Contingency Table Analysis What?

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned
lies and statistics.”
-Mark Twain*

I established in another post that I hate school. It partly stems from my dismal mathematical abilities. I wanted to understand calculus. I wanted to understand chemistry formulas. In college, I even took Basic Applied Statistics. After three minutes of lecture I wanted to puke on my shoes. I had no idea what was happening. Yet, I persist in reading books about math and physics and economics, even if I don’t always understand them.

MATH

Thankfully, the rockstar economists (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner) who brought you the ground-breaking Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance (as well as the movie and weekly podcast) have come out with a new book that will retrain your brain to think about economics and statistics creatively, productively, and sans math skills.

Steves

For example: remember the “Year of the Shark” in 2001? During that entire year, there were 68 shark attacks, 4 of which were fatal. Four in a world of 6 BILLION people. Elephants kill at least 200 people every year, but we never hear about the “Year of the Elephant” (International Shark Attack File  if you’re really that interested in shark attacks).

Vicious killer.

Vicious killer.

Or see the math that proves drunk walking is far more dangerous than drunk driving. In one of my favorite chapters, find out why a “street prostitute is like a department store santa” (hint: it involves spikes in demand).

Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics are about recognizing the tricks in statistics and economics. Yes, elephants kill more people yearly but elephants don’t have an image problem. Unless you consider Dumbo or Babar “too” cute. And, yes, on a per mile basis, drunk walking is more dangerous. Does that mean the next time you drink too much whiskey you should go on a joyride or become a seasonal prostitute? Probably not. So the first two books focused on the magic behind the numbers. Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain instead wants you to recognize your attitude toward these numbers, in a local and global context. Some advice from the book includes:

  • Think like a child.
  • Never be afraid to say “I don’t know.”
  • Be prepared for a really, really simple answer.
  • Get rid of your moral compass.
  • And, seriously, never forget incentives. Ever. It’s a thing in economics.

Along the way, you’ll learn about hot dog eating competitions (Kobayashi!) and why those pesky Nigerian scammers will never, ever give up. Learn when to break up and discover that David Lee Roth isn’t being a diva when he wants his brown M&Ms removed.

Finally, find out here why there is no such thing as a free appetizer and why Americans just aren’t into soccer (Be prepared to waste some serious time on this website. The questions are better than Dear Abby!).

happy mathing!

suzy

*Mark Twain is maybe the author. Or Benjamin Disraeli.

 

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Walking Between Worlds

Sci-Fi and Fantasy often provide new worlds for readers to explore. A purer form of escapism would be hard to find. In many cases a book immediately immerses you in a new world. If you read Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, you start in the far future with dudes in powered armor nuking hostile aliens. A Game Of Thrones opens in a fantastic land with three desperate Nights Watchmen encountering the undead.

Of late I seem to be gravitating toward a slightly subtler brand of escape in my sci-fi and fantasy reading. Maybe it comes from my own interest in parallel and alternate worlds, but the idea of a character from our world discovering and crossing into a new one fascinates me. This is a sub-genre that in my experience has  no real name. So I’ll call it “threshold sci-fi,” as the characters involved often do pass through or cross some physical, or metaphysical line into another world. I’ll talk about one I’m reading now, and a few of my other favorites, and maybe folks who read this can add a few more titles that fit the label.

Skin-Map  The Skin Map by Steven Lawhead.  The first book in the Bright Empires series features the protagonist, Kit, a twenty-something Londoner with a largely unfulfilled life, meeting his 125-year-old great grandfather after taking an ill advised short cut in a dirty alleyway. Actually a ley-line bridging multiple “Earths” and time periods, the alley leads Kit to his long missing and presumed dead great grandfather, and opens  whole new worlds of danger and adventure to him. Sinister forces move through these worlds, and heroes and villains find themselves seeking a map etched on pieces of human skin. Finding the map will unlock the pathways to power and control of this amazing multiverse. After showing the usual befuddlement one would assume comes when everything you thought you knew about the universe proves untrue, Kit rises to the occasion and embarks on a grand adventure. This one is really hitting the “threshold sci-fi” sweet spot for me, and I cannot wait to finish it and move on to the next book in the series.

