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ArchiveMAY 2021


It was four days after Christmas 1876 in northeastern Ohio.  During a blizzard, a train was crossing a bridge which had been personally designed by the president of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway.

Partly as a result of the cold weather, the cast-iron bridge collapsed into the Ashtabula River.  One locomotive made it across, but the second didn't, nor did the passenger cars.

Fires from overturned oil lamps and heating stoves were fanned by the wind.  Ninety-two people died.

Well into the next century, the disaster would stand as the worst U.S. rail accident ever.

It was the spring of 1891, and a fast mail train (in red) was headed east towards Cleveland.  A westbound passenger train on the same LS&MS track was supposed to leave Oberlin at a certain time and pull off onto a siding at Kipton seven minutes later.  But the engineer's watch was four minutes slow and he was late getting to the siding.  The two trains collided head-on, killing eight.

In the aftermath of that Great Kipton Train Wreck, the LS&MS hired Cleveland jeweler Webb Ball to check its timing.  Mr. Ball created new standards which included watches accurate to within 30 seconds per week.  Employees were thereafter admonished to "get on the Ball."

Spectacular train smashups were not that uncommon in those days.  They made all the newspapers and were memorialized in song.

Curious folks traveled to gape at the wreckage, wishing they had been on hand to actually see the crash take place.

Then a man named A.L. Streeter made their wishes come true!  As shown on the right, it happened in Ohio 125 years ago today.  I tell the story in The Great Buckeye Collision.



I was brought up in the Methodist Church.  The Bible was important to us because it told the origin story of Christianity.

However, we didn't study it daily to discover all God's ancient laws.  (According to Leviticus 2, we're supposed to make grain offerings.  They have to include oil and salt but no yeast or honey.  After the priest burns a little grain on the altar, he can keep the rest for himself.)

Nor did we search the Scriptures obsessively for “thou shalt not” lifestyle rules, for example prohibiting the consumption of fat or pork or shrimp.  (Jesus gave us permission in Matthew 6:25 to ignore those parts of God's Word.  “Don't worry about what you will eat or drink.  Don't worry about what you will put on.  Isn't life more than food?  Isn't the body more than clothes?”)

Thus I find it hard to understand people who organize every detail of their lives according to The Bible — an infallible and unchanging graven image that holds all the answers.  Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 19 children are that kind of Bible-worshipping family. 

One of the kids is now 27 years old.  She's finally decided she's allowed to leave Arkansas, move to Los Angeles, and wear pants.

“My mom had always dressed us girls in skirts and dresses,” writes Jinger Duggar, “a standard that was taken from Deuteronomy 22:5, which says, ‘A woman shall not wear a man's garment.’  But I wanted to discover for myself what The Bible had to say.”

She had “a true desire to understand what The Bible said — and do exactly that!”  She studied Scripture, listened to sermons, read commentaries, and talked to her seminary-student husband Jeremy.

To her surprise, she realized that “not everyone interpreted different passages of Scripture the way I always had.  I never found a passage specifically forbidding women from wearing pants!”

Jinger “struggled” with going against the beliefs of the rest of her conservative family.  “I didn't want to hurt them, now that I didn't share those convictions.”  Finally, she realized that she “had to walk in truth and follow what I knew The Bible said.”  Finding “certainty from The Bible, my heart was free.”  She no longer had to worry about thinking for herself.

While channel-surfing I frequently run across TV evangelists who support their teachings not by appealing to common sense but by quoting what “The Bible says,” whether or not it's reasonable.  Perhaps another passage of The Bible says something they dislike, so they don't talk about that.  Strange.

For example, Scripture specifically teaches us that “from the nations around you, you may buy slaves.”  Listen to the proclamation of God's Law from the 25th chapter of Leviticus — the reluctantly delivered, possibly Satanically-revised standard version.

Verse 45 extends the slave trade to more than just purposely-imported Africans.  Aliens and their native-born children can become property as well.  “You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country.”

And verse 47 allows for slaves to be kept in bondage forever.  “You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life.”

