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FEBRUARY\JANUARY 2016

 

FEB. 29, 2016    28 WOULD HAVE BEEN ENOUGH


That's by William S. Gilbert.  Click the picture to hear Kevin Kline and Angela Lansbury explain to Rex Smith that, because he has not yet reached his contractually mandated 21st birthday, he cannot resign.

 

 

FEB. 26, 2016 COMMERCIAL MUSIC

More than two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson was presiding in the brand-new White House, and over in Vienna, this young man in his thirties was composing music.  His name:  Ludwig van Beethoven.

His music is still popular.  Last night, I heard it twice within a few minutes as the sound track of TV ads.

 

• When I was in high school, I practiced Beethoven’s 1801 “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano.  I wasn’t talented enough to perform the exciting final movement properly, but Ji-Yong Kim certainly is, as we hear in a commercial for Android.  (Partway through, Ji switches to a tricked-out instrument with all the keys tuned to the same note.  If I were producing this commercial, I would have simply reprogrammed an electronic keyboard, but these guys actually designed and built a monotuned grand piano.)

• Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5” from 1808 famously begins with a four-note motif, G G G Eb.  In measures 6 through 9, the motif is restated by the second violins, echoed by the violas, and echoed again by the first violins.  Same for measures 10 through 13.

An Intel commercial that first appeared in 1994 also featured a four-note motif, Db Gb Db Ab.  This chimed “In-tel in-side” was created by Walter Werzowa, another Viennese composer who now works in Los Angeles.  Werzowa recently took his Musikvergnuegen crew to Austria and added additional echoes to Beethoven’s music, calling it “Symphony in Blue.”  Ending with a perfectly timed Intel signature, it’s now the sound track to this “Anthem” commercial.

Ludwig lives!

FEB. 23, 2016    MEMORY

The fresco on the right decorated the wall of what was probably a fashionable reception room in the Roman city of Londinium.  Painted in the late first century AD, it was buried face down when the wall was toppled to clear the ground for building the Forum Basilica.  The fresco was recently unearthed by excavators digging at 21 Lime Street in London.

The browsing deer at the top are cute, but my eye is drawn to the birds perching on the candelabrum.  They remind me of two blue parakeets from my youth.

Mine didn’t speak, but my grandmother’s seemed to have a remarkable memory.  Or did it?

The story is this month’s 100 Moons article.

 

FEB. 20, 2016    THE GENESIS BUG

Contrary to the Biblical calculations of Bishop Ussher (left), the first day of Creation did not begin at nightfall on Saturday, October 22, 4004 BC.

As I noted on this website seven years ago, I’ve learned that the “epoch” actually occurred at midnight on Thursday, January 1, 1970 AD.

Computers count time from that moment.  It’s now about 1455964699 as I write this.

This article reveals that you must not time-travel your iPhone or iPad back to the Creation and then switch it off.  The device dies.  Its warranty will be eternally without form and void, and darkness will be upon the face of the Apple.

 

FEB. 17, 2016    LET'S GO OVER THIS AGAIN

John Poindexter, the owner of the Texas ranch where Justice Antonin Scalia died, reported that the judge was found in bed with a “pillow over his head.”

Conspiracy theorists took notice.  “They say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow,” Donald Trump said Monday.  His host, conservative broadcaster Michael Savage, said this might point to murder.  There should be an investigation!

No, no, Poindexter told CNN yesterday.  “He had a pillow over his head, not over his face as some have been saying.  The pillow was against the headboard and over his head when he was discovered.”

A law-enforcement source told CNN that “agents know the difference between someone dying in their sleep and being suffocated to death with a pillow.”

The problem is the imprecise meaning of “over,” particularly when a person is in a horizontal position.  In this case I think “over his head” means “adjacent to what would be the top of his head if he were standing up.”

I sometimes encounter this ambiguity when describing graphics.  In terms of the y-coordinate,  T is over B.  But in terms of the z-coordinate, both are over the canvas-like background and casting shadows upon it.

