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ArchiveAUGUST 2021


In Texas, you need a license to drive a car.  You need a license to fish.  You need a license to put up signs, or to make tattoos, or to serve alcohol, or to sell flowers by the side of the road.  But as of tomorrow, you won't need a license to tote a gun.

A new Texas law allows any non-felon 21 years or older to carry a handgun in public without a permit or training.  This is being referred to in the state as “constitutional carry.”  Signing the bill in June, Gov. Greg Abbott declared that it “instilled freedom in the Lone Star State.” 

To the Republican governor and state legislature, writes Robert J. Elisberg, “freedom” seems to mean the unregulated right to shoot someone.  Apparently that pesky “well-regulated” part of the Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution got missed — as it always seems to be by gun fanatics.

Was this the way things were in the old Wild West?  No, there were a few restrictions.  There was a time, depicted in “westerns” I saw on TV in my youth, when cowboys arriving in town would be required to surrender their guns at the jail until it was time for them to hit the trail again.

Texas law officers are strongly against the permissive new state law.  “I don't know what it's a solution to,” said James McLaughlin, executive director of the Texas Police Chiefs Association.  “I don't know what the problem was to start with.”


AUGUST 28, 2011 flashback   COME THEN, MAIDENS AND MEN!

In high school, I wrote a script for a proposed musical play called Follow Your Star.  For more details, click the logo.

The musical numbers were, in general, not original.  One of them was envisioned as an Act I ensemble for the whole chorus, something like this Scottish show-starter from Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon:

Come all to the square!
     The market square!
          The market fair!
Salted meat I'm sellin' there!
     At the fair, laddie!
Ale for sale or barter there!
     At the square, laddie!

Come ye from the hills!
Come ye from the mills!
Come ye in the glen,
Come ye bairn, come ye men.
Come ye from the loom!
Come from pail an' broom!
Hear ye ev'rywhere:
Don't ye ken?  There's a fair
Down on MacConnachy Square!

Here’s that song in an admirable performance by a high school — not ours, unfortunately.  But “Down On MacConnachy Square” wasn't the song I stole.

My sprightly tune was borrowed from the printed music that my mother saved from her high school days.  First published in 1917, it has music by Easthope Martin and words by Englishwoman Helen Taylor (who would also write “Bless This House” ten years later).  You can listen here to a choral performance.

“Come to the Fair” evokes a picture of an earlier age, when “gay” was a synonym for “merry” and “love-making” meant little more than heavy flirting.  And for me, it evokes memories of this time of year, when the carefree days of summer reached a happy conclusion with the Richwood Fair.

The sun is a-shining to welcome the day.
     Heigh-ho! come to the fair!
The folks are all singing so merry and gay.
     Heigh-ho! come to the fair!
All the stalls on the green are as fine as can be
With trinkets and tokens so pretty to see.
     So it's come then,
     Maidens and men,
     To the fair in the pride of the morning.
So deck yourselves out in your finest array,
     With a heigh-ho! come to the fair!

The fiddles are playing the tune that you know:
     "Heigh-ho! come to the fair!"
The drums are all beating; away let us go.
     Heigh-ho! come to the fair!
There'll be racing and chasing from morning till night
And round-abouts turning to left and to right.
     So it's come then,
     Maidens and men,
     To the fair in the pride of the morning.
So lock up your house, there'll be plenty of fun,
     And it's heigh-ho! come to the fair!

For love-making too, if so be you've a mind,
     Heigh-ho! come to the fair!
For hearts that are happy are loving and kind.
     Heigh-ho! come to the fair!
If it’s "Haste to the Wedding" the fiddles should play,
I warrant you'll dance to the end of the day!
     Come then,
     Maidens and men,
     To the fair in the pride of the morning.
The sun is a-shining to welcome the day
     With a heigh-ho! come to the fair,
          Maidens and men,
          Maidens and men,
Come to the fair in the morning.
     Heigh-ho! come to the fair!



When I was growing up, my parents (as depicted in this composite photo) drank coffee from an electric percolator.  But I didn't.  I didn't take up the habit until I was a bored 41-year-old who decided to try out the coffeemaker in my hotel room.  Now I'm up to a couple of cups a day.  I like a good restaurant brew, but at home I'm not a coffee snob.

