About webnerbob

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

The Doctor’s Park

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Vancouver’s Chinatown has probably seen better days.  It’s right next door to the street where there are throngs of homeless people, vagrants, beggars, and other vaguely menacing types, and many of them apparently wander over to the Chinatown district — giving it a distinctly seedy, low-rent feel.

There is, however, a small oasis of peace, quiet, and beauty in Vancouver’s Chinatown.  It’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park.  With its water lilies, small pagoda, bamboo shoots, and picturesque trees, it is a fine place to sit.  Dr. Sun — who helped to overthrow the Qing dynasty and found the Republic of China — no doubt would be proud.

Sky And Sea

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There is a float plane dock across the street from our hotel in Vancouver. When I was down at wharfside this afternoon one of the planes taxied along the water, reached skimming speed, then took off over the top of one of the freighters in the Burrard Inlet. Very cool, and fun to watch — although I’m not sure I’d want to be one of the passengers.

Seagull Sound

I was up early this morning, trying to adapt to the Eastern-to-Pacific time zone change. It was black outside as I worked to get my mobile devices connected so I could catch up on the Eastern time zone world.

As the pre-dawn darkness turned to a dim and overcast gray, I heard the cry of a seagull. It’s a unique combination of high-pitched squeal and squawk that immediately tells you that you are very near a large body of water — in this case, English Bay, Burrard Inlet, and the Straits of Georgia, the principal bodies of water on which Vancouver sits. That seagull sound is one of those sounds that is so closely identified with a location that, when you hear it, you can almost smell the sharp tang of salt water and the wafting odor of seaweed decaying on shoreline rocks.

For this landlocked Midwesterner, who doesn’t have to deal with the less pleasant aspects of oceanic birds, the sound of a seagull is a welcome, pleasing sound. I sat for a while at the predawn minutes ticked by, listening to the seagull cries and the sound of the water slapping against the dock below and watching the birds wheel over the bay.

On The Pacific Rim

IMG_20140422_214024 We’ve finally reached Vancouver after a hard day’s travel that included flights to Seattle through Detroit, a multi-hour drive up the congested Route 5, and an inadvertent foray through Vancouver’s apparently immense homeless\skid row area. But we made it to the Fairmont Pacific Rim, which has a pretty nice view of the harbor and the mountains beyond.

What To Do With E-Cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are becoming more popular. The battery-powered tubes that produce flavored, nicotine-laced vapor have millions of users world-wide and are generating billions of dollars in sales — so much that tobacco companies are getting into the business. One of the users is Russell, who has turned to e-cigarettes as an alternative to tobacco.

What’s up with these devices? I’m surprised to find that, in the United States, there’s little regulation of the marketing or sale of e-cigarettes at the federal level, and there’s not much in the way of data about their health effects. In some states, for example, e-cigarettes can be sold to minors and some of the candy-oriented flavors and marketing techniques seem geared toward luring young people into a nicotine habit. No one seems quite sure, either, about the health effects of inhaling the mixture of nicotine, flavoring, and propylene glycol — a common additive that is used products like salad dressing and soft drinks. Eating propylene glycol has been studied, but inhaling its heated vapor in combination with nicotine apparently is a wild card.

For me, the big question is whether e-cigarettes are a gateway or an exit. Restrictions on sales to minors and marketing and product schemes designed to entice them seem like sensible steps, and of course we need to determine whether e-cigarettes can cause significant health problems. I’d also be interested in studying exactly who uses the devices, and for what purpose. If e-cigarettes are being used by tobacco smokers as a means of ratcheting down their addictive habit on the way to quitting entirely — as I’m hoping is the case with Russell — I’m all in favor of making them available for that purpose.

The Brady Bunch

Today my eyes passed over a website referenced to the Bundy Ranch, where ranchers and the federal government had a weird standoff about western land use.

Unfortunately for me, my quick scan initially read “Bundy Ranch” to be “Brady Bunch,” so the insipid Brady Bunch theme song started playing in my head and I was beset by images of the chipper Bradys — Carol and Mike, Greg and Marcia, grinning, head-bobbing Alice, and the two little kids that nobody cared about except for the fact that the little girl was “the youngest one in curls.”

My sisters loved The Brady Bunch and idolized Marcia, so we had to watch the show on our one TV set. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stand the Bradys, their ludicrous, squeaky clean children, their boring split-level suburban life, and the absurd scenarios that passed for plots. I’d managed to put the whole unpleasant thing out of my mind, but clearly it was lurking there, brooding just below the surface, ready to bubble into my consciousness when I misread “Bundy Ranch.”

Prior to today I really hadn’t read or thought much much about the Bundy Ranch incident. Now I know that I will studiously avoid any news coverage about the matter, because as soon as I read the word “Bundy Ranch” the musical loop of “Here’s the story . . . of a man named Brady . . .” will begin again. Arrgh!