It reminds me of the time my mother described the heavy snows when she was growing up on a farm.  This would have been around 1920 when she was seven years old.

They had to dig out an access route from the house to the barn, of course, and she remembered “the snow was over my head!”  I pictured a tunnel.  If she walked through it, she’d be surrounded by snow on all sides, including the ceiling of the tunnel above her.

But after further review, I realized that they’d merely shoveled the snow into piles alongside the path, and the piles were taller than the little girl.  That's still a lot of snow, but the original description had gone over my head.

 

FEB. 14, 2016    READ THIS, HUSSY!  HE'S MY VALENTINE

Japanese women could be so jealous.  Obviously — and I’m not kidding — the title of this print is “Woman Throwing a Snowball at a Girl Reading a Love Letter.”

The 18th-century color woodblock print, by artist Suzuki Harunobu, is part of the collection of the Allen Memorial Art Museum.  That's located at my alma mater, Oberlin College.  (Motto:  On the Forbes list of America's Top Colleges, we’re #46!)

 

FEB. 10, 2016    CAN'T STOP NOW

After identities were mixed up on the February 10, 1958, George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, the character Harry Morton delivered this goofy exit line:

“Don’t ask me.  Ask Mr. Morton here.  I’m Patrick O’Balderdash.  I own a sheep ranch in Australia, and it’s high time I went to milk them!”


“Why don’t all drivers out there stop at stop signs?” asked Keith Whitmore of Duquesne, PA, yesterday in a letter to the editor.  “I am tired of coming up to an intersection and having a jerk come up to the same intersection and blow through a stop sign.  Just by the grace of God I see these drivers first and avoid them before they hit me.  ...My dad used to say, ‘He must be late for his own funeral!’”

Personally, I haven’t noticed many cars failing to at least come to a “rolling stop.”  And almost everyone seems to stop at a red light and wait obediently for it to change, even with no other traffic in sight.  (Why do red lights command more respect than red signs?) 

On the other hand, my uncle Jim didn’t even slow down for a stop sign if he deemed it unnecessary.  If he could clearly see there were no other cars within half a mile of a rural crossroad, he’d fly through it doing 70.


Kinney Pike crossing Bethlehem-Claibourne Road near Richwood, Ohio

 

FEB. 4, 2016    YES, I HAVE HAIR

When my father was drafted during World War II, he was first sent to basic training.  But the Army realized that this middle-aged office manager was not cut out to be an infantryman.  He belonged behind a desk, not on a battlefield.  Therefore, they sent him to basic accountant training.  I’ve added three pictures to the early part of this article.

He served overseas but never saw combat.  During the year when his age was 35, he was stationed at a base at Chabua in northeastern India.

By the time he was 36, the war was over, and he sailed home with thousands of his buddies on what could be called a Mediterranean cruise.  I’m planning a new picture article about that experience for next month.

 

JAN. 31, 2016    THEY DON'T STAY ON THE SIDELINES

Catalysts actually do take part in chemical reactions, according to my Chemistry 2 professor fifty years ago.  You can read my “transcription” of his lecture in this month’s 100 Moons article.

 

JAN. 28, 2016    FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY

You’re looking above at a classic 1959 Chevrolet El Camino driving down North Franklin Street in Richwood, Ohio, exactly 50 years ago.  It was sunny that morning but very cold.  After a low of -2°, by eleven o’clock the thermometer had made it up to zero.  As you can see below, the Corn Crib popcorn stand outside Livingston’s store was not open for business.

Local insurance agent John Cheney had decided to take his business to a warmer clime.  On his last day in the office, he photographed the scene from his window, all the way up and down the block.  That panorama has made it onto this website, and you can find it here.

 

JAN. 25, 2016    HAVE WE THE WILL?