Some men seek Scriptural authorization for requiring their wives to be their willing slaves.  One went so far as to issue ten commandments to his bride, whom he intended to degrade and humiliate. “The Bible is very clear that your husband is your master and that God expects you to always respect his absolute authority over you, and to serve and obey him in every way.  Obedience means complete obedience.  No exceptions.  Sometimes you are going to feel that what your husband demands of you is degrading or humiliating.  Your obligation is to submit to him, so always have a smile on your face.”

But now our secular government has banned slavery!  Outright!  Congress has written a so-called “13th Amendment” contradicting what is ordained in divine Scripture.

Bible-believing Christians must be asking themselves how it has happened.  How has America sinned and strayed so far from obeying the infallible and unchanging Word of God?


MAY 26, 2021    CAC? CEO? CFO? COO?

Those who dislike prominent persons seize any opportunity to belittle them, even over something inconsequential like a misspelled tweet.

Recently Mary Papenfuss posted a Huffington Post item headlined “Ivanka Trump In A Fog In Deposition About Role Of Investigated Top Trump Executive.”


“Who is Allen Weisselberg?” Ivanka Trump was asked in a deposition in December with investigators from the District of Columbia Attorney General's Office as part of its lawsuit alleging the misuse of inaugural funds.

“He is the – I would have to see what his, his – I don't know his exact title but he's an executive at the company,” she responded, according to a transcript released earlier this year.

Donald Trump's former personal attorney, felon Michael Cohen, who's serving time for various crimes committed while working for his old boss, quipped on Twitter that Trump has “trained” his daughter well to play daft.  “I don't know.  I wasn't there,” Cohen mocked her answers.  “Allen who?”

It's not surprising that she knows Weisselberg as an important guy in the executive suite but isn't sure of his official title.  Like her, he could be an Executive Vice President, but he could also be called Comptroller, or Treasurer, or Head of Accounting, or Assistant to the President, or Chairman of the Audit Committee, or Chief Operating Officer, or many other things.

Actually, it turns out, he's the Chief Financial Officer.  But is Ivanka supposed to have the organizational chart memorized?

I'm no fan of Donald Trump or his daughter, but I've got to say this particular nitpicking is unfair.

MAY 24, 2011 flashback   GUARDIANS

Parents have many issues to worry about, from vaccinations to potty training to nightmares to sibling rivalry to homework and much else besides.

But what issue always concerns parents on television situation comedies?  Guardianship.  “In the highly unlikely event that we both die in a plane crash, who gets the children?”  It seems to me that this problem comes up in one episode of every family sitcom.

In real life, it’s usually no problem.  Just appoint the grandparents, or the closest uncle and aunt.

But on TV, agonizing over this decision affords opportunities for adult characters to offend each other.  These characters, often unrelated, get to disparage each other’s parenting abilities.  That leads to much better comedy than making everyday decisions, such as whether Susie can stay up past nine o’clock.

When Paul Reiser’s new NBC series was canceled this spring after only two weeks, the obligatory story line was already in the works.  “A later episode,” TV Guide reported, “finds Paul reevaluating his choice of his children’s legal guardian should something happen to him and his wife.  ...The laughs, he says, come from the consequences of rescinding one offer only to learn ‘no one else wants your kids.’”

UPDATE:  Sitcom writers are still at it.



To support Indiana's growing automotive industry, Carl Fisher laid out a testing ground at Indianapolis in 1909.

How big should it be?  Maybe nine blocks long and five blocks wide.  Four trips around this rectangle of streets would make 10 miles.

But Fisher and his fellow investors didn't build their circuit in the city.  They had 328 acres of farmland west of town. 

Instead of sharp-cornered intersections, they could construct sweeping banked curves.  Cars would barely need to slow down before heading off in a different direction.  Therefore the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a rounded rectangle.

It has a 90° Turn 1, then a 1/8-mile “short chute” leading to Turn 2, a 5/8-mile backstretch leading to Turn 3, and so on.

When newer, smaller speedways were built, most of them were ovals with only two curves, 180° at each end.  They kept the traditional Indy nomenclature even though it didn't make sense.

