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ArchiveNOVEMBER 2017

 

NOV. 21, 2007 flashback   DON'T REPEAT YOURSELF

Do you remember when Billy Joel sang this song?

"...You said that only proves that I am crazy.
You may be right, I may be crazy;
But it just may be a crazy man you're looking for."

You probably don't, because he didn't keep using the same word.  What he actually sang was this:

"...You said that only proves that I'm insane.
You may be right, I may be crazy;
But it just may be a lunatic you're looking for."

In writing, why do we avoid using a word several times in succession?  Why do we replace it with synonyms wherever possible?

Dean Cochran raised this question in my high school English class.  We decided that it's because an oft-repeated word goes stale and loses its impact.

But I don't think that applies to the first version of the lyrics above.  "Crazy, crazy, crazy" would have even more force, wouldn't it?

Now I've come to believe it's more a matter of style.  We prefer to pepper our English with synonyms because we can.  We have more words to choose from than any other language.

In The Story of English, Robert MacNeil and friends noted that after 1066 and the Norman Conquest, there were three tongues spoken in England, and all three found their way into the modern English dictionary.

"Though French had the social and cultural prestige, Latin remained the principal language of religion and learning.  The English vernacular survived as the common speech....  The mingling of these three powerful traditions can be seen in the case of a word like kingly.  The Anglo-Saxons had only one word to express this concept, which, with typical simplicity, they made up from the word king.  After the Normans, three synonyms enter the language:  royal, regal, and sovereign.  The capacity to express three or four different shades of meaning and to make fine distinctions is one of the hallmarks of the language after the Conquest, as word groups such as rise-mount-ascend, ask-question-interrogate, or time-age-epoch attest."

And now writers using this language can alternate among several words for each concept, thus adding texture to their style.

 

NOV. 18, 2017    THE FLAIR WITCH PROJECT

Putting her Thanksgiving turkey in the oven, that's Elizabeth Montgomery as “Samantha.”  I think this episode of the TV series Bewitched aired in November of 1970.

Notice that she doesn't have to bend down to reach the oven.  But what's the deal with the levitating door?

I recognize this as a Flair built-in electric range from Frigidaire, which until 1979 was a division of General Motors.

When our family built a new house back in 1962-63, we installed a similar model.  It was the latest thing!

The electric “burners,” for heating pots and skillets and the like, were neatly concealed in the black-fronted bottom drawer.  When you pulled the drawer several inches toward you, the stainless steel box above it automatically moved away from you the same distance.  That uncovered the front two burners, one of which my mother demonstrates here.


Pulling the cooktop drawer further toward you revealed the back two burners as well.

Above this was the oven, surmounted at eye level by all the controls including an analog clock and timer.  Just below the control panel was a fluorescent light tube.

If the glass oven door had been hinged on the left or the right or the bottom, opening it would have presented an obstacle.  Instead, it moved forward a few inches to clear the light and then rose up out of the way, cleverly avoiding the pots and pans.

This design was witchcraft, I tell you!

 
NOV. 15, 2007 flashback   STRIKE!

When I arrived in Western Pennsylvania in 1974, the steel industry was slowly shutting down.  Manufacturers were cutting labor costs, and unions were no longer winning lucrative new contracts.

As I watched the local news, I thought there should be four desks in the studio:  News, Weather, Sports, and Strikes.  Every night there were several stories about labor unrest deadlines being set, no progress being reported, talks breaking off, walkouts entering their seventh month.

Unions are less powerful nowadays.  Many public employees can't strike at all.  When the air traffic controllers tried it, President Reagan fired and replaced them.  Why should public employees be allowed to withhold their services?  They're not working for some evil corporation; they're working for “we the people,” and we're the good guys, aren't we?

Update: Nov. 15, 2017 

Some of “us the people” become enraged when our employees ask for raises.  Teachers at Ringgold, currently walking a picket line near Pittsburgh over salaries and health care costs, were menaced by this terrorist last week.

The angry parent allegedly posted on Facebook:  “Easiest job in the world, but they need more money.  Shoot them and start over!”  “Guns don't kill people, I kill people.”  He was jailed on a felony charge of making terroristic threats.

