About webnerbob

A Cleveland and Ohio State sports fan who lives in Columbus, Ohio

Silicon Valley

Thank God for HBO On Demand!

I missed Silicon Valley when the show was first aired earlier this year.  Over the weekend, though, I sat and watched all eight episodes from Season One in one sitting, with only an appropriate mid-season bathroom break.  It was tremendous, and I would argue that the final episode of Season One ranks as one of the great single episodes of any TV sitcom, ever — right up there with the Death of Chuckles episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show or the Seinfeld episode about The Contest.

If you haven’t seen the show, the plot is straightforward.  Four computer geeks decide to start their own company, with a product based on an advanced compression algorithm one of them has developed.  The show is a satire of the Silicon Valley culture — drenched in cash, but also insisting that it is altruistically making the world a better place — and is chock full of memorable characters and scenes.  It’s about time we saw a lampooning of the technology/money culture in America, and this show really delivers — with a few detours into Satanism, American immigration policy, technology shows, billionaire egos, and some other sources of hilarity.

The principal actors on the show — Thomas Middleditch as the vomiting software genius, T.J. Miller as the brash and self-deluding Erlich, Martin Starr as the deadpan, Satan-worshipping Gilfoyle, Kumail Nanjiani as the acerbic Dinesh, and Zach Woods as the boring but capable Jared — are spot on in their depiction of nerds and geeks trying to find their way in the cash culture, and the rest of the cast is equally good.  The writing is terrific and sharp.  If you haven’t seen it, give it a try.

Animal Eyes

On the home stretch of this morning’s walk, as I moved along a section of Route 62 where there are woods on both sides of the road, two deer stood on the pavement while a car approached.  Fortunately, they crossed over without incident, and the car slid by.

Normally the deer would promptly vanish into the trees.  This time, though, the female stood, framed in the glow of a street light, and stared at me, her primal black eyes glittering in the lamplight.  It was unnerving — and suddenly I felt all of my senses on high alert, providing the kind of acute awareness of my surroundings not felt since I was in a movie theater with a high school date, conscious of every movement she made and trying to figure out whether they meant that she was receptive to holding hands.

The deer wasn’t watching to admire my walking form.  The only logical conclusion was a fawn was still on my side of the road, and the mother deer was waiting and watching to make sure they were reunited.  If so, that meant I needed to get out of the area without confronting Bambi, or the two deer might come down on me in an unpleasant New Albany version of When Animals Attack.  So I listened carefully, sniffed the air and smelled the lingering musky odor of the two deer that had passed, kept one eye out for the mother and the other for the child, and kept moving ahead at a steady pace.  The mother watched me the whole way.

My primitive senses aren’t very sharp, because I never saw the fawn, but after I passed I turned back to see what was happening.  Sure enough, the mother crossed the road again, and a small deer emerged from hiding right where I had passed.  The mother sensed my presence and turned and stared at me again with those intense, wild eyes.  I decided it was wise to move along.

Book Reviewers Needed!

If you’re interested in reading and interested in writing, and you’d like to get a chance to exercise those two passions and see the fruits of your efforts in print, I’ve got an opportunity for you!

The Ohioana Library Association is looking for new book reviewers for the Ohioana Quarterly, our flagship publication.  Since 1958 the Quarterly has been publishing articles, interviews, books reviews, and other useful information about Ohio writers and poets.  The Quarterly is distributed to Ohioana members — which include a number of Ohio public libraries — and the book reviews are at the core of the Quarterly‘s appeal for readers who want to keep track of the work of favorite Ohio authors, and well as up-and-coming writers from the Buckeye State.

As any faithful reader of our blog knows, I think Ohioana a wonderful organization, and a chance to write reviews for the Quarterly is a great opportunity for book lovers.  If you’re interested, call Stephanie Michaels, Ohioana’s librarian, at 614-466-3831.

The Green, Green Grass Of Home

IMG_6279Normally, by July 20 we would be well into the brown-out season.  After the wet spring months, a Midwestern summer would bring broiling temperatures and lots of sunshine, and only the constant waterers might avoid the telltale browning of their lawns.

