The New Browns Coaching Staff Rounds Out

The Browns continue to hire coaches to fill out the staff of new head coach Pat Shurmur.

Dick Jauron will be the Browns’ new defensive coordinator.  Jauron is a two-time former NFL head coach as well as a two-time defensive coordinator, so he will bring a lot of experience to the table.  Unfortunately, Jauron’s status as a two-time ex-head coach means he was fired twice — from Buffalo and Detroit.  Jauron may be one of those coaches, like Dick LeBeau, who is just better suited to being a coordinator rather than a head coach.  He has coached some good defenses in his career, but his style is to play a more conservative 4-3 defense, which will be a significant change from the gambling, blitzing 3-4 approach used by former Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.  Jauron will be joined on the defensive staff by Dwaine Board, as defensive line coach, and Bill Davis, as linebackers coach.  Both also have plenty of NFL coaching experience, and Davis is a former defensive coordinator with the Cardinals.

Shurmur, who was offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams before being tabbed by the Browns, says he will call the plays on offense.  I am not especially encouraged by that decision, which I think may show a lack of appreciation for the many competing demands of the head coaching position.  A successful head coach is supposed to have a broader perspective.  Still, some successful head coaches have called plays, and perhaps Shurmur can pull it off.  The fact that he will be paying special attention to the offense at least may reflect the understanding that the Browns really need to focus on getting points on the board.  He will be joined in coaching the offense by Mark Whipple as quarterbacks coach and Mike Wilson as wide receivers coach.  Both will have big jobs this coming season.  Colt McCoy is still raw, and Wilson will be challenged to produce a true, NFL-caliber receiver from the choices on the Browns roster.

It is looking more and more like the Browns will have to retool and realign their roster to play the new styles favored by their new coaches.  I hope I’m wrong, but that probably means another “rebuilding year” — i.e., another year of missing the playoffs.  So what else is new?  The more the coaches and players change, the more the Browns’ mediocrity stays the same.

Morning People Versus Evening People

A while ago the London Evening Standard ran an article about why “morning people” rule the world.  The article is careful to point out that both “morning people” and “evening people” have good qualities.  “Morning people” tend to be more optimistic, proactive and conscientious.  “Evening people,” on the other hand, are thought to be more creative, intelligent, humorous and extroverted. (Note that each of the “evening people” qualities could be influenced by alcohol consumption.  Your friends seem a lot more creative, intelligent, humorous, and extroverted after a night full of few adult beverages.)

Sounds like the funny, brilliant evening people are in good shape, right?  Unfortunately, the problem is that the world is geared to “morning people.”  School starts at 8 a.m., not 6 p.m.  And the business day ends before “evening people” hit their stride.  As a result of this, “morning people” get rewarded as the energetic, hard-working, bright-eyed high performers.  “Evening people,” on the other hand, are viewed as lazy, unmotivated slugs who drift aimlessly through the day.  In short, the article concludes, “evening people” are pretty much screwed because all of the societal cards are stacked against them.  (Those wondering whether there is any journalistic bias at play here would do well to remember that this article was published in the London Evening Standard — they have to appeal to their readership.)

Everyone knows there are differences between morning and evening people.  Here are a few ways to distinguish between them:

Favorite Beverage:   morning people — anything with caffeine; evening people — anything with alcohol

Appalling personality quirk:  morning people — excessive chipperness; evening people — excessive vomiting

TV show where you are most likely to make an appearance:  morning people — behind the window on The Today Show; evening people — Cops

You get the idea.

The Girl Who Got To Be Too Unbelievable

I just finished the last volume of Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, and I have mixed feelings about them.  I thought the initial book, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, was excellent.  I liked the second volume, The Girl Who Played With Fire, although I thought it was not as strong as the first book.  I also thought the last volume — The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest — was the weakest of the three.

I liked the first volume because it was deliberate in its pace and different in its approach to storytelling.  It took a while to get into the story, and the author didn’t seem to care that he was taking his time introducing you to characters, major and minor, and giving you their back stories.  The character of Lisbeth Salander was fresh and different, the bit-by-bit relating of the horrible incidents and tragedies in her life was like finding successive clues on a treasure hunt, and the overarching tale of the redemption of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his discovery of the secrets of the Vanger family, with the eventual assistance of Salander, was an interesting plot line.  In the first book, although both Salander and Blomkvist have unique talents — as a computer hacker and reporter, respectively — their characters are believable and their actions and accomplishments are within the range of possibility.  And I liked how the telling of the engrossing story also helped me learn a bit about Sweden and its history and culture.

