Influential Prose

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United Republic Work

Written by Influential Prose

July 24, 2013 at 7:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Grenville Rocks

Forty minutes north of where I live, there’s a trail in a state park that winds down toward a small river. The river descends down a short rapids, gliding over rock. The rock is unique; it’s over a billion years old. It’s known as the Baltimore gneiss. This is what it looks like:


The DC metro area has been through four mountain-building periods in the past billion years, give or take a few hundred million. The first one raised the Grenville mountains. Over eons, they eroded, worn down by wind, water and ice. There were four global glaciation events between 900 and 600 million years ago. The ice certainly extended as far as the DC area during these events, and may have girdled the entire planet. There’s still some debate about the “snowball earth” scenario. In any event, the Grenville mountains were scoured down and the roots that remained became the “basement rock” of the east coast.


Later there was a rifting, a sort of splitting of the Grenville rock, with some blocks being dragged out to sea. Magma welled up and spread, then cooled to form a new layer of rock, 2,000 feet thick in some areas. These flows formed the Blue Ridge province, and you can see exposures of that rock at Catocin mountain.

Later another plate began converging on the North American continent, with the ocean floor diving beneath the plate. This generated a chain of underwater volcanoes topped by islands running north and south called the Chopawamsic Arc, similar to the arc of islands in southern Alaska. The plate and these volcanoes eventually converged on the North American coast, sweeping up everything on the sea floor in between, carrying it all back onto the continent where it was raised and mashed and mixed with existing rock. This event created the Taconic mountains.

The Taconics wore down. The Acadian mountains formed when continental fragments collided with the east coast. This episode created much larger mountains than the Taconic. To give you a sense of scale, the erosion of the Acadian mountains created pile of sediment to the west. That pile was 9,000 feet high in central Pennsylvania, sloping down to 1,000 ft in Ohio. That was just the stuff left over after the mountains wore away.

The last period of mountain-building was the biggest one. This time, 250 million years ago, Africa and North America collided as all the other continents came together and formed a single supercontinent known as Pangea. This created the Appalachian mountains, and they were as tall as the Rockies and the Alps when fully formed. They’re much smaller now, of course – that’s what 250 million years of constant erosion does to mountains.


Throughout all of this, the billion-year-old Grenville basement rock has been squeezed, heated, folded and torn apart. Most of it still lies deep beneath layers of other rock. But there are some areas around Baltimore where you can see it, and Dylan and I did that today.

This rock is older than multicellular life, at least 400 million years older. It was here 500 million years before land plants existed. Our solar system, along with the entire Milky Way galaxy, completes one rotation around the galactic center every 250 million years. This rock has made the trip four times.

Dylan found some rock fragments at the site and brought them home. The rock is hydrated, it’s been in the water, and its age shows. It’s very brittle and flakes easily. As we were leaving, one of the rocks he collected split in half. And in that moment, he was gazing on the surface of rock that no one, anywhere, had ever seen before – formed a billion years ago, and only now exposed to light and a 16-year-old’s wondering eyes.


It’s been a good day.

Written by Influential Prose

July 15, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Demand Media Work

I’ve been doing work for Demand Media. Here’s what’s online thus far. If you’re looking for an experienced, competent writer who can produce copy for a variety of topics and genres, contact me using the form below. I can furnish PDF files of these articles without the ads, if you need copies for print.

Fundamentalist Beliefs and Secularism – Opposing Views (5/19/13)

Can a City Use Public Funds for City Council Religious Prayers? – Opposing Views (5/21/21)

How Diversity Affects Religious or Secular Beliefs – Opposing Views (5/29/30)

What Factors Might Be Influencing Religious Trends? – Opposing Views (5/29/30)

Secularism After the Crusades – Opposing Views (6/04/13)

Astro-Theology & Shamanism – Opposing Views (6/15/13)

Strategies Used for Disruptive Aggressive Behavior in Children – eHow (6/20/13)

