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In televising college sports, I often encounter first names, or spellings of first names, that I’ve never seen before.

For example, on women’s basketball teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, there are players named Aaliyah, Arica, Ataijah, Ayisa, Brielle, Cha’nelle, Chania, Cortnee, Daneesha, De’Ashia, Emiah, Emilee, Emmonnie, Erykah, Jae’Lisa, Jassany, J’Kyra, Kaela, Ka’lia, Karima, Kelila, Keyanna, Keyona, Khadedra, Len’Nique, Lyneé, MaKayla, Markisha, Millesa, Myisha, Mykia, Necole, Nigia, Nylah, Oderah, Roddreka, Shakayla, Shakena, Shawnta’, Shayra, and Xylina — among others.

Their parents gave them their unusual monikers.  When you have several kids and every other family on your block has several kids, you don’t want them to bear tired old names like Erica.  You need to invent something distinctive like Arica or Erykah.

Amy Schumer, 2012:

They need Google in the delivery room, I think. It’s everywhere else; why not there? So when her mom is like “I’m going to name you Tamambo,” Google would show up and say,
Did you mean: Jennifer

I think sometimes parents, particularly African-American parents, choose random euphonic syllables and then concatenate them to form a musically pleasing combination.  Or they use existing names that fit that pattern.  In many cases, it’s the middle syllable that’s accented, as in Natasha and Malia Obama.

Mormons from Utah, on the other hand, don't go for poetic-sounding neologisms.  They prefer to show how orthographically unconventional they can be.  They're too clever, say I.  We almost had a President named for a baseball glove.

I wrote a little poem imagining what Utah fatherhood might be like, using actual names from a couple of videos (for girls and for boys) that demonstrate LDS nomenclature.

I am a Mormon parent now.
     In this home, I’m the male.
My wife is called Alizabeth.
     First daughter? Abigayle.
Our next three girls, we named for traits
    We hope in them we’ll see:
They’re Aunistee, Sarenity,
    And (please God) Chazdidee.

More rapid than rabbits our offspring they came, 
And I whistled, and shouted, and called them by name: 
"Come, Linzee!  Come, Skylei!  Now, Ziah and Jaxon! 
Here, Kamryn!  Here, Kaylub!  Now, Jerrick and Braxen!"

And then we had Mykayla, Kyte,
     McKyndree, Emersyn,
Deannessa, Bryntle, Annistyn,
     Sh’Kelle, Nakkole, and Wren.
Unique are all our children’s names.
     You ask me who I am?
A patriarch suggested it:
     Just call me Ayebraeham.



Idiocy:  When an egg falls in the forest, does the chicken make a sound?

Theodicy:  Life is nonsensical.  It isn't fair.  So is anyone writing the script?

In this month’s 100 Moons article, I attempt to settle these age-old questions once and for all.  Bwak.



Jordan Whitehead is a senior football player at Central Valley High School, west of Pittsburgh.  Next year, he’ll be a cornerback for the University of Pittsburgh.

Through December 5, according to maxpreps.com, Whitehead made 87 tackles and six interceptions.  His Warriors were undefeated at 15-0.

However, he’s an outstanding athlete, and his high school used him not only on defense but also on offense.  Through those first 15 games, he carried 135 times for 1,899 yards and 22 touchdowns.  He also caught 22 passes.

If you add rushing yards, receiving yards, and his return yardage on punts, kickoffs, and interceptions, you get an all-purpose average of 207.6 yards per game.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) has 12 geographic divisions.  Its strongest division for football has always been the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL), comprising nine counties around Pittsburgh.  ROOT Sports Pittsburgh televises WPIAL football.  This year we saw Central Valley three times.

For one of our telecasts, the producer wanted to highlight how often Whitehead was involved in the action.  One of the statistics I was asked to keep track of was his “touches.”

I wasn’t sure what qualified as a “touch.”  First I tried to figure it out using the English language.  On any play when Whitehead made contact with the pigskin, he should be credited with a touch.

If that were the definition, the center and the quarterback should get touches on every play.  If the quarterback put the ball in Whitehead’s hands but then pulled it back out to carry it himself, Whitehead should get a touch, albeit a very brief one.  If he attempted to catch or intercept a pass but dropped it, at least he touched it.  If someone fumbled and Whitehead tried to recover but batted the ball away, at least he touched it.

However, I learned that incomplete passes and the like don’t count.  Also, interceptions are defensive plays.  So I began listing “touches” as only rushes, receptions, and returns.  But no, I was reminded, punt returns and kickoff returns are special-teams plays.  It came down to only offense:  rushes and receptions.

