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I've added a new article with some ancient words from someone I'm calling Solomon Redner.  In his dark vision, there is nothing new under the sun.

The moon and the stars grow dim.
The strong men stoop.
The sound of the mill fades.
The songbirds fall silent.
The street is full of terrors.
The dust returns to the earth as it began.
Utter futility.   



Here's a way for hotels to increase occupancy rates.  They could convert some of their bedrooms into screening rooms.

I've sketched out the idea on an Embassy Suites floor plan. I've replaced the bed and dresser with a big plasma TV screen (red) and nine chairs (aqua), along with surround sound speakers, a Blu-ray disc player, and high-def service from cable or satellite.

The former bedroom now resembles a high-end home theater, offering something bigger and better than the TV sets most people have in their own houses.

The other spaces retain their functions as bathroom, kitchen, and living room.  The sofa opens out into a bed, so the suite can still be considered a hotel suite.

A group of local people could rent the suite for a get-together, splitting the cost several ways, or a larger group could rent several adjacent suites and have a big party.  In the kitchen they could prepare snacks, or they could order room service.  On the big screen they could watch the big game or a couple of movies they've brought with them.  At other times they could gather in the living room to chat.  I don't think the hotel could be accused of charging admission to watch the game; rather, they're simply renting rooms that happen to have better amenities than most.


APRIL 21, 2008

When I was in sixth grade in Richwood, Ohio, 49 springs ago, our teacher John Merriman took us on a picnic at the end of the school year.  The more adventurous kids brought their swim trunks.  I brought my camera.

That teacher, I learned last month, is still teaching, coaching tennis at nearby Marysville High School!

You can learn more about Mr. Merriman in my new article of that name, which also gives me an excuse to show the photos from that 1959 picnic.



I have more thoughts about details of HBO's ongoing series John Adams.

In the first of the seven episodes, the title character gave a speech from the pulpit of a Boston church, after which everybody sang a patriotic hymn with these unusual words:

Let tyrants shake their iron rod
And Slav'ry clank her galling chains.
We fear them not.  We trust in God.
New England's God forever reigns!

I recognized this as the then-famous tune "Chester" by William Billings.  But many of the other historical details go by so fast, even in an 8½-hour miniseries, that it's hard to catch them all.

For example, in this week's installment, Adams as President attends a play in Philadelphia.  As he enters the Presidential box, an actor is onstage declaiming the play's prologue, which I guessed was Shakespearean.

Exult, each patriot heart!  This night is shown
A piece which we may fairly call our own.

However, when I Googled the text later, I found it was the prologue to The Contrast, the first successful "piece" for the theater to be written by an American playwright.  The author was Royall Tyler.  And we met Tyler earlier in the miniseries as an unsuccessful suitor for Adams' daughter Nabby!

I'm not sure, but I suspect that Tyler is the one depicted here speaking the prologue.  Seeing Adams in the box, he calls out, "Three cheers for our President!  May he, like Samson, slay thousands of Frenchmen with the jawbone of a Jefferson!"  Adams gives a shocked little gasp at this disrespectful reference to his rival.  But then Tyler patriotically begins singing the national anthem, and the whole audience joins in the chorus.

It's not "The Star-Spangled Banner," which would not be written for another 15 years or so.  Rather, it's "Hail, Columbia."  This tune, originally composed for George Washington's inauguration, gained words during the Adams administration and was the unofficial anthem for most of the 19th century.

Behold the chief, who now commands, 
Once more to serve his country stands!
The rock on which the storm will break; 
The rock on which the storm will break. 
But, armed in virtue firm and true, 
His hopes are fixed on Heav'n and you. 
When hope was sinking in dismay, 
When glooms obscured Columbia's day, 
His steady mind, from changes free,
Resolved on death or liberty. 

Firm, united let us be, 
Rallying round our liberty! 
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

Notice the phrase "band of brothers."  That was the title of another HBO series also co-produced by Tom Hanks, although the phrase originally comes from Shakespeare's Henry V.

Also note that "joined" and "find" apparently are supposed to rhyme.  I've sometimes seen the former word in an old phonetic spelling as "jined," and I suspect that it was pronounced that way then.

And one final detail that caught my attention this week was the final scene.

Adams, declining to attend the inauguration of his successor Jefferson, heads back home to Massachusetts, once more a private citizen.  He walks out the front door of the still-unfinished White House and gets on a bus.