Unfortunately, as the story progressed through the second and third books it became increasingly unbelievable and, as a result, much less interesting.  Lisbeth Salander somehow acquires the skills of a master spy and action hero who survives being shot in the head and buried alive.  The middle-aged Blomkvist is revealed as a super-sleuth and awesome sexual athlete who apparently is irresistible to every woman he encounters and is able to fight off contract killers.  By the middle of the third book, the story has become a pretty standard trial drama where the outcome is foreordained and the only question is when and how, inevitably, Salander will confront and defeat her equally superhuman but evil half-brother.

I understand the buzz about Larsson’s books, and I applaud any series that has the mistreatment of women as one of its principal story lines.  I do find myself wishing, however, that Larsson had stopped writing after the first book.

“Anniversary Journalism” Is Lazy And Often Pointless

It seems like every day you hear news stories about the anniversaries of an event.  Recently, we were treated to stories about the 25th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, and the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.  There have been countless others.

This kind of “anniversary journalism” is, in my view, lazy journalism.  The ingredients of these stories are always the same.  It has to be a round number anniversary — one year, 5 years, 10 years, 25 years.  If the news story is on radio or TV, you play a clip of the recording of the event, and then you interview people who give their recollections and perhaps add a few recollections of your own.  The stories are simple to prepare and simple to produce — and there are an enormous number of “round number” anniversaries of events to choose from.

In addition to being lazy journalism, I also think that, with rare exception, these stories are pointless because the events being remembered actually have no continuing cultural or historical significance.  John F. Kennedy gave a memorable inaugural address, but his challenge to “Ask not what your country can do for you . . . ” obviously did not prevent the creation of our current political atmosphere that is so rife with pork barrel spending, earmarks, and special interest lobbying.  Why is it important that we relive the Challenger disaster and see, again, the ugly photos of the mid-air explosion that took the lives of its crew?  With all due respect to the crew members and their families, the reality is that the Challenger explosion did not change the focus or approach of the U.S. space program or have any other lasting impact.  It was just a bad thing that happened 25 years ago that I would rather not remember.  It has no more relevance to today’s America than the burning of the Hindenburg or the sinking of the Titanic.

We would be better served if our news media stopped its resort to these “anniversary stories” and instead focused on reporting the news about what is going on, today, in our country and in our world.

Are You Kidding Me ?

One of the interesting things about the uprising in Egypt is the idea that a government can actually cutoff it’s citizens access to the internet. In the past there have been reports in the news of Google’s ongoing battle with China who wants to limit it’s citizens access to the internet, but to totally turn off the Internet, that seems almost hard to believe.

I stumbled across this article that I found quite interesting that asked and answered the question, could the same thing happen here in the United States and could the president actually shut off the internet ? Based on the article the answer right now is no, but there is a bill pending in the Senate called “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset”.

The intent of the bill is to give the president the ability to flip a switch which would slow or stall our Internet Service Providers operations in case there is a cyber-emergency. As the article points out free speech advocates have some concerns. I’m not sure that we really want to have one person to have that much power do we – I mean what happens if access to the switch gets into the wrong hands ?

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and the other founding fathers debating the issue ?

Veggie Wraps, Olive Pits, and Dumb Decisions

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich has settled his dental injuries lawsuit.  Kucinich became the butt of jokes here and elsewhere for his decision to file a lawsuit seeking $150,000 for injuries allegedly caused by biting into a veggie wrap that included an olive pit.  He apparently concluded, wisely, that pursuing the lawsuit would only expose him to still more derision — and if there is one thing a politician just can’t stand, it is being the subject of ridicule.

Dennis Kucinich and his upper bridgework

Before Representative Kucinich could go quietly into the night, however, he had to explain why he decided to file his ill-advised lawsuit in the first place.  This was not a good decision.  Kucinich’s explanation, available on his campaign website, reminds me of the lengthy, overly detailed description you might get if you ask an elderly relative how they are feeling.  And you can imagine your side of the conversation, too.  “So your tooth actually split and you didn’t know it?”  “Yes, I can imagine that would hurt like crazy — it certainly was brave for you to go on working despite the excruciating pain.”  “I’m sure you were concerned that the anchor of your upper bridgework was affected.”  By the time you heard the part about the antibiotics causing an intestinal obstruction you would be surreptitiously checking your watch and looking for a way to hit the road.  Kucinich gives more detailed information about the health consequences of his chance encounter with the olive pit than President Reagan provided about surviving an assassination attempt.

Kucinich’s experience should teach every politician a lesson.  If you are smart, you won’t sue under any circumstances — and if you find yourself talking about your intestinal obstructions, you probably should shut up, already.

