The Challenge Of Trying To Stay On Top

When you are on top, staying there can be a challenge.  Suddenly there are all kinds of distractions.  People who previously lean and hungry may develop a more complacent frame of mind.  And there is every temptation to start believing your press clippings.

The current national champion Ohio State Buckeyes are learning this life lesson.  If they are listening to the over-the-top accolades and compliments that every casual fan and professional pundit is throwing their way, their heads have probably already swollen to the bursting point.  They’ve been picked for all kinds of preseason award lists and slotted in to the next round of college football playoffs before one down has even been played.  And this week, one of those dreaded “distractions” occurred when four players — including All-World defensive end Joey Bosa and three players who were expected to make big contributions on the offensive side of the ball and on special teams — were suspended for the first game against Virginia Tech for violating an unspecified policy or policies.

Fans grit their teeth at these kinds of off-field activities, but it seems entirely predictable in the modern world of high-powered college sports.  For the Buckeyes, they will just have to figure out a way to overcome the loss of four key players — or not.  It’s a kind of initial test in a season of impending tests, where the enemies will be the opposing teams but also overconfidence, clashing egos, petty jealousies, and concerns about future pro careers.

I’d rather the Buckeyes not have to deal with suspensions, but if they are going to happen — and, realistically, they are — I’d rather the process start now, before the season begins.  Last year, Ohio State’s players adopted a “next man up” mentality that required every player to be ready to step in and pursue the team’s lofty goals, and it served the team well.  At the quarterback position the next man up — and the next man up after him — in fact had to rise to the challenge and perform in the clutch.  I’m hoping that Urban Meyer, who knows a thing or two about encouraging motivation and focus with student athletes, can use this incident to good effect in getting the team mentally ready, again.  It wouldn’t exactly be seemly for the supposed Team of the Century to stumble out of the gate.

About Cecil

The ongoing uproar about the death of Cecil, the sleepy-looking lion in Zimbabwe who was killed by a crossbow-wielding Minnesota dentist, is one of those stories where the competing viewpoints simply don’t understand each other.

Supporters of big-game hunting depict it as a noble sport with a long history — one that has attracted the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway and that, they say, can serve animal conservation efforts and support the economies of impoverished African nations.  Opponents of big-game hunting recoil at the idea of humans hunting and killing innocent creatures not to survive or feed their families, but solely for their own pleasure.

I’m in the latter camp — and the death of poor Cecil, who was lured away from the safety of a sanctuary by an intentionally placed animal carcass, then shot with a bow, tracked for hours,  killed with a gun, skinned, and beheaded, triggers every anti-hunting sentiment in my being.  It’s hard for me to see how anyone could portray that kind of scenario as a noble sport, much less fair, or just, or humane. I see it as simply slaughter designed to make a wealthy guy feel like even more of a macho big shot and allow him to hang stuffed trophies of his wall, where they no doubt creep out many of the people who see them.  (When our family first moved to Columbus 45 years ago, we bought our house from a guy who had big-game trophy heads on the walls of the basement.  I thought their marble-eyed likenesses were sad and disturbing and disgusting then, and I still have the same reaction now.)

Then there are those who view the outcry about the death of Cecil as an overreaction.  It’s only one animal, they say, and not as important as other issues of the day.  I’m not defending the internet death threats against the Minnesota dentist — although I sure wouldn’t want to have my teeth examined by somebody who has no problems with killing an innocent creature and then grinning for a photo op with its dead body — but I can understand why this one incident has captured worldwide attention.

So many of the issues of the day are so vast and complicated that they seem far beyond our full comprehension, much less our ability to solve.  Big-game hunting is different because it is simpler.  Should wealthy people using high-tech weaponry be able to lure and kill lions, and elephants, and other beautiful animals?  It’s not a hard issue to grasp, and it’s one where we feel that maybe, just maybe, we can do something about it.  Already the killing of Cecil seems to be moving the needle on international views about big-game hunting.  If it produces a ban on big-game hunting, or at least more rigorous controls, then perhaps there might be something noble about Cecil’s death after all.

Another Reason To Oppose The Death Penalty

In Colorado, James Holmes has been convicted of multiple counts of capital murder.  He’s the bug-eyed killer who burst into a crowded movie theater in 2012, threw tear gas, then started shooting, killing 12 people and wounding 70.  The carnage he caused has been recounted, with lasting horror, by some of the survivors at his trial.

