Sagittarius Dwarf – A Tale of Imperial Earth – Forward

During the first three hundred years of human spaceflight no manned spacecraft left the solar system. Humanity had too many environmental, political, social and economic crises to deal with. Rising temperatures, rising sea levels, overpopulation and finally viral and nuclear terrorism.

At the end of the 21st century an alliance of first world nations decided that they’d had it with the rest of the world. They were going to protect what they had; if others disagreed, too bad. The North American Federation (U.S.A. and Canada), Anzus (Australia and New Zealand), the Western Pacific Alliance (Japan, The Philippines, China and Viet Nam), the Nordic/European Community. These along with South Africa, the Central American Confederation and the South American Brotherhood left the moribund UN and formed a united civil/military command dedicated to bringing peace to a world drowning in its own excesses.

Terrorist states were destroyed using century old warheads from the NAF nuclear arsenal. Nothing was left to chance; two hundred fifty million people were killed in the initial barrage (slightly more than double the number killed by terrorists during the previous half century). The lesson was not learned. Six months later another one hundred fifty million people were killed in the second barrage. Western Asia, and portions of central and northern Africa were turned into sheets of glass.

Technological superiority combined with a will to see things through to a conclusion convinced an exhausted world that it was time to stop.

Populations in the occupied territories were disarmed; technology made it impossible to conceal weapons and explosives from the occupation troops. Civilian populations in other nations were relieved of all military style weapons.

During the next two centuries, runaway global warming was halted. Atmosphorming technology was developed to return Earth’s atmosphere to pre-industrial conditions. New population controls were put in place and enforced, even the wealthy, the nobility and politically connected were forced to toe the line. By the beginning of the 24th century global population was again below six billion people.

In 2319 Rivka Helen Nguyen met Howard Jon Ridgebeck at Northern Missouri Tech. She was a theoretical physicist interested in gravity. He was a pioneering mathematician in inter-dimensional field theory. Together they developed a new mathematics which allowed quantum physics and Einsteinian physics to be combined into a long sought unified field theory.

Shortly after being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics (2337) they published their Dark Theory. Dark Theory “proved” the existence of other dimensional spaces within our universe. Thirty years later Jennifer and René Alvarado y Marquez mathematically demonstrated how to gain entry to these other dimensional spaces.

In 2393, working with McKensie-Boeing Astro-Engineering, Jennifer and René developed the first “spatial transition engine.” Along with three dedicated fusion plants it was installed in a small hollowed out nickel-iron asteroid, which had been placed in a geo-sync Martian orbit sixty years before.

It would remain in operation for fifteen seconds following activation. The engine was activated; the asteroid disappeared for fifteen seconds. It reappeared almost where it had been when it was activated. Taking into account the asteroid’s orbit, planetary and solar motion the asteroid had returned to the exact spot it had been in when activated. The existence of other spatial dimensions had been proven – now it remained to prove them practical.

Over the next one hundred fifty years technology was developed to reach a dimensional space which could be used for both transportation and communication that would be the equivalent to Faster-Than-Light in our dimensional space.

In 2570 Tyler Kiritopolis and Myra Ho Chin piloted the Zheng He to the outer limits of the Oort Cloud, some 55,000 AU from the Sun. The trip lasted some twenty-four hours. They had hit their target destination with an error of less than five percent.

After computing their course home to the north of the ecliptic, they again activated the Alvarado Drive and returned to the solar system with a less than two percent error.

By the time the next test flight was ready in 2571, the Bosch/Teledyne Interspatial Communicator was ready and installed. The Zheng He went half the distance to Alpha Centauri in forty-six hours and assorted minutes and seconds. The BTIC worked. Nigh on instantaneous communication halfway to our nearest stellar neighbor.

For better or worse humanity was now loose among the stars.

– – – – –

She found him again looking up into the sky. Again. How many times had she admonished him not to do so? Eights and eights and eights of times, she had lost count long ago. He was going blind and still he kept on.

