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ArchiveOCTOBER 2021

 

OCTOBER 31, 2011 flashback   A SCARY THOUGHT FOR HALLOWEEN

The United States Census Bureau estimates it won’t happen until March, but according to the United Nations Population Division, today is the red-letter day — the day when the number of people on our planet reaches 7 billion.  That’s three times what it was when I was born!

This graph spans my lifetime.  The bottom of it represents a population of zero billion, as in the days of the Garden of Eden.  Notice how rapidly we're moving away from the Garden.

Some of us enjoy the luxuries of the First World, using as much electricity and water and oil as we like.  Some of us barely survive in the Third World.

The Earth’s resources are strained to sustain us.  Fisheries are being depleted, reservoirs are going dry, the atmosphere is filling up with carbon dioxide, and the end of oil is in sight.  Yet we continue to add more people.

According to a WWF assessment, we were already living 50 percent beyond the planet's biocapacity four years ago, and by 2030 humans will effectively need the capacity of two Earths.

Anyone know where we can find a new world?

OCTOBER 31, 2021, UPDATE:  Ten years later, the line has passed the top corner of the graph, as our numbers are now approaching 8 billion.

Despite the predations of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that the average American adult of child-rearing age has only half as many children as in 1960, the world's population has continued to grow by an estimated million people every 4½ days.  As of this morning, Worldometer gave the latest total as 7,903,495,128.

(And those who think that a "new world" on Mars could support four people full-time, let alone four billion, are dreaming.)

 

OCTOBER 30, 2021    TURNING FOR HOME

Earlier this month, I told about the first two Vanderbilt Cup races on Long Island in the early years of the 20th century, as described in a book I gave my father for his birthday on this date in 1952.

 

The story now continues in The Vanderbilt Cup, Part Two, in which the book's author attends the 1910 event.  There he becomes acquainted with another fan, a pretty young singer.

As a retired graphics person, I can't resist showing the leader board and the course diagram (with moving car icons) behind the grandstand.  Also, now there are actual pit stops, and part of the course is paved!

 

OCTOBER 28, 2021    LAUGHING LARRY TURNS 100

In high school my best subjects were science and math, so when I went to Oberlin College I became a physics major.  It was assumed that I would continue my science studies in graduate school at some larger institution.  However, I had other interests including radio.  I was the WOBC station director.

Gradually, physics became increasingly abstract to me, and I decided it would be better to pursue a career that I actually enjoyed.  When I did go on to graduate school, it would not be in physics; it would be in radio and television.

I felt a twinge of guilt about becoming a mere broadcaster instead of a more prestigious scientist.  Would I be “wasting” my abilities?  Would I be “wasting” the four years of education that had cost my parents tens of thousands of dollars?  But everyone agreed that, in choosing a career, it would be best to do what I wanted to do — not what someone thought I ought to be doing.  I applied to the highly recommended master's degree program at Syracuse University.

In due course, I received a letter from Lawrence Myers, Jr., the chairman of the Radio-TV Department.  “Dear Mr. Thomas:  The Graduate School has forwarded to us your completed application for admission to Syracuse University to study in our department.  Based on these credentials, which are outstanding, I am pleased to recommend that you be admitted.

“May I add that I was particularly impressed with your discussion.  It is unusual to switch from a field in which one has done relatively well to a new field.  I sympathize with you, however, because my first degree was in chemical engineering!”

I didn't know it at the time, but Dr. Myers was a retired U.S. Army Colonel who had fought during the Battle of the Bulge, then joined Syracuse in 1946 as a graduate teaching assistant in the Radio Department.  Here he is posing with a zoom lens in SU's little TV studio in the basement of the old library.

Among the courses he taught while I was there in 1969-70 was one on research (mainly determining how many people were tuning in to a given program).  He always had a pleasant smile, and some of my classmates referred to him as Laughing Larry.

After I obtained my Master's degree, I found employment at a small cable TV studio in Ohio.  I wrote to Dr. Myers and described what I was doing in terms of studio operations and cost-per-thousand and all sorts of other things we'd been exposed to at Syracuse.  He wrote back, “Your work at the Marion CATV operation is a fascinating description.  I trust you won't mind if I read excerpts to our new sequence, as it touches base with so many of the activities in which they are, or will be, engaged.”

I've had no further contact with Dr. Myers over the last five decades, but now I find that he retired in 1981 and is still living in Syracuse.

