Why so sad?

When something falls in the media’s lap it can make for some very, very happy people. People such as newspaper reporters and TV journalists and especially editors and news directors get downright giddy when something just appears out of nowhere and “poof:” Instant story.

So the media folk here where I live, Beaumont, Texas, must be jumping for joy at the release of a University of Vermont study that uses among other methods, a “geo-tagged data set comprising over 80 million words generated over the course of several recent years on the social network service Twitter … “ The conclusion lists the happiest and unhappiest states and cities in the U.S. The happiest state: Hawaii. It makes sense, it’s a pretty place and great temperature year-round. The saddest state is Louisiana. That’s kind of confusing when you have New Orleans rising back from near death. The happiest city: Napa, Calif. Think wine, spody-ody. And, drum roll, the saddest city: Beaumont.

Yes, Beaumont, Texas. Time to get busy local media. We’ve got big news right here in River City.

It’s funny these academicians which include mathematics and statistics professors as well as those in the computing field are able to study 10 million “geo-tagged tweets” over some 373 urban areas to determine who is the happiest and those who are saddest. What is sad is how they characterize their data field: “This corpus is a subset of Twitter’s garden hose feed, and represents roughly 10% of all geotagged tweets posted in 2011.” Huh?

Corpus, I get. I have no idea what a garden hose feed might entail.

The gist, if I may oversimplify it, appears to be that words were studied by geographical location on the social network Twitter. The appearance of certain words determine what’s happy and what’s not.

But Ma, I don’t even know what a Twitter is.

I have read some reporting of this story, specifically of Beaumont being the saddest city in the U.S. So far there is little local reporting. I did hear the story discussed on “The Blitz,” the goofy and enjoyable drive time show on sports talk ESPN 97.5 FM in Houston as I drove home this afternoon. The interest in Houston, besides being 88 miles away from Beaumont, is that even closer Texas City is No. 3 unhappiest in the U.S. To make matters worse for us, we have two cities in the same county on the Top 15 saddest. Behind Beaumont is lucky No. 13, Port Arthur, our south Jefferson County Golden Triangle center. Orange, in adjacent Orange County, is at the end of the third leg of the triangle. I have no idea how it fared.

I have lived here in Beaumont on and off for seven years. Am I sad? Yeah, but I have a lot on my mind what with suffering from chronic pain and with the lack of income staring me down due to the stupidity in Washington known as sequestration. I can also say Beaumont is a pretty angry place. Much of it has to do with wealth envy and race. Beaumont is majority African-American now. It didn’t use to be before “white flight” took place. I was in Lumberton today, a city about 8 miles north of Beaumont in Hardin County. I was shocked to see the Lumberton city limit sign. The place has more than 11,000 citizens now. I can remember when Lumberton was so small it was just a little dot on the map. Much of its growth can be tied to “white flight.”

Economics make people mad, believe me. This is very much a city, Beaumont, in which the divide between the “haves” and the “have nots” can be substantial.

We have a lot of problems here, like everywhere. I have been and even lived in much sadder cities than this, however, and I didn’t need Twitter to tell me. All one needs is a good hog. Then, if you’re happy and you know it slap your ham.

Asteroids keep falling on my head …

The Ural Mountain region near the Kazakhstan border was the site of undoubtedly many freaked-out Russians Friday as a meteor estimated at 11 tons crashed into Earth. Some 1,100 people were injured from damage caused by shock waves. It was the most powerful such event since 1908 when a meteor fragment hit the Tunguska area in Siberia.

The early 20th century event struck with the power of from five to 30 megatons of TNT, according to scientists. That blast equaled about 1,000 times the power of the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. over Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. An estimated 80 million trees were destroyed by the Tunguska event.

Massive numbers of windows were knocked out with shattered glass causing the majority of the injuries from the blast Friday. Many of the damaged buildings were in the town of Chelyabinsk. Scientists said the asteroid affecting the Ural region were unrelated to the DA-14 asteroid which was passing the Earth by 17,500 miles today.

Both the 1908 asteroid and the one falling to Earth today shows our planet with some incredible luck, provided DA-14 doesn’t go wildly off course. Both Russian events occurred near sparsely populated areas. Population also was not a factor with some asteroids through the Earth’s history which which were believed to have had a major influence on the planet ranging from vast changes in fauna to geology.

An asteroid almost 60 million years ago crashed into Earth, forming a “so-called” impact crater, in what is now quiet pasture land outside of Marquez, Texas, (pronounced “mar-KAY”). The town is about 20 miles west of the intersection of Texas Hwy. 7, and Interstate 45, roughly halfway between Dallas and Houston. A good friend of mine wrote a 2004 story about the long-ago asteroid. The story quotes a scientist as saying the Marquez asteroid came crashing to earth with the power of between 10 and 100 hydrogen bombs. It created a crater about 8 miles in diameter and a mile deep. Over time, receding seawater and marsh filled up the crater and turned it into an uplift, or as Professor Arch Reid of the University of Houston said in the story, the crater became turned inside out. There are scientists who believe that a meteor about six miles in diameter killed off the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.

