On this website, I've built hundreds of pages since 2000, never intending them to fit onto newfangled smartphone screens.  But this one page does fit!

It consists of reformatted versions of the most recent posts on my regular home page.

You can return there by clicking Home.

Then try rotating your phone to read other pages.

 


Oberlin's Class of 1969 50th Reunion Website is now online!  If you're a member of our class, click the image below, then click on “Join Here.”


 

NOV. 16, 2018
MAY CAUSE SENSORY OVERLOAD

Sometimes on the radio, a 30-second car commercial concludes with five seconds or so of impossibly rapid speech to qualify the promises that have just been made.

Those disclaimers are legally necessary.  “Based on R.L. Polk & Company registration data for April and May.  Your mileage may vary.  Approved trade-in required.”  But speaking them normally would take up half the commercial, which would have to be extended to 45 seconds.  Therefore the legalese is digitally sped up into gabble.  The sponsor doesn't care whether you actually understand it.

The same considerations apply to television.  To avoid being sued, Subaru has to tell viewers they mustn't allow their dog behind the wheel.  This driver is a skilled professional on a closed course.  He earns a lot of kibble.

Subaru's warning is squeezed to the bottom of the screen.  Can you read it down there (arrow)?  I've magnified it for you.

Viewers who wish to comprehend more complicated automotive fine print can freeze the video for a minute or so.

On the other hand, ads for prescription drugs must meet more stringent standards.  These disclaimers do take up at least half the commercial time, because Big Pharma is required to clearly state the possible side effects of their miracle medications — up to and including death.

And an even scarier side effect could soon be disclosed:  the cost.  Although insurance often reduces what consumers actually have to pay, Health and Human Services says the ten most commonly advertised drugs have list prices up to $11,000 per month (or usual course of therapy).

A month ago, HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar II announced a proposal to require television ads for prescription drugs to include their list price if it's greater than $35 a month, “displayed on the screen in type that is large enough to read.”

Pharmaceutical companies would prefer not to disclose this information, but maybe soon we'll see something like this on our TV screens.

 

NOV. 13, 2008 flashback
MORE MISLEADING PERCENTAGES

There are four major state-related universities in Pennsylvania, including Penn State.  There are also 14 smaller state-owned universities with an additional 113,000 students.  According to a report yesterday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, most of the presidents on these smaller campuses will be receiving salary increases of as much as 11 percent.

When salaries rise, eyebrows rise.  The economy is worsening, state financial support of higher education is being reduced, and students are paying more in tuition to make up the difference.  Is this the time to be giving out raises?

Most people understandably object when they see top executives getting bigger bonuses while they themselves endure cutbacks.  They should consider the bigger picture.

•  Competition makes higher salaries necessary to retain highly-qualified executives.  According to the article, "The recipient of the biggest percentage raise was Mansfield University of Pennsylvania President Maravene Loeschke, whose salary was upped by roughly 11 percent, to $189,195, this year. The raise includes an $8,547 merit increase and a $9,708 'market adjustment' to bring her pay closer to what peers on comparable campuses around the country make."

•  Percentages can be misleading.  The raises seem large when compared to the previous salary, but they're practically infinitesimal when compared to the total operation.  Mansfield University of Pennsylvania's operating budget is reportedly $52 million.  Dr. Loeschke's raise amounts to less than 0.04% of that budget.  If she declined her raise and instead distributed the money among her students to help defray the cost of tuition, each student would receive about five bucks.

•  And she's already saved Mansfield 21 times her raise, or $383,000 a year, by eliminating football a couple of years ago.

 

NOV. 10, 2018
T.B. THOMAS AT YOUR SERVICE

There's a new old place to eat just down the street.  I'll get to that eventually.  But first ...

A century ago, many men used two initials, like H.R. or H.G., instead of their first name.  Here are two examples.

Also, my grandfathers were H.G. Buckingham and H.F. Thomas.  The latter had a brother whom everyone knew as E.O. — more euphonious than his full name, Emmet Orval Thomas.

