Category Archives: Odds and Ends

A Day To Give Thanks

and a day to remember those in need.
According to Scott Huler writing for Scientific American, today is World Toilet Day.

Yep. You heard me: Nov. 19 is World Toilet Day. Brought to you by the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council and the World Toilet Toilet (sic) Organization (and supported by Domestos, a Unilever cleaning brand), the day reminds those of us with nice warm bathrooms and healthy sanitation that it ain’t that way for all of us.
Like, say, the 2.5 billion people who lack a clean toilet. Remember the outhouse scene in “Slumdog Millionaire”? That’s all over the world.

From time to time I’ve toyed with writing a post on my experiences with toilet facilities while traveling. But I think I’ll continue to postpone that dissertation for a while. Most of those places had toilets.

Steven Pinker On Writing Classic Prose

Steven Pinker’s talk on written communication in the sciences applies as well to written communications in the humanities. He offers an abnormally interesting set of suggestions on how to improve written communications. He also suggests several obstacles to good communication. Among these are,

  • The Tree and the Chain
  • The Curse of Knowledge
  • Long Shadow of Mrs. Grundy

Not sure what these are? Listen to his lecture, “Communicating Science and Technology in the 21st Century,” on the MIT website. Pinker’s lecture reminds me of how much I need to improve.
Via Carl Zimmer at the Loom.

We Lost With Over 60% Of The Vote

There may be two or three abnormal readers, that is 50% of you, who are curious about how the ballot measure I worked on fared. We poled 60.22% of the vote. That may sound good but we needed two thirds of the vote to make our measure law. This is California after all. In California we don’t like property taxes no matter how small or to what end.
I think John Clifford, one of the key members of our advocacy group, said it best,

Out of 22921 voters in the election, we fell short by 1473. It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to convince more of our fellow Pomonican’s . . .. to think about the future of our children and the betterment of our city over their own interests. BUT, we have made a statement!! Hopefully, those on the city council and the city staff will take it as a message that a significant majority of the people in the city support the library.

I’m disappointed but I think the effort was worth it. We spend around $6000.00 in favor of the proposition. I’m not sure of the exact number. The Citrus Valley Association of Realtors spent in the neighborhood of $20,000.00 to defeat it. While a few local Pomona based realtors belong to this association, it is bases in a different city and draws the vast majority of the members from outside Pomona. Many are themselves or represent absentee landlords with property in Pomona. Considering the similar details of message (you know – intertextuality), it appears that they may have also funded all or part of a mayoral candidate’s campaign. He claimed to know how to fund the library without the new small tax. He never got around to telling anyone exactly how he would do it without destroying something else. The two ideas he mentioned to me were both bogus and I’m pretty sure he knew it. He actively campaigned against our measure. He also lost his bid to be mayor rather spectacularly.
We have two areas of Pomona where many residents don’t consider themselves part of our city. In one of these cases, they tend to use their community identification, Philips Ranch, rather than their/our city name. Many of these folks think that living in Pomona is like having a crazy uncle. You try to ignore it as best you can. In this area we didn’t even get 50% of the vote.
So we lick our wounds and go on to whatever is the second best solution to funding our library. We know that over 60% of our fellow citizens will be behind us.
Truly abnormal stuff should start soon but I’m still rather exhausted from the last two months of campaigning.

It’s Election Day

and there’s little I can do about it now. I no longer have what amounts to a full time job with lots of overtime and no pay. No more Save the Pomona Public Library signs to deliver. No more door hangers to distribute. No more call banks to manage. No more talks to give. No more coordinating lunches to attend. Now we wait. Will we get the required two thirds vote? I don’t know. What I do know is our dedicated team has done everything we could within the limits of time and cost to get that vote.
It’s been many years since I last worked on a campaign. I’ve met a lot of amazing dedicated people – Marian, Kathy, John, Anne, Erin, Alice, Mike, Jacky, Paul, Paula, Roberta to name but a few – people who care about our city, who care about our city’s library – people of differing political views who put large portions of the lives on hold to save one of the great institutions of our town.
It has been exhilarating. It has been exhausting. It has also been fun. But as our chairman said, “I want to get my life back.” You know you’ve been at it too long when your City Councilperson calls you and without identifying herself asks you for something. Yesterday that happened to me and it wasn’t the first time. So expect more blogging, more Akkadian, more Ugaritic, more divination, more Hebrew Bible, more Mark Twain, more abnormal interests. I’ve read almost nothing abnormal in the last two months, so it may take a few days to get back to full swing.

