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Friday, December 23, 2011

Duct Tape for the Holidays!

If your family, like mine, walks on the dysfunctional side of the street, you value distractions—any distraction—during holiday gatherings.  Why not, then, in the interest of family harmony, ponder this question?:

What were the first movies and TV shows where duct tape first replaced rope, cloth, etc. as a sinister restraint of choice?
My own recollections are fuzzy—the great migration seems to have emerged sometime in the mid-1990s.  As a point of departure, view the movie list by the self-appointed “Duct Tape Guys,” on their expansive duct tape web pages. Unfortunately, the list lacks dates.

Duct tape has been around since World War II and highly visible in consumer markets since the 1960s. (WD-40—the yin to Duct Tape’s yang and one of the few substances that can remove it from sticky situations—also has military provenance. It dates from 1953.)

Why then, if I’m right, did it take three decades  for Duct Tape to penetrate the silver and television screens? Perhaps the cinema and TV police refused to allow it. After all, you don’t need to be an Eagle Scout with a black belt in top knots to secure your friends and loved ones to the furniture.  With duct tape in hand, every American young’in with motive and opportunity might become a Houdini in reverse.
With that said, consider the above concerns.  In the spirit of the holidays, bond with your family and friends and share your revelations with fellow Wig & Pen readers. And let us know if the distraction aids and abets the family ties that bind.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Steal this Blog!: Abbie Hoffman Revisited

Abbie Hoffman would have been 75 on November 30. I grew up two streets away from the Hoffmans on Worcester’s predominantly Jewish west side.  Although Abbie was 15 years my senior, his footprint in the neighborhood was sticky. My father, a dentist, did business with  Abbie’s father,  who owned a medical supply store.  “Abbie has once again given Johnny a heart attack,” my father announced one night in 1968  at the dinner table.

Two years earlier, my closest friend—a world class rock musician—had boasted at age 16 that it was Abbie who had first turned him on (to marijuana). [Getting neophytes stoned was like scoring with a virgin; Abbie had many notches on his hemp belt.]
My first exposure to Abbie was as an 11-year-old, in my Saturday morning 6th grade class at Temple Emmanuel.  High-minded educators at the temple had asked Abbie to energize us with tales of his civil rights work in the South.  For a finale, Abbie urged us to grow up and marry both outside the fold of Zion and the Caucasian race. This was way too much culture shock for 11-year-olds in 1961, not to mention the  Jewish liberals who had invited him.

Abbie to his minions: "Cradle the Rock!"

Nine years later on April 14 in Boston I learned first-hand about the power of chiasmus. You know, it’s that figure of speech where in a sentence you flip-flop one of two parallel clauses/phrases  with the other: e.g.,  Ask not what your country can do for you; Ask what you can do for your country! or You can take Abbie out of the revolution, but you can’t take the revolution out of Abbie. On that date in 1970 Abbie helped prime a largely peaceful gathering of antiwar sympathizers on the Boston Common for mayhem later in the day in Harvard Square. His call to action: The time to rock the cradle is over; It’s time to cradle the Rock!  Follow-up  damages included  200 injured  and nearly every street-level window in the square shattered.

Abbie’s way with words (and shtick)  helped fuel his high-profile books, Revolution for the Hell of It (1968) and  Woodstock Nation (1969). Their successor, Steal This Book (1971), was a nightmare for booksellers, especially in Worcester.  After it had been picked clean by "consumers" who had taken its title to heart, booksellers refused to stock it. It also vanished from the shelves of Worcester’s libraries.  At the Worcester State College Library, where my late friend Dan Dick was head reference librarian, the book was stolen and reordered; stolen and reordered. . . Finally, noted Dan, the library reordered the book and secured it on reserve. Can you guess how long it stayed secure?  smirked Dan, a veteran Abbie watcher.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Welch & Rawlings Wow Northampton

Welch & Rawlings:  Spiritual-Musical Heirs of John Dowland?

