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I’ve been watching the news all week.  Isn’t it terrible about all the destruction from Hurricane Sandy?

It is.  And the human suffering is far from over.  Some people will be without electricity for many more days, and others will return to their homes and find them destroyed.  And the other property damage?  It’s a great tragedy.

And it’s just like the weathermen were predicting all last week.  “Frankenstorm,” they called it.  You live in Pennsylvania, right?  Wasn’t that one of the states that was hard hit?

Eastern Pennsylvania was, but I live in western Pennsylvania.  Around here, we've only had to put up with several rainy days.

You were fortunate.

Yes, we were.  Our neighbors in West Virginia had a blizzard, but there was nothing like that where I live.

My pastor says that this storm was a sign from God.  God is warning America to repent of its sins.

Oh, really?  Which sins in particular?

Allowing gay marriage, mostly.  My pastor gave me a pamphlet quoting Chaplain John McTernan.  What does he say?  Oh, here it is:  “What a sign from the holy God of Israel that American politics is an abomination to Him!  A pro-homosexual Mormon [Mitt Romney], along with a pro-abortion/homosexual Muslim Brotherhood promoter and Hard Left Fascist [Barack Obama], are running for president.  And there is no cry of repentance from God’s people!  I see this storm as a warning from the LORD to call His church to repentance.  This might be the last call from the Holy God of Israel.”

Hmm.  So the good chaplain feels that God is upset because the two Christians running for president aren’t the right kind of Christians for him.  They don’t hate gays and Muslims and other people the way they ought to.

Mormons are an evil cult.  They aren’t Christians!

Yes, they are.  It’s right there in their name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Any group can claim to be a “Church of Jesus Christ.”

And what’s the name of your church again?

Never mind that.  We’ve got to get back to the Bible!

You know, if God doesn't want certain people to marry, it seems odd to me that he would warn us by sending bad weather.  If he sends bad weather, he’s more likely to be warning us about the weather, about changing the climate.

We aren’t causing climate change!  Only God can do that.

That’s not what the meteorologists say.  They’re the same experts who predicted exactly what Hurricane Sandy would do.  Don’t you think they might also be right about global warming?

There’s no way.

Here, I’ve got a pamphlet myself.  This guy writes that “Republicans refuse to accept anthropogenic global warming as anything other than a liberal scare tactic, a plot; something that is no more likely than a raped woman getting pregnant.  It is literally against their religion.  So instead of acknowledging a scientific basis for storms like Hurricane Sandy, the GOP is forced to adopt the position that they are only a continuing sign of their god’s displeasure with the human race.”

Who wrote that?

Hrafnkell Haraldsson.

Not even an American name!  He has no right to say what Republicans are thinking.

He has as much right as you and I to say what God is thinking.  Do you want to know my opinion of what God is thinking?

Not really.

“I am God.  When I created this planet, I buried all the extra carbon deep inside the earth, where the surplus could do no harm.  But these humans have turned the earth over; they have torn it apart; they have ripped out the coal and sucked up the oil.  For their own purposes, they have burned these ancient fossils.  The carbon has become carbon dioxide, and the carbon dioxide is accumulating in the very air they breathe.  There’s so much of it that it’s raising the temperature of the planet.

“Now some of the humans’ own scientists foresee a disaster.  They predict that because temperatures are rising, the sea will rise as much as another seven feet by the end of the century.  Others add that hurricanes and other bad weather will become ever more extreme.  So the humans’ own experts warn of the consequences of their environmental recklessness.

“Of course, the big energy corporations want to protect their riches.  They encourage the lie that temperatures are not rising.

“Therefore I have sent my own warning, which the humans call Sandy — the first fruits of what is to come.”


Did you read what Joseph Farah of WND wrote after the last big hurricane?  “God’s trying to get your attention.  Are you paying heed?  What will it take?  Will your world have to be turned upside down before you recognize what’s happening?  Would even that be enough?”

He wasn't talking about global warning.  Global warming is a lie.

All I can do is quote from the gospel of Matthew [7th chapter, 26th verse ISV, 27th verse NIV]:  “Everyone who keeps on hearing these messages of mine and never puts them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”



It was the spring on the plains of Union County, Ohio, back in the early Sixties.  As managers for the school’s track and field team, David and I were preparing the high jump.  Was the crossbar level?  The two standards that supported either end — were they adjusted to the same height?  I sighted from the top of one to the top of the other and observed that the horizon was directly behind the far top.  Yes, they were the same height.  I was quite proud of my clever surveying.