As the National Hockey League playoffs begin, here's a little article reminiscing about radio's Earl Bugaile and my attempt to interview a Penguins coach.



Recently I wrote on a message board:

I remember, one time in college, conversing with a young lady at the campus radio station.  Afterwards, a female friend expressed her amusement at having watched the young lady flirt with me.  I had no idea that any flirting had been taking place.  I'd missed that completely.

Non-verbal communication is unfair to us oblivious males and should be outlawed.

The board was discussing this article.  A psychological study of college students has come to the (unsurprising) conclusion that women are better than men at interpreting non-verbal cues.  Excerpts from the article:

Young men just find it difficult to tell the difference between women who are being friendly and women who are interested in something more.  Some might think even the slightest female interest sparks sexual fantasy.  But the study found that it goes both ways for guys — they mistake females' sexual signals as friendly ones.  Guys have trouble noticing and interpreting the subtleties of non-verbal cues, in either direction.

One contributor to the board actually read the study and found it unconvincing.  It ignores such signals such as gestures or voice pitch or physical proximity, merely asking its participants to evaluate photos.  He notes that "37.1% of men and 31.9% of women identified certain photos and thought 'friendly' instead of 'interested.'  When that large of a percentage in both genders is missing the cues, well, maybe there aren't any cues.  The methodology is pretty tortured, too.  There are so many variables that, if you did it with a whole different group of people, you'd probably arrive at a different conclusion."

My impression is that many psychological studies are similarly half-baked.  They use an unrepresentative sample (easy-to-obtain college undergraduates) and simple tests (easy-to-arrange photo identification), then attempt to extrapolate the limited results into sweeping conclusions.

But regardless of the quality of the experimental data, we can always find anecdotal evidence to support the conclusion — such as my contribution to the board, quoted above.  Several others agreed with me.  One wrote:  "I'll give you that 'Amen' you're looking for, sir.  I wouldn't know flirting if there was a Sprockets-esque announcement — Now is the time when we flirt."


MARCH 30, 2008    VROOM?  VROOM!

When I watch TV, I have "closed captioning" enabled.  Since I don't keep the volume extremely high, the captions fill me in on occasional lines (whispered or spoken off-camera) that I would otherwise miss.  This evening during the NCAA tournament, the captioning even explained the plot of a commercial.

A guy starts his car.  We cut to isolated shots of miscellaneous other parked cars going vroom vroom.  The guy says, "Wow."  The announcer says, "The bloodlines are unmistakable," then points out that a Porsche Cayenne is a Porsche.

Fortunately I had closed captioning, which told me something like this:





And so on.  Without the captions, would I have known what was happening?  I think not.



On TV, I've been watching the HBO series John Adams, which begins with Adams' defense in court of the Redcoats involved in the 1770 Boston Massacre.  I also recently saw a documentary about the 1970 shootings at Kent State University.

What I hadn't noticed until now was the strong similarity between these two events that occurred almost exactly two centuries apart.  In each case, soldiers confronted by a mob fired their weapons, and the gunshots hit about a dozen civilians.  Five died on March 5, 1770.  Four died on May 4, 1970.

In each case, the crowd had been enraged by recent government actions.  In 1770, the British government had levied taxes on American colonists, commandeered their homes to quarter troops, and otherwise oppressed the citizenry.  Boston residents were especially angry.  In 1970, the United States government had escalated the already-unpopular Vietnam war by sending troops into Cambodia.  Kent State students were especially angry.

In each case, the irate citizens protested to the point of destroying government property.  The authorities tried to maintain order by bringing in soldiers, but the crowd outnumbered them, taunted them, threw things at them.  Tensions mounted.  The soldiers, feeling threatened and nervous, finally fired on the civilians.  It's still disputed whether anyone actually gave an order to open fire.

I've been to both locations.

In Boston, a historical marker is set into the pavement of what is now, rather incongruously, a traffic island in the middle of a busy street outside the Old State House.

In Kent, the shootings took place behind the gymnasium where I've since televised basketball.


Each tragedy stirred much resentment, in the colonies and on the campuses respectively, and the protesters finally achieved their goals a few years later.  In 1776, British forces retreated from Massachusetts, and in 1973, American forces withdrew from Southeast Asia.

(More about John Adams here.)



What is "the most recognizable, relatable and welcoming brand in media"?

The company president, who plans to make that claim in New York tomorrow, says, "We can offer the advertising world amazing engagement and interaction with a very, very loyal, dedicated fan base."

