DECEMBER 26, 2014 POINTS FOR KRE'8'IFFYTEY
In televising college sports, I often encounter first names, or spellings of first names, that Ive never seen before.
For example, on womens basketball teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, there are players named Aaliyah, Arica, Ataijah, Ayisa, Brielle, Chanelle, Chania, Cortnee, Daneesha, DeAshia, Emiah, Emilee, Emmonnie, Erykah, JaeLisa, Jassany, JKyra, Kaela, Kalia, Karima, Kelila, Keyanna, Keyona, Khadedra, LenNique, Lyneé, MaKayla, Markisha, Millesa, Myisha, Mykia, Necole, Nigia, Nylah, Oderah, Roddreka, Shakayla, Shakena, Shawnta, Shayra, and Xylina among others.
Their parents gave them their unusual monikers. When you have several kids and every other family on your block has several kids, you dont want them to bear tired old names like Erica. You need to invent something distinctive like Arica or Erykah.
I think sometimes parents, particularly African-American parents, choose random euphonic syllables and then concatenate them to form a musically pleasing combination. Or they use existing names that fit that pattern. In many cases, its the middle syllable thats accented, as in Natasha and Malia Obama.
Mormons from Utah, on the other hand, don't go for poetic-sounding neologisms. They prefer to show how orthographically unconventional they can be. They're too clever, say I. We almost had a President named for a baseball glove.
DECEMBER 22, 2014 MY ANSWERS
Idiocy: When an egg falls in the forest, does the chicken make a sound?
Theodicy: Life is nonsensical. It isn't fair. So is anyone writing the script?
DECEMBER 16, 2014 TOUCHING THE STATE
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) has 12 geographic divisions. Its strongest division for football has always been the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL), comprising nine counties around Pittsburgh. ROOT Sports Pittsburgh televises WPIAL football. This year we saw Central Valley three times.
For one of our telecasts, the producer wanted to highlight how often Whitehead was involved in the action. One of the statistics I was asked to keep track of was his touches.
I wasnt sure what qualified as a touch. First I tried to figure it out using the English language. On any play when Whitehead made contact with the pigskin, he should be credited with a touch.
If that were the definition, the center and the quarterback should get touches on every play. If the quarterback put the ball in Whiteheads hands but then pulled it back out to carry it himself, Whitehead should get a touch, albeit a very brief one. If he attempted to catch or intercept a pass but dropped it, at least he touched it. If someone fumbled and Whitehead tried to recover but batted the ball away, at least he touched it.
However, I learned that incomplete passes and the like dont count. Also, interceptions are defensive plays. So I began listing touches as only rushes, receptions, and returns. But no, I was reminded, punt returns and kickoff returns are special-teams plays. It came down to only offense: rushes and receptions.
When I got home, I tried to confirm this by looking up touch in a list of football terms. It wasnt there. It isnt a football stat. Its a fantasy football stat, which is why I wasnt familiar with it. And touches do equal rushes plus receptions.
Pennsylvania has four classes for football based on the size of a schools enrollment. This year, our WPIAL champions in all four classes went on to win twice more, in the PIAA quarterfinals and semifinals, thereby reaching their respective state title games. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettes Mike White, this was the eighth such clean sweep for the WPIAL since the PIAA playoffs started 26 years ago.
All four of these WPIAL representatives happen to be public high schools, where athletes are required to live in their schools geographic district. Their opponents in the finals the best of the other 11 divisions across the state included one public school and three Catholic. Parochial schools can recruit any students they want, including athletes who live many miles away. St. Josephs Prep, in Philadelphia, has out-of-state players from New Jersey and Delaware. Theres some debate about whether its fair to make public schools, with their recruitment restrictions, compete against private schools.
Last weekend in the PIAA championships, one WPIAL school (South Fayette in Class AA) was able to play against another public school like itself. The WPIAL team won. But in the other three classes, the WPIAL representatives were defeated by Bishop Guilfoyle, Archbishop Wood, and St. Josephs respectively.
DECEMBER 11, 2014 DRESSED ALL IN FUR
Is Eric a bearded piano player? Why, yes; yes, he is. But two months ago today, he revealed two other personal characteristics both of which are big parts of who I am, he says. Neither is his Defining Characteristic, but they may be surprising to some of his readers.
