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Welcome to Thinking Out Loud, a blog that contains postings from The Tampa Tribune’s Editorial Board and from various Tribune Community Columnists. Unlike the unsigned editorials that represent the newspaper’s institutional voice, the blog postings offer personal perspectives on the issues, personalities and events of Tampa Bay. We invite you to participate by posting your comments. We’ll do our best to respond.

Contributors:
Joe Guidry

Joe Guidry is the deputy editorial page editor of The Tampa Tribune. He is a Tampa native and a graduate of the University of South Florida. He is married and has an adult son.


Jeff Stidham

Jeff Stidham grew up and lives in Bartow. He has been with the Tribune for nearly 22 years, the last 10 on the editorial board.


William Yelverton

William Yelverton is a Tribune editorial writer who has worked for the paper nearly 22 years. He lives in the Dade City area.


Jim Beamguard

Jim Beamguard is a Tribune editorial writer. He is a native of North Carolina and a graduate of Davidson College. He and his family live in Brandon.


Jackie Papandrew:

Jackie Papandrew is a freelance writer and editor. Her syndicated humor column appears in publications in the United States, Canada and India. She lives in Largo with her husband and children. Visit her website at www.jackiepapandrew.com.


Camille Beredjick

Camille Beredjick is a senior at Chamberlain High School, an avid musician and a scribbler with a quirky sense of humor. In the fall, she will be attending Northwestern University to study journalism, political science and music, and she plans to pursue a career in journalism.


Jim Harnish

Jim Harnish is in his 17th year as Senior Pastor at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa. He and his wife, Marsha, have two daughters and two grandchildren. He is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary and received the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Bethune-Cookman University. He is the author of six books and numerous articles and studies. He enjoys playing with his grandchildren and cheering for the Florida Gators.


Angela Hunt

Angela Hunt is a novelist living in Pinellas County with her husband and two 220-pound mastiffs.


Sheryl Young

Sheryl Young was a Tampa Tribune Community Columnist in 2005-2006. A freelance writer since 1997, including the Tampa Bay Business Journal, Tampa Style Magazines, St. Pete Times and nationally in Better Nutrition, Today’s Christian Woman and more. She’s received a First Place Amy Foundation national "Roaring Lambs" Writing Award, and has lived in Tampa Bay with her family for over 20 years.


Christie Gold

Christie Gold teaches English and journalism at Freedom High School in Tampa where she advises Revolution, the school newspaper. She has been both the Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year and Florida Journalism Teacher of the Year. She lives on a small farm in Wesley Chapel where she trains as a competitive equestrian.


Natalie D. Preston

Natalie D. Preston is a karaoke singing, only-child pouting, Seminole Tomahawk waving, newlywed bride blushing, 50-state traveling, girlie girl who loves to shop, read, run and jump up and down on her soapbox.


Fernando Figueroa

Fernando Figueroa is a researcher, educator and lives in Riverview.


Gary Beemer

Interests include humor, politics, economics, community and world affairs, finance, people, religion, music, sports, current events, the arts and education.


Nicole Yunger Halpern

Nicole Yunger Halpern is an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, where she studies everything she can get her nerdy little hands on. Desired major: life. No, not necessarily biology. Life.


Kris DiGiovanni

Kris DiGiovanni is a Tribune Community Columnist, Huffington Post contributor, Daily Kos diarist, and teacher, who recently moved from NW Hillsborough to another planet - a small beach community in Pinellas County. She also blogs at www.sandscript.wordpress.com


H. David Braswell Jr.

H. David Braswell Jr. is an Information Systems Professional. He is a native New Yorker and a lifelong NY Giants fan. He attended college in California (Cal State Northridge) and moved to Tampa in 1998.


