© Bonnie Schupp, Photographer
Fells Point, Baltimore, Maryland

U.S. Government  Poisons Citizens

It was in the mid-1920’s during Prohibition. The government was frustrated because people were breaking the law and, in fact, drinking more than ever. Prohibition wasn’t working. The illegal alcohol trade was thriving and growing. This story and more is told in Deborah Blum’s fascinating book: Poisoner’s Handbook, murder and the birth of forensic medicine in jazz age New York.

To discourage this alarming trend, in 1906 the U.S. government began requiring alcohol manufacturers to denature industrial alcohol. The easiest way to do this was to add extra methyl, or wood,  alcohol into the mixture which made it more lethal. In response, bootlegger chemists  found a way to filter out much of the methyl alcohol. The spirits were still more poisonous than traditional grain alcohol but not as much as it might have been.

Congress then took tougher measures so that alcohol would be so deadly that chemists would be unable to do anything with it. On December 28, 1926, Dr. Charles Norris, chief medical examiner in New York City, stated publically:

“The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol. It knows what the bootleggers are doing with it and yet it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States Government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible.”

Not victims but law-breakers

Wayne Wheeler, general counsel of the Anti-Saloon League of America, responded that these “so-called victims” had broken the law and deserved no sympathy for their behavior. The next day, the Treasury Department announced the new requirement that denatured alcohol be even more poisonous. Methyl alcohol amounts would be at least doubled. 

Chemists and pathologists in New York City’s medical examiner’s office were outraged that their government would adopt a policy known to kill large numbers of people.  And most of the victims were the poor. The wealthy could afford higher-quality alcohol and often partied with their bootleggers. But the poor could only afford cheaper stuff and straight wood alcohol. 

Staggering statistics

The statistics for 1926 are rather staggering: 1200 in New York City had been sickened or blinded or both because they had imbibed some form of industrial alcohol. In addition, 400 had died, most from New York’s lower east side.  Who knew how many others were suffering from the effects of poison on their nervous systems. 

When comparisons were made between the before- and after-Prohibition statistics, it was obvious things weren’t working: 

Before Prohibition, at Bellevue Hospital alone, each year there were about a dozen cases of moonshine and wood alcohol poisoning with about a quarter of them being fatal. During Prohibition, during a single year in 1926, the same hospital treated 716 people for alcoholic hallucinations, blindness and paralysis because of poisoned alcohol. Some 61 of these had died. 

Charles Norris’s office analyzed bottles from several sources. Every drink contained methyl alcohol but they also found gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine and acetone! 

Norris said, “My opinion, based on actual experience of the medical examiner’s staff and myself, is that there is actually no Prohibition. All the people who drank before Prohibition are drinking now—provided they are still alive.”

Journalists criticize government

Columnist Heywood Broun wrote in the New York World, “The Eighteenth is the only amendment which carries the death penalty.” The Evening World claimed the federal government to be a mass poisoner and added that no administration had been more successful in “undermining the health of its own people.”

The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Normally, no American government would engage in such business. It would not and does not set a trap gun loaded with nails to catch a counterfeiter. It would not put ‘Rough on Rats’ [a rat poisoning used at that time] on a cheese sandwich even to catch a mail robber. It would not poison postage stamps to get a citizen known to be misusing the mails. It is only in the curious fanaticism of Prohibition that any means, however barbarous, are considered justified.”

Writer Deborah Blum has done a good job of presenting facts in a most readable way.  We learn about poisoners who caused grueling deaths for their victims but who got off because forensic science was just beginning and not yet trusted. And we learn about our own government’s role in the death of its citizens. I am only halfway through this book but am sure there will be much more of interest in the next chapters.

What if?

Consider the anti-smoking campaign. Suppose our government were to mandate that nicotine be increased in all cigarettes sold?  Nicotine seems to help calm some people and might be purported to help people lose weight but it is also addictive and long-time cigarette smoking is responsible for some diseases.  If Congress were to pass a law saying that more “poison” had to be in each cigarette, would this result in less smoking? Probably not. It didn’t work with the Prohibition.

On the other hand, think about what might result if pot were de-criminalized. But that’s a topic for another blog. Here's more information on marijuana law reform efforts here.

Reflection on Imperfection

(c) Bonnie J. Schupp

Refection on Imperfection
                a spoken word poem

‘Tis the season for unreason
when green spills from wallets
of those believing in traditional pleasing.
‘Tis the season when people pine for a fine Christmas tree—
white pine, balsam fir, white spruce, Fraser fir, Douglas fir, scotch pine, whatever...
but it must be a wintergreen, evergreen, ever-perfect, perfectly-shaped Barbie doll bush.

In the nippy air, hundreds of Barbies form green lines
with straight spines, very vertical trunks, ample branches
each with a single perfectly-pointed top
waiting for its traditional spot up the
angel’s ...tush.

