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APRIL \ MARCH 2011

 
APRIL 29, 2011     OUR COWBOY FRIEND

The newspaper in my old hometown, the village of Richwood, Ohio, features old news items.  Yesterday I received an inquiry from one of my high school classmates:

Tom, in this week’s Gazette – 50 Years Ago, April 27, 1961 – it says:

“Western star Roy Rogers is spreading the good word for Vernon M. Thomas Chevrolet. Right now, he says, it is easier than ever to own America’s easiest riding truck.”

Was this a general Chevrolet commercial he did or something more specific for your dealership?  I probably knew at the time, but 50 years later it doesn’t ring a bell with me!

Well, Roy Rogers did advertise Chevrolets on a national basis.  For example, he and the Sons of the Pioneers filled in 14 times for Dinah Shore on her Sunday-night NBC-TV Chevy Show from 1958 through 1960.  But I don’t think he ever made a special pitch for my father’s dealership.

Most likely, General Motors prepared artwork showing Roy with a Chevy pickup and sent it to Chevrolet dealers so that they could use the picture in their local newspaper advertisements.  The suggested copy was probably something like “Western star Roy Rogers is spreading the good word for Hometown Chevrolet ... 0000 Main Street, Anytown, USA.”  We’d fill in the local details.

However, my parents and I had in fact crossed paths with Roy two years earlier.

We were on a three-week vacation trip, driving through the West.  As we passed through Idaho on Friday morning, July 17, 1959, I began checking the guidebooks to pick out a place to stay when we arrived at Salt Lake City.  We planned to visit the Mormon Tabernacle that evening, so my first choice was the Utah Hotel Motor Lodge, located on the other side of North West Temple Street.  (On this Google Earth image, the site where the Motor Lodge used to be is marked with a yellow pushpin.)  It sounded like a very good place, but perhaps a little too expensive.

 

Across West North Temple Street from the Motor Lodge, in the right foreground of the above picture, there was a cheaper place:  the Salt Lake City TraveLodge.  That’s where we stayed.  It was quite close enough; our room was only 800 feet from the domed Tabernacle.

The next day kicked off the week-long Days of ’47 celebration, commemorating Mormon leader Brigham Young’s arrival in 1847 when he proclaimed, “This is the place.”  On this Saturday night in 1959, there was going to be a big rodeo at the State Fairgrounds, located on land that’s now a part of the airport.  The star was going to be Roy Rogers.  That morning we went downtown and bought three $1.50 tickets, then visited an open-pit copper mine 28 miles southwest of the city, then returned to our motel.

Before heading out to the rodeo, we wanted to eat supper.  The nearest restaurant was the café in the Motor Lodge across the street, so we walked over there, were seated in a booth, and placed our order.  Then Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and their family were seated at a large table not far behind me! 

My mother remarked, “And you thought that we should get a room in this hotel!  This is the fancy place, where the movie stars stay.”  She asked whether I wanted to switch sides with her in our booth so I could watch the famous folks dine.  At first I declined, not being one to get all excited about celebrities, but later I changed my mind and switched places.  However, we didn’t approach the celebrities for autographs or anything like that.

Later that evening, we and Roy and 11,000 other spectators traveled about four miles west to the big rodeo.  (The photo above, showing the family in a 1959 Chevy but probably at a different event, comes from strangecosmos.com.)

My review that night:  “not too many contestants; Rogers troupe made it interesting.”  I found the show less exciting than another rodeo we attended two nights later in Cody, Wyoming.

 

APRIL 25, 2011     HIT THE ROAD, JACQUES!

During the Stanley Cup playoffs, National Hockey League teams are paired up in best-four-out-of-seven series.

The team with the better regular-season record is awarded “home-ice advantage.”  That means they get to play as many as four games at home:  the first two, plus (if necessary) Games 5 and 7.

The other team gets at most three home dates:  Games 3, 4, and (if necessary) 6.  Financially, that’s not as good because, compared to the higher seed’s arena, their building potentially earns revenue from one fewer event.

However, on the scoreboard during the week just concluded, home ice did not prove to be an advantage.  The visitors won at a .739 clip with a record of 17-6.  In the 2011 playoffs as a whole, the visiting teams are 24-18 (.571).

This surprising effect has been noted before.  Do the comforts of fan support and familiar surroundings rob hockey players of their grim determination?  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook went looking for possible explanations.

