Urban Bicycle Security

In most cities, if you want to ride your bike to work, you’ve got few options.  You can carry your bike to your office, if your boss permits it.  Or you can lock your bike to a bike rack, or a tree, and leave it exposed to the elements — and the tender mercies of any mean-spirited, thieving passerby who might want to steal a tire, or cut your bike chain with boltcutters, or leave your bike a twisted hunk of metal just because they happen to be in an unsociable mood.

Today in Houston I saw something I’ve never seen before in the urban bicycle security area.  Apparently installed by the Houston Department of Public Works and Engineering, it’s called Bikelid.  It consists of a metal frame against which you put your bike, and a fiberglass canopy that descends to cover your bicycle to a point about an inch from the ground.  You then lock the fiberglass canopy against the metal frame.  Your bike stays snug and secure under the fiberglass cover until you come to pedal it away.

There were about a dozen of the Bikelid devices in front of one of the high-rises I passed by today, and almost all of them appeared to be in use.  Seems like a pretty good idea to me.  If we want to encourage bicycle commuters, we need to give them a place to store their bikes while they are working.  Bikes are costly investments these days, and people aren’t going to take the risk of cycling to work unless they’ve got a secure area to put their bikes.  And while the Bikelids aren’t the most attractive additions to the municipal landscape, they aren’t nearly as ugly — or as dispiriting — as a bike that has been vandalized.

The World’s Oldest Laptop

When I travel, I take along the world’s oldest laptop.  It’s an ancient MacBook, chipped and cracked and scarred.

The laptop lacks any and all modern features or recent technological developments.  The battery is totally shot; it works only if plugged into an electrical source that is directly linked to the power grid at the Hoover Dam.   I’m not sure exactly how old it is, but I’m confident it dates from the pre-Twitter era, when email was a novel item and cell phones had antennae.  It’s unfashionably thick and heavy.  I think some of its components might be made of stone.

It was Richard’s laptop, three or four laptops ago.  (He’s the one who put Alfred E. Newman on the screen.)  He abandoned it when he got a new one and I exercised the time-honored parental right of adverse possession of discarded kid items.  I take it with me on the road precisely because it’s older than Methuselah.  I don’t care if it gets jostled or dropped or treated roughly.  But it does what I need it to do, and I have deep respect for its durability and reliability.  I’ve used it for years now, and it’s never failed me yet.

As I say to my kids and my younger colleagues, newer isn’t necessarily better.

Bye-Bye, Bacon

At dinner tonight, a friend mentioned that  a world-wide bacon shortage is in the offing.  An unfortunate and tasteless jest, I thought — but it turns out to be true.

That’s right: the British National Pig Association is forecasting a world-wide shortage of pork and bacon next year.  They attribute the lack of porcine product and the declining numbers of swine to the increased cost of maize and soya and the other foodstuffs that allow cute little piglets to grow up to be huge, beautiful, bacon-larded hogs.

Horrors!  We’ve put up with a lot in this country:  high unemployment, a crappy economy, even Emmy Awards being presented to shows that no one has ever heard of.  But . . . a bacon shortage???  Isn’t that asking a lot of mainstream America?  How are we going to have state and country fairs without bacon to contribute to deep-fried bacon, chocolate-covered bacon, and bacon ice cream?  What are we supposed to eat for breakfast?  What other foodstuff tastes as succulent wrapped around a scallop, served with scrambled eggs, or covered with brown sugar?

Forget about investing in gold, silver, or other precious metals — it’s time for the savvy investor to go long, long, long in pork bellies.  America runs on bacon!

The Silent Sentinel Above The Door

I like the little flourishes you see in older buildings in America’s older cities.  Even standard office buildings were not soulless cubes; the owners were proud of their buildings and wanted to make them seem grand and special — as opposed to throwing them up for the cheapest price possible.

I particularly enjoy the classical Greek and Roman architectural and sculptural references you see in some of the older buildings:  the columns, the porticos, the arches, and occasionally the helmeted, winged head over the doorway.  This silent sentinel is found over the doorway to the Leader Building in Cleveland.

Wherefore Art Thou, Cheap Date?

Saturday afternoon Kish and I went to see a movie.  The tickets cost us $10 a pop.  $10 to see a movie?  We’ve apparently crossed one of those product cost thresholds; theaters must feel there is no longer meaningful price resistance to two-figure ticket prices.

