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ArchiveDECEMBER 2022


DECEMBER 29, 2012 flashback    A DAY IN PORTLAND

I don’t completely understand TV marathons.  This weekend on the cable networks, for example, A&E is showing 10 straight hours of Storage Wars, and VH1 is showing 10 straight hours of Mob Wives.  But IFC plans to outdo them both with 24 straight hours of Portlandia, from 6 pm New Year’s Eve until 6 pm New Year’s Day.

By the way, “Portlandia” is the name of a large sculpture in downtown Portland, Oregon.  On my 1989 visit to that city, I saw the statue.  However, my purpose in walking down that street was actually to see the seven-year-old Portland Building, a famous early example of postmodernism.  Michael Graves is not one of my favorite architects, and his low-budget city office tower didn’t particularly impress me, particularly the blank beige surfaces interrupted only by small evenly-spaced square windows.

Four years before my visit, the statue had been added. The goddess crouches over the entrance.  From this unexpected location, she looms out over the sidewalk, reaching toward the pedestrians as if trying to catch a salmon with her bare hand.

Anyway, apparently only 18 half-hour episodes of the TV series Portlandia have been made so far.  Therefore, most of them will air three times during the marathon.

I suppose the idea is if you happen to tune into IFC anytime during this period, you’ll discover the show, and maybe you’ll want to come back for more when the third season begins on January 4.

But surely nobody is expected to watch the whole 24 hours in one sitting, or even the nine hours it would take to see the whole series once.  Who has that kind of endurance?  Not me.  Like most TV shows that don’t bring me to the edge of my seat, this one tends to put me to sleep after 20 minutes.



After the recent election, the more right-wing of our local newspapers announced that it will no longer accept attack ads.  Had too many subscribers complained about having to read disparaging statements about their beloved candidates?

At any rate, the paper will still allow politicians to explain their own platforms and tout their own virtues.  However, if they want to buy ads to criticize their opponents, they'll have to go elsewhere, “from rallies and debates to the airwaves and the jungle of social media.”

Will other commercial media dare to follow the Trib's lead?


DECEMBER 24, 2022


On his blog last Christmas, Robert Elisberg posted a couple of “stride” piano carols played by Butch Thompson (who unfortunately would pass away eight months later).  When you listen to the second carol, you'll hear a tune in a minor key, but not a sad one.

It reminds me of another old song, not holiday-themed, performed here in the Dixieland style by none other than English actor Hugh Laurie with Allen Toussaint and friends.

Gentlemen:  God rest ye merry!



In more than 13,000 National Football League games in the Super Bowl era, regular and postseason, how many times has a team gained at least 400 total yards
   AND outgained their opponent
      AND scored at least 25 points
         AND completed at least 70% of their passes
            AND been penalized less than 60 yards    
               AND missed no field goals
                  AND committed no turnovers?

When this improbable confluence of circumstances happened on Thanksgiving night, OptaSTATS was inspired to enter all these positive parameters into their database.

The answer: 171 times.  The combination has occurred in barely one percent of the games.  As you would expect, all of the 171 teams achieving those marks were winners ...

... except the Patriots, who won the Thanksgiving stats battle against the Vikings but somehow managed to come out on the losing end of the score.

New England fans complained about the refs, of course.



When the New York Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1842, its musicians were all men.

When it moved to Lincoln Center in 1962, its new concert hall still had no women's dressing rooms.

It wasn't until four years later, while I was a student at Oberlin College & Conservatory, that the Philharmonic hired its first female section player, double bassist Orin O'Brien.

Now times have changed.  This fall, the Philharmonic opened its renovated home with more equitable facilities.  And for the first time in the orchestra's history, the women outnumbered the men, 45 to 44.

(The women in Oberlin's 2022 incoming class likewise outnumbered the men, 519 to 375.  More power to them!)


Are the women overstepping their bounds?  Have they become too educated?  What's the right balance of accomplishment and ignorance?

Jesse Watters on Fox News calls an Elon Musk poll "rigged" because Twitter's user base "skews atheist female — urban, atheist, over-educated female!"

"Over-educated," tweets Ward Hall, "is when you learn so much that you begin to question the dogma you grew up with."

"Boombeakboxer" suggests that for Republicans, the line is "anything above a 3rd-grade education.  Otherwise their indefensible arguments and simplistic reasoning don't work."  The fundamentalist Taliban government of Afghanistan agrees, having made it illegal for females to attend middle school or high school or university.