 

Neverewhere_cover  Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.  This one might be more “urban fantasy” than “threshold sci-fi,” but it still fits my newly minted category, I think. Modern Londoner Richard Mayhew makes a fateful decision to aid a homeless woman in distress, but finds more than he bargains for when she turns out to be a member of a heretofore unknown society of magical subterraneans. Torn from the safety of his humdrum life, Richard struggles to survive in a London Underground of magic and mystery. While Richard winds up a bit wimpy for my taste, Gaiman’s awesome world building abilities shine through and make you believe the magical realm beneath London really could exist. In the end Richard has to choose between worlds; he cannot live in both. This choice is often a feature of “threshold sci-fi.” Once a character crosses that line, he undergoes a transformation of some kind. Sometimes it’s physical, but often it represents a changed world view that makes returning to his old life impossible.

 

Imajica_cover   Imajica by Clive Barker.  I’ve written about this one in other posts, but I love it so much, I am going to talk about it again here! London artist John Furie Zacharias, also known as “Gentle”, becomes embroiled in strange events that lead him to revelations of other worlds connected to Earth by a strange void called the “In Ovo.”  While mind blowing in itself, Gentle quickly learns that beings from these other worlds want his girlfriend dead, and that he himself is part of a grander destiny that will force him to cross the In Ovo and accept his heretofore unknown powers. Another Londoner? Is this a pattern? I promise it’s not!  You don’t have to be a Londoner to become embroiled in a “threshold sci-fi” story, but author Clive Barker is British, and his almost lyrical ability to write both about London and the strange environs beyond the In Ovo make this massive tome of a tale worth the ride.

 

Gates-to-Witch-World_cover  The Gates To Witch World by Andre Norton.  I’ve written about this one before too, but the first book in this collection, Witch World, is quintessential “threshold sci-fi,” and bears mentioning again here.  Simon Tregarth (not a Londoner) is a desperate, war-haunted man hunted by assassins and forced to choose escape by the most desperate of measures, the Siege Perilous. In passing through it the person incurs its judgment and travels to another place worthy of his or her character and standing.  Tregarth gets the Witch World.  Norton takes the Siege Perilous from Arthurian legend and makes it the ultimate threshold of no return.

Plenty of other books and series feature threshold themes, mixing them with urban fantasy or straight-up fantasy trappings. The key for me remains the element of choice. Every good threshold story features a moment where the protagonist crosses over, and his or her life changes forever because of it.

Still, if you know of the location of any such threshold in our own world, Siege Perilous or not, let me know! While I am not a Londoner, I’d certainly be up for trying my luck! In the meantime, share any titles you might know of that fit into this tiny corner of the sci-fi genre.

Thanks!

–Scott

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Back in the kitchen with Suzi

Since we last met, some of you have told me that my last post made you want to cook again, and some of the books mentioned have made it onto your library accounts.

I won’t lie: as a writer and a librarian, these words make my heart sing.

I’ve been busy and lazy for the past month. Busy and lazy, you ask? Well, when you work a job from 9:30 to 6, sometimes you just want to spend the evening reading. So I’ve worked my way through Devil Bones, Bones to Ashes, and Fatal Voyage, all by my favorite forensic anthropologist turned bestselling author, Kathy Reichs. As a children’s librarian, I know that children read two reading levels below their optimal reading level for recreation, nothing wrong with that. Summer is a children’s librarian’s busiest season, so I doubt I’ll start reading Anna Karenina anytime soon. I’ve re-read both Devil Bones and Fatal Voyage. In fact, I’ve probably read Devil Bones more than twice, since I own it and it often lives in my car. I require a book when I eat out alone, and more than once, Devil Bones been my dinner companion.