Gillian Welch in Concert—In reality, it’s a shorthand for Gillian Welch & David Rawlings in Concert. Welch without Rawlings is yin without yang; Laurel without Hardy. Three standing ovations at the end of their November 28th two-hour concert at the Calvin Theater in Northampton, Massachusetts celebrated the musical beast with two fronts & two backs--Welch & Rawlings. (Still, their website and my Calvin ticket cast their brand as “Gillian Welch.”)

Throughout the evening, Welch’s distinctive, nuanced alto and phrasings embodied the constancy of a mature yet ominous river of song. Midway through each number, Rawlings responded with guitar improvisations that consistently surprised while adding crepuscular shadings.  They cut odd harmonic channels and at times added intensity through wanderings on the outskirts of dissonance.

Flow gently their tears
Above all, Welch & Rawlings excelled in material from The Harrow and the Harvest, their  first new cd in seven years. On the disc and on stage, they have embraced an aesthetic that holds melancholy to be most sacred (and thoroughly profane). Together, they’ve donned melancholia’s dark musical vestments, enshrouding themselves and their audience in somber songs like “Scarlet Town,” a “Dark Turn of Mind,” and “The Way It Goes.”  For up-tempo irony at the Calvin, they turned to “Six White Horses,” a thigh-slapping, shoe clomping reverie about a proto-hearse that comes for mama and by the song’s end for the singer/narrator herself. It brought down the house.

In their glass-is-half-empty aesthetic, Welch &Rawlings prove worthy descendants of John Dowland, the post-Elizabethan composer-singer-lutenist whose art exemplified his own dictum: “The Dark Is My Delight.” For him and other practitioners of the genre, melancholia was a good thing—a low-risk musical dwelling place for exploring and embracing dark emotional waters.  As fellow travelers, Welch and Rawlings follow suit but with (at least)  one notable difference—they explore those depths through a woman’s lens. That take on darkness is their delight—and ours.


Dark Turn of Mind:

Flow My Tears (Dowland):

Bonus Track: The Sick Rose (Benjamin Britten/William Blake)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Country Music in the White House

Last Wednesday’s PBS special Country Music: In Performance at the White House offered exceptional performers, exceptional songs, exceptional musicianship. For anyone who sniffs at country music, it underscored that we only cheat ourselves by ignoring the best in a musical genre—any genre. The performers—Dierks Bentley, Alison Krauss, Lyle Lovett, the Band Perry, James Taylor, and others—captivated a packed East Room, including Barak and Michelle, who sat front-row center and frequently appeared  on camera enthralled by the music.

Steve Earle (Not Invited); Lauren Alaina (Invited)

Those images may have resonated with a viewer demographic of independent voters who might make a difference at the polls next November. As the concert rolled out, this blogger fantasized: Wouldn’t it be the cat’s pajamas if Steve Earle and the Dixie Chicks appeared among the invited musicians? Both, after all, were fellow travelers with Mr. Obama in their opposition to the run-up and wonder years of the Iraq War. Both received death threats and hate mail; Dixie Chick records fueled hefty bonfires.

Lyle Lovett (Invited); The Dixie Chicks (Not Invited)
 Don’t blame Obama, though, for leaving them off the performers list during an election year. Steve and the Chicks may exemplify Profiles in Courage, but they’ve been preternaturally divisive with voters from the heartland. Still, if you have any hopes of seeing them play the East Room by 2016, electing a Republican offers no prospect. In the spirit of the greatest American Yogi, a second Obama term with its political flexibility is the only fork that you should take.

Steve Earle in The Wire (a Barak Obama favorite)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Is There No Horizontal in NoHo?

