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FEBRUARY 28, 2013     BEEPIN’

On television these days, half the commercials are for cars.  On the programs I watch, two-thirds.  Or so it seems.  I’ve seen back-to-back ads for competing brands, which used to be a no-no.

One of the commercials depicts a father driving through a parking garage, trying to find an empty space.  There’s one spot, but it’s apparently too small.  Not for him.  He unloads his family, retracts his side mirrors, squeezes into the space with an inch to spare, then exits through the power lift gate.

I had no idea which car this commercial was promoting.  (Further checking reveals it’s a Kia Sorento.)  But by the third time I saw it, I stopped paying attention to the story and began listening to the accompanying music.

I’m guessing that the creative services department went looking for an appropriate song and somehow discovered an obscure old record called “Beep-Beep-Beep.”  That sounds like a car, right?  And the first line of the song mentions “lookin’” and “searchin’,” which suggests trying to find a parking space.  Perfect.  But then I noticed that the lyrics included the word “Sputnik.”  What?!?

Sputnik was the first man-made satellite, launched by our mortal enemy the Soviet Union in October 1957.  Panicked Americans worried that the Soviets had more advanced missiles than we did.  News commentators played recordings of the repeated beeps being broadcast by the “artificial moon.”  They explained that it was traveling an incredible 18,000 miles an hour, orbiting far above Earth’s weather, moving from the day side of the planet to the night side and back again every 96 minutes.

It turns out that the next month (November 1957), a rhythm & blues group calling themselves Bobby Day and the Satellites recorded a song to capitalize on this news story.

They called it “Beep-Beep-Beep.”  Actually they had more soul than that; the background singers syncopated the title phrase.

(Sci-fi sound effects)  Beep-beep.  Beep.  Beep-beep.  Beep.

Lookin’ for you, baby, searchin’ all the world around.
     Beep-beep.  Beep.
Lookin’ for you, baby, searchin’ all the world around.
     Beep-beep.  Beep.
I jumped on Sputnik; didn’t know I was spaceward bound.
     Beep-beep.  Beep.  Beep-beep.  Beep.

I’m flyin’ so fast, just rippin’ through night and day.
     Beep-beep.  Beep.
I’m flyin’ so fast, just rippin’ through night and day.
     Beep-beep.  Beep.
I’m in my own little orbit.  Nothing better get in my way!
     Beep-beep.  Beep.  Beep-beep.  Beep.

Please, little baby, can’t you hear my beepin’ call?
     Beep-beep.  Beep.
Well, little baby, can’t you hear my beepin’ call?
     Beep-beep.  Beep.
Been flyin’ so high, but it’s you that’ll make me fall.
     Beep-beep.  Beep.  Beep-beep.  Beep.

Please, Mr. Moon, help me find that girl of mine.
     Beep-beep.  Beep.
Well, Mr. Moon, help me find that girl of mine.
     Beep-beep.  Beep.
What I didn’t know, baby, you were right behind me all the time.
     Beep-beep.  Beep.  Beep-beep.  Beep.

Oh, baby, baby,
     Beep-beep.  Beep.
Can’t you hear me?
     Beep-beep.  Beep.
Now we’re together;
     Beep-beep.  Beep.
Don’t mind the weather.
     Beep-beep.  Beep.

Unfortunately, this record did not become a hit in 1957.  Perhaps it was because “Beep-beep-beep” was an ominous reminder of our Soviet enemies.  We preferred to listen to the sounds of familiar, comfortable planet Earth, where all the little birdies go “Tweet-tweet-tweet.”

Thus it was that the next year, Bobby Day’s backup singers switched to Tweet, tweedle-lee-dee for his new record “Rockin’ Robin.” That one climbed all the way to #2 on the charts.



This website has everything, even including recipes.  A couple of them, anyway.  The instructions for preparing shredded chicken sandwiches and my mother’s beef stew are in this month’s 100 Moons article.



I’ve added a couple of aerial pictures to existing articles on this website, illustrating a couple of venues in my old hometown where I used to watch sports.  Baseball is here, and auto racing is here.

I’ve also added, here, another update about the way audience laughter was added to some old television sitcoms.



The Roman Catholic church was said to be shocked and stunned by yesterday’s announcement:  After serving eight years, Pope Benedict XVI will retire at the end of the month.  He will be replaced by a new pope around Easter.

