The Buckeyes Begin The Big Ten

The basketball preseason is over, and now the real season — that is, the Big Ten season — is beginning.  Ohio State plays its first conference game tonight, traveling to Bloomington to play the Indiana Hoosiers.

The Buckeyes are undefeated, 13-0, and are ranked second in national polls.  The team clearly has a lot of talent and a lot of promise.  The core of the team is four experienced players — David Lighty, Jon Diebler, William Buford, and Dallas Lauderdale — and they have played well so far.  Those four players give the Buckeyes  firepower from the perimeter, a player who can take the ball to the rack, tough defenders, and a shot blocker.  And Ohio State’s freshman class — particularly Jared Sullinger — has made a huge contribution, too.  Sullinger appears to be a complete package post player who knows all the post moves, rebounds well, and can dish when he is double-teamed.  His classmates Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas also have made their mark and have given Ohio State both depth and a spark off the bench.  Coach Thad Matta and his assistants have worked hard to experiment with lineups, spread playing time among the talent, and get the team to play tough defense, which will be crucial during Big Ten crunch time.

The big question for this team, right now, is “how good are they”?  The Buckeyes really haven’t been tested yet, and while they have played some quality teams — Florida, Florida State, and South Carolina among them — they have not played a down-to-the-wire game yet.  That will happen in the Big Ten, and the jury is still out on how the team will handle the pressure.  In the meantime, the Buckeyes will need to take it one game at a time.  They cannot afford to stumble on the road against a team like Indiana, which has struggled and should have difficulty matching up against the Buckeyes.

On The Cusp Of A Change

The old, tired year 2010 is getting ready to exit stage right, and the bright, shiny year 2011 is getting ready to crawl onto the national stage.  Today we will get the last of the stories looking back at what has happened over the last 12 months.  Tomorrow the focus will be on what might happen over the next 12 months.

On the national scene, there is a lot of uncertainty, which should make 2011 very interesting indeed.  President Obama had a tough 2010, with falling public approval ratings, a bad economy, and mounting public concern about spending and debt, and the Democratic Party took a shellacking in the 2010 election as a result.  But the President nevertheless managed to accomplish some of his initiatives in the lame duck session of Congress, leading some people to talk about a comeback.  In 2011, will we in fact see a comeback by the President and a resurgence of some of the passionate support he received in the 2008 election?

In Congress, the big story will be the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the increased Republican minority in the Senate.  In the past two years, House Republicans have been unified in opposing many of the President’s initiatives, but maintaining unity when you are running the show can be more difficult.  How will the new Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans address spending and debt issues, and will they be able to affect the implementation of the “health care reform” legislation and some of the regulatory initiatives that are of such concern to members of the “tea party”?  In the Senate, where the rules and practices require consensus, how will Harry Reid and his slimmer majority deal with Republicans?  Will the two Houses of Congress, controlled by two different parties, be able to reach agreement on their competing versions of basic legislation like spending bills?  And will President Obama then wield his veto pen?

Pundits may be predicting what will happen, but the reality is that no one knows.  That is what will make 2011 such an interesting year.

The Season Limps To A Close

The Browns play their final game of the year on Sunday.  It will be a home matchup against their bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The game means everything to the Steelers, who are fighting to win the division and get a first-round bye.  For the Browns, the game is all about pride and rivalry, as the Browns have been out of the playoff hunt for weeks.

This game should be a mismatch.  The Steelers are one of the best teams in the NFL.  Their defense is terrific — the best in the NFL against the run — and their offense is balanced and productive.  They are a seasoned team that routinely makes the playoffs, and this game is important to their Super Bowl prospects.  The Browns, on the other hand, seem to have hit the wall both offensively and defensively.  Offensively, the Browns struggle to score points; they have not reached 20 points in the last four games.  Last week, the Ravens shut down Peyton Hillis and the Browns’ running game and picked off rookie quarterback Colt McCoy three times.  The Steelers can also be expected to focus on stuffing the run and harassing McCoy.  Defensively, the Browns seem to be getting worn down.  The Ravens and the Bengals both moved the ball on the ground against the Browns, and the Steelers will try to do the same with Rashard Mendenhall, one of the best backs in the league.  The Steelers, moreover, will bring Ben Roethlisberger and a better passing game, too.

