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.

The Game, 2010 Edition (A Weather Update)

Weather conditions clearly can influence football games, and The Game is no different.  The most celebrated example is the 1950 Snow Bowl, when a freak blizzard hit the day of the game and Michigan won 9-3.  That loss led to the firing of Ohio State’s coach and the hiring of Woody Hayes — and the rest is history.

This morning it is cold in Columbus — and more importantly from a football standpoint, there is a sharp, frigid breeze blowing from the west.  It was tough to make headway when Penny and I turned west on our walk, and I would expect that the wind also would make it tough to pass, or punt.  According to The Weather Channel forecast, the wind is expected to be blowing at 17 mph from the west come game time.

Jim Tressel tends to get very conservative when the wind is a factor; if that tendency holds true to form I expect Ohio State will really focus on running the ball.  Michigan Coach Rich Rodriguez, on the other hand, has nothing to lose.  Windy or not, I think we will see the full Michigan playbook today.

Volt Buying

Recent car-buying statistics tell a sobering tale about car sales.  The federal government has purchased 25 percent of the Chevy and Ford hybrids that have been sold since President Obama took office — at least 14,584 hybrids in the last two years.  Auto manufacturers no doubt are happy about the government’s decisions, because consumer demand for the vehicles is falling — for the third year in a row.

In the meantime, the government has committed to buy the first 100 Chevy Volts that roll off the assembly line.  Who else is buying the Volt?  GE, for one.  It can’t resist the chance to get a $7,500 per vehicle rebate, funded by the federal government.  Other big corporations that have corporate fleets are expected to follow suit.

Whatever you think of the merits of a Volt (and the car is viewed by some as too expensive, too small, and too limited in its range, among other issues) it is just wrong for the government to subsidize the sale of particular cars — especially when the cars are built by a manufacturer that is largely owned by the government.  In this instance, the subsidies also are benefiting large corporations like GE that don’t need taxpayer assistance, and will allow them to curry favor with the Obama Administration and its “green initiatives” at a discount.  GE is making billions of dollars in profits.  Why are taxpayers helping GE buy cars?  And shouldn’t the Chevy Volt succeed or fail on its own merits?  Why should the federal government subsidize a car that could turn out to be a lemon?

Calling (Again) For Christmas Cookie Recipes

It’s Black Friday.  Many Americans are out shopping, hoping to get some bargains on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.  Me?  I’m getting read to watch some football — and I’m also thinking about Christmas cookies.

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that, now that Thanksgiving is over, I’ll soon be doing my holiday baking.  Last year I shared some of my favorite recipes and solicited new recipes from readers.  This year I’m interested in doing so again.

Every year I like to try some new concoctions, experimenting while I listen to Christmas music.  Does anyone have any suggestions for an erstwhile baker with middling talent who has basic implements, a willingness to risk utter failure, and not much else?

The Game, 2010 Edition

Tomorrow is The Game.  I’ll be there, sitting in the Horseshoe in Section 12A.  The game will have the traditional noon start and the weather will be crisp and cold, with highs in the 30s and lows in the 20s.

Other than the start time and the weather, I don’t think there is much that is predictable about this edition of The Game.  Michigan has a great offensive player in lightning quick QB Denard Robinson, who is rewriting the Michigan record books.  Robinson is easily the most explosive offensive player that Buckeyes will have faced so far this year.  With Robinson at the helm, the Wolverines have scored points in bunches.  Michigan’s offense will pose tremendous challenges for the Ohio State defense.  No team that has faced Michigan so far this year has shut down the offense, and I don’t expect the Buckeyes to do so, either.

On the other side of the ball, it is fair to say that the 2010 Michigan defense is not very good.  In fact, for those of us who grew up with the rivalry in the ’70s when Michigan always fielded a stout, hard-hitting defense, Michigan’s current defense is virtually unrecognizable.  The 2010 Wolverines have given up an average of more than 39 points per game in Big Ten play and have — statistically, at least — one of the worst defenses in college football.  In last week’s Michigan loss, Wisconsin ran the ball again, and again, and again, and Michigan simply could not stop them.  You have to think that Ohio State will be able to move the ball and put points on the board.

There is a lot to worry about in this game.  Teams that can score always have a shot at an upset; if Ohio State gets sloppy and puts the ball on the ground or wastes scoring opportunities, Michigan could get ahead and stay ahead.  Although Ohio State is a prohibitive favorite, this rivalry has seen lots of upsets over the years, and Michigan may be due.  The Wolverines have lost six in a row to the Buckeyes, and must be wondering whether a loss tomorrow would cost head coach Rich Rodriguez his job.  Let’s hope that this year isn’t the year the Wolverines break the streak.


