Urban On The Recruiting Trail

Urban Meyer has been the head football coach at the Ohio State University for a little over two months.  Tomorrow we will get the first tangible sign of his impact on the program, because it’s National Letter of Intent Signing Day!

For those of you not hip-deep in college football recruiting news, breathless updates, and rankings from recruiting “gurus,” tomorrow is the day when high school seniors sign letters that confirm where they will go to college.  College football fans love the day because they can forget about last year and focus on the new members of their favorite teams — usually knowing nothing about the kid except the “rating” they’ve gotten from “ratings services” and, perhaps, a video of carefully selected high school highlights that can be found on YouTube.  And then, after the signing is done, there will be disputes about which school recruited the best class.  During the off-season, college football fans thrive on that kind of mindless argument.

Coach Meyer has been out working hard, and by all accounts he has done a tremendous job of attracting high-profile players and convincing them that the Ohio State University is the best possible place for them to get an education and display their football talents.  Tomorrow we’ll know exactly who has agreed with him and decided they want to call Columbus home for the next four years.

I don’t pay too much attention to recruiting because history has shown that on-field performance frequently bears no relation to the pre-college opinions of the so-called experts.  Still, recruiting is a big part of the job for a college football coach and his staff.  If you want an elite program, you have to recruit elite players and coach them up to their maximum potential.  Coach Meyer is showing that he is quite skilled at the first part of that job description — which is a good sign for Buckeye fans.

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf: The Masters of Achievement

One of the largest — and most tattered — books on Grandpa’s bookshelf is a volume called Masters of Achievement.  From its condition, it obviously was a favorite, read over and over again.  What kind of book was so well-thumbed?

Masters of Achievement was published by the Frontier Press Company of Buffalo, N.Y. in 1913.   To quote its title page, it seeks to tell the stories of “the World’s Greatest Leaders in Literature, Art, Religion, Philosophy, Science, Politics, and Industry.”  It tells you something about the people of that era, and what they considered to be important, that figures from literature, art, religion, philosophy, and science all take precedence over politics — and that leaders of “industry” are included at all.  Of course, 1913 was a time when Americans welcomed industry and celebrated the bursting economic growth of a still-young, rapidly growing nation.

The breadth of the book also is surprising.   It does not focus only on Americans or modern figures.  The first hundred pages are devoted to writers, starting with Homer, Aeschylus, and Sophocles.  The section on religious figures discusses Zoroaster, Confucius, Buddha, and Mohammed, and the philosophers include Socrates, Plato, Descartes, and Spinoza.  The political and military leaders come from a broad range and feature Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, Charles V, and Peter the Great.

Finally, you notice who isn’t included.  Masters of Achievement does not discuss sports stars, or actors, or musical performers.  Obviously, they weren’t considered figures who made significant achievements.  American culture — so overwhelming and pervasive today — receives nary a mention in a volume that is hundreds of pages long.

If a book like Masters of Achievement were published today, what do you think it would look like?  How many pages would be given over to NFL players, rappers, and people like Paris Hilton or the Kardashians who are “celebrities” for some inexplicable reason that has nothing to do with actual accomplishment?

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf:  A Noble Horse

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf:  Optimism Amidst The Great Depression

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf:  Grandma’s Book Of Sayings

The book

Driving Versus Facebook

The Dayton Daily News reports that fewer Ohio teenagers are getting their driver’s licenses these days.

The data shows an almost 10 percent drop in the number of licensed 16- and 17-year-old Ohio drivers, and a nearly 5 percent drop in 18-year-old licensed drivers.  These statistics mirror a national trend — a trend that the auto industry, obviously, finds troubling.  If teens aren’t clamoring to use a car, the demand for cars will fall.

Why have teenagers become less interested in driving?  Some speculate it is attributable to a poor economy and a lack of jobs.  Others suggest that teenagers are simply satisfied to interact within virtual communities via social media like Facebook.

If the latter point is true, America has changed a lot since I was a teenager in the ’70s.  Of course, Facebook didn’t exist back then, but even if it had, it would never have taken the place of a driver’s license and a car.  A driver’s license meant you had passed the first milestone on the road to adulthood.  A driver’s license and car meant you could get a job and start earning your own money.  A driver’s license and car meant you could take a girl on a date without needing your Mom to act as chauffeur.  A driver’s license and car meant you could tool down the road in your own rig and crank up the radio as loud as you wanted when you heard the first riffs of ZZ Top’s La Grange.

Facebook is great, but driving was . . . freedom.

Are Federal Workers Overpaid? (II)

About a year ago I wrote a post about whether federal employees are overpaid. It’s a never-ending debate — and now the Congressional Budget Office has weighed in.