Flash forward fifty years.  There was not a cloud in the sky this past Thursday afternoon.  It was about 12:45, and our TV crew was setting up for a high school football game, due to kick off shortly after 7:00.

Where should we put our on-field cameras?  Sometime after 6:00, we would be taping our announcers on the sideline for the first segment of the show.  We were concerned about the lighting.  We didn’t want the setting sun to be directly behind them.

So which way was west?  A couple of the guys pointed to a hill looming behind the pressbox.  The hill would block the sunset from our view, and there would be no problem.

That didn’t seem right to me.  I had seen an aerial view of the field, and I thought west was on the opposite side.  It was time for some cogitation.

“We’re on daylight time,” I said, “which means that the actual sun time is not 12:45 but closer to 11:45, almost high noon.  At noon, shadows point north.  Look at the shadow of the goalposts.  North is over that way, so south is back this way behind the hill, and west is over there.

“But it’s late October.  At this time of year the sun is lower in the sky, and it doesn’t actually set in the west.  More like west-southwest.  That way.”  I pointed at the horizon.  “I say the sun will set just to the left of that cell phone tower.”

The others weren’t convinced, but as the afternoon wore on, the sun dutifully arced across the sky toward the place I had pointed out.  And it set just to the left of the cell phone tower!

I felt like Christopher Columbus predicting a lunar eclipse to the Jamaicans.  My friends were impressed.  They’ll never doubt me again.  It feels good to be right.  And it feels good to see a scientifically-derived prediction confirmed.  Science rules!



Over two decades ago, I conceived a unique museum to demonstrate the size of the universe.

Every time you went up a ramp to the next level, the models of the planets and other objects became 90% smaller. 

Conversely, going down made the universe bigger, until an electron was as much as 20 feet across.

I imagine visiting my museum in this month's "100 Moons" article.



These are two of the participants in the great sporting event of 1973.  I photographed them with my Super8 movie camera in the parking lot where it all began.

The full story, with lots of pictures, is at Super 8: Bread Rally.  Click away to meet my friends!


OCTOBER 15, 2012     WHY?  WHY?

Last year I wrote that it always happens.  It’s happened again.  The world of TV situation comedies has gotten too predictable.

On tonight’s How I Met Your Mother, new parents Marshall and Lily had a decision to make about their infant son.  He never appeared on camera, but they were concerned about him nonetheless:  if something happened to them, his parents, who would be his guardian?

The grandparents would be the obvious guardians, but they were rejected for reasons never explained — even though Grandpa Mickey was taking care of the boy off-camera.  Instead, Marshall and Lily decided to choose a guardian from among the other three major characters on the show.  These three friends, all of them unmarried, competed enthusiastically against each other to win the responsibility.  There was even a game show involved.  The situation was completely unbelievable.

At the end of the show, the parents admitted that since becoming saddled with a child, they no longer had time to socialize with their three childless friends.  Not as much time as before, anyway.  But, in a warm and fuzzy moment, they decided to list all three as co-guardians.  ’Twas a farce.

TV writer Mark Rothman blogged about baseball yesterday.

As someone who has spent the better part of ten years in Detroit, watching the Tigers and getting nauseous, allow me to indicate my perpetual disappointment in the way their manager, Jim Leyland, handles his pitchers.  Particularly his relievers.  Particularly his closer, Jose (Papa Grande) Valverde.

Your closer is supposed to be your best one-inning pitcher.  A closer's battle ribbons are Saves.  Valverde has garnered a lot of Saves.

But every time Leyland brings him into a game in a Save situation, the 45,000 fans in Comerica Park have their hearts in their mouths.  Because he almost invariably, immediately, gets himself into trouble.

But because Comerica, the Tigers home park, is so huge, he rarely gives up home runs, and gets himself out of the trouble he created, just well enough to Save the day.  Just like Mighty Mouse.

In Pittsburgh this season, I had the same reaction whenever Clint Hurdle brought in the Pirates closer, Joel Hanrahan.  It seems to me that a closer ought to be like Cincinnati’s fireballer Aroldis Chapman, using overpowering “stuff” to utterly dominate the opponent and get three quick outs to end the game.  Hanrahan, on the other hand, always seemed to make the ninth inning interesting.  He would allow a couple of runners to advance into scoring position before (hopefully) registering the third out.

