Froot Loops

Our hotel in Austin had a great breakfast bar that included an omelet-to-order option, freshly baked biscuits, and lots of other tasty breakfast options—including two gigantic containers of Froot Loops. The cereal must be popular in Texas, because two of the three dry cereal options were Froot Loops. The other was Raisin Bran.

I successfully resisted the temptation to chow down on a bowl of Froot Loops, but it was a challenge, because one of my childhood memories involves that cereal. In the early’60s Grandma and Grandpa Neal took UJ and me on a trip to Battle Creek, Michigan, where we took a tour of the Kellogg’s cereal factory. At the end of the tour Kellogg’s served every visitor with a little dish of vanilla ice cream topped with Froot Loops, which had just been introduced. I liked my Froot Loops sundae very much and asked Mom to buy the cereal when we got home—which I’m sure is what Kellogg’s was hoping for. (I liked Toucan Sam, too.)

Froot Loops remains a favorite cereal to this day, although my metabolism doesn’t permit me to eat it anymore.

A Very Big Place

Yesterday we went for a ramble around Austin and ended up at a favorite place–a stone map of Texas inlaid into a plaza atop a small hill just across the river from the downtown area. The map gives distances between different Texas cities and Austin, which is indicated on the map by the star in the east-central part of the state. The distances show just how enormous Texas actually is.

For example, the map indicates that El Paso, at the far western edge of the Lone Star State, is 580 miles from Austin. The journey from Austin to Texarkana, at the northeastern corner of the state, is another 375 miles. Add them together and you’ve got a trip of close to 1,000 miles. That’s a lot of Texas! A further sense of the scale of this place is that the distance from Cincinnati to Cleveland, south to north, is about 250 miles. You therefore could flip all of Ohio sideways and wedge it into the 250 miles between Austin and Beaumont, just in the eastern half of Texas. Ohio ranks 35th among the states with 40,953 square miles; Texas, coming in at number 2, is six times larger, encompassing 261,914 square miles.

That’s a huge amount of territory for one state–but of course Alaska dwarfs everyone else, covering a total of 570,641 square miles. That’s bigger than Texas, California, and Montana, which rank 2, 3, and 4, combined, and 14 times the size of Ohio.

They grow states big west of the Mississippi!

Dinner With The Killer Bs

Years ago, I went to dinner with a business associate who knew a lot about Italian wines. He took control of the crucial wine-ordering responsibilities at our meal, studied the wine list carefully before ordering a bottle, inspected the bottle when the waiter delivered it, instructed the waiter to decant the wine, and then noted that we would let it breathe for 15 minutes or so. When I remarked on his impressive command of the wine-ordering function, he shrugged and responded: “In reality, all you really need to know about Italian wines is the three Bs — Brunello, Barolo, and Barbaresco.”

I’ve always remembered that lesson in fine wines, although I quickly realized that “The Killer Bs”–as those three wines are known among at least some wine lovers–must regrettably be reserved for very special occasions, because they are pricey. Last night was just such a special occasion, as we celebrated the new year and a wonderful performance by the Austin Symphony Orchestra and, especially, its principal oboist. We went to a terrific restaurant called It’s Italian Cucina, had a very fine meal, and the sommelier selected two bottles–a Brunello followed by the Barolo above–to accompany our dinner. (There were only four of us at dinner, so we couldn’t reasonably complete the Killer B trifecta with a Barbaresco.)

I don’t have an educated wine palate, but it wasn’t hard to conclude that we were enjoying some pretty spectacular wines. The taste of the Brunello changed and ripened and became even more delectable as it continued to breathe in the decanter, and the Barolo was simply wonderful and went perfectly with our main courses. It was great to be able to enjoy a fun celebration with the Killer Bs. I definitely look forward to the next opportunity to implement my friend’s wise advice.

Don’t Let Them Eat Cake

In Great Britain, the chairwoman of the Food Standards Agency, Professor Susan Jebb of the University of Oxford, is mightily concerned about the nation’s health and the obesity epidemic affecting many Brits. Among the targets of her ire are people who bring cake into the office–something she considers to be harmful as exposing your co-workers to secondhand smoke.

