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T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website

 

JULY 23, 2017    INQUIRING

For over 25 years I've subscribed to publications from an organization called the Center for Inquiry.  They recently awarded me a commemorative metal bookmark.

Therefore, when I was in western New York last week I made it a point to stop by CFI's headquarters in Amherst.  It's on Sweet Home Road, across from the north campus of the University at Buffalo. 

(Now I don't want to get up on a Sweet Home Soap box, but you'll encounter that name again in an article next month in which I'll report further on my trip.)

CFI used to go by the more cumbersome initials CSICOP, standing for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal.  Until I started reading their Skeptical Inquirer magazine, I believed there might be some truth to telepathy and UFOs.  However, the publication has debunked many manifestations of what magician James Randi calls “woo”:  spoon bending, crop circles, weeping statues, communication with the dead, faith healing, vaccination dangers, mysterious faces on Mars, and other fantasies that attract gullible people.


For example, I felt I was receiving a spirit message from my car.  It wanted a selfie with the Center for Inquiry sign.  I'm sure there's a rational explanation.


Randi wrote a column about Facilitated Communication in the current edition of Skeptical Inquirer.  He calls FC a “farce” and “simply a blatant stunt claimed to be a means of communicating with autistic children.”

 
“The adult ‘facilitator’ grasps the hand of the child, with the child's index finger extended out over the keyboard of the computer.  In almost every case, the child is looking away, uninvolved in the procedure, often babbling or screaming as the facilitator studies the keyboard and uses the subject's finger as the tool with which he or she is typing!  It is abundantly obvious that the child is not typing.”

The most prominent FC promoter has been Dr. Douglas Biklen, who founded a “Facilitated Communication Institute” at Syracuse University.

I'm a Syracuse alumnus (M.S. 1970).  I told SU in 2005 that as long as they were profiting from this fraud, they didn't need any further contributions from me.  That letter is this month's 100 Moons article.

Dr. Biklen retired in 2014.  “But please,” Randi writes, “you must remember the financial investment that Syracuse University still has in FC, via Dr. Biklen.  It brings in millions annually from desperate parents and charities.”  Apparently, he concludes, the money interests have “spoken louder than rationality.”

 

JULY 20, 2007 flashback   VOTE YOUR POCKETBOOK?

In this spring's primary election, voters in Pennsylvania school districts were asked whether they wanted to shift some of their taxes.  If they approved, the property tax rate rate in their district would be reduced, but the earned income tax rate would be increased.  Supposedly each school district would neither lose nor gain revenue, although some individuals would end up paying less totalh schoond others more.

The local newspaper editorialized on May 14, "The Post-Gazette is not about to recommend a Yes or No vote on tomorrow's ballot questions.  ...What we do endorse is an informed approach to the question, in which people do the math on how the new rates would affect the family pocketbook and then vote accordingly."

I did the math.  Those whose tax bite would be decreased included retirees; that is, people who pay property tax but have no earned income.  Those whose taxes would be increased included me.  Because I don't own property (I rent an apartment), I don't pay any property tax and thus would not benefit from a rate reduction, but I do pay tax on my earned income.

So if I decided to "vote accordingly," I'd be against the proposal.

But good citizens should not vote selfishly.  We shouldn't always base our decisions on what's best for our particular household.  We ought to consider also what's best for the commonwealth in general.  Shifting some taxes away from property and towards income might be better public policy.  Isn't it more progressive to base taxation on ability to pay?

However, few of my fellow citizens saw it like that.  More importantly, many didn't believe that in the long term the government was really going to let them keep the promised break on their property taxes.  The measures were defeated by roughly 4-1 margins across the state.

 

JULY 18, 2017    MINOR QUIBBLE & FAKE FOTO

Following in the long-standing tradition of television hosts who address us from behind a desk, Jim Jefferies on Comedy Central has a microphone and a coffee mug sitting in front of him.

 

Nowadays, however, things like this are only props.  His actual microphone is inconspicuously clipped to his lapel (red circle).  It's obvious that the one on the desk is a fake because there are no wires connected to it (yellow arrow).

I keep staring at the place where a cable ought to be.  This bothers me.  As a college student, I read the WOBC news into a similar Electrovoice mic in Studio C.  I appreciate the fact that Mr. Jefferies has chosen a decorative object so venerable that I could have used it half a century ago, but it's obviously nonfunctional.

 

 

If he's not going to hook it up, why not sit behind a really antique microphone?



JULY 16, 2017    CHANGING LOGOS

Those of us on the crew for sports telecasts are issued official credentials.

Often they're attached to a lanyard.  If we hang them from our necks, the guards presumably won't throw us out.  The ribbons are often imprinted with logos, as shown within the magnified ellipse on the right.

When I return home with a credential I no longer need, it goes in a drawer.

I just counted.  I've collected 15 FSN lanyards from Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh, the regional sports network in this area.  And it's been years since we called the network by that name.

