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T. Buckingham Thomas:  A Personal Website


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NOV. 14, 2015    A CAMERA ON A WALL?

Preparing for this year’s visit to Philadelphia by Pope Francis, a technician adjusts a remote-controlled high-definition television camera inside the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.

You know, when I was in high school I “invented” a wall-mounted TV camera like this.  Our compact incommodious gymnasium would have had no room for anything larger.

The story, one of the first I wrote specifically for this website, is this month’s 100 Moons article.



As an eighth-grade student in 1960, I followed the unusually close Presidential election campaign.  From school I had obtained the map you see below.  I added little rectangles for the states of Alaska and Hawaii, which were too new to have outlines of their own.  For each state I wrote in its number of electoral votes.

Then, 55 years ago tonight, I was glued to the TV as the returns came in.  Whenever Walter Cronkite and his colleagues called a state for Republican Richard Nixon, I colored in that state with a red pencil.  And when they declared that Democrat John F. Kennedy had won a state, I used a green pencil.  (Had I been aware of 21st-century coloring rules, these would have been blue states, not green.)

When I had to go to bed — we did have school the next day, you know — the results of some far western states were still uncertain.  Alaska hadn’t been called at all, and California and Hawaii had been called incorrectly, as it turned out.

What about that area in Mississippi and Alabama that I colored chartreuse?  Most people there had sworn never to vote for a hated Yankee from the Republican party, “the party of Lincoln.”  But they didn’t like the liberal Democratic nominee either.  Their uncommitted electoral votes eventually went to a conservative Democrat, Harry Byrd of Virginia.  Nevertheless, Kennedy was elected, in large part because the key state of Illinois narrowly remained green.

The liberal Democrats subsequently passed civil rights legislation.  That provoked Southern bigots to abandon the party and actually vote Republican.  Eight years later, when Nixon ran again, only two states south of West Virginia went to Democrat Hubert Humphrey.  Even today the South consists mostly of red states.


NOV. 2, 2015    TUBES

Construct an empty tube from here to there.  Insert a cylinder containing documents, or even people.  Use compressed air to push the cylinder from one end to the other.

It’s a simple concept that powered New York City’s first subway.  It also powered New York's pneumatic tube mail, which carried letters from downtown to Harlem in only 20 minutes under the streets.  The early subway closed in 1873 and the mail system in 1953, but when I was a boy, an Ohio department store still used pneumatic tubes to whoosh customers’ money upstairs to the office and return with their change.

Many bank branches employ this technology even today.  We used to drive up to a bank branch's window and pass things back and forth to the teller using a sliding drawer.  Nowadays tubes and intercoms allow us to interact with a teller who can be somewhere else inside the building.

This bank in nearby Russellton, PA, needed a drive-through like that, but the only available land was across the river.  Excuse me, across Little Deer Creek.  Solution: bridge the creek with an 80-foot tube.  Mega-pneumatics in action.



The doctors in my neighborhood have passed their dinosaur through some sort of mysterious X-ray device, thereby rendering him even scarier to any passing Halloween trick-or-treaters.  Boo!



This is the 36th anniversary of the 50th anniversary of a nonprofit landmark in Washington, PA.  I was present for the 50-year celebration in 1979, and I recall televising the ceremony.  More importantly, I bring you up to date on the plans for the building in a new article, YWCA Becomes TRIPIL.



Memorial Field behind my old high school in Richwood, Ohio, has been empty for decades, following the construction of a new football stadium near the new school building.  Now a similar fate has befallen another small town.

Back in 1940, five miles up the river from where I live today, Freeport High School began playing football behind the school building on a gridiron squeezed onto a baseball outfield.  (Richwood lost to Big Walnut 30-6 on a similar layout in Sunbury, Ohio, in 1962.  Our visitors’ bench was on the edge of the dirt infield.)

In 1980, I first televised a game from Freeport with our crew from TV-3.  We parked behind the school and carried our single camera up to the white-roofed pressbox.  I stayed in the truck with the recorders and graphics generator.

