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T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website

  Are you a member of the Oberlin College Class of 1969?
  Click the image at the left and then click on “Join Here.”
  You can reconnect with classmates and learn how to register
  for our 50th Reunion, May 24 through 27!

><>  You might be interested in some Oberlin articles recently posted here on my personal website:
><>  Our Reunion Planning Committee met last fall, and we learned a lot.
><>  An Olympic gold medalist was once our president; his cousin could have been everyone's president.
  <>  Getting to breakfast and German 101 required walking through a building with an aluminum collection.
  <>  Revisiting "My Favorite Year" concludes with recollections of December 1968.
  <>  A stash of WOBC Program Guides recalls our campus radio station in the Sixties.



Recently I heard from two staff members at radio station WOBC.  Promotions Director Abby Lee and Station Manager Katie Wilson are Oberlin College seniors, and they'll be graduating a week from tomorrow.

But before leaving their animation class behind, they chose the campus radio station's 70-year legacy as the subject for their final film project.

Click on You're Listening for a link to the result.


MAY 16, 2009 flashback   BRAND THIS

Several months ago, I worked on the closed-circuit telecast of a corporate meeting.  The company president was excited about this concept he’d recently discovered called “branding.”

He’d learned that while consumers can buy a hundred generic aspirin caplets for only $1.99, they will happily pay $6.79 for the exact same pills if they’re labeled Bayer.

“Eureka!” thought the boss.  “We can get people to pay us 241% more than they pay our competitor.  All we have to do is convince them our brand means higher quality.  We can increase our revenue without increasing our costs.  Free money!”

The boss asked his employees, gathered in the ballroom and watching on TV, to split up into small groups and come up with operational improvements to turn branding into profits.

Unfortunately, the company was not one that sold low-priced name-brand products.  It sold services.  And I’m sorry to report that the brainstorming employees failed their assignment.

Their best idea had nothing to do with branding.  It was, "New employees just sit around for their first two weeks unable to use their computers because they're still waiting for their passwords.  We should speed up the password-assignment process."

A valid point, but probably not the kind of thing the boss had in mind.




Are you a good driver?  An Allstate commercial says 94% of us think we are.  We're invited to plug in this monitor to prove it.

But what's “good”?  Does that mean SKILLFUL, as in being able to white-knuckle through tight spots at high speed without running off the road?  Or does it mean SAFE, as in being considerate toward others while carefully observing the traffic laws?

I obey the speed limit and avoid swerving quickly from one lane to another.  I think I'm a good driver of the second sort.  The insurance company would be happy.



Delazon Smith gradually fell out of favor with Oberlin College.  His opinions were suppressed, and the Faculty cut him off from both dining and lodging.  Also, the Society of Inquiry expelled him for swearing.  Also, the local church excommunicated him for infidelity.

Finally he gave up.  On Sunday, June 18, 1837, having written out his complaints in great detail, he made ready to leave town.  At the time the town looked something like this.

1838 watercolor by H. Alonzo Pease

My guess is that we're looking east from the location of today's King Building.  That would make the dirt road on the right West College Street.  The building I've labeled T is probably Tappan Hall; the one at O would be Oberlin Hall.

On Monday morning, Smith boarded a wagon.  But then a constable arrived to arrest him and confiscate his manuscript!  His antagonists, fearing embarrassment if the tell-all book were published, accused him of trying to skip out on a bad debt.

Everyone proceeded to the county seat, where the authorities dismissed the bogus complaint.  That enabled Smith to continue on to Cleveland.  There he found a printer for his manuscript, which became known as Oberlin Unmasked.  And that's how I've been able to bring a condensed version to you these past ten fortnights.

This final installment is titled, appropriately enough, Concluding Remarks.


MAY 7, 2014   MAGIC AMMO

Faced with a difficult situation, sometimes we try to find a “silver bullet” that will provide an easy answer.

Silver bullets are a metaphor for “simple solutions to complicated problems,” writes columnist Landon Y. Jones.  “In folklore across many cultures, a bullet made of silver is the only way to kill a werewolf or devil.”  However, he adds, real-world experiments suggest silver bullets are less accurate than lead ones, and they wreak less havoc.

Of course!  It’s simple physics.  Check out this chart of various metals, with their densities in grams per cubic centimeter.









Radioactive Uranium


Depleted Uranium






For two projectiles with the same velocity and size, the mass of a silver bullet is 8% less than that of a lead bullet.  Momentum equals mass times velocity.  With only 92% of the momentum, the silver bullet will be slightly less stable in flight and will do less damage when it hits the werewolf.

But there are other options.  Compared to silver, gold is 84% heavier and platinum is 104% heavier.  Bullets made from these precious metals would be much more effective.  However, they would cost about 70 times as much as silver and 1,400 times as much as lead.

A more practical choice, with essentially the same density as gold:  depleted uranium (DU), a byproduct of enriching fuel for nuclear reactors.  The military loads DU projectiles into some of its weapons, such as the 30mm rotary cannon on the A-10 Warthog aircraft.

