About Site



AUGUST 31, 2009    ¡ CUIDADO !

I bought a “jump stick” the other day, a USB flash drive.  It came in one of those impossible-to-open plastic blister packs.  On the back was one of those lawyer-inspired CAUTION statements.

What's dangerous about a jump stick?  Were they admonishing me not to plug it into an electrical outlet?

No, the warning concerned not the product but the packaging.  “To open the package please use scissors.  Do not use knives or cutters since they may cause injury.”

There are hazards everywhere.


AUGUST 26, 2009    HA HA

The comedy series People's Choice aired on NBC-TV for three seasons beginning in 1955, when I was a little boy.  Jackie Cooper starred as a city councilman.

There were frequent close-ups of his basset hound Cleo, whose wry comments were voiced in an annoyingly female way by Mary Jane Croft.  Sometimes, in reaction to a startling statement, Cleo’s floppy ears would fly straight up (presumably yanked by hidden wires), although her doleful eyes never widened.  The audience would guffaw.

Many other sitcoms like I Love Lucy or the Danny Thomas show were filmed before a live studio audience.  But I noticed that on this series, the actors never responded to the laughs, which all sounded the same (even during scenes outside the studio).  Obviously there was no live audience.

If the laughter didn’t come from people who were actually present, how were we hearing it?  I knew each episode was shot on film like a movie, which gave me an idea.  Perhaps after the film had been edited — but before it was televised — the producers showed it in a theater to a carefully-selected preview audience.  Microphones captured their reactions, which were then mixed into the sound track before the episode aired on TV.  It made sense to me.  CLICK FOR UPDATE

Turns out that in most cases, the audience reactions were selected from prerecorded laughs and added in the appropriate places.  Here’s the full story.


AUGUST 21, 2009    DO NOT WANT

The other day, I was dining in a restaurant when a man with three young sons was shown to the table next to me.  One of the boys was an infant dozing in a car seat; the other two were ambulatory.

The middle child considered himself too grownup for a highchair.  His father helped him up onto a regular chair, but he warned the boy he'd have to sit still.  Of course, he didn't.  Within seconds he was trying to climb over the back.  Then he fell off.  He wasn't hurt, but he began crying for his mommy.

To my surprise, the father stood up, picked up the sleeping basket case, and led the other two boys back to the restaurant's entrance.

Now I've often heard parents in public places admonish their unruly kids, "If you don't behave, we're going home!"  But this was the first time I'd seen the threat actually carried out.  And so promptly, too!  No second warning.  No "this is is last time I'm going to tell you."

Alas, Dad didn't leave.  He had just gone to fetch a highchair, as well as his wife, who apparently had been parking the SUV.

When the family reconvened at the table, the mother tried to insert the middle boy into the highchair.  Predictably, he resisted.  "No!  Don't want to!"

You see, that's the problem with kids today.  We try to make them happy by catering to their every whim.  "What do you want to drink?  Do you want orange juice?  Apple juice?  How about some chocolate milk?"  The kids begin to feel entitled to have their desires always accommodated.

Why give them a choice?  Can you always get what you want?  You can't always get what you want.

Just tell them, "We're serving orange juice, and that's it, whether you like it or not.  If you don't like it, you can just go thirsty.  What's that?  You don't want orange juice?  You don't want to sit in a highchair?  WHO CARES?  Listen, kid, we're in charge of this family, not you."

End of rant from childless old codger.


AUGUST 18, 2009    DURWARD

It's time to continue the story of my mother's days at Byesville High.

In this installment, Byesville wins the 1930 county basketball tournament, and Ann Buckingham wins a boyfriend:  class president Durward McKee (right), the "Biggest Sheik" in the whole school.



My apologies to Lord Bulwer-Lytton, but I've heard that it was a dark and stormy night in upstate New York on this date 40 years ago.  Rain poured down as the hour of eleven p.m. approached.

But the rain did not chase away, could not chase away, the half million people sitting in Max Yasgur’s pasture.  They had come to join in “an Aquarian exposition:  three days of peace and music” known as Woodstock.

Ravi Shankar had just finished his sitar performance.  The Incredible String Band was scheduled next, but they didn’t want to play in the rain.  In their place, a relatively unknown performer agreed to go on:  a hippie folk singer with her guitar.

Thomas Ryan wrote, “To walk onstage alone, in front of a city of people who don't know you but are paying rapt attention, can be a harrowing and humbling experience.

“She watched amazed as the hills slowly lit up with thousands upon thousands of candles.”

And the singer sang.

Beautiful people!
You live in the same world as I do,
But somehow I never noticed you before today,
I'm ashamed to say.