This year, though, there isn’t a sign of grassy distress anywhere you look.  We’ve had such cool, damp, New England-like weather — this morning, for example, we’ve got temperatures in the 60s and some fog — that everybody’s yard looks like Ireland.  Even the most inattentive lawn-minder (and I would definitely put myself in that category) can feel proud of their lush, bright green yards.

One Million Excuses

That’s the title of the new blog by the Biking Brewer’s better half.  You can find it here.

She’s off to a good start, because the imaginative title of her new WordPress blog already blows ours out of the water.   I figure that anyone who somehow has managed to put up with the Biking Brewer’s antics for such an extraordinarily long time is bound to have some compelling observations about life, marriage, family matters, the world, and — presumably — patience.

Sure enough, her blog is well worth reading.  And, given her close proximity to the BB, I’m anticipating that there will be lots for her to talk about in the future, too.

Jackie, welcome to the blogging community!

The Costs Of A Porous Border

We’re learning more about the costs — direct and indirect — of the mass influx of unaccompanied minors and other illegal immigrants across our southwestern border, and the news is becoming more and more concerning.

At a closed-door briefing with members of Congress earlier this week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson disclosed some of the direct costs.   According to members of Congress who attended, Johnson said the federal government is spending between $250 and $1,000 per day, per child, to house and feed the minors.  When you are talking about more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors already in the country and needing assistance — and U.S. officials predicting that another 30,000 will cross the border by September — you don’t need a calculator to see that the ongoing and future costs are enormous.

As everyone knows, our federal government is cash-strapped.  Some people may say we’ve been racking up huge budget deficits for years, and these costs will add just a little bit more to those deficits.  That reaction ignores the reality of our financial situation.  Every dollar of our deficit is financed through the issuance of U.S. government bonds and notes.  Do we really want to have to issue more bonds and notes to pay for these services, and pledge the full faith and credit of our country for them?  With our current budget situation, the inescapable reality is that we will be borrowing more in the future to pay the interest on these bonds and notes — which means that we’ll be paying directly out of pocket for our border problems for years to come.

There are indirect costs as well.  The U.S. government can’t house all of these minors on military bases, and already we’re seeing governors and mayors raising questions about whether these minors are coming to their states and communities — where they will need more housing, and food, and medical care, and attention.  Who will pay for it?  The NIMBY (not in my back yard) phenomenon is in full swing.  Pennsylvania’s governor has expressed concern about whether the illegal immigrants have infectious diseases, says there should be enough room on military bases in Texas and Arizona to house them, and wonders how he will pay for the needed services if they are sent to Pennsylvania.  Officials in other states are saying that the federal government has resettled some of the immigrants in their states without providing adequate notice to local authorities.  And officials in cities as far away from the border as New Bedford, Massachusetts are concerned that an influx of impoverished, non-English-speaking immigrants will further strain governmental and school budgets that are already stretched to the breaking point.

Massachusetts sheriff recently said, “we are all border states now.”  There’s some truth to that.  It’s becoming increasingly clear that our porous border is creating huge problems for communities and states across the country.  As we figure out how to deal with these unaccompanied minors, we also need to pay attention to the root cause of the problem — a border that sometimes seems to be little more than a line on a map.  We can’t afford to pay $250 or $1,000 a day to care for every child that crosses illegally into our country, and we also can’t afford the security risks of a border that permits them (and adults, too) to do so.  The Obama Administration and Congress need to figure out how to close that border and do it before the costs and consequences become overwhelming.

Things Have Changed, And Not For The Better

Peggy Noonan has a nice — and thought-provoking — piece in today’s on-line Wall Street Journal about Harry Truman after his presidency ended entitled “Politics in the Modest Age.”  I urge you to read it, but the basic thrust is this:  Truman didn’t cash in.

He had been president for almost eight years, had brought World War II to a close, and had presided over the Marshall Plan; he had issued executive orders, launched into the Korean War, and guided the federal government during the first crises of the Cold War.  He was an ordinary man who had been a fine President, and after his term ended he tried to go back to an ordinary life.  He returned to Missouri and lived with his beloved wife, Bess, highly conscious of not being perceived as trading on his office or his service to the nation.

