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.

Young, And Not Working

Recent data shows that the unemployment rate among Americans aged 16 to 24 who are not in school has jumped to a stunning 52.2 percent, the highest rate since World War II.  The linked story indicates that the future for these young adults doesn’t look great, either.  Small businesses, which traditionally create more than half of the jobs in America and which often hire young workers, are struggling in the current recession and aren’t the focus of the federal government’s stimulus and bailout economic recovery strategy.  A government database also suggests that it can take 15 years to overcome the setback of graduating from high school or college without a ready job.

The deeper, more insidious consequences of this extensive unemployment probably are sociological.  Many of these unemployed young adults must live with their parents.  How are they dealing emotionally with continued dependence on their parents at precisely the time they expected to be independent?  What kind of work ethic are they developing as they live at home, sleep in, and hang out with their fellow unemployed high school classmates?  How are their parents coping with the additional expenses that flow from supporting grown children and the impact on their retirement planning?

Grinding Some Meat

Yesterday’s game between Ohio State and Illinois was a good example of why Big Ten football teams need to be able to execute simple running plays if they want to be successful. For much of the game the rain was coming down in sheets, which put a premium on being able to move the ball on the ground. Ohio State was able to do so; Illinois wasn’t. Ohio State took a commanding lead, Illinois made mistakes trying to catch up, and Ohio State pulled away to a convincing 30-0 win.

I know many national sports fans find Big Ten football boring because the offenses are so run-oriented. (Maybe if I hadn’t been born and raised on Big Ten football I would, too.) I think such fans simply don’t appreciate that those offenses are well-suited to the prevailing weather conditions in the upper Midwest. In every season, Big Ten teams will play several games in the rain, sleet, and snow, when hands and footballs are cold and wet. Those conditions pose enormous challenges to offenses that rely heavily on glitzy ball-handling or run-and-shoot passing schemes to move the ball. Teams that can move the ball up the middle and rack up first downs when the defense knows that a run is coming are the teams that will be contending for the Big Ten conference title at season’s end. And the focus for every program should be to contend for the conference championship — not to impress ESPN commentators by piling up points during the warm, dry second week of the season only to have your offense fall apart in a blizzard of interceptions and fumbles and dropped passes when the conditions turn cold and wet.

Woody Hayes called this kind of up-the-gut run-oriented offense “grinding some meat.” In my view, Ohio State’s ability to “grind some meat,” particularly during the series in the first half when Brandon Saine got the ball repeatedly in downpour conditions, was the single most encouraging thing about yesterday’s game. There is a special beauty in a well-schooled offensive line getting a push in the trenches and opening holes that skilled running backs exploit by running with vision and power, fighting for every yard. I appreciate it; I don’t particularly care if talking heads behind a desk in Bristol, Connecticut can’t (or won’t). If Ohio State can continue to successfully “grind some meat” when it must do so, it will have a good season.

Some other observations on yesterday’s game:

The Ohio State defensive line looks strong, fast, and deep. They seemed to wear Illinois down during the second half and really disrupted Illinois’ offensive scheme. This is a good thing, because I continue to have unanswered questions about Ohio State’s defensive backfield. If Ohio State plays a team this year that has an offensive line capable of giving its quarterback sufficient time to throw, Ohio State might be in trouble.

Boom Herron and Brandon Saine are both good, tough runners. If they can avoid getting injured — which is always the question for good, tough, fight-for-every yard runners — they will give Ohio State a very effective one-two punch this season.

Everyone forgets that Terrelle Pryor is just a sophomore, but sometimes he plays like it. He needs to understand that not every play must gain 30 yards to be successful; a six-yard gain can be a tremendous positive under the right circumstances and should be taken as such. He also seems to be a bit more adventurous with his passes this year. Last year he often waited to throw until receivers were wide open, but this year he has made some throws where he really tried to fit the ball through small openings in the defense. On one play in particular, where Pryor was running to his right and tried to throw back to the middle, he was lucky that his throw wasn’t picked off. Figuring out the best decision under such circumstances is part of the maturation process for a quarterback, and Pryor is still a work in progress in that regard.

Even within a run-oriented offense, there is room for innovation and surprise. Ohio State introduced a tight end blocking approach yesterday that was tremendously successful and also gave its fullback a bit more to do in the offense. Those little wrinkles may pay dividends in the future, when defensive coordinators for opponents must decide how to defend against the Ohio State offense.

The Prospect Of A Nuclear Iran

The recent disclosure about a new secret Iranian facility devoted to the Iranian nuclear program — one of several such facilities in Iran — significantly raises the stakes in our relations with that Islamic state. It seems clear that the President will focus, for the present, on getting international agreement to some form of new sanctions on Iran. The question is whether the Administration should do more, and when? Some believe that the United States’ slow response to the Iranian nuclear program, and its dithering with respect to the North Korean program, are just encouraging other rogue states to try to enter the nuclear fraternity.

I doubt that Japan and other neighbors of North Korea are happy with the North Korean nuclear program or the missile tests the North Koreans have held in the past year. Such behavior is necessarily destabilizing. With each North Korean missile test I imagine the Japanese wonder whether, this time, the rogue government of Kim Jong Il has strapped a nuclear warhead aboard in hopes that the world will show it a bit more respect.

