News of the Week: Old Debates, Vanishing Snow Days, and the Best Pasta Dish to Make Tonight

In the news for the week ending October 16, 2020, are presidential debates, snow days, Tasmanian devils, the London Bridge, snarge, and more.

Kid looking outside during a snow storm
RonTech3000 / Shutterstock

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The Way They Used to Do  It

The big debate right now seems to be about debates. Presidential ones, to be exact. Some think they serve no purpose, some think they’re vitally important for voters to be informed, and some think that even if they do happen, they’re disappointing. Too much yelling! Too much talking over each other! The moderator is terrible! The format should be changed! People need to stop using so many exclamation points!

It’s true that debates are in a rut. For years we’ve seen the same format with the same red and blue design, with the candidates standing in the same places — unless it’s the VP debate, where they get to sit down for some reason — and the moderator explaining the same rules in the same way. How can we make them better?

Like all problems, the solution lies in the past.

Take a look at how they did the first televised debate, between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon, in 1960. The candidates sat in chairs on stage, with moderator Howard K. Smith sitting in the middle, all of them facing outward to a panel of journalists asking the questions. When it was time for one of the candidates to answer questions, they got up from their chair and went to the lectern. They got to make opening statements and even ask each other questions (if they wanted to), but it was very low-key and very low-tech, quite calm and mature. No real arguing, no audience to applaud or groan, and it was a chance for the candidates to give meaty answers. (Also: No 24-hour news channels or social media to analyze and argue about what we just watched, but that’s a different rant.) I don’t know if either side would agree to something like this today, but it’s a fascinating look at what was going on in the U.S. 60 years ago.

Uploaded to YouTube by PBS NewsHour.

(The formats of the second, third, and fourth debates were tweaked a bit, but they remained civil.)

One day, political debates will be the length of TikTok videos and we’ll all vote via a Like button on our holographic iPhones.

The Tasmanian Devil Is Back!

The Tasmanian devil is being reintroduced to the Australian mainland for the first time in 3,000 years. What could go wrong with that idea, right?

Maybe I’m being unfair. The only thing I know about Tasmanian devils is what I learned from Warner Bros. cartoons.

Roosevelt Hotel to Close after Almost 100 Years

The classic New York City hotel opened in 1924 and is the latest victim of the pandemic. It has an incredible history, from being the hotel where presidential candidate Thomas Dewey announced he had beaten Harry Truman (he hadn’t) to being seen in many movies and TV shows.

Maybe If the Power Goes Out…

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about as the pandemic continues into the fall and winter: What happens to “snow days”?

It’s one thing that every kid looks forward to every school year, those days when they hear a snowstorm is coming and cross their fingers as they watch the list of school closings scroll across the bottom of their TV screens (or maybe now they’d get a notification on their phones or their Facebook feeds). But how do you “close” a school when many kids are doing it via video on their home computers? That’s something a lot of school districts are starting to think about too.

If schools do somehow bake snow days into the school schedule for some reason, I hope kids understand they still might have to do some work. You can’t shovel snow via Zoom.

Weird Thing I Learned This Week

What do they call the remains of a bird after it has collided with an airplane? Snarge.

RIP Whitey Ford, Joe Morgan, Conchata Ferrell, Tom Kennedy, Roberta McCain, Jim Dwyer, and Margaret Nolan

Whitey Ford won more games for the New York Yankees than any other pitcher (236). He helped the team win six World Series and was named to the All-Star team ten times. He also won the Cy Young Award in 1961. He died last week at the age of 91.

Joe Morgan was a Hall of Fame second baseman who helped the Cincinnati Reds win back-to-back World Series in 1975 (against my Red Sox) and 1976. He was also the National League MVP for those years and a ten-time All-Star. For 20 years he was part of the play-by-play team on ESPN. He died Sunday at the age of 77.

Conchata Ferrell was a great character actress best known for her work as housekeeper Berta on Two and a Half Men. She appeared in dozens of TV shows over the years, as well as movies like Network, Erin Brockovich, Mystic Pizza, and Edward Scissorhands. She died Tuesday at the age of 77.

