Fire The Groundhog!

IMG_3441Punxsutawney Phil might be cute, in all his plump, furry, buck-toothed, rodentine glory, but he should be called Suxutawney Phil in view of his pathetic weather prognostication abilities.  Overnight, we got several inches of heavy wet snow — when the Punxster predicted that winter would end several weeks ago.

No longer will I trust the forecasts of the furry fiend emerging from his burrow on February 2!  From now on, I’ll rely on the weather auguries of Rochester Ralph, the floppy-eared rabbit forecaster who foretells the length of winter based on whether he eats lettuce or carrots on January 26, and Hanover Hal, the happy hedgehog who rolls into a ball when prodded with a stick on February 5 and veers right or left to predict how much snow will fall in the next two months.

In the meantime, Kish and I have declared that we just can’t take much more winter weather.  When spring finally gets here, we’ll return from a quick trip to Pennsylvania and celebrate with a delicately flavored, nourishing groundhog stew.

The Buzzer-Beater

As we sit in the Columbus area on a Sunday night and wait for the next snow storm to hit, there’s no reason we shouldn’t watch Aaron Craft’s last-second dagger against Iowa State again . . . and again.

The Buckeyes are off to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in four years.  Great job, Thad Matta, and great job, Buckeyes.  Los Angeles, here we come!

The Baby-Faced Assassin

Thanks to Aaron Craft, the Ohio State Buckeyes have survived and advanced, and my heart rate has just about returned to something approaching its normal rhythm.

IMG_3101What a great game this was, and what an impossible game to watch if you were a fan of either team!  Iowa State had the advantage early, and the Buckeyes clawed their way back.  Ohio State took control in the second half, Iowa State counterpunched, and then the Buckeyes rolled out to a big lead.  But then, it was Iowa State’s turn.  They made incredibly tough threes, erased a 13-point Buckeye lead in the blink of an eye, and left me and every member of Buckeye Nation shaking our heads at an epic collapse.  But Aaron Craft, who had missed the front ends of two one-and-ones to expedite Iowa State’s comeback, wouldn’t give up.  He made the big plays down the stretch and then, with the final seconds ticking away, swished a three-pointer to put the game on ice for the Buckeyes.

Kudos to Aaron Craft — the baby-faced assassin — and Deshaun Thomas and LaQuinton Ross, all of whom made big shots in the second half.  And kudos, too, to the Iowa State Cyclones, who were tough, dogged, and determined not to give up.  I’m glad the Buckeyes won, of course, but I have a huge amount of respect for Iowa State and their classy coach.  Great game, Cyclones!  I hope you will turn out to be the toughest team the Buckeyes have to play, because I don’t think Ohio State — or its fans — could survive a tougher game than this one.

The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

IMG_3433When I wake up in the morning, I am hungry and want to eat.  I mean, right away.  Why not?  I am hungry!

Usually, that is not a problem.  The old boring guy gets up early, feeds me and Kasey, and then takes us on a long, boring walk.  The boring walk with the old boring guy is the price we pay for a full belly.

Sometimes the old boring guy doesn’t get up early.  I’m not sure why.  On those days, I have to wake him up to get my food.  So, I use the flap.  The flap is when I twirl my head very fast.  When I do that, my ears flap against my head and make a slapping sound, and my collar jingles.  If one flap doesn’t work, I do it again.  And again.  And again.  Then Kasey will do the flap, too. No one can sleep for long when two dogs are doing the flap!

We’ll keep doing the flap until the old boring guy gets up and gives us our food.  Sorry, old boring guy!  Time to rise and shine, because we are hungry!

In Line For History

Usually, we associate people camped out in lines for days with hot rock concerts, or huge basketball games, or Black Friday special sales.  In Washington, D.C., however, people have been waiting in line since Friday for seats to watch the U.S. Supreme Court.

This week, the Court will hear argument on two cases that may — and I emphasize may — resolve the constitutional status of same-sex marriage.  On Tuesday, in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court will address Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that California voters passed in 2008.  On Wednesday, in United States v. Windsor, the Court will examine the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 statute that prevents same-sex couples from enjoying benefits, such as filing joint tax returns, that are available to “traditional” married couples.