Partly hidden ornaments adorn lush limbs,
shiny balls peer from green mazes
and candy canes lavish properly perky
branch tips.

But Barbie’s bushy branches
leave little room for ornaments
lest adornments detract from her own
flawless beauty.

* * *

I wander far and wide, bucking the tide
wondering why I must settle for popular perception.
I search for Barbie’s ugly cousin,
a form, a shape that doesn’t fit the mold,
flat-chested for small house

It’s the wind-blown hair, the hole in the sock, the scrape on the knee, the spaghetti stain on the shirt, the pimple on the nose that tell a story
of  living.

I like a crooked smile, spaces between teeth, scraggly hair, spindly legs
and skinny arms that reach out
open to discovery.

I want a tree that doesn’t hide,
that opens wide to embrace pride
held in accessories’ histories, their stories and the
love they imply.

I seek a spindly tree, the ugly factor with character,
one willing to show open spaces,
places for treasured ornaments grown dear over the years...

those that have lost their shine, are ragged from playful cats, have missing parts, the hippo of bedtime stories, an apple from a student, a violin recalling cacophonous practice, clothes-pin soldiers formed by tiny hands, hummingbirds like ones covering a morning field years ago in the Grand Canyon, a plastic dog a reminder of a lost pet, baby’s first Christmas 25-years ago, grandmother’s crocheted hobbyhorse and mouse, eloquent velvet-covered and pearl-studded balls made by a nearly blind friend
long gone.

And then I see it—the orphan cousin in a heap
apart from the collection,
far from customers’ inspection.
I reflect on its simple beauty.
Missing branches leave
room for us.

I like my new bare and slightly crooked tree,
I like the way you hang your hand-painted sand dollar next to my beaded bird.
It is in the spaces where
we hang our love.

(c) Bonnie J. Schupp

Size Matters

Bill Gates from Wikipedia

Size matters— but Bill Gates seems to think it doesn’t.

I’m talking about education and class size. Recent reports show U.S. students to be average compared to world education rankings. According to Yahoo News, Bill Gates suggests that bigger classes and fewer teachers who are paid more will help solve our educational problems. 


Gates spoke to the Council of Chief State School Officers on November 19, 2010. (Read his speech here.) He says more teachers and smaller class sizes have not led to increased student achievement. “One of the most expensive assumptions embedded in school budgets is the belief that reducing class sizes improves student achievement...What if we identified the most effective teachers and offered them extra pay for taking on more students, or teaching kids who are behind, or teaching in the toughest schools?”

The thinking of this supposedly smart man has taken on a simplistic tone that is unrealistic to anyone who has been "in the trenches." That kind of thinking is not what I would have expected of Bill Gates. He is only a little right and very wrong. When he says great teachers are vital to student achievement, he’s correct. Teacher proficiency does make a difference. However, even the best teachers will not succeed under certain conditions.
I’m afraid Gates is looking at education in business terms. It bothered me several years ago when Baltimore City began turning over some schools to businesses. The theory was that you could run schools like a successful business to produce successful students. “Produce” is a key word here. We are not running a production line. We are dealing with human beings in a complex environment.

Math facts for Bill Gates

However, if Gates, the business man, wants to look at education in terms of numbers, I can throw out a little math:

A middle school teacher—say a language arts teacher—has 5 classes a day. Each class has 30 students. Each class period is 50 minutes. Teacher load = 150 students a day. Let’s look at how this computes: 

30 students for 50 minutes = 1 2/3 minutes of individual attention per student per class period

And then there’s grading. A language arts teacher is supposed to teach writing. If this teacher gives a writing assignment, s/he will have 150 assignments to grade. If s/he gives just one minute attention to each assignment, that equals 2 ½ hours just to minimally assess one assignment.

I don’t want to get too complicated here but where is this 2 ½ hours going to come from? (Don’t get me started on team meetings, parent conferences, phone messages to return and logistics for teachers who have no secretary and who get one 50-minute planning period per day and a 25-minute lunch period—maybe.) And when is this teacher going to plan for tomorrow’s lesson? Don’t forget that this teacher probably has a family and children and s/he is expected to take graduate classes which require the teacher to do assignments for the night class. 


I’m merely bringing up the math of class size. I haven’t even started on the human element. A middle school teacher might deal with 150 students a day. On any given day, any one student might act like an 8-year-old or a 16-year-old. And on any given day, students within that 30-student class might range in age behavior from age 8 to 16.  Remember, we’re dealing with raging hormones here.

Every middle school student knows that the larger the class, the more s/he can “get away” with. The teacher is less likely to catch shenanigans and bullying because there are just too many children to deal with at once.

And don’t forget the problems students bring to school from dysfunctional family situations and their own volatile emotions.

Bill, before you claim to have the solution to the education problems in our country, why don’t you teach in a middle school for a year? You’ll have a better grasp of classroom math and you might begin to realize that schools cannot be run like a business.

Bill, after you've experienced reality, you will know positively that size does matter.



