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ArchiveAPRIL 2017

 

APRIL 29, 2017    DAYBREAK ON THE SEA OF CRISES

Earthlings call tonight’s Moon phase a “waxing crescent.”  But on the eastern limb of our natural satellite, the sun is rising.

Imagine yourself an astronaut stationed in the Mare Crisium, the Sea of Crises.  That's the smooth plain on the upper right of this photo.

For the past two weeks, represented by the red figure below, your location has been hidden from the Sun — and very cold.  To light your way, you’ve had only the blue Earthshine of our home planet, hanging in the same position as always, low in your western sky.

But now, represented by the gold figure, a new day is dawning.  The Moon has continued its month-long orbit around the Earth, and over your eastern horizon the Sun is beginning to appear.

As this week progresses, from your perspective shadows will overtake the Earth, but the Sun will  reach its zenith (green figure).  A week after that, you'll be standing on the limb of a full Moon!

  

APRIL 25, 2017    INCOHERENCE AT THE TOP

I’ve received some additional insight from Steven Eardley concerning the erratic mental state of our president, who reportedly said to a young lady, “But you’re so pretty. Why are you here? I don’t understand. You’re so pretty.”

I’m referring, of course, to our college president.  In 1969.

Steve’s story has been added to my article Carr Confronted at Cox.  It’s in the gold-bordered boxes near the end of the page.

 

APRIL 22, 2007 flashback   TRANSLATING JOB

George Frideric Handel's oratorio Messiah is a series of vocal settings of excerpts from the Bible, words that were chosen by librettist Charles Jennens.  Part III of Messiah, which deals with the resurrection, opens with a soprano aria:

I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
and though worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God.

Where did Jennens find this Christian affirmation?  According to the notes to the text, it comes from Job 19:25-26.

Well, that's a surprise.  The book of Job is part of the Old Testament.  It was written several hundred years B.C.  Remarkably, even at that early date the writer knew enough science to understand the water cycle of evaporation and precipitation, for Job 36:27-28 says of God,

He draws up drops of water from the sea
and distills rain from the flood;
the rain-clouds pour down in torrents,
they descend in showers on the ground.

But this book was written before Christians developed their doctrine of a dying and rising Redeemer who would bring eternal life.  The people of the Bible hadn't yet begun to entertain the possibility of spiritual life after death, let alone the resurrection of the body.  Job 14:7-12, in fact, tells us:

If a tree is cut down,
there is hope that it will sprout again
and fresh shoots will not fail.
Though its root becomes old in the earth,
its stump dying in the ground,
yet when it scents water it may break into bud
and make new growth like a young plant.

But when a human being dies all his power vanishes;
he expires, and where is he then?
As the waters of a lake dwindle,
or as a river shrinks and runs dry,
so mortal man lies down, never to rise
until the very sky splits open.
If a man dies, can he live again?
He can never be roused from this sleep.

I looked up the verses that Jennens used in his libretto and compared them to a modern translation.  I found differences.

 

King James version

Revised English Bible

For I know that my Redeemer liveth,

But I know that my vindicator lives

and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

and that he will rise last to speak in court;

And though after my skin worms destroy this body,

I shall discern my witness standing at my side

yet in my flesh shall I see God.

and see my defending counsel, even God himself.

 
Admittedly, the Hebrew poetry is difficult to interpret.  But it seems that the King James translators must have consciously chosen words to fit later doctrines.

After all, they helpfully provided Christian chapter headings in an attempt to give an allegorical meaning to the Hebrew erotic poem The Song of Solomon.  In chapter 4, the poet praises his love's eyes, hair, teeth, lips, neck, and breasts, and she responds, “Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.”  King James' translators piously remark, “Christ setteth forth the graces of the church.  He sheweth his love to her.  The church prayeth to be made fit for his presence.”

 

APRIL 19, 2017    WEEKEND WARRIORS

The baseball season is still young, but two teams have the folks around here talking.

One is winless, having been swept by Cincinnati at home and by Boston and St. Louis on the road.  They have a 4.25 earned run average and a .190 batting average.  With runners in scoring position, they're only 5 for 57 (.088) after going 0 for 3 in today's loss, which was their third straight 2-1 defeat.

The other team is having much more success. They're undefeated, boasting sweeps of the Atlanta Braves at home and the world champion Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.  They have a 2.95 ERA and a .289 BA — .300 with RISP.

Both teams call themselves the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The 0-9 version plays its games on Monday through Thursday.  The 6-0 version plays on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  (Thus the Yankees need to beware when they come to town this weekend.)

You may wonder why this disparity.  There is no “why.”

 

APRIL 18, 2007 flashback   PROBABLY NOT, BUT MAYBE

Popular radio personality:  “It's 2:30 PM.  Let's check the weather forecast for this afternoon, which was issued several hours ago.  There's a 20% chance of rain — well, that’s obviously wrong!  It's raining right now!  We'd better make that a 100% chance.”

