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More than a quarter century ago, I enjoyed nearly eight weeks in Miami Beach, New Orleans, and Maui with a large group of my friends.

And we got paid for it.  That 1985 junket was courtesy of a major American corporation, represented here by comic actor Ronnie Schell.

This month’s “100 Moons” article tells the story.  Just click the box on the right below.


FEB. 20, 2012     THE TOM & GERI SHOW

I’ve been receiving my mail in this small Western Pennsylvania town for more than 31 years.  Throughout that time, I, Tom Thomas, have occasionally received solicitations intended for someone named “Geri Thomas.”  Her address is the same as mine, but I’ve never met her. 

I’d be happy to forward these letters to her real address, but I don’t know where that is, or whether she’s even a real person.  She might be merely a glitch on a long-lived mailing list.

Recently two envelopes arrived on the same day, inviting Geri and me each to sign up for an AARP life insurance program by the end of February.

As you know, today is a national holiday to celebrate my attaining the age of 65.  (Some people call it “Presidents Day,” but that's a misnomer.)  Apparently AARP believes today is Geri’s birthday as well.  But they aren't sure whether she’s my wife, because the envelope is addressed to “Ms.” Geri Thomas.  She must be my sister.  If we’re both the same age, she must be my twin sister.

Had I signed and returned the offers that Sis has received at my address over the past three decades, by now I would have dishonestly established an impressive second identity.


FEB. 14, 2012     I PREFER “ALTITUDE”

Maybe I haven't been paying attention, but I've just noticed a new quality for a college basketball player:  length.  Following South Florida's win over Pittsburgh last week, that term appeared in interviews with members of both teams.

USF's 6'6" guard Hugh Robertson said of defending against Pitt's 6'2" scorer Ashton Gibbs:  “He wasn't able to get his shots off.  I'm also quick enough to stay in front of him, but I think my length really did the job.”

And Pitt's Tray Woodall said of USF's team, “We played against the same big guys last year.  We knew how big they were, how physical they were, how long they were.”

I guess “length” must be another word for height?  And “long” must be another word for tall?

That reminds me of a certain Sally who was both long and tall in a Little Richard song.


FEB. 12, 2012     SCARY MOVIE

The Innkeepers, an independent horror film, opened in the Pittsburgh area this week (review here).  It was shot on location at an 1891 Connecticut inn.  And it turns out that in 1995, over the Memorial Day weekend, I lodged for several nights at that very establishment!

I can well imagine the Yankee Pedlar as a haunted hotel.  The scariest part to me was the creakily uneven staircase, leading to the worn carpet of an upper floor and the old wooden door of my room.



Is this “tomato sauce,” because it’s made from tomatoes?  Or is it “spaghetti sauce,” because you put it on spaghetti?  And what would the Romans call it?

History buffs, inquiring into the dietary habits of ancient Greece and Rome, have encountered the Latin word “garum.”  We’re told that garum was a popular fish sauce.

But that doesn’t explain it completely.  Was it a thick liquid made from fish?  That sounds weird.  Or was it a condiment to be added to fish, like tartar sauce?

It turns out that garum was actually made by packing fish intestines in salt, then letting them sit for months and ferment!

In modern times, various types of fish sauce are used in East Asian cuisine, from Thailand to Korea.

Here in the West, the most popular modern garum was first concocted in Britain nearly two centuries ago.  Did you realize that Worcestershire sauce, pronounced “woostersheer,” contains fermented anchovies?


FEB. 6, 2012     GOING TO CAL

My plans for this week include televising some college basketball from California.  It shouldn't take me much more than an hour to get there.  I explain, with pictures, here.



Many of the sports telecasts on which I work — football and basketball games at smaller colleges, high school games, Arena Football games — originate from compact mobile units like this one.  But the telecast of tomorrow's Super Bowl is something else entirely.

From 1980 to 1987, I was employed by a company called TCS.  Afterwards, many of its assets were purchased by a company called NEP, which is still headquartered just seven miles from my apartment.  And NEP has added a few trucks to its fleet over the years.  According to industry reports, the units whose floor plans are shown below are all in Indianapolis for the big event.

