The Scarf-Tying Test

There are some obvious, time-honored ways by which to distinguish American women from American men.

One group thinks The Three Stooges are hilarious; the other thinks they are appalling.

One group likes “baby showers” so much they invented “couples showers,” and the other thinks “couples showers” is the worst, most dangerous invention since lawn darts.

One group has a set of “functional boots” and another set of “fashion boots,” and the other can’t even grasp the concept.

IMG_4814And one group can tie a scarf so that it looks poofy and kicky and fashionable, and the other is incapable of doing so.

I’ve learned this lesson this cold, miserable, unending winter, when wearing a scarf is a crucial tool in the Midwesterners’ arsenal of survival gear.  My scarf is a long, scarlet and gray piece that I got from the OSU Development Office.  I’ve tried winding it around my neck, bunching it up, and other scarf-tying efforts; now I just double up the scarf, loop it around my neck, and cinch it up to the chin.  It’s warm, solidly functional and keeps the wind off my neck, but it makes no fashion statement whatsoever.

As you walk around downtown Columbus on a cold winter morning — and today the weather app on my phone says it’s 1 degree outside — you see pinch-faced men walking hunched against the wind.  They all have a dull gray look to them.  The women, on the other hand, look colorful and bright in their gay scarves and snazzy boots.

So why don’t they like The Three Stooges?

Elephants, Adieu

Today the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that their circus will phase out the elephant acts from The Greatest Show on Earth.  The last 13 performing elephants will retire as of 2018.  As far as I’m concerned, it can’t come soon enough.

I loved the circus as a kid — who wouldn’t love the Death-Defying Trapeze Acts, the three rings, the Big Top, the tumblers and jugglers, the tightrope walkers, the clowns in their little cars, the smell of sawdust and peanuts and mustard, and the bright, piping sound of the calliope? — but I never liked the elephant acts and tiger acts.  While I marveled at the colossal size of the pachyderms, I felt sorry for them as they raised up to put their forelegs on each others backs, fell to the ground with an earth-shaking thud, and were put through the rest of their little routines at the crack of a whip.  Elephant faces always looking intelligent to me, and their eyes seemed sad.  I always thought they didn’t like what they were doing.

The circus officials said they came to this decision on their own.  Animal rights advocates say it is the product of years of protesting and lobbying their part.  I don’t care who is responsible for the decision, really, and I doubt that the elephants do, either.  I’m just glad the elephants won’t be a circus act any more.


About Hillary’s E-Mail

Should we care about Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email address when she served as Secretary of State?

On Monday the New York Times broke the story that, during her four years as Secretary of State, Clinton never had an official State Department email address and instead exclusively used a personal address to conduct official business.  As a result, her emails were not maintained on governmental servers, which may have violated the Federal Records Act.  The Times reported that her aides later went through her emails and decided which ones to give to the State Department.

Following up on the story, yesterday the Associated Press reported that Clinton’s private email address traced back to a personal computer server at her home in New York.  The House Committee investigating the attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya has now subpoenaed her emails, and Clinton said last night that she has asked the State Department to review the emails that her aides provided to the department and release them to the public.  Clinton’s defenders say there is no evidence that she acted with ill intent, and note that other politicians have used personal email accounts.

So, should we care about this incident?  I think we should, for three reasons.  First, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for us to expect high-ranking public officials like the U.S. Secretary of State to comply with federal law.  I don’t buy the “other people did it too” defense, and saying Clinton wasn’t a conscious lawbreaker is about as lame a justification as you can concoct.  Is the fact that the senior member of the President’s Cabinet apparently was unaware of basic rules of federal record-keeping really helpful to her?  Was she ignorant of and non-compliant with other rules set by federal law, too?

Second, where were Clinton’s aides and other State Department officials and federal officials in all of this?  When they started to get email from her personal email address, didn’t they raise the issue of her non-compliance with federal law — or all they all blissfully ignorant of the Federal Records Act, too?  Are federal employees simply not trained in straightforward administrative requirements of federal law, or were they afraid to raise the issue of Clinton’s non-compliance because they worried about the reaction?

Third, the rules set by the Federal Records Act are important, and aren’t just another set of inexplicable red-tape requirements in the byzantine mass of federal regulations.  Storage of all communications by federal employees in federal departments means that records of those communications will be archived and readily available in the event the activities of the employee are investigated.  The employee won’t get to pick and choose which records will be accessible and thereby tailor the story to make themselves look good.

More importantly, in this world of constant data breaches, storage of official email on personal servers is asking for trouble.  Perhaps the Clintons have the most well-staffed, advanced IT section in the world constantly safeguarding their personal server from attack, but I’d rather trust the federal government to keep the Secretary of State’s confidential communications with the President and foreign leaders secure from the hackers.  Are we really confident that malignant foreign governments didn’t plant malware in the Clinton server and obtain real-time access to her communications?  Clinton’s decision to conduct official business on a personal email account strikes me as both naive and extremely reckless — which aren’t exactly qualities I’m looking for in a presidential candidate.

A Complaint As Old As Commerce

The other day I went through a drive-through window at a fast food restaurant.  I made my order through the crappy intercom set-up, was handed my bag of food by a disinterested teenager at the window, and drove back on to the interstate — only to learn that the restaurant had screwed up my order.  Arrgh!

