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ArchiveFEBRUARY 2021

 

FEB. 28, 2021    REMEMBERING SUNDAYS AT CHURCH

More than two decades ago, my father's funeral was officiated by Rev. Joseph Rhea at the First United Methodist Church in Richwood, Ohio.  Pastor Joe still presides there.

With the minister wearing a transparent face shield attached to a baseball cap ... with nobody in the choir loft and not that many in the pews ... the church I attended during my childhood has resumed in-person worship services.  Some folks attend via the live stream on Facebook, from whence I obtained this panorama.

Singing might spread viruses, so due to the pandemic there's none of that.  Instead, the hour begins with a quiet 15 minutes of organ music.  (Last week it was piano music; click the picture on the left for an excerpt.)

I've played the organ there, and I used to play the piano for Sunday school.  I used this venerable hymnal, Hymns of Praise Numbers One and Two Combined.  The excerpt from last week's prelude is the 164-year-old song “The Church in the Wildwood.”  The words include:

How sweet on a clear Sunday morning
   To list to the clear ringing bell!
Its tones so sweetly are calling,
   “Oh, come to the church in the vale!”
No spot is so dear to my childhood
   As the little brown church in the dale.

 

FEB. 26, 2021    FEWER NETWORK TIME-KILLERS

One of the few good things about the pandemic:  the freedom it brings to white-collar employees who can stay home and collaborate via the Internet.  No longer must they commute to the office, where they will spend 40 hours a week alongside their fellow workers in a stuffy virus-laden room. 

No longer must they set aside their tasks to gather around a conference table for endless discussions about issues that don't affect them.

Unfortunately, some of those dread meetings are still necessary.  Fortunately, it's possible to get along with only half as many.

That's being demonstrated at the courthouse in Ohio's Union County, where I grew up.

Mac Cordell of the Marysville Journal-Tribune reports that the Union County Board of Commissioners has traditionally held official meetings for several hours every Tuesday and Thursday.  During the pandemic they've been meeting remotely, since most business activities can be conducted using technology.  And this month they cut back to only once a week — Wednesday mornings at 8:30.

The commissioners are Chris Schmenk, Dave Burke, and Steve Robinson (below).

As part-time elected officials, they must periodically step away from their private-sector careers.

Schmenk has dramatically reduced her hours at a local law firm, while the two men continue to run their own businesses.  “They want to give adequate time to the commissioner role,” she says, “but not to waste time.”

The cutback to once a week was actually the idea not of the commissioners themselves but of the full-time employees on their staff.  Meetings tie up a lot of hours which the staff could use more efficiently tending to their actual responsibilities.

 

FEB. 24, 2021    WELL ... THERE ... THEN ... NOW,

On this date 30 years ago, George Gobel passed away.

I think back several more decades to what might have been July 7, 1956, when I was nine years old.  I don't recall the date, but I'll always remember the traumatic disappointment I suffered that night.

We didn't have a television set at home yet, so whenever we visited my grandmother, it was a treat to watch shows on her TV.  On Saturday nights I got to stay up late.  The family sat in her living room from 8:00 to 11:00 and enjoyed Perry Como on NBC, Lawrence Welk on ABC, then back to NBC for George Gobel followed by Your Hit Parade.

According to one writer, the humor of Lonesome George's monologues was due not so much to their content as to his “hesitant, almost shy delivery and penchant for tangled digressions.”  There were also interjections like “Well, I'll be a dirty bird.”

But now it was summer and viewership was down.  Most TV stars went on vacation, yielding to summer replacement programs.  Lawrence Welk showed kinescope reruns (much lower video quality).

When 10:00 rolled around on that Saturday night, I was saddened to discover that my favorite friendly low-key comedy wouldn't be on.

No goofy folk songs?  No encounters with his wife, Spooky Old Alice?  No observations like “you can't hardly get them like that no more”?

No one had warned me.  I began to cry.  I went into another room to pout.  It had been a long day.

 

FEB. 22, 2021    PARASYNONYMS

Linguist and anthropologist Franz Boas wrote in 1911, “Another example of the same kind, the words for ‘snow’ in Eskimo, may be given. Here we find one word, aput, expressing ‘snow on the ground;’ another one, qana, ‘falling snow;’ a third one, piqsirpoq, ‘drifting snow;’ and a fourth one, qimuqsuq, ‘a snowdrift.’”

