The Ass End Of The Season

The 2009 season started with great promise for the Cleveland Indians.  Some publications picked them to win their division, and the long-suffering hearts of Cleveland sports fans were filled with a desperate, wild-eyed hope that this might be the year.  Alas, the season quickly turned to ashes in the mouths of Cleveland fans.  The Tribe was dismal from the get-go, long ago unloaded its marquee players in the hope of getting some prospects who might pan out in the future, and ended the season with a twisting death spiral that leaves then struggling to stay ahead of the horrible Kansas City Royals and out of the AL Central cellar.

The reaction of Cleveland management was to fire Eric Wedge, the manager, today.  Wedge managed the Tribe for seven years and got them into the playoffs once.  I’m not someone who always blames the manager or head coach when a team underperforms — usually, it is the players’ fault — but I think Indians’ management made the right call in showing Wedge the door.  He was supposed to be the cerebral catcher-coach with great baseball knowledge, but I never saw much sign of that.  As a small market team, the Tribe can’t buy its way into the playoffs every year, like the Yankees or the Red Sox, but it clearly has had quality players during Wedge’s tenure.  I don’t think he ever took a mediocre team and made it a good team through savvy moves, much less take a good team and make it a great one.

As the Tribe enters what will no doubt be a long, painful rebuilding process, there is no point in having some failed retread as the manager.  Better to bring in a new face, with some fire, who might motivate promising youngsters to overachieve.

Negative On Positive Thinking

When I saw this piece, it reminded me of UJ’s postings on positive thinking and The Secret.  The author questions whether the power of positive thinking and the constant exhortations that people should act happy and be happy, haven’t been harmful to our culture.  The issue is whether trying to be upbeat at all times causes people to overlook real problems and issues.  If something is wrong, why shouldn’t an intelligent human being be unhappy about it and complain about it?

I don’t think there is anything wrong with positive thinking, and I think there is nothing wrong with doing things that ten to make you happier, like listening to music that you like on your commute, rather than risking higher blood pressure as a result of listening to the news.  In my view, the problem with many “positive thinking” type books is that some people read them and conclude that they are entitled to be happy.  If you think that you are entitled to be hapy at all times, and you aren’t, you are bound to be disappointed — and disappointed people aren’t happy.  Being realistic about the ups and downs of life seems like a wiser course.

Betting On The Weather

Russell asked us to send him his winter boots recently, and it is probably a good thing he did.  Weather forecasters are saying that a weak El Nino current exists in the Pacific Ocean, and about 75 percent of the time a weak El Nino condition correlates with colder than expected winters in the northeast United States.

What does colder than normal weather in the northeast mean for our economy?  Why, increased heating oil use, of course.  Not surprisingly, commodities traders already are increasing their net long positions — which in effect bet that the price of heating oil will rise — and heating oil prices are rising.  It is the capitalist system at work.

The Startling Mr. Opossum

The weather turned cooler overnight, and this morning’s walk brought the first opossum sighting in quite a while.  I was strolling along, floating in some pleasant reverie, when suddenly I saw the white-faced Mr. Opossum waddling across the street right in front of me.  Seeing a wild animal is always a bit of a shock, and whenever an animal makes no significant effort to avoid human contact I am especially wary that the animal might be rabid or otherwise off its rocker.  (This is especially true after this summer’s disturbing “squirrel incident,” when Kish and I were chased for quite a distance down a nature path by an unusually aggressive squirrel.)  Mr. Opposum appeared to be healthy and of sound mind, although he was in no hurry to cross the street, scamper up an incline, and disappear into the underbrush.

The opossum is one of the staples of New Albany early morning walk wildlife sightings.  Other common encounters include deer (and never just one, either), raccoons (who seem to live in the New Albany stormwater sewer system, or at least use it as an underground conduit), and rabbits.

House: The New Season

I was traveling last week and didn’t get a chance to watch the two-hour season premiere of House until this past weekend.  Kish and I had different reactions to it:  she thought it was pretty mediocre, and I thought it was pretty good.  I liked most of the new characters in the psychiatric hospital and the fact that House had to work to earn the recommendation letter that was essential to allow him to return to doing what he loves, which is to solve puzzles while practicing medicine.  Although there were some groaner plot devices — and the inevitable reminders of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but with Lady Musicbox instead of Chief Broom — I liked the notion of House finally coming to realize that he needed to make a change for himself.  Finally, I thought the psychiatrist was an evenly matched foil for House, and I hope he remains an occasional character.

Last season Dr. Gregory House came to be such a jerk that the show was, at times, incredibly difficult to watch, much less accept as the product of ordinary dramatic license.  I’m hoping that this season House struggles to behave like a human being while trying to preserve his extraordinary diagnostic skills.  That story arc will be a lot more interesting than the lame “romance” between Foreman and 13, Cuddy’s decision to adopt a child, or the other forced plotlines that made last season such a weak one.

Healthcare Reform A No-Brainer? (Cont.)

