Joe Or No Joe

With the calendar turning to August, it’s officially the silly season in American politics.  On the Republican side, a loudmouthed, self-promoting, angry anti-politician is leading in the polls, and 10 of 17 declared presidential candidates will crowd onto the stage to have a “debate” on Thursday.  And on the Democratic side, politicos and pundits are talking seriously about drafting Joe Biden to throw his hat in the ring.

Wait a second . . . Joe Biden?  72-year-old, two-time also-ran, vice president Joe Biden?

Evidently so.  There’s apparently concern in some Democratic quarters about Hillary Clinton being damaged goods.  Her trustworthiness numbers aren’t good — whether it is because of her State Department email server fiasco, or because everything she does and says seems so carefully scripted and calibrated, or for some other reason — and she hasn’t exactly been lighting it up on the campaign trail.  In fact, there seems to be a lot more excitement about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a socialist who has been drawing big crowds in the early decision states.  So while Hillary has raised tons of money and signed up legions of heavyweight staffers and fundraisers, people are beginning to wonder whether her nomination is as inevitable and certain as, say, Ed Muskie in 1972.

But if you think Hillary Clinton may not be the best candidate to carry the Democratic banner, where do you turn?  America isn’t likely to elect a 70-something socialist, and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley doesn’t exactly have people buzzing.  Most of the leading Democratic politicians on the national scene don’t seem especially keen to take on the Clinton political machine.  That leaves good old Joe.  He’s been on the national Democratic scene forever, he’s a known commodity, and although he’s been a gaffe machine in his prior races he’s one of those pols who seems to love being on the campaign trail — whereas Hillary Clinton seems to consider it to be a painful hassle.

I have no idea whether Joe Biden will end up running — he’s just lost his son to cancer, but once the presidential bug bites it’s hard to shake the obsessive lure of the Oval Office.  What’s more interesting to me is that the national Democratic bench seems so shallow — and, with the exception of O’Malley, so long in the tooth.  Why aren’t the party bigwigs talking about Democratic governors (other than California’s Jerry Brown, who is 77), or Senators like Ohio’s Sherrod Brown?  Why aren’t more up-and-coming Ds willing to risk a long-shot run, like Bill Clinton did in 1992?

Old Shoes, New Shoes

I hate shopping on principle, but I really, really hate shoe shopping.  Why?  Because I think most men’s dress shoe styles look ridiculous, with their pointy-toed or square-toed ends and other decorative flourishes, and they especially look absurd on my gunboat-like size 13 feet.  The experience always leaves me feeling like I have a natural set of clown feet.

IMG_6351But, I had no choice.  My current set of work shoes were simply so old and worn out that even a shoeshopping-resistant person like me had to admit the time had come.  On one pair the sole had worked free and was beginning to flap, on another the heels were falling off, and on a third the vamp had cracked open.  And, I have to admit, separate and apart from these structural failings they all looked pretty beat to hell, too.

So today Kish and I went off to one of those mega-shoe stores and I walked down aisles of fancy men’s shoes, trying to find a sturdy pair of black shoes and two pairs of simple brown shoes.  I once again learned that shoe sizes vary widely depending upon the manufacturer, that the elves who install the laces on new shoes insist on doing so in a weird and sadistic way, and that male shoe designers apparently have been ingesting psychedelic substances and obtained their inspiration from the footwear of medieval court jesters.

Tomorrow I’ll be wearing some new shoes.  They will look ridiculous — of course.

Strawberry Shortcake

IMG_6344I’m not a dessert person, for the most part — but I’ve always had a soft spot for strawberry shortcake.  It’s the first dessert I remember eating at a restaurant, on one of the many occasions when Grandma and Grandpa Neal took UJ and me out on a “Sunday drive” to one of the small towns in northern Ohio.

So, when I see strawberry shortcake on the menu, the memories kick in and I’m always tempted to try it.  I gave in to temptation last night at the Sycamore.  They do it right, with freshly baked, light, crumbly shortcake, succulent sliced strawberries, and a creamy topping.  It’s the perfect end to an excellent summer meal.

UJ’s Hat

IMG_6287Last weekend, on the father-son fishing trip to Hen Island, there was one dominant topic around the card table:  UJ’s hat.  It is pictured above, in all its glory.

When you’re drinking beer, smoking cigars, and playing cards, sophomoric humor tends to dominate, and usually there is one theme or target for the weekend,  This year, something about this humble hat provoked the onslaught of insult humor.  Some of the best lines:

Did you steal that hat from a homeless person?

How far down into the dumpster did you need to go to find that thing?

That hat looks like it’s ready to spontaneously combust.

Any readers so inclined are invited to share their jibes.

