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ArchiveJULY 2023

JULY 30, 2023   
STANDARD GRAPHICS

In the summer of 1974, when Richard Nixon was trying to block the release of certain Oval Office recordings which would lead to his resignation, every evening when I got home from work I'd turn on the TV news and see the same over-the-shoulder image.  As I recall, it looked something like this.

Nowadays, when the government is debating economic policy, every evening I see currency being printed.  Yes, television is a visual medium, but if you're reporting a news story that consists of only words, you're forced to use a stock illustration — usually the same stock illustration every time.

UPDATE, HOLIDAY SEASON 2023:  Whenever Pittsburgh's WPXI-TV airs a news story about travel, they're apparently required to illustrate it with a live view of the entrance to the local airport.  It's a wide shot, so we see tiny cars busily dropping off passengers.  I've recently figured out why:  the camera is on the roof of and sponsored by the Hyatt Regency.

 

JULY 27, 2023    REPUBLICAN PRIORITIES

On his blog this week, Robert J. Elisberg went on another of his long rants.  Here's a highly condensed version of “Throw Some Other Shrimps at the ‘Barbie.’”

A couple weeks back, what caught my eye was not that the New York Times wrote a detailed article revealing Trump's fascist plan, if elected, to expand the White House with autocratic powers.

It's that Trump did not call the report “fake news,” nor did he say a word about it being untrue.  Even more, no elected Republican official said the plan was undemocratic.  Or reprehensible.  Or...anything.  Silence.  Crickets chirping.

What I didn't initially expect, though, is that Republicans in Congress would begin slamming the Barbie movie.  A RawStory headline appeared on Sunday:  “‘Barbie’ slammed by conservatives as ‘man-hating woke propaganda.'”  One congressman even said it “endangered national security,” and several senators have called it Communist.  And since then, Republican outrage over a movie about a toy doll has only grown and caused a party meltdown.

When Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives and the ability to pass all the bills they want in order to show that these are the programs they stand for, programs that will help Americans, this is the small-minded garbage they are doing.

They want to expunge Trump's two impeachments, something which doesn't exist in reality.  They want to impeach Joe Biden, and Merrick Garland, and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and fill-in-the-blank.  They're passing six-week bans on abortion when polls show the vast majority of Americans strongly support the standards that had existed under Roe v. Wade, which were around 24 weeks.

But it's even more than all that.  Small-minded Republicans around the country — in the supposed name of “freeeeeedom!” — are passing laws to ban books, to ban the teaching of Black history, to ban men who wear dresses from putting on public shows (women wearing suits is apparently okay), to ban trans children from getting health care.  And they're passing school “standards” that require teaching “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”  Which outside of Florida is hardly the sort of education most people who are not virulently racist want for their children. 

And lest one think that some of these empty, divisive, racist, hurtful actions are limited to just a few specific states, no, national Republicans have almost entirely kept silent on them all.  Not a word of criticism.  Tacitly enabling them all.   This endorsement by silence is who the Republican Party is.

They've driven themselves into a mad frenzy over All Things “Woke,” yet you cannot get a united definition from Republicans of what “Woke” actually is.   (Personally, my own guess is that “Woke” means liberal.)  The one big thing the Republican Party wants you to believe is terrible — Woke! — is something even they can't define!

Which ultimately brings us to Barbie.  Yes, Barbie. A very popular movie about a toy doll that Republicans are having an emotional breakdown over.  They're trying desperately to make an issue that the movie Barbie has endangered national security.  And was Communist.  And is undermining the male psyche.

Before Republicans cried out against Barbie, it was Dr. Seuss they were “outraged” over.  And Mr. Potato Head.  And Goofy.  And The Muppets.  And The Little Mermaid.  And M&Ms.  And Disney.

This is who Republicans are. They have nothing to seriously run.  Barbie isn't the exception, Barbie helps define the rule.

