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T. Buckingham Thomas:  A Personal Website

ESTABLISHED BY TOM THOMAS (AS GEOCITIES.COM/TBTHO) OCT. 25, 2000

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MARCH 29, 2015    LOCAL HOOPSTERS WIN AGAIN

All the college basketball excitement this week is about the NCAA Division I men’s tournament.  Here in the Pittsburgh area, locals had been following the fortunes of Robert Morris University and West Virginia University, until those teams were eliminated by Duke and Kentucky respectively.

But there are many other tournaments going on, for smaller schools as well as the NIT and for women as well as men.  We’ve still had teams to root for.

Three years ago, I described televising games after driving all the way to California — which is only a 60-mile trip.  California University of Pennsylvania is located in the Monongahela River town of California, PA.  This year, the CalU women’s team made it to the Elite Eight of NCAA’s Division II, played in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  And the Vulcans won it all!  With an 86-69 victory in the final game Friday night, they claimed their second Division II national championship in 11 years.

On Saturday afternoon, another nearby school, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, almost won it all.  IUP was the runner-up in the men's Division II tournament for the second time in five years.

Both games were televised nationally on the CBS Sports Network.  I watched the CalU women's game; it was fun, with a lot of scoring.  There wasn’t much defense.  Players were frequently able to quickly dribble past their defenders and score on driving layups.  But contrary to some women’s games I’ve televised, these players actually made those layups, and they were deadly on jump shots.

The venue was the 3,250-seat Sanford Pentagon.  When I heard the name, I guessed correctly that it was a five-sided building, but I guessed incorrectly that it must be in Sanford, Florida.  Actually, this Sanford refers to Sanford Health, a medical facility in Sioux Falls.

The Pentagon, home to a pro team in the NBA’s D-League, opened only a year and a half ago.  Although its design includes modern amenities in the corners like luxury suites and a huge video board, it’s supposed to be a throwback to the look of old-time basketball gyms.

For example, it was not until the 1951-52 season that the NBA widened its lanes from six feet to twelve.  The Pentagon’s blue rectangle reminds us of the old days, when the lines on the floor resembled a keyhole and the spot we now call the “top of the circle” was known as the “head of the key.”  (However, I think they erred:  the blue rectangle is only four feet wide.)

A couple of other features remind me of my high school gym, constructed in 1939:  the parquet floor, and the scoreboard with a round analog clock.  In this case the clock has only a second hand, protected from errant basketballs by a wire screen.  For the minutes, one has to consult the digital display.  But the periods are still indicated by light-up numbers 1 2 3 4.  Ah, the good old days.

 

MARCH 26, 2015    THIS IS AS EASY AS ONE, TWO, THREE

Like shooting fish in a barrel:  What do the old movies Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have in common?

Highlight the following text to view the answer:  Both titles contain exactly 25 letters.  (So does the simile about fish in a barrel.)

Crossword constructor Eric Albert took advantage of this obscure fact (which, as you know, also applies to Return of the Killer Tomatoes as well as the Food and Drug Administration) before he added cross words to the oversized 25x25 grid that I puzzled out last week.

 

MARCH 20, 2015    NOT THE BLUE-FOOTED BOOBIES

Tonight in the NCAA basketball tournament, the Chanticleers (from Big South champion Coastal Carolina) will play the Badgers (from Big Ten champion Wisconsin).

“Chanticleers,” huh?  I remember that the term comes from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where it’s the name of a proud rooster.  So I looked up Chaucer’s description of the bird, which includes these lines:

His coomb was redder than the fyn coral,
And batailled as it were a castel wal;
His byle was blak, and as the jeet it shoon;
Lyk asure were his legges and his toon;
His nayles whitter than the lylye flour,
And lyk the burned gold was his colour.

Or in modern English:

His comb was redder than the fine coral
And notched with battlements like a castle wall;
His bill was black, and like the jet stone it shone;
Like azure were his legs and his toen;
His nails whiter than the lily flower,
And like the burnished gold was his color.

