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ArchiveAPRIL 2024

APRIL 29, 2024   NO JINGLES/MASCOTS!

A firm selling workers' compensation insurance, the New Jersey Manufacturers Casualty Insurance Company, was established in 1913.  It merged with New Jersey Manufacturers Fire Insurance Company in 1965 to form the NJM Insurance Group.

Nowadays NJM sells various types of policies in seven Mid-Atlantic and Midwest states.  It ranked as the nation's #2 auto insurer in the 2023 Clearsurance Customer's Choice survey.

Many such corporations spend upwards of two billion dollars annually on advertising.  NJM likewise needs to promote its products, but prospective customers might be curious about those initials.  Admitting that NJM stands for “New Jersey Manufacturers” might be a disadvantage in Ohio or New York.

In 2021 the Brownstein ad agency came up with an idea that Executive Creative Director Gary Greenberg described as a parody of insurance marketing clichés.  NJM's commericals would not mention New Jersey, nor would they include little songs or cute geckos.  In 2021, the company declared that NJM stands for NO JINGLES OR MASCOTS.  Why?  “When your insurance speaks for itself, you don't need gimmicks.”

Nevertheless, in the world of television, gimmicks are necessary to hold viewers' attention.  Characters like a blue narwhal sometimes do show up in the commercials, making fruitless applications to be spokescreatures.

 

APRIL 26, 2024   THE CONFLICT IS OVER, BUT NEVER FORGET

On this date in 1865, General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his Confederate army to General William T. Sherman, thus effectively ending the Civil War.  The South mourned.

The fighting had been slowly drawing to an end.  In February, after more than a year of cannon fire from Union ships offshore, Confederate troops had withdrawn from Charleston, South Carolina.  Thousands of formerly enslaved people lived in the newly liberated city.

Ten thousand Charlestonians — mostly freed slaves — turned out for a parade on May 1, 1865, five days after Johnston's surrender.  That may have been the nation's first Memorial Day observance.  Attendees laid flowers on the graves of 257 Union soldiers who had died at the Confederate prison camp there.

But May 1 would not be remembered as the first Memorial Day.  In fact, writes Donald Beaulieu for the Washington Post, diehard white Southerners made sure that it wasn't.

In the spring of 1866, the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia, resolved to set aside each April 26 to remember the 290,000 Confederate soldiers who died in the war to preserve slavery.

It wasn't until more than two years later, on May 30, 1868, that Union veterans began observing “Decoration Day.”  The New York legislature declared it an official holiday in 1873.

Georgia made Confederate Memorial Day official in 1874.  It's still a state holiday in some places.  In 2024, government offices were closed in Texas on January 19 and Alabama on April 22, and they'll be closed in South Carolina on May 10.

When I used to listen to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio, it was always on May 30, regardless of the day of the week.  I remember announcer Sid Collins referring to May 30 as “Memorial Day in the North,” because folks in the states of the former Confederacy did not join in the observance.  Only in 1971 did Memorial Day become a nationwide federal holiday, observed on the last Monday in May.  Since 1974, the Indy 500 has been held on the preceding day.

 

APRIL 24, 2024   ARE YOU PLUSSED?

Personally, I avoid using the word “nonplussed.”

Nevertheless, Daniel Engber of The Atlantic saw fit to employ it in a recent description of an Oprah Winfrey special discussing Ozempic and Wegovy.

She's just brought on two obesity doctors, W. Scott Butsch and Amanda Velazquez, to talk about the GLP-1 wonder drugs.  “Were you all surprised in your practices when people started losing weight?” she asks.  Butsch gets a little tongue-tied: “Yeah, I mean, I think we have — we've already been using other medications for the last 10, 20 years,” he says.  “But these were just a little bit more effective.”

Oprah is nonplussed.  She didn't know about these other drugs, before Ozempic, that were already helping people with obesity.

She's “nonplussed”?  What does that mean?  The new information has not flustered her?  Perhaps we should look up a definition.

“Nonplussed” means unable to proceed.  It comes from the Latin non plus, meaning “no more.”  In 1980, boxer Roberto Duran said non plus in Spanish when he raised his right glove in the eighth round and gave up.

However, few of us are familiar with Latin these days.  Britons know what it means to be “nonplussed,” but North American readers see the negative non prefix and assume it's introducing a different negative word like “unfazed” — which means the opposite, able to proceed.  Thus readers are nonplussed.  In words of one syllable, they are at a loss as to how to go on.

Perhaps it's time to retire a term that was invented by Latinate scholars in the 1580s and replace it with one of its many synonyms, like the title of this 1999 movie.

Otherwise we shall remain baffled, surprised, clueless, disconcerted, bewildered, caught off balance, brought to a standstill, and discombobulated!

