25, 2018 GATHER
YE WHILE YE MAY
who produce their own food are described either as
farmers or as hunter/gatherers.
family didn't farm.
didn't hunt, either. The Thomases were not murderers. We
did not go out searching for innocent creatures to kill.
hunt down out all these photos, I had to go online.)
there was the one time when I was a little boy that my father took
me fishing. I caught a couple of bluegills, which my
grandmother fried up later.
I didn't enjoy any of the fishing experience not impaling a
worm, nor drowning it, nor retrieving my wriggly piscine prey.
my family did gather.
recall collecting pretty yellow wildflowers to make a bouquet for
wasn't very impressed, however. Dandelions are considered a weed.
had to hunt down any dandelion plants I could find in the lawn,
stabbing them to death with a giant plastic syringe filled with the
I was seven, we moved to a farmhouse. People had lived there
before us, of course, and they must have had a garden. We
discovered asparagus poking up from the ground, unbidden.
the plants bloomed and went to seed, we gathered the young spears
and took them to the kitchen.
back was a hickory tree, from which we gathered the hickory nuts
when they fell.
spread them out on the kitchen table, cracked them open, and used a
little pick to dig out the edible nut meat.
this experience did not inspire me to pursue a career in nut-foraging.
22, 2018 CNNWOBC
turn back the calendar more than half a century to the fall of 1967,
when I was the Sports Director of Oberlin College's campus radio station.
weeknight at 11:00 PM, WOBC presented a half-hour news and
commentary program that we called Oberlin Digest. My
friends and I interviewed Yeoman coaches and athletes on
Fridays. Earlier in the week, Digest was sometimes
hosted by our Program Director, senior Ted Gest.
to WOBC's weekly Program Guides, on at least a couple of occasions
Ted chaired a two-part discussion with three freshmen. The
panel reviewed an Education Conference on Monday and Tuesday, October
30 and 31. The same four experts returned for a Vietnam
"think-in" on December 4 and 5.
can't resist tinting their yearbook photos to imagine that if WOBC
had been a cable television news channel back then, our viewers would
have tuned in to see a four-way split screen plus a crawl. This
is how it's done nowadays, isn't it?
to right: Ted Gest, Chris la Fleur, Oliver Cass, and Steve Kelly.
we don't have to use Photoshop to imagine such a panel. I have
a collection of actual 1967 photographs from our radio studios, such
as this one. That's me in the striped shirt next to Ted.
photos, including an appearance by a dollar-bill kazoo, are in this
month's 100 Moons article.
19, 2018 HYPO
a term for everything, and the word for today is hypogeusia.
It describes a decreased ability to taste. I think I have a
mild form of it.
used to love meat from sheep and lambs: roast lamb, gyros,
even good ol barbecued mutton like this from the Moonlite
Bar-B-Q Inn in Owensboro, Kentucky.
sometime in my late 50s, I found I no longer could detect the
carbonyls and branched-chain fatty acids that give lamb its
distinctive aroma and flavor. Now it seems as ordinary as
overcooked beef. However, everything else tastes fine.
situation has solved one personal problem. I no longer have to
worry about how to order a certain lamb-on-pita sandwich. I've
always been hesitant, unsure how to pronounce gyro.
I knew it wasn't supposed to be like gyroscope. Now
I hear the announcer on Arby's commercials saying something like
Euro. That can't be right, can it?
to lower my cholesterol and blood pressure might have something to
do with my hypogeusia, but probably it's simply aging. The
Internet tells us, A healthy tongue sloughs off and regrows
taste buds constantly. Once we hit middle age, the buds
continue to die and be shed, but a smaller number regenerate as the
years go on. And with fewer taste buds in our mouths, flavors
begin to taste blander. Nearly half of older folks have some
level of impaired taste or smell. The weird thing is that the
particular aromas that we lose sensitivity to vary wildly from person
particular loss of taste must be payback for tormenting my neighbors
when I was young the sheep and lambs who lived next door.
16, 2018 TRANSPOSITION
so let me intORduce
subject. Sometimes we scramble our letters before we speak.
you may have heard that England's Prince Harry is getting married to
a melted American on Saturday.
you know that Harry was named after my grandfather,
Harry Gladstone Buckingham? I feel royal!
