A Hot One In The Shoe

Russell and I had the chance to go to the ‘Shoe last night and watch a classic Big Ten game with more than 102,000 of our closest scarlet-clad friends. The game started with a great fireworks display and ended with fans flooding the field to celebrate a hard-fought Ohio State victory as the Buckeyes pulled out a 33-24 win.

I’m sure there are a lot of people who wonder why Ohio State didn’t march up and down the field on offense and rack up another blowout win. The reason is: the Buckeyes were playing Penn State, and Penn State always plays Ohio State tough, whether the game is in Columbus or Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions have a great program and a lot of pride, and it seemed clear that Penn State’s surprising loss to Illinois was caused, at least in part, because Penn State was focused on this game against the Buckeyes. With all due respect to Rutgers and Maryland, the Big Ten doesn’t really begin until you start to play teams like Penn State, Michigan State, and That Team Up North. Last night’s game was what the rest of the season will be like–tough, hard-hitting, and closely contested from the kickoff–and I was happy to see the Buckeyes display some grit as they pulled out a win. So it didn’t surprise me that the Buckeyes didn’t put up gaudy numbers on offense or defense.

The Buckeyes have some things to be happy about, like our placekicker, who really came through in the clutch, and a defense that made some key turnovers, and some things to work on, like way too many penalties, a surprisingly unimaginative red zone offense, and figuring out how to play pass defense in the middle of the field. But I think a game like this is good for a team and may cause the Buckeyes to stop worrying too much about press clippings, Heisman campaigns, and hypothetical future matchups with Georgia and get back to focusing on the next opponent, because the next opponent has the ability to derail all of your hopes. I’m confident that Ryan Day and his staff will take the film of this game, study it, figure out how the Buckeyes can deal with those issues and continue to improve, and get the players to sharpen their focus.

Kudos to Penn State, their quarterback, who played a great game, and their defense, which gave the Ohio State running game fits and kept the Buckeyes’ offense off-balance the entire game. The Big Ten season has now officially begun.

A Clean, Well, Quieter Place

One of my favorite short stories is A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, in which Ernest Hemingway tells the story of an old guy drinking in a cafe. A young waiter, impatient to move on with his evening, rips the old guy for hanging around rather than going home so the cafe can close up. The older waiter, made a bit more patient and understanding by years of life, respects the old guy’s need for a clean, well-lighted place where he can enjoy a drink before heading back to his presumably lonely life. It’s a great story, written in the classic, straightforward Hemingway declarative sentence style, that speaks to both the young and old among us.

I suspect that if the old guy were around these days he not only would be looking for a clean, well-lighted place, but also one that is quieter, too. So many modern restaurants seem to be intentionally designed and consciously configured to be as loud as possible, as if a raucous atmosphere will make a place seem really exciting (and, perhaps, compensate for marginal food). It’s annoying for those of us who want to have a nice conversation over our dinner, and find ourselves unable to do so because of the din. I suspect that the old guy in the Hemingway tale would be irritated by the noise, too.

So I am happy to report that the new Sycamore restaurant in German Village has dialed back the noise level to the point where you can actual talk to the people you are eating with, without shouting or asking people to repeat everything. The prior incarnation of the restaurant was so loud that was impossible, and in my view made eating there unpleasant. Last night we took a large group to the Sycamore, had a great meal–the food is uniformly terrific–and enjoyed lots of chat over our dinner. I’m hoping that is a sign that the trend toward ever louder restaurants has ended, and the proprietors are recognizing the value of some effective sound-dampening. efforts

If I want a loud venue, I’ll go to a sports bar where I can drink beer, eat chicken wings, and cheer for my team without worrying about irritating fellow diners. But if a want to good meal, give me a clean, well, quieter place.

Grass Roots And Telephone Poles

We’ve got an election coming up next Tuesday, and recently the notice shown in the photo above has appeared on some of the telephone poles around German Village. The signs encourage people to vote against Issue 7, the dubious so-called “clean energy” initiative that would have the effect of transferring control over millions of dollars of City of Columbus funds to shadowy groups and blowing a hole in the city budget.

