Walking and driving around town, we saw signs of the storm’s aftermath everywhere. Gates knocked off their hinges, tree limbs everywhere, and debris in roadway — it will be good to get back to normal.
When awful news happens, and bad news strikes again and again, and events are buffeting the little world around you, you feel powerless. Now Mother Nature has decided to take that figurative feeling and turn it into literal reality.
A huge and violent thunderstorm cell blew through Columbus last night, and it has knocked out the power grid for wide swaths of the area. The storm blew down trees and branches and felled power lines, and we’ve now been without power since 5 p.m. last night.
This period of powerlessness is unheard of — and it also shows how spoiled we’ve become. A few hours sweltering in a hot house on a summer’s day, and you’d think from the complaining that we’d been asked to endure the unendurable. We’ll have some spoiled food, and some time without Internet access, and earlier bedtimes than normal. No big deal, really.
Still, I must confess that when I entered an air-conditioned room this afternoon I did breathe an audible sigh of satisfaction.
I haven’t yet read the Supreme Court opinions issued on the constitutionality of the “health care reform” act. From news reports, I understand that the 5-4 majority characterized the individual mandate as a tax and therefore within Congress’ constitutional power.
Because I haven’t read the opinions, I can’t comment on their merits. One result of the Court’s action, however, is that the stakes for the upcoming election will be both heightened and sharpened. Almost immediately after the ruling, I received emails from the Democratic Party and its candidates lauding the decision and the act it upheld. From the Republican side of the aisle came commitments to repeal the statute and expressions of concern about the increasing role of government.
Since the days of the Revolutionary War, American history is full of debates about fundamental questions that were resolved through the political process and at the ballot box. I’d rather have the focus of this year’s election be on the role of the federal government and the merits of the “health care reform” statute than on ginned-up issues like the investments made by Bain Capital when Mitt Romney worked there.
Voters now know far more about the “health care reform” statute than we did when it was being pushed through Congress in a process characterized by hastily written language, backroom deals, and votes cast by members who hadn’t even read the bill before them. We’ve seen actual actions taken by the federal government pursuant to the statute — including the regulations that have upset the Catholic church and other religious groups — and we know the funding mechanism for the statute is properly viewed as a broad tax.
As a result, the debate to come will be far more concrete than the debate that occurred several years ago — and the voters will decide who wins that debate. That is a good thing.
Today the outdoor temperature in Columbus hit the triple digits. According to the outside thermometer in my car, we got as high as 101 degrees, Fahrenheit.
I was feeling kind of sorry for myself and the rest of the overcooked residents of Ohio’s capital city until I talked to some folks in St. Louis and learned that, there, it was supposed to hit 106 degrees today and 109 degrees tomorrow. 109 degrees! It sounds like part of a recipe, the setting on a sextant, or a section of the instructions on how to locate a distant galaxy in the evening sky, rather than part of the daily weather report.
I normally don’t really mind hot weather, but when the mercury hits 100 or more the nature of the heat seems to assume an almost physical dimension. When I stepped out of my car at a gas station this afternoon, the wall of heat hit me like a fist. When I drove home tonight at about 8:45, with the sun hanging low on the horizon, it was still 95 degrees. I can’t imagine trying to sleep tonight in a room that isn’t air-conditioned — I don’t care how many fans might be running.
On Tuesday I witnessed the bravest, hardest, kindest and most loving of decisions be made. I spent the day with my friend at the local hospital where his wife of 48 years had been admitted in the morning and was with him in the afternoon when he told the doctor to take her off the machines that were keeping her (technically) alive. She survived only a few minutes afterwards. God bless them both.
The latest Conference Board measurement of consumer confidence is out. It recorded another decline, marking the fourth straight month the index fell, and surprised experts who’d predicted a smaller drop in consumer confidence.
I’m skeptical about efforts to measure consumer confidence in a country as large and diverse as America. I wasn’t consulted. Were any of our readers? (How about a show of hands?) And the only surprising thing, really, is that economic experts would be surprised about their inability to forecast something as unpredictable as consumer sentiment. Economists are almost always wrong in their predictions. Why do you think Thomas Carlyle called economics “the dismal science”? The weather forecast on my iPhone AccuWeather forecast is far more reliable than the musings of out-of-touch economists.
No one in the real world is surprised that consumer confidence is slipping. Economists do things like measure whether rates of decline in one month are smaller than the rates of decline in the prior month, and conclude that things are getting better. People in the real world don’t think that way — we just see that decline is continuing. Where’s the cause for optimism that significant job creation will finally start in this recession that has lingered for almost four years now?
