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ArchiveJUNE 2019


JUNE 29, 2009 flashback   CATCH-PHRATHE

I never knew all the details of this story.  Let’s say that it took place in a small Kentucky diner on a hot day in the early 1940s, before air conditioning became widespread.

My newly married parents were looking over the menu.  Someone inquired about the soup of the day.

The response from the cook became a family joke forever after:

Thoup?!  In the thummertime?


JUNE 26, 2019    HERE ARE SARAH!

Los Angeles writer Josh Fruhlinger stages comedy shows.  He posts:  “Our next featured performer for this week's ‘Internet Read Aloud’: Sarah Mowrey!  Sarah uses their wild energy and dark sense of humor to construct jokes about dating and mental illness.  They have been featured at The Drop Comedy Club....”

Wait a moment.  Their?  They?  Plural pronouns?  Is “Sarah Mowrey” the name of a group of comics, like Second City?

No, Josh shows a photo of just one person.  So I look up Sarah Mowrey's Twitter bio.  It helpfully specifies the preferred pronouns:

they/them but she/her is like, *fine*

Choosing one's own pronouns is getting confusing.

I think we should all just be “it.”



When a comedian delivers an obvious punch line, his audience will laugh, even if the joke doesn't make sense.

Two weeks ago, Bill Maher gave a “commencement address” on his HBO show Real Time.  I recorded the program as it aired live.

Apparently his script had been provided to both the teleprompter operator and the closed-caption operator, because the captions sometimes appeared even before Bill spoke the words.

He referred to “this thousand-dollar-a-year keg party they call a college.”  The audience may have been puzzled by the incredible bargain — only a thousand dollars a year? — but they laughed anyway.  Having read the captions, I can reveal that the original joke was bigger:  Bill was supposed to call it a “seventy-thousand-dollar-a-year keg party.”

Later he urged each graduate to ironically thank his/her overprotective parents for “teaching me that any thought, word, or action, or feelings I had, was unfair.”  There were a few confused giggles.  Our parents took a dim view of all our feelings?

According to the script, he had intended to say, “Thank you for teaching me that any thought, word, or action that hurt my feelings was unfair.”  This would have been an allusion to our President, who whines “Witch hunt!” to any criticism.  It would have properly set up the closing dig:  “Which didn't make me a liberal, it made me Donald Trump.”

Laughter and applause followed automatically — Bill's audience is primed to laugh at any reference to the President — even though the meaning of the joke was lost.


JUNE 19, 2009 flashback   A BENCH FOR REFLECTION   revised 2017

Today is Juneteenth, the anniversary of the day in 1865 when, more than two months after the conclusion of the Civil War, slaves in Texas were finally told that they had been emancipated by a proclamation that President Lincoln had issued 2½ years earlier.

Gilbert Cruz wrote in Time last year, “Advocates say Juneteenth is as deserving of recognition as Independence Day.  ‘We may have gotten there in different ways and at different times,’ says [the Rev. Ronald V.] Meyers of blacks and whites, ‘but you can't really celebrate freedom in America by just going with the Fourth of July.’”

Nobel laureate Toni Morrison grew up in Lorain, Ohio, ten miles north of Oberlin College.  She wrote in 1989, “There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves; nothing that reminds us of the ones who made the journey and of those who did not make it.  There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath.”

The British Commonwealth does actually have at least one such place.  Three decades before our Civil War, the British Empire set all its slaves free in 1838.  This 1985 statue now stands in the middle of Emancipation Roundabout on the island of Barbados.

But here in America, wrote Ms. Morrison, we have no “wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby.  There's no 300-foot tower.  There’s no small bench by the road!”


Well, now there is.

It's the least we could do.

Above is another of the pictures I took last month on my visit to Oberlin, Ohio.  On the left is a College photo from April 23 of this year, when the author came to Oberlin to dedicate her bench.

“A Bench by the Road” was placed by the Toni Morrison Society in the parklet that commemorates Oberlin’s involvement in the Underground Railroad.

It’s the second of a projected 20 such memorials around the nation, to remind us that there was a time when not all of America was the land of the free.



The year was 1960.  I read how the bathyscaphe Trieste had gone very, very deep under the sea.  It made the ultimate descent, reaching 35,814 feet in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean.  That's nearly seven miles down.