This concept grew throughout the 20th century, with some writers claiming 50, 100, and even 400 Eskimo terms for snow.  Benjamin Whorf suggested that because the northern natives have more words available, they can think about the white stuff in ways that never occur to English speakers.

But what about English speakers?  A language from an island nation often focuses on watercraft.  Therefore it's not surprising that we have at least 70 words for that concept, some of them borrowed from other tongues.  They include but by no means are limited to:  ark, barge, bark, bateau, battleship, boat, brigantine, bucket, canoe, caravel, carrier, catamaran, clipper, coracle, corvette, craft, cruiser, cutter, destroyer, dhow, dinghy, dory, dreadnaught, dugout, ferry, flatboat, flattop, frigate, galleon, galley, gondola, gunboat, houseboat, hulk, hydrofoil, junk, kayak, ketch, launch, lifeboat, lighter, liner, longboat, oiler, outboard, pinnace, punt, raft, rowboat, sailboat, sampan, schooner, scow, scull, shell, ship, skiff, sloop, steamboat, submarine, tanker, tender, trawler, tub, tugboat, vessel, whaleboat, windjammer, yacht, and yawl.   

 

FEB. 21, 2021    WHAT IS THIS WEIRD ’ CHARACTER?

My Yahoo email service forwards a group of news items each day.  Apparently if there's an apostrophe in the first headline, the decoding routine goes off the rails.  Or maybe it merely wants to swear ’ about Ted Cruz.  Everyone else does.

 

FEB. 20, 2021    SEVENTY-FOUR YEARS AGO

I was born on this date in 1947.  In that same month, the Morehouse College student newspaper, the Maroon Tiger, printed an essay by an eighteen-year-old junior.  A few excerpts:

I too often find that most college men have a misconception of the purpose of education.  It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society:  the one is utility and the other is culture.

To think incisively and to think for one's self is very difficult.  We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and propaganda.  At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose.

A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically.  Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society.  The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.

The late Eugene Talmadge, in my opinion, could think critically and intensively; yet he contends that I am an inferior being.  Are those the types of men we call educated?

We must remember that intelligence is not enough.  Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.  The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.

Martin Luther King Jr., Class of 1948

 

FEB. 18, 2011 flashback   MY GRAINS

KCBS-TV reporter Serene Branson began speaking in tongues Sunday night during a Grammy Awards update from the Staples Center.  She’s fine now; her scrambled speech has been attributed to a “complex migraine.”

I can empathize.  I've had the same scary experience twice, though fortunately not while on the air.

When I was a toddler, I programmed a part of my brain to associate words like Mommy with the vocal contortions necessary to produce sounds like Muh, aw, muh, ee.  Thus I learned to speak.  The brain app automatically converts words to speech without further effort on my part.  However, a couple of times in 1971, it suffered a power shortage and began outputting gibberish.  I wanted to say Check and what I heard coming out of my mouth was Chart.

The only way I could produce the words I wanted was by bypassing the malfunctioning software and consciously speaking Each Sound separately, as in “Eee, ch, Sss, ow, und.”  So I shut up for a few minutes while my brain rebooted, and afterwards everything was normal.  I described the episodes to our family doctor, Dr. C.W. Holcomb, who basically said there was nothing that could be done.

More often, I have the other symptom of complex migraines, the “visual aura.”  I first noticed this problem when I was 18 years old, and I still experience it a few times a year.  It starts with pulsing fuzzy yellow dots in the central part of my vision.  (Psychedelic, man!)  Over the course of 20 minutes or so, the dots migrate to the outer edges of my vision and then “off the screen.”  One time, the aura hit me as I was reading teletype copy aloud on a radio newscast.  It wasn’t easy to decipher the faint purple type on yellow paper, obscured as it was by grainy yellow dots, but I managed by looking off-center and using my peripheral vision.


©BillShissPhotography.photoshelter.com
(simulated visual aura added)

Some years later, I recall that a Pittsburgh Pirates infielder — I think it was Jay Bell — had to be scratched from a scheduled start because he was experiencing an aura.  You don’t want to be catching a hard-hit baseball if you can’t distinguish it from the other dots of light.

I’m fortunate that, for me, none of these migraine episodes is accompanied by the traditional excruciating headache.  I rarely get headaches of any kind.