“Arrcheron, please, do not look so at Light and Heat. It is damaging your sight, you are going blind,” said Alliata.

“Daughter, I know, and, yet, I must continue. There is something about Light and Heat that is not right and I must see it,” the old man replied for the eight of eights time.

“Father, you began claiming this more than a hand of years ago. You cannot explain what you see to others and your eyesight grows weaker each time you look. Perhaps you are wrong or, perhaps, as na’ Sanah says you only see it with your inner eye. In either case, staring at Light and Heat with your eyes open will not help; it will only make you blind.

“Please, father, do as she asks. Go into the caves and open your eye to Light and Heat. It cannot hurt and may hold the answer to the question you are asking. It may be an answer we all need to hear.”

Arrcheron had held this discussion with his daughter eights of times but this time her argument, even though word for word the same as the last time, seemed reasonable. “It is a journey of four hands of days to the Caves of sa’ Dura, daughter. Will you accompany me?”

“I and my two older sons will accompany you father. My husband and our younger children will remain here. na’ Sanah, a younger priestess and two novitiates will also accompany us.”

“na’ Sanah?”

“Yes, na’ Sanah, she said that this time you would listen to me and that both of us must listen to you when you emerge from the cave. And, father, she both looked and sounded sad and worried when she told me this.”

Arrcheron counted eight eights of eight steps a hand of times on his journey into the depths of sa’ Dura. It was cold, damp and dark as the acolyte turned about with his lamp. He would return for Arrcheron in a hand of hours if not summoned earlier by the corded bell.

Arrcheron had never been in a place so dark. He could see neither his white robe nor the hand in front of his eyes; he knew it was there because he touched both his forehead and his nose to prove it. The acolyte’s footsteps died away and the only sounds were slowly dripping water somewhere far back in the cavern and his own breathing.

Well, I’m here, he thought, best get to it.

Seated as he was Arrcheron closed his eyes and imagined he was looking at Light and Heat from his garden bench. And as he did so his inner eye opened and he saw the star. It was not the healthy yellow-white color one usually saw while gazing at the sky. It was a sickly and pulsating greenish-yellow.

As he watched he imagined ages passing and, as they passed, people began to flee from Home. Light and Heat shrank and then grew infinitely larger, brighter and hotter. When the image in his mind cleared, he again saw Home. But a Home burned beyond recognition, a black cinder orbiting a star, dark and dead, giving light and heat no more.

Alone, shivering and, now, terrified, Arrcheron pulled the cord at his side that would summon the acolyte into the depths of sa’ Dura, but he could already see a flickering light in the cavern. “Master, it has been a hand of hours since I left you and was just about to enter when I heard you pull the belled cord just now. I see you have not touched the food or water I left with you. Would you like some before we begin our return to the surface?”

“No,” replied a shaken and still shaking Arrcheron, “I have seen not enough and yet I have seen too much.”

– – – – –

The Priestess was ancient, more than two eights of eight years had she seen. Her body was failing but her mind and will were still strong; she and those attending her could see that, but, still she lived. Why? What was the reason; was there a reason? She did not fear the long night coming; it could only offer surcease from the aches in her muscles and bones.

She had loved and been loved; indeed, she had several great-great-grandchildren. She had accomplished much; indeed, she had served as Priestess longer than most led adult lives. But still she went on.

Her nights were growing longer. Her dreams were beginning to last from one night into another, but she could not recall them after she awakened. And what was the purpose of a dream one could not recall?

The first storm of late autumn had blown through that afternoon and Safur ‘na Dahl had felt every clap of thunder in her bones. A glass of summer wine eased her into sleep, but it was a sleep unlike any she had experienced.

She began to float. Her sheets and blanket did not impede her and neither did the walls and ceiling of her bedroom. Soon she floated above the city and in a little while she saw the curve of the world. As she moved toward the sunrise she could see Light and Heat, but a Light and Heat unlike she’d ever seen before. It was a sickly and pulsating green and, while she watched in horrified fascination, her people fled from its sight.

