The Law Enforcement Nod

If you’ve publicly encountered anyone involved in law enforcement or security lately — whether it be police officer, Highway Patrolman, or black-shirted rent-a-cop security officer — you’ve probably received what I’ve come to think of as the “law enforcement nod.”

The encounter begins as you approach the law enforcement person, who undoubtedly is wearing mirrored sunglasses and a wholly deadpan expression.  They give you an obvious head-to-toe visual inspection, apparently checking to see if you are armed or whether your guilt about some recent criminal wrongdoing will cause you to begin sprinting away in mad panic.  If you continue on your path, smiling pleasantly and up to no apparent mischief, you are likely to receive “the nod” — a barely discernible head movement signalling that you have passed muster.  And then, after you have passed by, you breathe a sigh of relief.

It’s amazing how uniform and widespread “the nod” is.  I’ve received it in every corner of the country and from every imaginable person charged with maintaining order.  It’s pervasiveness reminds me of the anecdote at the beginning of The Right Stuff, where Tom Wolfe observes that every airline pilot curiously seems to speak with the same chuckling West Virginia drawl, mimicking the patois of Chuck Yeager, the pilot who broke the sound barrier.  Somewhere, I wonder, was there a trend-setting police officer who first decided that the best approach to interaction with the law-abiding members of the general public was a slight yet unmistakably judgmental nod of acknowledgement that has since been copied by law enforcement personnel throughout the land?

It didn’t always used to be this way, I think.  In days gone by, when cops walked regular beats and got to know the residents along the way, conversations and other more normal forms of human interaction were routine.  But now our encounters with police officers tends to be much less frequent and much more impersonal — how often do you meet a patrolman on the street, as opposed to seeing one zooming by in a cruiser? — and police officers and citizenry both seem to be constantly on guard.  And, with the shootings of police officers that we have seen, I can’t really blame law enforcement officers for being focused more on scrutinizing everyone they encounter as an act of self-preservation.

Hence, “the nod.”  I understand it, but I think the old ways are better.

Silicon Valley On The Scioto

I ran across this interesting article about a Silicon Valley venture capital stud who has relocated to Columbus, Ohio.  His company, Drive Capital, decided to move to our fair city, and he and his wife and kids came along from San Francisco to be part of the fun.

IMG_2108The article is worth a look because it gives a West Coaster’s view of what the Midwest has to offer from a business standpoint, and it is a generally positive take.  Often those of us who live in a place, particularly long-term, tend to focus on the difficulties, the challenges, and the negatives.  Andy Jenks, the author of the article, sees the Midwest from a different perspective and with a different set of eyes, and he sees . . . opportunity.  Lots of opportunity, in fact, and lots of interesting, well-managed companies that are positioned for growth.

Silicon Valley is an amazing place because of the amount of wealth located there, but also because the culture of investment and risk-acceptance and receptiveness to new ideas makes it an especially fertile place to start a business and work to make it grow.  But in the Midwest, Mr. Jenks has found that many businesses have a more practical focus.  Rather than worrying about raising the next pot of venture capital cash, they are focused on the nuts and bolts of their businesses and the services or products it offers.  And the article notes some of the challenges, too — Mr. Jenks has found that the notion that our friends on the coasts view Ohio and its neighbors as “flyover states” has some truth to it.

It’s nice to know that some venture capitalists are moving into the Heartland to help our entrepreneurs, and it’s equally nice to see that they recognize the opportunities that can be found here.  If we want to make our American economy really grow again, we’re going to have to take advantage of the opportunities found throughout the country — flyover areas included.  If the moneyed interests are looking for investment options in Columbus and similar cities, that’s a very hopeful long-term sign.

Tastes Great, Less Filling, More Testosterone

I’ve been watching TV commercials for more than 50 years.  For my money, the greatest ad campaign in history was for Miller Lite in the 1970s.

The campaign’s task was daunting indeed — get men to drink diet beer.  Diet beer???  For the men of the ’70s, who were used to drinking Schlitz, and Stroh’s, and Budweiser, and other mass-produced beers of the day?  You have to convince beer drinkers to worry about how many calories were found in each bottle, when they’re used to downing a six-pack without batting an eye?  You’ve got to be kidding, right?

So they called it “lite” beer because they knew that calling it “diet” beer would be rejected as totally unmanly.  And, they came up with a memorable catch phrase — “great taste . . . less filling” — even though no beer drinker in the long history of suds ever gave a thought to a cold beer being too “filling.”  And to make the drink even more acceptable in the macho ’70s, they had retired athletes serve as the primary pitchmen for the new beer, in clever, funny commercials that often had the jocks ready to brawl to settle their shouted disagreement about whether “tastes great” or “less filling” better described the brew.  (To get a sense of the underlying testosterone in the commercials, take a look at this ’70s spot involving former NFL middle linebacker Dick Butkus, who was one of the most popular Miller Lite commercial stars in those early days.)