Like the fans, we had a slightly obstructed view.  The center-field light standard is in front of the stands.  This tower was usually occupied, halfway up, by a man on a platform filming the game for the coaches.  His silhouette floated in front of the action on our TV screen.

The photo above was taken by Jason Bridge for Trib Total Media last Friday night, as James Swartz Memorial Stadium hosted its final regular-season home game.  The school has buildt a new modern campus three miles outside town, and that’s where the Freeport Yellowjackets will play next year.  Time marches on.



When I was growing up (before 1969), baseball's American League and National League each consisted of only eight teams.

In each league, the team with the best record claimed the “pennant” and proceeded directly to the World Series.  The top four finishers were said to be in the “First Division” and shared in the Series gate receipts.

The other four teams, fifth through eighth, were in the “Second Division” and got nothing.  The perpetually woeful Chicago Cubs were a Second Division team for each of the first 20 years of my life.

Times have changed.  Now the word “Division” has a different meaning and we have several rounds of post-season playoffs.

This year, the New York Mets won the NL East but were only fifth in the overall league standings.  In my day, fifth place was a failure, a spot in the also-ran Second Division.  But in the 2015 World Series, guess who will represent the National League?


OCT. 20, 2015    WHAT IS A FAIR?

The season for county fairs is drawing to a close.

But in my hometown, the big event isn’t the Union County Fair down in Marysville.  It's the Richwood Independent Fair, right there in Richwood.

When I was growing up, my father's dealership displayed cars near the grandstand in one of the biggest tents on the grounds.  (I've colorized a photo I took of that tent in 1956.)  From there, in 1963 he sponsored a live radio broadcast that featured readings from a local poet and a song from one of my high school classmates.

My transcript of that quarter-hour variety show is this month’s 100 Moons article. 



Big trucks have a low ratio of power to weight, so they tend to slow down when they have to climb a long hill.  Highway engineers often add an extra lane on the right for slower traffic.

The heaviest trucks turn on their flashers.  By the time they near the end of their arduous climb, they’ve slowed below 40 mph.  Then their special lane goes away!


Typically that extra lane extends only from A to B on this diagram.  That’s all that is necessary, right?  The uphill part of the road?

But at B, the trucks are moving almost at their slowest.  That’s the worst possible place to force them to pull out in front of the high-speed regular traffic.

Wouldn’t it be safer to extend their lane well past the top of the hill, to C, to give the truckers a chance to get back up to speed before they have to merge?


OCT. 11, 2015    CAUGHT IN THE ACT

According to the date on the pictures, two years ago this month Google’s “Street View” camera vehicle made a pass down Amazon Alley, which runs beside my apartment.

Earlier that same October I had taken delivery on a shiny new car.  However, not until this year did I discover these images of it.  You can’t recognize me, but there I am, oblivious to the cameras, unloading the trunk.

I’m on Google Earth!

You’ll notice that my parking space is simply a graveled rectangle in the corner of the lawn, which otherwise consists of a 60’ by 60’ square of grass.  Several rabbits graze here and on the neighbors’ lawns.  We don’t consider them pests because we don’t have gardens, and they’re welcome to nibble our clover.

Sometimes they hide under the branches of the forty-foot pine trees that separate the lawn from the alley.

But sometimes I find them much closer — underneath the shelter of my car.

As a general rule, whenever I leave any parking space I let out the brake gradually, because there have been times I’ve discovered I was in Drive when I thought I was in Reverse or vice versa.  I’m especially slow about pulling out of this particular space.  I want to give any lurking animal friend a chance to hop away from those tires when they start to roll.

When I reach the street I often look back and see a rabbit next to my parking space, watching me depart.  He may be almost tame, but for some reason he never waves goodbye.



On the Fourth of July, the St. Louis Cardinals led the National League Central Division by 6 games over the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Chicago Cubs were in third place, 8½ games out.  There was a lot of baseball yet to be played, but if the season happened to end that way, the Cardinals would claim the division title and the Pirates and Cubs would claim the two wild cards.

