Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Long Fall of John Goodman

by Conroy

John Goodman on trial
If you’re intrigued by sensational courtroom drama involving the lurid details of the rich and famous, you’ll be fascinated by the recent trial of John Goodman, polo tycoon, founder of the International Polo Club Palm Beach, and popular playboy [1].

In the foggy dark early morning hours of February 12, 2010 Goodman was driving his $200,000 black Bentley along the quiet west county roads near Wellington, Florida. Driving recklessly in low-visibility Goodman ran a stop sign and violently struck a Hyundai driven by 23-year-old engineering student Scott Wilson. The impact was so violent that it knocked Wilson’s car from the road and into an adjacent canal. Wilson trapped in his car, drowned. His Bentley badly damaged from the crash, Goodman left the scene on foot.

He called 9-1-1, an hour later, from the mobile home of a nearby resident. The medical examiner noted that the long delay between the accident and the 9-1-1 call sealed Wilson’s fate. The recording of Goodman’s call (listen here), indicates that he (1) knew he had been in a car accident, (2) it was his fault, and (3) he sounds confused like he’s drunk but trying not to sound drunk. When he was finally arrested hours after the accident his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. A sensational legal battle was about to begin.

Goodman hired famed high-powered Miami defense attorney Roy Black, whose previous clients include physician William Kennedy Smith [2], radio host Rush Limbaugh, and actor Kelsey Grammer, and who’s frequently appeared on TV as a legal commentator. He pleaded not guilty to the charges of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide. Then, in order to shield his considerable fortune from the civil lawsuits that would surely be filed by the Wilson family, he legally adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend in the fall of 2011. He immediately gave her a portion of the $300 million trust he had set up for his two biological children. A family scrabble was bound the ensue, and sure enough his two teenaged kids filed suit in February attempting the have the adoption thrown out so they could maintain sole beneficiaries of the fortune.

Goodman's (top) and Wilson's (bottom) mangled cars
Once the trial began, Black presented the following defense. Earlier in the evening Goodman attended two events, the first at the White Horse Tavern and the second at the Players Club [3], where bar tabs show he ordered many rounds of vodka and tequila. According to the testimony of friends, including polo player Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras [4], he bought most of the drinks for others and was not intoxicated when he left the Players Club. Goodman then drove his car in search of a Wendy’s for a late night frosty. Approaching the intersection where the accident would occur, Goodman’s vehicle suddenly malfunctioned and despite his best efforts to stop the car it accelerated forward through the intersection. He then struck something, banging his head in the process. He didn’t know what he had hit and when he got out of his car to investigate he didn’t see another car or person. The accident had left him dazed and confused and his cell phone had died. So he wandered off in search of help and nursing an injured wrist and ribs. He soon saw a light down the road coming from an open barn door. He went inside in search of a phone, which he didn’t find but he did see a bottle of liquor. He drank from the bottle hoping the alcohol would alleviate his “excruciating [physical] pain”. Then he left the barn, spotted the light of a nearby trailer and called 9-1-1 using the owner’s phone. That was Black's explanation for the delay in calling 9-1-1 and the elevated blood-alcohol level.

On a believability scale with 1 representing the unvarnished as-God-is-my-witness recounting of events and 10 being a preposterously unbelievable fabrication, Goodman’s explanation of events rates at about a 13. The jury agreed and on March 23 of this year – more than two years after the accident – Goodman was found guilty of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide; he faces up to 30 years in prison [5]. Roy Black has claimed jury misconduct, but that charge has been rejected by the court, though further arguments on this point are set to be heard on April 30. Sentencing will likely occur in early May.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Perfect Climate - Part 5

by Conroy

Rio, unsurprisingly, has one of the best climates in the world
I spent the first four parts of this series exploring my climate ranking system and applying it to American cities in search of the "perfect climate". Now it’s time to expand the rankings to the whole world. Below I’ve ranked 150 cities [1] using both my original formula, which favors warm places, and the alternative formula presented in Part 4, which favors consistently temperate locations.

This is the fifth post in my “Perfect Climate” series. To check out the first four, use the following links:
 As a reminder, warm cities are places with annual mean temperatures in the mid to upper 70s (or higher) and little seasonal variance. Examples include Miami, Rio de Janeiro, and Bangalore, India. Temperate cities are places with annual mean temperatures in the mid 60s (no higher) and little seasonal variance, and especially no really hot months. Examples include San Diego, Mexico City, and Cape Town, South Africa. I’m presenting dual rankings because these preferences seem to predominate when it comes to climate taste. For both approaches, cold cities fare poorly.

