Allen Assembly Time

We’re doing some reconfiguring at our house and purchased some new bar stools on-line that were delivered in boxed-up, do-it-yourself form.  Today’s project is to assemble the bar stools by following instructions that appear to have been written in Vietnamese and then loosely translated into English.  The assembly process involves, among other things,  determining whether the “flat washer” mentioned in the instructions is the same as the “plat washer” that is labeled in the parts bag (that seems like a safe assumption, doesn’t it?) and using the dreaded “Allen wrench” that was not a known tool back when I took wood shop in high school.  

Who was this “Allen” guy, anyway, and why couldn’t he figure out a way to use a crescent wrench, instead?

When I first sit on one of these I’m going to do it gingerly.

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A Place To Recombobulate

What do you call the area that is found just after the TSA screening and scanning section in a major airport concourse?  You know — the area where harried people are fumbling to retrieve and store their cell phones, keys, and change, putting on their belts and shoes, and grabbing for the carry-ons and bins that come rushing out of the scanner machines on the conveyor belt and jam up against the bags and bins of other travelers, and do all of those things all at the same time?  The Milwaukee airport has a good name for it:  the “Recombobulation Area.”

Of course, that name assumes that most travelers are discombobulated after they pass through the TSA checkpoint and need to be recombobulated — which is probably a pretty accurate assumption, when you think about it.

100 Wins

Yesterday afternoon the Cleveland Indians won their 100th game of the year, beating the Minnesota Twins 5-2.  The Tribe got another terrific starting pitching performance, this time from Carlos Carrasco, who pitched 8 shutout innings, struck out 14 batters, and now stands at 18-6 on the year.

usatsi_10313296_1506620201223_11256969_ver1-0100 wins is a nice round number.  It’s also an historic achievement of sorts.  This is only the third time in their 100-plus year history that the Indians have won 100 games in a season, and it took an historic winning streak to do it.  And in baseball generally, 100-win seasons don’t necessarily happen every year.  Eight teams in the big leagues have never won 100 games, and  these days the economics of  the game tend to discourage team owners and general managers from assembling the combination of talent that can win 100 games, because it’s going to be expensive and there’s a good chance that lots of the players will be moving on, leaving you to rebuild from scratch.  Better to aim for those teams that can consistently win 90 games and that you can hold together over a few years.

In our modern world, we tend to measure every athletic team by whether they won it all, and regular seasons are eclipsed by the playoffs, where short series and bad breaks can bring down dominant teams.  Many 100-win teams haven’t won the World Series, and this year — because both the Dodgers and the Indians have reached that number — there will be at least one more 100-win team that doesn’t win it all.  That’s just the way the ball bounces in baseball.

But, for the true fan, what happens in the post-season shouldn’t detract from what happens during the regular season.  Baseball is a marathon, and winning 100 games takes focus, careful management, and meaningful contributions from everybody on the roster.  It’s a true team accomplishment, because during those 100 wins different players are going to have to step up and make the big hit, or the tremendous fielding play, or the crucial pitch to allow another W to go into the record books.

2017 has been a remarkable year for the Cleveland Indians, and a marvelous year for those of us who are long-time fans of the Tribe.  Here’s hoping it continues!

A Playboy’s Passing

Hugh Hefner died yesterday of natural causes at age 91.  The founder of Playboy, Hefner was a lightning rod for criticism in the ’50s and ’60s for publishing a magazine that featured nude photos of women.

playboy-mansion-for-sale-comes-with-hugh-hefner-socialHefner’s life and career had a definite arc to it.  He founded Playboy in 1953, with an inaugural issue that featured photos of Marilyn Monroe, and built a media and nightclub empire that saw Playboy‘s circulation peak in the 1970s at more than 7 million.  When I was a kid in the late ’60s and early ’70s, just about every American boy had heard about Playboy and hoped to get a chance to thumb through the magazine one day.  But the number of competitors grew, Playboy clubs closed, and the circulation of the magazine declined, falling to about 800,000 in 2015.  At one point, Playboy even decided briefly to stop publishing photographs of naked women, then later reversed that decision.  In any case, Playboy‘s claim to have a grip on the national zeitgeist has long since vanished.

Hefner also was an interesting cultural figure, because he consciously set out to “brand” himself as the smiling sexual libertine with his ever-present pipe and his smoking jacket, constantly surrounded by pretty young women.  He was successful in creating a well-defined public persona, and in many ways, he was a forerunner of modern media techniques that have since been adopted by many other American cultural figures.  As time passed, however, the aging Hefner and his retinue became increasingly out of step with modern attitudes toward gender, and his branding also seemed to morph.  By the end, Hefner and his silk pajamas and captain’s hat and tiger skin rugs were a kind of curious anachronism, like a vestige of the Mad Men era that somehow still existed 50 years later.