Walking a Fine Line

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Seeing what’s happening throughout the Muslim world recently and currently in Egypt I am reminded of the words by Imam Rauf (the man behind the community center near ground zero) in his book, What’s Right with America, What’s Right with Islam that I read earlier this year.

Imam Rauf pointed to key historical events that have caused the rise of Islamic Religious Fundamentalism, one of which was the fact that Muslims have a widely held perception that the United States has more often then not has supported undemocratic regimes in Muslim countries.

This I suspect is another one of those key historical events and we need to get it right this time. As Bob said in his blog “Find the Cost of (Egyptian) Freedom” the President is walking a fine line and you can listen to the president’s comments below.

The President numerous times spoke about the Egyptian people, their rights and the need for reforms both in the government and economically. Even Charles Krauthammer from Fox News an avid critic of the president said his comments were “perfectly fine”. I think we are doing the right thing as opposed to wholeheartedly supporting current President Mubarak as we have done in the past.

This protest is basically driven my young Arabians so let’s hope that this is in fact a moment of promise as the president said and that Egyptian people will in fact realize their dreams for a better life.


Find The Cost of (Egyptian) Freedom

Egypt is now experiencing its fifth day of violent street protests.  The army has been called out, social media communications and internet access have been disrupted, and most recently President Hosni Mubarak has sacked his government and will be appointing a new one.

Egypt’s economy is mired in high unemployment with low wages, and the masses have followed the lead of Tunisia and taken to the streets against an unpopular leader.  Mubarak, who has been President for 30 years and apparently has become increasingly tyrannical over that period, is trying to avoid being deposed.  In these all-too-familiar scenarios, the crucial issue for the regime usually is whether the army can beat back the masses so that calm can be restored, or whether the army decides to side with the public, leaving the strongman President For Life unprotected, unsupported, and faced with a choice between arrest and trial or fleeing into exile.  That decision point seems to be drawing near in Egypt.

In Washington, D.C. and Tel Aviv, the wheels no doubt are turning.  Under Mubarak, Egypt has been a moderating force that gave Israel one set of stable borders.  Egypt was rewarded for that.  It has long been one of the largest recipients of American aid.  In 2010, Egypt received $1.5 billion in economic and military aid, second only to Israel.

I am sure that the realpolitick types in American government would prefer Mubarak to the unknown that might occur if he were deposed.  It is possible, of course, that elections could produce a fundamentalist Islamic regime that is hostile to Israel and the Mideast peace process.  Yet too much American support for Mubarak could quash American influence with a successor government if he ultimately is deposed.  Iran may be a model here.  America’s steadfast support for the Shah of Iran until the bitter end left America with no real influence when the Ayatollah Khomeini took over, and American and Iran have been estranged ever since — to the detriment of geopolitics in the Middle East.

Of course, geopolitical considerations and American foreign policy considerations don’t mean much to those Egyptians who are in the streets, protesting in hopes of achieving democratic changes and a better life.  Why shouldn’t they have a real say in how they are governed?


Obscure Bands And Great Songs: The Cyrkle And Red Rubber Ball

The Cyrkle recorded the best upbeat break-up song ever — Red Rubber Ball — but who knows anything about them?  They seem like just another of those ’60s bands with a kind of “psychedelic” name, like Vanilla Fudge or the Strawberry Alarm Clock.  But this is a band with another interesting accomplishment:  they were the opening act for the Beatles for the Fab Four’s final tour, in 1966.

Initially called the Rhondells, the Cyrkle was formed by two students from Lafayette College, in Easton, Pennsylvania, and two other musicians.  They first heard the song Red Rubber Ball from Paul Simon, who co-wrote the song with Bruce Woodley of The Seekers.  The band recorded the song and were rechristened The Cyrkle.  Red Rubber Ball went to number 2 on the charts in the spring of 1966, and The Cyrkle were selected to tour with the Beatles — and then the rocket ride ended.  After the tour the band returned to playing small venues and then broke up, playing their last gig in 1968.

Before they broke up, of course, The Cyrkle produced Red Rubber Ball.  What a pleasure to hear a break-up song that isn’t bluesy and sad!  With the opening calliope-like sound, the bouncy beat, the adenoidal singing, and the uplifting message, Red Rubber Ball has made generations of jilted guys feel better.  What teenager who just got the boot from his girlfriend hasn’t sung “I think it’s going to be all right.  Yeah, the worst is over now.  The morning sun is shining like a red rubber ball” and felt a little bit better as a result?

X-ray Specs

Driving home from work the other day a local radio talk show here in Columbus mentioned comic book advertisements and that brought back some fond memories. In the Webner household there was no shortage of comic books to read when we were growing up, Archie, Betty and Veronica, Richie Rich and the like.

