Curdling The Cheese

Last night I had a plate of cheese and some summer sausage for dinner.  A little Jarlsberg, some Amish Swiss, some Parmesan curls carefully knifed off of the big, hard Parmesan lump, and I was a happy camper.

cheese-1-1123-dcgjpg-086066ee270c3c55I’d say I have cheese for dinner approximately once a week.  I try different kinds of cheeses, filling the spectrum from hard to soft and from mild to the smelliest cheese you can imagine.  I like it all.  About the only cheese I won’t try is “flavored” cheese.  I prefer mine au naturel.  Sometimes I’ll combine it with nuts, or different kinds of olives, or pieces of fruit.  Grandma Webner would look at this kind of meal disdainfully and call it “piecing,” but it’s a nice, light repast when I’m just not in the mood for something heavier.

Now I learn that researchers from the University of Michigan, of all places, have concluded that cheese has casein, a chemical that can trigger the brain’s opioid receptors and produce the same kind of feeling of euphoria that users of hard drugs experience.   Their research is focused on trying to identify foods that may have addictive qualities and then use that information to combat obesity, issue new nutrition guidelines, restrict the marketing of such foods to children, and do all of the other things that “researchers” propose to do in the modern nanny state.

Leave it to the killjoys from That State Up North to raise concerns about the simple enjoyment of a few pieces of cheese!  And whatever the “research” might find, are we really going to conclude, after centuries of careful creation and cheerful consumption, from medieval monks on down to the modern day, that a few pieces of cheese are a bad thing?

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A Whiff Of Spring

After months of enduring the rude blasts of winter, the people of Columbus were ready to savor a little decent weather. So when an unseasonably warm February day saw the temperatures hit the 70s, Columbusites weren’t about to let the moment pass without enjoying the spring-like conditions to the fullest. Along Gay Street, the patrons at the bars and restaurants were happily dining and drinking al fresco, and a downtown resident had donned shorts to walk his dog.

The dog seemed to enjoy the weather, too. Let’s face it — when February rolls around, everybody’s got a little spring fever.

Why I’m Not Watching The Winter Olympics

I’m not watching the Winter Olympics.  Apparently I’m not alone, because the ratings are abysmal. On some nights, the Nielsens have been the lowest for an Olympic broadcast in more than a decade.

There seem to be lots of reasons why people are tuning out the Olympics.  Some people aren’t watching because they think the NBC broadcast is dreadfully boring.  Other people are put off by the political overtones of the North Korea-South Korea storyline that apparently is a constant undercurrent in the broadcasts, or fawning coverage given to the sister of Kim Jong Un and the robotic North Korean cheerleaders.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter OlympicsI haven’t been watching because the constant efforts to jazz up the Winter Olympics with new “sports” really don’t make this seem like the Olympics at all.  I’m not a skier or skater or big winter sports participant, but in the past I’ve enjoyed watching traditional Winter Olympic sports like the bobsled — which is the best named sport, by the way — or the downhill, ski jumping, and hockey.  But when we were over at our friends’ house for a dinner party Saturday night and the Olympics was on the TV, it featured an event where snowboarders were jumping up and skidding on bannister-like contraptions and launching off of artificial hills to do spins and tumbles.  It was as if the Winter Olympics had mated with a circus act, and the next thing you know a performing bear riding a bike would appear.  That single hopelessly artificial, jazzed up event perfectly summarized the desperate efforts to make the Winter Games more exciting and appealing to the slacker kids down at the local skateboard park.  The X Games have invaded.

One of the other people at the party said my reaction reflects the thinking of old codgers.  No doubt that is true.  I’m not saying that people who can do skateboard-like moves on a snowboard don’t have some athletic ability, I’m just saying that such contrived events seem to reflect more of a desire to create ratings and interest, rather than the “Olympic spirit” that is supposed to be the underpinning of the Games.  And that’s why I’m not watching.

Federal Bureau Of Incompetence

In the wake of the latest awful school shooting, in which 17 students and teachers were killed in Florida and another 15 people were injured, there has been a lot of talk about guns and gun control.  That debate is entirely warranted, but I hope that there is also room for broad discussion about the performance of law enforcement agencies — from the FBI on down.

Last month, the FBI received a specific, credible warning about the accused shooter, Nikolas Cruz.  A person close to Cruz contacted the FBI’s Public Access Line on January 5 and described Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill others, erratic behavior and disturbing social media posts.  The FBI acknowledged that it received the tip — but did nothing, in violation of its own internal rules.  In a statement, the Bureau said:  “Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life. The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami Field Office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken.”

Nikolas-Cruz-919429And it certainly appears that, if somebody from the FBI had actually looked into the tip, they would have found a lot of very disturbing information about Cruz, from troubles in school and a recommendation that a “threat assessment” be performed on Cruz, to a self-mutilation post and other troubling activities on social media and a comment on a blog about being a “professional school shooter,” to multiple calls about Cruz and his erratic behavior to the local sheriff’s office.  It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that, if somebody had just followed up on the tip, the massacre might have been avoided.

A statement from Christopher Wray, the Director of the FBI, about the FBI’s failure to act said:  “We are still investigating the facts. I am committed to getting to the bottom of what happened in this particular matter, as well as reviewing our processes for responding to information that we receive from the public.” He also said:  “It’s up to all Americans to be vigilant, and when members of the public contact us with concerns, we must act properly and quickly.”  But in this instance, Americans were vigilant and did report on concerns arising from disturbing behavior — and the FBI totally dropped the ball.