Proponents of gay marriage hope the Court will use the cases to declare that different treatment of same-sex marriages violates the equal protection clauses of the Constitution.  As is often the case with Supreme Court cases, however, procedural issues may be decisive.  In the California case, a threshold issue is whether the conservative groups seeking to defend Proposition 8 have legal “standing” to do so, which will require the Court to consider whether the groups have a real stake in the outcome or are officious intermeddlers who won’t be personally affected by resolution of the dispute.  Another key question is which “standard of review” the Court should apply, with much tougher scrutiny being given, for example, to laws that discriminate on the basis of race than to laws that simply regulate economic activity.  The Obama Administration is urging the Court to apply a heightened level of scrutiny to laws that address gender orientation.

Lurking below are the “big picture” notions that only the Supreme Court can truly consider.  Should the Constitution be read strictly, according to “original intent” and the social mores that prevailed at the time its amendments were adopted, or is it a more flexible document that can evolve to encompass cultural changes?  If the latter approach is taken, how do you keep the Constitution from being read with such elasticity that it loses any intrinsic meaning and simply becomes whatever a majority of nine justices might declare?  And if you conclude that the Constitution does protect “gender orientation,” can you write your opinion in a way that would allow courts and legislators to draw principled distinctions between same-sex marriage and other forms of personal commitment between consenting adults — such as polygamy?  Often the Court decides cases narrowly precisely to avoid have to address these kinds of broad and difficult questions.

There’s a reason people are willing to endure days of the blustery late-March weather in Washington, D.C. to get a seat for these arguments.  This week, history will be made in the solemn Supreme Court oral argument chamber.

Waiting For Some Buds

IMG_3428According to the calendar, spring has technically arrived . . . but we know that spring isn’t here just yet.

Last year the bushes in our back yard became overgrown and we asked a tree service to trim them back.  They did, and then some!  Now we look out the kitchen window and see the barren shoots and branches thrusting out of the ground like skeletal fingers, and it’s a bit depressing.  Here at Webner House, spring will be declared only when we see some buds on those stark, sharp, bony bushes.

The Big Ten In The Big Dance

The NCAA Tournament is put up or shut up time.  All year we hear about teams and conferences, and then March Madness comes and separates the pretenders from the contenders.

This year, there’s been a lot of talk — from people not named Charles Barkley — about the Big Ten being the best conference in basketball.  Seven teams from the Old Conference made it to the Big Dance, and so far they’re represented the league well.  The Big Ten’s record after the round of 64 is 6-1, with the only hiccup being Wisconsin’s dismal performance against Mississippi in a game where the Badgers simply could not put the ball into the basket.  The Big Ten’s top-seeded teams, Indiana and Ohio State, both won by wide margins, Michigan State and Michigan played well in convincing wins, Illinois survived some poor shooting to beat Colorado, and Minnesota spanked UCLA in a surprising upset.  Other conferences that were touted prior to the tournament, such as the Big East and the Mountain West, did not fare so well during the first round of play.

The great thing about the NCAA Tournament, of course, is that everything can turn on a dime.  All of these Big Ten teams could lose their next game — and if that happens the conference will be viewed as an overrated paper tiger.  For now, the Big Ten has 6 teams in the round of 32, and that’s not bad.

Hard-Ass Keglers

IMG_3420The firm Carmen Salvino bowling tournament was tonight, at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl Lanes on South High Street.  Our team may not have been the finest bowlers, but we definitely sported the most headband accessories and displayed the most compelling hard-ass look.

Oh, and the Buckeyes won their first NCAA Tournament game, too.

The Hills In The ‘Hood

Our downtown neighborhood has welcomed a notable new arrival.  The Hills Market has set up shop near the corner of Gay Street and Grant, across from the Columbus College of Art & Design.

IMG_1158Today the Bus-Riding Conservative and I walked down to The Hills to check out their store, and the place was buzzing.  The BRC had read that the market was sponsoring a Friday fish fry, so we decided to check it out.  Although the market itself was impressive — chock full of locally sourced food, an extensive area where you can get meals ready to eat, and a decent wine selection — the fish fry was disappointing.  We got one piece of battered and fried fish that was indistinguishable from an Arthur Treacher’s offering and a bag of chips for $8.99.  $8.99?  C’mon, Hills . . . we expect more neighborly treatment than that!

