Leap Day

Well, it’s February 29 — the day that comes once every four years.  By definition and by invention, it’s a weird day, and it’s not surprising that it’s associated with weird traditions and superstitions.

julius_caesarWe can thank Julius Caesar for Leap Day.  Caesar first came up with a standard 365-day calendar that featured an extra day every four years.  However, because the Julian calendar year did not precisely match the length of a solar year — the period of time it takes for the Earth to make one complete revolution around the Sun — and was instead .0078 days too long, the difference between the calendar year and the solar year accumulated after a dozen or so centuries and left the calendar seriously out of whack.  In 1583, Pope Gregory XIII fixed things by declaring that a “century year” (a year ending in 00) is a leap year only if it is evenly divisible by 400.

Those of us who were around on February 29, 2000 therefore can revel in the fact that, having survived the silly Y2K panic, we experienced a once-every-400-years event.  Just wait until we celebrate it again in 2400!

Pope Gregory’s tinkering is not the only bit of legislation associated with February 29.  If you are born on February 29, when do you officially celebrate your birthday during non-leap years — on February 28, or March 1?  Most states apparently decree, by statute, that you gain a year on March 1.  That doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if you’re a Leap Baby you’d be peeved if you had to wait an extra day to take your first legal drink at age 21.

I’m not doing anything special for Leap Day.  In fact, I don’t like Leap Day for two reasons.  First, why is Leap Day in February, which is inevitably the worst weather month of the year?  After all, Leap Day could have been put anywhere on the calendar.  It’s a totally random addition.  Why not put our extra day in a good weather month, like June or September?   After picking February, no wonder Caesar had to beware the Ides of March.

And second, in the United States a Leap Year always coincides with a presidential election year.  That means that, in addition to another day of crappy February, we get another day of spin, insults, political ads, and talking heads.  It’s almost enough to make you want to tell all of the candidates to take a Leap.

At Scioto Audubon Park

IMG_0604Today was one of those days where you just can’t stay inside.  Kasey and I both felt like exploring, so we set out for the Scioto Audubon Metro Park on the Whittier peninsula, just south of the Brewery District.

It was a beautiful day, with a gusting breeze, bright sunshine and a temperature in the 60s.  It was a perfect day for a man and his dog to take a walk — and we weren’t the only ones who thought so.  We strolled along the busy Scioto Trail, which is part of the Central Ohio Greenways trail network, stopped at the Audubon Park buildings, took in a view of the muddy but shimmering Scioto River, and then walked to the other side of the buildings to get a view of downtown Columbus from the south.  After Kasey showed that she was interested in tussling with, or at least barking at, every other dog on the trail — what the heck, she obviously felt the sap rising — we decided to call it a day and head home.

One of these days Kish and I are going to get out our bikes and head down the Scioto Trail to see where it takes us.


One Day Without Coffee

Yesterday, at about 7 p.m., I was making myself dinner in the kitchen.  I passed the coffee maker and realized, with a start, that I had gone an entire day without drinking so much as a single sip of joe.

IMG_0583It happened by accident, thanks largely to Kasey.  With Kish out of town, I’m in charge of our little beagle mix buddy.  When I woke up, she needed to be fed and walked immediately — with Kasey, pretty much everything having to do with food or bodily functions is urgent and requires urgent barking treatment — and I decided we would just head in to office after she got her grub.  Once at the office, I kept my office door closed so Kasey would stay put, and I didn’t want to risk her darting out and running around the floor if I left to make myself a cup of coffee.

By the time I was done with work and we had walked home, the morning hours had passed without the customary java infusion.  I set out to a nearby eatery to get some lunch — a meal where my customary drink of choice is always water with lemon — and then puttered around the house doing some chores and reading.  By the time dinnertime rolled around, I discovered that I had been surprisingly coffeeless for the whole day.

This isn’t that big of a deal, obviously.  I’m sure that once or twice during the 40-odd years that I have been drinking coffee that I have missed a day . . . but I sure don’t remember it.  Coffee has been a standard part of my daily routine, but routines are made to be broken.