 

 

 

 

 

While I like a good mystery, I read the Temperance Brennan books by Kathy Reichs for character, not plot. Our love interest is usually Andrew Ryan, a Canadian detective, but sometimes Pete Brennan, an American lawyer and Tempe’s estranged husband. Temperance is a recovering alcoholic, mostly comfortable with the crazy life she leads, living sometimes in Charlotte, North Carolina and sometimes in Quebec. I enjoy learning about the geographical particulars of these two locations. I keep reading the books to keep up with where Tempe is in her life. Will she and Ryan get together for good? Will she and Pete finalize their divorce? I’ve also grown attached to Tempe’s pets, a cat named Birdie and a bird named Charlie.

Besides lazing around with books, I’ve increased my kitchen repertoire. I now make a decent vinaigrette (the secret is the olive oil/vinegar ratio) on a weekly basis, and I bought a fancy (read: expensive) chef’s knife at Sur la Table. I used it last night for the first time and it cuts like a dream. It cuts so well that I didn’t even mind the humid heat in my third floor walkup as I boiled water for pasta and cut peppers, celery, radishes and onions.

I picked up some cookbooks and books on budgeting on a recent visit to the Carnegie Library — Squirrel Hill, where I picked up Poor Girl Gourmet. The author, Amy McCoy, worked as a freelance broadcast producer until the economy tanked in 2008. After an introduction to cooking and how to save money buying house brands (but good house brands, like Whole Food’s 365 Everyday Value), Amy starts you off with instructions for making 8 cups of vegetable stock for soup, which you can then freeze. Amy clearly has not seen my apartment-size freezer. But I’m determined to change my eating and cooking ways, so I’m sure I’ll try my hand at vegetable stock soon. I started my collection of vegetable scraps last night.

In another effort to work in the kitchen and economize, I have started making coffee in a French Press. I was going to buy an Aeropress, which was featured on CBSThisMorning last Monday morning, but as I was flipping through books (again, at Squirrel Hill), the author of Bitches on a Budget recommended buying a French Press.

 

 

 

 

 

My first cup was, well, strong. But I got the hang of it, after watching many YouTube videos.

 

Suzi’s Summer Pasta Salad

(based on Betty Crocker’s boxed Suddenly Salads, but with fewer chemicals.)

 

1 pepper (yellow, red, orange)

1 stalk of celery

1 small onion

1 radish

1 cup vinaigrette

Salt/pepper to taste

1 ½ cups Greek yogurt (1 single serve container)

1 can tuna (optional)

½ lb. Fusilli pasta

Start the water for the pasta. Follow the directions on the box, which will probably read something like this: in a big pot, boil lots of water to a rolling boil. Then add the pasta, cover, cook until the pot almost boils over, and then uncover, cooking for about 11 more minutes. Drain.

While this is happening: cut the vegetables into small pieces.

The pasta takes the longest, so while you are in the kitchen, do a load of dishes in your sink, or recycle some junk mail.

Once you’ve drained the pasta, pour some cold water on it. You don’t technically want to rinse the pasta, but you do want it to be cold, since you are adding cold ingredients. Put everything in a bowl and mix. Don’t add the vinaigrette all at once; once you add the yogurt, there is a point where you’re adding too much liquid. However, if you are not eating this right away, it’s okay to add a little more vinaigrette, as the vinaigrette will soak into the pasta while being stored in the refrigerator.

I packed this for lunch today and cut up a radish for garnish and some additional crunch.

–Suzi

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Summer Reading!

The summer solstice, which for those of us in Pittsburgh occurs tomorrow morning at 6:51 a.m., is the official kickoff of my favorite season. I love just about everything summer related. It can never be too hot or steamy for my tastes — maybe because I was born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the snake – once the temperatures climb above 70 degrees, I immediately crawl out from under the dark and cold of winter and spring, and head out to bask upon my summer rock — preferably with a good book.

