The End Of Football (As We Know It)

Russell has a pretty good eye for a trend.  Recently he was heard to boldly predict that — notwithstanding record ratings and fantasy football websites and huge sales of t-shirts, team jerseys, and hats — the NFL is on the down slope and, ultimately, doomed.

Why?  Injuries, of course.  The players are simply too big, too strong, and moving too fast.  The result is countless players sidelined with concussions, destroyed shoulders, buckled knees, and other year-ending and career-ending injuries — and in the case of concussions, potential future health consequences that are dire, indeed.  Already there is discussion about changing the rules of the game — specifically, to get rid of kickoffs, where players run into each other at full ramming speed — to try to lessen the injury toll.

Russell predicts a ripple effect.  Parents will decide that their kids shouldn’t play football because it’s just too dangerous.  High schools and middle schools will stop offering football because of liability concerns, just as many high schools have forsworn traditional track and field events like the pole vault, the javelin, and the discus because of liability risks.  It will be tougher for colleges to give up football, because it is both a moneymaker and a huge spur to alumni pride and endowment fund donations, but after some horrible injuries and crushing lawsuits take their toll, colleges, too, will begin to drop the game.  And then . . . who will feed the NFL pipeline?  Samoans?  Russians?  Australians?  Kids from poor families who see football as their only chance to get out of a situation of extreme poverty?

And it’s starting already.  CBS News reported today that, in the past five years, the number of kids playing football in high school has dropped by 25,000.  With a few more big-money concussion lawsuits, and a few more high profile injuries and even deaths, the number of schools dropping football will only increase.

I think Russell’s right on this.  I really enjoy watching football, but you simply can’t ignore the fact that, in seemingly every professional game, players are carted off the field or are being given concussion examinations.  The injury impact on college ball isn’t quite as bad, but with the ever-greater emphasis on strength and conditioning and increasing speed more devastating hits, and more resulting injuries, are inevitable.  So what do you do?  Prevent super-big, super-fast guys from playing?  Blame the protective gear that can be weaponized — like plastic helmets — and go back to the leatherhead days?

If you like football, the reality might be:  enjoy it while it lasts.

The Air Guitar Time Machine

I probably first played air guitar when I was 13 or 14, after we moved from Akron to Columbus.  We were living in a bigger house and I had gotten my own room, which I equipped with a radio and with the family’s hand-me-down record player, a cheap and unsteady Panasonic unit with plastic speakers.  In that little enclave of my own, I really started to discover rock music beyond The Beatles and The Monkees.

Like many teenaged boys, I was drawn to the guitar gods of the day — Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, and others, the slouching, long-haired titans who delivered the intricate, crushing solos that kicked your spirits into another gear and managed to look uber-cool while doing so.  I saw clips of their performances on the late-night music shows and how they looked while playing.

So, was it really so surprising that, when you put a song like Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven or Cream’s Crossroads or the Rolling Stones’ Monkey Man on that flimsy Panasonic turntable and felt the surge of energy that those songs inevitably produced, a little air guitar solo would surface?  When you were in the grip of those songs, you had to do something to participate, and the choices boiled down to playing air drums with the John Bonhams and Ginger Bakers and Keith Moons of the world — or playing air guitar.  I chose air guitar, even though I had no idea what I was doing and whether my chord-fingering on the air fretboard and picking and strumming on the air strings bore any relation to guitar-playing reality, and even though I knew I looked silly doing it.  It just felt like the right thing to do, and it was fun, besides.

It still does, and still is.  Even now, more than 40 years later, if you put me alone in a room and start playing Derek and the Dominos’ Key To The Highway or Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water or Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Call Me The Breeze, the impulse to play a little air guitar (and in the latter case, a little air keyboards, too) and feel like a kid again while doing so will be irresistible.  Those songs are like a kind of time machine that transports me back to that poster-filled room with the scratchy Panasonic unit playing at the loudest decibel level I dared, and my guess is that the same is true for many of us fifty-something guys.

It’s nice to know that, lurking under the extra pounds and the grey hair and the aching back, there’s a little bit of that teenager energy and silliness still to be found.

Another Killer From Australia

Recently scientists announced that they discovered a new species of snake that is native to Australia. And here’s a shocker:  the snake is a killer.

