Blue Jackets On A Roll

Columbus has two professional sports franchises — the Columbus Crew Major League Soccer team, and the Columbus Blue Jackets, a National Hockey League franchise.  (Some would argue that the real big-league team in town is the Ohio State Buckeyes.)

The Crew won the MLS Cup a few years ago, but the Blue Jackets have been a kind of Sad Sack team.  The made the playoffs one year and quickly were eliminated.  Other than that, their record has been abysmal.  In most years, they have been virtually eliminated from the playoff hunt by the beginning of January, and the hardy souls who buy season tickets are begging their friends to use the ducats thereafter.

This year is different.  The Jackets have a new coach, are playing a new style of hockey, and have started the season 13-6, including a stellar 7-1 record on the road.  The team has a good corps of young players, including star scorer Rick Nash, and two good goalies in Mathieu Garon and Steve Mason.  While the season is still young, there is hope in Columbus that the franchise may have turned the corner.  The question for hockey fans is whether the CBJ could be one of the NHL’s better teams, capable of playing deep into the playoffs — something that would be good for Columbus and great for the franchise.

We may learn the answer soon enough to the question about how good the Blue Jackets really are.  On Friday the perennial NHL power, the Detroit Red Wings, visit Nationwide Arena for a key divisional contest.

Appreciating The Ohio Statehouse (Cont.)

The "Map Room"

The Ohio Statehouse has lots of interesting features.  One of my favorites is the “Map Room” in the basement.  It shows the outline of the State and each of its counties, with each county constructed of a different kind of stone. I dare any Ohioan to visit the Map Room and resist standing squarely and proudly atop their home county!

It’s a very cool area, and I always find myself wondering:  Why did they put this in the basement?

North Korea Acts Out

News stories are reporting that North Korea has fired dozens of artillery shells onto a South Korean island, killing one South Korean soldier, injuring other soldiers and civilians, and damaging houses.  South Korea returned fire.  Although the shelling has stopped for now, the two neighbors are on high alert, and the world is waiting to see if North Korea continues, or escalates, the situation.

Other countries in Asia have moved into the 21st century and focused on economic development and democratic reforms — but not North Korea.  It remains mired in the 1940s, home to a throwback totalitarian regime complete with a “glorify the leader” personality cult and ludicrous propaganda.  Its paranoid behavior on the world stage is consistently inexplicable.  It spends its scant treasure on nuclear weapons programs and other military initiatives, and all the while its poor people are starving.

You have to sympathize with South Korea.  Its neighbor is home to many suffering relatives of South Korean citizens.  No doubt South Korea hopes that the people of North Korea will overthrow their repressive government, or that reform elements in the government will emerge that allow North Korea to move toward democracy and capitalism, like China before it.  Such hopes have been dashed.  North Korea’s leader acts out his whims, he appoints his son as a successor, the son acts out his whims, and the pattern continues.  All the while South Korea waits, uneasy, its thoughts never straying too far from the unpredictable, hyper-aggressive country to the north.

Welcome To Michigan Week

For Buckeye Nation, this is one of the most important weeks of the year.  It is Michigan Week — seven days of nervous anticipation and intense mental preparation for the Buckeyes’ biggest game of the year.  The week will come to an end at noon on Saturday, when Ohio State and Michigan square off in The Game, for another edition of the greatest single-game rivalry in sports.

On the OSU campus, Michigan Week is a great week for charitable activities.  Michigan and Ohio State compete to see who can donate the most blood to the American Red Cross.  Goodwill runs a clothing drive.  There will be pep rallies, and banner contests, and the traditional Mirror Lake jump on Friday.  (The Mirror Lake dip might be a bit bracing — the forecast is for snow flurries on Friday, and a crisp, clear conditions come game time.)

It’s weird to have Thanksgiving during Michigan Week; usually the game is played the preceding Saturday.  The upcoming game will give a lot of Columbus families something to debate while gobbling down their turkey.

