Studying Stonehenge

When I took a trip to England right after I graduated from college, one of the coolest places I visited was Stonehenge.  There was a strong air of ancient mystery lurking among the massive stones arranged in a circle on the Salisbury plains.  You couldn’t help but walk among the stones and think about where the enormous stones came from, who put them there, how in the world they got there — and what their mysterious purpose actually was.

02-stonehenge-dog-tooth.ngsversion.1492466772317.adapt_.1900.1Now scientists have answered the first question, at least in part:  many of the smaller stones at the Stonehenge site came from ancient quarries in the Preseli Hills of Wales, and they were consciously mined and taken to Stonehenge, not deposited on the Salisbury plains by glaciers.  Scientists used tools that allowed them to test the chemical composition of rocks in the quarry and match it to the composition of the rocks at Stonehenge.  The tests are so precise that scientists were able to determine that the Stonehenge stones came from quarries in the northern part of the hills rather than the southern part — a finding that is significant, because it means that the stones were probably transported to the Salisbury plains over land, rather than floated there on rivers.  The scientists also found mining tools at that date back to 3000 B.C., when the first stage of Stonehenge was built.

So now we know that, 5000 years ago, human beings mined large stones from Wales and then somehow dragged them 150 miles away, where they were arranged in circles that seem to be related in some way to the summer solstice.  But we don’t know why ancient humans would undertake such an enormous task, or how they accomplished it.  Unless someone invents a time machine, the answers to those questions probably will forever remain an unsolvable mystery — which is one reason why Stonehenge is so cool.

Our Gut-Suck Weekend

On my flight from Phoenix to Columbus Tuesday, I looked around at my fellow passengers and noticed a lot of them were unusually bulky and appallingly fit.

arnold-classic-worldwide-minThe implication was inescapable:  the annual Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Festival is back in town.  And, without a conscious thought, I immediately sucked in my gut (at least, to the extent my aging, sagging frame permitted) and stuck my chin out in hopes that it would reduce the obvious wattles in the neck area.  And as I left the plane after a long flight, and saw muscular men and women lugging their tote bags and wearing their ultra-tight clothing that accentuated the strain of every conceivable muscle that exists on the human body, I tried to walk especially straight and keep those glutes as tight was possible — which admittedly was still pretty flabby.  By the time I got to my car I was sore all over.

That’s really the only downside of The Arnold for those of us who live in Columbus.  It’s a great weekend for tourism in our city, the hotels and restaurants do a land-office business — don’t try to get a steak this weekend, for instance — and there are people taking shuttles and walking all over downtown.  It’s one of the top tourism weekends for Ohio’s capital city.

But, in reality, most of us look pretty puny and paunchy compared to the contestants in The Arnold.  That means it’s a gut-suck weekend, Columbusites!

 

 

Thinking Baseball Thoughts

The other day I got a welcome ping from my cellphone.  My ESPN app — after providing countless NBA-related “alerts” and “news” that I didn’t really care about — reported on the score of a Cleveland Indians spring training game.  The Tribe lost, but I didn’t care about that, not really.  I was just happy to see that spring training had begun and progressed to the point that games were being played.

1883887If spring training has begun, spring itself can’t be far behind.

Baseball is changing.  I ran across a story about how Major League Baseball has entered into an agreement with the independent Atlantic League that will allow MLB to use the league to try out modified rules and equipment changes.  Under the deal, the Atlantic League will implement new rules at the request of MLB and then provide data and feedback on how the rules changes work out so MLB can decide whether to adopt the changes at the big-league level.  And get this:  the rules changes that supposedly are being considered include moving back the mound and having Trackman — in effect, a robot umpire — call balls and strikes.

As the article points out, the Atlantic League has been an innovator in baseball, including initiatives to speed up the game and to force umpires to call the high strike — i.e., strikes that are within the strike zone but above the belt.  Now they can use Trackman to ensure that the true strike zone gets called.  And because the Atlantic League is full of veteran pitchers, many of whom have MLB experience, it is thought that they will be better able to adjust to proposed changes in the location of the pitcher’s mound.

To be sure, baseball has changed over the years — it’s hard to imagine bigger changes than the introduction of the designated hitter in the American League and adding layers of wild card and divisional playoffs leading up to the World Series, for example — but it’s still all about nine players on a field and a guy with a ball throwing to a guy with a bat.  For spectators, though, the use of a robot ump would really change the experience.  How in the world do you effectively heckle a robot ump?

California Warning

The Mamas and the Papas sang about California Dreaming.  Things have changed in the Golden State since the ’60s, however.  Now, whenever I enter the California-plated rental car for our little trip through southern Arizona and New Mexico, I get a weird  California Warning.

