Where ya been?

Since Dad chastised myself and my older brother for our lack of contributions to the blog, I figured it was probably time to throw my few words into the twice-or-thrice-daily waterfall of posts by webnerbob – even though I expect to see it relegated to the 2nd page by tomorrow at the latest. Regardless, life is fleeting and so are blog posts so what the hell.

First of all, in response to Dad’s post about the draft. While I wouldve definitely liked the browns to draft a quality runningback like Beanie Wells (and I was really pulling for it), the Alex Mack pick pleases me the more I think about it. Getting a young powerful, BIG center is really a cant-miss proposition in the AFC North. Mack may take some time settling in, but I have confidence that he will soon be better than twilight Hank Fraley. Plus, there is no way Mack could be less athletic than Fraley, he was pretty obviously overweight and out of shape. I think the browns missed by not drafting a better RB earlier on, but I think both Robiskie and Massaquoi could be great pro receivers, like the inverse of Braylon Edwards. In sum, I think a lot more optimistically about the Browns when I imagine Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach, and now Alex Mack lined up on the left side of the line. Plus, I think the players the browns acquired from the jets will end up being a much larger factor than most people currently think.

Anyways….what else is new….

I’m currently in the process of 3 final papers, a painting final project, a media studies final project, and then an exam when that time comes around. I take my father’s urging of me to write this post as a valid and excuse-worthy means of procrastination. Dad, if you arent exactly enamored with my report card this semester, blame it on the blog.

Otherwise, I’ve really been enjoying the current summer-worthy weather in Poughkeepsie, NY. It is especially complementary to a new hobby I’ve picked up — skateboarding. For my birthday I went to the mall and put together a custom board with the help of my skater friend Jon. I got a regular trick deck but big beefy, smooth, yellow longboard wheels. It took a while for me to get used to riding a skateboard ( and I have the scabs to prove it) but its like riding a bike, once you learn its easy to take it and run with it. I’m definitely still at a novice-level, though. I can skate around and get going pretty fast; my turning is definitely improving. I could work on my braking. Tricks, forget about that for a while. What I like most about skateboarding is just the feeling of gliding through the air with no effort. Surely, you have to kick the board to make it move, but once youre up on it and moving it feels great. Like the board is an extension of your body. I’m really looking forward to using my skateboard as a means of transportation when I come home to Ohio for the summer.

That seems like a suitable enough post for now. Whenever I next get sick of my schoolwork I’ll try to add more. Incidentally, I just added a new post chock full o’pics in my own blog: http://russellwebner.wordpress.com/

Until next time, MUCH LOVE.

It’s About Time

It’s hard to believe that, until this week, there were no busts or statues of African-American women in the Capitol. That all has changed with the unveiling this week of the bust of Sojourner Truth, who had a very interesting life (including giving a famous speech in my hometown of Akron, Ohio) and is certainly deserving of such recognition.

When Kish and I lived in D.C., I liked taking visitors to the Capitol and showing them the various sculptures in Statuary Hall. (The massive, black and gold statue of the muscular Hawaiian king Kamamahema (or however his name is spelled), with arm outstretched, was my favorite.) Interestingly, many of the statues in the Hall were of slaveowners of southerners who supported the institution of slavery. I think it’s about time that an abolitionist like Sojourner Truth is included, and I hope it is the first of many recognitions of the political, cultural, and literary contributions made by African-American women.

Walk Away Renee

In one of my recent searches through the library CD section I stumbled across Adieu False Heart by Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy, performing as the Zozo Sisters. I picked it up because I’ve loved Linda Ronstadt’s voice since college. Adieu False Heart is a fantastic CD, and Walk Away Renee is representative of the kinds of songs you’ll find on it — acoustic, simple, and pure in tone. This Youtube treatment also features some fine photography that will help everyone get ready for the spring flowers that will be brought by our April showers.

Republican Reckoning (Cont.)

It always interests me when a well-known politician decides to switch parties, as Sen. Arlen Specter did today. They always explain their decisions as involving some titanic internal struggle of principle and conscience, when in reality they have coldly assessed their prospects and decided that, if they want to get reelected, they need to make the change. In that sense, I agree with this article. What does it mean when a politician who has run for decades as a Republican or Democrat suddenly changes their affiliation as easily as they might change an overcoat? It tends to confirm what many Americans seem to think — that the political parties don’t really stand for anything, and are just a matter of convenience.

I’m not questioning the personal sincerity of elected officials who switch parties. I think most politicians honestly believe that it is best for their constituents and the nation as a whole if they continue to serve. Indeed, one of the main problems with most politicians is that their egos have grown so colossal. If, as many politicians do, you think it is critical that you be re-elected, why run as a Republican if you are convinced you are going to lose to an announced primary challenger?