And tomorrow afternoon on campus, the Newhouse School and WAER Radio are hosting a celebration for his 100th birthday!

 

OCTOBER 26, 2021    HARDING'S HARD TRUTH

My first job in broadcasting was at a small cable TV studio in Marion, Ohio, starting in 1970.  One of my coworkers had gone to school with John Dean (on the left below), of later Watergate fame.  But the most famous Marionite was Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States.  Although historians do not regard him highly, upon his unexpected death in office in 1923 he was deeply mourned.  A marble memorial was erected on the south side of the city.

It was exactly 100 years ago today that President Harding traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, to congratulate that steel city on the 50th anniversary of its founding.  He told a crowd of 100,000 that he was going to speak frankly to them.  Parts of his speech received a mixed reaction.

Because Black laborers were migrating to the North, the President noted that race was becoming not merely a regional issue but a national one.  Dean has written that Harding “unflinchingly” told his audience that political and economic equality for African-Americans was only a matter of time.  The Constitution guaranteed political equality, he asserted.  “Let the Black man vote when he is fit to vote.  Prohibit the white man voting when he is unfit to vote.”

Cheers were heard from the segregated African-American section, but the white portion of the audience remained silent.  Harding pointed directly to the whites and said, “It is the problem of democracy everywhere, if we mean the things we say about democracy as the ideal political state. Whether you like it or not, our democracy is a lie unless you stand for that equality.”

African-American scholar W.E.B. Dubois called the address “a sudden thunder in blue skies,” driving everyone who had discussed “the Negro Problem” out of the shadows and “into the clear light of truth.”  On the other hand, Senator Thomas E. Watson of Georgia wondered why it was necessary for the Ohioan to travel to the South “to lecture their people” and accused Harding of planting “fatal germs in the minds of the Black race.”  Senator Pat Harrison of Mississippi called the remarks “unfortunate in the extreme” and warned that “if the President's theory is carried to its ultimate conclusion, then that means white women should work under Black men in public places.”  He noted with horror that it meant “the Black man can strive to become President of the United States!”

Birmingham was the last Presidential civil rights message until 1947.  Dean argues that while Harding was not the best President, he surely was not the worst. 

 

OCTOBER 25, 2021    SPORTS UPDATE

This late weekend score just in:  Atlanta 33, Pittsburgh 3.

No, that's not a football score; it's actually a baseball score, and it's extremely late.  On the weekend of May 22, the eventual National League champion Atlanta Braves launched thirteen home runs in three games to sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates by margins of 20-1, 6-1, and 7-1.

Actually, the Pirates hadn't started the season that badly.  On May 6 their record had been only three games worse than the defending world champion Los Angeles Dodgers.  But then, as the Diamond Brick Road shows, those two teams began to diverge.  The Dodgers won their final fifteen home games, a franchise record, to finish 106-56.  The Pirates ended 45 games worse at 61-101.

As it turned out, Pittsburgh's defense wasn't the problem.  The starting pitchers had the best ERA in the National League, and the fielders committed the fewest errors in the majors.

The problem was the offense.  Pirate batters finished last in the major leagues in runs and in home runs.  Thus the team was outscored by an average of 3.7 runs per game.

 

OCTOBER 23, 2021    RARE CELLER

As an aging baby boomer, it was only a few years ago that I reluctantly slipped a cell phone into my pocket.  I still communicate mostly at my desk, using the computer and landline phone.  I check my emails often but texts rarely.  I leave the smartphone switched off unless I'm expecting someone to call that number or I need it for some special purpose away from home — for example, notifying a store or restaurant that I've arrived for curbside pickup.

I'm not typical.  Arthur C. Brooks writes in The Atlantic about addiction to mobile devices.  “The average smartphone user rarely goes two hours without using her device and unlocks her device 50 or more times a day.  You know what I mean:  If you have 15 seconds of downtime in an elevator or waiting at a red light, out pops your phone.  You are basically just killing time.”  He suggests ways to counteract mindless scrolling.  “Set times each day or week to look at your smartphone and really focus on it.  Don't do anything else; be all about the phone for those minutes, as if it were your job.”

Also some folks, expecting 3:00 AM messages, leave their cellphones on 24 hours a day!  Brooks advises, “Silo off parts of your home where your phone is not physically proximate, such as the dinner table and the bedroom.  My personal strategy is to plug in my phone in the kitchen at night before I go upstairs to bed.  If I wake up during the night, going to check it would take a lot of effort, so I don't.”