With that of course brought the comic book ads, my favorite being the X-ray Specs. The thought of being able to see through things, imagine that. Boy the advertising companies could really suck you in with their descriptions, wonderful, hilarious, funny, exciting , amazing and spectacular. Not to mention the fine upstanding companies you were going to purchase your items from, Honor House and Honesty Company.

You dreamed as a child of what you were going to get for your hard earned allowance money that you worked all week for, usually disappointed by what actually arrived. I don’t recall the Webner family ever getting the X-ray Specs, but at one time we did purchase some Sea Monkeys which I think were small shrimp that wiggled around for maybe an hour and then died. I remember the water being so foggy you could hardly see what was going on anyway.

I wonder if any one ever bought anything that really lived up to their expectations ?

The Definitive Winter Comfort Food Meal

Let’s say you are 10 years old on a cold winter’s day.  For hours, you’ve been sledding with your brother and your friends in the neighborhood.  Your stocking cap is soaked with sweat and a while ago one of your friends put snow down your back that has long since turned to an ever-present, icy wetness.  Then you hear the dinner bell your Mom rang to call the kids in your family to dinner.  You grab the rope to your Flexible Flyer and start the long trudge home, pulling the sled behind you.  And as you walk, you start to think about what your Mom might be serving for dinner and begin hoping that it will be your favorite winter meal.

In my case, the favorite winter meal was tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.  The tomato soup was Campbell’s, of course, and made with “whole milk.”  (I’m not even sure they had skim milk or 2% milk or the other milk options in those days.)  The soup was served piping hot with lots of crumbled saltine crackers to make it even more fortifying.  The sandwiches were made with Kraft American cheese on Wonder bread that was lightly buttered on the outside then grilled so that the bread was browned and crunchy and the cheese was perfectly melted and oozed when you took your first bite.  The sandwiches were served hot and were cut diagonally, the better to facilitate dipping the sandwich into the steaming soup.  Mom would call it a “nourishing meal.”  I just thought it tasted great.  This was a meal that never disappointed!

Last night we had tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, and the meal is still as good as I remember it.  There were some differences, of course.  We don’t buy “whole milk” anymore, so the soup was made with 2% milk, and I haven’t eaten Wonder Bread in decades, so the sandwiches were made with whole wheat bread.  But the soup was still Campbell’s, and it tasted as rich and warming and creamy as ever.  The toasted and grilled sandwiches still had the satisfying crunch and the melty goodness, and sinking part of the sandwich into the soup and taking a bite still yielded one of the the greatest taste combinations ever.

In my book, this is the definitive winter comfort food meal.

Fun House

I’ve very much enjoyed watching House this season.  Many of the overarching issues that have dominated the show since its inception — House’s addiction, Cameron’s naggy prissiness, Foreman’s insufferableness, and so forth — have been resolved, as least for now.  The decks have been cleared for some different approaches, and the show has taken advantage of that opportunity.

Hugh Laurie and Amber Tamblyn

The writers are venturing into new territory for all of the characters, and they are coming up with interesting story arcs.  How would House behave in a serious relationship?  What kind of mother would Cuddy have?  Wouldn’t Taub’s and Chase’s serial philandering eventually have consequences?  How would House deal with Cuddy’s child?  And although most of the characters are familiar, two significant new characters have been introduced to help keep things fresh.  Amber Tamblyn plays a brainiac medical student with Cameron-light preachiness, and Candice Bergen has burst onto the scene as Cuddy’s outspoken Mom.  Watching Hugh Laurie and the rest of the talented cast deal with all of these new plot threads and characters has been a joy.

I think this is the funniest season of House, ever.  The writers have mined the new situations for real comedic gold, while leaving House true to his ultra-logical, sarcastic aloofness.  Only House would reason that the best way to deal with the unpleasant dinner-time hectoring of Cuddy’s Mom would be to drug her — and Wilson, to boot.  Only House would try to help Cuddy’s little girl get into the best pre-school by applying dog training techniques to teach her how to ace the evaluative games.

Most TV shows that have been around for multiple seasons get stale and predictable.  So far this season, at least, House has avoided that fate.

Veggie Wraps, Olive Pits, And Congressional Lawsuits

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich is suing a House of Representatives cafeteria for $150,000 because it allegedly sold him a vegetarian wrap sandwich that contained an olive pit.  Kucinich asserts that biting into the sandwich caused him “permanent dental and oral injuries requiring multiple surgical and dental procedures.”  The $150,000 figure includes sums for Kucinich’s pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment.