I recall the 1980s.  When the Pittsburgh Pirates became available on kable TV, the network was known as KBL.  Then News Corp. acquired it and employed one of their existing trademarks, Prime Sports.  Before long they worked in their FOX branding, by changing the name to FSN in its various permutations.  Then DirectTV bought the network and renamed it ROOT Sports.

Then AT&T bought DirectTV.  And now the latest owners have undertaken another rebranding.

As of Friday, the channel is now AT&T SportsNet!  Vive la différence la plus récente!

Update, July 22:  The Pirates have a 7-1 record in their “new” home.

We've been instructed that henceforth we should refrain from wearing “ROOT” swag, such as shirts or hats.  That channel no longer exists, and we don't want to confuse the fans.  Therefore I have consigned four such shirts to the archives.

 

JULY 14, 2017    AT LEAST THEY'RE STILL PLAYING BINGO

A mile down the street from my apartment, 200 kids from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade attend Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament School.

This weekend OLMBSS is holding its 25th annual Summer Festival.  Each of the four evenings will feature a live band, writes Madasyn Czebiniak in the Valley News Dispatch.  I took a snapshot of the scene on opening night.

The event is expected to draw about 9,000 people who will “munch on barbecue pork, kielbasa, pierogies, french fries and stuffed cabbage.”  Visitors will spend over $100,000 on food, rides, raffles, and games.  About half the proceeds will be profit for the school.

According to chairwoman Heather Wygonik, “It's our largest event.  We are a Catholic school, so we rely a lot on the fundraisers.  Bingo's a big draw, because there's not a lot of bingos anymore.”  She says the festival “gives all of our parishioners and our school parents the opportunity to volunteer and give back and raise money for the school.  It's a wonderful way to bring the community together and highlight our school at the same time.”

Catholic schools need a lot of help, it appears.  In May the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported statistics from the six-county Diocese of Pittsburgh.  Comparing 2000 to 2015, student enrollment has dropped by about 50 percent!  If they keep losing kids at this rate, enrollment by 2050 will be only one-tenth what it was at the start of the century.

The Roman Catholic Church itself is also in trouble.  That's what the numbers suggest, anyway.  Around here, many of the older faithful from European-immigrant families are dying off.  Meanwhile, many younger parishioners are dropping out because they can't accept church teachings against birth control, women priests, divorce, and so on.

Whatever the reasons, over those 15 years church marriages and infant baptisms have declined about 50 percent.  Meanwhile, first communions and confirmations and Mass attendance have declined 40 percent.  The P-G adds, “The number of active priests, 209, is down by a third and is expected to go down by half again by 2025.  And as of 2015, half of the parishes had operational deficits.”

As a result, the Diocese is in the process of closing churches.  They're condensing their 188 parishes into 49.  

 

JULY 12, 2017    YOU MUST BE PRESENT

Hey, why are all those old cars parked outside the Atherton-Kidd Company on Third Street in Livermore, Kentucky?

 

Online I found an image of a piece of scrip, a 25-cent token from Otto Atherton's emporium.

And on the McLean County Public Schools website I found these black-and-white pictures, which apparently date to the 1930s.


I recall a similar scene in the 1950s.  It was Drawing Day!

I was only a little kid.  My parents and I were visiting my grandparents in Livermore, where H.F. and Lydia Thomas operated a laundry downtown.  They had purchased a ticket for the big contest, of course.  Was it a weekly raffle for merchandise?  Was it a monthly lottery for a cash prize?  I don't remember the details.  But I do remember the most important rule:  “You must be present to win.”

Therefore, the five of us left the comfortable Thomas house, with its air conditioner in the living-room window, and went down to Kidd's.  We stood on the outskirts of the crowd in the late afternoon sunshine.  It seemed that everybody in town had gathered to hear the announcement of the winning number.

We didn't have it.

 

JULY 9, 2017    OPEN WIDE, BUN!

Ah, summer.  How did that old commercial go?  “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet!”

But alas, the hot dogs can get messy.  (And the apple pie, too, if you're not careful.)  I've collected some examples for a Frankfurter Slide Show.

Also, a correspondent has forwarded from his “archives” some stuff from the 1950s, including a photo of the Buckeye Lake entrance gate and a story about a motorcycle road run for women.  I've added them to my Sally Flowers article, starting here.

 

JULY 7, 2017    CNN IS NOW 1111

I ain't cuttin' no cord.  I'm still watching cable television, as I have been since 1970.  And now there are even more digits to decipher.

Comcast/Xfinity gave me about 180 new channel numbers a month ago.  No, I didn't get 180 new channels.  I got 180 new channel numbers, four-digit numbers instead of three.  Previously, similar resolutions were grouped together, with standard definition channels from 001 to 799 and high definition from 800 on up.  However, the new plan groups similar program services together. 