Because my messages pop up via email on my desktop computer, my version is to locate it where I can't see it unless I'm actually at the desk.

A year ago, the NSA issued security recommendations to reduce hacking.  They suggest turning a phone off and on to reboot it once every week.  I'm well within that guideline, but I'll pass the NSA's advice along.  

 

OCTOBER 21, 2021    THE WAY WE WERE

When I was in elementary school, as I reflect in this month's 100 Moons article, the left and the right did not seem to be such mortal enemies.

 



OCTOBER 19, 2021
EARTHSHINE

For the Halloween season, local photographer Dave DiCello looked across Pittsburgh's rivers to the top of the distant Duquesne Incline and captured a scary image:  moonset over Mount Washington. 


OCTOBER 16, 2021    LEFT THE BUILDING

Mike Lange, the longtime voice of the Pittsburgh Penguins, has retired after 50 years of broadcasting hockey.

Sometime in the last century, late in a game at Pittsburgh's Civic Arena, the Pens were desperately clinging to a one-goal lead.  The issue was in doubt until they stole the puck and scored an empty-net goal.  That clinched the win.  In effect, the game was over.  After describing the play, Lange triumphantly added, “And, ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has just left the building!”

What does Elvis Presley have to do with hockey?  Nothing (although Lange's catchphrases were famously context-free).  And Elvis did perform at the Arena in 1973 and 1976.

But I remember that two months after The King's death in 1977, there was a CBS-TV special showing his last filmed concert, and the poignant ending included an announcer's voice:  “Elvis has left the building.”

Mark Evanier has explained, “Elvis was grotesquely overweight in his final years of touring.  On stage, The King performed his greatest hits, accompanied by a group of back-up singers who aided him with the notes he could no longer reach.  Even with this help, the ‘King’ still delivered a show so short that, when he left the stage, everyone knew it was just a fake bow-off and he'd be coming back for ten more numbers.

“Only he wasn't coming back:  Elvis exited directly to a waiting limousine.

“His fans would be standing and cheering, waiting for him to return and finish the high-priced concert.  Then, over the P.A. system, once they were sure the limo was away, the hotel would announce, ‘Elvis has left the building.  Thank you and good night.’

“The crowds were always, to say the least, stunned,” but the phrase meant, “Sorry, there won't be any encores.  The show's over.”

 
OCTOBER 14, 2021    CAREFUL WITH THOSE SCENIC CLIPS

A casual sports fan might assume the TV crew has placed many cameras in the vicinity of the venue to bring us “beauty shots.”  Besides welcoming us to the city, these also serve as backgrounds for large graphics and “billboards” (brief acknowledgments of the sponsors with their logos, for example The second half is brought to you by...)

But is this really a live shot of Chicago from a boat out on Lake Michigan?  Probably not.

In many cases nowadays these views aren't live from a circling blimp or drone.  They aren't live at all; they're pre-recorded scenes.

Maybe they weren't even recorded the same year.  Until recently, if you closely watched a telecast from Pittsburgh, during the billboards you might notice the distinctive dome of the Civic Arena (arrow).  It was demolished ten years ago.

Sometime before the turn of the century, I was working a telecast of a Memphis State football game from Liberty Bowl Municipal Stadium.  The guys in the tape room had a selection of clips showing local Memphis tourist attractions, something like below, which we were using to assemble a series of billboards.



A local technician quietly suggested that we might want to redo the one featuring scenic #4.  It featured an imposing equestrian statue that happened to be the memorial of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.  We agreed and used a different clip.

By the way, that Jim-Crow-era statue was removed in 2017.  Then four months ago, the remains of Forrest and his wife were exhumed from ten feet below the statue's base and taken to a vault in an undisclosed location.

The statues of many other Confederate leaders have been coming down.  Robert E. Lee's in Richmond was dismantled only last month.

But Lee was very famous, and other statues of him remain elsewhere, proclaiming the nobility of the rebels — and, by extension, their cause.

The photo on the right shows the Virginia Monument at Gettysburg, dedicated in 1917 at the location of General Lee's greatest defeat.

When it was first proposed in 1903, Northerners raised numerous objections.  I've added to the photo the words suggested by John Stewart of nearby Chambersburg, who declared that if such a statue were erected, it should include an admission that Lee and his men were traitors, fighting against a nation to which they had earlier sworn allegiance — a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” (as Lincoln had said on these grounds 40 years before).

