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T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website

 

JULY 27, 2016    
ONLY THREE COOKIES LEFT

Two short but newsy letters, the more recent of which I wrote 63 years ago today, can be found in an article I've just added to this website.  It's called A Literate Six-Year-Old.

 

 

JULY 22, 2016    GRAPHICS TIP

Backgrounds for bilingual Asian and European texts really ought to have different aspect ratios.  If we insist that complex ideograms be no taller than English letters, we make them almost too small to read.

The designer of the seed advertisement on the upper left had a better idea.

Also, Mr. Umpire, make sure Cookie doesn't try to eat the bat!  (Om nom nom nom.)

 
JULY 17, 2016    HE WON ON THE THIRD BALLOT

These days, political news comes too rapidly for me to keep up.  So does news about violent events.  For example, I don't think President Erdogan of Turkey was expecting a coup attempt on Friday.  And then this morning, the #2 headline in my news feed warned of another assault:

Froome expecting Quintana attack on Grand Colombier

Now what?  Is Quintana a new terrorist group?  I was not familiar with any of those proper names.  Clicking on the story, however, revealed that the subject was the Tour de France bicycle race, where Chris Froome is the defending champion and Nairo Quintana is “known for his ability to launch sustained and repeated attacks on ascents of steep gradient.”

I actually do watch some of the Tour on TV, but I didn't know the names because I pay absolutely no attention to the competition.  I'm still unclear on the concept of a “peloton.”  Instead, I watch the beautiful scenery unfold.  It's almost like exploring the back roads of France from a tour bus.

At one point we glimpsed an aerial view of a lovely little village alongside a river, dominated by an ancient square stone tower atop a hill.  I needed to turn to the Internet to learn that the town was Cessenon-sur-Orb and the tower was the only remaining part of a fortress that was probably built in the ninth century.  That's the sort of thing that interests me.


Did you know that I once helped broadcast a GOP political convention in northern Ohio?  This happened so long ago that the delegates nominated a moderate Republican for President!

Also, they heard a speech from a different moderate Republican who served as the “permanent chairman” of the convention.  Although he was not introduced as The Next President Of The United States, he actually did become the second-to-next.

This man “personified a certain strain of Republicanism,” David M. Shribman recalled last Sunday.  He was “wary of big government but willing to use it to assure the rights of minorities, stingy at home but generous abroad, willing to play the partisan but also willing to play 18 holes with his party rivals.  So much of that is gone — the openness to bipartisanship, the instinct for compromise ... a practical approach to conservative government where he believed it was possible to disagree while remaining respectful to one another.”

Who was this chairman?  Check out this month's 100 Moons article.  And by the way, the convention to which I'm referring wasn’t held in Cleveland but in a small town 30 miles away.


Photo by Guy J. Smith in 1968 Hi-O-Hi

 

JULY 14, 2016    A COUPLE OF UPDATES

When I started working in television 46 years ago, I worked for one cable TV company and then another.  Each cable system needed to fill the dial with a full 12 channels, so they originated one themselves.  Most of the time this channel ran automatically.  Viewers heard background music and saw an automated display of weather conditions and messages.  Some of the latter were paid local advertisements, but subscribers could also request public service announcements for their organizations.  Cablecasting these PSAs was good for business.

Well, nothing lasts forever, and I see “times & technologies have changed.”  My present local cable provider stopped updating their PSAs on July 1.

True, the automation was still running the last time I checked; apparently they have not yet decided what to put on channel 13 in its place.  But they no longer have to bother with typing up those bake sale promotions, and they wish us the best in all of our future endeavors.

Also on July 1, a Mississippi law was about to go into effect.  It would have violated freedom of religion, because the state would have imposed the opinions of a favored group of churches upon everybody.  The bill’s sponsors didn’t see it that way, of course.

“Amid lobbying from Baptist and Pentecostal groups,” the Associated Press explains, “the Republican-led Legislature passed House Bill 1523 this spring.”  The law would have protected three Baptist and Pentecostal beliefs:  “that marriage is only between a man and a woman; that sex should only take place in such a marriage; and that a person’s gender is determined at birth and cannot be altered.”

At the last moment, however, a federal judge blocked the law, saying it “unconstitutionally establishes preferred beliefs.”  That’s the very opposite of religious liberty.

