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JUNE \ MAY 2012

 
JUNE 27, 2012     A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN

As an only child, I had my own bedroom.  As an introvert, this suited me just fine.

I didn’t usually have that benefit of privacy away from home.  When I traveled with my parents, the three of us would share a motel room.  In college, I had to share my freshman dorm space with a roommate (although for the remaining three years I made sure to sign up for a single room).  Later, when I traveled with a TV production crew, our employer would usually save money at the hotel by pairing us up.

This changed when, at the age of 40, I went on the road to cover Pittsburgh Pirates games.  There were four of us on the KDKA-TV traveling crew, the hotels were first class, and each of us was assigned his own separate room!  I asked myself what I had done to deserve this unprecedented luxury.

Although I never really had a serious girlfriend, I idly imagined what married life would be like for an introvert like me.  I presumed I wouldn’t mind sharing my home with a woman who was my best friend.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t want our idyllic partnership to be disrupted by a bunch of noisy hyperactive midgets running around and demanding all our attention.  In other words, I didn’t want children infesting my castle.  My hypothetical wife, of course, would feel the same way, or she wouldn’t have married me.

Despite the fact there would be only two of us, our ideal home would have three bedrooms.  One would be exclusively my wife’s, another would be exclusively mine, and the third would be the “guest room.”

Each of us would agree never to enter the other’s private chamber.  Those rooms could possibly contain old love letters or other items which we preferred our partner not to know about.  If I withdrew into my sanctuary and closed the door, she wouldn’t be allowed to resent it nor to feel neglected or unloved, and vice versa.  We would understand and respect each other’s needs to be alone, to think our own thoughts, or to get up in the middle of the night without owing anyone an explanation.

And when we wanted to spend an intimate night together, we would rendezvous in the guest room.

 

JUNE 21, 2012     CREATING A LEGACY

I've recently finished reading the fourth volume of Robert A. Caro's detailed biography of Lyndon B. Johnson.  Caro, now 70 years old, has been publishing another thick volume in this series every decade since 1982.  His latest, The Passage of Power, takes us up to the start of the 1964 Presidential campaign, so it must needs be followed by at least one more book.  I'll be expecting to read that in 2022.

But you don't have to wait.  I myself wrote the chronicle of a 1964 Presidential campaign — though not the one involving LBJ.  It's this month’s “100 Moons” article.

 

JUNE 17, 2012     NO-FATHERS DAY

Today we celebrate Father’s Day.  However, fatherlessness is becoming the norm.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of babies born to unmarried women has been increasing every decade.  It surpassed 40% in 2009.  We can project that nine years from now, half of all American newborns will be bastards!

Why should we be concerned about this?  George Will writes that “social ... pathologies, related to a constantly renewed cohort of adolescent males without fathers at home, include disorderly neighborhoods, schools that cannot teach, mass incarceration, and the intergenerational transmission of poverty.  We do not know how to address this with government policies, even though the nation has worried about it for almost 50 years.  In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then in President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, published his report on the black family’s ‘crisis,’ which was that 24 percent of black children were then born to unmarried women.  Today, 73 percent are.”

Charles Murray notes “the well-established fact that children fare far better in two-parent families — on virtually every indicator, from emotional development to the likelihood of being employed as adults — than they do in divorced families, and children in divorced families do better than children of never-married women.  And this remains true even after controlling for economics and race.”

A related problem:  children being born to teenage mothers, many of whom are not yet married.  This map shows the number of births per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which reports “the U.S. teen birth rate remains one of the highest among other industrialized countries.”  Rates are the highest in the Bible Belt, suggesting that religiously-approved chastity pledges might not be the most reliable method of teenage birth control.

 

JUNE 16, 2012     ANDNOWTHESEMESSAGES

Sometimes while driving in my car I’ll be listening to a baseball game on the radio, and I’ll momentarily be distracted by my responsibilities as a motorist, and when I turn my attention back to the baseball broadcast I realize that they’re in a commercial break.  “Hmm,” I’ll say to myself, “I guess the inning must have ended while I was turning onto that ramp.  The announcers must not have made a big deal about how the third out happened.”

