Still Reelin’ And Rockin’

Chuck Berry turned 90 this week.  Perhaps fittingly, one of rock and roll’s few surviving pioneers will be releasing an album of new songs next year.

chuck-berry-duck-walk-hd-wallpaper-1Many people helped American music take an abrupt turn in the early ’50s, from the big band/crooner/torch singer sound to the chaotic rhythms of rock and roll, but Chuck Berry was foremost among them.  Berry helped to define the genre in two key ways — in writing about fast cars, music, and girls, and in producing a guitar-focused sound that made everyone want to move their feet and strum the air.  More than 60 years later, the riffs he produced on Maybelline and Johnny B. Goode remain some of the greatest ever recorded.  And Berry’s showmanship on stage, including his trademark duck walk, helped to define what live rock music should be, too.

When Elvis Presley died almost 40 years ago, I was working for the Ohio State Lantern, which ran a headline referring to Presley, as many did, as the King of Rock and Roll.  Our faculty advisor, Tom Wilson, emerged from his office to vigorously object to that headline, because he thought that title could only be given to Chuck Berry.  Some people in the newsroom argued with Mr. Wilson, but not me.  He was absolutely right.  And Berry’s recordings remain as fresh and catchy today, and as ready to convert a young person to the world of rock and roll, as they were when they first hit the disk jockeys’ turntables so long ago.

One other thing:  it’s nice to be able to write about a music legend who has lived to a ripe old age.  Rock music takes its toll, and many of its best have been felled by drug overdoses, plane crashes, or violent death.  Chuck Berry duck-walked right on past all of that, with his wife of 68 years, Themetta, there beside him.  Two of their children are part of the band that has recorded the new album, too.

Buckeye Statis

Every four years, since at least the 2000 presidential election, the people of the Buckeye State have braced themselves.  They know that, as residents of a “battleground” state, they are going to be subjected to an onslaught of campaign ads and campaign appearances,  questions from pollsters and reporters who will clog the streets, and the disruption of traffic and everyday life that naturally comes along with regular visits from presidential and vice presidential candidates and their surrogates.

unnamedAnd, as part of that process, every four years politics becomes a much larger part of the daily lives of Ohioans than it would be otherwise.  People talk about the election with their friends, debate the choices, and post yard signs and maybe even attend a rally or volunteer for their candidate.  It’s as if, with the pressure of “battleground” status, Ohioans feel a certain obligation to the rest of the country and think hard about how to cast their vote.  And good-natured discussion with your friends, family, and colleagues about the choices was a big part of the whole decisional process.

This year, though, has a decidedly different feel to it.  There’s not as much activity from the campaigns.  One night last week both President Obama and Donald Trump were in Columbus for speeches, which resurrected some of the hectic feel to which we’ve become accustomed in presidential election years, but it also reinforced how things have changed since 2012, and 2008, and 2004:  in those years, visits from the competing campaigns were virtually a daily occurrence.  This year, not so much.

And this year the vibe of the people of Ohio is different, too.  There are still some true-believer advocates for both candidates in Ohio (although in my neck of the woods you won’t see any pro-Trump signs), but for the most part the population seems to be sad and depressed.  People don’t want to talk about the election, or the candidates, or anything having to do with politics.  The only passion comes when people start talking about how deeply flawed the candidates are, and how rotten the choice is, and how the process really needs to be changed so we don’t end up with such a terrible choice, ever again.  Sometimes this feeling comes out in strong words about what a disaster it would be if one candidate, or the other, were elected — but it is always strong words against a candidate, and never strong words for a candidate.  The only real energy seems to be negative energy.

What does this mean?  It means people talk about the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Cleveland Indians even more than they would otherwise.  It means you try to avoid any mention of the election at lunch or at social gatherings, for fear of loosing another eruption of that terrible negative energy.  It means you really don’t want to live in a battleground state anymore, and would rather just forget about the whole thing.

