Guide to Physics” — that are accessible without being dumbed down.

Electromagnetism
Fundamental particles carry positive and negative electrical charges, and these charges regulate the interaction of matter. As the Encyclopedia Britannica notes, at the particle level electrical charge is so powerful that the absence of only one electron out of every billion molecules in two 70-kilogram (154-pound) persons standing two meters (two yards) apart would repel them with a 30,000-ton force. If you want to understand how that works, “Physics for Idiots” has good explanations, even if you’re not an idiot. Teens looking for the story behind the science can also enjoy “Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched on the Modern World,” an overview of the history and human drama behind electromagnetism’s discovery.

Physics of Motion
Energy and matter together becomes motion. Isaac Newton formulated the Three Laws of Motion on an English sheep farm in the mid-17th century and revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos. He worked out how the motion of the moon affects the oceans on Earth and creates tides. The same laws that govern the fall of an apple from a tree form the basis of our understanding of orbital mechanics – how the planets orbit the sun through the principles of inertia and mass. The online Physics Classroom presents these laws in a clear, accessible way for teens.

Physics of Relativity
Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity picked up where Newton left off by showing that space itself is warped by gravity, and that even light is affected by it. This effect is so powerful it enables us to see galaxies hidden behind clusters of other galaxies because the galaxies in front create a lensing effect, warping the light around them. Relativity also gave us light’s speed limit – 186,000 miles per second. By this measure, the sun is 8 minutes distant, Saturn is 15 minutes away, and the Voyager 1 space probe at the edge of the solar system is over 17 hours out. Cornell University, the workplace of renowned astronomer Carl Sagan, has a good overview of Einstein’s theory, and yes, there’s a “Manga Guide to Relativity” too.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 3:24 am

Cultural Differences in Moral Reasoning

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

Cultural differences in moral reasoning are driven by various influences — history, leadership, religious belief, experiences with peace and warfare, available resources and the strategies for extracting and distributing those resources. These cultural differences are not limited to the scale of nations. There can also be differences in the culture and moral reasoning between schools, communities, companies, even families. Moral reasoning has a way of adapting to or being shaped by people’s needs and perceptions.

Absolutes vs. Relativism
There’s an ongoing, cross-cultural debate on whether moral values are absolute or relative. Are there universal morals that apply to all regardless of culture, or are moral values a negotiation between the environment, natural selection and social conditions? It’s a hotly debated topic, but clearly moral reasoning diverges among cultures. In some areas, gay marriage is accepted and not in others. Some countries permit personal firearm ownership, in others you can be jailed. The same is true for possession of certain plants.

National Differences
Overpopulation has led China to impose some restrictions on family size. Today it has over 1.35 billion people and most Chinese live with an average density of 326 people per square mile. People living at that density calls for, and perhaps requires, a moral system that emphasizes cooperation and harmony — exactly what Confucianism teaches. In China, conditions and moral reasoning lead to limits on family size.

In Russia, conditions and moral reasoning lead to an opposite conclusion. Russia’s population density is slightly below 14 people per square mile, with about 143 million total population. Government policy encourages families to have as many children as they can (which also requires cooperation and harmony).

Japan’s situation is complex. They face a rapidly aging population and steep decline in fertility, in part because strong Confucian values demand marriage before children, but marriage rates are dismally low. Japan is caught between cultural values and an inevitable economic decline unless fertility and immigration increase; thus Japanese moral reasoning is now forced to resolve this conflict to maintain national prosperity.

Economic Differences
Consider a simplified example of conflicting interests between a factory owner and a farmer. To remain in business, the factory owner must balance costs and expenses. This may mean discharging pollutants in the atmosphere because it is the lowest-cost way to eliminate wastes. If costs are not well-controlled, the factory could fail and people would lose jobs. From this perspective, cost control is a moral good.

From a farmer’s perspective, if crops are contaminated by mercury particulates from the factory, the moral good of cost control becomes the evil of food poisoning. Similarly, an agricultural society will have a different moral perspective on some issues than an industrial society. Cultural values — morals — tend to dovetail with practical needs.

On the issue of global warming, there’s a clear clash between the view in academic culture, which is driven by several lines of evidence pointing toward anthropogenic climate change, and the views of fossil fuel and other industries, a culture that tends to combat any conclusion that will affect profits. When scientific facts and self-interest diverge, the effect on moral reasoning is illuminating.

Humanitarian Differences
Cultures vary in how they value others in their midst. Slavery is a stark example, and had its advocates. It is now widely condemned, yet persists in the form of human trafficking, or sex slavery. Sexual slavery victims tend to flow from economically insecure areas to regions of relative stability. When times are hard, the young women who comprise the majority of victims can be manipulated and entrapped with promises of phony jobs. Some locales, most famously Bangkok and Amsterdam, tolerate the sex trade by reasoning that it’s a matter between consenting adults. This blurs the line between consent and coercion and complicates enforcement against human trafficking.

Social Stratification
Other forms of devaluation persist, cutting across lines of ethnicity, gender, age and disability, resulting in societies stratified by economic class (U.S.), social castes (India, Pakistan) and ethnicity (U.S, Japan). Social stratification is inherently hierarchical, a pre-rational behavioral pattern, and proactive moral reasoning is working to reduce it through affirmative action programs in the U.S. and India.