Most of these ten trucks will be involved in NBC's coverage of the game, although Denali (lower right) is for Madonna's halftime show and Supershooter 25 will provide the international feed to 180 other countries.  NBC will be employing 57 cameras and more than 475 people, which is at least an order of magnitude bigger than the games I usually work.



Public opinion polls prove very little, but maybe they can enlighten us.

In Rhode Island, a judge decreed that posting a prayer inside a government building violates the “establishment of religion” clause of the Constitution.  MSNBC asked online readers whether they agreed.  “Do you think a federal judge was right in ruling that the school prayer hanging on the wall of the Cranston High School West gym was unconstitutional?”

I imagine that a typical reader might respond this way:

“No!  The judge was not right!  What’s wrong with a prayer in a high school gym?  None of my friends would have a problem with that.  We’re all Baptists.  We have a prayer framed on the wall in our kitchen, and there are several others at church.  The school is no different.  All right, I’m voting ‘no.’  Everyone else will do the same, and that’ll show those pushy atheists this is America.  Let’s check the results.  ...What?  Only 17% ‘no’ and 82% ‘yes’?  That’s impossible!  The poll implies that 82% of us — 250 million Americans — actually believe in separation of church and state!  But, as the saying goes, ‘60 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong.’  Maybe I’m the one who’s wrong.  At least it gives me something to think about.”

What’s going on here?  Some of us realize that even though everyone in your family or your church may be a Baptist, not everyone in your school is.  And the government must respect all faiths, not only yours.  The government mustn’t be a party to proselytizing students by advertising your beliefs to them with a sign on the wall.

So as he often does on his blog, Minnesota biology professor PZ Myers helpfully posted a link to the MSNBC poll.  Many of his 100,000 daily visitors clicked on it.  Being of like mind, practically all of us voted “yes.”  And “yes” won by a vote of 130,189 to 26,794 (the last time I checked).

Deliberately skewing a public opinion poll by encouraging participation by a large bloc of people who agree with us — what a pointless prank!  But is it?  It forces tens of thousands of people who don’t agree with us to realize, to their horror, that not everyone shares their smugly-held opinion.  Perhaps a few of them will actually give the issue some thoughtful consideration.

UPDATE:  During the 2016 Presidential race, Dr. Myers remarked, “I used to do these pointless poll posts, sending readers off to mess with these dumb click-baity online polls, but I stopped.  The point was to show that these things are totally pointless, and don’t reflect anything of significance ... but people started thinking they were an end in themselves.  They weren’t.

“The same thing has happened to the news — polling has consumed ideas completely.  What I would like to see is a complete ban on speculation about who is winning on the news.

“Imagine a broadcast where Wolf Blitzer was totally silenced because he wasn’t able to portentiously declare that Candidate X was leading Candidate Y by Z percent in Bumbledump County, Nebraska, but instead had to say something about the issues in Bumbledump County and how X and Y would address them.

“It would completely change the dynamics of the news.  It would suddenly require that Wolf Blitzer know something and have the intelligence to comment on it, beyond saying that 53 is bigger than 47.  So it’ll never happen.”



In the pre-digital age, when the idea that everyone could carry a wireless telephone was still science fiction, I started my career in Marion, Ohio.

A new article recalls some technical details and drawbacks of Communicating in the '70s.  You also can listen to one example:  a call from a Marion Today viewer commenting on the early stages of the Watergate affair.



Forget that old conundrum about the chicken and the egg.  Today’s question:  Which came first, the human or the bird?

“The bird,” replies the scientist confidently.  “The fossil record tells us that birds evolved from dinosaurs roughly 150 million years ago, but it has been only a few million years since humans evolved from apes.”

“You’re lying,” retorts the creationist.  “Your so-called ‘evolution’ is only Satan’s attempt to lead our children astray and make them question their faith.  We know that God created everything at the same time.  That time was 6,015 years ago, in October of 4004 BC.”