The fallacy is that any forecasts of what will happen in the future (“this afternoon”) become irrelevant once the future becomes the present.  It is now afternoon.  It's time to stop reading forecasts for the present and move on to forecasts for the future, which is now “this evening.”

Nerdy radio personality:  “This morning, meteorologists predicted a 20% chance of rain for this afternoon.   In other words, it probably wouldn't rain, but there was a possibility that it might.  Afternoon has arrived, and rain is falling, so this morning's forecast was correct; the slight possibility did turn out to be the fact.  The forecast would also have been correct if rain were not falling.”

The forecast is correct whether or not it rains?  That sounds strange.  We prefer our prognostications to be precise and unequivocal.  Will it rain, or won't it?

In the December 2006 Skeptical Briefs, Benjamin Radford tells of the alleged feats of a teenaged Canadian psychic named Adam Dreamhealer.  “One woman, identified as Debbie, believes that Dreamhealer saved her fiancé's life.  Her fiancé Trevor was severely wounded in Afghanistan, and Debbie was told that Trevor probably would not recover from his comatose state.”

Note the word “probably.”  The doctors said that he might come out of the coma, but he probably would not.  They did not say that he was brain dead and that recovery was totally impossible, but rather held out a slight hope.

However, Debbie imagined that they simply told her, “He's never going to wake up.”  And she didn't want to believe that.  Radford continues, “Debbie says she was convinced the doctors were wrong, and when she heard about Dreamhealer's self-proclaimed powers, she asked him to heal Trevor from a distance.  Over the next few weeks, Trevor did indeed begin to gain consciousness, an improvement that Debbie took as proof of Dreamhealer's powers.  ‘The doctors said that he wouldn't recover, so to me, that's a miracle,’ Debbie said.”

Sorry, Debbie, but the doctors did not say that Trevor definitely wouldn't recover.  And Radford notes that his emergence from the coma “is hardly a miracle.  Although Dreamhealer claims (and Debbie believes) that he healed Trevor, it seems the ‘healing’ has been far less than miraculous.  Instead of a full recovery, Trevor remains gravely ill.

“This case illustrates a common logical error in thinking, one that even has a Latin name:  post hoc ergo propter hoc (‘after this, therefore because of this’).  Debbie assumed that because Trevor regained consciousness after Dreamhealer said he ‘healed’ him, Dreamhealer caused Trevor to come out of his coma.  But it is likely that Trevor would have emerged from the coma with or without Dreamhealer's efforts.”

Such awakenings happen all the time, among the seriously injured and even sometimes among those who had been hoping to delude themselves.

 

APRIL 15, 2017    COME ON IN!

“This looks like a nice place.  But is it a coffee shop or a bank?”

Yes!

It’s both!

The Richwood Banking Company recently remodeled its spacious lobby, and this year it’s celebrating its sesquicentennial.

Some people dislike bankers, those big mean greedy bullies.  But most folks in my old hometown in Ohio admire this remarkable institution.
 

 
I grew up with two of its future CEOs.  Since the 1980s I’ve owned almost one percent of the bank.  And it was recently honored as the best of its kind in the nation! 

This week, I returned to Ohio to attend the annual stockholders dinner.  The story is at RBC 150.

 
APRIL 12, 2007 flashback   RECYCLING

Characters in TV shows often flash back to earlier events in their lives, and sometimes the actors have to use elaborate makeup to appear years younger for those scenes.

But in many cases, footage of the actors exists from years before.  I've wondered why the old scenes couldn't sometimes be used as flashbacks.

Well, last week Boston Legal employed this technique in spectacular fashion, taking us all the way back to the Golden Age of Television.

William Shatner's character, attorney Denny Crane, recalled an intense conversation about the ethics of courtroom tactics, a conversation with his attorney father fifty years before.  Suddenly the image morphed, and there was Shatner from fifty years before!

The footage was from the kinescope of a two-part drama that aired live on the CBS series Studio One on February 25 and March 4, 1957.  I might have been watching, though I was only ten years old.  Ralph Bellamy played Shatner's father, although he was not credited in the April 3, 2007, Boston Legal episode that included four segments of their dialogue totalling two minutes.

(The 1957 drama was called "The Defender."  Later the concept became a filmed series called The Defenders, which I do remember watching in the early 1960s.  E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed played the father and son.)

 

Brigadoon

APRIL 9, 2017    THE HEATHER ON THE HILL

In a new article, I recall our high school’s production of a Lerner and Loewe musical.

The audience had to Know the Rules of its Scottish fantasy world in order to follow the story.  However, during the performance — 52 years ago tonight — Terry Rockhold forgot to tell them all the details when he accidentally left out a key paragraph of exposition.

 

APRIL 6, 2017    SHOEMAKER'S GARAGE

This now-faded sign for “Motor Car Sales & Service” probably greeted Vernon M. Thomas in 1929 when he reported to his first job out of business college, as an accountant at a Chevrolet dealership on Main Street in the town of Falmouth, Kentucky.

Not until this spring did I pinpoint the location with some confidence.  Now, in the first four panels of my gallery illustrating my father’s 44-year career in the automobile business, I’ve integrated modern street views with his old black-and-white photos from Falmouth.