Ice On The Pathway

It rained all day on Thanksgiving — putting in a serious crimp in traditional backyard football games throughout the Columbus area — and then about midnight a cold strong front moved in.  When Penny and I took our walk this morning, we encountered falling temperatures and a frigid west wind.  We also made our first sighting of patches of ice on the sidewalk.

There is a delicate beauty to newly formed ice.  Brittle shards of ice lance across the surface of the freezing water, pinning stray leaves underneath.  The surface quickly becomes a crazy quilt of etched patterns that glint in the morning sunlight and crack open with a satisfying crunch.

It’s important to appreciate the beauty of ice upon its first appearance.  I will be cursing its presence soon enough.

Thanksgiving Day 2010

Today is Thanksgiving Day.  Obviously, the holiday is designed to cause people to reflect on their lives and why they should be thankful.  It is a very worthwhile exercise.  In the hurly-burly of day-to-day life, it is easy to focus on the irksome minutiae and fail to appreciate the positive bigger-picture issues.

This Thanksgiving Day I am thankful for many reasons.  I am thankful for my immediate and extended families.  I am thankful that we all are enjoying good health.  I am thankful that we have food to eat and a roof over our heads.  I am thankful that Kish and I both have good jobs and that the other members of my family who want to work have been able to find employment.  I am thankful that my life allows me the luxury of following Buckeye football, blogging, and other leisure pursuits.  As always, I am thankful that I was born in this country, where Americans enjoy freedom and opportunity.  And, on this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful that I am not fighting crowds at the airport or traffic jams on the highway and can just stay home and revel in a four-day holiday.

Kish’s Mom is here for the day, and she, Kish, Richard and I will be enjoying a meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and other goodies.  Russell, who is hip-deep in senior year work, will be celebrating the holiday in Vassar with his friends.  Let’s hope they remember to take out the pack of giblets before they cook their turkey.

Enjoying A Good Cigar

Last night Richard and I decided to splurge for the holidays.  On our way home from work we visited the Corner Beverage shop, bought some different kinds of beers, and also purchased two cigars to smoke while playing cribbage.

After we got home we took out the cribbage board, played a few games at the kitchen table, and listened to some music.  We cracked open the patio door so that we wouldn’t leave the kitchen too smoky and then lit up our cigars.  They were Padrons and were quite good — rich, yet not too heavy, and well-suited to accompany an IPA or a brown ale.

I quit smoking years ago, but I like to have a cigar now and then.  I don’t and wouldn’t smoke them regularly, but they are a fine way to celebrate a special occasion.  A good cigar, a friendly game of cribbage, some spirited conversation, and a well-made malty beverage are an excellent way to ease into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Golf In The Courtroom

Who is responsible for personal injuries caused by an errant shot in golf?  In a recently argued case, New York’s highest court will decide that question.

The scenario is familiar to anyone who has taken clubs out onto the links.  One golfer is getting ready to hit a shot from the rough while a fellow golfer stands somewhere off to the side.  The shot goes sideways.  Usually the bad shot will pass close by the other golfer, or perhaps nick him in the leg or arm.  On the unfortunate occasion giving rise to the lawsuit, the ball hit the fellow golfer in the head, and the injury cost him an eye.  There are disputes about how far away the two golfers were, and whether the golfer hitting the shot said anything in warning.

In this case, as often happens with lawsuits, common activities will be broken down and analyzed by the court.  The judges will ask whether all golfers simply assume the risk of this kind of injury whenever they stroll out onto the course and will consider whether the golfer who was struck within the “foreseeable zone of injury.”   They will weigh whether, as a legal matter, a golfer’s failure to yell “Fore!” makes any difference.  Does such a failure unreasonably increase a playing partner’s risk of injury, and should the law factor in the golf course custom of shouting “Fore!” in apportioning fault and liability for the bad shot?

I think the principal burden to avoid injury falls on the playing partner.  All golfers have seen bad shots and have hit bad shots.  They just happen.  The playing partner can avoid injury simply by being aware of the position of his fellow golfers and positioning himself behind the fellow golfer until the shot is hit.  That player has some control over what happens.  The crappy golfer who hits a sideways screamer doesn’t.