Beautiful people!
You look like friends of mine,
And it's about time
That someone said it here and now:
I make a vow
That some time, somehow,
I'll have a meeting.  Invite ev'ryone you know.
I'll pass out buttons to the ones who come, to show

Beautiful people
Never have to be alone,
'Cause there'll always be someone
With the same button on as you.
Include him in ev'rything you do.
He may be sitting right next to you.
He may be beautiful people too.

And if you take care of him, maybe I'll take care of you.


Birthday of the Sun

If I were to hang my head
I'd miss all the rainbows
And I'd drown in raindrops instead

But I'm the one;
I found the birthday of the sun.

And all things change.
And now I'm sure it's the birthday of the rain.


I wrote about Melanie last year; click here for that piece.  It includes a link to a song she wrote later “to capture the spirituality and magic of that moment,” according to Ryan.  “To convey a sense of the warm crowd, she envisioned hundreds of voices joining her on the chorus.”

We were so close, there was no room...
We all sang the songs of peace.
Some came to sing, some came to pray, 
Some came to keep the dark away.

From the movie Taking Woodstock, opening this month

So raise your candles high, 
'Cause if you don't
we could stay black
against the night. 

Oh, raise them higher again, 
'Cause if you do
we could stay dry
against the rain!

[I wrote about Melanie again in 2015.  Click here.]



Do dogs go to heaven?

In a story I wrote a couple of years ago, a little girl decides they do.  But there’s no real answer.  We might as well inquire into the pay scale for elves at Santa’s workshop, or ask about next year’s enrollment at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Like heaven, the workshop and Hogwarts are fictional places.  Therefore, no details that we dream up about them can be proven wrong.

Do born-again mass murderers go to heaven?

This has been a problem for Christianity ever since the very beginning.  The Gospel proclaims that if we are born again, our sins are forgiven.  “Now,” asks Paul in chapter 6 of his letter to the Romans (J.B. Phillips translation), “what is our response to be?  Shall we sin to our heart’s content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God?  What a ghastly thought!  We, who have died to sin — how could we live in sin a moment longer?”  Nevertheless, it’s tempting to consider God’s promise of forgiveness to be a blank check.

A week ago tonight, George Sodini shot up an exercise class in suburban Pittsburgh, killing three women before taking his own life.  He had been told that Jesus would forgive any and all of his sins.

Found among his writings was a grievance against the non-denominational Tetelestai Church and its pastor, Rick Knapp.  “Guilt and fear kept me there 13 long years until Nov 2006.  I think his crap did the most damage.  ...  This guy teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven.  Ask him.”

A reporter did ask Rev. Knapp.  “That's not anything I have ever said.  ... The message of the word I preach never reflected such a thing.”  (link)

But members of his church weren’t so sure.  Senior deacon Chuck Matone said of Sodini, “Is he in heaven?  Only God and he know.”

Another deacon, Jack Rickard, suggested that Sodini is in fact on his way to glory land, but he won’t enjoy it there.  Apparently God is grudgingly keeping His earlier promise to let Sodini pass through the pearly gates, but there’s no way He’s issuing him a harp.  Rickard said that according to the Bible, “professing a faith in Jesus as savior means you will have complete eternal salvation.  ... We believe in permanent security — once saved, always saved.  ... He'll be in heaven, but he won't have any rewards because he did evil.”

This is a new concept to me, a restricted associate membership in paradise.  Because heaven is imaginary, I suppose we can imagine whatever rules we want.



“I cannot believe the earth is billions of years old.”

“Is there anything I could say to change your mind?”

“Impossible.  My faith is firm.”

“You’re locked into your opinions, are you?  I have these scientific studies....”

“I refuse to read them.  They’re the work of the devil.”

“Then further discussion would be a waste of time.  You’ve reached your conclusions without bothering to consider the facts.  You’re prejudiced, you’re unyielding, and your mind is closed.  Goodbye.”

GOP diehards retreat toward Jackson Hole for last stand

“I cannot believe President Obama was born in this country.”

“But there were birth announcements in two newspapers in Hawaii.  And here’s his Certification of Live Birth.”

“That document could be faked.  I demand to see the original Certificate from the hospital.”

“And if you saw the original, you would be satisfied?”

“No, I wouldn’t.  The so-called original could also be a forgery.”

“So no evidence would convince you that Obama is an American?”

“I don’t really want evidence.  I already know the truth.  Obama is an illegitimate president.  He’s not like me.  I want my country back!  I want my country run by white conservatives, as it was in the beginning, should be now, and ever shall be!  World soon will end, amen, amen.”

