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ArchiveSEPTEMBER 2017



I created the illustrations for my last post by editing these Internet images.  But you may be wondering what the dialogue was all about.

It was inspired by the meltdown of National Football League fanatics who believe passionately that “athletes should not express opinions which I oppose.”

Some athletes have been trying to draw attention to racial injustice and police brutality.  Some fans are Trump followers or extreme conservatives, and of course they don't really care about racial injustice and police brutality.  (Nor do they care about Puerto Ricans.)  But they do become incensed if someone doesn't worship the flag properly — or if football players refuse to stand during the pregame National Anthem.

To avoid stirring up the controversy, on September 24 the Pittsburgh Steelers simply remained off the field until the Anthem was over.  “We weren't going to play politics,” explained Coach Mike Tomlin afterwards, “we were going to play the game.  Contrary to popular belief, we are a very patriotic and respectful group.”

Rabid fans jumped to the opposite conclusion.  “How dare you boycott the Anthem?” they raged.  They wanted to tell the players “You're fired!”  Since they couldn't, they fired themselves, swearing they'd never attend another game.

Michael Hesson posted, “Today, after 30 years of loving the Pittsburgh Steelers, I'm going burn [sic] my Steelers jersey.  They have taken a great American sport that people use to forget there [sic] problems with and turned it into a political circus.”

In a YouTube video, Robert Williams destroyed hundreds of dollars of Pittsburgh paraphernalia, saying “We have morals in this country!  You do not disrespect the flag and the country and the Constitution, so watch this stuff burn.”

In another video, Jim Heaney said “I'm a lifelong Steelers fan.  Not anymore.  There you go.  Goodbye, Pittsburgh Steelers.  Burn in hell.”

“Racism is so ingrained in America,” tweeted Qasim Rashid, “that when people of color protest racism, critics think we're protesting America.”  And foreigners may have stoked the debate “to push divisiveness in this country,” according to Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) of the Senate Intelligence Committee.   “We watched, even this weekend, the Russians and their troll farms, their internet folks, start hash-tagging out #TakeAKnee and also hash-tagging out #BoycottNFL.  They were taking both sides of the argument ... to try to raise the noise level of America and make a big issue seem like an even bigger issue.”

However, most people didn't really get that excited over the matter.  Kristina Ribali tweeted, “I've been so busy I have no idea what I'm supposed to be offended about.”  And the NFL's TV ratings, Donald Trump's favorite indicator of winning, actually showed a 3% increase this week.



Good morning, Felicia.

Oh, hello, Mr. Phenattik!  I was so happy to see you at church again last Sunday.  How long were you in, uh ... in the hospital?

Nine weeks.  But now I think my mind is straightened out.  I'm thinking clearly again.

Good for you.

But say, Felicia, speaking of last Sunday, I wanted to ask you about something that happened during the service.

What's that?

After the offering, you know how the ushers brought all the collection plates forward and placed them on the altar, like they do every week?  And the organ played louder and everyone stood up and faced the altar and sang the Doxology?

"Praise God, from whom all blessings flow."

I noticed you didn't stand up.

Some other women didn't, either.

You just sat there and folded your hands and bowed your heads.  Some of you knelt.  What was that all about?

Well, did you know our former pastor had to resign?  He was arrested for domestic violence.

Yes, I heard he beat up his wife and his mother-in-law.  Big scandal.

The church's Board of Trustees voted to use some of our offerings to pay his legal bills, but a lot of the church ladies felt that was wrong.  We know what some women have to endure.  Our gifts shouldn't be enabling a wife-beater.

But he's a preacher.  We should stand behind all our men of the cloth.

Even the ones who abuse innocent people?


We complained to the board, but nothing changed.  We mustn't allow this injustice to proceed.  So we decided on a symbolic protest to follow the offering.  Instead of standing for the Doxology, we chose to remain seated while bowing our heads in an attitude of prayer.

You women don't respect the Doxology?

No, that's not it.

You don't believe we should praise God, from whom all blessings flow?

