A Year, Probably, Like Any Other

It’s December 31, which means the end of another year is upon us.  It’s traditional to reflect upon the year that is passing, and I’ve done that.  But the older I’ve gotten, the more I realize that the themes tend to be the same — because that’s just the way life is.

tsq_nyeve_2012We’ll remember 2015 as a year when we’ve lost some loved ones, but when new family members have been added through marriage.  Friends and colleagues have had good news and bad news on the personal health front.  We’ve seen some family members lose their jobs, while others have achieved graduate degrees and reached new heights in their professional careers.  Some doors have opened, and other doors have closed.

When you think about it, years are like that.  The days when you could reach New Year’s Eve and confidently conclude that the year just ending was the best year ever, but the next year will be even better, are gone.  You know there’s no predicting with certainty that the curve will move you ever upward, and when you get to a certain age, the years kind of blend together, unless they feature a marriage, or a special graduation.  Who remembers much about 1998?  Or 1994?  Or 2003?  At some point, shortly after the ball drops in Times Square, they just fade into life’s tapestry.

So 2015 probably will be viewed, in retrospect, as a year like many others.  The main point is that we’ve made it to the end.  At a certain point, that becomes a kind of accomplishment in itself, but the focus has to always be on what is to come.

Bring on 2016!

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Coleman’s Tenure

Today Michael Coleman steps down as the Mayor of Columbus, Ohio.  He will be replaced by Andrew Ginther.

Coleman, a Democrat, was the Mayor of Columbus for 16 years.  In his farewell speech today, Coleman said, simply, “I did my best.”  And then, evoking the kind of sports metaphor that the home of Ohio State football appreciates, he said:  “I left it all on the field.  I dreamed what Columbus could be and worked hard to achieve it.”

full_28Coleman believes that he is leaving Columbus in better shape than it was when he took office, and I wholeheartedly agree with him.  The city’s budget is in good shape.  Its economy largely avoided the ravages of the recession.  Its neighborhoods have been a focal point of Coleman’s tenure, and they have benefitted from his attention.  Its downtown area has been revitalized, and it has some very cool areas — like the Short North and the Arena District — that visitors rave about.  While other cities in the Midwest have shriveled, Columbus continues to grow.  And Coleman’s tenure has been blessedly untainted by any significant political scandal.

During the time Kish and I have lived here, Columbus has had mayors of both political parties, but all of them — Republican or Democrat — share one common characteristic:  an ability to get along with everyone, and move the city forward.  This lack of partisanship has served Columbus well, and Coleman epitomized it.  At one point he toyed with the idea of running for Governor, but fortunately for Columbus he decided to stay her and keep the city moving in the right direction.

Michael Coleman will be missed.

Is Bill Clinton’s Sex History Fair Game?

Bill Clinton’s sex life has moved to the forefront of the news again.

Thanks to Donald Trump — who wrote a tweet stating “If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women’s card on me, she’s wrong!” — there’s a lot of chatter about Bill Clinton’s affairs and alleged predatory behavior and unwanted advances against women.  The Washington Post has even done a “fact check” that separates “Bill Clinton’s womanizing” into five “consensual affairs” (one of which was a “consensual affair” with a 22-year-old intern, Monica Lewinsky, when Clinton was the President) and other “allegations of an unwanted sexual encounter.”  And some are asking:  is it fair to delve into Bill Clinton’s sexual history?

article-2624332-1d9ec7da00000578-278_638x517Fair?  Seriously?  Since when does “fairness” enter the equation in presidential politics, particularly when Donald Trump is involved?  The lack of “fairness,” and the harsh spotlight that tends to shine on the families and friends of candidates for the Oval Office, is one big reason why some people decide never to throw their hat in the ring in the first place.  Every candidate — and every member of their families — has to know that.  It would be absurd to think that Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, who have spent a lifetime in politics, don’t understand that reality.

I guess the better question is, is Bill Clinton’s “sordid sexual history” — as an opinion piece by Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post described itrelevant to deciding whether Hillary Clinton should be president?  Marcus says it is, reasoning that if Hillary Clinton is going to send her husband out as a campaign surrogate and play the sexism card against Trump and others, it’s fair to point out that, in Marcus’ words, Bill Clinton’s “predatory behavior toward women or his inexcusable relationship with a 22-year-old intern,” in “the larger scheme of things,” is “far worse than any of the offensive things that Trump has said.”