“Then further discussion would be a waste of time.  You’re prejudiced, you’re unyielding, and your mind is closed.  You’ve earned the right to be ignored.  Goodbye.”


AUGUST 1, 2009    GRANDPA?

The other day, I happened to run across a picture of Benjamin N. Cardozo, who was an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court from 1932 to 1938.

Something about him reminded me of a more recent celebrity.  Hmm.

JULY 27, 2009    TWO OUTS

Baseball fans often complain about how many runs their team has allowed.  Sometimes, they lament that most of them came after there were two outs in the inning.

Is that unusual?  I’m not so sure.

What are the Major League averages for runs scored with no outs, one out, and two outs?  Are the runs evenly distributed at 33%, 33%, and 33%?  I’d guess it might be more like 25%, 33%, and 42%, simply because as the inning progresses there are more likely to be runners on base.  But I’ve never seen the actual numbers.

Before we could even consider calculating the numbers, we’d have to define what we mean by “a run scored with two outs.”  That’s not as simple as you might think.  Should we use definition B:  there were two outs BEFORE the play began?  Or should we use definition M:  there were two outs at the MOMENT the runner crossed the plate?

Suppose there’s a runner on 3rd base with one out.  The batter hits a fly ball to the center fielder.  Now there are two outs.  The runner tags up and comes home to score on the sacrifice fly.

According to B, the scoring play happened with one out.  According to M, the run actually scored after there were two outs.

Suppose there are runners on 1st and 3rd with nobody out.  The batter grounds to the shortstop, who decides to concede a run in order to make a double play.  He throws to 2nd base; now there is one out.  Then the throw goes to 1st base for the second out, which occurs at almost the same time that the runner from 3rd base is crossing the plate.

According to B, the scoring play happened with no outs.  According to M, the run scored after there were either one out or two outs, but it’s hard to tell.

I suspect that the lament over “runs allowed after two outs” is actually a lament over missed opportunities.  If we had only gotten one more out when we really needed it, we could have prevented those runs!  (In this case, definition B is the relevant one.)  This is similar to the lament over runners left on base.  If we had only gotten one more hit when we really needed it, we could have scored those runners!  And it may turn out to be just as meaningless.

JULY 24, 2009    FIRSTS

What did I have in common with the late anchorman Walter Cronkite?

At the age of 20, both he and I were radio play-by-play announcers for college football.

In 1937, Cronkite became the first “voice” of the Oklahoma Sooners on WKY in Oklahoma City, as shown here.

In 1967, I was in the second of my three seasons as the “voice” of the Oberlin Yeomen on WOBC.

Last weekend at a baseball telecast, there was a debate about an upcoming tournament we were supposed to promote.  The event was billed as The First Annual Tournament.

This set off a buzzer in the minds of those of us who have peeked into the Associated Press Stylebook, a manual that warns journalists:  “Do not use the term first annual.  An event cannot be described as annual until it has been held in at least two successive years.  Instead, note that the sponsors plan to hold an event annually.”

But isn’t that rather strained logic, to insist that there can’t be a First until there’s a Second?

First annual is perfectly understandable and gets its point across succinctly.  Upon further review, I find nothing wrong with the phrase.  And Washington State emeritus professor Paul Brians agrees with me.



This past week, Scott Adams (the creator of the comic strip Dilbert) has been blogging about an ideal city called Cheapatopia, built from scratch as “an absurdly cheap place to live with a ridiculously high quality of life.”

From his entries for July 13, July 14, July 17, and July 20, here are some condensed excerpts.

The era of ridiculous consumption is over.  The average household will have to learn how to make do with less.  But there is no reason we can't be happier at the same time.

In Cheapatopia, no one would ever again hire a babysitter or put their dog in the kennel while they are on vacation. That sort of thing would all be done by neighbors, and you would know those neighbors well.

Cheapatopia puts a big emphasis on social interaction.  Most of your meals are eaten at the city-run all-you-can-eat buffets located in each neighborhood.  You'd always see your neighbors at meals, and you'd never need to shop or cook or clean.  Prices would be lower than regular restaurants because these eateries would be operated at cost, and food would be purchased in bulk.  The food quality and variety would be excellent, at least by family standards, because this is one area in which Cheapatopia would not skimp.

Residents could get further discounts on their buffet meal plans by agreeing to work shifts at the cafeteria.  You might find it fun to work with your neighbors for a few hours every week.

Ride sharing would be made easy by an Internet system.  But the only rides you would ever need would be to the nearest airport.  There would be no cars within Cheapatopia.