Monica Stone tweets, "I have been called over-educated many times; always by a conservative, ultra-religious person.  And it's always flung at me as an insult.  They want women put in their place.  At home having babies.  No school."



More than 63 years ago, my parents and I were in the audience for a live performance by the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir — in the actual Tabernacle!  Our three-week vacation trip through the West had taken us to a motel in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah.  As a 12-year-old, I kept a detailed log of our adventure.

On Friday evening, July 17, 1959, we walked from our TraveLodge over to the Tabernacle for an organ recital.  On Sunday morning, we returned for “church” at 8:30 — actually the Choir's weekly radio broadcast, Music and the Spoken Word, then in its 30th year.  And at 9:15 we got back in our Oldsmobile and set off for Wyoming.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints no longer wishes to be called “Mormon,” so the domed building is now the Salt Lake Tabernacle, and the musicians are now the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square.

Inspired by an enormous elliptical canvas tent that had been planned for the church's previous headquarters in Nauvoo, Illinois, the Tabernacle was built in 1863-67 to house general conferences.

It originally held 7,000 people, making it the largest assembly hall in the United States.

But that wasn't enough.  In 2000, a huge new Conference Center opened with 21,000 seats, filling the entire block to the north.

The annual holiday concert, formerly limited to church employees, could now be free to the public.  On three nights shortly before Christmas every year, a total of 63,000 people attended.  The event was recorded for telecast the following December on PBS, and I made sure to watch.

In 2020, a title card noted that the broadcast had been taped before the pandemic broke.  There were no performances at the Conference Center that year. Therefore, the 2021 program consisted of highlights from the previous two decades.

In December 2021, however, a new production could be recorded under strict precautions, with 500 volunteers tested for COVID-19 before every rehearsal and performance.  Those performances are being telecast now, in December 2022.  With essentially no audience, the vastness of the auditorium is not shown, only the stage.  No longer does the program open with children joyfully dancing down the aisles.  No longer do we see families happily applauding from the balcony. 

But the beauty of the music and the magic of television are still there.  The microphones of guest artist Megan Hilty and emcee Neal McDonough have the appropriate amount of reverb for the vast room.  We hear applause, obviously enhanced from recordings.

And now, the good news.  This week (Thursday through Saturday), after two years of pandemic restrictions, live audiences are joining actors and dancers and Broadway's Lea Salonga plus 360 choral voices and 85 instrumentalists and 32 bell ringers for the annual holiday spectacle.  We'll be able to view it in 2023.


DECEMBER 13, 2012 flashback    TEARING UP

I received a master’s degree from Syracuse University in the state of New York, so you’d think I’d know how to pronounce Syracuse.  Wouldn't you?

Let’s look at the first syllable, Syr.  You might think it’s sire, rhyming with lyre or pyre, but you would be wrong.

You could note it actually rhymes with tear.  However, that wouldn’t resolve the issue, because tear can be pronounced two different ways!

As it turns out, most of us rhyme the first syllable of Syracuse with peer.  A significant minority rhyme it with pair.

Then there’s the last syllable, Cuse.  We could choose to use, or make use of, two different vowels and two different final consonants.









So to me — and I believe that I’m in the majority — it’s Sear Accuse.  To others, it’s Sarah Kyoos.  Take your pick.

Or you could visit the original Syracuse on the coast of Sicily.  There the Italians say coo instead of cue and “Siracusa” comes out as “SEAR a KOO zuh.”  Much more musical.

An update from the University's 2023 calendar:

A student, Kathryn Voler '23, is pictured on a trip to Europe where she finds her school's name.  She's outside the Cathedral of Syracuse at the statue of St. Peter (“of the Apostles the Prince”), who is said to have founded the local church by sending Marciano thither to be its first bishop.



The other night on TV I saw an actress whose face reminded me of the girl who played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.  Judy something.  But for the life of me I couldn't remember the “something.”  What was her last name?  I've known it all my life but, perhaps due to aging, that particular fact was no longer accessible.  I can't stop learning new information, and old information has to be moved aside to make room for it.  I tried for half an hour to recall Judy's name and finally had to Google it.

I'm speculating that when I learned that name as a child, I saved it to memory as an otherwise unexamined string of characters.  Now I've considered it more carefully.

I've created new mental links to it.

I try to think of the Attorney General.

