Archive for June, 2009

Knowledge and Intelligence are not the same thing

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

As a teacher one of the things that frustrated me was students who claimed not to be smart. Or that they were stupid. In most cases this was far from true. What the student  should have been saying was that there was information (knowledge) that they didn’t have. Stupidity is hard to overcome but a lack of knowledge is relatively easy to deal with. Intelligence is not knowing a lot (having a lot of knowledge) but being able to use that knowledge.

Knowing more information doesn’t make one smarter. Oh for sure it may help people make better decisions but if they were not smart enough to use the information it wouldn’t help them. I think that some of how to use information can be taught. I am not convinced that people’s intelligence (smarts if you will) is a fixed value. The mind can be trained. Information helps with that training but it is not intelligence by itself.

One of the things I used to say was that ignorance was curable but stupid was not. I’m starting to think that stupid can be improved to some extent but that it is difficult. Ignorance though remains pretty easy to cure. The problem is that it still takes some work and some people are not smart enough (or are too lazy or something) to put in that effort. And that is a shame.

I think there are a lot of very smart people who are not getting the knowledge they need to properly use their intelligence. This is the biggest problem in education today. Some kids don’t think education will help them. Others think they are stupid (often mistaking knowledge for intelligence) when they are not. Others have teachers or parents or peers or other external pressures not to learn or to make an effort at school. others think they don’t need it. I’ve known a couple of athletes who expected their athletic ability to make knowledge of other things unnecessary. I’m  not sure how to turn all that around. But we sure are missing a lot of potential when we lose the opportunity to provide knowledge to people with the intelligence to really use it.

My Hamptons

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

The new TV show Royal Pains is bringing some attention to an area of Long Island the media likes to call “The Hamptons.” I was born there and growing up we referred to the area as “the south fork.” Or perhaps “the east end [of Long Island]” When I was growing up there were summer people – artists, writers, actors, miscellaneous rich people – who had big summer homes but there were also baymen and farmers – lots of farmers – and it did not get the media attention it does today.

Today there are sort of two dimensions (dimensions in the science fiction sense that they occupy the same physical space but hardly interact) to the Hamptons. There are the rich and famous who occupy one dimension and the other people who live in another. For ease of use I refer to the first group as summer people and the second group as year-round people. Strictly speaking many of the “summer people” come out more than just in the summer and may even live here (I am in East Hampton as I write this) most of the time.

The media (TV and movies) mostly presents a fictional view of the summer people. The year round people are kept in the background. I can’t say I am very familiar with that dimension of the Hamptons though. The year round people a bit more. While I haven’t lived in the Hamptons full-time for 50 years I do visit regularly and my father still lives here. I like to think of myself as a “displaced Bonacker” who knows something of the area.

The TV show Royal Pains is fairly unique in that it does show some local, year-round people types. The hospital administrator who was born and raised in Southampton (not explicitly stated but the only hospital in the Hamptons is in Southampton – I was born there) for example. The most recent episode showed the star helping a sick fisherman. Why they didn’t add some authenticity by finding a way to refer to him as a bayman I don’t know. Baymen is a general term for people who make their living from the bays and ocean around the Hamptons. That is a word I would have liked to see in the show’s “Hamptons Glossary” but I guess as it is a local word not a summer people word it didn’t make the cut.

It’s going to be interesting to watch this show (Royal Pains) to see how it treats the year round people. My suspicion is that the writers and the people working on the show are more generally influenced by summer people. There are many of them in the TV business. I’m not sure how much interaction they have with year round people other than to buy from them, hire them to do work around their houses and see them in the streets. Will they take on the number of immigrants (legal and otherwise) from south and central America? How about the summer workers from Ireland who come to the area in droves? And what more of the hard working baymen will we see?

I actually wonder how they will handle the rest of the year – not the summer. Will the late season events like the Hamptons International Film Festival (October) be an opportunity to have a bunch of high profile cameo appearances?  Will the Hampton Classic show some international beauty (ever notice how many gorgeous young women need treatment on TV shows?) falling off a horse?

Yeah, I guess I like the show. The doctor is a good guy. The young rich kid he befriends is really interesting. The hospital administrator is more attractive than most of the rich people but is still a strong and complex person one can respect. The brother and the physicians assistant add something good to the mix. The USA Network does seem to do characters well. Plus I like to keep my eye open for places I know. 🙂


Note: Strictly speaking a Bonacker is from Springs, a village in the town of East Hampton, but more general usage tends to include the most of the town including the village of East Hampton.

Note: If you go to the East Hampton Village page on Wikipedia you will see a picture of the old Hook Mill windmill. That picture is very close to the view from my bedroom window when I was a small child. Our current house is close by but doesn’t have that view.

Information and Power

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

There is a saying that knowledge is power which in many ways is quite true. Related to that is that the control of knowledge (information) is also a great power. I’ve seen this several ways in my personal experience. Most recently I was on a jury. Over and over we were told to make our decisions based only on the information (evidence) that was presented to us. We were not to do any outside research on our own. No visits to the scene, no reading in newspapers, no Internet searches, nothing outside the court room. The clear goal is to let the lawyers with some help from the judge completely control the information we had.

