My Mother’s Epic Battle with an Armadillo

I just found a hilarious tale about my mother (in L. Lee Cowan’s Except for All the Snakes, I just Love It Out Here: The News from Stone County, Arkansas, Where One Life is Put Down Straight Up, p. 120). According to this published account, I was four years old when her battle to kill an armadillo entered family legend. As you can see below, Mom credits both my sister and myself with keeping the story alive over the years. A good family friend, Bruce, played a key role in bridging the gap between my mother and L. Lee Cowan, the author of the book in which this was published. It’s an amazing thing to have found.

If you like this excerpt (shown below), please buy the book, as I have done.

LLeeCohan

Special PCSSD Board Meeting, 3:00 pm, Saturday, April 28 — Please Attend, and Spread the Word!

Dr. Janice Warren is the interim superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District. It has become clear in recent weeks that she is not being treated fairly by the PCSSD’s Board of Education — even though she is, in my opinion, the best superintendent I’ve ever seen (and I have seen many).

Dr. Warren now needs our help, at a special meeting of the PCSSD school board, at 3:00 pm tomorrow. I’m asking teachers, parents, and other members of our community to come to this meeting, to show our support for Dr. Warren.

Please come to this important meeting if you can — and even if you cannot be there yourself, please help spread the word to others. We need to pack the boardroom tomorrow afternoon!

On Taxation, and Representation, in Public Education

The last few years have been rough for education in central Arkansas. The Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) suffered for years under state control, but local control has now been restored there. The neighboring Little Rock School District (LRSD) was more recently taken over by our state’s Department of Education, and is still in that unpleasant, and unhelpful, state.

When the state government takes over a school district, the people’s representatives (the local school board) are simply dismissed, and the Commissioner of our Department of Education functions as a one-man, unelected “school board.” It’s a situation which robs taxpayers (also known as voters) of any voice in how their schools are run. It doesn’t help instruction at all, which I know because I’ve observed it myself, as a teacher. In my opinion, all laws allowing state takeovers of school districts, nationwide, should be repealed. 

During this tumultuous period, there have been three elections about school millages: two in the PCSSD, and one in the LRSD. In the PCSSD, one vote (which failed) happened with that district still under state control. The second in the PCSSD happened yesterday, and this time, the measure passed by a 2-1 margin. What’s the key difference? Simple: when faced with a “taxation without representation” situation, the voters said no. Once local control was restored, the voters said yes.

In the neighboring LRSD, only one millage-related election has taken place recently, and it happened under state control, just like the first of the recent two in the PCSSD. In the LRSD, with their right to representation still denied to them, this ballot measure failed.

The lesson to be learned here is simple: to get support from voters, local control of public school districts must be maintained. We’re Americans; “no taxation without representation” was one of the primary reasons we fought for independence in the first place. Nationwide, it’s part of our story, as a people. Taxation without representation does not work here — specifically because it is un-American. That should be the lesson learned from these three elections.

The PCSSD is free from state control, and things are now improving there. Hopefully, the LRSD will enjoy the same benefit — soon — along with other school districts in the same situation, in our state, and nationwide.

Goodbye, Mom

Mom's Dodecahedron

Soon, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will run my mother’s obituary. However, it would not be right for me to allow the obituary they print to be her only one.

Mom’s name when she was born, on January 4, 1942, was Mina Jo Austin. Later, she was known professionally as Mina Marsh. However, I chose to legally change my last name to her maiden name, in 1989, after my parents divorced. I did this so that I could have a last name I associated only with my good parent, for I only had one — the one now in this hospice room with me, as I write this, with little time remaining to her.

This is an old photograph of her, and her two younger sisters, taken when my mother was a teenager.

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Her father, whom I knew (all too briefly) as “Daddy Buck,” taught her many things, very early in life, just as Mom did, much later, for me. He taught her about justice, and its opposite, using as one example of injustice the internment camps for Japanese-Americans which were then operating, here in Arkansas, when my mother was a little girl. Even in the wake of Pearl Harbor, and in complete disagreement with the masses, my grandfather thought it an obscenity that people had been herded into these camps simply because of their ethnicity, and, in a world where evil does exist, he decided his daughter needed to know about it. Only with knowledge of evil can one stand up to it, oppose it, and speak truth to it, even when that evil is mixed with power, as happens all too often. He instilled in her a strong sense of justice, and taught her courage, at the same time.

