JUNE 30, 2011 SHIFTING THE CURVE
Epic floods, massive wildfires, drought, and the deadliest tornado season in 60 years are ravaging the United States, with scientists warning that climate change will bring even more extreme weather. Thats according to a story yesterday by Mira Oberman of the AFP news service.
One of the quotes came from Penn States Michael Mann, who heads the universitys earth systems science center. He warned that the intensity of future droughts, heat waves, storms and floods is expected to rise drastically if greenhouse gas emissions don't stabilize soon.
Even a couple-degree warming can make a 100-year event a three-year event, Mann said. It has to do with the tail of the bell curve. When you move the bell curve, that area changes dramatically.
The tail of what curve, now? What area? Whats he talking about?
Allow me to illustrate, using weather data for Penn States location. How often does the town of State College experience a hot July? Thats what Ill call a July in which the maximum temperatures for the 31 days of the month average out to more than 87.5° (the green line on the graphs below). According to a legend Ive just made up, the Nittany lion becomes very uncomfortable if the average high reaches 88°.
Fortunately for the lion, July highs have crossed the green line only twice, averaging 88° in 1955 and again in 1988. He survived these rare hot months, represented by the yellow shading.
Note the much larger area under the tail of the curve, shaded in yellow. This is a simplified demonstration of one way that a small increase in temperature can greatly magnify the likelihood of extreme weather conditions.
JUNE 27, 2011 NOT FOR ME TO SAY NO
At the age of 39, my mother didn't want to move away from the hills of sunny southeastern Ohio, where she had lived all her life. However, my father had a great new job opportunity more than a hundred miles to the northwest, and she couldn't ask him to turn it down.
JUNE 23, 2011 1/2
So who came up with this half-game nonsense, anyway?
As of this morning, here are the Major League Baseball standings for the Central Division of the National League.
We can rank the teams according to their wins. But there other, slightly better methods.
Not all teams have played the same number of games, so its more accurate to rank them according to winning percentage: wins divided by games played. Here in Pittsburgh, Pirates fans keep a close eye on that number, because the team hasnt finished a season with a winning record (over .500) since 1992.
Percentage points being hard to visualize, most of us actually rank the teams based on their win-loss differential (wins minus losses). The Brewers have won six more than theyre lost, so we say that theyre six games over .500. The Cardinals are five games over .500, the Cubs are 14 games under .500, and so on.
That should mean that the .500 Pirates are six GAMES BEHIND the division-leading +6 Brewers. We could also point out, as we do, that the Pirates trail the Brewers by four games in the win column but only two games in the loss column.
All the arithmetic adds up. If the Brewers were to play no games while the Pirates won six straight to raise their W-L to 43-37, the Pirates would match the Brewers +6 differential and claim a share of the lead. (But having played 80 games, their winning percentage would be only .538, so theyd still be a percentage point behind the Brewers.)
So here's how I would add a GAMES BEHIND column to the standings.
Suppose the Pirates were to win their next game to go to 38-37 while the Reds lose theirs to go to 39-38. As a result of those two games, the Pirates and the Reds would be in a virtual tie, both with a differential of +1. Note that this situation depends on the outcome of two games, a win by one team and a loss by the other. Thus, it would be logical to say that the Pirates are two GAMES BEHIND the Reds.
But no. Somewhere in the murky past, someone arbitrarily began dividing all the numbers in the GAMES BEHIND column by two!
Wait, what? I suppose it makes the competition seem closer if we claim that the Pirates are only one game behind the Reds and only three games behind the Brewers. The Astros have 13 fewer wins than the Brewers and also 13 more losses, so they're only 13 games behind the leader not the more embarrassing 26.
Baseball fans have come to accept this tradition. But it only applies to the GB column, not to record-compared-to-.500 or anything else. Wheres the logic? How can a team play half a game?
While were on the subject of the Pirates, Ive made a graph of some inning-by-inning stats originally posted by a local blogger called JAL (thats his avatar).
JUNE 20, 2011 LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION! STOP ACTION!
JUNE 15, 2011 EIGHTH GRADE CHORUS, REVISITED
It was more than 50 years ago in Richwood, Ohio, and I dont have any documentary evidence. But if memory serves, I was a member of the junior high school boys and girls chorus.
Our conductor was the high school music director, Robert Shoemaker. For some reason, maybe to please our parents and grandparents, he chose some oldies for us. Real oldies. Ill give you links to professional performances.
From around the time that we were born, we sang The Old Lamplighter (a 1946 ballad romanticizing the era before electric street lights) and Goodnight Irene (not the raw Leadbelly lyrics but the cleaned-up Weavers version).
There was also a cowboy song written by Cole Porter, performed here by Cincinnatis Leonard Slye atop his dancing horse. Another western tune was originally sung by Clevelands Bob Hope in the move Paleface, but it was performed here by Dinah Shore on her Chevrolet-sponsored NBC-TV show.