(But never mind that Trump is indicted for stealing classified documents, and was found liable for sexual assault, and is about to be indicted twice for trying to overturn democracy.  And yet the idolizing Christian evangelicals have devoutly thrown themselves at Trump's bidding — in large part because he promised them far-right, religious judges who would help strip rights from the needy, and because he spoke out so vociferously with hate in his heart against those who were different.  All of which seems to be against the teachings of the Bible, not in support of it.   But I digress....)

This isn't the Republican Party punching “down.”  The GOP going after a toy doll is the party doing its best to punch up.  And finishing second.  That's what these shrimps have become.

 

JULY 24, 2023   
START OF A LONG DECLINE

Today is Pioneer Day in Utah!  The holiday commemorates the entry of the first group of Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, after having been forced out of their previous homes further east.

Nowadays they prefer to be called not Mormons but “members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”  And their fraction of the American population is declining, as shown in this graph adapted from David Byler in the Washington Post.

Professor PZ Myers wouldn't miss the LDS Church if it disappeared altogether. 

“I always felt,” he writes, “that living in Utah was like living in a nest of Scientologists — all this money-making scheming plastered over with a veneer of florid scripture, written by a mountebank.”

Who was that mountebank?  In my new semi-fictional article, the charlatan's brother-in-law reveals the strange beginnings of that church and its scripture.  It's called The Book of Elmo.

 

JULY 21, 2013 flashback
PROM BRIDGE

Pittsburgh is a city of bridges.  There are 446 of them.  Many are inconspicuous short spans that we cross routinely without thinking about it.

But whenever I leave PNC Park after a baseball game and drive home up the north shore of the Allegheny River, I pass seven landmarks — bridges over the Allegheny — in the first five miles.

Since I arrived in the Pittsburgh area, I’ve always known these bridges by their numbers.  They refer to the numbered streets on the “city side” of the spans, over on the south shore.  There’s the 6th Street Bridge.  The 7th Street Bridge.  The 9th Street.  The 16th Street.  The 31st Street.  The 40th Street.  The 62nd Street.

On my side of the river, the street names are different, because the north side was a separate municipality called Allegheny City until Pittsburgh gobbled it up in 1907.  And I’m not including the bridges that carry trains or Interstate highways.  But the numerically-labeled spans keep me apprised of how far up the river I’ve come.

Now, however, all these formerly numbered bridges have official names, as listed below.  Most of these changes were made only recently.

                         .

< NORTH

SOUTH >

STREET

RENAMED

HONOREE

CLAIM TO FAME

6th

1998

Roberto Clemente

Pirates baseball star

7th

2005

Andy Warhol*

Pop artist

9th

2006

Rachel Carson*

Pioneering environmentalist

16th

2013

David McCullough*

Historian

31st

2013

Billy Prom*

Medal of Honor recipient

40th

1924

George Washington

Future Father of His Country

62nd

1962

Robert D. Fleming*

State Senator

The honorees with asterisks grew up in this area.

One who didn’t, George Washington, was on an assignment for his governor when he arrived at the shores of the Allegheny in the winter of 1753.

(UPDATE:  This statue on Mount Washington, overlooking the bridges, commemorates Washington's meeting that year with the Seneca leader Guyasuta.)

Because there wasn’t a bridge there yet, the 21-year old Virginian tried to raft across, fell into the water, and nearly drowned.  When folks around here finally got around to erecting a bridge, they called it Washington’s Crossing.


Photo: Gina G. Gilmore, 2023

The 31st Street Bridge was renamed only yesterday, in honor of a Marine Lance Corporal who was killed in Vietnam in 1969.  It’s now officially the William Raymond Prom Memorial Bridge.

But we’ve been calling it the 31st Street Bridge since it was built 85 years ago.  Traffic reports always remind us that “Route 28 is backed up from the Heinz Plant to the 31st Street Bridge.”

Will people start calling it the Prom Bridge now?  Stay tuned.

 

JULY 18, 2023    FOLLOWING THE CLUES

So what was I doing last week?  Among other things, I watched a Masterpiece Mystery episode of “Grantchester” on PBS.  This well-produced ITV period drama is set in Cambridgeshire in England.