The state’s Democratic attorney general, Jim Hood, announced yesterday that despite pressure from his governor, he won’t file an appeal against the judge’s ruling.

“All HB 1523 has done is tarnish Mississippi’s image while distracting us from the more pressing issues of decaying roads and bridges, underfunding of public education, the plight of the mentally ill, and the need to solve our state’s financial mess.”

“To appeal HB 1523 and fight for an empty bill that dupes one segment of our population into believing it has merit while discriminating against another is just plain wrong.  I don’t believe that’s the way to carry out Jesus’ primary directives to protect the least among us and to love thy neighbor.”

 

JULY 10, 2016    OH, IT'S CRYIN' TIME AGAIN

It wasn’t Jan who made yonder snow angels.

However, she has been lying in the snow outside her dorm for an hour and a half on this bitterly cold night, weeping.

So what happened?  A friend just spent an hour explaining to her, for her own good, why she has no worth as a person.

She’s devastated.  She doesn’t want to see her roommates.  She’s far from worthless, of course, but some of what he said hit home.  She’ll need to move out of the dorm for several days to find her self-confidence again.

That’s just one story Jan Olson told me.  In the same letter she also wrote, “The way I tend to approach religion is not to ask ‘Does God exist?’ but to ask ‘What is God?’”

But not all the mail I received from her was that serious-minded.  In the coming years she’d excitedly describe 14 newborn rats.  And a goalie husband.  And a kicking, wriggling, twisting, jiggling, laughing, giggling, smiling little boy.  And LIVERS!

As I mentioned last month, my friend has passed away.  Now I’m starting to post excerpts from a decade of her correspondence.  You can find the first batch, including the tale of crying in the snow, at Letters from Jan.

 

JULY 5, 2016    LASSIE NEEDS US!  WHAT IS IT, GIRL?

Sometimes, somehow, when an animal is in distress it knows to ask a human for assistance.

The classic story, which later made it into Aesop’s Fables, was first reported by Apion.  In first-century Rome, a recaptured runaway slave named Androclus had been sentenced to be devoured by fierce wild animals at the Circus Maximus.  However, one of them came up and licked the prisoner’s face.  Emperor Caligula asked what was going on.

He learned that three years before, Androclus had hidden in a cave which turned out also to be sheltering a whimpering lion.  Normally it’s very dangerous to corner a wounded animal in its den, but this big cat allowed Androclus to remove a large thorn from its paw, and they became friends.  The animal in the Circus was that very lion!  The emperor pardoned the slave, and thereafter Androclus was seen making the rounds of the shops with his lion on a leash.

We jump ahead to this May, alongside Mill Creek near Interstate 75 in Cincinnati.  Police Sgt. James Givens was parked in his cruiser.  There were geese in the vicinity.  “Normally they don’t come near us,” he said.  “I always thought that they were afraid of people, and people say they will attack you if you get close to their young’uns.”  But then a mother goose came knocking on his car door.

She kept pecking and pecking, and the sergeant thought she was asking for food until she walked away and stopped and looked back.  Givens got out of his cruiser, and the goose led him over to one of her goslings that had gotten itself tangled in the string from a discarded Mother’s Day balloon.

Specialist Cecilia Charron joined him to untangle the little bird.  That took at least a minute.  The mother goose waited patiently a few yards away, honking softly every few seconds to reassure her young’un.  Finally it was free, the mama gave two happy honks, and the two of them headed for the creek.

Also in May, a 25-year-old elephant called Pretty Boy was shot in the head by poachers in Zimbabwe.  He sought refuge in Mana Pools National Park, wandering around with a hole in his forehead for weeks before help could arrive.  “When it did, he motioned for assistance,” according to reports.

“It's like he knew we were there with the intention of helping him,” said Dr. Lisa Marabini, who with her husband Dr. Keith Dutlow founded the Animal and Wildlife Area Research and Rehabilitation Trust.  The elephant approached the two veterinarians; they tranquilized and X-rayed him and treated his wound.  AWARE Trust says “the elephant is recovering inside the park, and the vets will return for routine checkups.”