“But I was under the impression,” the scientist objects, “that your book of Genesis says creation lasted for a week.  So God could have created birds on Tuesday and humans on Thursday, for example, or it could have been the other way around.”

“Well, I’ll have to check my Bible.  I’m a little fuzzy on those details.”

How well do you know your Bible?

This month’s “100 Moons” article consists of a quiz, with 28 questions and 61 Biblically-correct answers.


“When Christmas is over, we stop singing Christmas carols,” I noted on this website eight years ago.  “But why must secular carols be suspended as well?  Why must we take down our illuminated decorations?”

“December is relatively mild,” I noted back then.  (It was especially mild this winter.  We had a few snow squalls and flurries, but not until yesterday was there so much as an inch of snow on my sidewalk.)

I continued, “More so than in December, we need songs and lights and happy traditions to keep us going through the next four dark months:  the bitter cold of January, the snows of February, the storms of March, the lingering frosts of April.  We should sing about sleigh rides and snowmen and winter wonderlands when our frozen spirits most need a lift.”

That time is now!  We need to be reminded that blizzards can represent fun, not merely travel headaches.

(At right, I have fun in January 1956.)

Which “Christmas carols” should we still be singing?  Not those that celebrate the baby in the manger, of course, nor Santa in his workshop nor halls being decked for the new year.  So what is left?  Mainly songs about sweethearts cuddling.  Here’s a medley.

Now the ground is white.
Go it while you’re young!
Take the girls along
And sing this sleighing song:

Jingle, bells!  Jingle, bells!
Jingle all the way!
Oh, what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh!

Our cheeks are nice and rosy,
And comfy-cozy
     Are we.
We're snuggled up together
Like two birds of a feather
     Would be.

Let's take that road before us
And sing a chorus
     Or two.
Come on!  It's lovely weather
For a sleigh ride together
     With you. 

Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh,
O'er the fields we go,
Laughing all the way.
Bells on bob-tail ring,
Making spirits bright.
What fun it is to laugh and sing
A sleighing song tonight!

(I learned this version
in high school, in Mrs.
Goddard's Latin class.)

Tinnitus!  Tinnitus!
Semper tinnintus!
O tantum est gaudium
Dum vehimur in traha!

A day or two ago,
I thought I'd take a ride;
And soon Miss Fanny Bright
Was seated by my side.
The horse was lean and lank;
Misfortune seemed his lot.
He got into a drifted bank
And we — we got upsot.

Cascabeles!  Cascabeles!
Música de amor!
Dulce horas, gratas horas,
Juventud en flor!

Gone away is the bluebird.
Here to stay is a new bird.
     He sings a love song
     As we go along
Walking in a winter wonderland.

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown.
He'll say: Are you married?  We'll say: No, man;
But you can do the job when you're in town.

Later on we'll conspire,
As we dream by the fire,
     To face unafraid
     The plans that we've made,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful;
And since we've no place to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

It doesn't show signs of stopping,
And I brought some corn for popping.
The lights are turned way down low.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

     When we finally say good night,
     How I'll hate going out in the storm;
     But if you really hold me tight,
     All the way home I'll be warm.

The fire is slowly dying
And, my dear, we're still good-bye-ing;
But as long as you love me so,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

These clearly aren’t Christmas carols.  What should we call them?

Well, as soon as Santa departed, the shopkeepers immediately turned their attention to encouraging us to buy+buy+buy for the next big day, February 14.  Valentine’s Day decorations went up in all our retail establishments.

I submit that lyric celebrations of winter romance should henceforth be sung not in the autumn months of November and December but rather in the winter months of January and February.  And they should be known as “Valentine carols.”



Pittsburgh sports fans are used to winning, but they haven’t had a lot to cheer about during the last three weeks.

The Steelers — 2009 champions of the National Football League (and 2011 runners-up) — were eliminated in the first round of the 2012 playoffs by the 8-8 Broncos.

The Penguins — 2009 champions of the National Hockey League — have scored a total of only six goals in their last six games and have lost them all.

