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Ohio's high school math teachers are doing their part to improve the game of college basketball.

Earlier this century, one of them invented a new rule which, if implemented, would eliminate those tiresome late-game trips to the foul line.

And back in 1960, another math teacher began evaluating a team's performance by dividing its points by its trips down the court.  As I relate in a new article, it was not long afterward that I first encountered “points per possession” and even met the inventor.  He called his stat by a different name, OER.

(By the way, Gonzaga's OER coming into this year's NCAA tournament was 1.22, best in the nation.)


MARCH 28, 2011 flashback   THE MULTI-SPIN ZONE

Josh Frulinger writes in his blog, “True story: Up until fairly recently, I thought that a ‘spinning class’ involved spinning around in circles, and couldn’t figure out why everyone seemed to think they were so difficult!  Ha ha, isn’t that funny?  Anyway, apparently they actually consist of working out really intensely on stationary bicycles.”

For my part, up until fairly recently I thought a “spinning class” was a session in which women learned how to spin yarn.

2021 update:  Here's another composite I've made to show a spinning class in session.


In 1859 outside Bingerbrück, Germany, railroad construction workers unearthed the tombstones of nine ancient Roman soldiers.  Was this one the true father of Jesus???

The inscription memorializes TIB. IVL. ABDES PANTERA.  The Roman names Tiberius Julius were acquired when he joined the army, but when he was born at Sidon in Lebanon he had been given the names Abdes Pantera or “Abdiel (servant of God), Panther.”

Pantera served for forty years.  When the First Cohort of Archers was posted to Judaea and later to Germany, he bore their standard.  He died at the age of 62 (ANN. LXII), and we can estimate his dates as 27 BC to 35 AD approximately.

Back in 4 BC, his cohort had participated in the sack of Sepphoris, near Nazareth, where the young soldier could have encountered a certain young woman.

Many years later, gossip was still being circulated about that girl, as well as a soldier with that name and a baby with that year of birth.

• On the streets of Sepphoris around the end of the first century, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus heard a teaching “in the name of Yeshu ben Pantera.”

• In 248 AD the Christian author Origen denounced the philosopher Celsus because he had written of Mary, “when she was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and she bore a child to a certain soldier named Pantera.”

• The same allegation appeared in the Jerusalem Talmud and a satirical Jewish anti-Gospel, Sefer Toledot Yeshu.

So what are we to think?  Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, nine months before Christmas, when Christians recall Luke 1:28-51.  Does that story refer to a messenger angel — or to an occupying soldier?

He came in to Mary and said to her, “You're a lucky young woman!”

She was startled and wondered what he meant.  He explained, “You're going to bear a son.  And I promise he will grow up to be a king.”

She protested, “How can these things be?  I'm a virgin!”

“Don't be afraid,” he told her.  “The spirit is going to come upon you.  This power, it will overshadow you.”

She and answered, “I'm your servant.  Let it be done to me, according to your word.”

Afterwards he left her.  She left town hurriedly and fled to her older cousin Elizabeth, who had also been impregnated and was already in her sixth month.  Mary happily told of her own experience: “He's mighty!  He did great things to me.  I feared him, but he showed me might in his arms.”



Long before my father purchased a Chevrolet dealership in the Ohio village of Richwood and brought Mother and me along, people there were taking photographs.  I've found a wide collection of them in a Facebook group called “Richwood, OH [History and Events].”

Some of those photos relate to the old Chevy garage.  Its location on North Franklin Street, I discover, used to be the freight house of the Delaware & Magnetic Springs Electric Rail Road.  Here comes a D&MS trolley now.  It's bound for Richwood, population 1700!

Charles Lyn Barry, from Scott Jerew Collection

I've added a few of those historic images to others that I've previously posted on this website to make a new article called Tales of 153 North Franklin.  It includes some of my childhood memories, for example walking up the ramp to the showroom.  Also, circling the Sign Pole.



When a gunman attacked three spas in the Atlanta area Tuesday, killing eight people and wounding one, six of his victims were Asian women.  Most people assumed his motives were misogyny and racism directed against Asians.  While those forms of intolerance certainly need to be addressed, I suspect the actual motive might have been Christian guilt directed against sinfulness.