Contrast Truman’s humble approach 60 years ago to the prevailing approach today, where ex-President and ex-Senators and ex-Cabinet members make millions by giving hour-long speeches, serving on boards, and writing biographies that receive huge advances.  The culture of cash goes deep: just yesterday Politico reported that Jay Carney, President Obama’s former press secretary, received a “signing bonus” to join a speakers bureau where he could earn up to $100,000 per speech; he’s entertaining job offers and has hired a Washington, D.C. “super lawyer” to negotiate any deals.  What does it tell you when even the President’s flack can leave office and be showered with money?

We could use more Harry Trumans and less money-grubbers in Washington, D.C.

The Guy In The Horse Head Mask

On a recent visit to Denver, President Obama shook hands with a guy wearing a horse head mask.  The photo of the incident is weird, and it will find its place in the ever-growing photo album of weird presidential events, like President Nixon’s meeting with Elvis and President Carter’s ill-fated encounter with the killer rabbit.

Apparently, wearing a horse head mask is some kind of bizarre internet meme that traces its roots to an inexplicable and disturbing Japanese anime character.  Who knew? 

Of course, it’s shocking that the Secret Service would allow any masked individual — much less a horse-masked individual — to get within handshake distance of the President, but let’s leave that aside and think about the guy wearing the mask instead.  Why wear a horse mask when you are shaking the hand of the President?  Even if you were just wearing it as a matter of course on your stroll around Denver when the President’s entourage happened by, wouldn’t you remove the mask before shaking the President’s hand?  If you specifically brought the horse mask because you knew where the President was going to be walking — which also would mean a security lapse, by the way — then you were obviously doing it as a disrespectful razz on the President.  But, why a horse mask rather than a sign?  What meaningful message is sent when you wear a horse mask when greeting a politician?  Are you just indicating that it’s all a joke?

As for the President . . . well, this incident didn’t turn out to do anything more than produce a weird and somewhat embarrassing photo.  In the future, though, I hope he would have the judgment and good sense to avoid physical contact with mask-wearing people or other oddball types.  A guy wearing a horse mask is probably capable of just about anything, and reaching out to shake his hand when there are plenty of other, normally attired individuals available seems like a bad decision.

JT’s At Taste Of Worthington

If you live in Worthington or nearby — I’m thinking of you, Dr. Science and Mike N! — I encourage you to get to the Taste of Worthington 2014 tonight.

IMG_2427Our nephew Joe and his business, JT’s Pizza, will be at the Festival, serving up some of delectable assortment of pizzas and other goodies.  Joe has worked hard to come up with a diverse menu and is always experimenting with new options; like any smart restauranteur he focuses on serving high-quality food to his customers.

UJ, who isn’t normally given to overstatement except when praising the talents of his brother, has unambiguously declared the JT’s Pizza Philly Cheese Steak sandwich “the BEST Philly Cheese Steak sandwich I’ve ever tasted in my lifetime.”  It is pretty darned good, and while you’re gobbling it or one of Joe’s other tasty offerings you can smack your lips, savor the flavor, and feel good about the fact that you’re also supporting a locally owned and managed business.

The Taste of Worthington kicks off at 5:30 tonight in the parking area of the OfficeScape Corporate Center, 350 West Wilson Bridget Road, and goes until 10 p.m.

Shooting Down A Commercial Jet Is Unforgivable

I’m not going to leap to conclusions about the terrible downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet, and I’m not going to rush to judgment about what caused the disaster.  Nor am I going to heap criticism on President Obama, as some have, for not saying more about the incident after he learned of it.  With an incident was awful as this, we can and should take the time to determine the true facts before assigning blame and taking action.

I will say this, however — if it is determined that pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists did shoot down the plane with a missile, it is one of the worst, most unforgivable crimes imaginable.  Hundreds of people from a number of different nations boarded this particular jet in Amsterdam, headed to Kuala Lumpur.  They didn’t know that boarding an international flight that was just like countless others would be their doom.  The jet flew through peaceful airspace, where there had been no warning of any danger.  The people on the plane were absolutely defenseless against an attack.  Anyone who would shoot down a plane under those circumstances — even if it was a case of mistaken identity — simply does not deserve to live in the modern, civilized world.