Were these impressions correct?  I checked the stats for Major League Baseball’s most-used closers during the 2012 regular season — that is, the top dozen in terms of Save Opportunities.  Here they are, ranked in order of WHIP (Walks + Hits allowed per Inning Pitched).


Saves / Opp,  Pct


     Craig Kimbrel



42 / 45,   93%


     Fernando Rodney



48 / 50,   96%


     Aroldis Chapman



38 / 43,   88%


     Jason Motte



42 / 49,   86%


     Jim Johnson



51 / 54,   94%


     Jonathan Papelbon



38 / 42,   91%


     Joe Nathan



37 / 40,   93%


     Chris Perez



39 / 43,   91%


     Rafael Soriano



42 / 46,   91%


     Jose Valverde



35 / 40,   88%


     Joel Hanrahan



36 / 40,   90%


     John Axford



35 / 44,   80%


If we ignore the Brewers’ Axford, who struggled in the middle of the season but came back to convert 17 of his last 18 save opportunities, we see that Valverde and Hanrahan were in fact the worst of this group.  Valverde had the worst ERA.

Why can’t all closers be as reliable as Fernando Rodney, who led the group with 74.2 innings pitched, only five earned runs allowed, and only two blown saves?  Why, indeed?


OCTOBER 11, 2012     ON THE JOB

That is I on the right, performing my professional duties at a high school football game last month.

The photo comes from the company that provides the technical equipment for most of our football telecasts.

To illustrate what I’ve been doing lately, I’ve added several of their pictures to the article about my work in this decade.  Click here.



Road construction projects around here often force the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to temporarily close one of a highway’s lanes, forcing two lanes of traffic to merge into one.  I’m glad to see that the orange signs they post in such cases, USE BOTH LANES TO MERGE POINT followed by MERGE HERE / TAKE YOUR TURN, are gaining wider acceptance.

Seven years ago, I praised them in this note.  Today, Jon Schmitz reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Several studies have determined that the zipper merge, which was pioneered by PennDOT and now is used in several other states, improves traffic flow by 15 percent to 20 percent. That's nine to 12 minutes off of an hour-long delay.

Traffic engineers also say it improves safety and reduces the possibility of road rage incidents. When drivers merge too soon, one lane backs up and those in line grow frustrated with anyone using the open lane to get ahead of them. Some will even straddle both lanes to block those trying to advance, creating a volatile situation.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation notes that zipper merging also eliminates the speed differences between the two lanes, something that can be hazardous.

But hold on.  “That's nine to 12 minutes off of an hour-long delay”?  Do we really delay traffic by as much as an hour merely by closing one lane of a highway?

Around here we do, especially if the remaining lane of traffic then has to leave the highway and negotiate city streets and stop signs before getting back on.  This will be the case at the notorious inbound Squirrel Hill Tunnels for the next two weekends.  "At times it was up to two hours on the detour in the last two weekend closures," PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi told the newspaper. "We definitely want people to consider alternate routes."

Normally it’s about 15 miles west from Monroeville through the tunnels (a big red X this weekend) to downtown Pittsburgh.  One of the alternate routes being suggested seems outrageous:  29 miles northwest on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, then looping back to travel another 21 miles south via Interstates 79 and 279.  That 50-mile detour will take more than an hour to drive, “assuming no congestion along those routes.”

But one hour is better than two, and motorists won’t have to deal with bumper-to-bumper conditions.  Considering some of the construction delays we have to endure around here, the long detour is not really that outrageous.



Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order an account of the recent travails of the baseball team known as the Pittsburgh Pirates, it seemed good to me also to write.  Yet what could I add to what has already been chronicled by the local scribes?

I can depict the last two summers graphically, using my Diamond Brick Road.

As you most surely know already, most excellent Theophilus, this is a chart of a baseball season.  Starting at the bottom, a team moves one block up and to the left for each win, and one block up and to the right for each loss.  The vertical line separates the gold half of the graph (a winning record) from the white half (a losing record).  For 20 seasons now, the Pirates have failed to finish in the gold.