MARCH 22 UPDATE:  A biology professor whose blog I follow says "of course" the event was an act of racism.  "It was also an act of misogyny.  And also of gun fanaticism.  And puritanical religious self-loathing.  And ignorance.  And general hatred of unfamiliar cultures.  It can be all of these things at the same time!"

The massage spas have long been identified by police as places where sex work and possible sexual exploitation regularly occur, and the gunman said he himself was a regular customer at two of the spas he attacked.  He said he considered the people working there to be “temptations,” leading him into sinful acts.  Had he been a Catholic, he might have confessed those acts to a priest, but he was a Baptist and he probably merely prayed on it.  Perhaps he was “having a bad day,” filled with shame, and the answer that came to him was that while he had been called to be a soldier for Jesus, those workers were agents of the devil!  He told the police he needed to “eliminate” them.

His church was shocked.  “These unthinkable and egregious murders directly contradict his own confession of faith in Jesus and the gospel,” according to the statement from Crabapple First Baptist Church, which denounced “any and all forms of hatred or violence” against Asian Americans — even sinful sex workers, I suppose — because “each person is responsible for his or her own sin.”


MARCH 19, 2011 flashback   NIGHT LIGHT

Crazy things are happening.  There must be a full moon tonight.

Actually, there is.  And it’s a “supermoon,” brighter than usual because the moon appears larger than usual.  Its orbit has brought it within 221,565 miles of Earth, the closest approach in 18 years.

UPDATE:  In March of 2021, the full moon won't actually occur until the 28th.

But contrary to popular belief, the full moon doesn’t cause people to go temporarily insane.  Recent studies have shown no statistical connection between full moons and crimes, suicides, epileptic seizures, or other unusual human events.

The legend is not without foundation, however.  Those were recent studies.  If they had been conducted during the Dark Ages, I suspect the results might have been different.

Before gaslights illuminated streets in the 19th century, our nocturnal activities used to be constrained by the phases of the moon.  And before electricity reached farms in the 20th century, nocturnal activities in rural areas were still constrained.

I remember printed calendars with four little symbols for each month, helpfully pointing out the dates of the new moon, first quarter, full moon, and third quarter.  People couldn’t do much on dark nights, so they simply planned on staying indoors.

But on other nights “the moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow/Gave the luster of midday to objects below.”  When the moon was full, people who were so inclined could stay out all night long, doing goodness knows what.  It was lunacy.



One day in elementary school, maybe around 1956, I learned something from one of my classmates.  Kelly Drake couldn't wait to tell us that he'd discovered a delicious new kind of food.  “Pizza pie!” he said, beaming.

The rest of us were unfamiliar with that term.  However, Kelly's favorable review might be useful at a later date in case I was ever offered this novel item, so I filed the moment away in my memory.  It's still there.

It wasn't until a couple of years later that the Pizza Hut chain was launched.

Had I ever encountered an actual pizza pie back then, I'm sure I wouldn't have known the correct way to eat it.

More recently, I was watching a TV show on which a character was making a special dinner.  For a side dish, she prepared some exotic little vegetarian dumplings called niyoki.  I had never heard of that Japanese delicacy, either.

I checked the closed captioning.  She was actually saying gnocchi, which I guess derives from the Italian for “knuckles.”  My bad.  I deserve a rap on my niyoki.


MARCH 14, 2011 flashback   HERR KARTOFFELKOPF

As a child, I had this toy, first marketed in 1952.  There was a plastic base — a headless “body” with a pointed spike where the neck should be.  You’d borrow a potato from the family supply and impale it on the spike.  Then you’d complete the “head” by sticking other plastic pieces into it.  There were various eyes, mouths, ears, and noses to choose from, as well as black-felt eyelashes and mustaches and accessories like pipes and hats.  You’d try to create an amusing character so you could giggle at it.

I didn’t know it then, but apparently this toy was dangerous.  I could have swallowed one of the little ears and choked on it!  Or I could have stabbed myself with its sharp point!

Fast-forward more than 50 years.  According to reports, last month “Hasbro unveiled a new, noticeably thinner Mr. Potato Head during the 2011 International Toy Fair convention in New York City.  The tinier tater, named the Active Adventures Mr. Potato Head, has a slimmer body.”