Dr. Marabini noted that, even after all the harm humans had done him, Pretty Boy was remarkably gentle towards the people who helped him.  “I never usually feel totally comfortable getting very close to a wild elephant,” she said.  “But there were no aggressive vibes coming from him whatsoever.  He literally emanated serenity.”

 

JUNE 30, 2016    KOBES

It was five years ago today that my television colleague Mike Kobik died unexpectedly.  Here is what I wrote then.  Some additional photos that I haven’t previously posted on this website:

From the days when we were covering Penn State football in 1985, Mike switches a highlights show after a game in Syracuse (left) and directs the Paterno coach’s show at WPSX-TV (right).  He didn't always look so glum; in fact, he was cheerful and great fun.  But we were serious about our work.

On the Pittsburgh edition of Evening Magazine, a feature took us behind the scenes of Call-A-Bet, whereby people could tune their TVs to harness racing from The Meadows and phone in their wagers.  Here is Mike directing the racing telecast with Tom Clark switching.


Finally, Paul Wiederecht saw my article about televising the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and he passed along a link on wiedep (his YouTube channel) to a backstage video compilation set to a Bobby McFerrin hit from that year.

At the rowing venue, we see some of my Pittsburgh friends, such as Stan Sobolak and Tom Huet on the left and Mike Kobik on the right.


One other passing to report:  Miriam Wagner, the widow of the Methodist pastor from my high school days, died at the age of 88 on June 1, 2016.  From her daughter Patty’s letter to Miriam’s friends:  “I think Mom would tell you that she loves you, and that she’s fine.  She had time to say goodbye to her family.  She talked about what mattered, and in her last days thought it was ‘strange, and rather interesting, being the one to die now,’ when she had sat at the bedside of so many others.  In the end, she was very ready to go.  We all would have rather she stayed, but we can’t begrudge her going: she missed Dad so.”  They were married 62 years.

A memorial service for Miriam was held last Saturday in Delaware, Ohio.  On that day in Pittsburgh, a local pastor published an op-ed piece against prejudice, particularly against fear of Muslims.  I think the Wagners would have approved.

 

JUNE 25, 2016    FAMILY FOTO FILE

In June of 1926, my 13-year-old future mother posed on the running board of what appears to be a 1924 Chevrolet.

This picture of my grandfather Harry Gladstone Buckingham is dated September 1939, when he was 54 years old.

My mother recalled that when she was a little girl, she thought every adult man had a crease in the middle of his forehead.  However, it turned out that her dad was unique.  The cause was an unfortunate youthful encounter with a baseball bat.

 

JUNE 21, 2016    OTHER ODDBALL DOUBLE-SPACERS

I insert two spaces between sentences, just like Mrs. Powers taught us back in high school typing class.  On old-fashioned typewriters, all the characters were the same width.  The big fat pica period took up a tenth of an inch, as much as an “m” or a “w.”  Thus, for better readability, we were instructed to end sentences with a period followed by two spaces.  Kids today have proportional fonts on their computers, and they’re told one space is sufficient.

Some of us older folks simply feel this is wrong, as wrong as ending a sentence with a preposition.  Like Mark Evanier wrote a year ago, we don’t care what people consider “correct” nowadays.  We continue to type according to the manner up in which we were brought.

By the way, I was taught to touch-type.  So was Eric D. Snider’s mom.  He reports that before going to bed one night, Momma Snider took an Ambien to help her sleep and also sent an e-mail message.  But her left hand drifted one key to the right, good became hoof, and the message ended like this:

“Lovr my ambirn though.  Hoof nihhy.”

I myself once typed something like that in class.  Mrs. Powers remarked, “Well, at least this proves you weren’t looking down at the keys.”

Another double-space blogger is TV veteran Earl Pomerantz, winner of Emmy awards for The Lily Tomlin Special in 1975 and The Cosby Show in 1984.

Twenty months ago, Earl reflected on his early career when his boss rejected his comedy-writing efforts.  “It was not that I was attempting to be different or boldly original in these cases.  I was simply opaquely ‘out of sync’ with the ‘conventional human reaction.’  Now I was not only not thinking the way the majority of people think — I was also not feeling the way the majority of people feel.”

I, too, often have atypical reactions.