One of my friends, the Wrestling Fan, decided a few years ago to give up coffee.  He’s happy he did it and says he feels less wired and more relaxed.  I’m not ready to give coffee up entirely — in fact, I’m happily slurping down a cup as I write this — but it’s nice to know that I can skip a day or two now and then without feeling terrible withdrawal symptoms.  Thanks, Kasey, for showing me that living in the coffee-free zone can be done.

Sunday Sunrise

IMG_0578Today Kasey and I got up early and took a very long walk around German Village and neighboring Merion Village.  We passed through Schiller Park just as the sunshine was peeking through the surrounding trees, dappling the landscape, and the ducks were starting to quack and head out onto the water.  There was a slight chill in the air, but the sunshine and bright blue sky were hints of a glorious day to come.

Picking The Real Best Picture

Tomorrow night is the Oscars.  I won’t be watching, but I know one thing:  they’ll screw up the selection of best picture because . . .  well, because they always screw it up!  Year after year, movies that appeal to the general population — movies that move us, inspire us, challenge us, and make us feel good as we’re walking out of the theater — get passed over for some hoity-toity, highbrow “serious” movie.  It’s ridiculous.

witness-harrison-ford-kelly-mcgillisThe movie that encapsulates this phenomenon, for me, was Out of Africa.  It was a slow, dreary, unwatchable piece of crap.  It was a “chick flick” of sorts, but one so ponderous that even women who want to revel in the arched eyebrow/heavy sigh/”the intense drama of real human relationships” school of cinema would find it an absolute snoozefest.  Yet somehow this leaden dud won the Best Picture Oscar, beating out the likes of Witness — a great and touching movie about an injured cop who finds sanctuary among the Amish in Pennsylvania.  As yourself now:  if you turned on the TV and had this choice, which movie would you rather watch:  Out of Africa, or Witness?  Does anyone seriously doubt that everybody except members of the Meryl Streep Fan Club would choose Witness?  For that matter, would any network even broadcast Out of Africa?  It’s probably the least requested Netflix movie in history.

The Washington Post has done a commendable public service by going back through the last 40 years of Best Picture Oscar blunders and telling us the real best picture of the year.  I disagree with some of their choices — I still say Star Wars and E.T. were obvious choices for Best Picture Oscars — but it’s a useful exercise nevertheless.  With rare exception, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences always gets it wrong.  The people who don’t win the Best Picture Oscar tomorrow night probably should be happy.

The Times And The Transcripts

The New York Times has published an editorial calling upon Hillary Clinton to release the transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs.  It’s a good editorial and I’m glad they’ve done it, because maybe now she will finally do the right thing and release them.

This is a simple matter of transparency, which is one of those words that politicians like Hillary Clinton like to throw around, but don’t really mean.  When large Wall Street financial institutions are a political issue — and they are — and one of the leading presidential candidates has given three speeches to one of those institutions for a grand total of $675,000, transparency demands that that candidate release the transcripts of what they said.  It’s not a tough question, and the answer should be obvious.

27CclintonBHillary Clinton’s response is that we should trust her when she says she’ll be tough on Wall Street, and that she’ll release her transcripts if every other candidate, Republican and Democrat, releases the transcripts of every speech they’ve ever given for money.  That’s not exactly a leadership position, is it?   And Clinton apparently doesn’t recognize that one way you build trust is through transparency.  If Clinton released the transcripts and they showed nothing but her observations about international affairs, it wouldn’t undercut her attempt to convince voters that she will be a vigorous fighter against Wall Street excesses.  Of course, the apparent problem is that she said something more to the Goldman Sachs people — and that something more is what voters should be entitled to see.

Hillary Clinton seems to think that she is getting unfairly singled out.  I’m not aware of any other candidate who received so much money for so few speeches, or who, with their spouse, has amassed millions of dollars in personal wealth largely from giving speeches.  It raises questions that are unique to Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton.  The fact that Hillary Clinton isn’t willing to answer those questions tells us something about her secretiveness and her character, and it’s not positive.


Strange Bedfellows

This is the weirdest political campaign I can remember — weirder even than the awkward George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot fandango in 1992 — and yesterday it got even weirder with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s endorsement of Donald Trump.