I’m not sure, though, that Sen. Specter’s announcement says anything about the general status, popularity, or prospects of the two political parties — any more than did Joe Lieberman’s decision to endorse McCain for President. Decisions that are motivated entirely by naked self-interest tend not to be suggestive of broad trends.

A Classic

I know this has been out for a while, but I heard about it on Sunday and think it is pretty cool. Kudos to the Belgians who were wearing their dancing shoes!

If we tried to do something like this Columbus, where would we do it? Maybe the crowds moving toward Ohio Stadium for a game after tailgating on a crisp autumn Saturday? Hmmm . . . .

Not Scary . . . Scary

In modern America, we are bombarded with news articles, couched in frightening terms, about claimed risks. Stories like those about flesh-eating bacteria, or flammable children’s nightwear, or the chance that a kid playing baseball might get hit in the chest between heartbeats are routinely found in the news media. Most of these claimed risks are minor. Moreover, the drumbeat of alarmist rhetoric has made many Americans jaded about such warnings.

A new disease that has jumped from species to species and that is passed by airborne particles or casual contact, on the other hand — now that is scary. If you doubt that, read And the Band Played On, by Randy Shilts, about the early days of AIDS, or any book about the Spanish Flu pandemic after the end of World War I. The WHO is right to urge strong action and raise concerns in response to the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico.

Sounds of the Season

This past weekend we had our first really hot weather. The temperature got up into the 80s, and suddenly it was like summer outside. I did some yardwork, and as I was pulling the weeds out of the cracks in our brick sidewalk I heard the first sounds of the summer season — the throaty humming of lawnmowers, the shouts of children playing hide-and-seek, the beat of a basketball on a driveway court, the whirr of bicycles rushing past, and the distant calls of parents for their kids to come in for dinner. All of these sounds come from people who are outside, doing outside things, after the long winter has ended. These summer sounds are welcome, and are as much a sign of the changing seasons as the rising mercury.

Republican Reckoning

This article is an interesting treatment of some of the challenges facing the Republican Party, as it tries to figure out what it really stands for and what it really has to offer as an opposition party during the first term of a new President. My guess is that there are many people who are troubled, as I am, by the rampant federal spending and the increased taxes that inevitably will result. The concern about what the federal government is doing — which has found a populist outlet in the “tea parties” that have been occurring — would seem to give the Republicans a strong base from which to oppose what appear to be classic “tax and spend” policies.

The problem for the GOP is that many people, myself included, are equally troubled by the “conservative” position on social issues like gay marriage. I understand that many people have strongly held religious beliefs about what marriage is. I respect such views, but I also think that we cannot let religious beliefs dictate social policy — in part because America is a land that welcomes and tolerates many different religious views. Gay Americans, when they have decided to make a long-term commitment to each other, should able to enjoy the same legal rights and protections that heterosexual couples do. Being married has a religious element, but it also has broad civil legal consequences — in paying taxes, in obtaining health benefits, and in estate planning, among other areas. I think society should encourage committed couples to legally memorialize their commitment. If that commitment wanes — as it has for countless heterosexual couples — the law should provide a remedy.

The belief that there should be less government and more individual rights favors both a smaller, less financially voracious federal government and social policies that minimize government intrusion into the private lives of its citizens. Many people are committed to both of these concepts. Until the Republican Party figures out how to really appeal to those people, while at the same time continuing to enjoy the support of the “religious right,” it is going to have a difficult time putting together a working majority of voters.

Draft Day Disappointment

The NFL draft begins yesterday, and when the fifth choice arrives, the Browns trade with the Jets, who draft Mark Sanchez. That seemed like a smart move to me — I’m not sold on drafting QBs high in the draft; too often they turn out to be million-dollar busts. (See, e.g., Tim Couch.) The Browns get three players (none apparently of the impact variety) and the Jets first- and second-round picks. Okay, I’m willing to trust Eric Mangini’s knowledge of the Jets’ talent, and the Browns have so many needs — on defense, at running back, on the offensive line — that stockpiling picks makes sense. Then, the Browns trade down again, and again — and in the meantime Russell and I are texting like mad, hoping against hope that the Browns draft Beanie Wells.