 

APRIL 21, 2024   BORE ME SILLY

News item:  Tesla has recalled 3,878 Cybertrucks, including its entire 20-week production run leading up to April 4.  When the accelerator pedal is strongly depressed, it might stick in that position, which would be bad.

Among Elon Musk's other businesses are SpaceX, which launches rockets, and The Boring Company, which excavates tunnels.

When the following commercial came on, I thought it must be promoting The Boring Company.

You know what's brilliant?  Boring.

Think about it.  Boring is the unsung catalyst for Bold.

What straps Bold to a rocket and hurtles it into space?  Boring does.

But then, for some reason, the spokesman started talking about financial matters.

Boring makes vacations happen, early retirements possible, and startups start up, because it's smart, dependable, and steady — all words you want from your bank!

For nearly 160 years, PNC Bank has been brilliantly Boring, so you can be happily fulfilled.  Which is pretty unBoring if you think about it.

I do business with that firm, which was called Pittsburgh National Bank when I opened a checking account 50 years ago.

However, I must object.  “PNC Bank” has not been boring since 1865, brilliantly or otherwise.  The current name wasn't adopted untill 1983, when Pittsburgh National Corporation merged with Philadelphia-based Provident National Corporation and someone noticed that the initials were the same.

And why is my banker proudly proclaiming that his business is unexciting, humdrum, stodgy, and dull?

 

APRIL 18, 2024   “BASQUETTE”

Around 1897, when the first Boston Marathon was held, “the races were thought to be safe only for young, fit men,” writes David Leonhardt for the New York Times.  “Many even believed, incorrectly, that running would make women infertile or overly masculine.”

From 1965 through 1969, I broadcast college basketball on Oberlin College's student radio station.  I refer, of course, to men's basketball.  Title IX was passed in 1972 — here is a discussion — but as far as I can tell, Oberlin didn't have an official women's basketball team until the Yeowomen took the court in 2008.

One of my friends at WOBC was Janice Derr of the Class of 1972.  Janice was from Cedar Rapids, and she told us that she did play basketball in high school.  At one point, about 700 Iowa schools had a team so that girls could get a chance to play a sport, and 70% of them took the opportunity to compete.  However, grownups still feared that female “athlettes” were too delicate to be constantly running back and forth between one end of the court and the other.  Therefore, the girls' hoops version in Iowa and elsewhere was a peculiar six-on-six variety.

The rules varied from state to state.  Basically, however, shooting was restricted to three forwards who stayed in the offensive half of the court.  Three other players guarded the defensive half.  After gathering a defensive rebound, the guards could bring the ball up to the center line, although dribbling was limited to two bounces.  Then they'd have to stop at midcourt and pass the ball to a forward.  The result was a row of three guards and three forwards idling at the line.  No one could cross the border until 1967, when a rover was added.

Beginning in 1958, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights considered banning six-on-six for high school girls.  But the archaic variant lasted in Iowa until 1993, and until 1995 in Oklahoma.

At the collegiate level, I was introduced to women's basketball (of the normal five-on-five variety) when I helped telecast a Connecticut at Pittsburgh game sometime around 2004.  University of Connecticut women's basketball was already a big deal in that state.  The Huskies had won five national championships in the preceding decade, including the last three years in a row.  However, not enough advertisers were interested in spending money to sponsor a mere women's game, so our telecast was for public TV.  Connecticut Public Television's four stations had been airing the team's games since 1994.

The UConn women went on to win another six NCAA championships for a total of eleven, including every year from 2013 through 2016!  Therefore, whenever I heard a Connecticut score, I assumed it was for Geno Auriemma's squad.  But I've had to stop doing that, because UConn's men have also done pretty well.  They've won six championships of their own including both last year and this year.

Likewise, when we hear an Iowa basketball score we can no longer automatically think it's for the men.

At one point on April 7, there were 24.1 million fans watching the University of Iowa compete in the women's NCAA title game, won by South Carolina.

And, six days later, Iowa star Caitlin Clark appeared on SNL to crack some “Weekend Update” jokes.

 

 


APRIL 15, 2014 flashback    SAY IT RIGHT

If you’re promoting an event to be held at the largest auditorium in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, and you aren’t sure how to pronounce the name of the theater, don’t guess!  Ask someone.

Local residents know that in mentioning the Benedum Center, one should accent the BEN.  However, a radio commercial is currently running in which the obviously non-local announcer accents the NED.

The Buh-NED-um Center?  That’s just DUM.

 

APRIL 12, 2024   MY PERSPECTIVE

There was much anticipation for the heavily-hyped solar eclipse of 2024.  As seen from certain places on earth, the orbiting moon would slowly glide up and to the left, completely hiding the sun for a few minutes.

Beforehand, there was an expectation that millions of people would jam a few North American cities (as though there were no other places from which this miracle could be viewed).  Afterwards, there was much gushing from those millions about how it had been an amazing and life-changing experience.