I’ve previously noted my opposition to Issue 7, so I agree with the sign’s sentiment. But what’s also interesting to me is the whole idea of using signs on telephone poles as a means of communication in a political campaign. It’s a pretty labor-intensive method, because someone had to go to each of those telephone poles and staple the signs into the wood. In some suburban neighborhoods, where the car culture prevails, that would be wasted effort because motorists rolling by on their way to work or to run errands aren’t going to notice small signs on telephone poles, much less stop to read what they say.

But German Village is different. It’s very much of a walker’s neighborhood, where a pedestrian like me will notice a sign flapping on a telephone pole, become curious, and stop to read it. I’m guessing that I’m not alone in doing so. In this neighborhood, at least, sheets of paper on telephone poles are an effective method of communication, and people who live hear regularly use the telephone poles to communicate about lost cats and dogs, yard sales, and other matters. Whoever took the time to go around our streets and staple-gun their notices understood that aspect of our neighborhood and figured that if they got just a few passersby to stop and read about why Issue 7 should be defeated, it is worth the effort.

We’ve all heard of “grass roots” politics, and seasoned campaigners will tell you that all politics is local and that you need to understand your audience to communicate effectively. This election’s anti-Issue 7 telephone pole campaign in German Village is a good illustration of the merit of that observation.

Actual Versus Virtual, Again

It seems as though we are confronted with the conversion from actual to virtual at every turn these days. It has happened with newspapers, with meetings and conferences, and now it is happening with sports tickets, too.

I’m taking some client friends to Saturday’s Ohio State football game against Penn State. In the old days this would involve collecting physical tickets, like those shown above, and a physical parking pass to allow us to park in a good spot come Game Day, and then distributing the actual tickets to the members of the group at the pre-game tailgate so they could get through the gates of Ohio Stadium and get to their respective seats by kickoff.

But, with Ohio State at least, those physical ticket days are gone. Now the tickets are virtual, and you gather and transfer them electronically. It involves downloading yet another app, establishing a Ticketmaster account, directing Ticketmaster to distribute the tickets, and then entering email addresses so the ticket recipient gets notice of the transfer and can claim them. So far I seem to have been able to follow the instructions and successfully make the transfers, but the rubber won’t really meet the road until we get to Ohio Stadium Saturday night and start trying to scan in using bar codes on our phones. I sure hope everyone in my group remembers their cellphones and keeps their phones adequately powered!

I’m sure the virtual tickets are cheaper for the University, and the process has the added virtue of gathering email addresses that can be used for future notices and alerts. I still prefer the actual, physical tickets, however. It was comforting to have the tickets in hand and ready to hand out, and the glossy cardboard ducats themselves made nice souvenirs of your visit to the ‘Shoe. The cardboard parking pass had the added handy feature of a map on the back side that could guide you to your lot.

But those are the old ways, and they are going, going, gone as our worlds become increasingly centered on the apps on our handheld devices.

The March Of Trivialization

Historians used to write and talk about the “march of civilization.” You can find books by that name on Amazon, and learned quotes that use that phrase on any search engine. The underlying notion was that the story of humankind was a continuous upward journey from barbarism to the glories of the modern world. And the implication was that the march would inevitably continue to ever greater heights of achievement and refinement.

I don’t think the “march of civilization” concept holds true anymore. The idea presupposes that human beings will continue to work hard and focus on bringing on the better world with its greater accomplishments and magnificence, and these days it seems like we are a lot more interested in being distracted than in knuckling down. You might say that we are in the midst of a “march of trivialization” instead.

Consider what happens when you go to the Google app on your phone to look for something. Before you can type in a word you’ll see snippets of a series of curious stories, like the ones shown on the screen shot at the top of this post, that are designed to pique your interest, get a click, and divert you from what you were going to do in the first place. And the stories that are featured are breathtakingly banal and ultimately pointless, like the story above about the “viral video” of a woman stepping out of an Amazon truck and how people you don’t know on social media have responded to it. Typically there are multiple stories about social media videos or feigned outrages, photos of celebrities and members of the British royal family, sports world “reactions” to a play or announcement, and speculation about when a fourth (or fifth, or sixth) “stimulus” payment might be made. If you went solely by the stories on the Google front page and tried to draw inferences from them, you probably would conclude that we live in a world where there are no real, significant problems that constitute news, which is why TikTok videos and celebrity fashion dominate.

