A Whale Of A Fish Tale

Fishermen are legendary for their powers of exaggeration, if not outright lies. From Cambodia, however, comes a story about fishermen landing a real whopper, with no puffery involved.

Cambodians fishing the Mekong River have caught what is believed to be the world’s largest freshwater fish. Weighing in at an absurd 661 pounds, the stingray required a dozen villagers to reel in and haul to shore. Consider, by way of comparison, that in America landing a bass that weighs more than 20 pounds is considered remarkable. The Cambodian stingray is more than 30 times heavier. Of course, no American lakes or rivers are inhabited by freshwater stingrays that are 13 feet long, either. In fact, I’d wager that any American angler who hooked a fish that looked like this record catch would probably drop their rod and reel in astonishment at what they had hooked.

Before the stingray was caught last week, the record freshwater fish was a 645-pound catfish caught in the Thailand section of the Mekong River in 2005. (Interestingly, there are reports of a 736-pound catfish caught in the Mississippi River, but apparently there must be some doubt about the size of that fish, because it isn’t mentioned in the story of the Mekong River catch.) In any event, the stingray will still be there in the Mekong River, ready to amaze future fishermen, because the villagers who caught it tagged and released it. And that is perhaps the coolest aspect of this fantastic fish tale.

The Power Of “THE”

As a matter of the English language, “the” is a definite article. Dictionary.com explains that “the” is “used, especially before a noun, with a specifying or particularizing effect, as opposed to the indefinite or generalizing force of the indefinite article a or an.”

Of course, any graduate or fan of The Ohio State University knows that “THE” is used with “a specifying or particularizing effect.” And, as of this week, so does the rest of the world–because this week the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office registered “THE” as a trademark of the Ohio State University when that word is used on branded products associated with and sold through athletics and collegiate channels. That recognition reflects the efforts and emphasis of the many Ohio State athletes who have identified their alma mater as “THE Ohio State University” on sports broadcasts.

I think it is great that Ohio State has successfully registered “THE” as a trademark for THE University, because it bugs the crap out of other schools–like TTUN. Let those other schools stumble along with their indefinite articles or prepositions! Ohio State may not win the national championship, or even the Big Ten, every year, but we’ll always be “THE.”

Parents Behaving Badly

Across the country, America is experiencing a shortage of youth sports officials. In Ohio, the roster of Ohio High School Athletic Association officials is down by more than 1,000 officials from only two years ago. The OHSAA, which is the governing body for 817 Ohio high schools, reports 13,369 officials this year, versus 14,651 in 2019-2020. And Ohio is not alone–everywhere, states are reporting declining numbers of umpires and referees, to the point where it is actually affecting the ability to schedule games.

Why are fewer people signing up to referee kid sports? Officials cite a variety of reasons, including the intervening COVID pandemic, but one significant cause seems to be the bad behavior of parents of the kids who are playing. Some parents have become increasingly verbally abusive of officials, and in some cases the abuse has become physical. The Associated Press has a troubling article about this phenomenon that tells the tale of Kristi Moore, who supervises fast-pitch softball umpires in Mississippi. Moore was working a girls’ softball game, called a runner safe at second base, was berated by an irate parent, and had to throw the parent out of the game. When Moore left the field, the woman was waiting and slugged Moore in the eye. The woman was arrested and charged with assault, and now Moore is trying to decide whether she ever wants to work a game again. And who can blame her if she decides that the abuse and the risks just aren’t worth it?

What would cause a parent to become so verbally abusive that they would be tossed from a sports event, and then wait to punch out an official, without calming down in the interim? It’s not an issue for the vast majority of parents, who root for their kids and might express disapproval at a disappointing call but would never dream of such appalling misbehavior. Anyone who has watched their kids play on a sports team knows that there are a handful of parents, however, who just don’t respect those boundaries. Maybe they are convinced their kid will be the next Mickey Mantle, maybe they’re hoping their kid gets a college scholarship, maybe they’ve invested so much time and money in travel teams that they feel entitled, or maybe they have troubled lives and can’t resist venting. But it may only take one bad experience with one enraged parent to cause a youth sports official to hang up their gear–and the shortage gets worse.