A few years before, Walt Disney had made a movie from Jules Verne's 1870 science-fiction novel called 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.  I had no idea what a “league” meant in this sense.  Was it the same as a foot?  If so, Captain Nemo's fictional submarine Nautilus had managed to descend almost 60% as far as the Trieste.

But no.  Upon looking it up, I found that a league is considerably more than a foot.  It was originally the distance a person could walk in an hour.  (The mythical “seven-league boots” enabled the wearer to accomplish a day's hike in a single stride.)  English-speaking sailors defined a league as three nautical miles.

For Verne it was a little less: four kilometers.  Therefore, “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” would be 50,000 miles.  Obviously this wasn't the vertical depth Captain Nemo attained, but rather the horizontal distance he traveled while submerged — equal to four trips across the widest part of the Pacific Ocean, or twice around the earth.

Numbers are great, but it's also important to understand the units of measurement.



One gadget my new car doesn’t have is a GPS navigation system.  I don’t use GPS.  But it’s not that I’m avoiding computers.  I simply prefer to use Google Earth, in order to know in advance where I’m going.

Last winter I got a flyer from a new restaurant at “3231 Leechburg Road.”  I’m familiar with that road, but it’s a couple of miles long.  Where exactly is 3231?  I fired up Google Earth on my desktop computer and typed in the address.  The program immediately showed me where it is:  the former Quizno’s sandwich shop.  Set back from the other buildings and therefore easy to miss, Quizno’s is no longer in business at that location.  I may or may not decide to go to the new place.

When I’m assigned to work at, for example, Hometown High School, I’m given an address several days in advance.  So when I have the opportunity, I ask Google to plot a course to “225 White House Road, 15163.”  Then I examine the map in detail, paying special attention to the turns.  For the tricky parts, I use Street View and memorize the terrain.

“Okay, I’ll come up to a stop sign with a Sunoco station on my left.  There's a big blue-and-yellow sign.  I’ll make a right turn, then immediately get in the left-hand lane to make a left turn at the traffic light, just before the golf course.  I’ll follow that road for 2.6 miles.  Soon after passing Truman Road — there should be a green sign on the right — I’ll turn right onto Eisenhower Road, which is rather narrow.”

Now when I actually make the trip, I’m not driving in unfamiliar terrain.  I’ve been there, seen that!  Virtually, that is.


JUNE 13, 2009 flashback  TODAY IS [NOT FRIDAY]

“Whew!  That was a close one!  Friday the Thirteenth come on a Saturday this month!”

That paraskavedekatriaphobic joke comes from Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” comic strip.

Another random detail:  there was an adorable character in Pogo's swamp, perhaps a young raccoon or something, whose name was Li’l Awry.

I assume the last name was supposed to be pronounced uh-RIGH, as in “things began to go a little awry when the boat sank.”

But I always wanted to pronounce it AW-ree, for no other reason than the awww-producing cuteness of Li’l Awry.

Somehow, I remember these things 40 years later.



Thirty years ago last night, a slender Barry Bonds celebrated a home run, although he wasn't the one who had hit it.  This image from rather early in my TV graphics career is one of thirty in this month's 100 Moons article.

JUNE 9, 2019    MMOONARS?

I am certainly no fan of President Trump, but sometimes he's unfairly criticized.

In a tweet this week he mentioned “Mars (of which the Moon is a part).”  The Twitterverse jumped all over him for that.

Trump is not a complete idiot.  He knows that those are two separate heavenly bodies.  He isn't saying the Moon is part of Mars.  He's saying that going back to the Moon is not the real goal but merely the first part of NASA's bigger plan for going to Mars.

Twitter provides only so many lines, and sometimes we have to read between them.



Yesterday's newspaper had a couple of articles that left me wanting more information.

One, in the course of examining the question “Why Is It Raining So Much,” noted that “developers in Allegheny and Butler counties have graded and built upon 54.5 million square feet of land since 2005.  So when 57.83 inches of rain falls in the region, as it did last year, there is less undeveloped land to catch it.”

Now 54.5 million square feet sounds like a huge amount, but is it?  How does it compare to the total area of the two counties?  I had to do a little additional research to discover that in the larger perspective, it isn't that much:  only one-eighth of one percent.  Any runoff flooding caused by the added pavement is probably only a local nuisance.

