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ArchiveMAY 2024

MAY 31, 2014 flashback    SPOKESMAN QUITS

Jay Carney resigned yesterday.  You probably didn't hear about it.  It wasn’t discussed much in the news.

Carney had been the White House press secretary for 3½ years.  Now he has resigned from that demanding job to spend more time with his wife and 12-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.  It’s said that financial reasons are also driving him back to the private sector, where he previously spent 21 years in journalism.

Forty years ago, there was another resignation of a former journalist turned White House press secretary.  This one did make all the newspapers, because it was in the aftermath of Watergate.  And the man who resigned was my friend’s father!

Well, “friend” is too strong a word.  Karen and I both went to Oberlin College.  As undergraduates, we sometimes shared a conversation at the same dinner table.  I asked her out once.  I never met her father.

I’ve always been a bit of a nerd.  (I identify with the guys on The Big Bang Theory.)  I’ve never gone out much.  During college, as nearly as I can recall, I got up the courage to ask five different coeds on dates.  However, Karen was the only one who turned me down, so I wasn’t a total failure.

Fortunately, I was unlike that kid at Santa Barbara who recently went on a killing spree because he hated girls who refused to go out with him.  I knew better than to expect romance with anyone who was obviously out of my league in popularity.  Those girls already had cool boyfriends, boys with whom I could never compete.  So I accepted reality, as you can tell from my “allegory in four chapters” at the end of this article.

Instead, I tried to interact with a girl as a person, a colleague, a friend.  And sometimes, under the right circumstances, we agreed to attend a concert or something together.

It was the spring of 1967 at Oberlin.  Karen ter Horst was a freshman who lived at the dormitory called Harkness, and I was a sophomore assigned to eat dinner there.

Three years earlier in that same dining hall, the local College Republicans had hosted a future President, Congressman Gerald Ford of Michigan.  But I didn’t know that.  Nor did I know about Karen’s father, Jerald ter Horst, the son of Dutch immigrants.  He was a newspaperman from Grand Rapids who had known Ford since 1948 and had covered his career and the White House ever since.  As a member of the White House press corps, Jerald had been in the motorcade in Dallas in November 1963, but I didn’t know that either.

All I knew was that Karen was a cute, intelligent blonde who not infrequently sat at my table.  Outside, the sun was still shining one evening in April or May when, as the meal was ending, I asked her out.  She said no, thanks.  And that was the end of that.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

2024 UPDATE:  Karen went on to marry one Kelly Morris.  To her classmates, she recently wrote:
"In retirement, I am serving on the Board of the Friends School of Atlanta, which I helped found and where I worked for 18 years as Elementary Head.  I'm also active with the Georgia chapter of Alternatives to Violence Project and the Atlanta Friends Meeting.  And I'm enjoying 4 grandchildren."

But as I hinted earlier, there’s more to the ter Horst tale, beginning with Oberlin's Mock Republican National Convention the following spring when Congressman Ford returned to campus.  Five years later, in 1973, he was appointed to replace Spiro Agnew as Richard Nixon’s Vice-President.  The year after that, the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resign, and Ford became President himself.

He promised a new era of openness and honesty.  He appointed Jerald ter Horst to be his Presidential press secretary, to much applause from ter Horst's friends in the White House press corps.

A month later, in a surprise announcement, Ford issued a pardon to Nixon so that he would not be prosecuted for any Watergate misdeeds. 

I happened to think this was a good move.  It was time for the nation to return to normalcy.  Nixon had already been humiliated by having to quit the nation’s highest office in disgrace.  Dragging him through multiple criminal trials would accomplish little besides prolonging Watergate for years, giving the lie to Ford’s inaugural promise:  “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

But others wanted to see Nixon behind bars.  Many believe that Ford lost the Presidential election of 1976 because he had let Nixon go scot-free in 1974.

