Bad Dogs, or Bad Owners?

Anyone who has a dog in the family knows that they are uniquely sensitive to their human companions. It’s a trait that has been developed over thousands of years of serving as “man’s best friend.” So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that when dogs misbehave, the root cause may lie, at least in part, in the behavior of their human friends.

A recent study of thousands of dogs in Finland uncovered clear statistical connections between “bad dog” behavior and certain elements of the dog’s home life. The study found that canine misconduct like obsessive chewing, compulsive barking or whining, and pacing are all associated to some extent with the dog’s owner and environment. First-time dog owners are 58 percent more likely than experienced owners to have dogs that act out in such ways, and factors that contribute to dog stress–like not getting enough exercise, or being part of a large family where there is a lot going on at all times–also are associated with such unwanted repetitive behaviors. In addition, the study found that certain dog breeds are more prone to such conduct than others.

None of this should come as a surprise. Part of the reason first-time dog owners often struggle is that they don’t fully understand what having a dog in the family really requires–in terms of attention, exercise, and other time commitments. Dogs that aren’t getting the love and attention and play and walks they need are more likely to act out in a way that demands attention, by barking at every noise or chewing shoes or some other misbehavior. When the owner reacts to the barking or chewing, and gives the dog attention or takes it for a walk, the dog realizes their technique worked, and the behavior becomes engrained.

Dogs and humans have a symbiotic relationship, where one affects the conduct and mood of the other. Good dogs have good owners who make sure that their furry friends get plenty of exercise, love, and attention, and the dog’s behavior reflects that. People whose dogs are acting out should take a look in the mirror and think about whether their actions aren’t contributing to the problem. Barbara Woodhouse famously wrote about “no bad dogs,” but that doesn’t mean there are no bad dog owners.

Happy Bachday!

Today we celebrate the birth of one of the greatest composers in the history of classical music, Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was an incredibly prolific musical genius who wrote many of the finest and most beloved pieces of the baroque era. His extraordinarily diverse output included the Brandenburg concertos, toccatas and fugues, brilliant works for solo cello, titanic passions, cantatas, and just about every form of music that was written during that era. Bach was an incandescent giant who was born 337 years ago, on March 31, 1685.

Or wait a minute–was it March 21, 1685?

Bach is one of those historical figures whose birthday (and the precise dating of other events in his life) was affected by the change from the Julian calendar–so named because it was adopted by Julius Caesar and had been used since them–to the Gregorian calendar. That change shifted calendar dates forward to account for deficiencies in the Julian calendar. Bach was born on March 21 of the Julian calendar, which equates to March 31 on the Gregorian calendar–which was the calendar that had been adopted in Germany when Bach died in 1750. So, should we celebrate his birthday on March 21 in the modern Gregorian calendar, even though he didn’t actually arrive until several days later, or on March 31, even though his recorded birthday is days earlier?

I suggest that we not worry about such trifles, and spend the entire period between March 21 and March 31 celebrating the brilliance of this true musical prodigy, whose music fills my playlists. To those who insist that March 21 is the correct day to celebrate Bach’s birth, I say fine: let’s call March 31 Bachday, instead.

Happy Bachday, JSB and music lovers everywhere!

From The Ground Up

Some of the things we can do these days are pretty amazing, when you stop and think about it. Here’s an example: earlier this month an astrophotographer took a picture of astronauts performing spacewalk maneuvers around the International Space Station–from the ground. That’s the photo, above.

Dr. Sebastian Voltmer took the photograph on March 23, as astronauts Raja Chari (from NASA) and Matthias Maurer (from the European Space Agency) were in the middle of a seven-hour spacewalk. Dr. Voltmer took the picture just after sunset, from Maurer’s hometown of Sankt Wendel, Germany. You can see the two astronauts in the photo–which Dr. Voltmer considers to be a “once-in-a-lifetime image.”

