Winging It

The Super Bowl is the greatest chicken wing-consuming event in America.  The National Chicken Council forecasts that Americans will chow down on 1.3 billion chicken wings during the game tomorrow.  That’s four wings for every man, woman, and child in America.  As the vice president for communications of the National Chicken Council aptly stated:  “Any way you measure it, that’s a lot of freaking wings.”

slide_3So, if you’re going to eat chicken wings tomorrow — and chances are, if you are a red-blooded, football-loving, commercial-watching American, you will be — and if you live in the Columbus, Ohio area, why not get your wings from a place that the Only in Your State website recently announced was one of the 11 restaurants with the best wings in Ohio?  The wings from JT’s Pizza & Pub made the top 11 list, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that the JT’s wings are excellent.

In the interests of full and fair disclosure, please note that JT’s is owned and operated by our nephew, Joe Hartnett, who’s been doing a bang-up job as a small businessman.  Now that the conflict of interest disclosures are out of the way, why not stop at JT’s to satisfy that Super Bowl wing craving?  You’ll find JT’s and its magic wings at 2390 West Dublin Granville Road — also know as Route 161 — in Columbus.

The Impossible Challenges Of Modern Parenting

The tragic tale of the stabbing death of Nicole Lovell is one of those stories that demonstrates, yet again, that being a parent in the modern world poses challenges that our parents and grandparents would never have thought possible.

Nicole Lovell was a 13-year-old girl who lived in Virginia.  She had liver transplant surgery that left her scarred, and she took medication that made her gain weight — which in turn caused her to be the butt of ridicule by some of the mean kids at her school.  Like many kids do these days, she turned to social media as an outlet and apparently created alternative personas on-line, on a number of different sites.  Unbeknownst to her parents, for example, she had multiple profiles on Facebook.

nicole-lovellAuthorities believe that Nicole Lovell’s social media activities brought her into contact with an 18-year-old named David Eisenhauer — a student at Virginia Tech.  According to police, Eisenhauer and another Virginia Tech student, Natalie Keepers, plotted to kill Lovell and dispose of her body.  Lovell went missing from her bedroom after midnight on January 27; her body was found days later in a remote wooded area in North Carolina.  Eisenhauer is charged with Lovell’s abduction and murder, and Keepers is charged with being an accessory.

All parents know there are bad people out there.  That’s always been true.  The difference now is that social media makes it so much easier for the bad people to find your children, interact with them, and lure them into danger.  In more innocent days, parents could ensure their children’s safety by making sure they stayed in the neighborhood.  In the modern world of America, however, physical location is no longer an assurance of safety, because the computer in the family den can be the gateway for predators.

Nicole Lovell’s story involves a lot of common, nightmare scenarios for parents: unfair bullying at school, a child entering the teenage years who feels lonely and friendless at school while feeling liberated by the anonymity and possibilities for self-reinvention that social media and the internet offer, and, in all likelihood, that youthful confidence and certainty that nothing bad will happen to them — until it tragically does.

Modern parents know of these risks, but how do they keep them under control with so many social media options available in the modern world?  One of the social media options mentioned in the news stories linked above is called Kik, which is a messaging app that allows its users to remain anonymous and send photos that aren’t saved on the phone.  Have you even heard of Kik?  I hadn’t until I read the stories about Nicole Lovell — but I bet many young teenage kids have heard about it at school.  The kids are always way ahead of the adults on the social media/technology curve.

Our children survived the teenage years and made it out into adulthood.  I’m grateful for that, because I really don’t know how modern parents are supposed to thread the needle and allow their children enough freedom and self-sufficiency to develop as autonomous human beings while ensuring that they don’t fall prey to the evil people that we know are out there.  Sometimes, as the story of Nicole Lovell suggests, modern parenting just seems impossible.

Unfair Pitch

I think Hillary Clinton can be criticized for a lot of things, but one criticism is particularly unfair — that she becomes “shrill” when she raises her voice during moments of stress, like during the early part of last night’s debate with rival Bernie Sanders.

hillary-angryI agree with people who contend that “shrill,” “grating,” “braying,” “tone it down,” and similar terms are code words for sexist notions.  And when people start talking about things like Hillary Clinton’s “pitch” or “tone” or “volume,” they’re really communicating that they don’t think women should speak up and be heard, whether they intend to convey that message or not.  It hearkens back to Victorian times when women were viewed as delicate flowers who couldn’t undertake vigorous physical activity and shouldn’t venture their opinions about politics and other subjects that should be reserved for a male-dominated society.  It’s antiquated thinking, and comments about the volume of female politician voices are a byproduct of it.