Guess what?  All three teams did hold those positions the rest of the way!  The playoff spots were filled as long predicted.  The race did tighten towards the end, as the Cardinals finished with 100 wins, the Pirates with 98, and the Cubs with 97.  These were the best teams in all of Major League Baseball.  No other club won more than 95.

This graph shows by how many games the Pirates trailed the Cardinals during those final three months — never more than 7 games, never less than 2½ until the final day.

To Pirates fans, it seemed like every time their team won and could have gained ground, their hopes were dashed when the Cardinals won too.

One example:  although the Pirates went 19-9 in August, they actually lost 1½ games in the standings.  On those 19 winning days the Cardinals went 13-6 (.684).

Another example:  the Pirates were 5 games back in mid-September but reeled off eight straight wins.  Did they catch the Cardinals?  Of course not.  On six of those dates, St. Louis also won, maintaining a 3-game lead.

Checking the standings each day was like déjà vu all over again.



The federal government has introduced a website called College Scorecard that allows families to compare universities on several different metrics.  One of them is how much money a graduate can expect to make.

At one end of the scale, alumni of North Dakota’s Sitting Bull College earn an average annual salary of only $11,600.  At the other end, SUNY Downstate Medical Center graduates are paid nearly 11 times as much.  In between are institutions you’ve actually heard of:  MIT $91,600, Harvard $87,200, Penn State $47,500.  My alma mater, Oberlin College, barely beat the national average at $38,400.  In fact, 48% of Oberlin graduates earn less than people with only a high school diploma!

But that’s okay.  I’m not surprised that Oberlinians are paid less than SUNY doctors, or MIT engineers, or Harvard lawyers, or Penn State executives.  We tend to heed less lucrative callings.  We may become educators or social workers or classical musicians or organic farmers or pastors or poets or performers.  Our treasures are not necessarily in our bank accounts.

If you ask whether college is worth it, don’t just compare how much you’ll make to how much it’ll cost.  Consider more than return versus investment.  A college is not merely a trade school to prepare you for a specific career.  A college — particularly a liberal arts college like Oberlin — is a place where young performers and politicians, poets and physicists, talk to each other.  It prepares you for life. 



Fifty years ago I wrote a nonsense genealogy.  In a way, it anticipated George Foreman and his five sons all named George.  And his grill, I suppose.

My story ended with a $1.47 bill for food and drinks at Tim & Clyde’s place.  Prices were cheaper then.  But whatever happened to Tim & Clyde’s?

A couple of weeks ago I happened to be driving through a tiny town along the Allegheny River, and I found it!  Or what it has become, anyway.

The place is on Prospect Avenue in Cadogan, Pennsylvania.  I’ve appended a photo to the original tale and made it this month's 100 Moons article, because why not?



The Beatles released their “White Album” when I was a college senior, and we featured it prominently on our campus radio station WOBC.  One of the great songs on the first of its four sides was George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”   I didn’t discover until recently that George didn’t play the solo; the gentle weeping was provided by uncredited guest star Eric Clapton, who also joined in this performance.

Half a century later, what is it that we should be bewailing?  Pope Francis and I would say it’s the slow death of our planet.

The Associated Press reported last week that according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the month of August “smashed global records for heat.”  So did the entire summer.  “That's the fifth straight record hot season in a row and the fourth consecutive record hot month.  Meteorologists say 2015 is a near certainty to eclipse 2014 as the hottest year on record.”

Many of us don’t want to hear it, but scientists have been trying for years to alert us to global warming.  As more and more people burn more and more oil and gas and coal, the atmosphere is being polluted by greenhouse gases.  In the coming years, low-lying lands will be flooded by rising seas, temperate farmlands will be transformed into dusty deserts, species will go extinct, and billions will starve.

But we can’t do a thing about it!

Why not?  Because we don’t want to.