Jerald ter Horst also thought the pardon was a bad idea.  For one thing, he had been telling reporters every day what he believed to be true, that Ford had no intention of pardoning Nixon.  Then Ford proved him wrong.  His boss had thrown him under the bus, and he had lost much of his credibility with the reporters.

However, there was a bigger issue of fairness.  He wrote the President, “I cannot in good conscience support your decision to pardon former President Nixon even before he has been charged with the commission of any crime.  As your spokesman, I do not know how I could credibly defend that action in the absence of a like decision to grant absolute pardon to the young men who evaded Vietnam military service as a matter of conscience and the absence of pardons for former aides and associates of Mr. Nixon. ...  Try as I can, it is impossible to conclude that the former President is more deserving of mercy than persons of lesser station in life whose offenses have had far less effect on our national wellbeing.”

So Karen’s dad resigned as a matter of principle, after only one month.  The next year, he received the Conscience-in-Media Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors.  I had nothing to do with it.


MAY 29, 2014 flashback    CHANGING FACES

LeAnn Rimes gave a lovely presentation of the National Anthem before the start of this past weekend’s Indianapolis 500.  At least I thought so.

Yesterday a letter to the editor, apparently from a crotchety old geezer from the moon who longs for the days of Kate Smith, whined that “her warbling, inaccurate pronunciation of words and failure to sing the notes correctly made a travesty of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’”  He included Miss Rimes in the category of “some wannabe vocalist.”

I’m sorry, but she’s no longer a wannabe.  In 1992, she began performing the National Anthem a cappella before Dallas Cowboys games.  In 1997, as a new country music star, she won two Grammy awards.

Back (west) side of pressbox at Rice-Eccles Stadium, site of Opening and Closing Ceremonies

I recall another performance.  Miss Rimes was on a stage in Rice-Eccles Stadium.  I was within a TV truck parked without.  It was the opening of the Winter Olympics.

This was in February 2002, less than six months after the 9/11 attacks.  Security was tight, especially because the President was going to be on hand.  We all had our official credentials, like the ID tag that Mark Vidonic is wearing in this photo taken in the graphics trailer at his curling venue.  Several weeks before, we had mailed in our pictures so they could be laminated onto the credentials, which had to be worn at all venues unless we were actually giving a performance.

But during the week leading up to the big performance at the stadium in Salt Lake City, the cast of thousands had to rehearse the complicated opening ceremony several times.

One day during one of those rehearsals, a cameraman zoomed in on the credential around LeAnn’s neck.

I thought, whose picture is that?  It doesn’t look like her at all!  I had only a fleeting glance, but the photo was something like this.

Surely a star could have submitted a proper professional headshot.  Even I had managed that.

LeAnn must have failed to do so and had to have a mug shot taken upon arrival, like a driver’s license photo.

But she cleaned up nicely for the actual ceremony on February 8.  Hours into the show, just after the lighting of the cauldron by Mike Eruzione and his hockey teammates from the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” the 19-year-old Miss Rimes began the finale by singing “Light the Fire Within” with the Olympic flame burning behind her.

Once in every lifetime, there's a chance to stand apart.
We can show the world our very best — reveal what's in our heart.
So the story goes, and glory never will end.
Inspiration lights the fire within!

She was accompanied by the 83-member Utah Symphony, and singers from the Utah Opera, and the choristers of The Madeleine Choir School, and 695 “Children of Light” carrying lanterns.  Also, I think there were several thousand candles.  Light the fire, indeed.

And for all my Pennsylvania neighbors who last week won the freedom to marry, for whom “the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long, and you thought that love is only for the lucky and the strong,” here's another performance by this wannabe vocalist.



The college from which I graduated 55 years ago held its annual Commencement this morning in Ohio.  I watched online.

I was surprised by the number of Asian names that were read during the awarding of diplomas.  An app offered live captions of the procedings in Mandarin, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Hindi, Arabic, and Spanish.