I actually was paying attention last night during the Pittsburgh at Cleveland game.  The Pirates, trailing 1-0, were batting in the top of the fourth inning.  There had been two walks and two strikeouts sandwiched around a single, and the bases were loaded.  The Pirates had a rare offensive threat going!

Jose Tabata came to the plate with two outs.  Pirates play-by-play man Greg Brown was calling the action.  Analyst John Wehner was dissecting every pitch, describing what the pitcher was trying to do and what the batter was trying to do.  Tabata took a strike.  He fouled off the next offering.  This was a crucial point in the ballgame.  And then Greg called the next pitch:  “Swing and a miss.  After 3½ innings: Indians one, Pirates nothing.”  And we were in commercial.

Greg’s rueful tone implied, “My goodness, that was rather disappointing for us to waste such a golden opportunity, wouldn’t you agree?”  But he didn’t have time to say it.  And John had no time to explain what had happened on the final pitch.  The radio announcers had to get to the break immediately so all the ads could run before action resumed.

At least on television, we schedule slightly less commercial time so that we can replay Tabata’s swing while we’re “rolling out to break.”

 

JUNE 14, 2012     HOLLYWOOD ON THE PLUM

Having enrolled at prestigious Oberlin College in 1965, for orientation week I wore the requisite freshman beanie on my head.  Our class assembled at Hall Auditorium for various lectures and entertainments, including a motion picture that had been filmed on campus during the previous academic year.  It was in black and white and, if I recall correctly, shorter than a regular theatrical feature.  Most of the references to campus politics and other issues went right over my beanie, but I reviewed the film favorably the next morning in a letter to my parents. 

The Freshman Show on Saturday night was quite good — a humorous, satirical stage production with music — but the movie Fantasticheria on Sunday night was better.  It was more consistently humorous and had better unity.  Also, I had no doubt that the Oberlin students could put on a stage show, but I was quite impressed at how good they were in producing a movie.  With all the complications of lighting, sound, camera angles, etc., not to mention acting, the production came off amazingly well.  And it was fun to watch.

Apparently the film was a production of Oberlin’s Department of Communication.  Only a few months ago, alumnus “Nicholas B.” mentioned it in an online chat.

The Department of Communication at Oberlin changed its name to the Department of Communication Studies in 1971, when Jim Goulding went on sabbatical to write a book about Czech film.  Read that, “Forget about studying filmmaking for a few years!”  Perhaps the College Faculty Council didn't like the message of Fantasticheria and wanted to make sure it was the last film to come out of that department.

UPDATE:  No, it didn't come from that department.  In a message I received in 2013, Stu Rubinow tells the real story behind the movie.

At any rate, I don’t recall any other cinematic creativity during my four years on campus.

What we did have in the last half of the turbulent Sixties was student unrest.  The college administration — the president, the provost, the deans, and other officials — seemed to be a group of grim-faced adults trying to keep the institution under control by resisting most of the insistent demands for change made by student activists.

Now, many decades have passed.  Now, the administration is apparently a bunch of hams who annually produce a 20-minute movie full of inside jokes, just for the fun of it!

This year, they made a parody of The Hangover.  You may recall that feature, which won a Golden Globe in 2010 as the best comedy or musical.  One of the stars just happened to be Ed Helms of the Oberlin College class of 1996.

Ed wasn’t involved in this slickly-produced parody, but Marvin and his cousin were.  That would be Oberlin’s irrepressible president, Marvin Krislov, playing a dual role.  Cousin “Vin Mar” wears a ludicrous fake Zach Galifianakis beard throughout.

At http://vimeo.com/42583860 you too can watch The HangOber.  Warning: the rooster is slightly incontinent.

What is this world coming to?  College is supposed to be serious business!

UPDATE:  It turns out that making movies is serious business at Oberlin.  The college now has its own post-production facilities in a Cinema Studies Center on an upper floor of the local motion-picture theatre, the Apollo.  See this press release.

