When Animals Attack — Or Not

When Animals Attack! featured footage of animals attacking humans.  Of course, animals can “attack” in different ways.

IMG_0907I doubt if Penny would intentionally attack anyone in the conventional sense.  That would be unseemly and require too much exertion.

Nevertheless, Penny still is a key component of our household defense system.  If an intruder invaded our hearth and home, he could easily be disabled by tripping over Penny’s snoring body stretched out on the kitchen floor.  As is the case with any natural predator, her brown coat blends seamlessly with the color of our wood flooring, making her an even greater hazard for the unwary housebreaker.

Or, the miscreant could pull a muscle or throw out his back trying to move Penny’s dead weight from her prone position.

Or, if the trespasser had any scrap of food on his person, Penny might inadvertently knock him down in her single-minded quest to fill her belly.

Some people have dogs that growl and bite.  We have a dog that sleeps.

The Best Restaurant In The World

If you want to go to the best restaurant in the world — at least, according to Restaurant magazine — you need to hop on a plane and fly to Spain.

The restaurant is El Celler de Can Roca, located in Catalonia.  It was started by two brothers in the 1980s, who were then joined by a third brother in 1997, with each brother being responsible for one facet of the restaurant’s operation.  (Guess UJ and I need to get started on our “best in the world” business concept!)  El Celler de Can Roca is celebrated for the pervasive family dynamic in the restaurant, its understated but passionate ambiance, and the creativity and technical innovation of the food.

Five American restaurants make the top 50 list:  Eleven Madison Park and Per Se, both in New York City, Alinea, in Chicago, Le Bernardin and Daniel, in New York City, and The French Laundry, in Yountville, California, in the Napa Valley.

How do you really decide the best restaurant in the world?  Restaurant magazine actually publishes a “manifesto” on the topic — which indicates that the best dining experience is decided by the gut instinct (pun intended) of the gourmets who did the voting, rather than in a dry set of factors to be considered.  I agree with that approach.  When I go to a restaurant to have a fine meal, I’m not weighing checklist items, I’m looking for a wonderful and memorable experience.  It sounds like El Celler de Can Roca delivers.

Grandpa’s Bowling Team

IMG_3667I ran across this classic photo recently and had to share it.  It’s a picture of Grandpa Neal’s bowling team, circa the mid-1920s.  That’s him in the middle of the back row — the slender, square-jawed fellow who still had some hair to part.

A pretty somber bunch, aren’t they, with their little bow ties, and long-sleeved, buttoned-up white shirts, and carefully shined shoes?  I doubt if they ever called a beer frame or engaged in any horseplay that might detract from their ability to pick up the ten pin.  Bowling was serious business in those days, when Akron was one of the centers of the bowling universe and dozens of teams competed for bragging rights in the Akron Masonic League.

Grandpa Neal loved bowling, and he participated in the Akron Masonic League for more than 60 years, until well into his 90s.

A Weekend Without A “Weekend”

Here it is Monday, and I feel like I didn’t have a “weekend.”

IMG_3665It was one of those hectic working weekends, where Saturday and Sunday were packed from morning to evening with office obligations and important jobs on the home front.  As a result, there was no time for the relaxation and lazy hours that make the normal weekend so enjoyable.  No golf, no afternoon trip to the movie theater, and no whiling away the morning hours listening to music.

I was feeling a bit sorry for myself this morning for missing out on some mental down time, then I told myself to suck it up.  A weekend is a relatively modern invention, after all; for most of human history our ancestors had to work hard every day just to get by.  Sometimes life just doesn’t allow you to punch a clock.

The Blue Jackets Fall Just Short

Kish and I went out to dinner last night with friends, and downtown was hopping.  The Blue Jackets were playing, a potential spot in the NHL playoffs was on the line, and many of the people we saw were wearing their CBJ colors. 

We kept our eye on the TV as we dined, keeping track of the game, and continued to follow it when we stopped in a Short North bar for a frosty adult beverage after dinner.  Everyone in the establishment cheered when the CBJcame away with a hard-fought 3-1 victory, but our joy was short-lived — the other two teams vying for playoff spots won, and as a result the Blue Jackets are once more going to stay home for the NHL playoffs.

