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T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website

JULY 23, 2021    WHICH WAY'S WEST?

In 1976, the first year I visited my parents at their winter getaway in Arizona, I arrived at night.  I was driven over unfamiliar roads from the Phoenix airport to Scottsdale without ever catching sight of Phoenix itself.  I imagined that our destination, the Smoke Tree Resort, must face the big city.  It doesn't; it turns its back on the city to face north.  Downtown Phoenix is back and to the left, on the far side of Camelback Mountain.  I required a couple of annual visits before I was able to reorient my mental picture.

Between the two Summer Olympics I helped televise, Seoul in 1988 and Atlanta in 1996, the host city was Barcelona.  Knowing that I wasn't going to be making the trip in 1992, I bought a guidebook to learn something about the capital of Catalonia.

I studied maps aligned to the Mediterranean harbor.  The wide boulevard La Rambla proceeds inland, with the Olympic park to the left and Antoni Gaudí’s fantastical basilica to the right.

Mentally zooming out to imagine the rest of the nation behind Barcelona, I kept the same orientation and located the city in the southeast corner of Spain.  Much to my surprise, it's actually in the northeast corner!

 

JULY 22, 2011 flashback   KOBES

We in the sports television fraternity lost an old friend recently.  Mike Kobik died unexpectedly on June 30 at the age of 54.  At the time, he was in Maryland for a Golf Channel assignment.

Mike grew up in L.A., as he said.  That would be lower Arnold, Pennsylvania.  I first met him when I came to work at TCS, headquartered in the neighboring city of New Kensington, in the fall of 1980.  When he said “Hi,” it immediately seemed as though we’d known each other for years.  He was a great guy to be around.

Mike appears in several places on this website.  Some photos are from our days on the Penn State Football Show around 1985.  Click here for that album.  You can even hear audio of Mike directing a segment of a “Paterno” edit session.

One of my snapshots ended up in a video tribute that the Golf Channel aired last week.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s on YouTube, here.

Also on my website:  another photo of Mike shows up here.   A couple of his ideas are here and here.  Some of our travels are mentioned here and here.  Some silliness is mentioned here and hereAnd I added some photos here.

In recent years I knew Mike mostly as one of the directors of Big East basketball telecasts at Pitt.  We all are going to miss him.

ADDENDUM:  I once told Mike he was looking something like comedian Richard Lewis (left).

Another time I said his face reminded me of the lead singer of The Turtles, Howard Kaylan (center).

It must have been Howard's 1967 hairstyle.  He doesn't look like that now, by the way, having turned 74 one month ago (right).

 

JULY 19, 2021    DECIPHERING RUSSIAN

I studied the Russian language for a semester, but I can't speak it — despite the fact that, for purposes of review, two college friends sent me a Russian grammar book on the occasion of my moving into my own apartment in 1974.

Nor can I read the language, unless the words happen to be cognates of words from more familiar tongues like aeroport or beisboll.  Even then, I'm like a kindergartener.  I have to puzzle out the Greek-based Cyrillic letters one by one and transpose them to Latin-based English letters until I realize what they're spelling.  (Only A, E, K, M, O, and T are approximately the same in both languages.)  For example:

I was surprised to learn recently that the English alphabet is used for internationally-recognized terms like COVID and STOP.  If the latter command is written in Cyrillic letters, CTO, the meaning reportedly becomes “stop here on red.”

In an online Washington Post story I found a picture of a sign inside Moscow's famous G.U.M. department store advertising:

 VAKZINAZIYA

 PROTIV
 COVID-19

I guess PROTIV means “against,” though I've forgotten that.  Shoppers can obtain their VAKZINAZIYA up on the third ÉTAGE (French for “level”).

 

There they'll get an official SERTIFIKAT  O’  VAKZINAZII  PROTIV
NOVOYI  KORONAVIRUSNOYI  (“...the novel coronavirus”).

Another sign's letters, transposed, spell LIFT.  However, for non-Russian speakers who don't know British either, there are translations in American and Chinese, plus a pictogram.  How multicultural!