Nearly half of Americans nowadays use sometimes-finicky machines like the Keurig, but the K-Cup pods cost roughly 75¢ each — and 29,000 empties end up in the world's landfills every day.

I'm perfectly happy with instant coffee, black.  Making it is quite easy.  I run 11 ounces of tap water into a measuring cup.  While it microwaves for two minutes, I add a heaping teaspoon of Folger's instant or whatever to a mug.  Dump in the hot water, give it a quick stir, and I'm good to go.  The only thing that needs to be cleaned afterwards is the empty mug, and I usually don't bother because I'll fill it again soon.

Sometimes I treat myself to one of these flavorful Starbucks Via packets, nearly $1.00 for a single serving, but usually I go with ordinary instant coffee in a jar.

I estimate that Folger's costs me less than 20 cents a mug.  House brands are cheaper and Taster's Choice is more expensive, but I can hardly tell the difference.



Watching television on one screen while occasionally glancing at two others, I became aware of a faint random chirping sound coming from somewhere in my apartment.  Was a bearing on a small fan beginning to fail?

No, I soon discovered that the chirps emanated from my #3 monitor, a 19-inch Insignia TV on which I had turned down the sound — but not quite all the way.  At a 4% volume setting, only the intermittent peaks of the higher frequencies were reaching the tiny speaker.

Now I often leave the volume at 4% for a comforting background presence. 


Late one night, that set with the sound down happened to be showing a 1962 Perry Mason episode on MeTV.  The closed captioning kept mentioning a murder victim named XXXXIE DURHAM.  That's an odd name, I thought.  How would one pronounce it?

I finally gave in and turned up the audio, and the next morning I looked up the episode on IMDB.  It seems there were two Durham brothers, Russell W. and Richard W., the latter known as “Dickie.”  A prudish spell-check program, cleaning up the captions file, must have detected what it thought was a forbidden four-letter word and X'ed it out.



Suppose you're a conservative sort who has no interest in visiting Las Vegas.  “Sin City?  With all those scantily-clad women and those dens of iniquity?  No, thanks.”

Then suppose a famous entertainer appears on a 30-second TV commercial encouraging you to come to Vegas and drink and gamble.

Will she change your mind, or will seeing the ad reinforce your objections?

Or suppose you've heard scare stories about the COVID-19 vaccine, including conspiracy theories on social media and misleading information on news channels.  You have become deeply invested in the conclusion that the vaccine is the mark of Satan, and nothing will ever convince you to allow it into your body.

Then suppose a celebrity comes on TV for 30 seconds to urge you to get injected.  Will her example influence you?

Your reaction might be the opposite of what she hopes!  Is she implying that refusing the vaccine makes you a bad person?  You resent that.

As Penn sociology professor Damon Centola told the Washington Post, high-profile stars can be useful for marketing products and raising awareness.  But their advice is often not appreciated when it comes to beliefs.

When you are resistant to a concept, when you and all your friends think it's a really bad idea, you don't want it “shoved down your throat” — or your arm — by others outside your peer network, no matter how famous.  You have made up your mind.  You do not want what they're selling.  Yet they continue to exhort, and your conviction becomes even firmer.

Anita Sircar of the UCLA School of Medicine notes in the Los Angeles Times that “the virus has mutated countless times during this pandemic, adapting to survive.  Stacked up against a human race that has resisted change every step of the way — including wearing masks, social distancing, quarantining and now refusing lifesaving vaccines — it is easy to see who will win this war if human behavior fails to change quickly.”

So to whose advice might you listen?  Not Hollywood types, but folks you know and trust.  Those are the ones who urgently need to persuade you people like your own doctors, or your family and friends. 

(Take notice, family and friends.)

On the other hand, Bryce Covert notes in the New York Times that being “staunchly opposed" to the vaccine “doesn't describe everyone who is unvaccinated.”