Absolutely the best dentist:

Encouraging mediocrity:

Teacher pay:

What students remember:

MSPAP and student attitude

A look at math in Language Arts:

Stop blaming teachers:

Teach? I’d love to:



Teaching about gun safety (on top of everything else):


Alternet article:

Right Brain/Left Brain

When Artists and Engineers Join Hands

“That was fun! It gave me a chance to play in the sandbox with others.” Gary Mauler was speaking metaphorically about his experience mentoring MICA and Hopkins students in a unique class,  Collaborative Smart Textiles Research Lab.

It was a coming together of the Maryland Institute College of Art Fiber Department and the Johns Hopkins University Digital Media Center. The class was held at MICA. I was invited by Gary to attend student presentations on December 15.  Curious about the collaboration between engineers and artists, I went to learn about new ideas and new ways of doing things.

This presentation was an interesting event on several levels. First, original ideas always fascinate me. Second, I’m drawn to art in its many forms. But it was most intriguing because I saw demonstrations that merged unlikely partners, suggesting new ways of collaborating in the future.

Right or left?

It was an example of how diverse thinkers, such as artists and engineers, can successfully work together. Artists process information in an intuitive and layered way. They see the whole picture, pull their creativity from the visual right brain. Later in the process, they grapple with the details. Engineers are more sequential and  use the left brain which processes information more analytically and sequentially, examining the parts and then putting them together to realize the whole.

This might be the place to give a little background information about how Gary, the left-brained engineer who works at Northrup Grumman, became involved with right-brained artists. Ten years ago I met Gary shopping in a store when he asked my advice about paint color. (I've learned over the years how good Gary is about making connections wherever he goes.) This led to an invitation to the haunted trail that his Boy Scout troop was working on. One thing led to another and we remained friends.

Gary Mauler, Photo by Bonnie Schupp
I could see right away that Gary was 99.9% engineer. When I tried to discuss art with him, it fell flat. As a right brain person, I was amazed at what he was missing. Of course, as a left brain person, I’m sure he was amazed at my lack of understanding in his field.

I began to tease him about how he needed to connect more with the art world and told him it would open a new world to him. Apparently he was listening because he reached out to MICA students and invited them to participate in his annual Robot Fest. (He had moved from haunted trails to robots by then.)

His involvement with the MICA art community continued. This past semester, once a week for 15 weeks, Gary drove from his Anne Arundel County home in Severn to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore City to help students problem solve as they worked on their semester projects.  His role was as a volunteer for the joy of it, although he later mentioned that it was a learning experience for him as well.

Show and tell

For the Wash & Wear Electronics student presentations, twelve students showed and talked about  ten projects. You can read an excellent article about it in What Weekly. Annet Couwenberg, Fiber Faculty at MICA, and James Roubelle, Chair of Interaction Design and Art, worked with Joan Freedman, Direction of JHU Digital Media Center to make this class happen.

My two favorite projects were Emily Cudworth’s LED Gallop Boots and  Peter Ebeid-Atalla’s Midi Puppet.

LED Gallop Boots, Photo by Bonnie J. Schupp
Emily designed horse boots with LEDs that light up when the hoof  strikes the ground and shuts off when it lifts. This project shows both artistic and practical elements. Light drawings of the horse’s movements can be purely serendipitous artistic joy. At the same time, this might have some practical applications in studying equestrian movement related to health problems or it might be applied to safely issues. It is most interesting that Emily studied the past and then carried knowledge toward new ideas. Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic work focused on study of motion of both humans and animals. And in the 1990’s, children delighted in light-up sneakers which became a rage.

Midi Puppet, Photo by Bonnie Schupp
I was also interested in Peter Ebeid-Atalla’s Midi Puppet. He demonstrated how he could control sound with a “performance-aware midi glove.” Most interesting were his comments during the question and answer session. He eloquently related how exciting it was to share an idea and have his idea validated by people who said it might be possible. He spoke about the excitement of ideas that could be brought to fruition. His eyes lit up with enthusiasm and possibilities.

Step out of your comfort zone

There are lessons to be learned here. When diverse thinkers work together, it’s a win-win situation. This doesn’t mean only right-brain/left-brain thinkers. It also has implications for collaborations that are cross-age, cross-gender, cross-generation and cross-culture. We need to stop working with only people who think like ourselves and reach out to those who think unlike us. 

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” ~ Neale Donald Walsch

Thinking on the Edge About Privacy

Danny Hillis (photo from Wikipedia)
Just thinking...

Want some thought-provoking reading? Try Edge ( You’ll find lots of questions and many different takes on possible answers. The latest group of essays deal with the issue of privacy, a current topic of interest in light of Wikileaks.

First a little background:The Edge Organization is a science and technology think tank of intellectuals...some of the most interesting minds in the world. According to its Web site, its purpose is “to promote inquiry into and discussion of intellectual, philosophical, artistic and literary issues, as well as to work for the intellectual and social achievement of society." It was established as a nonprofit foundation in 1988.