The Pitt men’s basketball team — 2011 champions of the Big East regular season — fell to 0-4 in the conference last night with their fifth straight loss.  In that game, the Panthers missed 28 of their 32 first-half shots (a 12.5% shooting percentage) and finished with only 39 points (their lowest total at home since the 1949-50 season).

Also, the Pitt football team was blown out in its bowl game.

Since Christmas, these four teams have rewarded their fans with a combined record of 2 wins, 12 losses.



Sometimes, as in “Socrates and Leadfoot” or “It’s in the Bible” or the conversation about bowl games just below, I like to cast my essays in the form of a dialogue between a naïve person and another who has a bit more information.  Rarely does the naïve person win the argument.  But the tables may be turned in my latest article, Give to the Rich.



When I was young, Sonny, we only had four bowl games.  All on New Year’s Day.

There are a lot more now, Daddy.  Six of them are still played on New Year’s Day, which this year was January 2nd —

I don’t understand that, either.  Something about Leap Year, I guess.

— but before that, in the last two weeks of December, we had 20 other bowls.

A total of 26 bowl games.  Too many!  But today is January 3rd.  At least I think so; it’s not still New Year’s Day, is it?


Then the bowl season should be over.

Not by a long shot.  We have another half-dozen left, one almost every night for the next week.

Football after dark!  That’s something else I don’t like.  College football should be played on Saturday afternoons, in the sunshine.

Well, one of those six is actually scheduled for this Saturday afternoon.  But the other five are in prime time.  Better TV ratings, you know.

Yeah, I know.  Well, they played the Rose Bowl yesterday.  New Year’s Day, January 2nd.  What’s left?

Tonight we'll have the Allstate Sugar Bowl.  Tomorrow is the Discover Orange Bowl.  Then there’s no game on Thursday —

Hold on.  The Discover Orange Bowl?  What’s a “discover orange”?

Nothing.  The game is actually the Orange Bowl, sponsored by Discover.  You remember the Orange Bowl, don’t you, Daddy?

Yes, they played it in my day.  They played a Sugar Bowl game, too, but it wasn’t named after Allstate Sugar.  I didn’t know Allstate sold sugar.

They don’t.  They sell insurance.

Then why isn’t it the Allstate Insurance Bowl?

Because it’s the Sugar Bowl.  They just stuck the sponsor’s name on the front, Allstate.

Humpf.  So what’s scheduled this weekend?

On Friday we have the AT&T Cotton Bowl —

Brought to us by AT&T Cotton.  I guess all these newfangled cell phones made AT&T’s copper wires obsolete and drove them into dry goods, huh?

Now you’re just being silly, Daddy.

Yes, I am.  I’m familiar with the Cotton Bowl.  It was around in my day.  And I know what AT&T is:  American Telephone and Telegraph.  They don’t do much telegraphing any more, but I guess they can sponsor football.

Then the following afternoon —

Wait a minute.  Didn't Penn State play in the Cotton Bowl already?  That was one of those six games yesterday, wasn't it?

Penn State played at the old Cotton Bowl Stadium, but the game was called the TicketCity Bowl.  The game on Friday is at Cowboys Stadium, and that's the actual AT&T Cotton Bowl.

I give up.  

But there's more.  On Saturday, down in Alabama, we have the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Never heard of it.

It used to be the PapaJohns.com Bowl, but now it’s the BBVA Compass Bowl.

A bunch of letters.  BVD, you say?

No, BBVA Compass.

Like a Boy Scout’s compass?


Or a compass for drawing circles?

Not that, either.  Compass is the name of a bank.  The BB part stands for the Bank of Bilbao.

Bill who?

Bilbao.  It’s the tenth largest city in Spain, Daddy.

We have to get Europeans to sponsor our football now?  I thought they liked soccer instead.

The bank has been buying up other banks, including Compass here in this country.  Some of its acquisitions are represented by the V and the A.  The “V” stands for Biscay; don’t ask.  Anyway, the company is now called BBVA Compass.

Humpf.  I can’t keep up with all this.

Next, on Sunday night they’ll play the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

Good idea.  It’s time for me to go.