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Because I graduated from college in 1969, my class is having its 50th reunion next month alongside the annual Commencement activities.

But what if we look back twice 50 years?  My latest article, Reunion Time 1919, is based on the stories in a 100-year-old student newspaper.  Young men and women weren't allowed to dance together back then, and a man might not be invited into a woman’s parlor after a date even though he’d taken her to a movie and a game and bought her candy and dope.  (That last word doesn't mean what you think.)



Oberlin College's leaders naturally retained the right to expel any student who behaved in an immoral manner.

However, according to Delazon Smith's 1837 pamphlet, they even expelled exemplary students whose only “crime” was disagreeing with official religious doctrines.

Smith disputed many policies himself.  He also recalled episodes in which supposedly righteous Oberlinians had refused charity to a needy person until he renounced his version of Christianity and adopted the preferred theology.  (No Universalists allowed in this house!)  The pious also vilified a poor teamster who, unable to afford overnight lodging, drove his wagon into town on a Sunday.  (Laboring on the Sabbath?  Such awful wickedness!)

This fortnight's installment of Oberlin Unmasked discusses Intolerance or Suppression of OpinionToday, of course, the college has moved on from the “slavery of the mind” of the early 19th century, and it's much more open to rational discourse about differing beliefs.


APRIL 24, 2009 flashback   WHO’S “HE”?

Sometimes, when listening to the radio, I’m not paying attention.  Or maybe I’m tuning to a different station.  At any rate, I often find myself listening to the middle of a story.

And so she stabbed him in the chest!  Apparently it wasn’t a deep wound, and he’s expected to recover, but she certainly got his attention.  I wonder how this is going to affect her movie career.  She’s going to be in jail for some time.  Of course, this is not the first time he’s driven a woman to violence.  We all remember how his first wife threatened him with a gun a few years ago.  I think his brother was involved in that somehow, wasn’t he?

After a few minutes of this, my question is, “Who are you talking about?!”

In written material, it may be acceptable to keep using pronouns without restating their antecedents.  If the reader gets confused, he can go back a page or two to find out who “he” and “she” are.  But on radio, the audience has no rewind button, and you have to assume that some listeners are joining the conversation at various points throughout.  They can’t ask, “So what are we discussing here?”  The broadcaster should repeat the names occasionally.  Some classic examples:

Back in the 1960s on ABC Radio, it must have been network policy to write news stories with a certain redundancy.  I remember hearing many stories that went something like this.

In Philadelphia, two women and a young girl died in a fast-moving row house fire that broke out just after midnight.  The cause is under investigation.  Captain John Ayers told reporters that those on the second floor “didn't have a chance” in that fire last night in Philadelphia.

Anyone joining the story in the middle and wondering “What fire?  Was it around here?” would hear the key facts repeated at the end.

And when Hank Stram was the radio analyst on Monday Night Football, I’d often hear him reorient his listeners.

He’s always been a very productive running back.  His statistics dropped off a bit last season when he missed the last five games with the knee injury, but he’s back on track this year, and he sure looked good on that play.  Talking about Barry Sanders.

UPDATE:  Here’s a real-life example.  On the first edition of the podcast “Movie B.S. with Bayer and Snider” in April 2010, the guys discussed their dissatisfaction with a certain actor in Clash of the Titans.  If you started paying attention at 10:45 into the conversation, here’s what you heard.

JEFF:  It’s like we’ve been forced to accept him as our blockbuster star.

ERIC: Someone decided that he’s an action hero without asking our permission first.

J:  Right.  Normally there is some sort of voting system.  We normally — like there is a chain of — I feel like we, as America, decided we wanted to see Will Smith in these movies.  I don’t feel like it was just thrown upon us.  And here he is with Terminator, with Avatar, and now with this —

E:  He’s being thrust upon us.

J:  He is.

E:  You know what it is?  It’s socialism.  I’m tired of it.

J:  I’m surprised because he doesn’t elicit any emotions for me, at all, when I’m watching him act.

E:  He’s very boring.  He’s not unpleasant, he’s not dislikable, unlikable; he’s just a flat presence.

J:  I saw him on Letterman, and it was great.  He was on Letterman last night, and he had this nervous energy.  It was almost endearing.  And I’ve never seen that in a performance of his.  It was like he was a little worried about how he would come off and everything else, and it was nice to see.  So I’ve decided I don’t hate him as a human being.

E:  No, he’s probably fine.

J:  Yeah.

E:  I saw on IMDB that he was in a production of Macbeth, an Australian movie version of Macbeth, and he played Macbeth.  I’m curious to watch that to see if there’s like actual acting involved.