Trump is supposed to be the anti-establishment outsider . . . but now he’s trotting out endorsements from establishment figures like sitting governors, like having credibility with the establishment means something?  It’s a very mixed message for the guy who supposedly doesn’t give a rat’s patootie for conventional politics.  And the timing of the Christie announcement seems pretty political, too.  Trump got trounced and humiliated in the Republican debate, there’s a lot of buzz and discussion of that fact . . . and then Trump trots out Christie to try to change that narrative.  It may be smart politics, but it’s also conventional politics.  Trump is playing the game, just like everybody else.  Will his supporters ever see that?

635852763638255334-josephIt’s also pretty laughable that pundits are saying that the Christie endorsement, and other, similar announcements that may be forthcoming, will “legitimize” Trump.  Really?  As far as I’m concerned, you could trot out hundreds of governors, senators, and mayors to praise Trump to the skies, and he would be no more “legitimate” than he is now.  Trump will be “legitimate” only when he takes the responsibilities of a presidential candidate seriously and starts actually learning something about the issues.  I don’t want a President who’s going to wing it, and endorsements aren’t a substitute for actual hard work.  Until Trump starts to do some studying and show some knowledge — which will happen on the 12th of Never — he’s just showing contempt for what is supposed to be an important exercise in democracy.

The Christie endorsement makes me lose a lot of respect for the news media, and for Chris Christie, too.  The media is Trump-obsessed, and the Christie endorsement just made all of the news channels give free air time to Trump so he can engage in his antics and belittle his adversaries.  They’re playing Trump’s game because he’s a polarizing figure who will make people tune in and drive up their ratings, and his outrageous statements provide daily news stories that make their jobs easier.  The press hasn’t exactly covered itself with glory this year.  And Christie has lost whatever claim he had to being a credible national figure.  Christie is no dummy; there’s no way he can legitimately believe Trump is best suited to sit in the Oval Office.  Christie obviously is betting on what he thinks will be the winning horse.  Maybe Christie just wants to be one of those unidentified “top men” the Trumpster is always talking about using to get things done if he becomes President.

At The LBJ Ranch

1b521bd9-3bda-4d9a-9e3f-7ba03d6115d8Kish is down in San Antonio to visit Richard.  Today they visited the nearby LBJ Ranch as well as Lyndon Johnson’s boyhood home.  While at the ranch Kish snapped this picture — proving that Johnson was definitely not all hat and no cattle.

It’s interesting to reflect on people like Johnson.  He was a legendary Senate Majority Leader, was thrust into the presidency when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, ushered in the “Great Society” programs, and then was knocked out of the White House by the Vietnam War, riots in the cities, student protests, and general unrest in the country.  Now LBJ is largely an overlooked historical figure, overshadowed by JFK and Camelot as his predecessor and Richard Nixon and Watergate as his successor.

As Napoleon Bonaparte supposedly said, “Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”

Exposing The Know-Nothing

Last night’s Republican debate was a terrific show.  After having to endure months of Donald Trump, America finally got to see him exposed for what he is:  a vacuous blowhard.

imageThanks to deft and persistent skewering by Senator Marco Rubio, who just would not let Trump get away with his standard techniques of interrupting and overstating and insulting, Trump was embarrassed repeatedly.  On health care, immigration, foreign policy, and issue after issue, Trump showed himself to be a colossal know-nothing who has no real positions beyond vague platitudes, and only the dimmest grasp of facts.  That reality became clearer and clearer as Trump flailed and babbled in response to Rubio’s aggressive questioning and, ultimately, mockery.  After that debate, does anyone think that Trump’s promises to “repeal and replace Obamacare with something much better” have any substance, or for that matter that Trump has any idea what a “much better” plan would even look like?

Thanks to Rubio, and to a lesser extent Senator Ted Cruz, we finally got to hear about some of Trump’s actual history and record on things like hiring immigrant workers and “Trump University,” about his clothing lines, and his tax returns, and his lawsuits.  It’s not a pretty record, but I’m guessing that many of the people who were watching the debate were hearing about it for the first time.

