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T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website

 

FEB. 10, 2016    CAN'T STOP NOW

After identities were mixed up on the February 10, 1958, George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, the character Harry Morton delivered this goofy exit line:

“Don’t ask me.  Ask Mr. Morton here.  I’m Patrick O’Balderdash.  I own a sheep ranch in Australia, and it’s high time I went to milk them!”


“Why don’t all drivers out there stop at stop signs?” asked Keith Whitmore of Duquesne, PA, yesterday in a letter to the editor.  “I am tired of coming up to an intersection and having a jerk come up to the same intersection and blow through a stop sign.  Just by the grace of God I see these drivers first and avoid them before they hit me.  ...My dad used to say, ‘He must be late for his own funeral!’”

Personally, I haven’t noticed many cars failing to at least come to a “rolling stop.”  And almost everyone seems to stop at a red light and wait obediently for it to change, even with no other traffic in sight.  (Why do red lights command more respect than red signs?) 

On the other hand, my uncle Jim didn’t even slow down for a stop sign if he deemed it unnecessary.  If he could clearly see there were no other cars within half a mile of a rural crossroad, he’d fly through it doing 70.


Kinney Pike crossing Bethlehem-Claibourne Road near Richwood, Ohio

 

FEB. 4, 2016    YES, I HAVE HAIR

When my father was drafted during World War II, he was first sent to basic training.  But the Army realized that this middle-aged office manager was not cut out to be an infantryman.  He belonged behind a desk, not on a battlefield.  Therefore, they sent him to basic accountant training.  I’ve added three pictures to the early part of this article.

He served overseas but never saw combat.  During the year when his age was 35, he was stationed at a base at Chabua in northeastern India.

By the time he was 36, the war was over, and he sailed home with thousands of his buddies on what could be called a Mediterranean cruise.  I’m planning a new picture article about that experience for next month.

 

JAN. 31, 2016    THEY DON'T STAY ON THE SIDELINES

Catalysts actually do take part in chemical reactions, according to my Chemistry 2 professor fifty years ago.  You can read my “transcription” of his lecture in this month’s 100 Moons article.

 

JAN. 28, 2016    FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY

You’re looking above at a classic 1959 Chevrolet El Camino driving down North Franklin Street in Richwood, Ohio, exactly 50 years ago.  It was sunny that morning but very cold.  After a low of -2°, by eleven o’clock the thermometer had made it up to zero.  As you can see below, the Corn Crib popcorn stand outside Livingston’s store was not open for business.

Local insurance agent John Cheney had decided to take his business to a warmer clime.  On his last day in the office, he photographed the scene from his window, all the way up and down the block.  That panorama has made it onto this website, and you can find it here.

 

JAN. 25, 2016    HAVE WE THE WILL?

I’ve been revisiting some old speeches.  For example, when President George H.W. Bush took office, he said in his 1989 inaugural address:

We have work to do.  There are the homeless, lost and roaming.  There are the children who have nothing, no love, no normalcy.  There are those who cannot free themselves of enslavement to whatever addiction — drugs, welfare, the demoralization that rules the slums.  There is crime to be conquered, the rough crime of the streets.  There are young women to be helped who are about to become mothers of children they can't care for and might not love.  ...[But] our funds are low.  We have a deficit to bring down.  We have more will than wallet.

As I listened to that last line 27 years ago, I immediately objected.  No, Mr. President, it’s the other way around!  We have more wallet than will!

Don’t pretend that “we the people” are no longer able to keep our Constitutional promise “to promote the general welfare.”  America is the richest nation in the world.  Our wallet is bulging.  What we lack is the will to open it.

Dr. Martin Luther King, after his return from receiving the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize in Scandanavia, reported:  “In both Norway and Sweden, whose economies are literally dwarfed by the size of our affluence and the extent of our technology, they have no unemployment and no slums.  There, men, women and children have long enjoyed free medical care and quality education. This contrast to the limited, halting steps taken by our rich nation deeply troubled me.”

