As dawn begins to break over the incredible vastness of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the trams are runningtraffic has picked up, and another travel day is ready to begin.
The Curious Case Of “Lockdown Nostalgia”
I would have thought everyone, everywhere, could agree on one thing: we’re glad the COVID-19 pandemic has officially been declared “over” and the mandatory closures and lockdowns are over. But I would be wrong. Some people are confessing to feeling a sense of “lockdown nostalgia.” Even as they give a nod to the fact that many people died and many more became sick, they feel a certain wistfulness about those enforced, stay-at-home days during 2020 and 2021. Here’s an example of such a piece.
Basically, the underlying message of those claiming to suffer from “lockdown nostalgia” is that the COVID lockdowns made the world a simpler place and modern life a lot less complicated. Before the lockdowns, they say, their lives were hectic and difficult as they raced from place to place. When the lockdown orders were issued, of course, that all stopped–and they had the chance to enjoy spending time at home, reconnecting with family and enjoying the simple pleasures of binge-watching TV and reading books.
I suspect that many of the people who may be experiencing even a twinge of “lockdown nostalgia” are introverts who didn’t like going out to do things in the first place. For many of the rest of us, however, the idea that we would be pining for a time when government edicts kept us penned up, cost many people their jobs and their businesses, and prevented people from visiting sick and dying relatives–or even attending their funerals–is inconceivable.
If you’re thinking that you enjoyed a simpler life during the COVID lockdown period, the answer isn’t another lockdown, it’s looking at your life and making your own decisions about simplifying it. We don’t need the government or lockdown orders to do that.
The Random Restaurant Tour–LIV
In Texas, for many people at least, Whataburger has a reputation of almost mythical proportions. The zealous dedication of these fans to the brand and its food offerings is so extraordinary that, in extreme cases, Whataburger fans have constructed impressive Christmas trees from the franchise’s discarded fast-food packaging, with its trademark bright orange color.
Any fast-food emporium that can inspire that kind of slavish devotion from American consumers must have something going for it, right? So yesterday, as I paid my first-ever visit to a Whataburger, I felt a surge of high expectations, anticipating an extraordinary burger experience. What I found was a pretty good burger, but an overall dining experience that fell a bit short of the hype.
I ordered a double Whataburger, fries, and a diet Coke. The normal Whataburger comes with mustard, onions, tomato, lettuce, and grilled onions chopped into little squares. Interestingly, cheese isn’t part of the standard order; you have to ask for it specially. I didn’t know that, but I did know that I didn’t want the lettuce, tomato, and pickles. Through this combination of intent and ignorance, I ended up with a cheeseless double Whataburger with onions and mustard.. It’s probably the first cheeseless burger I’ve had in a half century, so that alone made the experience memorable.
The Whataburger was pretty good. The mustard is a nice touch, as are the onions, and the meat was of good quality. Getting a burger without cheese is like getting a cake without icing, in my view, but if you go that route you definitely taste the meat more distinctly–so obviously you want to make sure the meat is tasty. Whataburger offers a nice spicy jalapeno ketchup, part of a tray of topping offerings that they bring to your table, like the waiter at a nice restaurant bringing an array of different tea options to tea drinkers. I tried the spicy ketchup, and it had a decent kick to it. All of these elements were positives for me.
The bun, though, was nothing to write home about, and the burger wasn’t served piping hot. That’s an issue, because heat is a key element of a good burger. The biggest disappointment, though, was the fries. When I saw they were of the shoestring variety I was encouraged, but alas! They were dried out and lukewarm, and tasted like they had spent an an excessive amount of time under one of those blazing food heat lamps. In short, it seemed that the fries part of the meal equation had been sadly neglected.
One of our party said that we had caught Whataburger on an off day, and we should try it for lunch another time at another location. I would do that, and be sure to order cheese on the burger this time. But on this occasion, at least, the experience failed to live up to the advance publicity.
What Makes A Great Skyline?
We’re in Austin for a quick visit, and last night we attended a fine performance of the Austin Symphony Orchestra at the Long Center. The Long Center not only is a good place to listen to orchestral music, it also is a great place to admire the Austin skyline. Being across the river from the core downtown area, it allows you to get some distance and perspective.
