AUGUST 19, 2016 ROBOTIC REPORTAGE
In college, I used to rip the news off our campus radio station's UPI teletype and read it on the air. Often my shift was the 5:30 pm newscast on Thursday. What sports stories break at that hour on a Thursday?
Nowadays we're told that the Associated Press is allowing a computer program to begin filling in the blanks. It uses the data from minor league box scores to generate baseball stories automatically. No human sportswriters are required to actually watch the games.
However, the robot isnt taking away anyones job. In this era of budget cutbacks, as I noted earlier about high school football, theres less and less actual in-person newsgathering going on these days. No reporter would have been assigned to these particular minor league games anyway.
AUGUST 15, 2016 THE RIGHT-HAND MAN
Vin Scully is drawing closer to the end of an amazing 67 years of broadcasting Dodgers baseball. Yesterday he called his final Pittsburgh at Los Angeles game.
I crossed paths with Vin only once. It was ten years ago in the restroom of the Dodger Stadium pressbox. But his assistant now theres a different story.
AUGUST 10, 2016 FEMINISTS ON THE RISE
In my lifetime, President Barack Obama noted one week ago today, weve gone from a job market that basically confined women to a handful of often poorly paid positions, to a moment when women not only make up roughly half the workforce but are leading in every sector from sports to space, from Hollywood to the Supreme Court. Ive witnessed how women have won the freedom to make their own choices about how theyll live their lives. Thats what 21st-century feminism is about: the idea that when everybody is equal, we are all more free.
Indeed, many professions were effectively closed to women when I was a young man in 1970. But that didnt stop fellow Oberlin College graduate Jan Olson. She was going to be a doctor. She applied to several medical schools including the Yale School of Medicine, only to discover that Yales admission policies favored men. Jan got herself accepted elsewhere.
Some mossbacks didnt trust physicians of either gender, as I later wrote to Dr. Olson.
Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. Back in the first year out of college, I was. Applying to med schools, Jan was. Also, she was conflicted about her love life. She wrote,
The rest of that poem, and the one I wrote in reply, are to be found in this month's second installment of Letters from Jan: Readjustment.
That sounds like a lot, but due to inflation at the time, the large-denomination bill was barely worth a couple of bucks American. Due to subsequent inflation, nowadays the souvenir isnt worth the paper its printed on.
AUGUST 1, 2016 AWAKE, BETTER ANGELS!
When I consider the possibility of Donald Trump becoming Commander in Chief, two specters haunt me. One is Donald Trumps incompetence. The other is his voters hostility.
There is nothing on Mr. Trumps résumé, the Washington Post editorialized between the conventions, to suggest he could function successfully in Washington. The lack of experience might be overcome if Mr. Trump saw it as a handicap worth overcoming. But he displays no curiosity, reads no books, and appears to believe he needs no advice ... whether he convinces himself of his own untruths or knows that he is wrong and does not care.
Paul Krugman wrote, You cant run the U.S. government the way he has run his ramshackle business empire. We know about his stiffing of vendors, his profiting from enterprises even as they go bankrupt, his seeing contracts as mere suggestions and clear-cut financial obligations as starting points for negotiation. We also know that he sees fiscal policy as no different; he has already talked about renegotiating U.S. debt. So why should we be surprised that he sees diplomatic obligations in the same way?
He has made clear, the Post continued, that he would drop allies without a second thought. The consequences to global security could be disastrous.
I remember 1972, when the Democrats nominated Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri for Vice President. Two weeks later, we learned he was on the anti-psychotic drug Thorazine and had received electroshock therapy for clinical depression. His doctors said Eagleton's depression could recur and might endanger the country. He was forced to withdraw on August 1. The Democratic National Committee had to nominate a replacement.
But things are different in 2016. Crazy Donald is not going to give up.
Although only one out of every 24 Americans cast a ballot for him in the primaries, that still amounts to 13,300,472 votes a total that Trump proudly trumpets. Why do so many support him?