For me, summer means fresh fruit, popsicles, sunshine, an explosion of vegetables in the garden, trips to a local watering hole (pool or pond or Great Lake), but mostly the leisure to read in a lounge chair in the sun of the backyard or the shade of the front porch. Summer reading has always been a big part of my life, ever since I was a young girl participating in the various summer reading programs at the (now closed) Caledonia branch of the East Cleveland Public Library. I would race to the new book display every time I visited that library, grabbing hungrily at as many of the fresh titles I could carry and hurrying to the circulation desk with cardboard library card in hand. I can still sense the cool and quiet of that library on a summer day, and I can even still smell those books that I used to bring home. Nancy Drew, Henry Huggins, The Great Brain, Betsy, Tacy & Tib, Harriet the Spy, and Lois Lenski’s cast of characters — all became my new found friends during those lazy days of my childhood summers.

Caledonia Library Circulation Clerk, Ms. Debrah Smith, c1978

Caledonia Library Circulation Clerk, Ms. Debrah Smith, c1978, courtesy of the  East Cleveland Public Library

From those early days of beloved chapter books, to the later years in which I had summer reading lists to attack for high school and college, to having my own children participate in our suburban Pittsburgh summer reading programs — libraries and summers have always gone hand in hand for me,  just like kick-the-can and ice-cream trucks.

In the world of books and reading, summertime also means that there’s no end to the “summer reading guides” on just about every website, in every magazine, newspaper and blog post — those lists that suggest “good beach reads” or your favorite author’s summer vacation reading choices. Thus, I feel it my duty as a librarian and bibliophile that I add to those lists, because as is the mantra in our house, you can never have, nor read, too many books! So I thought I’d share with you the “Maria J.’s Family” summer reading list. You might see some old favorites or discover new loves from this list. It’s not meant to be exceptional in any way — it’s just what’s happening in our household this summer, reading-wise. So, get out to your favorite neighborhood library, grab a few titles and pull up your favorite rock or lounge chair to enjoy your summer reads!

70s-chairs

 

W.J. – age 13 — Agatha Christie’s The A.B.C. Murder’s, and Murder on the Orient Express; Anthony Horowitz’s Stormbreaker.


stormbreaker

A.J. — age 17 — Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring; Laura Hillebrand’s Unbroken:  A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption; Robert Dallek’s Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy Whitehouse.

camelot

Mr. J. — Jack Kerouac’s On the Road; Page duBois’ A Million and One Gods: the Persistence of Polytheism; Christopher Moore’s Coyote Blue ; Roger Housden’s Ten Poems to Change Your Life.

tenpoems

Maria J. — Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England; Dan Barber’s The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food; Jane Goodall’s Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants.

thirdplate

 

- Maria J.

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Red Rising (and rising)

YA lit easily makes up 40% of my reading choices  — don’t get me started on that Slate piece. For the past few years, a number of those books have been of the dystopian variety, most of which has been really interesting (please check out Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy or Neal Schusterman’s Unwind series for some underrated selections), but I had finally hit the wall when it came to scary prospective futures.

Or so I thought. Let us welcome a new contender to the arena, Pierce Brown and the start of his Red Rising trilogy. I was knocked a bit sideways by this one and have made it my duty to spread the good word.

Our hero is a sixteen year old Helldiver (a skilled driller who works deep under the surface of Mars) named Darrow. In the Mars caste system, he and his family are Reds. They believe that generations of dangerous work to mill precious elements is all to make Mars livable.  After an act of defiance, Darrow finds that everything he knows is a big old lie. Mars was terraformed years ago, with a whole society riding on the slave labor of the Reds.

Darrow is recruited to infiltrate the Golds, the peak of society, at the Institute — a Hunger Games/Battle Royale-style “school” that filters out the best of the best to be future leaders. While some of the elements here are a bit derivative of other books, it all works, and you really don’t care because the book is so engrossing. You completely forget that these are supposed to be kids between the age of 16 and 18. They quickly become fierce warriors, working to literally conquer each other and eliminate their opponents. Brown fills his book with tons of fascinating characters (Sevro will be your favorite, I promise) and forces those characters to come to terms with some hard questions.

The second book, Golden Son, is out early next year. Which is entirely too far away.

Have any books taken you by surprise lately?

- Jess

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If Hellboy’s There, Hell Is Going to Be Awesome

Hellboy in Hell: The DescentLast year, Hellboy turned 20, and this year, he went to Hell.