 

Sentencing Sexting

On Monday former Congressman Anthony Weiner was sentenced to spend 21 months in federal prison for sexting with a minor.  He broke down and cried when the sentence was delivered.  Weiner, who had pleaded guilty to the offense, also was fined $10,000, will have to register as a sex offender, and will be subject to three years of supervised release after his prison term ends.

anthony-weiner-e4a324c0-fc5d-49b2-ac42-0b7f99f8b6e5Weiner’s lawyers had argued that he should receive only probation, contending that the case involved unusual facts and circumstances and that Weiner had made “remarkable progress” through participation in a treatment program for the past year.  After the sentence was announced, the lawyers contended that the punishment was more severe than it had to be.

The federal judge explained her sentence by noting that sexting with a minor is “a serious crime that deserves serious punishment.”  She added that Weiner’s notoriety was an significant part of the sentence — because people have paid attention to his conduct and his case, the sentence provided an opportunity to send a message that could change lives.  And Weiner could have received even more prison time.  The offense to which he pleaded guilty carries a maximum prison term of 10 years, and the sentence imposed by the judge was at the low end of the range suggested by federal prosecutors.

I think the judge got this one exactly right.  Weiner’s record of repetitive misbehavior shows an escalating pattern, and his conduct with the 15-year-old girl was reprehensible.  And it is important to use the sentence to send a message, on several levels — it not only notifies people that sexting with a minor will be sternly punished, but also shows that the politically powerful are subject to justice to the same extent as the rest of us.  In a time when politicians seem increasingly to live in their own secure little bubbles, distant and disconnected from the real world, the message that they will be held accountable for their illegal actions is an especially important one.

Order Of Importance

To look at the news coverage, you’d think that the decisions of NFL players to take a knee, or sit, or stand at attention, during the playing of the National Anthem is the biggest news story in the world right now.  President Trump had to weigh in on it — of course! — and Facebook and other forms of social media are on fire with discussion of various perspectives on the protests.

jerry-jones-nfl-protestThe reaction to the NFL protests shows the uniquely powerful role of symbols like flags and the National Anthem — which is why they provide a very effective platform for the exercise of First Amendment rights, and have served in that capacity at least since the ’60s, when students protesting the Vietnam War burned the flag and American sprinters raised their fists while the National Anthem played during a medal ceremony in the 1968 Olympics.  If you want to provoke strong reactions and draw attention to your cause, you can hardly do better than taking action that can be interpreted as showing some form of disrespect when the American flag is being displayed or the National Anthem is played.

And yet, I can’t help but think that the coverage of the NFL protests is ridiculously disproportionate. Whether athletes who are being paid millions of dollars to play sports are standing, sitting, or kneeling during the National Anthem doesn’t really measure up on the importance scale with, say, the increasingly aggressive tone of communications about North Korea and the possibility of some kind of confrontation about it.  Nor does it compare to the utter misery and loss that thousands of people are suffering in hurricane-ravaged areas, or for that matter whether the United States is ever going to actually tackle critical big-picture issues, like the ever-present deficit spending that threatens to cast us over the fiscal cliff.

I think the real reason people are paying so much attention to the NFL protests is precisely that it’s small stuff, relatively speaking.  It’s easy to stake out a position on the protests, pro or con, on the social media engine of your choice, and there are lots of juicy side issues to explore — like whether the protests will hurt already declining NFL TV ratings, whether sports in America has become overly politicized, whether athletes will lose lucrative endorsement deals, and whether the focus of the protests has become hopelessly blurred when billionaire owners like Jerry Jones are joining in and taking a knee.  It’s easy to discuss all of those topics — a lot easier than making sense out of the North Korean situation or discussing how America should respond to it.

Customized Crescent City Cribbage

We were down in New Orleans this past weekend for a bachelor party.  To celebrate the occasion, Russell designed and hand made hardwood fleur de lis cribbage boards, suitably inscribed on the back, and we ordered some customized playing cards, using some photos I took of New Orleans on our trip a few years back.

We didn’t get to play as much cribbage as we would have liked — eating, drinking, and listening to fantastic live music every waking moment somehow got in the way — but the participants on our Big Easy Bachelor Party weekend will always remember their trip thanks to these beautiful cribbage boards.  Great job, Russell!