J:  Do you want to know how he got into acting?  This is actually a good story.  When he was 17 years old, his dad — he lived in the southwest corner of Australia, along the coast.  His dad flew him to the northeast corner, gave him $400, and said, “Work your way back home.”

E:  Like as a prank?

J:  No, like as in “Here it is.  Become a man!”

E:  Wow.

J:  By the way, that was not — that would have been a great time to break out my Australian accent.

E:  “Wurk yer wye bahck!  Becomm a mahan!”

J:  There.  That’s what I said.  So what he did was, he eventually met a girl.  And the girl was very nervous about auditioning for the same drama school that Mel Gibson did.  So apparently Mel Gibson did do acting classes; that’s good to know.  I actually like him, by the way.  I liked his performances before.  (Anyway, we’re sidetracking.  Focus!)  I did.  So, uh, anyway, he goes with her to the audition and says “I’ll be here for support; I’ll audition too.”  He’s never really acted.  He got in, she didn’t.

E:  Oh.  Wow.

J:  And that’s it.  That’s how he became an actor.

E:  Interesting.

J:  Yeah.

E:  Well, there you go.

J:  I kind of like that story.

E:  How do you know that story?

J:  Letterman.  So everybody that watched Letterman was just like “Get on with the story!”

E:  “We know.  We watch Letterman too.”

But what we don’t know, even after listening for more than two and a half minutes, is who “he” is.  They never did mention the actor’s name again.  I rewound the podcast and discovered they were talking about Sam Worthington.



When the first Earth Day was observed in 1970, I was at Syracuse University studying radio and television in graduate school.

Near the campus, undergraduates were removing trash from a neglected little park, so I cranked up a Bolex that looked something like this and shot some 16mm silent film of the scene.  It would be B-roll for our in-class fake newscast.

Today, of course, is the fiftieth Earth Day.

So what have we done for the Earth in the intervening 49 years?  We've loaded our planet down with more than twice as many people!

Since 1970 the world's population has grown from 3.7 billion to over 7.7 billion.  In another fifty years it's expected to reach 9.4 billion.  The red line indicates one estimate of how many people the Earth's resources can support.

I've condensed what a TV host opined ten days ago.

Let's give millennials credit for doing something right:  having less sex than other generations — and so less babies, which is good for the planet!

Earth Day is coming up, and I can't think of a better gift to our planet than pumping out fewer humans to destroy it.

The great under-discussed factor in the climate crisis is there are just too many of us and we use too much stuff.  Climate deniers like to say, “There's no population problem.  Just look out the window of an airplane.  There's nothing but empty space down there.”  But it's not about space; it's about resources.  Humans are already using 1.7 times the resources the planet can support.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently said, “Young people are asking, is it okay to still have children?”

Utah's Senator Mike Lee went so far as to rebut AOC's threat to stop breeding by saying, “Climate change and problems of human imagination are not solved by more laws, but by more humans.  The solution to so many of our problems is to get married and have some kids.”  But remember, Mike Lee belongs to a cult that believes all sorts of fantastical nonsense.  It's called the Republican Party.

But I've got to tell you, liberals are also at fault on this issue.  I've never heard a liberal say that falling birthrates are a good thing — which they are!  Everyone talks about a falling birthrate like it means there's something desperately wrong with the country.  Whatever problems that are caused by falling birthrates aren't nearly as dire as the ones brought on by overpopulation.  Wouldn't it be nicer to just have fewer people around?

Real Time with Bill Maher



Many people, according to the late Billy Graham, “are so completely prejudiced that they cannot accept the glorious fact of the resurrection of Christ on Bible testimony alone.

“Certain laws of evidence hold in the establishment of any historic event.  Documentation of the event in question must be made by reliable contemporary witnesses.

“There is more evidence that Jesus rose from the dead than there is that Julius Caesar ever lived!”

Really?  Really?  I think he was simply referring to the preservation of ancient documents.

It's true that we have copies of the Gospels dating all the way back to the second century AD, a mere four generations after the era they describe.  If pen wasn't put to papyrus until a hundred years after the fact, can these manuscripts be trusted?

It's also true that our oldest physical records of Caesar's writings are even less contemporary, dating to the ninth century AD.  Does that rule them out as evidence?

Let's examine three existential allegations.


There is substantial primary as well as secondary evidence.  From coins and statues made during his lifetime, we know what Caesar looked like.  We have copies of the accounts he himself wrote of his military campaigns.  We have other words written during his lifetime, including letters and speeches of his political rival Cicero, the historical writings of Sallust, and the poetry of Catullus.  Many more details of his life are recorded by later historians, such as Appian, Suetonius, Plutarch, Cassius Dio, and Strabo.