I’ll have some thoughts about The Game later this week.  For now, I’ll just enjoy the long-awaited arrival of one of the greatest weeks of the year.

Like Living With Mice

The other day I opened the refrigerator and witnessed the scene captured in the accompanying photo.  In their zeal for a skinned baby carrot, someone had bypassed the zip-lock opening and punched directly through the middle of the plastic bag to get to the bright orange veggies.  It looked like something you might find in a mouse’s burrow.

This is a not-uncommon occurrence in our home.  If a member of the Webner household needs sustenance, the niceties of modern American product design are casually ignored.  The evidence of this is everywhere.  When the desire for a Triscuit becomes overpowering, the box will be ripped open at the bottom so that it cannot be closed up.  The impulse for immediate Honey Bunches of Oats gratification will cause a hungry Webner to eviscerate the internal plastic bagging, leaving tattered remnants so that the cereal cannot thereafter be poured into a bowl without the contents scattering over counter top.  And parched Webners always bypass the roll-down design of a soft drink 12-pack.   Rather than carefully opening the container as intended, so that the next can flops down when a can is removed, they tear open the carton through the hand-hold opening at the top.

American product designers spend billions on the design of food packaging to promote freshness, allow simple resealing, and permit ready extraction.  As far as our family is concerned, they needn’t have bothered.

Looking To Get Back On Track

The Browns travel to Jacksonville today to play the Jaguars, looking to bounce back from last week’s heart-breaking overtime loss to the Jets.  It will be one of those crucial games that will determine whether, for the rest of the season, the Browns are playing for a playoff spot or playing out the string.

Nine games into the season, the Browns stand 3-6, three games behind AFC North Division leaders Baltimore and Pittsburgh.  If they win today, they remain in the hunt.  If they lose, they will effectively be eliminated from the race for the playoffs.  With seven losses, the Browns probably would have to win out to even have a chance — and even then it is unlikely that a 9-7 record gets them into the playoffs.

The Browns go into this game banged up, with Josh Cribbs out on offense and Scott Fujita out on defense.  In Jacksonville, the Browns will be facing a very unpredictable opponent.  The Jaguars are 5-4, but have lost the four games by more than 20 points each.  The Jags have a hot quarterback, a good running back, and a good corps of wide receivers; they will test the Browns’ very creative defense.  The Jaguars’ defense has given up a lot of points and their secondary is particularly questionable — but the Browns don’t exactly have a bunch of stud receivers.  Although Colt McCoy has played very well since he took over the starting job at quarterback, I don’t expect to see a pass-happy Browns offense today.  I think we’ll still see lots of Peyton Hillis running the ball, mixed in with short passes to tight end Ben Watson and an occasional long ball.

The Browns need to figure out a way to win this game.

Passing A Character Test

Sometimes things just don’t go your way on the football field.  Your normally sure-handed receivers drop catchable balls that could break the game open.  You rack up penalties and the other team doesn’t.  An off-target pass gets batted into the air and intercepted rather than falling to the ground.  You’re playing in enemy territory, on the opponent’s Senior Night, before a bunch of screaming fans, against a determined opponent that is hoping to salvage a disappointing season with a win.

When you are faced with such adversity, a football game can become a test of character.  Many teams fold under the pressure and experience the bitterness of defeat.  Good teams find a way to dig deep, overcome such obstacles, and win.

So it was with Ohio State last night.  The Buckeyes entered the fourth quarter tied with Iowa after some tough, hard-nosed football and lots of missed opportunities.  After an errant Terrelle Pryor pass caromed into the hands of a Hawkeye defender, Iowa got a quick score to lead 17-10, with only 12:10 to go in the game.  The Hawkeyes and their home town fans were fired up, and the Buckeyes had their backs to the wall.

