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ArchiveMAY 2022


I wrote about 19th-century railroad smashups last year at this time, including an intentional head-on collision in central Ohio which was followed by another such exhibition in Texas.  For the second crash, a location in west Texas was specified on the Omnibus podcast.

A listener had to correct the podcasters:  it wasn't in the western part of the state at all but actually in the town of West (pronounced “West Comma Texas),” located in east Texas between Dallas and Austin.

That reminds me:  When I leave the Pittsburgh area and shuffle off towards Buffalo, I encounter road signs referring to the borough of North East, Pennsylvania. 

The name makes no sense, because I know I'm in the wine region of northwest Pennsylvania.

Further research reveals that the town's name refers to its location not in the upper left corner of the state but in the upper right corner of the county, namely Erie County (red outline).

West is east.  North East is northwest.  Is there no end to this madness?



Three years ago today, at Oberlin College's annual Commencement exercises, one of my 50-year Class of 1969 classmates was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.  He did not make a speech.

However, on the evening before the Commencement exercises 25 years before, he did address our class.

I've included audio segments from that entertaining talk in a new article which is titled Robert Krulwich 1994: Why Am I Here?


MAY 24, 2022    FILM vs VIDEO

Last month I wrote that when I was young, I could easily distinguish between a TV show that was shot with film cameras and one that was televised more-or-less live using electronic cameras.

This month I was reminded of another difference, the significance of which I didn't realize at the time::  frame rate.  I explain in an article called 30 FPS is Smooth, Man!


MAY 22, 2012 flashback    SUGGESTED FORM LETTER

Dear Pennsylvania Turnpike Motorist:

Thank you for participating in our E-ZPass program.  The transponder mounted on your vehicle’s windshield allows it to pass through our toll gates without stopping, and your account is billed for a discounted amount compared to what you would have paid in cash.

When you became an E-ZPass customer, you agreed to obey all traffic rules and regulations.  Recently, however, our information indicates that broke your promise by disobeying the speed limit.  Here are the details.

On Wednesday, May 16, your transponder was recorded entering the Turnpike at Irwin exit 67 at 1:03:15 pm.  Then it was recorded exiting at Breezewood exit 161 at 2:22:13 pm.

A vehicle traveling at the posted maximum speeds would require more than 92 minutes to drive between those two points, broken down as follows:


Speed Limit

Minimum Time


35 mph (ramps)



55 mph



65 mph


94.1 total

61.1 mph avg

92:23 total

Therefore, you could not legally exit at Breezewood until 2:35:38 pm.  However, you did exit at 2:22:13 pm, or 13 minutes 25 seconds too early.  You averaged 71.5 miles per hour over the distance and exceeded the speed limit by more than 17%.

Your toll was $7.63.  If you lose your E-ZPass privileges, the same trip will cost you $9.05.

This is your first warning.  Your next violation will bring another warning.  A third violation will result in the cancellation of your E-ZPass account; your transponder will no longer be recognized, and you will be required to pay cash at the toll booths.

Please forward this information to anyone else who may be operating your vehicle on the Pennsylvania Turnpike system.  Thank you.



I was working in Marion, Ohio, in the early seventies when the Watergate scandal broke.  Many of the revelations implicating President Richard Nixon in the coverup came from the televised testimony by former White House Counsel John Dean (right).

We learned that Dean had grown up in Marion!  He attended high school there during his freshman year before being sent off to a military academy in Virginia.  One of my co-workers remembered him from school, where he did not leave a good impression.  She seemed to consider him kind of a jerk.

And that's how Dean is played by Dan Stevens in the current Starz limited series Gaslight.  I've been watching episodes on pay cable.

Besides Dean, the other key figures are described by reviewers as “forgotten characters,” but I haven't forgotten.  Jeb Magruder, James McCord, Howard Hunt, and especially G. Gordon Liddy are portrayed just as I've always pictured them, and it's fun to watch these bumbling criminals — although it's a little jarring to see Patton Oswalt's familiar face in the role of Chuck Colson.

Shown on the right, Attorney General John Mitchell and his wife Martha are played by Sean Penn (unrecognizable) and Julia Roberts.

Watergate still fascinates me; when I was about 26, I watched the story unfold every night on the news.  I thought Martha was crazy, judging from the wild public accusations she made, but this series shows that she had reason to be wild.  I recommend that if you haven't seen Gaslit, you can stream it on Starz or other services.