Learning Language in a Home with Deaf Parents – eHow (6/20/13)

Activities that Teach Deaf or Hard of Hearing Children to Write – GlobalPost (6/20/13)

Educational Science Games for Teenagers – LiveStrong (6/21/13)

The Advantages of Early Intervention for Deaf Children – eHow (6/23/13)

High School Earth Science Projects on Rocks – GlobalPost (6/24/13)

Basketball Camps for Teens in Washington, DC – LiveStrong (6/26/13)

Dolch Words for Deaf Children – GlobalPost (6/26/13)

Globalization and Religious Violence – Opposing Views (6/29/13)

Cultural Influence on Morals – Opposing Views (7/01/13)

Who Advocated Religious Individualism? – Opposing views (7-02-13)

Chinese Religion and Ethics in the 17th Century – Opposing Views (7-06-13)

Virtual World Games for Teens – LiveStrong Parenting (7-07-13)

Moral Reading for Teens – GlobalPost (7-08-13)

Best Critical Thinking Books for Teens – GlobalPost (7-10-13)

System for Tracking Kids’ Good and Bad Behavior – Globalpost (7-10-13)

How Does Biotechnology Affect Kids? – eHow Mom (7-12-13)

Activities for Kids Using Binary Numbers – ModernMom Parenting (7-14-13)

Top Advocates for Teens – eHow Mom (7-14-13)

Workout Guide for Teen Guys – ModernMom Parenting (7-18-13)

Evangelism in the Early Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries – Opposing Views (7-21-13)

Effective Programs to Help at-Risk Teenagers Stay in School – ModernMom Parenting (7-21-13)

Child Behavior Checklist Items – GlobalPost Parenting (7-23-13)

High School Swimming Lessons (7-24-13)

Why Parents Shouldn’t Be Able to Refuse Medical Treatment for an Ill Child (7-25-13)

Cultural Differences in Moral Reasoning (7-25-13)

Physics for Curious Teenagers – LiveStrong Parenting (7-29-13)

Written by Influential Prose

July 2, 2013 at 9:16 am

Posted in Demand Media Work


One benefit of my job at National Deaf Academy is taking the patients to the gym over the weekend, where we’ll usually knock around shooting baskets for awhile.

There is nothing – nothing – that takes me back to my early years like playing basketball. The feel of the ball, the rhythm of dribbling, the sense of the shot as it leaves the hands, the satisfaction of a clean basket – it feels exactly the same now as it did then. Very few things in life remain so constant.

Back then my family lived a couple of blocks from Tarpon Springs Elementary and the basketball court there, where I often spent hours playing and practicing.

When the weather was good, there was a steady stream of people coming and going to play. I’d play one-on-one with anyone. Some were easy to beat, some were far better than I, and a few – the ones I enjoyed most – were really evenly matched. I’m a left-handed shooter, which gave me a distinct advantage over a lot of players, and I was getting taller – not quite the six feet I am now, but closing in on it.

Sometimes a thought strikes unbidden, a surprise, and one struck on a Saturday night as I was standing at the free throw line – if I could play now against my 12-year-old self, who would win? I laughed out loud at the idea…and after considering it, I do believe my 12-year-old self would kick my ass on the court.

My shooting then was refined by hours of practice, my speed was much better and my stamina on the court was certainly better. I weighed a good 50-70 lbs. less then, and my legs were probably as strong or nearly as strong as they are now. I could jump better, move faster, last longer.

About 5 years ago I broke my left shoulder in a biking accident. It healed up pretty well, but since then after I throw balls around for about 15 minutes, that shoulder starts to ache. There’s a subtle effect on my shooting, too. I can’t quite pin down how it’s different, but I can feel the difference when I shoot.

That’s ok – I have no ambition of being a ball player. It’s a kick to just get on court 35 years later and feel like I’m 12 again, even when I know perfectly well I’m not. It’s almost as if a basketball court is a personal time machine.

