AUGUST 30, 2007 RELY ON THE LOVE OF LIBERTY
I have some updates to a story that I posted some time back. Click here. There are additional pictures, plus the text of a speech I heard Abraham Lincoln deliver 34 years ago. Actually, I think it was an "animatronic" Lincoln. My father thought it was a real person.
AUGUST 26, 2007 21-DAY-OLD BREAD
I worked a minor-league baseball telecast on August 4. The Washington (PA) Wild Things held a promotion that night, giving away loaves of Sara Lee bread.
The spectators numbered 3,527, including women and children. And lo, they did partake of the bread that was given unto them. And afterwards the disciples took up of the loaves that remained twelve baskets full.
"What ought we to do with these leftover loaves?" they asked each other. "It would be sinful for us to waste them." And behold, they offered them unto the workers upon the hill, including the television technicians who were putting away their equipment.
Now I'm not a cook. I usually eat in restaurants, so I don't normally buy bread myself; maybe a package of sandwich buns now and then. But this was free, and it was the healthy whole-wheat kind. I took a loaf.
From time to time during the month, I opened the plastic wrapper and removed about four slices to make a couple of sandwiches for myself. I noticed that the product was indeed "soft & smooth," as labeled.
I figured that since I wasn't consuming it very quickly, the bread would eventually become stale and I would have to throw the rest of the loaf away. How soon this would happen, I didn't know. My mother used to freeze bread to prevent staleness, unless we were going to feed it to the ducks. I had heard that bakeries sell day-old bread at a discount. Bread-Maker.net says that the shelf life of French and Italian bread is one day. White, whole wheat, and sourdough are supposed to last two to three days, and ryes three to five.
But this bread, which I received on August 4, was labeled "Best if purchased by Aug. 16." And every time I opened the plastic bag and removed some slices, they were still soft & smooth. I didn't finish the loaf until yesterday (August 25), three weeks after the game.
Let's hear it for plastic bags and preservatives!
AUGUST 23, 2007 BACK TO THREE RIVERS
For the Pittsburgh Pirates, I'm copying my videotapes of some baseball telecasts on which I worked nearly 20 years ago. For you, I've posted nearly 30 video stills under the title An Eighties Flashback. You may enjoy being reminded how people looked back then, from Barry Bonds to Lanny Frattare. So have a very pleasant good evening!
AUGUST 18, 2007 CLEARING UP MISCONCEPTIONS
Folks from the western part of the country sometimes consider Pittsburgh to be one of the east coast cities. Actually, we're no more on the east coast than Phoenix is on the west coast. If we want to see the Atlantic Ocean, we have to drive east more than 300 miles, across the Allegheny Mountains (which are not three miles high) to the New Jersey shore. Try this quiz.
AUGUST 13, 2007 SCRUTINIZING THE FINE PRINT
Evidently people actually look at the graphics I prepare for sports telecasts. At least one viewer was paying attention during the second quarter of Saturday's preseason football game between the Packers and the Steelers on KDKA-TV.
When third-string quarterback Brian St. Pierre came in for Pittsburgh, graphics coordinator Paul Trgovac and I were ready with the summary you see below, listing his stats from LAST WEEK vs SAINTS (in the annual Hall of Fame exhibition game).
This morning on WDVE-FM's Morning Show, Mike Prisuta happened to mention that in his career, St. Pierre has thrown only one regular-season pass and it was incomplete. Randy Baumann said, Oh, really? I must have misread the graphic, then. They put up a stat that said 0-1, and I thought that meant he was 0 and 1, not 0 for 1. [When discussing a quarterback's statisics, 0 and 1 means no games won as a starter, one game lost, whereas 0 for 1 means no passes completed, one attempt.] And I was wondering, did I miss something? When did he ever start a game?
AUGUST 7, 2007 WHOM DID I PAY FOR MY HAIRCUT?
We like to believe we remember everything that happens to us. It doesn't always work that way.
I lived in Washington, Pennsylvania, during the 1970s. Although we men did wear our hair longer then, I assume I had my hair cut at some time during those 6½ years. But at what barber shop? During the 1980s, I happened to ponder this question. I could not remember where my Washington barber had been located.
Thinking further back to the 1950s, I lived in the village of Richwood, Ohio, within a mile of the school, for most of the time I was in kindergarten and first grade. But how did I get to school? Did I walk, or did my mother drive me? I no longer recall. Probably the latter.
However, I do remember that near the end of first grade we moved to a house out in the country. Although it was still within a mile of the school, I was now entitled to ride the school bus.
I had never ridden a bus before. I'd heard about buses. One of them would stop near where you were standing, and a door would open on the right side near the front. You'd go inside the bus, hand your money to the driver, then walk back and find a seat and sit there until the bus reached your destination.
However, I discovered that school bus drivers did not collect money from their passengers. The service was free!
I would have been willing to pay for it. After all, I paid my lunch money at the school cafeteria. (It was 2½ cents, if memory doesn't fail me. Or was that just for the milk? Anyway, the lunch ladies made change by using scrip in the form of little square cards worth half a cent.)
Why don't we have to personally pay for our school transportation? For that matter, why don't we have to pay for our schooling? That responsibility has been assumed by the government, otherwise known as the taxpayers. In this country, we have socialized education although no one uses that term, because "socialized" is a bad word.