What’s amazing is that the ISS orbits the Earth at an average altitude of 227 nautical miles, or 420 kilometers. Dr. Voltmer says he used a Celestron 11-inch EdgeHD telescope on a GM2000 HPS mount and an ASI290 planetary camera to take the photo–which means you probably shouldn’t attempt this with your new iPhone.

A clear photo taken from the ground of astronauts working on a space station, 227 miles up? I guess the future is here.

Hollyweird

I haven’t watched the Academy Awards broadcast in decades, so I didn’t see the slap incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock that happened Sunday night. Of course, that incident ended up being the focus of news reports on the show–rather than who actually won the Oscars in the various categories–and has been a huge topic of discussion in opinion columns and on social media.

My primary reaction to the whole thing is that it’s another in a long line of illustrations of just how weird and awful the whole Hollywood culture really is. In any normal reality, no rational person would even consider marching up on stage during a television broadcast, striking a person across the face because of an offensive joke, and launching an f-bomb for the national viewing audience, but the entertainment industry isn’t a normal reality. Instead, it’s an otherworldly, toxic culture, a witches’ brew of countless sex scandals, substance abuse, philandering, cheating, colossal egos in constant search of recognition, cowardly failures to expose sexual predators, toadying, posing, lack of accountability, and just about every other negative quality you can identify.

In saying this, I’m not blaming the culture for what Will Smith did; he’s got to be responsible for that. Instead, I’m just making the observation that no one should be surprised by anything that happens in Hollywood these days, no matter how inappropriate or shameful. The messed-up culture is fertile, enabling ground for misconduct, and this incident won’t be the last example of it.

Chris Rock apparently handled the incident with incredible professionalism on Sunday night, which is the only thing that kept the matter from escalating still further. The entertainment industry should recognize that it is forever in his debt for that. Not many people would have been able to restrain themselves from responding in kind to a slap, and if Rock didn’t show enormous self-control we would have been treated to the unseemly spectacle of tuxedo-clad celebrities brawling on live TV. As for Will Smith, he’s now issued a public apology to Chris Rock, and the celebrity culture will undoubtedly promptly close ranks and say that the incident is behind us and it’s time to move on.

But for many of us, we’ll still wonder what on earth is wrong with these people–and we’ll be grateful that we aren’t part of their titanic weirdness.

End Of The Malls

Columbus’ local ABC affiliate is reporting that the city has filed nuisance abatement actions against the owners of the old Eastland Mall. The article linked above reports that, in the court action, the city has presented photographs that reflect a property in decline, with accumulated trash, broken windows, crumbling canopies, dilapidated walls, and a sinkhole underneath the parking lot. According to the article, Columbus code enforcement also offered photographs showing people living in tents on the mall sidewalks.

The sad tale of the Eastland Mall is another sign of the end of suburban American mall culture. Indoor malls were a phenomenon that swept the country in the ’60s and ’70s, putting many downtown stores out of business and shifting retail activity to the ‘burbs. Featuring “anchor stores,” countless smaller stores, food courts, and acres of parking spaces, indoor malls were generic places where people could shop, retirees could walk to the accompaniment of mall music, and kids who became known as “mall rats” could hang out with their friends.

No one who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s would have dreamed that their clean, antiseptic mall could turn into a crumbling eyesore, but the handwriting has been on the wall for years now. In Columbus, the travails of the downtown Columbus City Center mall was the canary in the coal mine that showed the indoor mall era was ending. City Center opened with great fanfare in 1989, struggled, and closed two decades later; it was then torn down and became the Columbus Commons greenspace and the location for mixed use developments. Other Columbus malls, like the once-thriving Northland Mall, also have been torn down, and the retail trends have shifted to open air shopping venues, like the colossal Easton Town Center development.

The American economy is vibrant, but ever-changing. The rise and fall of the indoor mall culture is a good sign of that reality.