1954:  In Richwood, Ohio, we moved to a house across the road from the Cramers.  They farmed and sold Cushman motor scooters.  I heard Mr. Cramer addressed as R.B., and I assumed his full name was something like Riley Bernard.  But I was wrong.  His first name actually was Arby!

1964:  In Boardman, Ohio, Leroy Raffel and his brother Forrest Raffel opened a Western-themed fast-food restaurant.  Following the unimaginative convention of the time, Leroy & Forrest could have used their first initials to dub their new venture the “L&F Sandwich Shop.”  However, they were sharing the business, so they decided to use their shared last name:  “The Raffel Brothers' Place.”  Or “The R.B.'s Place.”  Or “Arby's.”

Although R.B. stood for Raffel Brothers, a lot of folks (including me) assumed it meant Roast Beef.  The sign's big gold capital letters encouraged us in this belief.  It turns out we were wrong.

Nevertheless, the brothers hoped hungry hombres hankering for Roast Beef would naturally think of Arby's.

RoBee's, established in 1967, was sued for trademark infringement.  They had to sign a deal with a movie star and rebrand as “Roy Rogers” restaurants, although they did get to keep their chuck-wagon logo and flavored super shakes.

Today there are 3,415 Arby's restaurants worldwide.  Down the street from me, there's one that may have been among the first hundred built, according to franchisee Jim Noble.

The Noble family has owned this location for fifty years.  They've remodeled three times, but the restaurant, seen here from Google Earth, was showing its age.  This year they demolished it (except for the kitchen) and rebuilt.

Located on a small lot, the new building had to be narrowed from the standard Arby's design in order to retain its parking spaces.  It does, however, have indoor plumbing.  (Well, the old one did too.  But like a gas station, the restrooms were around back and customers were obliged to go outside to access them.  Now there's an interior hallway.)

BEFORE

AFTER

Although the new building appears to have added a second story, as far as I can tell there's nothing up there.  It's like an Old West saloon with a false front.

Think I might just mosey on down to Arby's place and get me one of them Beef 'N Cheddars!

 

NOV. 8, 2018
I COULD HAVE PREDICTED THIS

In case you haven't noticed, the forecast in my previous post has become inoperative.  The much-hyped midterm elections were not particularly chaotic.  Never mind.

Instead, we've returned to our usual chaos — emerging in particular from the White House and also from the nation's 300,000,000 firearms.

So last night, a man walks into a bar with a handgun.  Twelve dead in Thousand Oaks.  Someone else shoots up a parked car in Youngstown, killing a man and woman and their baby.  Three dead in Ohio.

In the first 300 days of this year, through the October 27 massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, there were 47,220 incidents of gun violence in the United States.  That includes 1,321 accidents and 297 mass shootings.  As a result, gunfire killed 11,984 people.

This does not include an estimated 18,000 suicides by gunshot during that period.  On average, adding the two numbers together, guns kill a hundred Americans every day!

 

NOV. 6, 2018
CHADS WILL HANG,
FINGERS WILL POINT

Remember 18 years ago, when a very important election was followed by five weeks of controversy before a winner could be declared?  This time we have many close contests nationwide, and frenzied partisans will not hesitate to file lawsuits.

Mark Evanier predicts today “will be the messiest Election Day in the history of Election Days,” and not just because of heavy turnouts.  We'll hear about voter intimidation and malfunctioning machines and provisional ballots and challenged outcomes.

“You may be eager for this all to be over on Tuesday night before you get to bed but it probably won't be over on Tuesday night.  We may all go beddy-bye with many cliffhangers still dangling out there and people charging fraud over votes their side seems to be losing.  In some cases, they may even be right.”

 

NOV. 4, 2008 flashback
WHO'S RED?  WHO'S BLUE?

Awaiting tonight's television coverage of the Presidential election returns, I naturally think about TV graphics, because that's my vocation.  In particular, I consider the representation of the electoral vote on a national map.  As analysts declare one candidate or the other the winner in a particular state, that state is filled in with the appropriate color.

