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T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website



JULY 15, 2018    STAY COOL

I saw an ad for real estate in Florida, or Hawaii, or somewhere.  It promises “Nothing but sandy beaches and sunshine here!  Make Retirement Special.”

I didn't click on it.  Speaking for myself, that's not an enticement, it's a turnoff.

I avoid beaches with their merciless heat and unrelenting sunshine.


My ancestors didn't come from the blistering sands of the Middle East.

They grew up in the sheltering forests of northern Europe.

For my special retirement, I prefer lush green grass with softly flowing water and lots of shade.

That's why I'm still in Penn's Woods (Pennsylvania).


JULY 13, 2018    CHOOSE CHOW

I'm intrigued by the names of a couple of storefronts, side by side in the Franklin Village Mall near Kittanning, Pennsylvania.  They remind me of controversial subjects.

On the right: China.

I recall reading about diplomat Zhou Enlai (or ).  As Mao Zedong's right-hand man, Zhou was the Chinese premier from 1949 to 1976.  Back then Americans called it Red China and spelled his name Chou En-Lai.

This restaurant shown below seems to remember him by serving “chow En Lai.”

On the left: abortion.

Pro-choice people believe a woman who doesn't want to bring a child into the world right now should not be forced to do so.  Avoiding childbirth by whatever means, from contraception to abortion, is her choice to make.

Pro-life people believe that a fetus becomes a baby when it can perceive pain, or perhaps when its heart begins to beat.  Or perhaps when it's only a gleam in its father's eye.  Avoiding childbirth by whatever means, from contraception to abortion, is baby-killing.

“Therefore choose life!” urge the fervent pro-lifers inside this storefront, quoting Deuteronomy 30:19.  Their counseling center is called My Choice Medical Clinic — a deceptive name, because they're not medical doctors and they're the opposite of “pro-choice.”  They will do anything they can to convince a pregnant woman to bear her child, even if it will be unwanted and unloved.

My Choice has three locations in this area, and according to this article, there are more than 4,000 such “fake reproductive health centers” in the nation.



What's noteworthy about typing this supplication?



Inspired by the 2017 New York Times Crossword No. 0802, I imagined that the city was dealing with riots protesting ambiguous clues in recent puzzles.

Protestors are out in the streets, holding up their signs


and holding up traffic.





How should we handle them?  I tossed out a suggestion,

offered for consideration

but the mayor tossed out my proposed amendment.

removed from consideration




The cops convinced a pro-clue organization to fight with them,

struggle alongside

and the two groups joined forces to fight with the anti-cluers.

struggle against




The police chief sanctioned a preemptive attack,

expressed approval of

though the mayor sanctioned him afterwards for that decision.

expressed disapproval of




The chief intends to resign his contract for another year,


but our committee recommends that he resign.





Our committee does have oversight over the police, you know.

watchful care

I feel that our failure to act in this case was an oversight.

careless mistake




Meanwhile, the attorneys can't continue their arguments

proceed with

because the judge decided to continue the case until next month.



JULY 4, 2008 flashback   NATIONAL PRIDE

Please rise for the Anthem.

No man, no madness, though their sad power may prevail,
Can possess, conquer, my country's heart.  They rise to fail.

She is eternal.  Long before nations' lines were drawn,
When no flags flew and no armies stood, my land was born.

And you ask me why I love her, through wars, death and despair.
She is the constant, we who don't care.
And you wonder, would I leave her — but how?
I cross over borders but I'm still there now.

How can I leave her?  Where would I start?
Let man's petty nations tear themselves apart;
My land's only borders lie around my heart.

—Tim Rice, Chess (1984 version)

We open today's Independence Day services with a hymn by Lloyd Stone, to the tune of Finlandia by Jean Sibelius.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
   A song of peace for lands afar, and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
   Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
   With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
   And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
   And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
   A song of peace for their land and for mine.

I'm proud to be an American citizen.  Americans can express pretty much any opinion without having to worry about being taken away by the government.  We can criticize ourselves and adapt to a changing world.  We are entrepreneurial and optimistic.

On the other hand, as Americans we run the danger of being too full of ourselves.

This country song from the Charlie Daniels Band, "In America," enjoys some popularity in the redneck states.  It also gets played here in Pittsburgh because it praises our fierce loyalty to our football team.

   Well, the eagle's been flyin' slow,
   And the flag's been flyin' low, 
And a lotta people sayin' that America's fixin' to fall.
   Well, speakin' just for me 
   And some people from Tennessee, 
We've got a thing or two to tell you all.
    . . .
   You just go and lay your hand 
   On a Pittsburgh Steelers fan,
And I think you're gonna finally understand.

And you never did think that it ever would happen again.
You never did think that we'd ever get together again. 
Yeah, we're walkin’ real proud and we're talkin’ real loud again!