In this episode, we viewers were supposed to try to deduce who killed the deaf motorcyclist.  However, I found myself more interested in figuring out when the story was supposed to take place.

There are indications in the dialogue, such as a middle-aged character who asserts “Some of us fought a war to....” and a reference to James Dean.  A kid dances to an early rhythm & blues song on the radio.  The vehicles and appliances seem appropriate to the late 1950s, as are the clothing and hairstyles as far as I can tell.

And it turns out I'm correct!  I'm told that the time is 1959 or 1960.

Then I saw a 20-year-old movie called Swimfan.  It bothered me that the lead character, a high-school athlete, left his mouth hanging open at least 80% of the time.  True, he was somewhat confused by the plot, but I began to wonder whether actor Jesse Bradford suffers from sinusitis or a floppy-jaw problem.

Another accomplishment last week was replacing an electric can opener.  I need one; my aging hands can no longer crank mechanical gadgets.  And I discovered online that they've now invented convenient battery-powered handheld devices for this purpose.  I went to a Walmart to look for one among the kitchen appliances, but despite walking through several cluttered aisles, I couldn't locate a can opener of any design.

Enough of in-person shopping.  An outdated procedure!  On Monday morning I logged onto to Amazon and ordered a Kitchen Mama, along with a novel that's been receiving praise from the local writer's friends.

I'm not a Prime member, so I expected delivery in a week or so.  To my surprise, an envelope with both items showed up on my doorstep six hours later!  And Amazon didn't need a drone to deliver it.

The Kitchen Mama is very well-behaved.  Set her on top of a can, press at the red arrow to position the cutter below the lip of the can's lid, then press the blue button.  The Mama lowers her head to get to work.  She starts a slow counterclockwise dance, slicing the lip.  When she's made it all the way around, just press the button again and she straightens up, holding onto the now-separated lid with her little magnet.

 

I've even cut back on in-store grocery shopping.  I heard there's an exotic kind of butter known by its Sanskrit-derived name, ghee.  It can be used for deep-frying, but the key advantage for my purposes is that it doesn't have to be refrigerated, so it remains soft and easily spread.

I didn't even bother trying to locate a jar of ghee in a dairy case or among the ethnic foods.  I simply searched for it on the store's website, clicked on it, and a friendly employee brought it to my car.

 

JULY 17, 2023    GARDE TES DISTANCES

I watched some of the Tour de France yesterday and was amazed by the way crazed fans crowded the course, even sometimes running alongside the competitors.  Can you imagine allowing this on the sidelines of an American football game?

Reportedly — I missed this part — a spectator taking a selfie touched American cyclist Sepp Kuss, sending him and two dozen other nearby riders to the ground.  Afterwards, overall leader Jonas Vingegaard pleaded for room to race.  “I'd like to tell the spectators to be there to cheer for us without standing on the road or pouring beers on us.”

Two years ago, a similar crash (below) was caused by a fan holding a “Hi Mom” sign for the TV cameras.  It actually was in a combination of French and German and nonsensically read “Go, grandpa and grandma!”

JULY 15, 2023    THE “MALAISE” ADDRESS

Since February, former President Jimmy Carter, 98, has been spending his final months in hospice care.  He's at home in Plains, Georgia, a little town my parents and I visited 47 years ago.  He and his wife Rosalynn marked 77 years of marriage last week.

I lived in Washington during the Carter administration.  Washington, Pennsylvania, that is.  Back then I sometimes watched a live speech from the Oval Office on my little TV, where it pre-empted programs on all the networks.

On this July night in 1979, Carter tried to counter a perceived national spirit of dissatisfaction exacerbated by an energy crisis.  Some of that paralysis continues today.  Here are excerpts.

I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.  The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

There is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. 

The gap between our citizens and our government has never been so wide.  The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers — clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.

You often see a balanced approach abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.  You see every extreme position defended to the last vote by one unyielding group or another.  Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift.  You don't like it, and neither do I.  What can we do?

We can spend until we empty our treasuries, and we may summon all the wonders of science.  But we can succeed only if we tap our greatest resources — America's people, America's values, and America's confidence.  We know the strength of America.  We can regain our unity.  We can regain our confidence.

