Officially Sprung

This Friday night I am sitting outside, in jeans and a short sleeve shirt in 70 degree weather, drinking a cold beer and reading the Sport Illustrated baseball preview.   All around me I hear neighbors talking and stirring, with music wafting over the fence from a party somebody is hosting a few houses over.  I’ve crumpled our weekly newspaper and tossed it into our fire pit for the blaze I plan to light when darkness falls.  Kasey is digging and dozing in the last rays of sunlight.

All in all, not a bad way to start the weekend!  I’m saying spring has sprung.

Trump’s Business Approach

Here’s a surprise:  Congress is mired in disputes about the new legislation that is supposed to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (or at least claims to do something to deal with the ongoing problems with President Obama’s signature legislation).  There was supposed to be a vote on the legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday, but the tally got postponed over concerns that the legislation might fail.

President Trump has been involved in the wrangling, and last night he weighed in with what the Washington Post described as an “ultimatum.”  According to the Post, Trump told the Republicans in the House to either pass the legislation on Friday, or reject it, in which case Trump will move on to other items on his agenda.  Trump apparently will leave it up to the Republicans in the House to figure out whether they can agree or not.

the-interview-donald-trump-sits-down-with-business-insiderIt’s an interesting approach, and I suspect that it comes from Trump’s years of working in the business world.  Corporations typically don’t engage in open-ended negotiations, allowing events to marinate and slowly come together — which often seems to be how Congress works (if you believe that Congress works at all).  Instead, because there’s a time value to money and limits to corporate resources that can be expended on potential deals that don’t materialize, corporations set establish priorities, set deadlines, and push.  Once a deadline gets set, it becomes another means of applying pressure to the parties to reach an agreement, and if the deal doesn’t get done by the deadline, typically that takes the transaction off the table, the corporation moves on, and there is no going back.

Trump’s approach to this legislative test is, obviously, also informed by political considerations; he wants to set a deadline so members of Congress are actually forced to do something concrete, and we don’t have the lingering story of “what’s going to happen to Obamacare” attracting all of the media attention and detracting from the other things he’s trying to accomplish.  It’s a gamble, because if the legislation Trump is backing doesn’t pass, he could be painted as a failure in the early months of his Administration, making it less likely that he’ll be able to obtain passage of other parts of his agenda, like tax reform.  We already knew that Trump is a gambler, of course — his whole campaign was a bizarre, otherworldly gamble that paid off.  Now he’s bringing some of that high-stakes, business world approach to the legislative political realm.

We shouldn’t be surprised, by now, that Trump is going to continue to gamble and continue to do things in confounding ways.  Today we’ll get another lesson in whether his approach can actually work in Washington, D.C., even on a short term basis.

The Car As Terrorist Weapon

Yesterday’s brutal terrorist attack in London, England — in which a terrorist drove a car into innocent people walking on the Westminster Bridge near the Houses of Parliament, then jumped out of the car armed with knives and stabbed and killed a police officer before being shot by police — is just the latest terrorist attack in which the principal deadly weapon has been an automobile.

terror-attack-london-876957Not a car filled with explosives and fitted out to be a bomb — just an everyday car that becomes weaponized because it is driven by a fanatic who thinks that plowing into random people, leaving some dead and others grievously injured, somehow advances their twisted agenda.  Yesterday the everyday car that was turned into an instrument of evil was a grey Hyundai sedan.  How many grey Hyundai sedans do you see every day in your town?

Security experts call it “low-tech terror,” in which terrorists use common devices like cars and turn them into weapons capable of mass murder.  Terrorist attacks involving vehicles have happened elsewhere in Europe, but don’t think you can protect yourself simply by avoiding places like London, Berlin, Milan, or Nice, where those attacks have occurred — the terrorist attack on the Ohio State University campus, here in our heartland town of Columbus, Ohio, involved a car intentionally driven into a crowd that was created by the driver pulling a fire alarm that caused people to leave a building and congregate outside, where they became an inviting target.

