Friday, March 6, 2015

Alternatives to Prison (Part 1 of 3)

Introduction:  For almost 200 years, the treatment and punishment of convicted criminals was defined by blending the Pennsylvania System and the New York System.  And, of course, it did nothing to remediate either the offender or the harms.  People come out of prison worse than when then went in.  They re-offend.  And their victims often are the same people they hurt before.  It is a cliché in corrections that prisoners are returned to within 100 yards of where they were arrested.  However, we have made progress.  Community corrections, moral reconation therapy, and reintegrative shaming are among the new modes that provide successful outcomes.

Failure Modes

Historically, transgressors were exiled.  The modern prison solves that problem with topology: we lock them in, not out.  However, the modern prison system does not have deep roots in history.  Until America in the 18th century, prisons were only for holding people until they were brought forward for punishment.  Some people might never leave prison, but incarceration was not the intended punishment for the crime. 

The modern prison began in 1788 with the Penitentiary House of the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia.  The purpose was specifically to reform the penitent.  The intention to remake and rehabilitate the offender led to the construction of the Eastern State Penitentiary in 1829.  Separating convicts into solitary cells was a radical idea, consistent with the social theories of the Enlightenment.  Cesare Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments (Dei delitti e delle pene, 1764) launched the modern study of penology within criminology.  Beccaria argued against capital punishment and torture. His ideas were incidentally consistent with Quaker theory on salvation.  For them, solitary confinement was supposed to allow the penitent to come to terms with God.

However, an alternate model also informed penology:  convicted offenders should live and work communally under close supervision coupled with physical punishment for non-compliance.  That was the Auburn System created in New York following the appointment of Elam Lynds as warden of the prison in 1821. When flogging finally was prohibited in 1847, different punishments were invented. The striped uniform was another innovation in the Auburn System.

From chain gangs and work farms to separate facilities for low, medium, and high-risk offenders, prisons in America achieved little except to keep some people out of the sight of others.  Generally, prisoners themselves control their daily routines, usually with the most violent preying on anyone less aggressive.  Illegal drugs pass into prisons through corrupt guards.

Radicals and Reformers

Following the intellectual ferment of the 1960s, new methods for remediating harms slowly advanced within criminology; and they have found some success.  The basic assumptions of their sociology often are informed by some school of socialism, whether Marxist, neo-Marxist, or postmodern.  For them, crime is a response to oppression. For the classic Marxist, economic exploitation reduces the proletariat to criminal activity.  In point of fact, we have found that when the economy improves, crime goes up.  The current long recession (from 2001 to the present) has seen crime go down. 

However, their point is well-made because the outcomes of criminal action are different for different classes. And class correlates with race, though correlation is not cause.  See Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class by Lawrence O. Graham (HarperCollins, 1999).  When suburban kids are caught shoplifting, or shooting out streetlights with a pellet gun, or using drugs, their outcomes are different from that of their inner city cohorts. Suburban offenders receive many of the treatments and remediations outlined here.  The poor get prison. 

Moreover, we all offend.  Newt Gingrich once said that for most Americans, the posted speed limit is a benchmark of opportunity.  The only relevant questions are: Whom did you hurt? And what are you going to do about it?

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Alternatives to Prison (Part 2 of 3)

Reintegrative Shaming was developed by John Braithwaite based on his experience as an administrative regulator of pharmaceutical firms in Australia.  It was quite simple.  If you go in with a warrant, you only meet the lawyers.  If you sit down for tea with the plant manager, you gain voluntary compliance.  “Sitting down for tea” meant getting the manager to acknowledge out loud that he knew about the violation, and knew that it was wrong. Then, he would promise to fix it, and usually did. 

Braithwaite followed those encounters with research into the anthropology of offense.  He found many examples from history and modern first peoples where the offender was brought back into the community after admitting the transgression and apologizing to the victim, making restoration where possible. 

Sometimes, it is not possible.  An Eskimo man killed his wife; and–when he complained about that–her brother.  So, his friends invited him to go hunting.  Four went out; three came back.  (Hoebel, E. Adamson. 1967. The Law of Primitive Man: A Study in Comparative Legal Dynamics. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.).  Usually, the outcomes are better for everyone because most harms are smaller than murder. 