We shelled out the $20, but I found myself wondering about high school and college kids looking for the proverbial cheap date.  Unless you go to a second-run $1 cinema (with the change in price thresholds, maybe now it’s a $5 cinema) going to the movies certainly doesn’t qualify.  Between $20 for tickets and the standard inflated candy, popcorn, and soda prices, going to the movies has become an expensive proposition.  In this time of high unemployment among young people, how many kids have $35 to blow on a few hours entertainment?

Bowling is a perennial cheap date option — but many bowling alleys have gone upscale, with video screens, elaborate sound systems, disco balls overhead, and strobe lights down the lanes, and the prices for a game have increased as a result.  And you’ve got to drive there, which means you’re burning some of that $4 a gallon gas.  During the fall you can go to home football games on your student ID and make do with reasonably priced food from the band booster concession stand, but what do you do the other 47 weekends of the year?

I’m guessing that kids these days spend a lot of time in their parents’ houses, watching videos and playing video games.  Having somebody over to your parents’ house seems more like awkward hanging out than a date; I always thought the appearance as a couple in public, where your friends could see you together, was an integral part of the true dating experience.  Staying at your parents and sponging their food doesn’t exactly seem calculated to produce much self-respect on the part of the would-be couple — and it’s got to be exhausting for parents who have to come up with lame excuses to go down to the basement every five minutes or so to make sure nothing untoward is going on down there.

Maybe modern would-be Romeos and Juliets are just resigned to making do with less, or maybe they just “go Dutch.”  Either way, it’s too bad.  There was fun and inner value in the cheap date; I always felt good when I took my girlfriend out and paid for her movie and popcorn out of my own pocket, from my earnings at whatever job I had at the time.  I always thought my girlfriend appreciated being treated, too.  It’s sad to think those positive feelings aren’t being experienced by today’s jobless, house-bound youth.

Many Questions To Be Answered, Publicly and Quickly (III)

We continue to get news about the murderous attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya and its aftermath — and none of the news is good.

The Obama Administration now concedes what seemed obvious from the outset:  that the attack in Benghazi was not a mob action but instead was a terrorist attack.  That leaves the question of why the Administration and its spokespeople, like the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, insisted for days that the attack was purely a response to The Innocence of Muslims YouTube video.

It’s also become clear that the burnt-out shell of the consulate was left unprotected for days, making the place ripe for loss of intelligence information.  Three days after the attack, for example, CNN found a journal kept by murdered U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens on the floor of the consulate.  The U.S. State Department has criticized CNN’s use of the journal, but the fact that it was found days after the attack by people wandering through the consulate raises serious issues about the competence of the State Department and its security arrangements.  Weren’t procedures in place to destroy sensitive information?  Why wasn’t the area secured more quickly?  If CNN was able to find the journal by rummaging around the site, what classified information might have been acquired by the terrorists who plotted the attack?

Finally, the New York Times has an article about the catastrophic effect of the Libyan attack on U.S. intelligence gathering activities in the Middle East.  As a result of the attacks a number of CIA operators and contractors had to bug out, leaving the U.S. as if it had its “eyes poked out.”  The large CIA presence in Benghazi puts the inadequate security arrangements in sharper focus, and heightens concerns that the names of confidential informants and sources, tentative conclusions reached by our agents, and other significant intelligence information may have been acquired by al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations.  If Benghazi was a major intelligence-gathering center, shouldn’t the security arrangements for the U.S. operations have been far more robust?

The State Department has created a “review board” to examine the attacks, and the FBI is apparently investigating.  That’s all fine, but Congress needs to get involved and begin prompt hearings into the incidents in Libya and Egypt — and, particularly, the many apparent failures in U.S. operations there.  We need to determine whether advance warnings were ignored, why our security arrangements were so woefully inadequate, why we were unable to secure the area for days after the attack, and what we need to do to ensure that such planned attacks on U.S. installations cannot happen again.

Many Questions To Be Answered, Publicly And Quickly

Many Questions To Be Answered, Publicly And Quickly (II)

September Splendor

September is, I think, the best month in central Ohio for weather.  It’s usually dry and warm during the days and cool at night, and the first hints of turning leaves can be seen in the trees.  In October, the winds come blustering and the rains come down, but September . . . September is just splendid.

His Way Was “My Way”

NPR has been running a series on “Mom and Dad’s record collection,” where celebrities and average folks talk about a record their parents had that was associated with a particular memory or otherwise had a special meaning.

In the Webner household of my youth, Mom and Dad had an eclectic album collection — including some 78 rpm records — that featured classical pieces, swing, big beat, and the OSU marching band.  They didn’t often listen to music, but when they did, one song stood out ahead of the rest:  Frank Sinatra’s recording of My Way.