It was an exciting season for the Blue Jackets, and even non-hockey fans like me had to appreciate this team that wouldn’t quit and ended the season playing as well as anybody in the NHL.  Still, I’m not much for moral victories.  The fact remains that the CBJ didn’t quite play well enough to make the playoffs, and that is the bottom line.

I hope this young team can stay together, I hope that their young goalie, Sergie Bobrovsky, can continue to play as well as he did this year, and I hope that next year the Blue Jackets play for the entire season like they did over the last six weeks.  Hope, hope, and more hope.  If you are a hockey fan in Columbus, that’s what you’ve got to go on until next fall.

Is Everything For Sale, And If So, Why?

Is everything for sale in America?  Have we reached the point where the pursuit of the Almighty Dollar has become too all-consuming?

An article in MarketWatch, published by The Wall Street Journal, discusses the teaching of Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, author of the recent book What Money Can’t Buy:  The Moral Limits of Markets.  Sandel posits that at some point over the past 30 years America crossed the line from a market economy to a “market society” in which virtually everything, such as naming rights to public buildings, ad space in school cafeterias, and carbon offsets, is for sale to the highest bidder.  A market economy is a tool for organizing activity in the most productive way, but a market society is one in which market values — rather than morals, ethics, religion, or other non-money-oriented concepts or belief systems — intrudes upon and governs our relationships and our behavior generally.

I’m a big fan of capitalism as an economic system.  Human history has proven that it is the most fair and effective way of allowing people to control their own destinies and create wealth, and no other system even comes close.  But Sandel has a point — there are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed.  When capitalism crosses those lines, the effect is corrupting and defeating of any selfless impulses that motivated the activity in the first place.  When public money is used to erect a public building and the structure is named after whichever large corporation or wealthy individual ponies up the most money for the naming rights, it detracts from the important public, communal element of the endeavor.  When a couple decides to have a child but pays a hefty price to a clinic to try to genetically engineer the perfect offspring, what are they really trying to accomplish?

I disagree with Sandel on one fundamental point.  He is quoted in the article as saying:  “We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us.”  I don’t buy that — no pun intended.  I think part of the witches’ brew of developments that is leading us down the road to perdition is the notion that the public is never to blame for anything, that we are trapped and buffeted by forces beyond our control.  I think people can make a difference and can act morally and ethically; the thousands of acts of kindness and human decency that occurred after the Boston Marathon bombing, where strangers acted purely out of concern for their fellow man rather than concern for the bottom line, prove it.  Our challenge is to bring more, much more, of that same sense of ethical behavior to the public arena and to our everyday lives.

Minding Mel Kiper For Mother’s Day

The NFL draft is underway.  It’s become a three-day extravaganza, which means we get more exposure to Mel Kiper, Jr. and his curious hairstyle than human beings should be expected to endure.

IMG_3664Little did I know that Mel not only is a know-it-all about the draft, he’s also happy to give his “picks” on other topics.  When I went on the ESPN website today, I was amazed to see an ad for a “gift finder” that featured Mel Kiper’s picks for Mother’s Day gifts.  Now you can delight your dear old mother or your lovely wife with a present that has the Mel Kiper seal of approval!  What’s next?  Mel’s grinning mug hawking websites that help you to find the perfect romantic getaway or to decide which college to attend?

I know it’s a joke, but still . . . anyone who relies on Mel Kiper for Mother’s Day ideas needs to step away from the draft board and re-engage with real life.

Birdsong In The Morning

IMG_3649Saturday morning is special.

On weekday mornings, our walks occur under cover of darkness.  I listen to my iPod as we make our way along the familiar, darkened route.  On Saturday, however, we sleep in and begin our walk as the sun is rising.  With the coming of spring the birds have returned, and they greet the dawn with song.  On Saturdays I walk without iPod and rely on the cheeps and tweets, the chirps and the twitters, for my musical accompaniment.  Their happy sounds make the morning a bit more glorious.

George Jones Starts The Grand Tour

George Jones died today, in Nashville, at age 81.  He was the greatest country singer of his generation, and perhaps the greatest country singer, ever.