Hold on, thought I.  Azure means sky blue.  Was that really the color of his toen — excuse me, his toes?  I never saw a blue-legged bird.  I never hope to see one.

Nevertheless, apparently a few such breeds exist.  On the right is one of them:  the French hen called poulet de Bresse, “the queen of poultry and the poultry of kings.”

These birds are said to display the red, white and blue of the French flag, including their pale blue-gray “landing gear” (as my old friend the Air Force veteran Art Plantz would have called their chicken legs).

 

Whilst Googling this poulet, I discovered some more oddities.

There's a service area named Poulet de Bresse on highway A39 in France.

This photo shows the southbound exit ramp to the rest stop.  The caption notes:  “On the left, the biggest chicken in the world.”

Sure enough, in a traffic circle next to the parking lot stands a 65-foot-tall sculpture made of one-foot-diameter stainless steel tubing.

 
I also note with approval the barrier at the point where the pavements diverge.  Probably made of a flexible material, it looks safer than our American steel signs on steel posts, non?

Where was I?  Oh, to get back to Chaucer's rooster, I note that Coastal Carolina’s team colors are teal (similar to “azure”) and bronze (similar to “burnished gold”).

And this fall their football team is going to start playing on a teal field!

 

MARCH 15, 2015    SELMA

The nation and I were watching on television 50 years ago tonight.

“What happened in Selma,” President Lyndon B. Johnson told a joint session of Congress, “is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America.  It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.

“Their cause must be our cause, too.  Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.

“And we shall overcome!”  

 

MARCH 11, 2015    ANTI-SPLICING SONGS

A knot that attaches the loose ends of two pieces of rope is called a splice.

A hundred years ago, according to my old hometown's Richwood Gazette:  “Clergymen and justices, known as splicers, who tie the matrimonial knot are the latest sufferers from the national war tax.  To each marriage certificate they hand out must be attached a 10-cent revenue stamp.”

Another edition of the newspaper noted that local resident Al Hamilton “has written a number of very pretty pieces.”  Sheet music was available at M.F. LaRue's music store for Al's latest song, “Let the Parson Tie Cupid's Knot and Splice Your Name to Mine.”

Fifty years ago, as a Richwood High School student I wrote some parody lyrics that speak disparagingly about splices that, for self-centered reasons, remain imperfectly intertwined.

Men!  Let's rebel!  To your wives no longer cling.
You cannot tell all the cares and woes they bring.
Wives are selfish, and they're oppressive;
They complain and nag all the time.
... For the married man is a harried man.

Wives!  Let them go!  Men are cads, selfish and cruel.
You surely know how they use you as a tool.
Husbands want to make all decisions;
They impose on you their own will.
... There is no worse life than to be a wife.

On a related subject, my lyrics also deplored the liberation of women.  “Damsels in distress have a charm that makes men want to help them all they can.  But today's females have gained all the rights that the males have, so they don't need any man to help them.  Girls today are not the same!”

These subversive songs are in this month’s 100 Moons article.

 

 

MARCH 5, 2015    O, BE SOME OTHER NAME!

The memory still haunts me, half a century later.  There I was, in front of the whole school, misapplying a quotation from a classic drama.  How embarrassing!

Richwood High School would sometimes take a few minutes out of its week for a pep rally.  Actually, I think we had to give up the last third of our lunch period.  We’d assemble in the gymnasium and the cheerleaders would challenge us to express vocal support for our athletes, in hopes that we would be similarly enthusiastic at the big game that night.  A little humorous entertainment was also included.


SNAPSHOTS FROM THE 1962 YEARBOOK

As nearly as I can reconstruct the incident, the cheerleaders had recruited me for a skit.  Sitting on a stool at midcourt, I introduced another character, who was supposed to enter from my left.  His entrance was slightly delayed for some reason.

In mock frustration over his absence, I cried, “Wherefore art thou?!”  My ad-lib was badly chosen.

Most of my audience probably didn’t realize it, but wherefore does not mean “where.”