Cool Cocktail Coasters

Friday night we paid a visit to the Citizens Trust cocktail lounge. Located in a refurbished bank lobby less than a block from High Street in the heart of downtown Columbus, it’s an old school place, with vaulted ceilings, plenty of different seating areas, a little gold-trimmed booklet of its standard high end cocktail offerings, and a corps of experienced mixologists ready to prepare whatever concoction you care to name. It’s the kind of place you’d come to with a visitor to our fair city, to help communicate that Columbus is pretty cool.

One of the coolest features of the Citizens Trust, in my book, is the little vinyl records used as coasters. They’re eye-catching, and remind those of us of a certain age of our 45s and albums. (Of course, you’d never put a cocktail or wine glass on one of your treasured platters!)

Quality places typically have these kinds of little features that add to the overall ambiance. They aren’t essential, of course, and simple coasters would perform the same function just fine. But they send the unmistakable message that somebody paid attention to detail and went the extra mile. When you see those kinds of signs, you can order that artisanal cocktail with confidence.

Cool Cocktail Coasters

Friday night we paid a visit to the Citizens Trust cocktail lounge. Located in a refurbished bank lobby less than a block from High Street in the heart of downtown Columbus, it’s an old school place, with vaulted ceilings, plenty of different seating areas, a little gold-trimmed booklet of its standard high end cocktail offerings, and a corps of experienced mixologists ready to prepare whatever concoction you care to name. It’s the kind of place you’d come to with a visitor to our fair city, to help communicate that Columbus is pretty cool.

One of the coolest features of the Citizens Trust, in my book, is the little vinyl records used as coasters. They’re eye-catching, and remind those of us of a certain age of our 45s and albums. (Of course, you’d never put a cocktail or wine glass on one of your treasured platters!)

Quality places typically have these kinds of little features that add to the overall ambiance. They aren’t essential, of course, and simple coasters would perform the same function just fine. But they send the unmistakable message that somebody paid attention to detail and went the extra mile. When you see those kinds of signs, you can order that artisanal cocktail with confidence.

Stimulation Follies

High gas prices these days are a continuing shock to drivers. But what’s even more shocking, in my view, is the fact that some lawmakers propose to deal with the skyrocketing pump prices by sending more “stimulus” checks to residents, who can then use the money to pay for the expensive gas.

In Congress, Democratic lawmakers have proposed a bill that would send as much as $300 per month to families as long as the average price for gas in the country exceeds $4 a gallon. And in California, which has the highest average gas prices in the nation, Governor Gavin Newsom proposes to send $400 in direct payments per vehicle, capped at two vehicles, to all Californians.

We’ve apparently gotten to the point where the reflexive political response to every problem is to send checks to people. You can argue about whether such “stimulus” checks make sense in the face of a recession, or when people lose their jobs due to government-ordered pandemic shutdowns, but does any rational person actually think they are a sensible way of dealing with high gas prices?

Elementary economics teaches that commodity prices respond to the law of supply and demand and are a classic example of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” that guides the setting of prices. The best way to deal with high gas prices is to increase the supply (something that will necessarily happen, in the absence of restraints on production, as producers seek to cash in on high prices) while letting the high prices have their inevitable dampening effect on demand. Consumers can modify their behavior to minimize their need for gas–by car pooling, by using public transportation, by consolidating their trips to the store, and by cancelling that driving vacation this summer, among others–and if they do so the “demand” side of the equation will fall. With increased supply and reduced demand, the “invisible hand” will move prices lower.

Stimulus checks to deal with high gas prices therefore are a colossally bad idea, because they artificially interfere with the “demand” part of the pricing equation. Consumers who get the checks will be less likely to engage in those possible methods of minimizing their use of gas, demand for gas will remain high as a result, and the demand pressure will help to keep gas prices at an elevated level. Sending stimulus checks as a way of dealing with gas prices is akin to smashing the fingers of the “invisible hand.”

Outside of California, it isn’t clear that the gas price-stimulus check proposal will get much traction; there are signs that Congress may recognize that such spending makes no sense under the circumstances. It remains to be seen whether Governor Newsom can convince the California legislature to adopt his approach–but if he does, Californians can expect to be dealing with high gas prices a lot longer than the rest of us.