Professor Jebb’s basic point is that you simply can’t rely on the personal willpower of people who are exposed to the tantalizing prospect of free cake. The Times article linked above quotes her as follows: “’We all like to think we’re rational, intelligent, educated people who make informed choices the whole time and we undervalue the impact of the environment,’ she said. ‘If nobody brought in cakes into the office, I would not eat cakes in the day, but because people do bring cakes in, I eat them. Now, OK, I have made a choice, but people were making a choice to go into a smoky pub.’” She raised the smoking issue because passive smoking harms others, and “exactly the same is true of food.” The upshot, in her view, is that Great Britain needs to provide a “supportive environment” to help individuals avoid bad choices that lead to weight gain.

Although Professor Jebb specifically singled out cake at the office as an example of the prevalence of bad food options at every turn, the bottom line for her is that Great Britain needs to regulate food advertising. She notes: “At the moment we allow advertising for commercial gain with no health controls on it whatsoever and we’ve ended up with a complete market failure because what you get advertised is chocolate and not cauliflower.”

If Professor Jebb is hoping to get to a a society where cauliflower is vigorously advertised, I predict her efforts are doomed to failure. I also predict that her fellow Brits won’t look kindly on any potential restrictions on a co-worker’s ability to bring cake into the office.

Putting aside time-honored employee birthday cake events, people who bring leftover cake to the office want to get it out of their homes so they won’t be tempted by it, and people who eat cake at the office like to have a treat now and then. I’m not sure that trying to regulate cake offerings is going to prevent obesity, if that cake is then consumed at home rather than at the office. I don’t think regulating TV or billboard or radio advertising is going to get there, either, so long as cake mix is sold in stores and candy and snacks are available at the point of purchase to tempt people into taking the road to perdition.

The bottom line on obesity is that we need to build up the willpower of individuals, and incentivize them to watch their weight. Restricting cake at the office isn’t really getting at the root cause.

Graphite

For years, I stoutly resisted the notion–expressed on driver’s licenses and other official, descriptive documents–that I had brown hair and brown eyes. The word “brown” simply doesn’t really capture all of the virtually infinite, subtle variations and shadings of that hue, in the same way that “blue” doesn’t convey the obvious difference between a navy blue sport coat and the color of the water on a brilliantly sunny day on a Caribbean island. After careful analysis, I concluded that–to be precise–I had mahogany hair and burnt sienna eyes.

Alas! Although the eyes remain that sharp, piercing burnt sienna, the mahogany hair has turned on me. And as my hair color has changed, I’ve searched for words that aptly describe the new shade. “Gray,” like “brown,” is simply too generic. “Silver” isn’t a good match from a color standpoint. I briefly toyed with “pewter,” but decided it has too much of a colonial dinner plate connotation. “Smoke” and “fog” are evocative, but were a little too ephemeral for my taste. “Fossil” was rejected for obvious age-oriented reasons.

Eventually the choices were narrowed to “slate,” “graphite,” “lead,” and “flint.” Each has a clear mineral overtone and thereby communicates an entirely appropriate degree of personal ruggedness. After some meticulous color analysis, I’ve decided that “graphite” best captures my current hair hue, so that’s what I’m going with.

I wonder if “graphite” will be among the hair color options the next time I renew my driver’s license at the BMV?

Cooking With Deer Meat

Russell brought home this bag of ground deer meat when he visited from Maine recently. He got the meat from a hunter friend up there, but didn’t get around to cooking it during his visit, and as a result it’s been sitting in the freezer. I’m intrigued to try it, so I’ve thawed it out and am trying to decide what to cook with it tonight.

Other than, perhaps, a piece of venison jerky years ago, I don’t think I’ve ever tried any food made with deer meat. However, in the past I’ve eaten bison burgers and some elk meat at a wild game night at a local restaurant. I don’t mind the stronger flavor you tend to get with meat from wild animals–although you never know, venison meat might be different, and of course the preparation is critical.