The Wall Street Journal goes farther, contending that there was a “Clinton war on women” during Bill Clinton’s presidency and arguing that “Mr. Clinton was a genuine sexual harasser in the classic definition of exploiting his power as a workplace superior, and the Clinton entourage worked hard to smear and discredit his many women accusers.”  The WSJ opinion piece adds:  “This September Mrs. Clinton declared that “every survivor of sexual assault” has “the right to be heard. You have the right to be believed.” But when her own access to political power was at stake, she dismissed the women and defended her husband.”

There are many of us, I think, who would prefer not to revisit these topics. We don’t want to hear about Bill Clinton’s lechery or think about what kind of marriage could survive so many affairs and allegations of sexual misconduct.  But if Bill Clinton is going to be out on the campaign trail, and if Hillary Clinton is going to play gender politics in her bid for the White House, Bill Clinton’s personal record inevitably is going to come up.

And the Clintons had better be ready for it, because it can’t really be fully dismissed as old news.  One thing is true:  American culture has changed a lot since the ’90s, and the notion of what constitutes appropriate behavior in the sexual arena has perhaps changed most of all.  In an era where California has enacted a “yes means yes” statute to define what constitutes sexual consent, where workplace sexual harassment allegations are much more prevalent, and people’s careers can be effectively quashed simply by using language that is deemed not politically correct, how are people going to react to detailed information about a President having an “affair” with a 22-year-old White House intern, his initial lies about it, and the humiliation the intern endured at the hands of minions seeking to excuse or explain the President’s egregious behavior?  I may be wrong about this, but I doubt that a modern politician who admitted to Bill Clinton’s behavior with Monica Lewinsky — to say nothing of the other allegations about what Bill Clinton has done — would be able to survive it.

If a new generation of voters, steeped in our current culture, are hearing about that conduct in detail for the first time, how will they look at Hillary Clinton?  And how will revisiting Bill Clinton’s “sordid sexual history” in the light of current social mores affect his historical reputation and his status as a kind of avuncular figure on the American political scene?

Salad ‘Speriment

I’m posting this because I’m hoping that my doctor might see it.

He’s been after me to change my eating habits.  It’s the same old tiresome nanny-like refrain — eat less meat, and when you do eat meat, make it chicken or turkey, and try to eat more fish, and eat more leafy green vegetables.  Lots more vegetables.  Except in my case, the latter request means eat any leafy green vegetables, because I loathe them with every fiber of my being and typically avoid them like the plague.  There are sound scientific reasons for doing so, and anyway you can plausibly argue that the U.S. Supreme Court, deep down, agrees with me.

IMG_0092But you have to listen to your doctor, don’t you?  And when you’re past the double-nickel milestone, you feel like you really should listen to your doctor.  You’re supposed to be wise and savvy at that point, and after all, you’re paying the guy.  And who knows?  Maybe with that M.D. degree he might actually have some useful insight into how I might actually be able to avoid the many appalling health calamities that routinely seem to strike down men my age.

So today, when I went out to lunch with an astonished associate from the firm, I ordered a salad.  This is the first lunch salad I’ve ever ordered.  In fact, it’s the first salad of any type I’ve ever ordered.  In fact, it’s the first salad I’ve actually consumed.  It was an arugula and spinach salad with cranberries and goat cheese and grilled butternut squash, with grilled chicken on the side to make it palatable and some kind of dressing.

And I ate every bit of it, Dr. Z!  Every bit!  Because I was hungry, and would have eaten the plate!  Are you satisfied?  Because I have to tell you that the entire time I was munching on the leafy green items that apparently are my failsafe ticket to long life, I was thinking of a cheeseburger.

The “Affluenza” Kid

If you’ve read or heard about the “affluenza” kid, you’re probably angry.

affluenza17n-7-webThe kid’s name is Ethan Couch.  When he was 16, he went driving while drunk and struck and killed four pedestrians near Fort Worth, Texas.  Prosecutors wanted him to spend 20 years in prison.  Instead, his case was heard in juvenile court, where an expert testified and Couch’s attorney argued that Couch suffered from “affluenza” — the purported inability to tell right from wrong because he’d been spoiled by wealthy parents who never punished him for misbehaving.  (“Affluenza” is not a psychological condition recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, although psychologists have no doubt that chronic spoiling of kids influences their behavior.)

To the outrage of the local community and the relatives of those killed in the drunk driving accident, the juvenile court judge did not sentence Couch to any jail time.  Instead, he got 10 years probation and had to do a stint at a rehab facility.  The lack of substantial consequences caused some people to argue about the injustice of our justice system — where the rich, who can hire the best lawyers and experts, can perversely argue that their own wealth can render their kids not culpable when they commit heinous crimes and kill multiple people.

