A Football-Free Fall?

Will there be college football in the Midwest this autumn?  It’s become such a huge part of fall in the heartland that it’s almost unimaginable that the leaves could change and the air could chill without the clash of shoulder pads and helmets, tailgating, and the roar of crowds in huge stadiums.

ohio_stadium_2But it is 2020, and the coronavirus is still burning its way through America, and we’ve just got to accept that things may well be different this ugly, star-crossed year.

The Mid-American Conference, which traditionally provides early season opponents for Big Ten schools, has postponed its entire fall sports season, including football, and apparently hopes to play games in the spring of 2021.  The Mountain West Conference has followed suit.  And yesterday there were news reports that the presidents of the colleges in the Big Ten Conference, the grandaddy of Midwestern college football conferences, had voted to cancel football and other autumn sports — although reports are conflicting, and some news websites are saying an official vote and announcement will be forthcoming today.

Of course, this possibility sends a collective shudder through the stalwart members of Buckeye Nation.  We love our football, and every year we look forward to seeing the Men of the Scarlet and Gray head out onto the gridiron.  Every year seems filled with special promise, and this year — with many Ohio State players returning from a team that came within a whisper (and a few dubious referee calls) of playing in the national championship game — was no exception.

But even a huge fan like me realizes that this is not an easy decision.  Many of the coaches and players are urging the league to go forward with games.  They want to play, and they note that football is a dangerous game even during normal times.  But, obviously, there is a unique health risk during a pandemic where disease transmission is so easy, and playing football — with players repeatedly in direct physical contact with each other, touching the same ball, huddling together, and breathing heavily, inches apart from each other, on the line of scrimmage — seems like the riskiest sport of all.  The colleges need to decide for themselves whether games can be played with a proper margin of safety, or whether the risk of players suffering permanent harm for the sake of playing games is just too great.

We’ll have to see, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we experience a football-free fall this year.  And I really couldn’t blame the colleges if that was their decision.

If so, it will give us another reason to remember 2020 with regret and disgust.

A Profession In Search Of Itself (Cont.)

I’ve been thinking about the journalism world since writing my earlier piece on what the move away from “objectivity” means for the world of the newsroom.  I think there are some other forces at play that are making the world of daily newspapers very difficult right now — some unavoidable, some self-inflicted.

A Man Reads A NewspaperObviously, the main unavoidable problem is . . . speed.  People expect to get things faster and faster, and we’ve gotten so spoiled by instantaneous speed that we now groan at even a few seconds’ delay as our browser calls up a website.  The daily newspaper simply can’t compete with that — there are too many steps in the process.  By the time the newspaper lands on your doorstep, it will therefore likely be viewed as “old news” already.  It’s been all over the internet for hours — so who wants to sit down and read it again?  And how many people want to sit down and actually read something, as opposed to flipping through content on their cell phones as they head out for a jog or wait for an elevator?

Another unavoidable problem is cost. Newspapers of the past had large payrolls — from the reporters and columnists to the editors to the photographers to ad salesmen to the people who laid out the pages and the guys in the print shop running the presses.  How many labor-centric businesses are thriving these days?  And, as cost-cutting has occurred, newspapers cut into the muscle of daily journalism — the people who made newspapers different from and more reliable than bloggers, like experienced editors who would send stories back for additional fact-checking, or investigative reporters who might take weeks to produce a big, carefully constructed and rigorously tied down story.

But there are self-inflicted errors, too.  I think many newspapers have botched the inevitable move to digital delivery.  If you look at many news websites, they are a riotous mess from a presentation standpoint.  There’s no front page or above-the-fold organization that tells you what the lead story is.  Print newspapers may be old-fashioned, but there was a clear organization at work that was comforting, dependable, and helpful.  If you wanted to feel reasonably informed about what was going on in the world and your town, you read through the front page and the national, state, and local news sections, and then you could turn to the business section, or sports.  You knew that some intelligent person had made some thoughtful decisions about the relative importance of the stories.  Does anyone feel that way about most news websites on-line?  Hard news is mixed up with celebrity news and “sponsored content” that doesn’t look materially different from the “news.”  What do you need to read to truly feel informed?