Even though less than homicide, assault is a violent crime.  Victims suffer multiple traumas, deeper than the physical wounds and scars.  Howard Zehr is a photographer.  He created Transcending: Reflections of Crime Victims (Good Books, 2001).   Zehr presented the portraits and the stories of 39 courageous victims of violent crime.  Not all of the encounters brought closure.  In two, the attackers continued to mock their victims.  In one, the subject was a man whose son was killed in prison.  For three dozen other cases, both the victim and the offender found that they could overcome their suffering.

Community Corrections

The Midtown Manhattan Community Court opened in 1993. The Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn opened in the summer of 1998.  Red Hook’s success has served as a model for many other efforts.  Greg Berman invested two years of daily work, laying the social foundation for the center before it opened.  He met with groups.  He met with individuals. His salary came from a grant by the New York City Housing Authority to the Center for Court Innovation and the King County District Attorney’s Office.

The Red Hook court brings offenders and victims together.  The usual harms are domestic violence and shoplifting.  They also get public indecency cases when men are caught urinating in an alleyway.  Their theory on that is that there is no such thing as a victimless crime.   Every transgression harms the community.

In cases of personal crime, perpetrators confront their victims, apologize, and make whatever restitution is possible.  For offenses against the public order, the guilty apologize to an appropriate authority, acknowledge the harm they caused, and perform community service work. 

In many community corrections programs house arrest with electronic tethering is a common judicial sentence, especially for otherwise non-violent offenders such as the habitual drunk driver.  Community programs find work for them.  Their whereabouts are monitored.  It costs less for us, and keeps them integrated to the community.

Self-Awareness

That assailants are also victims is a fact of crime.  In the first place, a police investigation often reveals that the victim was only the last person to get hurt the most.  Whether a fight in a bar or a feud between neighbors, they had a personal interaction that played out over time.  Either one could have withdrawn completely, but neither did. 

Domestic assault is different than that.  There, a lifelong violent offender finds a lifelong victim of violence.  Typically, both grew up in abusive homes, as did their parents.  That is how they learned their roles.  To them, it seems perfectly normal. 

Moral Reconation Therapy is one of the most successful treatment programs for domestic and drug abuse cases.  Not surprisingly, they go together, especially with the drug of choice is alcohol; and MRT is also employed for treating drunk drivers.  MRT is the work of Gregory L. Little and Kenneth D. Robinson.  Launched in 1988, it was based on five years of research in the Tennessee prison system.  Research continues across problem areas and the many multi-year follow-up studies on recidivism place it high on the list of evidence-based therapies. 

The process is simple.  Following a tested and proven workbook, counselors direct clients in small groups to explore their own attitudes, beliefs, and emotions.  For them self-awareness is a new experience.  Ayn Rand most cogently pointed out that the root of all evil is the failure to choose to think.  Thinking is not automatic.  It is volitional.  People blank-out, evade, and repress unpleasant thoughts, especially about themselves.  For a child, it does not take many years for them to become fogged into a reactive life of the immediate present.  Non-violent people become dysfunctional neurotics.  The violent ones become aggressive criminals.  Self-awareness cures that in about half the cases.

For over thirty years, MRT and other evidence-based practices typically have had success rates in the mid-fifties percent.  The National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (http://www.nrepp.samhsa.gov) is part of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (http://www.samhsa.gov).

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Alternatives to Prison (Part 3 of 3)

Laissez-faire Criminology is my assertion (on this blog) that you do not need to react to every wrong or harm, either against yourself or someone else.  Defining “human” as “rational animal” and given that violent offenders lack self-awareness, they cannot be considered human.  Self-righteous punishment of a criminal is no more meaningful than scolding a coyote or attempting to corral a tornado.  (Indeed, prisons are nothing if not corrals full of tornados.)  Sometimes the best thing you can do is to cut your losses and mind your own business.

