It started as a discussion group for Methodist college students. However, the traditional concept of God no longer seems real to many people, we observed. We found that for us, at least, the creed was relatively unimportant so long as we all had a common purpose, namely to share our experiences with each other in order to give each other strength for meeting the world.
APRIL 24, 2016 BACK TO THE TRACK
When I visited this weekend, there werent many people in the lower grandstand watching the races. The two huge garages were mostly filled with the vehicles of slots players. In the background you can see one of those garages. Its location had a different purpose back in the day.
It was where we parked our TV trucks, as in my 1984 photo below.
To be fair, racing attendance isnt always as sparse as it was yesterday. I did find online a shot of the crowd on a Friday Fun Night, which you see below.
But I had come on a Saturday afternoon in April. Few fans crowded the rail to see the close finish of the second race. Maybe when the weather gets warmer . . .
APRIL 20, 2016 CAST OFF THE LINES!
APRIL 10, 2016 PRÊT-À-PORTER
In a snobbish April 6 essay for the New Zealand Herald (not on my usual reading list), Rachel Wells wrote in part, On Thursday, Swedish fast fashion retailer H&M will launch its first ever bridal collection. The most you will pay is $599. The launch of the affordable wedding gowns comes just weeks after fellow fast fashion giant ASOS launched its first bridal collection to the Australian market. Prices for ASOSs wedding gowns start from as little as $137.
I think its a little tacky. I am well aware that not every bride can afford to spend thousands of dollars on a bespoke wedding dress, but I cant help feeling that wedding dresses that cost less than your weekly grocery bill somewhat trivialise the significance and sanctity of a wedding.
A cheaper garment is ready to wear or off the rack, while a custom gown the only kind worthy of a bride evidently is bespoke. But that word bothers me.
I guess its the proper term if youre a tailor. No, you cant buy this suit Im constructing. Its not destined to hang on the display rack. Im not making it on spec to a standard set of measurements. Its bespoke. Im making it on the request of a specific client who has already spoken for it.
But until very recently Id never heard the word outside Albanys line in the fifth act of King Lear:
Shakespeare means the lady is engaged. Someones already called dibs.
To describe clothing designed for a particular person, lets use custom made. The word bespoke is bespoke. (Besides, shouldnt it be bespoken?)
APRIL 6, 2016 BURNING DOWN THE COUCH
Cook remarked, People are nameless and faceless in a mob. That leads to courage they wouldnt have in another situation.
Moreland concurred. Even nice people will do these kinds of things when theyre in a group. To be influenced by your conscience, you have to turn your attention inward. That tends to happen when youre by yourself. But the acts of a group draw your attention outward. That tends to short-circuit guilt when it comes to your values and beliefs.
Were basically selfish people who are prone to misbehave as long as we can get away with it. Well try almost anything if we think we wont get caught. ...And even if [we] are caught, the punishment probably wont be as severe because, well, everyone else was doing the same thing, werent they?
APRIL 3, 2016 DRONING
I now live outside Pittsburgh, which is currently making a big deal about its bicentennial. The 200th anniversary of its founding is long past, but this time were celebrating the 200th anniversary of the day when the state legislature promoted the town to full city status. The Borough of Pittsburgh became the City of Pittsburgh a mere legal distinction.
This is another example of something that mildly annoys me: the pompousness of local government employees who wear silly hats and give their agencies officious names like County of Allegheny or Department of Fire.
Although snow coated the windows of my car last night and lightning flashed, Major League Baseball cant wait any longer to start its 162-game schedule. Today will be Opening Day in Pittsburgh. The latest forecast Ive seen calls for a balmy 37 degrees at game time with a wind chill of 25.
Well, I dont. I prefer my baked beans in a little dish on the side, and my Cracker Jack in a little box. You can spice up my macaroni and cheese with jalapeños if you like, but I want to eat those nachos separately from my hot dog.
Others may like to add as many ingredients as possible to a sandwich, but I find such a pile very messy to handle. Of course, as a kid I was the kind of finicky eater who didnt want the gravy on my plate touching the broccoli.
APRIL 1, 2016 FICTION IS STRANGER THAN SPORTS
Because sports is merely the toy department of news media, sporting types sometimes play hoaxes.