The other article reported that Pope Francis has approved a change to the Lord's Prayer.  Christians have long recited “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  The Pope declares that is “not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.  The one who leads you into temptation is Satan.”  James 1:13 agrees.  Henceforth Catholics will instead pray, “do not let us fall into temptation.”

Perhaps the original Greek of Matthew 6:13 and Luke 11:4, kai me eisenenkeis hemas eis peirasmon, can legitimately mean either “lead us not into” or “don't let us fall into.”  I don't know, but I doubt it, and many people suspect the former translation is the accurate one.  (In the traditional Latin, it's et ne nos inducas in tentationem.)  They will accuse the Pope of trying to “correct” the words of Jesus.

As long as we're rewriting scripture, I like G.J.R. Ouseley's formulation “In the hour of temptation, deliver us from evil,” which implies nothing about the source of the tempting.

On the other hand, Jesus never said kai me eisenenkeis hemas eis peirasmon.  He didn't speak Greek.  Someone had to translate his recommended prayer from Aramaic into Greek before it could be included in the gospels.  Let's blame that anonymous translator!


JUNE 5, 2019    FRIENDS

We were all wearing our name tags as we waited outside Stull Recital Hall for the first official event of the reunion.  A distinguished-looking gentleman next to me smiled.  “Hi, Max!” I said.  We struck up a conversation as though we were old buddies.

Max Bragado-Darman (left) is the distinguished Music Director of the Monterey Symphony.

We had never met, as far as I recall.  However, for the past year I've been learning about him and hundreds of other classmates in the process of administering Oberlin College & Conservatory's Class of 1969 50th Reunion Website.  Now the big event was under way!

Later, at the Men's Breakfast, the maestro recalled his early days in the Conservatory, where he studied piano.  He was in awe of the faculty.  Authority figures in general intimidated young Max, an immigrant from  Spain when it was ruled by Francisco Franco.  At last he got the courage to knock on his instructor's office door, and that changed everything.

As an undergraduate, I too was in awe of my professors.  However, at least eight of them included me when inviting small groups of students into their homes.  One of them, Robert Pierce, is still around 50 years later and actually joined us at our reunion with his wife Barbara.

Nowadays, it's my classmates who impress me.  They've achieved so much since we graduated.  Many are professionals such as doctors, professors, attorneys.  To give just a dozen examples from A to Z:



chair of the French department at Dartmouth



deputy director of USAID for Afghanistan and Pakistan  



storyteller at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum



radio astronomer



age-group world record holder in swimming



executive director, Columbia Land Conservancy (Hudson Valley)



ethnographic textile dealer specializing in China's minorities



early developer of bank ATM's



leader of the pharmaceutical program that developed Humira



a minister at the 1629 First Church in Salem



stage designer on One Life to Live



co-founder, Dewey International University of Cambodia

On the website, all of us have been conversing about something we have in common, our Oberlin experience.  I feel like they're all my friends.



A popular puzzle is the cryptogram, where each letter needs to be replaced by another throughout.  How do I solve one of these?

Usually I stare at it for a minute or two, looking for possibilities.  Suppose one phrase is JB JMZ FZBFWZ.  Many three-letter words exist, but perhaps the most common is THE.  If J and M and Z were replaced by T and H and E, the phrase would become T– THE –E–––E.  If so, the two-letter word would almost certainly be TO, so B is O.  The six-letter word then becomes –EO––E, with the first and fourth letters the same.  I've learned that PEOPLE uniquely fits that template, so the phrase is TO THE PEOPLE.  This is all done in my head.

I scan the rest of the puzzle to make sure none of these substitutions would cause problems.  For example, a coded contraction CBD'JF would have to become –O–'TP, which is unlikely.  If there are no such improbabilities, I start writing in E wherever I see a Z, and so on.  Other words become as obvious as –EO––E was, and I'm on my way.

Unfortunately, this requires writing a whole bunch of E's.  E is the letter that appears most frequently in our language.  Sometimes I grumble because it's also the capital letter that requires the most separate strokes of my pencil — four of them!  This is downrightrightright ridiculous.  It's all the Greeks' fault, with their “epsilon.”  Old Sam Morse knew better when he invented his code alphabet and made E the simplest letter to telegraph, just a single dot.