Typically the response is, Trump understands what its like to be me. In this economy, Im having a hard time making ends meet. I know its not my fault. So whose fault is it? Somebody has to be blamed! I blame blacks and foreigners. Also those elite politicians in Washington. Trump is not a know-it-all politician. He speaks his mind. He talks the way I talk.
That, of course, is the problem!
Trump does talk like an egotistic white male not a statesman. His voters cheer for a demagogue who will bully the rest of the world into doing whatever benefits them. He exploits their fears, slams the door in the face of outsiders, demeans dissenters with crude nicknames.
Even if he loses in November, his supporters will still be with us. The election must have been rigged. Find a scapegoat! And lock her up! Their seething anger might be a greater long-term threat to the nation than crazy Donald himself.
JULY 22, 2016 GRAPHICS TIP
These days, political news comes too rapidly for me to keep up. So does news about violent events. For example, I don't think President Erdogan of Turkey was expecting a coup attempt on Friday. And then this morning, the #2 headline in my news feed warned of another assault:
Froome expecting Quintana attack on Grand Colombier
Now what? Is Quintana a new terrorist group? I was not familiar with any of those proper names. Clicking on the story, however, revealed that the subject was the Tour de France bicycle race, where Chris Froome is the defending champion and Nairo Quintana is known for his ability to launch sustained and repeated attacks on ascents of steep gradient.
I actually do watch some of the Tour on TV, but I didn't know the names because I pay absolutely no attention to the competition. I'm still unclear on the concept of a peloton. Instead, I watch the beautiful scenery unfold. It's almost like exploring the back roads of France from a tour bus.
At one point we glimpsed an aerial view of a lovely little village alongside a river, dominated by an ancient square stone tower atop a hill. I needed to turn to the Internet to learn that the town was Cessenon-sur-Orb and the tower was the only remaining part of a fortress that was probably built in the ninth century. That's the sort of thing that interests me.
Did you know that I once helped broadcast a GOP political convention in northern Ohio? This happened so long ago that the delegates nominated a moderate Republican for President!
JULY 14, 2016 A COUPLE OF UPDATES
When I started working in television 46 years ago, I worked for one cable TV company and then another. Each cable system needed to fill the dial with a full 12 channels, so they originated one themselves. Most of the time this channel ran automatically. Viewers heard background music and saw an automated display of weather conditions and messages. Some of the latter were paid local advertisements, but subscribers could also request public service announcements for their organizations. Cablecasting these PSAs was good for business.
Also on July 1, a Mississippi law was about to go into effect. It would have violated freedom of religion, because the state would have imposed the opinions of a favored group of churches upon everybody. The bills sponsors didnt see it that way, of course.
Amid lobbying from Baptist and Pentecostal groups, the Associated Press explains, the Republican-led Legislature passed House Bill 1523 this spring. The law would have protected three Baptist and Pentecostal beliefs: that marriage is only between a man and a woman; that sex should only take place in such a marriage; and that a persons gender is determined at birth and cannot be altered.
At the last moment, however, a federal judge blocked the law, saying it unconstitutionally establishes preferred beliefs. Thats the very opposite of religious liberty.
The states Democratic attorney general, Jim Hood, announced yesterday that despite pressure from his governor, he wont file an appeal against the judges ruling.
JULY 10, 2016 OH, IT'S CRYIN' TIME AGAIN
Thats just one story Jan Olson told me. In the same letter she also wrote, The way I tend to approach religion is not to ask Does God exist? but to ask What is God?
But not all the mail I received from her was that serious-minded. In the coming years shed excitedly describe 14 newborn rats. And a goalie husband. And a kicking, wriggling, twisting, jiggling, laughing, giggling, smiling little boy. And LIVERS!
As I mentioned last month, my friend has passed away. Now Im starting to post excerpts from a decade of her correspondence. You can find the first batch, including the tale of crying in the snow, at Letters from Jan.
JULY 5, 2016 LASSIE NEEDS US! WHAT IS IT, GIRL?
Sometimes, somehow, when an animal is in distress it knows to ask a human for assistance.