Moral reasoning varies by culture in accordance with what the culture values. As noted American author Robert A. Heinlein pointed out, “Man is not a rational animal. He is a rationalizing animal.” It’s clear that moral values are relative in practice. If there are also absolute universal moral values, no clear consensus has yet emerged that identifies them.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 3:20 am

Why Parents Shouldn’t Be Able to Refuse Medical Treatment for an Ill Child

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Legally, refusal to provide or access medical care for children can be termed medical neglect. According to the latest available national statistics, documented child abuse and neglect in 2011 affected more than 675,000 children, or nearly 1 in a 100 kids. On average, 3 percent was stemmed from medical neglect in 41 reporting states. Some states average higher. Arkansas’ medical neglect rate is 7.5 percent, while the District of Columbia, Georgia, New York and Puerto Rico all average about 5 percent. The lowest rates are in Delaware and Utah at 0.04 percent and 0.02 percent respectively, plus both Wisconsin and Nebraska at 0.01 percent.

Causes
Medical neglect can have several causes, including economic hardship, lack of access to care or health insurance, family chaos and disorganization, lack of awareness, knowledge or skills, lack of trust in health care workers, impairment of caregivers, caregivers’ beliefs and children’s behavior, according to a 2007 article in the journal “Pediatrics.” Of these causes, two can involve active refusal of care: caregivers’ belief systems and children’s behavior.

Legal Exceptions
In most instances, medical neglect is legally actionable. The exception is faith-based exemptions, which are written into law in most states, according to Childhealthcare.org. These exemptions vary in scope. Forty-eight states permit exemption from immunization programs. Most states permit exemption from metabolic testing of newborns that can detect developmental problems, including some that can be prevented with treatment. Ten states have religious exemptions for eyedrops that can help prevent blindness in children who contact a venereal disease carried by their mothers. Seventeen states have religious exemptions to felony crimes against children.

Consequences
A study titled “Child Fatalities from Religion-Motivated Medical Neglect” in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal found that of 172 cases of child fatalities attributed to faith-based medical neglect, 140 had excellent (90 percent positive) prognosis with standard treatment. Many of the remaining 32 children were treatable, with good outcomes likely. The consequences of not participating in immunization programs can be widespread. In 1991, “The New York Times” reported on an outbreak of 492 measles cases in Philadelphia that led to the deaths of six children, two of them unrelated to the Faith Tabernacle and First Century Gospel churches at the center of the outbreak. A later check of the Faith Tabernacle school found 201 of the children in attendance had never seen a doctor.

Prevention
Most faith-based cases of medical neglect leading to illness and death are preventable. The nonprofit educational charity Children’s Health Care Is a Legal Duty lists other treatable conditions that resulted in the deaths of children in the care of Christian Science parents between 1974 and 1994; five by meningitis, three of pneumonia, two of appendicitis, five of diabetes, two of diphtheria, one of measles, one of septicemia, one of a kidney infection, one of a bowel obstruction, and one of heart disease. In the Philadelphia outbreak, three children were hospitalized under court order to ensure treatment. However, as long as religious exemptions remain in place, the justice system has legal limits on what they can do.

References
American Academy of Pediatrics: Religious Objections to Medical Care
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Familes: Child Maltreatment 2011 report
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Familes: Child Neglect: A Guide for Intervention
American Academy of Pediatrics: Recognizing and Responding to Medical Neglect
American Medical Association: Miracle vs. Medicine: When Faith Puts Care at Risk

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 3:11 am

High School Swimming Lessons

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

In school districts with sufficient budgets and facilities, high school students can choose from beginning, intermediate and advanced swimming courses, often modeled on the American Red Cross’s Learn-to-Swim program. Some schools also offer competitive swimming. Knowing how to swim well is a valuable skill, for both safety and physical fitness. Regular swimming can yield lifelong benefits as a low-impact activity that can continue as one grows older. For students who desire additional challenges, swim programs also often offer diving lessons and lifeguard training. CPR training is another possible pursuit.

Beginning Lessons
Early lessons stress water safety and comfort. Safety training begins with a review of pool rules, including how to use a life jacket, how to recognize another swimmer in distress and how to get help in an emergency. Then, beginning in shallow water and working progressively deeper, the goal is to become familiar with various positions and movement while supported in the water. Learning how to tread water, swim unassisted for short distances on the front, back and side, change directions and roll over are skills needed to move on to the next level.

Intermediate Lessons
At this level, your teen will be relaxed and comfortable in water and ready to build on and refine existing skills. This begins with learning strokes that aid efficient swimming by conserving energy and extending range. Strokes include front glide, front crawl, back crawl and butterfly kick, plus demonstration of longer float times and specific float positions, including the HELP and Huddle strategies for conserving heat in cold water, and how to do a survival float. At this point, the swimmer should be able to dive and retrieve objects from chest-deep water.

Advanced Lessons
Skills introduced at this level include swimming underwater, specific dive types, several specific strokes for treading water, open turns for lane swimming and several safety techniques. Rules for safe diving, how to do a compact jump from a height while wearing a life jacket, how to conduct a throwing assist and how to care for a conscious choking victim are all reviewed. Swimmers demonstrate a back and survival float in deep water for a minute and the ability to swim using back crawl, butterfly, breaststroke and elementary back stroke between 15 and 25 yards.

Fitness and Lifeguard Readiness
Swim distances are lengthened, additional equipment such as pull buoys, fins, pace clocks and paddles are introduced. Training techniques, understanding target heart rates and principles of swimming programs and water exercise are reviewed. In preparation for competitive swimming, a variety of of open turns as they vary by stroke are practiced. Lifeguard readiness trainings build endurance in swimming and treading water, develop diving and submerged swimming proficiency, practice an assortment of rescue techniques, and demonstrate the ability to swim 500 yards — 10 lengths of an Olympic-sized pool — using six different strokes.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 3:06 am