Thanks Be To The Hardy Boys

What starts a person reading?  What makes a young child believe that sitting down with some printed pages and a cardboard cover and quietly reading can be an enjoyable way to spend a few hours?

For me, it was the Hardy Boys books.  I’m not sure when I first read one of the Hardy Boys books, but I’m pretty sure I immediately became hooked.  Who wouldn’t be interested in the exploits of Frank and Joe Hardy?  After all, they were two all-American, clean cut lads who lived with their wise, grey-haired Dad, who was a famous private detective, their Mom, and their Aunt Gertrude.  For some unknown reason, they were improbably wealthy — heck, they even owned a motorboat — and they had girlfriends, lots of other friends, and countless adventures.  I religiously collected the Hardy Boys novels, and tried to read every one that had ever been written.  My favorite was Hunting For Hidden Gold, where Frank and Joe were pictured on the front cover digging up a sack of gold coins by flashlight as some bad guy lurked dangerously in the background.

What was it about these books that spurred my imagination?  I’m not sure, exactly.  Maybe it was that the books used old-fashioned words, like “chum,” “sleuthing,” and “jalopy,” and that Frank and Joe had friends with weird names, like “Chet” and “Biff.”  Maybe it was that Bayport, where Frank and Joe lived, seemed to generate mystery about once a week.  Maybe it was that Frank and Joe always were impeccably coiffed and wore v-neck sweaters, no matter what season it was.  Maybe it was that their simple adventures, bravery, pluck, and nerve were just enough to trigger my imagination, but not overwhelm it.

Whatever the reason, the Hardy Boys got me in the habit of reading, and it is a habit that has lasted to this day.  For that, I am grateful to Franklin W. Dixon (and therefore all of the writers who created the imaginary world of the Hardy Boys under that durable pen name).

Mommy’s Brain

A new study published in Behavioral Neuroscience suggests that giving birth causes the brains of mothers to grow in certain areas.  The study compared brain size soon after birth with brain size months later and concluded that the gray matter of the brain increased by a significant amount.  The specific areas of the brain that were affected deal with maternal motivation, reward and emotion processing, sensory integration, and reasoning and judgment.  All of these areas are relevant to child-rearing (although you could make a case that every area of the brain is related in some fashion to child-rearing).

It shouldn’t be surprising that the female brain reacts to giving birth and caring for a child.  After birth, females are flooded with hormones like estrogen, oxytocin and prolactin, and first-time mothers are learning an entirely new set of skills, including surviving on little sleep, coming bolt awake at the first murmurings of a waking infant, and mastering the interpretation of baby cries to determine whether a child is starving, dealing with a poop-filled diaper, or just lonely for Mom’s smiling face.

Not surprisingly, the study did not include the impact of having a child on the brains of new fathers.  My guess would be that any such study would conclude that the birth of a child does nothing to divert the male brain from its long, gradual slide to eventual senility.  While maternal brains respond energetically to new stimuli, sluggish paternal brains just hope to get some sleep.

On A Possible Republican Sweep, And The Political Lessons To Be Learned From The Tale Of Brave Sir Robin

If the polls are to be believed — and that remains an open question in my mind — Republicans are likely to win the House of Representatives and have a long shot chance of assuming control of the Senate.  If that occurs, voters will find out whether the Republicans mean what they have been saying during the campaign or whether they will instead be like Brave Sir Robin.

Remember Brave Sir Robin from Monty Python and the Holy Grail?  He was the publicity-hungry knight who desperately wanted to join in the search for the Grail.  He left on his quest accompanied by a minstrel and a cadre of musicians who sang constantly about his adventures.  And yet, when the going got tough and the giant three-headed knight awaited, Brave Sir Robin made no attempt to fight.  As his minstrel sang:

When danger reared its ugly head
He bravely turned his tail and fled
Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about
And gallantly he chickened out
Bravely talking to his feet
He beat a very brave retreat
Bravest of the brave, Sir Robin

I’m tired of politicians who talk a good game but don’t deliver.  I’m hoping that, if Republicans in fact sweep to victory this November, they will indeed slash spending, reduce the deficit, and restore fiscal sanity to our federal government.  If they instead act like Brave Sir Robin, I think that will be it for me and the Republicans.  I’ll have to start looking for Sir Lancelot elsewhere.

Hey, Big Spender!

We all hear a lot about the enormous sums spent by outside groups on the 2010 elections.  Most of the complaints aired in the media have been about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the conservative issue advocacy groups that are supporting Republican candidates.  I therefore was surprised to learn that the biggest spender in this election, other than the two political parties themselves, is the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (“AFSCME”), a union that represents governmental employees.