At first the colors were arbitrary.  Red and blue were obvious choices, so that the map would bear the colors of the flag, but which party should be red and which should be blue?  I recall in the not-too-distant past that NBC did it one way and CBS the other.

Some electoral maps used blue for the elephants and red for the donkeys, as evidenced by this representation of the 1988 election.  To me, this was the logical choice.

Blue described the Republican party, made up of blue-blooded wealthy elites, prissy blue-nosed social conservatives, and true-blue patriots.

Red described the Democratic party, more to the left politically and thus closer to the Communists with their Red Army and Red Square.

But around the turn of the century, somehow the opposite coloration became the rule.

UPDATE, NOVEMBER 5, 2012:
Further research indicates that this happened almost exactly at the turn of the century.  For more than a month after the 2000 Presidential election, the outcome remained in doubt.  The story was on TV screens day after day, illustrated by an omnipresent electoral map.  There had been no prior agreement among the networks to color Bush states red and Gore states blue, but a majority happened to use that scheme, and the others began conforming to it to avoid confusing viewers who were flipping between the channels.  Republican = red and Democrat = blue became the standards and have remained so ever since. 

Where's the logic now?  There is none, except for the fact that Republican and red both begin with the letter R, and the fact that after the 1960s (when Lyndon Johnson came out for civil rights and Richard Nixon adopted a "Southern strategy") the red-meat-lovin' rednecks began voting for the GOP.

However, I'm glad that we've agreed on a single color scheme, even if it's not the one I would have chosen.  Standardization allows us to use the terms "red state" and "blue state" as an unambiguous political shorthand.

And we can hope that tomorrow all the rancor of the long campaign will begin to fade away and we can once again join in singing the praises of these united States, e pluribus unum, neither white nor black, neither red nor blue but "O beautiful ... for purple ...."

2018 update

Sometimes I feel surrounded, marooned on one of the few blue islands in a Red Sea of intolerance.

The gold numbers mark the places I've resided for a year or more of my life.  In 2016, the people in every one of these counties voted for Trump, except for Pennsylvania's Allegheny County where I now make my home.

 

NOV. 2, 2008 flashback
CORPORATE EARNINGS WAY UP

"CNX Gas profit soars by 115 percent," read the headline last week.  I suspect many will consider this another example of an energy company making obscene profits while the rest of us have to pay high prices and cope with a recession.

However, we have to be careful when comparing year-to-year profits on a percentage basis.  In some cases, this statistic could be misleading.

Suppose that Sam's Store had a bad year in 2007, barely breaking even.  Sam's revenue was $100,000, but his expenses were $99,985, so his profit was a measly 15 dollars.  "Well," said Sam, "I guess I'll cancel that annual ad in the high school football program.  That'll save me 60 bucks."

.

2007

2008

.

Revenue

$100,000

$100,000

no
change

minus Expenses

$99,985

$99,925

down $60
(–0.06%)

equals Profit

$15

$75

up $60
(+400%)

Nothing else changes, and in 2008, Sam has another $100,000 in revenue.  But his expenses are now only $99,925, so his profit is 75 dollars.  That's up 400% from the year before!  Better slap a windfall profits tax on Sam.

 

NOV. 1, 2018
I WANT TO SAY KADDISH

Funeral services for the 11 people gunned down last Sabbath at the Tree of Life Synagogue are being held this week in Pittsburgh.  Among the prayers is the Kaddish (“Sanctification”), the traditional Jewish prayer of mourning.

I'm told the Kaddish does not mention death, but rather life.  Leonard Bernstein wrote a symphony exploring both aspects: the popular connotation of the prayer as a kind of requiem — “Betrayed, rejected ruler of the universe, I will say this final Kaddish for you” — and its celebration of creation.

I recall listening to the original recording of this symphony fifty years ago.  Parts of the text are included in this month's installment of the series about my life in 1968.