These occurrences remind us Earthlings that we are just sitting on piece of rock amongst countless others out there in the universe. Space specialists can estimate when a chunk of cosmos might be heading near us, like the DA-14, but pieces from asteroids do not need a humongous size to mess up the rest of our day, or, rest of our whatevers.

I second that a’ motion

My mind is out in space this afternoon, figuratively speaking of course. Where would I be if my mind was literally out in space and the rest of me was sitting in this chair while poking a keyboard ? That raises the question: How long would it take a thought to travel from the edge of space to near sea level?

I am pretty sure someone could answer that question or at least give it a shot. It seems like there are as many answers out there, perhaps even more, than there are questions. Here’s a question for you. How fast does the Earth move around the Sun? I had to find — on the Internet — an astrophysicist to answer this one.

“Earth’s average distance to the Sun is 150,000,000 km (93 million miles), therefore the distance it travels as it circles the Sun in one year is that radius x 2 x pi, or 942,000,000 million kilometers in a year of 24 hours/day x 365 1/4 = 8,766 hours so you divide to get 107,000 km/h or about 67,000 mph. You could also say the Earth moves around the Sun at 30 km/s. The Sun circles the center of our Galaxy at about 250 km/s. Our Galaxy is moving relative to the ‘average velocity of the universe at 600 km/second’ “– From “Ask the Astrophysicist, 1997.”

It certainly doesn’t feel as if we are traveling that fast. I bet if we felt that velocity, then even us Texans would talk fast.

Perhaps it is that I might make a couple of airline trips later this year that I ponder the many illusions one confronts when traveling in a physics-laden universe. I think in specific, why it seems one isn’t really going anywhere, or at least, isn’t going anywhere fast, while traveling at hundreds of miles per hour.

Oh, I’m not talking about takeoff or landing or making airborne turns or experiencing turbulence. I speak of the motionless feeling of flight itself. You can close your eyes and practically feel as if you are sitting in your favorite uncomfortable chair at home. Then, if it is daytime and not cloudy outside your little air cabin porthole, you peer downward some seven miles to terra firma and can tell the plane is moving somewhat. That is even though it doesn’t feel as if you are traveling 500 mph.

While you are looking at the ground to see what’s there or if you are trying to locate something you recognize, all of a sudden you see another airline in the distance and it is literally flying by. It’s flying by, as in “zoom,” it’s out of here!

It’s all just an illusion, you remind yourself. Such trickery doesn’t find limits in flight either.

I remember when my brother brought a motor boat home from Connecticut that he won playing poker with some Navy shipmates. We set “sail” out on Lake Sam Rayburn in East Texas, and when my brother cranked the outboard to full speed, it felt like we were “flying,” as in we felt like we were hauling ass! Yes, I know. It’s an odd idiom. But you know what I mean. We were maybe going 25 mph, but it seemed even faster out there on the lake.

Years later when I was in the Navy I joined my ship, a mid-1940s version destroyer, which was in a San Pedro, Calif., drydock having a new hull installed. It was only a month or so after I reported on board that the work was completed and we took the ship to water for the first time in several months for a “shakedown cruise”

It seemed to take forever to transit from the shipyards, under the Vincent Thomas Bridge and out past the breakwaters. Once on a bit more open water the captain ordered “All Ahead, Full” and the 30-year-old warship let its engines rip. I was standing out on the fantail watching the screws churn thousands of gallons of seawater effortlessly. I can recall the smile that came across my face as it did some of my new friends who were goofing off, getting sun and tasting the salty air spraying us all. I don’t know how fast we were going. I guess technically a warship’s speed is classified, but the Fletcher class destroyer as we were on was designed for almost 45 mph. Were we going that fast that day? Who cared, as long as little springs of water didn’t start popping out of the hull.

One of those other strange sensations on water, but even in the air or on the ground is how one feels after concluding a journey. In a car after a long ride, you might go to bed that night feeling like you are still riding. Or perhaps you feel “bouncy” after a long flight.

The sensation I found even more bizarre was docking in port after encountering heavy weather. I learned pretty fast how to walk down a passageway during big waves, thus gaining my “sea legs.” It came to be second nature, so it wasn’t a total surprise when I walked with sea legs off the brow and on down the pier for a ways.

Your body, nature, the land, sea, physics all seem to converge at times to play a little joke upon the unsuspecting. I adapted like a duck in water when I rode the Pacific on a 390-foot, 2,400-ton tin can. It took a bit longer not to tighten-up when the bumps began while flying the friendly skies. But it took only one ride that day at the carnival when my Daddy and I made the idiot decision to ride the gravity-defying Tilt O’ Whirl.