For example, the Bristol Motor Speedway is an oval scarcely more than half a mile around, but its first semicircle is called Turns 1 and 2 and the slightly larger one is Turns 3 and 4.


When the Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959, it was neither a rounded rectangle nor an oval but a rounded triangle, a “tri-oval” with three curves.

Nevertheless, NASCAR fans persist in referring to the first half-mile-long curve as Turns 1 and 2.  The cars are continuously “turning” for about nine seconds.  Then the other half-mile-long curve is Turns 3 and 4.  (This terminology does allow folks to distinguish the entry portion of the curve, #3, from the exit portion, #4.)

You might think that the final curve, a kink at the start/finish line, would be called Turn 5.  It isn't.  It's known merely as The Tri-Oval.

And then of course there are road courses with at least a dozen numbered turns, which aficionados often identify not by number but by name.

For example, before watching last month's Italian Formula 1 race, I downloaded a diagram of the course.  Then, when the announcers casually referred to Tosa as though we viewers were as familiar with the layout as they were, I could tell they meant Turn 7.  And when they spoke of Rivazza, I knew they were speaking of two 90° lefts, officially numbered 17 and 18.



“Phantom” investments — accounting fictions set up to avoid taxes — enable Luxembourg to host more foreign investment than the United States does.

Only about 600,000 people in the world speak Luxembourgish.  Perhaps it's because in that language, as in some western dialects of German, the usual pronoun for referring to women and girls is the neuter pronoun.  The Wikipedia example:

Dat ass d’Nathalie.
Hatt ass midd,
well et vill
a sengem Gaart
geschafft huet.

That is the Nathalie.
It is tired,
because it a lot
in its garden
worked has.


MAY 17, 2011 flashback   GONE FISHIN’

I have a number of reservations about Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, but one incident in particular has always bothered me.

Let’s turn the clock back to 1998.  Gingrich had represented the Sixth Congressional District of Georgia for 20 years.  For the last four years, he had also been the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives — the Speaker of the House.

On November 3, the people of the Sixth District re-elected him for an 11th term as their Congressman.  In that same election, however, the Republicans suffered a net loss of five seats in the House.  Many in his party blamed Gingrich’s leadership, including his failed attempt to remove President Bill Clinton from office.  Therefore, three days after the election, Gingrich did the right thing and announced his resignation from his leadership position as the Speaker of the House.

But he also announced that he was resigning from Congress altogether.  The people of his District had just re-elected him to another two-year term, but he thumbed his nose at them and declined to take his seat.

Others in similar situations, like Bob Dole in 1976 and John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008, didn’t react to losing a national election by walking away from their responsibilities to their local constituents.  They continued to serve in the United States Senate.

In a phone call on November 8, 1998, Gingrich gave his reasons for abandoning Washington.  “We have to get the bitterness out,” he said.  “It is clear that as long as I'm around, that won't happen.  ...My only fear would be that if I tried to stay, it would just overshadow whoever my successor is.”

Fellow Congressman Joe L. Barton (R-Texas) fretted, “We could end up losing that seat.”

“Trust me, that district will elect a Republican,” Gingrich replied.  “I think Marianne and I will probably take six months off and go collect dinosaurs or something.”

[UPDATE:  They didn't.  Four months after leaving office, Gingrich telephoned Marianne, his second wife, to tell her he wanted a divorce.  Eight months after it became final, he married his “frequent breakfast companion” Callista.]

Georgia voters had elected Gingrich to serve them for two more years as their Representative.  Later, Alaska voters would elect Sarah Palin to serve them for four years as their Governor.  But when these politicians were denied a higher office, they became dissatisfied with the office they had.  They decided to turn their back on the voters and quit the game entirely.   If they couldn’t call the plays, they were going to take the ball and go home.



Two years ago I was part of the 50-year reunion of my Oberlin College class, held concurrently with the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2019.  But then the pandemic came along, and reunion classes after me have been unable (so far) to get together on-campus.