Of course, that inference would not be correct. There are lots of actual problems out there that could be the subject of the Google front page stories–but they aren’t. Why do you suppose that is the case? Is it because Google once tried to feature actual news and saw that it garnered far fewer clicks than the junk stories, or that Google figured at the outset that people typically use Google for trivial purposes–like trying to find the actual name of the character called “the Professor” on Gilligan’s Island–and therefore would prefer the amazingly inconsequential fare that we see today?

Whatever the reason, the march of trivialization continues, distractions ever multiply, and the insignificant crowds out the significant. Social media has replaced religion as the so-called “opiate of the masses,” and is keeping people from paying attention to what actually counts. It’s a weird and troubling feature of modern life.

An Old Crab

From time to time–typically after I’ve made a curmudgeonly comment about some regrettable modern development–I’ve been accused of being an “old crab.” A recently announced scientific discovery allows me to respond that if such naysayers want to see a really old crab, they need look no farther than the ancient crab, pictured above, that was discovered trapped in amber.

It’s an old crab, for sure. In fact, it’s 100 million years old, which means that this little guy was scuttling around during the Cretaceous period, while dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, when he had the misfortune of becoming trapped in tree resin that later became amber. The crab, called Cretapsara athanata, is the oldest modern-looking crab and the most complete fossil crab ever discovered.

The remarkable specimen is so complete that scientists could examine the crab’s entire body, including delicate tissues, like the antennae and mouthparts lined with fine hairs. And when they examined the crab, researchers got a surprise: they discovered the animal also had gills, but no lungs. That indicates that Cretapsara athanata lived an aquatic or semi-aquatic life, which makes the specimen even rarer, because most fossilized crabs are land or tree-dwelling crabs.

And if you are ever called an “old crab,” bear in mind that there are many things to admire about crabs as a species. As the article linked above points out: “True crabs, or Brachyura, are an iconic group of crustaceans whose remarkable diversity of forms, species richness, and economic importance have inspired celebrations and festivals worldwide. They’ve even earned a special role in the pantheon of social media. True crabs are found all around the world, from the depths of the oceans, to coral reefs, beaches, rivers, caves, and even in trees as true crabs are among the few animal groups that have conquered land and freshwater multiple times.”

So there!

More Praise For JT’s

I’ve written before about the many accolades being garnered by JT’s Pizza and Pub, my nephew’s bar and restaurant (see, e.g., here and here). So I hope readers will forgive me if I give JT’s another shameless plug by calling your attention to the nice article about JT’s in Columbus Alive, which observes–aptly–that JT’s gives Columbus diners what they want. This article even calls out the “Big Al” pizza, named for my brother-in-law–which makes this shameless plug for JT’s even more of a family affair.

If you haven’t tried JT’s and live in the area, you really should give it a shot. Why not go somewhere that will give you exactly what you want?

Different Places, Different Standards

In Columbus, the city is subject to an executive order issued last month by the Mayor Andrew Ginther that declared a state of emergency and requires masks to be worn in public spaces indoors until further notice. Over the weekend, when we went down to the Cincinnati suburbs for a wedding, reception, and related festivities, we realized through first-hand experience that that isn’t true elsewhere.

On Friday night, when we went to dinner, a comedy club, and a bar, masks were rarely encountered. At the bar, where people were packed in to hear a live band play creditable covers of songs like The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, there was not a mask to be seen as patrons drank beers and shots, shouted at each other to be heard over the music, and generally seemed to be hugely enjoying their Friday night out to start the weekend. The same was true during the rest of the weekend, in restaurants, the hotel lobby, and gas station convenience stores. We saw an occasional mask worn by service personnel, but for the most part we were moving through an unmasked world.