A part of this foundation is “The Third Culture” which consists of thinkers who address the meaning of life and how we define ourselves.

Among the brilliant minds in this group is  Danny Hillis, born in Baltimore, who used to work in imagineering at Disney. He also founded the Long Now Foundation which proposes a project to build a clock designed to function for millennia.

Danny Hillis has recently asked a question that many of us have been thinking about lately:..the issue of privacy.  “The question of secrecy in the information age is clearly a deep social (and mathematical) problem, and well worth paying attention to. When does my right to privacy trump your need for security? Should a democratic government be allowed to practice secret diplomacy? Would we rather live in a world with guaranteed privacy or a world in which there are no secrets? If the answer is somewhere in between, how do we draw the line?”

Go here to read responses from some interesting thinkers:

You might also try answering this question for yourself. Maybe you'd also like to think about some of the annual questions that have been asked in the past.

2005 "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?”
2006 "What is your dangerous idea"?
2007 "What are you optimistic about? Why?"
2008  "What have you changed your mind about?"
2009 "What will change everything? What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?"
2010 "How has the Internet changed the way you think?"

Just thinking...

Margaret Chase Smith - A Woman of Firsts

Margaret Chase Smith photo from Wikipedia
Today is the birth date of Margaret Chase Smith
December 14, 1897 - May 29, 1995

So little recognized for these things, Margaret Chase Smith was a woman of firsts:

* first woman in history to have her name placed in nomination for the U.S. Presidency

* first woman to be elected to both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate

* first woman from Maine to serve in Congress

She was also one of the earliest opponents of Senator Joseph McCarthy and many remember her “Declaration of Conscience” speech in 1950 directed at fellow Republicans (she was a staunch Republican).

Some parts of her famous speech are quoted below:

“I think that it is high time that we remembered that we have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution. I think that it is high time that we remembered that the Constitution, as amended, speaks not only of the freedom of speech, but also of trial by jury instead of trial by accusation.”

“Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism: The right to criticize. The right to hold unpopular beliefs. The right to protest. The right of independent thought.”

“Today our country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred in the United States Senate to spread like cancerous tentacles of "know nothing, suspect everything" attitudes.”

“But I don't want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny-fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear.”

In 1964 Smith's name was placed in nomination for the U.S. Presidency. She lost out at the Republican Convention to Barry Goldwater.

One final Margaret Chase Smith quote:

“I believe that in our constant search for security we can never gain any peace of mind until we are secure in our own soul.”

Let's remember this remarkable woman on this day.

Letter From the Anne Arundel County Muslim Council

(Pause for thought: I've bought my last two computers from Rudy who owns a computer store near me, Odyssey Computers. I've had excellent service from him and am always treated as a friend. He is a Muslim and a U.S. citizen and has shared this letter with me.)

Anne Arunde County Muslim Council
Letter from the Anne Arundel County Muslim Council

The Anne Arundel County Muslim Council (AACMC) condemns any terrorist attack or attempt to harm or threaten any of our American citizens’ lives and for that matter any human life. The Islam calls for preserving all human lives regardless of their belief. We at the AACMC work very hard to network with the community at large to prevent any misguided Muslims from committing any crime against our beloved United States of America or any human in the World.

However the AACMC is very disappointed in the pattern of entrapment that is used by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to deceive and lure misguided Muslims into schemes that result in their arrests. While it is understood that safety and security of citizens is important, the use of entrapment specifically and exclusively with Muslim individuals is deplorable. This type of treatment is not applied to other ethnic groups suggesting that only Muslims are involved in the criminal activity worthy of this type of attention. This profiling feeds the Islamophobic retaliatory behaviors and emotion that has been stirred up lately.

These types of sting operations, and the reports of arrests, stimulate unjustified attacks on Muslims and their community centers or houses of worship. We sincerely hope that the Muslims in Maryland do not suffer the same repercussions that occurred in Oregon after the report of a bombing attempt by a young Muslim there.

In addition, AACMC calls all Muslims to take seriously comments that include threats of violence and report the people making these statements to the appropriate authorities: the local police or directly to the FBI.


Col. Rudwan Abu-rumman , Ret.
President – Anne Arundel County Muslim Council
Governer's Commission on Middle East American Affairs

Down With George Fox, Up With Walter Mills

Walter Mills, Courtesy Photo appearing in Afro
December 3, 2010

“The worst white teacher is better than the best black teacher.”

This outrageous statement was made by George Fox, former Anne Arundel County Public Schools superintendent.  He spoke during a trial where Walter Mills, a principal at Parole Elementary School in Annapolis, had filed a lawsuit against the Anne Arundel County Board of Education. Thurgood Marshall was Mills' attorney.

The year? 1939. The issue? Black teachers were paid less than white teachers. Marshall won the suit.