The world has changed in so many ways since I was a mop-headed lad with no greater worry than aiming a red, white and blue basketball at a hoop. The worries are more numerous and serious now, but give me a basketball and a court, and the worries seem to fade away. It’s nice to know there’s a place magical enough to make that happen.

Come to think of it, my stepson Dylan is now at exactly the same age I was when I was hanging around the court, looking for challengers. Can he beat me?

Bring it on…

Written by Influential Prose

November 18, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Posted in Personal Essay

Tagged with

What’s the Oldest Form of Life?

When I was in high school, we’d study simple forms of life – single cell life,  like a paramecium. And the thing that consistently impressed me was how incredibly complicated these forms of life were. We’d examine a single, basic cell, and find it was amazingly sophisticated. It was enough to make one think that maybe, just maybe, the intelligent design people were on to something.

For much of my life, I’ve been mildly interested in building up a sense of the sequence of life. Wouldn’t it be cool to look at forms of life around us and know, roughly, how long it’s been around?

The puzzle of complexity and the mystery of age drove much of my interest in biology for years. And the key to understanding both is the timeline of development.

We know the earth was frequently subject to heavy-duty bombardment by meteorites during the first half-billion years. This pounding was fierce enough that it’s entirely possible that simple forms of life arose and were wiped out several times.

We also know that the earliest evidence of life we can find dates back the time when the bombardment was winding down. Those early life forms were single cells. And that’s how matters remained…

…for the next 2.5 billion years.

Two and a Half . Billion. Years.

Evolution is driven by changes in the environment. Life that can adapt to change survives. Life that can’t…dies. Sometimes it’s the weird mutant cell that survives, say, a period where it’s colder than normal. That mutant proliferates while others fade away. The mutant moves into colder environments while it’s cousins remain in the tropics. Single cells adapted to a variety of environments, including competition with their own expanding numbers. The development of single-cell life, including the arms race of single-cell biological warfare, went on for time out of mind.

No damn wonder they’re so sophisticated. This chart of cellular biochemical and metabolic pathways resembles a large city map:


All the oldest forms of life began in the ocean. It was only about 500 million years ago – half a billion years – that life moved onto land. There are living fossils among us. Sponges date back 635 million years. Horseshoe crabs, 435 million years. Sharks, over 350 million years. Alligators, more than 200 million years. Ginko trees – there are many of them in Washington, DC – haven’t changed in 170 million years.

But to find the oldest form of life, you need look no farther than the cells of your own body. We are, all of us, walking cell colonies. The cells that form us are, of course, far more advanced than the earliest cells, and they got that way because they had 2.5 billion years to find their groove.

The most ancient forms of life are the building blocks of your life.

Written by Influential Prose

November 18, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Posted in Personal Essay

The World Largest Private Deaf Employer

Employment Matters column,

Do you know who is the largest private employer of deaf staff anywhere?

Yes, anywhere. There are other places – deaf schools, mostly – with many deaf staff, but they’re publicly funded. We’re talking about a private business here, with well over 100 deaf staff. We’re talking about full time workers earning $28,000 to $32,000 a year, and often more with overtime. There are deaf people in management – some have worked there since the business opened over 6 years ago. And what does this band of deaf professionals do for a living?

They work with deaf customers. The customers, in this case, are psychiatric patients living at the National Deaf Academy (NDA). And full disclosure – I work at NDA. So this is an inside view.

Psychiatric care is not easy work. The patients who arrive at NDA have often been abused, misunderstood, neglected. Some have wonderfully supportive families, and others have no family at all, or have been abandoned by their families. Many of them need all the support and guidance they can get – and that’s what NDA does.

The support includes a team of deaf and hearing therapists, teachers, doctors, nurses and Mental Health Technicians, all who watch over the patients from day to day. They teach them, care for them, encourage them when they grow frustrated, intervene when they become upset, praise them when they progress.

