September 21, 2014
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My take on the news
Maybe we should 'engineer' America's future
Lonnie Barham

IT'S TOUGH MAKING EFFECTIVE LAWS: State Representative Joseph McNamara of Warwick is trying to write a law that will ban “synthetic marijuana" - the legal incense or potpourri smoked by young people that resembles marijuana but is far more dangerous to human health. McNamara said, "The trick is to find language that allows law enforcement to get these products away from our kids and take them off the shelves." He's right. Writing effective laws is virtually an art form. The difficulty calls to mind a quote attributed to Thomas Cromwell, Henry the Eight's chief minister and great-great uncle of Oliver Cromwell, in the fictional historical novel "Wolf Hound" by Hilary Mantel: "When you are writing laws you are testing words to find their utmost power. Like spells, they have to make things happen in the real world, and like spells, they only work if people believe in them." Most people believe we should ban dangerous synthetic marijuana but a rapidly growing number also believe we should legalize the safer real marijuana; it's legal for medical purposes in 19 states and voters have already legalized it for recreational use in Washington state and Colorado. In line with Cromwell's philosophy on effective laws, will our laws eventually reflect both beliefs?

WISDOM FROM AN CCRI: Community College of Rhode Island English professor David Critchett wrote an outstanding opinion piece in last Wednesday's Providence Journal about how some well-educated leaders write "prose that kills thought rather than engendering it." He was referring to a commentary piece entitled "Building R.I. pathways to challenging careers" written earlier for the Journal by Acting Education Commissioner David Abbott in which Abbott used so many clichés, invented phrases and illogical word structures that the article's message - if it had a message - was almost totally lost. The professor admitted that his students could learn much from reading such prose since it instructs them how not to write. The professor's succinct opinion of Abbott's prose: "1 percent perspiration, 99 percent obfuscation, 0 percent inspiration." Those of us who read Abbott's pompous, obtuse article and agree with the professor's critique should call upon the upper echelon at the state department of education to return to community college and learn how to better communicate ideas to the public.

ENGINEERS VS. LAWYERS: Do Americans want leaders who actually make things or leaders who can only talk about making things? Andres Oppenheimer, a correspondent for the Miami Herald, lamented last week about the western world's paucity of engineering school graduates compared to the plethora of engineers coming out of Asian colleges. To emphasize this contrast, Oppenheimer pointed to Barrack Obama, a lawyer, who ran against Mitt Romney, another lawyer, for the U.S. presidency; and in Mexico, President Felipe Calderon, a lawyer, being replaced by another lawyer, Enrique Neito. Conversely, looking west to China, incoming President Xi Jinping, an engineer, is replacing President Hu Jintao, also an engineer. who had previously replaced yet another engineer, former President Jiang Zemin.

Thirty-one percent of all college degrees awarded in China are in engineering, while only 5 percent of U.S. college degrees go to engineering graduates. Even with a rapidly growing population, the number of U.S. engineering graduates has dropped by over 10 percent during the past 25 years. Meanwhile, every year U.S. law schools crank out almost twice as many new lawyers as there are jobs for them to fill.

Engineers create things that help the economy grow. Lawyers, on the other hand, spend most of their time mucking things up in business and industry or creating government policies and regulations that slow economic growth. So long as our country has far too many graduates entering a detracting profession and far too few opting for a creating profession, it should be no surprise that our country's economic growth continues to slog along at a rate that keeps us barely above recession, while our primary economic competitor, China, enjoys a stellar annual economic growth rate well above 7 percent.

DÉJÀ VU AT FHA: The Federal Housing Administration has returned to the same policies that caused the housing meltdown a four years ago - insuring loans to repeat home buyers who lost their previous homes to foreclosure because they had bought homes they couldn't afford to own. The FHA is now approving mortgages for these same marginal buyers only three years after their last foreclosure - and at rates as low as 3.5 percent. And, guess what? Yep, the agency is losing taxpayers' money hand over fist - to the tune of a required taxpayer bailout of 13 billion dollars within the next month. The FHA claims it has returned to this risky lending practice in order to stimulate the housing market. Well, the taxpayers aren't buying it. Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. Let's hope our congressional delegation is listening.

BELICHICK'S WINNING RECORD: Much was made, and rightfully so, of New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick as he registered his 200th career win with the Pats' defeat of the Jets last week. Sports writers cackled that Belichick is the ninth most-winning coach in NFL history, with eight other coaches having posted more than 200 wins. What sports experts disregard is a coach’s winning percentage - his won/lost record, not just his record of games won. Using this more accurate measuring stick, Coach Belichick’s 65 percent winning rate makes him the second most-winning NFL coach, not the ninth. Only the legendary Don Shula had a better winning percentage, 66 percent. Don, if you look over your shoulder you're going to see a quiet, sometimes grumpy guy in a gray cut-sleeve hoodie gaining on you rapidly.

THE UNFORTUNATE RESULT OF A POOR EDUCATION: It has just been discovered that Casey Anthony, the woman acquitted last year by a Florida jury for killing her 2-year old daughter Caylee, had done an Internet search the day of the child's disappearance using the search phrase ""fool-proof suffocation." This extremely strong circumstantial evidence was overlooked by a sheriff's investigator because he mistakenly spelled "suffocation" as "suffication" when he conducted a search of Anthony's computer search history. Yes, sometimes lack of a proper education can mean the difference between life and death; for an accused murderer, that is.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Drunken driving is not an accident, it's a choice, " said Meg DeCubellis, mother of Katie DeCubellis - the 13 year old killed by a drunk driver in 1999. Meg issued this quote while participating in the annual lighting of the Big Blue Bug's Christmas lights last week. The iconic state insect, known as Nibbles Woodaway, has a message this year - "Please drive responsibly!"


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