Absolutely the toughest marching drummers ever

Most folks don’t know that an early part of the years I spent as a musician were my high school years – especially in marching bands. Though I also played in the horn section of a University concert band at the same time, I played simultaneously in two separate high school marching bands. One played all their football games on Friday nights. The other on Saturday afternoons. Conflict between the two only came up once a season. Plus I still helped out once in a while with the P.A.L. band I’d marched with since 7th grade. 🙂

All I can say is these folks really rock. Close to traditional formation staging; but, everything else is over the top.

Thanks, UrsaRodinia

When autism may be an advantage


Thorkil Sonne and his son Lars at home in Ringsted, Denmark

When Thorkil Sonne and his wife, Annette, learned that their 3-year-old son, Lars, had autism, they did what any parent who has faith in reason and research would do: They started reading. At first they were relieved that so much was written on the topic. “Then came sadness,” Annette says. Lars would have difficulty navigating the social world, they learned, and might never be completely independent. The bleak accounts of autistic adults who had to rely on their parents made them fear the future.

What they read, however, didn’t square with the Lars they came home to every day. He was a happy, curious boy, and as he grew, he amazed them with his quirky and astonishing abilities…To his father, Lars seemed less defined by deficits than by his unusual skills. And those skills, like intense focus and careful execution, were exactly the ones that Sonne, who was the technical director at a spinoff of TDC, Denmark’s largest telecommunications company, often looked for in his own employees…

Sonne did not consider himself an entrepreneurial type, but watching Lars — and hearing similar stories from parents he met volunteering with an autism organization — he slowly conceived a business plan: many companies struggle to find workers who can perform specific, often tedious tasks, like data entry or software testing; some autistic people would be exceptionally good at those tasks. So in 2003, Sonne quit his job, mortgaged the family’s home, took a two-day accounting course and started a company called Specialisterne, Danish for “the specialists,” on the theory that, given the right environment, an autistic adult could not just hold down a job but also be the best person for it.

For nearly a decade, the company has been modest in size — it employs 35 high-functioning autistic workers who are hired out as consultants, as they are called, to 19 companies in Denmark — but it has grand ambitions….At the World Economic Forum meeting in Tianjin in September, he was named one of 26 winners of a global social entrepreneurship award. Specialisterne has inspired start-ups and has five of its own, around the world. In the next few months, Sonne plans to move with his family to the United States, where the number of autistic adults — roughly 50,000 turn 18 every year — as well as a large technology sector suggests a good market for expansion…

For previously unemployable people — one recent study found that more than half of Americans with an autism diagnosis do not attend college or find jobs within two years of graduating from high school — Sonne’s idea holds out the possibility of self-sufficiency.

A long, fascinating article. The concept isn’t original – except to the demographic defined by Sonne’s experience with his son. One of my close kin was born profoundly deaf and when she and her family won the battle of mainstreaming and getting an education, the question of employment remained. The avenue she discovered – during the era of loud, irritating IBM keyboards – was data entry. Eventually, her experience with the content she read and turned into digital data led to a career managing and administering contracts based on that data.

Still, this can be a wider search and a daunting task. The emotional and social baggage associated with autism can be greater than a traditional “handicap”. The tale of Thorkil Sonne and Lars is inspirational and an education in and of itself.

Mexican military skill – lands chopper in Texas by mistake

A Mexican military helicopter landed Saturday afternoon at Laredo International Airport by mistake, said a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Mucia Dovalina, the uniform public affairs officer for the Laredo Port of Entry, said the helicopter landed about 3 p.m., but she couldn’t share details such as the number of occupants or whether they were armed.

Dovalina said that, following protocol, CBP officers checked out the helicopter’s occupants, then allowed them to return to Mexico in the aircraft.

“The only thing that I can tell you is that they did land here,” she said. “It was by mistake. They were processed and they were returned to Mexico…”

In July, a convoy of soldiers rolled across the international bridge at Donna and were processed by customs and sent back across.

Just in case you wondered about some of the factors affecting the success rate of Mexico’s military operations against drug gangs.

Tree-dwelling mammals rise to the heights of longevity

The squirrels littering your lawn with acorns as they bound overhead will live to plague your yard longer than the ones that aerate it with their burrows, according to a University of Illinois study.

Scientists know from previous studies that flying birds and bats live longer than earthbound animals of the same size. Milena Shattuck and Scott Williams, doctoral candidates in anthropology, decided to take a closer look at the relationship between habitat and lifespan in mammals, comparing terrestrial and treetop life. They published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The two hypothesized that, like flight, treetop or arboreal dwelling reduces a species’ extrinsic mortality – death from predation, disease and environmental hazards; that is, causes other than age.

“One of the predictions of the evolutionary theory of aging is that if you can reduce sources of extrinsic mortality, you’ll end up exposing some of the late-acting mutations to natural selection, and therefore evolve longer lifespans,” Williams said.