One of my Twitter followees wrote last month, “Something I cannot relate to is college students being disappointed that there's no in-person graduation ceremony.  I didn't even go to mine because I knew it would be boring and no one was making me.  They still send you your diploma.  I mean, I just spent four years avoiding long, boring lectures; why would I go to one now?”

Today, however, Oberlin's Class of 2021 is actually holding a Commencement in person!

Two separate ceremonies are being held in the football stadium, each with approximately 300 fully-vaccinated or negative-testing graduates.  The first half of the alphabet will assemble at 9:00 this morning; those with names from Li to Zz, at 2:00 this afternoon. 

Each student can have two guests, all wearing masks and seated six feet apart.  The ceremonies are being live-streamed on the Internet.

UPDATE:  Below are some frames from the live webcast of the 2½-hour morning ceremony.

Unlike previous years, the president did not give a diploma and a handshake to each graduate crossing the stage.  For social distancing, they merely posed for a photo.  However, at least one graduate did receive a presidential elbow bump.

Next week all alumni will be able to participate in a “virtual reunion.”

Just last week, I joined a Zoom session from Oberlin and another from my other alma mater, Syracuse.

In the first session, an alumna from my era discussed conserving the artwork at the United States Capitol.  (On the right: the President's Room, which has too much art for my taste. “When the visual field is cluttered,” says psychotherapist Dana Dorfman, “the brain must ‘sift through’ everything and weed out the interfering stimuli.”  When clutter is removed, studies show “a significant decrease in the stress hormone cortisol.”)

In the second session, alumni told how professionals can become professors, starting new careers.

I report on these webinars in an article called Zooming After Graduation.



The National Hockey League regular season, reduced by a third to only 56 games this year due to the pandemic, was supposed to conclude last weekend.  Due to postponements, however, 14 contests still remain to be played, the last scheduled for a week from tonight (Vancouver at Calgary).

In the East Division, Boston and Washington completed their schedules last night, so I can now show you that division's Ice Cube Road for 2021.

Four of the eight teams spent the final eight weeks tangled in a fight for the top spot.  Pittsburgh and Washington each finished with 77 points, but the tiebreaker based on Regulation and Overtime Wins went to the Penguins, 34 to 33.

All four qualify for the playoffs, which will begin Saturday with #2 Washington hosting #3 Boston.

In the other matchup, #1 Pittsburgh will host the #4 New York Islanders on a starting date to be determined.

The remaining four teams failed to qualify.  At the end of the season, the New York Rangers lost five games in a row; one more would have dropped them into a tie with Philadelphia.  Earlier, the New Jersey Devils had a nine-game losing streak.  So did Buffalo, which managed only one point in the month beginning February 27 (0-15-1).

MAY 10, 2021   

After washing my hair last week, I couldn't do a thing with it.  And donning my glasses would occasionally push my scraggly eyebrows down into my field of vision.

But then I realized that I'm now fully vaccinated!  Therefore, I dared to visit the neighborhood barber shop for the first time in a year.

I removed my mask, Mr. Bianco snipped off at least three inches of growth, and things are much better now.


First haircut in a year, eh?  I remember my first encounter with a barber.  It was in downtown Cambridge, Ohio, so I must have been about three years old.  I recall that the floor of the shop was a checkerboard of black and white tiles, and my father and I sat along the wall at first.  Then he led me up to another chair, a huge rotating one with a lever and big steel arms and a booster plank across them.  I had to sit atop this scary contraption while my father returned to his seat and a stranger came up from behind me and covered me with a black sheet so I couldn't run away.  Holding sharp scissors, he squirted me with water!  Then he held my head still and pressed a loudly-buzzing object to my temple!  I cried.  Wouldn't you?

The stranger spoke soothingly, the traumatic experience didn't last that long, and I survived.



In 1967, nine Baltimore teenagers (including these four) prepared to set out for the wilds of Ohio, where they would enroll in Oberlin College — despite its old-fashioned social regulations. 

On the left in the sport coat, Chris Rouse (1949-2019).  I would later hang out with him at the campus radio station, and he went on to become an orchestral composer.