Yet Ohio State found a way to answer.  It took the ensuing kickoff, marched down the field, and Devin Barclay kicked a 48-yard field goal to pull the Buckeyes within four.  Then the defense came up big, forcing a three-and-out by the Hawkeyes.  Ohio State got the ball back on their own 24 and again moved the ball downfield with a mix of runs and passes.  On third-and-ten at the 50, Terrelle Pryor threw a perfect strike to a wide-open DeVier Posey in the end zone — and Posey inexplicably dropped it.  Many teams would have given up at that point, but not the Buckeyes.  Pryor made a great, game-saving run on fourth-and-ten, and Ohio State was back in business.  A short pass, a run for first down, and a great Dane Sanzenbacher catch later, the Buckeyes were two yards away from the promised land.  Two gritty runs by Boom Herron got the TD, the Buckeyes’ defense stuffed Iowa again, and the Buckeyes ran out the clock for a crucial road win.

Many Ohio State fans think the team should win every game by 30 points — but that’s just not the way big-time college football works.  Iowa clearly is one of the best teams in the conference, and when you play at Kinnick Stadium you can’t expect a blowout — you just play for a victory.  Ohio State got that victory, and the Buckeyes now stand at 10-1 overall and 6-1 and tied for the lead with Wisconsin and Michigan State in the Big Ten with one game to go.  That sounds pretty good to me.

Appreciating The Ohio Statehouse

A look upward at the Ohio Statehouse rotunda

I was at the Ohio Statehouse recently for an event, and as I strolled around I thought, once again, about what an interesting structure it is — filled with nooks and crannies and oddities.  We’ll be having a new administration and General Assembly arriving to begin work after the first of the year, and they will have a chance to explore every inch of the buildings during their years of service.

The Statehouse is a good example of the value of public structures and public spaces.  It not only provides a place to engage in the business of government, but also celebrates our state and inspires by its form and design.  It aims to make you proud to be an Ohioan, and I think it succeeds.

One Sick Country?

A recent report by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) concluded that in 2009 approximately 20 percent of American adults had some form of mental illness.  That comes out to 45 million Americans.  The report states that 11 million of those people had a serious illness.  Women reported a higher incidence of mental illness than men, and adults 18-25 reported the highest level of mental illness of any age group.

The SAMHSA numbers are an estimate based on responses to questionnaires given to representative samples.  The overall “any mental illness” statistic purports to include only people who have a “diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder,” excluding developmental or substance abuse disorders.  The study’s determination of mental illness in adults was based on modeling the survey participants’ responses to questions on “distress” and “impairment.”  The report suggests increases in the unemployment rate had an impact on the 2009 statistics.

I recognize that many Americans struggle with mental disorders, but I seriously doubt that 1 in 5 Americans has a true diagnosable mental illness.  I suspect that many government studies are structured to produce a result that reveals a problem that needs to be resolved through increased funding and more government-payroll jobs.  The comments of the SAMHSA administrator in response to the 2009 survey results, quoted in the link above, certainly reach that conclusion — that there are many Americans who need help and treatment that aren’t getting it, and through “health care reform” and federal legislation they can get such treatment.

Fickle Finger of Fate

See full size image

Back in the late sixties and early seventies there was a television show called Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. During the show they would often give the award shown above, the Fickle Finger of Fate award to some government entity or some famous person based on their dubious achievements.

Anyone who reads our blog with any regularity knows that one of Bob’s biggest concerns is the deficit and government spending. Keeping this in mind President Obama is in agreement with Bob on this issue and has appointed a Deficit Commission. The commission is to report its findings to the president on or before December 1.

With December 1 rapidly approaching I have already decided that the Fickle Finger of Fate award goes to …….. both Alan Simpson, former Republican Senator from Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, Chief of Staff to former President Clinton. In case anyone doesn’t know these two gentleman are leading the commission charged with identifying policies to improve the United States fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve financial sustainability in the long term.