Sometime this week, the city of Stockton, California will file for bankruptcy. I’m sure the people of Stockton — all 300,000 of them — are a bit bewildered by their current grim reality.
Not too long ago, Stockton was on the move. It built a new marina and hotel and promenade to attract tourists. It built vast tracts of housing in an effort to lure bargain-hunting workers from the Bay Area. It offered generous pay and benefits to its workers, including allowing them to retire at age 55.
Then the crash came. The vast tracts of housing sit largely vacant, and Stockton has the second-highest foreclosure rate in the country. The hoped-for boom in tourism and convention traffic never materialized. Stockton boasts the second-highest rate of violent crime in California and a 17.5 percent unemployment rate. The city has been cutting payroll for years, including a 25 percent cut in the police force and a 30 percent cut in the fire department payroll. Public employee pay and benefits have been reduced. Yet still the city faces a $26 million budget deficit and $417 million in liability for retirees’ health care. When mediation talks with public employee unions and creditors failed, bankruptcy became the only option.
If I lived in Stockton I’d have one question: how did city government fail so colossally? Stockton looks like one of those cities where bones were thrown to everyone: big dream city projects for the pro-development crowd, big pay and health care benefits and pensions for the public employee unions, big promises of progress and better days ahead for voters, and pats on the back and big salaries for city leaders. Now that it has turned to ashes, city residents are left in a crime-ridden, devastated city that has to do untenable things like totally eliminating healthcare benefits for city retirees.
I guess, therefore, I’d have a second question: where is the accountability for the city leaders who allowed the city to stroll, dream-like, into this predicament?
If you’ve been on planet Earth for a while, you’ve inevitably had to deal with death — and you have come to realize that it affects people differently, and they deal with it differently. There is no right or wrong way.
My first job out of college was writing obituaries for the Toledo Blade. In those days, the Blade treated obituaries as standard news stories, which meant the facts of the individual’s life and death, the names of survivors, and so forth had to be confirmed with a member of the decedent’s family. It was not exactly a job well-suited to a callow, arrogant youth. Some of the grieving family members I called to get the necessary information were so distraught and caught up in the rawness of their emotion they could barely speak, and I could feel the intensity of their pain through the phone line. Others were ready for my call and very pleasant and business-like as they rattled off the names of survivors and the dates and times of calling hours.
That job taught me that there is no one way to respond to the loss of a friend or loved one. (Being in heavily ethnic Toledo, where names like Czyzewski and Szilagyi were not uncommon, it also taught me the importance of double-checking spellings and careful proofreading. People who open their newspaper and see that the name of a decedent or survivor is misspelled can get very angry, indeed.)
Some people don’t want to dwell on their pain; they prefer to move on and try not to think about it. Others want to be by themselves, to wrestle with their mix of feelings and memories without having to put on a brave face for others. I prefer to be with others who are dealing with the same loss. I think there is a reason why, in many different cultures that developed at points across the globe, the deeply rooted tradition is for the community to come together to remember those who have gone on. For me, it’s better to share stories and laughs and experiences with like-minded people than to thrash about alone, obsessing about questions of cosmic unfairness that can never be satisfactorily answered.
I lost a good friend today, and the world is a meaner, sorrier place because of it.
Her name was Jocelyn Prewitt-Stanley. She died from complications related to the birth of her first child, Emmerson — a child that she and her husband Ted dearly wanted.
Jocelyn was a lawyer at our firm. I first worked with her when she was in our Cleveland office and had the misfortune to get a project from me. When she moved to Columbus a few years later, I began to work with her more and more. She was a fine trial lawyer, a hard worker, a good thinker, and a skilled advocate who was justifiably proud of the good results she achieved for clients. When I had to assemble a dedicated “core team” to work on matters for an important client, I chose Jocelyn because I knew she would do a great job — and she did.
Of course, being a good lawyer was only a tiny fraction of what made Jocelyn a wonderful person. No one should be defined solely by their work, and Jocelyn surely wasn’t. She possessed a deep and indefinable serenity — yet she also had one of the great guffaws you could ever hope to hear. She had a marvelous sense of humor, and when she became animated while telling a war story, the fingers on her hands splayed wide and her eyes lit up. She had a dazzling smile and a dazzling personality to match. She was active in charities and professional organizations. She loved dogs and happily advised me, all too frequently, on how to better train the canine miscreants of the Webner household.