On the right in the pigtails, Heather Partridge.  When she was considering 50 colleges to attend, Oberlin ranked 50th.  Then, as she narrowed the list down, Oberlin somehow became 25th of the top 25, 10th of the top ten, and 5th of the top five.

“On the way home from visiting the other four schools on my list,” Heather recalls, “my mom and I stopped in to visit, and I had lunch at South Hall.  Before lunch, a student sat down at the baby grand piano and started playing Handel's Messiah.  Several other students gathered around and began singing all the parts.  I thought that was wonderful.  A few months later, a friend of my parents asked where I was applying for college.  My parents said, ‘Probably Carleton, but she hasn't decided yet.’  I shook my head and replied, ‘No, I've already applied for early decision to Oberlin.’  They were surprised.”

Soon after arriving at Oberlin, Heather explained to the Dean of Women that if she stayed up late studying, her return to her women's dormitory could result in getting caught breaking curfew.  Therefore the rules might force her to spend the night in a men's dorm!

The rules were relaxed, she stayed out of trouble, and she went on to marry classmate Marty Oppenheimer on graduation day 1971.  Much later, they would become consultants, helping software and services companies improve their engineering and project-management processes.

I've added Heather's Dean of Women story to the end of this month's 100 Moons article, which features our radio station's on-the-spot coverage of a protest over housing arrangements on this night in 1967.  Give it a listen!



MAY 7, 2011 flashback   MOTHER'S DAY 1956

That’s me with my parents in Cambridge, Ohio, 55 years ago.  My mother is wearing a fox fur; she always hinted to my father that she wanted a mink coat, but this was as close as she got.

The occasion was Mother’s Day in Cambridge, Ohio.  My grandmother Emma Buckingham had been widowed ten months earlier, and on this weekend her three children had come to visit her.

In the second photo, I’m standing between my uncles Ralph and Jim.  The lady with the flower on her hat is my aunt Virginia (Jim’s wife), and the older lady next to her is of course my grandmother.




MAY 4, 2021   "I AM LEAVING"

Here's the story of a moment from television history which I didn't see.  Neither did my parents.  I describe it, more than 61 years later, because the incident was mentioned during Sunday's first episode of the CNN documentary series “The Story of Late Night.”

The date was Wednesday, February 10, 1960.  Comedian Jack Paar, an Ohio native like my mother and me, was in his third year of hosting The Tonight Show.  It was telecast on NBC five nights a week, though Best of Paar reruns had recently begun airing on Fridays.

The program consisted of 105 minutes of talk.  Tonight might have been given a previously unused 120-minute block, as Today had been.  However, most local affiliates followed “prime time” with their own 15-minute newscasts before signing off for the night, so the network waited until 11:15 pm Eastern time to resume its programming.  Some affiliates didn't rejoin until 11:30.

Originally The Tonight Show was broadcast live.  However, with the advent of video tape the network began the practice (which continues today) of recording each program several hours in advance so the staff, and particularly the guests, don't have to hang around the studio past midnight.  Also, the network can edit out any inadvertent obscenities before airing the tape.

During the February 10 taping, Paar spent about four minutes telling a humorous tale about misunderstanding the abbreviation W.C., which to British folks means “water closet.”  A water closet is, of course, a small room containing a flush toilet.  Told to much self-conscious laughter from the audience, the joke went like this:

An English lady, while visiting Switzerland, was looking for a room for a more extended stay, and she asked the schoolmaster if he could recommend any to her.  He took her to see several rooms, and when everything was settled, the lady returned to her home to make the final preparations to move.

When she arrived home, the thought suddenly occurred to her that she had not seen a "W.C." around the place.  So she immediately wrote a note to the schoolmaster asking him if there were a "W.C." near the room.

The schoolmaster was a very poor student of English, so he asked the parish priest if he could help in the matter.  Together they tried to discover the meaning of the letters "W.C.," and the only solution they could come up with for the letters was for a Wayside Chapel.  The schoolmaster then wrote the following note to the English lady:

Dear Madam: 

I take great pleasure in informing you that the W.C. is situated nine miles from the room that you will occupy in the center of a beautiful grove of pine trees surrounded by lovely grounds.  It is capable of holding about 229 people and it is only open on Sunday and Thursday.

