American Elephants


Nikolas Cruz, School Discipline, and Misunderstood Statistics. by The Elephant's Child

Even though our legislators, we assume, are trying hard to make good law, they often fail miserably. Laws don’t just establish what one must do or not do, but laws create incentives. All too often the good intent of the legislation creates some very bad incentives that are poorly understood. What is your impression of the frequency and numbers of dead in school shootings? Increased or not? From a lot of the talk, one would think that we have a rash of school shootings, and more victims than ever, but that is not the case. Frequency and numbers are declining.

An article from the Broward County, Florida’s  Sun-Sentinel reported that Nikolas Cruz “kicked doors, cursed at teachers, fought with and threatened classmates and brought a backpack with bullets to school, in 2014 administrators transferred him to an alternate school for students with “emotional and behavioral disabilities” but in 2 years he was returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He was banished for disciplinary violations but “never expelled from school.” Legally he couldn’t be.

Under federal law, the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Nikolas Cruz had a right to a “free and appropriate” education at a public school. As special education lawyer Stephanie Langer told the Sun-Sentinel, “You can’t just kick kids out of the public schools because you are afraid of them, or because they are hard to educate.” In Parkland, Florida, that notion overrode the right of other students to an education free from fear, and as it turned out, deprived them of their right to life as well. 

But it was apparently not, or not just, the 1973 law, but extensive meddling by the Obama administration in what they considered the “school to prison pipeline.”

This is a stunning example of the tendency of statistics to confuse and  mislead. The statistics pointed out that 61% of the incarcerated population were Black or Latino, while only 30% were white. Obviously this must be racism at work. A 2007 study by the Advancement Project and Power U Center for Social Change said of every 100 students who were suspended, 15 were black, 7.9 were American Indian, 6.8 were Latino and 4.8 were white. The article includes examples from around the country, and from different sources.

In October, 2015, Heather MacDonald testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing on proposed legislation to “reform” criminal sentencing by releasing large numbers of felons from federal prisons. The Obama administration was just getting going on their drive to end the disproportionate numbers of Blacks in prison.

The most dangerous misconception about our criminal justice system is that it is pervaded by racial bias. For decades, criminologists have tried to find evidence for that bias, and they have always come up short. In fact, racial differences in criminal offending account for all of the racial disproportionality of blacks in prison.  (my emphasis)

A year later, Heather MacDonald published an important article in City Journal: “Violence in the Halls, Disorder in the Malls” in which she explains that the pathology of the inner city, children without fathers in the home, single mothers with little time, gang culture, are the cause of violence in the schools and violence in malls, and the Obama administration’s destructive efforts to undermine school discipline were to blame. Nikolas Cruz, as a Latino, qualified to be treated with care, to avoid trouble with Education Department authorities.

Once again, we have the usual rush to judgment, and slowly, slowly, the facts begin to come out. Obama went to great lengths to seem the great leader of the Black Community, and increased the calls of racism, where there really wasn’t all that much of it. I guess that’s what he learned in community organizing school. Even if his efforts were well meant, the incentives were poorly understood and have had unfortunate consequences.

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Please, Try to Learn Some Facts Before You Speak. by The Elephant's Child

People who know nothing about guns, have never held one in their hands nor fired one, should try to get slightly informed before they start lecturing the rest of the country about banning guns. Nobody needs guns, they will say. Tell that to Oprah, or George and Amal Clooney, the Katzenbergs, or Steven Spielberg who are collectively donating $2 million to the children’s crusade, the “March for Our Lives” — a disgusting politicization of Parkland students’ anguish. And ask if these wealthy folk have bodyguards, and do their bodyguards carry guns?

I grew up in the mountains of Idaho, on 400 acres adjoining National Forest. We had varmints. Coyotes, lynx, bobcats, porcupines, skunks, bears, cougar. Local ranchers had guns. When one of their herd broke a leg or was harmed by other wildlife, they had to be put down. There were no local vets. Coming home from a ride one day, I was blocked from the ford in the river by a coiled rattlesnake, and my horse was having fits. Having to dispatch a rattlesnake with large rocks was fairly scary.  I suppose I was firing a .22 by the time I was six. We usually took a gun along on our early spring picnic to fire at tin cans down on a beach on the Big Salmon River where blooms were out and lambs were newborn. At home we still had a couple of feet of snow. I was fairly deadly with woodrats, but most of the rest of the wildlife was safe from me.