What does it mean about how Ohioans will vote come Election Day?  I don’t know, but I do think I wouldn’t really trust the polls this year.  I think we are dealing with an electorate that is deeply guarded about their feelings and trying to work through a bleak, deep reservoir of disappointment and bile about parties, processes, and candidates.  I’m skeptical about how many Ohioans are sharing their real feelings with pollsters.  Pollsters just remind us about how the system has let us down.  Who really wants to share their true feelings with walking, talking reminders of a failed process?

Airport Sit-Ins

Here’s an another annoying airport development — the gate-sitters.

The gate-sitters have been a growing problem ever since the advent of smartphones, laptops, and charging stations.  They cluster around airport outlets and charging stations, plopping themselves down on the floor and spreading their bags and carry-one and other paraphernalia around them, casually blocking what is supposed to be a public area.  They could stand, of course, and reduce their traffic-blocking footprint, but I guess that would be inconvenient.  So they sit, and take up space, and expect the rest of us to just weave our way around them.

But now the sitters are spreading.  Yesterday as I was waiting to board a plane I observed a twenty-something girl sit cross-legged in the middle of a walking lane at the gate and promptly start thumbing away at her phone.  There were seats available away from the walking areas, but evidently those did not meet her standards. So when people got off the incoming flight, there she was, like an iceberg, blocking traffic and making people with strollers and wheelchairs navigate around her, oblivious to the fact that she was complicating their lives.  

What inferences could you draw about what this young woman was like in her everyday life?  Shallow?  Self-absorbed?  You got it!

Why Are NFL Ratings Down?

Here’s some surprising news:  NFL TV ratings are down.  So far down, in fact, that the NFL league offices have taken the unusual step of sending a memo to team owners, trying to reassure them that the NFL brand remains as strong as ever.

AMFOOT-SUPERBOWL-NFL-PRESS CONFERENCEThe NFL’s memo says that its data indicates that the perception of the NFL and its players is actually up in 2016.  But the TV ratings for NFL games during the first four weeks of the season are down 11 percent.  Not all of that drop can be attributed to Cleveland Browns fans recognizing that their 0-4 team isn’t going anywhere and deciding their are better ways to spend their Sundays, Monday nights, and Thursday nights.  So what gives?

The NFL says it’s a confluence of events and predicts ratings will bounce back.  Other people think the presidential election is causing the drop-off, as males — the core audience for NFL games — have become more interested in presidential politics than football.  Others say it’s the protests of some players during the National Anthem, the fact that some stars like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have retired or aren’t playing, and the NFL’s decision to move more content to digital platforms.

It seems hard to believe that an awful presidential campaign might have suddenly caused long-time NFL fans to switch off games.  I suspect that the real reason is simpler — people are just tired of the barrage of NFL glitz and hype, hype, hype that has seeped into every crack and crevice of the game.  People like football because they like the game.  The NFL has done so much to change a game into a product that the game itself is getting hard to recognize.  I think many people are just tired of it.  I know I am.

The Donald And The Towel-Snappers

Donald Trump has apologized for incredibly crude and offensive comments that were recorded when he made a cameo appearance on a soap opera in 2005.   The recording was released by the Washington Post yesterday.

If you haven’t listened to the recording, I encourage you not to do so, if you want to maintain some semblance of respect for the American political process.  Just know that Trump’s statements were lewd, coarse, demeaning, appalling, and just about every other adjective you can think of that describes the crass end of the behavioral spectrum.  In his apology, Trump described the recorded conversation as “locker room banter.”

martynelson“Locker room banter.”  I suppose that accurately describes it . . . if we’re talking about a high school locker room.  Any male who lived through those years remembers the high school locker room, when the boys showering and changing clothes were divided into two groups — the loud talking, preening, strutting, arrogant assholes who were trying desperately to establish themselves as alpha males, and the rest of us who just wanted to get the hell out of there.  The first group included the towel snappers, and the “prank” pullers, and the bullies who thought it was hilarious to torment the uncoordinated, the short, the skinny, and the tubby kids who hated gym class for that very reason.  And it was the same guys who bragged incessantly about their claimed, probably imaginary, sexual conquests in the most vulgar terms you can possibly imagine.  The rest of us were forced to listen to the bullshit, knowing and liking the girls who were being so crudely described and feeling sorry that our classmates apparently were going out with complete jackasses.