It turns out that three of the five biggest spenders this election cycle are unions.  According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, AFSCME is the biggest spender by a considerable margin, having shelled out $87.5 million to support Democratic candidates.  That is $12.5 million more than the second place finisher, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has spent $75 million.  American Crossroads and Crossroads GOP, two groups that have attracted a lot of media attention because of their affiliation with Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, have collectively spent $65 million.  Rounding out the top five are the Service Employees International Union, which has spent $44 million, and the National Education Association, a teachers union that has spent $40 million.

When we hear people complaining about the glut of money in politics, we need to remember that the money flows in from both sides.  If Republicans are supposedly in the pockets of business interests because of the political activities of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where does that leave Democrats who have received enormous support from government employees and teachers who directly benefited from the federal “stimulus” legislation and the special “stimulus” spending specifically designed to help teachers keep their jobs?

If you are convinced, as I am, about the need to cut government spending as part of the effort to bring the budget into balance — which inevitably will mean cutting the federal spending that helps to support the jobs and benefits of government employees and teachers — you need to be concerned about how much money is being funneled into political campaigns by government employee and teachers unions.  Only the hopelessly naive would believe that Democratic politicians who get elected thanks to large-scale union spending are going to take a hard look at government spending cuts that will eliminate union jobs.

A Bounce Back Game

After losing at Wisconsin last Saturday night and falling to number 10 in the polls, the Buckeyes came roaring back yesterday.  On a fine fall day in Columbus, overcast and perfect for college football, they trounced Purdue, 49-0.  The score really isn’t reflective of how one-sided the game was.

The Buckeyes get ready to score one of their first half touchdowns against Purdue

Ohio State led 42-0 at halftime and racked up more than 400 yards of offense in the first half.  They ran the ball pretty much at will, Boom Herron lived up to his name as he blasted through Purdue for two scores, and Terrelle Pryor threw for three additional touchdowns.  The defense, after getting gashed by Wisconsin’s running attack, totally shut down the Boilermakers very banged-up offense.  In the second half the Buckeyes coasted (a bit of a concern to the Buckeye Nation, which knows that you don’t want to get sloppy).

Up next is Minnesota, where the Buckeyes will play their third Saturday night game of the year against a Golden Gophers team that has struggled all year and recently fired its coach.

Roger Waters And The Wall In Columbus

During the guitar solo on Comfortably Numb

Last night Richard and I, along with a bunch of other friends and colleagues, watched Roger Waters’ performance of The Wall, in its entirety, at the Schottenstein Center.

During Another Brick in the Wall, Part II

It was an awesome spectacle, and I am trying to use those terms with precision.  Waters, who is whippet-thin, was in good voice and good spirits and was backed by a large and skilled band and backup vocalists.  Together they were able to musically recreate the album — not quite note-for-note, but close.  The songs sounded great on an excellent quadrophonic sound system, and soon much of the audience was singing along.  By the time the show reached The Trial, a massive, crushing wave of sound was washing over the audience.

The music, of course, was married with a lot of showmanship and visual effects.  As the show progressed, workers steadily built The Wall brick by brick.  The Wall then served as the conceptual centerpiece for the show and the backdrop for wide-ranging video projections, many of which had overt political themes, before it finally crashed to the ground at the show’s climax.  The show also featured enormous, extraordinary puppets depicting characters in the same disturbed cartoon style found on the album, a crashing airplane, and a huge floating boar covered with advertising and political slogans and graffiti.

The Wall is a weird, disturbing album, filled with pain and misogyny.  This performance of the album sounded similar themes, and at times during the performance of album one the anti-woman messages became unbearable.  For album two the perspective was a bit less anti-female (but only a bit) and more political and anti-war, including a profoundly moving video montage of soldiers returning home to greet their children.  As we reached side four of the album, fascist concepts prevailed, with giant goosestepping hammers projected against The Wall, red and black flags, and Waters clad in a floor length black leather coat with a Nazi-style armband.  Watching the show beginning to end, you can’t help but conclude that Waters must have had to deal with some disturbing issues in his life.

For me, highlights of the night were Another Brick in the Wall Part II, where Waters was joined on stage by a group of children who sang and danced and then went to protest at the feet of an enormous strutting schoolteacher puppet, Mother, where Waters sang a duet with a 1980 video recording of himself that was projected on The Wall, Hey You, Nobody Home, and finally the stunning, irresistible Comfortably Numb, where a guitarist stood atop The Wall as he played the iconic guitar solos from the album.

This show was an experience, and one well worth having.

Is Now the Time ?

