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AUGUST 31, 2010 flashback   DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO THINK

A Fourth of July letter to the editor of the Daily Herald reminded readers in Provo, Utah, about

“the startling claim that continues to unsettle dictators and elites everywhere: ‘That all men are created equal.’ This reverberates always, but especially today.  We are constantly bombarded with messages, overt or subtle, about the superior wisdom of this professor or that expert.  The Declaration is an antidote to the dogma that any clique or coterie has some superior wisdom and that the rest of us must kowtow to them.”

I object.  We aren’t forced to agree with professors.  On the other hand, the know-nothings believe we should agree with what they say.  Their clique or coterie claims to know, somehow, that the experts are wrong.  As Texas State Board of Education member Don McLeroy declared during this year’s textbook debates, “Someone has to stand up to experts!”

Or consider the complaint of pastor Ray Mummert during the 2005 trial about teaching creationism in Dover, Pennsylvania (as quoted by Charles P. Pierce in his book Idiot America).  Speaking on behalf of all stupid, uninformed Americans, pastor Mummert whined, “We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of our culture.”

Did the experts have their superior knowledge handed to them because of some pre-existing elite status?  No, they studied.  They earned the right to have their conclusions respected.

Others may have preferred not to learn, because they might have discovered that some of their cherished beliefs are wrong.  But if they deliberately chose to reject knowledge, they have no grounds now to complain about unfairness.

Even Rush Limbaugh likes to point out, “America guarantees equal opportunity, not equal outcome.”  In the capitalist system, if we work hard we should have as much chance as the next guy to achieve success and join the financial elite.  Likewise, if we study hard we should have as much chance as the next guy to achieve wisdom and join the intellectual elite.

All people are created equal, as poor foolish infants.  Those who don’t apply themselves are likely to remain poor and foolish.

UPDATE:  In 2019, Scott Renshaw criticized “the notion that all opinions are equally valid, and equally deserving of being treated with respect.  Because they are not.  The simplest version can be distilled in this Asimov quote:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been.  The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

Isaac Asimov in Newsweek, January 21, 1980

“As it applies to movies (and by extension, other creative works), everyone can like whatever they like.  But that doesn't mean their reasons are equally valid.  If someone doesn't like a book or a movie or a song because they are racist or sexist or homophobic and the work in question makes them uncomfortable, that's not ‘just their opinion.’  It deserves to be treated with contempt.  Nobody is ‘entitled’ to ignorance, and ignorance informs a lot of reactions to art.”



To support local journalism, I've continued subscribing to a daily newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  But it's getting more difficult.

A couple of years ago the P-G decided that to save money, on four days of the week they would no longer print physical editions with paper and ink and all that.  They do still publish online every day, so I can keep up with the news via the “PGe” app.  But it's only on Thursday and Friday and Sunday mornings that an actual newspaper shows up on my sidewalk, wrapped in a green plastic sleeve that protects it from the rain (mostly).

And now the paper shows up even less often.  I guess the P-G now pays delivery people only for Fridays and Sundays.

The past two weeks, there was nothing on Thursday, and when the green sleeve arrived on Friday it contained both the Thursday and Friday editions!  Each day now has far fewer pages, so both easily fit into one sleeve.  Having already read the Thursday edition online, I merely discard it, but the publisher is able to tell the advertisers that their Thursday print ads did in fact reach my address.

(If the Postal Service is having financial problems, I wouldn't really mind if they too started doubling up on deliveries.  They could cut back from six days a week to merely Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  In cities a century ago, a check mailed on Monday morning could arrive on Monday afternoon, but we've learned to no longer expect that kind of service; if a letter is delayed a couple of extra days, no big deal.  But I would insist that the mail that could have been delivered on Tuesday must have first priority to go out the door on Wednesday.)

The local newspaper is saving money in other ways, too.  Employees are being laid off, and salaries haven't been raised for years.  If a threatened strike takes place, I may have to switch to the online version of the neighboring county's Tribune-Review.  Various longtime P-G staffers like TV writer Rob Owen and courts reporter Paula Reed Ward have already made that switch.  Oh, well.  A Teamsters strike in May 1992 shuttered the P-G for eight months, so I guess we'll manage again this time.



Maybe you hate your boss.  Would it be a good idea to sabotage his business?  Probably not; the customers would go away, the company would go bankrupt, and you would lose your job.

I explain in this month's 100 Moons article, which was written in 2004.  It anticipated the end of US Airways 11 years later.


AUGUST 24, 2010 flashback   PERSPECTIVE

Sometimes we lose sight of the business model.  Who are the customers?  Who’s the competition?

. . . television . . .

Most people think a TV channel’s viewers are its customers, and its programs are the products it sells to those viewers.  Therefore the channel should want to offer us the highest-quality programs possible.  That may be true of a pay channel like HBO.