In the days to come, let us renew that strength in the struggle for an energy-secure nation.  I'm proposing a bold conservation program to involve every state, county, and city and every average American in our energy battle.

Let your voice be heard.  Whenever you have a chance, say something good about our country!  Let us commit ourselves together to a rebirth of the American spirit.  Working together with our common faith, we cannot fail.

 

JULY 13, 2023   Y2K MATH

I used to be able to do simple subtraction in my head, but lately I've found it difficult to calculate the number of years between two dates such as 1985 and 2023.  Three minus five is eight if you borrow one, then eleven minus eight is three....

Am I worried about this?  Not since I heard the DJs on WDVE-FM stumble over that very problem this morning.  (One trick is to note the difference between each number and 2000, then add 15 years and 23 years to get 38.)

 

JULY 11, 2013 flashback    DON'T GO SAMIN'

Truth me.  Have I been doing too much saming?

Saming.  You know.  It’s a word.  Rhymes with naming and blaming.  That is, Lee Hazlewood made it a word when he wrote Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 #1 hit, “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”

ADDED NOTE, 2023: Lee initially performed this song himself onstage before Nancy convinced him to let her record it.  "These boots are gonna walk all over you"?  "Coming from a guy it was harsh and abusive," she said, "but was perfect for a little girl to sing."

Recently I happened to hear this great old classic again, with Chuck Berghofer’s double-bass introduction edging down in quarter-tone steps.  I noticed that the lyrics include these lines:

You keep lyin’
     when you oughta be truthin’.
And you keep losing
     when you oughta not bet. 

You keep samin’
     when you oughta be a’changin’.
Now what's right is right,
     but you ain’t been right yet.

These boots are made for walking,
And that's just what they'll do.
One of these days, these boots
Are gonna walk all over you.

That’s what I like about the English language — its amenability to shortcuts.  “Truth” is a noun.  “Same” is an adjective.  But if we want them to be verbs, we can simply use them that way!  Context apparents the meaning.

JULY 8, 2023    SCHISM!

A couple of days ago, Peter Smith reported for the Associated Press that “More than 6,000 United Methodist congregations — a fifth of the U.S. total — have now received permission to leave the denomination, amid a schism over theology and the role of LGBTQ people in the nation's second-largest Protestant denomination.  Those figures emerge following the close of regular meetings in June for the denomination's regional bodies, known as annual conferences.”

A quadrennial General Conference was held in Pittsburgh during the George W. Bush administration, and I helped televise it.  The main issue back then was the same, as I wrote in this month's 100 Moons article.

To read more, click this box for a classic article I posted to this website more than a hundred months ago.

The Conference voted to reaffirm its position that homosexuality is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’  The vote was closer than it had been four years before.  Nevertheless, the gay-rights faction, feeling rejected, demonstrated by walking through the hall carrying signs.”

Smith's recent article continues, “Progressives are expected to propose changing church law at the next General Conference in 2024 to allow for same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ people.  Church law [currently] forbids the marriage or ordination of ‘self-avowed, practicing homosexuals,’ but amid a growing defiance of those bans in many U.S. churches and conferences, many conservatives have chosen to leave.

“Denominational officials are bracing for significant budget cuts in 2024.  The departures have been particularly large in the South and Midwest, with states such as Texas, Alabama, Kentucky and Ohio each losing hundreds of congregations.  Many of the departing congregations are joining the Global Methodist Church, a denomination created last year by conservatives breaking from the UMC, while others are going independent or joining different denominations.”

Why “Global”?  I thought conservatives were against “globalism.”

However, a large number of Methodists don't live in the U.S. but in other regions such as Brazil, India, and Africa, and many people there strongly oppose homosexuality. 

At the United Methodist meeting I televised in Pittsburgh, I wrote, “Some of the foreign delegates raised objections to the fact that the Conference seemed only to be concerned with issues that affected primarily its United States majority.”