14, 2008 ODDS
four-games-out-of-seven NBA playoff series between the Celtics and
the Cavaliers is tied at two games apiece. Game 5 will be
tonight, and either the Celts or the Cavs could win. However, a
radio commentator today referred to league history, and he said that
the outcome of Game 5 is critical. For some reason, whoever
wins Game 5 goes on to win the series 85% of the time!
incomprehensible forces at work? Is there something magic
about Game 5 that makes it the key to victory?
that 85% figure seems perfectly reasonable to me. Let's look
at the probabilities going into Game 5. With four games played
so far, the series standings could be either 4-0, 3-1, or 2-2.
A: Your team is ahead 4-0 or behind 0-4. There's no need
to play Game 5, because one team already has four wins and the series
is over. So Scenario A is irrelevant.
B1: Your team is ahead 3-1 and then wins Game 5.
Now you're ahead 4-1, the series is over, and you have a 100%
chance of winning it.
B2: Your team is behind 1-3 but then wins Game 5
in an upset. Now you're behind 2-3. To win the series,
you still have to win both Game 6 and Game 7. All else
being equal, the chance of winning each game is 50%. The chance
of winning both is 50% x
50%, or 25%. You have only a 25% chance of winning the series.
C: The series is tied 2-2. The team that wins
Game 5 will be ahead 3-2. That means they have a 75% chance
of taking the series. (Why? From Scenario B2, we know
that the other team, behind 2-3, has only a 25% chance.)
a dozen different series reach Game 5. In roughly six of them,
one team will be leading 3-1 (Scenario B1 or B2), while the other six
will be tied (Scenario C). If Scenarios B1 and B2 are equally
likely (3 times each), we can average the probabilities to (3B1 x 100%
+ 3B2 x 25%
+ 6C x 75%)
/ 12 = 69%.
Scenarios B1 and B2 are not equally likely. When a
series stands at 3-1, which team is more likely to win Game 5?
The superior team, the one that already has three wins, correct?
So the series-clinching Scenario B1 occurs more often than
the delaying-the-inevitable Scenario B2. If it occurs five
times out of six, the averages are now (5B1 x 100%
+ 1B2 x 25%
+ 6C x 75%)
/ 12 = 81%.
consider other subtle effects such as morale and momentum, plus the
fact that the winner of Game 5 gets to return to that same favorable
arena for the decisive Game 7, and we can easily justify the 85%
result that was obtained experimentally.
update: re-examining my figures
denote the winner of the first game as Red. For the next three
games, here are the 23 = 8 possible outcomes all
equally likely if the teams are evenly matched:
the series continues, only the seven bars on the right apply.
I now realize that, on average, one team will be leading in 4/7 of
them (not half as I thought earlier): Red will have a 3-1 lead
in three B cases and Blue in the other. The C cases will be
let's suppose that 21 different series each reach Game 5. What
are the odds that the winner of that game will go on to take the
series? Three-sevenths of these series, or nine of them, will
be Scenario C. That leaves twelve that are not tied. If,
as I assumed earlier, series-clinching Scenario B1 is five times more
likely than B2, that means ten of this dozen will be B1 and only two
will be B2. The averages should be (10B1 x 100%
+ 2B2 x 25%
+ 9C x 75%)
/ 21 = 82%, slightly more than previously calculated. We
can even more easily justify the 85%.
13, 2018 ¡ABIERTO!
12, 2008 POSTAGE
cost of sending an ounce of first-class mail went up by a penny
today, but for the first time I didn't have to worry about coping
with the increase. The Post Office finally figured out an
efficient way to sell stamps, 160 years after the first stamps were
issued in 1847.
then, wrote John Ross in Smithsonian ten years ago,
the federal postal system had operated without stamps.
Mail usually traveled postage due. To claim a letter, the
addressee, rather than the addressor, paid its postage. A
prepaid letter might have suggested an insult, that the recipient was
too poor to pay for it himself. But paying for a letter
was like receiving a collect call from China. In the
1830s one disgruntled individual harassed an enemy by sending him
letters stuffed with blank pages. Many people who received mail
simply refused to pay, rejecting the letter outright.
flash further back
was now out of employment for some months, but at length succeeded,
by dint of great interest, in procuring a situation in the
Sham-Post. The duties, here, are simple, and not altogether unprofitable.