Life’s a trip, isn’t it?




The new year has not commenced as I wish it had. I have had a bout with the flu to bring in the new year, the first time I have really been down for the virus in more than 30 years. I have taken the flu vaccine each year for the past 10 or so years. But sometimes you get sick regardless. I bought some over-the-counter meds today that has helped the cough and nasal congestion. Still, I feel a “might peaked,” as the old-timers used to say.

I hope the year ahead proves better than its start. I have found something to give me some hope even though it is toward the year’s end.

Various publications are speculating that the fairly-recent discovery of the Comet ISON, which may be visible by November 2013, could be the “Comet of the Century.” Well, that is not exactly a starry endorsement given the century is only 13 years old. And chances are, most of us won’t be around to see whether ISON is as spectacular as anticipated.

Media have ballyhooed comets and other wonders of the sky over the years only to come up with a disappointed public. My Dad had talked about Halley’s and how it had long been predicted a sight to behold upon its return in the 1980s. He passed away a couple of years before the great comet’s time although he probably would have been as disappointed with its brilliance as I was.

Comet Hale-Bopp lit up skies in the latter 1990s. Will a 2013 small solar system body be the next big deal?
Comet Hale-Bopp lit up skies in the latter 1990s. Will a 2013 small solar system body be the next big deal?

The 70s Kouhoutek also turned out to be what we call down here in Texas “All hat and no cattle.”

As for the 1997 comet Hale-Bopp, I have no idea from where it came. If any great expectations were predicted for it, I did not hear of them before its appearance. But Hale-Bopp definitely wore the big cat’s pants.

Perhaps my viewing Halley’s, and only seeing it as a weak telescopic vision at that, I remember upon my hearing of the very first mention of Hale-Bopp, “Here we go again.”

But the great comet’s sight  was simply beyond imagination as far as I was concerned. The object could be seen as the spring sky turned to night with only the naked eye for a viewing. Sometime is was difficult for me to drive during the hours Hale-Bopp was visible as it was something from which you didn’t want to avert your eyes, fearing it might disappear for good.

The great comet also brought about something which was much more than a matter of senses. An unknown quality — magic if you will — permeated the air surrounding Hale-Bopp. Perhaps some, like the cultists led by former Texas choir director Marshall Applewhite, breathed that air too deeply, so to speak. Hale-Bopp brought to me, at least, that invisible feeling that makes one believe it should have left behind a great cosmic neon sign reading: “A Good Time Was Had By All.”

Of course, not everyone had a good time. You had to be there.

One can only hope ISON is nearly as brilliant as Hale-Bopp. It will definitely be worth the price of admission.



Of “cold fronts,” lovebugs and sanity

The hint of a declining summer — I hesitate in using the word “fall” for describing early September weather in Southeast Texan — has produced a bit of excitement. It is not the type of excitement that makes one go naked and running down the avenue screaming. Nonetheless, several people I encountered today expressed enthusiasm for the “cool” Canadian air that is forecast for the beginning of a new week. Lows in the 60s and high temperatures in the mid-80s are enough for even the most petulant Southeast Texan to “turn that frown upside down.” Jeez, you don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to use that term, that hokey, bromidic saying that I also despise.

Being September the hope of generally cooler temps sometime by November isn’t all that fills the air around the southeastern corner of Texas. And I think I can speak for most who live in or are visiting this area when I say that of what I speak is not the least bit a cause for elation. I give you the lovebug or as we like to say around here: “Thuh luuuv-buggg.”

Earlier this afternoon I was waiting in the grocery store aisle to buy some cooking spray. Yes, I use it most of the time to cook something in a pan. No, I need not explain. A lady was examining the various cooking sprays — used to there was only Pam, lovely young thing — and she asked: “Is this the kind you use on your car for lovebugs?” She went on to explain that if you spray it on your car the love bugs will come right off when washing it. I had never heard that, or if I did, I don’t remember it.

Perusing the Internet, where you get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth including half-truths and non-truths, a number of sites attest to the abilities of cooking spray — to spray on a pan before cooking. Yes, it seems from several quick looks online that Pam, or other cooking sprays, can help facilitate lovebug removal when washing your car. Unfortunately, it also can fry you up a mess of baked Plecia nearctica. Had I known this, I would have thrown myself down on the grocery store deck and would have prevented that lady from continuing about her business until she promised to only apply Pam for its intended uses.

Or not.

The late John A. Jackman, a professor and entemologist at Texas A & M University, said perhaps the sanest way to deal with the amorous insects was, well, to deal with them:

 “There is no easy solution to lovebug problems. It may be necessary to learn to cope with lovebugs with a variety of methods for a few weeks each year.”

Sane is as sane does, especially when it is your own sanity.