But now we are hearing emotional testimony from James Holmes’ mother.  She says she thought she had a “good kid” who was self-sufficient and responsible, although she was saddened and guilty that he was “losing his joy” as he grew into adulthood.  She says she never knew that her son was so mentally ill that he was capable of random mass murder.  And other family members, teachers, and friends have testified about Holmes being a happy boy, a “Renaissance child,” and a nerdy teenager.

It’s all part of the “mitigation phase” of the trial, where the jury will decide whether Holmes should receive the death penalty for his appalling crimes.  His lawyers want the jury to feel sorry for him and his family and to conclude that the shootings didn’t occur because Holmes was intrinsically evil, but because he was mentally “sick.”  And so the jury has been listening to witness after witness testify about Holmes in a way designed to encourage jurors to show mercy — even though he didn’t show mercy to those innocents he gunned down.

I’m opposed to the death penalty on principle, so I don’t need to be convinced that Holmes should receive life in prison.  However, I think this phase of the Holmes trial aptly illustrates another reason why the death penalty should be abolished.  It is simply unfair to put the families of the victims through a process where they have to hear that the person who ruthlessly killed their loved ones was once an outgoing “Renaissance child” or an uncoordinated teenage nerd, and it is unseemly to call his Mom and Dad to the stand to shed a few tears to try to save their little boy’s skin.

A process that is designed to curry sympathy for the killer, by recalling his boyhood and moments where he laughed or cried or kicked a soccer ball, is senseless and offensive because whatever his meager childhood accomplishments may have been shrivel to nothingness against the magnitude of his adult crimes.  Don’t try to make me feel sorry for James Holmes.  I feel sorry for the victims and their families for the loss that Holmes inflicted.  Lock him away, and be done with it.

The Trump Debate Conspiracy Theory

If you were conspiracy minded — and who among us doesn’t have a touch of that lurking somewhere in your personality? — you might swear that Donald Trump’s shenanigans were part of a plot to boost the viewership for the first Republican presidential debate.

This past weekend, I heard a lot of talk about the Donald and the first Republican debate.  The Republican folks, regardless of whether they think Trump is great for “telling the truth” or consider him an oddball gloryhound, will be watching, and at least one diehard Democrat conceded that he probably would tune in just to see what kind of weirdness the Trumpster might produce.  Why not?  It might be good TV.  As one of the people who talked about Trump kept saying, “he’s entertaining!”

And I suppose he is, in the same perverse way that a train wreck or a messy public divorce of Hollywood celebs might be viewed as entertaining.

What does that mean for the other Republicans?  It means that you hope that your poll numbers are good enough that you get to share the stage with the guy who’s getting all of the press.  The ratings for this first debate probably will get the highest ratings for any debate, ever, that isn’t between the two nominated candidates, and you sure as heck would want to be present to have that big audience checking you out.  And if the Donald implodes — which inevitably will happen, if it hasn’t happened by then, anyway — and you can come across as an appealing alternative, so much the better.  If you’re not on stage, you don’t get any of that crucial face time before a national audience.

Could Trumpelstiltskin have concocted all of this hullabaloo as part of some devious political strategy to command as much attention as possible and suck all of the oxygen away from the Ds?  Who knows?  But it’s a pretty good conspiracy theory, isn’t it?  In fact, it’s just the kind of conspiracy theory that the Donald himself would likely latch onto.

Closed Captioning

As we have watched the last few episodes of True Detective — which I think has really picked up lately, incidentally — Kish and I have had the same conversation several times:

“What did he say?”

“I don’t know — I couldn’t hear it.”

“You know, I hear that a lot of people are watching this show with the closed captioning feature on their TVs activated.”

The Vince Vaughn character, in particular, seems to specialize in muttering things under his breath, menacingly but incomprehensibly, but we have have trouble understanding many characters on that show.  Is there something about the sound quality of True Detective that just sucks, or have the producers decided that whispered statements fit better with the dark themes of the show?  Maybe the “never mind” theme music is supposed to suggest to viewers that the dialogue really doesn’t matter much, anyway.

When you can’t hear the dialogue on a TV show, there aren’t any good choices.  If you’re watching a recording, you can try to rewind, but you need the deftness of a surgeon to move back to just the right spot without overshooting, and it really wrecks the flow of the narrative even if you are successful.  Or, you can crank the volume up to senior citizen retirement home levels, give up any pretense of clinging to remaining youth, and start going to restaurants at “Early Bird Special” times and using the word “whippersnapper.”  Or, you can activate the closed captioning option — which will expose your obvious lack of technological know-how in trying to find and turn on the option in the first place.

