About Site



T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website


MARCH 23, 2008 flashback   IMPLODE!

Yesterday afternoon, we denizens of the TV truck outside Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh were preparing for that evening's telecast of the Penguins hockey game against the New Jersey Devils.  But at 2:00, for our own safety, we were herded inside the domed building.  Another structure across the street was about to be destroyed.

Making our way to the opposite side of the arena, we looked out through the windows at the former St. Francis Central Hospital.  This now-empty building needed to come down to make way for the construction of a new arena for the Penguins.  Fifteen of the hospital's columns had been prepared with 32-pound charges of C-4 explosive.  I'd never seen an implosion in person, and here I was only 400 feet away.

At 2:15, the charges were set off at half-second intervals.  The bangs were very loud, shaking the windows of the arena; I took a step back.  The effect was similar to the "aerial salutes" in the finale of a fireworks show.  Had we been outside, the sound would have been deafening.

However, aside from the noise, nothing seemed to be happening.  Finally, as planned, the weakened building began to fall in on itself.  In another ten seconds there was only rubble, hidden by a cloud of dust.

The dust cleared, and we went back to work.  We've been promised that the new arena will be ready for the 2010-2011 season.

NEWS PHOTOnews photo



Fui!  We meet again, my Fictional Uninformed Interlocutor.  How was the movie?

Hated it.

Really?  I read a rave review yesterday.

So did I!  The critic actually liked it!  How could he, when I didn't?

Isn't is possible for people to have an opinion that's different from yours?

No!  I'm right about this!  The movie is terrible!  There must be some sinister explanation.  It's a conspiracy.  The studio must have paid the guy for a favorable write-up.

I don't think film critics can be bought, Fui.

Of course they can!  Why would anyone turn down a bribe?

Maybe they have principles.

I have principles!  I believe in good honest work.  But I don't believe in just handing people money if they've done nothing to deserve it.

Hmm.  So does that mean you don't want to help out the less fortunate?

If they need money, they should go out and work for it.  I did.

But some of them are sick, or disabled.

I bet they're faking it.

Or maybe they're women.  A woman earns less, you know.

She should stay home like a proper housewife.

Or maybe they're minorities, or immigrants.

Am I supposed to support those lazy criminals?

Phooey, Fui!  I'm afraid you lack empathy.  You're selfish.

I don't care!



MARCH 19, 2018    BRICKS

While telecasting basketball at the University of Pittsburgh this season, we frequently had to show a graphic about the Panthers like “0 Field Goals in Last 8:42.”  What a shooting slump!  And, of course, the visitors' resultant scoring run led to an insurmountable lead.

But that's just Pitt, I thought.  The Panthers never won after Christmas.  “0 Wins in Last 19 Games” inevitably cost the coach his job.

Cold shooting sometimes affects even good teams, however.  Yesterday in the NCAA men's tournament, five contenders were upset by lower-seeded opponents.

In particular, I noticed that 11 Syracuse eliminated 3 Michigan State when the Spartans managed to make only 9 of their 38 field goal attempts in the second half.  That's 23.7%.  My high school team shot better than that!  (However, we didn't have to face Jim Boeheim's defense.)

In fact, all five losing favorites shot worse than their season averages, underperforming by an average of 12 percentage points.  The lids were on the hoops.


MARCH 18, 2018    ROBBY!

Someone made Justin Cousson sound stupid, he tweets, by convincing him that Margot Robbie's last name is pronounced “Row-bee.”

I'm more concerned with her first name.

I think it rhymes with Fargo, but we all know that an actress has options.  She could have chosen a long A, and a soft G, and a short O, and a non-silent T.  Yes, Margot could have been “Mare-jot.”

Why not?  It's been established that we can say our names any way we like.  My Thomas Thomas could very easily be pronounced “Though-mace Though-mace.”


MARCH 15, 2008 flashback   THE HOLY CITY

On special occasions, the First United Methodist Church in Richwood, Ohio, features instrumental duets on organ and piano.  This image from a videotape shows Phyllis Rees at the organ (center) and Marge Gamble at the piano (lower left, in front of the flag) during the Christmas open house about five years ago.

During the 1960s and 1970s, I was one of those keyboard players, often filling in on the organ during the summer.


The regular organist at the time was Gladys Winter; she's on the left in this picture from the 1978 church directory.  Gladys was succeeded by Patt Houk, who's on the right.  I played the piano for several duets, particularly "The Holy City," with each of these organists.

It's not an ideal venue for duets.  The piano is only a spinet, and it must be tuned to match the pitch of the organ, which varies as the temperature changes with the seasons.

The piano is located on the floor beside the altar rail, while the organ bench is in an elevated position in the choir loft.

The two musicians can't easily share visual cues.  The organist faces away from everyone.  If she turns around, she can see the pianist's face, but not the keyboard.  The pianist can see the back of the organist's head, but the curtained front wall of the choir loft blocks any view of the organ keyboard and pedals.

