About Site

JUNE \ MAY 2013


JUNE 29, 2013     STEVE & EDIE

Singer/songwriter Edie Brickell (Paul Simon’s wife for the past 21 years) will be in Pittsburgh tomorrow night along with comedian/banjoist Steve Martin.  Their concert at Heinz Hall will promote their album “Love Has Come for You.”

Do you remember Edie from her 1988 debut single, “What I Am”?   “I’m not aware of too many things,” she sang, “but I know what I know.  Don’t let me get too deep” into topics like philosophy or religion.

Philosophy?  The song dismisses the speculations of philosophers as merely “the talk on a cereal box” and a dangerous “walk on the slippery rocks.”

Religion?  It's “the smile on a dog.”  People may like to believe that dogs smile, but they don’t.  Their mouths aren’t built that way, so dogs use body language like wagging tails to express pleasure.  Religion is also “a lie in the fog.”  People may like to believe in it, but it isn’t real either.

At least that’s the way I heard it.  Although the official lyrics are “a light in the fog,” pop singers like Edie don’t always pronounce their consonants clearly.  What I heard is a bold metaphor: “Religion is a lie in the fog.”  Could be the title of a book.


JUNE 26, 2013

The late Carl Martin, a member of the Richwood High School Class of 1965, is the subject of this month's 100 Moons article.



Author Howard Jonas took out a full-page ad in Wednesday’s newspapers promoting his book Faith and Depression.  The ad includes an excerpt from the book, in which — as a naïve teenager — he comes up with a novel reason for believing in God.

“The laws that people write are always written to serve the particular interest of the party in power,” he observes somewhat cynically.  “But the laws in the Bible favor neither the rich nor the poor.  One law stood out so clearly that ... I realized that the Bible was a work of Divine genius.  It is the law of the Jubilee year.”

Leviticus 25:10 commands “Ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”  All farmland is to be returned to its original owners or their heirs, and all slaves are to be returned to their families.

“Now who wrote that?” demands Jonas. “Not the landowners; none of them were going to give back their land every fifty years.  Not the poor; there is no way they were going to wait fifty years.  The priestly clan?  If this group wrote the Bible, why did they exclude themselves from the distribution of the land?”

For my part, I too thought this was an ill-advised regulation.  Who would buy property in Year 40 knowing that in Year 50 he would have to give it back?

But then I read further.  Leviticus explains (25:14-16), “When you sell or buy land amongst yourselves, neither party must exploit the other.  You must pay your fellow-countryman according to the number of years since the Jubilee, and he must sell to you according to the remaining number of annual crops.  The more years there are to run, the higher the price.”  In effect, you’re not buying the land in Year 40; you’re only taking out a ten-year lease.

And why would anyone find it in their interest to promulgate such a law?

A little extra-biblical research reveals that centuries earlier, the Babylonians had a similar procedure.  Their problem was that buying and selling eventually left many farmers hopelessly in debt, while the land was controlled by a few very rich landowners. 

Economist Michael Hudson writes that the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians knew that debts had to be periodically forgiven, because the amount of debts will always surpass the size of the real economy.  “Mesopotamian economic thought c. 2000 BC rested on a more realistic mathematical foundation than does today’s orthodoxy.”  Therefore, to restore balance to society, from time to time the Babylonian king decreed a “clean slate”:  debts were canceled, and people could return to the lands they had sold.

The Bible’s 50-year cycle was a major improvement because it was regular and predictable, allowing the pro-rating of prices as in my Year 40 example.  The Jubilee also preserved the original division of land among the Israelite tribes.  It was a product not of divine genius but of practical planning.

But young Howard Jonas did no extra research about this passage from the Bible.  He merely “read it and thought about it.”  He didn't even read further in the same chapter.  Having failed to come up with a reason why a rich or poor or priestly person would write it, he then used the Argument from Ignorance:  I know of no other explanation, so the explanation must be God.

“Then it hit me.  The undeniable reality.  The Bible was really G-d’s revealed law.  It was the source of all morality in the world.  I decided then and there as a teenager that G-d was running the world.”

Rather insubstantial evidence, I would say.

Also in my reading I ran across a prediction from Thai meteorologist Smith Dharmasaroja:  By 2030, more than half of Bangkok will lie under five feet of seawater.  Global warning is part of the cause.

And there’s an interesting op-ed by Jeffrey Rissman on LiveScience, excerpted below.

“Fossil fuels require millions of years to form.  The supply of fossil fuels on Earth is effectively fixed. This has led to predictions that the world will experience an economically damaging scarcity of fossil fuels, particularly oil.

“However, new technologies for oil and gas exploration and extraction have upended the notion:  The limiting factor on humans' fossil fuel use will not be the exhaustion of economically recoverable fossil fuels, but the exhaustion of the Earth's capacity to withstand the harmful byproducts of fossil fuel combustion.

“Our nations already possess far more reserves and resources than we can burn without destroying the climate.  Climate-change related damages will become very severe long before there is any real pressure on our fossil fuel supply.