Now the people in the Bible Belt may disagree with me, but I don't think that supposedly God-fearing Americans should strut arrogantly around the world, loudly claiming to be better than everyone else.

Are not Christians taught that our neighbors include even the despised Samaritans?  And are we not taught the Golden Rule, to love our neighbors as much as ourselves?

Love is patient,
love is kind.

It does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud.

It is not rude,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.

—I Corinthians 13:4-5 NIV

I wasn't brought up to be a boastful loudmouth, or an impatient aggressive driver, or a member of a drunken mob of fans eager to avenge any insult.  I wasn't brought up to mistrust everyone outside my city or nation or religion or ethnic group.

What does the Lord require of you?
To act justly,
and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.

—Micah 6:8 NIV


JULY 3, 2018    TYPO TALK

A blogger with the initials JED wrote:

For some reason, I have trouble with “because” (typing “becuase”).  I think I get it wrong more than I get it right.

The worst part is, I once clicked “Add to dictionary” instead of correcting it, so now I don't even get the spell-checker's wavy red line under it to remind me I'm wrong.

I guess the moral is that we should be very sure before we “Add to dictionary.”

Is it possible to “Delete from dictionary”?


JULY 1, 2008 flashback   TURN IT ALL AROUND

It didn't result in a win, but Pittsburgh Pirates manager John Russell last night flouted National League tradition by having his pitcher bat eighth in the order instead of ninth.

Typical Batting Order

Last Night's Batting Order

1. Jack Wilson

2. Freddy Sanchez

1. Freddy Sanchez

3. Jason Michaels

2. Jason Michaels

4. Jason Bay

3. Jason Bay

5. Ryan Doumit

4. Ryan Doumit

6. Xavier Nady

5. Xavier Nady

7. Adam LaRoche

6. Adam LaRoche

8. Doug Mientkiewicz

7. Doug Mientkiewicz

9. pitcher Paul Maholm

8. pitcher Paul Maholm

9. Jack Wilson

In the "typical" order, Jack Wilson would be guaranteed a first-inning plate appearance, and Jason Bay would not.  Last night, those guarantees were reversed.  (Nevertheless, the Pirates failed to score in the first inning; Sanchez, Michaels, and Bay all struck out swinging.)

However, once you get past that point, these two batting orders are, for practical purposes, identical.  In later innings, Doug Mientkiewicz bats before the pitcher and Jack Wilson after.  It doesn't make a bit of difference whether you call those hitters 8-9-1 (traditional) or 7-8-9 (last night).

Here's another way of looking at it.  The nine batting spots are in a rotation.  Traditionally, a team begins the first inning at point "A" and proceeds clockwise around the wheel, thereby delaying the appearance of the weak-hitting pitcher as long as possible.  However, last night the Pirates began the first inning at point "B."  After that, everything proceeded normally.

If you're a traditional "leadoff hitter," you have two roles.

In one, you're the first batter in the game.  Last night Sanchez filled that role, and he led off the first inning only.

In the other, you hit after the pitcher; when the pitcher makes the last out of an inning (as he often does), that means you bat first in the next inning.  Last night Wilson filled that role, and he led off the third and the seventh innings.

There is precedent in the National League Central.  St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has batted his pitcher eighth for the past few years, and at the beginning of this season the Milwaukee Brewers did likewise.

"I can understand why the Cardinals do it," Russell told Paul Meyer of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "because they have Albert Pujols batting third and it gets another guy on base in front of him."  So why, I wonder, don't they simply move Pujols to fourth?

"There are a lot of different ways to look at it," Russell continued.  "Doug [Mientkiewicz] is our most patient, work-the-count, get-on-base guy.  . . . We put him in front of our pitcher, and if they want to pitch around him, he'll take the walk.  If Doug gets on, Paul [the pitcher] can bunt him over.  Or if he gets on with two outs and Paul makes the third out, Jack [Wilson] leads off the next inning; then we have the top of the order coming up.  It's mainly just to add a little more offense, maybe get a few more guys on base and help turn the lineup around."

Poppycock.  I say again, Mientkiewicz bats before the pitcher and Wilson after, and aside from the first inning, it doesn't matter whether you call them 8-9-1 or 7-8-9.  The only purpose is to confuse the rest of us as we fill out our scorecards.



Click here for the latest installment recalling my life 50 years ago.  Learn why we adjusted new-car delivery dates at my father's dealership!  Hear me play wedding music on the organ!  And read about a future doctor who fainted at the sight of blood!  (Well, one time, anyway.)

It all happened in July of 1968, when I also pondered succotash and double-digit bowling scores and wondered where I'd go after college.



Get a load of this nut,” thinks Van Johnson.  “At least he's not hugging a lamppost, like in that other movie.”

Yes, I watched another old Gene Kelly musical on TV this month.  And in it, Van delivered a certain line while verbally sparring with a girl, a quip that puzzled me for half a century.  I have therefore been induced to write an article about the way in which Brigadoon Reappears.