My father was by nature a quiet person, but give him a drink or two and My Way would be taken from its place of honor on the record rack and played like it was the national anthem.  If my Uncle Tony were in town, he and Dad were likely to stand up, spread their arms wide, and belt out the song with great gusto.  The lyrics, about a dying man who reflects on his life and the blows he’s taken but is proud that he did things his way, obviously spoke to something deep within them.  To others, the song might seem like a maudlin and over-the-top bit of self-congratulation by a stubborn egotist.

What was it about My Way that has such resonance for a car dealer and a stockbroker?  How many shopkeepers, pharmacists, accountants and other members of the corporate culture of the ’60s and ’70s similarly identified with the character in that song?

I think the attraction of the song was aspirational.  These were men who had their jobs and did their jobs, providing for their families and, in the process, undoubtedly making countless compromises.  They might go out for a drink after work, but for the most part they played their well-defined role in the world.  They identified with the rugged individualist in the song who insisted on doing what he pleased, even if their lives didn’t necessarily permit them to be that person.  When the song was played, it was a chance for them to let that tamped down inner individualist roar, in a way he never could in real life.

Attention: Sports Lobotomy Needed!

Well, another Sunday, another loss for the Cleveland Browns.  The Browns never charge out of the gate to start the season, they just slowly deflate their diehard fans by finding a way to lose every stinking game.  They’re now 0-3, and the season is effectively over.

The sad sack Browns can never quite make the big play.  They don’t know how to win.  Today’s game is a good example.  The Browns look like crap to begin the game as the Bills roll to a 14-0 lead.  The Browns fight back and get the ball in the second half with a chance to take the lead, and they produce . . . nothing.  Buffalo gets the ball and takes it in for a score, and the Browns’ rookie quarterback throws two picks to end the game on an even more sour note.

I’m sure Pat Shurmur is a nice man, but what signs have we seen that he can be a successful NFL coach?  The Browns are loaded with rookies and young players and are outmatched, from a talent standpoint, against virtually every opponent.  How about trying a trick play, or going for it on fourth down, or doing something, anything, to show your team and your fans that you are trying to win games?  Instead, Patient Pat just stands on the sidelines, with a quizzical, resigned look on his face, as the Browns throw a three-yard pass when six yards is needed, don’t get the crucial first down, and then go down to another frustrating, painful defeat.

The Browns have the scent of death about them.  The gnawing feeling of permanent futility is more than any sports fan should be asked to bear — and yet I am called back to the TV set, weekend after weekend, to absorb another defeat and another lost season.  Is there a doctor somewhere who can perform a very targeted lobotomy directed at the sports fan lobes of the brain?

How To Respond To Muslim Lectures, Edicts, and Bounties

The Muslim world has been giving the United States a lot of advice and information lately.  No doubt we’ll hear more thoughtful recommendations and guidance in the next few days, as Muslim leaders come to New York for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.  America needs to decide how to respond.

In Egypt — where only days ago raging mobs stormed the U.S. embassy and ripped down our flag — the new President, Mohamed Morsi, says in an interview with the New York Times that the United States needs to fundamentally change its approach to the Muslim world and show greater respect for Muslim values.  In the meantime, the head of the largest fundamentalist Islamic party in Egypt, which supported Morsi, is calling for U.N. to act to “criminalize contempt of Islam as a religion and its Prophet.”  And in Pakistan — a supposed ally — the government Railways Minister has offered a $100,000 payment to whomever kills the makers of the YouTube video The Innocence of Muslims and called upon al Qaeda and the Taliban to help in murdering the videomakers.  (Fortunately, the Pakistani government says it “absolutely disassociates” itself with the comments of its Railway Minister.  Thank goodness!)  And we haven’t even heard yet from the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who will be speaking to the U.N. General Assembly, too.

It’s heartening to hear from the enlightened leaders of a region that is widely recognized for reasoned discourse and thoughtful consideration of opposing viewpoints.  But I’d like to see whoever speaks for America at the U.N. General Assembly share some of our views with the assembled Islamic leaders — and do so in pointed terms.  We should say that we relish our First Amendment, and we’re not going to change it no matter how often Muslims go on murderous rampages at some perceived slight.  We should say that will fight any effort to criminalize speech and will veto any ill-advised U.N. resolution that attempts to do so.  We should emphasize that we think that the world needs more freedom, not less, and that we stand with the forces of liberty.  We should tell the Muslim leaders that their real problems are not with freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but with tribal-based, anti-female societies that crush individual initiative, medieval economies that leave huge swathes of the population unemployed and ready to riot at any moment, and corrupt leaders who are more interested in amassing their own fortunes than helping their people realize a better way of life.  Oh, and we should make clear that we won’t do business with government where ministers are offering bounties on the heads of filmmakers.