Even though the fish fry offering should have been beached, I’m glad The Hills has decided to open a downtown outlet.  More and more people are moving to downtown Columbus, and we need a grocery store that can service the new residents.  The Hills fills a huge void, and I’m hoping it will be a big step toward a more residential, crowded downtown area.

Now, if they could just work on their lunch pricing . . . .

Our One-Cent Bill From The Great White North

Guess what?  American bureaucracies aren’t the only ones that are ridiculous.

IMG_3407Last October I went to Lake Temagami in northern Ontario, Canada for a wonderful few days of fishing.  To get there, I drove on the Express Toll Route.  Rather than simply paying the toll as you pass through, the ETR takes a picture of your car, figures out where you live, and then sends you a bill.

A few weeks after my trip ended, I received a bill.  We paid it in full.  Then, some time later, we got another bill — for four cents.  Why the four-cent differential?  I’m not sure, but I’m guessing the U.S. dollar-Canadian dollar exchange rate might be responsible.  In any case, we wrote a check for 4 cents and sent that off.  Obviously, the cost of postage and the cost of processing the check on both ends far outstripped the 4-cent payment.  But, so be it!  We are interested in maintaining friendly relations with our Neighbors to the North, and if I ever am invited back to Lake Temagami I don’t want to be hauled away as a scofflaw and tossed into debtors’ prison by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Then we received the bill above, demanding a balance due of . . . one cent.  One cent!  I’m blaming the exchange rate again, because the bottom of the bill says, under “amount paid,” “Canadian funds.”  Of course, there is no way I can write a check on my American bank for one cent, Canadian.  The letter specifically says that I can’t send cash.  And if you think I’m going to risk giving my credit card information, on-line, to bureaucrats who are trying to chase down people who have paid, in full, twice already, you’ve got another think coming.  So, my only choice is to write a check for 5 cents, American, and hope that it accounts for the exchange rate and is finally accepted as payment in full by the ETR collectors.

I’ve never really thought much about toll booths before, or fully appreciated the schmoes working inside.  Now, I do.  The next time I toss 75 cents into the collection bin, I’ll relish that I can simply drive on, free from care that I’ve just become mired forever in an endless sea of red tape.

Happy Bachday

Today is Johann Sebastian Bach’s 328th birthday.  He was born on March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, in what is now Germany.  Today, Sirius XM marked the occasion by playing all Bach, all the time, on the Symphony Hall channel, and it made my commutes to and from work delightful indeed.

It isn’t difficult for Sirius to program all Bach for a 24-hour period, because Johann Sebastian was astonishingly prolific.  He wrote hymns, church music, concertos, cello suites, cantatas, and organ music, among other pieces.  He also was an accomplished organist who also played the harpsichord, the violin, and the viola.  His works helped to define the distinctive baroque style of music that prevailed in the early 1700s.  Interestingly, Bach’s works apparently fell out of favor after his death, and his compositions did not become highly regarded until the early 1800s.  Now, of course, he is generally regarded as one of the greatest composers in history, and his music is a staple of every classical radio station around the globe.

I love Bach’s pieces, and my iPod is filled with dozens of his compositions.  His works are so rich and expressive of a mood that it makes me wish I had met him to see whether his personality matched his music.  Bach’s compositions are vast and intricate, but at its core there is a certain radiating peacefulness.  If you’ve had a tough day and want to unwind and calm down, Bach is a good choice.  You can quickly get lost in his complex, intertwining melodies and the serenity that comes from well-ordered music that suggests a well-ordered world.

Red Planet, White Rock, Deep Meaning

NASA’s Curiosity rover has once again excited scientists with some provocative discoveries about Mars.

Curiosity drove over a Martian rock and broke it open, exposing a dazzling white exterior.  The striking ivory color indicates the presence of hydrated minerals in the rock.  As any person who walks around with a water bottle knows, “hydration” requires water, and hydrated minerals are those that are formed when water is found.  Curiosity also has detected clay-type minerals in a different rock — another clue suggesting the presence of water at some point.  These discoveries are part of a growing body of evidence that running water once existed on this part of the surface of Mars.