I raised my black-felt eyebrows at that.  If you wanted a skinnier Mr. Potato Head, why wouldn’t you simply go back to the pantry and choose a longer, thinner potato?

It turns out that federal child safety regulations have changed since I was a kid.  Real vegetables haven’t been used since 1964, when a plastic “potato” was added to the kit so that the attachments could be less sharp.  In 1975, Hasbro doubled the size of all the parts to reduce the choking hazard.  And now Mr. Potato Head is getting a healthier body shape.

I suppose I shouldn’t expect a 59-year-old product to remain unchanged forever.

2021 UPDATE:  After another decade, there's going to be another change.  Earlier this month, Hasbro announced that the brand is going to become simply "Potato Head" so that the accessories for Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head can be included in the same box.  There are certain people who aren't concerned about issues such as preserving voting rights but are horrified that "Mr." is being dropped, because men must always remain men. 

MARCH 12, 2021    GAMES A-GLEY

The current pandemic has forced the National Hockey League to contract its usual 82-game continent-wide season by almost a third.  Each team has been scheduled for only 56 games this year, all within its own division, starting in the middle of January and ending on May 8.  Today should mark the midpoint, or 28 games played.

However, as Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley.”  Due to various pandemic-related postponements, only seven of the teams have managed to play 28 games.  The average East Division team has played 25, and Dallas has completed only 22.

To illustrate the progress of an NHL season, I invented the Ice Cube Road a decade ago.  As explained here, each team starts a season with zero points in the standings.  Every time it plays a game, it moves up a row on my chart.

It can also move laterally by a column:  to the left for a win (worth two points) or to the right for a regulation loss (zero points).

However, if the game was settled by overtime or shootout, the losing team gets one “loser point” (for having at least achieved a tie within regulation time) and moves neither left nor right on the chart, only straight up towards the finish line.

Here's what the 2021 Ice Cube Road looks like for the East Division so far, with a dashed line at 28.

COMPETITIVENESS:  The standings are still rather jumbled, but the Division appears to have five strong teams (NY Islanders leading Washington and early pacesetter Boston, while Pittsburgh's Penguins are ahead of Philadelphia's Flyers).  Then there are three also-rans (NY Rangers, NJ Devils, and Buffalo).

EARLY-SEASON PARITY:  Notice the yellow line after eight games played.  For some reason, 44% of the Division games below that line were tied at the end of regulation, but since then only 18% have been.  Half of Pittsburgh's first dozen games were in this category, including five of their first six wins.

PENNSYLVANIA PURSUIT As of Tuesday, the Penguins had a record of 29 points in 24 games, or 60.4% of the available 48 points.  Points Percentage is a line at an angle of PP x 90° from northeast on my chart.  (The PP might determine the final standings if some teams play less than a full schedule.)  I provisionally painted the 29/24 square yellow.

The Flyers, with twice as many postponed games pending, have two “games in hand” on the Penguins.  It wasn't until last night that the Flyers reached the aforementioned 29/24 square and recolored it orange, as shown here.

Meanwhile, the Penguins have continued moving on, and after last night's action they have two additional wins to improve their PP to 63.5% with 33 points in 26 games.  They're currently in third place with one more point than Boston, or maybe fourth place considering Boston's 66.7% PP.


MARCH 10, 2021    SYNC ME UP!

Are the announcers in Pennsylvania while the basketball players are in South Carolina?  I don't care.  I still sometimes enjoy listening to the announcers on my radio, as I have for decades, and muting my TV.

I explain in an article about Billy & Curtis.



George Peppard starred in a 90-minute NBC detective drama called Banacek on many Wednesdays beginning in 1972.

Six years later, a young English immigrant came to a much smaller TV studio — my little cable operation — where he divined hidden numbers and bent spoons and forks.  His classmates at the nearby high school knew him as Steve Shaw, but he needed a more memorable stage name. 

Having seen the NBC show, he became the exotic-sounding Banachek (adding an h so Americans would know how to pronounce it) and went on to work with the late James “Amazing” Randi.

The story is this month's 100 Moons article.