It means “why.”

So Juliet doesn’t call out, “Where are you, Romeo?”  She wonders, “Of all possible names, why are you ‘Romeo’?”

In defense of my audience and myself, in daily life we are no longer required to know the meaning of wherefore.  The word is now considered archaic.  I think we should expunge it from Shakespeare’s play, where it hampers our modern understanding.

Our heroine walks out onto her balcony and, as young girls will, toys with the name of the boy on whom she has a crush.  “Oh, Romeo!  Roam-eeeh-ohhh.  Why are you ‘Romeo’?  Deny your father and change your name.

“Or else tell me you love me, and I’ll change my name.  I’ll no longer be a Capulet.  I’ll be Mrs. Romeo Montague.  Mrs. R.M.  ‘Juliet Montague.’  Doesn’t that sound much classier than ‘Juliet Capulet’?  I always detested that et-et rhyme.

“What do names mean, anyway?  We call this flower a ‘rose,’ but if we called it a ‘stinkbloom’ it would smell just as sweet, wouldn’t it?  Ay me!”

 

FEBRUARY 27, 2015    THE NEW ORANGE

The Cleveland Browns are being ridiculed again.  This week, people have been joking about their announcement of a brand new logo (left) that’s only slightly different from their old one (right).

Notice the changes?  The font is stronger, which is a definite improvement.  Also, the helmet is a stronger color.  It used to be orange.  Now it’s red-orange, according to the Crayola terminology of my childhood box of 64 crayons.  Or according to the red-green-blue terminology of my computer monitor, it used to be 244-101-35 and now it’s 255-61-0.  That 255 is as high as the red component can get.

Another detail:  Because the team’s name is not the Red-Oranges but the Browns, they’ve painted the face mask brown.  As though anyone will notice.

I’m ancient enough to remember the days of black and white, when Cleveland’s games were televised across Ohio.  The Browns had a “brownie” mascot, and in the late 1950s their telecasts began with a few seconds of a cartoon featuring this good-natured little elf with the pointed floppy sacks on his feet.  Presumably the film played on a projector back at the originating station while an announcer proclaimed something like “The Cleveland Browns are on the air!”  There may have been a mention of a sponsor such as a Cleveland-brewed Carling beer.  “Hey, Mabel!  Black Label!  And now let’s kick off the action!”

The cute little animated brownie teed up his football, backed up a few steps, clenched his fists, stuck out his elbows, and came running towards us.  Like Lou Groza, he kicked the football directly toward us, not soccer-style but a straight-ahead kick.  The ball filled the screen, and at that moment the telecast cut to live video from the stadium.  Ah, the good old days.

To return to 2015, the Browns have made another logo update.  The old Dawg (right) appeared annoyed and determined, but the new version (left) is mean and vicious and snarling and red-orange and possibly rabid.

This illustrates a disturbing tendency to make sports logos as evil as possible.

While the long-established St. Louis baseball team's logo is a robust but peaceful vegetarian cardinal (lower right) with a bill adapted for eating seeds, the University of Louisville’s redder redbird (left) somehow has been given a raptor’s sharp beak and an angry Dawg’s snarling teeth.  (What birds have teeth?)  Even its toes are twisted in rage.  We seem to need our sporting symbols to display a killer instinct of unbridled aggressiveness.



That brings me to a recent quote from Stephen Hawking.

“The human failing I would most like to correct is aggression.  It may have had survival advantage in caveman days, to get more food, territory or partner with whom to reproduce.  But now it threatens to destroy us all.  A major nuclear war would be the end of civilization, and maybe the end of the human race.

“The quality I would most like to magnify is empathy.  It brings us together in a peaceful, loving state.”

Come on, people, now.
Empathize with the brownie.
Everybody get together!
Try to love one another
Right now.

 

FEBRUARY 23, 2015    THE MORNING AFTER

Most Oscar acceptance speeches used to be cut off by wrap-it-up music, and I used to think the orchestra waited too long.  We don’t need to hear thirty seconds of the winner's self-conscious giggling and false modesty and hurried personal thanks to everyone from hairdresser to high school drama teacher.

