Tom McBride

Perspective: Repressed By The Watchbird

Dec 17, 2020
Munro Leaf

When I was nine years old, my parents signed me up for a little child’s magazine called The Weekly Reader, which included a weekly cartoon with three frames.

In frame one was a caption that said, “This is a Pig Pen,” with a drawing of a filthy, unkempt kid. Frame Two: “This is the Watchbird watching the Pig Pen.” This was a drawing of an owl-like fowl with huge glasses on, looking down in frowning disapprobation at the Pig Pen Kid. Frame Three: “This is the Watchbird watching you. Are you a Pig Pen?”

Perspective: Pearl Harbor And The Moon Landing

Nov 13, 2020
Photo by Neil Armstrong

When I was growing up, my small-town barber was a man with a sweet but regulated smile on his face, discouraged eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses. His name was Hans Fowler. Over the years of my maturity into early adulthood, Hans and I spoke of many things. He wielded his scissors unhurriedly and had quiet opinions on everything.

In those days there was much talk of sending men to the moon Hans said it would never happen. One day we bet a dollar. In 1970 I came home from college to get my hair cut. Hans paid up but still thought the whole thing staged.

Perspective: Alive Or Dead...Or Both?

Oct 9, 2020
Edward Howell / Unsplash

Some things are neither fish nor fowl. Take zombies. They are the living dead.

It gets better. Take quantum physics. A subatomic mini-speck is both a particle and a wave. The more you know about its speed, the less you know about where it is. The more you know about its location, the less you know about how fast it’s going. In one version of this observation, a famous physicist said his cat could be both dead and alive at once. A zombie cat: this stuff is scary.

Perspective: Whatever Happened To Sin?

Sep 4, 2020
Mitchell Orr / Unsplash

We are living in a time of softened language. This is called “euphemism,” but let us not get hung up on technical details.

People don’t die any more. They “pass.” Even mass murderers no longer “sin.” They just “made a mistake” and wish they hadn’t, since they got caught. Smutty films are now called “adult,” although every twelve-year-old knows that adults can be smutty sometimes. So there’s a certain logic here.

Perspective: Of Cannibals And Kings

Jul 31, 2020

Suppose I arrive late at a meeting and say, “Sorry to be late. I just flew  from the planet Neptune, and boy, are my arms tired.” And you, in response, say, “I thought you were planning to spend the night on Jupiter.” We’d both be joking of course. But suppose we weren’t joking. Then we would be sent to a psychiatrist. But there’s another explanation: Perhaps we come from a culture in which there’s a common belief that people can fly all the way to Neptune and back.

Perspectives: Grandmother Was An Astronaut

Jun 26, 2020
Nicolas Lobos / Unsplash

I grew up with a typewriter keyboard, and I grew up with a TV set. The other day I used a device that blends the keyboard and the screen -- it’s called a computer -- to talk via live video to a friend in Paris.  


Perspective: The Exercise We're Missing Out On

May 22, 2020
Silviu Costin Iancu / Pixabay

Every week I hear that obesity is a national crisis. It’s always blamed on a rich diet and a poverty of exercise. But when experts think of exercise they imagine jogging and walking and weight-lifting. That’s big exercise. But it’s the little exercise, or lack thereof, that’s the real problem.


Perspective: Timing Is Really Everything

Mar 16, 2020
Jan Vasek / Pixabay

By now it seems obvious that timing IS everything. We all want to be in the right place at the right time. None of us wants, when it rains soup, to show up with a fork. 

How many ways can one say that timing is everything? Shakespeare’s Brutus was eloquent: “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” Brutus was right in general, but he ended up losing the battle to Marc Antony. 

public domain


Recently I watched Howard Hawks’ 1951 movie The Thing From Another World, about a flying saucer alien who landed in the Arctic. As it turned out, “the Thing” was not an animal but a vegetable: a super-powerful, walking, homicidal carrot. Soon enough, these carrots from outer space would take over planet Earth. We non-carrots wouldn’t have a chance.  