On Earth, water seems to have been a crucial building block in whatever process, or outside force, first created life.  If water flowed on the Red Planet, the odds are increased that life once existed there — and may exist there still.  Although the surface of Mars is now a dusty red desert, it is possible that water and ice remain in rock formations deep below the Martian surface.  If so, life may be found there, because studies on Earth indicate that life, once established, is remarkably hardy.  The expedition to drill into a lake buried beneath a two-mile thick sheet of ice in Antartica, for example, recently uncovered life forms even in that dark, desolate, and inhospitable location.  Why should life on Mars be any less tenacious?

I’m of the Star Trek generation.  I believe that looking for — and especially finding — life beyond the confines of our home planet is a good way to get squabbling humans to recognize that their differences are minor and not worthy of much attention in the grand scheme of things.  We need to move beyond a mindset that focuses exclusively on our own fleeting creature comforts and recognize that we live in but one tiny, wayward corner of an unimaginably vast universe.  It’s been 40 years since humans walked on the Moon.  When will we take the next step, to Mars and beyond, to see whether life in fact may be found elsewhere?

Buck Back Gack

We had our annual Buck Back draft the other day, and I think I gagged big time.

Long-time readers may recall that I play in an alternative approach to NCAA pools called the Buck Back.  Rather than trying to forecast the results of every game, eight of us put in eight bucks each, select eight teams in a serpentine draft, and then get $1 — i.e., a buck back — every time one of our teams wins. The Buck Back during March Madness is now a time-honored tradition.

This year the draft was the hardest ever, because it’s impossible to have great confidence that any team is going to do well in the tournament.  Every school has struggled at some point during the season, and every team has weaknesses.

I drafted fourth, and I look at my teams and wonder whether I’ll win even a few games, much less break even.  My first pick was Indiana, which stumbled to the finish line, and my second pick was Michigan, which also struggled in the last half of the season.  Both have talented players, but which teams will show up — the early season world-beaters, or the battered squads that limped home?  My third-round pick was Memphis, which plays in one of the weakest conferences in the country, and my fourth selection was Wichita State, which has to start the Tournament against a tough Pitt team.  My later round picks — San Diego State, Cincinnati, Montana, and Iona — all are question marks.

So I sit, waiting for the Big Dance to start in earnest tomorrow, and I wonder whether my entire Buck Back draft was a choke.  I’ll bet I’m not the only one who feels that way — and I can’t wait for the Tournament to start.

83

IMG_1157Happy Birthday was sung with gusto, JT’s pizza and chicken wings were gobbled, white cake with white frosting was consumed, birthday presents were opened, Andrew struck his album cover pose, and a good time was had by all.  Happy birthday, Mom!

A Birthday, And A New Beginning

On March 20, 1930, Agnes Catherine Neal, the matriarch of our Columbus Webner clan, made her squalling debut into the world in Akron, Ohio.  Today, she celebrates her 83rd birthday — and also a new chapter in a long life well lived.

00020413The last year has not been easy for her.  Several months ago, Mom had a severe stroke.  Fortunately, my sister was present when it happened, recognized that a stroke was occurring, and got Mom to the hospital for immediate care and treatment.  Still, the stroke had devastating consequences, leaving Mom’s left side weak and non-responsive.

Since she left the hospital, Mom has been in a rehabilitation facility, following that winding road to recovery that is different for every person who must follow it.  She has worked to reacquire the trunk, leg, and arm strength to sit upright, pivot, put her feet on the floor, and get out of bed, to use a walker, and to do what most of us do without a second thought.  She has made real and encouraging progress, and we will keep following that winding road to see where it leads us.

Earlier this week, Mom moved into a new place where she can live more independently but with plenty of people nearby to help her when she needs it.  It’s a snug little spot that fits her well.  She’s back in her favorite chair, surrounded by her furniture, her family photographs, and other comforts of home.  This afternoon we all will gather there, to sing Happy Birthday and eat some pizza and cake and mark the occasion.

Happy birthday, Mom!  We love you, and we’re proud of you!