Concerned about the U.S. government deficit?  Increase revenue.  Those of us who can afford it ought to give back more to the commonwealth.

The corporate lobbyists have convinced the fearful and angry among us to contribute tax money for armaments and never-ending wars, but many tightfisted Americans have no inclination to contribute tax money to improve their fellow citizens’ lives.

“The question is whether America will do it,” Dr. King said in Washington four days before his death.  “There is nothing new about poverty.  What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty.  The real question is whether we have the will.”

 

JAN. 23, 2016    PACKERS vs CHIEFS

I watched Super Bowl I on television for the first time last night.  In 1967 I must have listened to this historic game on the radio in my college dorm room.  (I'm sure I listened to Super Bowl III that way in 1969.  Back then, I myself occasionally announced small-college football and basketball, doing play-by-play on the campus radio station.)

The first-ever showdown between the champions of the National Football League and the American Football League was televised by CBS and also by NBC, but tapes of those broadcasts are not available.  Therefore, NFL Films has dug film footage out of its vaults and matched it to an edited version of Jim Simpson’s NBC Radio broadcast to produce something resembling a complete telecast.  It’s only 90 minutes long because the dead time between plays is not included.  NFL Network aired it last night with a minimum of modern-day commentary.  Some thoughts from me:


Kansas City rookie Mike Garrett runs the ball on several nice plays.  We would meet in 1989 when I drove the Heisman Trophy winner back from South Bend to O'Hare following a USC telecast.

Green Bay’s Jim Taylor, fighting for extra yardage, is thrown to the ground after the whistle by Kansas City’s Buck Buchanan.  A 21st-century player would instantly take offense at this lack of respect and his teammates would start a fight, but Taylor does not even turn around.  He gets up and walks back to his huddle, leaving it to an official to get in Buchanan’s face and tell him off.

The Packers carry a 28-10 lead into the fourth quarter, and the announcers seem surprised that starting quarterback Bart Starr is still in the game.  He leads Green Bay to another touchdown, after which both teams switch to their backup QBs.  Such substitutions are uncommon nowadays.

To me, the officials occasionally appear frenetic, leaping over fallen players at the end of a play to mark the ball as quickly as possible.  We could have used energetic officials like that on some of our high school telecasts last season.  “Stats!  Is it going to be third-and-five or third-and-four?”  “I don’t know; they’re still discussing things and wandering around with the ball, and they haven’t marked it yet.”

Another good thing about the 1967 officiating:  fewer penalties and no challenges.

Also, it’s much easier to sit through a fast-paced 90 minutes of action than a complete live telecast that’s more than twice as long.

 

JAN. 18, 2016    REMAINING AWAKE

Last night the American Heroes Channel ran a documentary on the 1968 hunt for Martin Luther King’s assassin.  They called it Justice for MLK.

Perhaps they should have called it Revenge for MLK.  James Earl Ray’s pursuers were not seeking justice as much as retribution.

For Rev. King, “justice” was not the electric chair.  It was equal rights, and “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”  Justice was not about punishing bad people.  It was about guaranteeing good people the opportunities they deserve. 

I never met Rev. King, although as I related in this letter, I met his father at a photo op in Marion, Ohio, in 1970.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did visit my college several times, but that was before I arrived as a freshman in the fall of 1965.  Dr. King’s final speech on campus had been delivered that spring.

For easier reading, I’ve condensed the text of that commencement address, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”  In observance of MLK Day, I’ve posted it here under the title To Dream, But Not to Sleep.

 

JAN. 12, 2016    DIGEST VERSION: NOVELTY'S WORN OFF

Under the new four-team college football playoff format, the second annual national championship game last night (Alabama 45, Clemson 40) drew noticeably less interest than last year's much-ballyhooed first game.  At least around here it did.  Pittsburghers care about only Steelers football.  Clemson plays in the same conference as the University of Pittsburgh, but that means nothing.  Yesterday’s advance story about the upcoming college championship was buried on Page C-5 of the sports section.