And that brings me to a final point:  the trivialization of what is supposed to be news.  How many of the stories on a basic news website — say, msn.com — are what we think of as actual news reporting, and how much of what we see featured is content about celebrities being out with their boyfriends or clickbait articles about why a particular sports figure should be seen as a bad guy?  We’ve reached the point where somebody’s context-free cell phone video of a delivery driver who didn’t help an old guy who fell to the ground is featured as prominently — and perhaps more prominently — than an article about a foreign conflict.  And there are opinions, on stories large and small, everywhere you look.

In their quest to keep up with the times and be hip and edgy, newspapers have lost the sober, thoughtful perspective and reputation they once had, and have elevated the inconsequential.  It may appeal to some people, but it doesn’t appeal to people who remember newspapers as they once were.

Brainstarters And Timewasters

I’d guess that most of us have at least one app on our phone that we tap when we want to get our brains working in the morning, or to give us something to do to fill those random ten-minute snippets of the day that happen while, for example, we are waiting for our spouses to get ready to go out.

230896There are some crucial requirements for these brainstarters and  timewasters.  First, they need to be sufficiently interesting to actually get your brain working and allow you to fill the time you’re looking to occupy.  If the app is so boring that you lose interest and would rather sit there drumming your finders on the arm of your chair, it has failed in its essential function.  Second, at the same time the app can’t be so riveting that you can’t promptly stop when your spouse comes downstairs and is ready to go and would be offended if you gave her the one-minute sign and kept tapping your phone.  It therefore needs to be a game, or puzzle, or challenge that you can readily put down and pick up again at your leisure,  And third, if the app is going to have staying power on your phone, it’s got to be set up so that you’re always facing a new challenge.

Me, I’m a Spider Solitaire guy.  I picked up the free version from the app store, because I just wasn’t willing to pay for a timewaster, so before I can play a game I have to sit through the snippet of an ad for a new game, a new car, or something else — but reacting to that helps to get the brain started, too.  I come from a card-playing family, so a card game appealed to me.  There are thousands of different variations of how the cards can be dealt, so there’s no real worry about repetition.  It’s easy to put down mid-game and pick up later, and trying to figure out different approaches to how to win a game when the cards are really working against you keeps my interest.  And some appropriately triumphal music plays when you win a game, so you feel a certain sense of accomplishment with each little victory.

Brainstarters and timewasters aren’t the most important things in the world, of course, but they serve a crucial role in deflecting utter boredom and minutes that seem to stretch on for hours.  We’ll appreciate them even more if we ever get to the point of waiting at the gate for an overdue plane flight again.

What Is Missing?

This is an interesting and surprising photograph I took today at Sand Beach Park. It’s surprising because something is clearly missing in this picture of three little kids playing on the rocks at the corner of the beach.

Can you see what is absent?

It’s parents, of course. The parents were about 50 yards away — close enough to keep an eye on the kids and get over there quickly in case of a mishap, but otherwise content to let the kids explore on their own and have some fun. In the current time of helicopter parents, such long-distance, trusting parenting is as rare as a handshake — and as surprising.

Of course, what these parents were doing used to be the norm. My parents let us run free in our neighborhood — and take risks, and skin our knees, and have fun, and hopefully learn something from our experiences in the process. Shockingly, we survived . . . because kids actually are pretty savvy about risks and learn quickly. That’s what childhood used to be about.

Kudos to these parents! I bet these kids thought their trip to Sand Beach Park was great fun. — more fun than if Mom and Dad were holding them tightly by the hand and telling them to stay away from the rocks.

Corn Reborn

Last night we had fresh corn on the cob as part of our outdoor cookout — and once again I realized just how much I like to eat corn on the cob.

It’s an annual rite of self-discovery.  At some point every summer, corn on the cob is on the menu for a cookout, and I chomp through one ear and enjoy it so much I promptly have another.  (You can’t stop with just one ear of corn!)  And thereafter corn on the cob remains on the summer dinner menu for as long as it is available, and then it vanishes from the plate — forgotten until next summer comes, a new bumper crop of local corn waiting to be shucked hits the stores, and the cycle of food revelation happens all over again.