Of course we should.  We're just trying to call attention to what we perceive as a wrong.

Do you think there's something wrong with our church?  Are you criticizing the church?  Our church is perfect, just as God's Holy Word is perfect!

Well, in this case, we feel a mistake is being made.  And we're trying to point it out.

But you're doing so by disrupting the service!  That's disgraceful!  You're protesting the Doxology!  That hymn is sacred!  Stand up for it!  Praise God the way you're supposed to!  Not only that, you're also disrespecting the offerings that we've placed on the altar.

That's not our intent ...

It's an outrage!  Those offerings support our missionaries in far-off lands!  Those heroes are risking their lives for the Gospel!

This isn't about them, not at all.  We support mission work.

You're attacking the symbols of our faith!  You should be grateful for God's blessings!  You know what should be done with anyone who refuses to stand and sing?  I say, we ought to kick you out!  We ought to throw you uppity bitches off the property!  If you aren't behind our missionaries, if you have a problem with our church, get out!  If you don't love it, leave it!  Right now!  Leave us in peace!

We do love the church.  We simply want it to be better.  We want it to be true to Christian principles.

You ungrateful women!  You don't appreciate how much you've been blessed by God!  You don't know your place!

Now, Mr. Phenattik ...

You know what?  I'm going to leave the church!

Wait, what?

I'm disgusted with it!  I'm going to burn all my Sunday clothes and tear up my season tickets and never go back there again!  I'll never even watch a service on TV!  I've had it with you people!

Perhaps you need to pay another visit to the hospital, Mr. Phenattik.


SEPT. 26, 2007 flashback   UNNATURAL STORIES

In the days of Jules Verne, science fiction imagined future technological advances and described how we might react to them.

In my high school days, before space probes disproved speculation about ancient Martian canals, I remember reading a Robert Heinlein novel about human colonists on Mars.  Frozen canals are their highways.  Their iceboats have open fronts to catch and compress the thin atmosphere.  For long-distance communication, they bounce signals off Phobos and Deimos, using the moons of Mars as natural relay satellites.  All of these are technically possible, and the story is about ordinary young people in this setting.

In the present day, apparently we're running out of plausible situations.  Science fiction is gradually giving way to fantasy.

The other night I watched the 2006 movie Stranger Than Fiction.  Emma Thompson plays a novelist whose protagonists always die in the end.  She's currently writing about a character named Harold Crick.  Unfortunately, it turns out there's a real Harold Crick, played by Will Ferrell.  He starts hearing her voice in his head, narrating his life.  As the situation unfolds, the baffled author is warned that if she kills off the fictional Harold, it might kill the real one.  She exclaims in exasperation, "I don't know the rules!"

That was my feeling exactly.  Those who devise these fantastic stories are making up their own rules, which don't have to correspond to the way the real world works.  And I have trouble suspending disbelief and accepting these artificial premises.

Television gives us stories about people who are angels, or Supermen, or conduits for the thoughts of dead people.  Can they turn back time?  Can they stop a speeding bullet?  No real person can, but these characters can if the plot requires it.

Here are some of this season's new TV series, as described in TV Guide.

Pushing Daisies:  Ned can bring the dead back to life with a touch.  However, if he touches them a second time they're dead again, this time permanently.

Journeyman:  Dan travels back in time and meets his presumed-dead fiancé.  However, to get back to the present he must alter the events of a stranger's life.

Reaper:  Sam has to capture escapees from Hell and send them back to Satan.

Cavemen:  three Cro-Magnons find themselves in today's racist world.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles:  a woman and her teenage son try to avoid alien cyborgs from the future.

Chuck:  the title character can access all sorts of secret government data that has been downloaded into his brain.

Eli Stone:  a lawyer might be a prophet.

And then there's Bionic Woman.

Give me outlandish premises like these, and it's easy to write a story.  Can I tweak the rules just a little more?

SEPT. 23, 2017    PEAKING

Archers require backstops to catch any arrows that miss the target entirely.