We jump ahead to this May, alongside Mill Creek near Interstate 75 in Cincinnati. Police Sgt. James Givens was parked in his cruiser. There were geese in the vicinity. Normally they dont come near us, he said. I always thought that they were afraid of people, and people say they will attack you if you get close to their younguns. But then a mother goose came knocking on his car door.
It's like he knew we were there with the intention of helping him, said Dr. Lisa Marabini, who with her husband Dr. Keith Dutlow founded the Animal and Wildlife Area Research and Rehabilitation Trust. The elephant approached the two veterinarians; they tranquilized and X-rayed him and treated his wound. AWARE Trust says the elephant is recovering inside the park, and the vets will return for routine checkups.
Dr. Marabini noted that, even after all the harm humans had done him, Pretty Boy was remarkably gentle towards the people who helped him. I never usually feel totally comfortable getting very close to a wild elephant, she said. But there were no aggressive vibes coming from him whatsoever. He literally emanated serenity.
JUNE 30, 2016 KOBES
It was five years ago today that my television colleague Mike Kobik died unexpectedly. Here is what I wrote then. Some additional photos that I havent previously posted on this website:
From the days when we were covering Penn State football in 1985, Mike switches a highlights show after a game in Syracuse (left) and directs the Paterno coachs show at WPSX-TV (right). He didn't always look so glum; in fact, he was cheerful and great fun. But we were serious about our work.
On the Pittsburgh edition of Evening Magazine, a feature took us behind the scenes of Call-A-Bet, whereby people could tune their TVs to harness racing from The Meadows and phone in their wagers. Here is Mike directing the racing telecast with Tom Clark switching.
A memorial service for Miriam was held last Saturday in Delaware, Ohio. On that day in Pittsburgh, a local pastor published an op-ed piece against prejudice, particularly against fear of Muslims. I think the Wagners would have approved.
JUNE 25, 2016 FAMILY FOTO FILE
In June of 1926, my 13-year-old future mother posed on the running board of what appears to be a 1924 Chevrolet.
JUNE 21, 2016 OTHER ODDBALL DOUBLE-SPACERS
I, too, often have atypical reactions.
For example, suppose a couple learns theyre going to have their first baby. Everybodys gonna jump for joy! When the child is born, no matter whether the news is Its a boy or the exact opposite Its a girl, everybody gushes How wonderful!
However, my instinctive response is How unfortunate! That couples carefree days are over. Now theyll have to forget about themselves and rearrange every waking moment around the needs of an immigrant newly arrived in this country an annoying, demanding stranger who has no reasoning ability. And no height.
As Randy Newman sang, more or less:
(I couldnt resist adding a couple of pieces of clip art.)
Anyway, Earl went on: I have noticed that, even now, I continue to find myself promoting what is the equivalent of the ninth most popular opinion concerning certain matters of the day. In this space recently, I have expressed my position on the likes of suicide ultimately a personal decision and on spousal abuse involving NFL participants why be surprised when a man in a violent profession behaves violently when they are off the clock? But not a single professional observer has considered these positions worthy enough to include in their widely disseminated public pronouncements.
Well, Earl, Im not a professional observer, but in this space Ill narrowly disseminate your worthy thoughts, including others from last fall:
Deflategate makes us wonder why both football teams cant use the same properly-inflated ball. Other leagues function that way.
In personal injury lawsuits, compensatory damages rightly go to the plaintiffs to repay their medical costs or whatever. But where should punitive damages go? Not to the already-compensated plaintiffs, but to the rest of society (the people) like a fine.
Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame, but with a plaque detailing not just his on-field accomplishments but also his later misdeeds that got him banned from baseball.
It all makes sense to me.
JUNE 18, 2016 PARDON ME?
The Donald claims to be a Christian, but apparently he neither loves mercy nor walks humbly with his God (Micah 6:8). He has little use for the concept of contrition. See here.
Mark Evanier remarks, There are people who believe that never admitting you're wrong is the same thing as being right.
