AUGUST 30, 2016 ASTRONAUT IN JEOPARDY
At Oberlin, a liberal arts college, I was a physics major. In addition to our departments rigorous studies, a simple non-technical course was offered for humanities students who needed to fulfill their science requirement. We patronizingly called it poets physics.
In a tweet last Friday, Ken Jennings intended to mention my alma mater. But he failed.
He was imagining a space traveler unable to find words to express the wonders around him.
AUGUST 19, 2016 ROBOTIC REPORTAGE
In college, I used to rip the news off our campus radio station's UPI teletype and read it on the air. Often my shift was the 5:30 pm newscast on Thursday. What sports stories break at that hour on a Thursday?
Nowadays we're told that the Associated Press is allowing a computer program to begin filling in the blanks. It uses the data from minor league box scores to generate baseball stories automatically. No human sportswriters are required to actually watch the games.
However, the robot isnt taking away anyones job. In this era of budget cutbacks, as I noted earlier about high school football, theres less and less actual in-person newsgathering going on these days. No reporter would have been assigned to these particular minor league games anyway.
AUGUST 15, 2016 THE RIGHT-HAND MAN
Vin Scully is drawing closer to the end of an amazing 67 years of broadcasting Dodgers baseball. Yesterday he called his final Pittsburgh at Los Angeles game.
I crossed paths with Vin only once. It was ten years ago in the restroom of the Dodger Stadium pressbox. But his assistant now theres a different story.
AUGUST 10, 2016 FEMINISTS ON THE RISE
In my lifetime, President Barack Obama noted one week ago today, weve gone from a job market that basically confined women to a handful of often poorly paid positions, to a moment when women not only make up roughly half the workforce but are leading in every sector from sports to space, from Hollywood to the Supreme Court. Ive witnessed how women have won the freedom to make their own choices about how theyll live their lives. Thats what 21st-century feminism is about: the idea that when everybody is equal, we are all more free.
Indeed, many professions were effectively closed to women when I was a young man in 1970. But that didnt stop fellow Oberlin College graduate Jan Olson. She was going to be a doctor. She applied to several medical schools including the Yale School of Medicine, only to discover that Yales admission policies favored men. Jan got herself accepted elsewhere.
Some mossbacks didnt trust physicians of either gender, as I later wrote to Dr. Olson.
Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. Back in the first year out of college, I was. Applying to med schools, Jan was. Also, she was conflicted about her love life. She wrote,
The rest of that poem, and the one I wrote in reply, are to be found in this month's second installment of Letters from Jan: Readjustment.
That sounds like a lot, but due to inflation at the time, the large-denomination bill was barely worth a couple of bucks American. Due to subsequent inflation, nowadays the souvenir isnt worth the paper its printed on.
AUGUST 1, 2016 AWAKE, BETTER ANGELS!
When I consider the possibility of Donald Trump becoming Commander in Chief, two specters haunt me. One is Donald Trumps incompetence. The other is his voters hostility.
There is nothing on Mr. Trumps résumé, the Washington Post editorialized between the conventions, to suggest he could function successfully in Washington. The lack of experience might be overcome if Mr. Trump saw it as a handicap worth overcoming. But he displays no curiosity, reads no books, and appears to believe he needs no advice ... whether he convinces himself of his own untruths or knows that he is wrong and does not care.
Paul Krugman wrote, You cant run the U.S. government the way he has run his ramshackle business empire. We know about his stiffing of vendors, his profiting from enterprises even as they go bankrupt, his seeing contracts as mere suggestions and clear-cut financial obligations as starting points for negotiation. We also know that he sees fiscal policy as no different; he has already talked about renegotiating U.S. debt. So why should we be surprised that he sees diplomatic obligations in the same way?
He has made clear, the Post continued, that he would drop allies without a second thought. The consequences to global security could be disastrous.
I remember 1972, when the Democrats nominated Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri for Vice President. Two weeks later, we learned he was on the anti-psychotic drug Thorazine and had received electroshock therapy for clinical depression. His doctors said Eagleton's depression could recur and might endanger the country. He was forced to withdraw on August 1. The Democratic National Committee had to nominate a replacement.
But things are different in 2016. Crazy Donald is not going to give up.
Although only one out of every 24 Americans cast a ballot for him in the primaries, that still amounts to 13,300,472 votes a total that Trump proudly trumpets. Why do so many support him?
Typically the response is, Trump understands what its like to be me. In this economy, Im having a hard time making ends meet. I know its not my fault. So whose fault is it? Somebody has to be blamed! I blame blacks and foreigners. Also those elite politicians in Washington. Trump is not a know-it-all politician. He speaks his mind. He talks the way I talk.
That, of course, is the problem!