With the warm and fuzzy name of Kimberley Death Adder, the newly discovered species is considered to be one of the most venomous snakes in the world.  It lies in wait, camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings, until an unwary victim stumbles into its area, and then it strikes and bites with its deadly fangs.  Before an antivenom was developed and made available, it killed or paralyzed about half of its human victims.

It’s no surprise, really, that the Kimberley Death Adder is one of the most dangerous snakes in the world.  In Australia, it’s par for the course.  Even though many Americans associate Australia with beer and charming accents, the world’s only country-continent is home to an extraordinary assortment of deadly creatures, ranging from man-eating Great White Sharks to killer crocodiles to venomous, paralyzing snails to huge birds with killer claws that can rip off an arm to loads of poisonous fish, jellyfish, and octopus species.  Even certain species of purportedly cuddly koalas can be deadly.  And, of course, Australia is well-represented on the top 10 deadly snake and top 10 venomous spider lists.  There’s a reason Crocodile Dundee carried around that huge knife.

Even though I’d probably be scared snotless the entire time I was there and would need to keep an eye out at all time for spiders, snakes, and dozens of other potential killers, I’d still like to visit Australia one day:  it just seems like the right thing to do.  I’ve wanted to check it out since Kish and I read In A Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson’s classic and hilarious book about his travels in Australia. Now there’s just one more creature waiting to knock me off when I finally make the long flight to the other side of the world.

When The Cab Ride From LaGuardia Sucks

I’ve been on the road a lot lately, with several in-and-out trips to New York City being part of the travel schedule.  New York City is a very cool place — once you get to the City itself.  Unfortunately, the cab ride in from LaGuardia usually bites.  It’s as if New York City planners decided that the best way to prepare someone for the rigors of Manhattan is to toughen them up and lower their expectations by giving them a painful ride into town.

IMG_7035I’m not the sort of person to get car sick, but Sunday night’s ride into Manhattan got me to the verge of spewing all of the old, crappy, duct-taped seats of my cab.  My driver was an angry guy (of course!) who had only two driving modes — maximum acceleration and jamming on the brakes, and he did both, alternatively, while cursing the traffic (which was heavy, of course) and gesturing angrily at the other drivers (who paid him no attention).

As a result, my fellow passenger and I were like those old Weeble toys, constantly rocked back and forth with the speeding and braking, lurching forward and careening backward and slamming into the seat behind.  Occasionally the driver modified his technique by changing lanes abruptly, so that we got that delightful unexpected lateral motion sensation, too.  Add to it all that the weather was hot, the cab had no air-conditioning, and the windows were cracked to lessen the heat factor — which only means that the back seat was filled foul-smelling, exhaust-laden air — and you will believe me when I tell you that, to put it mildly, the ride in to downtown really sucked.

It doesn’t have to be that way, of course.  Our ride from Manhattan to LaGuardia this afternoon was reasonably pleasant, with a smooth, non-jarring ride and no death-defying lane changes or unhinged gestures.  It makes me wonder — once you get a cab license, in NYC, is there ever any random, anonymous testing to see whether you should still be ferrying passengers back and forth through some of the worst traffic conditions in the United States?  And is it any wonder that so many people prefer Uber, where you know something about your driver and how they have been rated by prior passengers?

Nightfall At The Freedom Tower

Our evening stroll also took us to the Freedom Tower, built on the footprint of the World Trade Centers.  I was here soon after 9/11, when recovery operations were still underway, and again when the memorial was complete but the building was still being constructed. I’m glad it is completed, although I’m not sure what the bat wing canopy signifies.

It is still not easy to be at this place, now 14 years later, but the fact that we have rebuilt sends a message.

The Bridge, After Dark

Last night after dinner the Red Sox Fan and I took a walk around the lower rim of Manhattan.  One of our stops was the South Street Seaport, which offers a dazzling view of the lighted Brooklyn Bridge.  It was a very cool area, with lots of people waiting for ferries and water taxis, and others — like us — just enjoying the night air and the scene.

Oysters, I Say!

Recently, I was at a restaurant with a colleague when I noticed oysters were on the menu.  “Do you eat oysters?” I inquired, politely.

“No,” she responded, somewhat stiffly.  “Frankly, they kind of disgust me.”

“Why?” I asked, innocently.