Private treaties are one way that corporations deal with white collar crime.  Of all the harms that individuals visit on each other, white collar crime perfectly matches the theory of the rational actor.  White collar criminals are planfully competent.  They are privileged, educated, economically comfortable.  Therefore, the remediations are individualized and based on profit.
 “In responding to and resolving the criminal behavior of employees, organizations routinely choose options other than criminal prosecution, for example, suspension without pay, transfer, job reassignment, job redesign (eliminating some job duties), civil restitution, and dismissal...
“While on the surface, it appears that organizations opt for less severe sanctions than would be imposed by the criminal justice system, in reality, the organizational sanctions may have greater impact...  In addition, the private systems of criminal justice are not always subject to principles of exclusionary evidence, fairness, and defendant rights which characterize the public criminal justice systems. The level of position, the amount of power, and socio-economic standing of the employee in the company may greatly influence the formality and type of company sanctions.  In general, private justice systems are characterized by informal negotiations and outcomes, and nonuniform standards and procedures among organizations and crime types.”
(Hallcrest Report cited in Introduction to Private Security, Hess and Wrobleski, West Publishing, St.Paul, 1982, 1988. The Hallcrest Report I and II, by William C. Cunningham and Todd H. Taylor, et al., Butterworth-Heinemann, Boston, 1985 and 1990.)
 
When Nothing Works

Robert Martinson is famous for “What works? Questions and answers about prison reform” (The Public Interest 35.2; 1974: 22-54).  His research was immediately recast as “nothing works.”  Martinson found that every attempt at rehabilitation in prison had failures, often in greater proportion to their successes.  Successful treatments tended to work only for various minorities, often poorly identified or defined. 

Eventually, the claim that “nothing works” generated another response.  Among very many articles, consider:
·       “Beyond ‘What Works?’ A 25-year Jubilee Retrospective of Robert Martinsons Famous Article,” by Rick Sarre, in Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology 34: 38-46.
·       “Does Correctional Treatment Work? A Clinically Relevant and Psychologically Informed Meta-Analysis” by D.A. Andrews, Ivan Zinger, et al., Criminology, Volume 28, Issue 3, Pages 369–404, August 1990. 

Reduce your problem population as much as you want, eventually you will find individuals for whom nothing we know of will solve their problems.  What do you do with the unregenerate?

Perhaps we should just kill them.  We would save ourselves the trouble and expense.  Consider that we know that a child who is cruel to animals grows up to be a violent offender.  Would it be right to kill a child for abusing a family pet?  Ideally, the offender would be remediated and re-integrated with one of the other responses.

The therapies and remedies discussed above may not work in all cases.  Ultimately, we are left with an intractable problem. We build very many small spaces for internal exile.  In Russia, they have all of Siberia for internal exile.  That may remain the best solution for the worst cases.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Unit Circle

Truth to tell, I was disappointed to find a really nice write-up on Wikipedia.  I was hoping that this was still arcane knowledge.  As far as I can tell, it is not commonly taught in trigonometry classes.  We use the sine and cosine for problems with vectors; and that seems to be about it.  In point of fact, these constructions are the root and rock of computational trigonometry.  If you draw well and measure carefully, you can get two decimal places, or fractions to eighths.
Words have meaning.
If you ever suffered from a respiratory allergy,
then you know that it affects the "bay" the "sinus" cavities.
What we call the sine of an angle is the half-sine,
the semi-bay.
Similarly, our "tangent"
is the measure of the semi-tangent,
ignoring the reflection
below the part that we care about.

The trigonometric identities
come from the Pythagorean theorem.
In Feynman's Lost Lecture,  the professor allows that we do our maths with algebra and calculus.  We no longer rely on geometric constructions. Feynman had to create his own derivations for Newton's Laws simply because he could not follow Newton's easy claims about conic sections.  Newton used geometry to create the calculus.  However, calculus is such a powerful tool that we stopped learning the geometry that Newton knew. 