Everyone who has ever bought goods has probably experienced the sensation of being ripped off.  It’s an old complaint — in fact, as old as commerce itself.

This point was driven home by a 4000-year-old Babylonian tablet found in the British Museum — a tablet that is, in its entirety, a complaint about bogus business practices.  A merchant, Nanni, is upset because Ea-nasir cheated him in a transaction for copper ingots.  Ea-nasir, the charlatan, promised high-quality ingots, delivered crappy ones, and kept Nanni’s money nevertheless.  Nanni was upset — so upset that he hired a scribe who prepared the complaint tablet.  Why did Ea-nasir keep the tablet so that it survived for 4,000 years?  Who knows?  Maybe conniving bastard got a chuckle out of the sense of utter powerlessness that radiates through poor Nanni’s predicament, even to someone reading the message after the passage of millennia.

What really bothered Nanni is what really bothers those of us who get screwed in our business dealings:  he felt that he was being treated with contempt.  And he was!

The Sky Always Comes Last

IMG_4858Richard and Julianne decided to buy a jigsaw puzzle while they were here.  (Curse them!)  We spent part of their visit working on the puzzle, which features a painting of a beach scene at twilight, with about half of the picture consisting of the sky.  (Curse them both!)

Of course, we couldn’t finish the puzzle during their visit.  (Of course!)  So the unfinished puzzle sat there on the dining room table, taunting me, its bizarrely shaped pieces spread across the polished wooden surface.  (Heh hehYou’ll never finish me, old man!)  So I spent part of Sunday working on it, and finally completed the water, the beach, and the horizon, which left me with . . . the sky.  (Give up, old manFeel the sting of failure when, after weeks of frustration and anguish, you finally sweep me, uncompleted, back into the box and put me in a closet hoping you never see me again!)

It is a standard rule that, in any jigsaw puzzle of an outdoor scene, the sky will always be the last part of the puzzle that gets completed.  (The sky is unconquerable!)  That is because the sky is always the hardest part of the puzzle, and the normal progression of puzzle completion goes from easiest to hardest — first the edges, then the obvious landmarks, then everything else but the sky.  (The sky rules!)  And then the puzzler hits the wall and all of the accumulated momentum and false hopes crash and burn, and finishing the puzzle becomes a cold, hard slog of trying to find one miserable piece at a time.  (Heh hehThat’s rightThat’s rightAnd it will never happenNever!)

Aren’t jigsaw puzzles supposed to be a pleasant leisure time entertainment activity?

The U-Trou End-Of-Day Downer

What’s a fitting way to end a cold, glum, overcast, rainy workday with clouds so low-hanging they mask the tops of Columbus’ mini-skyscrapers, a day so grey and gloomy you expect Bela Lugosi to come leaping out from behind every door?

IMG_4859How about seeing a sodden pair of discarded underwear in plain view on a downtown street corner as you’re walking home for the night?

I wondered:  what are a responsible citizen’s obligations to society when he or she encounters some saturated Hanes on a public sidewalk during a persistent rainstorm?  Use their handy umbrella to move the inexplicable yet offensive sight out of the right-of-way and happily out of public view, while taking care not to touch the item with a human hand?  Keep a wary eye out for a pantless miscreant doing his best Gene Kelly Singing in the Rain impression?  Alert the authorities that apparently functional garments are being left willy-nilly on downtown street corners?  Wait to see whether cleaning crews remove it in timely fashion?  Satisfy your curiosity about whether the u-trou would freeze solid overnight.

I shook my head at the sad and miserable sight, and then walked on.

In Favor Of More Police Cameras And Fewer Assault Vehicles

The fatal shooting of a homeless man by four Los Angeles police officers is the latest incident to show the value of cameras in police cars and on police uniforms.

The shooting occurred in LA’s Skid Row neighborhood.  Police say that the man, who had a history of mental illness, was the suspect in a robbery and was shot after he reached for an officer’s gun during a scuffle.  However, witnesses — including the man who shot the video of the incident that went viral on the internet — instead describe a situation in which four police officers tried to subdue the man, apparently Tasered him, and then shot him five times.  At least two of the officers involved had activated their body cameras, but the footage hasn’t been released yet and will be used as evidence as the incident is investigated.

Police officers have a difficult job and deserve our support.  However, that doesn’t mean they should get a free pass on whatever they do or that deadly force incidents shouldn’t be objectively evaluated and, where warranted by the facts, prosecuted.  In 2014 alone, 16 people were shot and killed by Los Angeles police; 252 people have been killed by LA police since the year 2000.  With so many instances of deadly force, in Los Angeles and elsewhere, we should ensure that we have meaningful evidence that allows us to fully investigate those incidents, protect police officers from false accusations of excessive force, and ensure that police officers are complying with use of force rules. Routine placement of cameras in patrol cars and on uniforms would supply such evidence.

I believe that the vast majority of police officers are well-trained and careful, and therefore video evidence of deadly force incidents will likely show that the use of force was justified in most instances — but I also think the recent wave of fatal shootings is undermining public confidence in the men in blue.  In addition, such shootings can fuel racial tensions and trigger large-scale public disruptions, like the riots in Ferguson, Missouri.  We would all be better served if our police departments refrained from buying more assault vehicles and instead invested in cameras that will allow the public to see the difficulty of police officers’ jobs, and how well they perform one of the most important roles in our society.