Montana requires mountains to justify its name.

This particular 8,180-foot-high peak in Glacier National Park was dubbed Mount Oberlin by Lyman Beecher Sperry, MD.

The "Gentleman Explorer," who led the first party to reach Sperry Glacier in 1896, named the mountain after his employer back in Ohio, Oberlin College.

Oberlin is my alma mater.  It's only ten miles from the shores of Lake Erie, and I'm well aware that its campus is completely flat — except, that is, for one elevation that I remember as the college's very own "Mount Oberlin."

I ought to be surer of my sources, considering that I was WOBC-FM's sports director for 2½ years.  Some of these facts may be distorted by the mists of time, and some may never have been true in the first place.  But here's the tale as I recall it:

When construction began in 1930 on Crane Swimming Pool for Women, the excavated dirt was dumped in a pile on the athletic grounds out back.   When I enrolled 35 years later, the pile was still there, now covered in grass.  It served as the archery backstop, and I think I once climbed all the way to its summit.  This eminence was jocularly known as Mount Oberlin.

During my visit a week ago, I wandered behind the John W. Heisman Field House and took these photos.  The gold arrow points to Crane Pool, now being renovated, and the crimson arrow points to WOBC's antenna.

Usually when we revisit the scenes of our youth, everything seems smaller than we remember.  But Mount Oberlin has overcome this phenomenon!  (I suppose the bulldozers have been at work.)  I remember it as small and steep and located more or less in the middle of the field.

Now it seems to have become a long mound on the west side.  I don't know whether it's even still referred to as a Mount.

But just to the north, the soccer and track & field and lacrosse teams now have an up-to-date lighted facility including this right-sized grandstand.

At our alumni meeting, we were told that Oberlin's Division III athletes, the Yeomen, are the happiest students on campus.  They have scaled the heights!


SEPT. 21, 2017    OUT THE DOOR?

Last month, the French Embassy tweeted:  “Flamenco guitarist Manitas de Plata was born #OTD.  Picasso, who heard him in Arles, proclaimed ‘This man is of greater worth than I am!’”

I admire de Plata for overcoming his congenital disorder.  However, what does it mean to be “born OTD”?  Is it like being “born blind” or “born HIV positive”?  Or did his mother merely have an On Time Delivery?

I'd forgotten that OTD is tweetspeak for On This Date.  My bad.

And I've often had to remind myself that my initials TBT are tweetspeak for Throw-Back Thursday.



There was a buffet dinner Saturday evening at Oberlin College for the volunteers planning the next two 50th anniversary reunions.  I happened to find a seat between Wayne Alpern, president of the Class of 1969, and our classmate Christie Seltzer Fountain.  Thanks to George Spencer-Green for the photo below, which I've flanked with yearbook portraits. 

Our after-dinner conversation was mostly about Oberlin history.  Wayne related that the college's charismatic early leader, evangelist Charles Grandison Finney, agreed to become a professor only on the condition that the young institution would accept Black students.  That was in 1835.

In May of this year, Oberlin named Carmen Ambar as its 15th president, the first African American leader in the institution's 184-year history.  She spoke to us on both Friday and Saturday and made a great impression.

However, all three of us at the table Saturday evening had noticed fewer Blacks currently on campus than we remembered from the 1960s.  Alan Goldman, our committee's liaison with the college, forwarded the official numbers yesterday.

Two different ways of counting are in use. 

According to the federal reporting method, there are 151 students who identify as Black.  (That's only a fraction of the 1,013 students who by this method are non-white.)

According to a method which allows checking more than one box, there are 248 calling themselves at least partly African American.

Those numbers respectively translate to 5.3% and 8.8% of the college's 2,827 total students.  For the nation as a whole, the corresponding numbers are 13.3% and 14.5%.  Oberlin's legacy demands that we do better.



Oberlin College plans ahead.  Way ahead.  My Class of 1969 will celebrate the 50th anniversary of our commencement on May 24 through 27 of the year 2019, and I'm privileged to be part of the preliminary planning.