When I got home, I tried to confirm this by looking up “touch” in a list of football terms.  It wasn’t there.  It isn’t a football stat.  It’s a fantasy football stat, which is why I wasn’t familiar with it.  And touches do equal rushes plus receptions.

2016 UPDATE:  Apparently those should be called “touches from scrimmage.”  Kevin Gorman uses a broader definition for “touches.”  Reviewing the three seasons of Christian McCaffrey’s career at Stanford, the local Tribune-Review sports columnist wrote, “He had 825 touches,” detailed as follows:  632 carries, 3 pass attempts, 99 receptions, 57 kick returns, and 34 punt returns.

Pennsylvania has four classes for football based on the size of a school’s enrollment.  This year, our WPIAL champions in all four classes went on to win twice more, in the PIAA quarterfinals and semifinals, thereby reaching their respective state title games.  According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Mike White, this was the eighth such clean sweep for the WPIAL since the PIAA playoffs started 26 years ago.

All four of these WPIAL representatives happen to be public high schools, where athletes are required to live in their school’s geographic district.  Their opponents in the finals — the best of the other 11 divisions across the state — included one public school and three Catholic.  Parochial schools can recruit any students they want, including athletes who live many miles away.  St. Joseph’s Prep, in Philadelphia, has out-of-state players from New Jersey and Delaware.  There’s some debate about whether it’s fair to make public schools, with their recruitment restrictions, compete against private schools.

Last weekend in the PIAA championships, one WPIAL school (South Fayette in Class AA) was able to play against another public school like itself.  The WPIAL team won.  But in the other three classes, the WPIAL representatives were defeated by Bishop Guilfoyle, Archbishop Wood, and St. Joseph’s respectively.

In Class AAA, the Archbishop’s defense held Whitehead to 34 yards on 13 carries.  Central Valley finished the season as a state runner-up with a 15-1 record.  They almost touched the trophy.



Three years ago I mailed a personalized holiday card, describing the winter situation at our television production truck.

Despite the efforts of this snow removal technician / engineer in charge, not all of the internal environmental conditions had been properly adjusted to suit our individual preferences.

A reproduction of that message has now been inserted into this thread of correspondence.  Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!



Snidely’s back!  Ho ho hee!  

For more than a year, I’ve been monitoring Twitter for the comments of Eric D. Snider, humorist and film critic.

Now the holidays approach.  Time for my third gift-wrapped box of tweets.

Is Eric a bearded piano player?  Why, yes; yes, he is.  But two months ago today, he revealed two other personal characteristics — both of which are “big parts of who I am,” he says.  Neither is his Defining Characteristic, but they may be surprising to some of his readers.

What are they?  Click on Snidely Tweeting 3 if you dare!



Watching NBC's production of Peter Pan got me thinking.  I imagined I was a youngster attending a live stage performance, with no prior knowledge of what was about to happen.

The play starts a century ago in a conventional way, with characters conversing in English accents about domestic matters.  Then a strange boy enters through a window and tells strange stories about his home in a strange place called Neverland.

PETER:  Come with me.

WENDY:  To Neverland?

PETER:  Yes.  We’ll fly!

WENDY:  You can ... fly?

PETER:  Yes, of course.  Delta Airlines offers four daily non-stops.

No, wait, that’s not how the line goes.  Peter claims he can actually soar up into the air all by himself.

PETER:  You just think lovely, wonderful thoughts, and up you go!

Another tall tale, I think.  Unless they bring out a trampoline, this actor’s feet are going to remain firmly planted on the stage.  People can’t fly.

But then he actually does rise into the air!  To me, this is the most sensational moment in the play.  The impossible is happening, right before my eyes.  He’s flying!

Soon Wendy's little brother is encouraged to think his own lovely, wonderful thoughts.  In his case, that means candy, or Christmas.  Amazingly, the little boy also soars straight up, wriggling and squealing in delight!

And now the whole company is soaring about the stage!  This can’t be happening!

Nothing that follows, not pirates nor Indians nor ticking crocs, will be able to surpass this magical sight.



From 1943 to 1947, Jimmy Durante teamed with Garry Moore (“the nose and the haircut”) on a radio show which I never listened to, on account of not having been born yet.  Jeff Kallman’s account is here. 

However, I do remember each of these stars from 1950s TV, Moore hosting I’ve Got a Secret and Durante performing his chaotic vaudeville routine at an upright piano.  “Stop da music!” he’d shout at any interruption.  “Stop da music!  Everybody wants ta get inta the act!  I’m surrounded by assassins!  It’s a catastastroke!”