I worked my last sports telecast one year ago tonight.  The following week, most events were canceled due to the worsening pandemic.  I took the hint that it was time for me to become completely retired.  I scrounged up some plain white face masks and went into hiding.

A couple of months later, a more attractive mask arrived unsolicited in the mail.  I glanced at the label, put aside my other masks, and started wearing this one.  It had been sent by my Pittsburgh-based Medicare Advantage Plan provider, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, which might explain the prominence of blue in the custom design.

Highmark obviously doesn't want me to run up big medical bills.  They want me to stay healthy.  Therefore, a few months after the face mask, a big five-pound package arrived.  It was filled with all sorts of things:  50 disposable masks, 15 wet wipes, a bottle of hand sanitizer, two bottles of sanitizing mist (one for hands, the other for surfaces), a thermometer, a pulse oximeter, an electric toothbrush, a tube of lip balm, aloe vera lotion, 100 bandages, and a separate 213-piece first aid kit.  Then, “as a reward for prioritizing your health and using your Highmark insurance in 2020,” they mailed me a $100 gift card!

Since then, on most days I've been using the disposable masks.  Because one can't be too careful, sometimes I double-mask by adding the colorful one on top.

Recently I looked more closely at its label.  “Tomlin”?  That's not a common surname, but it is the name of the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach.  And then I noticed the four-pointed hypocycloids, part of the Steelers logo.  There had to be a connection.

A quick online search revealed that Mike Tomlin's wife Kiya is a fashion designer.  Her products include many stylish $15 face masks.

Thanks, Tomlins!

Thanks, Highmark!


MARCH 5, 2011 flashback   NOT ALL MORMONS

This week, Brigham Young University’s #3-ranked basketball team suspended its top rebounder, Brandon Davies, for the rest of the season after he admitted violating the Mormon school’s honor code by having sex with his girlfriend.

If he played for almost any other school, Davies would have been congratulated for his conquest, not kicked off the team.  Why are these Mormons so strict and humorless?

Actually, they aren’t, not all of them anyway.  At least a couple of them are funny.  I mentioned in 2008 that I follow two BYU graduates’ blogs.

Movie reviewer Eric D. Snider will soon be reviving his weekly “Snide Remarks” column for our amusement, thanks to the financial support of viewers like you readers including me.  He also wants us to remind everyone about his podcast.

And Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings, who was much in the news last month, recently held a Q&A session on Reddit.  Excerpts:

People have this idea that Mormons are monolithically boring and/or creepily Stepford-y.  But in my experience, that's bull, and Mormons are as diverse in most ways as anybody else.  I think it would be cool if people figured that out.

Luckily, Mormons are not biblical literalists.  So you can choose to keep all the crazy stuff you like (Moses just turned his rod into a snake! badass!) and choose to ignore the crazy stuff you don't like (wait, God just sent bears to kill those kids because they made fun of Elisha's male pattern baldness?)

I'm not saying no Mormons are young-earthers ... but let's just say you're not likely to see those ones on Jeopardy.

Mormon trivia:

1. Christina Aguilera was born Mormon.  Not our finest effort.

2. The original proposed name for Utah, “Deseret,” isn't related to “desert.”  It's a Book of Mormon word (and therefore etymologically iffy to nonbelievers) meaning “honeybee.”

3. Mormon congregations are called “wards,” and dioceses are called “stakes.”  Some of our houses of worship used to therefore be called “stake houses,” but this turned out to be too confusing.  (Especially because there was no salad bar.)

4. Mormon scripture strongly implies that the apostle John, as well as three Book of Mormon disciples, never actually died but are still kicking around someplace.  Awesomely, this leads some Mormons to repeat urban legends about “the three Nephites” miraculously appearing to help little old ladies, repair the cars of stranded travelers, etc.

5. My Sunday school teacher, when I was a Mormon teen, once memorably advised us that “There's nothing more overrated than sex, and nothing more underrated than a good bowel movement.”  It totally worked.  I don't remember a single other sermon from when I was a kid, but I think about this guy exactly once a day, and then again once a week.

2021 UPDATES:  

Mormons no longer want to be Mormons.  They now prefer to be known as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the official name that God supposedly revealed to Joseph Smith in 1838.  And the name should no longer be abbreviated to the initials LDS, because that would exclude Jesus.