The rich and powerful can buy and sell us, but they won’t restrain the use of fossil fuels because that would reduce their profits.  None of us want to sacrifice.  We might have to make drastic changes to our lifestyles.  Will we not be able to drive our cars as much?  Will coal miners have to find other jobs?  No, we don’t want to do anything about global warming.  And commentators divert us with excuses to avoid doing anything. 

Sean Hannity: “I don’t believe climate change is real.  I think this is global warming hysteria and alarmism.”  Tucker Carlson: “You can’t tell me that global warming is destroying the earth.”  Rush Limbaugh: “It’s already a hoax, it’s already been established:  There is no man-made global warming.”

The worst catastrophe, if it comes, is still decades away.  I won’t be alive to see it.  Younger folks figure they’ll be able to find a way to cope.  Besides, it won’t happen at all because Rush says it’s a hoax.

I regret to inform you that Rush is the one who’s lying.  He and the other perverted deniers are full of hot air.  They’ve inverted the facts.  The real hoax is their insistence that we can carry on as usual.

               Portrait by Wu Wei

George Harrison is gone now, but he sees the world here that’s sleeping.

“I look at you all.
  I look at the trouble
  and see that it's raging.”

I’ve taken the liberty of rearranging his lyrics slightly.  The words in green are alternate versions from Harrison’s earlier demos of this song.  The words in blue are alternate versions from me.

I look from the wings at the play you are staging
While my guitar gently weeps,
As I'm sitting here, doing nothing but ageing,
While my guitar gently weeps.

I look at the floor, and I see it needs sweeping.
Still my guitar gently weeps.
The problems you sow are the troubles you're reaping,
While my guitar gently weeps.

     I don't know why nobody told you.
     They all bankrolled the lie.
     I don't know how someone controlled you;
     They bought and sold you.

I look at the world, and I notice it's burning,
While my guitar gently weeps.
With every mistake, we must surely be learning.
Still my guitar gently weeps.

     I don't know how you were diverted.
     You were perverted, too.
     I don't know how you were inverted.
     No one alerted you.

I look at you all, see the coming disaster,
While my guitar gently weeps.
I look at you all . . .
Still my guitar gently weeps.



Starling Marte of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who usually hits left-handed pitchers well, has been slumping since July.  An article in yesterday's paper gave the numbers and ended with the factoid that his walk rate against lefties (3.4 per cent) is only half what it was in 2014.

That sounds like a drastic falloff.  It isn’t.  It’s a drop from 6.3% to 3.4%.  Had it been a drop from 63% to 34% it would have meant something, but Marte’s bases on balls have always been infrequent.  In 2014 he walked six times against lefthanders.  So far this season, only four times.  That’s a whopping difference of one walk every three months.



This weekend I ran across a picture of demonstrators asking why God destroyed Sodom.  These hate-full homophobes think they have the answer, but apparently they don’t read their Bibles carefully.

Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, God doesn’t always know everything.  In this case, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had been accused of unspecified wickedness, and God wondered how bad the situation could be (Genesis 18:20-21).  He decided to send angels to investigate.  If they couldn’t find ten good people (18:32), they would destroy the “cities of the plain” (19:13).

When the angels arrived in Sodom, Lot hospitably invited the strangers to stay with him.  However, Lot’s neighbors had resented him ever since he had immigrated to their town (19:9).  Surrounding his house, they demanded that he hand over the undocumented aliens.  The mob wanted to rape the angels (19:5).  Lot came out and offered his daughters instead, because it’s more virtuous to give up some of your own property than to allow your guests to be treated unkindly (19:8).  But the angels yanked Lot back into the house and warned him to get his family out of town before the rain of fire began.

Aside from the mob’s threat, there’s no indication here that homosexual activity was more common in Sodom than anywhere else.  So why did God destroy the city?  What was its sin?  Hostility to outsiders?  “Sodomy”?  Something more?  The Bible gives us the answer.  It’s in Ezekiel 16:49.

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom:
She and her daughters were arrogant,
overfed, and unconcerned.
They did not help the poor and needy.

To me, the Sodomites sound like present-day Republicans who don’t think taxes on the wealthy ought to be used to assist the less fortunate.

