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Letters 12-31-2012

- December 31st, 2012  

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Eyewitness errors

Two recent articles, “Distracted Driving” by Rick Coates and “Wrong ID in Attempted Abduction” by Patrick Sullivan had a serious and unrecognized common theme: that we cannot trust our presumed cognitive powers.

Whether you coin it “perceptual blindness” (Professor Arien Mack) or “brain blindness” (Professor Dan Simons), or simply recognize the multiple studies on eyewitness unreliability (Professor Gary Wells), the common thread is what the brain sees and does not see or processes in any situation is inherently and consistently unreliable.

As articulated in Alex Stone’s book, Fooling Houdini, “inattention all but eliminates conscious experience. Objects and events appearing directly before our eyes, in what psychologists call the zone of fixation, frequently go unnoticed when our attention is elsewhere, as if our vision somehow stops working when we are distracted.” And unfortunate accidents such as the one involving Rick Coates’ daughter, follow.

To get a sense of distraction, the readers should attempt Professor Daniel Simon’s awareness test: http://www.!

As a lawyer who has long dealt with the inherent unreliability of eyewitness testimony, this area of neuroscience and psychology is both fascinating and with consequence.

Of the 297 reported convictions in the United States so far overturned by DNA evidence, 70% were based on eyewitness testimony -- witnesses convinced that their memories were accurate; convinced of what they saw and who they saw.

As disturbing, is the representation of people injured or killed by distracted drivers -- drivers who fully had their eyes on the road but did not mentally process what they were looking at because their brain’s attention was actually on a phone or a text regardless of eye focus.

Both the Coates and Sullivan articles underlie the serious issue of cognition and its common legal impact on our lives; it deserves better understanding by all of us.

Michael Dettmer • TC

Arrogant & distracted

I think Rick Coates will find that, just like him, tragedy must be personal before distracted drivers wake up.

In 1999 my wife was rear-ended and spun into oncoming traffic. Her car was totaled and she still has issues with a hip injury. When I reached the scene the other driver was laughing with another person.

The following week I stopped at a red light on a brand new motorcycle. A pick-up stopped behind me. When the light turned green the truck driver was engrossed in a phone conversation and instantly floored it before I could shift into gear. The bike and I went flying. I suffered a fracture in my elbow and a knee injury.

Rick will soon realize as I did, that arrogant distracted drivers that are confidant they are skilled enough to multi-task, as he did, do so at the peril of others.

The Michigan law against texting while driving is stupid. What is different between dialing and texting? Perhaps if Lansing is too ineffective to deal with this problem the insurance companies should slap a $10,000 deductible on their distracted client and require them to pay the victim’s damages instead of the victim’s insurance coverage.

Bill Hagan • Acme

Union sunset

The Tuttle/Downes columns concerning the right-to-work legislation significantly misrepresent the effect of the legislation, and provide such a slanted picture of the facts of the issue as to severely undermine the credibility of both columnists.

Tuttle strongly intimates that workers will no longer be able to bargain collectively. This is, of course, untrue, but he presents it as fact. “Collective bargaining is responsible for almost every work-related improvement and benefit that currently exist.” Really? If Tuttle is referring to coffee breaks and job-classification expansion, then he’s right. If he in any way suggests that his statement includes safety improvements or job opportunity growth, then his statement has no factual basis. Does the term ‘OSHA’ ring a bell?

Nationally, according to Tuttle, 11.9% of the workforce is unionized. If the union (being protected by federal law, and all) is such a great deal, why has it not caught on more?

Why has the UAW been unable to unionize Honda, Nissan, Subaru/Isuzu, Mercedes, BMW, as well as their transplant suppliers? Are all of those workers ill-treated and underpaid? If so, why haven’t they revolted? The reason is that they are members of progressive organizations and recognize their responsibility to contribute to the progress, rather than just leech off it.

Downes slathers on the emotion words: “dictator,” “signed in the dark of night,” “financed by the far-right,” “taking bricks out of the wall,” “sneak attack vote,” etc. These bear witness to his lack of objectivity. But he ultimately displays an excessively narrow focus with his characterizations of “job-destroying forces of automation, digitalization and outsourcing.”

Clearly, Mr. Downes would prefer that everything we purchase be made by highly paid artisans - sitting in their respective huts, crafting their respective goods, and, of course, paying union dues. The products would be crude, but Downes would be satisfied.