Sean Marcus

Sean Marcus teaches creative writing, journalism and reading at Chamberlain High School. He has one son and is expecting a daughter in early March. He can be reached at wuizabug@gmail.com


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A Floridian’s House is an Englishwoman’s Palace

Posted Aug 5, 2012 by Nicole Yunger Halpern

Updated Aug 5, 2012 at 04:50 PM

Want to visit Buckingham? Drive through Tampa’s suburbs. One neighborhood, replete with palms, claims the name of Her Majesty’s palace. Written in golden curlicues, the sign shimmers in the sun.


Sun? Having believed yourself in London (heatstroke addled your senses), you squint. Britain has no sunshine. Which side of the Atlantic are you on?


To ascertain how socialized a health-care system will treat your heatstroke, you continue driving. Beyond oaks, you find Nottingham; beyond an intersection, Manchester. Squire Road leads into Canterbury, which sits minutes from Bristol. As an egret ambles past, you notice Cambridge. Cambridge I, I mean; Cambridge II and Cambridge III lie beyond more palms.


Tampa, the egret points out in your heat-addled imagination, has more Cambridge than Britain has.


Imitation, as others have said, is flattery. Admiration by the foreign and of the foreign can help us appreciate home. In Cambridge’s rival, Oxford, I visited the Eagle and Child Pub. Writers met here each week during the early 1900s—writers including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. While admiring photos of them, I chatted with a middle-aged English couple.


How was I enjoying Britain? the couple asked. I enthused about Norman crosses and Roman ruins. The man laughed. Britons wallow so in history, he explained, we take it for granted.


That’s what we’re for, another American piped up. A prospective Oxford student, she was studying Anglo-Saxon literature. Americans, she continued, have fewer artifacts than Britain has. We exist to cherish British history.


A Briton had cautioned me against moving to Lancaster, UK, where I lived from December until July. Lancaster looks dreary, he had warned. It’s full of gray stones. After I arrived, a friend asked my impression. Lancaster looks lovely, I replied. It’s full of gray stones.


Goodness knows when those stones arrived. Smooth ones, rectangular and congruent, look shaped by modern machines. But rough stones, and stones smoothed by shoes—stones as idiosyncratic as Dickens characters—have formed cobbles for ages. Those stones twist ankles, but they have histories. They’re old.


They’re new. So said a Lancasterite upon returning from California, when I asked his impression of the US. The houses are new—not like ours. Ours stand for too long, but nobody demolishes them. Ours have taps that don’t mix hot water with cold, but burn your hands or freeze them.


Though he studied in Lancaster, this friend hailed from the Continent. Another Continental, who interchanged v’s with w’s and who peppered conversations with y’s, described St. Petersburg. Florida has one of those, I remarked, a St. Petersburg. His eyes almost popped when I added: Locals call ours “St. Pete.”


Britons call settlements “shires,” “boroughs,” “burys” (as in “Ashbury”) and “hams” (as in “Buckingham”). So do Floridians, as your drive through Tampa revealed. I don’t object to filling Buckingham with palms. But, while living near the original Buckingham, I came to appreciate originals. Florida cannot replicate Buckingham, and it has no need to. Florida has Palm Beach and Alligator Alley. Thanks to its Native Americans, Florida has Okeechobee and Thonotosassa; thanks to its Latinos and Spaniards, El Barrio and Boca Ratón. One might question the wisdom of naming a city “rat’s mouth,” which “Boca Ratón” means. But one shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and history has gifted Boca a rat’s mouth. While Boca can live up to its name, I wonder whether Florida’s Buckingham can. But Florida needs no Buckingham, because Florida has Boca.


One morning—frostier than a Florida one, but kinder to pedestrians—I ambled through Lancaster’s suburbs. The cobblestones yielded to pavement, which anchored a sign: “Washington Close.” Another sign read, “Jefferson Close.” Next came Pierce Close, Grant Close, and Coolidge Avenue. Names of former American presidents littered the suburb as names of English settlements litter Tampa.