Corn on the cob is one of those seasonal foods that is so closely associated with its season they are almost synonymous.  You can’t really imagine eating ears of corn when it’s 10 degrees outside and there is snow up to your kneecaps.  Corn on the cob demands to be eaten outside on a summer’s day, so you don’t have to fret about the flying debris that is produced as you bite and bite and bite again, in staccato fashion, moving down the rows of corn like the ear is an old typewriter carriage, until your mouth is filled with juicy sweetness and your lips are slathered with butter.  It’s just a fun thing to eat, and you can’t help but feel a bit like a kid again when you’re doing it.

I like mine lightly buttered, with no salt.

 

Demise Of The Inner Long-Haired Kid

My last haircut was on February 24. The calendar tells me that means I’ve had a three-month, state-enforced hiatus from barbering. Even with three months of unimpeded hair growth, though, my hair now is still much, much shorter than it was in high school or college — which tells you something about how short I have been getting it cut these days, and how long it used to be during the ‘70s.

It makes me wonder about my teenage self, and how in the world that person could possibly have put up with long hair. I’ve discovered I really don’t like the feeling of hair brushing against my ears, or on the back of my neck. In fact, right now my whole head feels like I’m wearing a kind of clammy coonskin cap. It’s not a pleasant feeling — but I don’t remember having those kinds of reactions during my my shaggy early years. In fact, I’m pretty sure the opposite is true.

And now I think longer hair is a pain for other reasons. I’ve had to break out my comb again to part it and try to arrange it on my head. You can’t just towel it dry — and I’m not going to start using a blow dryer, either. This reality makes me think that I spent a lot more time in front of the mirror in those days, fiddling around with things I just don’t have the patience or inclination to do these days.  Back then I obviously had a lot more time on my hands than I do now. 

I get my hair cut on Tuesday, and I’m looking forward to it, masks and all. In fact, this whole experience makes me wonder how much my current self and my 20-year-old self would really have in common — beyond liking the same music and reruns of Star Trek.

Coronavirus Kids

One of our young friends shared some exciting news with us this week:  she and her husband are expecting their first child in December.  Their happy news makes you wonder whether we should be anticipating a “shutdown surge” of baby births in December, January, and February.

hospitals-remove-nurseries-baby-friendlyIt’s folk wisdom that you look for a baby boom nine months after unusual circumstances, like enforced shutdowns. bring people together, but there apparently isn’t much evidence supporting that notion.  To be sure, there was the famous, extended post-World War II Baby Boom — Kish and I are living evidence of that — spurred by people who had served for years in the armed forces returning home, finding an America that had recovered from the Great Depression, and starting large families.  But most of the other instances where people have looked for evidence substantiating the folk wisdom — be they government shutdowns, or the great New York City blackout of 1965 — have found no great spike in baby births nine months later.

Experts are skeptical that we’re going to see a bunch of coronavirus kids, either.  They reason, quite logically, that an enforced shutdown isn’t going to cause couples living together to change their contraception practices, and in fact the birth rate might decline because the closure of bars, events, and other social gatherings means there won’t be the opportunity for casual encounters that might otherwise lead to births.  In reality, though, no one knows, because we’ve never had an enforced two-and-a-half-month stay-at-home period before.  It will be something to be mindful of nine months from now.  If we do see a surge of births, it will be a nice, upbeat coda to a very difficult time.

And speaking of the experts and difficult times, they’re confident we’ll see a surge in another kind of family-related activity as a result of the shutdown and stay-at-home decrees — divorces.

Reopening . . . One Step At A Time (Cont.)

A sense of palpable excitement swept through Ohio yesterday, like a fresh, warm May breeze carrying the scent of lilac trees and spring flowers.  Continuing with its gradual approach to reopening the state’s economy after a prolonged shutdown, the DeWine Administration announced the next step in the process:  allowing hair salons, nail salons, barber shops, and bars and restaurants to begin to service customers once more.

gettyimages-638568556Some other businesses and offices opened this week, and retail stores and service businesses can reopen next Monday.  Under the Governor’s latest order, tonsorial parlors will be allowed to begin operating next Friday, May 15.  Restaurants and bars that have outdoor seating will be allowed to start serving patrons in their outdoor areas that same day, and indoor dining will begin again on May 21.  By May 21, the vast majority of the state’s businesses will have been permitted to reopen in some form or another, and the economy will lurch into gear once more.  Governor DeWine has concluded that, with the curve flattened, the economy simply can’t be shuttered for much longer without doing irreparable damages.