And somehow, it worked.  Miller Lite ushered in an era in which other brewers rushed to offer poorly conceived “light” beers — I once consumed an Iron City Light Beer, and barely lived to tell the tale — and what was at one time an American market that was dominated by a few boring pilsner products offered by large national brands started to diversify.  The trend continued, and now a trip to your local grocer is likely to present you with a dizzying choice of porters, stouts, Belgian ales, wheat beers, light beers, and even non-alcoholic brews, where once only Budweiser and Schlitz and one or two others were found.

I’m not saying that Miller Lite inevitably produced the craft beer explosion, but I do think the Miller Lite ad campaign created a crack in a closed market that soon was knocked wide open, and it did it with a clever name, a clever slogan, and funny commercials with ex-athletes — lots and lots of ex-athletes.  How many later ad campaigns for products for men followed that winning formula?

Unlucky At Luck

Typically, I don’t play state lotteries.  The odds are astronomical.

The only exception is when the potential winnings reach the $100 million-plus range, and I happen to be passing through some small town in a remote area at the time.  My reasoning is that the winning tickets always tend be purchased from a gas station in East Bejesus, so my approach at least gives me a reasonable chance of getting the lucky numbers.

Of course, I’ve never won the handful of times I’ve tried this technique.

But what if you did win — and then instead of getting cash, you just got an IOU?  That’s the unfortunate reality for some poor schmoes in Illinois.  They won $250,000 in the Illinois Lottery, but because Illinois doesn’t have a budget, state officials can’t cut them a check in the amount of their winnings — so they get a crappy IOU instead.  And with Illinois’ crippling budget problems, I wouldn’t be supremely confident about getting a prompt payout on those IOUs, either.

No word yet on whether the “lucky” winners bought their ticket in East Bejesus.

One Week To Go

A week from today, at 8 p.m. on September 7, the Ohio State Buckeyes kick off their 2015 schedule against Virginia Tech, and the college football season will begin in Columbus.  I’m feeling as excited as a eight-year-old who’s on the final countdown to Christmas.

Of all of the sports I follow, college football is my favorite.  I admit it — part of it is that, as an Ohio State fan, I’m fortunate to root for a team that consistently is good, and anyone whose team is coming off a championship season is bound to be excited.  Speaking from the bitter experience of Cleveland sportsfanship, it’s easier to follow winners than perennial losers.  But there’s more to it than that — college football, and college sports generally, is just more fun than the professional variety.  The players are younger and more excitable, and there’s an alma mater element that simply isn’t found in the professional game.

IMG_1815I know that some of my friends (and I’m thinking of you, here, JWR) will argue, quite correctly, that college football is just as much about generating cash as the NFL.  I concede the point, but I also think that, for all of the money and scandals and boosters and cheating, college athletics still is built on a hard kernel of simple state and school pride.  Anyone who grew up in Ohio knows what I mean.  We care passionately about the Buckeyes because it’s kind of what Ohioans do.  It’s a tradition passed down from generation to generation, and we want to hold up our end of the bargain.

The Big Ten Network is running an interesting program called Scarlet and Gray Days, about Ohio State’s training camp for the upcoming season.  If you want to get a better understanding of the deep connection between Ohioans and the Buckeyes, watch the first part of the first episode — it captures some of the gut-level feelings that members of Buckeye Nation know all too well.  And the rest of the show is pretty good, too.

Next Monday night can’t get here soon enough.

Do Dogs Smile?

IMG_6838I know there’s some debate about whether what humans might perceive as a smile is truly a canine expression of happiness and satisfaction — as opposed to, say, simply panting to cool off on a warm late summer day.  It’s hard for me to believe, however, that anyone who sees Kasey outside in her favorite spot, with an apparent ear-to-ear grin, could argue about whether dogs actually smile.

Lessons From A Rowing Mom

IMG_6707_2The people of Maine are different:  hardier, more outdoorsy, and seemingly closer to the land.  Kish has noticed that the women wear less make-up and tend toward a no-frills look, while the men have the kind of ruddy complexion that makes it look like they’ve just stepped off a sailboat.

There’s something about living in a rustic area, near water, that seems to encourage that laissez-faire personal attitude.  If you’ve got water and a boat nearby, there would be a lot of incentive to use it — and if make-up tended to run down your face when the fog rolled in, and fancy haircuts frizzed out and became unmanageable in the salt air, then make-up and the high-end ‘dos would likely hit the cutting room floor.

I thought about all of this on our recent mailboat run out to Isle au Haut.  At one of our stops we saw a mother rowing her very cute little girl across the harbor to a dock.  The Mom was an accomplished rower, and I’d be willing to bet that her daughter ends up as one, too.  That’s not a bad skill to pass down from generation to generation.