Our committee held meetings over the last three days at The Hotel at Oberlin, located across Main Street from the site of the Historic Elm.

This new building replaces the Oberlin Inn that I knew in my day.  When I was last in town two years ago, the new Hotel was under construction, as shown in the photo below.

In future posts I'll have more to say about this weekend.  Other alumni were also in attendance, including the committee for the 2018 reunion.

But for now, let me show you the anti-war vigil that took place at the Elm site at noon on Saturday, proving that Oberlinians of my age group are still keeping alive the tradition of demonstrating for peace.

Among the many old friends with whom I got to talk was Jan Weintraub Cobb, who is now the president of the Class of 1971.  She recalled, with amusement, my only musical performance on our campus radio station WOBC.

Some background:  We had decided to become a 24-hour station by adding an overnight shift, 2:00 to 6:00 AM.  We entrusted these hours to a robot, a blue metal box with lights and switches that controlled playback machines loaded with pop music.  We called this sequencer "Igor."

Every 15 minutes, while switching from one tape to another, Igor played a short voice announcement.  I recorded his computer voice, speaking in a monotone through a telephone and then speeding up the playback to a slightly higher pitch.

Igor's catchphrase:  THIS IS IG OR YOUR AU TO MA TED DISC JOCK EY WHOOP EE DO.  He was also one of my voices in this promo.  Audio Link

For one of his overnight announcements, Igor volunteered a tune of his own, but his data got out of sync.  The lyrics file was one note ahead of the melody file.  (I didn't come up with this gag myself.  The concept goes back at least as far as a 1954 recording by a band led by Stuart McKay, the famous jazz bassoonist.  Yes, I said "jazz bassoonist.")  Our automated disc jockey sang the "oldie" notated below.  All audio recordings of his unnerving performance were destroyed shortly afterward.


As I was leaving the parking lot yesterday to head back to Pennsylvania, a vintage automobile passed in front of my eyes.  It looked very much like this 1906 Thomas Flyer touring car, beautifully restored in pearl gray with shiny brass fittings.  I'd seen cars like this in museums, but I'd never encountered such an ancient vehicle out in the wild, just driving down East College Street.  The driver was sitting on the right with his passenger on the left, which was the style at the time.

The antique turned left on Main Street, and I turned after it, hearing the loud puttering of the engine and smelling the puffs of smoke from the exhaust.  I followed it for a couple of miles, as far as the US 20 intersection, before turning back toward town.  I only hope I'm that spry and handsome when I'm 111 years old.

Or 77 years old, at least.  When I got home, there was a mass e-mail awaiting me from Stephen FitzGerald, the chairman of Oberlin's Department of Physics and Astronomy.  He was informing me, along with 538 other alumni who majored in physics, that there's going to be a big event on April 8, 2024.  That afternoon, the next great American solar eclipse will pass right through Oberlin, providing almost four minutes of totality on campus.  Plans for an observation are already under way!



I'm on a committee embarking on a 20-month project with a couple dozen other members of my Oberlin College graduating class.  We're planning for our 50-year reunion, to be held in May 2019.

Yes, we graduated way back in 1969.  But today I'm thinking even further back in history, to the summer when the college celebrated its own 50th anniversary.

I have a new article about a speech given by a famous alumna on the Fourth of July, 1883, in which she urged that women's rights be elevated at least above those of a notorious traitor.  She called it Oberlin and Woman.


SEPT. 12, 2017

When a dog goes to heaven, can he bring along a zucchini?

More to the point, do dogs go to heaven?

And how do we know?

As I wrote in 2009, “We might as well inquire into the pay scale for elves at Santa's workshop, or ask about next year's enrollment at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”

This month's 100 Moons article is my short story about a man who realizes that, in the absence of facts, he can invent any answer that suits his mood.  He no longer thinks as a child.




