A Summer Hat

Today I am in Cleveland, and I felt an overpowering urge to buy a hat.  That is, a summer hat — preferably a straw hat, but one that any self-respecting American would find fully appropriate to wear in the sweltering days to come.

Surprisingly, I found such a hat, and it is sweet indeed.  Cleveland needs more hats like this, which was bought for only $15 at a very friendly and helpful shop on the first floor at the Cleveland Arcade.

What’s wrong with a bit of straw — for only $15 — to start off the July 4 weekend?  I’m wearing this chapeau at a cookout on Saturday, and I am hoping that the attendees appreciate the beauty of this splendid chapeau.

Studying The Obvious

Every week we see reports on academic studies of some topic or another.  Often the study seems like a pointless exercise in which the eggheads have “studied” something that is glaringly obvious as a matter of common experience and then produced a report explaining that what everybody already knows is, in fact, true.

So it is with a recently announced study by a team from the University of North Carolina that concluded that “super size” portions and increased snacking have contributed to the growing obesity epidemic in the United States.  The study concludes that efforts to reduce obesity should focus on the number of snacks and meals that people consume and the size of their portions. 

Huh!  So increased eating has contributed to increased obesity, eh?  The study therefore conclusively refutes the commonly accepted alternative hypotheses that increased obesity was caused by evil spells cast by invisible wizards or by changes in the composition of the air!  Who knows how much the study cost — or whether it was funded with some kind of federal grant — but we can all conclude that it was money well spent.

Next, teams of academics will conduct detailed studies of the following topics:  (1)  Whether the presence of shrieking children on an airplane increases the stress levels found in other passengers; (2) whether there is any causal relationship between bean consumption and gas production in the lower gastro-intestinal tract; (3) whether ongoing infidelity by spouses has any impact on the durability of marriages; and (4) whether political contributions by special-interest groups have any apparent effect on the voting patterns of politicians receiving those contributions.

Time To Shuck The Titles

Now that we are heading squarely into the 2012 campaign — did a hear a collective groan? — I need to unburden myself about one thing that I just hate:  when politicians who no longer occupy an office still are addressed by the title they once held.

If you see Sarah Palin being interviewed, you’re likely to hear her addressed as “Governor Palin.”  Alan Simpson, once a Senator from Wyoming, still gets called “Senator Simpson.”  Why?  This is America, where we don’t have hereditary titles.  If you occupy an office, of course you should be addressed by the appropriate title.  But if you’ve left the job, in my book you’ve left the title, too.  It’s like the scene in the John Adams mini-series where Adams, having been defeated in his bid for reelection, boards a common coach and tells the surprised fellow passengers that he is just “Mr. Adams” now.  If only the less accomplished members of the modern political class were as willing to assume the role of a mere American citizen again!

So as this campaign season rolls onward, don’t expect to hear me referring to “Governor Romney” or “Governor Pawlenty” or “Governor Huntsman” (or for that matter “Ambassador Huntsman”).  In the land of the free, “Mr.” is what they are, and “Mr.” is what they should be called.

An American Scene

I love to drive, and I particularly love to drive west.  That is because when you drive west from Ohio you can see the country change — gradually, to be sure, but inexorably.  You roll through the remainder of the Great Lakes region and past the Mississippi River, and you see the land flatten out and dry out.  Then rolling hills arise, and they become rockier and craggier.  The vistas become more sweeping, and the horizon retreats into the far distance.  And then, at some point, the last spots of green are bleached from the landscape, and suddenly you recognize that you are entering the great western American desert.

I love that moment when you realize that you are truly in the west, in the land of browns and buttes, with the ground dessicated and cracked and the outline of the craggy mountains in sharp relief against the blue sky.  I think it is some of the most beautiful country you can find anywhere.  This edge of the desert photo was taken in Wyoming.

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

Peace Of Pi On Tau Day

You will remember pi, of course.  It is the mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of any circle’s circumference to its diameter.  Pi also is the ratio of a circle’s area to the square of its radius.  Simply by writing those two sentences I have caused most readers to grit their teeth, remember their high school geometry and higher math courses with a grim shudder, and thank their lucky stars that they never have to use such concepts in their jobs.