“It's easier on the road to be focused,” the Penguins’ Mike Rupp told him.  “You're playing in an arena that's hostile and you know if you don’t respond the right way it will be really ugly.  ...At home, you might look for a hit and get out of position. Or you try to make a pretty play rather than just the simple play.”

“Everybody says you've got to win your games at home,” said Lightning coach Guy Boucher.  “...It puts pressure on you [and] might make you play a little tight.”

I’m thinking that the NHL shouldn’t automatically schedule Games 1, 2, 5, and 7 for the building of the higher-seeded team.  Instead, handle it like football, where the winner of the coin toss gets the option of kicking off, receiving, or defending one end of the field.  In the hockey playoffs, the higher-seeded team should have the option of improving their chances by declining the “home-ice handicap.”

And while we're throwing ideas out there, it's been suggested that maybe a team with a power play as woeful as the one the Penguins have should have the option of declining penalties.  Lately they've been more apt to score while playing 5-on-5 than with the supposed advantage of 5-on-4.

 

APRIL 21, 2011     CONVERSATIONS IN A CLOSET

“Hypocrites love to pray standing on the street corners, to be seen,” Jesus observed.  “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.”  (Excerpted from Matthew 6:5-6  NIV)

This month’s “100 Moons” article considers what really happens when thou enterest into thy closet to talk with thy imaginary friend.

 

APRIL 17, 2011     ACHOO!

Even when I don’t have the sniffles, I generally sneeze a few times each week.  It clears out the nasal passages.  But if this happens at work, several colleagues will pipe up “God bless you.”

How should I respond?  I usually apologize for possibly spreading my germs.  I guess I’m supposed to thank them for their blessing, but I’m against that in principle.

“Bless you” is based on an old superstition:  If a person sneezes, he’s momentarily vulnerable to an invasion by the Devil's little demons, unless the proper magic words are spoken promptly to ward off the invisible evil spirits.

I’m not superstitious.  And as Scott Adams wrote in his blog on December 30, “If someone sneezed where I grew up, there was no reason to say ‘God bless you,’ because either God was already handling it or he didn't exist.  God didn't need a middleman to handle a simple sneezing transaction.”

I prefer the response of my German ancestors: “Gesundheit,” which means “health.”

My parents didn't use that word, though.  Their version was somewhat longer:  “Sounds like you’re catching a cold.  Are you chilly?  Better put on another sweater.”

 

APRIL 11, 2011     THE STANDINGS ARE FROZEN

Last night the National Hockey League concluded its regular season.  Here’s my final Ice Cube Road, as explained here.

The diagonal line of red dots at 93 points represents the approximate minimum a team needs to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.  As it turns out, the New York Rangers (red cubes) were the final Eastern Conference team to make the playoffs, just reaching this line to finish with exactly 93 points.  The New Jersey Devils (green cubes) had a winning percentage of .857 from games 41 through 69 and appeared to be on course to reach this line as well, but their percentage the rest of the way was only .423.

The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins each finished with 106 points.  The Flyers won the tiebreaker, so they’re the Atlantic Division champions.  More below.

Until this year, when two teams finished the season with the same number of points, the tie in the standings was broken according to which team had more wins (W).  But some of those wins are the result of shootouts.  Although the fans love this method of settling a tied game, NHL insiders have never liked the shootout.  The ability to score on a 1-on-0 breakaway is only a tiny part of what’s required to play hockey, so the NHL feels it’s somehow wrong to decide a contest based merely on a “glorified skills competition.”  Therefore the standings tiebreaker was changed this year to include only Regulation and Overtime Wins (ROW), not shootout wins.

The Penguins won 49 games this season:   39 ROW and 10 by shootout.  The Flyers had 47 wins:  44 ROW and only 3 by shootout.

Under the old tiebreaker, the Penguins would have won the division with 49 wins to the Flyers’ 47.  But under the new rules, the Flyers win the division with 44 ROW to the Penguins’ 39. 

 

APRIL 8, 2011     CLASS OF 1969

More than 45 years ago, we college freshmen each received a copy of the “Wolfbook,” a photo directory of our classmates.  So did our families.

For the edification of my parents, towards the end of the first semester I wrote short descriptions to go with dozens of the pictures in that directory.  And a new article on this website, also called Wolfbook, includes many of those photos and profiles.  Get to know the Class of 1969!