So how do you protect yourself from an attack when any car that you see during your day conceivably could have become weaponized by a nut behind the wheel?  Security experts say you should exercise extra caution when you do anything that brings you into close proximity to lots of other people, like going to a baseball game or a concert or a busy shopping area.  Of course, the Ohio State attack did not involve any of those things — so perhaps we all need to keep our eyes open during the next fire drill, or when noon rolls around and workers leave their buildings to go somewhere for lunch, or family members gather for a high school graduation ceremony, or any of the other countless occasions that cause Americans to gather together.

It’s a new frontier in terror, and we’re just going to have to pay more attention when we’re out and about.  But I’m not going to avoid football games or musical performances or other events where people congregate just because some disturbed lunatic might drive a car into the people who are there, any more than I avoided such events because there was a chance that a nut in an explosive vest might be there, too.  The terrorists aren’t going to beat us or cow us into submission that easily.

Random Hotel Decor

This week I stayed at one of those pop-up hotels you see in many suburban communities.  This one was in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, one of the suburbs of Philadelphia.  From my experience, the hotels cater to an itinerant population of lawyers, salesmen, accountants, and other business people during the week, and soccer moms and traveling team parents over the weekend.  They’ve become the vagabond way stations of modern America.

The lobby of this hotel includes a seating area with a wall that includes shelves with the “decorations” shown above.  Is there a rhyme or reason to the choice of objects, their color, their form, or their positioning?  If so, I couldn’t discern it.  It looks like a combination of the kind of random “accent pieces” you see at furniture showrooms, mixed together on shelves.

The implicit message was clear:  you’re in the generic zone, weary traveler!  This isn’t home, so don’t get too comfortable.  Pass by quickly, without a second glance, and move along.  

So I did.

Pet Stop

It’s become increasingly common to see people traveling with pets these days.  Whether it is service dogs or dogs taken along for comfort or company, canines are a much more frequent sight on airport concourses than they used to be.

All of which leads to the question of what the pooches do when they feel the call of nature.  The Philadelphia airport answers the call with a small astroturfed area complete with retrieval bags and a bright red fire hydrant.  

The Horse Head Rorschach Test

Every day, the pleasant burghers of Bensalem, Pennsylvania who drive past the Parx Casino and Racing complex are confronted by this gigantic sculpture of a horse’s head precariously balanced on the tip of its nose, which is placed out in front of the casino right next to the road.  

It’s a fine rendering of a horse’s head, as horse head sculptures go — but what do you think of when you see an enormous horse head on your drive to pick up Krispy Kreme donuts? Do you focus on the fact that the head is severed, and think of The Godfather?  Or do you, like the animal-loving Marquette Warrior, conclude that the horse is happily taking a drink of water?  Do you wonder how, from an engineering standpoint, they got the massive structure to balance like that?  Or, do you focus on the totally discordant, out-of-place element of a huge green horse head on an otherwise undistinguished, soulless suburban commercial strip, and idly wonder if it was left by aliens?

In such ways does public art challenge us.

Small Plates

Last night the Marquette Warrior and I had dinner at a restaurant called Amada.  It’s one of those tapas places that offers a number of “small plate” options that the diners can share.  (In our case no sharing occurred because the MW is a strict vegetarian and I go for meat options, so we didn’t quite fulfill the restaurant’s intent.)

Tapas restaurants have a good aspect and a bad aspect.  The bad is that there are lots of choices, so you end up carefully scrutinizing the menu and spending a long time thinking through your order.  The good is that you end up with very tasty food that is always well presented and served in moderate portion sizes.  The result is a fine meal where you don’t get plates groaning with food, and after you’ve cleaned your plates — which both the MW and I did, with relish — you rise from the table feeling satisfied but not uncomfortably stuffed.

We’ve got a problem with food waste in this country, and some of it results from unconsumed food left on plates that were overfilled at the outset.  At tapas places, that isn’t an issue, which is another advantage to the tapas model.