The work requires extraordinary patience. The customers arrive with serious issues, and it takes time to sort though the problems and develop a program that will match the patient’s needs. The key to making it happen is being able to communicate effectively with the patient, and NDA has more collective experience doing this than any other place in the world.

Because NDA is a residential facility, there is staff on duty 24 hours a day, in three shifts. The morning team begins bright and early at 7 a.m. and hands over responsibility to the afternoon shift at 3 p.m. At 11 p.m the night crew arrives and works until daybreak, when the morning staff returns and the cycle begins again.

The customers span a wide age range, from young children to adolescents and adults. Most of the MHT staff is younger, in their 20’s, with a few 30-, 40-, and 50-somethings sprinkled through. They’ve all worked long, hard hours, through holidays, weekends, on-call and standby shifts, dealing with autism, severe mood swings, bipolar behavior, aggression, low functioning, bickering between the residents and much more. There’s never any shortage of drama.

It’s a very human environment – the philosophy of care at NDA rejects straightjackets and locked rooms. Patients enter a scheduled, structured program with strict rules, and the staff begins with five days of intense training on how to handle everyday business and emergencies. People who have been at NDA for several years have developed a special bond that comes from working together through tough situations.

What makes NDA stand out for the patients is the ability to talk to nearly everyone. Some of them have been placed in hearing psychiatric care before, where the communication abilities of the staff are limited. This often leads to endless frustration.

At NDA, it’s a different story – there are plenty of people they can talk to, work with, vent their angst, and learn to trust. This is a big deal for people who have been insulted and treated poorly in other places. Still, building that trust takes time – sometimes years.

It’s also a big deal for deaf staff to earn a living working with many other deaf employees. There are not many such places. NDA is just north of Orlando, Florida, so it attracts people with good climate, an easy drive to the beach and a lower cost of living than much of the nation.

This summer will bring growth, with a new 46-bed building opening for adults. NDA is preparing now by hiring more staff. Interested readers can learn more at

Written by Influential Prose

October 1, 2009 at 4:18 pm

To Sue or Not to Sue?

Employment Matters column,

One day at a large Washington, DC courthouse, I was suddenly, without warning, seized by three burly policemen. My first reaction was astonishment, and the second was fury. I had been minding my own business, doing nothing wrong – who were these people to grab me? – and began fighting to break free. Not a good idea.

As they struggled with me, I screamed “I’M HEARING IMPAIRED, DAMNIT!” I would have said I’M DEAF, but I remember thinking they wouldn’t believe me if I was screaming it. And ‘hearing impaired’ was the fashionable phrase among hearing people at the time, so I said what I thought they would understand.

They slapped me in handcuffs and left me standing alone in the lobby, angry and humiliated. Eventually they walked me outside, and a lawyer who witnessed the whole spectacle stuffed his card in my shirt pocket and urged me to contact him later. I was taken away in a squad car and driven to a nearby police station. They emptied my pockets – wallet, lawyer’s card, keys – and locked me in an empty cell. I remained there for 45 minutes before someone came around to interview me. I had plenty of time to think about that lawyer’s card.

The interviewer took down basic identification info, then I explained what happened from my point of view. The interviewer went away for another half hour, returned, opened the cell, gave me my belongings and said, “You’re free to go.”

Huh? I started asking questions. Why had I been seized and taken to jail?

Here’s what happened. I’d gone into the courthouse because I was having trouble locating a building nearby, and the courthouse has an information desk. I wrote a note to the clerk asking for directions to the building, and she very kindly wrote out detailed instructions and drew a small map. I thanked her, turned to leave the building, and glanced up to locate the exit. I spotted it, then returned my attention to the note she gave me as I continued walking. I was nearing the exit when I was grabbed.

Turns out, the police had asked me to stop before I reached the door, but of course I didn’t hear them. They asked again, more insistently, and I kept going. They were working security at a major courthouse, and part of their job is to make sure that none of the assorted criminals there for trial slip away. When they asked me to stop, I – from their point of view – ignored them. So they assumed I was trying to sneak out.

