Appreciating The Ohio Statehouse (Cont.)

Any Statehouse worth its salt should have a few monuments, and the Ohio Statehouse fills that bill.  One area of the rotunda includes a marble commemoration of the Union victory at Vicksburg — complete with identification of the victorious Union generals and the defeated Confederate generals who were involved — topped with a marble bust of Lincoln.  The inscription reads:  “Care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphans.”

At the Statehouse, Civil War artifacts and remembrances are never far away.

The State Of Michigan (Football)

The University of Michigan Athletic Director, Dave Brandon, is facing a tough decision:  what to do about the Michigan football program and its coach, Rich Rodriguez.

Brandon is getting viewpoints from all sides. Rodriguez’s detractors cite his overall losing record during his three years at Michigan, its terrible Big Ten record during that same time period, and the team’s shockingly poor defense this year.  His supporters say that Rodriguez is bringing a new kind of football to Michigan, that the cupboard was bare when he arrived and he needs time to recruit athletes for his new system, and that the team’s success on offense this year shows Rodriguez’s system can and will work in the Big Ten.

If I were a Michigan fan, I’d be in the former category.  Three years is a long time in intercollegiate sports, and there really hasn’t been much progress.  Sure, Michigan’s offense was great this year, but as good as its offense was, its defense was even worse.  You simply cannot win football games in a major conference when you consistently allow opponents to score more than 30 points a game.  Rodriguez has shown no talent for coaching defensive football or being able to recruit or develop great defensive players.  Why would Michigan fans think the defensive side of the ball is going to be appreciably better in 2011?  And, as bad as Michigan’s defense was this year, it is going to take a night-and-day change to even bring the Michigan D back to minimal levels of respectability.

On the offensive side, Rodriguez’s scheme clearly has produced yards and points, especially this year.  He seems to recruit smaller, quicker players who can break big plays, which certainly happened this year.  It is fair to ask, however, whether such players can stand up to the pounding of a 12-game schedule when most of the games are against big-time schools.  Denard Robinson, as terrific as he was this season, missed lots of playing time with little injuries.  You also have to wonder how much of Michigan’s offensive output this year was due to Robinson’s exceptional play, rather than Rodriguez’s scheme.  When Robinson went out on Saturday and Tate Forcier came in, Michigan went from being a dangerous offensive team to a pretty ordinary one.

Finally, there are intangibles that should be considered.  Michigan is one of the most storied football programs in the country, rich with tradition and lore that helps to make Michigan Michigan, rather than some other school that has recently had a good run on the gridiron.  Does Rodriguez really “get” Michigan’s traditions?  And, speaking as an Ohio State fan who suffered through the John Cooper era, I would be leery about sticking with a coach who has gone 0-3 in his first three games against the school’s archrival when none of the games was particularly close.

Brandon has said he won’t make a decision on Rodriguez’s future until after Michigan’s bowl game.  I think it is wise to take some time for careful reflection.  It will be a big decision for a big-time program that has fallen on hard times.

Pablo’s Parting Gifts

The press is reporting that 271 previously unknown Picassos have been discovered in the possession of a retired electrician and his wife.  The electrician, who performed work for Picasso and his wife, says that he received the artwork as gifts from Picasso’s second wife.  Others are skeptical of that story and think the pieces may have been wrongfully acquired.

Russell's bedroom wall portrait of PicassoThe new discoveries include drawings, sketches, lithographs, cubist collages, and portraits.  The pieces apparently were created during the period from 1900 to 1932.

Picasso was famously quirky, so maybe he and his wife did decide to part with his artwork as appreciation for good electrical wiring work.  In any case, it’s interesting to think that so many previously unknown works could be uncovered more than 35 years after Picasso’s death.  I’m sure Picasso experts are eager to get a look at the new pieces.  And, perhaps most importantly, this story gives me a welcome reason to post Russell’s colossal painting of Picasso’s head, which appeared suddenly on the wall of Russell’s bedroom here at the house one day and has been like part of the family ever since.

Federal Pay Freeze

President Obama has called for a two-year freeze on the salaries of some federal workers.  If the proposal is approved by Congress, it is estimated that it will save $5 billion during that two-year period.  Unless a freeze is approved, federal workers would automatically get a pay increase (!) as a result of a 1990 law.

Everett Dirksen

Republicans have said that the President is just hopping on board a proposal that Republicans made months ago, and others are criticizing the pay freeze as a drop in the bucket when compared to the budget deficit.  I don’t care who gets credit, I’m just glad to see that the President is focused on deficit reduction as a worthy goal, and I hope Congress agrees.  And as for the size of the savings, I’m hoping that the pay freeze proposal will be the first of a long series of deficit reduction initiatives that will include things like actually cutting the head count in the federal workforce, eliminating unnecessary agencies and departments, lopping off programs that we can no longer afford, eliminating ill-advised subsidies, limiting the size of congressional staffs, restricting congressional travel, and many, many others.  (I’m simply mentioning these as examples; I think there are lots of places where cutting should occur.)