“A transition to a clean energy economy cannot be motivated by a scarcity of fossil fuels — it must be driven by a concerted effort to keep the climate livable and healthy.”

No further comments.


JUNE 16, 2013     CAR COMING!!!

Did you know that the law once required automobiles to be operated by a crew of at least three persons?  A driver, a mechanic, and a flagman walking ahead to warn horses?

As I explain in a new article, it was all part of a Victorian-era plot by certain moneyed interests to Ban Horseless Carriages.


JUNE 10, 2013     WHY'D WE LOSE?

When something happens, we want to know why.

If it’s a good thing, we try to identify a cause — because repeating it might replicate the result.  “I aced that test!  I studied hard the night before.  Guess I should study again when the next test is due.”

If it’s a bad thing, we try to identify a cause — in hopes of avoiding it.  “I burned my finger!  Guess I shouldn’t touch a hot stove.”

When superstitious people can’t find a cause for a bad thing, they make one up.  “The day I sprained my ankle, I was wearing my green shirt!  I’m not wearing that shirt again.”  Or they mutter the mantra, “Everything happens for a reason.”  In other words, the inscrutable Spirit in the Sky must have His own secret motives which are hidden from us mere mortals.

However, it seems unlikely that God concerns himself with the playoffs of the National Hockey League.  Does every result happen for a reason?

In the first round of the 2013 postseason, writes Peter May of the New York Times, the Boston Bruins “found themselves trailing, 4-1, midway through the third period of Game 7.  Then, something happened — the Bruins cannot explain it — and they have never been the same.”  They reached the Stanley Cup finals by winning nine of their next ten games, including a four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins last week.

In the regular season, the Penguins had scored 3.38 goals per game, easily leading the NHL.  Against the Bruins they scored only two goals in the entire series.  Stars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, and James Neal were held without a point.  Boston goaltender Tuukka Rusk is good, but his 0.44 GAA and .985 save percentage against Pittsburgh were beyond rational explanation.  Hockey experts were left scratching their heads, struggling to find an answer.

“The Bruins cannot explain it.”  Maybe The Force was with them.

“It felt like something was keeping the puck out of the net,” Pens coach Dan Bylsma said.  “It certainly wasn’t lack of opportunity or scoring chances or situations for our team, for our players, for our power play.  We did have them.  And at the end, it felt like ... there was a force around the net.”

Does everything happen for a reason?  We can’t always find a reason.  Sometimes the puck just takes funny bounces.


JUNE 5, 2013     CULLIGAN

My home from age 7 to age 15 was less than half a mile outside the village limits, but that meant we were out of the reach of “city water” and had to use a well.  Unfortunately, the water the electric pump drew from that well was hard water, containing a lot of dissolved minerals.  Clothes washed in it would come out with rust-colored iron stains.

Therefore, we had a canister that turned our hard water into soft water, and every month the Culligan man would come by to replace it.  My mother marked his scheduled arrival on the calendar and made a point of being home that day to let him in.

We had a backup source of soft water, but I’m not sure we made much use of it.  It was rain, pure H2O distilled in the clouds.  The rain washed off our roof — picking up a bit of soot from our coal furnace and dust from the neighboring popcorn field — and ran into the gutters and down the downspout and into a cistern.  The cistern was a storage tank hidden under the back porch.  If it filled up, there was a lever you could turn to divert the rainwater into the yard instead.

I was reminded of all this recently when I heard a radio commercial for Culligan.  You might think the ad would begin by alarming listeners with a warning:

Impurities may be in your water!

But in fact most people these days are hooked up to municipal water supplies and don’t need special water treatment.  The lawyers must have insisted on pointing out that Culligan isn't for everyone.  So after the jingle, the last sentence of the commercial was a disclaimer:

Impurities may not be in your water. 



The bathroom didn't work.  The piano could never leave the premises.  The roof leaked, and ivy was growing in through the walls.  Sometimes you had to climb the dumbwaiter shaft to get upstairs.

But you had a key to the building, and you could use it at any hour of the day or night.  You could tinker with the electronics.  And that was Pete Seeger hosting a live hootenanny on the lawn outside!

"It was an interesting, fun place to be," said someone who was there.

Yes, it's time to present Behind Grey Gables, part two, the concluding half of my college radio station's early history.

MAY 26, 2013     TAPPAN REDUX

Thirty-eight years ago today, I filmed another Oberlin College Commencement ceremony, featuring a brand-new president — and a counter-Commencement that marched backward in protest.

I have some stills for you.  You'll find them in a new article called Super 8: Tappan 1975.



Throughout my childhood, I used architectual toys to build models of buildings, from a log cabin to a gymnasium / auditorium to Solomon's Temple.  Pictures are in this month's 100 Moons article.