Perspective: The Disillusionments Of Wikipedia

Dec 27, 2019
public domain

Not so long ago I went to YouTube and watched a few old Roy Rogers TV episodes. They brought back how much I, as a kid, admired Roy as a Western hero. In a single episode, he could sing three songs, ride his palomino at full gallop, beat up and capture a few bad guys, and still, his cowboy outfit yet looking resplendent, share a few jokes about Nellybelle, the cranky old jeep on the show. Not even Superman was that good. Superman never sang a note. 

Perspective: The Virtue Of Being Remembered

Nov 22, 2019
public domain / Wikimedia


My wife likes to keep the light on and read every night, so my daughter, ever thoughtful, bought me a sleeping mask. My wife, she who will not turn out the lamp, finds this amusing and calls me “Miss Dorothy Kilgallen.” To what is my wife referring?  


Perspective: Was Columbus Competent?

Oct 18, 2019
public domain

We’ve all seen examples of competence and incompetence. I myself have seen people extremely skilled and other people who were making it up as they went along. But is there such a thing as incompetent competence, or competent incompetence?  


Perspective: Yes, Ma'am

Sep 13, 2019
public domain

Some childhood terrors you never get over. When I was six years old on the playground of my little Central Texas grammar school, a teacher told me to be careful on the see-saw. I answered her “yes,” whereupon she glared at me and said, “From now on, Tommy, you are to say ‘yes, ma'am.” whereupon I did just that. The teacher was no ordinary pedagogue. This was Mrs. Barnett, the school principal. 

Perspective: Bullet The Wonder Dog -- And Me

Aug 9, 2019

My wife’s great aunt married John F. Kennedy’s great uncle. This was in 1928. Jack Kennedy would have been eleven and was likely at the wedding. This means that my wife is only five or six degrees of separation from President Kennedy. It means that I’m only six or seven degrees of separation from President Kennedy. Not that I’m bragging or anything.

Perspective: The Return Of Radio

Jul 5, 2019
Alexandre Debieve / Unsplash

A new Ipsos study finds that millennials are listening to more radio than other generations are. Many of them spend more time on audio than they do on social media. To be sure, they aren’t listening to radio on radios. They’re doing it on their phones. This puzzles me, since I thought phones were designed to be cameras. 

Perspective: My Treatment For Mild Depression

Apr 26, 2019
moakets / Pixabay

We all get depressed, some of us more than others. I suffer from mild depression, and when an attack comes, I head for the nearest large pharmacy. I don’t buy anything. I just roam the aisles.

I soon realize that I’m not the only one in pain. I see rows and rows of pain killers. I see that I’m not the only one with muscle aches. I see seventeen varieties of braces.

Perspective: Big Screen, Small Screen

Mar 22, 2019

The millennials in my life would rather watch a movie on their smart phones than join us older types in front of the big TV screen. That’s their right and also their eyesight. 


Perspective: Is Air Travel Evil?

Feb 15, 2019
public domain

The 19th century French photographer known as Nadar was quite an enterprising fellow. He started out as a sketch artist and once set some sort of record for the number of tiny sketches he could get on one page: 250 in all. Magnifying glasses in Paris must have sold out.

But Nadar didn’t stop there. In time he became interested in traveling by hot air balloon. First, he went up by himself and marveled at the view. He said it gave him a serene perspective on life and removed him from all the evil vanities of human endeavor.

Perspective: Of Pelicans And Molecules

Jan 4, 2019

If you’re like me, you run across a lot of stuff you don’t understand. I’ve been reading about quantum physics for years and still don’t get how subatomic particles can be particles and waves at the same time.

I try to read economics, too. Yet I don’t understand the economic doctrine that says, if the country goes into recession, I should help by boosting my own spending, even if I go bankrupt. Won’t my bankruptcy make the recession worse, not to mention making me worse?

Perspective: Is 67 Old?

Nov 30, 2018
Flickr user Joey Gannon / CC BY 2.0


King Kong And Mickey Mouse

Oct 26, 2018


Though not as famed as they once were, Mickey Mouse remains the best-known talking mouse and King Kong is still the best-known giant ape to climb the Empire State building. In the 1930s they either delighted movie goers or scared them enough to hide under their theater seats.  

