The Bye Week Jinx Strikes Again

College football fans hate “bye” weeks.  It seems like something bad always happens when the players on your favorite team are away from their normal weekly routine of classes, practices, and film study.

This week Ohio State has a bye week, and the jinx bit — just when Ohio State seemed to have turned a corner with J.T. Barrett taking over the starting position at quarterback  and the Buckeyes posting a crushing road victory over Rutgers last weekend.  To the consternation of members of Buckeye Nation everywhere, Barrett was cited early this morning for a misdemeanor count of OMVI. He will serve a one-game suspension, will missing the Buckeyes’ game against Minnesota, and will be eligible to return for the game against Illinois the following week.  In the meantime, Cardale Jones will once again start for the Buckeyes — and we’ll see whether Barrett regains the starting job once he’s eligible to play again.

This kind of news is maddening for many college football fans, who wonder why athletes can’t toe the line and avoid these kinds of incidents.  I think such people forget what it’s like to be a young college student, with temptations around every corner and students dealing with the pervasive feeling of invulnerability that comes with youth.  J.T. Barrett seems like such a mature, capable decision-maker on the football field that we’re surprised that he doesn’t always make the same careful decisions and check-downs in his personal life.  I guess he’s human after all.

I’ve not met J.T. Barrett, but everything I’ve ready about him tells me that he will be harder on himself for this lapse than just about anyone else — except perhaps Coach Urban Meyer.  Young people frequently make mistakes; the key thing is to learn from them. J.T. Barrett seems like a good student of the game of football; let’s hope he’s an equally adept student about learning about life.

More Of Earth’s Curious Ancient Mysteries

Scientists recently discovered the existence of hundreds of curious and colossal earthwork formations in Kazakhstan.  The Steppe Geoglyph formations, which include geometric patterns and a kind of curlicue form of swastika, are visible only from high in the air.

As the New York Times reports, scientists estimate that the earliest of the mound formations was built approximately 8,000 years ago.  They had long since been forgotten and were discovered only when a Kazakh amateur archaologist started using Google Earth images to search for pyramids in Kazakhstan.  He didn’t find any evidence of pyramids in his home territory, but he did notice the huge, sprawling patterns that appeared.  After he announced his findings, NASA and other scientists got involved, began photographing the formations from satellites and analyzing their contents, and the mystery only deepened.

No one knows who built the earthworks, or their purpose.  They apparently aren’t burial mounds.  One scientist speculates that the geometric shapes were built to track the path of the rising sun.  But that explanation doesn’t account for the odd, curlicue swastika shape — which looks like the sort of insignia you might see on a uniform or a flag — nor does it gibe with what we know about the nomadic tribes that lived in the area at the time the formations apparently were built.  Why would nomads stop for the period of time needed to build such enormous formations, only to leave again?

I’ve never been much of a conspiracy theorist, and I don’t watch TV shows or read books about “ancient astronauts” or lost Atlantis or theories about the alien genesis of the Sphinx or the pyramids or Stonehenge or the Nazca Lines in Peru.  But there’s obviously a lot we don’t know about the Earth and human history in the period before the early Egyptian and Babylonian civilizations developed.  Perhaps there is a rational explanation for all of these formations that were visible only from the air, and investigation will uncover a period of human culture that we aren’t currently aware of that helps to make sense of it all. And if there was a previously unsuspected, higher form of early human civilization that somehow disappeared, we might be able to learn something useful from its downfall.

Or, perhaps, there is another explanation.  The possibilities are intriguing.

One other point.  If you’ve got some spare time, you might decide to spend it searching Google Earth images of the terrain in your neck of the woods.  You never know what you might find.

At An Office Coffee Station On The Day After Beggars’ Night

IMG_7433Last night was Beggars’ Night, and we bought too much candy.  (We had no trick-or-treaters at all visit our new house, so any candy would have been too much.)  Kish’s edict was unequivocal:  get the candy out of the house, immediately!  So, to the office and the counter next to the fifth floor coffee station it went.  By 8 a.m., another of my office mates, who had a cool witch serving bowl, also had weighed in with her extras, and the coffee station was ready for the inevitable onslaught.  I’m guessing that this same scene was duplicated in countless offices around the country.

IMG_7435By 1:30 the hungry denizens of the fifth floor had made an appreciably large dent in the candy supplies.  The Snickers bars were the first to go, followed by M&Ms and Milky Ways, and the Three Musketeers bars were bringing up the rear.  There was a huge post-lunch, “its-kind-of-like-a-dessert-so-its-OK-for-me-to-have-one-or-two” rush on the candy, and one grateful consumer left a nice thank-you note.

IMG_7437By 4 p.m., the human tide had subsided.  Only a few lonely, somewhat pathetic-looking candies remained in the witch’s straw bowl.  The plate had been removed entirely, and the jar was empty.  Even the boring Three Musketeers bars had been consumed by the chocolate-craving occupants of the fifth floor — if not by colleagues on other floors who heard through the grapevine that there were good candy pickins on 5.

How much candy do you suppose is consumed in offices on the day after Beggars’ Night, anyway?

 

One Child, Two Child

Imagine living in a society where the government strictly dictated how many children you could have, and imposed crippling fines if your family exceeded its limit.  It is an Orwellian concept, the kind of repressive, intrusive, Big Brother/Big Government run amok plot line that has given rise to countless movies and books about soulless future societies.