I think youth sports are important. They are supposed to be fun, they get kids exercise, and they can teach kids important lessons about qualities like teamwork, sacrifice, the value of practice, and sportsmanship. Kids who see their parents act like jerks aren’t learning good lessons, however. All parents need to take a deep breath and recognize that kid sports events aren’t the end of the world. And if one parent of a kid on a team is behaving badly, it’s up to the other parents to try to help out the officials and defuse the situation. Otherwise, we’re going to reach a point where no one will be able to play a game.

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.

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.

Keep Cancelling Until It’s Warm Enough To Play

We all could use a little baseball right now. Unfortunately, the ongoing labor dispute has put the regular season in peril, and Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred responded last week by cancelling the first two series of the 2022 season. Today, after more unproductive talks, the Commish announced that another two series would be cancelled, which means Opening Day won’t occur until April 14, at the earliest.

This stinks for the fans in warm weather cities, where you can reasonably expect bright, sunny, warm weather–that is, baseball weather–on Opening Day. For fans of the Cleveland Guardians (formerly the Cleveland Indians), the cancellations mean that the really iffy early season dates, when snow is as likely as sunshine and moderately warm temperatures, have gone by the wayside. Deep down, fans have to be thanking the powers that be that they won’t have to be bundled up and trying to survive watching ridiculously cold home games that never should have been played.

Thanks to the cancellations, the Guardians won’t host the Kansas City Royals from March 31 (shiver!) through April 3, or the Minnesota Twins from April 4 through April 6. The cancellations announced today will affect away series with Kansas City and the Cincinnati Reds, and if a few more series get cancelled we can gratefully avoid the specter of baseball in Cleveland in all of April, too. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that it will snow in Cleveland during at least some of the days when baseball was to have been played.

I wish the players and owners would reach agreement, but I do acknowledge that the labor issues have at least introduced a kind of scheduling rationality that major league baseball has stubbornly refused to implement. It’s just dumb to play baseball outdoors in northern cities in March and April. Shorten the season, reintroduce the true doubleheaders many of us remember from our childhoods, or just avoid scheduling games in cold-weather cities until at least April 20 or so–just do whatever you have to do to avoid April baseball in Cleveland.

Treadmill Rules

Lately I’ve been taking my morning walk on a treadmill in a small workout facility, rather than via a walk in the open air. It’s the first time I’ve really consistently used a gym and a treadmill. I’m getting in about the same amount of steps, but it is an entirely different vibe.

There are positives to the treadmill experience, of course. The primary benefit is that you aren’t subject to the whims of the weather and the possibility of some weather-related mishap, like slipping on ice during the winter or being sprayed with the splash when a passing car rockets through a rain puddle. But whereas walking outside, for me, tends to be a solitary exercise, treadmills in a gym are communal–and that means there are rules to be acknowledged and obeyed.

One of the rules involves respecting the personal space of the other treadmill users. In our little gym, there is a row of six treadmills. If you come in while some of those devices are being used, you need to find an empty treadmill that gives you at least a one empty treadmill buffer zone from any other user, if possible. Picking a treadmill right next to another user when there are plenty of unused machines would be viewed as unseemly and, well, weird. Another rule is that there is no talking, period. Even though multiple people are within a few feet of each other, everyone seeks to remain in their own little workout world, following their walking, jogging, or running routines, listening to their music or podcasts, and maintaining careful social separation. The other users don’t seem to even acknowledge each other’s presence with a nod or a smile.

Another big difference between walking outside and the treadmill experience is the looking presence of the machine itself. Outdoor walkers can always stop to tie their shoe or admire a pretty scene. Of course, you can’t do that on a treadmill, unless you want to be swept away by the moving belt and hurled into the exercise bikes behind you. There’s a pressure element, because you’d better keep your feet moving, and at the right clip. And the machines are very clock-centric. You program your time and start your routine, and you can’t help but look constantly at how much more time is left before the routine is over. That ever-present time concept simply doesn’t exist on an outdoor walk.

Sad Ads

Super Bowl LVI featured a close, hard-fought game, some officiating controversies to spice up discussions of the result, and a halftime show that some generations, at least, argue was the best of all time. But forget those ancillary items for a minute, and let’s focus on the important things: what about the commercials?