Earlier this week a poll was done asking Americans their opinions of some of the ideas that have been floated by the two gentlemen. First of all, only 25% of respondents thought the commission was a good idea and forty percent thought it was a bad idea, not a good sign. Two thirds of respondents said that they wanted government spending cuts made though and said that was the major reason why they voted the way they did.

Unfortunately when pressed respondents decided on the following:

70% were uncomfortable with cutting spending on Medicare, Social Security and defense,

60% were uncomfortable with raising taxes on gas, limiting home mortgage deductions and changing corporate tax rates,

and 60% were uncomfortable raising the retirement age to 69 from 67 over the next sixty years.

Well there you go, we want spending to be cut, but we don’t want any of the programs that are causing our debt problem to be cut. Oh and by the way 50% of respondents want the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire. If that’s the case then on January 1 more of Bob’s hard earned money will be going to help the government reduce the deficit, I hope !

Weird Robots And The Japanese Soul

What is it with the Japanese and robots, anyway?  They not only seem to be obsessed by them, they act on their obsessions in very weird ways.

Consider the Youtube clip below.  It shows a “female” Japanese robot known as HRP-4C, pictured at left, singing an annoying song as several young Japanese women frolic around her doing dances from the ’60s.  The robot herself looks like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz from the waist down, like a high-end blow-up doll from the neck up, is wearing what appears to be a yellow shower curtain, and has enormous “man hands” a la Seinfeld.  The robot looks like she could palm a medicine ball or crush an elephant’s skull with those mitts!  To top it off, the robot has a whiny voice and is about as fluid in her dance moves as the robot from Lost in SpaceDanger, Will Robinson!

Somewhere, in some dark, kinky corner of the Japanese soul, there may be an explanation for why a Japanese company would apparently spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop a half-Tin Man, half-humanoid robot with grossly oversized hands and then program it to sing a crappy pop song involving choreography that is a few cuts below Glee — and for that matter an explanation for why a Japanese audience would sit and watch the resulting production.  Let’s just hope we never actually figure out what that explanation is.

Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues

The House Ethics Committee voted today, 9-1, to recommend that the full House of Representatives censure New York Democrat Charles Rangel.  “Censure,” if adopted, means that Rangel would appear in the well of the House of Representatives and be orally rebuked by the Speaker of the House with respect to his misdeeds.  It is viewed as a serious sanction, second only to expulsion from the House of Representatives.

Rangel, predictably, reacted emotionally to the Committee’s recommendation.  The 80-year-old Congressman, who has served for 40 years, apologized, said he didn’t know how much longer he had to live, and added he hoped that the committee would indicate that his actions were not taken “with the intention of bringing any disgrace on the House or enriching myself personally.”  He also made the Nixonian statement that he is not a crooked politician.

I’m tired of politicians who flout the rules, make an emotional apology, and then think everybody should forget about their ethical and legal shortcomings.  In this instance, the House Ethics Committee found, on a bipartisan basis, that Rangel was guilty on 11 of 13 charges.  The charges included that he improperly used official resources to raise money for his “Rangel Center” — which received a spike in corporate donations after Rangel became chair of the House Ways and Means Committee — that he failed to pay taxes on property in the Dominican Republic, and that for years he filed misleading disclosure forms that failed to list hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets.

Censure sounds like pretty light punishment for a pattern of violations of House rules that extended over a number of years.  When you were a kid, getting yelled at by your parents was no big deal — it was grounding that really hurt.  If Representatives can flout House rules for years and then, upon discovery, apologize, claim simple oversight, and retain their position after some finger-wagging by Madame Speaker, House ethics rules are pretty toothless.

Long, Long, Long

It’s been a long, long, long time, but the music of the Beatles is finally available on iTunes.  Apple and EMI, the Beatles record label, have worked out an arrangement.

Getting the Beatles on iTunes apparently was a big deal for Apple’s Steve Jobs, who is a Beatles fan.  Others, however, have questioned whether having the Beatles on iTunes will make much of a difference.  They reason that people who like the Beatles (like me) already have their songs on their iPods and won’t need iTunes to get them, and that younger people want new music, not music that was first recorded in their grandparents’ day.

