Saturday, July 13, 2019

Anecdotal Evidence - California

A good statistician will tell you that those two words anecdotal and evidence never belong next to each other.  But I am only a mediocre statistician so I proceed without fear to present some anecdotal evidence from our recent trip to California.

California must have more Priuses and Teslas per capita than other states. 
Every time we went somewhere in the car, I saw at least 2 Priuses and 1 Tesla, and often saw more.

 It couldn’t possibly be that
a)    I was a passenger and not the driver so I had more time to look.
b)    When we went somewhere we spent at least an hour on the highway getting there.
c)     The highway is 5 to 7 lanes across (in each direction) so there are loads more cars to notice in Southern California than in Southwestern PA.
The title of this painting is "Cairo" by Julie Mehretu, but it gives something of the feeling of being on the
highways around Los Angeles.  This painting is huge.  We saw it at The Broad museum in L.A.

Note:  Internet research has shown me some actual statistics that California is, indeed, denser with hybrid & electric cars than other states, just as Western Pennsylvania is dense with Presbyterians.  But that research was several days ago, and I didn’t save it, so you’ll just have to go with my anecdotal evidence.
(Portrait of the author's hips as reflected in the bumper of a Prius)
When I counted Priuses, I didn't count the
one we were riding in.

Note: Maybe the plural of Prius is Priusses.  Or Prii. Thoughts?

In Long Beach, CA, they have
battery-powered buses.  

Pittsburgh gets Southern California’s share of rain (and then some).
Evidence:  We were in California for 7 days.  It did get cloudy, but it did not rain once.   Every time I looked at the weather map for back home, there was a huge blob of nasty precip over our house. 

And then we had so much rain here on this past Thursday that the Park-n-Ride bus stop was flooded and a huge sinkhole opened up on a nearby road.  Meanwhile, all we’ve heard about California is a few earthquakes, but no rain.  I stand by my anecdotal evidence.

Clouds but no rain, in Southern California

Sunday, June 30, 2019

A historical dinner moment

Me, attempting to engender dinner conversation that does not include gross scientific stuff: 
What do you think are the five most important moments in history in the past 100 years?

Younger Daughter:
World War I, and World War II.  Was the telephone invented in the past 100 years? 

Me:  I’m pretty sure that was invented before 1919.

YD:  Okay, then, the invention of the internet. The Great Depression, and the Counter-cultural movement of the 1960s.  That’s five.

The Common Household Husband:
The invention of frozen foods was very important.  The invention of air conditioning. Casual Fridays!  Theme parks.  And TV game shows.

Younger Daughter:  Dad, those are not moments in history!

Husband:  They changed my life.

Me:  My turn.  I think the internal combustion engine was invented before 1919.  The invention of antibiotics was very important.  The invention of reliable birth control.   The Holocaust.  The invention of robots – industrial robots.  Hmmm.  And the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The internet.  That’s for all five.  Can I go now?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

First Lines: May 2019 edition


Here are the first lines of the seven books I finished reading in May. 

Book 1
Ah!  Celle-là!  (A son mari qui est dans la boutique.)  Ah!  Celle-là, elle est fière.  Elle ne veut plus acheter chez nous.

GROCER’s WIFE:  Oh that woman gets on my nerves!  Too stuck-up to buy from us nowadays.

Book 2
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 

Book 3
That day the four of them went to the library, though at different times.

Book 4
Sale of College Property
“Matrimony was ordained, thirdly,” said Jane Studdock to herself, “for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other.”  She had not been to church since her schooldays until she went there six months ago to be married, and the words of the service had stuck in her mind.

Book 5
Marriage equality in Washington state.  Gun legislation in Massachusetts.  Housing homeless families in North Carolina.  Better working conditions for tomato pickers in Florida.  What do these causes have in common?  Synagogues strengthening their communities and this country through civic engagement.

Book 6
I am the keeper of my family’s stories. I am the guardian of its honor. I am the defender of its traditions. As the first-born son of a Kurdish father, these, they tell me, are my duties. And yet even before my birth I resisted.

Book 7
In the six months since the November day that his wife, Nola, was buried, Arthur Moses has been having lunch with her every day.