Although the library doesn’t yet have a copy of Hellboy: The First 20 Years, a collection of art celebrating Mike Mignola’s comic creation, you can start placing your holds on Hellboy in Hell: The Descent, the first collection in Hellboy’s new story cycle, out this month from Dark Horse Comics.

So what has Hellboy been doing the past 20 years? How exactly did he wind up in hell? Why should you care?

If you’re only familiar with Hellboy through Guillermo del Toro’s two blockbuster movies, Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, I should warn you that the comics are completely different–but each incarnation has its charms.

Hellboy Volume OneIf you’d like to start at the beginning, I suggest reading the collected hardback library editions instead of the individual trade paperback volumes. Volume One might seem vaguely familiar if you’ve seen the Hellboy film, as it tells the red demon’s origin story and introduces most of the recurring characters in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, B.P.R.D. for short.

The main two differences between the movies and the comics is that there’s no love interest between Hellboy and Liz Sherman in the comics, and no civilians freak out when they see Hellboy or the other members of the B.P.R.D. People act totally normal when the big crimefighter shows up at the scene of a haunted house, supernatural carnage, or other strange happening. I prefer it this way–the freak trope is pretty over-used in comic books and Hollywood movies, and dispensing with it allows Mignola to get right down to the meat of the story.

B.P.R.D. Plague of Frogs 1After you read Hellboy’s first two hardback collections, you’ll want to pick up the first hardback volume of the spin-off series B.P.R.D., entitled Plague of Frogs 1 (see this website for a full reading order, and this page of the Hellboy Wiki for what material is collected in which volume). Fire-starter Liz Sherman, fish-man Abe Sapien, ecto-plasmic being Johann Krauss, homunculus Roger, and the other members of the BPRD make do without Hellboy and work toward solving the world’s growing frog problem. Although there’s lots of icky gore, funny hijinks, and paranormal investigative goodness, the best part of B.P.R.D. is the way the characters develop over the course of the series.

By now you’ve probably realized I’m not actually going to tell you how Hellboy winds up in hell. If you want to find out, you’ll have to read the series (there are only five hardback volumes–trust me, you’ll be itching for more when you close the cover on the last one). If you’re not sure you want to commit to 20 years worth of material, try one of the off-beat collections or shorter spin-off series, like Hellboy: Weird Tales, Abe Sapien, or Lobster Johnson–a series about a supremely bizarre crime fighter.

–Kelly

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5 Held in Plot to Bug Democrats’ Office Here

By Alfred E. Lewis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 18, 1972
And so began Watergate, 42 years ago tomorrow. I was in my early teens during the last year of Richard Nixon’s first term, 15 when he resigned on a hot & humid August 9, 1974. I was certainly politically aware and had followed the course of the investigation during the two years from break-in to resignation; but I have to admit that at the time I don’t think I fully appreciated Watergate’s significance.  From my POV, Watergate and the doings of CREEP – that’s right, CREEP - the Committee to Re-elect the President – were a string of related events and reactions, but not something that could be isolated as a singular historic event like an assassination or landing on the moon.
So, what is Watergate? It’s kind of like manna from heaven, it can be many things;
  • the Washington DC apartment complex that housed the headquarters of the DNC – the Democratic National Committee
  • the burglary and bugging of the DNC offices at the Watergate (twice actually)
  • the denials and cover-up that followed after investigators connected the burglars to CREEP
  • the discovery and exposure (Woodward, Bernstein, Rather, etc.) of the roles prominent members of the cabinet and advisers to the President played in investigating opposition to the President and how they used the executive branch for illegal partisan political purposes.

Finally Watergate is the President of the United States caught up in his own fears, insisting he’d done nothing wrong, but not being able to convince anyone outside of his most partisan supporters.  Much of what Richard Nixon did wasn’t unique or pioneering in terms of political wrongdoing, stretching the bounds of credibility and abusing Executive Privilege, but as the expression goes; he got caught.