So now we’ve confirmed that Donald Trump was one of the towel snappers, and he’s really never moved on.  When the situation presents itself, he can sink to levels of boorishness and grossness with the best of them.  No surprise there, really.  Throughout his career in the public eye, Trump has repeatedly been willing to dip into the muck when he thinks the situation calls for it, whether it’s talking about his romantic exploits or concluding that it’s perfectly acceptable to make veiled references to his sexual potency during a presidential debate.  When you identify him as part of the alpha male locker room brigade, it becomes all too predictable.

God help us!  Election Day can’t get here soon enough.

The Proverbial Bucket Of Warm Spit

Tonight, we confirm that my lovely wife is more civic-minded than I am — as if there were any question about that issue in the first place.

220px-johnnancegarnerAs I write this, Kish is watching the vice presidential debate between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence.  Me?  I subscribe to the infamous observation of John Nance Garner, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first vice president, that the job isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit — or, according to some, another bucket of bodily fluid that exits the body at the temperature of 98.6 degrees.

I’m skeptical that any undecided voter has ever voted for a presidential ticket because of the identity of the vice presidential candidate, or the performance of that candidate in a debate.  In this awful election, though, do we think that any rational voter who is dithering about the unfortunate choices presented really would vote for the Trump-Pence ticket because Mike Pence might seem like a reasonable guy in tonight’s VP debate?  Who could  really think that Pence is going to have some significant voice in determining policy if Donald Trump somehow is elected President, anyway?  Or, alternatively, could anyone who is on the fence about whether to pull the lever for Hillary really determine that the balance is tipped in favor of HRC because of Tim Kaine’s riveting mastery of policy details?

Nah!  Let’s face it —  the Veep debate is a non-starter, and in this star-crossed election of 2026, that’s even more so than it’s ever been.  Who cares who is the successor to Richard Nixon, Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Spiro Agnew, Al Gore, and Dick Cheney?  If you can’t decide who to vote for on the basis of the presidential candidates themselves, you probably shouldn’t be voting, should you?

Hey, isn’t the AL wild card game on tonight?

Heaven Or Hell

Yesterday Kish and I were walking home after watching a movie.  As we passed the Ohio Statehouse, an earnest young man wearing a coat and tie handed us a small pamphlet entitled Heaven or Hell — Which One Will You Choose?

img_2904I don’t think I’ve ever actually read a religious tract handed out by a street corner Bible thumper.  This time, though, rather than immediately toss the pamphlet into the trash — which is what the woman walking directly in front of us did — I decided to put it in my pocket to review later.

Admittedly, the colorful cover page is provocative, with its depiction of Earth in the balance between an ethereal heaven and a fiery-lettered hell.  Printed in nearby Lebanon, Ohio, by the Fellowship Tract League, the pamphlet clearly had some decent production values.  But, in my view, the contents weren’t exactly written to persuade the presumed audience.

The pamphlet begins with the words  “Are you going to heaven or to hell?  The Bible teaches . . . . ” and then launches into quotes about lost souls being tossed into a lake of fire and how to be saved from that grim fate.   But if you don’t already believe in heaven or hell, why would you worry about this threshold question?  And if you aren’t already a believer, why would anything written in the Bible be considered especially compelling — any more than, say, the words found in some Hindu religious treatise?  Fortunately, the publishers ask anyone who is saved by the pamphlet to write and let the publishers know, so at least there is data being gathered that will let us know whether the pamphlet is doing its job.

Well, at least now I can say that I’ve read a street corner religious tract.