“Because they are gray and blobby and wiggly and squishy,” she explained.

I considered her apparent revulsion to oysters, and my duties as a fellow diner — and then I decided.  “Well, do you mind if I order some?”

“No,” she said with a slight shudder.

“Don’t mind if I do,” I said, and placed my order.  And with some fresh lemon juice and cocktail sauce — boy, those oysters were succulent!

Never let trivial social niceties stand in the way of good oysters, I say!

A Walk Down High Street

Last night after the Ohio State game ended I walked from Ohio Stadium across campus, and then down High Street to the Short North.  It was an eye-opener.

A bit of historical context:  when I went to OSU in the late ’70s, the stretch of High Street between campus and downtown was a grim wasteland.  The sleaziness started in the South Campus area — where bars like Papa Joe’s and the Travel Agency were generally viewed as more drunken, debauched, decrepit, and derelict than their North Campus counterparts — and then went steadily downhill as you moved away from campus and toward downtown.  Most of the buildings along that sorry stretch of High Street were either X-rated “burlesque” theaters, or XXX peep show emporiums, or boarded up and abandoned, and if you tried to walk the area you definitely felt a strong sense of physical insecurity among the hard-faced people who were present.

It was an area you would visit if you wanted to get a picture of people who were down on their luck for your Photojournalism class.  There was no Short North then, and the Skid Row, porn-invested grittiness extended for block after block until you reached the area of the Nationwide building and the northern edge of downtown.  I’m sure the urban planners of the late ’70s wondered how far the area would decline, and what to do about it.

But, how things have changed!  Now the crummy South Campus bars are long gone, replaced by the bright and shining Gateway project, with its bookstores and restaurants and apartments, and the Short North has been reborn into a residential/dining/arts/hipster enclave that has been steadily inching its way north along the High Street corridor.

I thought that there would still have to be a buffer area of the old sleaziness that I would have to cross before I hit the Short North and its curved over-the-street lighting — but I was wrong.  Now the High Street walker moves past the Gateway area, heading south, and encounters . . . more pubs and apartments.  In fact, I had no idea there were so many different brew pubs in Columbus.  Sure, there are some street people present, and sure, the area doesn’t have the high-end feel that you get in the Short North, but on my walk there was never any hint of safety concerns or encounters with angry, apparently deranged people — both of which were staples of the late ’70s era.

To be sure, it was a football Saturday night, so there were more people on the streets than you would get on a normal weeknight, but the fact that people were walking from the campus area to the Short North in the first place tells you something about how the area has changed.  When I finally reached the Short North and caught the CBus to complete the rest of my journey back to German Village, I couldn’t help but be impressed at how things have changed for the better.


IMG_7024With the Goodyear bliimp hovering overhead, the Buckeyes came back with an improved performance on offense and beat Western Michigan 38-12.  The offense was better — although I’m not sure how good the Broncos are on the defensive side of the ball — while the Ohio State defense really got pretty gashed on the ground.  Still, a win is a win, and a trip to the Horseshoe is always a treat.  The Buckeyes will head into Big Ten play 4-0.

Mysteries Of The Van Dyke

When I was a kid the back cover of every comic book — whether it be Richie Rich, Scrooge McDuck, or Superman — had the same set of yellow-colored ads.  They offered the most tantalizing products imaginable, all designed to stir the fertile imaginations of 10-year-old boys.  “X-ray specs” that would allow you to see through anything!  A Sherlock Holmes kit so you could become a real detective!  A treasure chest box with unknown contents that could contain just about anything!  A gizmo that would allow you to throw your voice, so your Mom would think you were trapped in a chest!  (Ha ha!)

But one of the most evocative ads touted the mysterious “Van Dyke” beard.  It was not a cheap, full beard that hooked around your ears and would clearly look totally fake.  No, the Van Dyke ad promised a more nuanced, sophisticated look that vaguely resembled Robin Hood:  chin whiskers that came to a point and sweeping sideburns.  You could enjoy an “exciting, romantic” look at was “impressive anytime.”  And, hey . . . the smiling guy in the ad did look pretty impressive.  You didn’t see many Van Dykes — or for that matter any facial hair of any kind — sported in suburban Akron, Ohio.  No doubt the Van Dyke look was more popular in the major metropolitan areas like New York City, or perhaps somewhere in France.