example: very early in the morning I had to make up my
packet of sham letters. Upon the inside of each of these I had
to scrawl a few lines on any subject which occurred to me as
sufficiently mysterious signing all the epistles Tom Dobson,
or Bobby Tompkins, or any thing in that way. Having folded and
sealed all, and stamped them with sham postmarks New Orleans,
Bengal, Botany Bay, or any other place a great way off I set
out, forthwith, upon my daily route, as if in a very great hurry.
always called at the big houses to deliver the letters, and receive
the postage. Nobody hesitates at paying for a letter
especially for a double one people are such
fools and it was no trouble to get round a corner before there
was time to open the epistles.
worst of this profession was, that I had to walk so much and so
fast, and frequently to vary my route. Besides, I had serious
scruples of conscience. I can't bear to hear innocent
individuals abused and the way the whole town took to cursing
Tom Dobson and Bobby Tompkins was really awful to hear. I
washed my hands of the matter in disgust.
Edgar Allan Poe, in the 1840 short story "The Business Man"
continued, Stamps promised to flip this tradition on its head
by shifting responsibility for paying postage from the recipient to
the letter writer.
a problem arose when inflation required an increase in postal
rates. Your five-cent stamps were no longer sufficient.
You had to add a one-cent stamp, as on this 1968 letter, and buy
six-cent stamps for future mailings.
year, the Post Office at last introduced the Forever Stamp.
You buy it at whatever rate is current, and it can be used on
first-class mail at any time, regardless of any price increases in
the interim. The fee that long ago was collected when the mail
was delivered, and later was collected when the mail was sent, is now
collected when the stamp is purchased. It seems like a good
idea to me.
had another idea around 1970, inspired by the IBM computer cards of
that era with which we fed Fortran programs and data into a mainframe
computer. The cards all had one corner shaved off so that they
could be mechanically sorted to face the same direction.
idea was that the Post Office should give a discount to
standard-sized envelopes if they were shaped like trapezoids so they
could all be mechanically sorted to face the same direction.
But optical recognition techniques have made these non-rectangular
envelopes unnecessary, I guess.
10, 2018 HOT
AIR, SIGNIFYING NOTHING
years ago on one of his vanity cards, TV producer Chuck
Lorre recalled the high school and college essay exams where I
purposely tried to hide my lack of preparation behind a voluminous
cascade of impressive-sounding words. My theory was that a
thick stack of single-spaced purple prose would be so off-putting to
the teacher, he or she would slap a C on the paper in
order to avoid wading through a lot of cursive bull$#!+.
a student, I never tried to fill a page with meaningless
verbiage. But here's a parody of such attempts. Written
in cursive longhand for an illustration in my 1969 college yearbook,
the Hi-O-Hi, it purports to be the last page from one of the
standardized Bluebooks in which we wrote our examination answers.
so ultimately the value of answering the question, "Describe
the general structure of the United States government with specific
emphasis on the past," can be, of course, seen, as it were, in
one of two lights: i.e., good and bad. But any answer to
this question begs the greater question of point of view. The
terminological difficulties alone impose an insuperable barrier.
What is it the professor wishes? What would he have? Is
truth so dear or knowledge so sweet as to be purchased at the price
of chains and slavery? Who is to answer this question? An
historian with a probable built-in bias? A grad student writing
his dissertation? Certainly not
ME! But nevertheless, here is my bluebook.
have neither given nor received.
same edition of the yearbook also reproduced the dialogue below,
allegedly written on the wall of a Wilder Hall restroom stall and
photographed before the dastardly wall-washers came around. It
references Robert K. Carr (right), who as Oberlin's president during
the 1960s gradually lost the students' respect.
and why, really, does President Carr continue to produce and
encourage rational discourse?
I know not, Parapraxis. You know that all of us have earnestly
sought the answer now for five long years. Have you any fresher
insight into this most familiar problem of our existence?
Indeed, Hamancha, I believe that I have found the answer at
last. Yesterday, while seducing the secretary of the Physics
Department, I chanced to note, on the lowest, darkest shelf in the
stacks, a monograph dated 1964, titled On the Stability of the
Oberlin System. Thinking this an odd title for Physics, I
began leafing through it while she took up the burden of the work
and discovered that precisely five years ago, it was
calculated that were it not for the continuous uprush of hot air over
the campus with the resulting updraft and suction, the entire
institution would be sucked into the Great Ohio Mud Sea within three
months. We must indeed congratulate the President, for by great
personal self-sacrifice and effort he has assured, for five long
years, that the hot air flow of Oberlin has never once faltered.