The pickups above seem to be blatantly disregarding the "No Truck Parking" regulation.  But on further review, it turns out that they belong to a nearby Ford dealer who is doing nothing wrong.  The sign refers to big trucks, tractor-trailers, and it's addressed to the public half of the lot on the near side of the curbs.  There's no foul on the play.

However, the sign on the right does bother me.  I agree that motorists should always watch out for pedestrians, especially school kids.  But I also think children shouldn't be walking in the road.  They ought to be taught to use the sidewalk.  It's right there!



I figured out the solution only last year.  The solution to what?  Whilst entering a high school football roster into an Excel spreadsheet, I encounter a column for “Class.”

After I've typed in my first Freshman, the spreadsheet knows that when I subsequently type F in a cell below, it can auto-complete the cell as Freshman.  That saves a lot of repetitive keystrokes.

After I've typed in my first Junior, the spreadsheet auto-completes the next J as Junior.

But when I type S, the spreadsheet needs a little more information: does that mean Senior or Sophomore?

Pro tip:  For a 12th-grader, I do type in Senior (and subsequently merely S).  But for a 10th-grader, I type in Osph (and subsequently merely O).  Later, after the entire roster has been entered, I can correct the spelling by using control-F to globally replace every Osph with Sophomore.



Most public high schools begin classes far too early in the morning.   This article says the average start time is 7:59 AM.  Students are still drowsy, impairing their health and learning ability.

In the 1960s, my school was apparently very progressive.  As I detailed here, Richwood High School students didn't have to report until 8:45 AM, with our first class at 8:50.

But that meant we didn't get out until late afternoon, right?  Not that late.  School was dismissed at 3:30, but some activities like athletic practice could begin as soon as 8th Period was over at 2:45.


SEPT. 3, 2007 flashback   GO MAUKA, THEN GO FREEPORT

I returned yesterday from Michigan, where I was part of the Big Ten Network football telecast (Appalachian State upset the #5 Wolverines).

After my plane landed, the last leg of my trip involved driving Pennsylvania Route 28 from Pittsburgh to my suburban home.  The state calls it "northbound" Route 28.  Around here, however, the road parallels the Allegheny River and actually goes more east than north.  To avoid confusion, traffic reporters usually call it "outbound" Route 28.

That got me thinking.  Sometimes our situation is better suited to coordinate systems other than the standard directions of north, south, east, and west.

Inside a shopping mall, if someone asks us how to get to the Hologram Hut, we don't say "walk west and it's on your left."  We say "walk toward Sears and it's on your left."

In my neighborhood, where streets are oriented to the river, it isn't quite correct to say "go north, then turn right and go east."  It would be more accurate to say "go north-northwest, then turn right and go east-northeast," but that's as difficult to visualize as it is to pronounce.  So I prefer to say "go away from the river, then turn right and go upstream."

And in the state of Hawaii, where the typical island is an extinct volcano surrounded by a ring of habitable land sloping down to the shore, the locals avoid the usual Cartesian coordinates (north, south, east, and west).  Instead, they use the radial coordinate system (in, out, clockwise, and counterclockwise).  "In" is mauka, toward the mountains.  "Out" is makai, toward the sea.  At Honolulu, "clockwise" is ewa, toward Ewa Plantation, and "counterclockwise" is waikiki, toward Waikiki Beach.


SEPT. 1, 2017    BRAUN, AS IN "BRAWN"

This summer I saw a news clip from Cincinnati's WKRC, channel 12.  One of the anchors was identified as Rob Braun (left).

Hmm.  I remember Bob Braun from Cincinnati, a singer and talk show host popular with the ladies.  Later he was a commercial pitchman for Craftmatic Adjustable Beds.

It turns out that Bob was Rob's father.

In 1971, Bob came to our little black-and-white TV studio in Marion, Ohio, and we taped an interview with him — in color!  I've added that tale here to my recollections of Those '70s Shows.

I've also updated my update of my update about laugh tracks in TV comedies, adding to this post a paragraph about an ancient episode with Dick Van Dyke as a "Hillbilly Whiz."