I’ve been revisiting some old speeches.  For example, when President George H.W. Bush took office, he said in his 1989 inaugural address:

We have work to do.  There are the homeless, lost and roaming.  There are the children who have nothing, no love, no normalcy.  There are those who cannot free themselves of enslavement to whatever addiction — drugs, welfare, the demoralization that rules the slums.  There is crime to be conquered, the rough crime of the streets.  There are young women to be helped who are about to become mothers of children they can't care for and might not love.  ...[But] our funds are low.  We have a deficit to bring down.  We have more will than wallet.

As I listened to that last line 27 years ago, I immediately objected.  No, Mr. President, it’s the other way around!  We have more wallet than will!

Don’t pretend that “we the people” are no longer able to keep our Constitutional promise “to promote the general welfare.”  America is the richest nation in the world.  Our wallet is bulging.  What we lack is the will to open it.

Dr. Martin Luther King, after his return from receiving the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize in Scandanavia, reported:  “In both Norway and Sweden, whose economies are literally dwarfed by the size of our affluence and the extent of our technology, they have no unemployment and no slums.  There, men, women and children have long enjoyed free medical care and quality education. This contrast to the limited, halting steps taken by our rich nation deeply troubled me.”

Concerned about the U.S. government deficit?  Increase revenue.  Those of us who can afford it ought to give back more to the commonwealth.

The corporate lobbyists have convinced the fearful and angry among us to contribute tax money for armaments and never-ending wars, but many tightfisted Americans have no inclination to contribute tax money to improve their fellow citizens’ lives.

“The question is whether America will do it,” Dr. King said in Washington four days before his death.  “There is nothing new about poverty.  What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty.  The real question is whether we have the will.”

 

JAN. 23, 2016    PACKERS vs CHIEFS

I watched Super Bowl I on television for the first time last night.  In 1967 I must have listened to this historic game on the radio in my college dorm room.  (I'm sure I listened to Super Bowl III that way in 1969.  Back then, I myself occasionally announced small-college football and basketball, doing play-by-play on the campus radio station.)

The first-ever showdown between the champions of the National Football League and the American Football League was televised by CBS and also by NBC, but tapes of those broadcasts are not available.  Therefore, NFL Films has dug film footage out of its vaults and matched it to an edited version of Jim Simpson’s NBC Radio broadcast to produce something resembling a complete telecast.  It’s only 90 minutes long because the dead time between plays is not included.  NFL Network aired it last night with a minimum of modern-day commentary.  Some thoughts from me:


Kansas City rookie Mike Garrett runs the ball on several nice plays.  We would meet in 1989 when I drove the Heisman Trophy winner back from South Bend to O'Hare following a USC telecast.

Green Bay’s Jim Taylor, fighting for extra yardage, is thrown to the ground after the whistle by Kansas City’s Buck Buchanan.  A 21st-century player would instantly take offense at this lack of respect and his teammates would start a fight, but Taylor does not even turn around.  He gets up and walks back to his huddle, leaving it to an official to get in Buchanan’s face and tell him off.

The Packers carry a 28-10 lead into the fourth quarter, and the announcers seem surprised that starting quarterback Bart Starr is still in the game.  He leads Green Bay to another touchdown, after which both teams switch to their backup QBs.  Such substitutions are uncommon nowadays.

To me, the officials occasionally appear frenetic, leaping over fallen players at the end of a play to mark the ball as quickly as possible.  We could have used energetic officials like that on some of our high school telecasts last season.  “Stats!  Is it going to be third-and-five or third-and-four?”  “I don’t know; they’re still discussing things and wandering around with the ball, and they haven’t marked it yet.”

Another good thing about the 1967 officiating:  fewer penalties and no challenges.

Also, it’s much easier to sit through a fast-paced 90 minutes of action than a complete live telecast that’s more than twice as long.

 

JAN. 18, 2016    REMAINING AWAKE

Last night the American Heroes Channel ran a documentary on the 1968 hunt for Martin Luther King’s assassin.  They called it Justice for MLK.

Perhaps they should have called it Revenge for MLK.  James Earl Ray’s pursuers were not seeking justice as much as retribution.

