© 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: