About Site

ArchiveJULY 2019



Forty years ago today, I mailed a letter explaining how I was conserving energy.  Due to a reduction in oil coming from Iran, Americans perceived that there was an energy crisis.  There were long lines for gasoline.  I resolved to use my car as little as possible.

From my apartment in downtown Washington, Pennsylvania, I could walk almost anywhere I needed to be.  I estimated I could go 60 days between trips to the gas station.  If it took 20 gallons to fill up the tank of my big Oldsmobile, on average I was burning merely one gallon every three days.

Fuel economy is normally expressed in Miles Per Gallon, but maybe we should think of Hours Per Gallon instead.  Not hours on the road but actual hours, 24 of them every day.

During that summer of 1979 I was getting three days to the gallon.  That's 3 x 24 = 72 hours per gallon, or 72 HPG.

Someone with a long commute (30 miles each way at 15 MPG) might have needed four gallons every day.  That's 24 / 4 = 6 HPG.  I was doing a dozen times better than that.  Yay, me!


The point is that to burn less fuel, we should simply drive less (if we're able).  Carpool, walk, take public transportation, shop in our own neighborhood, work from home, visit via Skype instead of making long journeys, and so on.  Let's save money and cut pollution by getting those HPG numbers up!



Have you ever visited the city of 68,000 people known as Texarkana?  I have.  My parents and I drove through there exactly 56 years ago.  The date was July 28, 1963.  Just like today, it was a Sunday.  In the afternoon.  Around 2:00, Central Time.

How do I know that?  As the teenager navigating from the back seat, I was carefully logging the progress of our vacation trip through the middle of the country.  In previous years our family had driven to Louisiana and to Oklahoma, but I had not yet visited the neighboring states of Arkansas and Texas.  This 11-day journey had been mapped out to remedy my deficiencies.

Texarkana was founded in the 1870s when the first railroad crossed the state line there.  The city takes its name, of course, from the fact that it's partly in Texas and partly in Arkansas.  I guess that makes it two cities.  Their shared motto is “Twice as Nice.”  They're mentioned in a popular song of the day, composed by Huddie Ledbetter and first recorded in 1940.

When I was a little baby,
My mama would rock me in the cradle
     In them old cotton fields at home.

It was down in Lou'siana
Just a mile from Texarkana,
     In them old cotton fields at home.

Apparently when old Lead Belly wrote “Cotton Fields,” he used a bit of poetic license to achieve a rhyme.  His geography didn't make sense to this navigator.  I'd seen the maps.  I knew the cotton fields of Louisiana were considerably farther than a mile from Texarkana.


JULY 27, 2009 flashback   TWO OUTS

Baseball fans often complain about how many runs their team has allowed.  Sometimes, they lament that most of them came after there were two outs in the inning.

Is that unusual?  I’m not so sure.

What are the Major League averages for runs scored with no outs, one out, and two outs?  Are the runs evenly distributed at 33%, 33%, and 33%?  I’d guess it might be more like 25%, 33%, and 42%, simply because as the inning progresses there are more likely to be runners on base.  But I’ve never seen the actual numbers.

Before we could even consider calculating the numbers, we’d have to define what we mean by “a run scored with two outs.”  That’s not as simple as you might think.  Should we use definition B:  there were two outs BEFORE the play began?  Or should we use definition M:  there were two outs at the MOMENT the runner crossed the plate?

Suppose there’s a runner on 3rd base with one out.  The batter hits a fly ball to the center fielder.  Now there are two outs.  The runner tags up and comes home to score on the sacrifice fly.

According to B, the scoring play happened with one out.  According to M, the run actually scored after there were two outs.

Suppose there are runners on 1st and 3rd with nobody out.  The batter grounds to the shortstop, who decides to concede a run in order to make a double play.  He throws to 2nd base; now there is one out.  Then the throw goes to 1st base for the second out, which occurs at almost the same time that the runner from 3rd base is crossing the plate.

According to B, the scoring play happened with no outs.  According to M, the run scored after there were either one out or two outs, but it’s hard to tell.

I suspect that the lament over “runs allowed after two outs” is actually a lament over missed opportunities.  If we had only gotten one more out when we really needed it, we could have prevented those runs!  (In this case, definition B is the relevant one.)  This is similar to the lament over runners left on base.  If we had only gotten one more hit when we really needed it, we could have scored those runners!  And it may turn out to be just as meaningless.



A puzzle requires me to find two different eight-letter words following the patterns

_ _ _ _ W I _ D
_ _ _ _ B A _ D

inserting the same five letters into the blanks each time.  The best I can do is WOODWIND and WOODBAND.  However, although “woodband” could mean a wooden ring or a forested strip or Michael Wood's orchestra, I don't think it's a common word.

I finally give up and start watching an old Columbo, reading the closed-captioned dialogue for hints.  Finally one character mentions the word “head.”  Aha!


JULY 22, 2009 flashback   CAMPUSTOPIA

This past week, Scott Adams (the creator of the comic strip Dilbert) has been blogging about an ideal city called Cheapatopia, built from scratch as “an absurdly cheap place to live with a ridiculously high quality of life.”

From his entries for July 13, July 14, July 17, and July 20, here are some condensed excerpts.

The era of ridiculous consumption is over.  The average household will have to learn how to make do with less.  But there is no reason we can't be happier at the same time.

In Cheapatopia, no one would ever again hire a babysitter or put their dog in the kennel while they are on vacation. That sort of thing would all be done by neighbors, and you would know those neighbors well.

Cheapatopia puts a big emphasis on social interaction.  Most of your meals are eaten at the city-run all-you-can-eat buffets located in each neighborhood.  You'd always see your neighbors at meals, and you'd never need to shop or cook or clean.  Prices would be lower than regular restaurants because these eateries would be operated at cost, and food would be purchased in bulk.  The food quality and variety would be excellent, at least by family standards, because this is one area in which Cheapatopia would not skimp.

Residents could get further discounts on their buffet meal plans by agreeing to work shifts at the cafeteria.  You might find it fun to work with your neighbors for a few hours every week.

Ride sharing would be made easy by an Internet system.  But the only rides you would ever need would be to the nearest airport.  There would be no cars within Cheapatopia.

The real purpose of this system is not just the convenience of getting stuff done, but the social interaction it causes.  Most people make their friends from their organized activities, past or present.  They find their spouses and lovers the same way.  Cheapatopia increases your social involvement and therefore your social life.

Many of you believe Cheapatopia can't work because communes have been tried and failed.  And besides, you wouldn't want to live in such a socialist place.

But Cheapatopia is designed with individual self-interest as the founding principle.  Living in Cheapatopia is optional.  Plain old capitalism will always surround it.

The only difference is that capitalism has inefficiencies that don't benefit anyone.  As I write this, I'm looking out the window at seven parked cars, each of them requiring auto insurance, and none of them being used.  And every home in my neighborhood has poor roof insulation because there was no market pressure on the developer to do better.

There would be lots of different reasons for wanting to live in Cheapatopia, if only for a few years.

The closest model is college dormitory living.  In college, the meals are communal, the buildings are inexpensive, and the social life is organized and abundant.

Dorm living is only appropriate for a few years of your life, to accomplish a goal.  Cheapatopia is similar in concept, but more high-end and designed for families.

So that’s why I look back so fondly on college days!  We lived in dorms, owned no cars, walked or biked everywhere, and ate at the dining hall.  We knew that life outside, in what we called “the real world,” would never be like this.  For four years we were living in a Utopia.


JULY 20, 2019    FOR A MAN

The shadowy TV frame above actually shows Buzz Aldrin's small step.  Neil is the bright spot in the sunlit background,
as depicted in the CGI reconstruction on the right.

Neil Armstrong and I were practically neighbors.  We each grew up northwest of Columbus, Ohio.

Wakaponeta was his home town.  He went to middle school in Upper Sandusky, only 25 miles north of my home in Richwood.  (I've underlined the accented syllables for you.)

“Central Ohio” is pronounced “sinturl uh-high-uh” in that part of the country.  “For a man” is slurred into “fruh man” in that part of the country.  So I think I can buy Laura Dilley's explanation of Neil's famous quote.

It was not “one small step for man”
but rather “one small step fruh man.”



I avidly followed all the early space launches.  For example, on Wednesday, May 15, 1963, when I was a high school sophomore, Gordon Cooper lifted off shortly after 8:00 AM for the final Mercury flight.  About the time I got home from school that afternoon, he had surpassed Wally Schirra's orbital endurance record.  He was on his way to a 34-hour mission in that tiny capsule, taking pictures and adjusting equipment and performing experiments.  I stayed glued to the TV for the reports until, around 10:00 that evening, controllers suggested Major Cooper should try to get some sleep.  “Well, if he's going to sleep, I guess I can too,” I remarked, heading off to bed.

Fifty years ago this morning, humans climbed into a vehicle to begin a complex, hazardous, expensive journey all the way to the surface of the moon.  They would stay there for less than 22 hours, then hurry home.

I joined 650,000,000 other people in watching the coverage.  However, I deliberately did not watch the Lunar Module's landing on television because I knew there were no live TV cameras on the moon.  Not yet, anyway.  CBS was going to depict what should be happening with a prerecorded animation, but that might not be what was happening, so I retreated to the bedroom and listened to actual transmissions on my transistor radio. 

According to the flight plan, the LM was supposed to touch down at 4:17:20 Eastern time, so that's what my relatives in the living room saw on TV.  But the LM hadn't actually landed yet, because Neil Armstrong needed another 20 seconds to fly over some boulders to a better landing spot.

My uncle Cecil watching a CBS News
 simulation (TV image reconstructed)

Later that evening, I did join my parents in front of the TV to watch the astronauts walk on the moon.  Mother and Neil Armstrong both laughed at Buzz Aldrin's quip after he'd started down the ladder, “Now I want to back up and partially close the hatch, making sure not to lock it on my way out.”

Five more landings would be made before the end of 1972, but we haven't returned since.  Been there, done that.

It's true that if funding comes through, NASA is hoping to fly an updated Apollo vehicle called Orion and land a crew on the moon during the Artemis 3 mission in 2024.  That would be in preparation for a possible manned mission to Mars maybe in the mid-2030s. 

Those are nice places to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.

It would be dangerous to live there.  As Elton John sang in “Rocket Man”:

Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids.
In fact, it's cold as hell.
And there's no one there to raise them if you did.

Writing in Free Inquiry for June/July 2019, Gregory S. Paul points out, “Being in space means every moment being on the verge of death if something goes wrong with the damn oxygen supply.  ...All of deep space is chock-full of cosmic rays that will in a few months fry the human brain into permanent dementia and pepper the body with cancers.  Never forget, we evolved here on planet Earth, whose magnetic field protects us from said radiation.  There is no practical way to shield people in space vehicles that must be lightly constructed.  Living on the moon or Mars will require living underground.  But watch out for moon and Mars dust; it's pretty toxic stuff comparable to, say, asbestos.”

Also, rockets sometimes blow up, and they're extremely expensive.  In May, the Trump administration added $1.6 billion to its 2020 budget request for NASA.  But “rhetoric is really cheap,” said Casey Dreier of the Planetary Society.  “You can evaluate how serious something is by looking at the actual dollars.  Looking at this request, it's a nice, welcome bump, but it's not indicative of a serious attempt to land on the moon in 2024.”  Allowing for inflation, the Apollo program cost 70 times that much.  “I find it very unlikely that 2024 will see a lunar landing with people.  It's just not enough.”

Just last week, Bill Gerstenmaier (left), “a steady and methodical force” at NASA for the past 42 years, was suddenly removed from his position as head of human exploration.

Why the unexpected shakeup?  NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine would only say it's time for a change.  “I don't think there's anything that he was not doing.  I just think it's time for new leadership.”  But no permanent replacement was named.

The chair of the House Science Space and Technology committee, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), did offer a statement:  “The Trump administration's ill-defined crash program to land astronauts on the Moon in 2004 was going to be challenging enough to achieve under the best of circumstances.  Removing experienced engineering leadership ... at such a critical point in time seems misguided at best.  The Administrator needs to explain this personnel action, as well as provide an executable program plan accompanied by a credible budget if Congress is to have any basis for supporting the President's Moon initiative.”

