I Know Michigan Needs All The Practice It Can Get, But . . . .

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez

The Detroit Free Press has broken an interesting story in which unnamed current and former players claim the University of Michigan football team has violated NCAA rules regulating off-season workouts, in-season demands on players and mandatory summer activities. The allegations center on strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis and off-season conditioning requirements. Michigan has launched an investigation, and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez apparently reacted emotionally to questions about his treatment of his players at a press conference today.

I don’t know the truth of the allegations, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Rodriguez and his staff bent NCAA rules to the breaking point. Big-time college football is extremely competitive, and Michigan fans have high expectations and enormous pride in their program. Last year, Michigan had a nightmarish season in which the team lost 9 games and got absolutely crushed by the Ohio State University Buckeyes. It’s safe to say that another year like last year would considerably shorten Rodriguez’ career at U of M.

Lord knows that after last year Michigan needs all the practice it can get. What it really doesn’t need is NCAA sanctions imposed for rules violations following a year of such dismal failure. It will be up to the coach and athletic department to rebuild the Michigan program the right way. I seriously question whether Rodriguez is the right man for that job.

The Lockerbie Bomber, Oil, And Justice

I’ve posted before — here and here — on the indefensible decision of the Scottish government to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the terrorist convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. The British press is all over the story, digging to see if there were grounds other than “compassion” for the release. The London Times is now reporting that the Lockerbie bomber deal was motivated by British interests in securing a potentially lucrative Libyan oil contract for BP.  Letters written by British justice minister Jack Straw some time ago seem to confirm the link.

I suppose every country has to look after its own interests, but I am keenly disappointed that the Brits would sacrifice justice for oil and cash.  I have always admired the British, and I think America has benefited by having a stalwart, dependable ally.  It is sad to see that relationship traded away for a few billion pounds.

The Sad Story of Badfinger

For some reason, I was thinking today about Badfinger, the rock band with the saddest fate.



Badfinger actually had an auspicious beginning. The Beatles liked them enough (despite their ridiculous hairstyles) to sign them to their new Apple record label in 1968. Over the next few years, they came out with a string of high-quality pop hits such as “Come and Get It” (written by Paul McCartney), “Baby Blue”, “Day After Day” and “No Matter What.”

Then, as happens so often in the rock business, success turned things ugly. After achieving worldwide fame, the band hired well-known New York businessman Stan Polley as business manager. Polley turned out to be a scoundrel, stealing the band’s money and leading them into a bad contract that resulted in a painful lawsuit. The band’s fame diminished in the midst of these troubles.

In 1975, The band’s lead guitarist, Pete Ham, hung himself out of despair over his finances. His suicide note ended thus: “P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.”

After a half-decade of inactivity, two of the remaining members had a legal dispute over access to earnings and rights to the band’s name. Following an argument on the telephone, one of them, Tom Evans, hung himself in his garden.

Ironically, their songs are mostly heartwarming. Here is a performance from their happier days:

Badfinger – “Baby Blue”

Winds Of Change In Japan

News articles are reporting that a significant political shift has occurred in Japan, where the ruling party apparently has been pulverized in an election. The Liberal Democratic Party, which has controlled the government in Japan for decades, is forecast to go from a large majority in the lower house of Japan’s Parliament to a small minority. The BBC summarizes the differences in the platforms in the two parties here.

I’m not sure that elections in other countries say anything about politics in America, but in Japan the combination of a recession and record high unemployment proved to be a potent force for change. What also is interesting is that the Liberal Democratic Party has been in control of Japan pretty much continuously since 1955 — for for all but 11 months since that time. It is impossible to imagine America governed by one party for such a long period of time. We have a strong tradition of quick dissatisfaction with the party in power and a resulting “throw the bums out” reaction.

Pelotonia 2009

Here are pictures from the Pelotonia charity bike race I participated in on Saturday. Proceeds went to the James Cancer Hospital at OSU. I rode 25 miles, but some riders went 50, 100, or 180 miles. The 180 mile riders ended up in Athens.

I woke up at 5:15 to get ready, and arrived there at about 6:15.


The race began near the intersection of Olentangy River Road and Lane Avenue. There were thousands of people everywhere. Lots of free food.


Here I am in my Vorys team Jersey.


There were so many riders that those of us in the back had to wait 10-15 minutes to start moving after the race started.