Americans rarely reference Coolidge, I thought, so he likely didn’t trash the US. If he had, Americans would know more about him. Coolidge’s not having trashed my country merits gratitude. Thank you, Britain, for reminding me to value Coolidge. Not to mention Okeechobee and egrets, oaks and alligators.


Admiration by the foreign, and of the foreign, can help us appreciate home. Others have said that an Englishman’s home is his castle. As we’ve seen, a Floridian’s neighborhood is an Englishwoman’s palace. As I say: Any home is a castle. You just have to view it from the right angle.


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Independence Day Across the Pond

Posted Jul 4, 2012 by Nicole Yunger Halpern

Updated Jul 4, 2012 at 11:18 AM

The table stretches across the courtyard like a party favor that unrolls and toots and blows spittle across your chin when you puff into it. Red-white-and-blue flags festoon the table, and Uncle Sam-style hats festoon diners. I pass a Korean a plate, thank an Englishman for a drink, and discuss Boston with a Nepalese friend.


An Independence Day barbecue? Look again. No stars decorate the flags; the plate supports cucumber sandwiches instead of hamburgers; and my cup contains tea instead of lemonade. See the flyers papering this courtyard named for a princess? See the flyers’ Union Jack backgrounds? The party occurred last month in Lancaster, UK, where I’ve worked since December. We celebrated the diamond-jubilee anniversary of the enthronement of Queen Elizabeth II. Rewind 230 years, and compatriots would have booed this American as a Benedict Arnold.


Or would they? I drank tea and nibbled scones to experience tea-drinking and scone-nibbling, not to renounce Old Glory. When in Rome, do as Romans do; when in Britain, do as Britons do. When in Britain, explore Roman ruins, taste meat pie, buy an umbrella, and apologize six times if you knock into someone. Not that scones and umbrellas embody British character. Not that I’ve determined whether “British character” exists. I haven’t even determined whether “American character” exists.


As Her Majesty eyed me from jubilee-themed cards and bookmarks (and startled me from an egg cup), I peered into the future. How would I celebrate my country’s anniversary? Not with fireworks or family. Resigned to an unconventional Fourth, I determined to ponder American character and its relation to Britain.


Last century, blue-eyed blondes exposed pitfalls of this “character of a nation” business. What can we conclude about a country?


We might indulge in generalizations as in apple pie. I have seen the redcoat, I could say, and he is us. Dr. Who plays in my parents’ Tampa suburb; The Big Bang Theory, in my Lancaster flat. Britons drool over KFC; Americans drool over royals. Both call our countries by similar acronyms. Not to mention that we share a language, a philosophical tradition, and ancestors.


Convinced that the US and the UK heart each other? Not I. As much as TV shows and language encapsulate our relationship, so does the cucumber-versus-hamburger divide. Similarly, as little as scones and rain encapsulate the UK (though rain encapsulates more of the UK than I’d prefer), so little do Old Glory and KFC encapsulate the US. Nor can fireworks and fifing summarize Independence Day. Should I throw in the July-Fourth towel, and drown my philosophizing in tea?


Examples don’t encapsulate a relationship or culture, but they illustrate it. They constitute parts of it. Having explored millennium-old castles, having jumped when shopkeepers called me “love,” I know Britain better than I knew it last Independence Day. Understanding the motherland more, I understand the US more. I see youth in a Boston business trumpeting its bicentennial. I see that adopting the “love” habit would raise American eyebrows. I see (the image haunts me) Queen Elizabeth II peeping out from my mother’s egg-cup collection.
This Independence Day, I understand the UK a little more. I understand the US a little more. I understand a little more how little I understand any country.


Which is why, in Britain this Independence Day, I will barbecue a hamburger.

 

This article appeared on the Tampa Tribune’s Editorial page on July 4, 2012.