Ezekiel 16:50: “They were haughty and did detestable things before me.  Therefore I did away with them, as you have seen.”

This summer on the Internet, I’ve found much other material that interests me.  In many cases, the topics are politics and religion, which we really aren’t supposed to discuss in polite company.  Nevertheless, I wanted to pass along some of what I’ve found.  I’ve added a new article to this website:   a collection of what I’m calling Retweets.  Take a look.


SEPT. 13, 2015    LOOK BOTH WAYS

Where children walk to and from school, ideally there should be a friendly policeman to help them get across the street safely.

The little village where I grew up had only three traffic lights and no multi-lane highways, so traffic wasn’t that heavy.  We didn’t have many law enforcement officials either.  But if we couldn’t station an actual cop near a crossing to scare any speeders into slowing down, perhaps we could deploy a metal decoy.

Also, we could deputize older kids to watch out for the younger kids.  Members of the student “safety patrol” wore diagonal white belts and badges, their symbols of authority.

The AAA provided red and white flags on long wooden poles which were held horizontally to block either vehicular or pedestrian traffic, as required.  The belts supported the free end of the poles.

I always thought this arrangement was the norm.  But last month I read that the financially troubled Penn Hills school district has been paying crossing guards.  They’ve been paying 71 adults a total of $600,000 a year!  Now they plan to save hundreds of thousands of dollars by cutting the force to only 25 guards.  Some Penn Hills students do have to cross heavily-used roads, but state law doesn’t mandate any crossing guards at all.

In nearby McKeesport, a 15-year-old student was struck and killed by a school bus ten days ago at the same spot where a 14-year-old was killed by a dump truck a year and a half before.  The busy intersection is fully equipped with traffic signals, painted crosswalks, and lighted “walk/don’t walk” signs.  Were these kids carefully obeying the rules, or were they carefreely jaydarting?  I suspect the latter.  Now the authorities will install barrier railings, lengthen the “walk” intervals, and stagger the bus departures.  They’ll find the money somewhere to hire a crossing guard temporarily.  “It could be a week, five weeks or a year.”  Will that be enough?

Up in Augusta, Maine, last summer, school officials eliminated all of that district’s paid guards.  Board of Education chairwoman Susan Campbell said many children cross the street anyway, even when school is not in session.  “Do you think those kids don’t cross the road all summer long to get to the playground?  I think kids are crossing all the time.”  And Superintendent James Anastasio noted, “Very, very, very few communities have crossing guards anymore, and those who do, cross with volunteers.  Most people are reacting to what they remember, walking to school as children.  But very few children walk to school now.  Many more parents drive their children to school than in the past.”

(These old photos are not from my school.)

Penn Hills had to take out a $12 million loan to balance its budget.  If money is that tight, maybe they should consider once again employing old-school methods:  metal cops and adolescent escorts, no salary required.



Baseball’s best pitchers — especially those who are relatively inexperienced or recovering from surgery — are burning themselves out during the long regular season, then having to sit out the more important stretch drives in September and playoffs in October.

In 2012, the Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg on September 9 after 159.1 innings.  This year, Matt Harvey’s agent Scott Boras warned last week that the Mets will put his client in “peril” if they use him for more than 180 innings; the latest guess is that Harvey will make only one more regular-season start.  And Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole already has thrown 180.2 innings, many more than his previous career high; because the Bucs would like to keep Cole fresh for the postseason, he’s skipping his regular start tonight.

How can we avoid these situations?  Let me make two off-the-wall suggestions.

Replace the customary five-man pitching rotations with six-man rotations.  Granted, a manager will still try to find a way to get his ace onto the mound every five days, thus using him up before the postseason.  To minimize this, add a rule that anyone who pitches five innings or more on a given day is ineligible to pitch again until six days later.  If a game is a blowout, the manager might replace the pitcher after 4.2 innings so he could make another start in a few days.  No problem; that would tend to save his arm, while giving a long reliever a chance at a win.