The Left is anxious to ban guns and attack the NRA. I suspect that Lefties are sure that people who grow up in the mountains of Idaho live in compounds of crackpots who all have guns and explosives and may rise up to take their country back.  The statistics on guns are quite clear, banning guns does not solve anything. The scary accessories on a so called “assault weapon” are just to make an ordinary rifle sexier. They don’t do anything useful. Far more people are killed with handguns, blunt objects, knives, and fists. I would bet that Oprah and the others have no idea what the NRA does, or who they are. Virtue signalling.

The Parkland school shooting was a failure of the FBI, the local police, the Sheriff’s office and the school itself. CNN has compounded the reaction with their dishonest use of traumatized children in a scripted Townhall for their own purposes. At Ricochet, a woman from Kentucky writes about an earlier school shooting this year, and the contrasts.  And someone else suggested that people don’t do their homework — that is they don’t do even a small amount of research to see if they know what they are talking about, because they are afraid of having to read something long. A preference for very thin books. Really? Disturbing. Think about the other things they are trying to ban.

The picture at the top was about 5 or 6 miles down the road from our place, where the turnoff for the road up the mountain was. That’s the scary mountains of Idaho, but only one of the lesser peaks.



Politicize Everything. Act Without Understanding. by The Elephant's Child

You have  noticed, I am sure, that Democrats are out there in full cry, demanding that any businesses who have had possible dealings with the NRA be forced by the outcry to end any association with the National Rifle Association. Politicizing business is a very bad idea, as I noticed in an earlier post about “The Elephant in the Room.”  If a business decides to get political, half the country will take their business elsewhere.

Viewer interest in the Winter Olympics is down considerably as well, probably due to the young man who went to a foreign country to demonstrate his objection to Vice President Pence’s objection to changing the definition of marriage back when he was a governor, in an insulting display of his disrespect for the Vice President of his country. What is now being called “virtue-signaling” does not fool anyone, nor does it disguise bad manners and as members of our country’s national team, excuse such an embarrassing display.

The Left is very big on organization. That’s the reason for “community organizers.” Whenever opportunity arises, the Left will be there with a group of activists with pre-printed signs. No sloppy homemade signs, they want their organization and activism to be completely visible. The organized don’t really need to know much about the action, just that it’s time to be active with other activists in an action—exciting, and generates a feeling of power. Another example of the Left’s ultimate goal—power and control.

An article at the beginning of the NRA protests featured a photo of protesters with pre-printed signs from CREDO. Never heard of that bunch so I had to look them up. You can go to their website. Click on  “victories” in the header to see what they have been up to. The first signs simply said “Stop the NRA”. The second round said “Another”, then left a blank panel to be filled in with “Student, Mother, Grandmother, or Aunt. ” I would be surprised if any of the women holding signs had any idea of who the NRA is, what they do, or the extent of their membership. Their list of  “victories” is a startling exposé of where much of the fake “news” comes from. And CREDO is just one of their many activist groups.

It is particularly interesting because for the most part, conservatives, or people on the right are not much interested in organizing or being organized. Fiercely independent, conservatives are inclined to study up, be familiar with the Constitution, our history, and current issues. But marching around holding signs isn’t one of their favorite activities.

Interesting post today at American Thinker, attempting to understand the Left and their actions. Worth your time, and food for thought. The contrast with what the Lefties have to say could not be greater. When folks on the right do get together, they are apt to pick up after themselves. Demonstrations by the Left invariably leave a huge mess behind for someone else to clean up. Look up any big demonstration, Occupy Wall Street, the Women’s March (either one), the Standing Rock protests which left behind a $43 million mess to clean up with 240 rollout dumpsters. That’s fairly symbolic—they usually leave a mess behind in more ways than one.