 

APRIL 3, 2011     AN "AMAZING" PRE-DIXON

To make electricity, the fission reaction that powers an atomic bomb can be controlled (hopefully) in a nuclear reactor.

We could generate power even more abundantly and safely if we could likewise control the fusion reaction that powers a hydrogen bomb.  However, that achievement is still 25 years in the future.  It has remained 25 years in the future for many decades now.

As a college student in the 1960s, I read that Soviet scientists were making progress toward a fusion reactor.  They were developing an electromagnetic containment device called TOKaMaK, which is a Russian acronym.  Of course, most Americans didn’t know about this; they weren’t involved in science as I was.

Then I read a prediction by Jeane Dixon, the astrologer and alleged psychic.  She prophesied that in the coming year, the Russians would announce an invention that would provide the world with unlimited energy.  She added that the name of this machine “sounds something like Tomahawk.”

The name was the key.  I realized that Dixon had needed no supernatural insight to arrive at her unusually specific prediction.  She had merely read an obscure news story.

(Her prediction turned out to be incorrect anyway.  Tokamaks still have not produced usable power, though construction of a 2,000-megawatt reactor is currently projected to begin in the year 2024.)

Until then, I had hoped that perhaps psychics could make better predictions than ordinary folks because they could magically foresee the future.  But this incident, followed by further research, eventually led me to realize that they can’t.

 

MARCH 28, 2011     THE MULTI-SPIN ZONE

Josh Frulinger writes in his blog, “True story: Up until fairly recently, I thought that a ‘spinning class’ involved spinning around in circles, and couldn’t figure out why everyone seemed to think they were so difficult!  Ha ha, isn’t that funny?  Anyway, apparently they actually consist of working out really intensely on stationary bicycles.”

For my part, until fairly recently I thought a “spinning class” was a session in which women learned how to spin yarn.

 

MARCH 22, 2011     HEY, PIRATE FANS!

After Saturday's spring training game in Florida, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told reporters that his Opening Day starter on April 1 will be either Paul Maholm or the recently acquired Kevin Correia.

It’s instructive to consider last season's Earned Run Averages. There were 52 National League pitchers who threw at least 140 innings last year.

Rank

 

 

2010 Team

ERA

  1.

Josh

Johnson

FLA

2.30

  2.

Adam

Wainwright

STL

2.42

  3.

Roy

Halladay

PHI

2.44

  4.

Jaime

Garcia

STL

2.70

•  •  •

49.

Rodrigo

Lopez

ARZ

5.00

50.

Paul

Maholm

PIT

5.10

51.

Kevin

Correia

SD

5.40

52.

Zach

Duke

PIT

5.72

Note that the Pirates' Opening Day starter will be either the third-worst or the second-worst on this list.  Fortunately, it won’t be the absolute worst.  In November, the team traded Zach Duke to Arizona (where he is currently sidelined with a broken left hand).

 

MARCH 21, 2011     YESTERDAY

 

 

Two great singers from the Sixties, lieder baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and skiffle tenor Paul McCartney, are mentioned in this month’s “100 Moons” article.


 

MARCH 19, 2011     NIGHT LIGHT

Crazy things are happening.  There must be a full moon tonight.

Actually, there is.  And it’s a “supermoon,” brighter than usual because the moon appears larger than usual.  Its orbit has brought it within 221,565 miles of Earth, the closest approach in 18 years.

But contrary to popular belief, the full moon doesn’t make people go crazy.  Recent studies have shown no statistical connection between full moons and suicides, crimes, epileptic seizures, or other unusual human events.

The legend is not without foundation, however.  Those were recent studies.  If they had been conducted during the Dark Ages, I suspect the results might have been different.

In cities before gaslights illuminated the streets in the 19th century, or on farms before projects brought electrical lighting in the 20th century, our nocturnal activities used to be constrained by the phase of the moon.  I remember 20th-century calendars that still included four little symbols for each month, helpfully pointing out the dates of the new moon, first quarter, full moon, and third quarter.

People couldn’t do much on dark nights, so they simply stayed indoors.  But on other nights “the moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow/Gave the luster of midday to objects below.”  When the moon was full, people who were so inclined could stay out all night long, doing goodness knows what.  It was lunacy.

 

MARCH 18, 2011     MARCH SADNESS

Of course, there’s a downside to spreading all the NCAA tournament games over four TV channels.  If you don’t subscribe to cable or satellite or the Internet, you receive only one of those four channels:  your local CBS affiliate.  And that means there’s a 75% chance that the game you’re dying to see is not available at your house.