The Illusion Of Presumed Competence

Whenever we board an airplane or a boat, or enter a bus or a taxi, we’re presuming that the captain or driver knows what he or she is doing. We assume that they are fully trained, knowledgeable, competent, and indeed expert in their field — that they are all like C.B. Sullinger, the heroic airline pilot who coolly landed his crippled aircraft on the Hudson River a few years ago, allowing all of the passengers to be rescued.

That’s why it’s so jarring when we read disturbing stories about events like the catastrophic sinking of the South Korea ferry, which seems to have been mishandled in just about every way imaginable. When the accident occurred the boat was being steered by a third mate who had never navigated those waters, and the captain wasn’t even on the bridge. Transcripts of conversations between the boat and a boat traffic facility on shore indicate that the crew was panicky and confused about what to do with the passengers when the boat began to list, and the captain unwisely told passengers to stay inside the boat as it began to take on water, rather than come to the deck and evacuate. Worst of all, the captain was one of the first off the boat, in violation of a South Korea law that required him to stay aboard until all passengers were off the ship.

We presume that the people who have our lives in their hands are competent because it’s a necessary rationalization and mental defense mechanism. If we are taking a ferry ride in a foreign country, boarding a bus to see a ball game, or ducking into a cab at a busy airport, we can’t realistically check the qualifications and past performance of the captain or the driver — so we assume that somebody else has done it and that the person wouldn’t be in that position if they didn’t measure up. Sometimes, that assumption is unwarranted.

The next time I get into a cab, I’m going to be sure to fasten my seat belt.

Once More Into The Same Age Interlude

As of today, for the next two months, I am the same age as my older brother. Of course, when I saw him this afternoon he taunted me about it, as brothers must. It’s an annual rite.

00019762We were born 10 months apart, back in the ’50s during the Baby Boom, when hospitals were overloaded with newborns and every family was growing like crazy. He was the spindly one and I was the beefy porker. He was the well-behaved one who would pose politely for a photo with a smelly goat at a cheap petting zoo, and I was the Curly-lookalike who wrinkled my nose at the odor and wandered away as fast as I could waddle.

Having a brother so close in age has its good points and its bad points. The principal good point is that he went through everything right before I did, and if there were barriers to be broken he did the breaking so I could sail through clear. And, of course, we spent a lot of time together and both grew up cursed with loyalty to Cleveland sports teams, so I had someone to commiserate with when the inevitable sports disasters occurred. The principal bad point is that now virtually everyone thinks that I’m the older brother — and its not even a close question — while skinny, black-haired UJ is the youngster.

So it will be, again, until June 19 when UJ celebrates number 58. I’ll kid him about it when it happens, as brothers must.

Mixology 101ers

IMG_1914Last night we had dinner with friends and our hosts had a surprise for our merry HJ band: they invited a bartender to teach our group how to make drinks. It made an already great evening into a riotous one.

Our bartender, an outgoing young woman named Charity Justman, gave us a funny, soup-to-nuts overview that started with wrestling pour spouts into bottles and ended with sage advice on tipping techniques that will improve the service you get in a public bar. She taught us how to do a professional bartender’s pour without using a shot glass (it’s all in the “one and two, three and four” cadence), showed us how to shake, muddle, mix and pour our concoctions, and clued us in on the language of bartending — a lot of which includes sexual references. We all got to serve as the “bar back” and the bartender, make a complicated drink, and then sample small portions of our reasonably well-prepared libations. At one point our hardworking crew donned unique sunglasses for a picture.

There’s more to bartending than the uninitiated would think, and learning about the craft from a friendly and patient pro like Charity is a lot of fun. If you’re looking for something different to do during your next dinner party in Columbus, you can reach her at http://www.facebook.com/YourTravelingBartender.

Why You Don’t Burn Your Bridges

Prince had a long and successful career with Warner Bros records. The records and singles, like Purple Rain and Raspberry Beret, that catapulted the musician to international stardom all appeared on the Warner Bros label.

The partnership between Prince and Warner Bros ended badly. Prince felt that the label was too controlling and resented the fact that he didn’t own the rights to his own songs, so he started referring to himself as a slave, adopted a weird symbol for his stage name, and became known as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” Along the way, he released some uninspired music and his popularity dropped — and when his Warner Bros contract ended and he started to record on his own label, the damage was done. Although diehard fans, like Richard, might argue the point, most observers believe that Prince’s fight with Warner Bros had a lasting negative impact on his career and his musical significance.

This week, Prince announced that he was re-signing with the Warner Bros label, which will release a new album and an anniversary edition of Purple Rain. As part of the deal, Prince will acquire ownership of the master tapes he made during his prior tenure at the label, so he apparently achieved what he sought by his stand on principle.