For several months, benches alongside Northampton, Massachusetts' Hampshire County courthouse and the upscale Hotel Northampton have sported bolt-reinforced wooden dividers. With all the sophistication of a middle school shop project and evocative of urinal partitions, these contrivances—in one of America’s most avowedly liberal small cities—have one underlying purpose: to keep the homeless and other consumers from embracing horizontality. There’s a warm air grate near the Hotel Northampton; combine that with benches that allow for stretching out, and you’ve got a magnet for the homeless, observes a life-long Northampton townie and student of the city’s infrastructure.

No magistrates at the bench.

The partitioned benches also offer a behavioral nudge, enticing the horizontally disposed to real deal benches across Main Street in Pulaski Park. Chez Pulaski captures Northampton at its win-win giddiest, with its warren of benches in an enclave set back from the city’s frolicsome and commercial pursuits.

 Pulaski Park: A safer haven?
(photo: wmshc_kiwi's photostream)
Town Hall Northampton, October 2011
Photo by Garson Fields

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On the Grid?/Off the Grid?

On November 1—36 hours after the electrical grid went dark for  90%+  of the Pioneer Valley—this blogger—ensconced in Amherst, Massachusetts—pledged to begin all conversations with the greeting: “Are you on the grid or off?” As the week progressed and the grid played hard-to-get for 50% of the Valley’s captives, the salutation grew terser with “On the gird or off?” and finally the skeletal “On or off?”

“On the gird or off?” almost always evoked private revelations from friends, strangers, and everyone in between.  “We’ve substituted one network for another--a face-to-face network grounded in community for the grid,” observed a friend.  “Losing it has been harrowing, but we’ve connected on a deeper, communal level.”

Above all, “On or Off? elicited stories—tales of tree branches penetrating bathroom walls and bedroom ceilings; sagas of  resentment and grid envy by homeowners who looked out their  windows to view well-lighted homes a street away.

During lunch at my university’s Campus Center, I met a retired professor and his wife who had moved into the center’s hotel when the grid went down. Still without juice five days later, they vented frustration toward the town manager, who lived a street away from their home. Known for his integrity, he had by all appearances exerted no leverage to move his neighborhood up Western Mass Electric’s grid restoration chain. “You should see the pot holes on his street,” they complained. “No special treatment if you live in his neighborhood.”

On Wig & Pen’s own street, two neighbors—both liberal and self-reliant—took different approaches to the challenge. The first (with a wood-burning stove) welcomed it as a camping opportunity. Not to be outdone, his next-door neighbor rigged up a gas generator to his furnace and outlets. Regrettably,  neighbor #1  had little patience with the generator’s incessant clatter.  Climate change from fossil fuels, he griped, had probably been the underlying cause of the storm. Now, he lamented, his neighbor was powering his generator by burning gas and causing noise pollution to boot.

Finally, the story of a friend, who after three days without heat, threw himself upon the mercy of his ex-wife, who had just regained the grid. “For two days, I slept okay on her couch, which had once been our couch,” he confessed. “But after day one, her superiority became insufferable.” Determined to make good without her help, he resolved to find a warm companion at the Moan & Dove, a local bar. After two swift rejections, he struck up a more promising conversation.  “Everything was clicking. We were both fans of Anne Rice and  Dave  Matthews. And we didn’t like camping. But then the bottom fell out--She wasn't on the grid."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Is Yankee Police Lineup a Feather in Red Sox Caps?

Yankee Police Lineup--1 through 5

Ben Cherington’s enlightened appointment as Red Sox GM on October 25 was the beginning of  onwards  and upwards for Red Sox Nation. Here’s another positive development. Last week, the New York Times revealed a winsome Yankee lineup.  It’s a police lineup—all beneath the shelter of Yankee caps. Like L.A. (nee Oakland) Raiders apparel, Yankee-branded threads have a perp-friendly cachet that announces, “I’m fashionably bad.” Why does the NYPD periodically assemble lineups in Yankee caps? Answer: The department’s overnight house  guests frequently get nabbed wearing them.  Would someone from Boston’s Finest weigh in on best haberdasherial practices in Beantown lineups?