I don’t agree with either point. In the modern world, iTunes is a basic method for getting music.  Putting the Beatles’ music on iTunes will make it easier for people to get to the Beatles’ music.  And I disagree with anyone who says that young people of today — and boy, does using that phrase make me feel like an old fogey! — won’t care much for the Beatles.  Richard and I heard a few snippets of songs on the NPR report on the Beatles-Apple deal, and the songs still sound incredibly fresh.  The Beatles catalog is just excellent, interesting music.  If kids haven’t heard it because it is not played on their favorite radio stations, they will now have an opportunity to discover the music on iTunes.  I’m betting they enjoy that discovery as much as their parents, and their grandparents, did.

Carving Up The Gators

Tonight Ohio State’s men’s basketball team passed a tough early-season test, and did so in impressive fashion.  The Buckeyes carved up the Florida Gators in the second half and won going away, 93-75.

The first half was entertaining.  Ohio State played well on offense but was soft on defense, and Florida took advantage.  It seemed like every Florida player made a hook shot from the low post, and Florida ended the half ahead 41-38.  The second half was a different story, and the story started on defense.  Ohio State pressured the ball and stepped out on Florida players all over the court.  The Buckeyes forced some turnovers, and then put on a clinic on offense.  Jared Sullinger and David Lighty sliced up the Gators down low, and William Buford, Jon Diebler, and Aaron Craft knocked down open shots.  In all, Ohio State scored 55 points — 55 points! — in the second half and notched a very memorable win.

What can we take from this early season game?  I wouldn’t draw too many definitive conclusions, but some things seems clear.  First, Jared Sullinger is good.  He doesn’t play like a freshman, and his presence will help Jon Diebler and William Buford get more open shots.  He seems to have the full package of low-post moves and displays a nice, soft shot.  Second, David Lighty had improved tremendously during his collegiate career, and he is just a fun player to watch.  He hustles, he plays great defense, and he is fearless taking the ball to the rack.  Third, Aaron Craft doesn’t seem to play like a freshman, either.  Florida threw a variety of presses and traps at him, and he handled them well.  Get this — Craft played 29 minutes bringing the ball up against a pressing defense in a hostile arena in his first away game as a college student, and he committed only three turnovers.

If the Florida game is any indication, Ohio State’s inside-outside game will pose some real challenges for its opponents.  But the season is young, so we shouldn’t get carried away.  In the meantime, we’ll just enjoy the sweet taste of some fresh Gator meat.

An Early Season Test

Today the Ohio State men’s basketball team takes to the road for one of those early season match-ups that make college basketball so interesting.  (And, unlike football, an early season loss isn’t potentially fatal to your chances of winning it all.)

Tonight the Buckeyes take on Florida in Gainesville.  Every Buckeye fan would like a bit of payback from Florida.  We’re still smarting from the year in which the Gators thrashed the football Buckeyes in the BCS National Championship Game and then beat the Buckeye roundballers in the NCAA Championship Game.  This game, however, is interesting for reasons that go beyond possible revenge.  Both teams are ranked in the early season Top 10.  Florida has a good team, and the Buckeyes have a  corps of seasoned veterans and a bunch of youngsters who will be playing their first road game — a game that will just happen to be nationally televised.

I think this game will be a real challenge for Ohio State.  The Gators play a pressing defense and Ohio State has no experienced point guard.  That probably means that freshman Aaron Craft will be asked to try his hand at breaking the press in a hostile environment in an ESPN game.  It is a lot to ask of a freshman — and if you can’t get the ball up court, all of your front court talent won’t mean much.  This will be a learning experience for the youngsters, a leadership challenge for the veterans, and a teaching opportunity for coach Thad Matta and his staff.

I’m hoping the Buckeyes can prevail.  It would be nice to take a bite out of the Gators for a change.