She soon passed into space past the orbit of Moon and into the space between stars. She saw a small rocky world but it had no surface water. Later another world with air and water but it too seemed not right. The dream continued and Safur floated on and on and suddenly there they were. Four planets each circling its own small yellow star almost within reach of each other. The first would be New Home, a place of refuge and the others would be settled by the children of New Home. Never again would the Children of Light and Heat be in the danger they faced today.

Safur na’ Dahl woke from her dream exhausted and dehydrated. She had been asleep for a hand of eights days. Brushing aside the concerns of her attendants, who thought she would never again awake, Safur demanded to be taken outside. In her garden she pointed to the northeast toward a line of stars at the edge of a void. “That is where we must go,” she said, “That is where we shall find refuge from the storm of heat and light that will destroy our Home. That is where we fill find and build New Home.”

Exhausted, Safur collapsed and was carried in to her bed. She slept and her breathing slowed. At the end a smile creased her lips and she slipped into that long night satisfied with the refuge shown and a life well-lived.

Distracted Driving

Distracted Driving, as the term is currently in use, is a new problem having to do with the recent spate of new personal  electronic gadgets we carry. But it really is not that new. Just ask your parents or grandparents about driving with you in the car as kids. Or while trying to tune an old AM analog radio. Or while “making out” while driving to or from the drive-in movie or anyplace else.

When I was seventeen I was hit by a woman who ran a stop sign. She was trying to deal with her two rugrats (Distracted driving?) and took off the front of my dad’s car. None of the four of us wore seatbelts (this was in 1967/68) and child seats? What were they? My dad got ticked off at me because I hadn’t noticed that she was going to run the stop sign.

Oh yeah, no serious injuries—just a bloody good scare.

Buick Enclave

We traded in my wife’s 2001 Jaguar S-Type (read too expensive to repair and maintain) on a 2014 Buick Enclave. Nice car—roomy, comfortable and quiet; 15-16 mpg in town and 22+ on the open road.

This vehicle has a back-up camera. Excellent. You can see if anyone is directly behind you and you won’t back over them. But then what? As you back out of your driveway, or parking space, do you continue to look at the screen and see where you are going or do you look out your windows to see what else is taking place. (You know the guy who drives 35 mph through the parking lot with his eyes on his shopping list wondering where to find Veet in the supermarket or, in my neighborhood, the guy who comes onto our frontage road at 55+ with his eyes on the high school cheerleader jogging by in her short-shorts.) Look to the front, both sides, the back and don’t get lost in looking only at the back-up camera screen in the car.

This car also has bluetooth. My cellphone automatically connects to the car’s entertainment system and when I get a call it is a “hands free” legal cellphone call.

This morning a minute or two after I left the house I got a call from the plumber. (I’d been playing “phone-tag” with the him for the last couple of days.) I spoke with him only for a couple of minutes but . . . I’d been approaching a STOP sign when I answered the phone. When we ended the call I found that I’d: stopped, made a right hand turn, crossed some railroad tracks, stopped and made a left hand turn and driven a half mile further on. And, I recalled doing none of it.

Distracted driving, indeed.

I don’t know about you but it scares the bejeebers out of me.

More Piffles

My grand-uncle, A. C. Laforge, once wrote a newspaper column in Los Angeles (pre-WW2) called Pillars of Piffles. Today it’s my Piffle column.

Piffle 1

The Supreme Court decided that “closely held” (meaning family owned) corporations can opt out of providing contraceptive coverage for women who are covered by its health insurance because that is against the owners’ religious beliefs. I never realized that a corporation held religious beliefs. A corporation limits an investor’s liability to what he or she has invested in the corporation. A corporation’s liabilities do not devolve on the owners but the investor’s religious beliefs are attributed to the corporation?

Piffle 2

The just took its first step in eliminating agency fees for labor unions. Agency fees cover union expenses incurred in negotiating and enforcing contracts for those covered by the contract but not belonging to the union.