Yankee Batting Order Lineup--1 through 5

Monday, October 24, 2011

Unmasked & Anonymous at the Woodstar Cafe

I must have passed by the above photo at the Woodstar Cafe in Northampton, Massachusetts  a dozen times without recognizing its famous subject(s). The photograph is on the wall opposite the cafĂ©’s entrance; it’s the centerpiece in a mini exhibit (including arresting shots of  Woodstar baristas) by the New Hampshire/Berkshires photographer Edward Acker. Fortunately, on Sunday morning, I  found myself seated in a corner by the front door—the only seat in the house that directly faces the photograph. Having difficulty with the Times crossword, I raised my head  and found myself staring at the photograph and its inhabitants--James Taylor and his extraordinary partner  Kim Smedvig. It was a eureka moment for sure, which I shared with perhaps a dozen folks in the vicinity, including several Woodstar employees. And had any of them recognized JT and Kim before I spilled the beans? Not a one. How about you? To be sure, their secret is unsafe with this paparazzo of a blog.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mohawk Trail Blues

The frisson of unforeseen consequences! Who’da thunk that the posturings of Hurricane Irene in August would lock down the annual Mohawk Trail (Route 2) hegira of  leaf peepers in October?  At the beginning of the month, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation announced that a six-mile mountainous stretch on the trail between western Charlemont and the evocatively named township of Florida would remain closed until mid-December. So much for Route 2 completists! To salvage a modicum of that tourist trade, Mass DOT offered the alternative below—a long, forbidding route with few amenities and its own Irenic souvenirs.
The Mohawk Trail Impasse in Red; The Serpentine Diversion in Green
On Columbus Day, Wig & Pen set out from Amherst to experience the end of the beginning (EOB) on the Mohawk Trail. The EOB is just east of a bridge after which Charlemont yields to the town of Savoy—the eastern gateway to the Mohawk Trail’s high country. In spite of electronic signage to the east announcing Route 2 Closed Westbound Savoy, an intermittent stream of motorists, observed by this blogger, drove up to the EOB, winced, and turned around.

Irene in Florida

The End of the Beginning 
East of Charlemont on Route 2 in Greenfield and Shelburne, tourist traffic had been moderate-to almost heavy. Roadside business—minus the motels—seemed brisk. But west of Charlemont center, traffic thinned. The shop at Indian Plaza—a destination for intertribal powwows—was shuttered for the season. (the powwows have continued on higher ground) During Irene, two feet of muck had washed onto the premises after the Deerfield River had overflowed its banks, noted the establishment’s owner. A week before, he and others had implored town officials to drain water via a nearby canal and dam. The town, he said, turned them down, because it would have damaged what was left of the summer rafting season. 

Did any of the local shopkeepers have weather insurance? “Way too small for that,” responded the proprietor, doing his best to mask his amusement over an outsider’s absurd notion.

Wig & Pen Powwow at the Plaza

Better Days at Indian Plaza

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Was Ken Burns’ Prohibition Good for the Spirits?

Half a lifetime ago, an older woman in my graduate program cattily inquired, “Are you a serious drinker?”  My patented response: “Not at all.  .  . I’m a ridiculous drinker!” That’s because the Wig & Pen liquid-seeking machine (a.k.a. this blogger) comes with a  homeostatic metabolism that makes more than a couple of drinks more trouble than they’re worth.

That includes drinking while watching TV—even during the most malicious sporting events. But last week offered a notable exception. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s Prohibitiontheir latest and often brilliant social history—served up among many, many things a 5-hour hammering in generic product placement. For 5+ hours, the yang of  WCTU, Anti-Saloon League, and Carrie Nation alternated with the yin of toasting in bars,  partying in speakeasies, and--above all--the sensuous, aesthetically captivating flow of spirits from bottles into glasses. Given the unrelenting cadences and heavenly lengths of Burns and Novick’s production, who (besides the great granddaughters of the WCTU) would spite me for dispatching a beer with each episode?
The greater question, of course, is--was there a national spike in alcohol consumption during the airing?  And if you lack the will and resources to settle that matter, what transpired in front of your  own TV during the nights of October 1st, 2nd, and 3rd?