Traditionally, the Super Bowl is when Madison Avenue rolls out its best, and often funniest, stuff, and the vast viewing audience watches the game expecting to get a laugh or two during the breaks in the action. The commercials also typically give us a peek into what’s going on in American society at the time. Usually the prevailing zeitgeist involves drinking beer, Coke, or Pepsi, eating fast food, driving a car, working in an office, and some kind of leisure activity. The best Super Bowl commercials, from the Mean Joe Greene and kid Coke commercial to the Larry Bird-Michael Jordan game of “horse” to the hard-charging office linebacker, are the memorable stuff of TV legend.

So what does this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials tell us about modern America? Evidently it’s a land of cryptocurrency, electric car charging stations, and electronic gizmos in your house. And, sadly, it’s not a very funny place, either. I may have missed one during a bathroom break, but I can’t remember any commercial that actually provoked a laugh, or even a mild chuckle, and many didn’t even try.

In my view the absolute nadir was reached with the commercial that consisted entirely of a floating QR code on the TV screen. I expect that some ad types would argue that the QR code spot was the edgy stuff of marketing genius, specifically designed to appeal to the young people who always have their phones at hand, ready to scan, and to make the commercial an interactive effort. For many of us who despise the sprouting of QR codes everywhere, though, it was nothing but a soulless irritant. Is this really what Super Bowl ads have come to and what the future holds for those of us who remember Spuds Mackenzie?

Maybe, as we (hopefully) near the end of a pandemic, it’s too much to expect some legitimately funny stuff during Super Bowl commercial breaks, but it also seems that right now is when we could use a laugh the most. The Super Bowl ads didn’t deliver.

Super Ambivalent

I hope the Cincinnati Bengals win Super Bowl LVI. Many of my good friends and colleagues are serious Bengals fans who have suffered through some bad seasons, and I know that a Bengals win will make them very happy. And the Bengals also have a lot of former Ohio State Buckeyes on their roster, and it would be nice to see so many graduates of my alma mater win an NFL championship.

I don’t think I am going to be able to bring myself to actually root for the Bengals, however. Bengals fans should be overjoyed to hear this, because the NFL team I root for has never even made it to a Super Bowl, much less won one. If I were a Bengals fan, I wouldn’t want hapless Browns fans like me to jump on the Bengals bandwagon,, potentially ruining the good karma by deploying their obviously immense jinxing powers.

Plus, the Bengals are a rival of the Browns, playing in the same division and the same state. Browns fans may not hate the Bengals in the same way we despise the Steelers or the Ravens, but we still want to beat them senseless every time we play them. Suddenly rooting for a team that you hoped to destroy a few weeks ago just isn’t in my DNA.

And, if I’m being honest, there’s another, ugly emotion lurking here that contributes to my ambivalence: jealousy. I’m jealous that the Cincinnati Bengals have now made it to three Super Bowls and the Cleveland Browns haven’t been to even one. (The Browns are one of only four NFL teams, along with the Lions, the Jaguars, and the Texans, that have that dismal and dubious history–and the Jaguars and Texans are expansion teams.) And this year started with the Browns Backers hoping that the Browns would finally break through and be where the Bengals are now–but of course the Browns’ season ended in disaster and failure . . . again. Every time we’ll see the Super Bowl logo and its Roman numerals tonight, Browns fans will be reminded that the Browns’ Super dry spell is now LVI years long. It’s painful and embarrassing. Detroit Lions fans no doubt understand this.

And that’s why hoping the Bengals win tonight so my Bengals fan friends will be happy is as far as I can go.

The Unwatched Olympics

The 2022 Winter Olympics are underway in Beijing. I haven’t watched one minute of the broadcasts, and I haven’t talked to anyone who has. In fact, the only reason I’m aware the Winter Olympics is going on at all is that I’ve seen news reports about how terrible the ratings have been for the broadcasts.

The ratings say that I’m not alone in my non-Olympics viewing habits. The 2022 Beijing games are on track to be the least-watched Winter Olympics in American history, with audiences that are about half, or less, of the audiences of the 2018 games . . . and the ratings keep declining. The Olympics programming is being broadcast on three networks–NBC, USA Network, and Peacock–and was viewed as a way for Comcast to bring subscribers to the Peacock streaming service. The ratings are so bad that financial analysts have started evaluating the impact on Comcast and considering whether the upcoming Super Bowl, which will be broadcast on NBC, will offset the dismal Olympics showing.