“”It’s not fair; I don’t believe in unions; I shouldn’t be forced to pay dues (you aren’t paying dues, but leave that be for today).

Let’s make believe that you’re a public school teacher in California a year into the “Great Recession” and there are no unions. Your school district’s income has just gone down ten percent (or, if you know the actual amount insert it instead). The district can do one or more of the following: re-negotiate all of the individual employee contracts; cut the number of school days; cut the number of employees; cut health insurance; cut everyone’s salary (or a combination of these). Let us examine these options.

1) Re-negotiate individual employee contracts. You really believe that school districts that employ a thousand or more teachers, administrators, counselors  and classified people are going to do this for everyone? Or, maybe, you think cuts will happen to others but not you because you are special? Uh-hu, get real it isn’t going to happen that way.

2) Cut the number of school days. Lessens the amount of time students have to learn. If we did this we’d be doing a disservice to students and to society. We can’t cut the number of days. (And, if we cut the number of days, parents would get mad at us for increasing the number of days they’d have to find and pay for child care.)

3) Cut the number of employees. We could do this. It reduces salary and health benefit costs. It may raise class sizes but only by a few in each class. (If you teach middle school English or Math in Orange, you’ve just gone from forty to forty-four students in each of your six classes and added twenty-four student contacts every day.)

4) Cut health insurance. Look at the actual cost to the school district of your health insurance, not just what you currently have taken out of your paycheck. Now see what it looks like if your total compensation is cut ten percent. Yes, both your union and district can tell you what those numbers are. Every year Santa Ana USD sends its teachers a summary showing exactly what their total compensation , or if you will, their total cost to the district is. Once you include the total cost of things like health benefits and STRS payments it becomes quite a bit more than just what you see in your paycheck. (And, yes, your union’s bargaining team has to consider all of these monies when it negotiates your contract.)

5) Cut everyone’s pay twelve percent. Quite fair, everyone shares equally. . . . twelve percent? Yeah, twelve percent. Eighty percent of your district’s revenue goes to personnel costs; the other twenty percent goes to books, paper, janitorial supplies, etc. (Oh, you want to cut those too and have your pay cut only ten percent. OK, be prepared to go to Office Depot or Staples for the paper or toner or whiteboard markers you need for your room.)

Think about it.Breakfast 2

Piffle 3

Went to fix breakfast this morning and cat happened.Breakfast 1 Smoke was feeling lonely. In and out between my legs in the kitchen – again and again. I like you Smoke but, please, wait until I’m sitting down; I don’t need to fall in the kitchen.Breakfast 3

Teacher Layoffs by Senority or Merit

Today both the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register published articles on the PACE/USC poll regarding teacher layoffs. According to this poll a majority of respondents disagreed withe the “last in, first out” policy for teacher layoffs and agreed with the recent Vergara v. California ruling.

As a retired teacher, union member and member of my union’s contract bargaining team I wonder what would replace seniority in deciding layoffs.

First, would teachers be rated as groups: Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor, etc., or something like ranking all teachers from first to last? And, would this be by Last CV Cardindividual school, district wide, level taught (Primary, Elementary, Secondary)? Would “extra credit” be given to teachers who also coached or served on committees? (Oh yeah, would these ratings be public and updated with each year’s evaluations?)

Second, would layoffs be decided on a district level or by individual schools or by the level affected?

Third, would this system be imposed state-wide or be left to each individual school district to decide (local control)?

Fourth, would any of this be subject to collective bargaining?

Fifth, would there be any parental input regarding layoffs? For example, parent likes a low-rated teacher and wants to keep him or parent dislikes a high-rated teacher and wants her gone?

I am inclined to believe that this won’t be solved very soon.

HEY! I just had a thought. If we’re going to be rating teachers objectively, we can rate them from first to last for the whole state and, maybe, for the entire country. And, maybe, we can find an objective way to rate politicians, reporters, clerks, waiters, parents, pastors, etc. Then we can publish those statistics.