Oberlin has always been a center of activism, but as far as I could tell, today's ceremony was not significantly disrupted by demonstrations.  The exception: one minute when a group of students chanted “Free, free, free Palestine!”

The Commencement speaker, Rhiannon Giddens of the Class of 2000 (1:26 to 1:48), did ask the graduating students to join her in a song by Peggy Seeger:

   I cannot understand
   How the sisters, wives and mothers
   Cannot stop the slaughter
   Of the husbands, sons and brothers 

   There never will be peace
   Till men abandon fighting
   As the way to deal with problems
   That prevent us from uniting

   O how I long for peace
   Among the peoples and the nation 
   How I long to halt the plunder
   Of the wonders of creation
   O how I long for peace 

Other speakers included Jan Weintraub Cobb of the Class of 1971, now the President of the Alumni Leadership Council.  I remember working with Jan at WOBC radio.  And the class of 2024's student speaker was Julia Maskin, who hosted a WOBC program for three years.

Additional alumni, including yet another of my WOBC colleagues, have addressed the Palestinian crisis in thoughtful online posts that raise Dangerous Questions.



Davina's mother-in-law is bedridden with a fever.

Can a compassionate stranger help her?  And just who is the stranger?  Read about his Pastoral Visit.



“I graduated from high school on this date in 1965.”  In that sentence, high school is the object of the preposition from.

Many folks nowadays omit the preposition — incorrectly, in my opinion — and say “I graduated high school.”  Apparently high school is now the object of the verb graduated, which means that I graduated the object.

How did you improve your school?  Did you redecorate it?  Did you desegregate it?  No, but you insist on saying you graduated it.  Wrong!  You graduated from it!

Some chemistry supply firm, however, apparently did graduate this cylinder. 


You say fish don't have ears?  Of course they do!

It's true that unlike elephants and humans, fish don't have big flaps of cartilage and skin on either side of their heads.  We mammals have evolved those outer ears (called auricles or pinnas) to collect the vibrations of the insubstantial air and funnel them to the inner ear, where hearing actually happens.

On the other hand, fish move through the denser medium of water.  Big floppity flip-flaps wouldn't focus sounds; they would only interfere with swimming.  However, fish do have “tiny stones in their heads which move in response to sound vibrations, triggering signals to the brain.  It's similar to how human hearing works.”  So writes McKenzie Prillaman in the March 9, 2024, edition of Science News.

And what are the fish listening to?  For a large part, each other.  Prillaman says, “Humans have known for millennia that fish are noisy creatures.”  They may “rub or click their bony structures together, contract certain muscles to drum the gas-filled swim bladder, or vibrate stretched tendons in fins.”

Michelle Schärer-Umpierre has been studying underwater sounds in the Caribbean for the past two decades, including a monthly reproductive cycle.  That's something else that's similar to humans.

“Male red hind groupers,” she reports, “make distinct noises when fighting over territory, courting females, and preparing to release sperm to fertilize eggs.  The latter sound consists of nonstop singing for a few hours on nights around the full moon,” otherwise known as the females' time of the month.

We humans might have inherited more from our evolutionary ancestors than we think.

If you ask us which way is up, we might imagine an arrow from the point of our jaw to our forehead.  But what if our head is tilted?  “Up” is a different direction!

Fortunately, we never got rid of the rocks in our heads.  We simply repurposed them to be part of an inertial guidance system, like a spacecraft.

Within the inner ear, “otoconia” are small crystals of calcium carbonate in the horizontally-oriented utricule and the vertically-oriented saccule.  When acceleration moves them one way or the other, they stimulate sensitive hair cells whose signals help the brain's spreadsheet keep track of our head's latest orientation.  Isn't that great?


MAY 18, 2014 flashback   

Here are some more items of old news from the “In Retrospect” column of the Richwood Gazette, the weekly newspaper in my old hometown of Richwood, Ohio.