I have no idea how to prepare and cook ground venison, so I did the normal modern thing: a Google search. To my surprise, a search for “recipes for ground deer meat” yields a treasure trove of suggested dishes, from tacos to goulash to “hunters’ casserole” to meat loaf, chili, spaghetti sauce, and of course burgers. The recipes for venison–like this one for chili from a website with the delightful name “Rustic Recipes”–often point out that it is viewed as healthier than domestically raised meat, because it is lower in saturated fats, doesn’t have artificial hormones or antibiotics, and is “a good source of iron.” That last comment means you might want to make sure you add some flavoring to the dish. Recipes for venison burgers, like this one, also note that because venison has less fat, you need to add something (the recipe suggests butter) in preparing the patties to avoid a dry burger and avoid overcooking them. The recipe also recommends adding garlic powder, onion powder, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, as well as salt and pepper, for seasoning.

Tonight I think I’m going to start with the basics: venison burgers.

Saddled With A “Song Name”

In the spring of 1972, a one-hit wonder group called the Looking Glass released their one and only hit–a song called Brandy. Brandy told the story of Brandy, a “fine girl” who worked as a barmaid in a busy harbor town. She pined for a sailor who wasn’t able to marry her because “my life, my lover, my lady, is the sea.” Brandy became a huge hit for the group, rising to number one on the Billboard Top 100 and remaining in the top five on the American Top 40 countdown for weeks.

And, thanks to the Looking Glass, if I meet or hear of a woman named Brandy, my mind immediately thinks of that song and the lyrics that followed the mention of Brandy’s name: “you’re a fine girl.” It happened again last week, when I received an email from someone named Brandy. More than 50 years after Brandy ruled the charts, that song remains hard-wired into my brain synapses and provokes a reflexive reaction.

I suspect I am not alone in having this reaction–at least among people of a certain age–and it made me wonder what it would be like to have a “song name” like Brandy. Brandy was a perfectly good, unremarkable name until the Looking Glass decided to pull it out of the name bank and give it musical immortality. How did the Brandys of the world who were alive at the time feel when they first heard that song, and had the chilling realization that their lives were changed forever? And how often, since then, have the Brandys of the world had to endure guys who think they are clever crooning “you’re a fine girl” after hearing their name?

That would be true not only of Brandy, but of any name that became a key part of a popular song–names like Mandy, or Aubrey, or Cecelia, or or Michelle (ma belle), or Donna (Donna, the Prima Donna), or countless others. I would hope that parents who choose one of these names realize that they are consigning their daughters to a lifetime of being associated with the song that bears their name and idle comments about its lyrics.

Having a “song name” seems to be largely a female fate. In fact, I can only think, offhand, of two guy “song names”: Rocky Raccoon and Mack the Knife. I’m glad I wasn’t saddled with one of them.

Taking A Class With Dr. King

Dr.. Martin Luther King is known to us as a teacher whose relentless advocacy and aspirational vision of a better, fairer America helped to power the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. What many do not know is that he was a teacher in fact–for one class. In 1962, Dr. King returned to his alma mater, Morehouse College, and taught a class called Seminar in Social Philosophy. The records of that class, and the recollections of the students who were fortunate to take it, provide a glimpse at another facet of this iconic historical figure and the ideas that motivated him and his work.

You can see Dr. King’s handwritten syllabus of readings for the course, and an exam that was given in the course, here. From looking at the reading list, it’s obvious that this was one of those college courses that would challenge a student to the limit: the readings encompassed a broad range of philosophical writings, from Plato and Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, from Hobbes and Locke to Kant, from Rousseau and Hegel to John Stuart Mill–with a little Machiavelli thrown in for good measure. In the exam, students had to answer five of seven questions that required them to actually think about how the philosophical constructs they learned could be compared and applied. One of the seven questions, for example, asked students to “Appraise the Student Movement in its practice of law-breaking in light of Aquinas’ Doctrine of Law.”