Adventures with Cats, as Promised. by The Elephant's Child
February 24, 2018, 7:49 pm
Filed under: Domestic Policy, Health Care, Heartwarming, History, Humor | Tags: , ,

I have two cats. They are indoor cats. Our neighborhood is a wooded Seattle suburb, with streams and parks and a botanical garden, which means that we have coyotes, racoons, owls and other wildlife dangerous to cats, not to mention cars. We have a deck, sunny most of the year, where they can safely go outside. One is a black and white Tuxedo cat named Scarlett, after Scarlett O’Hara who was adored by men who were captivated by her charm, but a bitch underneath, and she rules the roost. The other is a grey and silver cat with a white chest and paws in an indescribable color mixture, larger than Scarlett. but completely cowed. Pretty though. Both female. The latter is Sabrina, because she came with that name. Sabrina had to go to the vet on Thursday for her annual check-up, rabies shot and a rash all over her head and in her ears. Battery of usual tests. Drops for ears. $$$

Friday. Missing cat. Where is Sabrina? Combed the house, granted, it’s a fairly large house with too much stuff, but cannot find the cat. Searched the house again. The elephant did another thorough search. I did a thorough search. The elephant began to wonder if Sabrina got out when he took out the garbage on Thursday night. I searched the house again, looking for unusual hidey-holes. No cat. Colder than the proverbial whatever outside, will the missing cat freeze? The Elephant searched around the house, searched the shed, under the car, under the deck. Consulted the neighbors and searched around their houses. No cat.

We once had a cat who shot outside when I opened the front door and disappeared. Never saw him again, presumably a victim of wildlife. We belong to a neighborhood online message board. Put in an urgent cry “Lost Cat”. Many neighbors responded, nobody had seen a cat, but kind wishes for her safe return. Have a full-length mirror in one corner of the spare bedroom. Hours pass, gets dark. Frantic. Lo and behold — there she is, curled up, hiding in the corner behind the mirror. Responded to kind neighbors, thanks for good wishes, Cat found.

Found cat falls over, cannot walk straight, eyes all squiggly. Aaagh! Late and very cold. Vet long since gone home. Call the emergency vet and take the cat right in. Problem is with ears, may have a punctured ear-drum or just  overenthusiastic ear cleaning. Prescribes Dramamine for the inner ear problem which  causes the falls and drunken sailor stagger. Elephant returns with Sabrina, heads to 24-hr pharmacy for Dramamine. $$$  Have to chop people pills down to size for cat. Cat’s eyes all darting uncontrollably back and forth, she can’t walk right, falls over. Goes to sleep in kitty litter, thankfully, clean. Kind neighbors thank us for thanks. One offers that they lost their cat for 2 days and eventually found her hiding in the garage — because CAT.  That pretty much sums it up.

Both cats get medicine in pill-shooter, followed with syringe of water. Each must avoid the other’s food. Scarlett is fine, gaining weight and cannot get enough to eat. Sabrina asleep in a basket in a large box. Eyes better, ear medicine 2x a day, Dramamine 2x day. So far, so good. But must eat, and won’t.

This will be deeply uninteresting to those who have no pets, or only a dog. I have always had pets, multiple. When I was born, my parents got a new puppy, half St.Bernard, half Great Pyrenees. We were inseparable. He was followed by more St.Bernards, bunnies at Easter, a spaniel/shepherd mix, multiple cats, a relay racehorse, who departed quickly when she ran away with me when she tried to outrun a logging truck, and was replaced by a more amenable steed, two Shelties, a Siamese cat, and a beloved Lab. Adventures with animals. If you have no pets, you don’t know what you’re missing.



Adventures With Cats by The Elephant's Child

A Day unlike most days, filled with unusual adventures. I will try to report tomorrow, but it’s very late and I need sleep.



The Indispensable Man: A Search for the Real George Washington by The Elephant's Child

The George Washington that most of us see most often is the engraving after the Gilbert Stuart portrait on the one dollar bill. Reproductions of the Gilbert Stuart portrait and a portrait of Abraham Lincoln used to hang on the front wall of every elementary classroom when I was growing up, with an American flag standing in the corner.