It was definitely different to be back in a place where no one was messing with masks, like Stonington over the summer; one member of our party described it as kind of liberating. Whatever your reaction, the weekend drove home the point that entirely different standards exist in different places, and that driving south for less than a hundred miles can move you from masked up to wide open. It calls into question whether local regulations of conduct, like the Columbus executive order, can be an effective means of limiting exposure.

Were all of the people in the various venues that we visited vaccinated? Given the vaccination percentages I’ve seen, I seriously doubt it, and certainly no one was seeking proof of vaccination upon entry. Ohio, and the rest of the country, may be moving toward herd immunity one community at a time.

Astrophobia

Some of us–poor, benighted souls that we are–believe that there is some kind of equity in sports. Even after years of painful experience tells us that no higher power could possibly be paying attention to the sports world, we cling to the notion that if we behave like a good person, help with household chores without being asked to do so, follow a particular routine, and wear a lucky shirt, or socks, or hat, or some other item of apparel, the fickle sports gods will notice and tilt the karma in our favor. A key belief, underlying all of the superstition, is that someone somewhere will notice that we are doing those good things and displaying our commitment to our team and reward us with wins and, we hope, championships.

If you ever needed proof that there is no equity whatsoever in sports, here it is: the Houston Astros have made the World Series for the third time in five years.

The Astros engaged in a one of the worst sports cheating scandals since the Chicago Black Sox threw the World Series in 1919. The team intentionally stole signs in 2017, when they won the World Series, and for part of 2018 until their scheme was uncovered. The Astros–who some people dubbed the “Asterisks,” as in the logo above, to reflect that the franchise won the championship by cheating–were fined $5 million, lost a few draft picks, and fired some of their front office personnel. But the team’s owner remained in place, the Astros hung their championship banner, and no punishment was meted out to the players who participated in the cheating. Remember that the next time you hear somebody in organized baseball talking about needing to do something to protect the “integrity of the game.”

If there were justice and equity in sports, the Astros wouldn’t be going to another World Series, and making people wonder whether those guys who figured out a way to cheat before might somehow be cheating again. But they are. The Astros owner says he thinks the scandal is in the rear view mirror, but there are many of us who remember, and who think the lack of accountability for flagrant cheating is a continuing black eye for baseball.

I can’t do anything about equity in sports, but I can do one thing: not watch any game the Astros play. I therefore won’t be watching the World Series this year.

Road Breakfast

Normally I don’t eat breakfast, but I make an exception when I’m on the road. This morning we are in the Cincinnati area for a family wedding, so a road breakfast was in order. And when you Google “breakfast near me” you inevitably find a lot of good options if you are looking for a place that opens early, closes up shop by mid-afternoon, and serves all of the traditional breakfast fare.

We decided to go with the Original Pancake House on Montgomery Road. With a cheerful, old-school facade like that, it had to be good—and it was. The menu offered more than a dozen options in the pancake category alone, as well as pages of other breakfast dishes. But pancakes are in the restaurant’s name, and pancakes sounded good, so pancakes it was. Buckwheat pancakes, to be precise, with hot coffee and orange juice on the side.

My position is that there is a right way and a wrong way to eat pancakes. I like to first apply butter to each pancake in the stack so it can melt, then liberally douse the stack with syrup and let the syrup seep in to the pancakes before slicing the pancakes into squares for ready consumption. To its credit, the OPH had excellent syrup, hitting the sweet spot between too-thick syrup that causes the pancakes to break apart during syrup-sopping maneuvers and syrup that is too runny. And the pancakes themselves had a great buckwheat flavor.

Road breakfasts like the one this morning help to make travel time special.

Headlamper Season

We’re nearing the end of Daylight Savings Time for 2021, which officially ends at 2 a.m. on November 7. That means that, right now, it is pitch dark at 6 a.m., when I take my morning walk around Schiller Park, and we’ve reached the period I call headlamper season.

You can see one of the headlampers approaching in the above photo, which I took yesterday morning. They are joggers who wear a bright light on their heads as they run, apparently so they can better see the sidewalk as they scurry along. This distinguishes them from the other joggers who carry their own light sources on their arms or torsos and look like characters in the movie Tron.