In his review of the Michael Moore documentary Sicko, Eric D. Snider points out "the reason a lot of Americans don't want universal health care: because another term for it is 'socialized medicine.' . . . The problem with that argument, as Moore explains, is many elements of American society already are socialized. You get mail delivered to your house for free, you send your kids to school for free, you can call the fire department for free, you can borrow books from the library for free, you can call the cops to investigate a crime for free. Everyone has access to those things, and no one has to pay for it, except through their tax dollars. Socialized medicine works exactly the same way. If we trust the government to hire teachers to educate us, and firefighters and cops to protect us (and there are private alternatives we can pay for if we don't), why don't we trust them to hire doctors to cure us?"
AUGUST 1, 2007 WALLET FULL, MOUTH SHUT
Anyone who's explored this site knows that I'm a little different. I admit it.
One way I'm unlike most people: I carry a fair amount of folding money.
Last weekend, a guy started a thread on a message board I visit. He runs a mom-and-pop business that doesn't accept credit cards, and he's discovered that many customers are unable to pay. He asked online, "Doesn't anybody carry cash anymore?"
One poster said that his dad always carried $500, and he generally has $100 with him. I'm in that category, along with a couple of other posters. The currency in our pockets gives us the power to transact all kinds of business without having to rely on the availability of one of these newfangled gadgets like point-of-sale terminals or ATMs. But the younger generation does things differently.
Another thing that sets me apart: There are days when I speak very little.
A research result recently reported by Matthias Mehl of the University of Arizona reveals that women actually don't talk more than men. His team attached recording devices to some 400 college students and counted the words they spoke. Men and women both averaged about 16,000 words per day.
However, there was wide variation among individuals. One male student spoke 47,000 words a day; another, only 700.
I would suggest there might also be wide variation from one day to the next, depending on circumstances. When I'm with my colleagues at work, I can be as talkative as the next guy. But when I have the day off, it's a different story.
I live alone. On many days, I don't need to use the telephone. So there's no occasion for me to say anything, except when I go out to lunch and communicate with the restaurant staff in mostly three-word sentences like "iced tea, please" and "no, thank you." Those days, I probably don't speak 100 words.
JULY 26, 2007 KEEPING THE OLD SCORE
The NBC sitcom Teachers lasted only a few weeks. Perhaps it needed a bigger budget for props.
In the episode airing April 11, 2006, the faculty gathered in the gym for the "Schoolympics," a competition against a rival school's faculty. The events included hot dog eating. But notice the scoreboard on the back wall. It had no clock, only a card showing "Period 0," and to change the score the janitor had to climb a ladder.
Even when I was a child in a small town long ago, technology was more advanced than this. Is there any school gym in the country that doesn't have an electrified scoreboard by now?
JULY 20, 2007 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 total tax and 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 15, 2007 TURNING THE CENTURIES
Remember when we feared that changing the calendar to a new millennium would throw the nation into turmoil? One very minor part of the Y2K problem was anticipated by me 40 years in advance! Now a reader in California has added his comments on how The Year 2001 should be pronounced. Scroll down to the bottom of my article for the latest.
Speaking of 2001 brings to mind Stanley Kubrick's space odyssey movie of the same name, which came out seven years after my essay and was, as I predicted, pronounced "two thousand one." My reader in California notes:
And for some reason I'm reminded of the song "Bicycle Built for Two." When programmers at Bell Labs first taught computers to speak, they demonstrated their achievement by instructing the synthesized voice to sing this oldie from 1892. I presume that's why in the movie, when Dave pulls the plug on HAL, the dying computer's life flashes before its red eye and it recalls one of its earliest programs by pathetically crooning "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do."
As I child, I was familiar with a number of these popular songs in 3/4 time from what we called the Gay Nineties and the following decade. Now, except for "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," they've faded away. In one of them, written in 1895, Casey would waltz with the strawberry blonde and "The Band Played On." Some others I recall are "In the Good Old Summer Time" from 1902, which I mentioned at the end of this earlier article, and "Meet Me in St. Louie, Louie," which alluded to the 1904 World's Fair.
But one real oldie in 3/4 time is still around, after a fashion. Though written in 1867, it has been recorded by Bruce Springsteen. He floats through the air with the greatest of ease, "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze."
JULY 13, 2007 BINGO LIVES
ABC's National Bingo Night has been named the worst show on television. That was the conclusion of a panel of 105 TV critics, as reported in the July 9 edition of Broadcasting & Cable magazine. (According to the Critics Poll, this year's best show was The Sopranos, closely followed by Friday Night Lights.)
The public seems to agree. Since National Bingo Night debuted with a 1.8 rating on May 18 and I wrote about it the next day here, half the viewers went away. The rating fell to 0.9 by the June 22 finale.
And yet, ABC is bringing it back for five more episodes in December. Why? According to the magazine:
So nothing has changed from when I used to be a Bingo caller on TV. The show itself may not be very good, but it still has value because it persuades viewers to pick up their free cards by coming into your store.
JULY 11, 2007 HITTING THE BRAKES
There's a widespread complaint that on Pittsburgh's parkways, drivers slow down unnecessarily when the highway enters a tunnel. Why do they do that? I solve this mystery in a new article, a philosophical dialogue between Socrates and Leadfoot.
JULY 2, 2007 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.