What are they? Click on Snidely Tweeting 3 if you dare!
DECEMBER 6, 2014 WAY UP HIGH, SUDDENLY HERE AM I
Watching NBC's production of Peter Pan got me thinking. I imagined I was a youngster attending a live stage performance, with no prior knowledge of what was about to happen.
The play starts a century ago in a conventional way, with characters conversing in English accents about domestic matters. Then a strange boy enters through a window and tells strange stories about his home in a strange place called Neverland.
DECEMBER 4, 2014 HIS WIFE WASN'T MRS. RUTABAGA
From 1943 to 1947, Jimmy Durante teamed with Garry Moore (the nose and the haircut) on a radio show which I never listened to, on account of not having been born yet. Jeff Kallmans account is here.
However, I do remember each of these stars from 1950s TV, Moore hosting Ive Got a Secret and Durante performing his chaotic vaudeville routine at an upright piano. Stop da music! hed shout at any interruption. Stop da music! Everybody wants ta get inta the act! Im surrounded by assassins! Its a catastastroke!
Also in the 1950s, we elementary-school kids performed Frosty the Snowman for our beaming parents. Loudly we sang out, in even rhythm.
That brings us up to yesterday. The omnipresent seasonal background music included Frosty as performed by Durante, who was actually a talented musician who had helped popularize ragtime jazz in New York City as far back as 1908. Having no choice but to listen, I appreciated that he knew how to phrase the snowman's song more meaningfully than we schoolchildren did, delaying the in.
Thumpity thump thump.
I also remember an aging Durante singing September Song in the 1960s. The days dwindle down to a precious few: September. November.
And the Schnozzola had a funny-sounding pet name for the first Mrs. Durante, who died on Valentines Day in 1943. Thereafter when he signed off his broadcasts he waved goodbye and said Good night, Mrs. Calabash . . . wherever you are.
DECEMBER 2, 2014 PETER PAN
Last holiday season, NBC aired a live broadcast of The Sound of Music. This year theyre doing Peter Pan. It airs Thursday.
Of course, there have been many other versions of Pan over the 110 years since J.M Barrie first wrote a play about Peters adventures in Neverland. I remember especially the 1953 Walt Disney movie.
Among the shortest articles on this website is a letter to the editor that I wrote more than 20 years ago. Dr. Jack Kevorkian was helping terminally-ill people put themselves out of their misery, although assisted suicide was against the law.
Today, the right to die is still in the news. Scott Adams let us know how he feels. Here are some edited excerpts from his blog posting earlier this month.
When I was a boy, a television program was brought to me by a single sponsor. For example, Dinah Shores variety show was sponsored exclusively by Chevrolet, and the closing credits ran over Chevys theme song.
When I was a young man, advertisers realized that not everyone watched Dinah, so it was better to spread their message around to different audiences by buying spots in several different programs. But there were rules. For example, no more than one competing car company could buy time in a given show.
Also when I was a young man, CBS decided viewers deserved to be updated about news that broke between Walter Cronkite at 7 pm and their local newscast at 11. The network introduced, right in the middle of prime time, a 30-second headlines update. It was anchored by Connie Chung, as I recall. Almost immediately, however, the local stations claimed this time. At first, like CBS, they used it to inform us about stories that would be covered in more detail at 11. But then they stopped giving us any facts at all. The newsbriefs became merely teases promos to whet our curiosity so we would tune in at 11 to find out what was happening.
Now that I'm an old man, the automotive sector is very competitive, and every car company wants to buy advertising. On a show last night, when the two-minute window for local commercials came along, I first saw the stations weatherman. Theres a big storm coming. Will you have to change your Thanksgiving travel plans? Join us at 11 to find out. And then an announcer said, This news update is brought to you by Chrysler, imported from Detroit.
Fair enough. That was immediately followed by a car commercial, which I assumed would be for Chrysler. But no, when they finally got around to identifying the product it turned out to be Infiniti. Then there was a commercial for Chevrolet. And then there was a commercial for Nissan.