The Governor’s order indicates that the reopening won’t be an immediate return to the old, pre-coronavirus operations:  customers and stylists will be masked, for example, and restaurants will be trying to align tables and establish patron admission procedures to achieve social distancing.  There will probably be a run on plexiglass and plastic barriers, too.

Shaggy Ohioans who are heartily sick and tired of eating their own cooking, and who yearn for a return to more normal times, greeted this news with breathless excitement.  Soon we can get haircuts again!  And eat at a restaurant, too!  (Well, kind of.)

The news spread like wildfire on social media, where announcements of hair styling appointments became, for the moment, more popular than unsubtle political memes or cute videos of tumbling kittens.  Expect to see lots of Facebook posts with selfies of masked people getting their hair trimmed by other masked people, or people eating at some outdoor venue.  What used to be taken for granted is exciting news right now.

Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself

I read an interesting article the other day about how to get the economy back up and running — and, not incidentally, about understanding why the economy ground to a halt in the first place.  The article contends that it really wasn’t governmental shutdown orders that did the significant damage — it was fear.

Once people started to accept that the coronavirus really was serious and dangerous, and not just some grossly exaggerated boogeyman like so many over-hyped diseases of past years, they stopped doing what they were doing — even before government orders took effect, and even as to conduct that government orders still permit.  And when the American consumer, the primary cog in the greatest economic engine in the history of the world,  decides to change course, as a group, the consequences are profound.  The dominoes started falling, businesses saw sharp drop-offs in orders, and the unemployment rate ratcheted upward to levels we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.

img_9476And that’s where we are.  There’s still a lot of fear out there — among some people, at least — and that needs to be dealt with as part of the reopening process.  The author of the piece linked above contends that what we really need to deal with that general sense of fear is widespread availability of protective masks, and also widespread availability of reliable COVID-19 testing.  The masks may have a good effect toward preventing transmission of the disease when people are out in public, but they also may just make people feel safer, more secure, and more willing to go out to a store rather than ordering everything they might need through Amazon Prime.  Masks thus may have a tangible public health effect, but also a kind of calming placebo effect.  Some of the other steps that governmental guidance has outlined for reopening businesses — like having people coming to work take their temperatures — also seems like it will help to build confidence that going out in public doesn’t involve crushing risk.

The testing is equally important, because it might finally provide us with the data that will give us a real sense of just what the coronavirus is, how many people have it or have already had it, and what its mortality rate truly is.  And while it might be fun, politically, to castigate our political leaders for not having millions of tests readily available for a disease that was totally unknown until a few months ago, I don’t see the value in playing the blame game.  Once most testing is done — and particularly more random testing of the general population, rather than testing only those people who already are in extremis physically — we’ll have a better sense of the real risks of a return to normalcy.

For all of the scary headlines about mounting death tolls, there are tantalizing indications in some of the general testing of certain populations that has been done that the coronavirus is far more widespread that health authorities have believed, and that the vast majority of the cases don’t cause serious health issues.  According to the CDC website, accessed today, the people who are really at risk seem to be senior citizens — especially those in certain nursing homes — and people with significant, pre-existing medical conditions, like respiratory illness, compromised immunity systems, or morbid obesity.  If general testing is done and it confirms that the real risk of coronavirus is limited to certain vulnerable populations, then we can step to provide protections specifically designed for those populations — and people who don’t fall into those high-risk populations can start to go about their business.  That concept, not incidentally, will require the news media to accurately report boring test data, rather than focusing on death counts.  When scary headlines are producing lots of clicks and website traffic, that might be asking for a lot.

One of our greatest Presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, famously told the American people in the midst of the Great Depression that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  That admonition seems apt as we move into the post-shutdown phase of the Great Coronavirus Crisis of 2020.  If we’re going to get the economy going, help people who have been thrown out of work, and bring the unemployment rate down, a lot of frightened people are going to have to conquer their fears and accept the risks inherent with doing things like shopping and eating in public.  Having better data — and better reporting of data — will help.