Nor can the musicians easily share audible cues.  The organist sits close to the pipes; if she plays loudly, she can't hear the piano.  And if she plays softly, the pianist can barely hear her.  When I played the piano, I could detect when the organist changed from one chord to another, but repeated notes in the melody blended into each other.  That meant that I couldn't hear the beats, only the measures.

A duet, therefore, is an act of faith.  One musician begins playing to set the tempo, the other joins in, and occasionally one will be able to hear the other well enough to re-synchronize.  Just before the end of "The Holy City," there's a fermata , and as we held that dramatic chord Gladys and I had no way of communicating when to break it off and proceed to the conclusion.  She finally suggested that we count a fifth beat in that measure, and we were able to stay together, more or less.

Neither musician can actually hear the "mix," the balance between the two instruments.  Both have to use their best judgment as to volume and take it on faith that their music sounds good to the people out in the congregation.

It was usually about this time of year that we performed "The Holy City."  Here's a link to an approximation of our performance (but I didn't do the piano glissandos).  The fermata comes at the five-minute mark.

Here's another link to a vocal performance.  The words were written in 1892 by Frederick E. Weatherly (who would write "Danny Boy" 18 years later).  If only the first verse and the last chorus are sung, it can be associated with the Christmas season, but the three verses actually allude to Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and chapter 21 of Revelation.

Last night I lay a-sleeping.
   There came a dream so fair:
I stood in old Jerusalem
   Beside the temple there.
I heard the children singing,
   And ever as they sang
Methought the voice of angels
   From Heav'n in answer rang;
      Methought the voice of angels
         From Heav'n in answer rang:

"Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
   Lift up your gates and sing!
Hosanna in the highest,
   Hosanna to your King."

And then methought my dream was chang'd:
   The streets no longer rang.
Hush'd were the glad hosannas
   The little children sang.
The sun grew dark with mystery,
   The morn was cold and chill,
As the shadow of a cross arose
   Upon a lonely hill;
      As the shadow of a cross arose
         Upon a lonely hill.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
   Hark! how the angels sing:
"Hosanna in the highest,
   Hosanna to your King."

And once again the scene was chang'd:
   New earth there seem'd to be!
I saw the Holy City
   Beside the tideless sea.
The light of God was on its streets.
   The gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter
     And no one was denied!
No need of moon or stars by night
     Or sun to shine by day,
It was the new Jerusalem
   That would not pass away;
      It was the new Jerusalem
         That would not pass away.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
   Sing, for the night is o'er!
Hosanna in the highest,
   Hosanna for evermore!
      Hosanna in the highest ...
         Hosanna for evermore!


MARCH 14, 2018    ILLEISM

On this night 2,061 years ago — the eve of the Ides of March — frightening portents were seen in the streets of Rome.  A lion calmly walked past the Capitol, a slave's left hand went up in flames, and so on. 

When Julius Caesar got up the next morning, his wife urged him not to leave the house.  However, he ignored the omens because they didn't target him in particular.  In the words of Shakespeare's play, he said [2.2]:

Yet Caesar shall go forth, for these predictions
Are to the world in general as to Caesar.

When I recently watched the 1953 movie of this tragedy (with Marlon Brando looking on as Mark Antony), I was struck by Caesar's repeated reference to himself as “Caesar.”  An ordinary man would have spoken in the first person:  “But I shall go out, because these warnings are directed to the whole world as much as to me.”

Why did Shakespeare choose to have his title character speak in the third person?  Perhaps his cue came from Caesar's book Commentarii de Bello Gallico (parts of which I read in high school Latin class), where he narrated his Gallic War campaign that way.  “Caesar, on being informed of these things, cheered the minds of the Gauls with his words.”  Earlier, Xenophon had described his military career similarly in Greek.

Leaders of great nations sometimes feel the urge to speak of themselves illeistically.

This is harmless, of course, because their followers are not offended by any such displays of egotism.  As Shakespeare's Casca reported [1.2]:

The rabblement hooted, and clapped their chapped hands, and threw up their sweaty nightcaps.... Three or four wenches where I stood ... forgave him with all their hearts.  But there's no heed to be taken of them.  If Caesar had stabbed their mothers they would have done no less.



I consider myself reasonably well-informed, from my studies and additional reading over two disparate centuries.  I'm proud to have a degree from a distinguished liberal-arts college.  I think I've learned how to tell the difference between a scientific conclusion and a fairy tale.

However, some folks close their ears to evidence.  They want to go on believing their tales.  They resent it when “the intelligent, educated segment of our culture” tries to give them facts instead.

Resisting Anti-Intellectuals, my new article, looks at this problem.



While revisiting my archives over the winter, I discovered some additional images and details from 44 years ago.