No one criticizes the likes of Donald Trump or Chris Christie or any other male politician for yelling on the stump; it’s pretty commonplace at a noisy political rally where you are trying to be heard in a large room filled with people.  At debates, male speakers often increase their volume and talk over their foes.  Telling female politicians they can’t yell under the same circumstances puts them at an unfair disadvantage.  If we tolerate booming volume from male speakers, we can tolerate it from the female side, too.

So yell away, Hillary Clinton!  I may not agree with your positions on the issues, but I’ll defend to the death your ability to voice them as loudly as you please.

The Never-Ending Surge In Gun Sales

The American economy isn’t going gangbusters, but at least one area — gun sales — is an apparent exception to the overall economic malaise.

According to data released by the FBI, firearm background check requests, which are a kind of rough proxy for gun sales, keep setting records.  December, 2015 was the first month ever where more than 3 million background checks were performed, and for the year 2015 more than 23 million checks were performed.  Guns seem to be a popular holiday gift, because every year background checks spike during the holiday period — but this year the surge is continuing past the holidays.  The FBI reported doing more than 2.5 million background checks in January, 2016, which is the ninth month in a row that background checks have set a monthly record.

somervilleguns-thumb-520x292-81559It’s not clear why people are buying so many guns, but one theory is that gun owners fear that President Obama will take unilateral action to hurt their gun rights.  There’s statistical support for that notion, because President Obama’s years in office have been record-breaking for firearms entering the market according to statistics maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.  Whereas 40 million new guns entered the markets during the 8-year presidencies of President Clinton and President George W. Bush, 68 million guns entered the market during the first five years of the Obama Administration.  The key test for whether the “Obama effect” is the real motivator of gun sales will come, of course, when the President leaves office in a few months and a new President moves into the Oval Office.

Who is buying the guns?  Surveys indicate that the number of households that own firearms is either flat or trending downward, and that the surge is coming from existing gun owners who are simply buying more guns.  According to those surveys, the average number of firearms in households owning guns increased from 4.1 guns in 1994 to 8.1 guns in 2013.  And, because that number is an average, that means there are a lot of American households that own more than eight guns.

In short, we live in a country where many of our neighbors have assembled large arsenals and seemingly are always ready to buy more guns.  I’d say our citizenry is ready for the Zombie Apocalypse or an attempted invasion by the Russkies, but it doesn’t exactly make me feel more safe walking around on an average day among a population where some people are armed to the teeth.

“That’s What They Offered”

This morning I asked a very close friend — a lifelong, dyed in the wool Democratic voter — if Hillary Clinton had said anything interesting in last night’s New Hampshire town hall event on CNN.  She grimaced and said that when Anderson Cooper had asked whether Clinton regretted being paid $675,000 to give speeches to Goldman Sachs during the time period between her service as Secretary of State and her decision to run for President, Clinton said no — and when Cooper followed up by asking whether she had to be paid that much money, Clinton said:  “Well, I don’t know . . . that’s what they offered.”

Ooof.

160203221242-nh-town-hall-bernie-clinton-split-large-169Look, I recognize that this is one of those issues that we’re not going to agree on.  Hillary Clinton supporters will say that this is just another effort by Hillary Haters to tar Clinton on an issue when everyone who has served in an important public office makes a lot of money giving speeches, and anyway Clinton couldn’t possibly be corrupted by making $675,000 for giving three speeches.  If you’re a Hillary supporter, you believe Clinton when she says precisely that, and can’t understand others who don’t take her word for it.  (I should note. though, that Clinton’s later statement that the financial folks aren’t giving her a lot of money since she officially declared for President has been vigorously challenged by some journalists.)

But consider, please, what a terrible message Clinton’s rationalization sends.  Basically, it’s saying that everyone who engages in “public service” cashes in and, in her case, gets paid more for making three speeches than many people make over a 20-year career and far more than most Americans have saved for their retirements.  You can say that it doesn’t change your position on the issues, or give the people who paid that $675,000 special access, or make you any more likely to agree with what they have to say if you ultimately make it to the Oval Office, but such statements are very difficult for the ordinary voter to accept.  To most of us, $675,000 is a hell of a lot of money.