MAY 16, 2012 flashback    25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE DIAMOND

It was 25 years ago today that I started a trend.

Baseball graphics back then often included a line such as RUNNERS ON 1ST AND 2ND.  I felt that was too wordy, so on KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Pirates telecast on May 16, 1987, I introduced a compact diamond symbol, with squares in the corners representing the bases.  Changing the colors of the squares indicated which bases were occupied.  Realizing that the viewers might not understand this, for a while I labeled the diamond ON BASE.

In 1994, Fox introduced an even more important innovation:  a “Fox Box” that remained constantly on the screen, giving the score and other data.  At first it was used only for NFL football, but two years later, Fox began broadcasting Major League Baseball games.

Before that 1996 season started, executive producer Ed Goren told the Associated Press that “it’s almost certain Fox will have some type of situational graphic for baseball, similar to the omnipresent Fox Box score clock in football.  It will show the score, the inning, how many outs, balls and strikes, and probably whether there are men on base.”  The most efficient way to accomplish the latter turned out to be a smaller version of my diamond symbol.  However, on each telecast for the first year or two, Fox announcers had to verbally explain the significance of the lighted bases.

Flash forward to the 21st century.  With the advent of HD telecasts, the score bug has become smaller and more compact, which renders it hard to read if you’re any distance from the screen (as in a sports-themed bar or restaurant).

Also, there’s no longer room for explanations.  The modern baseball viewer is expected to know that 6TH means “sixth inning,” the yellow caret to the left of it means “top of the,” my diamond locates the runners, the three little dots represent the number of outs, and “0-2” means zero balls and two strikes.  (I once considered the three little dots, but I thought they would be too cryptic unless they were labeled.)

In basketball, the viewer is expected to know that the tiny numbers to the left of the team names represent ranks or seeds, the little bars underneath represent time outs remaining, and that the two numbers on the right represent the time remaining in the period and on the shot clock, respectively.

Symbols abound, and their explanatory text has disappeared.  We’ve practically reverted to the way things were done thousands of years ago, when a merchant would record three bags of grain by simply making three marks on a clay tablet.

2022 UPDATE:  Nowadays most of these "scorebugs” have footnotes with even more information.

For baseball, they include the hitter with his position in the batting order and his hits and at-bats, plus the pitcher and his pitch count, sometimes replaced by pitch speed.

For basketball, they track the free-throw situation (team fouls and the bonus condition) and the held-ball situation (the possession arrow).

What hath I wrought?  



“How much are you asking for your old car?”  “I could part with it for five thousand dollars.”  “Hmm.  I might be able to offer you four thousand.”

That's a normal-sounding bit of dialogue, but as a long-time viewer of situation comedies, I've learned that characters on TV usually negotiate this way:

How much are you asking for your old car?”

“Well (scribbling on a piece of paper), I'm going to write down a number.”

The paper is slid across the table, but we can't see what's written on it.

The prospective buyer unfolds the note.  “I don't know.  Maybe (writing a counteroffer) I could come up with this much.”

Why are these characters so reluctant to speak actual dollar amounts aloud?  Is the room bugged?  And why do the characters keep the numbers concealed from view?  Are there cameras in the ceiling?

No, I suspect that when the show is repeated in syndication ten years from now, inflation will have made the amounts seem ridiculously low.



This month's 100 Moons article lists 40 possible names for a macho character in the movie Space Mutiny.  One of them is “Rip Steakface.”

The given name “Rip” is rather uncommon these days.  In the United States in 2020, only one of every 33,915 newborns was called Rip.

But what about the late actor Rip Torn?  Was that his real name?  Surely not.

Another actor, Roy Scherer, used the moniker “Rock Hudson” (after the Rock of Gibraltar and the mighty Hudson River).

A wrestler, Terry Bollea, performed as “Hulk Hogan” (after the superhero whose muscles violently outgrow his clothes).

Therefore I thought that “Rip Torn” had to be a pseudonym as well, a name chosen to doubly imply sudden shredding.


However, I recently read about a man of Dutch descent, born in Albany in 1660, who represented New York City in the colonial Provincial Assembly:  Rip Van Dam. 

And that reminded me of another New Yorker of Dutch descent named Rip Van Winkle.  In this case, Mr. Van Winkle was fictional.

And that reminded me of Richard Van Winkle, who was three years ahead of me in grade school and, as far as I know, managed to stay awake.