Pennsylvania is one of 13 states where public school teachers do have the right to strike.  But it's a farce.  State law says they can walk out for a few weeks, provided that the students still get their mandated 180 days of instruction by the end of the school year in June.

So if the teachers do walk, as they did in the Seneca Valley school district October 15, the first thing that's done is to calculate when they must return.  The authorities determine the latest possible date to achieve 180 days, assuming that all vacations are cancelled and all holidays are cancelled except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Day, and Memorial Day.  In the case of the Seneca Valley district, that date is tomorrow.  Then everyone sits back and merely waits for the month-long strike to expire.

The teachers and the school board make a few negotiating noises, accusing each other of not bargaining in good faith, but neither side has any leverage.  The teachers aren't shutting down the education factory; they're only rescheduling their vacations.  They'll take their time off this month instead of during the Christmas and Easter seasons.  They'll still get paid for 180 days, so they're not losing anything.  Meanwhile, the administrators will still meet their production goals by the end of the year, so they're not losing anything either.

Who does lose?  The citizens.  Families must reschedule activities that they had planned for what they thought would be school vacations.  Students run into additional problems; for example, high school seniors miss deadlines for college applications.

What does the strike accomplish?  The teachers get to vent their frustration at failing to negotiate a favorable contract.  But the accusations they make against the school board, and the complaints that the board makes against them, turn community opinion against everyone connected with the school system.

There must be a better way for teachers' unions to exert pressure on their employers.  Unfortunately, I don't know what it is.

 

NOV. 13, 2017    RAIN DANCE

Sonny Perdue, once a Democrat, became the Trump administration's Secretary of Agriculture in April.

I remember that Sonny was the governor of Georgia in 2007 when the state was suffering a severe drought.  Atlanta's main water supply, a reservoir 30 miles north of the city, was at record low levels.  Unless the Lord sends the rain, the lakes all dry up and the crops die.

(The photo above actually shows the former Gale Lake.  It was taken recently by the Curiosity rover on the planet Mars.  But the principle is the same.)

Politicians had done all that was humanly possible to conserve water.  Therefore, Governor Perdue appealed to a higher authority, just as Governor Joe Frank Harris had done in 1986.  At a rally on the steps of the state capitol exactly ten years ago today, Perdue prayed for rain.

Then the sun came out.


Cartoon by Ham Khan in Funny Times, August 2017

Citizens object that such supplications ignore the separation between church and state.  Nevertheless another future Cabinet member, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, also prayed for God to send rain in 2010 when he was governor of Texas.  God'll get you for that, Rick.  Especially if you try to run for President.

These rallies reminded me of an old tale, which I then rewrote.  It's this month's 100 Moons article.

The story tells of another drought when a leader assembled his people to beg God to alter His divine plan, at least the part pertaining to precipitation.  On that occasion, however, a preacher hijacked the rally by performing a magic trick, then murdered his rival preachers.  It all happened about 2,880 years ago. 

 
NOV. 10, 2017    REMEMBER HOUSE CALLS?

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” Captain Obvious reminds us.  “But only if you throw it at him.”

Actually, “keeping the doctor away” is an outmoded concept that might puzzle the young'uns.

You see, in the olden times when I was growing up, if you were sick you didn't have to crawl out of bed, bundle up, and go visit the doctor at his office.  Instead, you dispatched a relative to his office to plead your case.  The doctor would respond by grabbing his little black bag and hopping into his buggy.

Well, I'm not really that old — you called him on the telephone, and he'd grab his bag and hop into his automobile.

Either way, the doctor would drive to your house to examine you and give you some medicine.  Your goal was to eat your fruit and stay healthy so the doctor stayed away.

A century ago, my grandfather needed surgery.  I think it was for a goiter, an enlarged thyroid gland.  My mother recalled that because they lived miles and miles from any hospital, the operation was performed right there in the farmhouse on the kitchen table.


Adapted from painting by George Rodrigue

Nowadays, tweets Ellen Carmichael, “In a world of Amazon Prime and UberEATS, I'm most surprised that we haven't returned to house calls for doctors.”

Personally, I dimly remember one house call when I was about seven and had the mumps.  I learned my lesson.  I've never come down with the mumps again. 