Ten years ago CNN published a story about the eight men and women who took this class with Dr. King–one of whom was Julian Bond. You can read about them, and their interesting recollections about the course that met once weekly for that semester in 1962, here. Not surprisingly, the students were influenced and motivated by that class, One student, Barbara Adams, shared this recollection:

“It was a hard class in the sense that there was a lot of reading and understanding great thinkers. It was relaxed in that it was more like a conversation rather than a lecture. It was hard in that we had to come to grips with nonviolence as more than just a political tactic. He wanted us to understand it was a way of living and bringing about change.”

She added this point about how the students viewed Dr. King at that time:

“We didn’t really know we were in the midst of a man who in the future would be considered great. We knew he was a man with a vision, sure, but he seemed so ordinary and so down to earth and he was so easy to talk to, even more than some of my other professors. I mean we respected and admired him, but we never dreamed that he would become a Nobel Prize winner or that he would become a martyr. He was not a puffed-up man.”

Imagine having the opportunity to discuss philosophy with Dr. Martin Luther King and a few other highly motivated students who had done the heavy reading, had thought about the tough issues, and were passionate about the subject and its relevance to an ongoing social movement that would change America forever. Imagine being spurred to learn and think about how the developing philosophy of the Civil Rights movement fit into the grand sweep of different philosophies that had been articulated in the past. This must have been a college course for the ages.

The story of the Morehouse College Seminar in Social Philosophy also shows that Dr. King didn’t shy away from challenging others, whether it was in the pulpit, in the classroom, or on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And it also shows why college students shouldn’t always try to take the easy route. Sometimes, the toughest classes have the greatest reward. It’s something worth thinking about as we commemorate Martin Luther King Day.

Spanking The Rankings (Cont.)

I wrote a few weeks ago about the revolt of certain law schools–including my alma mater, the Georgetown University Law Center–against the U.S. News and World Report rankings. The revolt got some results. Earlier this month, U.S. News and World Report announced that it would be modifying its approach to rankings, and wrote an open letter to law school deans announcing the changes. You can see the letter here.

U.S. News says the changes are in response to the issues raised by the law schools, but it is also standing its ground in its position that its rankings are appropriate and a helpful data point for students deciding on where to go for their legal education. The letter to the law school deans says that the ranking algorithm will be modified, stating that “there will be some changes in how we weight certain data points, including a reduced emphasis on the peer assessment surveys of academics, lawyers and judges, and an increased weight on outcome measures.” At the same time, U.S. News let the law schools know that it is going to rank them, whether they participate or not, and offered an incentive of sorts: “We will rank law schools in the upcoming rankings using publicly available data that law schools annually make available as required by the American Bar Association whether or not schools respond to our annual survey. For schools that do respond, we will publish more detailed profiles, enabling students to create a more comprehensive picture of their various choices.”

Law schools don’t seem to be blown away by the U.S. News announcement. Yale’s dean was quoted as saying: “having a window into the operations and decision-making process at U.S. News in recent weeks has only cemented our decision to stop participating in the rankings.” Michigan says its decision to not participate in the rankings won’t change, either.

I’m not surprised that U.S. News is trying to put out the fire; its ranking publications are no doubt a big money-maker in an era where fewer and fewer people are buying magazines. But the tweaks to its approach also shows that rankings are really kind of silly, and the metrics in its formula, and their weighting, aren’t some immutable, undeniable way of objectively evaluating law schools. If the metrics and the weighting can change in the blink of an eye because law schools have said enough is enough, why should anyone trust that the new formula is the right mix?

I think law students would be better served by ignoring rankings and thinking about what they want out of law school, using their personal interests and concerns to narrow the field of law school candidates by looking at rational considerations like cost, and then talking to recent graduates. Law school is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and the revolt against the U.S. News rankings illustrates that fact. That’s a useful lesson.

Return Of The Western?

We’ve watched every episode of Yellowstone, we enjoyed 1883, the first of the Yellowstone prequels (which apparently is returning for a second season), and we are caught up on 1923, the newest Yellowstone prequel. We figure 1903 can’t be far behind, and there are many more tales to be told of the rambunctious Dutton clan and their constant battles to hold on to their beautiful spread in the wilds of Montana. (Don’t be surprised, for example, if there is a 2063, about future generations of Duttons.) With the success of the Dutton shows, you have to wonder: will westerns finally be making their TV and movie comeback?