End of the story? No. It bothers me that the school where I taught, George Fox Middle in Pasadena, Maryland, is named after this superintendent. How can we ask middle school students to be proud of their school when it’s named after a bigot?

A much better name would be Walter Mills Middle School, a name worth living up to. Walter Mills fought for what was right and made a difference. 

Maybe Walter Mills had no direct connection to George Fox Middle School, but then again, neither did Fox.  Wouldn't it be poetic justice if the name George Fox were replaced by Walter Mills ?

Note: Obviously the story is not so brief. It is a fascinating one. There’s no need for me to rehash all the facts when you can read more about these two men (see below). You read and decide if my suggestion is a good one.

You can also visit the Banneker-Douglas Museum in Annapolis which has an exhibit on Walter Mills through April 2:

Loring Cornish - Visionary Artist

Loring Cornish's mosaic glass house on Parkwood Avenue in Baltimore.
Photo © by Bonnie Schupp

Artist Loring Cornish standing on glass floor in a room inside his house. Photo © by Bonnie Schupp.

When you see Loring Cornish’s art, you can’t help but become a part of it. Stand outside his glass house studios on Parkwood Avenueand and you’ll understand why. Yes, it’s a glass house but you don’t see through.  Both you and your surroundings will be reflected in hundreds of mirrored mosaic pieces. His work captures both imagination and reflection of a different sort.

My husband and I first met Loring when he exhibited at the AVAM, the American Visionary Art Museum. He is not a trained artist but a visionary. He says in his artist statement: “I’m not a trained artist; they call me a visionary, an ‘outsider’ artist. My work comes out of my relationship with God. While I worship, I create, and while I create, I worship God.”

Cornish's fabulous glass bathroom (but with a glassless toilet seat).          Photo © by Bonnie Schupp. 

An out-of-this-world bathroom blew me away. I noticed the toilet seat was not made of glass...and that’s probably a good thing too.

Besides the sparkling mosaics, I was especially intrigued by a large piece that will be part of a one-man future exhibit at the Jewish Museum.

Justice, Respect, Liberty, Equality - Art by Loring Cornish.                    Photo © by Bonnie Schupp
I’m somewhat at a loss to describe the reflection that Loring Cornish’s work instills in me because I feel it won’t do his work justice. You can read more and see photos at the following sites but the best thing is to see his work in person.

Loring Cornish Web Site

Baltimore Brew

Urbanite Magazine

Baltimore Magazine

Friday and Heaven's Pearly Gates

Heaven ©Bonnie J. Schupp
Today? How can it be Friday already? I blinked and another week passed!

I’m in the third quarter of my life, or the fourth quarter, depending on how long I might live. Days no longer stretch out like forever long strings of taffy as they did when I was a young child. Now the days remind me of my 5-year-old self who would begin running downhill and eventually the run grew out of control and my legs couldn’t move as fast as the hill was descending. Of course, I’d eventually fall. It was inevitable.

Eventually my taffy strings will break, my “legs” won’t be able to keep up with my subjective time and I’ll fall.

At age 65, with a time perspective different from that of my childhood, and as I experience the death of family members and friends, I sometimes  think about my own departure from the life I know now.  As a child, I learned that we live a good life today and then in the next life there will be a good life in heaven—forever.  

That was comforting but very distant. Today I realize that nobody knows the “beyond” answers. And, really, I don’t care if there is a heaven or not. I  live the best life I’m capable of living—now. Afterward, as the old song says, “que sera, sera.”  

I don’t dwell on the beyond but today I read two thought-provoking discussions of heaven and death (unusual day to begin my day, right?):

One makes the case that even if there is a heaven, it might not be so great.

The other talks about how atheists might find it easier to cope with death than those who believe in an afterlife.

Interesting...but now it’s Friday and I have a lot to do...

© Bonnie J. Schupp

Professional Mohel

Created by Bonnie Schupp
My husband David found an interesting business card while taking care of his mother's things after she died. It was a card from the mohel who presided at his bris.

Always one to find a humorous side of things, David posed as a rabbi from your worst nightmare. You can see that he really got into his role.

We then brainstormed with ideas for captions. The list below is what we came up with. Maybe you can add some of your own.

  • Sharp-witted mohel, circumspect to the point.
  • Mohel with sharp knife for hire.
  • David cut short his job training.
  • David's new job was cutting edge.
  • David's new career required circumspect and forethought.
  • David cut up before every bris.
  • The bris took an unexpected turn.
  • Overly endowed baby met his match.
  • With sharply honed skills, David began.
  • David scorned new cutting edge technology.
  • David always sliced through bureaucratic details.

Perception and Reality

(Photo: Bonnie Schupp) “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. 
Scrub them off every once in a while or the light won’t come in.”
Isaac Asimov
A couple days ago, I heard Bill O’Reilly comment, “Perception is reality.” It made me think about an elephant—not a red one but one from India. His statement, although a cliché now, deserves some ontological consideration.

American poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) wrote a poem based on an old Indian fable about six blind men who meet an elephant. Each one feels a different part of the elephant and defines the elephant in a different way.

The first touched the side and claimed that elephants were like a wall. The second felt the tusk and thought elephants were like spears. A third grabbed the trunk and believed that elephants were like snakes. Feeling the knee, a fourth one said that elephants were like trees. The fifth reached an ear and stated that elephants were like fans. Seizing the tail, the sixth blind man thought elephants were like a rope.

Each man was partly right but all were also wrong. They each understood one aspect of elephants but none really understood what the entire elephant looked like.

Like the blind men, O’Reilly is both right and wrong.  

The Subjective Eye

Magicians, illusionists, depend on our perceptions leading us to wrong conclusions. This is their livelihood. Even when we know that a magician cannot pull a pot of flowers out of thin air, we are prone to believe it because that’s what we have seen. Because of the perception of Fox News, it is successful. Masters of illusion use the idea that  perception is reality.

O’Reilly is right if we look at individuals. Our perceptions are our personal realities. My reality might not be your reality but yours is real for you.  Your reality is shaped by your sensory perceptions, past experiences,  beliefs and attitudes.  We are limited in our ability to perceive and can only perceive a part of any situation. We see what we expect to see. Then we fill in the blanks with assumptions and this leads to us believing that our limited perception and our assumptions are the whole truth.

Consider eye witnesses to crimes. The same event might be seen by three different people and each one will give different details about what they saw.  The reality of what happened changes depending on the subjectivity of the observer.

I once staged an argument with a fellow teacher in front of a class. Then I had my students write a report of what they saw. Stories varied depending on how students felt about the other teacher or me.

Even the same event might be experienced differently, depending on what a participant brings to the event and what he is expecting. Think about the difference between parents and children and how a particular road trip might be seen as fun by one and boring or tedious by another.

Much of our reality has to do with our attitude and expectations. Look at placebos, for example. Why do some people get better taking fake pills? Because they believe in them.

In the Classroom

Teachers who expect the best from their students often create a reality that conforms to that expectation.  We shape our reality through our attitude and what we expect from ourselves and others.  As an enrichment teacher for three years, I worked with gifted and talented students but I always kept an open mind to possibilities of special education students who had learning difficulties. I remember at the end of one year, a special ed student came into my room and said, “Thank you, Ms. Schupp.” I asked him what he was thanking me for.

“I didn’t know I could do all those things. You helped me see that I could,” he responded.  Insightful comments by someone who supposedly had learning difficulties.

One (among many) student in one of my classes had emotional problems. He was a challenge to work with. I eventually found a solution for those times when he was so disruptive that I couldn’t continue. I told him to step right outside my door and when he thought he could control himself, then he should come back in. He never abused this trust. Later in the year, before he was sent to a special school for students with behavioral problems, he sent me an e-mail thanking me for respecting him.  Once while in the middle of teaching 9th-graders,  I gave a student the keys to my car so he could retrieve a folder I’d left there. He had a history of car theft but returned to me with the car keys and the folder.

I’ll admit that regardless of expectations, things still happen. My first year teaching, while I was preparing my room the day before students started, two boys who would be in my 9th grade class showed up asking if they could help. I thought, “What nice kids to want to spend their day off helping a teacher.” Of course they were just checking me out. They assembled a bulletin board for me and when they left, my bag lunch had disappeared from my desk.  Robert Anton Wilson understood these students, “Reality is what you can get away with.” Two months into the school year, one had been arrested for torturing and murdering his sister. But these are the exceptions.

A Positive Reality--Attitude

A friend just lost his leg. His everyday reality has changed but not as much as one might expect. “I’m lucky,” he said. “I have my brains. I don’t need two legs to write at a computer.”  Besides his positive attitude, he’s also working hard at therapy to help himself as much as possible to adjust to the logistics of his new reality.

I see peace as a reality only when individuals feel peace within. This may never happen universally because of the human tendency to grab only one part of the elephant. However, I choose to bring peace and connections to my personal reality as much as possible. I choose to expect the best from people I meet. And I expect that others have something to offer me to enrich my life.

I’m a Servas member and a Couch Surfer. My husband, David, and I open our home to strangers from all over the world. We have also stayed as strangers in people’s homes in many countries.

Many people do not see why we do this. Since 1979, we’ve invited strangers into our home. Every experience has been positive, some more positive than others. These connections with people I originally perceived to be different from me have changed my personal reality. I’ve discovered they are more like me than they are different. They leave our home no longer strangers but friends. These experiences have changed the way I even perceive a map. Now many place names are no longer just names of places but places where friends live.  Life is how one perceives reality. My life is rich in connections and possibilities.

Old Question

So the proverbial question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really fall? It depends on your definition of reality. If your definition of reality is that someone must perceive the action through the senses, then it didn’t happen. My answer is yes. It did happen. Just because I didn’t hear or see it, doesn’t deny the reality.