Jones lived a rough-and-tumble life and was legendary for his unpredictable behavior, but his musical talent was unquestionable.  It was gigantic.  Jones had an authentic country voice, with a lilting twang and an ability to wring every ounce of emotion out of his songs.  He was a real person and real performer, not some phony, blow-dried, cowboy hat-wearing pop star masquerading as a country singer.  I loathe “modern” country, but I could listen to George Jones and Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline all night long – and just might do so tonight.

I’ve posted the YouTube video of Jones singing The Grand Tour (and being introduced by his one-time wife, Tammy Wynette) because the title seems apt, but also because the song is a good illustration of his awesome prowess as a singer.  It’s a simple song about a man who has been left by his wife, but Jones turns it into a poignant, deeply moving glimpse into the shards of a life.

I don’t often urge people to do this or buy that, but if you’ve never listened to country music, give George Jones a try.  He and his music were pieces of Americana, and we may not see their like again.

North Market, Friday Night, April 26

IMG_1180It’s been a long week, so to get the weekend started right, I made a stop at the North Market.  I love the Curds & Whey cheese counter.  It sells all kinds of cheese and other goodies that make for an excellent Friday night tasting.  I typically ask the proprietor to make some selections for me, and tonight I’ll be noshing on some Morbier, Mimolette, and kalamata olives.  Then I stopped by the wine shop, where there are always interesting and reasonably priced selections.  Two bottles of red and $22 later, I was on my way home.

Now I sit, sipping some wine, getting ready to open the cheese, and feeling like the weekend is ready to open before me like a spring flower.

Seemingly Passe Protest Songs

Signs, by the Five Man Electrical Band, is a great song,  First released in 1970, it tells the story of a young man who questions authority in the form of signs that want to exclude “long-haired freaky people” and trespassers.  The song’s refrain is:  “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.  Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind.  Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

I don’t know many people who are disturbed by signs these days, even though there undoubtedly are many more signs now than there were in 1970.  If the young man from Signs were around today, would he still be angry about signs, or would he be more concerned by other issues of liberty and freedom — like drones, or widespread video surveillance, or the wide-ranging governmental regulations of conduct that are far more prevalent than they were four decades ago?  Or, because the young man would be in his 60s, would he be focused more on terrorists and public safety issues, and be grateful that the widespread use of security cameras by private businesses helped authorities to promptly identify and apprehend suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing?

Protest issues come, and protest issues go.  The world is a different, more complicated place than it was when signs, and Signs, seemed so important.

Why We Care About Who Is A Buckeye

If you’ve never lived in Ohio, you perhaps cannot truly understand the role of Ohio State athletes in the community.  They aren’t just football players or basketball players:  they are expected to be role models, good citizens, and able representatives of an important institution.  Buckeyes fans want Ohio State to have great players, to be sure, but we also want them to be great people so that they can fulfill that aspirational role.

This little video of a visit some Ohio State basketball players made to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, to hang out with some of the kids who are being treated there, gives a glimpse of what can happen when good people become Buckeyes.  And it happens all the time, usually without any fanfare.  When one of my colleagues was battling cancer, he was surprised by a visit from some Ohio State football players, including one of the biggest stars on the team.  They came, they sat down, they talked with him and listened to him, and they provided encouragement.  No photographers or publicists were there, and to my knowledge no news story about the visit ever appeared.  But my friend greatly appreciated the gesture and the fact that these football players took time away from being BMOC to visit an ill stranger.

It touched him deeply, and it made me understand, better than I had before, the great significance these young people can assume — if they are good people.  That’s one reason why we care so much about who becomes a Buckeye.

The Tsarnaevs And The Immigration Debate

The Boston bombings came at an inconvenient time for the politicos who are working on an immigration reform bill — but that might be a good thing.

In our catch-phrase, talking-point era, the immigration issue has been reduced to mantras like “securing our borders” and fuzzy video images of people scaling flimsy walls in desert landscapes.  Of course, immigration involves a much more complex, multi-faceted set of concepts and questions.  We are a land of immigrants, built in large part through the hard work and aspirations of those who came to our shores in search of freedom.  We need immigrants to perform certain jobs in our economy, and we want immigrants who will be doctors and entrepreneurs.  We feel a more obligation to offer asylum to those seeking to escape persecution in their native lands.  Millions of people now working in America came here illegally; what are we realistically to do about them?