From before World War I, there were Ragtime Cowboy Joe and Irving Berlins Simple Melody. We used only the refrains of these rags, then a half-century old. (If you enlarge the image of the label, you can see that the original 78 rpm singles were priced at a steep 75 cents each; that would be about $16.99 today.)
And there was another song, dating to 1902 but popularized more recently, which was addressed to a luminous insect. (Incidentally, around 1977 my parents and I saw the Mills Brothers on the revolving stage of the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix.)
JUNE 9, 2011 LOCAL FAUNA
I hadnt noticed it before, but this week, outside a medical office only a block from my apartment, I discovered a 10-foot-long Stegosaurus.
Whats the deal with this strange statue? Although the plaque has gone missing from its signpost, I recognized the beast as one of the fanciful fiberglass dinosaurs that invaded the environs of Pittsburgh several years ago. So I went in search of more information to the greatest library the world has ever known the Internet. In a matter of minutes, Google led me to the details.
This is one of a herd of 100 such dinosaurs that were commissioned for DinoMite Days in 2003. This particular one, Bridgeosaurus, created by artist Michael Hogle, was displayed at The Waterfront in Homestead. Its nearly 5½ feet tall and weighs 200 pounds.
The design was described as follows: Pittsburgh's many bridges are arguably the city's most evocative images, to both the visitor and the long-time resident. The structures of the Fort Duquesne and the Fort Pitt Bridges find a perfect echo in the curved back of Stegosaurus. Transposing the images of these iconic spans from Pittsburgh's Point creates a resonance between natural past and engineering present.
JUNE 6, 2011 THOMASES DON'T TWEET
Im not sure what to think about recent trends in interpersonal communications.
When a startling piece of news comes to my attention, I feel an obligation to inform the other people in the room. But thats usually as far as I go, because thats how I grew up. As a college student, if I wanted to call someone I had to walk downstairs to the public telephone and ring up the operator. Therefore, even today, I dont phone all my absent friends to tell them the news. I assume theyll hear it from the radio or TV, the same way I did.
However, in the 21st century young folks carry cell phones with them, and they feel an obligation to text or tweet their widely-scattered friends with their OMG! reactions to everything that happens.
A study by Frank N. Magid Associates Magid Generational Studies unit, described in an article in Broadcasting & Cable last week, describes how the news about the death of Osama bin Laden was spread differently by the different generations.
Ive rounded off the numbers to produce these pie charts. Im a Baby Boomer. The next youngest generation is called Gen X, and younger still are the Millennials.
Magids Sharalyn Hartwell comments, A communications lifestyle isnt something Millennials take lightly. It is important to them not only to be available to their personal network, but to share with their personal network. It was instinctive for Millennials to directly share such big and important news.
I do look favorably, however, on another recent development.
When I was a young man, we discussed sports stats in ordinary language. Hes been on a hot streak. But I bet hell cool off eventually.
Nowadays, technical terms from statistics have entered the discussion. If a player has been hot lately, someone cautions us about the small sample size. When he eventually returns to mediocrity, someone cites regression to the mean. Such considerations ought to discourage analysts from ascribing too much significance to short-term trends.
With my background in science, I welcome this more precise language of mathematics. (See my earlier comments, now augmented by a borrowed cartoon.)
JUNE 1, 2011 WRAPPED IN A SHEET
MAY 30, 2011 LULL ME TO SLEEP
Ive added a short new article about Bedtime Story Lullabies. Actually, its about baseball with 30-year-old audio, plus digressions on nothing across, trapped balls, and day games.
MAY 28, 2011 IT'S STILL ILLEGAL
MAY 24, 2011 GUARDIANS
Parents have many issues to worry about, from vaccinations to potty training to nightmares to sibling rivalry to homework and much else besides.
But what issue always concerns parents on television situation comedies? Guardianship. In the highly unlikely event that we both die in a plane crash, who gets the children? It seems to me that this problem comes up in one episode of every family sitcom.
In real life, its usually no problem. Just appoint the grandparents, or the closest uncle and aunt.
But on TV, agonizing over this decision affords opportunities for adult characters to offend each other. These characters, often unrelated, get to disparage each others parenting abilities. That leads to much better comedy than making everyday decisions, such as whether Susie can stay up past nine oclock.
When Paul Reisers new NBC series was canceled this spring after only two weeks, the obligatory story line was already in the works. A later episode, TV Guide reported, finds Paul reevaluating his choice of his childrens legal guardian should something happen to him and his wife. ...The laughs, he says, come from the consequences of rescinding one offer only to learn no one else wants your kids.
UPDATE: Sitcom writers are still at it.