Those who aren't yet vaccinated are much more likely to be food insecure, have children at home and earn little.  About three-quarters live in a household that makes less than $75,000 a year.  They are nearly three times as likely as the vaccinated to have had insufficient food recently.  About 10 percent live more than a 15-minute drive from a vaccine distribution location.  Many of them have pressing concerns they can't just put aside.  People who have multiple jobs may find it impossible to schedule a shot in between all of their shifts.

And yet 43 percent of the unvaccinated say they definitely or probably would get it or are unsure, according to Julia Raifman, an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health.  “If the federal government said, ‘We are really concerned that low-income people have not had access to the vaccine, and we're putting forth a huge effort to bring it to them in their workplaces and homes,’ that would be a compelling message that would mobilize people across the country.”



In college, I used to rip the news off our campus radio station's UPI teletype and read it on the air.  Often my shift was the 5:30 pm newscast on Thursday.  What sports stories break at that hour on a Thursday?

Almost invariably, I found that the sports section led off like this.  The standard sentence could have been written by a machine.

Nowadays we're told that the Associated Press is allowing a computer program to begin filling in the blanks.  It uses the data from minor league box scores to generate baseball stories automatically.  No human sportswriters are required to actually watch the games.

However, the robot isn’t taking away anyone’s job.  In this era of budget cutbacks, as I noted earlier about high school football, there’s less and less actual in-person newsgathering going on these days.  No reporter would have been assigned to these particular minor league games anyway.



Remember Abraham from the book of Genesis?  His first son Ishmael is considered to be an ancestor of Muhammad; his second son Isaac was an ancestor of David and of Jesus.  Thus Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all honor Abraham and are known as Abrahamic religions.

Remember Rhode Island, the smallest state?  It was originally known as Rhode Island (home of Newport) and Providence Plantations.  Founded by religious freedom advocate Roger Williams, the colony never had an established church, so its people were free to worship or not as they pleased.  In most cases, non-Christians were “tolerated,” although two Jewish merchants' application for citizenship in 1762 was denied.

Two months before the Declaration of Independence, the colony became the first of the thirteen to renounce its allegiance to the British Crown.  However, the state was the last to ratify the Constitution.  There were concerns that the document gave too much power to the federal government and, in its original form, did not include a Bill of Rights.

Remember George Washington, our first President?  More than a year into his first term, Rhode Island finally became the 13th state to ratify.  Three months later, the President and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson journeyed to Newport for an official visit.  They arrived 231 years ago this morning, on August 17, 1790.

The warden of the local synagogue, Moses Seixas, wrote Washington a formal letter of welcome, giving thanks “for all these blessings of civil and religious liberty which we enjoy under an equal and benign administration.”  In part it read:

Permit the children of the stock of Abraham to approach you with the most cordial affection and esteem for your person and merits, and to join with our fellow citizens in welcoming you to Newport.

Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now behold a Government erected by the Majesty of the People, generously affording to all Liberty of conscience and immunities of Citizenship, deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue or language, equal parts of this so ample and extensive Federal Union.

The President replied in part:

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy.

     It is now no more that “toleration“ is spoken of, as if it were by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.  Happily, the Government of the United States — which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance — requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

     May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.  [Micah 4:4]

G. Washington, August 21, 1790

Michael Feldberg heads the institute that operates a visitors' center at that synagogue in Newport.  He says Washington was promising “that the force of government, the power and authority of government, will not be used either to inhibit or to impose any form of religious belief or nonbelief on the people of the United States.”

As far as the Father of Our Country was concerned, this is not a Christian nation.



  BOSTON: 1706

Puritan minister Cotton Mather, whose father had been president of Harvard, receives a gift from his parishioners:  a slave.  Cotton names him Onesimus, after Philemon's slave in the New Testament, and asks some standard questions of his new property.  One is, “Have you had smallpox yet?”

“Yes and no,” Onesimus replies.  He was deliberately given a mild case of the pox as a child in West Africa.  The pus of a smallpox victim was injected into his arm with a thorn, leaving a scar, but once he recovered from the weakened form of the disease he was forever immune.  He tells Mather that this had been a common practice there for centuries.

  BOSTON: 1716

After further inquiries among other Africans, Mather writes to tell the Royal Society of London about the method.

