Eternal Questions

Some questions seem to be eternal ones.  Typically, they involve choices between competing views that are so obviously debatable, with good points to be made either way and strong, often passionate proponents ready to vigorously argue either side, that they’re just never going to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Think Beatles versus Stones.  Apple versus Microsoft.  da Vinci versus Michelangelo.  Star Wars versus Star Trek.  Einstein versus Newton.  The Gettysburg Address versus President Trump’s Twitter feed.

You get the idea?  So, is cone versus basket filter one of them?

This is a question I’m ill-suited to resolve, because the niceties of coffee brewer technology are lost on me.  Obviously, there is a difference between the basket and cone approaches.  One directs the water flow through coffee grounds that are configured to end in a fine point, and the other doesn’t.  The difference in approach and design apparently is so significant that, when you go to buy coffee from one of those high-end coffee snob shops, the barista will ask you whether you have a basket or cone filter coffee brewer.  In short, the cone versus basket debate even affects how they grind the coffee for you.  Why?  Beats me!  But I sure as heck want to get the coffee ground in a way that is most suitable for the battered, aging coffee machine we’ve got at home — one of the basket-filtered variety.

I raise the potentially volatile basket versus cone question because we’re thinking of replacing our coffee pot with a new one.  In the past we’ve had both cone and basket design machines, and to be honest I really haven’t noticed a marked difference in the quality of the coffee they produce, because my coffee taste buds just aren’t that nuanced.  But now we’re being asked to definitively choose, again — like being exiled to a desert island and being told that you can only listen to the Beatles or the Stones while you’re there — and I want us to make a good, reasonably educated choice.  And presumably one design isn’t definitively better than the other, because manufacturers keep churning out machines with both designs, leaving people like me in a quandary on this question that evidently involves significant judgment and taste.

Can somebody out there who is knowledgeable about the topic and pays attention to their coffee let me know the competing views on the seminal cone versus basket filter issue?  Simply put: why should I care?

Pear Pressure

There a spot along my walk to and from work where a property owner has planted a pear tree in front of his building.  Pear trees often are favorites of landscapers because they tend to grow quickly, and for much of the year it’s a perfectly nice tree.

But here’s the thing — pear trees produce pears.  That’s OK, as long as you pick the pears and consume them, or donate them to the local food bank, or compost them if they aren’t especially tasty.  But you can’t just let the pears fall to the ground unattended.  Pears rot, and rotten fruit smells, and attracts bees and flies, and gets stepped on and smeared all over until the whole sidewalk is a disgusting, reeking, bee-ridden mess that the intrepid walker must approach with grim caution and careful footsteps.  In short, it’s not a pretty sight.  Which raises a question:  why would any business owner want anyone coming to their front door to pass through such an area? 

Pear tree owners need to pick up after themselves.

Guitar Lessons

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In 1969, when I was about 12, my parents decided that it made sense for the Webner kids to take music lessons.  UJ and Sister Cath took piano lessons on the upright in our living room.  I didn’t have any interest in playing piano, which seemed kind of prim and stodgy, and it was the era of the early rock guitar gods, so I decided to take guitar lessons instead.  Mom and Dad bought me a basic acoustic guitar, and we were off to the races.

Of course, the experience was a disaster.  Sure, I wanted to play guitar, but couldn’t I somehow just acquire the ability by osmosis and by really, really wanting to play guitar like Eric Clapton? My teacher was a nice hippie-type guy with longish red hair and a straggly red beard — God knows how my uber-conventional parents found him in Akron, Ohio — but he was never able to motivate me to get past the dull, initial learning-the-basics stage to the actually playing a song you heard on the radio stage, and I was far from having the discipline to get there myself.  We started with some basic instruction book, and I quickly realized that I wasn’t really keen about practicing the exercises or the boring and stupid songs in the book and I didn’t have some kind of intuitive knack for playing music.  So I didn’t practice, and when I went in for lessons the teacher obviously recognized that I wasn’t practicing, and we both seemed to be okay with that.  Within a short period of time I quit the guitar lessons, the guitar went into the closet, and the dreams of rock guitar wizardry were permanently shelved.

It’s a familiar scenario for many parents.  Your child decides they want to take music lessons, or you decide they should take music lessons, you buy an instrument for them, and the experience is a dud.  They complain about practicing, you hector them to at least try, and ultimately the two sides reach an uneasy armistice in which music lessons are flushed down the memory hole, never to mentioned again. I blame myself for my guitar failure; I admittedly was a really crappy student.  But I also wonder if there was something creative that red-haired teacher of mine could have done to get me to the next step, where the enjoyment of playing compensated for the drudgery of practicing.

I thought about all of this when I saw an installment of The Daily Callus, an instructional program on YouTube.  My nephew, Miles Greene, is a highly regarded schoolteacher in the Oakland, California public school system.  He’s also an accomplished guitar player who, among other gigs, played the processional when my niece Annie walked down the aisle.  So it’s logical that Miles would combine those two aspects of his life and start teaching guitar — via the internet.  Miles’ focus is in teaching the tools of blues and rock guitar work, and The Daily Callus is the result.  That’s Miles pictured above, and you can watch him displaying his teaching skills — and I hope, subscribe to his teaching series — on YouTube.

I think it’s pretty clear that Miles is a very good teacher, and it makes me wonder if I should revive those old guitar god dreams, work through The Daily Callus installments, and see where it takes me.  Hey, where is that old acoustic guitar, anyway?

J.T.’s Last Stand

The Ohio State University football team is in its summer camp, the first game is less than three weeks away, and Buckeye Nation is abuzz about who will play where for the Scarlet and Gray.  Battles for starting jobs are raging at every position except one:  quarterback.  That’s because J.T. Barrett is back for his senior season.