Unfortunately, the bright light worn by the headlampers, which is right at eye level, has the effect of blinding the luckless walkers, like me, who happen to be heading in the opposite direction. When the headlampers get within a few feet the light is so dazzling against the darkness that I’m left sightless and stumbling forward, hoping that I don’t trip over an uneven part of the pavement or step off the sidewalk into an unbagged pile of dog doo. It should be obvious that the bright light is disturbing others–I always try, unsuccessfully, to shield my eyes with my hands and squint against the light–but the headlampers don’t seem to care. They are lost in their own personal headlamper world, no doubt congratulating themselves as they trot along for being able to afford the wondrous technology that allows them to bring their own light rather than relying on plentiful street lighting like the rest of us.

Evidently it’s the headlampers’ world. The rest of us just live in it.

Beer And Cheese

I enjoy a meal of beer and cheese every now and then. And in that regard, I’m part of a long line of human beer-and-cheese fanciers–a line that, as a recent discovery shows, dates back thousands of years.

A study published in Modern Biology focused on well-preserved human droppings found in salt mines near Hallstatt, Austria–salt mines that have been existed for thousands of years. People who worked deep in the salt mines over the millennia took their food to work, and they weren’t shy about answering the call of nature in the mines rather than journeying back to the surface. The dehydrating salt in the soil had the effect of turning the solid human waste deposits from days of yore into desiccated samples (non-smelly, the article linked above daintily points out) that have their biomolecules still intact. That means scientists can analyze the dried-out dung to see what the humans were eating over the years.

Ah, the romance of science!

The study of the fecal remains from the Iron Age, 2,700 years ago, showed traces of brewers’ yeast–the kind that produces traditional beers like pale ales. The paleofeces also showed lots of whole grains and fibers, as well as traces of blue cheese. And the study’s authors note that the ancient working man’s diet produced healthier, and more biodiverse, gut microbes for the ancient salt miners than are seen in most modern humans because none of the food was processed.

So there you have it: beer, bread, and cheese have a long history and are healthy, to boot. And those of us who still enjoy those long-term human dietary staples, 2,700 years later, get to use modern amenities like bathrooms, too.

Vote No On Issue 7

In recent years I’ve tried to avoid discussing politics in this blog, but Issue 7, which will be on the ballot in the City of Columbus in November, will have to be an exception to that rule of thumb. It’s an egregious example of misuse of the referendum process, misleading ballot language, and a crass attempt to divert City of Columbus funds into unknown pockets, all rolled into one ballot proposition. If you’re registered to vote in the City of Columbus on November 2, I urge you to get to the polls and vote “no” on Issue 7.

Issue 7 would require Columbus to create four funds–an Energy Conservation and Energy Efficiency Fund, a Clean Energy Education and Training Fund, a Minority Business Enterprise Clean Energy Development Fund and a Columbus Clean Energy Partnership Fund–and would require the city to redirect $87 million in city general funds to fund them. According to the city, two of the funds, worth $67 million, would be transferred to an unidentified group with no legislative oversight, and the removal of $87 million from the general fund would likely require significant cuts in other important city services. Columbus city leaders have spoken out against this attempt to put public funds into private hands and bypass budget processes–all of which could imperil the city’s overall financial health and its bond rating, at a time when Columbus, like other cities, is trying to deal with the many different consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Columbus Dispatch has also been outspoken about Issue 7, both in reporting on the checkered history of the issue and the lack of transparency about how the millions of dollars in public funds would be used, and by whom, and in editorializing on how the issue attempts to use “green energy” concepts to cover what the Dispatch editorial board calls a “grift.” The editorial describes Issue 7 as “a shameful attempt to confuse well-meaning voters and bilk Columbus out of money that should be used for critical services such as police and fire protection, trash collection, health services, and recreation and parks programs.”