It’s hard to believe now, but in the early days of television, westerns dominated the network programming. Shows like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Have Gun, Will Travel, and The Rifleman dominated the nightly programming and the ratings. Westerns were so popular for so long on television that variations on traditional westerns, like Branded, about an unjustly accused soldier, and The Wild, Wild West, with its newfangled gadgetry, were introduced. During those same decades John Wayne and other stars were churning out westerns at the cinema, producing classics like The Searchers, High Noon, Shane, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. And the movie industry also made its share of non-traditional westerns, like The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

It’s not hard to see why westerns dominated popular entertainment during those years. The western genre was very elastic, and accommodated simple good guy versus bad guy tales and much more nuanced and complicated stories that left you wondering about who really was the hero. Westerns were cheap to make, with the sets for most TV westerns found on a Hollywood studios back lot, and even “on location” shoots occurring within only a few hundred miles of studio headquarters. And, in America, there always has been a certain romance about the west, and a fascination with the gunslingers, sheriffs, and train robbers, the wars with native Americans, and the many hazards and rough justice of frontier days.

At some point in the late ’60s, though, westerns suddenly vanished from the TV screen, and movie westerns largely disappeared only a few years later. Perhaps Americans had just had their fill, or perhaps westerns just didn’t fit with the then-prevailing notions about the world, or perhaps science fiction films and TV shows co-opted the standard western plots and threw in some cool special effects, besides. Since the demise of the western genre, there have been predictions about its renaissance–in the wake of TV shows like Lonesome Dove and movies like Young Guns and Silverado–but those forecasts have proven inaccurate.

Could now be the time when American viewers are ready to return to the western, and an era when problems seemed less complicated and a simple showdown on a dusty street was seen as a way to actually solve a problem, once and for all? With Beth Dutton’s two-fisted approach leading the way, who knows? We may see a lot more horse operas in the future.

A Temporary Stay Of Execution

I’ve written before–see here, and here–about the deep concerns the people of Stonington, Maine have had about impending federal regulations that would drastically affect the lobster fishing that is a crucial pillar of the local economy. Those working in the lobster trade were convinced that regulations designed to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale would make lobster fishing practically and economically impossible.

Those concerns have been deferred by recent actions by Congress and President Biden. As is often the case with Congress these days, the $1.7 trillion spending bill that was passed and then signed into law on December 29 included an array of additional provisions–including one that delays the implementation of the right whale regulations for six years. The bill also allocated $55 million to try to accomplish two tasks related to the regulations. First, some of the money will be spent to develop workable ropeless lobster fishing gear and techniques, since the right whale regulations will require an end to the traditional rope-and-buoy system that have been a foundation of Maine lobster fishing for decades. Second, the money will fund research to determine if the North Atlantic right whale is in fact found in the Gulf of Maine, and if so where and when.

An article in the Island Ad-Vantages, the local newspaper for Deer Isle, Maine, reports on the legislation and the reaction to it here. Basically, those in the lobster trade are relieved at the delay in the regulations–which they no doubt view as a kind of stay of execution of their industry–but, as the article’s apt headline states: “And now the work begins.” There are a lot of details to work out, as those involved in the lobster fishing industry need to create a process for making and responding to right whale sightings and figure out how to spend millions, including money to be allocated in future years, to create the ropeless fishing technology. That last task is a crucial one, because the concern underlying the delayed regulations is that the the endangered right whales become ensnared in the ropes that link the lobster traps on the ocean floor to the buoys on the surface. If workable ropeless technology can’t be developed, the reprieve won’t provide long-term relief.

It’s frustrating that our government can’t seem to function at a deliberate, thoughtful pace and address issues through single-focus legislation, and instead can only act through colossal, last-minute spending bills that become Christmas trees for all kinds of unrelated provisions. In this case, however, that process helped out–temporarily, at least–a beleaguered industry and local communities that are dependent on it.