  

JUNE 11, 2012     HOME MOVIES

This spring I dropped off some 40-year-old reels of Super 8 movie film at ABC Photo, a local shop that transferred them to a DVD disk so I could watch them again.

Over the next year or so, I hope to be able to use still photos from these movies to illustrate several new articles on this website.  We'll attend a baseball game at the Astrodome, take a vacation trip through southern Ontario, work a checkpoint at a Scioto Sports Car Club rally, televise a state wrestling tournament and a Bronco League World Series, and open Christmas presents with my family.

First up is a short article to introduce the series.  In Super 8:  Marion, we see a few downtown street scenes in the city where I worked in 1972, complete with a surprise guest appearance.

 

JUNE 9, 2012     INFORM THE VIEWERS!

I recall one spring evening back in the 1950s, when televised variety shows were broadcast live.  My parents and I were watching Perry Como’s 39th and last “Kraft Music Hall” of the season.  For the next 13 weeks, a summer replacement series was going to fill his time slot.  So at the end of the final musical number, Perry said goodbye, and the Ray Charles Singers waved goodbye (no, not that Ray Charles), and a huge Broadway-type sign descended.  In lights, it said, SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER!

Nowadays, however, most TV series don’t spell it out so clearly.  From Rob Owen’s “TV Q&A” column yesterday:

Q:  My question is what happened to “NCIS”?  Two weeks ago it blew up with McGee trying to get Abby out and Ducky walking along a beach when he heard about “NCIS” and he collapsed with the tide coming in.  The next two weeks, everything was back to normal.

- Marillyn Swanson, 84, Apple Valley, Minn.

Rob:  The television season, as it always has, runs from September to May.  The episode with Ducky collapsing was the season finale.  The episodes that followed were typical summer reruns.  The resolution to the Ducky collapse cliffhanger will come in September.

My question is, how are we supposed to know this?  If we don’t read columns like Rob’s or listings like TV Guide, we may well be unaware that we’re watching a season finale.  For viewers like Marillyn, every cliffhanger should be followed immediately by a special promo.

What will happen?  Will Abby escape??  Will Ducky survive???  We’ll have to wait until September to find out!  “NCIS” will return with new episodes in the fall.  Until then, for the next several weeks, join us here at this same time as we repeat some of your favorite episodes from this season.  Thanks for being a loyal viewer of “NCIS”!

 

JUNE 5, 2012     LA BELLE FONTE

The small town of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, is going to be crowded with hundreds of reporters every day this month.  At the Centre County Courthouse, surrounded by television news vans, jury selection began today in the trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Let me show you a few pictures I took in Bellefonte in quieter times, a decade ago.

I was in the area for the 2002 NCAA men’s volleyball championships, held at Penn State’s Rec Hall.  Our telecast was directed by Paul Karlsson (right), who is sadly no longer with us.

On May 3, our day off between the semifinals and the final, I wandered off to Beaver Stadium to see the new statute of Joe Paterno.  (He seems to be trying to hail a cab.)  And then I drove up the road a few miles.

Alongside Spring Creek in Bellefonte, I found scenic Talleyrand Park, named for the visiting French statesman who suggested the town's name in 1795.  The park has a bandstand; the locals call it a gazebo.

There’s also the old train station, and in the background an old hotel.  The Bush House was built in 1868.  On the right, we see it from the gazebo.

It’s said that several local hotels once competed for arriving railroad passengers, who often required a vehicle for transport to their lodgings.  The Bush House, located across the street, capitalized on its proximity by hiring a man to greet arriving trains and call out to passengers as they disembarked, “Walk ya’ to the Bush House.”  Unfortunately, the Bush House is also no longer with us, having burned in 2006.

I haven’t been back this charming little Victorian town lately, but I trust that at least the park is still there.  And the ducks.

 

JUNE 1, 2012     PERFECT DAYS

When Adam and Eve left the Garden, they found the outside world an inhospitable place.  They were attacked by lions and bears and other beasts.  They were beset by bees and other flying things.  From the heavens fell water and ice and lightning bolts.  The air was sometimes hot and suffocating, sometimes cold and freezing; and it refused to remain in place, whipping itself into gales that scattered small objects.  Even the ground beneath their feet refused to remain in place, quaking and transforming itself into dust storms and mudslides.