But back to “Rip.”  Evidently that name was not always so uncommon.  It was a family nickname bestowed upon future actor Elmore Torn, Jr.

And centuries before, in 1731 Rip Van Dam became acting governor of New York.  It wasn't until the next year that the official royal governor arrived from England. 

William Cosby

Bill Cosby and Rip Van Dam immediately got into a dispute over gubernatorial salaries and other matters.

In 1734, Van Dam published “Heads of Articles of Complaint against Governor Cosby.”  He also anonymously contributed his criticisms to a liberal newspaper, the New York Weekly Journal, published by John Peter Zenger.

John Peter Zenger

Jeff Darcy, cleveland.com ^^^

Conservatives were outraged, as is their wont.

Governor Cosby charged that at the hands of the press, he had been “greatly and unjustly scandalized as a person who has no regard to law or justice.”  He ordered publisher Zenger arrested for libel.

He also had copies of four editions of the Weekly Journal publicly burned.

Zenger refused to identify the authors of the offending articles, even when placed in solitary confinement. When his case finally came to trial, he was acquitted.  Although the verdict “did not establish legal precedent regarding seditious libel or freedom of the press,” writes Steven Neill in December 2021's American History magazine, it “did sway public opinion.  ...Colonists now had a shield against the arbitrary exercise of government power and freedom to criticize public officials.”

Seventy years later, now a state, New York modified its libel law.  Since then, “it's not libel if it's true.”



Canadian Mark Friesen, a “patriot and proud nationalist,” tweeted this past weekend against COVID-19 vaccination requirements.  A stubborn anti-vaxxer, he refers to people with health care knowledge as “the pro-jab.”

It's fun to see all the pro-jab admit that the jab doesn't work, so every kid has to get jabbed to go to Tim [Horton]'s camp.  Do they not understand how insane that is?  If the jabs worked, why are they afraid of the jab-free?  #BoycottTimHortons

(Friesen isn't afraid of the jab-free, of course.  He's one of them.  He's afraid of the jab itself, which he thinks “doesn't work” and can kill you.)

Allow me to illustrate with some hypothetical percentages:  80% and 20% and 0%.  Some people assume that if a vaccination “works,” it reduces your kid's chance of infection from 80% all the way down to 0%, thereby guaranteeing that it's totally impossible for him to get COVID.  It doesn't.  Vaccines are good, but not perfect.  They may reduce the chance from 80% to 20%; however, that's not zero.

The likelihood of infection may be only a fraction of what it was before, but “jabbed” people can and do get infected.  No preventative measure comes with an iron-clad warranty.  Therefore it behooves us to take advantage of all the available tools to reduce the probabilities as much as we can.



Although there’s no religious test for public office in the United States, candidates are required to believe in something.  Americans never vote for an atheist.

But there’s nothing new under the sun.  Even before there was Christianity, ancient politicians were pious — no matter how preposterous the principles they were pretending to profess.

“All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, and ridiculous to the philosopher,” wrote Lucretius in On the Nature of Things.

Seneca agreed:  “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.”

And in his Politics, Aristotle explained, “A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion.  Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious.  On the other hand, they [fear to] move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.”


MAY 3, 2022    WHY HERE?

I observed six months ago that in every scripted TV show I watch, the question What are you doing here? is asked at least once.  “Why are you present at this location where I did not expect to see you?  Give me some plot exposition!” 

For example, click the picture for a sound bite from season 5, episode 3, of Young Sheldon.  Georgie and George encounter each other at the home of the latter's mother-in-law.

Was it always thus?  For example, did Shakespeare include this line in his plays?  Essentially yes, although not the identical five words.  Consider Act I, Scene 2, of Hamlet.

The title character welcomes Horatio to Elsinore.  Hamlet, who thought his friend Horatio was studying at Wittenberg University, questions him.

The folks at No Fear Shakespeare have rendered these lines into modern English.  “But what are you doing away from Wittenberg, Horatio?  ...I know you'd never skip school.  What are you doing here in Elsinore?”

UPDATE:  On May 14 on the Ovation channel, I watched season 15 episode 12 of Murdock Mysteries, a Canadian series.  Four times during the hour, I heard What are you doing here?  One of those questions was addressed to a character who had a perfect right to be anywhere: a cop on the beat.  The fourth question actually was What in God's name are you doing here?!