Richard Carrier wrote of the resurrection:  “It has not the best, but the very worst kind of evidence — a handful of biased, uncritical, unscholarly, unknown, second-hand witnesses.”  They claim to have experienced a supernatural Jesus.  “He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve,” the Apostle Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15:5-8 (NIV).  “After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time....  I also saw him.”  Given other fantastical claims in the Bible, it's a matter of opinion whether any of these visions can be trusted.




Ever since Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977, some of his fans have refused to accept it.  They say he faked his death to escape his celebrity status.  Hundreds of eyewitnesses have claimed to have spotted him in many cities around the world, in shopping malls, taxis, restaurants.  One author recorded the “true story of a crowd of patrons in a Louisiana honky-tonk who swear that ‘the King’ sang a song one night.”  Were there more than 500 at one time?  These Elvis sightings are attested by biased, uncritical, unscholarly, unknown, second-hand witnesses.


I'm sorry, Billy, but the evidence for both #2 and #3 is much weaker than the evidence for #1.  Case dismissed.

But none of this matters anyway, according to the Apostle Paul.  We don't need to prove that anything is true.  We only have to say it's true and believe it. 

“If you openly admit by your own mouth that Jesus Christ is the Lord and if you believe in your own heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved!”  —Romans 10:9 (J.B. Phillips)

We don't need no stinking “evidence.”  All we need is blind faith.


APRIL 16, 2019    HOLD THE MAYO!

Are you planning to hard-boil and dye a batch of eggs so the kids can find them on Easter?  What will you do with the eggs afterwards?

If they've been kept in the refrigerator, they should still be good to eat.  You could “devil” them and serve them next week.

My mother made deviled eggs for us occasionally, but not with mayonnaise or pickle relish or any of that fancy stuff.  “Deviling” originally meant simply adding large amounts of hot, spicy seasoning, and Mother used only mustard, black pepper, and vinegar.  The eggs were our main course for supper!

I explain in this month's 100 Moons article.


APRIL 13, 2009 flashback   GOOD FOR YOU, BAD FOR ME

When the media characterize news as “good” or “bad,” they’re not always looking at the big picture.

For example, take the weather.  A forecast of 89° and sunny is generally proclaimed as good news, but that’s too hot for my comfort.  A forecast of a rainy day is generally bemoaned as bad news, but not by the farmers whose crops need the rain.  Those same farmers rejoice if the price of wheat goes up, but their joy is not shared by those of us who buy bread.

For another example, take the population.  Although the Pittsburgh region lost 2,967 residents over the last year, the local newspaper found a “silver lining” in the fact that the loss was only half as large as usual.

"It is good news that the population decline has slowed down," said county spokesman Kevin Evanto.

Chris Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh ... said he would not be surprised if the population figures released a year from now look even better for the region.

Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission ... Executive Director James Hassinger expressed confidence that the regional population will bottom out by 2015 and slowly tick upward afterward.

A larger population may be good news for businesses and construction workers and politicians.  But should the rest of us want to see more traffic jams, more pollution, more overcrowded schools, and all the other consequences of the fact that there are already too many of us?



2001 photo

Across from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music is a rather literal memorial honoring the emergence of the Underground Railroad, which came to Oberlin in 1836.

During the first part of the 19th century, this network of secret routes and safe houses helped tens of thousands of slaves escaping bondage in the South to find refuge in the North or in Canada.

They were abetted in their flight by northern abolitionists.  In particular, for three days after the “Oberlin-Wellington Rescue” in 1858, escapee John Price found refuge just 400 feet south of these rails in the home of future Oberlin College president James Fairchild.

Back in 1834, James and his older brother Edward Henry Fairchild had enrolled as freshmen, having come from the family farm ten miles away.  In 1835, from upstate New York came Delazon Smith, whose subsequent pamphlet I've been serializing.

Even in those days, several hundred slaves were already fleeing each year.  Smith presumably agreed with abolition, as he attended the convention of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society in the spring of 1836.  But a few months later, when the town first became involved with the Underground Railroad, he objected.  The fleeing slaves were still legally the property of their Southern masters.  Abetting their escape to freedom was not only illegal by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 but also a violation of Article 4 of the Constitution: 

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.”

Proclaiming their loyalty not to the Constitution but to “a higher law,” several Oberlin students traveled 200 miles south and stationed themselves on the banks of the Ohio River.  There they enticed slaves to desert their masters and head north to freedom.  One commentator later would call Oberlin “the town that started the Civil War.” 