Or . . .

Shorten the season from 162 games to about 142, provided that you can somehow convince the owners to give up the revenue.  Forget the first half of April, when weather in the North can be challenging.  Start the season on April 15 as it did in 1947 and call it Jackie Robinson Opening Day to honor Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers on that date, meanwhile ending the silly custom of making every player wear #42.  Then finish the season early enough to allow the wild-card teams to play five-game series (not one-game playoffs) during the last week of September.


SEPT. 7, 2015    WHAT'S THE SCORE?

It was a recent Sunday.  I tuned the TV to an afternoon baseball game and curled up on the couch, my back to the screen and my face buried in a pillow and my eyes closed, listening to the commentators.

Since the beginning of televised sport, radio announcers have been enlisted to supply the TV sound track.

I’ve read about Red Barber calling a Reds-Dodgers doubleheader on a pioneering 1939 NBC telecast.  The technology was primitive; the New York Times reported, “At times it was possible to catch a fleeting glimpse of the ball as it sped from the pitcher’s hand toward home plate.”  Viewers might not have been able to comprehend what they were seeing had it not been for Red’s play-by-play description.

It wasn’t until late in the 1980 football season that NBC and Don Ohlmeyer were confident enough in their pictures to broadcast an announcerless game.  I remember watching that one-time-only experimental telecast,  Jets versus Dolphins.  We viewers heard only what we could have heard in the stadium:  cheering, PA announcements, and the sounds of players hitting each other.  I rather enjoyed the realism.

On this recent Sunday, I wasn’t paying nearly as much attention.  Within a few minutes, I had slipped into an afternoon nap.

When I woke up a couple of hours later, the baseball game was still on.  I wondered, “What’s the score?”  I could have bestirred myself to roll over and peer at the corner of the screen, where the score bug is always visible.  But I was too lazy.  I lay there and waited for the announcers to tell me.

For a long time, they didn’t.

Much play-by-play commentary is superfluous.  We can see “There’s a ground ball to shortstop,” so we don’t really need to be told.  Therefore, TV narration has gradually become less comprehensive.  Sometimes if the guys are telling a story, they may not feel the need to interrupt themselves to say “Ball two outside, and the count is now 2 and 1.”

This attitude has now extended to the score.  I’ve heard of radio announcers using an egg timer to remind themselves to give the score every three minutes.  TV announcers don’t worry about that.  An attentive viewer can be expected to know what’s happened in the game so far, and if he forgets, the score bug can remind him.

As an inattentive “viewer,” I had to listen for clues.  If a certain batter had “grounded out in the fourth inning,” that implied we were now in about the sixth inning.  If the announcers started worrying about the Pirates bullpen, the Pirates were probably protecting a small lead.  Eventually, about the eighth inning, when a walk was described as bringing the potential tying run to the plate, the mystery had been resolved.  I could remain in my comfortable semi-napping position.



Those who worship the Bible as an inerrant guide to all aspects of life often claim that their sacred book forbids abortion.

It doesn’t.  There's even a chapter prescribing how to perform one.

As Brother Billy’s guests pointed out in my earlier article — and this minister agrees — the Bible does not define life as beginning at conception.  A developing fetus is not yet considered a person.  Life doesn’t begin until the newborn emerges and begins to breathe the “breath of life.”

And as “cervantes” posted on the Internet, August 28, 2015:  “If human life begins at conception and the gamete is a person, then the greatest public health catastrophe and most urgent medical crisis confronting us is the more than 50% of unborn babies that die naturally.  God is the most prolific abortionist of all time.  100% of NIH funding should be diverted immediately to saving those millions of innocent lives that God is murdering every year in this country alone.”

Sometimes people want to play God by deliberately ending a pregnancy that's resulted from an illicit or adulterous relationship.  Believe it or not, for those situations the Bible gives a detailed recipe for concocting an abortifacient from holy water, as well as detailed instructions for using it to eliminate the misconceived fetus.

I explain in my article Biblical Lie Detector.



































































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