It is disheartening for Browns fans to see another season grind to a close without a playoff berth, but the players and, in particular, head coach Eric Mangini and his staff cannot afford to be disheartened.  They are fighting for their jobs and coming to an end of a season that has seen some progress.  It would be nice to see the Browns’ final record come in at 6-10, rather than duplicating last year’s 5-11 mark.  And, of course, it would be sweet to see the Browns beat the Steelers and throw a wrench into their playoff plans.  Rivalries aren’t really rivalries if the underdog doesn’t rise up and win once in a while.  Now would be a good time for the Browns to do so.

The Book Of . . . Enough Already!

Last night Kish and I decided to watch a movie on HBO On Demand.  We ended up picking The Book of Eli.  We both like Denzel Washington, I like science fiction.  Why not?

Only a few minutes in, I thought to myself, “I’ve seen this movie already,” even though I hadn’t.  And that is because the ugly future, post-apocalyptic, lone hero movie has been done to death.  How is The Book of Eli different, for example, from The Road Warrior?  Something horrible has happened, civilization has crumbled, and the animal nature of the remaining humans is being acted out in the most gruesome fashion.  A lone guy appears, fights and beats and kills dozens of subhuman survivors, and then helps to set humanity back on the road to civilization.  They even share religious themes.  The only difference is the explicit Biblical aspect of The Book of Eli.

Apocalyptic themes have long been popular in science fiction books and science fiction movies.  On The Beach, A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Road, and The Stand come readily to mind.  Isn’t it about time that authors and screenwriters start looking at futuristic movies involving an Earth that falls somewhere between Star Trek and cataclysm?

Snow Removal 101

New York City Michael Bloomberg is learning the basic lesson that every big-city mayor has known for decades — urban residents will put up with a lot, but they won’t tolerate bad snow removal and inadequate basic services.  If the roads aren’t getting plowed and the trains aren’t running on time, the mayor is a failure, and voters won’t care about his latest urban development initiative or feel-good efforts to combat childhood obesity.

In America, being a mayor or a governor is a lot harder than being a Senator or Representative.  Mayors and governors actually have to manage state or local agencies, make significant personnel decisions, and provide timely services like snow removal.  Unlike members of Congress and state legislators, they can’t simply pat themselves on the back for coming up with some abstract compromise to move legislation forward or employing some arcane procedural maneuver to block a bill they oppose.

Snow removal is a kind of ultimate test for a mayor.  A big snow fall is visible and it effects everyone.  If the snow removal response is not done well, people inevitably will start raising uncomfortable questions about things like favoritism, competence, and political patronage.  Why was this street plowed before that street?  Why wasn’t the city more ready for a storm that had been predicted?  Who is running the effort, and did they get their job because they are experienced or because they are somebody’s brother-in-law?

These are questions that the residents of the Big Apple aren’t likely to forget.

Returning To A Three-Day Week

Successful vacations take planning, of course.  People spend hours deciding where to go, and how to get there.  One often-overlooked aspect of the planning process, however, is deciding when to return.

There are several crucial considerations at play.  How much work is likely to have piled up in your absence, and how much is due after you return?  When will your boss or most important client be on vacation?  Can you return mid-week?  And should your travel plans contemplate an aggressive schedule, like returning on a flight arriving at midnight the night before a 9 a.m. meeting with the boss or an important client and a day chock-full of immovable deadlines?

Too many people pick the standard, week-long, Saturday-to-following-Sunday vacation without much thought given to their options.  Their no-margin-for error travel plans put them at risk of missing crucial work assignments upon their return or leave them ridiculously stressed as a result of that prospect.  They come back and immediately are plunged neck-deep in work.  By noon on the day of their return, their blood pressure is back at jack-hammer levels and their vacation is a distant, wistful memory that seems like a bad mistake.

