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A few things that are bugging me Thursday, March 27, 2008

OK, this post will be a bit different than the usual fare. No crazy new photos to share, just a few things to get off my chest.

First beef: shopping bags. Recently, these flimsy little plastic sacs have been in the news again, mostly due to their overabundance and general persistence in the environment. I saw something on television the other night about a Texas-sized blob of these things floating in the Pacific Ocean, and some places—notably San Francisco—have banned them.

"Biodegradable" bags are not much better than the , as they simply break into small pieces that hang around just as long. Many stores also offer paper bags, but of course those have their own issues—they degrade better, but they're more expensive, heavier, and require trees. That's without even comparing the functional differences between the two. (Reusable bags are coming into vogue, but there are issues with those too.)

I agree that there are way too many of these things littering the streets and, though I haven't seen it personally, too many in the oceans. But rather than make them illegal, it seems to me that there are two relatively simple solutions that will drastically reduce the number of bags that end up in the trash.

One—make them easier to recycle. Here in Portland, at least in my neighborhood, we have two recycling bins: one for glass, and one for all the other recyclables. Except shopping bags. They have the little recycling symbol on them, but you can't put them in with the other plastics that you recycle. I've heard rumors that you can recycle them at the grocery store, but I haven't seen any evidence of that. The American public has shown that it is capable of, even committed to, separating recyclables from trash when they have the option. Give people the ability to recycle plastic shopping bags, and the number going into the landfills and oceans will go down drastically.

Two—use less of them. As light and flimsy as these bags seem, they are amazingly strong. So why do store clerks insist on double-bagging everything? Yes, they can split if punctured and occasionally the bottom isn't properly sealed, but that could be fixed with some minor design changes and quality control. I bet if groceries were only single-bagged, the number of bags in the environment would drop by about 40%. (I don't even know what to say about the stunning number of people around here who ask to have their groceries put into paper bags within plastic bags.)

So I'll move onto the ...

Second beef: Meteorologists and the word "normal." All year around, you hear TV and radio weather forecasters saying things like "Tonight, the mercury will go down to 35 degrees. The normal low on Mar. 28 in Portland is 39 degrees ..."

Well, I'm no meteorologist, but I'm calling BS on that. Thirty-nine degrees Fahrenheit may be the average low on Mar. 28, but it doesn't take a genius to realize that it's normally anything but 39°. In fact, for the data I looked at (overnight lows at the airport 1941-2007) it was never 39° on Mar. 28 (for the whole data set, the daily low matched the average 7.5% of the time).

Even if you give the average a range of, say, plus or minus two degrees you still capture less than a third of the nightly lows. In other words, more than two-thirds of the time—normally, in my parlance—the temperature isn't "normal." You have to go to ±4° to get a range that it normally is within.

I know that weather forecasters have to study a lot of statistics in university, so they should understand the distinction between "normal" and "average." For that matter, average (I assume they mean "mean") probably isn't the right measure. Median would be more appropriate. But that's another discussion.

Third beef: This is less of a beef, really, than a ... I dunno what to call it. But the local broadcasts of the Trail Blazers basketball games are awful. I don't really know who exactly is in charge—Comcast SportsNet, I think—but it's just bad. I mean, I can understand them being a bit onside for the home team, but the habitual use of the pronouns "we" and "us" is a little pretentious. The sideline interviews are predictable in a genre defined by cliches. But the one that really got me, about a month ago now, in the halftime show, was the commentator who described someone doing something "slowly, if that's a word." Surely (if that's a word) the executives hiring personalities to speak regularly (if that's a word) in front of mass audiences are considering whether or or not they can use adverbs properly (if that's a word).

Alright, enough griping.


Craig Mitchelldyer said...

Did you see the game were mike rice yells, "you can't leave james jones open, he's the best three point shooter in the world!!!!" I though he was going to fall out of his chair. Yeah, those guys are horrible.

I love the platic bags, get a big dog, they are perfect for picking up dog doo on walks :).

Yeah it's cold and snowing at my house, I'm fairly certain that is NOT "normal".

Matthew said...

Yeah, there was snow in the air for most of the morning around here, which isn't very common even in January. Right now it's hailing.

I don't have room for a big dog in my apartment--too many plastic bags!

Roland Simmons said...

Don't have a dog but have tons of plastic bags. Craig u if you need some I have plenty. You have a big dog, that's plenty of poop. You are sure going to run out soon. The local sports casters are terrible. And the snow thing was kind of cool. Sent DeShaun out to run around in the backyard to give me a breather from playing boardgames.

Sebastian said...

I agree with you about the bags. What, you can't recycle them where you are? Up here in Montreal, they've been recyclable for a long time. Also, they were good for clearing up after we have special small "dog bags" that are bio-degradable. And yes, "double-bagging" is rarely needed.

Sometimes people get hung up with "average" or "typical" as being "normal"...and I guess this extends to meteorology. But you're right, they should switch to "average." The weather is only abnormal if it's RIDICULOUSLY above or below.