Pi is probably the most important mathematical constant, and it is also the point at which math begins to reveal its dark, kinky soul.  Pi is an irrational number that starts as 3.14 and then trails off into an endless series of numbers that do not repeat.  Some friendless, misguided people celebrate March 14 — that is, 3.14 — as pi day and do things like bake pies with the value of pi to a certain number of decimal places along the rim of the pie crust.

Given the celebration of pi, and its weird irrationality, in the math community, who would have suspected that there is an anti-pi contingent?  But there is, and yesterday was their dayThese friendless, misguided math enthusiasts propound tau as the preferred alternative to pi.  Tau is a mathematical constant that is twice as large as pi; hence tau is 6.28 and change, and tau day is June 28.  Why do the tau proponents dis pi and tout tau?  They say that tau is a more natural, convenient way to express the mystical qualities of circles, because circles really are about radii — that is, the distance from a circle’s center to the points along the circle — not diameters.

Now that tau day is over, we can gratefully return to our daily lives.

The Hollywood Squares

When I was a kid, I thought The Hollywood Squares was one of the funniest shows on TV.  I particularly liked the quick-witted and often hysterical Paul Lynde, who for years was the center square.

Apparently most of the episodes of The Hollywood Squares of that era were destroyed.  (Why in the world would NBC do that?)  What is left, and available on YouTube, is outtakes and a few snippets of episodes.  This clip of off-color comments, complete with classic outfits and hairstyles, gives a good sense of what the show was like.


Our election campaigns are so awash in cash and our politicians are so trained to engage in incessant, mindless fundraising that seemingly nothing is off-limits, no matter how silly or classless.

Witness President Obama’s recent videotaped message offering his supporters a chance to participate in a raffle for a chance to have dinner with the President and Vice President Biden.  The message, which was filmed somewhere in the White House and emailed to millions of people, was accompanied by a form offering supporters the chance to check boxes making donations of between $5 and $700 for a chance to win the dinner.

There are arguments about whether or not the raffle constitutes “fundraising,” and if so whether the appeal was improper because it was filmed in the White House.  I don’t know enough about campaign finance law to opine on such issues, but I do feel strongly that the appeal cheapens both the Office of the Presidency and the White House.  Our President’s time should not be raffled off like it is a weekend at a Hilton Head condo or a hot air balloon ride.  And although other Presidents apparently have used the White House, to varying degrees, for fundraising purposes, can’t we all agree that one of the most historic and venerated buildings in the land should not be used like a cheap backdrop in the eternal quest for cash?

The amount of money raised in political campaign is obscene.  Candidates from both parties don’t seem to have trouble raising money by giving speeches, attending political dinners, and appearing at standard-issue fundraisers.  President Obama’s 2012 campaign fundraising goal is somewhere above $750 million, and some are saying he will raise $1 billion.  Given his proven ability to raise huge amounts of money the old-fashioned way, why must we stoop to tawdry raffles and similar fundraising gimmicks that make our President look foolish?

“Easy Feet” And The Decline Of American Civilization

If I were of a more inventive mindset, I would try to think a device — any device — that would allow the porcine members of the American public to avoid any potentially unnecessary bending or moving.  I’m convinced that there is an insatiable market for such products, whether they are like “The Clapper” and allow you to turn off light switches without the hassle of getting out of bed, or motorized chairs that, according to a current TV ad, apparently can take the mobility impaired to the very rim of the Grand Canyon.

The latest evidence is a product called “Easy Feet” that allows you to clean your feet in the shower without any of that treacherous bending that otherwise would be required.  You’ve probably seen the commercials, which show a device that looks like a plastic sandal with bristles like a toothbrush and a built-in pumice stone.  You lather it up, stick your foot inside and move it back and forth, and voila!  You’ve managed to avoid having to wash your feet the old-fashioned way.  Thank God!  The link above describes the product as a safety enhancement:  bending to reach your feet in the shower can be “dangerous,” slipping and losing your balance could “lead to serious injuries,” and bending is “uncomfortable” and “awkward.”