The ad said you could put the beard on in seconds to “suit your mood,” and to make the look even more natural and believable you could check which hair color you wanted, to better match your actual hair color.  Hmmm . . . I guess I’m “medium brown.”  But two of the hair color options were “grey” and “silver,” which obviously meant that distinguished older men were ordering the Van Dyke look.  A downy-cheeked, hairless youth, wanting desperately to cross that bridge to adulthood and being taken more seriously, could spin some pretty good fantasies about donning a perfectly matching Van Dyke and sideburns, thereby transforming himself into a mysterious, continental figure, and venturing out into the world of grown-ups.  Alas, the $7 price tag was just too steep.

I thought about the mysteries of the Van Dyke last weekend, when we were at a family wedding and I realized with a start that almost every male over the age of 16 other than the groom had a beard.  And what an exotic collection of chin whiskers, too — from the little patch beard directly under the mouth to full flowing foliage to carefully cultivated, bristling stubble.  Short beards, long beards, pointy beards . . . it was a colossal beard fest.  And yes!  There were several gents with a Van Dyke/sideburns combo, and you know what?  It looked pretty darned impressive.

The chuckling guy in the comic book ad would have been proud.


I saw this picture of Lena Dunham in front of a Hillary Clinton poster, and I spent a few minutes looking at the poster and thinking about it.

Interesting, isn’t it, how political posters get designed?  Obviously, the poster artists are searching for a perspective and message that will appeal to the voting masses.  And, these days, everyone would like to develop one as fabulously successful as the Obama “Hope” poster.  With its basic primary colors and design, the placid, thoughtful expression on the candidate’s face, and the simple message that clearly connected with a broad swath of the electorate, you saw the “Hope” poster everywhere in 2008.

The Hillary poster behind Lena Dunham obviously has a different focus and purpose.  Rather than matching the candidate with a message, it’s about the candidate and only the candidate — with Mrs. Clinton’s head framed against the rays of the sun, and her first name, and only her first name, below.  And the picture of Mrs. Clinton certainly seems designed to portray an image of youthfulness and vigor, doesn’t it?  With the thrust-out chin, the lacquered, swept-back hair, the unlined face and distinctive makeup, and the black turtleneck, the poster depicts Hillary Clinton as a stylish thirty-something hipster who just walked out of a Soho coffee house after a poetry reading — rather than a woman approaching 70 who seems to prefer pants suits.

Many political posters remind me of old Soviet Union propaganda pieces, and this one does as well.  The old USSR posters always seemed to depict the Soviet people as lantern-jawed, dramatically backlit, muscular titans striding into the future and sternly doing battle with the evil forces of tubby, cigar-smoking capitalist fat cats.  The sunburst design and pose in the Hillary poster are echoes of those relics of a failed regime.

Ultimately, political posters want to present the candidate in idealized form, in an effort to steer voter perception.  The Obama campaign wanted Barack Obama to be seen as an agent of Hope and Change during hard times.  What, exactly, does the Hillary Clinton poster want to tell us about Hillary Clinton, the candidate?

Hand Crank

On a recent trip, I asked to get the cheapest, most no-frills car that the rental agency offered — and they delivered.  And how!

IMG_6977Believe it or not, I got a car that did not have power windows.  Instead, it had the old hand crank, which I dutifully used to raise the window and lower it.  I found myself wondering how many people under the age of, say, 40 would even know what the hand crank was and how it worked.  They might still be searching for the automatic window button.

The car also did not have an automatic trunk de-latching lever — you had to manually use the key to unlock the trunk.  I know that this was mystifying to the younger generation, because the 20-something guy who brought my car from the valet parking area tried to pop the trunk , but couldn’t find a latch to do so.  When I explained that you needed to get out of the driver’s seat, go to the back, and unlock the trunk manually, he seemed astonished — like he expected pigeons to fly out of the trunk or some other magical feat to be performed.

I know the older set among us will be thinking about other signs of older cars versus newer cars.  I can advise you that (1) the car had seat belts, (2) the car had bucket seats, and (3) the car did not have only an AM radio.

Still, the hand crank for the windows was a trip down memory lane, back to the first few cars I ever owned.  It was bizarre to find it on a recently manufactured rig.