Only a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from my high school classmate Lynne Glass Ledley, a member of the Church of Christ in the Ohio town where I grew up.  She wrote, “I don't know if it is Methodist churches in other all states or just Ohio, but maybe you have followed in the news about the church splitting off in beliefs of following the scriptures and not being accepting of LGBTQ.

The large Methodist Church in Marysville split, and one is called Global. 

I have talked to a lady who goes to the Pharisburg/Magnetic Methodist Churches; she said things are unsettled and not sure what might happen there, but each of them are so small that maybe they won't do anything. 

I haven't heard anything about Richwood or the church in Essex. 

It is a sad state of affairs for churches and our country.”


207  South Court Street, Marysville, Ohio ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

JULY 5, 2013 flashback    TO THE EDITOR

I have read the “unanimous Declaration” issued yesterday in Philadelphia by a Congress of Men who claim to represent all the American Colonies.  In high-flown Language, this Declaration avows that the Colonies are now to be considered independent States, free of Great Britain’s lawful Rule!

I am appalled by the Insubordination thus openly expressed.  I am likewise dismayed that a Document of such professed Import never once acknowledges the Preeminence of our great God Jehovah.  Rather, we find meaningless Words such as “Providence” or “Nature’s God.”

What is worse, the Authors of this Declaration do not so much as mention our blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  These would-be founding Fathers, who wish to bring forth upon this Continent a new Nation, manifestly are not Christians!  I know not what they be.

The godless Rebels intend to reject our divinely appointed King and to replace him with a democratic Republic of their own Design. 

We recall that in Antiquity, pagan Greece and Rome attempted “Republics” and “Democracy.”  These Concepts were tried and found wanting.  The Roman Republic ended with the Appointment of Julius Caesar as Dictator in 44 B.C., and the World has seen no Republics since.  Instead, to prepare the Way for Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, Governments have been built upon the firm Foundation of Monarchy.

For two thousand Years, Government has been defined as “one King, one subject People.”  And now these “Patriots” in Philadelphia propose to change the Definition of Government!

Institutions long established must never be amended.  Yet this Declaration asserts that “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish” their Government whenever they consider themselves to be oppressed.  I assert that it would be Madness to allow Government of the People by the People!

Moreover, to do so would be openly to rebel against God’s Law.  The Holy Scriptures tell us in Romans 13, “The Powers that be are ordained of God.”  And I Peter 2 commands, “Submit yourselves to every Ordinance of Man for the Lord’s Sake: whether it be to the King, as supreme; or unto Governors.”

If we consent to this novel Proposition, that a People may unilaterally absolve themselves from all Allegiance to their rightful Ruler, then we shall find ourselves upon a slippery Slope downwards towards Hell.  Women will refuse to submit to the Rule of their Husbands.  Slaves will no longer feel themselves bound to obey their Masters.  Parishioners will begin to doubt what Clergymen preach.  Yea, the End of Times will be near, when God shall surely judge his rebellious Children.  Ye have been warned!

 

JULY 2, 2023   
535 TO DIE TRAVELING!

Approaching every holiday when I was ten years old, I always saw scary newspaper stories warning of tragic death and destruction on a much greater scale than any airplane crash.  This example predicting 535 fatalities over a 102-hour weekend is from the Bucyrus (Ohio) Telegraph-Forum for July 2, 1957.

But driving must be safer nowadays, right?  Seat belts and air bags and better highways must have reduced the carnage?

Well, not really.  Our vehicles are now bigger and heavier and faster, and police are becoming more hesitant to pull motorists over for infractions.  Also, our population has doubled since 1957.  Also, each year the average American drives twice as many miles as the average European.

Therefore the United States, with more fatal car accidents than any other first-world country, is still number one!

Even in the pandemic year of 2021, when 48,830 Americans were killed by guns, there were almost as many deaths on the highways (42,939).  On average, in every 102-hour period holiday or otherwise, 500 were killed.

News media have tired of this particular travel worry, however.  Instead, we now hear about gasoline prices (the typical gallon is $1.30 cheaper than it was last July 4) and airport delays.

 

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