My father was the creator of “digitalized automation.” His invention enabled people to make much better products much more efficiently. He stated 50 years ago that he wanted not to replace machinists, but to enable them to work more accurately and productively.

What have the unions done in the last 60 years that enhanced our population’s quality of life? In my 45+ years of working in union shops, I observed that the inclination of the respective factory bargaining units was to continually push against efficiency and equity.

The unions kicked the bricks out of their own walls. Long ago, they acted against worker abuse, and they secured reasonably improved wages and working conditions. Later on, the focus moved increasingly to the growth and power of the union itself, completely ignoring the fact that uncompetitive enterprises simply will not survive in a global economy.

So, pine away for the decline of the good old unions, if you must. But, please, have some balance.

John Parsons • via email

A Chihuahua Christmas

Spirit. Something we carry in our hearts and minds, and sometimes in our hands. Her name was Tina Maria. A little spirit. A young girl who lived and died over 30 years ago. Her spirit carried in my heart and hand on a recent holiday shopping trip.

Wanting to create a thoughtful Christmas gift for my sisters, I took the tiny photo of Tina to the stores to help me find just the right sized frame for the beloved picture of our childhood chihuahua pet. The only photo of it’s kind on this earth. I know this gift would bring a smile to the faces of my siblings.

Finding the special, tiny frame proved to be a bit daunting, but I didn’t give up hope. After visiting several stores from Macy’s to the dollar stores, where no frames small enough could be found. At least the kind of frame I was searching for; a simple, quality frame that she deserved without decoration, for I wanted Tina and her memorable spirit to be the focus of the gift.

While my feet still hurt, I marched on and landed at Kmart. There, I walked and searched. Then, I finally held out the tiny photo of Tina for an employee to see, and asked if there is a small enough frame in the store? As she gazed at the picture of Tina, she told me how much she misses her lost chihuahua, named Chong.

She went on to share with me how he got lost in Kalkaska before Thanksgiving, and how Christmas won’t be the same this year without him. I felt her pain. We shared the joys of dog ownership and how much they give us as she led me to another section of the store.

I asked her if she posted Chong on the Lost and Found pets on Craigslist? She said no, that she didn’t have Internet. She had posted flyers all over her neighborhood and checks the animal shelters.

I offered to post an ad for her when I got home. She happily agreed and wrote down pertinent information about little Chong. No frame was found at Kmart. However, I left with the spirit of Christmas in my heart and Tina in my hand. Finally, I went to Michael’s craft store and found a shiny, silver Christmas tree shaped ornament-style frame the photo would fit. It wasn’t the type of frame I was searching for, but it is a Christmas gift after all.

Task accomplished. I head home, greeted by my two loving chihuahuas, we settle in with my feet up to get on-line with that child-like hope of getting Chong home for Christmas for a lady, named Sue, of whom I just met. I posted the ad on Craigslist without a picture... “Lost male chihuahua with brown spots... greatly missed... please help bring Chong home for Christmas.”

I thought again about Tina Maria and smiled at that old picture. Come Monday, I received an email from a young mother, Roberta, who lives in South Boardman. She said she may have Chong, and that he has been loved and well cared for. I replied immediately. Then contacted Sue with the hopeful news. Then they connected. All the while still no picture of Chong yet.

Next thing I knew, Sue and Chong are reunited after two months of separation. I heard the spirit of joy and gratitude in Sue’s voice over the phone. A miracle? Perhaps Tina Maria and her loving spirit was enough to bring Chong home in time for Christmas.

Cheryl Dinger • via email

A bustle in the hedgerow?

Really, the Led Zeppelin classic, “Stairway to Heaven” is about shopping addiction (re: Random Thoughts, “The Songs Remain the Same”).

When I was old enough to interpret it, I thought it was about drug addictions. A “drug song.” All that glitters is gold; well isn’t life more interesting when you’re high on something, as long as you’re having a good trip.

Buying a stairway to heaven maybe means that through addiction, she’s killing herself slowly. And even in the off hours of downtown there are still dealers working the streets and with the right code word she can still buy.

I’ve never read anything about the actual meaning of the song. Just curious, and a little more so now.

E. Kolzkowski • TC

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12.31.2012 at 06:23 Reply

Stephen Tuttle is a socialist turd that can't get his facts straight. Corporations are rushing to right to work states in the south and the economy seems to be doing better down there than in Detroit. Obviously this tree hugging misinformed loudmouth needs to do his homework.