It was fun riding on roads downtown without having to worry about traffic. There were lots of people there to cheer us on.




Riding through a small town near the end of my portion of the race. Notice the friendly woman waving on the left.


We ended up in the parking lot of a gym/senior center. Lots of local restaurants had stalls set up and gave out plenty of free breakfast food. I wasn’t very tired and I sort of wished I had signed up for a longer ride, but that would also require raising more money.

A Grocery Store in Downtown Columbus (sort of)

More and more people move to downtown Columbus each year, but the area still lacks many amenities essential for sustaining a community, such as grocery stores. After moving downtown, my friends and I quickly learned that the closest place to buy beer in the evening is a Sunoco gas station near the Courthouse building, about ten blocks away.

So when a friend of mine told me there is a Kroger downtown on Front St., I told him he must be mistaken. I looked it up later out of curiosity and learned that my friend was partly right – there is a Kroger on Front St., but it is in the Brewery District just outside the limits of downtown. I walked over there one day to check it out and took some pictures:


Even though it’s not technically downtown, it’s close enough to provide some support for the downtown community. It’s presence there shows how far the area has come in the past few years.

As you can see, it’s a pretty nice Kroger. It has a much more urban feel than most locations. The brick design of the building is clearly meant to follow the Brewery district style. The inside reminds me of Whole Foods and Giant Eagle, with a large selection of alternative, “organic” foods.


Downtown residents may have a better option soon. An expansion plan for the Arena District calls for a Giant Eagle to be built close to the North Market. Unfortunately, plans have been postponed because of the recession.

If Schlitz, Why Not Stroh’s?

I went to the grocery store recently and decided to buy some beer and was delighted to see Schlitz for sale once more.  I bought a six-pack (in bottles, of course) and found the new version of Schlitz to be tasty and refreshing.  For all I know, it is not the new version at all, but the original recipe from the time when Schlitz was one of the most popular beers in America.

If Schlitz can be revived, why not Stroh’s?  I’m not sure whether Stroh’s is even brewed anymore, but in any case it is not sold in my neighborhood grocery store.  This is a terrible shame, because Stroh’s was the overwhelming beer of choice when I was in college.  Indeed, in those days the distribution of beer was much more regional, and you frequently heard stories about extraordinary beers that were not available in your area of the country.  If you were east of the Mississippi, you heard about Coor’s, of course, but also Olympia and Lone Star.  If you were west of the Mississippi, you heard about — Stroh’s.

Stroh’s was a “fire-brewed” beer — whatever that means — and had a crisp, bold taste.  It was not a wussy beer, but one that had a fighting chance to make an impression if you were drinking it while eating a Bahama Mama or a ballpark frank with the tart, tangy, Cleveland Stadium brown mustard.  It packed a punch.

If Schlitz is being sold at my neighborhood grocer, I say it is time to bring back Stroh’s.  I’d buy a six-pack.

Vacation Time: Puerto Vallerta

In 2005, Kish and the boys and I spent a week or so, over the Christmas/New Year’s break, at one of those “everything included” resorts outside Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Puerto Vallarta is a town on the Pacific coast, well below the Baja peninsula. Dr. Science had recommended it as an interesting, and less crowded, place to visit in Mexico, and I’m glad we took his advice. We had a great time, and I would definitely go back.

Richard and Russell on the beach

Richard and Russell on the beach

Our resort was actually located in Nuevo Vallarta, which (as the name suggests) is a new suburb located outside Puerto Vallarta. The resort featured multiple restaurants, a seaside bar, lots of lounges and chairs, and shady spots thanks to strategically placed palm frond umbrellas. It was on a wonderful white sand beach that went on for miles, forming a white crescent around a beautiful, blue water bay, with the Pacific stretching to infinity beyond. It was a terrific walking beach, long and unbroken, and we spent lots of time walking. On the bay itself, colorful parachutes, pulled by motorboats, filled the sky, and on the land side there were newly built condos, resorts, and expensive homes. When we got tired of walking we built sand structures, did some snorkeling, and read books.

One view of our sand structure

Our Mayan-influenced sand structure

One day Richard and I spent most of the afternoon building an elaborate sand structure, pictured at right, which borrowed from Mayan architecture. Playing in the sand is a pretty relaxing way to spend the day, particularly if you wash out the grit with a cold beer or two. I, at least, was pleased with the fruits of our labors, which attracted a fair amount of attention from beach walkers. One guy even had his picture taken next to it.