The CBO conducted a study that compared the wages, benefits, and overall compensation of federal employees and private-sector employees who shared certain comparable observable characteristics.  The study noted, of course, that certain important qualities that can have a significant impact on compensation — such as effort and motivation — can’t really be compared.  So, the study focused on objective, measurable factors, like educational levels, years of experience, occupation, geographic location, and demographic characteristics.

The study found that federal workers with just a high school level of education make considerably more than their private-sector counterparts — 36 percent higher in total compensation.  Federal employees with a bachelor’s degree also made materially more, receiving 15 percent higher total compensation.  Only when education levels reached graduate degrees and doctorates did private-sector employees earn more than federal workers, pulling in 18 percent more in total compensation.  Overall, federal workers earned 16 percent more than comparable private-sector workers.

The CBO study probably isn’t the last word on this topic — but it does provide significant ammunition for those who think government workers often are overpaid, and that we should look long and hard at the federal government payroll as a potential target for federal spending cuts.

Syria On The Brink Of Chaos

It’s bad in Syria, and it seems to be getting worse. This is not good news for the United States, or the world.

Fighting between Syrian government troops and rebels apparently is raging across the country.    The rebels are reporting that 95 people were killed in clashes that reached the suburbs of Damascus.  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is clinging desperately to power while the international community debates how to proceed and whether to approve a UN resolution that calls upon Assad to step down and hand power to a deputy.  Russia and the United States are on opposite sides of the issue, and Iran, as always, is a wild card.

These are perilous times in the Middle East.  Old governments have fallen, Islamist groups have assumed power in formerly secular states like Egypt, and the United States is trying to redefine its role.  Any kind of armed conflict could spill over into other countries, further destabilizing the region.

Assad obviously is not a significant historical figure — but he could become one if his downfall leads to broad-scale conflict in the Middle East.  No one today would remember Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand but for his assassination, which plunged the nations of Europe into the First World War.

The Flush Factor

Travel always presents challenges and requires some accommodations.  One little-mentioned point of travel-related adjustment involves the bathroom area.

After all, you’re accustomed to your home commode.  You’re used to the height, the seating, the back support, and the sound that is made when you flush.  So, when you go the road and find one of those new-fangled devices in your hotel room, you have to adapt.

The low-slung, hotel room miracles of modern plumbing are different in almost every way.  They’re down at squat level.  The seat is deeper, somehow.  It’s like you’re riding a motorcycle.

My principal objection, however, has to do with the flush factor.  I know that they are supposed to be low-flow and more environmentally friendly — but I don’t like turning that weird rectangular handle and hearing that uncertain gurgling sound, where you don’t know for sure whether the entire reason for flushing has been fully and successfully accomplished.  I don’t want to send the contents of the bowl on some gentle journey, as if it were taking a languid cruise on the Blue Danube.  No, I want it harshly jettisoned, ejected, and expelled — shot, with unmistakably effective, torpedo-like force, deep into the plumbing, never again to be seen or even contemplated.

I’m all for hotels conserving water.  When I’m staying at a hotel for multiple days, for example, I don’t ask them to wash the towels.  I’m not guzzling tap water, leaving the faucets running when I shave, or taking ridiculously long showers.  I’m doing my part for water conservation — but flushing is where I draw the line.

Catching Fire – Love This Trilogy

Catching Fire the second Suzanne Collins book was another exciting quick read with lots of action. I finished it in a couple of days and am now waiting on a friend to loan me the third and final book in the trilogy, Mockingjay. If your not a big reader I would definitely recommend this series.

At the end of the first book Katniss has enraged evil President Snow who resides over a repressive regime and lives in the Capitol. The ending leaves you wondering whether or not the Capitol will seek revenge over Katniss and if so in what way.

Book two had a really interesting and totally unexpected ending, but I can’t say much more than that because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who decides to read the series. The trilogy was initially categorized as young adult fiction, but is now being enjoyed by all ages including adults.

I can’t wait to read book three !

The President And The Governor

When I read the political news, I often feel like I’m in high school again.  That was my reaction when I read the story this week about an apparently testy exchange between President Obama and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on an airport tarmac.

President Obama, fresh from his State of the Union speech, flew to Arizona to talk about his policy proposals.  Brewer met him at the airport tarmac, and the two had a terse discussion.  The President’s press secretary says the President told Brewer her version of a 2010 Oval Office meeting they had, described in a book Brewer recently wrote, was inaccurate.  Brewer says she went to meet the President to talk about “Arizona’s comeback” and instead he focused on the book and seemed “thin-skinned” and “a little tense.”  The President says the little snit was “no big deal.”  No kidding!