I also recall listening to Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé suite, and the recently-released “Revolution” by the Beatles, and the recently-synthesized Switched-On Bach by the transgender musician Walter/Wendy Carlos.  And I summarize our radio station's election-night coverage.   Click here.

 

OCTOBER 31, 2018
SPORTSCASTER U.

Tomorrow evening, the Newhouse School at Syracuse University will award its sixth annual Glickman Award for leadership in sports media.  The award is named for Marty Glickman from the Class of 1939.  Last year's winner, NBC's Mike Tirico '88, will present it to Ian Eagle '90.

It wasn't for sportscasting that I attended Syracuse for my Master's degree in radio and television, but the university certainly has graduated a long line of outstanding play-by-play people including Bob Costas of NBC, Marv Albert of TNT, and Beth Mowins and Sean McDonough of ESPN — all former Glickman honorees.

 

OCTOBER 29, 2018
GHOST STORY

Most Bible-believing folks consider it a sin to seek guidance from any spiritual source other than God.  Horoscopes, psychics, Tarot cards, palm readings, fortune telling, crystal balls, Ouija boards, astrology, contacting the dead — they're all of the devil!

Leviticus 20:6 warns us, “As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritualists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.”

But everyone has questions about the future.  Even great rulers have questions.

In my latest retelling of a Biblical tale, the King of Israel secretly goes undercover and resorts to necromancy to learn his fate.  It's Witchcraft!

 

OCT. 27, 2008 flashback
SOMEBODY TOLD ME

Jim Krenn was late for work again this morning at WDVE-FM's Morning Show, but he had a new excuse.  He explained, “Somebody told me this is the week that we set our clocks back.”  This is in fact the week, although daylight time won't end until Sunday, November 2.  The switch used to happen on the last Sunday in October, and some clocks are still programmed to reset themselves on that date.  When Krenn saw such a timepiece, he thought that the changeover had already happened.  Therefore, he set the rest of his clocks back, and this morning he slept in.  Somebody told him, and he wanted to believe, so he accepted the idea without further confirmation.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interviewed people at a coffee shop in Greensburg, PA.  One said he's voting for John McCain “‘because he's a Christian.  Obama is not.  I heard he's a Muslim and that he took the oath of office on the Koran.’  Told that was untrue, he shook his head in disbelief.  ‘It's what I've heard and what my whole family has heard.’”  Somebody told him, and he wanted to believe, so he accepted what he'd “heard” as true without checking further.

The newspaper found another man who said he wouldn't vote for Obama “because he'd raise capital gains taxes.  I'd have to go on assistance.”  Does this man even know what capital gains are?  He certainly must not be aware that Obama's proposal to increase the maximum tax rate on them from 15% to 20% applies only to families earning more than a quarter million dollars a year.  Such families need not worry about having to go on welfare.  But he heard “tax increase” and thought it applied to him, so that was all he needed to know.

Can such misapprehensions be corrected, or have the people hardened their hearts and their heads?

Robert Burton relates how he “jokingly asked a health club acquaintance whether he would change his mind about his choice for president if presented with sufficient facts that contradicted his present beliefs.  He responded with utter confidence.  ‘Absolutely not,’ he said.  ‘No new facts will change my mind because I know that these facts are correct.’

“In the current presidential election, a major percentage of voters are already committed to ‘their candidate’; new arguments and evidence fall on deaf ears.  And yet, if we, as a country, truly want change, we must be open-minded, flexible and willing to revise our opinions when new evidence warrants it.  Most important, we must be able to recognize and acknowledge when we are wrong.  Unfortunately, cognitive science offers some fairly sobering observations about our ability to judge ourselves and others.”

Have Americans begun to treat their political beliefs like their religious beliefs, sacred and immutable, so that those who disagree must be crazy or evil and their Satanic arguments must be ignored?

In another article, Jonathan M. Gitlin notes, “We like to think that people will be well informed before making important decisions, such as who to vote for, but the truth is that's not always the case.  Being uninformed is one thing, but having a population that's actively misinformed presents problems when it comes to participating in the national debate, or the democratic process.  If the findings of some political scientists are right, attempting to correct misinformation might do nothing more than reinforce the false belief.”