What about the next dream, sending people to Mars to colonize it and save our species?  “That is an escapist elitist fantasy,” writes Gregory S. Paul.  “The remote colony would be perpetually vulnerable to political strife and autocracy.  Even in the incredible event that the fantastic funds needed to conduct the hyper-risky effort to terraform the planet actually worked out, Mars would be a rump human habitat that would do little to save the species if our homeworld goes belly-up.”

Paul offers two recommendations.  First, deal with the one spaceship we already have, our planet.  “If we can't make it here on Earth, we can't make it anywhere.”  Secondly, if conscious minds do go to Mars, they should be “artificial minds that don't need oxygen and can get to space cheaply and safely and be resistant to the radiation.”

The robots already living on the red planet are sending back pictures and data that are almost as good as being there.  Couldn't humans join them?  “Ain't happening, folks,” writes Paul.  “It never will be practical in terms of cost and safety.”



For the 1965 Beatles album Rubber Soul, Paul McCartney wrote a song addressed to a girl who went away and now refuses to even answer the phone.

Though the days are few
     They're filled with tears,
And since I lost you
     It feels like years.

I just can't go on if
     You Won't See Me.

The opening line of the lyric always catches my attention.  People nowadays would complain, “When I try to phone you, my call goes to voice mail.”

People back then would have said, “When I call, all I get is a busy signal.  Bzz, bzz, bzz, bzz.”

But McCartney, being British, could write a much more poetic iambic version:  “When I call you up, your line's engaged.”


A newspaper cartoonist needs to come up with a brief gag every day, and for this one Dan required help from his pal James (who got a hat tip).


I'm almost too young (!) to understand why a calypso singer is confronting a seagull.  A 36-year-old Dirty Harry movie is the source of “Go ahead, make my day.”  Three decades before that, The Banana Boat Song — a Jamaican work ditty beginning “Day-o! Day-o! Daylight come and me want go home” — was recorded by Harry Belafonte way back in 1955.

Joke references are getting older and older, though not to the degree of “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”



When two people need to communicate with each other but speak different languages, an interpreter is required.

The job:  listen to what one person says in one language, then turn to the other person and repeat it in the other language, then vice versa.  But how accurate must the translation be?

Having recently run across two TV comedy bits about such go-betweens, I've tried to make their all-English scripts easier to read.

In the first sketch, An Interview with Juan Lee, the interpreter does Juan a favor by taking major liberties with his unfiltered frankness.  But in the second sketch, the translator is stubbornly literal.



Fundamentalists claim that the United States is a Christian nation.  That’s true in one sense:  more Americans identify themselves as Christians than as members of any other faith.

However, the United States is not a Christian political entity.  Our Constitution never mentions God, and it prohibits the endorsement of any official religion.  Most of the founding fathers were Deists, not Christians.  They acknowledged “Nature’s God,” not Jesus.  The Treaty with Tripoli, negotiated by George Washington’s administration and approved unanimously by the Senate in 1797, reassured Muslims that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Not only that, the very birth of our nation 233 years ago was a direct act of disobedience to Scripture.

In 1776, Americans rejected divinely established authority.  They rebelled against George III, by the grace of God the King of Great Britain.  They asserted that the people have the right to invent their own form of government — organizing it not according to God’s plan but according to man’s own ideas, “laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

This Declaration of Independence can be seen as a great sin against God.  Author John J. Dunphy has collected numerous proofs from the Bible:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Romans 13:1

Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the King, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  1 Peter 2:13-14

Submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.  1 Peter 2:18

Obey your earthly masters in everything.  Colossians 3:22

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  Hebrews 13:17

For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.  1 Samuel 15:23

In rebelling against the King and his royal governors, the Founding Fathers rebelled against God and against the authority He had established.

To explain themselves, they felt a need to publish a Declaration.  Did they publish it out of respect to God, whose rules they were deliberately breaking?  No, they published their Declaration out of respect to humanity, or as Jefferson put it, “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”

Therefore, we are not a Christian nation.  We are a humanist nation.


JULY 2, 2019    RALPH & ESTHER'S 87TH

Left:  My mother's brother Ralph married Esther Rauschenberger in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on this date in 1932.  Right:  Thirty-four years later, they posed for my Polaroid on the walk in front of my grandmother's house in Cambridge, Ohio.

Ralph became a publishing executive.  His story is this month's 100 Moons article.