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ArchiveJANUARY 2022



Public opinion polls prove very little, but maybe they can enlighten us.

In Rhode Island, a judge decreed that posting a prayer inside a government building violates the “establishment of religion” clause of the Constitution.  MSNBC asked online readers whether they agreed.  “Do you think a federal judge was right in ruling that the school prayer hanging on the wall of the Cranston High School West gym was unconstitutional?”

I imagine that a typical reader might respond this way:

“No!  The judge was not right!  What’s wrong with a prayer in a high school gym?  None of my friends would have a problem with that.  We’re all Baptists.  We have a prayer framed on the wall in our kitchen, and there are several others at church.  The school is no different.  All right, I’m voting ‘no.’  Everyone else will do the same, and that’ll show those pushy atheists this is America.

“Let’s check the results.  ...What?  Only 17% ‘no’ and 82% ‘yes’?  That’s impossible!  The poll implies that 82% of us — 250 million Americans — actually believe in separation of church and state!  But, as the saying goes, ‘60 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong.’  Maybe I’m the one who’s wrong.  At least it gives me something to think about.”

What’s going on here?  Some of us realize that even though everyone in your family or your church may be a Baptist, not everyone in your school is.  And the government must respect all faiths, not only yours.  The government mustn’t be a party to proselytizing students by advertising your beliefs to them with a sign on the wall.

So as he often does on his blog, Minnesota biology professor PZ Myers helpfully posted a link to the MSNBC poll.  Many of his 100,000 daily visitors clicked on it.  Being of like mind, practically all of us voted “yes.”  And “yes” won by a vote of 130,189 to 26,794 (the last time I checked).

Deliberately skewing a public opinion poll by encouraging participation by a large bloc of people who agree with us — what a pointless prank!  But is it?  It forces tens of thousands of people who don’t agree with us to realize, to their horror, that not everyone shares their smugly-held opinion.  Perhaps a few of them will actually give the issue some thoughtful consideration.

UPDATE:  During the 2016 Presidential race, Dr. Myers remarked, “I used to do these pointless poll posts, sending readers off to mess with these dumb click-baity online polls, but I stopped.  The point was to show that these things are totally pointless, and don’t reflect anything of significance ... but people started thinking they were an end in themselves.  They weren’t.

“The same thing has happened to the news — polling has consumed ideas completely.  What I would like to see is a complete ban on speculation about who is winning on the news.

“Imagine a broadcast where Wolf Blitzer was totally silenced because he wasn’t able to portentiously declare that Candidate X was leading Candidate Y by Z percent in Bumbledump County, Nebraska, but instead had to say something about the issues in Bumbledump County and how X and Y would address them.

“It would completely change the dynamics of the news.  It would suddenly require that Wolf Blitzer know something and have the intelligence to comment on it, beyond saying that 53 is bigger than 47.  So it’ll never happen.”


When solo singers have to hold a note for more than a second or two, they'll switch on the vibrato.  YES THEY DOOOOO...oOoOoOoO.  Otherwise the unvarying tone would be boring.

When a cellist is using his left hand to press the strings, you'll notice that his hand is constantly quivering up and down to vary the pitch slightly.  That gives the notes a beautiful texture.

When Hammond electronic organs were new, Don Leslie added a spinning speaker.  As it rotated toward you, the sound got louder and higher in pitch; then as it pointed the other way, softer and lower.  Big improvement.

However #1, pipe organs don't have speakers.  Their pipes are binary; either they sound or they don't.  YES THEY DOOOOOOOOOOOOO.  How boring, like the blaring of a foghorn.  When I played a melody at church, I turned on the “tremolo” to rapidly modulate the air pressure, thus varying the loudness, but how could I vary the pitch?

Instinctively I found myself trying to emulate a cellist by holding the key down and wobbling my finger back and forth.  Didn't work.

However #2, I'm told that keyboards for electronic organs and synthesizers can be rigged to respond to this sort of wiggling.  Good for them.

However #3, I've learned something about the obsolete instrument called the clavichord, a transitional technology (1400-1800) between the harpsichord and the piano.

Harpsichord strings are plucked by quills, piano strings are struck by hammers, but clavichord strings are  strummed by “tangents” — tiny metal blades that don't hit the strings head-on but merely rub against them to make them vibrate, very softly.  Because the tangent stays in contact with the string, a clavichord does respond to key wiggling:  not side-to-side to vary the pitch, but up-and-down to strum out a little more volume. 

This tremolo effect is called die Bebung.  Here's a demonstration.


Nearly 11 years ago, I complained about the dilemma that we graphics operators face when the text on a row is too long for the space available.