For example, suppose a couple learns they’re going to have their first baby.  Everybody’s gonna jump for joy!  When the child is born, no matter whether the news is “It’s a boy” or the exact opposite “It’s a girl,” everybody gushes “How wonderful!”

However, my instinctive response is “How unfortunate!  That couple’s carefree days are over.  Now they’ll have to forget about themselves and rearrange every waking moment around the needs of an immigrant newly arrived in this country — an annoying, demanding stranger who has no reasoning ability.  And no height.”

As Randy Newman sang, more or less:

Short people got no reason

(I couldn’t resist adding a couple of pieces of clip art.)

Anyway, Earl went on:  “I have noticed that, even now, I continue to find myself promoting what is the equivalent of the ‘ninth most popular’ opinion concerning certain matters of the day.  In this space recently, I have expressed my position on the likes of suicide — ultimately a personal decision — and on spousal abuse involving NFL participants — why be surprised when a man in a violent profession behaves violently when they are off the clock?  But not a single ‘professional observer’ has considered these positions worthy enough to include in their widely disseminated public pronouncements.”

Well, Earl, I’m not a professional observer, but in this space I’ll narrowly disseminate your worthy thoughts, including others from last fall:

“Deflategate” makes us wonder why both football teams can’t use the same properly-inflated ball.  Other leagues function that way.

In personal injury lawsuits, compensatory damages rightly go to the plaintiffs to repay their medical costs or whatever.  But where should punitive damages go?  Not to the already-compensated plaintiffs, but to the rest of society (the people) like a fine.

Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame, but with a plaque detailing not just his on-field accomplishments but also his later misdeeds that got him banned from baseball.

It all makes sense to me.

 

JUNE 18, 2016    PARDON ME?

The Donald claims to be a Christian, but apparently he neither loves mercy nor walks humbly with his God (Micah 6:8).  He has little use for the concept of contrition.  See here.

Cal Thomas:  You have said you never felt the need to ask for God’s forgiveness.  And yet repentance for one’s sins is a precondition for salvation.

Donald Trump:  I will be asking for forgiveness, but hopefully I won’t have to be asking for much forgiveness.

Mark Evanier remarks, “There are people who believe that never admitting you're wrong is the same thing as being right.”

Trump also opposes granting forgiveness.  Rather than pardoning Americans who came to this country illegally, he would arrest all 11 million of them and send them back to Mexico or wherever.

Ten years ago I wrote a piece pretending to be a college student who’s similarly heartless — and similarly clueless about what Jesus said.  It’s this month’s 100 Moons article.

 

JUNE 13, 2016    CUP CROWDS

The puck bounced my way!  One, my local team won another title for the City of Champions; two, I was able to avoid the celebrating mob.

Last night the Pittsburgh Penguins clinched the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup by winning Game 6 in San Jose.  Had they lost, the series would have been tied at three games apiece, forcing a deciding Game 7 to be played back here in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.  And my presence would have been required.

The playoffs consist of four best-of-seven rounds.  This year they provided me with employment for eight nights plus a “set day,” which is more than usual.

Two long months ago, the Rangers opened the first round in Pittsburgh, and I was in a mobile unit as the Madison Square Garden Network’s graphics operator.  Then I moved inside the building, where a control room way up on Level 7 sends pictures to the video screen (or “jumbotron”) suspended over the ice far below.

The photo above is by technical director Mike Kendlick.  I was behind a keyboard for one game against the Capitals and three against the Lightning. 

Following the Pens’ overtime win on May 4, Edward Coll shot this picture above from atop a garage on the corner of Fifth Avenue.  I would have been in the crowd of gold-shirted folks in the lower right, waiting to cross Washington Place and retrieve my car from the garage.

But do you think that’s a “crowd”?  That’s nothing.

As the playoffs heated up, the Penguins were in position to win the Cup if they could beat the Sharks in the final round.  Many more media types than usual converged on Pittsburgh for the Final, and the league arranged many more accommodations for them.  Once again I was inside a truck in the TV compound, this time working Games 1, 2, and 5 for NHL International.  Our pictures were fed to broadcasters in China, Finland, and other countries around the world.