TV types also are wondering why no one is tuning in, and have come up with a lot of theories. Some point to the fact that NHL players aren’t participating in the Olympics hockey competition; others wonder whether viewers are boycotting the broadcasts as a kind of political protest because the games are being held in China. Another theory is that the crappy Olympics ratings reflect internal divisions within the United States, but I don’t see why political differences in America would affect viewership. Thanks to the COVID pandemic, people are watching TV more than ever. They just aren’t watching the Olympics.

I’m not sure precisely why I’m not watching. I don’t really care about the events, per se, but I think it is mostly that I can’t bear the over-the-top ceremonial trappings, the rote human interest stories about particular athletes overcoming adversity and other predictable topics, and the additional filler that make the broadcasts groan-worthy and unwatchable. It’s just not very compelling stuff, and with countless other viewing options on any given night, why would you watch something so leaden and formulaic?

Fun Times At Nationwide

A group us us went to Nationwide Arena to watch the Columbus Blue Jackets take on the Pittsburgh Penguins last night. We had a great time, from the dramatic opening light show pictured above, to the deafening cannon blasts that sounded when the CBJ scored their three goals (one of which, regrettably, was nullified by an offsides penalty), to the point where the cleaning crew politely kicked us out as we lingered after the game. Unfortunately, the Jackets fell to the Pittsburghers, but since the arena included a lot of boisterous Penguin fans, that just made the setting louder.

I don’t know beans about hockey, but Nationwide Arena is a terrific venue and it was fun to be at a live sporting event in a raucous setting. The arena appeared to be full, too—which suggests that my opinion was shared by several thousand others who enjoyed getting out.

Resolution Breakers

Every morning I walk past Snap Fitness, a small workout facility on the street leading to Schiller Park. As is always the case, after the first of the year it was decidedly more crowded than normal, with lots of people using the treadmills. Over the last few days, however, the usage has definitely declined. It’s not clear whether the new users have given up entirely already–that usually doesn’t happen until we get closer to the end of January–but the trend is unmistakable.

What causes people to make resolutions with the best of intentions, and then let them slide away? In thinking about it this morning, I think there are four main causes:

Temptation — As the Dairy Queen sign above reflects, temptation probably plays the biggest role in causing people to break their resolutions. If you’ve resolved to “eat healthier” and you’ve got to drive past a DQ every day on your way to work, or some well-meaning person in the office brings in assorted doughnuts every Friday, it’s going to be just that more difficult to stick to your resolution. In fact, if you think about it, it really should be a federal law that every Dairy Queen in the country must close during the month of January.

Discouragement — Discouragement clearly also plays an important role. Let’s say, for example, that you have resolved to exercise every day by taking a brisk walk. If you then experience a few days of ultra-cold weather or freezing rain, and you therefore logically decide to refrain from following through on that resolution, by day three or four you might figure that you’ve blown it already, and what’s the point? I would guess that the shutdown orders issued in March 2020 drove the last nail into the coffin of multiple 2020 New Year’s resolutions.

Perceived Futility — TV commercials and pop-up ads suggest that people can change their lives on a dime, melt away that stubborn belly fat, and become the person of their dreams by drinking a special concoction or using a particular exercise machine for only minutes a day. If you believe that and find that two weeks of work at the gym don’t seem to be having an effect on the bathroom scales, you may just decide it’s hopeless.

Evil Forces That Simply Conspire Against You To Crush Your Best Intentions — A good example of this situation is if you are a Cleveland Browns fan who resolves to adopt a more positive and cheerful attitude about life.

Ending With A Thud And A Dud

Looking back from the wreckage of another year of failure and loss, it’s hard to believe that the 2021 season began with great promise for the Browns. The team was picked by many to make it to the Super Bowl, started the year with a close away game loss to defending AFC champions Kansas City, and started the season 3-1 before losing another heartbreaker to San Diego. But the season abruptly turned sour, and the last two months have been unrelentingly brutal. After last night’s dismal performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers–in which the Browns gave up 9 sacks and an injured Baker Mayfield threw two interceptions and completed only 16 of 38 passes–the Browns will officially finish below .500 . . . again.