I got an offer in the mail yesterday to re-subscribe to Reader’s Digest.  Apparently, the little monthly still exists.

Way back in 1958, when I was 11 years old, my family took a summer vacation trip that led ultimately to a rustic inn on Rangeley Lake in Maine.  I felt rather like the compulsive reader “Brick” from The Middle, because there wasn’t room to take any of my books.  There might be no television, and local newspapers would be rather sketchy.  I might be reduced to reading cereal boxes.

Therefore I slipped into my suitcase the latest edition of Reader’s Digest.  Like this copy, it contained one condensed book and 30 articles “of lasting interest” gleaned from various magazines.  I rationed myself to read exactly three articles each evening.

 

JAN. 7, 2016    YOURS IS ONLY MILD-TO-MODERATE

Commercials often feature actors portraying real people speaking directly to us.  “My rash was really bothering me.  So finally I went to the doctor.”

However, I’ve seen a pharmaceutical ad that begins, “My Moderate-to-Severe Chronic Plaque Psoriasis made a simple trip to the grocery store anything but simple.  So finally I had an important conversation with my dermatologist.”

Do you ever speak with such clinical specificity?  I think I’d like to have an important conversation with Humira’s ad writer.

That’s because I myself suffer from Moderate-to-Severe Chronic Advertising Copy Incredulity.

For example, on a rack of tanks outside a store, I saw this slogan:  “It’s not just propane.”  So of course I had to wonder.  “It’s not just propane?  What else do they put in that tank?  Rocket fuel?”

 
Mr. Hank Hill overheard my foolishness.  "That boy ain't right, I tell you what,” he grumbled to himself.

Then he told me, “Check out this here literature.  Blue Rhino is ’specially careful with their propane tanks and propane accessories.  That’s your ‘what else!’

“Every tank is cleaned, or even repainted.  Then it’s labeled with all your safety information and instructions.  They test it for leaks, fill it up with just the right amount of propane, and deliver it to the store. 

“Of course, they don’t deliver to Mega Lo Mart no more.  Not after the big blowup over there.”

 

JAN. 1, 2016    ANGST

Canadian comedian Norm Macdonald, currently appearing as KFC’s Colonel Sanders, sometimes posts lengthy items on Twitter by breaking them up into individual sentences.  This week he used more than a dozen tweets to transmit a piece he appears to have written 42 years before.

On December 20, 1973, Norm was growing up in Ottawa.  TV news reported the tragic deaths that day of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco (terrorist bomb in Spain) and singer Bobby Darin (open-heart surgery).  Also, 10-year-old Norm couldn’t stop thinking about two men who perished earlier in an attack on an airplane.

He was sure his own death was coming soon, somehow.  On December 30, here’s what he must have written.  I’ve edited the schoolboy spelling and punctuation.

I’m scared, because I asked dad about a thing on TV I saw.  Some hijackers threw a live man and a dead man off a plane.  My dad gets mad and says TV isn't for 10-year-olds.  I get more scared now, because I can see him scared.  It happened some days ago but is still shown.

Then one day last week I heard my dad say a prime minister in Spain was killed and “that ain’t no coincidence.”

My mother is crying.  My mother says nothing’s good no more, and even Bobby Darin's dead and he was better than Sinatra.  Dad says “the kid knew he was a goner.”

I couldn't sleep good for a while, but the world didn't go, and Christmas wasn't ruined.

And then today, a man with the scariest name of Carlos the Jackal tries to kill somebody.

I know I won't grow to be old.  Sometimes I wonder if I'll make it to 11, but most days I think I will — unless a weird thing happens.  But I don't for a second think I'll be 12.