You want depleted uranium bullet, kemo sabe?




In his first 27 months in office, President Donald J. Trump told more than 10,000 lies!  That was the word this week from Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler.  Our head of state has been averaging one false or misleading claim every hour, day in and day out, since last September.

Today, however, I prefer to ponder a different 10,000.  I propose to picture a group of ten thousand graduates from my college singing our century-old alma mater, “Ten Thousand Strong.” 

When we sing it, we pledge that “Our hearts shall be thy throne.”  That is, if we remember the words.  Or the tune.  I've written a new article to jog the memories of my classmates, The Story of 10,000.

But why that number?  Oberlin has had well over 10,000 alumni for a long time, and today there are more than 40,000.  I went looking for the source, which is a reminder of the institution's historic efforts to abolish both slavery and segregation while encouraging all students to “smile a recognition of a common humanity.”



We have received this sports report from my old home town in Ohio:  North Union High School’s boys track team has won the 2014 edition of the Virg Rankin Relays!

from a video by mapleguy43 (click here)

NUHS placed first in three of the thirteen events:  the 4x100, the long jump, and the high jump.  In the final event to be completed, the Wildcats’ trio of high jumpers totaled 18’6”.  That clinched the victory over Fairbanks High School.

Fairbanks (named after the Union County native who became Vice President of the United States) had been the Relays champions the last two years, and this year they placed first in five events.  But although North Union had only three first places, they also picked up five seconds, three thirds, and two fourths to win the overall boys point total.  (The girls team was not as successful.)

Half a century ago, I wrote about this track meet when it was called the Richwood Relays.  Back then, the athletes did not have today’s pullover jerseys in team colors with competitor numbers on the back.  Only boys competed.  The girls could merely cheer them on — and hand out the trophies.

Above is the 1964 Relay Court, in a picture I’ve colorized from the yearbook.  Left to right, they are sophomore attendant Pat Smith, senior Janet Johnson, Queen Dianne Wilson, junior Pat Ransome, and freshman Rose Sullivan.



Because I graduated from college in 1969, my class is having its 50th reunion next month alongside the annual Commencement activities.

But what if we look back twice 50 years?  My latest article, Reunion Time 1919, is based on the stories in a 100-year-old student newspaper.  Young men and women weren't allowed to dance together back then, and a man might not be invited into a woman’s parlor after a date even though he’d taken her to a movie and a game and bought her candy and dope.  (That last word doesn't mean what you think.)



Oberlin College's leaders naturally retained the right to expel any student who behaved in an immoral manner.

However, according to Delazon Smith's 1837 pamphlet, they even expelled exemplary students whose only “crime” was disagreeing with official religious doctrines.

Smith disputed many policies himself.  He also recalled episodes in which supposedly righteous Oberlinians had refused charity to a needy person until he renounced his version of Christianity and adopted the preferred theology.  (No Universalists allowed in this house!)  The pious also vilified a poor teamster who, unable to afford overnight lodging, drove his wagon into town on a Sunday.  (Laboring on the Sabbath?  Such awful wickedness!)

This fortnight's installment of Oberlin Unmasked discusses Intolerance or Suppression of OpinionToday, of course, the college has moved on from the “slavery of the mind” of the early 19th century, and it's much more open to rational discourse about differing beliefs.


APRIL 24, 2009 flashback   WHO’S “HE”?

Sometimes, when listening to the radio, I’m not paying attention.  Or maybe I’m tuning to a different station.  At any rate, I often find myself listening to the middle of a story.

And so she stabbed him in the chest!  Apparently it wasn’t a deep wound, and he’s expected to recover, but she certainly got his attention.  I wonder how this is going to affect her movie career.  She’s going to be in jail for some time.  Of course, this is not the first time he’s driven a woman to violence.  We all remember how his first wife threatened him with a gun a few years ago.  I think his brother was involved in that somehow, wasn’t he?

After a few minutes of this, my question is, “Who are you talking about?!”

In written material, it may be acceptable to keep using pronouns without restating their antecedents.  If the reader gets confused, he can go back a page or two to find out who “he” and “she” are.  But on radio, the audience has no rewind button, and you have to assume that some listeners are joining the conversation at various points throughout.  They can’t ask, “So what are we discussing here?”  The broadcaster should repeat the names occasionally.  Some classic examples:

Back in the 1960s on ABC Radio, it must have been network policy to write news stories with a certain redundancy.  I remember hearing many stories that went something like this.

In Philadelphia, two women and a young girl died in a fast-moving row house fire that broke out just after midnight.  The cause is under investigation.  Captain John Ayers told reporters that those on the second floor “didn't have a chance” in that fire last night in Philadelphia.

Anyone joining the story in the middle and wondering “What fire?  Was it around here?” would hear the key facts repeated at the end.

And when Hank Stram was the radio analyst on Monday Night Football, I’d often hear him reorient his listeners.

He’s always been a very productive running back.  His statistics dropped off a bit last season when he missed the last five games with the knee injury, but he’s back on track this year, and he sure looked good on that play.  Talking about Barry Sanders.