If the Browns’ 2021 season had a sound track, it would feature a lot of comical tuba music and the thwack of bags of wet cement hitting concrete.

Some Browns Backers will rationalize this pathetic season by saying that the Browns have had to deal with a lot of injuries and bad calls, that the Browns were hit especially hard by COVID protocols and lost two games as a result, that the Browns were one dropped punt snap here and one avoidable mistake there from a better record, etc., etc.–but those are just excuses that have become all-too-familiar to Browns fans. In the NFL, every team has to deal with injuries and calls that didn’t go their way. I think the deeper issue is one of grit and character. Good teams find ways to win games; bad teams don’t. The Browns clearly have some great players, but they just aren’t a good team right now, and when the offseason comes the organization will have to do a lot of soul-searching and thinking about how to right the ship and win games that are in the balance. The Browns will have to decide how to deal with Baker Mayfield–who, in fairness, played hurt for virtually the entire year, and whose performance showed it–but there are a lot of other questions to be answered, too.

This is the most disappointing Cleveland Browns season in decades, as what seemed to be legitimate high hopes of finally moving into the ranks of strong teams and, perhaps, making it to the Browns’ first Super Bowl have been thoroughly crushed. I didn’t watch last night’s game, and I’m glad this sad, sorry season is over. A fan can only be asked to endure so much failure and embarrassment.

Mixed Messaging

This message on the rear windshield of one of the local vehicles in St. Lucia stopped us cold for a bit. You could read it as a warning that the car is full of bad energy and you should avoid it like the plague, which is how I first understood it. But later I realized that you also could read it as a heartfelt request that negative energy please not descend on the car’s owner and occupants.

Or, it could be a consciously ambiguous message, meant to convey both meanings at the same time. I kind of like that reading the best–it is well suited to fans of the Cleveland Browns, like me.

Trying To Reverse The Karma

Today we’re going to try to reverse the karma. End the jinx. Lance the boil. Drain the painful, embarrassing, festering sore of failure and disaster that Browns fans have had to endure since time immemorial–i.e., 1964.

The year was 1986. Kish and I had just moved back to Columbus, and UJ and I decided to get Browns season tickets. The Browns had a fine year, improbably won a heart-stopping playoff game against the New York Jets, and hosted the AFC championship game against the Denver Broncos. With time running out, the Browns held the lead. But then, one of the members of our group made an ill-advised decision to leave his seat to respond to urgent needs. His decision left us aghast, but the damage was done. The rest is history. The karma was shifted, what the became known as The Drive occurred, and the Browns lost.

All of us believe that this action by a lone fan in remote seats in the bowels of Cleveland Stadium had a crucial, defining impact on what happened on the field. And since then, we have suffered with the consequences. The Browns lost again the following year in heart-breaking fashion, never advanced that far again, the original Browns franchise left Cleveland, we went without football for a time, and the new Browns have an unrivalled record of failure. Cleveland still has not made it to a Super Bowl.

But this year, we have decided enough is enough.

How do you shift the bad karma, and end a jinx? One website identifies five steps: (1) identify the pattern; (2) take responsibility for it; (3) learn from it; (4) take positive actions; and (5) forgive yourself and everyone else. According to the website: “You cannot untie the karmic knots in your life without trying to unearth your behavioral patterns that lead to unending bad luck. Take as much time as possible to identify one, two, or even ten things that could be behind the negativity in your life.”

So today, we’re going to take these affirming steps. We’ve identified the “behavioral pattern” that caused the bad karma. We’ve accepted responsibility for our role in bringing it about, we’ve learned that we need to address it, and we’re taking positive action to reverse it by going up to today’s again (against the Baltimore Ravens, the former Browns franchise that left Cleveland in the dark days after the karma turned sour) and returning to the scene, 35 years after the karmic shift. Forgiving ourselves is harder, but three of us who were there will be there again–and this time we’ll make sure that everyone stays firmly in their seats, come hell or high water.

Go Browns!