You see, I've been watching what’s really happening in this world on the TV when dad's gone.  And when I tell my mom what’s happening, she cries.  And she holds me and tells me everything is all right.  But if everything is all right, why is she holding me and crying?

I whisper in her ear.  I tell her it gets darker every day, and can't she see it?  She pushes me away and goes to where the bottles and glasses are.

And then my mother’s brother barges in, and I know real fear, more fear than Carlos the Jackal.  I run to my room before he sees me.  I turn off the lights.  I am all under the covers.

My mother won't let anything happen.  I hear her sing “Mack the Knife” real hard, and I hear my uncle's hard voice tell her to shut up and give him a glass, but she sings louder.

I am finally found by sleep.

 

This felt familiar.  I too went through a period of pre-adolescent angst.  Fortunately, in my case, what frightened me was merely the global situation, not a drunk uncle.  In my case, my father didn’t tell me to stop watching the news, but my mother did tell me we shouldn’t worry about things over which we have no control.  I recalled the experience in this post-9/11 article.

Angst is “a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general.”  We fear horrible things are about to happen.  What things they may be, we cannot tell.

But demagogues and other politicians are quite willing to gain our support by scaring us even more, making us even more afraid.  The government is coming to take our guns!  The Mexicans are coming to rape our women and take our jobs!  The environmentalists will take our SUVs!  The Muslims will behead us!

Such overblown trepidations are no longer merely ludicrous, writes Scott Renshaw from Utah.  “I can't laugh at scary, delusional, desperately-frightened-of-change people any more.  There are too many of them, causing too much damage.”

“Who wouldn’t be depressed about the world today?” asks another Canadian, Margaret Wente, in a Christmas Day article.  “Everywhere you look, it’s doom and gloom.  So, turn off the news and consider this.  For most of humanity, life is improving at an accelerated rate!

“Most people find this hard to believe.  After all, we’re programmed to look for trouble.  Here are some reasons to start the new year on an optimistic note:

“This year, for the first time on record, the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has sunk below 10 per cent, the World Bank says.  This is a stunning achievement.  As recently as 1990, 37 per cent of the world’s population was desperately poor.  ...Malnutrition has all but disappeared, except in countries with terrible governments.  Eighty per cent of the world’s population use contraceptives and have two-child families.  Eighty per cent vaccinate their children.  Eighty per cent have electricity in their homes.  Ninety per cent of the world’s girls go to school.”

What about violence?  “We’ve never lived in such peaceful times,” says Wente.  “Wars and conflict fill the news, but they are at historic lows.  ...As for terrorist attacks, you’re far more likely to be killed by a collision with a deer.  ...Between 1993 and 2013, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, the rate of U.S. gun homicides fell by half, from seven homicides for every 100,000 people to 3.8 homicides in 2013.”

What about illness?  “We are gradually wiping out the worst of the world’s diseases. In 1988, polio was endemic in 125 countries. Now, there are just two: Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“Make a New Year’s resolution,” Wente advises, “to count your many blessings — including flush toilets, electric lights, polio vaccines, and peace.”

And the apostle Paul advises, “Do not be anxious about anything.”  His recommendation to the Philippians goes something like this:  “If there is anything excellent, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about those things instead.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.”

 

DEC. 28, 2015    ROW BRIDGE, LOW BRIDGE

Less than a mile from my apartment, there’s a Bridge Street without a bridge.  How come?  My explanation is in an article called Everybody Down!

 

DEC. 22, 2015    54 YEARS AGO

What did Christmas Day sound like at my house when I was a freshman in high school?  The answer is in this month’s 100 Moons article.  Among other highlights, I played the electronic organ, and my father tried to sing along.

 
DEC. 17, 2015    3D?  4K?  NO THANKS, I'M GOOD

Television manufacturers, having failed to convince enough of us to invest in three-dimensional TVs, have essentially given up on that idea.  They’ve moved on from 3D to 4K.