Those of us who have long thought Trump an empty-headed braggart may well ask why it took so long for other candidates to finally take some meaningful shots at him — but better late than never.  Until now, Trump has gotten by on sheer force of personality and his willingness to violate all rules of courtesy and decency.  His supporters hear his interruptions and insults and confuse his lack of civility with anti-establishment toughness.  So far, they’ve excused his lack of knowledge on the issues because they think he projects strength and success.  Last night, however, Trump was shown to be anything but the strong, successful frontrunner.  And when, after Rubio’s attacks, Trump belittled the questioner who asked an entirely fair question about Trump’s tax returns — making a mean and gratuitous comment about radio show ratings — Trump looked like a desperate jerk, rather than the confident and unflappable front-runner his supporters have come to expect.  He’s like the loudmouth jerk at a bar who can’t do anything but hurl personal abuse when he’s presented with facts that show he’s wrong.

Lots of people have been talking about “Teflon Don” and his supposed clear path to getting the Republican nomination.  No doubt there are some Trump fans who could care less that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but I think many of his supporters just desperately want to change the direction in which the country is headed and think voting for Trump is the best way to do that.  After last night, they might come to realize that Trump is a pig in a poke, and voting for him would be a total leap of faith.  Maybe those who haven’t fully guzzled the Trump Kool-Aid will start to see the Donald for the crass know-nothing windbag that he really is.

What Kids Want To Know

What do kids really want to know?  Sometimes parents wonder.

Fortunately, there’s the “What If” website and book to help answer that eternal question.  It promises to provide serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions.

backyard-designs-outdoor-swimming-pools-5And guess what?  It turns out that kids want to know answers to questions that I’d also like to have answered, like:  “How long would it take for a single person to fill up an entire swimming pool with their own saliva?”

This is a question that is of intense and particular interest to me, ever since a kind of disgusted dentist who was constantly having to use the spit-sucking device and multiple cotton swabs told me, when I was but a callow youth, that I had “exceptional saliva flow.”  Now I’m proud of my drool-producing capacity.

It turns out that it would take a normal person a very long time to fill that pool.  Humans produce an average of half a liter of saliva a day, which would mean it would take a year to fill a bathtub.  And, at that rate, it would take 8,345 years to fill an Olympic-sized pool to a depth of four feet.  Even at my alarming spit-producing rate — I’m guessing I’m at least double the average in the drool category — I wouldn’t be able to accomplish even a reasonably sized in-ground backyard pool in my lifetime.

Too bad!  It would be a laudable life goal.

I Hate Our New Area Code

Columbus, Ohio has a new area code.  For decades, we’ve been the 614 area code.  It’s snappy.  It’s catchy.  It’s got the traditional lower number in the middle configuration, like the 202 or 212 or 312 area codes that are used by big cities in the country.  Columbus is so associated with its long-standing area code that (614) is the name of one local magazine.

But now Columbus has a new area code, too — 380.  It’s clunky.  It looks like the kind of number that would pop up on your phone when it’s an annoying telemarketing call from India.  And even though most people who live in Columbus couldn’t tell you what the new area code is if you asked, we’ve already grown to hate it.  In fact, “hate” doesn’t even begin to capture the depth of feeling we have for the new area code.  “Despise it with every fiber of our being” comes a bit closer, but still might not even get there.

0gwaf8e946du6_6228Why?  Because 380 is an overlapping area code.  That means that, rather than creating some new area code out in the suburbs defined by a specific geographic region, the 380 phone numbers will be doled out to people who live in the 614 area code territory.

It’s not that we mind 380ers in our midst, like they’re unclean or something.  No, it’s because now we have to dial the area code to make what used to be local calls.  So if I want to call Kish to tell her that I am heading home after the end of the work day, I have to dial three extra digits.  That might not sound like much of a burden, but understand that Kish’s cell phone number is firmly engraved onto every synapse in my brain, right there with the theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies.  When I pick up the phone and think “time to call Kish,” the mental reflexes kick in and the finger punches the number automatically — and there’s no 614 area code involved.  The 380 area code is basically requiring me to reverse decades of consistent mental conditioning.

We’re told that we need the new 380 area code because the 614 area code is running out of numbers.  It’s not just new cell phone numbers, either:  we’re told that now vending machines and other devices that take credit cards need phone numbers for “machine-to-machine” communications.

Really?  I need to rewire my brain just so an office worker can use a credit card to buy a Zagnut bar?  Well, I say the vending machines can bite me.  And the 380 area code can, too.

With All Due Respect

Where do you turn if you are interested in politics and want to stay current on what’s happening in the presidential election — but are sick to death of the shouting, name-calling, two-talking-heads-yelling-at-each-other crap that passes for political discussion on most of the news channels?