Therefore our ancestors sought shelter.  They stitched together animal skins to make tents, or they cowered inside caves, in an effort to protect themselves from nature.

As our skills improved over the millennia, we built better shelters.  Now sturdy walls keep out the coyotes, screened windows keep out the mosquitoes, and strong roofs keep out the falling water. Inside our homes, our baths do not freeze.  Our skin is never burnt by sun nor wind.  The floors are firm, level, and dry.  Dust storms do not disturb us, and we laugh at all but the strongest cyclones.  And heating and air conditioning systems ensure that the temperature is always comfortable.

Sometimes, like this morning, we hear that we should go outside because it’s a beautiful day and we ought to enjoy it while it lasts.  Unfortunately, such conditions are unusual.

And what is so rare as a day in June?  Then, if ever, come perfect days.
—James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)

How would we describe a "perfect day" outdoors?  The winds are calm, just as they are indoors.  The insects have decided to leave us alone.  We are not being pelted from above by cold water.  Under the leafy trees we can find relief from the sun’s strong rays, and if we’re lucky, we will not be pelted from above by birds.  And the temperature outdoors is the same as the temperature indoors.

Yes, a perfect day outside is like every day inside!

 

MAY 26, 2012     CASUAL SATURDAY

 

Among a handful of slides from Marion CATV, where I worked from 1970 to 1974, I found this dim picture of Judy Rock.  It was taken in our program department office, probably by Sandy Park, Judy’s co-host on “Marion Today” and “TV-3 Bingo” Monday through Friday mornings.

 

I’ve attempted to correct the colors.  The most recognizable pinup in the background is Robert Redford, from the 1972 movie The Candidate.

Obviously, Judy was not planning to go on the air that day.

 

When she was in the studio, she dressed more like this.

 

MAY 22, 2012     SUGGESTED FORM LETTER

Dear Pennsylvania Turnpike Motorist:

Thank you for participating in our E-ZPass program.  The transponder mounted on your vehicle’s windshield allows it to pass through our toll gates without stopping, and your account is billed for a discounted amount compared to what you would have paid in cash.

When you became an E-ZPass customer, you agreed to obey all traffic rules and regulations.  Recently, however, our information indicates that broke your promise by disobeying the speed limit.  Here are the details.

On Wednesday, May 16, your transponder was recorded entering the Turnpike at Irwin exit 67 at 1:03:15 pm.  Then it was recorded exiting at Breezewood exit 161 at 2:22:13 pm.

A vehicle traveling at the posted maximum speeds would require more than 92 minutes to drive between those two points, broken down as follows:

Miles

Speed Limit

Minimum Time

00.8

35 mph (ramps)

01:22

29.2

55 mph

31:51

64.1

65 mph

59:10

94.1 total

61.1 mph avg

92:23 total

Therefore, you could not legally exit at Breezewood until 2:35:38 pm.  However, you did exit at 2:22:13 pm, or 13 minutes 25 seconds too early.  You averaged 71.5 miles per hour over the distance and exceeded the speed limit by more than 17%.

Your toll was $7.63.  If you lose your E-ZPass privileges, the same trip will cost you $9.05.

This is your first warning.  Your next violation will bring another warning.  A third violation will result in the cancellation of your E-ZPass account; your transponder will no longer be recognized, and you will be required to pay cash at the toll booths.

Please forward this information to anyone else who may be operating your vehicle on the Pennsylvania Turnpike system.  Thank you.

 

MAY 16, 2012     25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE DIAMOND

It was 25 years ago today that I started a trend.

Baseball graphics back then often included a line such as RUNNERS ON 1ST AND 2ND.  I felt that was too wordy, so on KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Pirates telecast on May 16, 1987, I introduced a compact diamond symbol, with squares in the corners representing the bases.  Changing the colors of the squares indicated which bases were occupied.  Realizing that the viewers might not understand this, for a while I labeled the diamond ON BASE.