Mom started college at Harding University, in Searcy, Arkansas, and demonstrated her courage, and refusal to tolerate injustice, there, during the 1960 presidential election campaign. The assembled students of Harding were told, in chapel, that it was their duty, as Christians, to go forth on election day, and cast their votes for Richard Nixon, because allowing John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, to become president would be a horrible, sinful thing to do. She found this offensive, in much the same way that her father had found America’s treatment of Japanese-Americans offensive during World War II. On principle, therefore, she withdrew from Harding, and transferred to the University of Arkansas (in Fayetteville) to complete her college coursework. She also, later, left the denomination associated with Harding, eventually becoming a member of the Episcopal Church. I am grateful to her church here in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the many comforts they have given her over the years. They even went so far as to raise the funds needed, in 2010, for her emergency transportation, by air, to a Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where surgery was performed to save her from a rare adrenal-gland tumor called a pheochromocytoma. Without this help from them, her life would have been shortened by over five years.

Mom is survived by two children. I came along in 1968, and my sister (who had three children herself — my mother’s three grandchildren) was born the following year. Mom is also survived by three step-grandchildren, and two step-great-grandchildren. Mom began to teach both my sister and myself, as early as she could, what her father had taught her, early in life. Strangely enough, one of my earliest memories of her doing this also involved Richard Nixon, for the first news event I clearly remember seeing on television was Nixon’s 1974 resignation speech. At that young age, and with my parents clearly disgusted with America’s most disgraced president to date, I blurted forth, “I wish he was dead!” Mom wasn’t about to let that pass without comment, and did not. I remember the lesson she taught me quite well: there was nothing wrong with wishing for him to lose his position of power, as he was doing — but to wish for the man to die was to cross a line that should not be crossed. One was right; the other was wrong. It is my mother who taught me how to distinguish right from wrong. From this point forward, I now have a new reason to try, in every situation, to do the right thing: anything less would dishonor my mother’s memory.

It was around this time that my sister and I started school, and to say Mom was deeply involved in our experiences at school would be to understate the issue. In a conservative state where many schools openly (and illegally) do such insane things as teach young-earth Creationism in “science” classes, and anti-intellectualism is sometimes actually seen as a virtue, our entry into the school system was not unlike entering a battleground. At this time, education specifically designed for gifted and talented students simply did not exist in Arkansas. Mom had already had some teaching experience herself, although she had since moved on to other work. She was often appalled by the inane things that happened in our schools, when we were students, such as this from the fifth grade, and this (also from elementary school), and this especially-awful example from the seventh grade. Never one to tolerate injustice, Mom was deeply involved, from the beginning, in the formation of an organization called AGATE (Arkansans for Gifted and Talented Education), which fought a long, uphill, but ultimately successful battle to bring special programs for the education of gifted and talented students into the public schools of our state. She did this for her own two children, true — I consider forcing someone (who already understands it) to “practice” long division, year after year, to be a form of torture, and she was trying to save me from such torture — but she also did it for thousands of other Arkansas students, and tens of thousands have since benefited from her work in this area.

mom

Mom was never content to fight in just one struggle at a time, for there is too much important work to do for such an approach. She was also a dedicated naturalist, a Master Gardener, and served as the Deputy Director of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission for 25 years, seeking ways to protect and preserve areas of natural beauty, and scientific significance, in our state. After retiring from that position, she later served on the board of directors of the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, and also became the Development Director of the Ozark Natural Science Center.

My mother affected the lives of a great many people in her 73 years of life, including many who do not even know her name — but neither gaining credit, nor fame, was ever her goal. She will be deeply missed.

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[About the rotating image: the picture of the banded agate, a reference to AGATE, the organization, on the faces of Mom’s dodecahedron, at the top of this post, came from here. The rotating dodecahedron itself, which the ancient Greeks associated with the heavens, was created using Stella 4d, software available at this website.]

A Lesson Involving the Social Use of Color

colors

RobertLovesPi’s social-interaction lesson of the day: different colors of fabric can actually mean something else, besides simply reflecting different wavelengths of light, and these meanings can shift quickly. (I already knew this could happen once per day, but was only just taught that this is also possible for n = 2, allowing me to extrapolate that, for the general case, n > -1, presumably with an upper limit set by the individual’s speed at changing clothes.)

As far as I can tell, n = 0 on weekends and legal holidays, in most cases, and n = 1 on most workdays (but not today, when the needed reflection-wavelength shifts from ~475 nm to ~550 nm after I leave the city of Sherwood, Arkansas, bound for a spot approximately 20 km South of there, in Little Rock, which is still in the same county).