I’ve also added other pictures to later panels in the gallery.

Astronaut John Glenn, who is being buried this morning at Arlington National Cemetery, appears in one of them.  So do these 1971 El Caminos arriving at Vernon M. Thomas Chevrolet.

It’s all in this month’s “100 Moons” article.

APRIL 4, 2017    NOT TOO CROWDED

“Pittsburgh's Growth Hampered,” according to the headline in an article in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  Gary Rotstein gives us the bad news.  “Population estimates for July 2016 released by the U.S. Census Bureau last month showed a fourth consecutive year of decline for the seven-county metropolitan area — a loss of 8,972 most recently.”

That’s a small loss, less than 0.4 percent for the year, but a loss nonetheless.  “Pittsburghers are often puzzled that a seemingly vibrant city drawing national buzz isn’t gaining population like most large cities.”

But is that bad news?  Is growth always desirable?

A 50-pound six-year-old boy will weigh 150 pounds by the time he turns 18.  That’s good.  But if he keeps putting on pounds at the same rate, he’ll weigh 550 when he reaches retirement age.  That’s not good.  There need to be limits on growth.

For years an organization called Zero Population Growth has advocated limits, but to no avail.  In 2003 I endorsed a “steady state.”  In 2011 I noted that the earth now held three times as many humans as when I was born.  When I checked the latest estimate yesterday, the total had reached 7,382,023,913.

Yet there are those who want even faster procreation — by people of their own ethnic group, of course, lest they find themselves outnumbered.  Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who is white, spoke last month against immigration and in favor of more babies that look like him.  “You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else's babies.  You've got to keep your birth rate up....  In doing so, you can grow your population, you can strengthen your culture, and you can strengthen your way of life.”

Fewer Kids

Personally, I don’t want more short people ’round here!  As an only child, I never had to share my living space with hyperactive little ones demanding attention, and I liked the peace and quiet.

Many Pittsburghers tend to agree with me.  Data from the article show that “Pittsburgh-region women of child-bearing age give birth less often than is the case elsewhere — 48 per 1,000 women in a year compared to 53 nationally.”

Fewer Parents

However, there’s another factor.  “The natural population decline is an inevitable result of so many working-age people having left during southwestern Pennsylvania’s 1970s-1980s manufacturing collapse.  Not only did those people leave, but the kids they had — who would in many cases be in their child-bearing years now — aren’t here either.”

“In the past quarter century, the number of babies being born in the metro has plummeted 25 percent, from about 32,000 annually to 24,000.”

Since 2010, the region “is estimated to have had 20,597 more deaths than births.  ...Among 48 metropolitan areas that have had more deaths than births in that span, the rest are almost all either retirement meccas or much smaller Rust Belt areas.”

With fewer young folks, “18.7 percent of the metropolitan area’s population is 65 or older, compared to 14.9 percent nationally.”  As a senior citizen myself, it’s like I’m living in Florida.

So What?

Pittsburgh’s population isn’t growing, but is that really a problem?  As I wrote eight years ago, “A larger population may be good news for businesses and construction workers and politicians.  But should the rest of us want to see more traffic jams, more pollution, more overcrowded schools, and all the other consequences of the fact that there are already too many of us?”    

A year ago Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald told Rotstein, “The bigger thing to me is to make sure we have a good quality of life and good economic opportunities for people, and I think we do.  I would put this place up against anybody.”

 

APRIL 2, 2017    READ THE WHOLE REPORT

Ten years ago I remarked on a misleadingly optimistic news report that there have been fewer divorces lately.  Good news, right?  A reader would assume the rate of divorce is down.  But no.  Towards the end of the article we discovered why there are fewer divorces:  there are fewer marriages.  The rate remains about the same, with half of all marriages failing.

On the other hand, another story recently gave misleadingly pessimistic figures, in this case concerning the ACT college entrance exam.  “The latest scores suggest many of this year’s high school graduates aren’t ready for college-level course work.  In its annual score report, the testing company said only 38% of graduating seniors who took the exam hit the college-prepared benchmark in at least three of the four core subjects tested.  That compares with 40% last year.”  I wonder whether a slight decrease of two percentage points is all that newsworthy.

The final paragraph of the article — probably included merely to pad it out to the necessary length with additional statistics — reveals the rest of the story:  “64% of the 2016 graduates took the ACT, meaning nearly 2.1 million students, compared with 59% the year before.”

So an extra 164,000 seniors took it in 2016.  Who were they?  They probably included many marginal students who hoped they were college material but fell short.

In 2015, 40% out of a subgroup of 59% of seniors who took the test were deemed ready for college.  Multiplying the numbers together, that comes to 24% of the graduating class.

Then in 2016, 38% out of a larger but less qualified subgroup of 64% of seniors met that benchmark.  That’s also 24% of the graduating class!

Contrary to the “suggestion” in the reporter’s first sentence, the number of ACT college-ready graduates is essentially unchanged.

 

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