8, 2018 READY
FOR YOUR CLOSEUP?
my impression that in the old days, TV cameramen framed shots of
individual performers much more tightly. Now today, with almost
seven times as many pixels to work with, the standard framing has
been loosened from medium closeup to waist shot.
don't count the pixels in my simulation. This Internet image
is only 371 lines high.)
6, 2018 ATTENTION
MUST BE PAID
to The Tweet of God, paying attention to Kanye West is a choice.
don't normally make that choice, but in this case we do need to
examine what the rapper actually told TMZ Live. Contrary to the
ensuing outrage, he did not claim that slavery was a
choice. By definition, involuntary servitude is not
voluntary. To make myself clear, he tweeted later,
of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a
boat by free will.
he did mean to say, I think, is that many present-day blacks are choosing
to remain slaves to their obsession over being in chains long
ago. You hear about slavery for 400 years.
For 400 years?! That sounds like a choice. You was
there, and it is all, y'all? It's like we're mentally in
prison. My point is, for us to have stayed in that position even
though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved.
4, 2018 THE
WAR ON EDUCATION
couple of months ago, I expressed
some of the following thoughts. But now it's time for a guest
column, by Robert S. Elisberg. It's a highly-condensed and
formatted version of an essay he posted
last December. Most of it, after the first four paragraphs,
actually comes from an article he wrote during the previous administration.
Republican Party has made a concerted effort to convince the public
not to trust knowledge, so you can make up anything you want and
convince people it's The Truth. Voters are taught not to think
have the Trump administration trying to push the concept of
alternative facts, and cries of fake news
against honest, factual reporting. We have a president who lies
so much that running totals are now kept by reporters. There is
a base which no matter how demonstrably, unarguably wrong
something the president says is seemingly will literally
follow him anywhere, off the edge of the earth if necessary.
most-common response on social media in a debate is
Willful ignorance is not a virtue.
wrote an article on the Huffington Post for December 1,
2011. Yes, that's when it was written. Not last night.
only have themselves to blame for the rules they wrote and have been
playing by for over half a century.
can't trust really-smart people!
Education gets in the way of common sense!
Science is the enemy of religious faith!
College is for over-privileged elitists!
Facts matter less than What You Believe!
Adlai Stevenson ran again Dwight Eisenhower for president in 1952,
the big criticism that Republicans launched against Stevenson was
that he was an egghead. Meaning, he was much too
smart to be trusted.
John Kennedy was elected president in 1960, Republicans disparaged
him for his Harvard Mafia. Meaning, there were all
these people so smart they were scary dangerous.
Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, he put college students
high on his Enemies List.
the second George Bush was president, he trumpeted his No
Child Left Behind program and then under-funded it,
leaving those very schoolchildren far behind. In 1996, the
Republican Party platform stood for abolishing the Department of Education.
relentless pounding against the importance of education. To reject
facts. To ignore history. To dismiss science. To
mistrust the news media.
It is no wonder that a Bush White House official ridiculed those who
live in the reality-based community.
information is diminished, it demands having faith that
others will lead you. It is no accident that conservative
politicians court the religious right as their party's base.
Religion is centered on belief, on unquestioning faith. And
that is the path to unquestioning faith in everything.
doubt, some will be up in arms by how supposedly-elitist this all
is. But wanting everyone to be as educated as possible is the
exact opposite of elitism.
you don't want to be angered when your candidates are perceived as
less than brilliant, then promote brilliance. Don't claim that
opinion supplants fact.
and Ariel Durant wrote The Lessons of History
in 1968. Democracy is the most difficult of all
forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of
intelligence. Ignorance lends itself to manipulation.
You can't fool all the people all the time, but you can
fool enough of them to rule a large country.
1, 2018 PHI
May of 1968, I was honored for being a good boy and earning good
grades. I stayed up very late on a Saturday night to monitor
national political maneuvers, although it was all fake news. I
got into a discussion of ESP, measured the speed of dropping latex,
and stumbled through a Russian final.
for my latest article in the 14-month series recalling my life 50
years ago. You'll see photos of a Republican parade featuring
not only elephants but also a rusty station wagon from Tricky Dick
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