 

FEB. 17, 2021    LUNNER PLANNING

As a retired introvert, I mostly isolate at home, but nearly every day I put on a double mask and venture out — usually around 2:00 PM, typically the warmest hour at this time of year.  I hop in the car and, unless another errand takes priority, drive to a restaurant window.  There I obtain lunner and either eat it in my car or bring it back to my apartment.  (Dining indoors with strangers is still somewhat risky.)

“Lunner,” of course, is a meal consumed between the traditional times for lunch and dinner.

Winter storms this week are disrupting my routine.  When will it be safe to go outside?  Here in Pennsylvania we're fortunately enduring fewer winter woes than Sun Belt states like Texas, but our TV meteorologists do issue warnings. 

I've bookmarked the Weather Underground website and view it often.

For example, yesterday the wet streets were going to start becoming icy after 8 AM, so I bought a takeout omelet for a delicious early breakfast, then stayed indoors the rest of the day.

But restaurant food was not an option today because the wind chill temperature at dawn was 5°.  At least some sun promised to shine through my frost-covered window.

On Thursday I may brave the falling snow for a short trip, but by Friday morning half a foot of it will have accumulated on top of my car.  I've tentatively scheduled that afternoon for shoveling off the white stuff, aided by 30° temperatures and light rain.  Then even colder wind chills will keep me confined inside for most of the weekend.

Of course, all these forecasts are very much subject to change, so I'll continue obsessively checking the chart daily.

 

FEB. 15, 2021    IASCT

I've never been properly schooled in the language of the Internet.  When a tweeter includes an arcane adverbial abbreviation such as IIRC or IMO or ICYMI or IRL or OTOH or BTW or TBH, I have two options.  I can guess the meaning from context, or I can ignore it.  As a last resort, maybe I'll Google it.

But sometimes I encounter these symbols.  What characters have we here?  They certainly aren't the initial letters of some phrase.  What emotion are they supposed to convey?

My best guess used to be that the brackets represent the sides of a waste-disposal bin into which a glassy-eyed smiley has toppled.  Therefore the meaning must be “I Am So Completely Trashed” (i.e., stupidly drunk).


However, an economist recently used the symbol while remarking that her ambiguous graph, high-low-high-low-high, “fittingly looks like a shruggy.”  Aha, thought I, shruggy!  There's an actual word that I can Google!

It turns out that the brackets represent raised arms with upturned palms.  Of course.  What else could they be?

And then, naturally, I felt compelled to do further research.   I discovered that if I Google only the characters which do appear on my keyboard, namely the \_( )_/ symbols, the search engine does take me to “shrug emoji.”

Apparently, if I had a Japanese katakana keyboard (who doesn't?), I could have obtained the twisted eyes and mouth by typing a tsu character.  Odoroki!

 

FEB. 12, 2021    O TANNENBAUM  ZITRUSBAUM

Christmas was seven weeks ago.  It's good thing that we've all taken down our Christmas trees, because the new moon has arrived.  That means today is New Year's Day!  The lunar new year, that is.

Chinese New Year is celebrated with a different sort of tree, an Asian citrus that supplies its own brightly colored decorations.  These organic ornaments are called kumquats.

 

FEB. 10, 2021    COULD I HAVE TRUMPED TRUMP?

I lived in South Florida for three weeks in March 1985.  As detailed here, I was part of a video crew in residence at the fabled Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach.  We were there for IBM's corporate “Leadership Conference.”  Each of the three sessions lasted only four days, so in between we had mini-vacation time.

My high school friend Terry Rockhold happened to be an internal auditor at the Miami headquarters of Burger King.  On a couple of occasions, he drove over from his apartment in Kendall to pick me up at my hotel for a little diversion.

One destination was the closed-circuit telecast, on a screen just down the street, of the very first WrestleMania.

Another adventure took us north along the Gold Coast to see some fancy property that had been in the news.  I don't remember the location; it might have been in Boca Raton or even farther north.

Anyway, Terry had heard about the property, and portions were open to the public.  Was it a museum?  Was it for sale?  Was there an Open House being held?  I no longer recall the circumstances.

We parked, oohed and aahed appropriately, and ventured into a large room that resembled a very fancy hotel lobby.  It might have looked something like the picture below.