Austin has a great skyline, and looking at it from one of the Long Center balconies got me to think about what makes a great skyline. The height of the skyscrapers helps, of course, but it is not dispositive. The key thing is variety, both in terms of the height of the buildings–to help create that classic, jagged, sawtooth look that we associate with skylines–but also in the design and depth of the buildings. Austin has some very tall buildings, but it also has a lot of architectural variety that makes the skyline interesting to study. The “jenga” building, and the graceful arc of the Google building, which looks like an unfurled sail from a distance, help to make the Austin skyline a lot more interesting.
Columbus has a decent skyline, and thanks to the LeVeque tower, and its art deco lineage, there is some architectural variety. The construction that has occurred over the past few years and the projects that are underway will go a long way to determining the long-term quality of the Columbus skyline, however. I’m hoping the architects of the new buildings are willing to take some risks on their designs, and provide a bit more visual diversity, so Columbus’ skyline ends up looking a lot more like Austin’s.
I Before E . . .
The other day I saw a misspelling, with “receive” being incorrectly spelled “recieve.” It was a common spelling mistake back when I was a kid–one that led generations of schoolchildren, including me, to memorize the rhyme “i before e, except after c, or when sounded in ‘a,’ as in ‘neighbor’ or ‘weigh.'” If you wanted to be a good speller, that was a saying that became a key part of the spelling section of your memory banks.
With the broad adoption of spellcheck, it’s becoming rarer to see spelling mistakes these days, and it’s easier for people to just rely on computers to catch errors, rather than keeping those personal spelling skills sharp. Spellcheck makes life easier for content creators, I suppose, but I hope it hasn’t caused young kids and even adults to eschew developing their spelling capabilities and vocabularies.
I was interested in being a good speller when I was a kid, and I think it helped me develop a much deeper understanding of our language. The dictionary was a constant companion. You wanted to learn new words and their correct spellings, of course, but you also wanted to know something about the source of the word, which often provided clues that helped you to remember how to correctly spell it. The process gave you an appreciation for the broad sweep of the English language, how it has absorbed many words from other tongues, and just how confusing and arbitrary some of its spellings can be.
It’s nice to know, therefore, that there are kids out there who care about being good spellers and are willing to compete in spelling bees. The 94th Scripps National Spelling Bee begins on May 30 in Washington, D.C., with more than 230 spellers from the U.S., Canada, the Bahamas, and Ghana hoping to be crowned the top speller. You can read about the winner of the Ohio regional spelling competition, a student at Olentangy Middle School, here.
The word that will take the Ohio winner to the national bee was “guayabera”–a lightweight sport shirt, initially developed in Cuba and Mexico, that is designed to be worn untucked. It’s a good example of the ever-inclusive nature of the English language.
I was saddened to read today of the death of Jim Brown. He was an enduring figure for me and for many, both for his legendary exploits on the football field and for his leadership and fearlessness off the field.
In my view, Jim Brown was unquestionably the greatest running back in NFL history, and it isn’t really arguable. He routinely racked up 1,000-yard rushing seasons at a time when the NFL played far fewer regular season games and set the record of 1,863 rushing yards in a single season that endured for years. His career statistics are ridiculous: in only nine years in the league and 118 games, he rushed for 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns and added 2,499 yards and 20 touchdowns as a receiver. His career average of 104.3 rushing yards per game remains an NFL record. With his size, power, and speed, he was perhaps the only player of his era who could play, and dominate, in the modern NFL.
But his achievements on the football field told only part of the story. Jim Brown was a force. In a great book, They Call It A Game, Bernie Parrish, a former Browns player, recounts Jim Brown coming into the room for the team’s breakfast on the morning of the 1964 NFL title game, the last time the Browns won the championship. “Jim Brown entered the room,” Parrish wrote, “and everyone felt his presence.” He had that kind of personal magnetism, and he took no guff from anyone. When the Browns owner insisted Brown come to training camp and leave the filming of The Dirty Dozen, Brown retired–at age 30, and at the peak of his career. Who knows what records he would have set if he had continued to play?