See full size image

During the 2000 – 2008 period George Bush and the Republican controlled Congress really let me down. They took a Republican party that was always in favor of fiscally sound government and ran up huge deficits. As I recall I don’t think Bush vetoed a single bill that came out of the Congress during his tenure.

With that in mind I had two choices, don’t vote at all or vote for the Democrats to show my disappointment. I chose the latter and although I am not totally satisfied with the Democrats least they have gotten some things done. 

I read Bob’s recent blog where he said why not give the Rebublicans a chance and then if they fail, try something else. Hmmm…… I would be interested to know what Bob means by something else if the Republicans fail.

I am hopeful, but not very optimist and expect little to be accomplished in the Congress over the next two years. Recent polling shows Republican Congressional approval lower than the Democrats.

Over the years I have always been an avid proponent of term limits especially at the federal level. I know that our initial founders did not favor term limits because they felt that there would be some members who had superior talents and would become masters of the public’s business, but the problem is voters always feel that there member has superior talents and that members from other states don’t.

Term limits would build a citizen Congress and drive out career politicians. Our inital founders wanted there to be rotation in office which unfortunately we aren’t getting right now.

Term limits would eliminate seniority and hopefully encourage more bipartisanship especially on Congressional committees.

Term limits would increase competition and encourage more challengers when a members term is up. The amount of money that current members get from lobbies makes it almost impossible for a challenger to compete.

Term limits would hopefully break ties to special interests or at the very least reduce or limit the power of the lobbies.

Term limits would improve a tendency to vote on principle not along party line. I am reminded of George Voinovich recently breaking ties with Republicans to support the Small Business bill. Do you think he would have done that had he been running for re-election ?

Term limits would minimize the incentive for members to offer pork barrel legislation in an effort to get re-elected. Pork barrel spending is a huge problem and term limits might be the only way to address it other than by passing a presidential line item veto.

Here’s a recent poll taken in September of this year that shows 84% of Republicans, 74% of Democrats and 74% of Independents want term limits. The problem is in our democracy we have to convince Congress to vote in favor of what we the citizens want and that’s a tall order indeed.

When A Coach Earns His Pay

After the Wisconsin game, I tuned out college football for a few days.  I skipped the post mortems, avoided the Ohio State message boards, and didn’t analyze the game with friends.  Why add to the pain?

Coaches don’t have that luxury.  Jim Tressel and his staff had to immediately swallow their disappointment and get to work at deconstructing the Wisconsin game and developing plans for the next game.  When I was deciding to practice an avoidance approach, they were watching film of the brutal loss.  They had to decide what to tell players who had played poorly at Madison and what to do to keep opponents from running kickoffs back for touchdowns, among countless other preparations.  The Wisconsin game — tough though it was — is only one game of a long season.  There are many more games to be played, like tomorrow’s game against Purdue at the Horseshoe, and when you have a bad game you have to bounce back.

This is where a coach earns his pay.  Great coaches help their players shrug off a bad game and understand that they can still have a successful season, and then get them to play hard the next game and get back on track.  Coach Tressel managed to do that last year after Ohio State had a painful loss at Purdue.  This year he faces that challenge again.

An NPR Disappointment

I am a National Public Radio listener.  I almost always listen to Morning Edition on the way to work, All Things Considered on the way home from work, and the NPR lineup on Saturday morning.  I’ve heard Juan Williams express his opinions on NPR countless times.

When I heard that NPR had fired Williams for comments he made on Fox News, I was surprised.  When I read his full comments, I was even more surprised, and when I heard that NPR had concluded that his comments were inconsistent with their internal policies, I was shocked.  Are we really to the point where making an honest comment about feeling concern, in a much broader context, is sufficient to give rise to a dismissal?  And what exactly are the NPR policies that were violated?  As a listener, don’t I have a right to know what kind of speech codes NPR is applying to its commentators?  (And, incidentally, why didn’t those codes prevent me from hearing countless droning Daniel Schorr commentaries that inevitably circled back to the Nixon era?)

I know that many people consider NPR to be a bastion of liberal bias, but I’ve always appreciated its presentation of the news.  It profoundly disappoints me that NPR would give a long-time, respected commentator the boot for expressing honest views that cannot even remotely be construed as hate speech.  I am appalled to hear about this kind of censorship, and it causes me to lose enormous respect for NPR as a member of the news media.

Nothing out of Reach

I was flipping through the television channels this morning and came across this inspiring story about Butch Lumpkin on the Golf Channel. Born with basically no arms he not only plays golf and tennis, but seven other sports very well.