For example, writes Michael Malone of Broadcasting & Cable, “Cincinnati has around 130,000 homes where TV is watched over the air, 14% of the market.”  They also have four teams of local interest playing in the round of 64.  Although Kentucky’s game yesterday at 2:45 was in fact on CBS, the rest were assigned to cable:  Cincinnati on TBS at 9:50, Ohio State on TNT at 4:40 today, and Xavier on truTV at 7:27 tonight.  In past years, CBS affiliate WKRC would have picked up all four of those games, but this year they can’t.  “‘Some viewers have never heard of the Turner networks and don't understand what happened,’ says Les Vann, WKRC VP and general manager.  ‘We're very disappointed and our viewers are very disappointed.’”

Malone continues:  “WBNS Columbus, in the heart of Buckeye country, will have a phone panel on hand as part of its ‘damage prevention’ plan to address calls when Ohio State faces off against Texas-San Antonio [today].  ‘I think all hell is going to break lose,’ says Tom Griesdorn, president and general manager at WBNS.  ‘In years past, viewers would just go to channel 10. It's going to be interesting.’”

I suggest that in a similar situation next year, another Columbus broadcast station should be allowed to air the TNT feed of the Ohio State game — much as a local station can carry ESPN’s Monday Night Football if their local team is involved.  To be fair to the CBS affiliate, WBNS should be allowed to sell most of the local advertising time on the other station.

In the meantime, if they’re among the 14% or so of Americans who don’t have cable or satellite or Internet, fans of 48 schools have been shut out from seeing their team’s opening game, including:

#1 seeds

#2 seeds

#3 seeds

#4 seeds

Duke

Florida

Connecticut

Louisville

Kansas 

Notre Dame

Purdue

Wisconsin

Ohio State

San Diego State

Syracuse

X

Pittsburgh

XX

XX

#8 seedsX

X

#6 seeds

#7 seeds

Butler

#5 seeds

Cincinnati

Temple

George Mason

Kansas State

Georgetown

Texas A&M

Michigan

Vanderbilt

Xavier

UCLA

UNLV

 

MARCH 17, 2011     MY VIEWING STATION

I’ve mentioned in earlier articles that because I view a “monitor wall” at work, I also need multiple TV screens at home.

Here’s my current setup.  This year, I can watch all the NCAA basketball games simultaneously.

On the left, two old-fashioned 13” screens show TBS and TNT from cable.  On the right, a 30” HD screen shows truTV from the cable box.  (During today's Pitt game, I actually listened to the Panthers radio play-by-play with Bill Hillgrove and Dick Groat, so I used the DVR in the cable box to delay the video several seconds and synchronize it with the radio.)  And in front, an 18” HD screen shows the local CBS affiliate.

Why?  Because I can.

However, with 32 games being played between noon today and midnight tomorrow, I must confess that I won’t really pay rapt attention to all of them.

 

MARCH 15, 2011     IT'S MADNESS, I TELL YOU

The NCAA men’s college basketball tournament includes 31 teams (blue boxes) that have earned automatic bids by winning the championships of their respective conferences.  The field is augmented by inviting another 37 non-champions from the more talented conferences, the “at-large” teams (red boxes).

These 68 are then ranked or “seeded” on a scale from 1 (best) to 16 (worst), with at least four in each category.

To reduce the field to a more manageable 64, two of the four worst conference champions (#16 seeds) will be eliminated tonight and tomorrow in games at Dayton.  So will two of the four worst at-large invitees, except that none of them are #16s.  This year, only two at-large teams are seeded as low as #12.  So the competition at Dayton will eliminate one of them plus one #11.

The 64 remaining teams begin the tournament proper on Thursday and Friday, with #1 seeds playing #16 seeds, #2 against #15, and so on.

I find it interesting that practically three-quarters of this year’s league champions are seeded #9 through #16.  On paper, they’re expected to lose to a higher-seeded team in their first game.  Unless they can pull an upset, the champions of the following 23 non-power conferences will be out of the tournament before the weekend:  America East, Atlantic Sun, Atlantic 10, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial Athletic, Conference USA, Ivy, Metro Atlantic Athletic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern Atlantic, Summit, Sun Belt, West Coast, and Western Athletic.  But, like a Little League bench-warmer, at least these schools get a trophy for participating.  See you next year.