Identifying The First Writing

Historians generally accept that the first writing, using cuneiform script, was developed in ancient Sumer, in the region of modern-day Iraq, sometime around 3300 B.C., and that the first hieroglyphics were created in Egypt soon thereafter. In short, the prevailing view is that spoken language existed for thousands of years before written language was invented.

The consensus among historians and archaeologists is that the invention of writing began with pictures representing objects, and then the savvy Sumerians realized that they could use symbols to represent sounds in their spoken language–which is the basic concept underlying cuneiform script. The symbols in cuneiform and hieroglyphics became easily recognizable as a form of writing when the ancients began creating clay tablets and papyrus scrolls and covering them with the symbols.

But how do we know for sure that there weren’t even earlier forms of writing–forms that use symbols that are obscure to us in the modern day, and aren’t seen as obvious attempts at writing because they don’t, for example, appear to be used for record-keeping? That’s a question that scientists and historians are considering in connection with the beautiful cave paintings of Lascaux, which are believed to have been created about 20,000 years ago–long before the first cuneiform appeared in Sumer. The cave paintings include dots and dashes and geometric signs, along with the striking and colorful representations of ancient animals and hunting scenes. Could those apparently intentional, non-representational markings have been some accepted form of written form of communication, like a prehistoric Morse code? That question has generated a lively, ongoing scientific debate, with some researchers arguing yes while others are skeptical.

Of course, absent a new discovery of a Stone Age Rosetta Stone, we’ll probably never know for sure if the cave wall symbols are writing, and if so what they are meant to represent. But I suspect that the concept of writing came to early humans long before the ancient Sumerians invented cuneiform. Humans are communicating creatures, and if the creators of the Lascaux cave art used painting to communicate, as they clearly did, is it really so surprising that they might take the logical next step and use symbols, too?

Jeff Beck

I was very saddened to learn that Jeff Beck died suddenly earlier this week, apparently after contracting bacterial meningitis. He was only 78, which means he was a still a veritable spring chicken in comparison to other rock stars who are still performing and recording into their 80s. His death is a huge loss for the music world and for those of us who loved and endlessly listened to his albums and his music over the decades.

Jeff Beck first came to prominence as a guitarist with the Yardbirds–the legendary rock guitarist incubator band that also was the launching group for Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. He went on to form the Jeff Beck Group, which featured Rod Stewart as a vocalist, and produced some great music–but he first really hit my musical radar screen in the mid-70s, with the classic album Blow by Blow, the cover of which is pictured above. Released in 1975, just as I was finishing high school, Blow by Blow was a kind of jazz/fusion instrumental album (except for Beck’s use of the voice box, a device he pioneered, so you could kind of hear his voice in his recording of the Beatles’ song She’s A Woman). I loved every song on the album–especially Freeway Jam and Constipated Duck–and played the crap out of the record as I moved on to college.

Blow by Blow was followed by Wired and Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live, and I bought both of those albums and loved them, too, with Goodbye Pork Pie Hat and Blue Wind being particular favorites. All of those Jeff Beck albums were standard selections on the music playlist at my college apartments. As I listened to those albums, over and over, I came to particularly appreciate how he could get an awesome variety of different sounds out of his guitar, and his ability to move seamlessly from jazz to blues to move your feet tunes. His talents were obvious and immense, but you also had to give a nod of appreciation to his creativity and his willingness to experiment, rather than just playing the same kind of music for the rest of his career. That flair for experimentation continued with Beck’s later albums. He was a kind of restless, adventurous musical spirit who couldn’t sit still and had to try new things. His space-rock/psychedelic song Space for the Papa, on his 1999 album Who Else?, is a good example of how Beck’s taste for musical exploration continued.

It’s tough when someone who had an impact on your musical tastes, and whose talents have been a part your life and given you countless hours of listening pleasure, dies too young. I suspect that, before he was stricken, Jeff Beck was thinking about new musical vistas to explore and new risks to take, and now we unfortunately won’t get the chance to hear what he would have produced. I hope his family is comforted in this time of devastating loss by the certain knowledge that his many fans won’t ever forget Jeff Beck. His legacy lives on in his catalog of creative genius and the still-fresh and wonderful music that people like me will listen to and enjoy for years to come.