One thing to note regarding the “warm cities” ranking, in my original formula I assumed that the higher the annual mean temperature the better. I was examining American cities the warmest of which is Honolulu, Hawaii with an annual mean of 77.5 degrees. However, when I expanded my rankings to encompass all the world’s cities, I ran into a problem: much of the Earth is very hot. Many cities across Africa and Asia have annual mean temperatures that exceed 80 degrees. While I enjoy warm conditions, even I have to admit that there’s an upper limit above which the climate grows too hot. I decided to modify my original formula to penalize cities where the annual mean temperature exceeds 78 degrees [2]. This adjustment works the same as the temperature penalty applied in the alternative (temperate) climate formula for cities with annual mean temperatures above 65 degrees (see Part 4).

The World’s Climate
Before jumping to the actual rankings, I'll note a few general impressions from my review of climates for hundreds of places in all parts of the world.
Latitude and elevation combine to give Nairobi a pleasant climate
  • Large portions of South America, Africa, and Asia are located at low latitudes but relatively high elevations. This combination of tropical locations perched well above sea level is a magic formula for a favorable climate. The tropical latitude results in consistent solar radiation throughout the year, which means little temperature variance, but the higher elevations moderate the temperature. Cities in these zones include Nairobi, Sao Paulo, and Bangalore, India. Each boasts a climate that would be far hotter (and far less bearable) if located near sea level.
  • It’s surprising how few large cities are located in really cold places. Only six cities experience mean low temperatures in the single digits (F) during one or more winter months: Minneapolis, Minnesota, Ottawa, Montreal, and Edmonton, Canada, and Shenyang and Harbin, China. Indeed, Harbin (China's tenth largest city), in the far northeast of China right on the edge of Siberia, is the only major global city to experience mean low temperatures below zero (F) for any month of the year. It’s appropriately nicknamed the “Ice City”, and the winter cold there is worse than in Arctic places like Nome, Alaska. This relative paucity of large cities in places with harsh winters is another demonstration that the great majority of people the world over choose not to live in cold climates.
  • Conversely, cities with average high temperatures above 100 degrees during one or more summer months are common across the American southwest, Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. The highest monthly mean temperature for any major city belongs to Baghdad, Iraq where the July high is a heat-stroke-inducing 111 degrees. That’s nearly as hot as Death Valley during high summer. Other "hot" cities include Phoenix, Riyadh, Delhi, and Khartoum. In fact, the capital of Sudan has the highest annual mean temperature of any major city at 85.8 degrees. (It's worth noting that I developed this climate system thinking of the U.S. where air conditioning is ubiquitous. That's certainly not the case through the "hot" world, so the warm rankings should be considered with that in mind; warm may not be so pleasant where it can't be escaped.)
  • Perhaps the continent with the most consistently superb climate is South America. All of that continent’s major cities score well on both the warm and temperate rankings. And of all nations, Brazil’s big cities boast almost universally excellent climates. This is also true of the other large southern hemisphere country, Australia, where all of its large cities also have friendly climates. This is a major contrast to the large nations of the northern hemisphere that are either cold (Canada and Russia) or feature widely varying climates (U.S. and China).
  • If you’re interested in finding unvarying temperatures, then follow the Equator. Quito, Ecuador, Manaus and Belem, Brazil, Male in the Maldives, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Brunei all lie on or near the Equator and are among the relatively short list of cities that have annual temperature variances of less than 3 degrees.
  • Finally, it’s interesting to compare the most extreme climate on Earth to my climate rankings. Russia’s Vostok Station in Antarctica is renowned as the coldest place on the planet, the Pole of Cold [3]. The lowest ever measured surface temperature of -128.6 degrees was recorded there in 1983. The average August low temperature is -97 degrees, and it earns a climate score of -105. The temperatures at Vostok are comparable to the surface of Mars in winter. It puts things into perspective when evaluating the “perfect” and “terrible” climates across the globe. Harbin's climate is far closer to sunny Rio de Janeiro's than it is to interior Antarctica.
Ice sculptures in Harbin, the world's coldest big city

Now on to the rankings.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Perfect Climate - Part 4

by Conroy

Do you prefer the weather of warm Miami or...
Ask yourself this question: What city has a better climate Miami or San Francisco? Anyone that’s read this blog and in particular my earlier posts analyzing “the perfect climate” will know that I favor the heat and sunshine of South Florida over the consistent cool of Northern California. However, I was in Florida last week, first in Orlando and then in Fort Lauderdale, and in keeping with what has been a remarkably warm 2012 for the eastern two-thirds of the United States, it was summer hot with highs at or above 90 and more humidity than is normal for early April. I was on vacation and glad for the summery temperatures [1], but as I sweated under the afternoon sun I did have to ask myself whether summer at Easter is really how I would define my perfect climate.
...temperate San Francisco?