Celebrating “Trolling”

If, like me, you’ve got the ESPN app on your phone, you’ve undoubtedly seen some kind of notice lauding such and such team or player for crushingly “trolling” another with some devastating putdown that bursts their bubble. Of course, it’s not just sports stars and their teams that engage in trolling–you see it in politics and other areas as well. And there, too, “trolling” is often applauded.

“Trolling” is an apt term for this practice, conjuring as it does the creature living and lurking in the shadowy, dark, dank areas under the bridge–scary, creepy, and disconnected from the rest of society, but always ready to spring up when you least expect it. The derivation of “trolling” in its modern sense isn’t a reference to Norse mythology, however, but rather to a fishing technique: “trolling” occurs when the angler puts a baited line in the water, hoping that a fish will bite. That’s what internet or social media trollers do. They say something outrageous and provocative, and hope that someone will engage and they can display all of their powers of insult humor, ironic commentary, and smart-alecky know-it-allism.

“Trolling” isn’t kind or polite behavior. It’s snotty and snarky and over-simplifying. You wouldn’t countenance it from your kids at home, and you wouldn’t hang around friends who engaged in it all the time. So why do ESPN, political website, and other internet and social media outlets celebrate trolling comments, and encourage those people under the bridge to emerge? How are we ever to de-coarsen our society if we’re constantly patting people on the back for a “perfect” or “hilarious” trolling effort?

It’s weird to think we’ve reached the point where some people aspire to be great trolls. They’re not exactly aiming high.

Shrinkflation

We’ve all noticed the impact of the current inflation–7.9 percent for the 12-month period ending in February, which is the highest annual rate since January 1982–at the gas pump, at the grocery store, and in countless other elements of our daily lives. In addition, some observant consumers have noticed that inflation is having a less obvious effect on certain products. The effect isn’t as apparent because it isn’t reflected in the listed price for the product, but in the amount of the product that is being supplied.

In short, we’re not only seeing higher prices, but product shrinkage as well. Some have dubbed the phenomenon “shrinkflation”: it occurs when the consumer pays the same amount as before, but gets less. And because most busy consumers don’t carefully read the disclosures on the products they buy, or notice the weight and size of the packaging, the effect of “shrinkflation” may have escaped your attention–which is kind of the goal of the manufacturers that use this tactic. (Of course, this option isn’t available for products that are sold in standard sizes, such as a gallon of gas; imagine the reaction if you went to the pump and saw that the listed price was for a quart of gas, rather than a gallon.)

The article linked in the last paragraph provides examples of shrinkflation that occurred in 2021 in products as diverse as paper towels, toothpaste, and snack chips. A bag of Doritos, for example, went from 9.75 ounces to 9.25 ounces, which amounts to five fewer chips than the price bought before. The article quotes a representative of Frito-Lay, which makes Doritos, as explaining: “Inflation is hitting everyone…we took just a little bit out of the bag so we can give you the same price and you can keep enjoying your chips.”

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this practice; companies are entitled to package their products as they see fit. As long as product packaging disclosures are accurate, consumers can figure out that they are getting less than they used to for the same price. But the practice of “shrinkflation” shows that inflation can get you in two ways: you can pay more, or you can get less. It’s also a good reason to pay attention to the packaging of what you buy.

Why You Should Never, Ever Burn Your Bridges

In addition to living through the COVID pandemic, during the last two years we’ve also lived through “the Great Resignation.” Throughout the COVID shutdowns and remote working period, and fueled in part by the money they received through stimulus checks, millions of Americans quit their jobs and tried something else.

Now we might be living through what may become known as “the Great Regret.” How many of those people who quit their old job and got a new one have found that the grass isn’t, in fact, greener on the other side of the fence? A recent survey of workers has found that 72 percent of those who quit their old job during the pandemic ruefully admit that their new job hasn’t met their expectations. That percentage applied across the board to all employees who responded to the survey, regardless of their industry. What’s more, nearly half of the respondents–48 percent–said they would try to get their old jobs back.