This doesn’t happen often.  The last pontiff to resign voluntarily was Celestine V in 1294.  Usually the church’s leaders feel obligated to serve until death, fearing that if there were both a pope and a former pope alive, their respective partisans might break the church apart.  But Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi insists there’s “no risk” of a schism.

To those of us who live in democracies, this doesn’t seem like such a big deal.  In the United States, we change presidents at least every eight years.  Since 1976, Republican ex-presidents have pretty much faded away, avoiding making any criticism of their successors.  Democratic ex-presidents have remained more in the public eye, but they haven’t torn the nation apart. 

Lombardi said that upon his retirement, the 85-year-old Benedict would retreat to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence south of Rome.  After a conclave chooses his successor, he will move into a cloistered convent or monastery inside the Vatican walls, where he will “devotedly serve the holy church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.”

As an outsider, that’s the one flaw I see in the plan.  Ex-presidents aren’t given their own apartments in the White House to live out their days; they go back where they came from.  If the ex-pope is still in residence at the Vatican, he can be perceived as arguing with the new pope.  Couldn’t Benedict do his praying just as well in a cloistered monastery in his native Germany?



Ready for some more pictures from my home movies?  This time, after speculating on the whereabouts of a figure skater, Terry Rockhold and I will watch some lawn bowling and revisit a stage where I once saw Richard III.  The article is called Super 8: Canada.



Look!  Up in the sky!  Is it snow?  Is it sleet?  Is it rain?  Is it freezing rain?

No, according to My Yahoo!, it's "Unknown Precipitation."  We'd better don our hard hats.


JANUARY 31, 2013     WHO'S A BABY?

We often hear in the news that a legislator has proposed a measure to do such and such.  But a bill is not yet a law.  Even though a legislator has introduced it, it requires approval by committees, passage by both houses, and a signature by the chief executive before it goes into effect.  You can be arrested for breaking a law, but not for breaking a bill.

Similarly, I’d like to point out, a fetus is not a baby.  It’s likely to develop into a baby, but contrary to what some people insist, a fetus is not yet an actual citizen.  It has no date of birth, no name, no birth certificate.  Therefore, however abhorrent we may find abortion to be, a woman who aborts her pregnancy is not committing murder.

Yet many of those who oppose abortion refer to it as “killing babies.”  Pro-lifers say that Americans kill something like 3,300 “sweet and precious little ones” every day.

On the other end of the scale, of course, Americans occasionally kill young people whose age is greater than zero.  In particular, 20 students died in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  Most of them were six years old; a few were older.

To me, a “baby” is an infant, and these were not babies; these were children.  Six-year-olds don’t like to be called babies.  They’re big boys and girls now.  They go to school.  Yet in the aftermath, some people referred to them as babies.

Laura Feinstein, a Sandy Hook teacher:  “I can’t imagine who would do this to our poor little babies.”

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin:  “Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered.”

Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee:  “Certainly our hearts go out for those babies that were lost.”

Country singer Ashley Monroe: "My heart is literally breaking for all those precious babies and their families in Connecticut.”

Actress Alyssa Milano: "My heart and soul aches for the parents of those babies lost and for the babies that have to somehow heal and overcome.”

Why do we want to confer babyhood on those who are obviously not infants?

For many people, particularly women, it's simple.  An infant is irresistibly cute.  “Aw, look at that dear little thing!  See those tiny little fingers!  Such a miracle!  So precious!  Is it a boy or a girl?”  And their protective instincts take over; like a parent, the last thing they want is for any harm to come to this helpless little human.  They keep on considering it a “baby” whether its age is –½ or +6.

Ever notice how in soap operas, an anguished mother will sob, “Where is my baby?  I want my baby back!”  It’s never “Where is Nathan Junior?”  The generic notion of a lost baby (not a specific missing person) strikes a powerful emotional chord in most members of the audience.

Not me.  To me,  infants are not all that cute.  I’m the nerdish guy whose eyes widen instead at a store display of calculators, having found these complex gadgets fascinating since they first became available 40 years ago.  They're litle mathematical miracles.

Bill Crawford, a comedian on a radio show here in Pittsburgh, also dislikes infants.  He has two young daughters, but he admits he didn’t really want to be around them until they were at least old enough to talk, like a real person.