• Eric D. Snider is actually now employed by TCOJCOLDS in downtown Salt Lake City, working remotely for the most part, writing content for a Church youth magazine.  He no longer podcasts about movies and rarely posts Snide Remarks.

However, thanks mostly to the virtual Sundance festival, he still managed to watch 87 films in the first seven weeks of 2021.  And he still tweets.  Yesterday he remarked, “I know that bad officiating is a real thing, but as a non-sportsman, my first impulse whenever people complain about it (i.e., during seemingly every basketball game) is always:  Are you sure you're not just a big baby and a sore loser?  And I'm sure the answer is always, ‘No!  NOOO!  Did you SEE that?!’”

Ken Jennings, as you may have heard, recently guest-hosted Jeopardy! for several weeks.  I don't often watch that show, but I do listen twice a week to the miscellaneous odd topics he and fellow Seattleite John Roderick discuss on their “Omnibus” podcast.  One episode in particular, recorded early last autumn and based on a book by Ted Widmer, recalls the Presidential election of 1860 and the subsequent efforts to prevent Abraham Lincoln from taking office.

Around the 46-minute mark you'll hear about racist militias and angry ruffians who refused to accept the election results.  They threatened to blow up the Capitol on February 13, 1861, to prevent John Breckenridge from certifying the Electoral College vote.  But as Mike Pence would do in 2021, Vice-President Breckenridge honorably performed his duty.



What should be our first step in fighting a viral outbreak?  Open the windows!

An article by Sarah Zhang of The Atlantic recalls the early days of Covid-19 when everyone was searching frantically for N95 masks.  “In our quest for perfect solutions, we'd forgotten an extremely obvious and simple one:  fresh air.  A colleague joked, at one point, that things would have gone better in the pandemic if we still believed in miasma theory.”

“Bad air,” or miasma, was identified as the source of pestilence by the Greek physician Hippocrates in the fifth century BC.  Much later, Florence Nightingale insisted that hospital windows remain open in all seasons so a cross breeze could blow between the beds.

Of course, we've learned that not all pathogens are transmitted through the atmosphere.  Cholera is spread by water; yellow fever, by mosquitoes.  However, disease-causing viruses do ride on the air.  Most have been conquered by vaccinations, but when a novel virus enters our lives, we should open a window to encourage it to go away.  Shoo!

Swinging saloon doors were a thing of the past by 1918, when the flu struck Marysville, Ohio, but dim and secluded bars still existed.  I've already noted that when the mayor set a limit of ten customers in each local saloon, he also ordered that the doors and windows had to be kept open, allowing the viruses to disperse along with the tobacco smoke.  That seems odd nowadays when so many buildings are air-conditioned and windows are tightly sealed.

In the 1960s, I sketched a layout for a pie-shaped house.  My parents looked at my drawing and pointed out a drawback:  the rooms had windows only on the circumference, so there was no cross-ventilation.

Much more attention was paid to cross-ventilation in those days, for example by the use of transoms above doors (left).  I recall being in more than one old high-ceilinged office or hotel room in which one could open not only an exterior window but also a transom window, enabling air to pass out into the hallway while the door remained closed.

Noah Hall, my college dorm built in 1932, had an alternative to transoms:  louvered vents in the doors themselves.

On the other end of my room, beyond the head of the bed and the radiator and the desk, there was a window that could be raised.  I left it open a few inches all winter long.

Didn't I freeze to death?  No, steam pipes ran through all the rooms of that dormitory, from the foundation to the fourth floor.  Those hot pipes kept me warm even though the valve on my particular radiator remained closed.

Sarah Zhang knows what I mean.  She writes, “I'm writing this now at my desk, which is in front of a radiator, which is in front of a window.

“For apartment buildings like mine, built in the early 20th century, this is by design.  The radiator runs too hot, so that residents can keep the window open for ventilation.  (I am indeed too hot.  The window is open.)  This is a building designed in a time of airborne pathogens.

“This quirk of old building design went viral months ago in a collective ‘Aha!’ moment.  This thing that never made sense actually makes sense!  The air is good.”