I have no doubt that my hearing acuity has declined over the years, but I wouldn’t say that I’ve got a hearing problem — at least, I don’t think I do.  Does any young whippersnapper out there have trouble following the dialogue on True Detective, too?  Speak up, will you?

Life Coaching

Every workday I walk past a storefront that offers yoga and exercise classes and “life coaching.”  That option makes me chuckle a bit and sticks with me as I walk, and I think of a guy wearing a plain gray t-shirt, seat pants, a ball cap, and a whistle, yelling at me to follow the “life playbook” and get my affairs in order.

What is a life coach, exactly?

IMG_6321After doing some internet research, the precise role of a “life coach” is still not entirely clear to me.  It looks like people with that title can offer advice on everything from financial affairs to marital problems to exercise and diet regimens to general decision-making and goal-setting.  Lifecoaching.com says:  “Life Coaching is a profession that is profoundly different from consulting, mentoring, advice, therapy, or counseling. The coaching process addresses specific personal projects, business successes, general conditions and transitions in the client’s personal life, relationships or profession by examining what is going on right now, discovering what your obstacles or challenges might be, and choosing a course of action to make your life be what you want it to be.

It also appears that the “life coach” field is a largely unregulated one, without any legal requirements as to training, licensing, or capabilities, although there are certain industry certifications that “life coaches” can obtain if they choose to.  If you run a Google search on life coach training, you’re likely to get results that tell you about the variety of training programs, on-line courses, or books you can read to become a “life coach” and then lots of results advertising the “life coaches” in your area.

So, as best I can figure it, a “life coach” is someone who a person can talk to in a structured way about what they’ve been doing and where they want to go, and get advice about how to get there.  Although lifecoaching.com apparently disagrees, it sounds a lot like what a trusted and knowledgeable mentor, friend, or family member might do.  And that seems to beg another question:  why would a person pay an unlicensed “life coach” to listen to their problems and offer advice rather than talking to an older, experienced, successful family member or colleague who knows them, cares about them, and won’t charge them a dime?  Is it because they want someone who they consider to be objective, even if they might not know a lot about the person, or because they don’t want to share their problems or personal goals with a friend or family member due to embarrassment?

I suppose there could be lots of rationales for why you would seek “life coaching” at a storefront location in your town, but it also seems like another way in which what used to be a significant, potentially enriching and strengthening part of family relationships and/or personal or workplace friendships is being replaced by paid services provided by strangers.  Maybe that’s a good thing — or maybe not.

 

The Leaping Range Of The Wolf Spider

Hen Island in Lake Erie is a spidery place.  You regularly see little spiders scurrying about in the corners of the old buildings, and if you walk around the island you need to be prepared to scrape some stray cobwebs from your arms or your face.

Coming face to face with a huge, hairy-legged monstrosity on a screened-in porch is quite another matter, however.

IMG_6282This beauty showed up on the porch on Saturday morning.  It was not quite as big as a tarantula — but close . . . appallingly, disgustingly close.  It was down by a baseboard, near a table leg, looking bigger than it actually was because it was a female spider toting an egg sac.  As our group of six or seven sat on our rockers, reading and chatting on a pretty morning, one member of the group noticed the spider.  Then, the conversation went something like this:

“Hey, look at the size of that spider.  Holy shit!”

“That’s a wolf spider.  It’s harmless.”

“You may be right, but my conscious mind refuses to believe that anything that looks like that is harmless.”

“Well, they can bite.”

“Yeah, but the bite is not poisonous.”

“It will still leave a pretty good welt.”

“I’ve heard that wolf spiders can leap ten feet.”

Wait . . . ten feet?  At that point everybody on the porch did a mental calculation of their range from the spider, which now looked suspiciously like it was crouching and ready to spring, and whether they were beyond the ten-foot zone of death.  I’m guessing that many of the rockers had the same thought I did — a mental image of a shaggy horror suddenly flying through the air, landing on their face, close enough so you can get a good look at the inhuman eyes and the slavering mandibles, and delivering a sharp, painful bite.  And if that bulging egg sac happened to burst at just that moment, releasing a horde of ravenous, biting baby spiders with Olympic-caliber leaping abilities into an enclosed area . . . .

At that point, getting a cup of coffee from the kitchen in the next building seemed like a really good idea.

One of the staffers eventually came and put the spider, which had remained blessedly huddled near the table, in a jar.  We all took a good look, then released it outside, feeling good and environmentally sensitive about letting the spider back into its habitat but nevertheless unsettled by our brush with the wild world.