You can write out the algebraic statements
but a picture is worth a thousand words.
In Cosmos, Carl Sagan tells that Pythagoras fled from Samos because he could not tolerate the tyrant Polycrates, whom Sagan denigrates for having "started out as something like a caterer."  (Bold though he was, Sagan shared the anti-capitalist mentality.) But in The Ancient Engineers, de Camp tells us that engineers working for Polycrates bored through a mountain, starting at opposite ends, met in the middle, and were not off by a foot in a mile.  Lacking the positional notation of Arabic numerals, of course, they did all their calculations with geometry.
Descartes is credited with uniting algebra and geometry. 
His work reflects the seemingly intractable 
analytic-synthetic dichotomy of philosophers. 
In truth, it should have erased the distinction 
between the logically consistent and the empirically verifiable.
See the works of Gregory Browne on this blog here and here.
Long ago, at Curious Books in East Lansing, I found a old manual for apprentice carpenters that showed sines, cosines, and tangents to 32nds of an inch for triangles of given measurement.  Many times I have regretted not buying it then.  Even before that, when Laurel and I were first married, her father asked us what calculus was all about. We told him.  He asked, "Do you mean like this?" and took out a foot-sized caliper and showed us how he measured stair cases.  Rise over Run.  Ain't no doubt.

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Pi in the Sky over Austin (2014)
Patent Nonsense
World Peace Through Massive Retaliation
Circumference
Anthropocene: A Bad Name for a Good Thing

Monday, February 23, 2015

An Abundance of Talent: the 2015 Austin Energy Regional Science Festival

For the fourth time, I served as a judge for behavioral and social sciences in our local science fair.  Again, I met an array of talented and motivated teenagers.  They were intelligent (of course), actively curious about the world around them, willing to step out from the crowd and put themselves in the scales to be judged.  They asked interesting questions and pursued the answers wherever the data took them.  But they were, after all, children.  Some of them assumed far too easily that an experiment that does not validate the hypothesis is therefore a failure.  They never heard of Karl Popper.  That failing is not theirs, but of their mentors – or the lack of them. 
Middle school (junior high) presentation
on noise levels in the school building
 I am pleased and proud to have argued for the first place winner in senior high school  behavioral and social sciences. (See all of the Awards here.) One of the judges said that when he challenged her on a point of mathematics, she did not have the answer.  I responded with some history: last year, she asked every one of the mathematics and science teachers in her high school for help with statistics and she got no replies to her emails. So, she went to the university; and some UT doctoral candidates tutored her in statistics.  So, too, this year, did she seek and find outside help in order to extend and expand her work in statistical methods.  Personally, I was the one who was challenged.  I got an A-minus in my undergraduate class in statistics.  After reading her abstract this year, I downloaded several tutorials: she knew more than I did.
 
Middle School enquiry into which advertising
message draws the most responses
We expect a lot from kids. The German word for “teenager” is Halbstark: half-strong.  That speaks to the core of the problem in a way that the Latin “adolescent” (becoming adult) does not.  My daughter had a mole on her wrist; and she would show me how it moved around as she grew.  For them, life is an intense process.  We judge them as if they were adults.  As a geometer would say, it is obvious by inspection that they are not. Yet, objectively, nothing less is fair to them in the intellectual pursuit of science.
 
Classical, country, dub step, meditation, or pop:
does any help you concentrate on a task?
“If you all were graded on a 100-point scale, 91 would be failing.”  As often as I said it, I could see that it did not sink in, not this year, not in the previous years. This year, I asked one panicked entrant if any other display was clearly head and shoulders better than hers.  The person with the neighboring display chimed in: “The right answer is ‘No.’” 
 
Middle School entry: What is Your "Pawsonality"?
Can a psychological profile predict your preference for a pet?
It is not just kids at science fairs.  I enter and I judge museum quality exhibits at numismatic conventions.  (“Four out of five? How dare they!”)  In the West Wing episodes that bridge the first and second seasons, President Jed Bartlett says that decisions are made by those who show up.  In this context, the future of science, engineering, and technology belongs to – and will be claimed by – those who enter the competitive field of scientific research.
 
Another middle school entry on the Stroop Effect.
This took second place.
The value in this for the learner is figuring out how to
create a novel experiment and enter it in a competition.

The best of them do it alone; but they all deserve mentoring.  That 9-point gap between first and last could easily be closed by a working technician, engineer, or scientist who made the time to volunteer with a school starting in August or September. It is not a matter of showing them how, but of asking science-talented pupils those tough questions early on. 