If Americans have become so fat, lazy, and helplessly uncoordinated that we cannot even safely wash our feet in the shower without the assistance of commercial products, is it any wonder that America is losing its preeminent place in the world?  What’s next?  “Easy wipe”?

Why The Internet Is Great (Example No. 5,428)

Some time ago I wrote about Richard’s and my chance encounter with an unusual musical ensemble during a visit to the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris on a fine Sunday morning.  A fellow citizen of the internet, artisanuk, happened to be at the Luxembourg Gardens to hear the ensemble that morning.  artisanuk later found my blog posting on the performance and asked whether I knew the name of the group.  Alas, I did not.

Now artisanuk, whose internet sleuthing ability obviously far exceeds mine, has discovered that the name of the group is FAZ and also has located their myspace page, which includes video clips and recordings of FAZ performances.  To make it even better, one of the FAZ performances is of a song the group played when we saw them at Luxembourg Gardens.  If you are interested in hearing music that is a little offbeat, I encourage you to follow the link above and give one of their songs a listen.

Thanks, artisanuk!  Courtesy of your hard work, I not only know the name of the ensemble, I also now know that what I was calling the Austin Powers theme song is really named Soul Bossa and was written by Quincy Jones.

So, through the power of the internet, interested onlookers satisfy their curiosity and the music of an obscure ensemble may reach a slightly wider audience of people half a world away.  That kind of collective linking is what the internet is all about.

A Bavarian Experience At The Hofbrauhaus

Richard’s recent post about his stay in Munich reminded me of my visit to that city, and to its legendary Hofbrauhaus, in the summer of 1980.

I was traveling around Europe on a shoestring after my college graduation and, like Richard, was conserving money by staying in hostels and not eating out.  However, I had heard about the Hofbrauhaus and decided I just had to drink a beer there.  So I scrimped even more on the days leading up to the Munich leg of my journey to make that dream a reality (and a windfall due to a surprise invitation to stay, for free, at an Odense commune sure helped).

After I arrived in Munich and found a hostel I went right to the Hofbrauhaus.  It was mid-afternoon and the place already was jammed.  Patrons sat at long common tables, and burly waitresses carrying fistfuls of beer steins and platters of food weaved through the mob.  I found an open spot, ordered a huge tankard of beer, and was promptly engaged in conversation by young women also seated at the table.  They said they were members of a local bowling team celebrating the end of their season.  They were happy, loud and red-faced, inhaling snuff and guzzling beer, and eager to practice their English with an American.

I don’t remember what we talked about — I doubt if they would, either — but they insisted I try some snuff, and after a few more gulps of beer I agreed.  They demonstrated that you tapped out the snuff onto a spot on your hand at the base of your thumb and snorted it up.  It was the only time I’ve ever tried snuff.  It was disgusting, but I appreciated their company and their generosity.  I felt welcome at that loud, bustling place, and the beer was good, too.

An American Scene

Could any single object be more evocative of the American story than a wind-beaten, weathered wooden wagon, such as may have been used to help take settlers into the great western wilderness?  This version of the classic American icon was found several years ago outside Cody, Wyoming.

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

An American Scene

Anachronisms In A Digital Age

Last week, at a rest area along I-87, far north in upstate New York, I encountered this anachronistic scene.  It was like stumbling into some exhibit at the Museum of Modern American Culture.

I can’t even remember the last time I saw the mini, open bottom public phone booth — and here it was, not only available for use but also side-by-side with the even older, full-fledged, classic telephone booth, in all its Clark Kent changing into Superman on a concrete pad glory.  And, to complete the sense of absolute historical accuracy, the phone booth lacked any sign of a phone book.

I’m not sure there is a full-length phone booth left anywhere in the Columbus area, much less one that is right next to the abbreviated version.  I wonder how often these public phone booths are used in our cell phone age?