I fell asleep watching CBS last night.  About an hour into my nap, I dreamt I was standing outside a Moscow hotel.  (I don't know how I got there in my dream; I've never been there in reality.)  I overheard bits of conversation.  (They were in English because my Russian isn't that good.)  A man reassured a woman, "All you have to worry about now is getting well."  A man with an accent and a darker complexion, probably from one of the farther provinces, mispronounced "matzo ball soup."  Another man corrected him, and the first man repeated the corrected version.  An officious type brushed past the doorman, declaring "The elevators are mine."

When I woke up and opened my eyes, Hawaii Five-0 was on.  The scene was in a hospital room, where a woman patient was eating Chinese food for lunch.  Wait a minute, I thought; there are similarities with what I just heard in my dream.  Could snippets of the TV show have leaked into my semi-consciousness?

Then I realized there was a way to find out.  My DVR had been recording CBS all this time.  I hit "rewind" to spin back three minutes to the beginning of the hospital scene, then hit "play."  The first thing I heard was a Hawaiian man telling the patient that her lunch was an even better cure than matzo ball soup, and another man correcting his pronunciation.  The other lines of dialogue were in there, too.  Remarkable!  The line between wakefulness and soundlysleepingfulness is a fuzzy one, it seems. 



Prolific blogger Mark Evanier has this to say about sports on television:  “If you have two top teams with players that are in the news a lot and those teams meet in a game that might determine who wins the pennant, that game will have more tune-in than a game between two last-place teams with unknown players.  No one complains that ratings are low because the crew that covers the game — the sportscasters, the director, etc. — didn't do a good job.”

On the other hand, I would add that if a lot of viewers do want to watch a game and the ratings are high, we broadcasters are quick to take credit.  “It’s because of our superior production,” we claim.  “Our announcers, our bracketologist's predictions, the four analysts back at our studio in New York, our graphics, our music, the cool video effect we use for replays — all these elements lead to higher ratings.”  At least that’s what we encourage potential advertisers to believe.

Here are some other Evanier comments from the last year or so which make sense to me.

On allowing gays to marry:  “Opponents of this kind of thing keep using the term ‘defend marriage.’  They made up an imaginary war on marriage, deciding letting gays do it would destroy it for everyone.  The real point is that it doesn't threaten marriage in any way.  But marriage is kinda losing its importance in society.  More and more heterosexual couples are opting to live together without the benefit of legal marriage.  More and more children are being born to couples who have not officially tied the knot.  The divorce rate is also on a slow, steady rise as it has been for decades now.  There's hard, inarguable data that this is happening, whereas the notion that Gay Marriage harms marriage in general is at best an unproven, hard-to-articulate theory.  So if someone is worried that marriage is ‘threatened,’ aren't they ignoring the real threat?  Shouldn't they be working to ban divorces and co-habitation instead of that small group of gay folks who are fighting to get married?”

On crazy political theories:  “This is the scary thing to me about someone who gets up and yells that there’s incontrovertible evidence that Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born Socialist Muslim.   It’s not that that person is loony.  It’s that there are auditoriums in this country where that rhetoric plays well for that person ... places where people cheer their agreement.  In most cases, I don’t think people believe rubbish because their leaders say it.  I think the ‘leaders’ say it because people believe it.  It’s what enables them to retain their status as ‘leaders’ with all the perks (the money, the attention, etc.) that are attached.”

On a family of psychics who admit cheating their clients out of $25 million:  “I am of the opinion that all psychics are frauds.  Some of them seem to believe their own bull, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bull.  It just means they believe it.  Over the years, I’ve encountered a range of believers.  I had a girl friend who not only believed in psychics but she believed in all psychics.  Anyone who called themselves that could sense the future, chat with dead relatives, etc.  I’ve also encountered people who say, ‘I don’t believe in psychics,’ and then there’s a pause and they cautiously add, ‘Although my Aunt Helen sometimes knew things she couldn’t have known about....’  I can’t debunk the Aunt Helens from afar but I do think there’s always an explanation — usually either coincidence or a case of the onlooker wanting so badly to believe that they mentally rearrange the evidence.”

On inconvenient truths:  “Physicist Richard Muller, once the darling of those who insist Global Warming is bogus, now says it's real and that human activity is its main cause.  Kevin Drum makes a good point:  ‘Climate skeptics are skeptics because they don't like the idea of global warming, not because there's truly any evidence that it doesn't exist. It's politically inconvenient, economically inconvenient, and personally inconvenient, so they don't want to hear about it.’  I think that's it.  This is not about science.  It's a battle between reality and denial.  One friend of mine will never admit Climate Change might (might) be happening because that would mean Al Gore was right and we can't have that.”



Allow me to put in a good word for the United States Postal Service.

For 40 years in my letterbox I've been receiving interest and dividend checks from my investments.  For 30 years in my letterbox I've been receiving payment for my freelance work in TV sports, usually a separate check for each event worked.  On a very few occasions the checks have failed to arrive, but in every case, it's been because they were not sent.  Never once has a check been lost in the mail.

Some people like to gripe about the post office, but I'd like to congratulate them on this perfect performance record.