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Problem of Cultural Patrimony

From Agent Presse France 
via Al-Arabiya online here 
On February 18, 2015, news services (Reuters here) reported that a group of amateur undersea divers from Israel found 2000 gold coins from about 1000 CE, off the coast of the ancient city of Caesarea which is now in the modern state called Israel.  The coins were struck during  the Fatimid Caliphate.  Speculation by archaeologists from the Israeli Antiquities Authority included the suggestion that the coins were taxes collected for the ruling center of the time at Cairo in Egypt.  An alternate theory is that the coins came from a private merchant ship moving from port to port.  No article cited the problem of patrimony.
Fatimid dinars feature the names of the caliphs they were minted under, as well as the date and location where they were minted. "They're first-class historical documents," explains Robert Kool, curator of the IAA's Coin Department.  […] A cursory study reveals that the earliest coin from the hoard was minted in Palermo, Sicily, while the majority came from official Fatimid mints in Egypt and other parts of North Africa and date to the reigns of Caliphs al-Hakim (A.D. 996-1021) and his son al-Zahir (A.D. 1021-1036).  -- National Geographic News online here.
UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) has a broad mandate.  In the past fifteen years, it has arranged with national governments around the world – chief among them, the United States of America – for the passage of laws requiring that “cultural patrimony” be returned to the country of origin.  The Boston Museum of Fine Art and the Getty Museum are among the most newsworthy victims. Several problems haunt the laws. The problem of patrimony is multidimensional. The claims of UNESCO and their allies suffer from internal contradictions because they have no objective basis in epistemology: no standard of value exists for identifying right from wrong.

First, modern nations did not exist in ancient times.  The Boston Museum returned to Turkey a statue called “The Weary Herakles” from 200 BCE. But there was no “Turkey” in 200 BCE.   They called it “Helliades” – and you need to understand what that means.

In the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Greeks called themselves “Achaeans.”  About 400 years later, during the Hellenistic Era, they called themselves “Hellenes.”  Hellas is the modern Greek name for Greece.  But grammatically Helliades is much wider than Hellinike. 

Hellenike would be any Greek city with ties to the old homeland.  Tarentum in Italy was Taras; Naples (Napoli) was Neopolis.  Marseilles in France was Marsalla.  Benghazi in Libya was Berenike.  They were Greek cities.  Greeks built them; Greeks inhabited them.  Sicilians are not Italians.  Italy is a peninsula. Sicily is an island. They are different places.  The people of eastern Sicily are Greeks. In the west, they are Carthaginian.

However, after Alexander the Great, many cities of diverse ethnicities came into the Greek sphere. The orator Demosthenes said, “The name ‘Hellene’ no long applies to a race, but to a state of mind.”
 
Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (here)
lobbies for the rights of private citizens
On that basis, should not every coin from Pakistan to Spain, from Egypt to England go back to Athens? In truth, as the laws are applied, coins from Greek cities of Sicily do not go back to the government museums of Greece: they go to the government museums of Italy. 

Consider the Roman Empire.  In addition to the central mint, coins were struck in what are today Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, France, and England.   Moreover, Roman legions came from all across the empire, but could be stationed anywhere.  The legion name (cognomen) could reflect where they were drawn from or where they won a battle.  We have epigraphic evidence to show that Legio IX Hispanica served in England from 65 to 120 CE. Legio III Cyrenica (modern Libya) served in what are today Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Legio III Italica was stationed in what is Regensburg for 200 years, from 165 CE.  Galba reorganized former marines into Legio I Adiutrix (“Rescuer”) in 68 AD, and stationed them in what is today Mainz.  However, for most of the second century (106 to 198) their base was in a town later known for many years as Szőny in Hungary, but which is now called Komárom on the border with the Slovak Republic.  So, when a hoard of coins found in England contains the product of a mint from Croatia to pay Roman troops from Spain, whose patrimony is it?

Second, the assumption of UNESCO and the co-operating national governments is that the national public museums have a moral right to first claim.  Private collectors are rebuked as looters of protected sites. 