But at the Academy Awards last night, many of the speeches had actual content, such as Patricia Arquette’s call for “equal rights for women of the United States of America!”

And then there was Graham Moore:

"Alan Turing never got to stand on a stage like this ... I do!  And that's the most unfair thing I've ever heard.

"So in this brief time here, what I wanted to do was say this:  When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong.  And now I'm standing here.

“And so I would like this moment to be for this kid out there who feels like she's weird or she's different or she doesn't fit in anywhere.  Yes, you do.  I promise you do.  Stay weird.  Stay different.

“And then, when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along!”

And finally there was Alejandro González Iñárritu:

“I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico.  I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve.

“And the ones that live in this country, who are part of the latest generation of immigrants, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect as the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”

Let me also comment on the music.  I’ve been out of touch.  I haven’t really paid that much attention to popular music since the last time I worked on MTV’s Spring Break telecast nearly 30 years ago.

Nowadays I hear celebrity news about female singers like Beyonce, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Jessica Simpson, or Lady Gaga.  Usually the news is something outrageous.  Also, I get the impression that their performances are typically loud and aggressive and aimed at energetic young folks who like to dance.  That description doesn’t include me, so I don’t listen.

However, my cable system has forty audio-only Music Choice channels, and one night I happened to stop on channel 420, “Love Songs.”  I heard all six of the previously mentioned artists singing melodic tunes that I didn’t mind listening to.  It turns out that they all have talent!

This was demonstrated last night when Lady Gaga amazed all of us with a medley from The Sound of Music.

Local movie reviewer Sean Collier tweeted, “In her most shocking move yet, Lady Gaga wears a normal dress and sings regular-type.”  Piers Morgan commented, “This is, to my utter astonishment, fabulous.”  And Patton Oswalt said, “Um... Lady Gaga is completely, unarguably, nailing it.  Sorry; I know I’m supposed to be snarky.  But that's what's happening.”

Also, last night’s Best Original Song came from the movie Selma.  I’d heard the name John Legend but had never listened to him or Common perform, until their powerful rendition of “Glory.”

And the previous Sunday, during the Saturday Night Live celebration, the usually controversial Miley Cyrus covered Paul Simon’s 1975 hit “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” with a smoky countrified rendition that I for one enjoyed.  I also like Miley’s performance of “Jolene,” a 1973 hit written by her godmother Dolly Parton.

I need to listen more to the music today’s young people are making.

 

FEBRUARY 18, 2015    FEBRUARINESS

Here in Pittsburgh, we’re enduring a couple of weeks of snow and subzero temperatures.  (At least we’re not in Boston!)

I worked a basketball telecast Saturday.  Afterwards, during the four minutes it took to walk from the TV truck into the arena, snow blown by strong winds covered the front of my coat and ski mask.  The same squall caused a white-out on a two-mile section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, resulting in three pileups involving a total of 20 cars.

Back in 1979, my father (right) escaped that year's blizzard by temporarily relocating to sunny Arizona, as he and my mother did every February.

But on the weekend I joined them, he and I went indoors to watch the Daytona 500 on television.

That race was exactly 36 years ago today.  I've recalled it in a new article on NASCAR's Perfect Storm.

 
FEBRUARY 12, 2015     SUGGESTED SOLUTION 4: SCREAM

(If screaming fixed the trouble, leave a note for the chief engineer.)

When I was in college, dozens of us had two-hour weekly shifts at the student radio station.  We were all brilliant scholars, of course, but we were amateur disk jockeys.  Very few had ever encountered an audio control board.  Each of us had to be helped through our first show, then given a refresher course when we returned the following week.

“Here in the control room, this is your microphone.  Turn it on by pushing this switch to the right.  The knob below it adjusts your volume.  And this is how you cue up a record.  But if it’s a 45 instead of a 33, you do it this way instead.  When it’s time for the news, here’s how you play the theme, and the switch for the newscaster’s mic is over here, unless he’s in Studio D.  Now if you’re working out of Studio B, everything’s different.”