I find this kind of story embarrassing, because it exposes the unflattering qualities of our political leaders.  With all of the problems besetting America and Arizona, why would the President need to bring up the characterization of a meeting that happened two years ago in a book that almost no one has even heard of, much less read?  Isn’t he big enough to shrug off such things?  If not, how much time is he spending fretting about other minor stuff?  As for Governor Brewer, can’t she give the President a break and simply report that they had an animated discussion without calling him “thin-skinned”?  Couldn’t she be a big enough person to resist the temptation to score cheap political points from this silly, meaningless incident?

Next thing you know, we’ll learn that the President and the Governor were passing notes in study hall.

An Elton John Interlude

I’m not a huge Elton John fan.  I found his later, over-the-top Liberace-style phase off-putting — but I think his early work is really, really good.  Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters is one of my favorite songs from that era, with its beautiful melody and cryptic yet evocative lyrics.  Even now, I can’t walk into a subway station without singing to my inner self:  “Subway’s no way . . . for a good man to go down . . . “

Looking At The Leap Second

We all know about leap years, but did you know that there are “leap seconds” — and that scientists are arguing about whether to keep them?

Leap seconds exist because the Earth doesn’t rotate with absolute precision.  It speeds up and slows down as it spins, making some days a few milliseconds faster or slower than others.  The problem is that these little spurts and slowdowns put the Earth out of phase with the precise measurement of atomic clocks.  Leap seconds were added in 1972 to try keep Earth and atomic clocks in sync.  The leap seconds get added here and there, whenever the discrepancy reaches .9 second.

The randomness of the leap second poses problems for systems that require a continuous time reference, like navigation and telecommunications systems.  So, some countries — like the United States, Japan, and France — want to get rid of it.  Others, like the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada, want to keep it because they don’t want the Earth and atomic clocks to get too far out of phase.

After vigorous debate, a typical modern resolution occurred:  we’ll just defer a decision until 2015.  Seems fitting to delay a decision about time, doesn’t it?  In the meantime, enjoy well those magical leap seconds — whenever they occur.


Time For The Nut House To Rock The Schott!

Tomorrow the Buckeyes play the Michigan Wolverines at the Schott.  The winner will stay atop the Big Ten.  The loser is, well, the loser.

Michigan has a good team this year.  Tim Hardaway is one of the Big Ten’s best offensive players.  Jordan Morgan plays a tough inside game.  Trey Burke has been a huge help at point guard and has brought some scoring punch.  Zack Novak is the three-point specialist who is the heart and soul of the Wolverines.

This is a game with lots of intriguing matchups.  Who is going to guard Hardaway, and who is going to guard Deshaun Thomas?  Can Aaron Craft stop Burke?  Can Morgan play even up with Jared Sullinger?  Which William Buford will show up?  And is a Wolverine going to be unconscious from outside, like Brandon Paul was when the Buckeyes played Illinois earlier this year?

I went to last year’s OSU against Michigan, and it was a tremendous atmosphere.  The student section, called the Nut House, was ear-splitting all game and obviously made it tough for Michigan to communicate during timeouts.  I thought the crowd helped to pull the Buckeyes through to a win — and I’m hoping that tomorrow afternoon we see more of the same.  I know the Nut House has some new head cutouts — including Urban Meyer — that we’ll see during the game.

C’mon, Nut House!  Time to get loud and proud!

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

I wasn’t sure I was ready to see Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close.  Even though 10 years have passed, 9/11 still is a very raw and difficult memory.

The film is about a New York City family’s response to a 9/11 loss that leaves a gaping void in their lives — but it is about a lot more than that.  The story is told from the perspective of Oskar, a bright boy who suffers from obsessive/compulsive tendencies and related emotional problems.  His father tries to connect him to the world through games and challenges.  When 9/11 sweeps his father from his life, Oskar tries to make sense of his loss while at the same time keeping his father’s memory alive, and his mother tries to help Oskar as she struggles with her own, overwhelming grief.  Oskar decides to accept a new challenge that ends up also causing him to interact with his fellow New Yorkers — all of whom also are attempting to cope with their own issues.  The script manages to explore the emotions of 9/11 without being cheaply exploitative.

I thought Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close was a unique, intensely powerful movie.  Thomas Horn makes his acting debut as Oskar, and he turns in a stunning, riveting performance as Oskar wrestles with feelings of loss, curiosity, and guilt.  Tom Hanks plays Oskar’s father with customary deftness, and Sandra Bullock delivers a quietly moving performance as Oskar’s mother.  The film is filled with many fine performances, including John Goodman as the doorman of Oskar’s apartment building, Max von Sydow as the mute Renter, who communicates through notes, tattooed “yes” and “no” on his palms, and facial expressions and body language, and Viola Davis as Abby Black, one of the people Oskar encounters.