Slow Blogging – Fast Politicking

If anyone cares, blogging will be slow for the near future. While I will continue to post from time to time, most of the time that I (ab)normally use for blogging and the research that drives many of my posts will be given instead to Measure X, a local ballot measure to provide funding for our local library. This activity is varied. Not all of it, like calling people I don’t know and asking for something I’m not sure they want to give, comes naturally to me. Learning new abnormal skills does not come easily. Learning them at a sometimes hectic pace doesn’t make it any easier. Most of the people I have met and continue to meet are abnormally interesting. Most of the work is fun and the cause is important.
I do continue to work on a couple of research projects, now more as filler activates than as high priorities, and I do look at my RSS feed at least once a day. So over the coming four weeks I may well produce a few abnormal posts, just not at a near daily rate.

Reflections On Fairness And Funding Of Our Public Library

Yesterday two of us advocates for a ballot measure that would provide continuing funding for our local Pomona Public Library had an encounter with our opposition. We didn’t intend for it to be an encounter; we hoped it would be a meeting. It turns out that an out of town organization, the Citrus Valley Realtors’ Association, is nearly certain to oppose the only means on the table to keep our library open. It is true that several of their members live and/or have businesses in Pomona. But most do not and their headquarters in the nearby City of Glendora. While they were unresponsive to our emails, we knew they were meeting and desired to discuss the issue, perhaps even be allowed to address their broad briefly before the meeting. Our hope was to dissuade them from opposing our efforts with the considerable financial strength of their organization.
We were met at the door by their Government Affairs Director who more or less politely informed us that their meeting were closed. This did not surprise us. Yes, I do know his name but this is not about him. As they say, he only works there. That said, he did seem to enjoy his job. I asked if we could briefly address the meeting before it started. Perhaps the Government Affairs Director didn’t understand my question; perhaps he did. In any case, we were subjected to a filibuster on “fairness.” His basic issue, stated repeated, sometimes at a couple of dbs above conversational level, and often while we were trying to respond, was that because some of the properties to be taxed (only $38.00 per year) were owned by members of his association and clients of the members of his association who did not live in Pomona it was unfair for those members and clients to be excluded from voting on the measure. No, he was not against a tax to fund the library. It was just the way we were doing it. At least that is what he told us.
I tried to interject, with many interruptions, that the ship on how we would fund the library had sailed and noted that his organization did not offer any alternative suggestions before the sailing. But now that the ship had sailed any opposition could sink the library and that losing the library would surely result in at least some lowering of property values negatively affecting homeowners, like the two of us, and that of some of his association’s members and their clients. The whole notion fell on deaf hears. The way we were doing it he said is “unfair” to those property owners who live outside our city and that therefore, library or not, the measure should be opposed. Weirdly, it seemed that he thought the even the two of us should oppose it for that reason. My colleague tried and, because of the ongoing filibuster, largely failed to get in a few words on the relative nature of “fairness.” Realizing that this was getting us nowhere, we thank him for his time and left.
Here’s the issue: the only funding mechanism available between now and when the library well surely be closed is the one on the November ballot, Measure X. The only question of fairness remaining for the members of the Citrus Valley Realtors’ Association and particularly those few who live or work in Pomona is, is it fair to deprive the kids and the adults of Pomona of a great public library simply to assuage the moral sensitivities of the absentee landlords they represented.

