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As I said, every few days I’ve added a new little tidbit to an existing article.  Click the ampersands.



     Longhaired musicians like Liszt and Lennon killed my barber’s business.



     I “felt” the need to remind my banner-maker of her assignment.



     More old photos have turned up showing the Livermore ferry.



     A museum visit reminded me that I once sketched a round house.



     Maui birds like to beg at outdoor cafés.



I’ve been busy this month.  For one thing, CBS aired a couple of colorized versions of the old Dick Van Dyke Show.  One episode had previously been featured on this website in the form of a four-minute script excerpt, so I needed to replace that article’s outdated black-and-white thumbnails.  Click here.

Also, every few days, I’ve added a new little tidbit to another existing article on this website.  Click the ampersands.



     “Yes Virginia” and I were a little slow; we didn’t doubt Santa until age eight.



     On an Italian mountainside, there’s a huge DVX written in pine trees.



     A newspaper clipping confirmed a horrific event in my father’s home town.



     Perhaps spectators could actually hang from rafters.



     In football, “touches” are different from “touches from scrimmage.”



Did I mention that my mother’s family once operated the Byesville Dairy Company in Ohio?  Well, they did.  And they sometimes found it necessary to raise their prices, in one case effective the day after Thanksgiving.

By 1927, their industry had been legally protected for forty years against that nefarious impostor, dyed oleomargarine.

One of a dairy’s products is butter, of course.  Real butter produced from cows’ milk is light yellow.  But there’s a cheaper and healthier substitute called margarine, made from vegetable oil.  It’s naturally white, like lard.  Manufacturers began adding yellow dye to make it look more appetizing.

When this dyed “fake butter” appeared on the market, the dairy industry complained of misleading competition.  To prop up sales of real butter, farmers persuaded the federal government to impose heavy taxes on “oleo.”  States like Wisconsin completely outlawed artificially colored margarine.  Although the manufacturers complied, many began helpfully including packets of yellow dye with their pale product.  Finally, around 1955 (but not until 2008 in Québec), the laws were repealed and yellow margarine began flowing from the factories.

Smart Balance, a current brand, includes the ingredient “beta-carotene color” — safer than Yellow #5, one of the dyes in the old coloring packets.

I don’t use such spreads often.  When I opened this tub, I found the surface smooth and inviting, golden, almost like melted cheese.  An artist might call the color aureolin.

But as I scraped out some of the contents with a knife, I discovered the hidden truth.  This margarine exaggerates its charms.  Underneath, it’s almost white!  It seems that the top surface doesn’t turn bright yellow until it’s been exposed and had a couple of days to oxidize.

Meanwhile, the dairy industry has found another imitation product to complain about.  This time it’s fake milk.

The Food and Drug Administration defines milk as “the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking or one or more healthy cows.”  That Standard of Identity excludes vegetarian products labeled “soy milk” — and almond, rice, hemp, pistachio, and sunflower “milk,” et al.

At least as far back as 2000, the National Milk Producers Federation asked the FDA to take action to forbid selling plant-based drinks as “milk.”  The FDA declined to do so.  Then only a couple of weeks ago, they received another similar complaint.  This one was signed by 32 members of Congress, including the entire Wisconsin delegation except Paul Ryan and Gwen Moore.  All these Representatives have constituents in the dairy industry.  “These hard working Americans have experienced deep cuts in income as milk prices have plunged 40 percent since 2014.”  The letter asked the FDA to help “by requiring plant-based products to adopt a more appropriate name that does not include the word ‘milk.’”

The Representatives don’t seem to have a substitute word in mind.  Suggestions?


DECEMBER 24, 2016

From London, Felicity Morse tweeted “a nativity scene without any Jews, Arabs, Africans, refugees or unwed mothers.”



People have always dreamed of a white Christmas, even before Irving Berlin wrote his famous song in 1940.

For example, 25 years earlier the Richwood Gazette reported:  “The carpet of white which fell Sunday and Monday provided nature’s setting for the merchants’ Christmas displays.  No matter how cold the weather, it is an unexplainable truth that without snow, some element is lacking at Christmastime.”

On the other hand, last December I wrote to a friend:  “No snow here in southwestern Pennsylvania yet.  That’s fine with me.  A white Christmas may be pretty, but it’s also treacherous!  I smiled when I discovered the attached scene, with its realistic portrayal of pedestrians struggling not to fall down on the icy pavements of their picturesque village.  Their arms are flailing as they try to keep their balance.”