I even composited another image in my mind.  If I need to recall that surname in the future, perhaps I can get there by thinking of a ring of flowers and greenery.  Or I mentally visit a strange Land wherein I see a long-nosed fish or the actress who played Young Frankenstein's assistant.



Some six decades ago, yours truly — the teenaged organist at the First Methodist Church — opened the special loose-leaf hymnal to rehearse that week's opening hymn #93, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

I made a notation that it would be easier to play a certain alto E-flat with my left hand, thereby leaving my right hand free for the upcoming sixteenth notes.

But I wondered about the words at the beginning of the second verse, written by Robert Robinson in 1758.  What exactly was Robert's Eb-e-ne-zer?  And why did he want to raise it?

I've finally gotten around to doing the research.  In 1 Samuel chapter 7, the Bible tells us that the Israelites encamped at Mizpah were being threatened by the Philistines.  The prophet Samuel burned a lamb to ask for help from the Lord, who answered with a thunderstorm.  The loud booms must have sounded like modern-day artillery shells.  Panicked like dogs by the thunder and the nearby lightning strikes, the Philistines fled, pursued and slaughtered by the Israelites all the way from Mizpah to a point below Beth Kar.  There the storm ended and Samuel raised a standing stone, a marker to serve as an eternal reminder of the long distance of the rout, saying “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”  He named the memorial Ebenezer, which means Stone of Help.

So now I know what it meant for Robert, gratefully noting that “hither by God's help we've come,” to declare with Samuel:

     “Here I raise mine Ebenezer!”

There's probably no connection, but 85 years after the hymn was written, novelist Charles Dickens, in need of financial help with sales dropping and a fifth child on the way, declared:

     “Here I raise mine Ebenezer: Scrooge!” 


DECEMBER 5, 2022   

The head of a drum is a circular flexible membrane, tightly stretched.  When struck in various places, it can vibrate in various modes and frequencies, transmitting to the adjacent air those vibrations which we perceive as sound.

My friend Jan and I learned this as college physics students.  We were given problems to solve something like this:  “Let the density of the membrane be one-tenth gram per square centimeter and the tension be 100 dynes in the x direction.  Write and solve the wave equation.”

I couldn't resist constructing a pair of rectangular flexible membranes as a gift.  I composed a parody of the problem to be solved, taking into consideration Einstein's theory of relativity.  To correspond about the problem, Jan and I employed obsolete Germanic characters.  Oh, and I wrote a Shakespearean sonnet.

To read more, click this box for a classic article I posted to this website more than a hundred months ago.

For the enjoyment of my fellow physics nerds, it's all in this month's 100 Moons article.


DECEMBER 3, 2012 flashback    FOUR WEEKS AGO

It was the eve of the election, and three of Mitt Romney’s nieces — Faith, Hope, and Charity, good conservatives all — were predicting what was going to happen.

Charity said, “I love Uncle Mitt.  I’d really like to see him win.”

Hope agreed, “I hope he wins, too.  The country would be in big trouble if Obama were re-elected.”

Faith said, “Don’t worry about that.  All our polls show us leading in the swing states.  I’m completely confident that by this time tomorrow, we’ll be the nieces of President-Elect Romney!”

“But to be fair,” interjected Charity, “the Democrats have other polls that show the opposite.”

“And,” added Hope, “the TV networks and the rest of the commentators pretty much agree that Obama is leading.  I hope they’re wrong, but that’s what they say.”

Faith exploded.  “Are you going to believe the evil mass media?  They’re all on Obama’s side, and they’re deliberately skewing the polling data to discourage us.  There’s no way that Americans would re-elect that socialist and give him another four years to destroy our country.  I don’t know anyone who’s voting for Obama.  Do you?”

“Well, hardly any,” Hope admitted, “but we really don’t know many folks outside our family and our church and our political organization.  This is a big country, and apparently there are people who disagree with us.”

“A lot of young people,” Charity noted, “support Obama.  Latinos, too.”

“They’re not really Americans!” Faith spluttered.  “They should deport themselves back to wherever they came from.  No, I have faith in our country.  I know true Americans will elect Mitt Romney.  He doesn’t even need to bother to prepare a concession speech.  Losing is impossible.  He’ll win by a landslide!”

“But the experts in Ohio say —”

“Don’t distract me with the facts!  My faith is firm.”

           And now abideth Faith, Hope, Charity, these three;
but the worst of these is Faith.

Deliberately ignoring disagreeable facts will always lead you astray.

When the truth is found, you will be dumbfounded.