The Mexican nativity scene

The Mexican nativity scene

The food at the resort was good, and the bar was a fine place to drink a Corona with lime, argue about politics, and play some cribbage. The boys and I stayed up late and met lots of folks from other countries — mostly Canada and Germany. When we tired of the resort itself we walking to a nearby mall, where we had a good meal or two and were struck by the Mexican version of the nativity scene on display in the middle of the mall. The scene featured a a bright red Satan, complete with pitchfork and cloven hoof, lurking next to the stable and apparently undetected by the visiting kings and shepherds.

The cathedral in Puerto Vallarta

One bright day we left the friendly environs of our resort and took a cab into Puerto Vallarta, where we walked around the town. Puerto Vallarta has a pretty waterfront area and a long quay, but the most memorable structure in town is the cathedral, which has an open, crown-like top. The cathedral looms over a pretty, shaded park, with street vendors hawking their wares on the outskirts.

Enjoying a mariachi band in Puerto Vallarta

Enjoying a mariachi band in Puerto Vallarta

We decided to take a break from our walking tour at a second-story cafe, and there we had a fine surprise. As we drank our drinks on the balcony there was a commotion on the street below, and to our surprise a parade went by to help announce that the circus had come to town. All manner of animals — elephants, giraffes, monkeys, and tigers — were trucked past, accompanied by clowns, jugglers, and acrobats. At about the same time a mariachi band appeared and began playing traditional Mexican music and doing so wonderfully well. Bright sunshine, live music, cold adult beverages, exotic animals, and family members often create magical travel moments, and this was one of those special, unforgettable times.

Cereal Analysis

Men’s Fitness magazine, which I don’t read but probably should, has published an analysis of certain cereals by a panel of experts.  The eight listed cereals are Grape Nuts Flakes, Honey Bunches of Oats with Real Strawberries, Health Valley Granola Raisin Cinnamon, Special K plus Protein, Kashi 7 Whole Grain Honey Puffs, Multi-Grain Cheerios, Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal Golden Flax, and Wheaties.  The panel tried only the “major healthy brands” so most of the classic cereal brands — like Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms — probably didn’t make the cut.

The winners?   Honey Bunches of Oats with Real Strawberries was deemed tastiest, Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal Golden Flax was adjudged healthiest, and Special K with Protein was voted best overall.  I’m sorry to say that Wheaties, which was a staple of the Webner household as I was growing up because it was the Breakfast of Champions, takes a bit of a drubbing from the panel for featuring dry, gritty flakes and not much nutritional value.  Still, I would take Wheaties over the Grape Nut Flakes or the Kashi puffs any day; the latter two cereals turn into a mush almost immediately after the first splash of milk.

I am not familiar with the Ezekiel 4:9 cereal — and I have to say that “Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal Golden Flax” is a mouthful whether or not the cereal itself is — but it made me wonder precisely what the text of Ezekiel 4:9 is.  The King James version translation is:  “Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentiles, and millet, and fitches, and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof, according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon thy side, three hundred and ninety days shalt thou eat thereof.”  Any breakfast cereal that promises you sustenance while you lie on your side for 390 days must have something to recommend it.

Attention And Accountability

Rep. Charles Rangel

Rep. Charles Rangel

The ongoing stories about Congressman Charles Rangel’s failure to disclose significant assets and transactions, and even checking and brokerage accounts, in his congressional disclosure forms is just another example of the culture of contempt for the rules and disdain for the little guy that is so sickeningly pervasive in Washington, D.C.

The whole purpose of congressional disclosure rules is to report assets, outside income, and other financial data that could suggest corruption with respect to the industries Congress is regulating.  Rangel is the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for tax litigation in the House of Representatives.  What position could be a more likely focus of special treatment and sweetheart deals designed to obtain undue influence?  If the congressional self-reporting system were intended to be a meaningful regulatory regime, you would think it would be especially attentive to proper, full, and complete disclosure by the heads of powerful committees — yet Rangel grossly understated his income and net worth and failed to disclose lucractive transactions for years.  Once his omissions were disclosed, he promptly amended his forms and no doubt will claim “no harm, no foul.”  Care to bet whether he will be disciplined in any way by the House Ethics Committee for his chronic flouting of the disclosure rules?  Don’t hold your breath.