We all know, I think, that George Washington had dreadful false teeth. A terrible pity, both for the President — because they must have been instruments of torture in his mouth — and because they distract our attention from far more important things about the man. Certainly Washington must have had access to the very best dentists of the day. By 1789, he had only one of his own teeth left. The teeth were horrible-looking contraptions made of substances like hippopotamus ivory, hinged at the back and operated with springs. He complained that they distorted his lips, and they must have distorted his appearance as well.

Gilbert Stuart was the most celebrated of portraitists. He trained in London, and was thought to be a potential successor to the famed Sir Joshua Reynolds. However Stuart was extravagant and fled in debt from London. He turned up in Philadelphia during 1795 , hoping to pay off his creditors by creating a multitude of portraits of the world’s greatest man. Washington sat to him for three separate portraits, and Stuart made hundreds of copies.

According to James Thomas Flexner’s Washington: The Indispensable Man, Washington and Stuart did not get on. The portraitist usually kept his sitters amused and their faces alive by a flood of showy and outrageous talk. Washington always felt uneasy at having to remain still and being stared at and was put out rather than being amused.

Stuart, who felt that “artists were fundamentally superior to all other men including Presidents, resented Washington’s formality. He could not forget what had resulted when, in trying to unstiffen the hero, he had gone to the length of saying, “Now, sir, you must let me forget that you are General Washington and I am Stuart the Painter. Washington replied (as it seemed to him politely), Mr. Stuart need never feel the need for forgetting who he is and who General Washington is.”

Stuart emphasized, as no other portraitist did, the distortions of Washington’s mouth. Flexner suggests that since Stuart was known to have angrily used General Knox’s portrait as the door of his pigsty that perhaps the harm he did to Washington’s historical image was somewhat deliberate.

This life mask by Jean Antoine Houdon gives us more clues as to what Washington actually looked like. He was tall, about 6’2″, and most verbal descriptions mention his ‘roman’ nose, so it was perhaps a little prominent. This is not the face of the Stuart portrait, but looks more probable.

Washington was an outdoorsman who spent much of his life in the saddle, and his complexion would have reflected that — more wrinkles, more weathered. They didn’t have sunglasses and baseball hats with a brim to keep the sun out of the eyes, lots of squinting. The portrait above seems to match the life mask fairly well. A far cry from the disagreeable Gilbert Stuart portrait.

I’m going a bit out on a limb here, but I spent some years in art school attempting to capture likenesses, and the smallest errors in size and distance relationships can lose a likeness completely. Also, people see likenesses differently. Some will insist that two siblings look just alike while others will see no resemblance between the same two. I have no real explanation for that.

I suspect that Gilbert Stuart had such a reputation as a great portraitist, undoubtedly aided by his own self description, that perhaps people were apt to accept his work as the “right” one. Portraits are an odd matter. One tries to capture a mobile. alive face that changes its expression constantly and represent it on a flat surface. If you have ever had photographer’s proofs of pictures of you to choose from, that will explain the problem. They’re all you, but you’ll like some better than others.

Here are “reconstructions” done by a forensic reconstructionist of Washington at his inauguration, as a general, and at around the age of 19. They are startling in their realism. I suspect (nit-picky as I am) that the face is too free of wrinkles, and too pinky-white, and not quite rawboned enough. (I said I was being picky) But they give you a vastly different impression of the man. Haul out a dollar bill and compare. Stuart played a cruel joke on Washington.

Washington didn’t know much about being a general when he was appointed by Congress to lead the American armies, but he was the best we had, and he did fine. His men loved him, and he gradually taught them to be soldiers. He was elected unanimously to be President when he wanted nothing more than to return to Mt.Vernon and retire from public life. The people idolized him. He could have been a king or an emperor, or like some — a dictator for life. But it was he, with his sterling character, who set the nation on the right path. He had a horrible temper, and mostly kept it under firm control. Any of his deeds alone would have made him famous, but in twenty-four years he led the armies, led the country, shaped a constitution, set a nation on its path and then went on home.

The portrait above is by Gilbert Stuart. He made many copies and others made copies of his copies which were sent around the new country so people could see what their new president looked like. Unfortunately, one of them was copied for the engraving on the dollar bill. Just mean.