Also in the 1950s, we elementary-school kids performed “Frosty the Snowman” for our beaming parents.  Loudly we sang out, in even rhythm.















That brings us up to yesterday.  The omnipresent seasonal background music included “Frosty” as performed by Durante, who was actually a talented musician who had helped popularize ragtime jazz in New York City as far back as 1908.  Having no choice but to listen, I appreciated that he knew how to phrase the snowman's song more meaningfully than we schoolchildren did, delaying the “in.”

There must have been some magic
     In that old silk hat
     They found

Thumpity thump thump.

I also remember an aging Durante singing “September Song” in the 1960s.  “The days dwindle down to a precious few:  September.  November.”

And the Schnozzola had a funny-sounding pet name for the first Mrs. Durante, who died on Valentine’s Day in 1943.  Thereafter when he signed off his broadcasts he waved goodbye and said “Good night, Mrs. Calabash . . . wherever you are.”



Last holiday season, NBC aired a live broadcast of The Sound of Music.  This year they’re doing Peter Pan.  It airs Thursday.

Of course, there have been many other versions of Pan over the 110 years since J.M Barrie first wrote a play about Peter’s adventures in Neverland.  I remember especially the 1953 Walt Disney movie. 

My parents took me to see it at the Palace Theater in Marion, Ohio.

They worried afterward that, with all the sword fighting and such, perhaps the movie had been too violent for their six-year-old son.

The parts that gave me nightmares involved the pirate crew.

I don't mean the jovial scenes where a piratical chorus line sang yo-ho-ho and waved Jolly Roger flags.

I mean the disturbing scenes where an uncontrollable mob of murderous outlaws came charging threateningly toward me, angrily brandishing their deadly steel.

Once can hope that NBC’s production will be a bit more friendly toward impressionable children than Disney’s was.


Among the shortest articles on this website is a letter to the editor that I wrote more than 20 years ago.  Dr. Jack Kevorkian was helping terminally-ill people put themselves out of their misery, although assisted suicide was against the law.

One of the objections to his work prompted me to answer it.

My letter is this month’s 100 Moons article.

Today, the “right to die” is still in the news.  Scott Adams let us know how he feels.  Here are some edited excerpts from his blog posting earlier this month.

Millions of people in this country will be tortured until their deaths by a government bureaucracy that refuses to allow individuals, families, and their doctors to make end-of-life treatment decisions.  And the families' lives are often ruined at the same time.

The government recently tortured both of my parents to death that way.  They probably got one of your relatives too.  You might be next.  Medical science has gotten good at keeping old people alive until they wish they were not.

Meanwhile, nearly 100% of the public opposes having the government make the end-of-life care decision over their own wishes.

In the two states in which doctor-assisted suicide is already legal, it is working as planned and without problems or reported abuses worthy of note.  In the "smart" world, after you test something and it works great, you do more of it. 

But today I learn that there is very little pending legislation on the issue of doctor-assisted suicide.  What?  FIX THIS SITUATION!


Dinah & Ella

When I was a boy, a television program was brought to me by a single sponsor.  For example, Dinah Shore’s variety show was sponsored exclusively by Chevrolet, and the closing credits ran over Chevy’s theme song.

When I was a young man, advertisers realized that not everyone watched Dinah, so it was better to spread their message around to different audiences by buying “spots” in several different programs.  But there were rules.  For example, no more than one competing car company could buy time in a given show.

Also when I was a young man, CBS decided viewers deserved to be updated about news that broke between Walter Cronkite at 7 pm and their local newscast at 11.  The network introduced, right in the middle of prime time, a 30-second headlines update.  It was anchored by Connie Chung, as I recall.  Almost immediately, however, the local stations claimed this time.  At first, like CBS, they used it to inform us about stories that would be covered in more detail at 11.  But then they stopped giving us any facts at all.  The “newsbriefs” became merely teases — promos to whet our curiosity so we would tune in at 11 to find out what was happening.

Now that I'm an old man, the automotive sector is very competitive, and every car company wants to buy advertising.  On a show last night, when the two-minute window for local commercials came along, I first saw the station’s weatherman.  “There’s a big storm coming.  Will you have to change your Thanksgiving travel plans?  Join us at 11 to find out.”  And then an announcer said, “This news update is brought to you by Chrysler, imported from Detroit.”

Fair enough.  That was immediately followed by a car commercial, which I assumed would be for Chrysler.  But no, when they finally got around to identifying the product it turned out to be Infiniti.  Then there was a commercial for Chevrolet.  And then there was a commercial for Nissan.