Jim Brown was active and outspoken about civil rights, racial injustice, and other causes, at a time when few athletes took that risk. He formed what would become the Black Economic Union to encourage black entrepreneurs. He wasn’t perfect, and he had a checkered personal life that was marred by accusations of violence against women. That part of his story shouldn’t be sugar-coated, but it also shouldn’t prevent people from admiring the positive contributions he made, on and off the field.
Just as Jim’s Brown presence was felt, his absence will be felt, too. He was 87.
The Algorithms Among Us
In the modern world you get used to the notion that a big part of your life is influenced, directed, or controlled by invisible, and unknowable, computer code. If you use a computer at work or at home, as many of us do, it’s as much a part of the routine as that essential morning cup of coffee. Every once in a while, however, you realize that, somewhere out in the internet ether, clicks have been analyzed, cookies have been implanted, and huge amounts of data about you have been compiled, and that data is being used to define you and your corner of the world.
I thought about this when I went on Facebook recently, and the first thing that popped up was a Beatles day-by-day post. I like the Beatles and their music, and some months ago someone sent me a link to a Beatles post. It looked interesting, I clicked it, and since then the Facebook computers have served me a steadily increasing diet of not only posts about the Beatles and their music, but also about individual members of the Beatles and their solo careers, and now other artists from the ’60s and ’70s. It’s pretty obvious that some server, somewhere, is trying to test just how broad my interests are and to define, ever more precisely, the exact nature of my existing musical and cultural preferences.
Some years ago we were looking for some new light fixtures. We eventually made our selections and our purchases, but for months thereafter light fixture ads seemed to dominate every website we visited. It was only after months of non-light fixture activity that the algorithms finally gave up and started to probe into other areas. The light fixture data is out there somewhere, brooding yet poised so that a single ill-advised click or search for a lamp could expose us to a new avalanche of ads featuring the latest lighting products.
I’m sure Facebook would argue that this process is a good thing: by learning more about us, it, and Google, and Amazon, and all of the other algorithm users can provide us with targeted information, products, goods, and services designed to appeal to our specific preferences. Of course, that ignores the risk that some bad guy hacks into the database where this wealth of information is stored, and can use it for theft, fraud, and other nefarious purposes. But it also ignores that this process of identifying and targeting interests puts you into an ever-shrinking box, and a kind of thought prison of your own devising. If I’m seeing that daily barrage of Beatles posts, that means I’m not seeing other stuff–stuff I’m not aware of, stuff that might challenge my views or broaden my horizons or shift my perspective. You can see how the algorithms can have a pernicious effect, especially when it comes to information, news, and political thought. Your clicks put you into an echo chamber.
Consider how different this is from the world of the past, when no one or no thing was trying to sculpt the world to suit your expressed tastes. On the school bus, in the newspaper, at the department store, and at the workplace you got whatever came your way. Businesses offered what they thought might appeal to a wide array of consumers–not just you. The world didn’t revolve around you, and the need to cater to your individual tastes. You might actually hear or read about different political views, see products that you weren’t specifically looking for, and so forth. The world seemed to be a much wider place because of it.
Of course, we’ll never go back to that world–at least, not if we’re going to be spending time on computers. But the sense of being confined is worrisome, and now makes me refrain from clicking and responding, just to be a bit of a contrarian and to leave some open questions about my interests, and views, and preferences. I prefer the wider world.
Did I say I liked the Beatles? I was kidding!
Gorilla Resilience Training
“Resilience”–generally defined as the ability to respond and adapt to challenging situations and to keep going in the face of trauma and adversity–is a prized commodity these days. Many businesses seek to encourage the development of enhanced resilience skills in their employees and offer training to help them become more resilient. Indeed, in many jobs where performance often has to occur in times of stress or under trying circumstances, resilience is a quality that may prove to be the difference between success and failure.
A recent study indicates that your next resilience training session might be taught by a gorilla, or at least draw some tips from their approach to life.