Trump does talk like an egotistic white male not a statesman. His voters cheer for a demagogue who will bully the rest of the world into doing whatever benefits them. He exploits their fears, slams the door in the face of outsiders, demeans dissenters with crude nicknames.
Even if he loses in November, his supporters will still be with us. The election must have been rigged. Find a scapegoat! And lock her up! Their seething anger might be a greater long-term threat to the nation than crazy Donald himself.
JULY 22, 2016 GRAPHICS TIP
These days, political news comes too rapidly for me to keep up. So does news about violent events. For example, I don't think President Erdogan of Turkey was expecting a coup attempt on Friday. And then this morning, the #2 headline in my news feed warned of another assault:
Froome expecting Quintana attack on Grand Colombier
Now what? Is Quintana a new terrorist group? I was not familiar with any of those proper names. Clicking on the story, however, revealed that the subject was the Tour de France bicycle race, where Chris Froome is the defending champion and Nairo Quintana is known for his ability to launch sustained and repeated attacks on ascents of steep gradient.
I actually do watch some of the Tour on TV, but I didn't know the names because I pay absolutely no attention to the competition. I'm still unclear on the concept of a peloton. Instead, I watch the beautiful scenery unfold. It's almost like exploring the back roads of France from a tour bus.
At one point we glimpsed an aerial view of a lovely little village alongside a river, dominated by an ancient square stone tower atop a hill. I needed to turn to the Internet to learn that the town was Cessenon-sur-Orb and the tower was the only remaining part of a fortress that was probably built in the ninth century. That's the sort of thing that interests me.
Did you know that I once helped broadcast a GOP political convention in northern Ohio? This happened so long ago that the delegates nominated a moderate Republican for President!
JULY 14, 2016 A COUPLE OF UPDATES
When I started working in television 46 years ago, I worked for one cable TV company and then another. Each cable system needed to fill the dial with a full 12 channels, so they originated one themselves. Most of the time this channel ran automatically. Viewers heard background music and saw an automated display of weather conditions and messages. Some of the latter were paid local advertisements, but subscribers could also request public service announcements for their organizations. Cablecasting these PSAs was good for business.
Also on July 1, a Mississippi law was about to go into effect. It would have violated freedom of religion, because the state would have imposed the opinions of a favored group of churches upon everybody. The bills sponsors didnt see it that way, of course.
Amid lobbying from Baptist and Pentecostal groups, the Associated Press explains, the Republican-led Legislature passed House Bill 1523 this spring. The law would have protected three Baptist and Pentecostal beliefs: that marriage is only between a man and a woman; that sex should only take place in such a marriage; and that a persons gender is determined at birth and cannot be altered.
At the last moment, however, a federal judge blocked the law, saying it unconstitutionally establishes preferred beliefs. Thats the very opposite of religious liberty.
The states Democratic attorney general, Jim Hood, announced yesterday that despite pressure from his governor, he wont file an appeal against the judges ruling.
JULY 10, 2016 OH, IT'S CRYIN' TIME AGAIN
Thats just one story Jan Olson told me. In the same letter she also wrote, The way I tend to approach religion is not to ask Does God exist? but to ask What is God?
But not all the mail I received from her was that serious-minded. In the coming years shed excitedly describe 14 newborn rats. And a goalie husband. And a kicking, wriggling, twisting, jiggling, laughing, giggling, smiling little boy. And LIVERS!
As I mentioned last month, my friend has passed away. Now Im starting to post excerpts from a decade of her correspondence. You can find the first batch, including the tale of crying in the snow, at Letters from Jan.
JULY 5, 2016 LASSIE NEEDS US! WHAT IS IT, GIRL?
Sometimes, somehow, when an animal is in distress it knows to ask a human for assistance.
We jump ahead to this May, alongside Mill Creek near Interstate 75 in Cincinnati. Police Sgt. James Givens was parked in his cruiser. There were geese in the vicinity. Normally they dont come near us, he said. I always thought that they were afraid of people, and people say they will attack you if you get close to their younguns. But then a mother goose came knocking on his car door.
It's like he knew we were there with the intention of helping him, said Dr. Lisa Marabini, who with her husband Dr. Keith Dutlow founded the Animal and Wildlife Area Research and Rehabilitation Trust. The elephant approached the two veterinarians; they tranquilized and X-rayed him and treated his wound. AWARE Trust says the elephant is recovering inside the park, and the vets will return for routine checkups.
Dr. Marabini noted that, even after all the harm humans had done him, Pretty Boy was remarkably gentle towards the people who helped him. I never usually feel totally comfortable getting very close to a wild elephant, she said. But there were no aggressive vibes coming from him whatsoever. He literally emanated serenity.