Four competing advertisers, back to back!  How is a viewer supposed to know which car to buy?



The acclaimed film and stage director Mike Nichols died of a heart attack last Wednesday at the age of 83.  I remember him from the comedy sketches he performed with Elaine May many years ago.  Reading the obituaries, I learned some other details I hadn’t known before.

His family’s ancestral home had been in Siberia.  They fled from Nazi Germany to the United States in 1939, when Mikhail was only seven.  His physician father, known as Pavel Nikolaevich, became Paul Nichols in this country.  Albert Einstein was a distant cousin.

At the University of Chicago, Mike enrolled as a pre-med student, and he joined classical radio station WFMT as an announcer.  There, in 1953, he created a folk music program on Saturday nights that he called The Midnight Special, playing records but also inviting guests to perform live in the studio.  I’ve quoted Ronald Cohen in another article (about the radio station on my own college campus, where our live folk music program aired on Friday nights).  Cohen writes that Nichols’ show combined "folk music and farce, showtunes and satire, odds and ends."  With different hosts over the years, it continues on WFMT to this day.

Two decades later, Garrison Keillor started a similar radio program in Minnesota that he called A Prairie Home Companion.  It also endures to this day.  PHC plays no records but has been hosted by Keillor for all 40 years.  Like many, he must have been inspired by classic Nichols & May routines like this one, in which a mother “lays a guilt trip” on her successful son.  Many times have I heard Keillor and Sue Scott perform variations on this sketch.

Listening last night, I was reminded of long-gone television variety shows that blended music and comedy and even topical references.  This week, for example, Keillor sang about a New York city where some neighborhoods have been buried under seven feet of snow.  “In Buffalo, Buffalo, that’s how conditions are,” he observed to the tune of “Camelot.”

Later, a performer’s brief Bob Dylan impersonation included the following lines that rang true for this bachelor.  Mere hours before, having returned home from nearly 17 continuous hours in a TV truck telecasting four high school football championship games without a meal break, I had exhaustedly peeled off multiple layers of winter clothing, many of which had still not been properly put away.

May you throw your clothing on the floor.
Nothing need be hung.
May you stay
Forever young.

Also last night, Keillor joined a guest for a medley of Cole Porter songs with some lyrics adjusted.  As a boy, I used to see this type of specially-arranged entertainment on TV all the time.  No expensive scenery was required, only a pair of stools.  Here’s an example from half a century ago, and here’s an impressive combination of tunes.

May classic entertainment live on, even if only on YouTube and public radio.


NOVEMBER 17, 2014     YUMMY

I always wondered about the slogan used by an Ohio jam maker:  “With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.”

#1  Do they mean that they’re saddled with a founder’s name so unimpressive that they have to overcome that handicap by producing a superior product?  “With a name like Wurst, we’ll never be able to sell anything unless it’s the best.”

#2  Or do they mean that their company has earned such a high reputation that they have to meet that expectation of excellence?  “With a name like Rolls-Royce, we can’t afford to let our customers down.”

Those schmucks at the company claim the original connotation was #1 but has now grown into #2.



The TV behind me was tuned to a college football game.  I heard a commercial come on, but there were no words, only a mournful dirge being played softly by a brass choir.  I wondered who died.

Later, I heard the somber music again, and I bestirred myself to turn and actually look at the screen.  The commercial turned out to be a recruiting spot for the United States Marine Corps.

During the Vietnam War, I was in college.  Soldiers and Marines, many of them my age, many of them drafted against their will, were being cruelly sentenced to suffer and die in the jungles of Southeast Asia.  To me, therefore, the scenes in the commercial did not have the desired effect.

I saw footage of serious-faced sweaty men and one or two women, swinging from ropes in basic training and handling deadly weapons on a battlefield.  A row of young people, former individuals but now wearing identical dress uniforms, stood stiffly at attention.  Armored personnel carriers tore recklessly across a meadow.  Silhouetted helicopters flew toward an apocalyptic sunset. 

As noted, this peaceful senior citizen was repulsed by these scenes.  I have never wanted to sweat, or kill, or destroy, or stand at attention.  I have never wanted to go to war.  But I am not the commercial’s target audience.  It’s aimed at young people who aspire to be proud Marines.

Fortunately for our country, there have been more than a few such brave souls, now veterans, who have been inspired to do the work I’m glad not to have to do.



Can someone be good without God’s guidance?

In my latest article, a Southerner named Tucksey is not shy about offering his opinion.