When I die, will life in the the world continue? Of course! I hope so.  I may not perceive what is happening but other realities will go on.

Seeing the glass as half full

A glass filled halfway with water can elicit two different responses...two opposing realities.  My glass is half full. and it has made all the difference. This is the reality I perceive.



Servas International

U.S. Servas        


The Blind Men and the Elephant poem:

Kabbalah, Science and the Perception of Reality


Stanford University

Scientific American

Medical Attention ...

...might be based on who people think you are.

Me and my father in a moment captured on a cheap cell phone.

This week, within a two-day period, I visited three hospitals. For once, I didn't need medical care but my father and two of my friends did. I've discovered that there can be a difference in the attention patients receive.

My Father's Experience

Tuesday my father received the last of his radiation treatments. Various family members took turns taking him to the oncology department at GBMC and I wound up taking him for his last visit. The staff there--all of them--were always warm, friendly and encouraging.

When we walked in for the last visit, the woman at the desk recognized my father immediately, greeted us pleasantly and told us to go right back. The cancer patients in the waiting room were all talkative and friendly among themselves. I'm sure that the atmosphere that had been set by the staff had something to do with their ease too. After a short wait, a nurse came out and greeted my father with more than the normal friendly greeting.

With a huge smile and excitement in her voice, she said, "Mr. Schupp, congratulations. You've made it through your last treatment. Good for you!" Then she took him in the back for the treatment.

After no more than 10 minutes, he returned in his wheelchair and was holding something in his hand...a "diploma" with a congratulation ribbon wrapped around it.

Returning to the front to get on the elevator, we were again greeted with enthusiasm. The woman at the front desk stepped around the desk and hugged both of us. She said we both deserved hugs, my father for going through everything and me for being supportive. Then she wished us well and said she would see us in February for a check-up.

For my father, and I'm sure for the other patients too, this type of care made a huge difference.

[Note: My father is a gentle and kind Caucasian man.]

One Friend's Experience

A friend took a cab to the emergency room of another hospital. He was having severe abdominal pain. In the emergency room, he had to wait for close to six hours for attention to what turned out to be a ruptured appendix. He had emergency surgery but had to remain in the hospital for six days because the ruptured appendix had caused an infection. My friend says he received good care once he was in his hospital room. (The medical staff realized by then how serious his condition was.) The ER was another story. The staff had been standing around, socializing and laughing, while my friend was waiting--in excrutiating pain--for treatment. It's hard to understand how the ER staff could have taken hours on a week night to treat someone in pain. A ruptured appendix can be fatal. Why was he treated so casually?

[Note: My friend is a friendly middle eastern man with no family nearby. He's a naturalized American.]

Another Friend's Experience

Another friend, as a result of a series of  recent medical problems was admitted to the emergency room at yet another hospital. His treatment resulted in amputation of one leg above the knee. This medical emergency happened at a very bad time for him. He was packing up one apartment in one state and in the middle of moving to another place in a different state. The emergency happened while visiting a friend in Maryland.

With a positive attitude--"You'll never meet a happier one-legged man"--the entire time, he asked to see the hospital social worker so he could make plans to go to a rebabilitation center and eventually return to work. The social worker never showed up in spite of several requests. Finally he sent a nurse to find out what was going on. It turned out that the social worker said he couldn't go to rehab because he was homeless and indigent! He has no health insurance and no home because he was in the middle of moving. The hospital was planning to release him--with no rehabilitation.

Never mind that his situation happened during a move and he does pay his bills, including those incurred from a cardiac bypass several years ago when his then medical insurance company refused to pay because they claimed it had been a "pre-existing condition." The hospital now understands that he is not really a homeless bum. Things are all straightened out and he is in a rehab center working toward controling his new body.

 I wonder how anyone can deal with sudden loss of a limb, much less no support to return to a normal life.

[Note: This friend is not quite old enough for Medicare and is a cheerful Caucasian man with a beard.]

So the question is, why should there be a difference in care because of who you are? It shouldn't happen. Regardless of who you are and how much money you may or may not have, we all feel pain and have the same needs. Afterall, we're all part of  the same human family.


How We Perceive

I have Muslim friends and acquaintances. Their religion, their belief, has never been a factor in our connections. But I suspect it does affect some encounters they might have from day to day because of Islamophobia, because of illogical and false association. We all feel deeply 9/11 and, because we are human, our fears make bad assumptions, faulty connections. Let's not keep fear alive. We're all on the same team.


Here's the kind of logic that leads to this type of thinking:

(1) Jack is mugged by a man covered with tattoos. Since then, he wants nothing to do with anyone wearing body art.

(2) Alice had a teacher with a Polish last name. Her parents thought this teacher was unfair to their daughter. The next year she was assigned to another class with a teacher whose name ended in "ski." The parents had her transferred from this new teacher's class.