Conclusion:  there are enough actual babies around, annoying us with their bawling and pooping, yet unable to carry on a conversation.  Let’s not misapply the word “baby,” for emotional reasons, to include the unborn and the toddler. 



Half a century ago, the Ed Sullivan Theater was the setting for a variety hour on CBS-TV called The Garry Moore Show.  The troupe of singers and dancers would begin each week's festivities with an opening number, at the conclusion of which Garry would welcome each of the cast members and guest stars as they were announced — including Carol Burnett.

On one particular show in 1962, a couple of comedy bits featuring Carol caught my fancy, and I made transcripts.

The last major segment of the show was usually a revue called "That Wonderful Year," based on the events of a particular time in history and closing with everyone singing:

Do you recall,
Remember at all,
That wonderful, wonderful year?

Well, do you recall that wonderful year 1962?  My transcripts are in this month's "100 Moons" article.


There are people who use social media to perversely claim to be someone they’re not.  Apparently Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was drawn into one such hoax.  Because of his celebrity, when it was brought to light last week it caused a media sensation.

(Te’o wasn’t a completely innocent victim.  In particular, when his father embarrassed him by asking whether he’d ever even met his online friend, he said of course he had.  His father repeated his lies to other people, and the situation soon got out of control.)

How could anyone convince himself that a girl he had never seen in person was the “love of his life” until she died — when she never really existed?  I suspect the reason has to do with the fact that Te’o is very religious.

Journalist Dan Wetzel writes, “He is said to be a particularly devout Mormon from a sheltered upbringing who has a personality that seeks the finest in everyone he meets.  His speeches, his interviews, his sideline antics and his propensity to tear up at any moment are unusual for any young man, especially a football player.  It's not just the inflection in his voice — part preacher/part overwhelmed parishioner — it's also the content it delivers.  ... The guy is gullible.  He's naïve.  He's trusting in ways that nearly defy belief, almost wide-eyed in wonder at all sorts of things in life.”

Religious people do tend to be gullible.

Muslims are told that if they die a martyr’s death, 72 virgins will welcome them to heaven.  Some subscribe to this and strap on suicide bombs.

Mormons are told that their founder Joseph Smith unearthed a set of gold plates with ancient writing on them.  He stuck his face into a hat and “translated” them, after which the plates conveniently disappeared.  The translation became Mormon scripture.

Catholics are told that if they eat a certain wafer, they’re actually eating the flesh of a man who died over 2,000 years ago, and this is a good thing.

Christians in general are told that this Jesus isn’t really dead.  Now he takes a personal interest in them as individuals and has gone to heaven to prepare a place for them after they die.  Have they ever seen Jesus?  They’ve seen pictures.  When he died, were they there?  They’ve been told what happened.  Have they talked to him?  They’ve prayed.

How could anyone believe these tall tales?  It’s because they have faith.  They don’t want to question what they’ve been told, however unlikely it may seem to the rest of us, because it can be a great comfort to them.



My attention span is quite variable.

If I get comfortable on the couch to watch a TV show or even a sports event, there’s a very good chance I won’t be awake for the end of it.  I’m not actively involved but merely passively absorbing pictures and sounds, so I tend to doze off in less than half an hour.  I don’t watch many movies.  Neither does Dilbert.

I usually fall asleep during movies.  If you put me in a darkened room for more than thirty minutes, it doesn't matter how good the entertainment is; I'll be off to dreamland before the opening credits are done.  I tried hard to sleep through Les Miserables but I was continuously thwarted by something they call "singing."  This movie was full of singing.  And by singing, I mean the sad wailing of filthy, miserable people.   

— Scott Adams

On the other hand, one Sunday last month I began thinking about a certain story and how I could rewrite it in greater detail.  I considered assigning this action to this character and that speech to that other character.  By Monday morning I had the outline in my mind and had started working out some of the actual phrasing, so around 11:00 I typed the first words into my computer.  As it turns out, they were a footnote explaining a poem I wanted to include.  I added some blocks of text, did some research, added some more blocks, and rearranged everything into something resembling the story I wanted.  Then I started at the beginning and made numerous changes.  When I got to the end, I returned to the beginning and made another editing pass.  Then I did it again and again and again.  Each time I found small improvements to make, so I couldn’t stop.  Finally, around 7:00, having missed lunch and neglected other chores I had intended to do that day and having sat at my computer keyboard for eight hours straight (doctors don’t recommend this), I had converted 43 verses from the Gospels into a 2300-word story.