Banking On The Doomsday Seed Vault

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a pretty apocalyptic concept in a pretty apocalyptic place:  a lonely repository of almost a million stored seeds of different plant life from around the world, preserved in a building embedded into the Arctic frost on a remote island at the northern tip of the globe.

The Vault itself looks apocalyptic.  It’s a sharp-edged, vertical rectangle jammed 500 feet into the mountainside on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, like the end of a knife handle plunged into a frozen side of beef.  It looks exactly like a set from a big-budget Hollywood end-of-the-world disaster movie, in which a rugged and diverse band of far-sighted, parka-wearing scientists must go to the ends of the Earth in a race against time to save the world while evildoers or religious fanatics try to thwart them.

Located just 800 miles from the North Pole, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is designed to preserve global botanical diversity against the threat of absolute catastrophe — be it nuclear holocaust, meteor strikes, crippling volcanic eruptions, or mass disease that wipes out the world’s plant life.  The Vault commenced operations in 2008, and it contains more than 850,000 seed samples, from nations all over the world, that could be used to restart plant life after the post-disaster dust has settled.

And now the first withdrawal from the Seed Vault is going to be made — thanks to the Syrian civil war.  The Seed Vault contains samples of hardy strains of wheat, barley and grasses that can grow in desert areas, and those seeds have been requested to replace seeds in another seed bank, in Syria, that has been damaged by the fighting.  There are a number of seed banks located around the world, but the Svalbard facility — thanks to its remote location and frozen climate — is considered the ultimate backstop.

It’s sad to think that, only a few years after the doomsday vault was opened to store seeds for eternity, a mini-apocalypse has required it to be used.  And you also wonder: at what point do the Seed Vault’s operators stop allowing seeds to be removed?  Crippling and destructive civil wars in places like Syria are terrible and devastating, but they are also — unfortunately — commonplace in our war-torn world.  If your purpose is to safeguard the global ecology and preserve a glimmer of hope for the world in the event of the unthinkable, a miserly withdrawal policy would seem to be in order.

Church Of The Magic Hour

IMG_7002They call it the Magic Hour — that period of late afternoon sunshine when the angle of the sun’s rays seems to suffuse everything with a warm inner glow.  Photographers and cinematographers crave it because it provides a distinctive lighting touch that simply can’t be recreated by artificial means.

I passed the church at the corner of Broad and Third during the Magic Hour, and it was bright and glowing and beautiful.  The rising moon just next to the church’s tower didn’t hurt the look, either.

Emmy On A Plane

On Monday I was waiting to board a flight from Los Angeles to New York City when a scruffy-looking guy marched past, carrying something shiny in his hand.  At first I thought it was a bowling trophy, then with a start I realized it was an Emmy, and the awards program — which I didn’t watch — had been the night before.

The guy, who I didn’t recognize, was carrying his Emmy like a burnished loaf of bread.  He had gripped it around the midriff of the winged figure, below the wings, with the figure horizontal to the floor and the globe pointed downward.  It wasn’t the dainty, hold-beneath-the-round-base-and-display-the-gleaming-statuette pose that you see on the awards shows themselves.  No, this was the more practical, business-like method of a guy who had a good-sized sharp, shiny object in hand and had to figure out how to carry it while he tried to catch a plane.

Apparently the Emmy awards don’t give winners a box in which to carry their Emmy home — or onto a plane.  I bet the winner had a fun time getting the metal Emmy, with its sharp, winged protrusions and club-like base, past the security checkpoint while the blue-suited TSA guys pondered whether it could be weaponized.  And I found myself wondering:  would the guy put the Emmy into the overhead bin, where it probably would rattle around during the flight and get banged up, or would he put it under the seat in front of him, which doesn’t seem like it would be treating the Emmy with the respect a serious piece of artistic recognition deserves, or would he hold it, balanced in his lap, for the entire five-and-a-half hour flight to JFK?  Such are the knotty questions that prestigious award winners must confront as they take their booty home to be enshrined on a mantle or shelf.

My curiosity piqued, I scanned the plane for the award winner as I boarded a few minutes later, but I saw no sign of the guy or his Emmy by the time I found my seat in the middle of the plane.  Apparently the guy and his award were more toward the rear of the plane.