I'm a level-headed loner, so I experienced neither throngs nor revelations.  Instead, from an almost-empty parking lot in northwestern Ohio, I awaited the big event under a slightly cloudy sky.  My story is called Solo Eclipse. 

 

APRIL 10, 2024   ROUND & ROUND WE GO

Driving back yesterday from watching the eclipse in Ohio, I had to negotiate a roundabout.  It required a few moments of intense concentration.  But these intersections don't necessarily have to be confusing.  On the right, a relatively new design is for major highways wide enough for five lanes.

A sign before the entrance instructs northbound motorists to choose one of three lanes, depending on their intention.  They can plan to exit the roundabout westbound (to the left), to continue straight, or to exit eastbound (to the right).

Because traffic in the circle has the right-of-way, the first two choices require a Yield to enter the circle.  After that, motorists can simply stay in their lane, which could even be painted.  Going straight?  Just take the green lane, merge at the Yield into an incoming green lane that has been hugging the island as it approached from the left, then keep following your merged green lane as it sidles up to another green lane coming in from the right.

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

For this month's 100 Moons article, I visited another roundabout in Rochester, PA.

APRIL 7, 2024   ROBOT TALK

As an online subscriber to The Atlantic, I receive newsletters in their “Work in Progress” series.  One article this month quoted statistics from sources including the National Restaurant Association.  It seems restaurants are having a post-pandemic profitability problem:  they have to pay higher wages to employees, but customer revenues remain low.

But wait, there's more!  News Over Audio and ElevenLabs use artificial intelligence to recast these articles into podcasts of a sort.  It's a functional though monotonous recitation that requires at least twice as long to hear as to read.  Click the robot's picture to listen to the final three minutes of the article in question.

What's wrong?  Well, the voice ought to change its pitch and pace from time to time.  When starting a new paragraph, a pause should be followed by a bit more energy.  At one point the text encloses “quits rate” in quotes, but the voice doesn't raise its imaginary eyebrows; it plows through that uncommon phrase like any other.

It does know how to lower its voice slightly when it sees parentheses, but it sometimes misses the joke.  Apologizing to the state of New Mexico for mentioning a shortcoming, it should kiddingly say “Sorry, New Mexico,” emphasizing the first word.  Instead, it seems to be apologizing to the listener, as in “Sorry; New Mexico is what I meant to say.”

Another article included the number 16,000.  The robot dutifully observed the slight pause implied by the comma and voiced the number as “sixteen, zero zero zero.”

In retirement, a friend from my old college radio station has been recording for the blind, reading texts aloud.  But now even that sort of activity might be in danger of being taken over, for better or worse, by AI.

(Dangers do exist.  Caroline Mimbs Nyce wrote in The Atlantic that an Arizona mother picked up the phone last year to the sound of her 15-year-old crying out for her.  “It was completely her voice,” she said in one interview.  “It was her inflection.  It was the way she would have cried.”  The mother was asked to pay a $1 million ransom for her daughter's return.  In reality, the teen had not been kidnapped.  A scammer must have used AI to create a replica of her voice.  We might need to start demanding that callers confirm their identity with a secret code word or the name of their first pet.)

 

APRIL 4, 2014 flashback    THERMAL GRAPH IDEA

Weathermen usually give us the temperature in digital form, but it might also be helpful to study an analog graph.  We could visualize the actual hourly temperatures for the past couple of days plus the forecast for the next week.

Here’s what I’m talking about, using actual numbers for Pittsburgh as of April 2.  (The temperature records are from the National Weather Service and the predicted temperatures are from Weather Underground.)

And here’s how the meteorologist might describe the graph.  “Right now on this Wednesday morning, we have a temperature of 43 degrees.  It was a beautiful day yesterday with the high getting up to 77, but today will be more seasonable, with a high of 60.  Looking to the week ahead, we’re hoping for another mild day on Friday, when the high will be around 67.  But there’s bad news for Saturday:  We won’t even reach 50, and that night will be downright chilly.  I’m predicting Sunday morning’s low will be a freezing 32.”

UPDATE, APRIL 21, 2014:  Are the folks at Weather Underground reading my website?  They've just remodeled their site to include a 10-day temperature graph exactly like this, plus graphs for chance of precipitation and wind speed and a whole lot more.

ADDENDUM, OCTOBER 16, 2014:  By the way, when this idea first occurred to me in Phoenix in 1979, I envisioned the line becoming fuzzier as it approached the right side of the graph.  Who could say that the high next Tuesday will be exactly 49°?  The line should be a smear showing the high perhaps somewhere between 40° and 58°.  However, in the last 35 years forecasts have become amazingly accurate.  It’s no longer presumptuous to draw a slender line passing exactly through 49°.

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