I like to take time off around the holidays because, for litigators, the period around the holidays tends to be slower than normal.  This year we decided to return on Monday on a week where Friday is an off-day, leaving — voila! — a three-day work week.  And I can spend that week working at a measured pace, getting ready for the new year and savoring a fine Costa Rican holiday.

Can Buckeye Nation Forgive?

The five Ohio State players who violated NCAA rules — DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, Boom Herron, Terrelle Pryor, and Solomon Thomas — made statements to the media today.  The players apologized and expressed hope that they will be forgiven by their teammates, former players, the Ohio State University, and Buckeye Nation.  A video of their statements is available from the Ozone website.

Sports fans tend to be unforgiving types, but I hope that Ohio State fans can find it in themselves to forgive the young men.  They broke the rules, they were caught, and they will be punished.  Through the statements today, they accepted responsibility for their actions.  Their public statements of apology seemed heartfelt to me.

For all of their athletic prowess, these are youngsters who are going through an age that is characterized by lapses in judgment and questionable decision-making.  How many people can say, truthfully, that they never engaged in underaged drinking, that they never cut classes, or that they never undertook some other illicit or ill-advised activity when they were college students?  How many parents would be willing to write off one of their children as a bad apple because of one transgression of this kind?  For that matter, how many adults can say that they have never gotten behind the wheel of a car when they had too much to drink?

College is all about learning, and some of the lessons are learned in the school of hard knocks.  The five players have now learned that bad decisions can have very bad consequences.  I’m confident that they will not forget that lesson.  We can all afford to show them some forgiveness.

A Hellish Trip Back

Yesterday we had just about the most hellish travel day imaginable.

It began with Russell and me having food poisoning.  We’re not sure how we got it, but we both were feverish and sweaty, weak as kittens and sick as dogs.  I had been losing it from both ends and had vomited, with truly spectacular force, for the first time in as long as I can remember.  We then boarded a small van to take a five-hour drive to the airport.  Five hours! The combination of my unsettled stomach and the rutted Costa Rican roads, the many hairpin turns, and the tight shock absorbers in the van, which made every jut and jar a literal head-banging experience, had predictable results.  That five-hour ride was the longest and most unpleasant five hours of my life.

Once we reached the San Jose airport — and no airport was ever such a welcome sight! — the challenge then changed.  It is one thing to be barfing on a van, with only your family members and a hired driver as witness.  It is quite another to lose it in a crowded airport or on a plane packed with holiday travelers.  But through the trip from San Jose to Houston, the race to get through customs, and screening, and baggage claim, and re-entry in Houston, and then the final leg from Houston to Columbus, we held it together, and we finally got home around midnight, some fifteen hours after our hellish day began.

After that experience, being home sure feels good.


The Submissive Indignity Of The Tooth Cleaning Appointment

In modern America, we take for granted a lot of things that are really weird, if you stop to think about them.

I was reflecting on this the other day when I was lying flat on my back and some perfect stranger wearing a white suit, rubber gloves, and a surgical mask had her hands in my mouth.  She was scraping away at my teeth with a collection of sharp implements that could have come from the torture museum we saw at San Gimighiano, and she alternately hectored me about my flossing, gabbed about her family and vacation plans, and curtly instructed to move my head up and down and open my mouth still wider.  At one point, as I sat with the flexible clear plastic suck tube perched on my lower teeth while the hygienist peered inside my mouth with mirror and drill, I realized I must have looked like a car whose engine is being worked on by a mechanic, with one of those hang lights dangling from the underside of the open hood and various tools perched near the carburetor.

Going to the dentist is pretty embarrassing and risky too, when you think about it.  We lean back, defenseless and blinded by the glare of the fluorescent light inches away from our eyeballs, and put ourselves at the mercy of the woman with the dental hygienist certificate.  Does any other aspect of modern society require us to routinely assume such a submissive and undignified posture and meekly accept the constant lectures, pokes, and proddings?  What do we really know about these chatty and judgmental ladies, and why do we think they won’t snap after putting their hands into the tenth slimy and smelly mouth of the day and plung one of the sharp scrapers into our exposed jugular vein as we lie helpless and exposed?