And how can you possibly complain about the corrupting nature of campaign finance laws, where issues organizations that technically aren’t affiliated with your campaign can contribute toward commercials that provide support for your candidacy or attack your opponents, when you’ve taken $675,000 that is paid to you, personally, for giving three speeches?  Ask most people what is worse — a direct payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the ultimate candidate, or indirect support through advertisements — and I’d bet that the majority say the direct approach is far more troubling.

But more damning still is the phrasing that Hillary Clinton used in her answer:  “that’s what they offered.”  It makes you wonder whether Goldman Sachs could have paid any amount that would have given Clinton pause.  $1 million?  $2 million?  $5 million?  It sounds like Hillary Clinton is allowing Goldman Sachs to define her ethical boundaries — which, unfortunately, seems to suggest that she doesn’t have much in the way of ethical boundaries in the first place.

As I said, I’m sure that Hillary Clinton’s supporters will pooh-pooh her answer and the amount she was paid for giving the speeches as another trumped-up tempest in a teapot.  They will accuse critics of being hypocrites.  But I think the Wall Street speech issue, and Clinton’s response to it, neatly capsulizes a much more significant, disturbing issue about the crushing presence of money in politics.  It’s a big reason why Bernie Sanders is vastly outperforming inside-the-Beltway expectations.

The New X-Files

The X-Files is back for a brief run on prime time television.  I’m glad it’s here, because once I watched a new episode I realized that I had really missed my heady, weekly dose of sprawling, remotely plausible governmental conspiracy theories.

They’ve consciously set up the new X-Files episodes to connect as much as possible to the old series.  So we’ve got the same famously eerie whistling opening, with Mulder’s and Scully’s old ID badges, and the old characters like by-the-book-except-when-he-isn’t Skinner and, at the end of the premier episode . . . the Cigarette Smoking Man, who now needs to puff on those cancer sticks through a disgusting hole his esophagus.

xf_sc7_0067rjw_hires2And Mulder and Scully really haven’t changed much, either.  They still call each other “Mulder” and “Scully,” for one, even though they’ve had a romance and had a child they put up for adoption and wistfully dream about.  (There’s a plot line for you!)  Mulder still is willing to check out just about any speculation about any far-fetched plot, and for all of her doctor-trained skepticism and demands for proof, Scully will inevitably be drawn into Mulder’s weird, dark, but ultimately hopeful world.

The first episode allowed us to catch up on our two heroes, learn that they’ve lost touch and gone their separate ways, and see how the ever-present UFO conspiracy can bring them back together and return them to their highest and best use of investigating the X-files.  And as Mulder rattled off some rapid-fire conspiracy theory about how the Roswell crash is still being kept secret after all these years by shadowy government figures and greedy corporate types who want to hide the news that there is free energy for all, you couldn’t help but be struck about how our current world — with its drones and ever-present surveillance cameras, routine monitoring of everyday activities, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, government bailouts of huge corporations, secret collection of data about world leader cell phones, and allegations of conspiracies and cover ups about virtually everything — fits neatly and seamlessly into the paranoid X-Files world view.

By the time of the second episode, with Mulder and Scully investigating a creepy doctor who experimented on his own kids and used alien DNA to give them supernatural powers, the show was back in full stride, as if it never left.  (I haven’t watched the third episode yet, so don’t spoil it for me.)  These days, who doesn’t want watch to a suspenseful TV show that features soulless evildoers dying horrible deaths because sound vibrations caused by their own kids have caused them to bleed out from their ears and their eyes?

Welcome back, guys!  Now, get to work, will you?

 

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Here’s another weirdness about Iowa.  In 6 of the 1,681 precincts that caucused last night, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders ended up in a tie and flipped a coin to decide who should get a delegate.  It’s not exactly a rational way to pick a President, is it?

bigstock-coin-flip-5807921But it gets even weirder, because Hillary Clinton won all six of the coin tosses.  What are the odds of winning six coin tosses in a row?  As simple mathematics would reveal, and as several newspapers have reported, Clinton had exactly a one-in-64 chance — or 1.6 percent — of winning all six flips.  Most of us could never dream of winning even two of three coin flips in a row, much less a half dozen.

What kind of coin were they using for these flips, anyway?  Was it of the two-headed variety, or improperly weighted, or did Sanders’ minions fall for the old heads I win, tails you lose trick?

Hillary Clinton may not have fared as well as she wanted in the Iowa caucuses, but she sure lucked out in the coin toss category.  She probably should have bought a PowerBall ticket.