Sample the preview:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Seasonality in Syria

Look for mass demonstrations in Syria to skyrocket with the beginning of Ramadan on sundown, July 31. In the Arab world, there’s no more sustained networking opportunity —Facebook and Twitter included—than Islam’s holiest month with its daily gatherings in houses of worship. In spite of the Assad regime’s brutality, 100,000+ Syrians have demonstrated every Friday—Islam’s Sabbath—over the past four months. Ramadan is an entire month of Fridays.

The current maelstrom in Syria, notes The Economist, is no peasant revolt, but a resilient, growing coalition of university graduates, day laborers, students, and seasoned dissidents. Unlike the Assad regime, which has behaved erratically—alternating brutal crackdowns with vacuous concessions—the protestors, says the magazine, have shown remarkable unity of purpose in their insistence on democratic elections, freedom of speech and assembly, and protection for minorities.

The movement has the support of large parts of the Sunni clergy and increasingly the business community (business is down 50% this year). Syria is 75% Sunni. Assad and his fellow Shia Alawite brethren are what investors might call highly leveraged—they’re 10% of Syria’s population. So is Syria nearing a tipping point?

Perhaps a second question—this one for bloodsugarologists—will shed some light. Will 28 days of sunup-to-sundown fasting during the year’s hottest month make the demonstrators and their minions meaningfully crankier toward Mr. Assad and his cronies?

This salaam's for you!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

In the Gods We Trust: Bootsy Collins in Worcester

Photo by Ariel Wigdor
On June 29, funk deity Bootsy Collins, who will be 60 in October, brought his flamboyant musical retinue to the Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts. In a previous life, the Palladium, a block down Main Street from elegant Mechanics Hall, was the Plymouth Theatre, a deteriorating movie palace frequented by this blogger in the 1960s. Today, the once seedy Mechanics Hall is an acoustic marvel, venerated in the world of chamber music. And the once squalid Plymouth? Well, it’s morphed into the consummately ratty Palladium. For Bootsy and his spirited audience, though, that may have been just what the witch doctor ordered.

In spite of volume that could have opened an East Coast branch of the San Andreas Fault, Boostsy and his funkful amigos, which included the great Bernie Worrell and ten or so other singers and instrumentalists, played with nonstop mastery and fervor. Of course, with such inspired song stand-bys as Cosmic Slop, Flashlight, Roto-Rooter, and,  Dr. Funkenstein, inspiration was never far from center stage. Nor was Bootsy, whose propulsive yet sinuous bass relentlessly devoured all resistance like an anaconda on steroids.

“He’s Hendrix on the bass,” commented my son, looking the part in his Axis Bold as Love t-shirt. The vestment, which depicts Hendrix and his two Brit sidemen from the Experience at the head of a chevron of Hindu deities, had sparked kudos an hour before the concert at an Indian restaurant on Shrewsbury Street. Our teenage Indian waitress, no doubt new to these shores, took one look at the shirt and praised my son’s sartorial taste, unaware that Hendrix had no part in the original Hindu line-up. When I tried to set matters straight, she nodded politely, approvingly. Perhaps the customer is always right. Without question, a god is a god is a god.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Giving Credits where Credits Are Due? Massachusetts’ Film Tax Incentive Program Respun

Best Place. Best Crews. Best Films., exults the Massachusetts Film Office , the state-run marketing outfit charged with enticing film makers to make movies and TV shows in the Bay State. In recent years, Massachusetts has hosted The Social Network, The Fighter, Shutter Island, soon to-be-released Moneyball, and other big-time productions.  Since 2007, the agency has set down cat nip for filmmakers via a tax credit equal to 25% of a film’s production and employment costs. In this, Massachusetts has company. Since Louisiana rolled out the practice in 2002, 15 states have jumped into incentiveville.