As there are a great number of people who are expected during the summer months, I would suggest that you come early; although, as a rule, there is plenty of standing room.  You will no doubt be glad to hear that a good number of people bring their lunch and make a day of it, while others who can afford to go by car arrive just in time.

I would especially recommend that your ladyship go on Thursday when there is a musical accompaniment.  It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband.  I can remember the rush there was for seats.  There were ten people to a seat ordinarily occupied by one.  It was wonderful to see the expression on their faces.

The newest attraction is a bell donated by a wealthy resident of the district.  It rings every time a person enters.

A bazaar is to be held to provide plush seats for all the people, since they feel it is a long-felt need.  My wife is rather delicate, so she can't attend regularly.  I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you, if you wish, where you will be seen by everyone.  For the children, there is a special time and place so they will not disturb the elders.

Hoping to have been of service to you, I remain,


The Schoolmaster.

The story didn't contain any dirty words, but it did lead the audience to picture (in their minds) a very public toilet.  In those days, toilet talk violated network standards & practices.  NBC removed it from the show and substituted a few minutes of news coverage.  Paar was not happy.  (He was also becoming tired of the grind of presenting seven hours of network television every week, although NBC had begun giving him more time off.)

Then it was Thursday, February 11, 1960, the fourth and final taping of the week.  After the lesser-viewed first 15 minutes of that evening's program, Paar began complaining about “a clown” censoring him the night before.  “I believe I was let down by this network at a time when I could have used their help.”  Then he announced, “I am leaving The Tonight Show. There must be a better way of making a living than this.”  And he got up from his desk and walked out of the studio!  (He would not return until a month later, admitting, “Leaving the show was a childish and perhaps emotional thing. ...I'm totally unable to hide what I feel.”)

I was not yet 13 years old and typically went to bed around 10:00, listening to the radio beside my bed.  From the radio I learned that Jack Paar had unexpectedly walked off his set, and NBC was going to air the episode as scheduled at 11:15 that night.

My parents usually watched the 11:00 news for the weather forecast before switching off the TV and going to bed themselves.  They knew about The Tonight Show but rarely stayed up for it.

At breakfast the next morning, the story of the late-night surprise was big news on the radio.  When I boasted of my advance knowledge of what NBC was going to air, my mother scolded that I should have said something!  We all could have stayed up late to see it.

What might have been:

Our 21" Sylvania with HaloLight for viewing comfort,

colorized to show the fake mahogany veneer,

seen from the end of our couch,

with the resignation moment superimposed.

MAY 1, 2021   TWEET!  QUACK!

For the past few years, as I see interesting quotes on the Internet I've been copying them into a Word document.  I've even located illustrations for some of them.  For example:

Gene Collier   Baseball is now better defined as two guys playing catch while eight others stand around, one of whom is holding a large stick for purposes that are not often apparent.

Ken Jennings   I like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” a lot, because “if they don't win it's a shame!” is the maximum healthy amount to care about any sport.

Scott Renshaw   I clearly don't have the right temperament to be a pro athlete, because whenever I hear someone say “it's win or go home,” “go home” always sounds more appealing.


All the king's men:
We need some kind of adhesive.

   All the king's horses:
   Why is everyone looking at us?



Robin Hood [hands over stolen fortune]:
Here you are, my poor friend.

       Wow, thanks. I'm rich!

              Robin [narrows eyes]: 
              You're what?

Jane Levy  Don't talk about a woman's beauty as if it is an accomplishment.

Robert Reich   Republicans say Biden shouldn't increase corporate taxes, even though corporate taxes now account for just 7% of federal revenue. In the 1950s, they accounted for 35%.

Josh Fruhlinger  One of the times I feel proudest of how America has organized its whole society is when I see TV ads for a kind of insurance you pay for to help when the other insurance you pay for doesn't pay for something.  There's a duck in it, for some reason.

My collection is now 46 pages long, over 16,000 words.  I've condensed it down to 4,600 words on more serious topics, called The Roundtable.  Take it for what it's worth.