In May of 1888, the editor warned gardeners not to buy small packets of seeds from possibly dishonest purveyors.  It often happens, he said, that only a few seeds will actually grow.  “In the fall, what remains of these seeds are gathered up and mixed with the seeds of the coming year and sold again.  The best way to avoid such imposition is to raise your own seed, dried and stored away.”

Also in May of 1888, the Knights of Pythias in the neighboring town of Prospect were “talking of organizing a band to be composed exclusively of members of the order.”

In those days almost every town had a band of musicians — until the gramophone was invented and people could play its cylindrical recordings any time they wanted.  The famous bandleader John Philip Sousa deplored “canned music,” as he aptly called it.

The phonograph proved popular in Richwood.  See here.

It appears that Richwood was a “dry” town that banned liquor while its neighbor to the east was not.  In May of 1913 the paper reported that “fellows from Richwood have been causing Prospect officials untold trouble” by going over there and getting drunk.  Finally, Prospect asked Richwood’s Mayor M.W. Hill to supply a “black list” of Richwood people to whom “booze” should not be sold.  “Mayor Hill promptly supplied Mayor Hough with over a dozen names.  When those affected learned of this, they became ‘madder than old wet hens’ and in no uncertain terms told Mayor Hill just what they thought of him and asserted that they intend to move out of town, but to date have not acted on that extremity.”

Also in May of 1913, the Electric Light Plant had a failure.  Until new parts arrived, the town was “in total darkness from Friday until Tuesday.  The residents were compelled to fall back on coal oil [kerosene], gasoline, acetylene and other methods of illumination.”

But the shopkeepers may not have minded the first night of darkness on Friday, because that same spring the “business houses” had agreed to close at 5:30 pm on Tuesdays and Fridays to give their clerks a couple of nights off.  “The merchants expected to hear complaints, but instead, customers commended the stores for giving clerks time to themselves.”  I’m reminded of the time 43 years later that my father unilaterally decided to close his doors at noon on Saturdays, for similar reasons.  Nowadays most stores can stay open for longer hours because they've hired more than one shift of employees.

Model T Fords were not powerful enough in May of 1913 for drag racing.  But motorcycles were, and young bikers were frightening their elders.  “The roads between here and Marion have become Sunday speedways for flying motorcycles.

“They travel singly and in groups, and the machines are driven at terrific speeds, converting public highways into dangerous places for all who are brave enough to venture therein.  Frequently young women are taken on these machines at breakneck speeds along the country roads.  A moment’s attention drawn from the handlebars, a little pebble under the front wheel, a swerving of the machine, a crash into a telephone pole, and a tragedy develops.  It is hoped the hair-raising, fool-hardy, devil-chasing tomfoolery will soon cease.”

In May of 1938, Richwood High School seniors came to class on the final Friday of the school year “with the girls dressed in short dresses and hair ribbons and the boys in short pants in celebration of senior day.”  We had something similar in my era three decades later, except the seniors didn’t dress like little kids; they dressed in scruffy clothes that would not normally be good enough to wear to school.  I think we called it “Senior Slop Day” or something like that.  Nowadays office workers call it “Casual Friday.”

And in May of 1963, the four local auto dealerships held a six-inning “old timers” ball game on Memorial Day evening.  Although I was a high school sophomore at the time, I don’t remember this at all — even though the game was umpired by my father, Chevrolet dealer Vernon Thomas, along with Plymouth dealer Bernard Benton.  According to the newspaper preview, the two teams represented Swartz Motors Ford, with Claud “Casey” Swartz and Whimp “Advisor” Jordan, and Gruber-Reidenbaugh Pontiac, with Merle “Slow Ball” Gruber and Jack “The Man” Reidenbaugh.  “Both sides have an exceptional lineup of slow and hard-hitting talent, with a few openings on both sides for local volunteers who have their wills and life insurance policies made out.”


