Pasadena Star News, December 27, 2002
by Larry Wilson

HERE at Star-News world headquarters on fabulous Colorado Boulevard, which any day now will be teeming with Cougars and Sooners, but currently is blissfully quiet in that eye of the storm between Christmas and New Year’s, we were treated to a math seminar this week by Chicago journalist Matt Baron.

His Go Figure interactive talks give lessons to journalists and companies around the country in how not to mess up or be misleading when using numbers in their work in our case, in newspaper stories.

Among lots of other great pointers, from percentages to modes to means, Matt dealt with the way some writers will allow spokespeople to get away with vague phrases such as “a number of complaints came in about’ such and such pointing out that zero is also a number and warning us against using “several,’ though that word is generally taken to be occurrences of between
three and nine.

So if I were to say that in this space Saturdays over the past year there were several items I had meant to get to and yet didn’t, it would be an example of the fudge factor at work.

That’s because there were definitely more than nine topics big and small I scribbled down or promised someone I’d mention or even started to write about, and didn’t, in palindromic 2002.

Here’s a few of them.

In October I for the first time visited Pasadena Christian School up on North Los Robles to see the really rather nicely done new Fritz B. Burns Library. I’d passed by for months during construction and was impressed that, as is the case with two or three other new developments in the neighborhood, Greene & Greene and other local greats were clearly the jumping-off point for the design.

Jeffrey M. Kalban & Associates Architecture use a massive, beam-heavy, Craftsman-inspired roof line with a startling big- circle motif down which travels the central ventilation duct. Kalban aimed for the look of a light-filled chapel, saying as he walked me through the place that as a child he had to use libraries “where you never felt like reading a book there in the musty dark.’

The kids of 55-year-old Pasadena Christian, the largest private K-8 school in the city, are lucky to have this place in which to read, bursting with light pouring through its clerestory windows. Slightly bowed-out walls allow all the bookcases to be visible from throughout the long room; inglenook built-in seating is a great place to settle in for a long read.

A good read that’s been on my desk now for several weeks is “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City’ (Chelsea Green Publishing Co.) by my old friend and our former outdoors columnist Christopher Nyerges and his wife Dolores Lynn Nyerges. Dolores and Christopher live in an older house on a rambling hillside lot in Eagle Rock; in this book they show how they have
made it into an almost self-sufficient urban farm, with a pig and geese and bees, solar heating and spreading vegetable gardens. The Nyergeses quote Tolstoy:”Everybody thinks of changing humanity, and no one thinks of changing himself.’ All of us have something to learn from this book.

“The Hours,’ opening this week, has been scaring my daughter for some time already, what with those posters showing button-nosed Nicole Kidman gaining the proboscis of Virginia Woolf. Always on my mind is the local angle: the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel the movie is based upon is Michael Cunningham, a graduate of Pasadena High School.

Remember that bobcat that scared the Linda Vista-area parents of young children earlier this year? My LV-area wife had a beautiful 4 p.m. stare-down with it or its close kin this week at the corner of Lida and Parkview on the banks of the Arroyo Seco.

“The Syringa Tree,’ by and starring Pamela Gien, was my favorite offering from The Pasadena Playhouse in years; I laughed, I cried, I remembered again the many similarities, the good and the bad, between her homeland of South Africa and our Southern California.

Haven’t seen a New Year’s blimp yet, putt-putting over us like an airborne whale on an annual visit. But I fully agree with Rep. Adam Schiff, Mayor Bill Bogaard and Chief Barney Melekian: While I don’t mind the charming dirigibles and even the Air Force parade and game flyovers, I say ban the advertising banner-carrying Jan. 1 planes. Don’t know if they are a security risk, but I do know they are air pollution.

The happiest 2003 imaginable to you and to yours.

— Larry Wilson is editor of the Pasadena Star-News. Write him at