Survive, Advance, and LaQuinton

The Buckeyes don’t make it easy on their fans.  But they are still dancing!

The win tonight against Arizona was a tough, hard-fought battle — just what you would expect from two great programs and two deep teams.  Arizona looked very good for most of the game and built a big lead in the first half.  But the Buckeyes rode Sam Thompson and Deshaun Thomas — whose icy shots kept Ohio State within range — and stayed close in the first half.  The Buckeyes then played nails defense to start the second half, Aaron Craft made some great plays, the Buckeyes got out to a lead, built it, and then held on as their latest clutch shooter, LaQuinton Ross, made bucket after bucket to keep the Buckeyes ahead.  Ross eventually made the game winner that advanced the Buckeyes to the Elite 8.

I give lots of credit to Arizona, which played a tremendous, gutty game — as befits a gutty team with a gutty coach.  But the Buckeyes made the shots and now get the chance to move on, and the Wildcats have to go home.

LaQuinton Ross is my new hero . . . but boy, watching these games is tough duty.

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On The Edge Of A Cold

It started, oh, maybe a day ago, after Kish had been fighting a cold for a few days.  The germs, like the Borg, are trying to tell me that resistance is futile.

IMG_3443That unwanted scratchiness in the back of your throat.  Mucus pouring down the esophagus like the sluggish River Styx.  The occasional, unexpected cough.  And just feeling a little bit . . . off.

Not a full-blown cold, though.  No fever.  No hacking fits that wake me up at night.  No light-headedness.  No uncontrollable sneezing.

I’m treating my condition with the basic patent remedies and folk nostrums.  Aspirin.  Juice.  Ricola Natural Herb cough drops.  I’m staying inside and keeping warm.  And, at night, I’m imbibing a glass or two of wine to dry out the sinuses and help with getting a good night’s sleep.

I think I’m on the brink, teetering between ruddy good health and the alternative.  I may have come through the worst of it already, or I may be ready to plunge.

One Man’s Hell

A court recently ordered the Disney Company to pay $8,000 to a patron after he was stranded on a ride at Disneyland.

The man uses a wheelchair, and the ride in question was “It’s a Small World.”  The man, who suffers from panic attacks and high blood pressure, was stuck for a half hour after the ride broke down and non-disabled patrons got up and left.  The story linked above notes — and this is, I think, the most crucial fact of all — that the “It’s a Small World” theme song played throughout the time the man was stranded.  Oh, and did I mention that the man also had a full bladder?

If you’ve visited Disneyland and been on the “It’s a Small World” ride, you know that the ride’s theme song is one of the most insipid, saccharine songs ever written and recorded.  It’s a small world after all . . . .  Once you’ve heard it, it burrows deep into the recesses of your brain and is never successfully forgotten no matter how hard you try.  It’s a small world after all . . . .  Even worse, it is sung by high-pitched, piping, aggressively chipper child voices on a continuous loop as the ride progresses.  It’s a small, small world!  After having to listen to the music for the few minutes of the ride, any reasonably sane adult is ready to run screaming from the building.

Part of the $8,000 award was for “pain and suffering.”  I’ll say!  To be left, alone, in the ride, among the mindlessly smiling, doll-faced depictions of children from around the world, desperately needing to answer the call of nature while enduring the cloying onslaught of the banal song playing over and over and over again, sounds like a particularly awful form of personal hell.

Shockers, Wildcats, And Explorers

Tomorrow night Ohio State will continue the NCAA Tournament by playing in the West regionals in Los Angeles.  Four teams — the Wildcats, the Shockers, the Explorers, and the Buckeyes — will vie for one coveted spot in the Final Four.  So, the regional features ferocious felines, hard-working wheat harvesters, intrepid adventurers, . . . and poisonous nuts.  I’m rooting for the nuts, of course.

We’re to the point in the season where every team still playing is very good, and very scary.  The Buckeyes’ first opponent, Arizona, certainly fits that bill.  For years, Arizona has been one of the premier programs in college basketball.  This year the Wildcats, seeded sixth in the West, are 27-7 and crushed their first two opponents in the NCAA Tournament.  They are led by three players averaging more than 10 points a game —  guards Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson and forward Solomon Hill — and have lots of size on the inside.  Equally important during high-drama tournament games, Arizona has a number of seniors on its roster who can be expected to provide steady leadership during the high-stress moments.  Arizona’s talented and deep roster appears to present a number of match-up problems for Ohio State.  To top things off, the Wildcats’ coach, Sean Miller, is a Thad Matta protege who knows Ohio State’s coach well, and Arizona will have a home court advantage of sorts by playing in neighboring California.  All told, I think Arizona will pose an enormous challenge for the Buckeyes.

The other game pits two teams that have nothing to lose, because no one expected them to get this far.  LaSalle, which had a “play-in” game, has already won three games in the Tournament, including squeakers over Kansas State and Ole Miss.  Wichita State, on the other hand, pulverized Pitt and then upset top-ranked Gonzaga.  Expect both teams to be playing loose and with reckless abandon; their game should be fun to watch.

The Buckeyes’ game, on the other hand, won’t be fun to watch for those of us who are true fans.  We’ll be seriously into it, with every Buckeye bucket a cause for celebration and every Arizona score like a hard punch to the gut.  I’ll watch with angst and adrenalin because I’ve truly enjoyed this season of OSU basketball, and I don’t want it to end just yet.  Let’s go, Bucks!