 

JULY 17, 2011 flashback   AMEN, BROTHER!

“You don’t have to convince us,” someone said to a Catholic friend of mine.  “We already agree with you.  Don’t waste your breath.  You’re preaching to the choir.”

My friend was puzzled.  “I’m doing what, now?”

It turns out that the phrase “preaching to the choir” is less than 40 years old, and I had to explain its meaning.

On reflection, I realize that the term might not mean much to a Catholic, or to anyone else who regularly attends a long-established church.  Both the choir and the congregation — in fact all the people in the sanctuary — are already members.  They essentially agree with their pastor’s predictable homilies.

To understand the phrase, you have to imagine an old-fashioned revival meeting.

The evangelist has his choir behind him.  In front of him is an audience that includes nonbelievers and backsliders.

The preacher should speak not to the choir but to this congregation of sinners.  He’s trying to convert them, to persuade them to change their ways and start coming to church.  Maybe even join the choir.


Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry (1960)

 

JULY 14, 2021    MY THUMB IS 0.84 INCH WIDE

I don't golf, but yesterday I saw a reference to “blading” a chip shot.  What part of your club, I wondered, is supposed to strike the ball if not the blade?  Surely you aren't supposed to hit it with the grip, or the shaft.  I had to look the term up.

One definition referred to contacting the ball not with the flat face of the blade but only the leading edge.  So why isn't it called “edging?”

Alternatively, “blading” can refer to making contact at or above the ball's equator, resulting in an extremely low shot with a lot of top spin.  When I took golf lessons in college to satisfy a requirement, half of my strokes were like that.

This was not unexpected.  The ball's equator is only 0.84 inch above the ground.  I can touch a keyboard within that tolerance, but it's not so easy when my whole body is violently swinging.

I guess the approved way of avoiding this on a drive is to use the ground to achieve the correct vertical alignment.  The club head should contact the ground a few inches before reaching the ball, dragging the head across the level surface at the proper altitude and stripping off a divot.

However, the term my instructor used to describe my pathetic attempts was “topping.”  Now I have to look that one up.  Apparently “topping” is extreme “blading” where the ball doesn't fly at all but merely skitters across the grass.  That is an outcome I remember well.

 

JULY 13, 2021    FALLING ASLEEP TO BASEBALL

It has been empirically established that if I'm ready to go to sleep, I can put on a podcast about non-controversial topics at 9:00, lie down, and be blissfully unconscious before 9:06.  The familiar voices continue to talk to me, like a lengthy bedtime story.  Rerunning the podcast the next morning to find out what I missed, I determine that a couple of phrases managed to penetrate my brain before 9:15.  But after that, I was out for good.

I've been known to use baseball broadcasts for the same purpose.

Last month, Paul Harris recalled the days when sports on the radio could be descibed by a single announcer without a sidekick.  He remembers listening to thrilling basketball and hockey from Madison Square Garden.

However, baseball isn't always that exciting, especially nowadays.

You may have heard that Major League Baseball will hold its annual All-Star Game tonight.  Since the last such event two years ago, I'm sorry to report that while the Los Angeles Dodgers have 145 wins against 76 losses, my local Pittsburgh Pirates have lost 145 games.  The winning percentage:  just .350.  I rarely tune in Pirates broadcasts nowadays.

Forty years ago, I recorded Lanny Frattare's radio broadcast of a Pirates game.  With a baseball strike looming, I wanted to be sure I had a ball game to lull me to sleep.

Ten years ago, after Lanny had changed to a different career, I uploaded the most exciting 140 seconds to this website.  (For some reason he passed up the opportunity to shout “Go, ball, get out of here!”)

A link to that 1981 audio is part of this month's 100 Moons article.

 

JULY 11, 2011 flashback   BACK IN BLACK

From one show to the next in the TV business, some documents remain mostly the same, with only minor updates.  However, the person making the updates often forgets something.  An error creeps in and is perpetuated for show after show.