The 2011 season is represented by the faded trace on the right.  From a high point on July 20 of 51-44, seven games over .500, the Pirates disappointed their fans by going 21-46 the rest of the way.  That’s a winning percentage of .313.  They finished 18 games below .500.

This year, Pittsburgh held at least a share of the NL Central Division lead for 15 days, including July 3 through 14.  Those days on top are represented by the green diamonds on the left trace.  But the other team on top, the Cincinnati Reds, won an amazing 22 of their 25 games from July 6 through August 4.  They claimed the division lead for the rest of the season.

However, the overachieving second-place Pirates kept on winning.  Fans figured that even if they couldn’t catch the runaway Reds, they were at least a cinch for a wild-card berth.  Pittsburgh was 16 games over .500 four times, indicated by the four little outlined diamonds on the graph:  July 28 (58-42), August 1, August 6, and August 8 (63-47).  Barring a disaster, they seemed assured of at least a .500 record when the line reached the season’s end at the top of the graph.

But then came the disaster.  After August 8, they went 16-36 for a winning percentage of .308 — even worse than last year’s collapse.  They were shut out with a week left in the season, no-hit two nights later, and shut out again in the season finale.

If they had played the entire season with that level of futility, they would have finished with a record of 50-112, five games behind the woeful Houston Astros.  However, because of their success in the first two-thirds of the year, the Pirates were able to struggle to the finish with a record of 79-83.

That’s still a losing record.  At least this year’s Pirates stayed in the gold longer than last year’s, and they totaled seven more wins.  If the local team can improve another seven games next season, they could actually end the 20-year losing streak by finishing above .500 in 2013.  We can hope, anyway.



As my 31st season telecasting Major League Baseball draws to a close, last night for the first time I finally worked a no-hit game!  The Pittsburgh Pirates were held without a hit by Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds.  This doesn’t happen often; the last time the Pirates were victims of a no-hitter was in 1971, with Bob Gibson on the mound.

However, it isn’t unusual recently for the Pirates to be held without a run.  They’ve been shut out 14 times this year.  The local team is now 76-81, last night’s loss having clinched their 20th consecutive season of losing at least as many games as they won.  That extends the record of futility the Pirates already held:  in the history of the four major North American professional sports, 20 years is the longest streak ever without a winning season.

When you passively watch a no-hitter unfold on TV, in the late innings every out is a moment of high drama.  Surprisingly, that wasn’t my experience in the TV truck.  We were too busy to think about it.  We started to build a panel listing the Reds’ no-hitters (the most recent was a perfect game by Tom Browning against the 1988 Dodgers), had to deal with a technical problem, finished the panel, prepared the other graphics we’d need after the last out, watched the final couple of fly balls, and the game was over.

Rachel Carson grew up in a farmhouse near Springdale, Pennsylvania, just five miles from where I’m living now.  Fifty years ago this week, she published Silent Spring, a book that that helped start the environmental movement by exposing the detrimental effects of pesticides like DDT.

As a teenager in Ohio, I had read glowing articles in Reader’s Digest and elsewhere reporting the wonderful benefits of pesticides.  These chemicals were wiping out insect-borne diseases in Africa and increasing crop yields on farms everywhere.  They were building a better world as part of the “Green Revolution.”

I resented the accusation that DDT was somehow evil.  It seemed to me that Rachel Carson and her friends wanted to ignore the advances of science.  She wanted to turn back the clock to a preindustrial age, when disease and starvation were rampant.

Since then, of course, I’ve moved on to a more nuanced view of such matters.  New inventions and discoveries have both advantages and disadvantages, and we have to weigh the good against the bad.



For the latest in my series of revised Biblical stories, told in the first person but with an irreverent twist, this time I’ve rewritten an entire book of the Bible.  It’s a short book.  As the narrator, I’m a teller of tall tales who takes a detour through a huge fish before agreeing to prophesy in the enemy capital of Nineveh.

Oh Jonah, he lived in the whale;
Oh Jonah, he lived in the whale.
For he made his home in
That fish's abdomen.
Oh Jonah, he lived in the whale.

I’m preachin’ this sermon to show
It ain't necessarily so.
The things that you’re liable
To read in the Bible,
It ain't necessarily so.

— Ira Gershwin in Porgy and Bess



The study of "communication" teaches ways to facilitate the transmission of ideas to others.  Does it also teach how to inhibit the transmission of ideas?  I raise that question in this month's "100 Moons."