An event as momentous as 9/11 deserves appropriately powerful cinematic treatment.  Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close delivers.

Bolting The Volt

It hasn’t been easy for the Chevy Volt.  Announced with great fanfare as the electric hybrid, alternative energy car of the future, the Volt has had problems getting traction with consumers.

The most recent news is that some Chevrolet dealers don’t want to take their allotment of Volts.  The sales of the car have been disappointing — only 7,671 were sold last year — and there have been some concerns about the risk of fires in the Volt’s battery packs, which led to a government investigation that concluded the cars weren’t at a greater fire risk.  Whatever the reason, dealers are balking at accepting lots of Volts and devoting precious showroom and on-the-lot space to a car that most consumers apparently don’t want.

Some people hoped that the Volt would lead General Motors back to profitability.  The Volt hasn’t filled that role.  And dealers are pretty reliable barometers of consumer demand.  If hordes of potential buyers were flooding dealerships demanding a Volt, the dealers would be perfectly happy to sell them.  The fact that dealers don’t want even a modest allotment of the cars is a strong indication that America isn’t quite ready to be an electric car nation.


The Blizzard Of ’78 At Ohio State

I was reminded today of the Great Blizzard of 1978.  It was a devastating Storm of the Century, but I remember it fondly — and, I suspect, other Ohio State students of that era do as well.

A photo of an Ohio house during the Blizzard of '78

The Great Blizzard struck on January 26 and 27, 1978.  It blanketed Ohio with huge amounts of snow, followed by fierce winds and enormous drifts.  Fifty-one people died during the storm.  Traffic was paralyzed.  The National Guard was called out.  Businesses closed down, and people were stranded for days.

None of that mattered one bit to me.  I was a student at Ohio State University, and what I recall is that the Great Blizzard resulted in the ultimate of “snow days” for all OSU students.  The storm hit on a Thursday, and classes were promptly canceled for Thursday and Friday.  A four-day weekend, with no new assignments, at the start of a quarter!  We bundled up, bought all the beer and chips and snacks from all of the convenience stores in the campus area that were open, and settled down for a very long party.  There were colossal snowball fights just about everywhere.  People in my apartment complex who barely knew each other hung out listening to music, drinking whatever there was to drink, and then moving to another apartment for more.

When OSU finally opened again, and we trudged across the snowbound campus, I remember one of my friends saying he was glad that school was back in session because his liver needed a rest.

The Inoculatory Pre-Golf Personal Information Exchange

If you are a married man, you’ve probably experienced this scenario.  You and your wife are friends with a couple.  You innocently mention to your lovely bride that you are going to have lunch, or a beer, or play golf with the male member of the couple.  When you return home afterward, your spouse bombards you with questions.  How is Mike’s mother adjusting to the new iron lung?  Has little Elroy accepted the riflery scholarship to Duke?  How is the family dealing with the mysterious, apparently voodoo-related death of the family cat?

You sheepishly admit that you didn’t talk about any of that stuff — or anything else of significance, besides.  And your wife, arms crossed, fixes you with a withering glare of disbelief — causing you to shrivel inwardly with intense embarrassment, realize for the first time the full and tragic extent of your brutish insensitivity, and vow that you will finally become a decent, nurturing member of human society.

Well, we all know the last part doesn’t really happen.  After your wife gives you her amazed reaction, you actually think:  why would I want to talk about any of that stuff that when I’m playing golf?  Still, the encounter with your wife was somewhat unpleasant, and it would be best to avoid similar occasions in the future.  But how?

Here’s a suggestion.  The next time, spend the first five minutes exchanging high-level family information with your friend.  Nessie has been named citizen of the week at the juvenile detention facility!  Sally’s aunt has developed a powerful rash of unknown origin!  The Jones family had a grand time at their bullfighting camp!  Seize on those drab nuggets of personal information and lock them away in the recesses of your brain, because they will be your lifeline when you get home.  Then, turn to more interesting conversational areas — like sports and which episode of Seinfeld was definitive.

At home that night, when your wife asks the inevitable questions, you can retrieve and the casually throw out the stored personal information, perhaps with a little embellishment.  Sure, your wife will have countless detailed follow-up questions that you can’t possibly answer.  Don’t even try.  Just shrug and say that Ken said he didn’t know — and then add, with a hint of sadness, that you sensed that he really didn’t want to talk about it, and you didn’t want to intrude into what might be an area of intense personal concern for him.  Who knows?  Your wife might actually conclude that you are making progress as a human being and now possess more sensitivity than a gnat.