The titles and authors revealed:

Book 1
Rhinocéros, by Eugène Ionesco, first produced in Paris in 1960.
A stage play in which people turn into rhinoceroses.   I read about 5 pages of it in French,  and was surprised to find I remembered the colloquial expression for having a hangover:  “une gueule de bois”  (literally ‘mouth of wood’ with the mouth being an animal’s mouth).  But then to actually finish the play before the next decade, I reverted to the English.   This play would be a challenge for the costume designer.

Book 2
Revelation (the Bible).  Written ~96. 
I did a speed read.  This book is high on images of angels, trumpets, scrolls, blood, eyes, and The Lamb.  Dire events such as plague and fire dominate.   Dudes have got swords projecting out of their mouths.  There are some curiously specific time frames given: 3 ½ days, 1,260 days (which works out to exactly 45 lunar months), 5 months, 42 months.  And of course, 1000 years.  Our pastor’s recommendation is to not overanalyze (or even analyze), but just to experience the imagery.   It’s rich with references to other parts of the Bible. 

Revelation is the book of the Bible with the highest word count, out of all the books of the (Protestant) Bible, of  “angel” (75), “beast” (34), and “trumpet” (15).  There are zero uses of the words “forgive” and “cross” in Revelation.  (My word count is using the NRSV) 

It’s a different sort of Jesus that we encounter in this book than the Jesus we meet in the Gospels.  The Jesus of Revelation seeks to reassure us that it will be okay in the end.  (If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.) It might have been quite convincing to the 1st-2nd Century audience.

Book 3
Quartet in Autumn, by Barbara Pym © 1977. 
I love Barbara Pym.  This one is beautifully sad and comical, about four lonely people approaching old age.

Book 4
That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis © 1945
For the first few chapters, it was hard to stay interested in this dystopian novel.  Who ever heard of a dystopian novel that takes place at a British college? But then something happened (maybe it was the mention of Jesus?) and I got interested and read till the end.  Good triumphs, but there is no question that this is a weird novel, the third in the trilogy.  It might have made a bit more sense if I had recently read the other two recently.  The book reinforces how much the need to belong can lead humans astray.

Book 5
Recharging Judaism: How Civic Engagement is Good for Synagogues, Jews, and America, by Rabbi Judith Schindler and Judy Seldin-Cohen, © 2018. 
The question every Jew asks is, “But is it good for the Jews?”  The answer in this book is yes.

Book 6
My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Family's Past, by Ariel Sabar.  © 2009. 
This memoir is by a journalist about his father, a Kurdish Jew who left Iraq with all the remaining Kurdish Jews in 1950s.  The father, Yona Sabar, became an internationally known scholar of Aramaic – and he was also a speaker of Aramaic.  Aramaic, also the language of Jesus, is now a nearly-dead language.  I found this book fascinating, both for how the people in the book value language, and for the story of how the family managed to deal with its fate. I read it for book club.

Book 7
The Story of Arthur Truluv, by Elizabeth Berg. © 2017
I read this one because my Mom said she enjoyed it.  It is a sweet book, with amusing moments and descriptions of delectable baked goods.  A fair amount of this book takes place in a cemetery, which is just fine.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

What we learned this year, College Sophomore Edition

My father would say, “You can always tell a sophomore, but you cannot tell him much.” 

Our rising junior, on the other hand, can say a lot about what she learned her sophomore year.  I’ve tried to boil it down to a concentrated syrup.  

Human Physiology class

Younger Daughter: I learned the different parts of the heart and how blood flows through it.  I learned about pancreatic alpha and beta cells and the way the insulin is released.  

Father and daughter joyfully begin singing the Weird Al Yankovic song
 “Insulin, glucagon,
   Comin' from the islets of Langerhans...”

Me:  Wait.  Pancreatic what?

YD:  The pancreatic alpha and beta cells.  We learned the ‘fasted and fed’ cycle.

Me [finding something I understand]:  I’m on the fed cycle.

YD:  Yeah, you actually are, because we just had dinner.   And we learned about the acid kine and the parts of the [she waxes on about anatomy]… and the glomerulus…

Me:  Okay, you lost me.  Let’s move on to the next class.