To The Depths — And Below

Hollywood writers obviously are a very clever bunch. Just when you think they’ve mined every possible plotline that would illustrate some feature of a character, they open a new vein of dramatic gold and dig still deeper.

Yellowstone is a great illustration of this process. I’ve written before about how, as the show has progressed, Jamie Dutton has been converted from capable, high-powered lawyer for the clan to a sniveling mess. After last season, I frankly doubted there was anything the writers could come up with that would make Jamie Dutton more pathetic and contemptible than he had already become. Whoo-boy–I was wrong on that one!

We finished catching up on Yellowstone episodes earlier this week, and Jamie continues to sink deeper and deeper. Spoiler alert: He’s being exposed as not only feeble and weak-kneed, but also so gullible, hapless, foolish, and pitifully eager for some crumb of attention that he can fall for the most obvious manipulative scheme ever attempted in Big Sky Country. The femme fatale from the development company hasn’t even tried to disguise her ultimate goal, and she couldn’t have picked a more direct route to pulling Jamie’s puppet strings. Now we’re having to endure squirmy scenes where Jamie, after their latest romp between the sheets, is baring both his chest and his soul to someone he met only days before. The gal pal’s maneuvers are so painfully obvious that even Jamie’s loyal secretary at the Attorney General’s office deviated from her customary professionalism and tried to warn him–but to no avail. Anyone who ignores wise advice from their secretary is plumbing new depths of dim-wittedness. This guy is supposed to be a Harvard grad? What better evidence of grade inflation could there be?

We’ve enjoyed this season of Yellowstone, and have particularly liked the increased emphasis on the “cowboying” element of the show, as well as seeing new aspects of the relationship between Rip and Beth. But, in many ways, the continuing downward spiral of Jamie Dutton is the most noteworthy part of the show, as impossible to tear your eyes away from as a slow motion train wreck. Credit to the writers and to Wes Bentley, who must be licking his acting chops as he thinks about how to make his character’s latest horrible decision remotely plausible.

How low can this guy go, and what can the writers’ room come up with to make this sad, quivering wreck into a character this is even more imbecilic, wretched, and odious? I guess we’ll have to watch to find out.

Backing Into Crankiness

When you drive into a parking lot, do you pull forward into an available spot, or do you pull past the open spot and then back into it? Have you given much conscious thought to the issue of which approach you take, or has your parking practice become an ingrained habit, like the order in which brush your teeth and wash your face in the morning?

Who cares whether you park head-in or back-in, you might ask? Well, the guy who wrote this article cares, and cares very deeply indeed. He thinks people who back into parking spaces are stupid, selfish, and perfectly content to waste the time of other drivers who have to sit there, tapping their steering wheels in frustration, while the back-into-the-space drivers complete their parking maneuvers at an elephantine pace. Never mind that you can find articles, like this one and this one, that argue that backing into parking spaces is the safer course. The writer rejects all of that, believes you are as likely to have a fender-bender when you are backing into a spot as when you are backing out of one, and states (with probably only slight exaggeration) that he considers people who back into parking spots to be–and I am quoting here–“history’s greatest monsters.”

The point of this post isn’t to further fan the flames of debate about whether you should back in to parking spots or not. I happen to be a head-in parker, but I recognize that this is one of those areas where there is legitimate room for different approaches, and American drivers should be free to choose between them. No, my point is simply to note that when you reach the point of writing passionately worded pieces about parking techniques, and urging people to take stopwatches to parking lots to time ingress and egress, you’ve arrived at crank status. A tipping point has been reached, and what would normally be a quickly forgotten irritation instead dominates your thoughts, you become convinced that your perspective is the right one, and the urge to vent becomes so overwhelming that you just can’t resist it.

At that point, you can be officially welcomed to the Curmudgeon Club, whose membership numbers in the millions. Now, if only the crankiness impulse were limited to writing screeds about parking . . . .