After my father became a widower, he sometimes accompanied me on my travels to sports telecasts.  This month's 100 Moons article describes some of those trips from 1983 to 1990, based on my letters.

We visited Disney World's EPCOT Center during its first year of operation.  I didn't write about it at the time, but my father felt more at home in the Canadian pavilion than in the more exotic “countries.”  For my part, I enjoyed seeing one of the recently discovered terra-cotta warriors from China and a 3D film with Michael Jackson.

I quote a memo I submitted to my office on January 15, 1987, detailing the next month's lodging needs for the two of us.  Our ten days in the South included three basketball telecasts sandwiched around a week of vacation.  We arrived in Hattiesburg on my 40th birthday.

I also describe our day trip to Catalina Island, which my father had visited in 1936 before he even met my mother.  Music is included.

There are quite a few other items as well, from Garrison Keillor to Leonard Bernstein to measuring the inside of railroad tunnels.



Pittsburgh Pirates fans consider the finale of the 1960 World Series to be one of the greatest games ever played.  The Pirates captured the title in an all-out Game 7 struggle, using three different relief pitchers before Bill Mazeroski's walk-off home run sent the Yankees to defeat by the score of 10-9.

A couple of weeks ago, the Pirates hosted the Dodgers and won by the score of 11-9.  There seemed to be much less excitement this time.

Superficially similar though the final scores may appear, let's look deeper into the stats.  I'll define “Balls in Play” as the number of batted balls that result in hits, outs, errors, or sacrifices — the essence of baseball action.


Thursday afternoon,
October 13, 1960

Wednesday night,
June 6, 2018


Forbes Field, Pittsburgh

PNC Park, Pittsburgh





     Total Runs / Home Runs





     Total Outs / Pitchers Used





     Outs per Pitcher




     Plate Appearances:



          Balls in Play





          Walks plus Hit By Pitch











     Time of Game

2 hr

36 min

3 hr

48 min


  2 min 10 sec

  4 min 4 sec

“Pace” is Time of Game divided by the number of Balls in Play.  In the good old days, the ball was hit toward a fielder every two minutes.  Now fans hoping to see some action have to sit around almost twice as long while the guys on the field play catch, hit foul balls, and hold consultations.

Between plays, the NBA shot clock is only 24 seconds, but MLB fans must wait 244 seconds!  On average!  Often longer!

It's no wonder that attendance is down 61%.


JUNE 20, 2018    BUT WHY?

I often find myself watching an educational program on a cable channel like Science or Smithsonian.  The documentary could simply lecture at me.  Often, however, the script employs a more effective technique to keep my attention.  It asks me questions.

For example, consider a sequence from Unearthed.  Near his pyramid, the Pharaoh Khafre apparently ordered an existing outcropping of rock carved into a portrait of himself.

The narrator says, “Inspired by the colossal pyramids of his predecessors, Khafre seemed determined to go one better.  He not only built a huge pyramid but a giant statue that historians believe was carved with an image of his own face.

But why did the great Pharaoh Khafre decide to place his likeness on the body of a giant lion?”

See what they're doing?

The last line could be “He decided to place his likeness on the body of a giant lion, because a lion represents....”

However, instead of simply piling on another fact, the narrator first asks a question to pique my interest.  Then, after the commercial, he will reveal how experts have analyzed evidence leading up to the puzzle's solution. 

It sometimes becomes comical to hear this but-but-but technique repeated every 90 seconds or so.  “Fact.  But why?”  “Fact.  But who?”  “Fact.  But what?”

Fact.  But wouldn't you like to know more? 


JUNE 17, 2008 flashback   THE FAITH OF A SLAVE

Why does the church play such a central role as a political institution for blacks?  That question was asked of Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an associate professor at Princeton, in the August 2008 issue of American History magazine.  Her answer:  Black ministers, because they're among the few blacks who don't work for white bosses, are autonomous — not dependent on a broader power structure for support but accountable only to the African-American community.  Therefore they're free to speak out against conditions that they see as wrong.

But she still marvels at the fact that blacks embraced the church when they were yet slaves.  “How is it possible that African Americans who were enslaved — who were unlikely, either themselves or their children, to ever be free, who were living in a context that we almost can't even imagine — how is it that they looked around and said, against all empirical evidence, ‘Actually, God loves me’?”

Somehow, this doesn't surprise me at all.  Faith has nothing to do with empirical evidence.  On the contrary, it rejects evidence.  It flies in the face of evidence.  According to Hebrews 11:1 (NIV), faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Those who most despair of happiness in this life are those who most eagerly seize upon the dubious promise of a better life in heaven.  They have no evidence to support their hope, and it may all be a fairy tale, but they convince themselves it is true because they fervently want to believe that on the other side of Jordan is a sweet chariot coming for to carry them home.