  BOSTON: 1721

A smallpox epidemic strikes Boston.  Mather writes an “Address to the Physicians of Boston,” urging them to try the inoculation technique.  Naturally, because it has not yet been approved by any Food and Drug Administration, there is resistance.  Only one doctor, Zabadiel Boylston, tries the experiment; he drafts three subjects who can't refuse — his own son plus two slaves — and inoculates them successfully.

Another doctor, William Douglass, is horrified.  Those lying Africans are obviously trying to kill their masters!  They want to trick them into infecting themselves with smallpox!  A printer named James Franklin agrees and starts a newspaper, The New England Courant, in which he can rage against the supposed conspiracy.

  BOSTON: 1723

The epidemic dies out.  A survey finds that of the people who caught smallpox naturally, 14% died, but of those who received the mild form via inoculation, only 2% died.  James Franklin's younger brother, 17-year-old Benjamin, concludes that inoculation is a “safe and beneficial practice.”  He soon quits his apprenticeship with his brother.


Benjamin Franklin runs away to Pennsylvania.  There he proposes to 15-year-old Debby Read but soon sets sail for England, where he remains for three years.


Ben becomes the publisher of his own newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette.  According to Stephen Coss, he soon becomes one of America's “foremost inoculation evangelists.”


He marries Debby, whose deadbeat first husband had deserted her.


The Franklins have a son, Francis Folger Franklin.  (I myself, having in my youth been called Tommy Thomas, wonder what name-related comments Franky Franklin would have endured.)


Should Franky receive a smallpox inoculation?  Writing in 1759, Ben would describe the necessity of reaching unanimous agreement on such matters.  If one parent is against inoculation, “the other does not chuse to inoculate a child without free consent of all parties, lest in case of a disastrous event, perpetual blame should follow.”

I can imagine a fearful Debby forbidding the procedure.  Although Ben later offers a different explanation for delaying — he wanted the boy first to recover from his problems with diarrhea — it may be that he blames his wife for her refusal, possibly contributing to their eventual estrangement.


Four-year-old Franky contracts smallpox and dies.  Philadelphia's anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists immediately decide that his pro-inoculation father must be responsible for the boy's death, by giving him the inoculation and thereby the fatal disease.  A grieving Ben feels compelled to publicly deny that rumor in his newspaper.

Understanding 'tis a current Report, that my Son Francis, who died lately of the Small Pox, had it by Inoculation;

and being desired to satisfy the Publick in that Particular;

inasmuch as some People are, by that Report (join'd with others of the like kind, and perhaps equally groundless) deter'd from having that Operation perform'd on their Children,

I do hereby sincerely declare, that he was not inoculated, but receiv'd the Distemper in the common Way of Infection:

And I suppose the Report could only arise from its being my known Opinion, that Inoculation was a safe and beneficial Practice;

and from my having said among my Acquaintance, that I intended to have my Child inoculated, as soon as he should have recovered sufficient Strength from a Flux with which he had been long afflicted.

Later he would write in his autobiography that he had “long regretted bitterly, and still regret” that he had chosen to wait.  “This I mention for the Sake of Parents, who omit that Operation on the Supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a Child died under it.”  He noted that they, like him, would likewise never forgive themselves if a child died from not receiving the inoculation.  That is a significantly more probable event.  “The Regret may be the same either way, and that therefore the safer should be chosen.”


AUGUST 14, 2021    NERD GOLF

CNN has been running a documentary series about the history of TV situation comedies.  Most early ones featured white families.  As part of the documentary, people of color recalled that they rarely saw characters on television who looked like them, people with whom they could identify.

I can sympathize, in a way.  For example, one 1950s sitcom centered around the real-life couple of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and their heartthrob son Ricky.  I was not like Ricky. 

Only when The Big Bang Theory came along could I imagine myself as one of the male characters:  an educated science-oriented nerd, awkward with the opposite sex.  That was the show for this minority!


When I was young, my optometrist suggested that my myopia carried a risk of retinal detachment, so I should avoid high-impact sports.  That was fine with me; I'm not at all athletic.