It's disturbing to think that people believe what they want to believe, and any attempt to convince them otherwise is counterproductive.

2018 update

"Proud man,
dressed in a little
brief authority,
most ignorant
of what he's
most assured."

Measure for Measure, Act 2, Scene 2

Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center writes:

"We've documented a nearly 20 percent rise in the number of hate groups coinciding with Trump's campaign and presidency — and there's been a sharp uptick in hate crimes."

The Inciter in Chief encourages his fanatics to believe it's okay to hate everybody else ... Muslims, refugees, Democrats.  Kick them out, lock them up, blow them up.  And don't forget journalists who report things you don't want to hear.  Cut off their fingers, cut off their heads if you must.

On Monday, CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta said:

"At rally after rally after rally, having the President of the United States whip people up into a frenzy and attack the press is the most depressing thing that I've ever witnessed as a journalist.  That's the Trump effect. It has normalized and sanitized cruelty."

 

OCTOBER 24, 2018
UNITED NATIONS DAY

Today is U.N. Day, so it's time for my latest article, Stepping Back with the Stevensons

Adlai Stevenson, the U.N. Ambassador from 1961 to 1965, is the key figure.

I focus on one weekend between his two campaigns as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States, a weekend when he visited his relatives at my future college and was interviewed on my future radio station.

Incidentally, the only Stevenson whose path ever actually crossed mine (at the Albany airport on January 20, 1992) was Adlai's second cousin once removed, McLean.

 

OCTOBER 23, 2018
THE THREE-MINUTE LAYOUT

The first game of the 2018 World Series will be played tonight.  Baseball fans remember the first game of another World Series 30 years ago.  With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, pinch-hitter Kirk Gibson hit a two-run home run to win it for the Dodgers.  Oakland pitcher Dennis Eckersley dejectedly walked off the field, making this the first round-tripper in Series history to be referred to as a “walk-off·” home run.

When something exciting happens during television broadcasts, the producer often tells the announcers via their headsets to “lay out.”  That means stop talking.  Shut up and let the pictures tell the story, along with the sounds of the celebrating fans.


On radio, “laying out” doesn't work as well because there are no pictures.  The audience hears the fans cheering wildly, but why exactly?  What just happened?  What's going on?

Nevertheless Don Drysdale, calling the game on Dodgers radio that night, did lay out.

He could have recounted the pitch and the long fly ball.  He could have described Gibson limping around the bases and being mobbed by teammates.

But check the tape.  Drysdale remained silent for nearly two whole minutes, spoke 19 words, and then laid out for almost a minute more.  He was speechless!

 

OCTOBER 21, 2018
HANGING UP THE GLOVES

After 45 years, Home Box Office will show boxing for the final time this coming Saturday, when Daniel Jacobs faces Sergiy Derevyanchenko at Madison Square Garden for the vacant IBF world middleweight title. Executive Vice-President Peter Nelson explains, “Our audience research informs us that boxing is no longer a determinant factor for subscribing to HBO.”

I provided the live graphics for at least eight of these telecasts beginning in the late 1980s, including:

Jan. 1988

Mike Tyson
vs Larry Holmes

June 1988

Mike Tyson 
vs Michael Spinks

Oct. 1988

Julio Cesar Chavez 
vs Jose Luis Ramirez

Feb. 1989

Mike Tyson 
vs Frank Bruno

In 1990, HBO rewarded me with working trips to Tokyo and Tahoe and Reno.

Later I was on the crew for an event at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, part of a lower-budget HBO series called Boxing After Dark, or BAD for short.

When the coordinator handed me a floppy disk to load, I thought it had been damaged and marked “no good,” because it was labeled BAD DISK.  My bad.

In letters excerpted for this month's 100 Moons article, I describe my 1990 adventures, including watching a political speech in Japan and later walking all the way to California.


TBT

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