If I Were to Get Peevish, This Is What It Would Look Like

In the newsroom, I don’t
believe in pet peeves. Way too many things nettle me to name just one as a
favorite. And face it: most pet peeves, including the ones I don't have, arise from some point of arbitrary wisdom elevated to a principle that's really just an excuse to vent about how no one does things the right way anymore.

But if I ever let myself indulge in the pet peeve thing, one of mine would be the use
of murder rate when one means murder toll. This is of particular concern now when cities are toting up the body count for the past year and feeding it to reporters who repeat the numbers (without thinking much about what they may or may not mean; most of thinking isn't a part of the exercise). The murder toll is the simple count
of murders in a particular place in a particular year. The rate is
typically an assessment of the number of homicides per capita (typically
expressed as the number of killings per 100,000 population). That way you can
compare places like Richmond, East Palo Alto and Oakland with
Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.


It’s OK but contrived
to use rate as a way of extrapolating or equating the number of murders in one
period of time to another period – “Pleasantville police say there have been
100 murders in the first six months of 2008; at that rate, the city will break
its yearly record of 190, set in 2007.” Personally, I’d stay away from this use
of rate because in the Bay Area, anyway, the ebb and flow of murder stats do
not seem to follow any rhyme or reason summed up by such simple arithmetic. Better
to apply this sense of rate in retrospect: “Police say 130 people were murdered
in Pleasantville in 2008. That’s one of the highest tolls on record, but police
note that the rate of killings dropped markedly after the bloody first six
months of the year, when 100 homicides were reported.”

Like I said: If I were to have a pet peeve, I could get some mileage out of this one.

Solstice Day

Solstice Day — the sun standing still and low in the sky, not that you can tell with the clouds. We had a dry interlude early this morning to take the dog out, grab a cup of to-go coffee, and walk up the abandoned Santa Fe right-of-way that runs through the middle of town. It started raining just after we got home, but not hard. So we ran out to the Delancey Street Foundation lot and bought a Christmas tree. By the time we got home, the drizzling onset of the storm had turned into a slow cold rain.

So that was our solstice weather. For the last couple of weeks, the climate here has behaved as if we’re not in a drought, acting like enough rain and snow may fall this season to give us a reprieve from water rationing and the accelerating sense that this piece of the world is going somehow irreversibly wrong.

That was our solstice weather, and it was mild compared to virtually everyplace I have friends and family. Chicago right now: one below, with blowing snow. It’s 2 in Springfield, Illinois. Portland, Oregon: After days of snow and ice, more snow tonight and more storms for days to come. New York: the wind is howling as a storm accelerates away out over the Atlantic; the temperature is supposed to be in the mid-teens tonight. The National Weather Service site for Fort Worth says it’s the coldest night of the season.

Stay warm, all, and watch for that sun to come back.

Do It

Vote today or forfeit you’re hard-won and patience-trying right to whine about the result and its after-effects for the next four years. Really. You tell me you don’t vote, I don’t hear what you’ve got to say about the state of the world. The Cubs, “American Idol,” Angelina Jolie, “the technique of the young Picasso vs. that of the old,” that wild stock market, the latest developments in cosmology, genetics or subatomic physics–we can converse on all that and more (though I don’t promise I’ll understand most of the above). But no bitching about politicians, the system, activist judges, shady lobbyists, budget deficits, or any of the rest of that election-implicated stuff. You open your mouth on any of that, and, to quote the immortal former Chicago cop Jack Walsh, here come two words to you.

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The Smoke of Ought-Eight


Firefighting agencies say there are over 1,000 wildfires burning in California right now. About 800 of them started last Saturday and Sunday as dry thunderstorms swept over the northern two-thirds of the state. We’re a long way from any fires here. There’s a big one burning about 125 miles north of us, near Clear Lake, and two very large blazes in the mountains that rise up from the Big Sur coast–maybe 150 miles south-southwest of here. Still, the smoke is everywhere. Morning, noon, and evening, the sun shines with a filtered light, and the acrid smell of scorched brush hangs in the air. The picture above is out in front of our house at 7 a.m., after the sun had been up nearly two hours. I’ve been here long enough that I can spin graybeard yarns, but still it’s true: There’s been nothing quite like this here–this pall of smoke that just hangs here day after day–in the 30-some years I’ve lived here.

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