In 1941, a group of stockbrokers wondered about the many college football results that were listed in tiny agate type in the New York Times. They suspected the newspaper was making up games to fill space. Slippery Rock State Teachers College? Come on! That cant be a real school, can it?
So the guys invented Plainfield Teachers College and began phoning in its scores. Plainfield Teachers? Thats right. Where is that, in New Jersey? Uh, sure. Theres no fact-checking in the toy department, so Plainfields fanciful results got printed. Bill Christine relates in this article how readers were regaled with tales of stellar performers like Johnny Chung, the greatest Chinese halfback ever to wear the mauve and puce.
A quarter century later, George Carlin as sports anchor Biff Barf asserted, I call em the way I see em. And if I dont see em, I make em up! No games today; however, weve got a few late football scores still coming in from the Far West. Guam Prep 45, Tahiti 14. Mindanao A&I 27, Molokai 10. Cal Tech 14.5, MIT 123. And heres a partial score: Philadelphia 29.
In the fall of 1965 I was a freshman on a campus near Cleveland. And this is not fiction: The Cleveland Browns were actually the defending champions of the National Football League. I had no TV in my dorm room, so I listened to local sportscaster Gib Shanley calling the Browns games on the radio.
Cleveland was also the source of my daily newspaper. Every morning, I bought a copy of the Plain Dealer for a window on the wider world.
The PD covered American college and pro football, of course. But it also had its own football scores coming in from the Far West. Each week that fall, columnist Bill Hickey reported on the exploits of the Pusan State Panthers.
That was not the end of imaginative sportswriting, of course. Two decades later, George Plimpton wrote about a Mets rookie with a 168-mph fastball. The story of Sidd Finch ran in SI on this very date in 1985. The date, of course, was April 1.
MARCH 28, 2016 HOW ABOUT FOULS PER ASSIST?
Long ago, when I was keeping stats for my high school basketball team, a teacher from the next county introduced me to a new statistical measure that he claimed to have invented: the Offensive Efficiency Rating. It was merely points per possession. Tracking this stat required some work, because we didnt normally count up a teams possessions. However, I referred to the OER occasionally when I was my college radio stations sports director.
Its still being used. ESPN SportsCenter reported that when Villanova shot 63% from the field to defeat Miami last week, the Wildcats 1.58 points per possession marked their best offensive efficiency in any game in the last five seasons.
Nowadays, of course, analysts tabulate all sorts of ratios. Before Duquesne met Nebraska Omaha in the CBI tournament on March 16, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said of Duquesne, Of all its points this season, 36.6 percent of them have come from 3-pointers, 26th most in Division I. Conversely, it said of Nebraska Omaha, Only 20.6 percent of its points are coming on 3s, the 14th-lowest mark in Division I.
Tons of statistics are calculated for all 351 Division I teams. The reporter searched all the categories to learn where the Dukes and Mavericks ranked, thereby discovering an additional Hidden Stat: Both teams rank among the top 20 Division I teams in tempo, with Nebraska Omaha fifth and Duquesne 19th.
Tempo? I hadnt heard of that one before; apparently its also called pace. I looked up the numbers myself. Sure enough, Nebraska Omaha races through 79 possessions per game and Duquesne 75½. (When they met, they really racked up the points. Duquesne won 120-112.) Virginia has the slowest tempo at 62.7 possessions per game.
I assume there are many other ratios out there that I havent yet discovered, such as put-back efficiency, which would be second-chance points per offensive rebound. Or how about blocks per foot, defined as blocked shots divided by the average height of the starters.
MARCH 25, 2016 A WELL-GREASED SWITCHER
During musical numbers, every camera shot was choreographed. The associate director counted the beats and measures until the next shot, as you can hear in this video and read about in this interview. Thats much different from the way my colleagues switch a sports event, which of course is unscripted. And its much more intense than editing a movie.
One commenter called this a job for adrenaline junkies who prefer to be safely seated inside. But how else can you make that many precise camera cuts in real time?
Another noted that the AD repeats a lot of numbers. The operator of Camera Three knows that most of the time when she says three shes not referring to him. Except sometimes she is.
Mark Evanier remarked, Like certain magic tricks, some things in television are more impressive when you know how they're done. And speaking of magic: If you go full-screen and look real careful at the various monitors on display in front of Ms. Havel, you may be able to figure out how they did that amazing transformation of the car during the number. Between the one-minute mark and the dramatic whip! pan, a Chevy is temporarily changed from dingy white to sparkling red.