The Robotic Incursion

There’s a new robot out there called Baxter.  Created by Rethink Robotics, Baxter has a humanoid torso, two robotic arms, and a face-like display screen.

None of that is especially ground-breaking, but Baxter offers more.  According to his website, Baxter is designed to work cheek-by-jowl with humans, cheerfully doing the endlessly repetitive jobs that used to drive former assembly-line workers nuts.  Baxter’s “head” is equipped with 360-degree sonar and a camera to allow him to detect humans.  Baxter also has “behavior-based intelligence” and gizmos in his arms that “feel” when he bumps into objects — or people.  The website also says Baxter is easily programmed and integrated into the workforce.

Oh, and here’s the kicker:  Baxter costs only $22,000.  That’s less than the salaries of most industrial workers.  And Baxter doesn’t require employers to worry about absenteeism or tardiness, he doesn’t take sick days or file workers compensation lawsuits, he doesn’t need to be insured or provided with a pension or vacation days, and he won’t steal from the supply room, grouse about the boss at the break table, or try to unionize the workplace.  Is it any wonder that Baxter has been greeted by great sales to the manufacturing industry?

Baxter is marketed as “a compelling alternative to low-cost offshoring for manufacturers of all sizes.”   That is, you can buy Baxter and keep your plant in Dayton, Joliet, or Scranton rather than moving production capacity to China, because when you factor in shipping costs, customs duties, and other offshore expenses — to say nothing of bad PR — Baxter is competitive with those low-cost alternatives.  Of course, Baxter also will be taking away American assembly line jobs, but they were likely gone, anyway.  At least the jobs of providing maintenance for a workforce of Baxters, and the white-collar jobs related to selling and shipping the goods Baxter manufactures, will stay in the U.S.A.

Baxter is just one example of the robotic incursion into the American workforce that is already here and that will become more apparent with each passing year.  Robotics has long been part of the manufacturing world, and now it is primed to move into the service industry.  One day soon you’ll walk into a fast-food restaurant and be surprised when a Baxter-like bot takes your order, prepares your cheeseburger and fries, and hands it to you with a touch-screen smile.

I Can’t Bring Myself To Watch Bates Motel

There’s a new TV show that’s being advertised constantly.  Call me a wuss if you will, but I can’t bring myself to watch it.

It’s Bates Motel — the back story, apparently, of Norman Bates and his mother, Norma.  Of course, Norman figured prominently in the Hitchcock thriller Psycho, where he donned his mother’s dress and ruthlessly stabbed to death a young woman taking a shower in the motel that Norman managed.  I think Psycho is one of the creepiest, most unsettling movies ever made, and Norman Bates is one of the creepiest, most unsettling movie characters ever conceived.  In view of that, why in the world would I want to see even more of young Norm and his unbalanced mother?  Is there really a big audience for a TV that tells their disturbing story?

Of course, if Bates Motel is successful it might start a trend.  Why stop at telling the bloody tale of only one horror movie icon?  No doubt other TV producers will begin searching for frightening film characters whose earlier days remain unexplored.  Some possibilities:  Little White, the moving, coming-of-age tale of an awkward young shark striving to become an unstoppable killing machine off the beaches of Amity in New England; Hockey Boy, the whimsical tale of Jason Voorhees, an uncoordinated youngster whose dreams of career in the NHL are foiled but who discovers he experiences strange new urges when he dons a hockey mask; and Vlad Ain’t Bad, a comedy about a white-skinned, cape-wearing exchange student from eastern Europe who fits right in with the Goth crowd then discovers an insatiable craving for corpuscles.

Sequestration And The Federal Courts

How foolish is managing the federal budget through the across-the-board “sequestration” process?  The federal judicial system provides a good illustration of the chaotic lunacy that prevails when the President and Members of Congress fail to do their jobs and enact thoughtful, considered budgets.

From a budgeting standpoint, the judiciary is unique.  Unlike other agencies and entities, it doesn’t operate grant programs or distribute benefit checks or buy advertising to discourage drunk driving or promulgate regulations.  Instead, it exists solely to resolve disputes and try those accused of federal crimes.  Its budget is spent largely on people — on judges and their law clerks, bailiffs and court reporters, docket clerks and security personnel — who make the system function smoothly.

Sequestration will require $350 million in cuts to the federal judicial system.  Because federal judges are appointed for life and will be paid regardless of how fiscally irresponsible the President and Congress may be, the cuts that sequestration brings will fall disproportionately on the other people who are part of the process.  As a result, court security operations will be impaired, federal oversight of those free on bond prior to trial and those paroled from federal prisons will be reduced, and jury trials and bankruptcy proceedings will be delayed due to lack of funds — among other consequences.

A capable court system is one of the bedrock requirements of a free, well-ordered society.  The role of federal courts has become increasingly important as new regulations are produced and challenged, as new federal crimes are created, and as courts are increasingly viewed as the ultimate arbiter of all manner of disputes.  Why, then, should federal courts be subject to the same across-the-board budgeting treatment as federal agencies and programs whose purpose is much less fundamental to the proper functioning of government and society?

The President and Congress need to start doing their jobs.