For situations when no experienced engineer was around, the station actually provided a user’s manual, half an inch thick.

I edited the 1968 edition, and this month’s 100 Moons article consists of excerpts from that handbook.

For example, because classical music has great dynamic range and listeners turn up their volume to hear the quieter passages, the announcer’s voice should also be quieter.  For popular music, however, everything including the announcer is always at maximum loudness.

Even back then, I was aware that professional broadcasters frequently changed stations.  As a later sitcom put it, they must have “got kind of tired packing and unpacking, town to town and up and down the dial.”  Or, as the late DJ Lee Baby Simms put it, “Forty years in the business. 25 markets. 36 stations. 41 jobs. Fired 25 times.  I loved every minute of it.”

Each time a DJ arrived at a new station, he confronted an unfamiliar set of controls.  I wondered what kind of training program he had to go through before being trusted to solo on this 747.  But I guess after you’ve seen a few “boards,” you’ve seen them all.

That’s not true of every business.  Yesterday, when I visited the doctor, there were three office workers trying to learn the health system’s new computer setup, plus three tech support people trying to teach them.  I think it was the third day for the IT people.  Why did it have to be so difficult?  Couldn’t they simply convert their old database into the new format somehow?

Well, it turns out they had done that.  But they also had to adapt to a new computer screen layout, with functions concealed within new menus and submenus.  There was a lot of note-taking going on.  Also, the system now demanded digital images of my insurance card, my driver’s license, my signature, and my face.  And there were glitches.  For some reason, entering “Thomas Thomas” took them to the top of the patient list (which is where I belong, of course), and they had to scroll all the way down through the alphabet.

My daily newspaper also has converted to a new computer system.  Around Thanksgiving, they warned subscribers that Customer Service would be essentially unreachable for the entire month of December.  It must have taken them most of January as well.  Only this week did I finally receive my annual renewal bill for the year that will begin more than six weeks ago, on December 28, 2014.

Computers are great, but switching from one to another can be a real pain.  That’s one reason I haven’t even considered migrating from Microsoft to Apple.

 

FEBRUARY 7, 2015     TOM VISITS TOM'S BIRTHPLACE

My latest article offers a glimpse of a historic little town in northern Ohio.  I dined there with my family long ago.

I’ve given this piece the northern-Italian title of Uno Scorcio di Milano.

 

FEBRUARY 3, 2015     ONE-SIDED COMMUNICATION

At five o’clock the other afternoon, a waitress came up to me and began talking about an unfortunate incident involving a little boy.  I couldn’t catch everything she was saying, as she was speaking loudly and urgently and rapidly.  Apparently this boy had become separated from his parents.  Gesturing to the far side of the restaurant, she told me, “You can see the youngster sitting there,” or something like that.  “Ironically, he lives only a few blocks away.”

“Okay,” I said, “I guess I can give him a ride home.”  She explained me a few more details about what had happened.  “That’s too bad,” I remarked.  She kept on talking.  “Fine,” I said, “I’ll go over and introduce myself.  What’s the boy’s name?”  But she didn’t answer me.  She kept on talking.  “What is his name?”  I repeated.  The waitress told me her name!  And then she went away!

“What is the boy’s name?” I called after her.  No response.  “What is his name?” I shouted to no one in particular, and no one in particular responded.  I had a powerless feeling, as though I didn’t exist.  All the other restaurant patrons were staring numbly at a television set, from which I heard other voices speaking about other things.

I got up and walked over to the big table on the other side of the room.  There sat several adults and at least two kids who could have been the little lost boy.  I asked whether somebody needed a ride home.  There was no reaction.  They were all glued to the big screen, where a weather report was now in progress.  We were warned of sub-zero wind chills overnight.

That was when I awoke from my nap.  I had, of course, fallen asleep with the television on.  

 

 


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