An anonymous blog poster asserts that “science came into this world to save us from the original sin of believing in gods.”

However, inspired by the fourth Gospel (in the left column below), I'd like to point out (in the right column) that scientific laws existed even before there were scientists to discover them.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

In the beginning were the laws of physics.  Science was with God, and science was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

The physical laws were there from the beginning.  Everything formed in accordance with these laws, and without them was not anything made that was made.  That includes life, and life's natural evolution has led to human beings.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

The light of knowledge shines in the darkness of superstition, though the darkness does not understand it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.

There are men of understanding, whose names have included Galileo and Darwin and Einstein.  They come as witnesses, to reveal the universe to us, that all of us through them might free ourselves from our superstition.

He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

They have not themselves attained perfection; they make mistakes; but they bear witness to the light.  Complete understanding, which gives light to everyone, is still coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Science was in the world; but the world, though it owed its being to it, did not recognize it.  Though the truth was proclaimed to all, the flat-earthers refused to believe it.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory.

But as many who did accept it, to them science gave the power to become true children of knowledge.  The truth made its home among us, and we began to understand the glory of the universe.



Sometimes on our sports telecasts, one of our reporters comes up with a human interest tidbit.  “Did you know that Bob Webb and Chuck Magill were once actually on the same team?  It was back in the fall of 1963, when they were sophomores at Richwood High School in Ohio.”  And, for Visual Proof, he’ll e-mail me an old photo that I’m expected to include in a television graphic.

I would prefer a picture like this one from the 1964 yearbook, with Webb and Magill conveniently side by side.

Unfortunately, many times all that’s available is a team portrait like the one below.  Even with Magill and Webb highlighted, it’s not easy to recognize them on the TV screen.  (By the way, that’s me in the dark shirt on the far left.)

As far as I’m concerned, team portraits usually do not qualify as adequate Visual Proof.

Also, many of these old photos have been scanned from newspapers or other publications.  They were originally printed using tiny, evenly-spaced halftone dots.  Under normal circumstances, our eyes blur these different-sized dots into continuous shades of gray.

But when I try to put a photo like this on television, the dots interfere with the tiny, evenly-spaced TV pixels, because the spacing doesn’t match up.  That results in an ugly moiré pattern (far right).

A moiré does not qualify as acceptable Visual Proof.  When presented with a halftone photo, I first need to blur out the dots, then sharpen the picture to make it seem more detailed.

Please keep these considerations in mind when presenting photos for your telecast.



I’ve visited every state except Alaska.  I’ve also visited five Canadian provinces, the United Kingdom, South Korea, and Japan.

I’ve worked on televised sports events in 47 of those 57 places (all except Arkansas, Idaho, Montana, New Brunswick, New Mexico, North and South Dakota, Nova Scotia, Vermont, and Wyoming, where I was merely a tourist).

A dozen years ago, a typical September would find me in an airport as many as five days a week, flying to various cities for baseball and football telecasts on Fox Sports Net and Fox Family Network and FX.

Air travel was easier then.  Security restrictions were less onerous; and, more importantly, US Airways still had a hub here in Pittsburgh, so most of my trips were direct flights.  Nowadays travelers from Pittsburgh usually have to fly first to some other hub (like Chicago or Atlanta or Washington) to make a connection.

Around the turn of the century, however, all those Fox national cablecasting contracts went to other networks, and I was free to work closer to home.

I’ve been very fortunate.  I’ve become the crewers’ first choice when they need a local Duet operator for several professional teams:  the Pittsburgh Pirates, Penguins, Steelers (preseason only), and Power (arena football).  And when there are separate telecasts for the home team and the visitors, I get to work on the home telecast with familiar faces.  I’m also the crewers’ first choice for high school football games and for college games at Pitt, Duquesne, Robert Morris, Saint Francis of Pennsylvania, and California of Pennsylvania.

I also occasionally get calls for events outside the Pittsburgh area, but with enough work here at home, I generally turn those down unless they’re within driving distance.  For practical purposes that means between Cleveland and Harrisburg, although for past assignments I’ve driven as far as Chicago in one direction and Long Island in the other.

The last time I was on an airplane was five years ago today!  And as I have attained the age of 65½, it’s possible I might never have to visit an airport again.