But then I found out that the awkward figures are supposed to be a marauding mob of zombies!

We were warned this might happen.  On the Thriller video, Vincent Price intoned:

And as we see on the right, the Good Book reports that a horde of the undead left their tombs in 33 AD and stumbled into Jerusalem.

NASA engineer Michael B. Paulkovich writes, “I actually got into an argument with a devout Christian who claimed there is no tale of the living dead climbing out of their graves in the Bible.  When I showed it to him, he went pale and was embarrassed and speechless upon learning the New Testament was incredibly childish and clearly fictional.  To me, the biggest mystery of the Bible is that any thinking person over the age of eight believes its fanciful tales.”

Corpses walk here!  This I know,
For the Bible tells me so.

Nevertheless, I still believe my own fanciful tale that in the scary picture above, the silhouettes are simply ordinary citizens trying to cope with winter.



I marvel at others’ varied emotions this time of year.

Some of us, through an excess of politeness, refrain from wishing strangers “Merry Christmas” because if the strangers happen to be Jewish, they might be offended by our presumption.

On the other hand, Evangelicals are offended if salesclerks don’t say “Merry Christmas.”  They’re even upset if their Starbucks cup lacks snowflakes.

And now that their candidate won (in a “landslide” in which only 19% of the 325 million Americans voted for him), they’re in charge!  Politeness is no longer required!  Anyone who disagrees can just go back where they came from!

A few Christians imagine their new President as a king or dictator.  Forget Congress.  They want him to personally issue a decree that “avoiding saying Christmas” is a capital crime, thus enacting their bloodthirsty hatred into federal law.

What to do?  Six years ago I asserted that we need not think twice about mentioning “Christ Mass,” which has lost much of its religious meaning.  The observance is merely a secular holiday for many people, like the weekend days that we still call Saturday and Sunday even though we no longer honor Saturn or the Sun God.  Everyone should just accept “the fact that the late-December holiday of merriment and giving gifts, formerly ‘Saturnalia’ and later ‘Yule,’ is currently called ‘Christmas’ in our culture.”

One woman freely admits: “I want to cancel Christmas.”  Earlier this month she wrote to the Ask Natalie advice column in my local newspaper.  “I am so not in the mood to deal with my family.  I don’t want to buy a bunch of presents (totally burned out financially this year).  And I really don’t want to deal with a million questions about my love life.  I was thinking instead of skipping out and getting away for a few days.  I mentioned this to my mother, and she was horrified.  My grandfather is very old, and she said if this is his last Christmas and I miss it, I will regret it for the rest of my life.  I don’t know what to do.  Do I let her guilt me into another year of holiday madness, or do I slip away unnoticed?  Help!”

Canceling Christmas?  That’s the threatened disaster in many scary December stories aimed at kids.  If the villain’s evil plans succeed, Santa Claus won’t come at all this year!  No presents for all the good little boys and girls!  How awful!  Is there no hero to rescue the holiday?

Some adults can’t get along without Christmas, either.  In fact, during the rest of the year they don’t get along.  In this space on the big day seven years ago, I quoted Mark Evanier, an only child like myself.  Excerpts:

A lady dragged me into her family Christmas arrangements.  It seemed to me more like a chore than a celebration, and I asked her why she went to so much trouble.  She said, "Christmas is important.  When I was a kid, it was the one time of the year when we all got along...or came close to getting along."

She'd come from a large and dysfunctional family.  Siblings were forever fighting.  Parents drank and split up and got back together and screamed a lot and separated again.  There was much yelling and occasional violence...but not as much at Christmas, when they managed to put most of that aside.  That was why, when it came around, they made so much of it.

We never had to declare a holiday cease-fire in my family.  I never had fights with brothers or sisters because I never had brothers or sisters.  My folks and I were known to give each other gifts for no special occasion and to occasionally get the local family together for a big meal.  So Christmas wasn't that much different from the way we lived all year.

I told a friend all of the above and his reaction was "Gee, too bad for you."  In his household, Christmas was wondrous and festive and the source of most of his happy childhood memories.

