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ArchiveNOVEMBER 2018



In case you haven't noticed, the forecast in my previous post has become inoperative.  The much-hyped midterm elections were not particularly chaotic.  Never mind.

Instead, we've returned to our usual chaos — emerging in particular from the White House and also from the nation's 300,000,000 firearms.

So last night, a man walks into a bar with a handgun.  Twelve dead in Thousand Oaks.  Someone else shoots up a parked car in Youngstown, killing a man and woman and their baby.  Three dead in Ohio.

In the first 300 days of this year, through the October 27 massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, there were 47,220 incidents of gun violence in the United States.  That includes 1,321 accidents and 297 mass shootings.  As a result, gunfire killed 11,984 people.

This does not include an estimated 18,000 suicides by gunshot during that period.  On average, adding the two numbers together, guns kill a hundred Americans every day!



Remember 18 years ago, when a very important election was followed by five weeks of controversy before a winner could be declared?  This time we have many close contests nationwide, and frenzied partisans will not hesitate to file lawsuits.

Mark Evanier predicts today “will be the messiest Election Day in the history of Election Days,” and not just because of heavy turnouts.  We'll hear about voter intimidation and malfunctioning machines and provisional ballots and challenged outcomes.

“You may be eager for this all to be over on Tuesday night before you get to bed but it probably won't be over on Tuesday night.  We may all go beddy-bye with many cliffhangers still dangling out there and people charging fraud over votes their side seems to be losing.  In some cases, they may even be right.”


NOV. 4, 2008 flashback   WHO'S RED?  WHO'S BLUE?

Awaiting tonight's television coverage of the Presidential election returns, I naturally think about TV graphics, because that's my vocation.  In particular, I consider the representation of the electoral vote on a national map.  As analysts declare one candidate or the other the winner in a particular state, that state is filled in with the appropriate color.

At first the colors were arbitrary.  Red and blue were obvious choices, so that the map would bear the colors of the flag, but which party should be red and which should be blue?  I recall in the not-too-distant past that NBC did it one way and CBS the other.

Some electoral maps used blue for the elephants and red for the donkeys, as evidenced by this representation of the 1988 election.  To me, this was the logical choice.

Blue described the Republican party, made up of blue-blooded wealthy elites, prissy blue-nosed social conservatives, and true-blue patriots.

Red described the Democratic party, more to the left politically and thus closer to the Communists with their Red Army and Red Square.

But around the turn of the century, somehow the opposite coloration became the rule.

UPDATE, NOVEMBER 5, 2012:  Further research indicates that this happened almost exactly at the turn of the century.  For more than a month after the 2000 Presidential election, the outcome remained in doubt.  The story was on TV screens day after day, illustrated by an omnipresent electoral map.  There had been no prior agreement among the networks to color Bush states red and Gore states blue, but a majority happened to use that scheme, and the others began conforming to it to avoid confusing viewers who were flipping between the channels.  Republican = red and Democrat = blue became the standards and have remained so ever since. 

Where's the logic now?  There is none, except for the fact that Republican and red both begin with the letter R, and the fact that after the 1960s (when Lyndon Johnson came out for civil rights and Richard Nixon adopted a "Southern strategy") the red-meat-lovin' rednecks began voting for the GOP.

However, I'm glad that we've agreed on a single color scheme, even if it's not the one I would have chosen.  Standardization allows us to use the terms "red state" and "blue state" as an unambiguous political shorthand.

And we can hope that tomorrow all the rancor of the long campaign will begin to fade away and we can once again join in singing the praises of these united States, e pluribus unum, neither white nor black, neither red nor blue but "O beautiful ... for purple ...."

2018 update

Sometimes I feel surrounded, marooned on one of the few blue islands in a Red Sea of intolerance.

The gold numbers mark the places I've resided for a year or more of my life.  In 2016, the people in every one of these counties voted for Trump, except for Pennsylvania's Allegheny County where I now make my home.


NOV. 2, 2008 flashback   CORPORATE EARNINGS WAY UP

"CNX Gas profit soars by 115 percent," read the headline last week.  I suspect many will consider this another example of an energy company making obscene profits while the rest of us have to pay high prices and cope with a recession.

However, we have to be careful when comparing year-to-year profits on a percentage basis.  In some cases, this statistic could be misleading.

Suppose that Sam's Store had a bad year in 2007, barely breaking even.  Sam's revenue was $100,000, but his expenses were $99,985, so his profit was a measly 15 dollars.  "Well," said Sam, "I guess I'll cancel that annual ad in the high school football program.  That'll save me 60 bucks."








no change

minus Expenses



down $60 or 0.06%

equals Profit



up $60 or 400%

Nothing else changes, and in 2008, Sam has another $100,000 in revenue.  But his expenses are now only $99,925, so his profit is 75 dollars.  That's up 400% from the year before!  Better slap a windfall profits tax on Sam.



Funeral services for the 11 people gunned down last Sabbath at the Tree of Life Synagogue are being held this week in Pittsburgh.  Among the prayers is the Kaddish (“Sanctification”), the traditional Jewish prayer of mourning.

I'm told the Kaddish does not mention death, but rather life.  Leonard Bernstein wrote a symphony exploring both aspects: the popular connotation of the prayer as a kind of requiem — “Betrayed, rejected ruler of the universe, I will say this final Kaddish for you” — and its celebration of creation.

I recall listening to the original recording of this symphony fifty years ago.  Parts of the text are included in this month's installment of the series about my life in 1968.

I also recall listening to Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé suite, and the recently-released “Revolution” by the Beatles, and the recently-synthesized Switched-On Bach by the transgender musician Walter/Wendy Carlos.  And I summarize our radio station's election-night coverage.   Click here.