Seeing these signs of days gone by was jarring, and made me think about how what was once commonplace can vanish seemingly overnight, without anyone really even noticing.

Forget About “Competitive Balance” And Think About Sportsmanship

Back in May, Ohio high school principals showed surprisingly good sense and voted down a proposal to try to achieve “competitive balance” in Ohio high school athletics.  By a close vote, the principals rejected a reformulation of how teams are assigned to divisions that would have considered factors like open enrollment, historical performance, and socioeconomic factors.  In reality, the proposal was a response to complaints of public high school coaches and administrators who are tired of losing to parochial and private school teams in the playoffs and want to “level the playing field.”

Now I see that the Ohio High School Athletic Association is reviving the issue and will survey its members to “gather feedback on the competitive balance issue.”  In the meantime, an OHSAA committee will consider “more balanced” methods of placing schools into divisions.  Some are speculating that the public schools and the private schools will eventually be put into separate tournaments in order to promote perceived “fairness.”

It’s hard to believe that high school administrators don’t have more important things to worry about than “competitive balance” in athletics.  In any case, isn’t the eternal quest for a purported “level playing field” antithetical to what high school sports is supposed to be about in the first place?  Anyone who has participated in a high school sports is told that the goal is improvement, team play, sportsmanship, and playing the game fairly — not winning at all costs.  The fact that administrators have noticed that parochial schools are beating the daylights out of public schools, and are trying to rig the division assignment system to prevent that result, demonstrates that winning is truly the ultimate goal — and if it can’t be accomplished through hard work, dedication, and good coaching, we’ll try to get there by changing the rules.  Pretty pathetic!

On The Joffrey Baratheon Hate Train

Last night we watched the last episode of HBO’s new series Game of Thrones for this season.  We liked this show immediately, and if anything the series has gotten better as it has gone along, following twists and turns and shocking plot developments.  Do we really have to wait for months to see more of this show?

Game of Thrones has one crucial element that can separate a good show from a great one:  a villain who can be hated truly, completely, and without any reservation, a character so foul that you fervently hope they die in the most painful and humiliating way imaginable.  That villain is Joffrey Baratheon.  He is played so convincingly by actor Jack Gleeson that I’m not sure that I’d want to know Gleeson in real life.

Joffrey is a teenage twit who has assumed the Iron Throne, where all of his bad qualities have come to full and appalling flower.  And there are so many of them!  He is a sniveling coward, a sadist, a pretentious deceiver, an arrogant bastard, and a lazy wretch — among countless others.  The only thing that could have made Joffrey more repulsive would be to give him some kind of grotesque physical deformity, like a hairy, oozing sore on his upper lip.  On this show, however, the physical deformities have been reserved for others, like the character who had half his face melted off in a fire.

This show has lots of bad guys — evil Queen Cercei Lannister, her wicked brother Ser Jaime Lannister, a lying witch, untrustworthy manipulator Petyr Baelish, and braying weakling Virserys Targaryen have all been loathsome in their own special ways — but Joffrey Baratheon is the worst of the worst.  I’ll be ready to board the Joffrey hate train when the new season of Game of Thrones starts next spring.

Rocket Ride

Kish and I were innocently driving back from Ottawa to Columbus today and had just passed from Pennsylvania into Ohio on I-90 when we came across this contraption.  I did a double-take when I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw what looked like a free-floating amusement park ride approaching from the rear.

The guy who was driving this rocket ride was wearing a Batman jacket and sunglasses, with no headcovering on a gray, drizzly day.  He was moving like a bat out of hell, even though the vehicle doesn’t look it would handle very well or be particularly crashworthy.  No doubt he wasn’t doing much smiling as he drove; with no windshield, he would even now be picking bug debris out of his teeth.

Kish says that apparently you can rent this gizmo for parties and cart a bunch of people around in the rear seats.  I think driving something that looks like it would fold up like an accordion in any kind of collision on a busy interstate is more excitement than I would want on a Saturday afternoon.