Old World traditions acknowledge the ruler as the owner of all property. The king could grant a title and land to go with it because all of his realm was his to dispose of as he saw fit.  In America today, that continues as eminent domain: the state can take what it needs.  So, when a farmer in Egypt or England finds an ancient coin on his land, it is not his at all: it belongs to the national government.  (England relaxed its “treasure trove” laws; but even that granting of latitude was from the rulers down to their subjects.) The governments of Turkey, Greece, Italy claim that these artifacts were "looted" from "historic sites" but it is easy to make any place historic if other people ever lived there before you did.  Historicity is just an excuse.  In their minds, private property does not exist.
“I’ve been reading only about the Italians and Greeks 
and how they’ve succeeded,’’ said [former Turkish 
cultural official Engin] Ozgen.  “This will show the world 
that the Turks are not ignorant anymore, that they will fight 
for their past and their heritage.’’ This statues is attributed 
as a Roman copy of a lost Greek work.  
It comes from the city of Antalya in modern Turkey.
The town was founded by Attalus II of Pergamon in 180 BCE. 
 Seljuk Turks entered the area about 1500 years later. 
The Boston Museum of Fine Art returned this 
statue of "The Weary Herakles" to the city of Antalya. 
Read here.
Third, why is a museum in Rome more entitled to these artifacts than I am?  It is my patrimony as well.  And, like most Americans, I have a lot of patrimony.  In addition to the Sicilians (Greeks), my mother’s side of the family was loosely identified as “Hungarian.” However, my maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Croatian.  The family just moved up the river inside of a large, multi-ethnic empire in central Europe.  My maternal grandfather’s immigration records identify him as German-Hungarian.  Are not the artifacts of the legions also my cultural inheritance?

Fourth and more to the point, I cite Demosthenes above: “Hellene” is a state of mind.  UNESCO and the national governments couch their claims in the language of race, ethnicity, and genetics.  The fact of the matter is that we are creatures of intellect living in a planetary society.  Seiji Ozawa (Japanese; born in China) and Yo-Yo Ma (Chinese; born in Paris) have as much right to buy Beethoven’s belt buckle as do any of the current inhabitants of Bonn.  

Fifth, national borders are fluid.  Economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) and his brother, mathematician Richard von Mises (1883-1953), were born in a town called Lemberg in the Austro-Hungarian empire.  Treaty of Versailles put the town in the Ukraine, where today it is called L’viv.  According to the UNESCO theory of culture, the people there lost their patrimonic right to enjoy the artifacts of one milieu, but were given the consolation prize of another matrix of icons and exemplars. 

Coin of Sinope in modern Turkey, struck about 375 BCE 

when Diogenes the Cynic was mint master.  

Accused of debasing the coinage, he moved to Athens 
and became a philosopher. 
Under the eagle's wing DIO below the dolphin, SINO. 
The test cut shows that the coin was suspected 
of being false.
The ANA measured the specific gravity and found it 
to be only 
90% pure silver, acceptable to us, 

but debased to the ancients.

Ultimately, the ideological nationalization of museums contradicts the fundamental intention of a museum.  Every leading institution seeks to own and display as broad a collection as possible. That motivation derives from the liberal Enlightenment theory of humanity.  Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, I benefited from time spent at the Cleveland Museum of Art. It seemed to me then – and is still supportable today – that the entirety of human culture was housed there. 

A hundred yards away, the Natural Science Museum displayed meteorites and dinosaur fossils.  Those, too, are arguably someone else’s patrimony. One of the displays about Humans was a panel explaining Culture. I do not know if the Jivaro would be culturally enhanced by the return of their shrunken heads, or if the Inuit need another old canoe; but I certainly am better for having studied them without trekking to Peru and Alaska.


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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Turn Left at Orion


This is easily the single most recommended book on the International Astronomy Forum. If you search for it as a Topic Title, you will find many reviews and comments. It serves beginners, of course; but will remain an important reference for all but the most professional of amateurs. Note also, that as far as I can tell, none of the glowing reviews cited any of the errors in the original 4th Edition. In the Books forum one active writer did allude to fixes to the second edition.