Suppose our team played the Fairbanks Fantums last Saturday.  Next week, we’re going to play the Juneau Jiants.  Today, the TV producer calls up last Saturday's format on his computer and makes the necessary changes, but he fails to update some items.  When he prints out the new format for the upcoming Jiants game, it still claims we’re supposed to interview the Fantums head coach.

My technique:  select all the text in the most recent document.

Christmas this year will be Saturday, December 25, 2010.

Italicize it, or change its color to brown.

Christmas this year will be Saturday, December 25, 2010.

Then carefully consider each element.  If it can be re-used in the new edition, change it back to normal text.

Christmas this year will be Saturday, December 25, 2010.

But if an item remains brown or italicized, that means it needs to be updated.  Do so before changing its color.

Christmas this year will be Sunday, December 25, 2011.

 

JULY 8, 2021    GALILEE LAKE

The “Sea of Galilee” is not as large as you might imagine.  It's really only a lake, called Kinneret in modern Israel.  Located in the northern end of what used to be known as the Great Rift Valley, its surface is nearly 700 feet below “sea level,” making it the lowest freshwater lake on Earth.  However, unlike the salty Dead Sea (more than 700 feet lower), it has always supported a large population of fish.

My latest first-person reimagining of Biblical stories tells of a fishing-boat captain's encounters with an itinerant preacher.  The skipper's sons were among those Jumping to Conclusions.

 

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.

The classic story, which later made it into Aesop’s Fables, was first reported by Apion.  In first-century Rome, a recaptured runaway slave named Androclus had been sentenced to be devoured by fierce wild animals at the Circus Maximus.  However, one of them came up and licked the prisoner’s face.  Emperor Caligula asked what was going on.

He learned that three years before, Androclus had hidden in a cave which turned out also to be sheltering a whimpering lion.  Normally it’s very dangerous to corner a wounded animal in its den, but this big cat allowed Androclus to remove a large thorn from its paw, and they became friends.  The animal in the Circus was that very lion!  The emperor pardoned the slave, and thereafter Androclus was seen making the rounds of the shops with his lion on a leash.

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 don’t 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 young’uns.”  But then a mother goose came knocking on his car door.

She kept pecking and pecking, and the sergeant thought she was asking for food until she walked away and stopped and looked back.  Givens got out of his cruiser, and the goose led him over to one of her goslings that had gotten itself tangled in the string from a discarded Mother’s Day balloon.

Specialist Cecilia Charron joined him to untangle the little bird.  That took at least a minute.  The mother goose waited patiently a few yards away, honking softly every few seconds to reassure her young’un.  Finally it was free, the mama gave two happy honks, and the two of them headed for the creek.

Also in May, a 25-year-old elephant called Pretty Boy was shot in the head by poachers in Zimbabwe.  He sought refuge in Mana Pools National Park, wandering around with a hole in his forehead for weeks before help could arrive.  “When it did, he motioned for assistance,” according to reports.

“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.”

 

JULY 4, 2021    THE KITCHEN'S EXPLODING?

One night at least a week ago, I heard a very loud THUD from the direction of my kitchen.  Had something heavy just fallen over?  There were no subsequent sounds of broken pieces rattling across the floor.  I investigated and found that everything appeared normal.

Had the compressor in my refrigerator blown up?  Or the compressor in my window air conditioner?  I began strategizing how I would obtain replacement appliances, but both turned out to be working normally.

Had someone thrown a softball at the building's siding?  Had an eagle crashed into the kitchen window?  Neither seemed likely.

I heard the same sound again a few days later.  And then it happened again on July 2, and this time I was close enough to the window to hear some additional noises.  I've deduced that a neighbor couldn't wait to start setting off his fireworks.

I'm dreading tonight's bombs bursting in (hopefully) air. 

 

JULY 3, 2021    NOT “AGAIN,” BUT AHEAD

   Being American is more
      than a pride we inherit;
   it's the past we step into
      and how we repair it.

We will not march back to what was
   but move to what shall be:
a country that is bruised but whole,
   benevolent but bold,
      fierce and free!

Amanda Gorman, January 20, 2021

 

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