According to its website, about 35,000 people work for the FBI.  The Agency’s annual budget is more than $8 billion.  In short, the FBI has a lot of resources.  Given the number of mass shootings we’ve seen in this country, in schools and otherwise, it’s unfathomable that a credible tip to the FBI about a potential mass killer would be ignored.  If the FBI doesn’t follow up on such tips, what in the world is it doing?  And while it’s nice to know that FBI Director Wray is going to investigate the Bureau’s failure to investigate the tip about Nikolas Cruz, we might want to make sure that the FBI’s conduct is investigated by people who won’t drop the ball this time.

Searching, Again, For The Most Interesting Dog In The World!

Russell’s dog Betty still has a lot of puppy in her, and taking her for a walk is a bit of an adventure. Every glimpse of another dog — regardless of age, breed, size, or whether they’re wearing one of those embarrassing head cones — puts Betty on full sensory alert and causes her to immediately begin panting and lunging forward in total sled dog mode. The other dogs are obviously the most fascinating things in the world. In German Village, which has more dogs out walking at any given moment than any other location in the free world, that means the Bettywalker is constantly trotting, arm extended and leash pulled taut, toward one dog or another. For Betty, only squirrels can rival other dogs as an attention-getter.

Imagine what it would be like if humans reacted in this way, treating every other person like they were The Most Interesting Man In The World in the Dos Equis commercials and making a beeline to every stranger you see on the street to give them a heavy-breathing, up-close-and-personal once-over. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad humans are a bit more diffident about other members of their species.

Hey, a squirrel!

Crustacean Placation Nation

The Swiss are worried about lobsters.

live-maine-lobster-640-2017-BOGOThey are concerned that lobsters are sentient and can feel pain.  So, if you want to eat a lobster in Switzerland, you can’t drop it, live, into a pot of boiling water, which is the preferred cooking method in Maine and other lobster-loving states.  Instead, according to this article in USA Today, you need to either electrocute the lobster, or lull it into an insensate state by dipping it in salt water — and then stabbing it in the brain.  I’m not sure, frankly, why those methods are viewed as more humane than the classic drop into a pot of boiling water approach, but we’ll just have to take the word of the Swiss — who don’t eat many lobsters in any event — that the lobsters would prefer the electric chair or a knife to the brain.

Switzerland’s constitution apparently has an “animal dignity” provision, and Switzerland is a leader in the animal rights movement.  Swiss laws enacted in furtherance of that constitutional protection say that dogs can’t be punished for barking and that anyone who flushes an unwanted goldfish down the toilet violates the law.

The logical extension of this movement is to prevent humans from eating any animals, or for that matter domesticating them, breeding them, and preventing them from roaming free and impairing their liberty.  And if humans can’t eat other animals, the “animal dignity” provision presumably would prevent one animal species from gobbling up another animal species, too.  Why should humans be restrained, when other animals get off scot free?  Bears shouldn’t be able to eat fish, for example, and hawks and eagles can’t snatch up eat mice or voles, and wolves and coyotes should be barred from eating chickens, rabbits, or your neighbor’s annoying little yapper dog.

This seems like a pretty confusing approach to the food chain.  Me, I think I’ll still enjoy freshly boiled lobster.

App-rehension

Earlier this week I was having lunch with a younger colleague in a busy airport, talking about how tough it is to juggle the demands of young children, a work schedule that involves lots of travel, and other elements of modern professional life in America.  As she noshed on her salad, she mentioned that at times she took out her phone and used “Calm” and “Buddhify” to help her reduce stress.

IMG_1092Eh?  There are smartphone apps geared toward meditation?

Yes, she explained.  They are part of the “mindfulness” segment of smartphone apps, and then she described how you can use the apps to look at calming scenes, hear soothing sounds, and select mediation routines that are specifically targeted to helping you deal with a particular scenario, like getting to sleep or dealing with stress at work.  She then thumbed through her phone app index pages in a way that made it clear that she had a lot of apps.  My younger cousins have a lot more apps than I do, she said — dozens and dozens of index pages of them.

I thought about my smartphone, with my skimpy two pages of apps, most of which came with the phone, and I felt apprehension and, frankly, inadequacy.  And as my colleague showed me some of the other apps she has on her phone — apps like TuneIn, which allows you to listen to sports broadcasts of your favorite teams wherever you are, or Happier, which helps you think most positively (UJ must already have that one), or Pandora or Spotify, which allow you to listen to lots of good music of your choosing — I realized, again, that there’s a huge world of potentially useful or enjoyable apps out there and I am completely oblivious to them.  My poor, underutilized iPhone is like what they used to say about the human brain — it’s using only about 10 percent of its potential.

But here’s the problem for me.  How do you find the good apps?  Is it primarily word of mouth?  Do people regularly have conversations about apps, and discuss which ones, in their experience, are worth it or not?  Or do people do on-line searches for app ratings and comments?  Or do they go to the app store and just look around and try things out?

I’m feeling a bit lost here.  But if I can find an app that transforms modern business travel into more of a zen-like experience, for example, I’m willing to work to find it.