A Big Early Season (And Late Night) Match-Up

Tonight the Ohio State men’s basketball team plays Michigan State at East Lansing. The Big Ten season is still very young — the Buckeyes and Spartans have each played only two conference games — but this game is shaping up to be a big one in a conference that many people consider to be the premier basketball conference in the country.

Ohio State is ranked third in the country, whereas Michigan State is ranked fifth. Both teams have senior leadership. Both teams are experienced in playing big games and know how to win them. Both teams have great coaches. Both teams have some excellent players. For Michigan State, it’s Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Branden Dawson, and the unguardable Adreian Payne, who always seems to make a crucial three-point shot or put-back basket. For Ohio State, it’s Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. Both teams are deep. Michigan State plays great offense; Ohio State plays great defense.

It’s a wonderful match-up, all the way up and down the lineups. Who wouldn’t want to see Aaron Craft and Keith Appling go head to head, or watch the defense-oriented Buckeyes try to figure out a way to guard Adreian Payne? Who wouldn’t want to see whether the Buckeyes can avenge the football team’s bitter loss to the Spartans in the Big Ten championship game? You have to give Michigan State, which has played a much tougher schedule than the Buckeyes and is playing at home, the clear edge, but this game should tell the Buckeye Nation a lot about how good this team might actually be.

So why in blue blazes does the game have to start at 9 p.m.? C’mon, Big Ten — how about having some pity on us working folks who need to get up early tomorrow?

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The Great Columbus Sub-Zero Water Main Break Of 2014 — An Update

I drove to work this morning fully expecting to find closed roads and skating rink conditions still in downtown Columbus due to yesterday’s water main break. To my astonishment, however, the roads were open and the water main break had been fixed.

IMG_1672How did this come about? A Herculean work effort under ridiculously bad conditions by the City of Columbus Water Department workers, who somehow plugged the breach overnight. They were still out this morning, using a backhoe to break up the asphalt on Fourth Street. By this afternoon they had dug a deep, square hole so that they could get at the root cause of the break. Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel couldn’t have done better — and the Water Department workers were doing the job on a day when the temperature didn’t get above the single digits and the wind chill was below zero.

Working in water-logged conditions on such a frigid day must have been terrible. On behalf of all downtown workers who avoided a frustrating traffic snarl due to road closures, I want to say “thanks” to the hard-working folks at the Water Department who pulled off a seeming miracle.

Oh, and there was one other component to the miracle: salt. Lots and lots of salt, and de-icing granules, and every other ice-melting substance known to modern man. I’m not sure how much salt was dumped on the roads and alleys and sidewalks near the intersection of Fourth and Gay Street in the last 36 hours — a ton? two tons? — but there was a coating of salt still visible today, and the salt runoff had leached all color out of the roads and sidewalks. Since I would prefer salt-colored by dry conditions to risking a bad fall on icy sidewalks, that was just fine with me.

Janet Yellen And The Role Of The Fed

Yesterday the Senate confirmed Janet L. Yellen as the new chairwoman of the Federal Reserve Board. Yellen was confirmed by a 56-26 margin, as the sour winter weather apparently kept many Senators from the Capitol for the vote.

Yellen, 67, has an impressive resume. She is a graduate of Brown, received her Ph.D in economics from Yale, and taught at Harvard, the London School of Economics, and later at Cal Berkeley, so she has the Ivy League and academic roots that Fed followers respect. She has worked at the Fed as an economist, was first appointed to the Fed in 1994, served as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Clinton, then headed the San Francisco branch of the Fed. She also has been intimately involved in setting Fed policy in response to the housing bubble, the long recession, and what she accurately foresaw as a “jobless recovery.”

The interesting thing about Yellen’s nomination is not that she was chosen or confirmed, but rather that her confirmation battle provoked criticism of the Fed from the right and left. Some Senators criticize the Fed for not doing enough to promote employment, economic growth, and the middle class, and others fault the Fed for doing too much, with its aggressive bond-buying program and decisions to keep interest rates at historic lows — moves that clearly have helped the stock market, but could provoke a tumble when those policies come to an end, as they inevitably must.

In my view, the criticism of the Fed is part of a growing problem in our country. Instead of members of Congress making decisions on how to deal with the economy, they expect the Fed to address the issues for them. The Fed acts as a nearly autonomous agency, with members who are not chosen by popular election deliberating in secret and making decisions that are described by carefully scripted statements. The Fed’s increasingly central role has made it a kind of fourth branch of government that manages the economy — and also makes it a convenient whipping boy for politicians across the political spectrum, who can blame the Fed when the economy doesn’t operate at peak efficiency.

It’s another, sad example of how representative government is shrinking and the power of administrative agencies that are not directly accountable to the people is growing. It’s not a positive trend, and we need to do something about it.