In talking up the tax credit program, it’s only natural for the Film Office to follow film songster Harold Arlen’s lead:  Accentuate the Positive. That it does by emphasizing the broadest-brush yardsticks like benefit to the economy (e.g, gross revenues) and jobs created in Massachusetts (also with grossed-up spin).

Drilling Down.  For relief, Wig & Pen turned to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s annual state-required reckoning, A Report on the Massachusetts Film Industry Tax Incentives. Released in January 2011, it covers calendar year 2009.  Here’s how the study parsed calendar year 2009’s $329.7 million in gross revenues from the Bay State’s film industry.
First, the report deducts $10.7 million in revenues that it estimates would have occurred without the tax credit program. Then, from the new total of $319 million it pares a whopping $215.2 million, reducing revenues to $103.8 million. The $215.2 million covers payments to film industry employees and businesses outside the state--$82 million of which went to $1 million and greater salaries for Hollywood actors.   

Finally, in step with the state’s requirement to balance its budget, the Department of Revenue subtracted state budget cuts needed to offset its film tax incentive expenditures.  That brought the direct economic impact of the program to $32.6 million.

In fairness to accentuators of positivity, the Department as part of the same exercise also modeled multiplier effects on the broader economy. That kicked in an additional $165.5 million in gross domestic product and personal income of $25.2 million.

Better, Not Best. So judging from Department of Revenue results, the tax incentive program was a force for economic good, but way less compelling than some might have us believe. Our lesson: even agreed-upon on gross economic indicators can mask as well as illuminate. It’s always a good idea to drill down, especially when special interests—inside and outside of government—have motive and opportunity.

Read The Economist's take (i.e., rant) on the use and abuse of film tax credits.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Young Adult Brain in Action! Tales from the Amherst, Massachusetts Police Blotter:*

A Bonnie & Clyde Bank Heist, Amherst Style. In April, a young middle class couple, William Oldershaw, 24, of Sunderland and Shayna Henckel-Miller, 19, of Amherst allegedly conspired to rob Amherst’s highest-profile bank, The Bank of America. Oldershaw walked into the bank weaponless with a note that Henkel-Miller allegedly had helped him write, and handed it to a teller, who presented him with $249. He then exited the bank, where his accomplice waited in the escape vehicle—a TAXI CAB, which the police intercepted several miles down the road. An official at the BOA told Wig & Pen that both suspects had accounts at the bank.

Oldershaw’s Hedge. According to Amherst Police detective David Foster, Oldershaw believed that his request for $249 would yield less legal trouble [should something possibly go wrong]. If you steal $250 or more in Massachusetts, you can go to state prison for five years; If you keep the tab below $250, your maximum sentence is a year in a county jail. Unfortunately for Oldershaw, the state distinguishes between stealing and robbery, the latter (the above caper included) defined as taking something held or controlled by another person (maximum sentence: life in prison).
The Case of the Missing Key. In late April, Amherst police arrested Jeremy Michael Gilbreath, 22, of Wayland shortly after giving him—an alleged assault victim—a courtesy ride. The arrest came after police determined he had allegedly stolen a pair of police handcuffs from the cruiser. To his misfortune, he had neglected to swipe the key that went with the cuffs [if ever there were complementary goods. . .]. After he cuffed a women later that night, she phoned the police, who liberated her and took Gilbreath into custody.

Craftsmanship by Smith & Wesson

Wig & Pen Pontificates: It’s no accident that auto insurers wait until a driver is 25 to begin lowering rates. Their m.o. is not just about driving experience but the way that the Young Adult Brain (YAB) handles risk. Indeed, the YAB is not the cat’s pajamas when it comes to risk assessment/due diligence. Compounding the fracture is that YABs are especially vulnerable in a culture that emphasizes dreams-come-true while coddling aspirations with selective rosy evidence over critical thinking and falsification.