I’ve always believed that it is ill-advised to burn your bridges — whether it is with employers, co-workers, or friends. Rather than sinking into acrimony that might forever poison your relationship with people, why not suck it up, behave professionally, and depart to your new position with class? You never know when the wheel might turn and you might need to work once again with the employer or colleague you publicly maligned.

Maybe Prince’s bitter split with Warner Bros didn’t affect his creativity — although it’s hard to imagine that the bad blood didn’t at least distract him from his music — but it certainly changed the public perception of him and made him the butt of a lot of jokes. Now that he’s back with Warner Bros, was it all worth it?

The Psychology Of The Two-Urinal Rule

Every guy knows this basic rule about the use of a public bathroom: if someone else is using one of the bank of urinals, you need to choose a location that leaves at least one urinal between you and the other user. It’s one of those social conventions that is so widely accepted that you really notice a breach.

This week The Atlantic has a fascinating article about the psychology of the two-urinal rule and other phobias and taboos about the use of public bathrooms. I was unaware, for example, that there was a formal name for the condition that causes people to have anxiety about using a public bathroom to do “number one” — it’s called paruresis — and that affects about 20 million Americans to some extent or another. (The analogous condition about “number two,” called parcopresis, is far less common.)

IMG_4196Interestingly, men seem to be more troubled about use of public bathrooms than are women, and the free-standing, out-in-the-open urinal apparently is a significant part of the problem. Studies show that men worry that they are being watched while they are standing there doing their business, whereas women — safely seated in a flimsy yet shielded stall as they answer the imperative — tend to worry more about cleanliness and comfort. Some men’s rooms are now being designed with partitions between individual urinals to try to address the perceived privacy problem.

The article notes that, even in our wide-open culture, there are still many taboos and rigid behavioral norms about using a public bathroom — even though the notion of privacy while excreting is a fairly recent development in the long history of humans. We tend not to talk to anyone when we are inside. We don’t make eye contact with other users, and in fact strive to maintain a state of studied indifference to their very existence. And, of course, we do our best to ignore the sights, smells, and physical conditions in the bathroom and the fact that the facilities are being used by complete strangers for unpleasant but essential bodily functions.

If you use public bathrooms all the time, you incorporate these norms and obey them, accept the fact of bodily imperatives, and forget about it. For some people, that’s harder than for others. So if the guy ahead of you in the line for a urinal at the next Browns game seems to be taking a while, give him a break — he’s probably doing his best while dealing with the weight of some deep-seated psychological issues.

The At The Airport At The End Of A Long Day Roundelay

IMG_20140417_211130I’m at the airport, sad to say
I sing the airport roundelay

I left before the dawn’s first ray
Long hours ago, to my dismay

I’m at the end of a long day
At which I’ve had all work, no play

The seating area has a strong bouquet
The guy next door brought Chipotle

I’m hoping there’s no flight delay
Were I religious, for that I’d pray

So don’t tell me of travel’s cachet
I sing the airport roundelay

Elimination Diets And The Value Of Beans

The latest diet trend, apparently, is the “elimination diet.” I say “apparently” because it’s impossible for an average person to stay on top of dietary fads. Is “juicing” still hot, or have we moved on to the “Dukan diet” or some other variation?

An “elimination diet” is one in which the dieter stops consuming entire categories of foods — say, eggs and dairy products — for a few weeks, to see whether the dietary change causes some positive change in their body condition. If you’ve got a chronic sour stomach or embarrassing gastrointestinal tendencies, maybe ceasing your gluten or nut consumption might help. And, as is always the case with this kind of diet topic, there are enthusiastic proponents of the elimination diet concept who swear that it has dramatically changed their lives for the better.

It’s hard for me to believe that any person who is paying attention isn’t aware of the eventual bodily impact of certain foods. I know that if I eat carryout Chinese food it will suck every ounce of moisture from my body and cause me to wake up the next morning with a mouthful of salt. I know that if I eat chili with beans for lunch my co-workers will want me to stay out of elevators for the rest of the day. I don’t think I need to eliminate entire categories of food to figure out the cause-and-effect chain.

Speaking of beans, they highlight one other problem with the “elimination diet.” A recent study has concluded that eating beans, peas, and other legumes lowers “bad cholesterol,” which is a cardiovascular health marker. In view of the fact that we are regularly bombarded with studies that provide us with often conflicting information about the health effects of eating certain foods — and always at precise portion sizes — how are you supposed to know if your elimination diet has cut out the magical food that might help you avoid a crippling heart attack or diabetes?

I’ve lived long enough to have seen the “food pyramid” revised once or twice, been exposed to countless studies about foods, and seen diet fads go from Scarsdale to Beverly Hills and back again. I’m convinced that if you want to stay trim, the formula is simple — consume in moderation, avoid too many sweets, and get plenty of exercise. For most of us, however, it’s not the plan that’s the problem, it’s the execution.