Or not.

 

Teachers, Evaluations and Tenure

Teachers

There is an old saying about teachers that goes: Those who can do; those who can’t teach. It is pure unadulterated b——t; hateful, hurtful and untrue. There are more than a quarter million teachers in California educating more than six million students. Most of them are honest, hardworking, competent people dedicated to their profession and students. Many of them are truly outstanding.

Earlier this week Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu, in Vergara v. California, threw out California’s teacher tenure process and seniority rules. What he and others fail to understand is that this will not help our educational system. Tenure is not the problem. The problems are inherent in our socio-economic-political system.

That Judge Treu does not understand this can be seen with his comment about a bad teacher making twenty-eight children suffer. Twenty-eight students in a class? Where has Judge Treu been? How many classes in California public schools are limited to just twenty-eight students? Ask a California public school teacher how many students are in his or her classroom. In most cases you will get numbers from thirty to forty or more students. In middle school, junior high and high school most teachers will simply stare at you in disbelief when you suggest that they have classrooms of twenty-eight students. Twenty-eight is a scheduling accident quickly “corrected” by the administration.

Go on a visit to your nearest public middle or high school. Walk into each of the classrooms. Twenty-eight desks with twenty-eight students? In your dreams. For elementary school walk by the classrooms and count the backpacks outside each room.

In grades 7 through 12 most teachers teach one or two subjects and teach five or six classes per day. Now, do the math.

5 classes/day times 28 students/class = 140 student contacts/day

6 classes/day times 28 students/class = 168 student contacts/day

More realistic numbers would be:

5 classes/day times 36 students/class = 180 student contacts/day

6 classes/day times 36 students/class = 216 student contacts/day

Of course there are classes of forty or more students; think of the poor math teacher in an Orange USD middle school teaching six classes of forty students/day – that’s 240 student contacts/day. (I still shudder at the thought of music and PE classes of fifty and more students in each class.) Now think of lesson plans, grading student work and disciplining groups of teenagers this size.

Judge Treu needs to go look at the real world.

Evaluations

Teachers in California have college degrees and teaching credentials – this equates to four years of traditional college and an added year for the credential, which includes student teaching – yes, actual classroom teaching before you get a credential. Many, if not most, California teachers go on to get advanced degrees and take classes to improve their teaching. School districts provide additional professional development opportunities, some of which might actually be useful, for teachers.

If these programs do their jobs properly only competent and qualified people become teachers. If there are unqualified people teaching in California public schools we need to look at the system that produces and hires them.

A teacher needs a college degree in the subject he or she teaches. If a teacher does not have subject matter knowledge sufficient to teach that subject where should we look to correct the problem – how about the college that granted that degree?

A teacher needs a credential certifying that he or she is competent to teach. If a teacher is not competent to teach where should we look to correct the problem – how about the college that ran the credentialing program?

A teacher needs to be hired by a school district in order to teach. If a teacher is not competent to teach where should we look to correct the problem – how about the personnel director, principal or other designated administrator who hired that teacher?

Maybe there are some teachers who go through the above educational and hiring process and we only find out later that they are not suited to the job – what then? Well, most of them drop out of teaching within the first five years. The actual on-going process of teaching weeds them out. What about other “incompetent” teachers? What is the actual problem and what is its solution?

How about the “too powerful” teachers’ unions? Teachers’ unions do not want to incompetent teachers to be in our classrooms teaching. Teachers’ unions want all teachers to have due process. What does this mean? It means that in order to fire an “incompetent” teacher the school district must prove that the teacher is indeed incompetent.

Teachers do not want the incompetent in their profession. They want the best for their students and their profession. Just ask a teacher how much he or she likes teaching next to the classroom of someone who can’t keep order or who shows movies a bit too often. Just ask a teacher about getting students from someone who has not adequately prepared those student for next class. (For example, an Algebra 2 teacher whose new students only got through half the Algebra 1 curriculum.)