For Rev. King, “justice” was not the electric chair.  It was equal rights, and “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”  Justice was not about punishing bad people.  It was about guaranteeing good people the opportunities they deserve. 

I never met Rev. King, although as I related in this letter, I met his father at a photo op in Marion, Ohio, in 1970.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did visit my college several times, but that was before I arrived as a freshman in the fall of 1965.  Dr. King’s final speech on campus had been delivered that spring.

For easier reading, I’ve condensed the text of that commencement address, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”  In observance of MLK Day, I’ve posted it here under the title To Dream, But Not to Sleep.

 

JAN. 12, 2016    DIGEST VERSION: NOVELTY'S WORN OFF

Under the new four-team college football playoff format, the second annual national championship game last night (Alabama 45, Clemson 40) drew noticeably less interest than last year's much-ballyhooed first game.  At least around here it did.  Pittsburghers care about only Steelers football.  Clemson plays in the same conference as the University of Pittsburgh, but that means nothing.  Yesterday’s advance story about the upcoming college championship was buried on Page C-5 of the sports section.


I got an offer in the mail yesterday to re-subscribe to Reader’s Digest.  Apparently, the little monthly still exists.

Way back in 1958, when I was 11 years old, my family took a summer vacation trip that led ultimately to a rustic inn on Rangeley Lake in Maine.  I felt rather like the compulsive reader “Brick” from The Middle, because there wasn’t room to take any of my books.  There might be no television, and local newspapers would be rather sketchy.  I might be reduced to reading cereal boxes.

Therefore I slipped into my suitcase the latest edition of Reader’s Digest.  Like this copy, it contained one condensed book and 30 articles “of lasting interest” gleaned from various magazines.  I rationed myself to read exactly three articles each evening.

 

JAN. 7, 2016    YOURS IS ONLY MILD-TO-MODERATE

Commercials often feature actors portraying real people speaking directly to us.  “My rash was really bothering me.  So finally I went to the doctor.”

However, I’ve seen a pharmaceutical ad that begins, “My Moderate-to-Severe Chronic Plaque Psoriasis made a simple trip to the grocery store anything but simple.  So finally I had an important conversation with my dermatologist.”

Do you ever speak with such clinical specificity?  I think I’d like to have an important conversation with Humira’s ad writer.

That’s because I myself suffer from Moderate-to-Severe Chronic Advertising Copy Incredulity.

For example, on a rack of tanks outside a store, I saw this slogan:  “It’s not just propane.”  So of course I had to wonder.  “It’s not just propane?  What else do they put in that tank?  Rocket fuel?”

 
Mr. Hank Hill overheard my foolishness.  "That boy ain't right, I tell you what,” he grumbled to himself.

Then he told me, “Check out this here literature.  Blue Rhino is ’specially careful with their propane tanks and propane accessories.  That’s your ‘what else!’

“Every tank is cleaned, or even repainted.  Then it’s labeled with all your safety information and instructions.  They test it for leaks, fill it up with just the right amount of propane, and deliver it to the store. 

“Of course, they don’t deliver to Mega Lo Mart no more.  Not after the big blowup over there.”

 

JAN. 1, 2016    ANGST

Canadian comedian Norm Macdonald, currently appearing as KFC’s Colonel Sanders, sometimes posts lengthy items on Twitter by breaking them up into individual sentences.  This week he used more than a dozen tweets to transmit a piece he appears to have written 42 years before.

On December 20, 1973, Norm was growing up in Ottawa.  TV news reported the tragic deaths that day of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco (terrorist bomb in Spain) and singer Bobby Darin (open-heart surgery).  Also, 10-year-old Norm couldn’t stop thinking about two men who perished earlier in an attack on an airplane.

He was sure his own death was coming soon, somehow.  On December 30, here’s what he must have written.  I’ve edited the schoolboy spelling and punctuation.