If such a thing is possible, I’m reminiscing here about the Watergate era because it all came back to me after watching Frost Nixon a few weeks ago; it was a memory tripwire.  It wasn’t abstract history like watching a documentary or infotainment about McCarthy or Truman; I read and heard about Watergate (in all its guises) almost everyday as a teen (no need to add impressionable as a qualifier, it should be assumed.)  The memories stuck. In the days before C-Span or CNN, we watched Sam Ervin preside over the televised proceedings of the  Senate Watergate Committee on network TV while in school; ringside seats for Civics and US Government without needing a textbook.  For all its low-points and revelations, we wanted to believe Watergate also had a lesson; that the system worked. That the independent branches of government worked, that the Press plays an important role in informing and examining, and that the interests of the public will be represented and discharged by elected public servants regardless of party and affiliation as exemplified by Senators Ervin and Baker.

The legacy of Watergate is political and cultural. For those of you too young to have observed it, you have Watergate to thank for the ubiquitous -gate suffix for any and all snafus and wrongdoings that have occurred since the mid 70s.  There is also a legacy of film and literature that capture the timelines and complexities of the episode / era.

Frost Nixon [DVD]
Cover ImageRichard Nixon (Frank Langella) is the disgraced president with a legacy to save. David Frost (Michael Sheen) is a jet-setting television personality with a name to make. This is the legendary battle between the two men and the historic encounter that changed both their lives.

Cover ImageFrost/Nixon the original Watergate interviews [DVD]
“Includes in-depth interviews of U.S. President Richard Nixon by Sir David Frost in May, 1977 regarding the infamous Watergate scandal, followed by a segment, “Behind the scenes.” That final segment features footage from 2007 of Frost discussing “clinching the interviews, Nixon’s advisors, ground rules, on location, Nixon’s reaction, and the final meeting” he had with Nixon at San Clemente.”

All the president’s men / Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward
The two young “Washington Post” reporters whose investigative journalism smashed the Watergate scandal wide open tell the whole behind-the-scenes drama the way it really happened. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were assigned to cover the breakin at the Watergate. The two men soon learned that this was not a simple http://librarycatalog.einetwork.net/bookcover.php?id=.b26394030&isn=141981706X&size=large&upc=&oclc=&category=&format=burglary. Woodward and Bernstein picked up a trail of money, secrecy and high-level pressure that implicated the men closest to Richard Nixon and then the President himself.
Over the months, Woodward met secretly with Deep Throat, now perhaps America’s most famous still-anonymous source. 

All the President’s Men [DVD]
Based on the book by Carl Bernstein and Bod Woodward whose roles are played by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford.

The Palace guard / Dan Rather
The first Watergate book I picked up. Rather, the CBS News White House correspondent covering the Nixon White House, starts his recitation with an introduction to who was behind who in the administration.  Not the Secretary of Defense or Head of the NSA (Henry Kissinger BTW,) but rather the men who controlled access to the President, set agendas, and (important to keep in mind in this case) provide the President plausible deniability; keep him officially out of the decision-making loop when the decisions are ethically (or legally) questionable.  This was my first exposure to the likes of White House Chief of Staff H.R. Bob Haldemann, John Erlichman, Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs, and of course Henry Kissinger the President’s National Security Adviser.  At the time they were euphemistically referred to as the Berlin Wall.  Given his role in formulating international policy to the exclusion of all domestic politics, Dr. Kissinger seems to have avoided any taint by Watergate.

Washington Journal / Elizabeth Drew
“Forty years after the tumultuous events that led to Richard Nixon’s historic journaldownfall, a new edition of Elizabeth Drew’s Washington Journal,
featuring a brilliant new afterword. Originally published soon
after Richard Nixon’s resignation, Elizabeth Drew’s Washington Journal is a landmark work of political journalism. Keenly observed and hugely insightful, Washington Journal opens in 1973 and follows the deterioration of Richard Nixon’s presidency in real time.”

DOONESBURY-1973-strip

Just a note. The Doonebury strip above appeared on May 29, 1973. In several newspapers Doonesbury was either dropped for a time, or moved from the Comics section to the editorial pages. The Washington Post didn’t show it at all, until last year.

- Richard

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