When it comes to deficit reduction, I’m a big proponent of the wise words attributed to former Senator Everett Dirksen:  “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money.”  We shouldn’t throw up our hands because no one bit of belt-tightening will result in a balanced budget.  Instead, the focus should be on taking a number of spending reduction steps that will cumulatively have that ultimate desired effect.

Goodbye, Frank

Actor Leslie Nielsen has died at the age of 84.  It is a real loss for anyone who enjoys movie spoofs and broad comedy.

Neilsen had a long career as an actor that included playing a stalwart astronaut on Forbidden Planet and the captain of the ill-fated cruise ship in The Poseidon Adventure.  He really didn’t come into prominence, however, until he was featured as the doctor in the classic Airplane! In that role — where he spoke the memorable line “And don’t call me Shirley!” — Nielsen perfected a deadpan comedic style that was well suited to the parody-type movies that made him a star.  He went on to star in the TV series Police Squad! where he first played Lieutenant Frank Drebin.  After the series was canceled, Nielsen played Drebin in three excellent Naked Gun movies.  Thanks to Nielsen’s deft comedic timing and talent for physical comedy, Drebin became an iconic character who was a kind of combination of Buster Keaton and Inspector Clouseau.  Although Nielsen went on to make many more movies, none returned to the level of Airplane! and the Naked Gun films.

Airplane! is now generally regarded as one of the best movie comedies ever made, but my favorite Nielsen movie is The Naked Gun 2 1/2:  The Smell of Fear, which featured Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson, and Robert Goulet as the bad guy.  The clip below aptly captures both Nielsen’s comedic skills and the nuttiness of the series.  Leslie Nielsen will be missed.

No Quitters Here

The Browns play today in Cleveland against the Carolina Panthers.  The Browns stand at 3-7, the Panthers are 1-9.

This is the time of the NFL season where some teams are still in it, and some teams are out of it.  The Browns and the Panthers are in the latter category.  Some teams in the “out of it” category just quit.  Our neighbors to the south, the Cincinnati Bengals, are a good example.  The Bengals started the season with high hopes and have been putrid.  The team appears to be riddled with dissension, the coach is on his way out, and the players look like they have given up.  If I were a Bengals fan, I would be furious and embarrassed.

Last year the Browns did not quit, even after a string of early losses eliminated them from playoff contention.  It was a tribute to their coaching and the professionalism of the players.  We will see if, this year, Coach Eric Mangini can work the same magic.  Unfortunately, the Browns will be without the enthusiastic play of quarterback Colt McCoy, who is out with a high ankle sprain, and instead will turn to the aged Jake Delhomme.  I’m hoping the Browns can get back on the winning track against a dismal Carolina team.  Even if the playoffs are out of reach this year — and it certainly looks that way — I want to see some character and grit.  The Browns need to show that they aren’t the Bengals.

Seven In A Row, And Counting

Yesterday, on a cold and blustery day in Columbus, the Ohio State Buckeyes pulverized the Michigan Wolverines, 37-7.  The win in The Game was the seventh in a row for Ohio State over its archrivals.

Buckeye bagpipers at French Field House

At Ohio Stadium it was a festive atmosphere from start to finish.  A troupe of bagpipers walked among the tailgaters at the French Field House lot playing Carmen Ohio.  Brutus rode by, hanging out of the window of a pickup truck and pumping up the raucous crowd.  Inside the Horseshoe the 105,000 fans also had their game faces on, heckling and booing the Michigan band, cheerleaders, fans, and anyone else who dared to wear maize and blue.

When the game finally began, Ohio State started slowly.  Michigan, on the other hand, moved the ball.  Then the Ohio State defense forced a crucial turnover, Ohio State finally broke through to score 10 points, and when Michigan answered with its one touchdown Jordan Hall broke Michigan’s back with a return for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff.  After that it was no contest.  The Buckeyes methodically ground up the Wolverines, forcing two more turnovers and pounding Michigan on the ground.  The only thing that kept the game even remotely close was the absurd refereeing, which punished college kids for making the “O” sign and negated Boom Herron’s brilliant 99-yard touchdown run with the worst downfield holding call in college football history.

The team and band sing Carmen Ohio after the win

Although Michigan has struggled this year, this nevertheless was an impressive win for the Buckeyes.  The offense did not play its best game, yet still Terrelle Pryor, Boom Herron, Dane Sanzenbacher, DeVier Posey, and their teammates scored 30 offensive points — and could easily have scored more if Coach Tressel had not called off the dogs in the fourth quarter.  The defense, on the other hand, played one of its best games.  It held the high-powered Michigan offense to its lowest point total of the season and pretty much shut down the Wolverines after they scored their lone touchdown.  The Buckeyes clearly wanted to contain Denard Robinson, and for the most part they succeeded.  When Robinson went out with an injury, every Buckeyes fan breathed a sigh of relief.  Although Tate Forcier is a decent quarterback, he is a much easier player to defend.

At the end, as we listened to the team sing Carmen Ohio and looked at the scoreboard memorializing a decisive victory over the Wolverines, it was a sweet moment.  Beating Michigan never gets old.