In Iran, the risks are even higher due to the volatility of the Middle East generally, the oil reserves located there, and the disturbing nature of the Iranian regime. Shouldn’t we all be terrified by the prospect of a nuclear Iran, governed by medieval religious figures and led by a Holocaust-denying fanatic who threatens the existence of Israel with every speech? Aren’t the parallels to Hitler and Nazi Germany too obvious to be overlooked? Shouldn’t we take Mr. Ahmadinejad at his word in his vows to wipe Israel off the map, and realize that preemptive action may the only way to avoid a second Holocaust?

The crucial difference between Iran and Nazi Germany, of course, is that Hitler, due to the technological limitations of his time, could only proceed through conventional warfare to cause a war that killed millions. If the Iranians succeed in developing nuclear weapons, they need only lob a few missiles at Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other nations to cause a global conflagration. The risks of that occurring are too appalling to contemplate or to permit. Any new sanctions regime should be brief and unyielding in its insistence that Iran stop its nuclear program; in the meantime the United States should be working with Israel and our allies to devise and, if necessary, carry out espionage and military options that will prevent Iran from realizing its evident nuclear ambitions.

Who Was Col. Wilbur C. Blount?

Recently the stretch of I-670 that I drive on every workday was designated the Col. Wilbur C. Blount Memorial Highway. These kinds of things happen everyday, without anyone paying much attention. I’ve wondered who Col. Blount was, though, and the answer to that question turns out to be interesting.

Col. Blount was a colonel in the Ohio Air National Guard. He graduated from East High School in Columbus, then received his bachelor’s of science degree in bacteriology from The Ohio State University in 1951. At Ohio State, he enrolled in ROTC and was later commissioned as an officer in the Air Force. He received his medical degree from Ohio State in 1959 and served for years in the Air Force as a flight surgeon. He was promoted to Colonel in the Ohio Air National Guard in 1976. Col. Blount was the second state air surgeon of the Ohio Air National Guard and was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in 2004.

Dr. Wilbur C. Blount

Dr. Wilbur C. Blount

Although he achieved much as Col. Blount, he was, perhaps, more important to people as Dr. Blount, an ophthalmologist, educator, and active alumni of East High School. Dr. Blount specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the retina and practiced in the Columbus area for nearly 30 years. He worked at The Ohio State University Hospitals and at Grant Medical Center, and was a clinical instructor, and later clinical associate professor, at The Ohio State University Hospitals. At East High School, he helped to establish the school’s ROTC program, where he taught classes and sponsored and mentored students. His obituary, available here, quotes one of the students who received Dr. Blount’s help. By all accounts, Dr. Blount was one of those all-too-rare people who was a positive force for good in their community.

Col. Wilbur C. Blount died in May 2006, and the Ohio General Assembly named the stretch of I-670 after Col. Blount in April 2009. I think they made a very good choice.

Pain In The Butt

This story about efforts by environmentalists to convince Americans to buy toilet paper made from recycled fibers is pretty hilarious. Americans want the toilet paper that they buy for use at their homes to be super-soft. Toilet paper makers oblige by producing products made largely from the pulp of old trees, which have the longer fibers that produce softer tissue. Environmentalists object to felling “old-growth” trees for this unseemly purpose, because such trees help to convert carbon dioxide and old-growth forests provide the habitat for bears and migratory birds.

The subject matter of the story, of course, lends itself to humor. But note that the chief executive of a leading manufacturer of recycled toilet paper seems to contend that Americans like softness only because they have been mesmerized by marketing campaigns! I can assure him that, to the contrary, for most Americans the keen desire for bathroom tissue softness is the product of harsh experience.

And consider this the next time you are in a position to personally assess the softness of toilet paper — those in the industry apply three softness criteria: surface smoothness, bulky feel, and “drapability.”

Let The Big 10 Begin

The Illibuck

Tomorrow the Buckeyes play the Fighting Illini in their Big 10 opener.  And, as important a game as USC was, as fun and patriotic as the Navy game may have been, the Big 10 is where the rubber meets the road.  We remember when the Buckeye defense could not stop Juice Williams two years ago; we remember when, in times past, the Illini beat the Buckeyes.  We remember when the Illibuck went to the men of Champaign-Urbana.  And so, we want the Buckeyes to stomp the mortal piss out of the Illini come Saturday.  We want Terrelle Pryor to have an excellent game; we want Boom Herron to pound the middle and burst through for a touchdown or two, and we want the Ohio State defense to shut down the Illinois offense and humble Juice Williams, as he should have been humbled two years ago.  We want to bring home the Illibuck.

This is what we want, and what Big 10 football is all about.

One Big Baby !

An Indonesian woman has given birth to an 8.7-kilogramme (19.2-pound) ...

When I go to the library to use their computers I tend to have a regular routine, the first thing I do is access my e-mail which is usually cluttered with offers from Border’s Rewards to buy books at a discount and First Link updates which is a volunteer organization I accessed shortly after I retired in an attempt to check out volunteer opportunities.

After checking my e-mail I usually take a look at You Tube to see if there is anything interesting and newsworthy worth viewing and blogging about. If not then I typically access which will have a number of revolving lead stories in their odd news section. I particularly enjoyed the picture with this odd news story and the look on the baby’s face on the left. If that baby could talk I bet she/he would be saying “Wow, you are one big baby” !