I've also colorized the rebels' banner, which by the time the statue was erected had become a potent symbol of the Lost Cause and white supremacy.

I don't think I'd use this image as a “beauty shot.”

 

OCTOBER 11, 2021    INDIGENOUS CRAFTS TIME

Now, you see, son, you get yourself a nice stick, and you whittle it down so it's smooth and straight like this.  You cut two notches into it, a big one on the end and a shallow one on the side.

Next you need a thin strip of deerskin.  Thread one end of the thong into the little notch and leave the rest dangling.

Then you take this gray stone and wedge the flat end into the big notch, like so.  You wrap the thong around the stick, real tight, to hold the stone in place.  Tie a knot, and you're ready to add some feathers.

I have a couple of those gray stones in my apartment.  Where did they come from?  I'll speculate in an article about Native American Artifacts.

 

OCTOBER 10, 2011 flashback   I'M SO EXCITED

How do you excite a pro athlete?  Change his circumstances.  At least that’s what he’ll tell you.  Interview him and notice how often he uses the word excited.

“I’m excited to be here!  I’m having a great time getting to know my new teammates.  Helping them make it into the playoffs — that’s gonna be a challenge, but I'm excited about it.  And is it true we’re getting a new practice facility in a couple of years?  I’m pumped up about that, too.”

That’s the typical athlete.  Mr. Excitement.  But how about you, Mr. Straight Talker?  The trade that brought you to our city — are you excited about it?

“Not really.  I’m kinda bummed out, to tell the truth.  My old team had a chance to win a championship.  The fans were great.  The weather was great.  I loved the city.  I just built a new house there last year.  And now I’ve gotta come here?  To this team of losers?  Where I don’t know anybody?  It’s depressing.  Have you seen that dump where we practice?  But it’s my job, so I’ll have to give it my best effort, I guess.”

What if more interviewees were that honest?  It’s an exciting concept.

 

OCTOBER 8, 2021    PINK SURNAMES ARE FOR GIRLS

When she marries, an American woman such as Sarah Jessica Parker traditionally abandons her “maiden name” and adopts the surname of her husband to become Sarah Jessica Broderick.  Their children are also Brodericks.

However, we're learning to respect the woman's identity and allow her to keep her birth name, especially if she's become well-known using that name.  Many children of such marriages now include both parents as in “Tabitha Parker-Broderick.”

I'm not sure what happens when such a hyphenate grows up to marry, let's say, Noah Barber-Roderick.  Will their daughter keep all four surnames to call herself Amy Barber-Parker-Broderick-Roderick?  And might her daughter be named Barbara Barber-Barker-Parker-Barton-Broderick-Roderick-Rubberwick-Butterstick?  This could start to get ridiculous.

In Spain, names given to children also honor the mother by including two apellidos or surnames without hyphens, as in “María Castro Molina.”  The order is:  nombre or given name (Mary), father's first surname (Castle), mother's first surname (Miller).  But because the last part is often omitted, this name would be alphabetized under C like the father.  Ken Jennings remarks, “Let's not kid ourselves.  These are still patriarchal cultures.”

So were the ancient Romans.  They too often had three names, but the mother's was not among them.

In Plutarch's Parallel Lives, he explains while introducing Caius Marcius Coriolanus that “Caius was the proper name; the second name, in this case Marcius, was the common name of family or clan; and the third name was adopted subsequently, and bestowed because of some exploit, or fortune, or bodily feature, or special excellence in a man.”  In this case Caius Marcius captured a town called Corioles (kuh-RYE-uh-lus), so his cognomen became Coriolanus (kor-e-uh-LANE-us).

So I, having been baptized Thomas with a Buckingham mother and a Thomas father, would have been Thomas Thomas Buckingham if I been born in Spain.  And if I been born in ancient Rome, I would have been Thomas Thomas Chyronist.

 

OCTOBER 6, 2021    THE BIG RACE

Here's how racecar driver Louis Wagner described the beginning of his victory on the road course.  “Starting in tenth place, my time for the first lap, 28:36, enabled me to overtake and pass Nazzaro and Luttgen, then Heath and Le Blon.”

It required half an hour to complete that first trip around the circuit?  As you may have guessed, this was not a recent event.  It took place on this date 115 years ago:  October 6, 1906.  Wagner and his riding mechanic were competing in the third annual Vanderbilt Cup Race near New York City.  