If a missile attack in fact occurred, whoever was responsible for this outrage must be punished, and the punishment should come from every nation that had citizens aboard that jet.  If Ukrainian separatists were the culprits, then the United States should side with the Ukrainian government and do whatever it can to defeat the separatists, learn who perpetrated this act, bring them to justice, and see that they are appropriately punished.  If Russia wants to be accepted as a responsible figure on the international scene, it should do likewise — and so should every other country that has an international airport.

I’m tired of mealy-mouthed responses to criminal, terrorist acts that demand swift and sure action.  If commercial jets can be shot from the skies without fear of prompt and painful retribution, then the world has become a grimmer, darker place.  We simply cannot permit such acts to go unpunished.  Let’s get the facts, get them quickly, and then take meaningful steps against whoever perpetrated this awful crime.

The Dog Barf Punishment

I sort of anticipated it.

When you’ve worked a full day and then decided, just for the hell of it, to go out for a beer with your colleagues after work — for the first time in years, mind you — you should expect that the Fates will discipline you.  So as I returned home, still savoring that most enjoyable after-work libation and chat with JV and the Unkempt Guy, knowing that two starving dogs would be waiting at the front door barking their famished heads off, I was wary.

IMG_2426But, dog barf?  A pool of dog barf on the family room carpet?  I guess I expected to suffer for my small transgression from accepted forms of responsible adult behavior, but isn’t dog barf a bit . . . harsh?  Does having a beer after work really merit finding yourself on your hands and knees on the family room carpet, hosing down the vile puddle with “spot clean avenger” and trying to mop it up with a rag before it leaves a permanent stain?

And, did you ever think about the sheer wonder of dog vomit?  After all, our dogs will eat, lick, smell, or otherwise consume the most appalling and foully odiferous objects, smears, and substances.  Our two dogs have the most cast-iron digestive systems imaginable.  What could be so repulsive that it would cause them to hurl?  My God, what could they possibly have eaten while I was gone?

So now I walk gingerly around the house, wondering whether Penny tried to chew the upholstery on the chair in the study or Kasey gnawed the knob off one of the kitchen cabinets and whether there is an even more disgusting surprise lurking somewhere in the house.

Still, the after-dinner beer was worth it.

Counting On The Alien Life Discovery Game-Changing Effect

In Gaza, Palestinians and Israelis are lobbing rockets and missiles at each others’ homes.  In Syria and Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites are murdering and beheading each other.  In Africa, Boko Haram continues its campaign of religious-based slaughter and kidnapping.  In central Asia, sectarian and tribal animosities have produced a wave of bombings and violence.  And in central America, conditions apparently are so bad that tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors have traveled hundreds of miles in a bid to cross the border into the U.S.

That’s why the best news of the last week was the announcement by NASA scientists that they believe that, within 20 years, humans will be able to confirm the existence of alien life.  They believe that current telescope technology, and new devices like the Transiting Exoplanet Surveying Satellite that will launch in 2017 and the James Webb Space Telescope that will launch in 2018, will allow us to detect the presence of liquid water and indications of life on other moons and planets in our solar system and elsewhere in the universe.  Could the scientists be wrong?  Certainly . . . but the rapid advancements in planet discoveries and related detection technologies make their prediction plausible.

Science fiction writers have long posited that the discovery of alien life would have a unifying effect on the fractured world of humanity.  Such a discovery, they theorize, would cause humans to realize that the tribal, ethnic, religious, and political differences between them are trivial in comparison to the differences between humans and other intelligent life forms.  The ancient animosities would end and all of humanity would band together and venture out into the galaxy on vehicles like the starship Enterprise.

Is it really possible that a discovery that humans are not alone might have such a game-changing effect?  It seems far-fetched that anything could alter the benighted mindsets of religious fanatics who want to enslave women or restore medieval caliphates, or penetrate the rigid ideologies of people who cling to tribal or sectarian hatreds that are centuries old.  But, after decades of experience, we know that other approaches — like countless peace talks, the toppling of governments, the expenditure of billions of dollars in aid and training and infrastructure improvement, and the issuance of toothless UN Security Council resolutions — don’t get at the core problems.