“Ultra HD,” or 4K, boasts over eight million pixels.  That's four times as many as HD.  To accommodate so many tiny dots, the screen has to be bigger — too large for my little one-person apartment.  Besides, as far as I'm concerned, ordinary HD usually offers enough detail.

One exception:  classic CinemaScope movies designed to fill huge theaters in a 16:6 aspect ratio, such as 1955’s Oklahoma!

When CinemaScope is letterboxed to fit a 16:9 TV screen, group scenes become too small to clearly show facial expressions.

I move closer to the screen, but I wish I had more pixels.

I also get along fine without 3D, both for TV and for movies.  Production techniques can be employed to depict the third dimension without requiring special glasses.

In this clip, notice how lighting, focus, and smooth camera movement clearly separate the King’s Singers from the choir in the background and from the flowers in the foreground.  It’s a beautiful feeling of depth.

(Also beautiful:  the final verse.  Are you listening, white Christians who so furiously rage against any and all Samaritans?  “Truly He taught us to love one another.  His law is love.  And His gospel is peace.”)

 

DEC. 13, 2015    WHAT IS IT, GIRL?

An episode earlier this year of ABC’s sitcom Last Man Standing began with a couple trying to sleep.  The neighbor’s dog was barking again.  The first 17 seconds of dialogue included three very dated jokes.

“Somebody’s got to muzzle that dog, or rescue Timmy from the well.”  (The character Timmy first appeared on the TV series Lassie in 1957.  He was played by Jon Provost, here on Cloris Leachman’s lap.)

“It’s Larabee’s German shepherd.  Every morning this week!  Damn dog’s giving Germans a bad name.”  (Germany was our enemy in 1917-18 and 1941-45.)

“I’m surprised the Shirazis’ French poodle hasn’t surrendered.”  (France surrendered to the invading Germans in 1940.)

Are comedy writers so lazy that they can’t come up with more recent references?  Perhaps to events that took place during the target audience’s lifetime?

Of course, I shouldn't be complaining.  They might fall back on even older allusions, such as “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

 

DEC. 8, 2015    ALARMED CLICHÉS

“Wake up, America!  Some people actually disagree with me!  They have attitudes they're trying to shove down our throats!”  That’s the frantic warning in many embittered letters to the editor and postings on social media.

For example, someone called dankies213 wrote:  “People are always complaining that they don't like religion shoved down their throat, when Hollywood shoves beauty and ‘looking good’ down our throats and no one complains about that really.”

And someone named David Nedlin posted last week:  “Maybe now some people will wake up & listen to me when I say we have to deport & eliminate ALL Muslims & Gather up ALL illegal firearms & execute their owners.  Think that’s too extreme?  Maybe someday a loved one of yours will be SHOT DEAD & then you may change your mind.  Wake up, people — or you will be next!”

(It’s far more likely that someday a loved one of yours will be killed in a highway accident.  Every day, 100 innocent Americans lose their lives that way!  I’ve had two co-workers who died driving to jobs.  Should we “wake up” before it's too late?  Should we get rid of all the cars?)

I’m tired of being told that I’m being duped, because others are somehow forcing me to swallow their ideas.  I’m tired of being told that I’m sleeping through reality, because I’m hesitant to “eliminate” all Muslims and kill gun owners.

At a minimum, we need new metaphors.

We need a lot else besides.

 

DEC. 2, 2015    REVERSE GROUNDHOG DAY

The Pittsburgh region experienced its warmest November since 1931, and it still hasn't snowed here.  Zelienople Zeke, a groundhog I just made up, predicts six more weeks of autumn before the really abominable weather arrives.  Let’s hope he’s right. 

At the end of last snow season, Scott Sturgis wrote a column on “lessons learned from winter driving.”  I’m happy to say that I followed all three of his insights (slow down, use an all-wheel-drive car, and respect the laws of physics), and I didn’t have any trouble.  When the frozen precipitation finally does arrive this time, let’s hope everything goes equally smoothly.

 


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