Give up?  Drag your mouse across this space for the answer:  [USA Network].  I know, I know; that would not have been among my first ten guesses, either.


MARCH 23, 2008    IMPLODE!

Yesterday afternoon, we denizens of the TV truck outside Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh were preparing for that evening's telecast of the Penguins hockey game against the New Jersey Devils.  But at 2:00, for our own safety, we were herded inside the domed building.  Another structure across the street was about to be destroyed.

Making our way to the opposite side of the arena, we looked out through the windows at the former St. Francis Central Hospital.  This now-empty building needed to come down to make way for the construction of a new arena for the Penguins.  Fifteen of the hospital's columns had been prepared with 32-pound charges of C-4 explosive.  I'd never seen an implosion in person, and here I was only 400 feet away.

At 2:15, the charges were set off at half-second intervals.  The bangs were very loud, shaking the windows of the arena; I took a step back.  The effect was similar to the "aerial salutes" in the finale of a fireworks show.  Had we been outside, the sound would have been deafening.

However, aside from the noise, nothing seemed to be happening.  Finally, as planned, the weakened building began to fall in on itself.  In another ten seconds there was only rubble, hidden by a cloud of dust.

The dust cleared, and we went back to work.  We've been promised that the new arena will be ready for the 2010-2011 season.

NEWS PHOTOnews photo



Here in Pennsylvania, we have only five more weeks of campaigning to go before the Democratic presidential primary.  I'm not involved in any way, but I was on the air exactly 40 years ago tonight when the returns came in for another much-anticipated election.  The story:  SLATE Wins!


MARCH 17, 2008    COONELLY

The new Pittsburgh Pirates president, succeeding Kevin McClatchy, is Frank Coonelly.

That's a tough surname to spell.  Connolly?  Coonley?  Clooney?  None of the above.

Needing a mnemonic, I imagined a line from a Beverly Hillbillies episode about the critter that got away.



That critter you was a-chasin'  —  was it a possum or a coon, Elly May?



On special occasions, the First United Methodist Church in Richwood, Ohio, features instrumental duets on organ and piano.  This image from a videotape shows Phyllis Rees at the organ (center) and Marge Gamble at the piano (lower left, in front of the flag) during the Christmas open house about five years ago.

During the 1960s and 1970s, I was one of those keyboard players, often filling in on the organ during the summer.


The regular organist at the time was Gladys Winter; she's on the left in this picture from the 1978 church directory.  Gladys was succeeded by Patt Houk, who's on the right.  I played the piano for several duets, particularly "The Holy City," with each of these organists.

It's not an ideal venue for duets.  The piano is only a spinet, and it must be tuned to match the pitch of the organ, which varies as the temperature changes with the seasons.

The piano is located on the floor beside the altar rail, while the organ bench is in an elevated position in the choir loft.

The two musicians can't easily share visual cues.  The organist faces away from everyone.  If she turns around, she can see the pianist's face, but not the keyboard.  The pianist can see the back of the organist's head, but the curtained front wall of the choir loft blocks any view of the organ keyboard and pedals.

Nor can the musicians easily share audible cues.  The organist sits close to the pipes; if she plays loudly, she can't hear the piano.  And if she plays softly, the pianist can barely hear her.  When I played the piano, I could detect when the organist changed from one chord to another, but repeated notes in the melody blended into each other.  That meant that I couldn't hear the beats, only the measures.

A duet, therefore, is an act of faith.  One musician begins playing to set the tempo, the other joins in, and occasionally one will be able to hear the other well enough to re-synchronize.  Just before the end of "The Holy City," there's a fermata , and as we held that dramatic chord Gladys and I had no way of communicating when to break it off and proceed to the conclusion.  She finally suggested that we count a fifth beat in that measure, and we were able to stay together, more or less.

Neither musician can actually hear the "mix," the balance between the two instruments.  Both have to use their best judgment as to volume and take it on faith that their music sounds good to the people out in the congregation.

It was usually about this time of year that we performed "The Holy City."  Here's a link to an approximation of our performance (but I didn't do the piano glissandos).  The fermata comes at the five-minute mark.

Here's another link to a vocal performance.  The words were written in 1892 by Frederick E. Weatherly (who would write "Danny Boy" 18 years later).  If only the first verse and the last chorus are sung, it can be associated with the Christmas season, but the three verses actually allude to Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and chapter 21 of Revelation.  In the right column I've imagined beginning an Easter Sunrise service with a soloist singing the verses of "The Holy City" and the choir joining in the chorus.