(3) The first two examples show a transference of feelings from a person who was "bad" to someone who might not be "bad," merely because of a physical characteristic or type of name. The third example shows a false assumption about an entire group of people, a gender. It really happened.

I used to own a camera shop and, until I was able to hire some part-time employees, I was the only staff in the store. One day a woman walked in with a camera in her hand. I stood at the counter, ready to wait on her. She stood on the other side, ignoring me and looking toward the back of the store. I finally asked her, "May I help you?" She replied that she was hoping "the man" was in. It seems she had a problem with her camera and had assumed that only a man could help her. (By the way, I wound up fixing her camera which required a simple adjustment.)

(4) I'm going to do a Juan Williams now. One day, while driving my car in Baltimore and waiting at a red light, I found myself automatically checking the locks on the door when a black man crossed the street in front of me. Although it was an automatic action, I was horrified at myself. In spite of the diversity of my friends, was it possible that I was prejudiced in ways I hadn't realized?  I felt terrible. Not long after that, I found myself doing the same thing automatically again. Then I looked closer and actually breathed a sigh of relief. It was not a black man crossing the street in front of my car. It was a man...white. I reacted automatically with paranoia to a man because I must have felt vulnerable as a lone female! Was I doing the same thing the woman had done to me in my camera shop?

Rally to Restore Sanity

 Last weekend at the Rally to Restore Sanity, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert presented a short skit showing how our fear causes us to make illogical assumptions. I've embedded the video and have the transcript below it. (The particular section on Islamophobia is near the end of the video.)

Transcript From Video

Colbert: What about Muslims?

Stewart: What? What about them?

Colbert: They attacked us.

Stewart: Stephen they did not. Some people who happen to be of Muslim faith attacked us. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. Most of them (throws hands up)..

Colbert: Did not? Is that what you are saying?

Stewart: That is correct.

Colbert: Oh Jon, oh . So you’re saying, you’re saying that there is no reason at all to be afraid of Osama Bin Laden?

Stewart: No. Osama Bin Laden is a specific person...a bad...

Colbert: ...a specific bad Muslim person...

Stewart: Yeah but that’s no..but there are plenty of Muslim people who are not bad and that you would like...

Colbert: Oh really? Who? Who would I like?

Stewart: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!

Colbert: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

Stewart: Yes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That is someone that you would...

[Kareem comes onto stage.]

Colbert: Watch your head! Kareem, my man!

[high 5’s]

Stewart: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is Muslim.

Colbert: Well, that’s...that’s not fair, Jon. That’s not a fair example. Kareem is cool. We’re friends.

Kareem: Well...uh...we’re acquaintances. You know a real friend understands that no matter what religious position one plays, we’re all on the same team.

(Next post will continue with a look at how perceptions of people affect how they are treated.)

Segway to New Experiences

 David and Bonnie pause on Annapolis SegZone tour. Photo by owner and tour leader, Debbie Wilson.
Bonnie practices before the tour. Photo by David. Ettlin
David feeling confident of his new Segway skills. Photo by Bonnie Schupp

Bonnie, feeling confident, picks up speed. Photo by David. Ettlin
I've been wanting to try riding a Segway for a while now but the expense slowed me down. Then a Groupon offer came through and David and I jumped on it for $25 instead of the normal $49 hour tour including a 30 minute training session. It was offered by SegZone in Annapolis.

The eight people in our group first had to sign waivers. Then we were given earphones which would be connected to transmissions from the leader's microphone. And we put on helmets. Steve Wilson gave initial demonstration and instruction while his sister, Debbie Wilson, would lead us around Annapolis.

When Steve asked for a volunteer to go first, I spoke up. Afterall, I was excited by this chance to try new technology...and I also thought it would give me extra practice time while the others were getting their initial instruction.

Steve steadied the Segway while I stepped on as instructed and just as he predicted, when he let go, I wobbled back and forth. I practiced getting on and off until I felt more steady and then Debbie supervised while I practiced going up and down the street outside their business at 131 Prince George Street. Wow! I could turn on a dime!

Soon David came outside astride his Segway and then the others one by one. Soon we were off for an hour to explore old Annapolis houses, including 5-part mansions, and to listen to interesting stories about people from the past who lived in them.

We rode over the bumpy brick Annapolis sidewalks and ducked low hanging branches. Afterall, we were about a foot taller than we would have been walking. There is no throttle. Nor is there a brake. The Segway becomes an extension of your body as you lean forward to go and backward to stop. Right and left movement is controlled by the handlebar.

Segways have the same rights as pedestrians. Anywhere a wheelchair is allowed, so is a Segway. Although its maximum speed at 12 mph doesn't sound fast, you feel like you're moving right along.

If you'd like to have a fun experience and also learn some interesting Annapolis history, I highly recommend this. Just call SegZone to arrange it. 410.280.1577 or 302.242.6615.

Read more about Segways here. See a video explaining how it works.