And that’s why people should always heed their Mom’s advice about “not burning your bridges.” By all means, leave a job if you think you can find something more fulfilling, more remunerative, or more suitable to your intended lifestyle–but acknowledge before you leave that your new gig might not turn out as you hope, and conduct your departure accordingly. If you are friendly, polite, and express appreciation for the opportunity you’ve had and the friends you’ve made when you hand in your two weeks’ notice, you’re leaving yourself a bit of a safety valve in case you learn from bitter experience that the new job of your dreams turns out to be the stuff of nightmares.

Those of us who have been around the block a few times have seen people leave a job and later come back, or try to do so. Learning that a new job isn’t working out often happens, even during “Great Resignations.” If you’ve left your old job on good terms, you might be able to get it back, or at least use your old boss as a reference as you search for another position. But if you acted like a jackass, told off your boss, and made some flame-throwing comments to your co-workers, forget it. So why not act with a bit of class, and some foresight, too?

Airplane Manners

Sunday night we took a Southwest flight from Naples to Columbus. The flight left and arrived on time, and the flight attendants were friendly and professional. Nevertheless, the flight was unpleasant. Why? Our fellow passengers.

The first irksome occurrence happened during boarding. We were in the “C” group, so we accepted that we wouldn’t be able to sit together. We found overhead bin space for our bags, and Kish grabbed a seat. I then encountered an increasing problem on Southwest flights: “saved” seats. A hat or a handbag is placed on a middle seat in the front of the plane, you ask if the seat is available, and occupants of the other seats explain that they are “saving” the seat for a friend who has a lower boarding number. It’s as if you’re back on a school bus during a field trip. There were four or five “saved” seats in the front half of the plane before I finally found an open seat. (The flight also featured a variant of the “saved” seat–a seat occupied by an overweight guy sitting in the aisle seat who was sprawled out into the middle seat area, sending an unmistakable message that he would intrude into your personal space without a second thought and causing any rational person to pass the seat by without an inquiry.)

The “saved seat” phenomenon is such a common problem on Southwest flights that it’s a topic for discussion on the Southwest on-line discussion forum. One writer suggests simply picking up the item on the seat and sitting there anyway, or calling a flight attendant over to intervene. I wouldn’t do that, because you’re just causing discord with a fellow passenger who is going to be sitting next to you for the next three hours. I’d like to think that people realize that “seat saving” is unmannerly behavior on an open-boarding plane flight, and at minimum will just head to the back of the plane to try to save a seat, rather than trying to save one at the front of the plane. Obviously, I’m wrong on that.

When I finally found a seat that wasn’t “saved” and sat down, more unpleasantness lay ahead. First, the guy sitting next to me, who was well into middle age, took his shoes and socks off and then crossed his legs so that his bare foot was positioned inches from my left hand. Can there really be people out there who think it is okay to go barefoot on a plane? Later in the flight I dozed off, and when I awoke I saw that Shoeless Joe had put his drink on the left corner of my tray table to allow himself more space to work on his computer. When he saw I was awake he explained why he had done it, and I said “no problem,” thinking it would be a decent gesture on my part and he would polish off his drink quickly. Instead, he took tiny sips of his diet Coke and left the drink on the left corner of my tray table for virtually the entire flight, including when we encountered some turbulence and I began wondering if he realized he was putting me at risk if a spill occurred. And the kicker–literally–was that a child was seated behind me and periodically kicked at the back of my chair, without her parent doing anything to stop it.

I didn’t say anything or do anything about any of these issues. It seems pointless and risky to get into disputes with total strangers in an enclosed space 30,000 feet in the air or to try to correct the behavior of someone who is apparently heedless of the concept of personal space or the intrinsic rudeness of a bare foot on an airline flight. But our flight also made us wonder about the whole concept of travel as a fun leisure activity. When you’re packed like sardines into a plane, part of the social compact is that your fellow passengers will behave politely and reasonably. When they don’t, the whole travel experience turns sour.