Do we abbreviate words?  Do we compress the font horizontally, resulting in an unattractive mismatch with the other rows?  Neither solution seems ideal.

Recently, I've noticed that a Pittsburgh newscast captions the B-roll video of important stories with headlines — or “footlines,” I suppose one might call them.  Two rows of text are employed, and usually there's no problem.

But sometimes the second row has to be squeezed until it no longer appears to be a continuation of the first, making the combination hard to read.

Headline:  A committee is investigating January 6th.

Separate subhead:  An attack is expected to receive new documents tonight.

My suggestion would be to abbreviate the date to “Jan. 6” (thus allowing “attack” to join the first row) and eliminate “expected.”

At least the TV station isn't following the technique of the designer of this poster for an 80-year-old Pittsburgh-set movie.

The name of every actor, even Shemp, appears in all capital letters — with two glaring exceptions.

My suggestion would be for Louise to drop the “All” from her billing and for Samuel to drop his middle initial, but then there'd be trouble with the Screen Actors Guild.  Besides, it's far too late for that now. 


Remember the backstage greeting in Season 7 of The Simpsons?  “Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins.”  “Homer Simpson, smiling politely.”

I'm reminded of a similar encounter which might actually have happened.

A great throng was milling about at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium on a Tuesday afternoon in July 1994, getting ready for that night's MLB All-Star Game.  I was there to operate a video still store for the international telecast.

The TV crew's pregame meal couldn't be served in its usual location, so we trudged nearly half a mile to the Clark Bar.

Also on hand for the event was local sports journalist Gene Collier.  If I correctly remember his story, Gene was approached by a long-haired stranger who held out his hand and said “Meat Loaf.”  Baffled, Gene shook the man's hand and replied “Brussels sprouts.”

Of course, as it turned out, the late Mr. Loaf was there to sing the National Anthem.

He did quite well, too, as I recall.


I like to plan ahead by at least a month.  Do they make calendars like this, with the current month and the next always visible?

The odd-numbered months are stacked on the left, with the even-numbered ones on the right.  Once you've finished January, you'll tear off the left half of the page (or flip it over) and you'll find March underneath.

But I haven't located this kind of calendar in the office-supply store.

They do have blank whiteboards, so I've made my own scheduler by dividing a board into 42 boxes in which I can note upcoming tasks, such as the day my monthly rent is due.

Today is January 19, so I've erased 16 17 18 from that week.  I'll erase 19 20 21 22 when I'm done with them, then relabel the row with the last two days of February and the first five days of March:
“27 28 Mar 2  3  4  5.”

I'll continue moving down the board, always with at least 35 future dates in view besides the current day.

Some might find this confusing, but I've found it useful, especially in earlier years when I had to be prepared for baseball road trips and other long-planned events.


Most cultures have chosen to write from left to right.  Also, we generally visualize numerical quantities increasing from left to right.  Might our preference be hard-wired into our brains?  According to Jordana Cepelewicz in Quanta magazine, even animals lean in that direction.

Psychologist Rosa Rugani found that chicks associated smaller numerosities with the left and larger ones with the right, much as humans spatially represent ascending values on a number line.  ‘That was thought to be our human invention,’ said vision scientist Adrian Dyer, but it may ‘just be something which is within some brains — how we process information.’”


“When Christmas is over, we stop singing Christmas carols,” I noted on this website eight years ago.  “But why must secular carols be suspended as well?  Why must we take down our illuminated decorations?”

“December is relatively mild,” I noted back then.  (It was especially mild this winter.  We had a few snow squalls and flurries, but not until yesterday was there so much as an inch of snow on my sidewalk.)

I continued, “More so than in December, we need songs and lights and happy traditions to keep us going through the next four dark months:  the bitter cold of January, the snows of February, the storms of March, the lingering frosts of April.  We should sing about sleigh rides and snowmen and winter wonderlands when our frozen spirits most need a lift.”

That time is now!  We need to be reminded that blizzards can represent fun, not merely travel headaches.

(At right, I have fun in January 1956.)

Which “Christmas carols” should we still be singing?  Not those that celebrate the baby in the manger, of course, nor Santa in his workshop nor halls being decked for the new year.  So what is left?  Mainly songs about sweethearts cuddling.  Here’s a medley.

Now the ground is white.
Go it while you’re young!
Take the girls along
And sing this sleighing song:

Jingle, bells!  Jingle, bells!
Jingle all the way!
Oh, what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh!

Our cheeks are nice and rosy,
And comfy-cozy
     Are we.
We're snuggled up together
Like two birds of a feather
     Would be.

Let's take that road before us
And sing a chorus
     Or two.
Come on!  It's lovely weather
For a sleigh ride together
     With you. 

Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh,
O'er the fields we go,
Laughing all the way.
Bells on bob-tail ring,
Making spirits bright.
What fun it is to laugh and sing
A sleighing song tonight!

(I learned this version
in high school, in Mrs.
Goddard's Latin class.)

Tinnitus!  Tinnitus!
Semper tinnintus!
O tantum est gaudium
Dum vehimur in traha!

A day or two ago,
I thought I'd take a ride;
And soon Miss Fanny Bright
Was seated by my side.
The horse was lean and lank;
Misfortune seemed his lot.
He got into a drifted bank
And we — we got upsot.

Cascabeles!  Cascabeles!
Música de amor!
Dulce horas, gratas horas,
Juventud en flor!

Gone away is the bluebird.
Here to stay is a new bird.
     He sings a love song
     As we go along
Walking in a winter wonderland.

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown.
He'll say: Are you married?  We'll say: No, man;
But you can do the job when you're in town.

Later on we'll conspire,
As we dream by the fire,
     To face unafraid
     The plans that we've made,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful;
And since we've no place to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

It doesn't show signs of stopping,
And I brought some corn for popping.
The lights are turned way down low.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

     When we finally say good night,
     How I'll hate going out in the storm;
     But if you really hold me tight,
     All the way home I'll be warm.

The fire is slowly dying
And, my dear, we're still good-bye-ing;
But as long as you love me so,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

These clearly aren’t Christmas carols.  What should we call them?

Well, as soon as Santa departed, the shopkeepers immediately turned their attention to encouraging us to buy+buy+buy for the next big day, February 14.  Valentine’s Day decorations went up in all our retail establishments.

I submit that lyric celebrations of winter romance should henceforth be sung not in the autumn months of November and December but rather in the winter months of January and February.  And they should be known as “Valentine carols.”


On thisThursday night exactly 56 years ago, near the end of my first semester at Oberlin College, I attended a performance by the Gilbert & Sullivan Players of Patience — a scene from which is shown on the right.

Early in Act II, the idyllic poet Grosvenor is surrounded by adoring maidens but tells them, “Poor, poor girls!  I know that I am loved by you, but I never can love you in return, for my heart is fixed elsewhere.”  They sigh in disappointment.  He explains, “Remember the fable of the Magnet and the Churn?”  They don't.  “Then I will sing it to you.”


A Magnet hung in a hardware shop,
   And all around was a loving crop
Of scissors and needles, nails and knives,
   Offering love for all their lives.
But for iron the Magnet felt no whim.
   Though he charméd iron, it charmed not him.
From needles and nails and knives he'd turn,
   For he'd set his love on a Silver Churn!
         “A Silver Churn?”
          A Silver Churn!
His most aesthetic, very magnetic fancy took this turn:
“If I can wheedle a knife or a needle, why not a Silver Churn?”

And iron and steel expressed surprise.
   The needles opened their well-drilled eyes.
The pen-knives felt shut up, no doubt.
   The scissors declared themselves cut out.
The kettles, they boiled with rage, 'tis said,
   Whilst every nail went off its head
And hither and thither began to roam
   Till a hammer came up and drove them home.
         “It drove them home?”
          It drove them home!
While this magnetic, peripatetic lover he lived to learn:
By no endeavor can Magnet ever attract a Silver Churn.

W.S. Gilbert's words struck a chord with me, for I was developing an impossible crush of my own.

I was inspired to write my own poems that spring.  See this month's 100 Moons article.


Once my uncle, who lived in Cleveland, pointed out a huge lake freighter in the Cuyahoga River.  He said it was so lengthy that we couldn't even see the far end.  I almost believed him.

Speaking of long haulers:  Most cars sold in the United States are assembled in North American factories, although some are shipped here from Europe or Asia.  Specialized trucks then transport the cars from their factory or port of entry to local dealerships, where individual buyers take delivery.

It was not always so.  Here are a couple of stories.  But don't hold me to the details; my memories are hazy, because I was only about eight years old at the time.

••In 1952 my father became a Chevrolet dealer in Richwood, Ohio, and he added an Oldsmobile franchise a few years later.  However, at first he didn't have many Oldsmobiles on hand to sell.  He learned that a few were available in a city 140 miles away.  As far as I know, the cars had been transported by rail (black line) from the factory in Lansing to a port near Detroit, then shipped across Lake Erie (blue line) and unloaded at a dock on the east side of Cleveland.

In Richwood, two of our salesmen got in the back seat of a car.  My mother drove (brown line); I rode along.  When we arrived at the lakeside warehouse, each salesman was given the keys to one of the new Oldsmobiles.  Then we all convoyed back to Richwood.