I never saw it that way.  I have loads of happy childhood memories.  They were just no more likely to occur around Christmas than at any other time.  I mean, you can have Christmas once a year or you can have it 365 times a year.  Peace on Earth, good will towards men doesn't have to stop later tonight.



She held a medical degree and was already a skilled clarinet player.  Now, at age 48, she had decided to take up a double-reed instrument, the oboe.

“Isn’t that significantly more difficult?” I asked.  “You know, twice as many reeds?  How many doctors go back to school to get a degree in woodwind performance?  Do you hope one day to be first chair in the Badger Plasma Center Philharmonic?  Shall I stop with the silly questions?”

I had forgotten this episode until earlier this year, when I turned up some forgotten documents while editing the letters of Jan Olson.  On what would have been her 69th birthday, I posted an article called Remembering Jan.  I followed that with several monthly postings excerpted from her letters from the decade of 1968 to 1978.

Now, at the appropriate places of my original article, I’ve inserted about a dozen additional items dating from 1981 to 2015.

Many of them describe various part-time medical and sandwich-making jobs that Jan was able to fill despite being sort of retired.  And one of them foreshadows her choice of palliative care at the end of life.

The new material begins shortly after this point.




Also, here’s her handmade 1969 Christmas card. 



I’ve been a fan of Google Earth ever since it first appeared in 2005.

It’s fascinating to be able to “fly” anywhere in the world in my virtual airplane and see locations I’ll never visit in person, such as medieval villages and giant chickens in France, or the “shelter in the middle of the roundabout” (right) in Penny Lane, Liverpool, England.

When the application was new, we could only look straight down, like a map, although we could tilt the map and see the differences in elevation.  There were some glitches. 

Then it became possible to pull certain prominent buildings out of the map in three dimensions, such as Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, and examine them in detail from all angles.  Google credited the artists who created the digital representations of these landmarks.

Next came an option called Street View.  We could see certain streets from ground level, if Google has deigned to drive down those streets with their camera car.  Eventually they got around to the streets in my obscure suburb.

Also, they added an option called “3D Buildings.”  Starting in 2012, for certain cities we can see multidimensional views of all the buildings, not just the cathedrals.  That must have been a lot of CAD work, I thought.  Maybe these views are generated by a computer which automatically integrates the horizontal overhead images with the vertical street-level images.

But there must be more to it than that.  The windows facing this interior courtyard at McKeesport High School (coordinates 40.3436 -79.8317) are not visible from any street, nor is there a hint of them on the overhead view.  Do they show up on some oblique view not accessible to us?

Now “3D Buildings” has become available even in my obscure suburb!

Here’s one of an almost infinite number of angles of my neighborhood.  On the bottom right, I’ve added a little yellow arrow pointing to my porch.  Just to the left of the brown porch roof I can discern my kitchen window, with a basement window below it.  Above is the building’s chimney, all ready for Santa.

These views are also available in Google Maps.  This is getting great, and perhaps a little scary!



“Polarization and exclusion are burgeoning.  With people we consider our opponents or enemies, our first instinctive reaction is to ‘demonize’ them, so as to have a ‘sacred’ justification for dismissing them.

“Those among us with the status of a stranger, an immigrant or a refugee, become a threat, an enemy.  An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs.  An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language, or their social class.  An enemy because they think differently or even have a different faith.

“In God’s heart there are no enemies.  We are the ones who raise walls, build barriers, and label people.”

Pope Francis (excerpts), November 19, 2016

It’s an unfortunate fact that humans are tribal.  Humans who are “different” are shunned, in particular by Donald Trump supporters.

Outsiders were shunned by Joseph Smith supporters as well, at least in the early days when his newly-invented Mormon religion was facing persecution.  Mormon leaders needed to separate their people from those who objected to their Biblical polygamy and other beliefs.  In order to be set apart, they packed up their wagons and moved from New York to Ohio to Illinois to Missouri and finally all the way to Utah.

These Latter-Day Saints virulently opposed the mixing of “species,” as shown by the following quotations from their Prophets back through the years.

“Your ideas, as we understand them, appear to contemplate the intermarriage of the Negro and white races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people.” —George Albert Smith, 1947.

“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race?  If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot.  This will always be so.”  —Brigham Young, 1863.

“Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species.” —Joseph Smith, 1845.

But I never saw matters like that.  In 1965 I enrolled at Oberlin College, where men and women of all colors had been studying side by side for 130 years.