Frankly, it gets boring writing about the personal greed, negligence and ethical vacuity of our elected representatives, but if informed citizens don’t do so the corruption problem won’t get any better.  People like Chairman Rangel need to know that some people are paying attention, even if the voters who routinely return him to Congress apparently aren’t.

Every Parent’s Nightmare

This is a horrible story about an 11-year-old girl who was kidnapped and spent 18 years in some private enclave, where she has borne two children fathered by her kidnapper, who just happens to be a registered sex offender.  It is impossible to imagine how the victim, now a 29-year-old woman, has been traumatized and twisted by such an unbearably awful experience.

This kind of story is every parent’s nightmare.  When your children are of tender age, you try to watch them as best you can — while at the same time avoiding the “helicopter syndrome,” where you are hovering around wherever they are and whatever they are doing.  In this particular case, the young girl was kidnapped as she walked home from the school bus stop, in full view of her stepfather.

Parenting involves making everyday judgments about what is best for your child and your family.  Every parent makes thousands of decisions about whether their child should attend a party, spend the night at a friend’s house, go on a camping trip, stay after school for a club meeting, or engage in hundreds of other activities.  You do the best you can to be sure that your child is safe and secure, and then you read this kind of story about what can happen despite your best efforts.  My guess is that, after reading this story, some parents will hover a bit closer.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Unemployment Statistics (Cont.)

I’ve written before on the dubious validity of the official unemployment statistics because of issues concerning how “unemployment” is counted.  A high-ranking official with the Federal Reserve has now spoken publicly of this phenomenon and estimated that, if the statistical contrivances are taken into account, the “real” unemployment rate is not the official 9.4 percent rate, but rather 16 percent.  That reality indicates that it is going to take much longer for the economy to dig its way out of the recession than many are forecasting.

All of which leads to a simple question:  if the “real” unemployment rate is 16 percent, why isn’t that the rate the federal government is reporting to its citizens?  Does our government really think that we are so brittle that we cannot bear to hear the truth, or that we are so divorced from reality that chronic undercounting by the government will convince us that things are better than our personal experiences demonstrate they are?

A Flawed Human Being

I heard the NPR eulogy of Ted Kennedy as I drove in to work this morning, and I thought:  if ever there was a flawed human being, it was Ted Kennedy.

The NPR eulogy was largely positive.  It noted that Kennedy served for 47 years in the U.S. Senate and achieved a number of legislative accomplishments for his political constituencies.  He was an eloquent spokesman for the liberal agenda, and a lion of the Senate with many friends in that body.

And yet . . . .  My grandmother despised Ted Kennedy.  Her view, undoubtedly old-fashioned, was that human beings reveal their true nature in times of stress.  She felt that his behavior after the incident at Chappaquiddick was indefensible and inexcusable and spoke more about the inner man and his true qualities than any scripted speeches or agenda-driven legislative accomplishments ever could.

It doesn’t matter now, because Senator Kennedy has gone on to his great reward, whatever it may be.  Whatever judgment awaits Edward Kennedy will be developed in the fullness of time.  In the meantime I wonder, however, whether we do people like Senator Kennedy any favors by treating them as anything other than flawed human beings like the rest of us.

I’ll Clap For Navy

UJ, Buckeye Bebe, Richard and I will be going to the first game of this year’s Ohio State football season, versus Navy. There’s a bit of a controversy on Ohio State fan websites about whether true Ohio State fans should clap when Navy trots onto the Ohio Stadium turf or boo like there is no tomorrow. That is an easy decision for me: I’ll clap for Navy, and then root like crazy for Ohio State to stomp them and shake hands like sportsmen afterward.

I don’t feel that I need to hate every team that Ohio State plays. I admire student athletes, because I think the commitment it takes to train and then compete in athletics at the major-college level, while taking classes and maintaining a decent GPA, is far beyond what most people understand. Individuals who show such commitment deserve our admiration, not our enmity. In the case of the service academies, where the commitment to a sport is matched by a commitment to serve our country, our appreciation is even more deserved.

Hatred and contempt should be reserved for the exceptional, truly evil and contemptible teams like, well, Michigan.