UPDATE:  Here’s a real-life example.  On the first edition of the podcast “Movie B.S. with Bayer and Snider” in April 2010, the guys discussed their dissatisfaction with a certain actor in Clash of the Titans.  If you started paying attention at 10:45 into the conversation, here’s what you heard.

JEFF:  It’s like we’ve been forced to accept him as our blockbuster star.

ERIC: Someone decided that he’s an action hero without asking our permission first.

J:  Right.  Normally there is some sort of voting system.  We normally — like there is a chain of — I feel like we, as America, decided we wanted to see Will Smith in these movies.  I don’t feel like it was just thrown upon us.  And here he is with Terminator, with Avatar, and now with this —

E:  He’s being thrust upon us.

J:  He is.

E:  You know what it is?  It’s socialism.  I’m tired of it.

J:  I’m surprised because he doesn’t elicit any emotions for me, at all, when I’m watching him act.

E:  He’s very boring.  He’s not unpleasant, he’s not dislikable, unlikable; he’s just a flat presence.

J:  I saw him on Letterman, and it was great.  He was on Letterman last night, and he had this nervous energy.  It was almost endearing.  And I’ve never seen that in a performance of his.  It was like he was a little worried about how he would come off and everything else, and it was nice to see.  So I’ve decided I don’t hate him as a human being.

E:  No, he’s probably fine.

J:  Yeah.

E:  I saw on IMDB that he was in a production of Macbeth, an Australian movie version of Macbeth, and he played Macbeth.  I’m curious to watch that to see if there’s like actual acting involved.

J:  Do you want to know how he got into acting?  This is actually a good story.  When he was 17 years old, his dad — he lived in the southwest corner of Australia, along the coast.  His dad flew him to the northeast corner, gave him $400, and said, “Work your way back home.”

E:  Like as a prank?

J:  No, like as in “Here it is.  Become a man!”

E:  Wow.

J:  By the way, that was not — that would have been a great time to break out my Australian accent.

E:  “Wurk yer wye bahck!  Becomm a mahan!”

J:  There.  That’s what I said.  So what he did was, he eventually met a girl.  And the girl was very nervous about auditioning for the same drama school that Mel Gibson did.  So apparently Mel Gibson did do acting classes; that’s good to know.  I actually like him, by the way.  I liked his performances before.  (Anyway, we’re sidetracking.  Focus!)  I did.  So, uh, anyway, he goes with her to the audition and says “I’ll be here for support; I’ll audition too.”  He’s never really acted.  He got in, she didn’t.

E:  Oh.  Wow.

J:  And that’s it.  That’s how he became an actor.

E:  Interesting.

J:  Yeah.

E:  Well, there you go.

J:  I kind of like that story.

E:  How do you know that story?

J:  Letterman.  So everybody that watched Letterman was just like “Get on with the story!”

E:  “We know.  We watch Letterman too.”

But what we don’t know, even after listening for more than two and a half minutes, is who “he” is.  They never did mention the actor’s name again.  I rewound the podcast and discovered they were talking about Sam Worthington.



When the first Earth Day was observed in 1970, I was at Syracuse University studying radio and television in graduate school.

Near the campus, undergraduates were removing trash from a neglected little park, so I cranked up a Bolex that looked something like this and shot some 16mm silent film of the scene.  It would be B-roll for our in-class fake newscast.

Today, of course, is the fiftieth Earth Day.

So what have we done for the Earth in the intervening 49 years?  We've loaded our planet down with more than twice as many people!

Since 1970 the world's population has grown from 3.7 billion to over 7.7 billion.  In another fifty years it's expected to reach 9.4 billion.  The red line indicates one estimate of how many people the Earth's resources can support.

I've condensed what a TV host opined ten days ago.

Let's give millennials credit for doing something right:  having less sex than other generations — and so less babies, which is good for the planet!

Earth Day is coming up, and I can't think of a better gift to our planet than pumping out fewer humans to destroy it.

The great under-discussed factor in the climate crisis is there are just too many of us and we use too much stuff.  Climate deniers like to say, “There's no population problem.  Just look out the window of an airplane.  There's nothing but empty space down there.”  But it's not about space; it's about resources.  Humans are already using 1.7 times the resources the planet can support.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently said, “Young people are asking, is it okay to still have children?”

Utah's Senator Mike Lee went so far as to rebut AOC's threat to stop breeding by saying, “Climate change and problems of human imagination are not solved by more laws, but by more humans.  The solution to so many of our problems is to get married and have some kids.”  But remember, Mike Lee belongs to a cult that believes all sorts of fantastical nonsense.  It's called the Republican Party.

But I've got to tell you, liberals are also at fault on this issue.  I've never heard a liberal say that falling birthrates are a good thing — which they are!  Everyone talks about a falling birthrate like it means there's something desperately wrong with the country.  Whatever problems that are caused by falling birthrates aren't nearly as dire as the ones brought on by overpopulation.  Wouldn't it be nicer to just have fewer people around?

Real Time with Bill Maher