I’m tired of our simpering, whimpering approach to defending our fundamental freedoms.  It’s high time that we stood up for what we believe in and told the Islamic world that they can riot all they want:  we aren’t going to back away from our liberties.

Seeming Disengaged

Ohio State won yesterday against winless UAB, 29-15.  They won, but there’s not a lot of positive things to be said about Ohio State’s struggling performance.

The good?  No Buckeye seemed to sustain a serious injury.  Ohio State finally got a runner other than Braxton Miller — in the case, Jordan Hall — more than 100 yards on the ground in a game.  The defense forced two turnovers, and John Simon and Johnathan Hankins are terrors on the defensive line.  And that’s about it.

The bad?  A complete breakdown on punt blocking that allowed the entire UAB team, and probably some of their fans too, to block a punt before it was even kicked and return it for a touchdown.  Poor kick coverage that allowed UAB to get good field position.  A defense that gave up more than 400 yards to the UAB offense, had some serious third-down breakdowns, and couldn’t get UAB’s offense off the field.  An offense that sputtered for most of the game, can’t seem to control the line of scrimmage, had countless three-and-outs, and had to punt six times against a UAB team that hasn’t won a game.  When the game was in the balance, the offense couldn’t produce the score that would put the game away.  The team had more stupid penalties.

Overall, the team seems somewhat disengaged, and doesn’t play with much urgency or killer instinct.  Urban Meyer reminded OSU fans after the game that this is a team that was 6-7 last year; it’s not reasonable to expect that they will crush every opponent.  That’s a fair point — but it’s also fair to expect a team to be improving at this point in the season, and I’m not really seeing that from the Buckeyes.  With the team now moving into the Big Ten schedule, starting with a road game against Michigan State and then a home game against Nebraska, some significant improvement had better come quickly.

Brrrr!

There’s no mistaking it — it’s cold this morning!  The temperature is in the 30s, steam is rising from the neighborhood ponds, and the landscape is starting to get that washed-out look you associate with late fall and (shudder) early winter.

I’m not ready for winter yet!  I’m not ready for the flowers to die, and snowflakes to fall!  Can’t we have a real autumn, with some Indian summer mixed in, first?

The Aurora, Colorado Massacre And The Psychiatrist-Patient Privilege — An Update

Prosecutors responsible for the case against James Holmes — the man charged with the massacre at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado — have decided to drop their effort to see a notebook Holmes allegedly mailed to a psychiatrist.

If the prosecutors had pursued a forced disclosure of the notebook, the case would have tested the application of the psychiatrist-patient privilege.  Prosecutors decided to avoid the delay that would result from such a fight and worked out an arrangement with the defense team instead.  Under the agreement, the defense will be allowed to review the notebook under circumstances that will ensure no potential evidence will be destroyed.  Then, if Holmes’ defense team raises his mental health during the trial, prosecutors will be able to review the notebook.

It would have been interesting to see how the privilege issue was resolved in a contested setting, but prosecutors should be presumed to know their case — and often an agreement is the best way to advance the ball.  If prosecutors can make their case without the notebook, let’s move forward to a speedy trial, to learn what really happened in that Aurora, Colorado movie theater.

Running American Ads In Pakistan

Our State Department has made the curious decision to spend $70,000 to buy commercial time on seven Pakistani TV channels and run an ad featuring President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton discussing the infamous YouTube video that has been the subject of such controversy in the Muslim world.

The ad apparently is intended to quell the ongoing rioting in the Muslim world.  It begins with footage of President Obama describing America’s tradition of religious tolerance, followed by a statement by Secretary Clinton emphasizing that the United States government had nothing to do with producing the video.  Secretary Clinton adds that the U.S. government rejects the video’s “content and message.”

Some Republicans and conservatives have called the commercial an “apology ad.”  I’m not sure I’d call it that, but I still don’t understand the decision to air the commercial.  We don’t need to explain our system to Muslim fanatics, and it is nonsense to try to respond every time the Muslim world expresses outrage — particularly when it costs us $70,000 to do so.  Pakistan, after all, is only one of 20 nations where rioting has occurred.  Do we really think looting and rioting Muslims are going to change their behavior because President Obama and Secretary Clinton express our belief in religious tolerance and deny that the U.S. produced a cheap, homemade video?