As you might expect, they deal with a lot of people who will lie from sunup to sundown, so nothing I said to them was to be believed. They had to check me out. That’s why I was taken to the police station and held there while they gathered facts and checked out my story. When they discovered I was who I said I was and was doing what I said I was doing, they released me, with no record of arrest.

So I was free again. But I had another question that remained unanswered. I had the lawyer’s card. Should I sue or not? Wrongly arrested, held in handcuffs, imprisoned – all this just for seeking directions?

I mulled it over for a while. I knew there might be money in it, and that was tempting, but in the end I recognized that a lawsuit made no sense – the police were just doing their jobs.

They didn’t, and couldn’t know at that moment that I was deaf. They didn’t, and couldn’t know that I was honest. As soon as they did, they explained what happened and I was free. I took it as a lesson – where police are around, keep your eyes open and pay attention. It also gave me a new appreciation for how easy it is for encounters between deaf citizens and police to go badly. These misunderstandings can be, and sometimes are, deadly.

Conflict between deaf employees and hearing employers is seldom deadly, but it does frequently raise the same question I considered – to sue, or not to sue? There is no simple answer, because every situation is different.

Whatever business they are in, the first priority of private employers is earning a profit. If they don’t, of course, they’re out of business – and so are their employees. Their focus is on increasing income and avoiding costs. When they see deaf applicants and workers, their fear is that the worker will become more of a cost than a source of income. The costs come in the form of accommodations – interpreters, fire signaling gear, TTYs or videoconferencing equipment.

These fears are fed by headlines of lawsuits by deaf workers against their employers. Just last year, there was a jury trial in Baltimore that ended with a $108,000 award to a deaf employee of FedEx, following their refusal to provide him with an interpreter. That case was pursued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – the government went to bat for the employee.

Then there’s the huge ten million dollar settlement of a class action lawsuit by over 1,000 current and former employees of United Parcel Service four years ago. This case was also about interpreters, and UPS agreed to provide them going forward.

Three years ago, the Supreme Court considered Tennessee vs. Lane, a case that determined whether disabled people should even be allowed to sue a state government. They decided yes, they should – but the decision was very narrow, with 5 justices in favor and 4 opposed. Just one person, and one vote – by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor – marked the difference between our being locked out of court or having a day in it.

Some employers see these stories and many more like them, and see deaf applicants as lawsuits waiting to happen. This, of course, just makes it harder for deaf people to find good jobs.

On the other hand, we know that with reasonable and affordable accommodations, deaf workers can be effective and productive employees. It falls on us to make this clear to employers. There will always be some situations where it will take a lawsuit to convince. But before we get to that point, the responsible approach is to work through alternatives first. The National Association of the Deaf recognizes this, and has published a clear guide for employers.

It lays out what is needed, and notes that employers can deduct the cost of accommodations, and may be qualify for special tax credits to help reduce the cost of reasonable accommodations. This makes the whole cost issue much easier to deal with, and if employers openly worry about a lawsuit, it’s worth pointing out that providing reasonable accommodations in the beginning is the best defense against a lawsuit ever happening.

When we are faced with a stubborn employer who balks at providing interpreters and other essential accommodations, it’s reasonable and natural to get upset. It’s also human nature to be tempted by the prospect of a big score through a lawsuit. But we need to keep in mind the job prospects for other deaf workers. We are all in this together – how we deal with the accommodations issue will affect everyone in the deaf community.

Yes, the UPS settlement created better conditions at UPS for deaf employees, and that’s an important win. It also undoubtedly created a ripple effect that scared other employers. You may meet some of them someday. When you do, tread carefully. Professionally request accommodations, discuss, negotiate. If all responsible approaches fail, then fight, but more in sorrow than in anger. Lawsuits are an important tool, but they should be a last resort.

Our final goal is to treated as equal and work as equal – because we are equal.

Written by Influential Prose

October 1, 2009 at 4:01 pm


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