ADDENDUM: I especially recommend Richard Brookhiser’s Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington. It is not a life history, but a moral biography, only 199 pages. It’s a rewarding book. I post this every year on Washington’s birthday.



February 22 is George Washington’s Real Birthday, Not Some Ginned Up “President’s Day” by The Elephant's Child

Imagine, you just turned 43 years old, and suddenly you find yourself Commander in Chief of a ragtag American army, such as it was. The battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill had already been fought when Washington arrived in Massachusetts, and had established that the British could not break out of Boston. Once Washington placed the captured British cannon on Dorchester Heights, the British evacuated by sea.

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Washington had been named Commander in Chief by the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia in June 1775. He was forty-three years old. There was not yet any American army for him to command, only the militias ringing Boston, but the delegates of the increasingly rebellious colonies were seized by fury for action and for war. “Oh that I was a soldier,” wrote John Adams, a radical lawyer from Massachusetts. “I will be. I am reading military books. Everybody must and will, and shall be a soldier.”

Adams never became a soldier, but Washington had already been one. He had served in the Virginia militia during the French and Indian War twenty years earlier, rising to the rank of colonel. In his old age, Adams would describe Washington’s selection as a political compromise—a southern commander, to lead what would at first be a mostly New England force—engineered by congressional wise-men, including Adams. But Congress did not have many other officers to choose from, Israel Putnam, of the Connecticut militia, was, at 57, too old. Artemas Ward, the commander of the Massachusetts militia, was incompetent and suffering from the stone.
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The state begins in violence. However lofty the ideals of a new country or a new regime, it encounters opposition, as most new regimes and countries do, it must fight. If it loses, its ideals join the long catalogue of unfulfilled aspirations.

At six o’clock on the evening of July 9, 1776, the soldiers of the main American army, stationed in New York, were paraded and read the Declaration of Independence. General George Washington, Commander in Chief, hoped this “important event” would inspire them, though when some soldiers joined a mob in pulling down a statue of George III, he deplored their “want of order.” Over the next two months the American army and its commander, orderly or not, were unable to offer much in defense of the Declaration’s sentiments. …

During the summer, the British assembled, on Staten Island and in the harbor, the largest expeditionary force of the eighteenth century: ten ships of the line, twenty frigates, and 32,000 regular troops. On August 22, most of those troops began moving to Gravesend Bay on Long Island, in what is now southwest Brooklyn. Anticipating a possible landing there, Washington had posted more than a third of his own force of 19,000 men on Brooklyn Heights, and on a line of hills to the south. But he expected the British to attack him on the harbor side of his position, where they could bring the guns of their ships into play. On the morning of the 27th, the British slipped a force through the hills five miles away in the opposite direction and hit the American front line from before and behind.
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These are excerpts from Richard Brookheiser’s Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington, which he calls a moral biography, which has two purposes: to explain its subject, and to shape the minds and hearts of those who read it—by showing how a great man navigated politics and a life as a public figure. Brookheiser says “If Washington’s contemporaries were too willing to be awed, we are not willing enough. …We have lost the conviction that ideas require men to bring them to earth, and that great statesmen must be great men. Great statesmen are rare enough in their world. We believe they are mythical, like unicorns.” They are not.

According to recent studies, our kids don’t know anything about George Washington, nor do most adults. There is some speculation that the problem is big fat books. People are more apt to read thin books that don’t scare them about the time involved. Answering that need is a new biography by the great British historian Paul Johnson. The paperback is only $8.71, and a hardback is available.

ADDENDUM: The picture above is a forensic reconstruction of Washington as a General, and Commander in Chief. Getting a likeness is hard. You get one thing just a little off, and you have lost the resemblance. Washington’s skin was pale, we are told, and he burned in the sun. I don’t think the tricorn hat gives even as much protection as a baseball cap, so I’m sure he appeared much more weathered, with squint lines (no sunglasses). His real hair was reddish. But nasty Stuart Gilbert did him real dirt down through the ages by overemphasizing the distortions of false teeth, and getting a poor likeness. Remember that, every time you look at a one dollar bill. It was deliberate.




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