As you might have guessed, the photo shows a small part of Mar-A-Lago.  Was this where we were sight-seeing?  The estate had been unoccupied since 1973, when its first owner, a Post Cereals heiress, died and willed it to the United States for possible future use as a Winter White House.  We taxpayers were paying $1 million a year for maintenance, so in 1981 the government gave it back and the Post Foundation put it up for sale.

A Palm Beach resident recalls that the estate was advertised for as much as $90 million.  New York real-estate mogul Donald Trump offered $15 million.  When his bid wasn't accepted, he tried to force the price even lower by buying the adjoining beach from a Kentucky Fried Chicken heir and threatening to erect a building to block the view.  Various other developers also tried to purchase Mar-A-Lago.

Finally, after four years, the Post Foundation ran out of patience and let Trump have the place for a bargain figure, which he claimed was $5 million for the house and $3 million for the furniture.  He closed the deal two days after Christmas 1985, boasting that he paid cash up front, though most of the money came from an $8.5 million loan from the Chase Manhattan Bank.

Did Terry and I visit Mar-A-Lago while it was still on the market?  Could we have phoned Chase Manhattan and pooled our resources to buy it unfurnished for as little as three million each, thereby outbidding Trump?  I'll never know.

 

FEB. 8, 2021   
ASH LEA REVISITED

• Tougaloo is a Historically Black College located ten miles from downtown Jackson, Mississippi.

In 1961, these students were among those who staged sit-in protests at the all-white Jackson Main Library.

Two years later, Tougaloo's chaplain invited white clergy from the North to come down and join another demonstation.  The purpose this time was to symbolically integrate some of the city's Black churches.

My minister from small-town Ohio, John Wagner, was one of the pastors who made the trip.  I recounted the story in this article.

Not long afterwards, as I was preparing to choose a college in Ohio for myself, Rev. Wagner suggested Oberlin.  The school has a long history of inclusion, as exemplified by the 1965 Commencement ceremony.  I enrolled in Oberlin College later in ’65.

Subsequently, one of my classmates — Barbara Ashley, an activist white sophomore from Long Island whom I've mentioned before — attended Tougaloo College for a semester in 1967.  Upon her return, Oberlin's student newspaper published an article about her experiences.  It noted that “since her visit to Tougaloo, Miss Ashley has become a black power advocate.”  Click this link.

Half a century later, as our class was planning our 50-year reunion, Barbara recalled one of her last evenings as a student back in 1969.  All her studies had been completed, and it was time to let go and relax.

“Friday before graduation at Oberlin, with only seniors left on campus, I spent the day at the Reservoir.  About 6:00 pm I came back to campus and, being hungry, entered South Hall cafeteria through the back patio sliding doors.

“As soon as I stepped in, I was totally taken aback.  Everyone had turned old!!!  I discreetly rubbed up against a few folk to try to determine if they were real or hallucinations, but indeed they were real.  I didn't know what had happened to age all my classmates into old people.

“Turns out, it was the start of Alumni weekend — and it was a dinner for the 50th Reunion Class!

“I can't believe that we are now truly those ‘old’ people gathering for our 50th!  It is such a short ride.”

 

FEB. 7, 2021    LIV TYLER, LIV ULLMANN, LIV . . .

You remember Roman numerals from elementary school,  right?  “LIV” equals 54.  But the National Football League is trying to confuse us by using those symbols to represent 55!  I would like to register an objection.

I remember the first Super Bowl, which followed the 1966 season and was played in January.  Referring to it as the 1967 Super Bowl might have been misleading, so it was called Super Bowl I.

For the next five decades the Roman numerals kept incrementing, and the Lombardi Trophy was depicted above them on the game logo.  However, “Super Bowl L” was going to look slightly silly, so a golden “50” was used instead.  The trophy was lowered, now being located to the right of the first digit.

In the following years, the Roman numerals returned.  Again the trophy was located to the right of the first character.  But doesn't it appear to be an additional “I”?

Isn't it enough that we force grade-school children to learn an almost-obsolete ancient numbering system?  Must we also confuse them while they're viewing the highest-rated telecast of the year?

I made the decision to watch “Super Bowl Liv” under protest.  And I shall do the same next year for “Super Bowl Livi.”

 

FEB. 5, 2021    BACKWARDS TIME MANAGEMENT

Now that I'm retired, I have fewer things I gotta do.  Nevertheless, I still keep a list.