Voting With Their Pocketbooks?

Here’s an interesting story:  former President George W. Bush’s book, Decision Points, has sold as many copies in one month as former President Bill Clinton’s book, My Life, has sold in six years.  The book’s publisher apparently has been amazed by its sales success.

I don’t think the book’s success means that people like Bush better than Clinton, or that people think Bush was a better President or is a better writer.  Instead, the reality is that — whether you love Bush or think he is just this side of Satan — the story of Bush’s presidency is much more compelling than the story of Clinton’s life.

The country never faced a great crisis under Clinton, but it did under Bush.  In comparison to the deadly trauma of 9/11, and how to respond to it, the Clinton’s impeachment proceedings, the Lewinsky scandal, and the various other international and domestic challenges of the Clinton presidency pale into insignificance.  And the key players in the Bush presidency are much more vivid than in the Clinton presidency.  Who makes a better read:  Dick Cheney or Al Gore?


When Mike Holmgren Earns His Pay

What should the Browns do with Eric Mangini?  With two games left in another mediocre regular season, the question lingers.

The Browns look to be heading toward their second straight 5-11 season.  Last year, they closed with a rush, winning their last four games.  This year, they have played many close games and won against two of the best teams in the NFL.  Unfortunately, however, they have lost a lot of winnable games, and they will miss the playoffs — again.  Mangini seems to have brought some order out of chaos and has made some progress, but the Browns still have not gotten over the hump.  Can they do so with Mangini at the helm?

That is the question Mike Holmgren has to answer.  It is a tough question.  5-11 records are not acceptable, obviously, and the team’s lackluster performance in the last two games is not encouraging.  On the other hand, constant coaching changes are not a good thing, either.  For decades, the Browns had one of the most respected front offices in the NFL, marked by competence and stability, with virtually no coaching turnover. Since the Browns have come back into the league, however, the team has been a coaching carousel and experienced constant front office change.  It has not turned out well for the franchise. I’m confident that Holmgren recognizes that.

I’m inclined to withhold judgment on Mangini, for now.  He has tried to establish an approach and a system and has made some progress — slow progress, to be sure, but progress nevertheless.  I’d like to see whether the Browns play with some spirit in one of the last two games, when they will be competing against two of the best teams in the AFC, at a time when both Pittsburgh and Baltimore are gunning for playoff position.  If the Mangini can lead the Browns to a victory in one of those two games, I think it would say something about his ability to coach, inspire, and lead.

The Sugar Bowl, Now Not So Sweet

The Ohio State University and the Buckeye Nation got a shock yesterday, as the NCAA announced that six players would be suspended for violations of NCAA rules.  The players include starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, starting tailback Dan “Boom” Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, starting lineman Mike Adams, and two reserves.

The players apparently accepted discounts on tattoos and sold items they had received from the University, including uniforms, Big Ten championships rings, and the tiny “gold pants” that Ohio State players receive when the teams beats Michigan.  The incidents occurred two years ago, when the players were freshmen.  Pryor, Herron, Posey, and Adams will be suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season, but will be permitted to play in the upcoming Sugar Bowl.  In the meantime, Ohio State is appealing the penalties as being overly harsh.

I feel sorry for the players — who evidently say, with conviction, that once they were given the items they thought they were free to do whatever they wanted with them, and who used the money they received to help their families — but I feel especially sorry for the University.  Ohio State views itself as more than a school with a good football team.  It believes itself to be, first and foremost, a world-class research institution and learning facility that just happens to have excellent sports programs.  When an incident like this occurs, it hurts that self-perception, and no doubt causes people elsewhere in the country to conclude that Ohio State is just another “football factory,” and nothing more.

It leaves a bitter taste on the days leading up to the Sugar Bowl, at a time when the school and the team should be enjoying a successful season capped by another Big Ten championship and looking forward, with unimpaired focus, to a chance to shake off the “can’t beat the SEC” canard against a talented Arkansas Razorbacks team.