After further editing on subsequent days, this story has become my latest article for this website, Cana.  You should be able to passively absorb it within 20 minutes.



As I neared the age of 64 two years ago, one morning I found I could eat only half my breakfast.  Was my stomach full?  No, it wasn’t quite like that; I simply lost my appetite, felt slightly queasy, and didn’t want to eat any more.

This phenomenon recurred from time to time throughout 2011.  However, lack of appetite wasn’t causing me to starve.  Since college, I had been steadily gaining a couple of pounds per year and had reached an obese 250 pounds.  During 2011, despite occasional times when I had no appetite, my weight gain accelerated a bit and I reached 257 by Thanksgiving.

But something changed in 2012.  Most food became unappealing to me most of the time.  I could always eat lighter things like soup or fruit salad, but if I ordered a full meal at a restaurant, I chose a smaller “senior citizens portion” if possible.  I found myself eating only one complete meal a day.  And, as a result, I began losing about 1.2 pounds per week.

I considered this a good thing.  Without having to go through the rigors of dieting or exercising or denying myself food that I wanted, I was shedding some of my excess weight, and at about the rate that a dieter would want.

When I saw my doctor in August, however, his reaction was one of alarm.  At that point I had lost 36 pounds since my last visit in March, and unexplained weight loss can be a warning sign.  So his first question was, “How long has it been since you’ve had a colonoscopy?”

I promptly scheduled a colonoscopy, my third.  Over the next several months, my doctor and a hematologist also ordered a chest X-ray, various blood and urine tests, and an endoscopy.  The good news:  Everything looks normal, or almost so (I’m slightly anemic, and they’ve given me an antacid prescription).  The cause of my loss of appetite remains unknown, but at least we’ve found nothing life-threatening.

However, by modifying my behavior I’ve been able to halt the weight loss at about 212 pounds (still in the “obese” range but only 20 pounds from merely “overweight”).  I try to force myself to eat at least two meals a day even if I don’t want to.  Instead of unsweetened iced tea at a restaurant, I frequently order a milkshake, or perhaps I add a dessert.  Some days my appetite is good, some days not, but for now my weight is stable.

Wasn’t it an ordeal going through all those tests?  Not really.  In particular, the colonoscopy and endoscopy, in which a long tube with a small camera is inserted into one end or the other of one’s gastrointestinal tract, were almost pleasant!

The preparation for the colonoscopy was not as onerous as my previous experiences; the liquid diet on the day before the exam suited my reduced appetite just fine.  The preparation for the endoscopy was a bit annoying, as I had to have an empty stomach and couldn’t drink any liquids beforehand.

On the morning of each exam, a neighbor drove me to the hospital (only five blocks from my apartment) and accompanied me to registration.  Then a nurse took over, asking me a few questions.  We chatted as she showed me to a cubicle where I made myself comfortable on a hospital bed.  She hooked up an IV, the doctor came in and talked to me, and then I rested half an hour or so until they were ready for me.  They wheeled me into the nearby room with all the equipment, efficiently hooked up some monitors, and rolled me over onto my left side.

The next thing of which I was aware was the nurses telling me, rather loudly through my fog, that the procedure was over and everything looked fine.  (The drugs must have improved since my previous colonoscopy, when I did vaguely perceive some pushing and a comment about getting the probe around a bend in my colon.  Either that, or this time they gave me a larger dose of sedatives.)  After some time to recover my senses, I got dressed again.  I assured my neighbor that I felt fine and was returned to my apartment, where I relaxed for the rest of the day.

It was like a 3½-hour visit to a spa.  Everything was about me!  Everyone was solicitous of my comfort and well-being.  And aside from a small pinch when the IV was inserted, it didn’t hurt at all.

So if someone says you ought to have a colonoscopy, fear not the insertion of a tube into a sensitive area.  You won’t feel a thing, and you might even enjoy your visit to the hospital.


JANUARY 4, 2013     HOODY!

When I was in high school in 1965, someone took pictures during the dress rehearsal of our senior class play, and some of those photos ended up in the yearbook.  Also, I saved the script.

And thus it is that I am able, nearly half a century later, to write an article about it for this website.  I can reconstruct, in detail, that Friday night on stage.  I can even reimagine, in color, one memorable moment from the party that followed.

The play was Dear Diary, a comedy. Click the title for the story.