Say what? You’re also wondering why this blog has failed to note that robbing a bank and handcuffing an unenthusiastic victim are WRONG? If this has not yet occurred to you, think twice when your own young adult offspring tells you that he or she plans to make a bank withdrawal.

*Consider all assertions about the alleged perps to be alleged by the Amherst Police Department except where otherwise noted.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Meditations on Annoying!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Annoying is a well-crafted, valuable read. The authors give generous treatment both to the social psychology and physical science mechanisms of much that annoys. That includes public cell phone conversations, the blaring of sirens, the buzzing of flies, the cracking of knuckles, the machinations of Newman on Seinfeld. As a closet Lothario, I was intrigued that attractive traits in courtship like independence and caring can prove annoying in marriage when they morph into aloofness and cloyingness. As a Red Sox fan, I was grateful to the authors for their resurrection of Yankee reliever Joba Chamberlain’s ordeal in the 2009 playoffs against both the Cleveland Indians and swarms of annoying midges from Lake Erie.

Forgive the authors’ occasional digressions that treat descriptions of scientific processes as ends unto themselves. They are, after all, science hounds. (Joe Palca is an NPR science reporter; Flora Lichtman is an NPR multimedia science editor.) Most of the time though, their physical science is apropos, like their description of the genetic and cellular mechanisms that screw up oxytocin flow, which correlates with an individual’s capacity to empathize and absorb stress (i.e. to be less annoyed and abrasive.)

Rare in popular social science books is the authors’ admirable scientific restraint in refraining from generalizing beyond their data—Don’t expect a unified field theory of annoying. But they do offer the insight that much that annoys us may be attention-commandeering stimuli that once presaged dire outcomes (evolutionarily speaking). In evolutionary terms, schlumps who got annoyed were more likely to survive. That makes annoying in the  21st century truly affordable. Why not, in gratitude, elevate your next dinner party with tales that enchant and annoy. Here's an example from Wig and Pen:

A Horological Annoyance. In the mid 1970s my late father’s wife redecorated the family homestead with a pseudo-antique table clock that announced its presence on the half hour with a metallic stridency that might have been a soundtrack for a cartoon featuring animated cookie cutters. One afternoon, while the lady of the house was out and about, a friend who repaired clocks as a hobby and who could stand the sound no longer, marched over to the clock and gently adjusted its chime hammer. Presto! Hyde became Jekyll. Metallic annoyance became dulcet. But my friend had only massaged a symptom of the underlying problem. When the clock’s owner returned, she immediately detected its kinder, gentler timbre, and demanded immediate restoration of its previous persona. I heard the clock’s annoying ring for the final time in 1983 on the night of my father’s funeral.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Glass-Is-Half-Empty Weather Forecast Images

Consumer advisory: In its popular 7-day forecast web page, the National Weather Service assigns a weather image to each day and night ahead that often views the weather-glass as half empty. As a former U.S. president might have complained, Those stormy pictures are often big hat, no cattle. That is why this blog as a public service has grafted two Seasonal Affective Disorder lights like bookends around the sorry sequence of weather images above. Note that 40% and 50% chances of rain receive decidedly rainy images. We might, of course, just as well be looking at 60% and 50% chances of dry weather.

Even more inspirational for the umbrella trade is the torrential rainy image at left, where the chances of no rain are 70%. Perhaps the Weather Service in its image choice is emphasizing the intensity rather than the chance of ill weather. On the other hand, if there is a 100% chance of only a 15 minute downpour, will the NWS serve up a tsunami image?

To date, this blogger has failed to resolve these troubling questions. Perhaps his friend, Dr. Roberto—an often reluctant economic forecaster—is right when he says: “Although weather forecasting is more reliable than many of our other predictive arts, the Weather Service like the rest of us may have much to hedge about, especially in covering for themselves should bad news prove worse.”