How does one determine that a teacher is incompetent? Evaluate the teacher. How? What constitutes and evaluation?

How about a survey of parents? Johnny got an “A” from Mr. B – he’s a great teacher. Johnny got an “F” from Mr. C – he should be fired.

How about a survey of students? Ms. H gave homework every night – she should be fired. Ms. Q showed videos twice a week and let us use our phones in class – I learned a lot; she was great.

Do you really think you won’t see any of those two examples above? What a nightmare!

How about we have other teachers evaluate the teachers? You want an incompetent teacher to evaluate another teacher? Oh, wait, only competent teachers get to evaluate other teachers. Huh?

Assuming the above is not a problem, where does a teacher find the time to evaluate another teacher? You teach a full day and you still have lessons to plan and work to grade, oh, and you’d like to spend some time with your family. Wait, the district will give you release days to do the evaluations. Huh? I still have to do lesson plans and grade student work, contact parents and “maybe” re-teach some stuff because the substitute wasn’t a math (or science or French, etc.) teacher.

Evaluation is the job of the administration. Administrators have been, or should be, trained in evaluating teachers. They should be able to discern whether or not a teacher is doing a good job. But administrators must actually do the job. An administrator must actually observe the teacher teaching and not just once or twice a year for half an hour. An administrator should be in teacher classrooms everyday. Every. Single. Day. The administrator must see how the teacher performs day in and day out under all kinds of conditions.

The administration needs to know how a teacher performs under both good and bad conditions. How does the teacher present new material; how does the teacher guide student work; how does the teacher review with the students; how does the teacher evaluate (grade) a student; how does a teacher handle discipline, contact parents and relate to colleagues? Done properly, this requires a great deal of time. Think of evaluating teachers on a middle school campus of sixteen hundred students, eighty teachers, a principal, and two assistant principals. How many hours of administration time would be devoted to adequately evaluate each and every teacher?

And, how much money would this time equate to? A great deal more than is spent now. But, if you weed out the problems early, or later on as they develop, you would actually save money, time and aggravation.

Tenure

Tenure was not put in place to keep incompetent teachers from being fired. It was put in place to give teachers the protection of due process. If school administrators adequately evaluated teachers you would not get to the point of, as the Orange County Register put it, “it can cost $450,000 or more in legal costs and take as long as 10 years to dismiss a bad teacher.”

Have you ever been fired, demoted or transferred because you didn’t get along with your boss or a new boss? Of course not, we all realize that does not happen in the private sector. Could it happen in our public schools? Of course not, the administration always has the best interests of their teachers and students foremost in their minds.

Just ask the young teacher hired on temporary contract and let go after a year so he cannot build up seniority.

Just ask the teacher who has fifteen years of good evaluations but got a bad one this year about her relationship with the new principal.

Just ask the teacher who got moved from teaching algebra to low level math after telling the principal he wouldn’t volunteer for unpaid lunch duty next year.

Uh huh. Yeah, it happens. Teachers and administrators are both human with a human’s virtues and faults.

That’s why we have tenure.

Furthermore

Add to all of the above, inadequate funding, non-uniform funding, barrios, ghettos, aging school facilities, immigration, language, etc.

Judge Treu just does not get it. Of course, neither do the administrators, politicians and ivory tower types who’ve never taught in the K-12 trenches; and, all the other adults who’ve never seen a working classroom from any perspective other than as a student – who didn’t want to be their either.

Summer 2014 is almost here. In my old district – Orange Unified – today is the last student day. My wife’s district finishes the academic year next week. Have a great summer folks, and for those of you retiring, a great retirement. Those of you who will return to the classroom next year have all of my admiration and sympathy. My admiration for the job you do and the dedication you bring to it; my sympathy for the conditions under which you work.

Those who can – do.

Those who can’t – criticize.

Those who understand – teach.

Those who become enlightened – retire.