I’m scared, because I asked dad about a thing on TV I saw.  Some hijackers threw a live man and a dead man off a plane.  My dad gets mad and says TV isn't for 10-year-olds.  I get more scared now, because I can see him scared.  It happened some days ago but is still shown.

Then one day last week I heard my dad say a prime minister in Spain was killed and “that ain’t no coincidence.”

My mother is crying.  My mother says nothing’s good no more, and even Bobby Darin's dead and he was better than Sinatra.  Dad says “the kid knew he was a goner.”

I couldn't sleep good for a while, but the world didn't go, and Christmas wasn't ruined.

And then today, a man with the scariest name of Carlos the Jackal tries to kill somebody.

I know I won't grow to be old.  Sometimes I wonder if I'll make it to 11, but most days I think I will — unless a weird thing happens.  But I don't for a second think I'll be 12.

You see, I've been watching what’s really happening in this world on the TV when dad's gone.  And when I tell my mom what’s happening, she cries.  And she holds me and tells me everything is all right.  But if everything is all right, why is she holding me and crying?

I whisper in her ear.  I tell her it gets darker every day, and can't she see it?  She pushes me away and goes to where the bottles and glasses are.

And then my mother’s brother barges in, and I know real fear, more fear than Carlos the Jackal.  I run to my room before he sees me.  I turn off the lights.  I am all under the covers.

My mother won't let anything happen.  I hear her sing “Mack the Knife” real hard, and I hear my uncle's hard voice tell her to shut up and give him a glass, but she sings louder.

I am finally found by sleep.

 

This felt familiar.  I too went through a period of pre-adolescent angst.  Fortunately, in my case, what frightened me was merely the global situation, not a drunk uncle.  In my case, my father didn’t tell me to stop watching the news, but my mother did tell me we shouldn’t worry about things over which we have no control.  I recalled the experience in this post-9/11 article.

Angst is “a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general.”  We fear horrible things are about to happen.  What things they may be, we cannot tell.

But demagogues and other politicians are quite willing to gain our support by scaring us even more, making us even more afraid.  The government is coming to take our guns!  The Mexicans are coming to rape our women and take our jobs!  The environmentalists will take our SUVs!  The Muslims will behead us!

Such overblown trepidations are no longer merely ludicrous, writes Scott Renshaw from Utah.  “I can't laugh at scary, delusional, desperately-frightened-of-change people any more.  There are too many of them, causing too much damage.”

“Who wouldn’t be depressed about the world today?” asks another Canadian, Margaret Wente, in a Christmas Day article.  “Everywhere you look, it’s doom and gloom.  So, turn off the news and consider this.  For most of humanity, life is improving at an accelerated rate!

“Most people find this hard to believe.  After all, we’re programmed to look for trouble.  Here are some reasons to start the new year on an optimistic note:

“This year, for the first time on record, the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has sunk below 10 per cent, the World Bank says.  This is a stunning achievement.  As recently as 1990, 37 per cent of the world’s population was desperately poor.  ...Malnutrition has all but disappeared, except in countries with terrible governments.  Eighty per cent of the world’s population use contraceptives and have two-child families.  Eighty per cent vaccinate their children.  Eighty per cent have electricity in their homes.  Ninety per cent of the world’s girls go to school.”

What about violence?  “We’ve never lived in such peaceful times,” says Wente.  “Wars and conflict fill the news, but they are at historic lows.  ...As for terrorist attacks, you’re far more likely to be killed by a collision with a deer.  ...Between 1993 and 2013, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, the rate of U.S. gun homicides fell by half, from seven homicides for every 100,000 people to 3.8 homicides in 2013.”

What about illness?  “We are gradually wiping out the worst of the world’s diseases. In 1988, polio was endemic in 125 countries. Now, there are just two: Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“Make a New Year’s resolution,” Wente advises, “to count your many blessings — including flush toilets, electric lights, polio vaccines, and peace.”

And the apostle Paul advises, “Do not be anxious about anything.”  His recommendation to the Philippians goes something like this:  “If there is anything excellent, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about those things instead.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.”

 

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