* * * * *

Introduction to Physics 2 class
YD:  Okay… In Physics class – did I learn anything in physics class?

Son (who tutored her all year long in physics):  Yes, you did!  

YD:  I learned that I hate ‘flipped classroom’ methods.  It’s essentially a way for a teacher to duck their responsibilities.  It means the student is responsible for teaching themselves instead of the professor teaching them.

Husband: I want this transcribed so I can share it among all of my colleagues.
 [Lengthy discussion of the flipped classroom model.]
Me:  Hmm.  So there’s not one single thing you learned in physics?

YD: The things I learned are what my brother taught me. I did not learn any thing from my physics professor.

Son (that very brother who taught her): Really.

YD:   Yes.  You were a much better professor than he was.

Son:  That’s very interesting because I didn’t know half of the stuff that you did in physics.

YD:   I learned about resistance, and whether or not it is futile.

Son:  You learned what voltage is.

YD:    Yes , I did. It took me a very long time to get that, but I did eventually learn what voltage was.

Husband:  What is the difference between voltage and power?

YD:   Um, power equals V over R.

Son:  (whispers ‘wrong!’)

YD:   Power equals V R?

Son: (whispers ‘wrong!’)

YD:    Come on! Power equals I r-squared!  Power equals voltage times current.

Son:   Ding!

* * * * *

Introduction to Film class
YD: In Film class, I learned that film is not about quality.  You should not care whether or not you like the film.  It’s not allowed.  … I learned the Coen Brothers are amazing and I love their filmography so far.

Me: She used the word ‘filmography.’

YD:  I also learned to use the word ‘mise-en-sceh.’ [She leaves off the final ‘n’.]  I don’t think that’s how you pronounce it.

Me:  ‘Mise-en- scène’.  [Pronounced ‘sen’.] 

YD:   That’s costumes, placement of the characters, background, like whether or not there are trees, or rivers going by, props that you have.  The shot itself is like the framing around those things in the mise-en-sceh ,… sceeene,…

Me:  Scène. 

Husband:  You sure it’s not Noonian Soong?

YD: It’s not Khan Nunian Soon.

Son: Did you mix up Khan with Dr. Soong?!
(Star Trek fans can refer to Khan Noonien Singh.  I had no idea what they were talking about.)

* * * * *

19th Century British Literature class
YD: I learned that Dickens is not the champion of the poor.  I learned that George Eliot is –

Me:  Wait!  Back up.  Dickens not the champion of the poor?!

YD:  No.  Not really.

Husband:  Didn’t he make fun of the poor?

YD:  Sort of.  He doesn’t quite see them as human.  He sees them as things to be cared for. 

Husband:    He makes fun of Jews, too.

YD:  Yes, he does.  Dickens mainly is a great supporter of the middle class.  He sees the poor as people who are automatically below ‘us’, and yet should be taken care of as part of our responsibilities as the middle class.  The aristocracy must fall because they are overbloated and corrupt.

Husband:    Denny Crane said, “I have a problem with the poor.  They have no money.”

YD:  Dickens’ problem with the poor was that he didn’t like them.  He thought that they were violent and helpless.

Me: [thinking of Oliver Twist] I think I see what you mean – the orphan street boy who is saved is actually surreptitiously a part of the middle class.

YD:  Yes.  Either that or he dies, which happens in Bleak House.  Which is less bleak than you think, even though many people die in it.  And one person spontaneously combusts.  I learned that that was a viable theory in the 1800s. 

Husband:  There are still people who maintain that people can spontaneously combust.

YD:  There are some people who maintain that the earth is flat.

Husband:  That too.

* * * * *

Me (thinking back to the YD’s crisis caused by her needing to mail in a tax form before April 15th and not having postal items): Did you learn that you should always have an envelope and stamps?

YD:  No, I didn’t, because I was able to do everything online.

Me:  But you might have needed an envelope!

* * * * *

What the Common Household Mom learned:
The youth no longer need envelopes, nor stamps, nor cash.   But they still want me to buy the groceries and make the dinner.

Not something The Youth need to know