The Tsarnaev brothers accused of perpetrating the Boston bombings cast a different perspective on the immigration debate.  They didn’t come here smuggled in the hold of a ship or sneaking across the border in the dead of night.  “Securing our borders” through towering walls or armed forces in the southwest wouldn’t have stopped their arrival.  And what happened after they got here?  News reports indicate that various members of the Tsarnaev family received government assistance.  It’s not clear that the Tsarnaev brothers ever held a permanent job.  If they had had to find gainful employment, and didn’t have hours of free time to surf the internet for hateful messages and theories, would they have descended into apparent jihadist beliefs?  Tamerlan Tsarnaev eventually was targeted as a potential radical in comments from a foreign government, investigated by the FBI, and put on a CIA watchlist.  Should something more have been done about him?

The Tsarnaevs shouldn’t define the immigration debate, of course, but neither should we ignore lessons we might learn from them.  As immigration reform is debated in Congress, it’s entirely legitimate to ask whether our experience with the Tsarnaevs should cause us to revisit how we decide to allow people to come to America, what we should do, if anything, to monitor them after they arrive, and whether we should be able to take action if their conduct after their arrival indicates that they aren’t making positive contributions to society.

“Reality Show” Meets Reality

It’s embarrassing to admit it, but Kish and I like Storage Wars.  It’s a “reality show” where the continuing characters bid on abandoned storage lockers in southern California, then find out what’s inside and learn whether they made money or lost their shirts.  We love to scoff at the implausible values that get assigned to some of the junk in the lockers — where a beat up chair might be rung up at $50.  (I can get $50 for that chair all day long!)

One long-time participant, a boastful “mogul” named Dave Hester, isn’t on the new episodes, so I decided to do some internet research to see what happened to him.  It turns out that ol’ Dave and Storage Wars had a parting of the ways, and they are now mired in a lawsuit. Hester alleges that the show’s producers “salted” some of the lockers with interesting items that are more valuable than the humdrum crap that most people store.  The initial judicial ruling in the case favored Storage Wars and tossed out one of Hester’s claims.

Now, there’s some reality for you!

It’s pretty devastating to consider, however, that Storage Wars might have jazzed up the storage locker bidding world to make for some better TV.  Could it be?  Could it be that Darrell doesn’t constantly spout hilarious malapropisms?  Could it be that Brandi and Jarrod aren’t constantly second-guessing each other, even though we know that deep down they love each other dearly?  Could it be that Barry doesn’t really have a collection of silly cars and isn’t a complete idiot when it comes to bidding for lockers?

Yeah, right!  Next thing you know someone will try to convince us that professional athletes don’t play purely for the love of the game!

Facebook Fake-Outs

If you go on Facebook on any given day, you may see one posted by a Facebook friend.  It’s usually a picture with text, often capitalized and superimposed over the photo.  It might tell a tragic or moving story, or quote statistics about the handgun use, the abuse of animals, or another topic in the national conversation.  It then asks you to repost, or like the post, or take some other action.

How many of the stories are real?  How many of the statistics are accurate?

I’ve wondered about it and thought about it again when I read about Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s tweeting activities in the days after the Boston bombing.  Tsarnaev tweeted about a post of a picture of a man huddled over a prone woman that said the man was going to propose to the woman and instead found her dead.  Tsarnaev tweeted “fake story,”  and the news article reports that the claim wasn’t true.

Why would anyone feel the need to heighten the horrific nature of the Boston bombing by concocting a fake story about the people injured in the blast?  Why would anyone make up phony statistics about some political issue?  How many people are misled by such postings, and how much of the national conversation has been misdirected as a result of the false information?

I hope there aren’t many people who accept these kinds of Facebook posts at face value, without applying some skepticism and fact-checking.  My grandmother used to say “believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”  That’s a good rule of thumb when it comes to Facebook information.