It’s a big, intrusive notice plastered right there on the driver’s side door that tells me that operating a motor vehicle can be hazardous to my health.  You see, the State of California apparently knows — hey, that’s the word the notice uses — that engine exhaust, carbon monoxide, phthalates (how is that pronounced, anyway?), and lead cause cancer and birth defects.  So what’s a driver to do?  Well, the notice says you should avoid breathing exhaust fumes and idling your engine, you should service your vehicle — I think that means gas it up when the tank runs dry — in a well-ventilated area, and you should wear gloves or wash your hands frequently when servicing your vehicle.

From the look of the notice, it appears that California voters enacted one of their voter propositions — in this case, Proposition 65 — that requires the notice.  In fact, Proposition 65 was passed in 1986 and, among other things, requires the State of California to assemble and publish a list of chemicals that cause cancer or birth defects — which now includes about 800 chemicals — and obligates businesses to notify consumers about chemicals in products. Hence, the Big Brother-type notice on our rental car.

I have to say that the notice gives me a laugh every time I get into the car.  Why?  Because, based on what I’ve seen of California, it’s got to be one of the most ignored — even flouted — notices in the history of governmental notices.  Californians don’t exactly seem to be avoiding their cars; California traffic congestion is easily one of the worst in any state.  And because of that, Californians are routinely breathing in those bad exhaust fumes as they wait in a colossal traffic jam on “the Santa Monica Freeway” or “the 405” or any of the countless other highways that are always subject to a traffic snarl at any time of the day or night.  And I haven’t noticed Californians donning gloves at the filling station as they fuel their cars or rushing to wash their hands after gassing up, either.  Apparently they’ve made the rational judgment that washing your hands in one of those gross, soiled sinks in a gas station bathroom is more hazardous that those phthalates.

By the way, phthalates are pronounced ftha-lates.

Arizona Sunset

On my last night in the Southwest, we were treated to a spectacular Arizona sunset. We just don’t get them in Ohio during the winter months.

We came to the Southwest in search of the sun — and we found it, and how. The temperatures have been a bit cooler than normal, but seeing Old Sol everyday makes up for just about anything. I’d recommend the desert in winter to anyone interested in combating the Midwestern gray sky blahs.

On The Dusty Trail To Las Cruces

It’s 275 miles from Tucson, Arizona to Las Cruces, New Mexico, as the crow flies, and it’s just about the same distance if you’re traveling by car.  You get on I-10 and head east, and it’s a straight shot on an unbending road that takes you past long freight trains rattling west and dusty mountains framed by blue sky, bright sunshine, and high clouds.

And speaking of dust, the section of I-10 from Tucson to Las Cruces is one of the few places in America where you’ll see highway signs warning you of what to do if you’re caught in a dust storm.  As I took in the brittle, dry look of the surrounding landscape, with only a few desert plants here and there and lots of exposed earth, it wasn’t hard to imagine a dust storm kicking up.  Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any dust storms — the recent snow presumably tamped down the dust, and it wasn’t that windy, anyway — but I now know from seeing multiple signs that you’re supposed to pull to the side immediately, turn off all lights, set your emergency brake, take your foot off the brake, stay in the vehicle with your seatbelt buckled, and wait until the storm passes.

Shortly after you pass from Arizona to New Mexico you pass a notch in the southern border of the state that puts you within 40 miles or so of Mexico.  If you look south from the roadway you see desolate countryside that probably hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years, more dusty looking mountains in the distance, and not much else.  You do, however, have a great selection of Mexican AM radio stations to keep you company as you roll along.

The Sun In Tucson

We came to Tucson, Arizona in search of blue skies, which are such a rare commodity in Columbus during the winter that we felt we needed to take a trip to find them.  Local lore in Tucson holds that it is sunny here more than 330 days out of the year.  The precise number of bright, clear days seems to vary somewhat depending on who is doing the telling, perhaps because the people doing the counting decided it was boring to sit and count the sunny days and it would be more fun to get out and actually do something in the fine weather.

And Tucson didn’t disappoint in the sunshine department.  When we ventured out yesterday morning it was cold, and the locals we encountered marveled that the Catalina Foothills mountains that border Tucson on one side were covered in snow and shining in the distance like low-lying clouds, as shown in the photograph above.  But the skies were a cheery, bright blue, the sun was blazing forth with superb intensity, and we had to use the visor of our rental car to allow us to move around town in the glare.  I immediately regretted that I forgot my sunglasses, but the sunshine was welcome even at that.

We knocked around Tucson and tromped through some of the desert areas, enjoying how the bright light allowed us to see every detail of the gigantic Saguaro cactuses and the other desert plants.  Later, we walked around the very cool Sam Hughes neighborhood adjoining the University of Arizona campus, where the colorful stucco walls of the ’20s-era Spanish style and Santa Fe style ranch houses glittered in the sunshine, the houses featured carefully tended desert plants and rock designs in their front yards, and some of the streets were lined with towering palm trees.  The sun was so bright that the shadows of the palm trees made it look like the sidewalks had been striped with black paint.

Oh, and we enjoyed some pretty good Mexican food, too.  Mexican food seems to go well with blue skies and sun.