Kish and I recently stumbled upon With All Due Respect, which fills that gaping void.  It’s an hour-long show featuring Mark Halperin and John Heilemann that is broadcast at 5 p.m. weekdays (and rebroadcast at 8 p.m., for those of us who are working stiffs) on the Bloomberg news channel.  We’ve quickly become addicted.

19-mark-halperin-john-heilemann-w1200-h630Why do we like this show?  Well, we are interested in politics, and that’s what the show is about, period.  We can get our political fix without having to suffer through weather reports or international news or silly feature stories — although you will have to see a few of those increasingly annoying “discover the forest” commercials.  It’s a fast-moving show, too, with a bunch of different segments and interviews covered during the hour, and it inevitably ends with Halperin and Heilemann discussing the winners and losers for the day or the week.  And with the bizarro, ever-surprising presidential campaigns that are going on this year, where the conventional wisdom has long since been thrown out the window on both the Democratic and Republican sides, it’s pretty darned entertaining.

These days, of course, the show is all about the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns — who’s up, who’s down, and what are reporters seeing.  It’s got the inside baseball about delegates and commercials and fundraising and potential paths to nomination, but discussed in a level-headed, even-handed, shouting-free format.  People supporting different candidates can actually sit right next to each other and have an often thoughtful, but always respectful discussion about the campaigns without grotesque, eye-rolling spin.  When you live in a household where people are at different points on the political spectrum, as we do, that’s a refreshing quality.  And you know what?  When you get rid of the dreary spin and hear people talking candidly, you come to realize that a lot of the people involved in presidential campaigns — local party chieftains, long-time volunteers, veteran campaign strategists — are pretty impressive in their own way.

If you are interested in your politics straight, give With All Due Respect a shot.  You can catch yesterday’s episode here and see what I mean.


It Sort Of Serves Them Right

On the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire, England, a huge, 20-foot-high modern art sculpture of two clasped hands that used to form a kind of galvanized steel wire archway over one of the walking paths had to be moved.

88342508_88342296Why?  Not because it was ill-suited to the classic and graceful lines of the church — although it definitely was.  No, it had to be moved because texting people kept walking into it and hitting their heads because they weren’t paying attention.  It’s part of a trend.  In 2014, 2,500 people went to emergency rooms for injuries they sustained because they were distracted by their cellphones while walking.  This occurs even though texting walkers tend to change their stride to protect themselves while walking, because they know they are putting themselves at risk of, say, stumbling into an open manhole.  But even baby steps can’t save you when your attention is fully occupied by your cellphone’s buzz and a friend’s emoticon and LOL that apparently demand an immediate response even as you are walking down the street.

Should the clasped hands sculpture have been moved?  Yes, of course — but because it was butt-ugly and should never have been put there in the first place, not because members of the Constantly Texting Brigade were walking into it.  In fact, you could argue that we would be doing the texting addicts a service if we installed more fire hydrants, sculptures, canopies, abutments, and crotch-height traffic bollards along our sidewalks and pathways.  After having a few painful but non-lethal encounters with objects in plain sight that attentive, non-texting pedestrians can easily detect and avoid, maybe the texters would come to realize that they should just put away their damned phones while they’re walking, interact with their surroundings, and pay attention for a change.

Bathroom Humor

Kasey and I saw a porta-john on our walk yesterday, and it reminded me of a funny story involving portable bathroom humor.

IMG_0530It happened when Kish was talking to an older, highly proper female member of our collective family.  This refined lady mentioned that, at some recent event, she had had the occasion to use a unisex, standalone porta-potty for the first time ever.

“You’ve really never used a porta-potty before?” Kish asked.  “What did you think?”

“Well, I admit I was a bit doubtful about it, but it was reasonably clean — in fact, cleaner than I expected,” the older woman conceded.  “And I thought it was surprisingly thoughtful that they built it with a purse holder, too.”

“Purse holder?” a somewhat mystified Kish inquired.  “What do you mean?”

“You know, the little plastic basin right next to the toilet,” the very decorous woman explained.

You could almost see the wheels turning as Kish reflected on her limited prior porta-potty experiences.  Plastic basin right next to the toilet?  Oh, no . . . .