 


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Three Cups of Tay: Reflections about England’s favorite beverage and a parody of scientific articles

Posted Jun 7, 2012 by Nicole Yunger Halpern

Updated Jun 7, 2012 at 11:22 AM

Tea, known in the northern UK as “tay,” has received considerable attention in the literature recently. Flyers on the author’s campus [1,2] advertised a party that features “tea, scones, and everything British” in honor of the diamond-jubilee anniversary of the ascent of Queen Elizabeth II to the British throne. (Note that the strength of the author’s argument is independent of a party’s ability to feature “everything British.”) In 2007, Greg Mortensen published the bestselling nonfiction book Three Cups of Tea, whose title I have plundered to offset my writing’s dryness. Despite negative publicity during the 18th century (cf. the Boston Tea Party), tea has gained popularity in the United States among intellectuals, pseudo-intellectuals, and so-called “hipsters” and “artsy types.” This paper concerns characteristics of, habits associated with, and applications of tea in modern-day Britain.


Tea is a mixture of herb particles dissolved in boiling water. Drinking boiling water scalds the roof of one’s mouth, precluding one from tasting tea for approximately half a day, according to current estimates. Although this time scale has not been verified, it permits straightforward testing. The author retains confidence that experimentalists will soon investigate this prediction that theorists lack the resources (i.e., the tolerance for pain) to test. Tea is commonly measured in units of “cuppas” (e.g., “D’you want a cuppa tay?”). The quantum of tea is known as the “sip.”


Despite American stereotypes, not all Britons guzzle tea perpetually. Some guzzle coffee when not guzzling tea. Nevertheless, the kettle in the author’s office, which houses theoretical physicists, boils enough water per day “to drown half of Britain’s population,” according to a colleague. An order-of-magnitude estimate implies that the water could drown approximately three-fourths of Britain’s population, assuming that said population refrained from imbibing the threat. An inquiry into the kettle’s hyperactivity revealed that experiments have proven tea boosts intellectual capacities. That is, theorists behave as though experiments have proven tea boosts intellectual capacities. A correlation has been noted between drinking of tea and avoidance of nodding off during meetings. Future studies should probe this correlation with greater rigor. If proved causal, the correlation could raise the kettle’s daily output to levels sufficient to drown four-thirds times Britain’s population.


In conclusion, we have analyzed the mixture of water and scrumptiousness known as tea. By “we,” I mean “I,” but drawing attention to my subjectivity gives me hives. Discrepancies have been observed between predicted and actual tea-drinking habits. Applications of tea include possible enhancement of intellectual performance, facilitation of social interaction, and cake flavouring. Illustrations of all three graced the author’s recent birthday party, which featured tea and Earl Gray-flavored cake. (Regrettably, the party did not feature “everything British.”) The dearth of tea-flavored cakes in the baking literature (viz., cookbooks) strikes the author as a howling shame. Testing of tea-flavored cakes may prove arduous, but we urge the community to confront the challenge for the sake of science.


Acknowledgments: The author wishes to thank her officemates for teaching her to use our kettle, NASA Famelab participants for commiserating about scientific writing, and her flatmates for baking the cake and for offering a cuppa whenever boiling water.


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Singin’ in the Hail

Posted May 19, 2012 by Nicole Yunger Halpern

Updated May 19, 2012 at 03:20 PM

Lancaster, the UK city whose dialect flummoxed me last December, hailed on me this evening.


Hoping to admire the sunset, I sallied forth from work into a driving wind. The wind pummeled me with hailstones like a middle-school bully with taunts. Though I’ll keep suppressing my memories of middle-school taunts, I didn’t mind the hail. Because you know what helps one appreciate hail?


Near-freezing rain. Which Lancaster dumped on me this morning.


Hoping to taste the fresh air, I sallied forth from home into a downpour. The downpour pounded my umbrella like a real-estate agent pounding a physicist at Monopoly. Though I avoid challenging real-estate agents to Monopoly, I didn’t mind the downpour. Because who needs sunshine when sampling a potpourri of precipitations?


