Bad Number Ones

Last night, against my better judgment, I watched the Browns’ preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.  The Browns lost — of course! — 24-13, and looked pretty bad in the process.  I came away with two conclusions.

First, it’s going to be a very long season.  Some of the Browns’ better players didn’t play, but this team has so many holes it’s hard to see how they can be filled.  The offensive line is a patchwork, and the defense looks terrible.  The Browns got gashed on the run, and Atlanta routinely converted on third down.  In the last few years of crappiness, the Browns offense has been pedestrian at best, but the defense has been a porous disaster.  I think we’re in for more of the same.

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland BrownsThe second conclusion is that Justin Gilbert may be the worst number one pick the Browns have made since coming back into the NFL.  That’s saying something, because their record of number one picks is one of dismal failure after dismal failure.  After all, Johnny Manziel was a first-round pick, and so was Brady Quinn, and so was Brandon Weeden, and so was Gerard Warren, and so was Trent Richardson . . . and the list of head cases and utter busts goes on.  But at least these guys looked like they knew how to play football.  Gilbert doesn’t.  He seems completely clueless out there as he takes bad angles, whiffs on tackles, and gets burned repeatedly.  If the Browns’ defensive backfield talent is so bad that Gilbert actually starts, the Browns D will be historically awful.  I’m talking potential record-setting ineptitude.

I don’t mean to pick on one player, but Gilbert is an example of why the Browns are a failed franchise.  Other teams make number one picks that immediately have an impact, score touchdowns, rack up sacks, and make the All-Pro team.  The Browns somehow make number one picks of players who look like they’ve never seen a football before.  Is it any wonder that the team is such a frustrating mess?

Ugly Americans

ryan-lochte1

I haven’t watched much of the Olympics, because I think it’s gotten over the top and I can’t believe that a poor country like Brazil is spending its hard earned money building stadia and athletes villages rather than trying to do something for its desperately impoverished people.  I did, however, hear about the purported robbery of Ryan Lochte and other U.S. swimmers.  It was an odd story that didn’t really make a lot of sense, but it fit with the narrative of Brazil being a dangerous place.

Now the Lochte story seems to be falling apart and exposed as a complete fabrication.  Brazilian authorities — who have reviewed video footage — say what actually happened wasn’t a robbery at all.  Instead, they say that the incident was a dispute between the Americans, who were returning early in the morning after being out partying, and employees at a Shell gas station about damage done to a restroom.  Authorities have now prevented some of the swimmers from leaving the country until they can get to the bottom of things.

The Brazilians are angry because they feel like the honor of their country has been besmirched.  I don’t blame them for that reaction.  Americans acting like jerks, and then failing to own up to their misconduct and instead trying to blame everyone else, is a classic example of ugly Americanism.  I don’t understand why Brazil — or for that matter, anyone — would want to host an Olympics, but the Brazilians obviously are proud of their host country status, and probably disappointed whenever there is some less than glowing publicity about their country and the games.  To have a fake story about a robbery get worldwide press attention must be intolerable.

Unfortunately, we’re long past the point where social mores would force a wrongdoer to do the decent, honorable thing, and apologize.  Already there are people who are excusing the Americans or downplaying what they did.  I wish people wouldn’t do that.  We’d all be better served if people started ‘fessing up, rather than shirking responsibility.  I hope that Lochte and his fellow parties do the right thing, admit to the truth, and say they’re sorry.  That would go a long way toward helping the citizens of the U.S. of A. avoid that “ugly American” label.

Meanwhile, Back In The Real World

This week Aetna announced that it would be withdrawing from many of the states in which it offers health care plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges.  Aetna participated in exchanges in 15 states, and it will be withdrawing from 11 of those 15.

mw-de672_aet_20_20150202162433_zhIt’s more bad news for “Obamacare,” which has seen other major insurers back away from offering plans, too.  Aetna says its decision is prompted by substantial losses it is experiencing on the exchanges, all of which arises from the fact that the pools of covered individuals has turned out to be sicker than was originally forecast — and therefore more likely to need expensive care.  If fewer insurers offer plans on the exchanges, there obviously will be less competition, and less choice.  As Aetna’s decision reflects, however, the effect will vary on a state by state basis.

In the meantime, premiums on the exchange plans are going up — and the “individual mandate” penalty for not having health insurance is ratcheting up, too.  In 2017, the average penalty will be $979 per household.  The question is whether the threat of having to pay a $1000 penalty will drive more people to enroll, and whether those currently uninsured people who do enroll will be healthier and therefore help to hold down the costs of the plans for the insurers who offer them, so more even insurers don’t exit the plans.  Ever since the Affordable Care Act was passed, the question has been whether the exchanges can avoid the “death spiral” in which enrollment shrinks, leaving only sick people in the plans, causing ever-greater losses and ever-increasing premiums that simply can’t be sustained.