In my very first month working at Cable TV-3 in Washington, Pennsylvania, I covered a beauty pageant in the role of a news reporter.  That's the winner on the right, Do Do Gatalski.

The story is in my new article, Miss Pennsylvania.

In my second month, I organized a six-hour fundraiser from our TV studio, including a clock and a captain.

Not only that, I also reorganized the news and interview blocks for Greater Washington Today.

Click here and then scroll down through April and May for those expanded narratives about the long-ago year of 1974.



Every few days I peruse the television listings and select the primetime programs I want to watch.  Then I set my DVR to record every one of them.  (Sports events and the Academy Awards are exceptions, because they're newsworthy and need to be seen as they happen.)

I may watch some of my selected shows live.  If so, the recording becomes superfluous and can be deleted.  More often, however, I fall asleep in front of the TV and let the DVR do the watching for me.  Later, whenever it's convenient, I can catch up with what I missed.

I actually prefer this delayed viewing, because it allows me to fast-forward through the commercials.  Nowadays there are a lot of them, some only six seconds long, adding up to an estimated 11 minutes per hour.  (The NBC networks recently promised that this fall they'll cut a minute off that, reducing ad time in original primetime programming by 10 percent and the number of commercials by 20 percent.)

I'm not the only one giving the DVR a workout.  Mark Evanier notes, “Audiences these days are becoming more and more accustomed to watching TV shows with no commercial interruptions.”   The commercials on the Super Bowl not really an interruption, he says, because “they're a point of interest by themselves.  More and more though, I think all those cutaways to ads throughout the Oscars are seeming more and more intrusive.”

And that may be one reason why Sunday's Oscar viewership was historically small, 17 percent under the previous record low and 19 percent below last year.  Other reasons:  “Few moviegoers had any emotions attached to any of the nominees...  the ratings of most things on broadcast television are going down...  and the public is getting tired of watching the rich and famous celebrate how rich and famous they are.  An awful lot of folks in this country think Big Stars look down on them.”

Of course, another problem was that the awards show was much too long.  There's no way I could stay awake for the whole thing.



On Wednesday mornings during my last semester in college, I had a disk jockey shift on our campus radio station.

When I was behind the microphone, I looked nothing like the gentleman on the right.

However, I did oversleep one morning, and Mr. Brown made a guest appearance to utter a dire threat.

The incident is part of this month's 100 Moons article.



On Wednesday, January 8, 1992, the President of the United States, George H. W. Bush, was on the other side of the world.  He was the guest at a state dinner in Tokyo.

When I arose that morning, I learned that during the dinner the President had rather embarrassingly vomited and fainted.  But the First Lady had jumped to his aid, he had received medical attention, and he was apparently all right except for a touch of the flu.

I left the TV tuned to Headline News in case there were any further developments.

Headline News is now the channel known as HLN.   Back then, however, it was a ten-year-old CNN “second channel” that presented a full newscast every half hour, including sports and business and, in many cities, five minutes of local stories inserted by an affiliated station.  At any time of the day, viewers could tune in and get a complete update of current events, “around the world in 30 minutes!”

Nowadays, of course, we rely on the Internet for that.  And today's all-news channels often tell us only one story, all the time, over and over from every angle for hours on end.

Don Harrison was anchoring Headline News that morning.  At 9:45, he may have been coming out of a commercial break before introducing the latest from Wall Street.

I heard him announce, “This just in to CNN Headline News — and we say right off the bat, we have not confirmed this through any other sources —”

And then I heard another voice, off-camera, yelling “No!  Stop!”

That other voice, I learned later, came from executive producer Roger Bahre.  He knew that the unverified report might not be true.  Don glanced to his left and then said, “We are now getting a correction.  We will not give you that story.”

He could have stopped right there.  He should have.  However, he went on to hint at the nature of the report he was not going to give.  “It was regarding some rather tragic news involving President Bush.  But, updating that story, President Bush is reported to be resting comfortably.”

My goodness, I thought.  A Presidential tragedy?  Headline News must have been mere seconds away from erroneously reporting his death!

The unconfirmed report turned out to be a hoax.  An Idaho man had phoned CNN pretending to be the President's physician and saying that Bush had died.  If the report had turned out to be true, at least Don's hint of “some rather tragic news” would have allowed his network to claim they were the first to learn of the scoop, but I'm not sure they would have wanted to make that boast.

That afternoon, preparing with my colleagues for the Syracuse at Pitt basketball telecast, I told them about the historic almost-moment in broadcast journalism I had witnessed.  The situation was still ripe for parody two decades later.



Half a century ago, I obtained an actual license to broadcast — third class.  After St. Patrick's day, I broadcast actual election returns — for Student Senate.  And I applied for head broadcaster — at our actual ten-watt FM powerhouse.

Click here for my latest installment in the 14-month series recalling my life 50 years ago.  I'll even show you how we made monochromatic sodium fringes!