Apparently my key to understanding this stuff is finding a way to analyze it mathematically. Also, posting such “new” discoveries to my blog increases the odds of me remembering them. However, unlike my last such finding (it involved chocolate chips not being a sandwich topping at Subway), I did NOT figure these things out “all by myself.” In fact, without help from two very important people, I doubt I ever would have figured them out at all!

The Physics of Cats, Copperheads, Centipedes, Catbounce, and Catbouncemax

catbouncemax

Definition of catbouncemax (shortened form of “maximum catbounce”): for any particular cat, its catbouncemax is equal to the takeoff kinetic energy of that cat if it suddenly and unexpectedly finds itself face-to-face with an adult copperhead snake.

I’ve actually seen this happen. Really. The cat reached a height I estimate as 1.4 meters.

Measured in joules, a cat’s catbouncemax can most easily be approximated by observing and estimating the maximum height of the cat under these conditions. For ethical and safety reasons, of course, one must simply be observant, and wait for this to happen. Deliberately introducing cats and copperheads (or other dangerous animals) to each other is specifically NOT recommended. Staying away from copperheads, on the other hand, IS recommended. Good science requires patience!

After the waiting is over (be prepared to wait for years), and the cat’s maximum height h, in meters, has been estimated, the cat’s catbouncemax can then be determined by energy conservation, since its takeoff kinetic energy (formerly stored as feline potential energy, until the moment the cat spots the copperhead) is equal to the gravitational potential energy (PE = mgh) of the cat at the top of the parabolic arc. In the catbounce I witnessed, the cat who encountered a copperhead (while walking through tall grass, which is why the cat didn’t see the snake coming) was a big cat, at an estimated mass of 6.0 kg. His catbouncemax was therefore, by energy conservation, equal to mgh = (6.0 kg)(1.4 m)(9.81 m/s²) = ~82 joules, which means this particular cat had 82 J of ophidiofeline potential energy stored, specifically for use in the event of an encounter with a large, adult copperhead, or other animal (there aren’t many) with the ability to scare this cat equally as much as such a copperhead. (I’m using a copperhead in this account for one reason: that’s the type of animal which initiated the highest catbounce I have ever witnessed, and I seriously doubt that this particular cat could jump any higher than 1.4 m, under any  circumstances.)

It should be noted that the horizontal distance covered by a catbounce is not needed to calculate a cat’s catbouncemax. However, this horizontal distance will not be zero, as is apparent in the diagram above. Why? Simple: cats don’t jump straight up in reaction to copperheads, for they are smart enough not to want to fall right back down on top of such a snake.

It is more common, of course, for cats to jump away from scary things which are less scary than adult copperheads. For example, there certainly exist centipedes which are large enough to scare a cat, causing it to catbounce, but with that centipede-induced catbounce being less than its catbouncemax. The following fictional dialogue demonstrates how such lesser catbounces can be most easily described. (Side note: this dialogue is set in Arkansas, where we have cats and copperheads, and where I witnessed the copperhead-induced maximum catbounce described above.)

She: Did you see that cat jump?!?

He: Yep! Must be something scary, over there in that there flowerpatch, for Cinnamon to jump that high. At least I know it’s not a copperhead, though.

She: A copperhead? How do you know that?

He: Oh, that was quite a jump, dear, but a real copperhead would give that cat of yours an even higher catbounce than that! The catbounce we just saw was no more than 75% of Cinnamon’s catbouncemax, and that’s being generous.

She: Well, what IS in the flowerpatch? Something sure scared poor Cinnamon! Go check, please, would you?

He: [Walks over from the front porch, where the couple has been standing this whole time, toward the flowerpatch. Once he gets half-way there, he stops abruptly, and shouts.] Holy %$#@! That’s the biggest centipede I’ve ever seen!

She: KILL IT! KILL IT NOW!

Simplified Arkansas Weather Forecast for June, July, and August, of Almost Any Year

Warning: to avoid serious risk of major depression, read no further during May of any year, if trapped in Arkansas with little or no hope of quick escape.

hot

  • Today: hot!
  • Tonight: so hot you won’t be able to sleep, because you’ll stick to your bedsheets!
  • Tomorrow: hot!
  • The day after tomorrow: hot!
  • Three to six days from now: hot! Each day!
  • A week from now: hot!
  • Next week: hot! All week long!
  • The remainder of the month: hot! 
  • Next month (if it’s June or July now): hotter than this month!
  • The month after that (if it’s June now): hotter than it is right now!
  • Next month (if it’s August now): hot for weeks, turning to only-slightly miserable later in September. Maybe.