UJ explained, somewhat sheepishly, that he rescued the hat from the dustbin of history, when one of his friends was getting ready to pitch it — but now he wears it with a curious pride, knowing that he will suffer the slings and arrows of rude family humor.  It keeps the sun off his head, and the brim can be tugged and maneuvered into all kinds of shapes — which was one of the things that made the hat an apt target for our jokes.

Squirrel And Carrot

IMG_6329With an abundance of trees, and lots of fences that serve as de facto elevated highways, the backyards in our German Village neighborhood are a squirrel’s paradise.  You see the bushy-tailed rodents scampering up and down trees, leaping from branch to branch, munching on nuts, and generally enjoying lives that seem like one big frolic.  And when one of the neighbors puts out fresh carrots for squirrels to enjoy, so much the better!

This little guy attacked a carrot that was about as long as he was with evident and territorial relish.  Apparently, squirrels really like carrots.

The Challenge Of Trying To Stay On Top

When you are on top, staying there can be a challenge.  Suddenly there are all kinds of distractions.  People who previously lean and hungry may develop a more complacent frame of mind.  And there is every temptation to start believing your press clippings.

The current national champion Ohio State Buckeyes are learning this life lesson.  If they are listening to the over-the-top accolades and compliments that every casual fan and professional pundit is throwing their way, their heads have probably already swollen to the bursting point.  They’ve been picked for all kinds of preseason award lists and slotted in to the next round of college football playoffs before one down has even been played.  And this week, one of those dreaded “distractions” occurred when four players — including All-World defensive end Joey Bosa and three players who were expected to make big contributions on the offensive side of the ball and on special teams — were suspended for the first game against Virginia Tech for violating an unspecified policy or policies.

Fans grit their teeth at these kinds of off-field activities, but it seems entirely predictable in the modern world of high-powered college sports.  For the Buckeyes, they will just have to figure out a way to overcome the loss of four key players — or not.  It’s a kind of initial test in a season of impending tests, where the enemies will be the opposing teams but also overconfidence, clashing egos, petty jealousies, and concerns about future pro careers.

I’d rather the Buckeyes not have to deal with suspensions, but if they are going to happen — and, realistically, they are — I’d rather the process start now, before the season begins.  Last year, Ohio State’s players adopted a “next man up” mentality that required every player to be ready to step in and pursue the team’s lofty goals, and it served the team well.  At the quarterback position the next man up — and the next man up after him — in fact had to rise to the challenge and perform in the clutch.  I’m hoping that Urban Meyer, who knows a thing or two about encouraging motivation and focus with student athletes, can use this incident to good effect in getting the team mentally ready, again.  It wouldn’t exactly be seemly for the supposed Team of the Century to stumble out of the gate.

About Cecil

The ongoing uproar about the death of Cecil, the sleepy-looking lion in Zimbabwe who was killed by a crossbow-wielding Minnesota dentist, is one of those stories where the competing viewpoints simply don’t understand each other.

Supporters of big-game hunting depict it as a noble sport with a long history — one that has attracted the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway and that, they say, can serve animal conservation efforts and support the economies of impoverished African nations.  Opponents of big-game hunting recoil at the idea of humans hunting and killing innocent creatures not to survive or feed their families, but solely for their own pleasure.

I’m in the latter camp — and the death of poor Cecil, who was lured away from the safety of a sanctuary by an intentionally placed animal carcass, then shot with a bow, tracked for hours,  killed with a gun, skinned, and beheaded, triggers every anti-hunting sentiment in my being.  It’s hard for me to see how anyone could portray that kind of scenario as a noble sport, much less fair, or just, or humane. I see it as simply slaughter designed to make a wealthy guy feel like even more of a macho big shot and allow him to hang stuffed trophies of his wall, where they no doubt creep out many of the people who see them.  (When our family first moved to Columbus 45 years ago, we bought our house from a guy who had big-game trophy heads on the walls of the basement.  I thought their marble-eyed likenesses were sad and disturbing and disgusting then, and I still have the same reaction now.)

Then there are those who view the outcry about the death of Cecil as an overreaction.  It’s only one animal, they say, and not as important as other issues of the day.  I’m not defending the internet death threats against the Minnesota dentist — although I sure wouldn’t want to have my teeth examined by somebody who has no problems with killing an innocent creature and then grinning for a photo op with its dead body — but I can understand why this one incident has captured worldwide attention.

So many of the issues of the day are so vast and complicated that they seem far beyond our full comprehension, much less our ability to solve.  Big-game hunting is different because it is simpler.  Should wealthy people using high-tech weaponry be able to lure and kill lions, and elephants, and other beautiful animals?  It’s not a hard issue to grasp, and it’s one where we feel that maybe, just maybe, we can do something about it.  Already the killing of Cecil seems to be moving the needle on international views about big-game hunting.  If it produces a ban on big-game hunting, or at least more rigorous controls, then perhaps there might be something noble about Cecil’s death after all.