The study, undertaken by the University of Michigan, shows that gorillas are amazingly resilient–more so than humans and other animal species. The study focused on examining gorillas who had experienced trauma, such as the death of their mother, at an early age. In many species, such early life adversity is associated with shorter life spans and additional problems later in life. Gorillas apparently are different. The U of M research revealed that the more adversity gorillas experienced, the more likely they were to die young–but if they survived to the age of six, their lifespans were not shortened. In fact, gorillas who survived three or more early childhood traumas were more likely to live longer than other gorillas.
Why are gorillas more resilient than other species? The researchers who undertook the study believe that one reason is the tight-knit social structure of gorilla communities, where a young gorilla whose mother has died is not left alone, but instead is adopted and supported by the whole clan. They also suspect that the resource-rich environment in which gorillas live helps, by not adding additional stresses, like the need to constantly search for sufficient food, on top of the trauma. And, in some respects, the ability of certain gorillas to overcome devastating life-reversals may simply be an example of “survival of the fittest.”
We can learn from gorillas, and anyone who has worked under stressful circumstances will likely agree on one lesson: adversity and stress are more easily borne if they are shared, and it is a lot easier to be resolute and carry on if you are part of a good team.
Creating An Underground Mystery
In 1963, the story goes, a man in the Turkish town of Derinkuyu did some home remodeling that left a small crevice in his wall. His chickens kept disappearing into the crack, never to be seen again. Frustrated, he took a sledgehammer to the wall and discovered a tunnel that led to another tunnel, and then another that ultimately gave access to a vast underground city. His story got around, other neighbors started to check out their basements, and ultimately more than 600 entrances to the underground city were discovered–thanks to the rambunctious chickens and one frustrated Turk.
The “lost” subterranean city was called Elengubu and is now called Derinkuyu. It’s in an area of Turkey that is famous for its soft stone, which caused many inhabitants to dig beneath their homes and create additional rooms underground. There are apparently many such underground rooms in the area, but none are as elaborate as Elengubu, which has 18 levels, reaches depths of 270 feet below ground, and is sizeable enough to house 20,000 people. The underground city features massive support pillars, more than 15,000 air shafts, water wells, spaces for livestock and a wine press, and security stones that can be rolled into place to keep out the unwanted.
The mystery is that no one knows who built this huge underground complex, or why. No one knows precisely when it was created, either. It may have been constructed to allow for a refuge in case of invasion, or to allow residents to find cooler temperatures during the hot Turkish summers. It was evidently in use for thousands of years by different civilizations until the Cappadocian Greeks left Turkey in the early 1920s. The city was then promptly forgotten until it was rediscovered by the chickens, and their astonished sledgehammer-wielding owner, some 40 years later.
I wonder if the last person who left the underground city in the 1920s had any idea that they would be contributing to a mystery that would confound people only 40 years later? Sometime the only thing that is needed to create a mystery is forgetfulness, and time.
There’s some troubling news on the health front for older Americans. More and more seniors are being seriously injured, and even killed, by falling. In fact, you could say that falling has almost reached epidemic proportions among America’s elderly.
The statistics tell a very sad story. In 1999, about 10,100 Americans aged 65 or more were killed by falling. In 2020, among the same demographic, that number had increased significantly, to 36,500 deaths. In part, that increase is due to the fact that there are more elderly Americans, as the Baby Boom generation ages, but the fall rate is increasing, too: from 29 fall-related deaths per 100,000 seniors in 1990 to 69 fall-related deaths per 100,000 in 2020. Fall-related death rates rose across every gender and ethnic group, with the highest death rate–78 per 100,000–among older white Americans.
Although statistics are hard to determine, because seniors don’t always ‘fess up to their kids or their doctors when they take a tumble, experts believe that the rate of non-fatal falls is increasing, too. The CDC estimates that about 25 percent of all seniors take a fall each year, with 3 million visiting the emergency room and more than 800,000 having to be hospitalized for head injuries, broken hips, or other debilitating injuries.
Why are more older Americans falling, and suffering the consequences? Experts think it is due to a combination of factors, including the fact that more Americans are surviving serious health conditions, like strokes, that leave them less steady on their feet. Another cause is that more of our elderly are taking multiple medications that, in combination, can affect balance or cause dizziness. I suspect that part of the problem, too, is that some seniors just aren’t moving around as much as they should and, as a result, their balance, reflexes, and nerve impulses aren’t providing the movement support and signals they once did.