Growing up in Florida, I encountered no precipitation less mundane than rain. And Florida Humidity, which has enough body to earn it not only precipitation status, but also capitalization and a Social Security Number. The hailstorm that punctuated my childhood lasted twenty minutes. Having pirouetted through a ballet class during the spectacle, I regretted missing it.


Regret needles me no longer. Lancaster offers not only mundane rain and humidity—not only near-freezing rain and hail—but also freezing rain and Insta-Melt Snow (“Solid enough to arouse snow-angel dreams, but melts on contact!”).


Not converted to the cult of cloudiness? Consider my bedroom window. That window doesn’t face westward. But if it did, you might ask, “Do you enjoy watching the sun set?” I’d reply, “I can’t watch the sun set, because clouds cover the sun. But what clouds they are! What rain they promise! What a feast for the eyes, the ears, the skin, the sweatshirt pressed into rain-jacket duty!”


Perhaps I celebrate rain to console myself. When Google offered me buttons purported to change the weather this April Fools’ Day, I growled, “Don’t tempt me.” But we’re told, if life hands you lemons, make lemonade. If the sky hands you rain, start singin’ in it. If I hand you an umbrella as a souvenir from Lancaster, you’ll understand why.


If I hand you an umbrella, moreover, thank me for not bringing one souvenir more characteristic of Lancaster: near-freezing rain.


The author wrote this article approximately one month ago. Though May hasn’t hailed on her (yet), it prohibits her from leaving home sans hat, scarf, gloves, coat, and at least one sweater.


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“Think Out Loud” Fans Don’t Break Science

Posted Apr 13, 2012 by Nicole Yunger Halpern

Updated Apr 13, 2012 at 08:12 AM

An orange space suit stands in the lobby. Photos of planets and stars ring the auditorium. My eyes bulge as I shake hands with a scientific bigwig whose discipline’s name contains six syllables.


Welcome to NASA headquarters.


This March, NASA hosted the science-communication competition “Famelab Astrobiology DC.” Famelab, a UK organization, challenges young scientists throughout the world to explain their research to the public. Representing Famelab in the United States, NASA requested three-minute speeches about astrobiology—the study, according to a NASA webpage, of “the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.”


I do not specialize in astronomy or biology.


While others ponder life on Mars, I erase algebra errors. While others wave illustrations of galaxies that spiral like soft-serve ice cream, I clutch notebooks filled with pencil smudges. While the names of others’ specialties zing with adrenaline—“astro”-this and “exo”-that—mine murmurs, “theoretical physics.”


Lacking a prefix, my research might not wow stargazers. But that research fits in a knapsack. So I packed a notebook, pencil, and eraser; hopped a plane to NASA headquarters; and yakked for three minutes about evolution.


A primordial soup has evolved into fungi, ferns, foxes, and fans of the Tampa Tribune’s “Think Out Loud” blog. Four billion years ago, carbon, hydrogen, and other atoms frisked about on Earth. Today, atoms have fixed positions in molecules and cells. According to normal people, the atoms’ disorderliness has decreased. According to physicists, the atoms’ “entropy” has decreased.


A physical law decrees that isolated systems’ entropies tend to increase, that disorderliness grows. Atoms, the law seems to imply, should not bind together: Life should not evolve, and “Think Out Loud” should have no fans.


But living systems do not remain isolated. As atoms bind into molecules, they release energy that feeds air particles. Once energized, the particles zoom around like drunk clowns. Similarly, the fatty membranes that enclose cells form in water. When membranes form, water’s electric fields go haywire. While organizing living systems, evolution disorders the systems with which organisms interact. Because evolution disorders more than it orders, life can evolve without contradicting physics. Your existence doesn’t break the scientific law.


Want to know more? Check out these two three-minute speeches about evolution and entropy. Don’t let any space suits or photos distract you: While some science looks no more impressive than pencil smudges, it impresses no less than that crown of evolution, the blog reader.


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