Consultant Nir Eydal recalls how he used to do it — incorrectly.  “Every morning, when I'd start my work day, the first place I'd look was my to-do list.  I'd start checking off boxes, unaware that I was using the tool all wrong.  Later, when I'd play with my daughter, the unchecked boxes tormented me.  They sometimes kept me up at night worrying.”

 

Well, my schedule nowadays has only a few items to check off.  The to-do list fits easily on my whiteboard calendar, and many squares for dates later in the month show no tasks at all.  I can eat lunch when I get hungry and go to bed when I get sleepy, so I don't schedule precise times for routines like that.

I have made one unusual notation.  Next Tuesday the temperature where I live is supposed to get up to 35°, but after that I'm not going to venture outside for the rest of the week!  The forecast:

"Feels Like" Temps (allowing for wind chill)

Wed 10

Thu 11

Fri 12

Sat 13

Sun 14

Break of Dawn

  3°

–3°

–8°

–9°

–5°

Midafternoon= 

12°

 

 

 

12°

Nir would tell me I should make lots of notations for every day.  “Keeping a schedule seems simple, yet most people don't do it correctly.  They plop a meeting or two onto their calendar and leave the rest of it blank.  A better approach is to use what psychologists call ‘setting an implementation intention,’ a fancy term for deciding what you're going to do and when you're going to do it.”

I can use that method, but only if something must happen at a preordained hour because people like my dentist are expecting me — not because I've set an arbitrary deadline for myself.

For example, I think back to my days working in a TV production truck outside the hockey arena in Pittsburgh.  Suppose my “call time” is noon.  After that hour, the producer will tell me what to do, but there are preparations I need to make beforehand.  I scribble them onto a blank section of the whiteboard, something like this.

After getting up, I like to pace the floor for 30 minutes while gathering the paperwork I might need that day.  Then it takes 15 minutes to shower, 30 to dress in heavy-duty winter gear, and 15 to scrape the ice off my car's windows.  (I'm being generous in case of unforeseen distractions.)  I allow 30 minutes to drive to a restaurant, 45 to eat breakfast, and 45 more to drive the rest of the way into the city (if no traffic jams) and find a spot in the parking garage.  I give myself another half hour to spare, which I'll spend in my car reading the morning paper.  Then I walk to the venue, show my credentials, and report to the mobile unit.

Working backwards from noon, subtracting the minutes allotted for each task, I attach a time of day to each item to complete my “back-timed” agenda.

I set my alarm for 7:30 and plan to hit the road (arrow) at 9:00.  Even if something goes wrong, I can skip breakfast or the newspaper or something, arriving where I'm supposed to be in plenty of time.

Writer Ken Levine knows about back-timing.  As a radio DJ, he sometimes had to start a record so it would conclude just in time for the top-of-the-hour newscast to begin.  Ken blogs, “In the business world it rankles me when workers make an appointment and they're considerably late.  What that says to me is their time is way more important than mine.  If they don't care about showing up on time, how good can their actual work be?  You're an intelligent person — just back-time accordingly.”

Of course, I'm no longer in the business world.  Am I planning to do something Monday that will involve going somewhere?  That project will also require a number of steps, but nobody will fire me if I don't complete them by noon.  I can start whenever I get around to it, and finish whenever I finish.  I could even put it off until Tuesday.  (But not until Wednesday the 10th.  Brr!)

 

FEB. 2, 2021    EARLY IN THE PREVIOUS CENTURY

During the final year of the administration of Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield, 1960, my hometown got a new modern post office.  Before that, I recall depositing letters in this building at 100 North Franklin Street.  I found the photo online, credited to Charles Lyn Barry; the northeast corner of Franklin and Blagrove Streets has long since become a parking lot.

 

The man on the right is presumably the local postmaster, perhaps Charles H. Huffman (1903-12) or Owen Livingston (1912-16, 1921-34).  Upon reflection, the fuzzy lettering over his shoulder turns out to be a Gold Medal Flour ad on the side of the building across the street.

Inside the old post office were a stamp window, brass mail boxes, and other fittings.  They since have been relocated out West, as we learn toward the end of this month's 100 Moons article.  The article's main story recalls an innovative automobile that was constructed by a local inventor during Mr. Huffman's postmastership. 

 

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