And judging by the many comments I received on my three previous Perfect Climate posts, I’d say there is a strong sentiment regarding this topic. I defined what I considered the perfect climate, but many readers have different preferences (see a sampling of reader comments below).

This is the fourth post in my “Perfect Climate” series.
To check out the first three, use the following links:

Fortunately, one of the benefits of the climate ranking system I developed is that it can be adjusted for different tastes. I’d like to examine one such adjustment, one that addresses the question I posed at the beginning of this post. But first, a review of my ranking system.

Conroy’s Perfect Climate
Most people have their preferences for what makes a perfect climate, but as I explained in Part 1 I feel that temperature is the key factor and dominates humidity, and other elements like sunshine, wind, and precipitation. When it comes to temperature there are four variables to consider:
  • mean annual temperature, the higher the better [2]
  • the variance between the hottest month and the coldest month, the lower this difference (the less extreme the seasonality) the better [3]
  • the mean temperature for each month of the year, the more “comfortable” the monthly mean the better (or stated another way: How comfortable is it at any given time of the year?) [4]; and 
  • the mean diurnal temperature differences by month (the difference between daily high and low), the lower the better because a comfortable daily mean doesn’t mean much if actual daily temperatures vary greatly [5].
I use historical temperature data [6] for a city and apply it to a formula I developed [7] that yields a climate score [8]. The higher the climate score, the better the climate. I computed the score for nearly 500 places in the United States. The top three climate scores are associated with Hilo, Hawaii, Honolulu, and Key West. The three lowest scores belong to Nome, Fairbanks, and Barrow, Alaska. I doubt that many people would quibble with these results. The ranking of climate scores for the 30 largest U.S. metropolitan areas is provided in the table below. For a full discussion of how I used the four temperature variables to quantify the perfect climate, read The Perfect Climate – Part 1 post, and for commentary on the rankings see The Perfect Climate – Part 2.

Climate Rankings for the 30 Largest Metropolitan Areas
Metropolitan Area
Climate Score
Miami, FL
Tampa, FL
Los Angeles, CA
Orlando, FL
San Diego, CA
Houston, TX
San Francisco, CA
Riverside, CA
San Antonio, TX
Sacramento, CA
Phoenix, AZ
Dallas, TX
Atlanta, GA
Seattle, WA
Portland, OR
Las Vegas, NV
Baltimore, MD
Washington, DC
Philadelphia, PA
New York, NY
Cincinnati, OH
St. Louis, MO
Kansas City, MO
Boston, MA
Chicago, IL
Detroit, MI
Pittsburgh, PA
Cleveland, OH
Denver, CO
Minneapolis, MN

Honolulu is the number 1 big city in my original rankings
After tweaking the formula, computing the climate scores, and analyzing the rankings, I was pleased. The rankings more or less reflected my view of the perfect climate. In particular, places in the hot and humid South and Southeast ranked high, as did temperate California, and then places in the baking Southwest. The lowest ranking places were (of course) freezing Alaska and the highly variable Northern Great Plains.

After I published these rankings I reviewed where Americans have chosen to live over the last half century and the results seem to validate my thinking. People prefer warm winters to cool summers. People will endure high summer heat to avoid freezing winter cold. See The Perfect Climate – Part 3 for more details on the correlation between climate and American demographic trends.

However, as pleased as I was at these results and despite how Americans seem to have (and continue to) vote with their feet for the climates they choose to live in, I received many critical comments on my system and the rankings, including:

“I see that San Diego rates really high, and having spent a lot of time in "America's Finest City", I can attest that it has an almost ideal climate. I much prefer the dryer conditions there than the sticky humidity in Florida.” – CT, Eugene, OR
“Wow! Having escaped Houston's oppressive humidity and 100ยบ heat even in June for Denver's 300+ sunny days/year, I gotta pick my subjective observations over your methodology for picking a place to live!” – Nowitall, Denver, CO
“Ill have to be honest with you about the Florida climate. I've lived in Florida for about 12 years (in the Tampa area) and the climate is nothing to strive for. The summers are absolutely brutal. April- October you have to deal with temps above 90F with a lot of humidity. It’s not the heat as much as it is humidity. Every summer morning I always walk my dog. In the morning it’s about 86F with usually 90 percent humidity. 5 minutes outside and you’re pouring with sweat.” – Anonymous, Tampa