Williams and Shattuck found that for arboreality, the theory holds. Mammals who spend the majority of their time up a tree enjoy longevity over those who scurry along the ground. The pattern holds consistent both on the large scale among all mammals, and also in specific classes the pair studied, such as tree squirrels versus ground squirrels…

This arboreal ancestry may partially explain why humans have such a long lifespan relative to other mammals. As primates descended from the trees, they had to develop new strategies for survival on the ground. Terrestrial primates, including humans, tend to be larger and more social, providing some security from predators and environmental obstacles.

We learned to make better weapons.

Environment plays a key role in reading skills development


So, which #6 is the best reader?

While genetics play a key role in children’s initial reading skills, a new study of twins is the first to demonstrate that environment plays an important role in reading growth over time.

The results give further evidence that children can make gains in reading during their early school years, above and beyond the important genetic factors that influence differences in reading, said Stephen Petrill, lead author of the study…

“We certainly have to take more seriously genetic influences on learning, but children who come into school with poor reading skills can make strides with proper instruction,” Petrill said.

While other studies have shown that both genetics and environment influence reading skills, this is the first to show their relative roles in how quickly or slowly children’s reading skills improve over time.

The study participants were 314 Ohio twins participating in the Western Reserve Reading Project. This study included 135 identical twins and 179 same-sex fraternal twins…

Environmental factors include everything the children experience – how they are cared for by their parents, how much they are read to, the neighborhood they live in, nutrition and their instruction in schools, among other factors…

The findings showed that when children start out reading, both genetics and environment play a role in readings skills, depending on the skills assessed. For word and letter identification, genetics explained about one-third of the test results, while environment explained two-thirds. For vocabulary and sound awareness, it was equally split between genetics and environment. For the speed tests, it was three-quarters genetic.

But when the researchers measured growth in reading skills, environment became much more important, Petrill said.

The single best advantage my parents provided me and my sister was teaching each of us to read before either entered kindergarten. They provided us with the best habit for life – IMHO.

Report on Fort Hood shooting details administrative failure


Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

A Pentagon review released Friday portrayed a systemic breakdown within the military that permitted an Army psychiatrist, now charged with killing 13 people, to advance through the ranks despite concerns from his superiors about his behavior.

The review, the first into the Nov. 5 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Tex., concluded that the Department of Defense was poorly prepared to defend itself from internal threats well beyond the single case of the military doctor accused of the killings, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan…

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in comments about the review at a Pentagon news conference on Friday, said the Defense Department was still focused on fighting external threats and previous conflicts and had not paid enough attention to workplace violence and any “self-radicalization” within its ranks.

“It is clear that, as a department, we have not done enough to adapt to the evolving domestic internal security threat to American troops and military facilities that has emerged over the past decade,” Mr. Gates said. “In this area, as in so many others, this department is burdened by 20th-century processes and attitudes mostly rooted in the cold war.”

The review recommended that “several officers” be referred to the Army for possible punishment for not properly supervising Major Hasan, but it did not provide names or a specific number…

Mr. Gates said he was particularly concerned that the military does not seem to be alert to signs of radicalization in its own ranks, to be able to detect its symptoms or to understand its causes. Major Hasan’s commanders and supervisors, he suggested, may have lacked the clear authority or explicit channels for reporting any doubts they had about him. Indeed, troubling information about individuals is often withheld or filed discreetly away instead of being shared, he said.

Then, you promote the truly incompetent and worrisome – effectively kicking them upstairs – to get them out of your hair.

Learning to read? Try talking to a dog

Meet Bailey. She’s a registered therapy dog, but you won’t find her in hospitals or nursing homes. Instead, Bailey makes weekly visits to libraries and schools. She sits quietly or snuggles up to kids as they read her a book. And no, she’s not napping, and the kids don’t have treats in their pockets. She’s actually helping these children learn to read…

The philosophy is simple. Children who are just learning to read often feel judged or intimidated by classmates and adults. But reading to a dog isn’t so scary. It won’t judge, it won’t get impatient, it won’t laugh or correct if the child makes a mistake. In a nutshell, dogs are simply excellent listeners. And for shy kids or slow readers, that can make all the difference.

Kathy Klotz is executive director of Intermountain Therapy Animals, which runs a nationwide program called R.E.A.D. — Reading Education Assistance Dogs. She says there’s another benefit of reading to the dogs that she didn’t anticipate: confidence.
“A factor that we never planned for, that turned out to be really important, is that the child feels like they’re letting the dog understand the story,” she says. “They get to be the teacher, the storyteller, the one who knows more than the dog for a change. …They just blossom when they get to be the one who knows more than the dog.”

The children know they’re not actually teaching the dog, of course, but the for the kids, the idea that they know more than the dog and can share their knowledge is a powerful one. And now that volunteers are aware of that aspect, Klotz says they actively foster the idea of the child as the teacher.

RTFA. Interesting, educational details and processes at work here.

We’ve a similar program here in Santa Fe for several years. Works well and – so far – none of the local bureaucrats or nutballs have gotten in the way. All it does is keep on producing results helping kids to read.