Over 5,300 Travel Miles But I’m Back Again

Shirley and I took a road trip two thirds of the way across the US – the longest road trip we have ever taken. We visited our daughter in Kent, OH. While there we also met face to face for the first time Jennifer Larson, the Kent State classicist who helped me with my paper on the Mesopotamian origin of Homeric Bird divination – forthcoming sometime this millennium.
We went to Shirley’s 59th high school graduation reunion in Columbia City, IN. “Why the 59th?”, you ask. In a word the answer is death. When the held their 55th those in attendance worried that many classmates might not make it to their 60th so they decided to have a 59th. They are planning their next reunion for their 63rd graduation anniversary. Death willing, that will be followed by their 60th and then their 62nd. You see the pattern and you see when they think it might end.
The UCC Church in Ryor, MissouriWe also visited the area in Missouri where my maternal grandmother spent her childhood and where her father is buried. This was a lot of fun. We sought out old cemeteries and did research at the Missouri State Archives, at the State University Library and at the Linn City Historical Society. The church pictured on the left is the most significant remaining evidence for town of Ryors (aka Stony Point and Linnwood) Missouri. It is likely that this is where my grandmother and her family attended church – if not this exact building, it’s predecessor at the same location. We think she attended the Contrary Creek German Evangelical Church which eventually merged with the United Church of Christ. The only account of my great-grandfather’s death says he drowned in a swollen Contrary Creek which flows near the church.
We didn’t get news on a regular basis while we were away. I did hear that Jesus got married or something. Happy Face

The Two Lost Last Weeks Of July

If anyone cares, you can see how Shirley and I filled the days between July 17 and July 31 by checking out our Mediterranean 2012 Flicker Set. The nice thing about a link is that there is no need to take it. Happy Face
We have lots of other pictures but I’m not sure what many of these other pictures are pictures of. In addition, it is possible to have too many pictures from Ephesus, from the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, and of the same large ship. If anyone is abnormally interested in Minion rhyta from Santorini let me know.

Font Type And Impression

Errol Morris tells the story in the New York Times. Here’s a sample,

Don’t get me wrong. The underlying truth of the sentence “Gold has an atomic number of 79” is not dependent on the font in which it is written. The sentence is true regardless of whether it is displayed in Helvetica, Georgia or even the much-maligned Comic Sans. But are we more inclined to believe that gold has an atomic number 79 if we read it in Georgia, the font of The New York Times online, rather than in Helvetica?

There are lots of abnormally interesting graphics and an equally interesting discussion with David Dunning of Cornell. The answer appears to be, “yes.” More is to come.
This discussion reminded me of a study by Jeff Galak and Leif D. Nelson that I reported on last year. In this study, Galak and Nelson provided evidence that the extent to which a font was condensed or open influenced the way readers thought about Mark Twain’s “The Danger of Lying in Bed.”
Via Boing Boing

On Plagiarizing a Website

Mark Goodacre illustrates a rather clear undocumented use of one of his webpages in the commonly used Introducing the New Testament by John Drane. I’m sure the kind of paraphrasing Mark notes would garner a low, maybe failing, grade and/or be referred for disciplinary action if it appeared in a student paper at most universities.
Perhaps Drane felt relieved of the requirement to document his source because his work is introductory and/or because the source was a webpage. Both thoughts are suggested by Mark and those who commented on his post. Both are properly rejected.
Often Mark uses his web presence to explain developed ideas. Unlike Mark, I more often use my blog to experiment with embryonic, sometimes wild, ideas that I may or may not be able to develop. A few have worked out; most have not. It generally takes a year or so to develop those wild ideas that are developable and another year or more to get them published. During that “production” time I always have some fear that a wild speculation here at Abnormal Interests will result in an unattributed finished product at someone else’s hands. That isn’t what happen in the case of Mark’s work. But Mark is surely right for calling Drane out on this and I’m glad he did.
Blogs and websites are not sources of attribution free ideas and information!