The real purpose of this system is not just the convenience of getting stuff done, but the social interaction it causes.  Most people make their friends from their organized activities, past or present.  They find their spouses and lovers the same way.  Cheapatopia increases your social involvement and therefore your social life.

Many of you believe Cheapatopia can't work because communes have been tried and failed.  And besides, you wouldn't want to live in such a socialist place.

But Cheapatopia is designed with individual self-interest as the founding principle.  Living in Cheapatopia is optional.  Plain old capitalism will always surround it.

The only difference is that capitalism has inefficiencies that don't benefit anyone.  As I write this, I'm looking out the window at seven parked cars, each of them requiring auto insurance, and none of them being used.  And every home in my neighborhood has poor roof insulation because there was no market pressure on the developer to do better.

There would be lots of different reasons for wanting to live in Cheapatopia, if only for a few years.

The closest model is college dormitory living.  In college, the meals are communal, the buildings are inexpensive, and the social life is organized and abundant.

Dorm living is only appropriate for a few years of your life, to accomplish a goal.  Cheapatopia is similar in concept, but more high-end and designed for families.

So that’s why I look back so fondly on college days!  We lived in dorms, owned no cars, walked or biked everywhere, and ate at the dining hall.  We knew that life outside, in what we called “the real world,” would never be like this.  For four years we were living in a Utopia.


JULY 16, 2009    YMMIT

“Hey, mirror!  Mirror, on the wall!  Why do you take all that you see and reverse it left to right?”

“I do no such thing.  I take all that I see and reverse it front to back!”

That's the key point in my little article on Mirror Images, if you'd care to take a look.

Also, I've added a few new old photos to my Curtis Ridge article, for example on this page and on this one.



Not that it necessarily affects their fitness for holding their jobs, but according to this story, 21% of the employees in Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works have faced criminal charges.

Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, before he was elected President, recommended that any tall buildings should have a flashing beacon light “so that aviators might recognize the city.”  So in 1928, when Pittsburgh’s first skyscraper was erected, they put a red light on top that could be seen from airplanes a hundred miles away.  Not wanting the city to be mistaken for Cleveland, the owners of the Grant Building programmed its beacon to flash Pittsburgh in Morse code.

Nowadays few people can decipher Morse dots and dashes, and pilots fortunately have better navigational aids.  But, even though almost no one reads its message any more, the beacon is still flashing.  The only problem, according to this article, is that it’s developed a stammer or perhaps a bit of throat congestion.  The Morse code now spells out Pitetsbkrrh.

According to this map, I was born in “pop” country.  So was my mother.  But my father was born in “Coke” country, and I take after him.  I don’t feel comfortable saying either “pop” or “soda”; if forced to choose between them, I’d pick “soft drink.”



In the story of her high school days, Byesville High, Ann Buckingham reports on an exciting 1929 basketball contest.  After the game, she had an “uncouth feather” in her cap.  She wasn’t dressed that way when she left the house!

Aside from that one column she wrote, my mother's memoir has been ghostwritten by yours truly, 80 years after the fact.  Click on the title or the picture to read the first installment.



Fundamentalists claim that the United States is a Christian nation.  That’s true in one sense:  more Americans identify themselves as Christians than as members of any other faith.

However, the United States is not a Christian political entity.  Our Constitution never mentions God, and it prohibits the endorsement of any official religion.  Most of the founding fathers were Deists, not Christians.  They acknowledged “Nature’s God,” not Jesus.  The Treaty with Tripoli, negotiated by George Washington’s administration and approved unanimously by the Senate in 1797, reassured Muslims that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Not only that, the very birth of our nation 233 years ago was a direct act of disobedience to Scripture.

In 1776, Americans rejected divinely established authority.  They rebelled against George III, by the grace of God the King of Great Britain.  They asserted that the people have the right to invent their own form of government — organizing it not according to God’s plan but according to man’s own ideas, “laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

This Declaration of Independence can be seen as a great sin against God.  Author John J. Dunphy has collected numerous proofs from the Bible:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Romans 13:1

Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the King, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  1 Peter 2:13-14

Submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.  1 Peter 2:18

Obey your earthly masters in everything.  Colossians 3:22

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  Hebrews 13:17

For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.  1 Samuel 15:23

In rebelling against the King and his royal governors, the Founding Fathers rebelled against God and against the authority He had established.

To explain themselves, they felt a need to publish a Declaration.  Did they publish it out of respect to God, whose rules they were deliberately breaking?  No, they published their Declaration out of respect to humanity, or as Jefferson put it, “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”

Therefore, we are not a Christian nation.  We are a humanist nation.