And if that isn't enough, heres another control room, at halftime of Super Bowl 50.
MARCH 20, 2016 SAILING ON THE W.P.R.
MARCH 18, 2016 EVERYBODY RIDICULES ROBERT
I hear that the Columbia Broadcasting System is considering selling off its radio division. Nevertheless, I recently listened to a 1949 CBS radio comedy, My Favorite Husband, as one sometimes does when ones Sirius XM is tuned to channel 148.
I presume it referred to Robert Fulton, who was mocked for declaring he could propel a boat on the Hudson River without sails or oars. In 1807! It seems unlikely that laughing at Fulton was still a meme 142 years later.
Actually, the reference might have been only 12 years out of date. In the 1937 movie Shall We Dance, Ginger Rogers sang a Gershwin tune including the lines:
MARCH 14, 2016 PUNCH HIM IN THE FACE!
I was sitting near the stage of an outdoor arena in my little hometown. All around me, hundreds of adults were hurling insults at two men theyd never met a Mexican and a Muslim.
My father was beside me, and he joined in booing and heckling the foreigners. As a shy adolescent who on Tuesday would be starting the eighth grade, I was slightly embarrassed to be there.
The crowd shouted for the strangers to be clobbered and punished. They wanted to get them out of there. One was using the alias of Pancho Villa, the notorious Mexican bandit turned revolutionary. The other called himself Ali Pasha, The Terrible Turk.
This was, of course, a professional wrestling show at the Richwood Fairgrounds in 1960. I mentioned it at the end of this article. It was great entertainment for folks who enjoy that sort of thing.
There are people who know how to incite crowds like that, to whip them up to hate the designated villains. One such agitator was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame just three years ago.
Now that hes set his sights on the White House, his political followers have started to act like wrestling followers. But they dont seem to be play-acting. A riot could break out at any time.
It isnt only the demagogue whos responsible for the bad behavior of his rabble. Its the rabble themselves.
...I implore you, if you're thinking about voting for Trump, reconsider. You are only promoting chaos and hatred. I witnessed it firsthand. And trust me, this is not something you want to see in person. This is not what you want to happen to our country.
MARCH 13, 2016 ORIGINS
From whence do I come? Although many of my ancestors emigrated from Germany, my fathers surname is Thomas and my mothers surname is Buckingham. Those are both British.
MARCH 9, 2016 FRESH INFORMATION
Ive updated some earlier articles.
Here, a few of my fellow cast members from the play Dear Diary reunite in Florida.
Here, a biologist laments the medias fixation on poll numbers rather than issues.
And here, I explain how the late producer George Martin and I shared a difficulty (we couldnt play the piano fast enough). To solve it, on the Beatles album Rubber Soul it seems that Sir George used a technique Id recently developed.
MARCH 6, 2016 AND THAT'S THE WAY IT WAS
The leading candidate of today is praised for saying whatever is on his mind, which often turns out to be childish insults about his opponents. But in 1960, the candidates minds were on important matters of national policy. They were not bullies in sixth-grade food fights, as Bernie Sanders said yesterday. They didn't try to outshout each other. They behaved not like reality show contestants but like statesmen.
And four months later, I remember a TV set being brought into a third-floor classroom so we could watch the inauguration, where Kennedy inspired us to ask what you can do for your country.
MARCH 4, 2016 WHERE'S MY LANE?
I often turn left at the intersection shown below, from PA 910 onto Freeport Road. (The pictures are from Google Earth.)
Its hard to see the markings, especially on a rainy night. Where exactly should I go? There ought to be a Keep Right sign at 1, but there isnt. (Maybe there used to be, until someone cut the corner short and ran over the divider and knocked down the sign.)
Closer to the city, the left turn shown below is thoroughly marked. It's from the 40th Street Bridge onto PA 28, headed into Pittsburgh. Not only is there a Keep Right at 1, its flanked by a Do Not Enter at 3, and there are Wrong Way signs at 4 and 5. And there are arrows on the pavement.
Nevertheless, last Saturday morning 81-year-old Perry Kastanias made his left turn too sharp. He passed to the left of the Keep Right and headed down the off-ramp. Going in the wrong direction, he struck one vehicle and then collided head-on with a second. Mr. Kastanias did not survive.
Stay alert out there!