It was on Oberlin’s Tappan Square that someone recently photographed this couple of agile tree huggers, one black, one white.  “In this world of woe and despair,” says student Jacob Grossman, “some things are beacons of hope — beautiful tributes to the beauty inherent in nature and mankind.”

(Yes, there are albino squirrels at Oberlin.  One has even leapt onto sweatshirts as the school’s athletic mascot.)

Speaking of 1965, earlier that year I had written an essay that forms the basis of this month’s 100 Moons article.  My idea:  eliminate racism by eliminating races.

If people of any color were free to have children with people of any other color, I reasoned, eventually all the colors would blend into one and our nation would truly be united.



Hail! to the victors valiant ... the champions of the West!

The song actually belongs to the University of Michigan.  It was written in 1898, when Michigan defeated Chicago to clinch its first football championship in the two-year-old Western Conference.

(The “Western” Conference?  It was based in the Midwest, and back then any college west of the Ivy League was considered to be in “the West.”  When the league later expanded from seven teams to ten, it became known as the Big Ten.)

But today the song also applies to the Pennsylvania State University, which defeated Wisconsin last night to claim the 2016 Big Ten championship.

Hail! to the conqu’ring heroes!

Other fun facts:  Wisconsin also has a stirring fight song, though the tune was originally written with a different school in mind.  The first four notes of “On, Wisconsin” could well have been “Min, Nesota!”

And Penn State’s colors have not always been navy blue and white.  In 1887, when the institution in State College, PA, was still called Pennsylvania State College, sophomore George Meek proposed a color scheme to the two other students on his ad hoc committee.

“We wanted something bright and attractive, but we could not use red or orange as those colors were already used by other colleges.  So we chose a very deep pink — really cerise — which with black made a very pretty combination.”  The student body adopted the colors, along with the chant

Yah, yah, yah!
Yah, yah, yah!
Wish, Whack,
Pink, Black.

The pink was not the girlish light magenta that’s used today to raise awareness of breast cancer.  Nevertheless, when the baseball team played Dickinson, the Red Devils made fun of their chant and their pinkishness.

Even the sun disrespected State’s colors.  Sunlight faded the non-colorfast black and pink dyes to something more like navy and white, as I’ve simulated below.  The school took the hint and officially changed to blue and white in 1890.

Penn State still uses pink and black occasionally.

Although those hues were retired almost two years before James Naismith got around to inventing the sport of Basket Ball, the Nittany Lions dressed their basketball team in “throwback uniforms” for a game last week.



“I live here in Washington, PA, and I’ve got a complaint.”

“What is that, ma’am?”

“You’ve been giving out my phone number on television!”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I’ve been getting calls from strangers trying to buy a sweater.  They say they’ve seen an ad on cable TV with a phone number, and it’s mine!  I paid extra for an unlisted number so I wouldn’t get any of these nuisance calls, and now my number is all over TV.  I need you to do something about this!”

“Uh, we’ve never run a commercial like that here on TV-3, so I’m not sure how that could be happening.  But we’re only a local channel here in Washington.  There are other channels on the cable.  Maybe one of them is running that ad.  Maybe WOR-TV from New York.”

“But why would they be telling people to call a Washington number?”

“You’re right, that doesn’t make sense.  Let me look into this.  If I may ask, what is your number?”

“I’m at 225-1410.  But it’s unlisted.”  

“Okay, I’ll see if there’s anything I can do.  Thanks for calling.”

[I’ve disguised the digits to protect the unlisted.  In the 1970s, that was actually the number of our TV-3 studio, area code 412.]

I pondered the mystery.  Commercials of this sort often invite viewers to phone a toll-free number.  What if it happened to be 1-800-225-1410 in one such ad?  A viewer in Washington might see it and think “225?  That’s a local exchange.  Our numbers here in Washington start with 225.  I don’t need to dial the area code for long distance.  I’ll just dial 225-1410.”

To test my theory, I dialed 1-800-225-1410.  “Are you selling sweaters?”  “Yes.”  I explained why I was calling.  Then I dialed 225-1410 to tell our local resident what was going on.

Of course, this hardly satisfied her, because the 800 number was still being advertised.  But at least now she knew she could tell her unwanted callers to dial 1-800 first, stupid.

And it satisfied me.  The mystery was solved.