In my latest installment of Delazon Smith's Oberlin Unmasked, the author opposes this civil disobedience.  He also reveals his racism, criticizing the “revolting doctrine of amalgamation” that allowed blacks to mix with whites in polite society.  Such an “abomination,” later known as integration, was a likely result of Abolition.



Did you know that if you're accused of a crime, you don't necessarily have to entrust your fate to the uninformed guesses of a motley crew of a dozen dopes like me?

You can waive your right to a jury trial and instead have your case decided by a learned justice, with chambers and law books and a black robe and everything.

I argue in favor of that decision in my new article, Oft May Ye Waive. 



After six months with my new car, I’m starting to figure out one of its features:  HD radio.  I’ll limit my remarks to FM stations that use this relatively new technology.

You probably didn’t know that a station today delays its audio by eight seconds before transmitting it.  This particular delay has nothing to do with giving the station a chance to bleep out obscenities before they’re aired.  No, it’s a requirement for HD.  (In this case, HD does not stand for High Definition.  Some say it means Hybrid Digital.)

When I first tune to a station, I hear (via the regular FM analog signal) what the announcer said eight seconds ago.  Meanwhile, my receiver starts collecting digital bits to assemble a cleaner version of what he’s saying now.  It takes about eight seconds to get enough data, allowing for brief dropouts should I drive past a building or something.  After this “latency” period, the receiver switches over; it stops playing the delayed analog signal and starts playing the digital version that it’s created.  The analog signal I heard first was delayed so it would sync up with the digital signal I’d hear later.

The digital quality is supposed to be better, although in the somewhat noisy environment of my car I have a hard time hearing any improvement.  If I listen very carefully, after eight seconds I notice the bass is slightly stronger.  This leads me to wonder about the point of the whole exercise.  (However, digital transmission does allow the station to broadcast additional channels like HD2 and HD3, plus brief text annotations.)

But sometimes on Pittsburgh’s KDKA-FM, a sports talk station known as 93.7 The Fan, the switchover is very obvious.  A couple of days ago, the analog delay wasn’t working, so when I first tuned in I heard eight seconds of live analog followed by the digital version of the same eight seconds.

Had I tuned in as they started broadcasting the Gettysburg Address, I would have heard something like this, with the switchover from undelayed analog to digital occurring at the word “four”:

(Analog fades in)  Seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated....

That’s amusing, if it only happens once.  But when I drive more than 25 miles from Pittsburgh, sometimes the station’s signal falls off the “digital cliff.”  When no digital version is available, my receiver automatically returns to regular analog FM.  And if the regular analog FM isn’t being delayed, at the switch I seem to jump forward in time.  I miss a sentence or so.  Before long, the receiver reacquires the digital signal.  Eight seconds after that, I jump backward in time, hearing again the sentence that I just heard.

I first noticed this while trying to listen to a college football game last fall.  Apparently the delay wasn’t working then, either.  As you can imagine, the random cutting back and forth was rather confusing.

And there’s the kickoff, and it’s going spotted on the 25-yard line, where Pitt will have the ball first and 25-yard line, where Pitt will have the ball first down and ten.  Let’s see if they can over right tackle for a gain of maybe two yards to the 27.  Making the tackle was John Smith, the inside linebacker.  So we’re looking at second down 27.  Making the tackle was John Smith, the inside linebacker....

Yesterday I was planning to e-mail a TV engineer I know at KDKA to have him check with his radio colleagues about this.  But apparently they were aware of the problem, and they got the delay working again.  Everything seems fine for now.  Cross your fingers.



When I was seven, we didn't yet have a TV set, but my parents did buy me an occasional comic book.

I remember staring at one panel that looked something like this.  It depicted a cwoss-section of a wabbit hole, and I wondered what supported the round-bottomed chunk of ground upon which Elmer was standing.

When I became older, I put away childish things.  I grew embarrassed to have ever behaved as a little kid.

But I must confess that once, at the age of seven, I scampered around pretending I was a superhero with a red cape streaming behind me.  No, not Superman.  A little parody of Superman.  “I'm Mighty Mouse!” I proclaimed.

Mr. Trouble never hangs around
When he hears this mighty sound:
“Here I come to save the day!”
That means that Mighty Mouse is on the way!

(And he's a heldentenor.)

Often the stories featured the invulnerable Mouse flying in at the last moment to rescue Mitzi, his damsel in distress.  Even at that age, I enjoying imagining myself as a dashing hero winning the adoration of a fair maiden.

However, I didn't want to emulate the Mouse's violent tactics.  For some reason I remember one line of comic-book dialogue.  After raining vicious blows on the chin of another villain (or maybe a flying saucer), Mighty remarked, “Wow, skinned my knuckles on that one!"