Tom Kennedy had a long career hosting many popular game shows, including Name That Tune, It’s Your Bet, You Don’t Say, and Body Language. He was the brother of another game show host, Jack Narz. He died last week at the age of 93.

Roberta McCain was the mother of the late Senator John McCain and the backbone of her military family. She died Monday at the age of 108.

Jim Dwyer was a veteran journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his Newsday columns. He also wrote for The Daily News and The New York Times (here’s his last column) and co-wrote a well-received book about 9/11 titled 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers. He died last week at the age of 63.

Margaret Nolan played James Bond’s masseuse in Goldfinger and was also seen as the gold girl dancing in the opening credits. She also appeared in the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night and the Carry On movies as well as TV shows like The Saint and Brideshead Revisited. She died last week at the age of 76.

This Week in History

London Bridge Opens in Arizona (October 10, 1971)

What? London Bridge? In Arizona? Yup. The founder of Lake Havasu City, businessman Robert McCullouch, bought it in 1968 for $2.4 million. It was dismantled and shipped to the U.S. Rebuilding the bridge and dredging the manmade channel it would cross cost another $7 million.

An odd pop culture footnote to this: The bridge was the subject of a 1985 TV movie starring David Hasselhoff titled Bridge Across Time (also known as Terror at London Bridge). The plot? Jack the Ripper’s spirit comes over with the bridge and starts a new killing spree.

Theodore Roosevelt Shot, Finishes Speech Anyway (October 14, 1912)

The bullet was slowed down by Roosevelt’s 50-page speech and a glasses case that he had in his breast pocket. He went on to lose the election, and the bullet stayed in his body until his death seven years later.

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: Juniorettes Pasta (October 15, 1960)

Juniorettes pasta magazine ad
Juniorettes ad from the October 15, 1960 issue of the Post

Juniorettes sounds like a candy you’d eat at a movie theater, but it was actually a brand of pasta from the same company that made Creamette. That company is still around and owns many other pasta and rice brands, including Prince, Ronzoni, and Minute Rice.

It’s National Pasta Month

That piping hot pan of pasta looks pretty good, so here’s a recipe for something similar called Easy Parmesan Buttered Noodles from Inspired Taste. Betty Crocker has this Italian Baked Pasta, while Food & Wine has this Pasta with Pancetta, Shallots, and Sage. Budget Bytes has this One-Pot Creamy Sun Dried Tomato Pasta, and The Spruce Eats has this Spicy Spaghetti with Garlic and Olive Oil.

By the way, I’m Italian, and we never called it “pasta” when I was growing up. It was spaghetti, macaroni, shells — whatever we were specifically having — but it was never “pasta.”

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

World Series Starts (October 20)

Because of the pandemic, the entire series will be played at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, but there will be around 11,500 fans in attendance for each game. The first game starts at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.

Second Presidential Debate (October 22)

After separate town halls for each candidate earlier this week, this last debate will air on all of the usual channels. It starts at 9 p.m.

Featured image: RonTech3000 / Shutterstock

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  1. Bob: I used to have fish sticks all the time when I was a kid. It was a regular in my mom’s weekly rotation. But I don’t think I’ve had them in probably 25 years or more, heh.

  2. Robert, that was so nice of you to remember Anthony Martignetti from the 1969 Prince Spaghetti classic commercial. I remember that ad in my collective memory and hadn’t realized he’d passed away recently. I looked him up on YouTube and he seemed like a decent, kind man that always honored the memory of his 12 year old self of long ago.

    Bob, I don’t recall hearing the word pasta used either growing up, other than in conjunction with spaghetti and meatballs, which Mom often made on Friday nights after the Catholic church lifted a lot of restrictions in the later ’60s. Before that it alternated between various fish and fish sticks. Although I’m a mixture of English, Dutch and French on Mom’s side, it was the Irish Catholic of my Dad’s, which over-ruled everything, paisano! So this Wednesday (to Anthony) it’s non-spicy spaghetti with lite olive oil and garlic I’ll make myself over take-out.

    Thanks for the vintage links on the Nixon-Kennedy debates. We’ll see what happens on the 22nd with these debates, or not. I’m taking my filled-out ballot to the Post office directly this week for mailing. Better get a fresh batch of stamps at the grocery store first, since I just realized I’m out!


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