Opposing teams have got to wonder if J.T. Barrett is ever going to graduate.  It seems like he has been with the Buckeyes forever, setting new Ohio State all-time offensive records whenever he touches the ball and posting more Ws on the Buckeyes’ overall record.  Sure, J.T. has got some losses to his name, and last season definitely ended with a clinker, but for the most part the J.T. Barrett era has been one of great success — and now J.T. is back, again, to lead the team during his final season.

jt-barrett-ohio-state-buckeyes-football-nfl-draft-2000“Lead” is a good word to use in conjunction with J.T. Barrett, because by all accounts he is a leader first, second, and always.  Any true Buckeye fan has seen J.T. in the locker room or on the sidelines, pumping his fist and giving impassioned talks to his teammates, but what really seems remarkable about him is not the rah-rah stuff, but the quiet things that generate respect and a willingness to leave everything on the field for the guy.  When J.T. first burst onto the scene, he played behind an inexperienced line and got pulverized in an early loss to Virginia Tech — but he showed great toughness, kept his mouth shut, accepted the punishment as part of the game, and led the team to a dramatic turnaround that saw the Buckeyes become an offensive juggernaut.  And then, on the cusp of triumph against Michigan, he suffered an injury that knocked him out of that game, the Big Ten championship, and the run to the National Championship.  Lesser people would have whined about their misfortune, but not J.T. Barrett.  He reacted with grace and dignity, supported his team, and celebrated when they hoisted the trophy, even though it must of been devastating to not be able to run out onto the field.

J.T.’s whole career has been like that — a series of victories and disappointments, hard hits and perseverance, but always with him looking for a way to win and a way to lead.  It’s pretty rare these days for the great players to stay for their senior season, but then J.T. Barrett seems like a rare individual in many ways.  Whether he goes on to play football at a professional level or not, he certainly seems like the kind of person who has the qualities that will make him a success in life.

I’ve been watching Ohio State football for almost 50 years and have seen lots of great players don the Scarlet and Gray, but J.T. Barrett ranks up there with my all-time favorites.  Here’s hoping he has a senior season that suits a player who has meant so much to the University, its fans, and his teammates.

A Man And His Collection (Or At Least, Parts Of Two Of His Collections)

Neil Rector is an old friend who followed a different path from most of us.  Years ago, he made the decision to focus on collecting art.  It’s fair to say that he is an avid collector, and an extremely capable one as well.  Since he first dipped his toe into the world of collecting, he’s assembled six discrete collections of different types of art from different periods and places — and his collections have curators clamoring for pieces as they assemble new shows.

Two of Neil’s collections are of Soviet-era photography and Russian unofficial art, and parts of those collections — but only parts — have been assembled in a stupendous show at the Columbus Museum of Art called Red Horizon.  It’s clearly one of the best exhibitions at the CMA in years, and today Kish and I were part of a group that got to walk through the exhibition with Neil to hear his personal reflections on the pieces, which was very interesting.  The show itself is fascinating, giving the visitor a peek behind the Iron Curtain at art, and thoughts and perspectives, that were forbidden during the Soviet regime but nevertheless were realized — because the artistic impulse simply can’t be totally quashed, no matter how repressive a government might be.

I can’t begin to capture what Neil described this morning, so I can only urge you to visit this powerhouse exhibition and enjoy it. And you can also reflect on what being a savvy collector might mean.  In Neil’s case it means having that terrific hammer-and-sickle riff on a Soviet style Venus de Milo, below, hanging in your dining room, and also having yourself memorialized in that collection of portraits of Soviet and ancient Roman tyrants, above.  That’s Neil in the lower right, in his best Soviet-style guise.  He was added to the piece, he explained, because artists view collectors and patrons as tyrants, too.

Go see Red Horizon.  It’s at the CMA through September 24.

GOT Breakfast In The Making

It’s another beautiful Sunday morning, and the bright, uncommonly temperate weather can’t help but stimulate the appetite and put thoughts of Sunday breakfast in my head.  But, since another episode of Game of Thrones is in the offing, what kind of breakfast could help to stimulate a Westerosi mindset as well?  

Our local grocer doesn’t sell wild boar meat or unskinned rabbit, so a little improvisation is in order.  We’ll go for eggs and turkey bacon — the better to remind us of those unfortunate dragon-sizzled Lannister bannermen — some juicy fruit to simulate rivers of blood, and a cantaloupe that will allow me to get out a sharp implement and start flailing away with some satisfying thunks and hackings as I separate flesh from skin.  Put some onion in the eggs to acknowledge Ser Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight, and you’ve got a feast worthy of Winterfell.

Tree Fail

When we moved in to our house we had our back yard landscaped.  Kish hates direct sunlight, so a key element of the design was a new tree planted at one corner of the patio.  It was supposed to grow tall, leaf out, and provide lots of the glorious shade that Kish likes so well.

For the first year and a half, things went according to plan.  The tree grew like crazy and looked to be doing fine.  Then late last summer, the tree started to visibly struggle.  Beginning at the top of the tree, the leaves wilted and died.  We hoped that the tree would recover this spring, but the top half remained dead and the only new leaves appeared at the base of the tree trunk.  As a last-ditch salvage effort, the landscapers cut off the dead top part of the tree — leaving us with the pathetic looking elongated stump shown above — in hopes it would spur new growth at the bottom of the tree.  Unfortunately, that effort also failed.  Our little tree has given up the ghost.

I like trees.  I hate to see them struggle and I hate to see them die.  This tree death is particularly weird because there’s no apparent cause.  It wasn’t struck by lightning, and every other plant and shrub in our back yard is thriving.  I guess sometimes death just happens.

I’ll miss our little tree.