Trump also opposes granting forgiveness. Rather than pardoning Americans who came to this country illegally, he would arrest all 11 million of them and send them back to Mexico or wherever.
JUNE 13, 2016 CUP CROWDS
The puck bounced my way! One, my local team won another title for the City of Champions; two, I was able to avoid the celebrating mob.
Last night the Pittsburgh Penguins clinched the National Hockey Leagues Stanley Cup by winning Game 6 in San Jose. Had they lost, the series would have been tied at three games apiece, forcing a deciding Game 7 to be played back here in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. And my presence would have been required.
The playoffs consist of four best-of-seven rounds. This year they provided me with employment for eight nights plus a set day, which is more than usual.
Two long months ago, the Rangers opened the first round in Pittsburgh, and I was in a mobile unit as the Madison Square Garden Networks graphics operator. Then I moved inside the building, where a control room way up on Level 7 sends pictures to the video screen (or jumbotron) suspended over the ice far below.
The photo above is by technical director Mike Kendlick. I was behind a keyboard for one game against the Capitals and three against the Lightning.
Following the Pens overtime win on May 4, Edward Coll shot this picture above from atop a garage on the corner of Fifth Avenue. I would have been in the crowd of gold-shirted folks in the lower right, waiting to cross Washington Place and retrieve my car from the garage.
But do you think thats a crowd? Thats nothing.
As the playoffs heated up, the Penguins were in position to win the Cup if they could beat the Sharks in the final round. Many more media types than usual converged on Pittsburgh for the Final, and the league arranged many more accommodations for them. Once again I was inside a truck in the TV compound, this time working Games 1, 2, and 5 for NHL International. Our pictures were fed to broadcasters in China, Finland, and other countries around the world.
Perhaps the championship would be won in Game 5. Everybody in town wanted to be there when history was made. The average price for a ticket sold on the secondary market reached $1,631, according to SeatGeek. StubHubs cheapest seat was over $1,400.
Even at those prices, the building was filled with 18,680 fans, a Consol Energy Center record. And there appeared to be an equal number outside, spilling into the streets. Just before puck drop, Angel Johnson took this picture of her monitor in the control room.
I wondered how I would be able to get to my car after the game. If the home team won, the jubilant spectators inside the building would stream out to join the screaming mob outside. A huge rowdy throng would celebrate the win. The police had announced they wouldnt try to stop the merriment at first. They would wait 90 minutes before moving in to urge people off the streets. But traffic would take a long time to clear out, and there would be drunks.
As it turned out, however, the Cup was not clinched on Thursday. Even before the Pens allowed an empty-net goal that sealed their loss, disappointed fans outside started to drift away, hoping to beat traffic. The police were able to reopen one of the lanes on Washington Place. When I crossed it half an hour after the game, it looked like this Twitter photo. Most of the people were gone, leaving only a layer of trash like the aftermath of a Kenny Chesney concert.
I exited the garage onto Fifth Avenue, and after only a couple of blocks of traffic, it was smooth driving all the way to my suburban apartment.
Had the Pens lost on the West Coast last night, they would have returned to Pittsburgh for Game 7, and the throngs also would have returned. But they won! The Penguins are Stanley Cup champions for the fourth time! And though there may be celebrations in the Burgh, I can continue to enjoy domestic tranquility in the burbs!
JUNE 2, 2016 MAJOR MALFUNCTION
Those of us who watch Full Frontal, Samantha Bees excellent topical series on TBS, were surprised when the first airing of the latest edition on May 23 turned out to be a rerun from the week before.
It was an operational error, we learned later. Bee tweeted, Last nights FULL EPISODE is on YouTube. We love you and we promise that we will never hurt you again.
This was far from the first operational error in the history of television. In a new article, Tales of 78, I describe an even more obvious goof by NBC nearly four decades before.
I was working in cable TV then, so Ive also included tales from that year about our coverage of a tennis tournament and a firemans parade, and a preachers magic trick, and the HBO debut of Robin Williams.