Youth-anizing the Oscars, a Fact-based Analysis

I hesitate to claim that I am the first person ever interested in reviewing the age of Oscar winners. The idea has been tried before, but it is a worthy subject. The topic cropped up again this year as I was looking at a local film critic’s predictions prior to this past weekend’s Academy Awards. The argument he made was that the Best Actress winner would be under 35 and, furthermore, that Emma Stone would be chosen over Ruth Negga because Negga had just passed her 35th birthday. A magic wall of 35?  That seemed like a prediction worth investigating, so I set out to explore the data and see what fascinating analysis™ might turn up.

First, it’s worth noting that the newspaper critic decided that he could handicap the winner to be under 35 based on the percent from “the last 13 out of 19 years”. It always gives me pause when someone uses a statistic involving an oddball number (like 19); you know that they’re cherry-picking the data. For non-statistical people that means they went out of their way to self-select the best set of facts to fit their hypothesis. Without even looking, I could tell you that if they select 20 years, or 25, 10, 12, or 15 years, the percentage wouldn’t be as high.

For the record, the percent of Best Actress Winners under 35 in the last 19 years is 68%, while the 20 year and 25 year were 65% and 64%, respectively.  Why cherry-pick when if you look at actual data and use round numbers, 64% is just as compelling. However, since any given actress has a 20% chance of winning randomly, and even a 20 or 25 year sample is pretty small and kind of lazy, we should really look at a much bigger set of data to understand the interplay of youth and winning. Continue reading “Youth-anizing the Oscars, a Fact-based Analysis”

The Gospel Tumbled Rhythmic in the Dryer

Today is a week from Ash Wednesday, six days before Shrove Tuesday for the English, a day before Schmotziger Donnerstag (Greasy Thursday) for the Germans, and a few days after Quinquagesima Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent. Shrovetide starts roughly after the Christian Feasts of the Epiphany, the Epiphany marking the day when the Magi visited baby Jesus.  Ash Wednesday then begins the days of fasting and self-denial for Lent.  The forty days of Lent represent the forty days that Jesus wandered in the desert which lead into Easter, the day of Resurrection.

All of this marks the week leading up to Mardi Gras, a celebration where the Germans have sausages and sauerkraut for luck, the Lithuanians burn an effigy of winter, the women of Bourbon Street throw beads, and the samba music in Rio cranks up to full rhythmic energy for Carnival. Continue reading “The Gospel Tumbled Rhythmic in the Dryer”

Where Fancy is Bred

Where, oh where, is fancy bred?
In the heart or in the head?
–Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice

The heart is a powerful muscle, delivering nourishment and energy throughout the body, second by second and minute by minute. The sound of a heartbeat signifies life, fear, elation, and anxiety – the approach of a leopard and the approach of a beloved. One of the most joyous sounds is of a heartbeat in a mother’s womb; the joyous picture is the sonogram of that beating heart. The heart has been described since ancient times as the seat of emotions, though 20th century scientists in the age of “better” information designated the brain as the true ruler of emotions rather than the heart. How did the ancients get it wrong? Or did they?

Blame it on Aristotle. Blame it on the Catholic and the Lutheran Church. Blame it on the Cro-Magnons.

For Valentine’s Day, I set out to find out where the scalloped heart shape came from and why the heart was identified as the seat of emotion. As with all investigation into historical and scientific evidence, the answer is … complicated. Continue reading “Where Fancy is Bred”

Arthur Ashe: Sports & Social Justice Badass

Start where you are;
Use what you have;
Do what you can—
Arthur Ashe

Since it is Black History Month, I thought Arthur Ashe would be a fitting subject for a profile as he happens to be the author of my Favorite Inspirational Quote of All Time. I heard that yesterday was also National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and Monday was the anniversary of Ashe’s death from AIDS-related complications; it was a sign!  I remember him winning Wimbledon in 1975 in very dramatic fashion. I remember him speaking out about apartheid in South Africa. I remember him as one of the first to publically announce he had AIDS, and his passing in 1993.

Little did I know!

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The dude was a charitable foundation, social justice, human rights badass. His life was full of challenges and struggles, but every time he ran into a personal issue – which he resolved – he would turn around and create an organization to raise awareness and help other people so they wouldn’t face the obstacles that he did.  First black tennis player to play in a tournament under apartheid? He created a tennis center for blacks to play in South Africa. Had quadruple bypass surgery? Became national campaign chairman for the American Heart Association for a year. Contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during surgery? Created the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS.

And all before the age of 50. Honestly, as I read through his biography and the works on the AALS (Arthur Ashe Learning Center) arthurashe.org website, it seemed a little ridiculous. How could one person get all that done?  I remember Arthur Ashe when he was alive, and he displayed such dignity and class, that it’s impossible to imagine any of it was exaggerated. Plus, I remember him doing these things. Continue reading “Arthur Ashe: Sports & Social Justice Badass”

Gradatim Ferociter

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This past Saturday marked the 31st anniversary of the Challenger disaster, and it’s hard to resist the urge to still be depressed about it.  73 seconds after liftoff, the ship exploded, killing the seven astronauts including teacher Christa McAuliffe, who was to be the first civilian in space. Later analysis revealed the likely cause to be an O ring failure as a sealant due to unusual freezing temperatures before the launch. I’d like to think that the disaster led to new, safer ways to explore space or a determination to solve scientific problems in ways to benefit us all. But thirty years in, I’ve come to realize some of that is probably fantasy, and the reality is a mix of pessimism and pragmatism.

I remember exactly where I was: at the office on Montgomery Street in San Francisco, only six months into a job with a company I would eventually support for decades. In those “yuppy” days, we still wore suits and heels and spoke in hushed tones, as if every discussion were of utmost importance. In the middle of an intense debate over something on a spreadsheet, we noticed that everyone was suddenly going into the big conference room with the television, and on the screen was this odd blotch of smoke flowering outward. Whoever had been in the room first – to watch the launch initially – had to retell the story over and over as more people came out of their offices and cubicles to join the crowd. All you could see for several minutes was smoke blossoming further and NASA Houston mumbling something about “waiting to see,” until finally the news generated some kind of replay. Then, the announcers explained what had happened, and started replaying it over and over. We’re now used to that instant replay on a loop, but that was the first time I remember seeing it put to use. Continue reading “Gradatim Ferociter”