The Affordable Care Act is unquestionably the signature domestic policy achievement of the Obama Administration.  It’s also another huge government program seeking to force behavioral changes that is anathema to both fiscal conservatives and social libertarians.  In any rational world, a presidential election would be a forum for discussing whether, and if so how well, “Obamacare” has worked — and what alternatives would be.

Of course, we don’t have such discussions about actual policy issues or the real-world performance of important initiatives like the Affordable Care Act in this election.  No, we’re too busy talking about Donald Trump’s latest idiotic foot-in-mouth-episode, or Hillary Clinton’s health issues, or other extraneous topics.  This is the most content-free presidential election in my memory.

We need to remember that the real world is still out there.

The Ray Donovan Parenting Standard

Recently Kish and I have been binge-watching Ray Donovan, the Showtime series about a guy who fixes problems for the rich and famous in Hollywood — usually through violence, extortion, and sex.  It’s a very entertaining and well-acted show, and we’ve enjoyed getting caught up to the current episodes.

960I usually come away from the show with a curious reaction:  Ray Donovan makes me feel good about my parenting efforts.  This is because the parenting of Ray and his wife Abby, and of Ray’s ex-con father Mickey, is outlandishly bad, launching generations of seriously messed-up, dysfunctional offspring.

Mickey cheated on his dying wife, robbed banks, allowed his kids to be serially abused by a Catholic priest and beat up Ray when Ray tried to tell him about it, and urged his son Terry to keep boxing until the repeated punches caused him to develop Parkinson’s disease.  Everything Mickey touches turns to mud.  Ray hates his Dad — but he and Abby really aren’t a whole lot better in the parenting department.  Ray doesn’t show up at home for days at a time.  Abby decides to go to Boston leaving her teenage daughter in charge.  Both parents have obvious affairs, leaving the kids at home to fend for themselves.  Not surprisingly, the kids are struggling — they’ve had issues with violent behavior at school, underage drinking, the daughter had an affair with her teacher, and the son has a gun fixation.  It’s not a happy, huggy family.

Parents don’t often have insight into how they’re doing; they don’t usually get see how other people perform in the parenting roles.  TV families at least give us measuring sticks by which to gauge our own efforts.  No doubt there were many parents who strove to be like Ward and June Cleaver but found they couldn’t quite measure up.  For a long time, TV showed us the idealized families, but now we’re getting to see the other end of the parenting spectrum.

If you’re worried about your parenting, watch Ray Donovan.  I promise, you’ll feel better.

Nightingale Oboe Reeds

If you play the oboe, you need reeds.  In fact, you need lots of reeds, because the oboe is a double-reed instrument.

But where to go for high-quality reeds if you are a student learning to play the oboe and find yourself in need of reed?  Fortunately, there is now an answer:  Nightingale Oboe Reeds, where you can get wonderful reeds made by somebody who is an exceptional oboist in her own right.  You can even subscribe and get reeds delivered to your doorstep every month.  (And the reedmaker can give you oboe lessons, too.)

How do the reeds sound, you ask?  Well, listen to this terrific piece by Mozart played by the Yellow Book Project, tune in to the oboe, and see if you don’t think those reeds sound great.

John McLaughlin, RIP

John McLaughlin died today.  The long-time host of The McLaughlin Group, he was 89.

I haven’t watched The McLaughlin Group for years, and wasn’t even aware it was still on the air.  However, there was a time, long ago, when The McLaughlin Group was a staple of the Webner household viewing schedule.

220px-mclaughlin_johnIt was the early ’80s, when we lived in Washington, D.C., and everyone we knew ate, slept, and breathed politics.  In those days Reagan was the President and Tip O’Neill was the Speaker of the House, and there was lots to talk about in the political world.  People would actually talk about politics at the workplace, and you needed to watch shows like The McLaughlin Group and Agronsky & Company if you wanted to keep up and make sure you were aware of the latest spin coming from the Ds or the Rs.  We would come home from work on Friday night, catch the shows, and then go on with our weekend.

The McLaughlin Group was different from the other political shows because it was, well, a lot louder than traditional shows like Meet the Press, and it actually tried to be entertaining.  McLaughlin’s trademark catchphrases — like intoning “WRONG!” if a fellow panel member offered an opinion that he disagreed with — seemed fresh and funny and edgy at the time.  But the show often devolved into people arguing with each other, and when Kish and I moved back to Columbus we just stopped watching it.  Here in the heartland, all the insider chit-chat from the likes of Fred Barnes and Pat Buchanan and Eleanor Clift just seemed a lot less important.

Little did we know that The McLaughlin Group would be a kind of precursor of the ultimate direction of TV news and public affairs shows.  They moved from the boring, sober discussions of the ’60s and ’70s to the more fast-moving, glitzy, and much louder broadcasts of the modern era.  The McLaughlin Group was one of the transitional programs that paved the way for the modern approach — an approach that I think is appalling and bears as much resemblance to true journalism as the “weird trick” health advice you get on the internet bears to legitimate medicine.

I wonder if McLaughlin ever regretted his role in that change.