 

NOV. 8, 2017    YOU'D LOVE TO TURN US ON

I read the news today.  Oh, boy!
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire!

And though the holes were rather small,
They had to count them all.
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.

I gave a talk in '74.  Oh, boy!
Some thirty million watched the Super Bowl!

And though my cubes were rather small,
No need to count them all.
Now you know how many cubes it takes to fill the local Hol

-iday Inn's banquet room.

Ahem.

You see, it would require far fewer of those cubes to fill a paper sack.  Similarly, compared to a national TV network, our local cable TV channel had far fewer resources.  Yet it was that very localness that enabled us to compete for viewers, sort of.

In my new article Quoth the Program Director, I explain this madness.  A recipe is included. 

 

NOV. 5, 2007 flashback   THE LINE PAINTER

One of my colleagues tells of the time he found himself playing golf with three strangers.  He didn't want to come off as some big shot from the glamorous world of television, because he's not that kind of guy.  So he was evasive when one of the strangers asked him what he did for a living.  He joked, "Oh, I paint lines on the highway."

"Really?" said the stranger.  "That's what I do!  Do you work for the state highway department or the county?"

"Uh, actually," my colleague had to admit, "I'm not a painter.  Sorry; I was just trying to be funny.  I didn't mean to demean your chosen profession, but it was the most unimportant job I could think of on the spur of the ... of the ... this is not going well."

 

NOV. 4, 2017    FALL FASHION

First picture:  Keith Jackson when, for Billy Wilder's 1966 movie The Fortune Cookie, he pretended to be in the pressbox at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium.  I myself purchased a similar hat and coat and gloves.  Earmuffs even.

Second picture:  I still had that outfit when, for a 1981 cable TV commercial, I pretended to be reporting from a high school football playoff game.  Yes, this is how we football broadcasters used to go on camera.

 

NOV. 3, 2007 flashback   AVPROD2

Back in ancient times, more than twenty years ago, the second personal computer that I owned was a TRS-80 Model 100 from Radio Shack.  This early laptop had an advanced LCD display (eight lines of 32 characters, monochrome of course).  It featured software by Microsoft, some of which was written by Bill Gates himself.

Sportswriters found the lightweight Model 100 useful for typing their stories in the pressbox, then feeding them back to the newspaper office over its 300-baud modem.

I developed some other uses for mine, as I mentioned in this article.

One of them was a program that I wrote in BASIC to add up the segment times during the production of a TV show.  That's not a trivial problem.  Suppose a half-hour show starts at noon.  It has five segments, but only the middle segment will be live.  The other four segments are pretaped, and their lengths are 5:09, 2:59, 3:12, and 5:44.  If each of the four commercial breaks will be two minutes long, what length should we plan for the live segment?  When should it end?

My "Avprod" program could give me the answers with a minimum of fuss.  (They're 4:56 and 12:17:04 pm, respectively.)  And as with a regular spreadsheet, I could change a number and see what effect that had on other numbers.

Just for fun, I rewrote the program today for a modern computer.  If you want, you can download that Excel spreadsheet here.



NOV. 1, 2017    REMEMBERING 1968

When we look back on our lives, many of us have a special year that stands out as our favorite.  For me, it was the year I turned 21.

Historians might say 1968 was a terrible year.  Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.  The war in Viet Nam continued.  Protesters marched and rioted.  All around the globe, as Mark Kurlansky wrote in 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, “people were rebelling over disparate issues and had in common only ... a sense of alienation from the established order and a profound distaste for authoritarianism in any form.”

But on a personal scale, I greatly enjoyed 1968.  I was studying physics at Oberlin College and directing the college radio station.  I was living in a campustopia.  I wondered whether, after graduation, I'd ever be happy again.

Now I've decided to post a monthly article revisiting the day-to-day experiences of exactly fifty years ago.

I didn't keep a diary per se.  However, my archives include quite a bit of memorabilia from that time, including letters I sent and received, a collection of WOBC program guides, a lab notebook, and other souvenirs.  I can also link to additional details that I've previously posted on this website.

There's so much material that I'm actually going to begin a couple of months early, on the occasion of my first date with a young lady who would become my lifelong friend.  You can click here for that first installment.

 

 

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