What's In A Ring?

Sep 21, 2018
Delwin Steven Campbell/Flickr / cc by 2.0

About fifteen years ago I heard a man’s phone ring and it played the William Tell Overture. This wasn’t a phone ring. This was a phone overture. Me, I’m old-fashioned. I set my smart phone ringer to the traditional sounds of, well, a ring.

A Knife Fight In The Band Hall

Aug 17, 2018

When I was in high school I got busted three times: once for having a knife fight in the band hall, once for throwing spitballs at my deadliest enemy Jimmy Green, and once for laughing out loud at a classmate in plane geometry who couldn’t quite grasp a theorem. Each time my Deportment grade was dropped to a D. My parents were frantic and ashamed. The knife fight in the band hall was with rubber knives, but knife fights in the band hall were strictly forbidden even if they only involved butter knives

Remember First Grade? Me Neither.

Jul 13, 2018

When I was about five years old, a man named Grady French told me that I had once sleepwalked from my bedroom to downtown Mart, Texas. To be sure, this was only three blocks of soporific strolling, but it was still no mean feat.

I have no memory of ever having done this. And I’m not even sure that Mr. French told me I had. Maybe I just dreamt the whole thing.

Taking The Guilt Out Of Pleasure

Jun 8, 2018

We’ve all heard of guilty pleasures, such as Dove Bars, but even better are the guilty pleasure you can clear yourself of. These are pleasures where you’re guilty but figure out ways to prove yourself to be innocent.

High School Hasn't Changed

Apr 27, 2018

Not long ago, rummaging in the basement for a sledgehammer, I ran across one of my old high school yearbooks. I hadn’t liked high school, and so I decided to peruse the yearbook -- in effect, giving high school a second chance.

Well, it was just as bad the second time. The most handsome boy and most beautiful girl didn’t seem all that handsome or beautiful to me — just average looking. The most popular boy and girl were never especially nice to me.

It's All In The Definition ...

Mar 23, 2018

I grew up in Texas. The most ambiguous word in my adopted home, the Upper Midwest, is “spring.”

In Texas we knew what spring meant. It was an event. It happened on a day in March. The birds sang. The bluebonnets bloomed. The grass unfurled its delicate verdant green. All coats were shorn. This happened on a single day. It was spring, and it never looked back. In just a few months, we knew, we would be able to save electricity by frying our eggs on the driveway cement.

When You Can't Get It Out Of Your Head ...

Feb 16, 2018

Years ago, a friend of mine was teaching college English when she noted that one student wrote every essay on birds.

She suggested he write about something else. He said he couldn’t. “What,” he asked, “are you going to do with an idea that won’t let you go?”

The French have a name for this condition. It’s called an idee fixe. I knew a man who loved to talk about Cokes so much that during every visit he would get 15 minutes to declaim about Cokes: cherry Cokes, diet Cokes, new and old Cokes; cokes versus Pepsi.

Some Reasons Not To Grow Up

Jan 12, 2018

There comes a time in every child’s life when he or she has to learn limits. This can be disillusioning, and I’m still getting over a couple of related childhood traumas.

Years ago, my mother had gotten some flowers as a gift, and she decided to give them to a sick friend. This was nice of my mother, but she wanted some extra credit, so she pretended to have bought them herself. When the sick friend told my mother how grateful she was, I blurted out, “Well, we had to get rid of them somehow.”

How Is A Voter Like A Sports Fan?

Dec 8, 2017

In a previous Perspective we considered the idea — a bad idea — that the American voter is a passive consumer. Now let’s think about another model: the American voter as sports fan.

Political scientists tell us that our voting habits are tribal to a fault.

If you’re a Republican who dislikes the idea of privatizing Social Security but your party’s candidate for President advocates the idea, you won’t switch parties. You’ll change your position on privatizing Social Security. You’ll think, “Well, maybe it’s a good idea after all.”