And finally, Issue 7 is an example of an increasing problem in the American system, where standard processes in a representative democracy are being bypassed by ballot issues and referenda that have voters set policy and direct the expenditure of public funds, without the public hearings, scrutiny, and other elements of actions taken by our elected representatives that bring transparency and expertise to decision-making and public spending. And when the ballot issues contain language that obscures rather than enlightens, and seems consciously designed to mislead voters, the problem becomes even greater.

The election on November 2 is an off-year election, when turnout is likely to be small. The group behind Issue 7 no doubt hopes that most voters won’t go to the polls, and those that do will be uninformed about Issue 7 and think that the “green energy” and “clean energy” funds that it would create sound like good ideas, without realizing the true impact of the initiative.

Let’s not be fooled, folks! Let’s get to the polls on November 2 and vote “no” on Issue 7.

Truth, Justice, And A Better Tomorrow

Some people on the conservative end of the political spectrum are pretty upset at DC Comics, which publishes the Superman comic books. They’re miffed that The Man of Steel is changing his motto.

For years, Superman has professed to stand for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” Many of us know this because we watched reruns of the ’50s Adventures of Superman TV show on UHF channels when we were growing up. We remember the introduction to the series, shown above, where a serious sounding narrator, after noting that Supes was faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive, informed us that he fought for truth, justice, and the American Way while the actor playing Superman sucked in his gut and the American flag waved in the background.

DC Comics says it is changing Superman’s motto to “truth, justice, and a better tomorrow” to reflect a broader, more global vision for Supes’ world. You can tell it’s a conscious effort to update the comic book hero to modern norms, because the article linked above quotes DC Comics’ “chief creative officer” as saying, without evident concern for exaggeration: “Superman has long been a symbol of hope who inspires people, and it is that optimism and hope that powers him forward with this new mission statement.”

That’s right: Superman now has a “mission statement.”

The kerfuffle about The Man of Steel’s motto is another great contrived point of contention for “commentators” to argue about, but even as manufactured media controversies go it’s pretty thin gruel. There’s nothing inherently wrong with punching out bad guys or reversing the rotation of the Earth to try to bring about “a better tomorrow,” and it’s not like standing for “the American Way” has any well-defined, specific meaning these days. Does it mean supporting the freedoms enumerated in Bill of Rights, or the ability to eat snack foods while sitting on your couch and binge-watching the latest hot Netflix series, or something else?

I’m perfectly content to let comic book characters change with the times. And if Superman wants to update the part about being faster than a speeding bullet, because that image is too triggering for the current generation, and more powerful than a locomotive, because nobody thinks of locomotives as especially powerful these days, I’m fine with that, too.

Gun Porn

Last weekend, on our flight down to Charleston, I sat behind a trim middle-aged guy on the airplane. At some point on the flight I noticed, through the gap between two of the seats in the row ahead, that he was reading a magazine about weapons.

The magazine was filled with glossy, high-quality pictures of rifles, pistols, shotguns, knives, various kinds of of bullets, and camouflage-wearing guys displaying or shooting their guns. The articles described the features and performance characteristics of the new weapons on the market, but what really made an impression on me was the many close-up, detailed photographs of the gleaming weapons themselves. If there is such a thing as “gun porn” for the guns ‘n ammo enthusiast, this guy’s magazine offered it.

The guy on the airplane is not alone in his interests in firearms and other weapons. 2020 was an all-time record year for gun sales in the U.S., with Americans buying 22.8 million guns–64.8 percent more than in 2019. Experts attribute the surge in gun sales to the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns about social unrest, and fears by gun owners that the presidential election would bring new restrictions on gun and ammunition ownership. And while 2021 hasn’t maintained that same record pace, it’s still on track to be one of the biggest gun sale years in history. In August of this year, for example, Americans bought another 1.4 million guns. Surveys indicate that about 40 percent of Americans live in households that own a gun–that number is down, incidentally, from 1978, when 51 percent of households reported owning guns–and it is estimated that there are somewhere around 400 million firearms in private households in America.

That’s a heck of a lot of guns. But given the way the guy in the seat in front of me was checking out his magazine, it seems like the appetite for still more gun sales is still strong.