Now local broadcast stations are in the 1000s.  (Each channel number has been conveniently chosen to match the number the station uses to identify itself; for example, WPGH-53 is on channel 1053.)  Then cable news and weather are on channels 1101 through 1130.  Broadcasters' extra digital channels like MeTV are in the upper 1100s.  Sports are in the 1200s and 1300s, general-interest channels in the 1400s, music and black-oriented channels in the 1600s, children's channels in the low 1700s, and movies from 1755 on up.

Most channels are in high definition.  Some of their neighbors might be standard definition, but HD and SD are no longer segregated; they live side by side.  The end result is easier channel surfing.

What's weird is that when I punch in channel 1053, I get the same WPGH that I used to get on 803 — and it's also still there on 803!  There's only one data stream, but the cable box can decode it using either the new number or the old.

Not only that, but an SD version is still on 007.  That's the number I need to use if I'm using a DTA to feed another TV, or if I'm saving DVR space by recording in SD (which uses only 20% as many bits).  So a given station can be accessed by as many as three different numbers.

Additional services are available only in SD, such as Spanish-language channels from 561 through 651.

But there's a glitch:  if I set my “favorite channels” to surf up through 1053, 1205, 1254, 1802, and so on, the box also gives them to me at their old addresses.  Those would be 803, 850, 843, 300 respectively, but the box gives them to me in the old numerical order as 300, 803, 843, 850.  To get the best use from my “favorite channel” function, when I see an old three-digit number on the display I need to manually jump up to 1002 and then start playing the favorites.

To do so, of course, the remote control is essential.  I often lost track of mine between the couch cushions until I taped a shoestring to it.  Now it has a flagellum — another cord I'm not going to cut.

 

JULY 4, 2017    OUR LAND

I wrote a piece in 2005 in which I proposed that we could Add Drama! to certain musical performances, rather than mechanically running through them without thinking about their meaning.

Now I’ve written a new article called, appropriately enough, Add More Drama!

The second half of it was inspired by a patriotic commercial that ran immediately after the 2016 election.  A sign is intended to keep unwanted people out, but we notice that its words appear on only one side.

 

JULY 2, 2007 flashback   WINNING ISN'T EVERYTHING

As a baseball fan, what do you want from your team?  That depends on whether you're a Spectator or a Delegator.

I'm a Spectator.  Take me out to the ball game.  Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack.  Let me root, root, root for the home team.  If they don't win, it's a shame — but it's not a disaster, because then I get to make sardonic remarks about how inept they are.  Either way, win or lose, I enjoy the entertainment.

However, the "serious" fans are Delegators.  They have appointed the home team as their representatives, their vicars, through whom they hope to experience vicariously the thrill of being champions.  Their team has to win before they can claim "we are #1!"

The Pittsburgh Pirates are on their way to their 15th straight losing season.  The Spectators don't really mind; they still bring the kids out to beautiful PNC Park to pick up the promotional giveaways and see the postgame fireworks shows.  But the Delegators do mind.  If their hometown players are losers, that implies that they themselves are losers.  So they call the radio talk shows and angrily criticize the way the team is being run.  Specifically, they want Pirates management to bring in better players by spending more money on payroll.

"I'm fed up because they don't spend money the way they should," June Coleman told Robert Dvorchak of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this weekend.  "We pay the taxes that built this ballpark and don't have anything to show for it.  I'm not going to any more games until something changes.  Where's all the money going?"

Of course, it's not tax money or their own money that the fans want spent; it's the team's money.  And the ownership, led by Bob Nutting and his family, has found that "we will entertain" is the most profitable way to run their business.  They could go for "we will win the World Series," but that would probably require tripling the payroll, which is unrealistic in a market this small.  A modest, affordable increase in payroll wouldn't make much difference in the team's competitiveness.

At Saturday night's game, a group of Delegators called "Fans for Change" urged attendees to walk out after the third inning.  About 1,000 did.

Walkout organizer Andy Chomos told the P-G's Robert Dvorchak, "I'm ticked off. We want to see meaningful baseball in August and September again.  ...If the Nuttings are allowed to continue to run PNC as an amusement park, we've all lost."

But 26,000 others did not walk out.  Some jeered at the protestors.  One protestor told Dan Majors of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Those people who booed us and flipped us off, they aren't the true fans. They're here for the circus atmosphere."

Exactly.  They're not Delegators like the "true fans," they're Spectators.  To competitive Delegators, the Spectators appear apathetic.  The T-R's Joe Starkey noted, "Pirates ownership actually deserves credit for cultivating a fan base that, by-and-large, couldn't care less what happens on the field."  During the previous night's game, at one critical point with the tying run on second base, the TV crew noticed that the audience was simply watching quietly, waiting to see what would happen next.

After 14 losing seasons, we Spectators have apparently become the majority by a 26-1 margin.  For the time being,  the Pirates will continue to be our entertainers but not our champions.

 

 

TBT


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