I've told the story of this invention before.  It's in this month’s “100 Moons” article.

In 1994, Fox introduced an even more important innovation:  a “Fox Box” that remained constantly on the screen, giving the score and other data.  At first it was used only for NFL football, but two years later, Fox began broadcasting Major League Baseball games.

Before that 1996 season started, executive producer Ed Goren told the Associated Press that “it’s almost certain Fox will have some type of situational graphic for baseball, similar to the omnipresent Fox Box score clock in football.  It will show the score, the inning, how many outs, balls and strikes, and probably whether there are men on base.”  The most efficient way to accomplish the latter turned out to be a smaller version of my diamond symbol.  However, on each telecast for the first year or two, Fox announcers had to verbally explain the significance of the lighted bases.

Flash forward to the 21st century.  With the advent of HD telecasts, the score bug has become smaller and more compact, which renders it hard to read if you’re any distance from the screen (as in a sports-themed bar or restaurant).

Also, there’s no longer room for explanations.  The modern baseball viewer is expected to know that 6TH means “sixth inning”, the yellow caret to the left of it means “top of the,” my diamond locates the runners, the three little dots represent the number of outs, and “0-2” means zero balls and two strikes.  (I once considered the three little dots, but I thought they would be too cryptic unless they were labeled.)

In basketball, the viewer is expected to know that the tiny numbers to the left of the team names represent ranks or seeds, the little bars underneath represent time outs remaining, and that the two numbers on the right represent the time remaining in the period and on the shot clock, respectively.

What hath I wrought?  Symbols abound, and their explanatory text has disappeared.  We’ve practically reverted to the way things were done thousands of years ago, when a merchant would record three bags of grain by simply making three marks on a clay tablet.

 

MAY 11, 2012     TV VIEWERS ARE GETTING OLDER

The following data, from Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, describe the average ages of prime-time viewers of the major broadcast TV networks:  NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox.

In 1995, the eight-year-old Fox network had the youngest audience, averaging 29 years of age.  ABC was second at 35.  In general, these are the viewers that advertisers most want to reach, because they do a lot of spending and their buying habits have not yet solidified.

Now it’s 17 years later, and Fox and ABC still have the youngest viewers.  But their audience is maturing at the same rate!  Their audience is 18 years older.  The Fox average age is now 47, and ABC is at 53.

CBS has always had the oldest audience.  When I was 48 years old back in 1995, I was a typical CBS viewer.  Today the average age is 56.  That’s an increase of only 8 years, which can be explained by noting that the viewers at the high end of the age range are dying off.  In 1995 my father faithfully watched “60 Minutes.”  Today he’s no longer with us.

So if the people in today’s younger generation aren’t glued to Fox and ABC like their predecessors, what are they watching?  They’re tuning in to The CW (average age 38) or Spanish-language networks Univision (36) and Telemundo (38).  Or they’re choosing cable channels or viewing TV shows online.  Or they’re not watching television at all.

 

MAY 7, 2012     FROM THE SUBLIME TO THE RIDICULOUS

Although there’s no religious test for public office in the United States, candidates are required to believe in something.  Americans never vote for an atheist.

But there’s nothing new under the sun.  Even before there was Christianity, ancient politicians were pious — no matter how preposterous the principles they were pretending to profess.

“All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, and ridiculous to the philosopher,” wrote Lucretius in On the Nature of Things.

Seneca agreed:  “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.”

And in his Politics, Aristotle explained, “A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion.  Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious.  On the other hand, they [fear to] move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.”

 

MAY 2, 2012     A DAY AT THE RACES

Exactly seventy years ago today, my father was in Louisville, Kentucky, for the big horse race at Churchill Downs.  What was it like?  Elmer Fudd describes the experience.

My father’s day was not at all “wousy.”  He bought two winning tickets on the Derby, and by the end of the day he was richer by $300 in today’s dollars!

I’ve added the story to the beginning of my earlier article about the Kentucky Derby.

 

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