John Prine And Roommate Music

I was very sorry to read of the death this week of John Prine, one of the great songwriters of his generation, from complications of the coronavirus.  At the same time, thinking about John Prine, and how I first heard his music, took me back to some happy memories.  I think John Prine probably would have liked that.

John Prine on campus of Georgia State College - November 12, 1975I first heard John Prine’s music in college.  My college roommate was a huge fan of John Prine, and in our apartment John Prine songs were an inevitable part of the playlist.  Sam StoneIllegal Smile, and Please Don’t Bury Me in the Cold, Cold Ground (which is probably not the actual title of the song, but is how I remember it) and a bunch of other great songs with great lyrics were all in the rotation.  John Prine was a good example of how actually going to college (as opposed to attending virtual school, which is what people are now forecasting might be the future) had the effect of broadening the cultural horizons of college students in those days in the long ago ’70s.

My roommate and I each had an extensive record collection, featuring both albums and 45s, and they fit together almost perfectly, with virtually no overlap — well, except for the Beatles, because everyone had the Beatles albums.  He had a lot of John Prine, Creedence, and every Lynyrd Skynyrd album, as well as some great 45s from the ’60s, and I had a lot of Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, jazz, and classical stuff.  We played it all, and quickly came to enjoy and appreciate each other’s music.  When the college days moved behind us, I still listened to all of it, and even now, 40 years later, still think automatically of John Prine lyrics that suit the situation.

And the real acid test is:  what songs of an artist do you sing in the shower?  For me, that’s John Prine’s Bad Boy:

I been a bad boy
I been long gone
I been out there
I never phone home
I never gave you not one little clue where I’d been
I’ve been a bad boy again

I got a way of
Fallin’ in love
With angels that don’t shove
You into thinkin’ that you are committing a sin
I’ve been a bad boy again

I’ve been a bad boy again
Now I’ve been a bad boy again
And all the trouble that I’m in
Makes me a bad boy again
I’ve been a bad boy again
Now I’ve been a bad boy again
And all the trouble that I’m in
Makes me a bad boy again

I must have walked ’round
In a real fog
I was your best friend
Now I’m a real dog
I never thought that now
Would ever catch up with then
I’ve been a bad boy again

I’ve been a bad boy
I sung a wrong song
I took a left turn
I stayed too long
As you were thinkin’ that I wasn’t
Just like all other men
I’ve been a bad boy again

I’ve been a bad boy again
Now I’ve been a bad boy again
And all the trouble that I’m in
Makes me a bad boy again
I’ve been a bad boy again
Now I’ve been a bad boy again
And all the trouble that I’m in
Makes me a bad boy again

RIP, John Prine — and thanks to my college roommate for allowing me to make your acquaintance and enjoy your music.

Changing Lyrics

As I prepared to take my walk this morning, I had to make my music selection.  I decided to go with my “UAHS Rock” playlist, featuring songs from my high school years.  The songs on it are old, obviously, but they are still great favorites.  Who doesn’t still relish the songs from their youth?

When I walked down the steps to the sidewalk, the first song on the playlist began:  Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run, which was a huge hit during my high school days.  For those who can’t remember them, the lyrics begin like this:

band-on-the-run-labelStuck inside these four walls,
Sent inside forever,
Never seeing no one
Nice again like you,
Mama you, mama you.
If I ever get out of here,
Thought of giving it all away
To a registered charity.
All I need is a pint a day
If I ever get outta here
If we ever get outta of here.

It’s safe to say that I reacted to  those lyrics in a different way this morning, squinting into the bright sunshine as I carefully maintained my “social distance” from everyone else who was walking and jogging outside,  than I did hanging out in the basement of the family home, with the cheap all-in-one stereo unit down there cranked up to intolerable levels, in 1975.  And a few songs later Stevie Wonder’s Superstition came on, and I had a similarly different reaction to this line:  “Very superstitious; wash your face and hands.”

One of the great things about music is that the listener always brings something to the experience, with songs reminding you of high school prom or hanging with your college chums or making you think about this or that.  I wonder how many other songs are going to be thought of differently, forever, as a result of the Shutdown March of 2020?

Happy Palindrome Day!