The Godfather Turns 50

The Godfather turns 50 this week. The iconic mob movie, uniformly regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made, was released on March 24, 1972.

The Hollywood Reporter has an interesting article featuring recollections of the some of the actors who starred in the original movie, which you can read here. And if you’re a fan of the films, you can watch a mini-series on the making of the original movie, called The Offer, that will be airing on the Paramount+ network later this spring.

The Godfather for a time was the highest grossing picture of all time, and it set the tone for an entire genre of mobster movies in which the gangsters were portrayed as believable human beings–criminal, violent, corrupting human beings, to be sure, but human beings nevertheless. While earlier Hollywood movies were often morality plays where the bad guy inevitably had to get gunned down in the end to send the right message to the audience about being a law-abiding citizen, The Godfather allowed Don Corleone to die of a heart attack while playing with his grandson in the tomato garden and showed Michael Corleone wreaking bloody vengeance on his enemies while at the same time swearing to a priest that he did renounce Satan and his evil deeds. (And was there anyone in the audience who, at that moment, wasn’t rooting for Michael to pull it off?) The conflict between the horrible and cold-blooded violence inflicted by the Corleones and the human elements of the characters made The Godfather much more compelling than the standard gangster movie. And for that reason virtually every mob-themed movie or TV series made since then–from Goodfellas to The Sopranos to just about any other one you can think of–owes a debt of gratitude to The Godfather.

Some people argue that, as a film, The Godfather, Part II is superior to the original. I am not sure about that, but I do know this: the original was groundbreaking in a way that the sequel could never be. So I say happy 50th to The Godfather. You made us all an offer we couldn’t refuse.

The Pickleball Phenomenon

Yesterday I was formally introduced to pickleball.

If you haven’t heard about the game, you’ve probably been hiding under a rock somewhere, because it seems to be sweeping the country–at least in the older age groups. I can’t remember any other new sport that has become so popular among my friends so quickly. What is happening these days must be like what happened when the Scots first invented golf, and suddenly everyone started tromping around the highlands carrying a bunch of oddly shaped clubs.

JV and I went to watch a few of the championship matches at his club, and he give me a quick primer on the rules of the game, which seem to borrow from tennis, table tennis, and volleyball, with a few quirky rules thrown in for good measure. It’s played by doubles teams on a court about half the size of a tennis court, with a squarish paddle rather than a racket and a heavy plastic whiffle ball that makes a kind of clonking sound when it hits the paddle. The rules restrict what you can do in that bright blue area, called “the kitchen,” and sometimes you have to let the ball bounce before you can hit it, so it’s one of those sports that you probably need to play multiple times before you fully assimilate the rules.

Pickleball is a quick game that looks like it is fun to play. There’s some strategery involved, as you try to position your shots and decide whether to hit the ball hard or to play a dink, and it clearly provides a competitive outlet. One of the matches we watched yesterday got a little chippy, for example. But it’s also a game that can be approached seriously or enjoyed recreationally. In either case, if it causes people to get off their couches and get some exercise, that’s a good thing.

Pride Of The Yankees

Yesterday we went to the Baker Museum in Naples to check out an exhibit of New York Yankees memorabilia focused on Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Derek Jeter. It was a great exhibit, and as a Cleveland sports fan it left me shaking my head on how one franchise could have so many championships and so many truly legendary players.

Although all of the exhibit was interesting, I like the part about Babe Ruth best. The Bambino changed the game forever, and every pro athlete who is getting paid huge sums owes him a debt of gratitude, too. it was pretty cool to see his uniform, spikes, glove, and ball cap. The Babe part of the exhibit showed that the Sultan of Swat had impeccable penmanship. In fact, all of the featured Yankees did. Their grade school teachers would be proud.