NOVEMBER 23, 2014 MIKE AND THE RADIO
The acclaimed film and stage director Mike Nichols died of a heart attack last Wednesday at the age of 83. I remember him from the comedy sketches he performed with Elaine May many years ago. Reading the obituaries, I learned some other details I hadnt known before.
His familys ancestral home had been in Siberia. They fled from Nazi Germany to the United States in 1939, when Mikhail was only seven. His physician father, known as Pavel Nikolaevich, became Paul Nichols in this country. Albert Einstein was a distant cousin.
At the University of Chicago, Mike enrolled as a pre-med student, and he joined classical radio station WFMT as an announcer. There, in 1953, he created a folk music program on Saturday nights that he called The Midnight Special, playing records but also inviting guests to perform live in the studio. Ive quoted Ronald Cohen in another article (about the radio station on my own college campus, where our live folk music program aired on Friday nights). Cohen writes that Nichols show combined "folk music and farce, showtunes and satire, odds and ends." With different hosts over the years, it continues on WFMT to this day.
Two decades later, Garrison Keillor started a similar radio program in Minnesota that he called A Prairie Home Companion. It also endures to this day. PHC plays no records but has been hosted by Keillor for all 40 years. Like many, he must have been inspired by classic Nichols & May routines like this one, in which a mother lays a guilt trip on her successful son. Many times have I heard Keillor and Sue Scott perform variations on this sketch.
Listening last night, I was reminded of long-gone television variety shows that blended music and comedy and even topical references. This week, for example, Keillor sang about a New York city where some neighborhoods have been buried under seven feet of snow. In Buffalo, Buffalo, thats how conditions are, he observed to the tune of Camelot.
Later, a performers brief Bob Dylan impersonation included the following lines that rang true for this bachelor. Mere hours before, having returned home from nearly 17 continuous hours in a TV truck telecasting four high school football championship games without a meal break, I had exhaustedly peeled off multiple layers of winter clothing, many of which had still not been properly put away.
Also last night, Keillor joined a guest for a medley of Cole Porter songs with some lyrics adjusted. As a boy, I used to see this type of specially-arranged entertainment on TV all the time. No expensive scenery was required, only a pair of stools. Heres an example from half a century ago, and heres an impressive combination of tunes.
NOVEMBER 17, 2014 YUMMY
I always wondered about the slogan used by an Ohio jam maker: With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.
#1 Do they mean that theyre saddled with a founders name so unimpressive that they have to overcome that handicap by producing a superior product? With a name like Wurst, well never be able to sell anything unless its the best.
#2 Or do they mean that their company has earned such a high reputation that they have to meet that expectation of excellence? With a name like Rolls-Royce, we cant afford to let our customers down.
NOVEMBER 11, 2014 SORROW FOR FORMER INDIVIDUALS AND THANKS
The TV behind me was tuned to a college football game. I heard a commercial come on, but there were no words, only a mournful dirge being played softly by a brass choir. I wondered who died.
Later, I heard the somber music again, and I bestirred myself to turn and actually look at the screen. The commercial turned out to be a recruiting spot for the United States Marine Corps.
During the Vietnam War, I was in college. Soldiers and Marines, many of them my age, many of them drafted against their will, were being cruelly sentenced to suffer and die in the jungles of Southeast Asia. To me, therefore, the scenes in the commercial did not have the desired effect.
I saw footage of serious-faced sweaty men and one or two women, swinging from ropes in basic training and handling deadly weapons on a battlefield. A row of young people, former individuals but now wearing identical dress uniforms, stood stiffly at attention. Armored personnel carriers tore recklessly across a meadow. Silhouetted helicopters flew toward an apocalyptic sunset.
As noted, this peaceful senior citizen was repulsed by these scenes. I have never wanted to sweat, or kill, or destroy, or stand at attention. I have never wanted to go to war. But I am not the commercials target audience. Its aimed at young people who aspire to be proud Marines.
Fortunately for our country, there have been more than a few such brave souls, now veterans, who have been inspired to do the work Im glad not to have to do.
NOVEMBER 6, 2014 JUST ASKING
Can someone be good without Gods guidance?
In my latest article, a Southerner named Tucksey is not shy about offering his opinion.