But in college there was a physical-education requirement, which I wisely chose to take on a pass/fail basis.  I selected half-semester introductions to safe activities like bowling and swimming and skating — and golf.  The instructor, I noted at the time, was “Bill Grice, the football coach, Southern, comical.  About a third of us in the class are like me, having never swung a club before.”

I mentioned last month that my lack of coordination frequently caused me to strike the ball too high, “topping” it and causing it to merely skitter across the grass.  Of course, I sometimes made the opposite error and swung  too low.

Pros demonstrate the proper technique in photo sequences like this.  After the backswing, the club accelerates from 12:00 to 11:00, then faster to 9:00, then faster still to 6:00 when the ball should be struck.

These sequences omit 7:00, which was the point when I frequently made contact.

The club head would dig into the turf and stop dead, causing me to stagger backwards rather than follow through.  I never made contact with the ball, so I guess this didn't count as a stroke.

As I said, I'm not at all athletic.


Not that long ago, every National Football League team played four “exhibitions” before the official start of the season.  Beginning this year, there will be only three such games — except for the Cowboys and Steelers, who got an extra date last week at the Hall of Fame.

I recall listening on the radio in the 1960s to preseason doubleheaders involving four teams at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium.  The Browns played in the nightcap.  Nowadays, for most of these meaningless contests, local stations get their chance to televise the National Football League just like the big networks.  I was on the crew in 1998 when the Steelers met the Falcons on West Virginia University's home field, and I visited at least seven additional NFL cities for that purpose, sending video to viewers in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Former KDKA-TV producer Bill Shissler recently posted the photo below.  It shows our Pittsburgh TV truck's monitor wall as of 10:02:41 pm on August 24, 2013.  Hosting Kansas City, the Steelers would eventually lose 26-20 in overtime, their third straight preseason loss.


The four boxes numbered 4, 1, 2, and 3 monitor our “up” cameras, overlooking the left end zone, the left 25-yard line, the 50, and the right 25 respectively.  Spacing out the latter three allows us to keep the viewpoint near the line of scrimmage as it matriculates down the field.  Jim on Camera 3 happens to be the closest at the moment.  Operating what is currently the “game” camera, his assignment is to cover all 22 players, so he doesn't zoom in as tightly as the others do.

Jim has a green tally light to warn him that the Kansas City truck is borrowing his picture at the moment, as revealed by the CHIEFS monitor at the top of the photo.  And Jim's camera will be the next one used by the Pittsburgh truck, so its picture appears in the SWitcheR's PrevieW monitor.  The thin white lines remind us that only HD viewers can see extreme left and right portions of the picture.

On the monitor showing our current PROGRAM feed, from a camera on the sideline, the “bug” indicates that the score is now 17-17 early in the fourth quarter.

Notice my biographic graphic.  It tells viewers about the fourth-quarter running back, Alvester Alexander.  Not exactly a household name, this free agent was getting a brief look from the coaches.  Alvester had joined the Steelers only the week before.  It was his third team of 2013.  He had also worn three different uniforms in 2012, but he never played in the regular season.

This year, KDKA will televise all of the Steelers' remaining exhibitions:  tonight, August 21, and August 27.  Will there be any Alvesters in the backfield?  Stay tuned.


AUGUST 10, 2021   

A Twitter user linked to an article about a disruptive airline passenger.

When Twitter quoted the first part of the article, cropping the illustration, it appeared that it was the pilot who should be punished!  Obviously, he has run over a stop sign, and the plane's #1 engine ingested the traffic control device and tried to pass it through.

I had to check out the actual article to discover the truth.

The sign is in the foreground.  It's part of a Denver International Airport access gate, and the gate has been rotated into its fully upright and unlocked position.



Remember when television pictures improved, advancing from old-fashioned 4x3 squarish images to new high-definition larger ones?

At first, most viewers were still using old-fashioned squarish TV sets.  How could wide 16-by-9 pictures be displayed on their 12-by-9 screens?  There were two conversion methods, and the choice made a difference to graphics people like me.

We could do a “center cut,” eliminating a quarter of the image — the left and right wings — and only displaying the middle portion.  Unfortunately, many words would no longer be within the 10% “safe title” area (in red).  Most sports telecasts used this method, taking care to corral all graphics inside the safe area.