Turn Left at Orion by Guy Consolmagno and Dan M. Davis, Cambridge University Press, 1989, 1995, 2000, 2011; reprinted with corrections 2012; 4th Edition 4th Printing, 2014.
  
As with perhaps all enduring efforts, this book was written for the author himself. Even though – or perhaps because - Guy Consolmagno had worked as a postdoctoral researcher in planetary astronomy, and taught at Harvard and MIT, he had no appreciation for what a small telescope could do.

As he tells it in the Introduction, he had quit his job and signed on with the Peace Corps. His friend, Dan M. Davis, was enthusiastic about buying him a small telescope to take to Africa. Consolmagno was doubtful. After all, what can you see with a 3-inch refractor? Within the glare of New York City (Fort Lee, New Jersey), Davis showed Consolmagno the star Albireo, a stunning double star - one yellow, the other blue. (It is at the head of the Swan or the foot of the Cross, designated β Cygni in the catalogues.)

The other problem that Consolmagno had was with the instrumentation: setting circles, gauges, ascension, declination,… When he approached stellar astronomy as an amateur, he found all of the standard books unhelpful.

So, he wrote Turn Left at Orion.

“Every year, thousands of telescopes are sold, used once or twice to look at the Moon, and then they end up gathering dust in the attic. It’s not that people aren’t interested – but on any given night there may be 2,000 stars visible to the naked eye, and 1,900 of them are pretty boring to look at through a small telescope. You have to know where to look …”

This book tells you how to find them by following visual directions based on the obvious constellations and asterisms. (An asterism is a piece of a constellation. What we commonly call the Big Dipper is really the middle of the Great Bear, Ursa Major. The Sword of Orion and the Belt of Orion are also common asterisms.)



Amateur astronomy has changed since Consolmagno was a boy in Detroit in the 1950s and 60s. Even in his childhood, the hobby had come far in the previous 50 years. A hundred years ago, 1914, the typical amateur telescope was a 3-inch refractor housed in extensible brass tubes. By the 1960s such scopes were Christmas presents for kids; and reflectors of 8 inches (200 mm) were the mainstream for serious amateurs. John Dobson shifted the paradigm with his homemade telescopes. (Read Dobson’s biography on Wikipedia here.)

Turn Left at Orion rates your viewing 1 through 4 with silhouette images for icons: Dobsonian, Refractor (also for reflector; both are called “catadioptric”), and Binoculars. Dobsonian, catadioptric, and all of that are also explained in clear text with large illustrations, from the tripod to the mathematics of telescopes and their eyepieces.

This book is about Deep Sky Objects. It does deliver 25 pages of good information up front about the Moon and Planets. But they are easy enough to find. Successfully meeting the challenges makes a hobby fun.

Major sections of the book are organized by the seasons in the northern hemisphere: January-March; April-June; July-September; October-December. Within those are important asides about diffuse nebulae, open clusters, planetary nebula, galaxies, and globular clusters. Thirty-two pages are dedicated to the southern skies, from Hawaii on down to Chile and New Zealand. You have to be very far south to see the so-called “Clouds of Magellan”, smaller galaxies within our own group. 
“Consolmagno attended the University of Detroit Jesuit High School before he obtained his B.A. (1974) and M.A. (1975) degrees at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. (1978) at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, all in planetary science. After postdoctoral research and teaching at Harvard College Observatory and MIT, in 1983 he joined the US Peace Corps to serve in Kenya for two years, teaching astronomy and physics. After his return he took a position as Assistant Professor at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.

“In 1989 he entered the Society of Jesus, and took vows as a brother in 1991. On entry into the order, he was assigned as an astronomer to the Vatican Observatory, where he also serves as curator of the Vatican Meteorite collection, positions he has held since then. In addition to his continuing professional work in planetary science, he has also studied philosophy and theology.” -- Guy Consolmagno – Wikipedia here.

The overall intention of this book is to provide you with a friend who will be your guide to the stars. That was the role that Dan M. Davis filled for Guy Consolmagno.

(Originally posted to The International Astronomy Forum December 15, 2014.)

ALSO ON NECESSARY FACTS