That is the way the system is supposed to work and I guess it is mostly a good one. But for someone who likes to look up thing and dig deeper it was a little frustrating. I don’t like it when others control my access to information. But I played by the rules even though I felt like I was missing information.

More in the past was my involvement on a school district budget committee. In that role I and the other members were charged with setting the annual budget for a school system. The administration (business manager and superintendent) had almost complete control over the information we had available to do that work. Oh we could ask other people (principals, department heads, and teachers for example) but even with that for much of what we needed the administration was our only option. I remain convinced that there were times when we were “played” to some extent. Not that I suspect the administration of ill intent just that in order to get what they thought was important then controlled what we knew,

The great myth about the Internet is that it removes or bypasses the filters to information. That it empowers people by providing information they did not always have. It’s a nice story and to a great extent there is truth there. But some information is never going to be fully available online. It is in people’s heads and passed by word of mouth. It is hidden in obscure language and/or jargon. Over time some of it will be exposed but there is so much out there. Which brings up information hiding. The old stick the needle in a haystack principle. Search engines can only help so much.

Ultimately you have to be able to trust people. Trusting the powerless is so much easier than trusting the powerful though. Insisting on more transparency and holding people accountable for providing information will help. Setting standards of transparency will help create an environment were it is expected. But I think it will take time. The powerful do not relinquish power easily and the power to control information is a temptress.

Responsibility is Hard

Friday, June 5th, 2009

I spent three days on jury duty this week. It was an interesting and thought provoking experience. Throughout the process everyone treats jurors very seriously. One is constantly reminded of the jury being critically important to the process. Jurors are treated well. That is to say everyone shows the jury respect. There are comfortable chairs both in the jury box and the jury deliberation room. There are snacks and beverages in the deliberation room. The judge, who rules the process, speaks to the jury in respectful tones and works hard to minimize the announces of process and delays. Plus there are oaths to take which are explains and anything but mere formality. This all helps the jury to take their role seriously.

I found myself paying closer attention to testimony and discussion than I can ever remember paying in my life. It was not a strain even though the testimony was sometimes repetitious and not that interesting. It was still important. After two days of listening to testimony and evidence it was time to deliberate.

Everyone on the jury takes this deadly seriously. We are after all deciding the future of another person’s life. We don’t determine the punishment – that is the role of the judge. But the jury determines if there will be a punishment. It’s a big deal.

The jury I was on spent four hours in deliberation. Everyone wanted to be sure that they were absolutely sure of their decision. Did the prosecution prove their case? It’s a big difference between “we think they did it” and “we are sure without doubt that they did it.” No one on my jury seemed to be willing to just vote with the majority to get it over with. We reviewed evidence – pictures, videos, audio recordings. We discussed timelines and testimony. It was intense.

I mentioned that during the trial I fell asleep every night and woke up every morning thinking about the case – reviewing the evidence and testimony in my mind. I weighted what I had observed and analyzed every piece of it. The people I told about this agreed that they were doing the same things. This is responsibility and this is people working to take that responsibility seriously. It is not easy. It is not easy mentally and it is not easy emotionally. But it is what responsibility is about.

I came away from this experience feeling better about the jury process. There may have been some things I might have done differently if I had been one of the attorneys in the case. Though of course I can’t really know that. But I do believe that the jury did everything they could have and should have. That is a comforting thought.

Jury Duty

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

After 55 years of life I received a jury notice recently. It came from the US District Court in Concord and it said that over a 2 month period I had to call in on Monday afternoons to find out if I had to report the next day. Monday of this week my number came up. Literally. When one calls in the phone message gives a list of juror numbers who have to report and my number was on the list. So I showed up Tuesday morning.

The first thing we did was report in and they scanned the barcodes on our notices. Then we had a briefing about what was going on. Then we walked up to the court room. The plan was to select 32 people from which the attorneys would select 14. Sounds easy but we were first asked a bunch of questions. If we answered “yes” to any of them we were to ask to speak to the judge. The judge would then decide if people should be excused or if they were qualified to serve. AS they called the names and numbers of the 32 people (of the 55 or so who were there) people selected were asked if they needed to talk to the judge.

I would say that almost half the people wanted/needed to talk to the judge. If the judge excused someone a new number was called and that person was asked if they needed to talk to the judge. A lot of people wanted to get out of serving. Some were self employed or part of small companies. Others had people they needed to take care of – small children or elderly parents. Others had medical issues. Some people – about 20 – the judge did excuse but many of them he didn’t. In the end we had 32 people with only 2 or 3 not having been selected or excused.

We had all filled out forms back in February so the attorneys knew something about us all. Once we were a panel of 32 the attorneys started going over their notes from the talks with the judge and I assume notes they had made from the survey results. In fairly short order they agreed on 14 people to stay and the others were excused. At this point I knew I was on a jury. The judge told us the case would take about three days.

The whole process took about two and a half hours. I was expecting the attorneys to question jurors like they do on TV but that never happened. I guess it might happen in some cases but clearly it’s not all like TV. 🙂