In addition to being Groundhog Day (and let’s all hope that Punxsutawney Phil is right in predicting an early spring, by the way ) today is also Palindrome Day.

palindromeThat’s because, for the first time in 909 years, the date written out in Arabic numerals — 02/02/2020 — is the same when read backwards or forwards.  That’s true whether you put the month first, as Americans do, or the day of the month first, as Brits and Euros and others do.

As someone who goes by Bob, I’ve got a soft spot for palindromes.

The last time a Palindrome Day happened was on November 11, 1111.  I’m skeptical that anyone mired in the Dark Ages ever actually wrote the date out as 11/11/1111, because I don’t think that approach to writing out dates became prevalent until centuries later, but that’s the last time the palindrome effect occurred.  We can all aspire to make it to the next Palindrome Day, which will be in 101 years, on 12/12/2121.  With some clean living and exercise, why not?  After that, we won’t see the next Palindrome Day until March 3, 3030, or 03/03/3030.   Let’s hope that humanity is around to celebrate it!

Best In The State

What makes a great sports bar?  You know, the kind of place where you want to go watch your favorite team play a game?

screen-shot-2016-06-04-at-2.58.35-pm-470x220-1Clearly, there are some basic elements.  Great sports bars aren’t white tablecloth and fine china venues.  You’re looking for tasty food favorites at reasonable prices, an ample selection of beers to stoke your competitive spirit, and a friendly and attentive wait staff that won’t leave your glass bone dry during the key part of the game.  You want to have plenty of TV screens in the room, so any table or chair will have good sight lines to the screen carrying your game of choice.  And, equally important, you’re looking for an energetic atmosphere and a setting with lots of fans watching their games, where you won’t be shushed for letting out a cheer, giving a few high-fives, or blurting out a random curse at a bad play.

Whatever the qualities that make a great sports bar, JT’s Pizza & Pub here in Columbus clearly has them all.  The MSN website just named JT’s the best sports bar in Ohio.  Given the sports-obsessed culture in Ohio, that’s incredibly high praise, but it’s really not surprising.  JT’s has great pizza, appetizers, wings, and sandwiches — exactly the kind of fare you want from a sports bar — an extensive beer and drink menu, and a raucous atmosphere come Game Day.  Stop by for an Ohio State game, an NFL Sunday, or March Madness if you don’t believe me.

Congratulations to my nephew Joe, the proprietor of JT’s, and my nephew Danny, who works there, for making JT’s into a sports bar that has won Best in the State honors.

Kobe Bryant

The reaction to the tragic death of basketball great Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and others in a helicopter crash on Friday has been amazing, and overwhelming.  The crash, and the reaction to the crash, has been the lead story on many news websites over the past few days, featured even over stories about the spread of coronavirus and coverage of the ongoing impeachment trial in the Senate.

https3a2f2fcdn.cnn_.com2fcnnnext2fdam2fassets2f160414010423-kobe-bryantI’m not an NBA fan, and I didn’t really follow Bryant’s career, so I would not have predicted the outpouring of often emotional responses to Bryant’s death.  The Los Angeles Times, for example, has a continuously updated page with links of dozens and dozens of articles giving multiple reactions to the tragedy and Bryant’s death from fans, celebrities, American athletes, international sports stars, cultural figures, politicians, and others, as well as coverage of the crash and stories about other aspects of Bryant’s life.   To give you an idea of the depth of the coverage, one of the Times articles posted on the page notes that the chaplain of the United States Senate spoke of the death of Bryant, his daughter, and others in his prayer before the start of yesterday’s impeachment trial proceedings.

Bryant’s legacy is complicated by his criminal case and the perception by some that he was a selfish player, but the reaction to his death shows that, for some people at least, he became a lot more than that.  His impact on basketball was undeniable — even now, playground players evidently call out “Kobe!” when a player makes a clutch or seemingly impossible shot — and he obviously was an inspirational figure to his fans.  His support for women’s basketball and the WNBA, his outreach and encouragement to fellow athletes in basketball and other sports, his sponsorship of a studio, and his other political and social activities broadened his impact still more.  He obviously touched many people in a special way, and the fact that he died young, and in a tragic accident, compounds the impact of his death.

As I read the articles about Kobe Bryant, I found myself wondering how many other sports figures, or cultural figures, or celebrities, would elicit that kind of response.  I’m guessing not many.