The alternative was to shrink the wide image.

Fox decided that old-fashioned TV sets should be able to see the whole width of the picture.  That required their graphics to be big and bold enough to still be legible when shrunk.  Viewers simply had to learn to accept the black bars at the top and bottom.

More about the transition is in
this month's 100 Moons article.



I’ve already griped about how difficult is to distinguish a lower-case M from a lower-case RN in the Arial font.

m rn

Apparently the lower-case M can also be impersonated by a lower-case IN.

Whoever typed up the on-line menu for J’s Deli in Rhode Island couldn’t tell the difference, as we see here.

To whom should we address our complamts?  Sen. John McCam, perhaps?



Last December 17th, a Thursday morning, I was scheduled for a routine semi-annual cleaning of my teeth.  But 11½ inches of snow fell on Wednesday.  Pittsburgh had an all-time record for the date, part of its second-snowiest December ever.

I park my car next to my apartment, so it too was covered by almost a foot of white stuff.  To drive it, I'd have to remove the snow from the roof, from the windshield, from the hood, and from the short stretch between the front of my car and the street — in short, from the area within the 24’ by 7’ yellow rectangle depicted here.

But I couldn't just shove the snow forward into the plowed street; that's illegal.  I couldn't push it left onto my sidewalk, nor right into my neighbor's parking space.  I would have to pick up each shovelful and carry it to a dumping area on the lawn behind my car, marked with an X.

And there was a lot of snow.  Multiply 24 feet by 7 feet by 1 foot and you get 168 cubic feet; multiply that by the weight of wet snow, say 24 pounds per cubic foot, and you get 4,000 pounds!

Toting two tons for as much as ten yards might be a cardiac risk for a person of my age.  Therefore I decided to shelter in place for the next couple of days.  By the weekend, the temperatures would rise into the 40s, most of the snow would magically disappear, and I could use my car again.

In the meantime, I called the dentist's office to cancel and reschedule.  They're no longer accepting new patients, so their calendar is crowded.  Nevertheless, I was surprised that my new appointment was for six months later.  No, wait; allowing for the office's summer vacation, it was for 7½ months later, on August 3.  Today, as a matter of fact!  Oh, well.

Driving to the dentist this morning, I'll be thinking about an upcoming meeting in Pittsburgh.  It will be on some not-yet-specified January morning.  I've started obsessively considering the possibilities.  What if we have another record snowfall then?  What would be the consequences of having to cancel that appointment?  Maybe I could drive into the city before the storm's arrival and spend a night or two in a hotel.

Maybe I should wait until January to begin worrying.



Derogatory appellations have been applied to many groups.  For example, after German reunification in 1990 the former East Germany (Ost-Deutschland) was considered comparatively backward, and an Easterner became known as an “Ossi.”

Cletus Spuckler on The Simpsons is a hillbilly.  The name “Cletus” dates back to the first-century Pope Anacletus, but nowadays it's less than flattering.

Years ago, many boys in Catholic Bavaria and Austria were named Ignatz, pronounced IG-nahtz, after the early bishop Ignatius.  Outsiders sometimes derisively called a Bavarian hillbilly “Ignatz” regardless of his real name.

“Ignatz” was a character in an early-20th-century comic.  I occasionally heard the name in Ohio, where I grew up among folks of German ancestry, as an insult implying foolishness.  “Oh, I guess I should have closed the window before the thunderstorm started.”  “No kidding, Ignatz.”

Sometimes Ignatz was shortened to the even more derisive nickname Natzy. 

Later in Bavaria, the National Socialist German Workers Party was born, pronounced in German “NAHTZ-ee-own-all  SOATZ-ee-all-IST-ish-eh  DOYT-sheh  AR-bite-er  PAR-tigh.”

The length of the name cried out for an abbreviation.  Hitler and his friends preferred the initials NSDAP.  However, because a socialist had earlier been known as a “Sozi,” opponents were only too happy to use the new name's first two syllables and call a party member a “Nazi,” with all the disparaging connotations.