Last night I lay a-sleeping.
   There came a dream so fair:
I stood in old Jerusalem
   Beside the temple there.
I heard the children singing,
   And ever as they sang
Methought the voice of angels
   From Heav'n in answer rang;
      Methought the voice of angels
         From Heav'n in answer rang:

"Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
   Lift up your gates and sing!
Hosanna in the highest,
   Hosanna to your King."

The sanctuary is in darkness except for a few candles and a light on the soloist.



More lights gradually reveal the choir, with children bearing palm fronds marching by.


And then methought my dream was chang'd:
   The streets no longer rang.
Hush'd were the glad hosannas
   The little children sang.
The sun grew dark with mystery,
   The morn was cold and chill,
As the shadow of a cross arose
   Upon a lonely hill;
      As the shadow of a cross arose
         Upon a lonely hill.

(softly)  Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
   Hark! how the angels sing:
"Hosanna in the highest,
   Hosanna to your King."

Darkness once again.



Another light slowly brightens to reveal a cross, or the shadow of a cross.

And once again the scene was chang'd:
   New earth there seem'd to be!
I saw the Holy City
   Beside the tideless sea.
The light of God was on its streets.
   The gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter
     And no one was denied!
No need of moon or stars by night
     Or sun to shine by day,
It was the new Jerusalem
   That would not pass away;
      It was the new Jerusalem
         That would not pass away.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
   Sing, for the night is o'er!
Hosanna in the highest,
   Hosanna for evermore!
      Hosanna in the highest ...
         Hosanna for evermore!



Now all the lights in the sanctuary gradually brighten, and more candles appear.




In full brightness, everyone rises.



Later, immediately following the benediction at the end of the sunrise service but before the Amen, the choir joyfully reprises the final chorus.  Sing, for the night is o'er!


Speaking of men's college basketball, as we were yesterday:  The game is played with five men on a side, right?  When various All-Conference honors were announced recently, there were five players on the first team, five on the second team, and maybe some honorable mentions.

Around here, that was true for the Big Ten, the Atlantic 10, the Northeast Conference — but not the league that includes Pitt and West Virginia.  The "All-BIG EAST First Team" has 11 guys on it, and the second team has 10.

This allows nine Big East schools to brag that they have a first-team all-conference honoree.  In other conferences, at most five schools can make that claim.

Still, it seems a bit ridiculous.  If the All-Big East team played the All-Big Ten team, that 11-on-5 power play would make it no contest.

On another topic, I've received a couple of e-mails recently from people who have run across articles on this website. 

At Eastern Michigan University, a Ph.D. in the Department of Psychology is gathering signatures for a resolution against the use of Facilitated Communication.  He wrote, "You made your points well.  I agree 100%."

And about my nearsightedness, a reader named Ray wrote, "I could totally identify with it.  I love the super near vision and wouldn't want to change a thing."

It's good to know that I'm connecting this way, often with people I've never met.  Thanks!


MARCH 11, 2008    HOW 31 + 34 = 64

In Division I basketball at the turn of the century, selecting a field for a 64-team NCAA tournament was straightforward.  Automatic invitations went to 30 conference champions and at-large bids to 34 others.  But in 2001 the winner of the new Mountain West Conference became eligible, and now there were 31 champions.

In response, the women's tournament reduced its at-large contingent to 33, keeping the total unchanged at 64.

The men didn't go along with this logical move.  Instead, they decided to continue issuing invitations to 34 at-large teams as well as the 31 champions, then use a special "play-in" procedure to trim the total back to 64.  The one team that's trimmed turns out to be one of the champs, not one of the at-large invitees.

Here's how it works:  The 64th and 65th best teams, usually the winners of small-conference tournaments, have to hurry to Dayton to play each other two days after Selection Sunday.  The loser is out.  The winner, now officially part of the 64-team field, is awarded one more game — an inevitable loss to a #1 seed at a different venue three days later.

This allows a 65th school to brag about participating, and it makes money for the NCAA and others, but it's an awkward solution.

I can't understand what's so important about keeping the number of at-large teams at exactly 34.  If the Tuesday game is a bad idea, why not eliminate it by cutting back to 33 at-large teams as the women have done?  If it's a good idea, why not create one to three additional play-in games by increasing the at-large contingent to 35 teams or 36 or 37?

But no, 34 must be the number, no more, no less.  Tradition, I suppose.



For what it's worth, for this site I've written a short story, We Are Not Crooks.