However, it’s not true of a traditional broadcast station.  In this case, viewers like us are not the customers.  We are the product.  Our eyeballs are delivered to those who actually pay the bills, namely the advertisers.  The advertisers are the station’s real customers.

Therefore the station doesn’t really care what we want to watch; it merely wants to attract as many of us as possible to see its customers’ commercials.  It doesn’t care about the inherent quality of its programs, only their popularity with the desired demographic.

. . . baseball . . .

Recently in Pittsburgh there’s been much discussion of baseball team finances.  The difference between success and failure depends on how you define your goal.  Do you want to earn a profit, or do you want to win a championship?  As a business, the Pittsburgh Pirates are a profitable success.  As a baseball team, they’re a spectacular failure.

The Pirates are beneficiaries of revenue sharing, in which teams in big cities like Chicago contribute to a fund that helps teams in smaller cities like Pittsburgh.  Supposedly this improves the disadvantaged teams’ ability to compete and win on the baseball field.  But, as one blogger noted yesterday, “most businesses don’t receive revenue from their competition.”

From a business standpoint, however, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs are not in competition with each other.  Are the Altoona Wal-Mart and the Meadville Wal-Mart competitors?  No, they’re part of the same endeavor.  Ball clubs are merely franchises, in different markets, of Major League Baseball.

From a business standpoint, the Pirates’ true competitors aren't the St. Louis Cardinals.  Their true competitors are local amusement parks, movie theaters, and other places of entertainment right here in southwestern Pennsylvania.  That's how the Pirates can lose two-thirds of their games (to their baseball competition) and still be a successful enterprise (against their business competition).



The TV networks must be getting desperate for content.  Earlier this month, they aired one of my old shows!

Fox Sports 1 inserted commercials into a lengthy pay-per-view special for which I had supplied the graphics on Saturday evening, August 29, 1992.

“SummerSlam,” live from London, was presented by the World Wrestling Federation.  (Ten years later the WWF, having lost a trademark suit brought by the World Wildlife Fund, promoted its F to an E and became World Wrestling Entertainment.)  FS1's repeat airing served to promote WWE's latest SummerSlam, to be televised from Orlando on August 23, 2020, without fans in attendance.

In each of the previous three years I had been the graphics operator for SummerSlam, produced by Vince McMahon's Titan Sports and subcontracted through Pittsburgh's Unitel Mobile Video.  I must have done okay, because Titan invited me to fly to England for this one as well.

I mentioned my trip here.  It would be my third overseas assignment in five years.


New Jersey
Madison Square Garden
Wembley Stadium
Auburn Hills, Michigan
New Jersey

When I got to see the show again 28 years later, I captured the stills below.  From these examples of my work, you can tell it was not a particularly demanding job.

Rowdy Roddy bag-Piper joined the festivities.  The wild and crazy gap-toothed Bushwhackers, on the right below, turned into a couple of friendly blokes from New Zealand by the next morning when we boarded vans for the ride back to Heathrow.



Remember The King of NASCAR, #43 Richard Petty?  In 1975, he won an amazing 43% of his races.

That's nothing.  In Formula 1 this season, Lewis Hamilton (left) is winning 67% of the races.  He finished first again today in the Spanish Grand Prix, his fourth victory in six tries this year.  Today marked Hamilton's 156th career “podium” (first, second, or third place), setting a new all-time F1 record.

He does have an advantage.  The Mercedes cars that he and Valtteri Bottas drive are the fastest in the field.  Mercedes has won the last six annual Constructors' Championships, with Hamilton and Bottas aboard since 2017.

I've gotten in the habit of tuning in ESPN on Sunday mornings for the excellent live Grand Prix coverage produced by Britain's Sky Sports.  I saw today's event live from Catalonia.

In olden days, live TV could only be watched at the time it was telecast.  Then it became possible to time-shift programs.  In 2007 I was using a digital disc recorder for this purpose.  DVD discs can't be erased and reused, so over time I accumulated hundreds of permanent recordings.  Checking the log recently, I noted that I've preserved a United States Grand Prix from June 17, 2007.  I didn't watch many F1 races back then, but this one would be run over the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I did follow Indy.  However, on that Sunday I was going to be otherwise employed at a baseball game.  Therefore I used my DVD recorder to time-shift the Fox telecast from Indianapolis, followed by the conclusion of NBC's coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament from Oakmont.

Out of curiosity last week, I popped disk 114 into the Blu-Ray player and viewed it for the first time in 13 years.  Who had qualified to start from the pole position back then?  Lewis Hamilton!  Only the week before, he had picked up his first F1 victory.  And as I watched the Indianapolis race, who came in first?  Lewis Hamilton!

Today at Barcelona, Hamilton started on the pole for the 92nd time in his career.  He led every lap from “lights out” to checkered flag, was not slowed by the rain that threatened, and won for the 88th time.

One might think his dominance would make the telecasts boring, but they're not.  The competition is very fast (pit stops are only about two seconds) with no commercials.  It's two hours of non-stop action and strategy, which holds one's attention much better than baseball.