••My grandfather wanted to buy an Olds from his son the dealer.  The only problem:  H.F. Thomas lived 400 miles away in Livermore, Kentucky.

The solution:  My father simply drove the Oldsmobile to Kentucky (bringing my mother and me along) and delivered it.  After we all visited for a couple of days, my proud grandfather used his new Olds to take us to the Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport, 20 miles away.  From there, we flew home.

We boarded what was probably a DC-3; I recall that it was a “tail-sitter” which required us to climb up a sloping aisle to our seats.

My parents were experienced air travelers who had recently flown to New York City for some fancy General Motors shindig.  They described being served dinner on their airplane, which fascinated me.

This would be my first airplane ride.  But I was disappointed to learn that there would be no meal service on the initial 80-mile hop to Louisville (green line).  A tantrum ensued, and the stewardess tried to comfort the crying little boy.

In Louisville we boarded a larger plane, also propeller-driven, which took us to Dayton (red line) and then on to Columbus.  One of the salesmen drove to Port Columbus to collect us and bring us the rest of the way home.

It had been quite an adventure, and I was now a member of the Jet Propeller Set!


The syndicated word game “Jumble” has appeared in newspapers since 1954.  I remember my father and his friend working on it 30 years ago, and I still try my hand occasionally.  I can decode some anagrams at a glance, but more often it's literally a puzzle.

The sitcom Young Sheldon supposedly takes place in about 1990.  Peg, the lady in the church office, was killing time in one episode.  She had already solved Jumble One, HABITS.  The circled letters H and A would later be used to assemble an amusing pun about the woman under the hair dryer.

For Jumble Two I immediately perceived an answer, POINT, but Peg didn't.  “Is NIPTO a word?” she asked.  “Oh, it's PINTO!”  Hmmm.  Usually there's only one possible answer, but here we could have either POINT or PINTO.  Or, for that matter, PINOT or PITON.  There are multiple possibilities, which (in my experience) is almost never allowed with real Jumbles.  This might be an acceptable exception if the circle were in the first square, which has to be the letter P.  However, the circle is actually in the second square, which I would have filled with an O but Peg would have filled with an I.  Therefore, Jumble Two is disqualified!

I was stumped by Jumble Three.  An anagram app reveals that the answer has to be FORMOL, an aqueous solution of formaldehyde, but most folks don't know that word.  Also disqualified!

If this is a real syndicated feature from 1990, the quality control must have been lower then.  Or is this a fake page created by a clueless prop department?

Over time, I've discovered some solving tips.  For example, if a given consonant appears twice, there's a good chance that those letters will appear side by side in the answer.  And if the letters G and I and N are in the Jumble, there's a good chance that the answer will end in ING.  So you can figure out what this one adds up to, right?


As a single guy living alone, I don't bother creating fancy meals.  Usually I grab a packaged entrée from the freezer and microwave it.

But once, in a hotel restaurant in University Park, Pennsylvania, I saw a “lox and bagels breakfast" on the menu and tried it and loved it.  Now I'll occasionally buy a four-ounce package of “New York Style” smoked salmon at the grocery store.

On New Year's Eve, I was in the mood for a celebration, so I opened the package. Instead of bagels I used Arnold Sandwich Thins (longer shelf life and easier to chew).  Instead of traditional cream cheese I used the whipped kind (easier to spread).  I added the necessary accompaniments of onions and capers.  The hotel's version included a couple of tomato slices; since I don't like tomatoes, I squirted a glob of ketchup onto the side of the plate as a garnish.

And I didn't pile all the ingredients into an open-faced sandwich, as shown in this stock photo.  Instead, I savored the thin slices of salmon separately, bit by bit, letting them slowly melt in my mouth.  Yum!  


“I recently was asked a simple question.  And reader, I got quiet.  Real quiet.  Okay, let's see, 1995 was ten years ago and the pandemic started 657 months ago, carry the one.  Regroup.  Subtract the leap days.  Solve for X.  Square root of the triangle.  And my answer was, no joke, ‘What year are we in?  Is it 2020?’

“TIME HAS NO MEANING.  Let's just cancel it.  Related, I'm 36 again.  Next year I'll be 32.  Make a note.”  —Virginia Montanez

I don't know whether this is a consequence of having lived through too many decades.  Or maybe it's genetic; I sometimes had to correct my father when he referred to a 1966 Chevy as a “1956” Chevy.

At any rate, I find myself confusing 2012 with 2102 or 2002.  And I can't believe that since 1992 it's already been not ten years nor twenty years but thirty!

At least now that the year is 2022 I shouldn't be making the centenary mistake of miswriting 2021 as 2121.