Their vehicle, depicted here by Don Packwood, was the #10 Darracq in the French racing color of blue.  It was noticeably smaller and lighter than its competition.  Unlike that sidelined monster in the background with its flat radiator, the Darracq had a peculiar-looking aerodynamic front, with wire wheels and Michelin tires.  Yet it boasted a 775-cubic-inch engine developing a whopping 100 horsepower, and it went on to win the race at an average speed of 62.7 mph.

“The leading cars,” Wagner wrote, “were behaving with wonderful consistency.  But the crowd!  On rounding the Hairpin Turn for the second time, directly in the road were at least 50 persons as we approached the turn.  They swiftly made way, but my car must have brushed at least a dozen coats while taking the turn.  I actually shut my eyes and piloted the machine by blind instinct, expecting any moment to mow down several lives.  That no one was slain was nothing less than a miracle, for the oil-sodden roadstead — to one traveling faster than a mile a minute — was nothing but a very narrow ribbon fringed at brief intervals with blotches of humanity. 

As for the 11 sharp bends in the course, it was impossible for me to know from my own vision just when and where they may be met.  For this knowledge I depended entirely upon my companion who directed the way with his hand.”

The prestigious event soon proved too popular for its own good.  Four years later an author attended the last of these Long Island spectacles, and I've quoted liberally from his book to assemble my latest article — including lots of illustrations and even film footage.  It's called The Vanderbilt Cup.

 

OCTOBER 3, 2021    POWERLESS PEOPLE

Here we see the O'Tent family as they leave their home on a beautiful Sunday morning.  The father Imp and his teenage son are walking in one direction, while the mother and her daughters have headed the opposite way.

The men are on their way to a sports bar to watch their hometown team's football game on TV.  As always, they've eaten their traditional good-luck breakfast, and now they're wearing their heroes' jerseys.  They've brought their caps and banners, of course, and they're loudly singing the team chant.  Upon arrival, everyone will grab mugs of beer.  They'll join in the cheering whenever their favorites get a first down, and they'll join in the booing whenever the refs throw a flag.

Meanwhile, the women are on their way to church.  They're not wearing sports jerseys but their proper “Sunday-go-to-meeting” dresses, and if they're singing anything it's a gospel tune.  Once they arrive, they'll stand and sit and kneel at the proper times, recite prayers when prompted, and perhaps consume a wafer and a sip of wine.  Most importantly, they'll ask God to improve their lot, both now and even after they die.

 
All this noise will have no actual effect.  Neither the players nor the officials can hear what's happening inside the sports bar.  If none of these rituals can influence the outcome of the game, why do they exist?

 
They hear no reply.  Nevertheless, they'll be back again next Sunday.

 
Such actions often arise from a place of helplessness, according to Murray State University sports psychologist Daniel Wann.”
(referenced by Maddie Bender in Popular Science, fall 2020).

I'd like to suggest that these actions also arise from a place of helplessness.

 
“Superstitious practices put fans' minds at ease because they make them feel as if they have some control over the game.  There's also a bit of peer pressure involved.  Studies show that being part of a team's hype squad offers a sense of belonging and togetherness, which may be behind cheerers' decisions to take part in unusual routines.  Plus, when a team wins a nail-biter, you can't help but wonder if your rally cap had something to do with it.”

 
Religious practices put believers' minds at ease because they make them feel as if they have some control over the future.  There's also a bit of peer pressure involved.  Studies show that being part of a church's congregation offers a sense of belonging and togetherness, which may be behind hymn-singers' decisions to take part in unusual routines.  Plus, when good news arrives, you can't help but wonder if the little gold cross you wear had something to do with it.

 

OCTOBER 1, 2021    THE YEAR IS WRONG

Last night CBS aired a two-hour special celebrating the start of the 50th year of its popular daytime game show, The Price Is Right.  I could stand to watch only a few minutes of the hyperactive contestants jumping up and down and applauding their chances of winning big.

But I thought the show was even older than that.  Sure enough, when they showed a 49-year-old tape of Bob Barker, the title was The New Price Is Right.  There was an earlier program by that name?

There certainly was.  It premiered on NBC in November of 1956, the same month that our family finally got a TV set.  I was not yet ten years old at the time, but I recall seeing it.  The affable crew-cut host was Bill Cullen, whom I remember more for his appearances on the panel of I've Got a Secret.

The Price Is Right is now eligible for Social Security.  Except for a seven-year gap from 1965 to 1972, it has been on the air not for 50 years but for 65, and it's believed to be the longest-running game show on television!

 

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