One thing he said that I really liked is that he is truly blessed because he knows whenever someone is playing against him in a sport they were giving their all because they don’t want to lose to a man with no arms. What a wonderful way of looking at the glass half full as opposed to half empty.

During these tough times we all hear alot of people complaining about what they don’t have, but the lesson to be learned from Lumpkin is concentrate on what you DO have and not on what you don’t have and life will be better.

“Waste, Fraud, And Abuse” And The New Jersey Turnpike

Come election time we hear politicians say they plan to balance governmental budgets by getting rid of waste, fraud, and abuse.  That comment always seems like a dodge to allow the candidate to avoid talking about tough budget choices — and then you run across a story like this.

It turns out that a recent audit of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority identified $43 million in wasteful payments for employee perks and bonuses.  The payments included $30 million in unjustified bonuses to management and employees without regard to performance, an employee bowling league, employee bonuses for working on their birthdays, and free E-Z pass transponders, and cash out payments for unused sick days and vacation days.  One employee with a base salary of $73,469 earned $321,985 when all payouts and bonuses were included.  All of this happened as tolls were being increased.

These kinds of stories are maddening.  They confirm our belief that some of our hard-earned tax dollars are being wasted, but they also indicate that agency administrators and legislators are abysmal failures in exercising appropriate oversight.  That result shouldn’t be surprising.  Digging into the actual uses to which tax dollars are being put is hard work, and most of our legislators aren’t nose-to-the-grindstone types who have any interest in getting into the details.  Perhaps it is time to change that?

Unimaginably Distant, Unimaginably Old

The space-based telescopes keep making amazing discoveries.  The latest is the Hubble space telescope’s identification of the most distant galaxy ever detected — a galaxy that is more than 13 billion light years distant from Earth.  That means that the light we are seeing now has traveled for 13 billion years to reach our space.  In fact, the light we are seeing from that galaxy emanates from stars that blazed only 600 million years after the Big Bang.  Those stars almost certainly exist no longer, having long ago gone supernova or turned into one of the other stellar objects that are created when stars die.  In that sense, the Hubble telescope is a real-life time machine that allows us to peer into the distant past.

The Hubble space telescope

Astronomers will study the new discovery with great interest, because it may help to provide answers to some very provocative questions.  What was the life cycle of early stars, whose intense heat produced the heavy element “star stuff” (to use Carl Sagan’s phrase) of which our universe is made?  How did the earliest galaxies form?  Why is light from such galaxies visible through the “fog” of hydrogen that should have resulted from the Big Bang?

We can expect more amazing discoveries along these lines as new ground-based and space-based telescopes using new technology come on line and begin to probe the heavens.

Cell Phones, Land Lines, And Survey Results

Public opinion surveys have been a staple of American politics for years.  They have a proven track record — at least, they do when the pollsters figure out how to identify an appropriate sample that mirrors the people who actually will cast ballots in the election and then reach those people to learn their views.  If you can’t accurately do both, you risk results that are as misguided as the infamous 1936 Literary Digest poll that embarrassingly predicted that Alf Landon would beat FDR in a landslide when in fact the exact opposite occurred.

In the modern cell phone and smart phone world, can pollsters know with any assurance that they have reached an appropriate sample of voters?  For years, pollsters relied on land line telephones to conduct their surveys.  Recently, however, many Americans have dropped their land line phones as a nuisance and unnecessary expense.  In 2007, nearly 13 percent of American households had no land line phone.  By 2008, that number had jumped to 20 percent and it has only increased since then as millions more — including Kish and me — have gone totally wireless.

The question for pollsters is whether the demographic and political characteristics of wireless households are different from those of households that still cling (bitterly?) to their land lines.  Some pollsters think that may be the case, reasoning that cell phone-only people probably are younger, unmarried, don’t own a home, and so forth.  That may have been true initially, but my guess is that as wireless-only status has become more common, and even old farts like Kish and me have joined that segment of the population, the differences have been minimized.  The important point, in any case, is that no one really knows.

So, in these days leading up to Election Day, let’s not pay too much attention to the polls and their competing results.  The only poll that really matters is the one that will occur on November 2, and all registered voters — be they wireless Gen Xers or land line fogies — will have an equal opportunity to be counted.

Politics not as Usual

I made an effort to try and watch the final debate between Strickland and Kasich in hopes that it would help me make up my mind on who to vote for, but it put me to sleep. Both candidates used the same old political jargons, refused to answer the questions posed to them, gave no specifics and resorted to personal attacks.

Last night New York had their Governor’s Debate and it was a much more lively affair. I have to admit I wish Jimmy McMillan was running for Governor of Ohio because I think it would make a whole lot more sense to vote for him.