In short, there’s a reason why my doctor introduced a “gait test” for me once I hit 65. If you’re a senior, making sure that you continue to be physically active, and that you (and your doctor) pay attention to the combined effects of your medication, can help you to avoid one of those killer falls. And it doesn’t make sense to be too proud to talk about any dizziness or balance issues. If you feel you might need grab bars, you should get them.
The “Bob” Sayings
Bob is a pretty solid name, all things considered. Although not as popular as it was when I was a kid, when every grade school class I took seemed to have at least one other Bob in it, Robert remains one of the top 100 most popular name for a male child, coming in at number 80. And “Bob” also has the advantage of being featured in two curious sayings: “Yessirree Bob” and “and Bob’s your uncle” (which is, admittedly, much more popular in England than in the U.S.)
Of the two sayings, the origin of “and Bob’s your uncle”–which roughly means “and it’s as simple as that”–is seemingly easier to trace. According to one website, the phrase came into use in Great Britain in the late 1800s, when a Prime Minister named Robert appointed his nephew to be the Minister for Ireland. Thanks to this act of raw political nepotism, a significant “Bob” phrase entered the English language, because it was presumably simple to become the a high-ranking governmental official when “Bob’s your uncle.”
The source of “Yessirree Bob” is harder to pin down. This saying, which was a favorite of my mother, means “yes, absolutely.” It’s obvious that “yessirree” is derived from “Yes, sir.” But where does the Bob part come from? The on-line sources disagree as to when and why this phrase first entered the language, with some radically different theories. I suspect that “Bob” was selected for this phrase because it’s short and, by virtue of ending with the hard “b,” definitive to say. As a result, it serves as a kind of punctuation for the saying. “Yessirree Christopher” wouldn’t have quite the same punch.
Mother’s Day Thoughts
We took a walk to the Short North today. Mother’s Day is traditionally one of the biggest restaurant days of the year, and the Short North eateries were packed. Some of the restaurants also voiced traditional Mother’s Day sentiments, like the sign above.
As I’ve mentioned before, my maternal grandmother, Grandma Neal, had an elephantine memory when it came to songs and poetry. It was not uncommon for her to interject some appropriate snippet of verse into a conversation to make a point.
On Mother’s Day, Grandma Neal enjoyed reciting the lyrics to the song M-O-T-H-E-R. Released in 1915, M-O-T-H-E-R (A Word That Means The World To Me) was a sentimental tribute that was the work of Theodore Morse, who wrote the music, and Howard Johnson, who penned the lyrics. Grandma Neal knew the song by heart. She liked the spelling chorus part the best and recited it with special emphasis. The lyrics are as follows:
I’ve been around the world, you bet,
But never went to school,
Hard knocks are all I seem to get,
Perhaps I’ve been a fool;
But still, some educated folks, supposed to be so swell,
Would fail, if they were called upon a simple word to spell.
Now if you’d like to put me to a test,
There’s one dear name that I can spell the best:
“M” is for the million things she gave me,
“O” means only that she’s growing old,
“T” is for the tears she shed to save me,
“H” is for her heart of purest gold;
“E” is for her eyes, with lovelight shining,
“R” means right, and right she’ll always be,
Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER,”
A word that means the world to me.
When I was but a baby, long before I learned to walk,
While lying in my cradle, I would try my best to talk;
It wasn’t long, before I spoke, and all the neighbors heard,
My folks were very proud of me for “Mother” was the word.
Although I’ll never lay a claim to fame,
I’m satisfied that I can spell this name:
“M” is for the mercy she possesses,
“O” means that I owe her all I own,
“T” is for her tender sweet caresses,
“H” is for her hands that made a home;
“E” means ev’rything she’s done to help me,
“R” means real and regular, you see,
Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER,”
A word that means the world to me.
Happy Mother’s Day to Grandma Neal, Grandma Webner, my mother, my lovely wife, my sisters, and all the mothers out there, old and new!
Late Night At The Lot
Yesterday, Kish had a horrendous travel day, with flight cancellations, delays, and multiple layovers. As a result of the mishaps, I found myself spending some quality time hanging at the John Glenn International Airport cell phone lot at about 2 a.m.