MAY 15, 2024   HOLD MY ADS

Is this any way to run a newscast?  With no ads at all in the first half, then a second half which is 60% commercials, mostly for obscure pharmaceuticals with weird made-up names like Ultomiris and Amminadab* and Xiidra?

It seems like an odd format, but the advertisers look at the ratings and smile.  I crunch the numbers in All the News for Now.

*Actually Amminadab is not the name of a drug.  It was the name of Aaron's father-in-law [Exodus 6:23, Matthew 1:4].



The neighbor's dog knew the words to an old song — or at least he knew his part — as I recalled here nearly ten years ago.

But he didn't understand how leashes work.  Long ones sometimes entangled him.

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

 I tried to explain the twists and turns in this month's 100 Moons article.



As far back as the 1970s, graphics were created by inkers and sign painters.  One of them was a colleague of mine, though that wasn't his main job.

Nowadays, however, hand-painted placards are being replaced by printed plastic sheets, as well as by illuminated roadside pixels that you drive past too fast to comprehend.

My new article on this subject takes its title from a line in a well-remembered 1971 song by Five Man Electrical Band:
Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign.


MAY 7, 2014 flashback    MAGIC AMMO

Faced with a difficult situation, sometimes we try to find a “silver bullet” that will provide an easy answer.

Silver bullets are a metaphor for “simple solutions to complicated problems,” writes columnist Landon Y. Jones.  “In folklore across many cultures, a bullet made of silver is the only way to kill a werewolf or devil.”  However, he adds, real-world experiments suggest silver bullets are less accurate than lead ones, and they wreak less havoc.

Of course!  It’s simple physics.  Check out this chart of various metals, with their densities in grams per cubic centimeter.









Radioactive Uranium


Depleted Uranium






For two projectiles of the same size, the mass of a silver bullet is 8% less than that of a lead bullet.  With only 92% of the momentum, the silver bullet will be slightly less stable in flight and will do less damage when it hits the werewolf.

But there are other options.  Compared to silver, gold is 84% heavier and platinum is 104% heavier.  Bullets made from these precious metals would be much more effective.  However, they would cost about 70 times as much as silver and 1,400 times as much as lead.

A more practical choice, with essentially the same density as gold:  depleted uranium (DU), a byproduct of enriching fuel for nuclear reactors.  The military loads DU projectiles into some of its weapons, such as the 30mm rotary cannon on the A-10 Warthog aircraft.

You want depleted uranium bullet, kemo sabe?



As a former physics major, one of the cable TV networks I've bookmarked as a “favorite” is, of course, the Science Channel.  However, most of their programs don't measure up to the PBS series Nova.  More often, they're tabloid-quality investigations of the alleged Bermuda Triangle and “NASA's Unexplained Files.”

What on Earth? was the channel's most-watched series when it debuted more than nine years ago.

Preview descriptions of episodes almost always begin with “Satellite images capture bizarre structures.”  The narrator will pretend to be baffled about these unexpected contours until experts can approach them at ground level.  On a recent weekend they found, and I quote:

  An ancient amphitheater with a history steeped in gladiatorial bloodshed.

  A 19th century Apache fortification linked to a treacherous migrant route.

  A derelict WWII munitions factory.

  The largest aircraft storage facility on Earth and the rotting remains of a defining moment in Cold War history.

  A hidden NATO doomsday communications bunker.

  A lost Soviet-era military compound and the development of a catastrophic electromagnetic weapon.

What does it tell us that the strange shapes all turn out to be relics of humans fighting humans?


Today marks the 750th anniversary of a May Day party at the home of a banker in Florence, Italy.  There, on May 1, 1274, nine-year-old Dante Alighieri was smitten by an eight-year-old neighbor girl called Beatrice.

The two grew up separately and married others.  However, after her death 16 years later, Dante began writing poems dedicated to her memory.  In the last part of his narrative poem The Divine Comedy, Beatrice appears as his guide, finally ascending again to her rightful place in heaven.