MAY 19, 2011 HAPPY 65TH BIRTHDAY
Last year, I happened to find for sale on eBay a newspaper insert from 1973. It was the August 26 through September 1 edition of Chicago Tribune TV Week.
The cover story featured my favorite cute television actress from that year, Deirdre Lenihan. So I bought the booklet for $9.99.
The article on page 3 is by TV Week editor Bill Manago.
Then a few months ago I heard from a man in Savannah, Georgia, who had run across my mentions of Deirdre on this website. He wrote:
And my correspondent replied:
MAY 18, 2011 BUSES ARE A-COMING
Many Oberlin College students who enrolled in 1962, 1963, and 1964 were involved in the civil rights movement. As I learned at the 2008 reunion and elsewhere, they generally had become politically active as high school students. Several said that the Freedom Riders of 1961 were their first inspiration.
In 1961 I was still in junior high and didnt take much notice of what was happening in the South. When I enrolled at Oberlin in 1965, I was not politically active.
Thus when PBS aired an American Experience documentary about the Freedom Riders earlier this week, it was a real eye-opener for me. I had no idea of the bravery that was required 50 years ago to take a bus trip from Atlanta to New Orleans if you were determined to ignore the Whites Only and Colored Only signs at the bus stations and restaurants along the way. I had no idea of the beatings and bus-burnings and imprisonment that these pioneers endured during their non-violent protest. It makes me appreciate even more my pastors trip to Mississippi 2½ years later.
MAY 17, 2011 GONE FISHIN
I have a number of reservations about Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, but one incident in particular has always bothered me.
Lets turn the clock back to 1998. Gingrich had represented the Sixth Congressional District of Georgia for 20 years. For the last four years, he had also been the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives the Speaker of the House.
On November 3, the people of the Sixth District re-elected him for an 11th term as their Congressman. In that same election, however, the Republicans suffered a net loss of five seats in the House. Many in his party blamed Gingrichs leadership, including his failed attempt to remove President Bill Clinton from office. Therefore, three days after the election, Gingrich did the right thing and announced his resignation from his leadership position as the Speaker of the House.
But he also announced that he was resigning from Congress altogether. The people of his District had just re-elected him to another two-year term, but he thumbed his nose at them and declined to take his seat.
Others in similar situations, like Bob Dole in 1976 and John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008, didnt react to losing a national election by walking away from their responsibilities to their local constituents. They continued to serve in the United States Senate.
In a phone call on November 8, 1998, Gingrich gave his reasons for abandoning Washington. We have to get the bitterness out, he said. It is clear that as long as I'm around, that won't happen. ...My only fear would be that if I tried to stay, it would just overshadow whoever my successor is.
Fellow Congressman Joe L. Barton (R-Texas) fretted, We could end up losing that seat.
Trust me, that district will elect a Republican, Gingrich replied. I think Marianne and I will probably take six months off and go collect dinosaurs or something.
Georgia voters had elected Gingrich to serve them for two more years as their Representative. Later, Alaska voters would elect Sarah Palin to serve them for four years as their Governor. But when these politicians were denied a higher office, they became dissatisfied with the office they had. They decided to turn their back on the voters and quit the game entirely. If they couldnt call the plays, they were going to take the ball and go home.
MAY 13, 2011 MISHEARD LYRICS
Every day, a loan company in the Pittsburgh suburb of Cranberry airs a radio spot that ends with a jingle. It sounds to me as though theyre singing
Golden Oak land aint sure, mount do!
Well, Im sold. However, I ran across a post by 60sixx on a LetsGoPens.com thread about annoying commercials. Hes apparently been able to understand the words, which he quotes as
Golden Oak Lending cured my blues!
Im glad Ive learned the true meaning, because these radio commercials can stay around for decades. Another local company, the waterproofing firm Mariani & Richards (catchphrase Ah, dry up!), still occasionally runs a jingle in the style of the Beatles Good Day Sunshine from 1966.
MAY 7, 2011 MOTHER'S DAY 1956
MAY 4, 2011 OHIO
Forty-one years ago today at Kent State University, during a protest against the war in Viet Nam, four students were killed in a confrontation with National Guard troops.
Ive referenced that event in a few places here on my website, such as here. I mentioned Howard Emmer, a Kent student who had spoken at a protest the previous year at my college, Oberlin.
That led to an e-mail I received last month from a man named Jim. I was actually a classmate of Emmers, he writes, though our acquaintance was nodding.
And that led me to add to this website the audio file of Emmers 1969 talk. You can listen to it by going to this page.
In May 1970, Jim had just begun what was to be a 12-year association with the Cleveland Press as a reporter. Now retired, he writes that he has been thinking more and more about the events of that time. ...What fascinates me is why Kent? I know all the theories, but none of them ring true to me. I mean, we had Oberlin, Denison, Kenyon, Antioch and others seemingly more suited and more receptive to anti-war protests.