Except that such a government and policy actually exists, and has for decades — in China.  Since the ’70s, China has limited families to one child, in an effort to curb its population growth.  China’s leader at the time, Deng Xiaoping, instituted the policy so that “the fruits of economic growth are not devoured by population growth.”  That decision was applauded by some advocates who were urging governments to take aggressive steps to control overpopulation; indeed, the United Nations Fund For Population Activities actually gave China an award for its decision.

As the New York Times reports, China’s one-child policy has had brutal consequences that include forced abortions, infanticide by rural farming families that prefer boys over girls, and a resulting lopsided imbalance in males and females in the Chinese population.  And now China is changing its policy — not because it was inhuman and indefensible in the first instance, but because China realizes it has miscalculated.  As a result of the one-child policy, China’s birth rate isn’t sufficient to support its rapidly aging population, so now China is declaring that couples can have two children.

There’s skepticism, however, about whether China’s abrupt policy change will work.  Even if couples of child-bearing age decide to have a second child, those offspring won’t be part of the Chinese workforce for years.  What’s more, China’s population has now been conditioned to accept one-child families, and couples are very sensitive to the economic and emotional costs of having a second child.  And even if the birth rate increases as a result of the policy change, China’s population will begin to decline and the imbalance of young workers versus old pensioners will continue to grow.

Those who advocate aggressive government decisions to address perceived social problems would do well to consider China’s one-child policy, which shows that governments not only can be brutal, but they can also be dead wrong.  And if you were an older member of Chinese society, how comfortable would you be with your position in the face of bad demographic statistics and the economic burdens of supporting a growing number of retirees?  Would a government that enforces a one-child policy in an effort to control its economy hesitate to take steps directed at the other end of the age spectrum to restore what it considers to be a proper balance to its population?

The Joys Of Recess

  

On lunch break in Brooklyn, I walked past a park and saw a bunch of schoolkids playing during recess. They had no equipment other than a ball and no teacher or monitor telling them what to do, but they obviously were having fun playing a game of their own creation where one kid stretched out on the ground and the others had to bounce the ball over her prone figure.

Who doesn’t remember recess fondly — and these kinds of unsupervised moments are the most memorable.

A Book At A Bar

Last night I got to my hotel at about 9:30 p.m. after a terrible travel day.  I hadn’t had dinner and it was raining cats and dogs outside, so I decided to just take my book and stick to the hotel bar for a bite to eat before turning in.

At this point, alarm bells should have been sounding.  Normally I won’t eat a late meal at a hotel bar because it almost always is unpleasant.  People go to hotel bars to drink.  They don’t need to drive home, and they often rationalize an extra drink as helping them to sleep in a strange room.  So if you get there late, you’re likely to encounter people who have been overserved.

IMG_20151029_075612Taking a book to a hotel bar is also a mistake.  Hotel bars aren’t well suited to quiet reading.  And there is something about a solo traveler with a book that seems to provoke other bar patrons to unwanted interaction.  Whether they feel sorry for you and think you are crying out for human companionship, or are liquored up and believe their conversation with you will be the highlight of your evening, they’re inevitably going to pester you.

Sure enough, when I arrived last night and sat at the bar where the light was best, it didn’t take long.  I read my book, and then a boozy woman nearby became intrigued.  She was one of those types who seemed to laugh at everything and whose braying howls had already intruded on my mental space.  “Hey, how can you read when the World Series is on?  Whatcha reading?”  Curiously, I didn’t feel like having a deep discussion about my book with a braying stranger, so I said I wasn’t much interested in the Series this year.  Fortunately, the conversation petered out quickly and ended when my food arrived, and I gratefully went back to my book.

With the Mets getting pounded, the couple went reeling back to their room soon after, to be replaced by another couple — who asked exactly the same questions.  That discussion also was blessedly brief and ended when the woman had an incredibly loud cell phone conversation, apparently heedless of normal tenets of civilized behavior that suggest that a personal phone call shouldn’t occur a few feet from strangers who simply want to be left alone.

So here’s a tip for hotel bar patrons everywhere.  The readers among us are perfectly content to enjoy our books.  We’re not sad or lonely or pining for human interaction — we just think our books are likely to be more interesting than a conversation with someone who’s had a few belts too many.

The Dreaded On-Board Delay

  
I’m going to have to get used to the above scene.  I’ll be looking at it for a while.

I’m in the midst of a dreaded on-board delay.  After three hours of delays due to crappy weather on the Eastern seaboard, we finally got to board our plane — but then our hopes were dashed by a “ground hold” issued by the destination airport.

When an on-board delay happens, every action of fellows passengers becomes irritating.  The tubby guy across the aisle moves one enormous leg into the aisle, and you think:  who the hell does he think he is?  Then there are the too loud talkers, yammering about their breakdowns and second homes, and the guy who springs up to rearrange his stuff in the overhead bin that he put away only moments before, and the weak-kidneyed woman who trots to the bathroom.  Seriously? Can’t people just sit still and stoically endure the agony?

The only thing worse than an on-board hold is a deplaning, and the only thing worse than a deplaning is hell itself.