My coordinator John Vivirito and I were puzzled whilst preparing for Game 5.  As far back as we can remember, our statisticians have been giving us power play stats like this: “Tonight, the Penguins are 2 for 4 with 7 shots,” meaning that they had 4 power play opportunities, during which they put 7 shots on goal, 2 of which went in the net.  We wanted to type up the series stats.  It was easy to find out that the Penguins were 1 for 8.  With how many shots?  No one knew.  That number wasn’t in the stats summary, nor was it reported in the four individual box scores.  Has the NHL stopped keeping track of power play shots?  Why were we not informed?

Perhaps the championship would be won in Game 5.  Everybody in town wanted to be there when history was made.  The average price for a ticket sold on the secondary market reached $1,631, according to SeatGeek.  StubHub’s cheapest seat was over $1,400.

Even at those prices, the building was filled with 18,680 fans, a Consol Energy Center record.  And there appeared to be an equal number outside, spilling into the streets.  Just before puck drop, Angel Johnson took this picture of her monitor in the control room.

A big video screen along Fifth Avenue enabled at least some of those without tickets to watch the game.  The back of it is seen here from Duquesne University’s Power Center.

Jacob Klinger of PennLive wrote that fans on the steps of Epiphany Catholic Church, the red brick building in the background, “had to peer through several trees just to see the big screen TV.  Those in front of them on the grass looked through two glass walls at the corner of the arena, their views obstructed by the panels of the windows.  Some couldn't tell what score it was without asking those around them.”

There were so many people on the streets that the city brought in a second giant screen and set it up in Market Square, two-thirds of a mile away.

I wondered how I would be able to get to my car after the game.  If the home team won, the jubilant spectators inside the building would stream out to join the screaming mob outside.  A huge rowdy throng would celebrate the win.  The police had announced they wouldn’t try to stop the merriment at first.  They would wait 90 minutes before moving in to urge people off the streets.  But traffic would take a long time to clear out, and there would be drunks.

Many of the departing drivers would be joyfully tooting their horns three times, for the standard chant of the Penguins fan, “Let’s! Go! Pens!”  Usually in the third period, somebody in the arena repeatedly blasts an air horn three times, and the crowd joins in.  The same three notes are used for an alternate chant, “H! B! K!”, honoring the “HBK Line” of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel.  And over at PNC Park, every time a TV camera finds Pirates fans they respond with the same three notes, except over there it’s “Let’s! Go! Bucs!”  I’m getting tired of these three notes.  At least the standard football chant has some rhythm and melody to it:  “Here we go, Steelers, here we go!”

As it turned out, however, the Cup was not clinched on Thursday.  Even before the Pens allowed an empty-net goal that sealed their loss, disappointed fans outside started to drift away, hoping to beat traffic.  The police were able to reopen one of the lanes on Washington Place.  When I crossed it half an hour after the game, it looked like this Twitter photo.  Most of the people were gone, leaving only a layer of trash like the aftermath of a Kenny Chesney concert.

I exited the garage onto Fifth Avenue, and after only a couple of blocks of traffic, it was smooth driving all the way to my suburban apartment.

Had the Pens lost on the West Coast last night, they would have returned to Pittsburgh for Game 7, and the throngs also would have returned.  But they won!  The Penguins are Stanley Cup champions for the fourth time!  And though there may be celebrations in the ’Burgh, I can continue to enjoy domestic tranquility in the ’burbs!

  

JUNE 8, 2016
A LOSS IN THE
OBERLIN FAMILY

My best friend from college passed away last winter.

Today would have been Jan Olson’s 69th birthday.

I’ve put together a piece called Remembering Jan.

 

JUNE 2, 2016    MAJOR MALFUNCTION

Those of us who watch Full Frontal, Samantha Bee’s excellent topical series on TBS, were surprised when the first airing of the latest edition on May 23 turned out to be a rerun from the week before.

It was an “operational error,” we learned later.  Bee tweeted, “Last night’s FULL EPISODE is on YouTube.  We love you and we promise that we will never hurt you again.”

This was far from the first operational error in the history of television.  In a new article, Tales of ’78, I describe an even more obvious goof by NBC nearly four decades before.

I was working in cable TV then, so I’ve also included tales from that year about our coverage of a tennis tournament and a fireman’s parade, and a preacher’s magic trick, and the HBO debut of Robin Williams.

 

 


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