I am a proud Ohio State fan, and I’ve watched Beanie Wells for three years. In every big game he has played in, he has broken at least one big run. He breaks tackles, gets past the line of scrimmage, pulls away from lineman and linebackers, and then punishes defensive backs and safeties with a wicked stiff-arm. He has that rare combination of size, speed, power, ferocity, and toughness that makes him a special player — easily one of the best offensive players at Ohio State during the past 40 years. He has carried a major part of the Buckeyes’ offensive load during his three years in school, and he has been nicked up, but he has played through the pain. His injuries, however, apparently are what caused pro scouts to move him down the draft board. I think that kind of analysis is stupid. Too many pro scouts seem to be wedded to metrics, rather than paying attention to what kind of player the prospect is on the field, against challenging competition. By that measure, Beanie Wells is a stud.

Finally, the Browns announce their first-round pick — and it is a center named Alex Mack. Leaving aside the fact that the guy is named for a Nickelodeon show the kids used to watch in the ’90s, he is a center who played in the Pac-10! He is probably an upgrade from Hank Fraley, the current center, but a center simply is not an impact player — and the Browns desperately need impact players. And while USC obviously has had a terrific team, the PAC-10 hasn’t exactly had a bunch of great teams with great defensive lines lately. So, instead of a potential game-breaking talent who had great games against tough competition, the Browns pick . . . a center. It’s unbelievable — but not really, since the Browns did this some years ago when they drafted Jeff Faine. As for the rest of the draft so far, the Browns picked up two receivers (including Brian Robiskie of Ohio State, who has been a quality player, but not a game-breaker) and a defensive end from Hawaii. (Again, what kind of competition has that player faced?) The end result is a head-scratcher.

This is why it is so challenging to be a Browns fan. Your hopes get raised as the Browns appear to be making savvy trades, stockpiling picks, and then just as they have the chance to draft a great player who could help to turn the franchise around they draft . . . a center. Sigh.


This report is a classic example of the kind of stories we will be seeing more of as the federal stimulus bill funds get spent. It has all of the elements of classic pork-barrel spending — a powerful Congressman focused on bringing money into his district, a spigot of federal funds that continuously spews out taxpayer dollars with virtually no meaningful controls, and a project that makes no economic sense and therefore would never be undertaken by any private entity. The result? A multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art airport that has virtually no flights, virtually no passengers, and heavily subsidized fares — all thanks to Congressman John Murtha, for whom the airport is named!

I wish that the news media would aggressively seek out more of these kinds of stories. With the kind of horse-trading that goes on in the halls of Congress, we can be confident that for every John Murtha Airport near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, there are dozens of unnecessary federal buildings, recreation complexes, bridges to nowhere, and other monuments to pork-barrel spending to be found from sea to shining sea. It is absurd and appalling, and with the enormous amounts of taxpayer money that are being spent through the stimulus bill, it will only get much, much worse.

A Dangerous Place

From the perspective of an armchair in the middle of the United States, it is hard to know what to think about Pakistan. There seems to be so much going on, and sometimes the stories seem contradictory. Is the Taliban advancing or retreating? Are the average citizens in Pakistan generally supportive of the Taliban, or frightened by its activities and opposed to the imposition of sharia? And, to top it all off, it seems that Pakistan is experiencing unrest due to food prices.

About the only thing that seems clear is that the United States should be very concerned about what is happening in Pakistan. When the Taliban were in control of Afghanistan, they provided a safe haven where terrorists could train, plot, and execute attacks. Their recent activities provide no basis for believing that they have changed their views or become more civilized. Terrorist groups already are apparently operating in the remote tribal areas of Pakistan where the Taliban is in ascendancy. What could those terrorists accomplish if the Taliban gained control of larger portions the country? After all, Pakistan differs from Afghanistan in at least one crucial respect — Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons. Would leaders who do not hesitate to ruthlessly flog women who are accused of violating a medieval code of conduct hesitate to use nuclear weapons?

Draft Day Dread

Tomorrow the NFL draft begins. Many pro football fans look forward to this event. As a Cleveland Browns fan, I approach Draft Day with a mixture of disgust and dread. The disgust comes from the fact that, in recent years, the Browns have had high picks in the draft because they have been pathetic. The dread comes from the fact that the Browns have had a remarkable record of futility with their first-round picks and, more generally, with the players they have drafted. If you review the Browns’ first-round picks since the franchise returned to the NFL, you see that most made no significant positive impact and, indeed, most are no longer with the Browns or even in the NFL. The Browns have spent enormous amounts on their first-round picks — the sums paid to those picks are staggering — and have precisely one playoff game to show for it. The once-proud franchise of my childhood and young adulthood has been reduced to a laughingstock.

So, I’m not one of those people who is excited about Draft Day. I won’t be watching. Instead, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the latest Browns regime doesn’t do something colossally stupid that dooms the franchise to even more years of crappy football and failure.