I plan to be watching the Belgian Grand Prix in two weeks' time.  


AUGUST 11, 2020    WILL COVID-19 GO AWAY IN 2021?

This graph tracks the incidences of influenza for three years in one particular county.  Note the infamous Cold and Flu Season.

Because that season begins at the onset of winter, people blame frigid outdoor temperatures for causing them to “catch cold.”  They don't realize that infections often spread from holiday get-togethers or kids being in school.

Because Cold and Flu are rare in the summertime, people think warm outdoor temperatures must inhibit the viruses.  On February 10, President Trump told a rally that the coronavirus situation would “work out fine,” explaining that “by April, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”

Well, it hasn't gone away.  Yesterday, Dr. Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization said that COVID-19 “has demonstrated no seasonal pattern.”

Why don't Cold and Flu afflict us in August?  Not because of the heat, but because we're widely separated in the great outdoors — instead of huddling next to one another with windows tightly shut in classrooms or office buildings or shopping malls or hockey arenas.

The bad news is that, unless we continue avoiding crowded areas (and wearing our masks), airborne viral infections of all kinds are likely to increase after the first of the year.


AUGUST 6, 2010 flashback   DÉJÀ VU

On Wednesday afternoon I was working a telecast of a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game.  My coordinator Jason Steele was monitoring the Internet for other news from around the major leagues.

Suddenly Jason found a report from Yankee Stadium.  He asked me to call up graphic 2671, a shell for a news bulletin in the lower third of the TV screen.  He began dictating what I should type on it.  “Alex Rodriguez (NYY)...”

“He finally did it?!” I interrupted.  Yes, he did.  We had been anticipating this achievement for weeks.

Jason continued, “...hits 600th career home run.  Youngest player ever to reach milestone.”  The graphic went on the air, and our announcer Greg Brown informed our viewers of Rodriguez’s accomplishment.

I was reminded of a similar experience nearly half a century ago.

It was a Sunday afternoon, and my father and I were watching an NFL game on TV.  Checking the annals of history, I conclude that we must have been watching Dallas at Cleveland on the first day of October in 1961.  I remember that the Cowboys were an expansion team then, wearing funny uniforms with stars on the shoulders and led by diminutive 5’9” quarterback Eddie LeBaron (left).  They were playing in only their second season, and the Browns defeated them easily by a 25-7 score.

During the course of the football telecast, the announcer (probably Ken Coleman) informed us that in an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium, another New York Yankee had just hit a long-anticipated home run.  In this case, it was the 61st of the season for Roger Maris, breaking the old record of 60 set by Babe Ruth 34 years before.

I didn’t see either homer when it happened.  But you always remember where you were when you heard the news.



On an episode of a Norman Lear TV series which was cablecast earlier this year, one of two apparently female characters introduced her friend:  “This is Syd, my Syd-nificant other, and they are not binary.”

Syd explained, “My pronouns are they and them” — epicene, of indeterminate sex.  A census taker was uncertain whether it was permissible to address Syd with the pronoun “you.”

Some progressive folks nowadays prefer using Epicene Pronouns (EPs) to choosing between the traditional gender-specific “he and him” or “she and her.”

In the sitcom, a crisis developed.  If this were a traditional show, the first character might moan:

Syd's gonna dump me,

isn't she?

Should I break up

with her


she breaks up

with me?

But in this case, the script was written using Syd's EPs.

Syd's gonna dump me,

aren't they?

Should I break up

with them


they break up

with me?

That sounds very odd to this baby boomer.  I was taught that “they” and “them” are plural, which implies that Syd are indeed binary.  Syd are apparently afflicted with multiple personalities.

Such misuse of language invites misunderstanding.  For example, if Syd were to refuse a pamphlet proffered by missionaries, we'd have to phrase that as “they declined their tract.”  Who declined what?

If Syd prefer EPs, Syd need to choose Singular EPs.  However, that's not easy.  The English language's only SEP has long been “it,” which unfortunately neuters its antecedent's humanity.

Syd's gonna dump me,

isn't it?

Should I break up

with it


it breaks up

with me?

People have tried to invent non-neuter SEPs like “ze” and “zir,” which no one will be able to agree upon nor remember.

Syd's gonna dump me,

isn't ze?

Should I break up

with zir


ze breaks up

with me?

In What's Your Pronoun, linguistics scholar Dennis Baron claims that “the singular ‘they’” exists and is often used in sentences like “Someone phoned earlier, but they haven't called back.”  However, if a subject is singular (they), does not grammar require its verb to agree (they hasn't)? 

Syd's gonna dump me,

isn't they?

Should I break up

with them


they breaks up

with me?

No, I think Syd should announce, “My pronouns?  I don't need no stinking pronouns.  Just call me by my name!”

Syd's gonna dump me,

isn't Syd?

Should I break up

with Syd


Syd breaks up

with me?