A Summer Hat

Today I am in Cleveland, and I felt an overpowering urge to buy a hat.  That is, a summer hat — preferably a straw hat, but one that any self-respecting American would find fully appropriate to wear in the sweltering days to come.

Surprisingly, I found such a hat, and it is sweet indeed.  Cleveland needs more hats like this, which was bought for only $15 at a very friendly and helpful shop on the first floor at the Cleveland Arcade.

What’s wrong with a bit of straw — for only $15 — to start off the July 4 weekend?  I’m wearing this chapeau at a cookout on Saturday, and I am hoping that the attendees appreciate the beauty of this splendid chapeau.

Studying The Obvious

Every week we see reports on academic studies of some topic or another.  Often the study seems like a pointless exercise in which the eggheads have “studied” something that is glaringly obvious as a matter of common experience and then produced a report explaining that what everybody already knows is, in fact, true.

So it is with a recently announced study by a team from the University of North Carolina that concluded that “super size” portions and increased snacking have contributed to the growing obesity epidemic in the United States.  The study concludes that efforts to reduce obesity should focus on the number of snacks and meals that people consume and the size of their portions. 

Huh!  So increased eating has contributed to increased obesity, eh?  The study therefore conclusively refutes the commonly accepted alternative hypotheses that increased obesity was caused by evil spells cast by invisible wizards or by changes in the composition of the air!  Who knows how much the study cost — or whether it was funded with some kind of federal grant — but we can all conclude that it was money well spent.

Next, teams of academics will conduct detailed studies of the following topics:  (1)  Whether the presence of shrieking children on an airplane increases the stress levels found in other passengers; (2) whether there is any causal relationship between bean consumption and gas production in the lower gastro-intestinal tract; (3) whether ongoing infidelity by spouses has any impact on the durability of marriages; and (4) whether political contributions by special-interest groups have any apparent effect on the voting patterns of politicians receiving those contributions.

Time To Shuck The Titles

Now that we are heading squarely into the 2012 campaign — did a hear a collective groan? — I need to unburden myself about one thing that I just hate:  when politicians who no longer occupy an office still are addressed by the title they once held.

If you see Sarah Palin being interviewed, you’re likely to hear her addressed as “Governor Palin.”  Alan Simpson, once a Senator from Wyoming, still gets called “Senator Simpson.”  Why?  This is America, where we don’t have hereditary titles.  If you occupy an office, of course you should be addressed by the appropriate title.  But if you’ve left the job, in my book you’ve left the title, too.  It’s like the scene in the John Adams mini-series where Adams, having been defeated in his bid for reelection, boards a common coach and tells the surprised fellow passengers that he is just “Mr. Adams” now.  If only the less accomplished members of the modern political class were as willing to assume the role of a mere American citizen again!

So as this campaign season rolls onward, don’t expect to hear me referring to “Governor Romney” or “Governor Pawlenty” or “Governor Huntsman” (or for that matter “Ambassador Huntsman”).  In the land of the free, “Mr.” is what they are, and “Mr.” is what they should be called.

An American Scene

I love to drive, and I particularly love to drive west.  That is because when you drive west from Ohio you can see the country change — gradually, to be sure, but inexorably.  You roll through the remainder of the Great Lakes region and past the Mississippi River, and you see the land flatten out and dry out.  Then rolling hills arise, and they become rockier and craggier.  The vistas become more sweeping, and the horizon retreats into the far distance.  And then, at some point, the last spots of green are bleached from the landscape, and suddenly you recognize that you are entering the great western American desert.

I love that moment when you realize that you are truly in the west, in the land of browns and buttes, with the ground dessicated and cracked and the outline of the craggy mountains in sharp relief against the blue sky.  I think it is some of the most beautiful country you can find anywhere.  This edge of the desert photo was taken in Wyoming.

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

Peace Of Pi On Tau Day

You will remember pi, of course.  It is the mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of any circle’s circumference to its diameter.  Pi also is the ratio of a circle’s area to the square of its radius.  Simply by writing those two sentences I have caused most readers to grit their teeth, remember their high school geometry and higher math courses with a grim shudder, and thank their lucky stars that they never have to use such concepts in their jobs.

Pi is probably the most important mathematical constant, and it is also the point at which math begins to reveal its dark, kinky soul.  Pi is an irrational number that starts as 3.14 and then trails off into an endless series of numbers that do not repeat.  Some friendless, misguided people celebrate March 14 — that is, 3.14 — as pi day and do things like bake pies with the value of pi to a certain number of decimal places along the rim of the pie crust.

Given the celebration of pi, and its weird irrationality, in the math community, who would have suspected that there is an anti-pi contingent?  But there is, and yesterday was their dayThese friendless, misguided math enthusiasts propound tau as the preferred alternative to pi.  Tau is a mathematical constant that is twice as large as pi; hence tau is 6.28 and change, and tau day is June 28.  Why do the tau proponents dis pi and tout tau?  They say that tau is a more natural, convenient way to express the mystical qualities of circles, because circles really are about radii — that is, the distance from a circle’s center to the points along the circle — not diameters.

Now that tau day is over, we can gratefully return to our daily lives.

The Hollywood Squares

When I was a kid, I thought The Hollywood Squares was one of the funniest shows on TV.  I particularly liked the quick-witted and often hysterical Paul Lynde, who for years was the center square.

Apparently most of the episodes of The Hollywood Squares of that era were destroyed.  (Why in the world would NBC do that?)  What is left, and available on YouTube, is outtakes and a few snippets of episodes.  This clip of off-color comments, complete with classic outfits and hairstyles, gives a good sense of what the show was like.


Our election campaigns are so awash in cash and our politicians are so trained to engage in incessant, mindless fundraising that seemingly nothing is off-limits, no matter how silly or classless.

Witness President Obama’s recent videotaped message offering his supporters a chance to participate in a raffle for a chance to have dinner with the President and Vice President Biden.  The message, which was filmed somewhere in the White House and emailed to millions of people, was accompanied by a form offering supporters the chance to check boxes making donations of between $5 and $700 for a chance to win the dinner.

There are arguments about whether or not the raffle constitutes “fundraising,” and if so whether the appeal was improper because it was filmed in the White House.  I don’t know enough about campaign finance law to opine on such issues, but I do feel strongly that the appeal cheapens both the Office of the Presidency and the White House.  Our President’s time should not be raffled off like it is a weekend at a Hilton Head condo or a hot air balloon ride.  And although other Presidents apparently have used the White House, to varying degrees, for fundraising purposes, can’t we all agree that one of the most historic and venerated buildings in the land should not be used like a cheap backdrop in the eternal quest for cash?

The amount of money raised in political campaign is obscene.  Candidates from both parties don’t seem to have trouble raising money by giving speeches, attending political dinners, and appearing at standard-issue fundraisers.  President Obama’s 2012 campaign fundraising goal is somewhere above $750 million, and some are saying he will raise $1 billion.  Given his proven ability to raise huge amounts of money the old-fashioned way, why must we stoop to tawdry raffles and similar fundraising gimmicks that make our President look foolish?