In the wee hours, the cell phone lot is a pretty quiet place. Unlike earlier in the day, there aren’t a lot of people moving in and out due to the arrival of flights they have been waiting for. There were perhaps three other vehicles in the lot at 2 a.m.–the Columbus airport isn’t a round-the-clock venue, unlike some larger airports–and my guess is that we all were waiting to make pick-ups for passengers on the same, delayed flight.
There’s a certain etiquette in the cell phone lot during the off hours. For one thing, there’s lots of open territory, and you want to make sure that you give the other cars plenty of room by parking multiple spaces away. If you were to drive up and park right next to another vehicle that has been waiting, the other driver probably would turn on the ignition and move to another spot. Whether you intend it or not, you would be sending an unnerving personal space message. Parking right next to another car at a vacant cell phone lot late at night is like violating the “two-urinal” rule at a not-very-busy men’s public restroom.
There’s also not really much to do at a cell phone lot while you’re waiting to get the text or the call that it’s time for the pick-up. It’s an ideal time for playing games on your phone. I’m a bit surprised, frankly, that airports haven’t installed one of those rolling advertising billboards at the front of their cell phone lots and offered businesses the opportunity to peddle their wares to the captive audience that is cooling its heels and waiting for a call. A news crawl would be a nice touch, too. When all you’re doing is passing the time, I guarantee you that people would look at the ads and follow the crawl. It could be a nice additional revenue source for JGI, and I bet the cell lot parkers would appreciate it.
If they have videos and advertisements on gas station pumps, why not at the cell phone lot?
The $6 Billion Team
Yesterday the parties to the transaction announced that a new ownership group would be buying the Washington Commanders, a National Football League team. The announced price tag for the transaction is a staggering $6.05 billion–a new record for the sale of a professional sports team. The proposed deal now goes to NFL owners for approval,
The Commanders have been pretty dismal lately. The team hasn’t won a playoff game in 18 years, and the franchise, and its owners, have been mired in controversy. Nevertheless, the eye-popping $6.05 million price tag for the team blows the previous record for an NFL team–set by the 2022 sale of the Denver Broncos for $4.65 billion–out of the water. If you’re an NFL owner, you’d presumably be highly motivated to approve the proposed sale, if only to establish a new comparable that can be cited when you decide you are ready to cash in and put your team on the market. If an underperforming team like Washington commands that kind of price, just imagine how much might be paid for more successful franchises, like the Kansas City Chiefs or the New England Patriots?
In case you’re interested, the group that is selling the Commanders paid $800 million for the Washington pro football franchise in 1999. In less than 25 years, the market value of their ownership interest has increased by a factor of more than six–and that doesn’t account for any amounts the ownership group has received from TV contracts, ticket sales, and merchandising deals during the period of their ownership. Seeing the market value of an investment increase more than six times is a pretty good return.
It’s not just NFL teams that have been gold mines at the auction block lately, either. The $6.05 billion price tag for the Commanders edges out the prior record for a professional sports team, which was $5.3 billion paid for the Chelsea F.T. club in the English Premier League last year. Billions of dollars also have been paid for teams in the NBA and Major League Baseball over the past few years.
So, there’s no doubt that professional sports teams have been a pretty good investment recently–but you wonder how long this can last, and whether we’re simply witnessing a huge sports franchise bubble, like the crazed spike in home purchases that helped produce the sub-prime mortgage collapse that led to the Great Recession, or the infamous Dutch tulip market bubble in the Netherlands in the 1600s. It’s not as if sports franchises have lots of tangible assets or obvious intrinsic value, and the continued success of the NFL, which has been bedeviled by concerns about concussions and general player safety problems, among other issues, is by no means assured.
At some point, will liability concerns cause regulation of the sport that changes it so significantly that its current broad appeal falls off–and the owners who paid billions to sit in the owners’ box and wear gear with team logos are left with a stadium, some player contracts, and logos for merchandise that no one wants to buy? If that happens, the ownership of the Commanders could end up being like possession of a fistful of costly and unwanted tulip bulbs in Amsterdam centuries ago.