UJ recently asked whether reforming the American health care system shouldn’t be considered a “no-brainer” — that is, something that is so obvious anyone should support it.  I thought of that posting when I saw the most recent Rasmussen poll, which shows that support for health care reform continues to ebb.  On June 27 and 28, 50 percent of those polled approved health care reform legislation and 45 percent disapproved it; on September 24 and 25, only 41 percent approved of such legislation and 56 percent disapproved.  In the space of three months, then, there has been a 20-point swing in the poll results.

If, as UJ believes, this issue is a no-brainer, why has support for health care reform dropped so dramatically and opposition increased to such an extent?  I don’t buy that this shift in popular opinion is the result of some orchestrated plot or a vast, right-wing conspiracy that has fooled gullible Americans.  Instead, I think a big part of the reason is that support for change always diminishes when proposals move from abstract generalizations to concrete specifics.  It is easy to support the general concept of “health-care reform,” but when you see how that reform will be accomplished — when you learn whose current insurance coverage may be put at risk, whose coverage may be taxed or limited, and who may be required to pay for coverage they did not have to pay for before — some people necessarily are going to be upset and will move from supporters to detractors.

I also think there is another force at play here.  Regardless of what the Administration and Congress may say about the results produced by the stimulus package, I think many Americans feel like politicians used the economic crisis, and the general perception that some kind of economic stimulus was warranted, as a convenient excuse to enact every imaginable pork-barrel spending project, even if the project wouldn’t go forward until years in the future after the immediate need for stimulus spending had long since passed.  If you believe that Congress acted irresponsibly and purely in furtherance of its own self-interest in response to the recession and global economic crisis, why should you believe that they will act carefully, prudently, and in the national interest in addressing something as complex as health care reform?

Vacation Time: Cozumel And Chichen Itza

The cave pool

We spent Christmas break a few years ago at Cozumel. We stayed in another of those all-expenses-paid resorts that offered a fine, white sand beach, several different restaurant options with good food, and a menu of different activities. We decided to try two of the activities — one of which was disastrous and one of which was wonderful.

I’ll talk about the disastrous one first. Richard and I decided to try scuba diving because Cozumel has some excellent diving sites.

Richard and Russell at the cave pool

We boarded a boat, and on the ride out we received instruction on how to clear our masks, how to equalize pressure in our ears, and other basics. When we got to the first dive point and went down, I obviously failed to equalize pressure because my ears immediately seemed to plug. Never having been scuba diving before, however, I didn’t know anything odd had happened.

I enjoyed the scuba diving when I was underwater. After you overcome the initial panicky feeling of being so far below the surface, it is very peaceful to drift along, watching brilliantly colored sea creatures swim past.The main temple at Chichen Itza

When we came back up to the boat and I took off my mask, the instructor noticed that my nose was bleeding. I shrugged it off as part of the scuba experience, and we went down again. On the ride back to the resort, however, I couldn’t get my ears to unplug, and the sensation — like having my ears stuffed with wet, heavy cotton balls — was very unpleasant. The next morning I visited the resort doctor, who told me that I had blown out all of the blood vessels in both ears (which caused the bloody nose) and blood had pooled behind both eardrums. He prescribed antibiotics and warned that the plane ride back would be uncomfortable — which it was. Although I enjoyed the underwater part of scuba diving, it is something I won’t be trying again.

DSC01007The wonderful part was a day trip that Richard, Russell, and I took to Chichen Itza and a few other places on the mainland. I like antiquities, and Chichen Itza is right up my alley. Although resorts can be very relaxing, it is fun to get out and see a bit of the countryside. We boarded a bus one morning and had a full day of adventure.

Our first stop was an underground pool. The pool was a limestone pit at the bottom of a cave, lit by shafts of brilliant sunshine. DSC01014You could climb to a landing and leap into the pit for a swim, which the boys promptly did. I didn’t want to spend the rest of the day in wet shorts, so I gave it a pass.

DSC01045After a stop at a touristy place with a floor show for lunch we rolled into Chichen Itza. It is an extraordinary place. At one time one of the centers of Mayan civilization, it still impresses through the glimpses of a long-distant civilization that can be discerned on pieces of crumbling stone. The complex is large and includes temples, an observatory, sacrificial platforms, and playing grounds. The stonework is intricately carved and, from the remnants of paint left after centuries of sun and weather, was once colorfully decorated. We roamed the grounds under blue skies, marveling at the structures and wondering what had happened to the culture that built them.

DSC01056When the shadows grew longer we boarded the bus once more for the long drive home. Twilight fell and we made one final stop, at a town whose name I have forgotten, with a green, heavily treed town square framed by brick buildings and a twin-spired church. In the middle of the square was a fine fountain. DSC01057As we disembarked and moved into the square, which was full of townspeople enjoying the evening, we quickly came to notice that we were like Gulliver in the land of Lilliput. The natives all seemed to be five feet tall or shorter, and Richard and Russell towered above the crowds as they walked through the square. It brought home clearly that we were guests in a faraway land.