Sure, counting on the alien discovery game-changing effect may be pinning our hopes on an improbable scenario.  As we read about an angry and bitterly divided world, however, it may be all we’ve got.

That Hangdog Expression

IMG_2421Kish is up visiting family in Vermilion, and without her around Penny and Kasey think the house has gone to the dogs.  They obviously miss her, which is why they’ve got that hangdog expression. 

I thought some exercise might shake them out of their torpor, but our brisk afternoon walk just left them dog-tired.  Rather than trying again, I’m just going to let them dog it for the rest of the day.

Will 24 Live Another Season?

24 Live Another Day wrapped up Monday night.  It was a pretty good season in my view — I also happily ended up tied for first in our 24 Death Pool at work — and now the question is whether Jack Bauer will be back for another season.

(Spoiler alert!)  The writers and producers of 24 have a love-hate relationship with Jack Bauer.  They love to let him kill bad guys, but they put him through hell.  Over the years, Jack has lost countless family members, friends, romantic interests, and supporters to death or estrangement.  At one point in the finale, Chloe O’Brian aptly remarks that she’s just about the last friend Jack has.  This season continued that trend — Jack’s former lover, Audrey, is killed by an assassin and her father, President Heller, one of the few people in the U.S. government who doesn’t view Jack as a rogue quasi-terrorist, has rapidly progressing Alzheimer’s and will soon forget all about him.  After Jack hears about Audrey, he pulls out a revolver and briefly considers suicide; fortunately, he decides instead to use it to kill dozens of bad guys before beheading this year’s uber-villain.

This year’s season shows that 24 still has legs.  The ratings have been solid if not spectacular, and the plot line was action-packed and appropriately pushed the envelope on the plot twist believability scale without venturing into the absurdly incredible developments of past seasons, when cougars roamed the wilds of southern California and a nuclear bomb detonated over the Mojave Desert.  Chloe continued to explore new technological frontiers, this year being able to turn a small satellite dish antenna into a device that could detect the heat signatures of every human on a ship, display them in a nifty color graphic, and direct Jack on where and when to shoot them.  True 24 fans watch the show as much to chuckle at Chloe’s technological awesomeness as to watch Jack knock out, hoodwink, and cold-bloodedly murder scores of terrorists and henchmen.

The season’s storyline ended well-positioned for another season, if the network and creative team want to do it.  Jack trades himself to the Russians to free Chloe and ends up in a helicopter, bound for Moscow and the gentle ministrations of Russians who was revenge for Jack’s past actions.  A new season of the show therefore could go just about anywhere.  If they make it, I’ll watch it.  

A Day When It All Goes To Hell

It had been a perfectly good day.  A productive day at work, pleasantly mild weather, a nice walk back to my car.  And that’s when the trouble started and the star-crossed day really began.

The car wouldn’t start.  It was completely dead.  Kish was out of town, and I had to get back home and feed and walk the dogs.  But how?  It was too late to catch a bus, even if I had known which bus to catch.  My friends had all left work.  It’s too far to walk, too.  So a cab was the only option.

My cab driver had possibly — possibly — lived in Columbus for a month.  I directed him to take the fastest way back, following the freeways, but because he didn’t know where the hell he was going he kept it well below the speed limit.  It was the slowest cab ride I’ve ever experienced.  A little old lady zipped by in an Oldsmobile and gave us the finger.  I’m not sure, but I think we may have been passed by a toddler on a tricycle. 

Approximately three days and a hefty fare later, I walked to my front door to be greeted by two frantic dogs.  I fed them and decided not to change before walking them, but Kasey elected to have an accident just to teach me a lesson for getting home so late, anyway.  After cleaning that up and doing the poop patrol duty, then restraining two wildly barking and lunging dogs from attacking a clearly worried woman who was walking a tiny furball, we returned home.

The icemaker picked that time to jam, and when I opened the freezer door to investigate the problem one metric ton of ice fell to the floor, fractured into tiny splinters, and had to be swept up.  The first wine glass I picked from the cabinet had a big crack in it, and when I turned to get a new one Penny knocked my plate of food off the counter.

It was the kind of day that made our remote ancestors decide that alcohol needed to be invented.