After we had worked together on several occasions, Jocelyn asked me to be her mentor. I accepted with pleasure, and Jocelyn became the senior member of our merry band of mentees. Although I technically was the mentor, I’m quite confident that I learned far more from Jocelyn than she ever learned from me. I admired her candor and appreciated her trust, and was grateful for her patience as she listened to my side of the issues we discussed. She worked tirelessly to help me see things from a different perspective, and she succeeded. As I mentioned, she was a very effective advocate.
The world is a beautiful place, but it also can be inexpressibly cruel. When an occasion of great joy like the birth of a child arrives, it is unimaginable that death might also be lurking around the corner. Those of us who are religious may be able to find comfort in faith; the rest of us can only rail at the gross, cosmic injustice of a fate that snatches away a person like Jocelyn much, much, much too soon — and also be thankful that we had the privilege of getting to know her, even for a short period.
My heart breaks for the loss experienced by Ted, by Jocelyn’s family and Ted’s family, and most of all for the void left for little Emmerson, who will never get to know the mother who was so very ready to shower her new baby with all the love she could muster.
When the hot summer months hit — and they’ve definitely hit much of America, which is broiling under a hot sun and a stifling heat wave — our thoughts naturally turn to summer vacation. For most Americans, that means a trip to a beach, or a lake, or some other water-bound destination where swimming will be a big part of the vacation activities.
It didn’t use to be that way. Long ago, summer vacations were designed to get away from the heat, rather than seek it out. For many Americans, that meant going up into the mountains to enjoy the cool air and breathe deep the scent of pine.
Somewhere along the way, however, trips to the mountains were eclipsed by the lure of the sand and the scent of suntan lotion. That’s too bad. Speaking as someone who has just returned from a trip to the mountains in Whistler, British Columbia, I would recommend a mountain vacation to anyone.
Our trip to Whistler was beautiful and refreshing. The temperature during the day was in the 60s, and at night in the high 40s and low 50s. A morning walk was a brisk experience and chance to gulp down cool, fresh air. You could sleep at night with the windows open, and walk around during the day without becoming drenched in the sticky, cocoa butter-infused sweat of the beach.
With the emphasis on skin cancer and the aging effects of constant tanning, perhaps the summer trip to the mountains will make a comeback. The only downside I can see is the shock to the system when you land back home, walk outside, and gasp at your first encounter with the 90-degree wall of heat.
It was about 3:30 a.m. when the first phone call came. It jarred us awake from a deep sleep. As usual when you get a call in the middle of the night, you immediately think it’s some kind of family emergency. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.
No, it was a robotic voice giving us the happy news that our flight plans had to be changed. Half-asleep, my first reaction was: Whuh? The robot warmly advised that United had changed our booking so that we would fly to Columbus through Houston, and get in tomorrow morning. Tomorrow morning?
By now fully awake, I thought: Gee, thanks, United! So I went to the united.com website and confirmed that, sure enough, the first leg of our trip back was cancelled. Cancelled. Such grim finality in that word. Not like “Delayed,” where you retain a shred of hope that you might still be able to get through, somehow. No, “Cancelled” is like the clanging shut of the cell door on your first night at Shawshank Prison.
Fortunately, we booked through American Express Travel, so I had a helpful live human being to call. He looked at the situation, realized that there were non-United flights available, and came up with an alternative plan that is supposed to get us back tonight, although much later than originally planned.
So we went back to bed, slept fitfully, and now we’re off to the airport, hoping that further travel catastrophe doesn’t strike. A day of potential travel hell awaits.
On our walk through Gastown in Vancouver, we came across a store that sold this very evocative selection of hand soaps, among many other interesting items. I’m not sure I’d want to have hands that smelled like “Cat Butt” — or “Bitch Slap Those Germs,” for that matter — but the display window was good for a laugh.
A few days ago the annotated version of George Washington’s copy of the Constitution sole for nearly $10 million — $9,826,000, to be precise. That price was paid by the very genteel sounding Mt. Vernon Ladies’ Association.
That seems like a lot of money, until you start to think about it. This particular volume was published in 1789, and was prepared specifically for George Washington. George Washington! It’s nice to know that, not only did we once have leaders like George Washington, but they also read and carefully annotated their personal copies of the Constitution. (Of course, the linked article describes the book as being in almost pristine condition, which might mean that George Washington didn’t crack it for leisure reading all that often.)
Wouldn’t you love to know what George Washington wrote in his notes to various provisions of the Constitution? Did he have anything interesting to say about the Commerce Clause? What did he think would ultimately be the role of the Supreme Court? A book with George Washington’s notes on the Constitution would be some fascinating living history