 

MARCH 14, 2011     HERR KARTOFFELKOPF

As a child, I had this toy, first marketed in 1952.  There was a plastic base, a headless “body” with a pointed spike where the neck should be.  You’d borrow a potato from the family supply and impale it on the spike.  Then you’d complete the “head” by sticking other plastic pieces into it.  There were various eyes, mouths, ears, and noses to choose from, as well as black-felt eyelashes and mustaches and accessories like pipes and hats.  You’d try to create an amusing character so you could giggle at it.

I didn’t know it then, but apparently this toy was dangerous.  I could have swallowed one of the little ears and choked on it!  Or I could have stabbed myself with its sharp point!

Fast-forward more than 50 years.  According to reports, last month “Hasbro unveiled a new, noticeably thinner Mr. Potato Head during the 2011 International Toy Fair convention in New York City.  The tinier tater, named the Active Adventures Mr. Potato Head, has a slimmer body.”

I raised my black-felt eyebrows at that.  If you wanted a skinnier Mr. Potato Head, why wouldn’t you simply go back to the pantry and choose a longer, thinner potato?

It turns out that federal child safety regulations have changed since I was a kid.  Real vegetables haven’t been used since 1964, when a plastic “potato” was added to the kit so that the attachments could be less sharp.  In 1975, Hasbro doubled the size of all the parts to reduce the choking hazard.  And now Mr. Potato Head is getting a healthier body shape.

I suppose I shouldn’t expect a 59-year-old product to remain unchanged forever.

 

MARCH 9, 2011     MORE PHOTOS!

Having discovered a couple of color photographs published elsewhere, I’ve borrowed them for this website.  They serve as added illustrations for articles about my early career.

One depicts the crimson-and-gold bus that I probably rode to my first remote broadcast in 1965, while the other depicts the band that probably played at my first football telecast in 1974.

 

MARCH 5, 2011     NOT ALL MORMONS

This week, Brigham Young University’s #3-ranked basketball team suspended its top rebounder, Brandon Davies, for the rest of the season after he admitted violating the Mormon school’s honor code by having sex with his girlfriend.

If he played for almost any other school, Davies would have been congratulated for his conquest, not kicked off the team.  Why are these Mormons so strict and humorless?

Actually, they aren’t, not all of them anyway.  At least a couple of them are funny.  I mentioned in 2008 that I follow two BYU graduates’ blogs.

Movie reviewer Eric D. Snider will soon be reviving his weekly “Snide Remarks” column for our amusement, thanks to the financial support of viewers like you readers including me.  He also wants us to remind everyone about his podcast.

And Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings, who was much in the news last month, recently held a Q&A session on Reddit.  Excerpts:

People have this idea that Mormons are monolithically boring and/or creepily Stepford-y.  But in my experience, that's bull, and Mormons are as diverse in most ways as anybody else.  I think it would be cool if people figured that out.

Luckily, Mormons are not biblical literalists.  So you can choose to keep all the crazy stuff you like (Moses just turned his rod into a snake! badass!) and choose to ignore the crazy stuff you don't like (wait, God just sent bears to kill those kids because they made fun of Elisha's male pattern baldness?)

I'm not saying no Mormons are young-earthers ... but let's just say you're not likely to see those ones on Jeopardy.

Mormon trivia:

1. Christina Aguilera was born Mormon.  Not our finest effort.

2. The original proposed name for Utah, “Deseret,” isn't related to “desert.”  It's a Book of Mormon word (and therefore etymologically iffy to nonbelievers) meaning “honeybee.”

3. Mormon congregations are called “wards,” and dioceses are called “stakes.”  Some of our houses of worship used to therefore be called “stake houses,” but this turned out to be too confusing.  (Especially because there was no salad bar.)

4. Mormon scripture strongly implies that the apostle John, as well as three Book of Mormon disciples, never actually died but are still kicking around someplace.  Awesomely, this leads some Mormons to repeat urban legends about “the three Nephites” miraculously appearing to help little old ladies, repair the cars of stranded travelers, etc.

5. My Sunday school teacher, when I was a Mormon teen, once memorably advised us that “There's nothing more overrated than sex, and nothing more underrated than a good bowel movement.”  It totally worked.  I don't remember a single other sermon from when I was a kid, but I think about this guy exactly once a day, and then again once a week.

 

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