The news about this lawsuit gives the reader a lot to chew on.  First, Kucinich must have a pretty expensive dentist and pretty extensive dental issues if the teeth-olive pit encounter could cause $150,000 worth of damage.  The hungry Congressman must have really been looking forward to that hearty veggie wrap and chomped down into the sandwich with reckless abandon!  Of course, for Members of Congress a fully functioning mouth is a crucial part of the job, so it’s not surprising they would use only the most expensive mouth technicians.  Second, it says something about Rep. Kucinich’s power — or lack of same — that he couldn’t even get the House of Representatives own cafeteria to pay off his dental bills short of litigation.  You would think that the cafeteria would want to keep famished Members of Congress and their staffs coming in for those grim vegetarian meals and would be willing to toss a few thousand bucks Kucinich’s way in order to avoid any problems.

And third, isn’t there something apt about a Member of Congress filing a $150,000 lawsuit for a food-related incident?  We can only assume that the standard, scrupulously accurate congressional accounting and budgeting techniques were used to develop that damages figure.

One Game Does Not A Season Make (But It Certainly Was A Wonderful Game To Watch)

The Buckeye Nation woke up whistling a happy tune this morning.  The Basketball Buckeyes crushed the Purdue Boilermakers, 87-64, in what was easily Ohio State’s most complete and dominating game of the season.  The Buckeyes pulled away from a solid Purdue team from the opening tip, never trailed, and inexorably increased their lead, which at times exceeded 30 points in the second half. With the win, the Buckeyes opened up a two-game lead in the Big Ten conference race.

This was a game where Ohio State was hitting on all cylinders.  The team played lockdown defense on the Boilermakers throughout the game.  Although Purdue’s ace center JaJuan Johnson scored 22 points, the rest of the squad was neutralized and seemingly baffled by the Buckeyes’ tough defense.  The Buckeyes beat the Boilermakers like a drum on the boards.  Ohio State’s hustle and grit, at times, seemed to catch the Boilermakers flat-footed, such as when Jon Diebler rebounded a miss on the front end of a one-on-one as the Purdue players napped.

Offensively, the Buckeyes rained in three-pointers, took Purdue defenders to the rack, and watched Jared Sullinger work his magic on the blocks.  The game continued the season-long coming out party of Ohio State’s excellent freshmen — Sullinger, Aaron Craft, and Deshaun Thomas, each of whom made mighty contributions to the victory — and saw the Buckeyes outrebound and consistently outbattle the Boilermakers.  David Lighty, Diebler, and William Buford, who together form the heart of the Buckeyes’ steady corps of experienced players, also had tremendous games.

The rout was a complete team effort that must have warmed the hearts of head coach Thad Matta and his staff.  As impressive as the win was, however, it is only one game.  The challenge for Coach Matta and his assistants will be to continue the development of their talented players and to challenge and inspire them to reach even greater heights during the rest of the Big Ten schedule and into the NCAA tournament.

Next up for the Buckeyes is a road test Saturday against Northwestern.  It will give Buckeye fans some time to savor a very satisfying win.

Considering The Rental Option In A Crappy Housing Market

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but the housing market still sucks.  Yesterday a widely followed index stated that housing prices in 20 major U.S. cities declined for the fourth month in a row.  Prices also declined from last year’s prices, which were inflated by a government tax credit program that has since expired.  Even more depressing, in nine of the 20 cities the housing price index hit a new bottom.

The bursting of the housing bubble was one of the things that pushed the American economy into recession, and housing looks like it might keep the economy mired in recession a bit longer.  The lack of a quick rebound in the housing market is frightening for American homeowners.  Most of us have a lot of our net worth tied up in our houses, and if the market continues to decline it is going to have a long-term impact on our lifestyles and, eventually, our retirements.  Even in our New Albany neighborhood we’ve seen a nearby house with a foreclosure sign in the front window, and the housing market clearly is soft.  Many of the homes that have been on the market for months haven’t even gotten showings, much less offers or sales.

I’ve mentioned to Richard and Russell that they might want to focus on renting rather than home ownership, at least in the short term.  Especially in today’s economy, you need flexibility to follow job opportunities.  Renting permits that, home ownership really doesn’t.  Renters have landlords who (theoretically, at least) take care of problems, keep up the grounds, and screen your neighbors.  To be sure, renters don’t build up equity in property — but in this economy, even homeowners aren’t doing that.  Renters also avoid tying up a good chunk of money in an asset that may not appreciate in value.

For young people, renting rather than moving directly into home ownership makes a lot of sense.  It may not be “the American dream,” but it is a prudent response to what may well be an unfortunate long-term economic reality.