But the “affluenza kid” did it again.  Ethan Couch allegedly drank alcohol at a party, in violation of his probation, and was being investigated by authorities.  Rather than face the consequences, Couch and his mom, Tonya Couch, fled to Mexico, where Couch died his hair and they hung out at the resort town of Puerto Vallarta.  But — in a nice little “affluenza” touch — authorities say that before they skipped town they had a going-away party for Couch and his friends.

Now Couch and his Mom have been caught, thanks in part to information provided by friends of the family, so we get to see some dead-eyed perp pictures of Couch and his dyed chin whiskers.  Couch’s Dad, who runs a successful business, apparently was one of the people who cooperated with authorities and is not suspected of being involved in his wife and kid’s decision to flee the U.S.

Unfortunately, Ethan Couch probably isn’t going to deal with much in the way of consequences for this misconduct, either.  Because Couch is still subject to the juvenile court system, and will be until he turns 19 in April, prosecutors say he is likely to face no more than 120 days in detention — after which he would be released, subject to another period of probation.   Tonya Couch, on the other hand, is going to be charged with hindering an arrest, which carries a sentence of two to 10 years.

It’s an infuriating and sordid story of a spoiled brat who apparently suffers no guilt from killing four people, was too stupid to recognize that he was lucky enough to get a second chance and blew it, and likely still won’t face punishment that is commensurate with his crime, and an enabling mother who probably spoiled the kid in the first place.

I don’t think it’s likely that Ethan Couch will become a productive member of society, and I hope he one day will be held accountable for his crimes.  As for his mother — who is supposed to be the adult in this situation — I hope they throw the book at her and get the maximum sentence, because somebody needs to actually feel the long arm of the law for making authorities engage in an international manhunt.  Who knows?  If Ethan Couch and his “affluenza” are incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, maybe he’ll at least feel some remorse for sending Mommy Dearest to the Big House.

Should We Go To Organ Opt-Out?

There was an interesting piece on the CNN website today.  Written by a young woman whose health condition required her to receive a heart transplant, it argues that the United States should change its approach to organ donations, and go from a voluntary donation system to an opt-out system.

organ-donation-transplantationThat is, the United States would presume that all of its citizens have agreed to become organ donors unless and until they have “opted out.”  Some European countries, most recently Wales, have gone to an “opt-out” system, and the argument is that the system will allow the U.S. to avoid the many deaths — according to the writer of the CNN piece, 22 each day —  of Americans who are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant that simply doesn’t arrive in time.

I’m one of the 40 percent of Americans who have voluntarily become organ donors.  I figure that when I’m dead I won’t need my eyes, or organs, or anything else, and if somebody can get some additional use out of them, that would be great.  (Of course, I’m hoping that I’ll have gotten a lifetime’s worth of production out of them before that inescapable eventuality happens.)

Still, there’s something about an opt-out system that troubles me, ethically.  The CNN writer argues that such a program will heighten awareness of organ needs, and better match public opinion — where polls indicate that 95 percent of Americans favor organ donation — with the number of actual organ donors.  And, she contends that an opt-out approach is still voluntary, only the choice is to opt out, rather than opt in.

I disagree with that.  Unlike some, I don’t think an opt-out approach would turn doctors into ghouls who would fail to provide appropriate care in order to expedite harvesting valuable organs.  Instead, I think the issue boils down to one of very basic, essential choices.  If the United States went to an opt-out system, the government would presume to be deciding what to do with your organs, and the burden would be on you to take action to reverse the government’s decision.  I think deciding whether to contribute organs upon your death is about the most personal choice a human being can make.  The fact that the government thinks the greater good might support one choice rather than another doesn’t make the choice any less personal, or one that should be taken away from the individual, even if it is only until they state their intention to the contrary.

I hope that everyone decides to contribute their organs upon their death, so people like the young CNN contributor can live a long and healthy life — but I also think it is a decision that everyone has to make for himself.

Redefining “Success”

John Kirby, a spokesman for the United States Department of State, has published a “year in review” piece on the Department’s official blog.  He notes that while “the year was not without challenges,” the “United States has helped to change the world for the better” and adds:  “Our diplomats have been busy, and they have met with significant success across a range of issues.”  He then gives his “take” on them using “a great hashtag — #2015in5Words — which was recently trending on Twitter.”

One of the #2015in5Words items Kirby lists is “Bringing Peace, Security to Syria.”

syrian-refugees-opener-6151Huh?  Syria?  The Syria where a bloody civil war between the terrorist forces of ISIS and the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has provoked a huge refugee crisis?  The Syria where significant parts of the control are under the control of a deadly terrorist group and where fighting is going on, even now?  The Syria where every big power is flexing its muscle and where, thanks to the support of Russia and Iran, it looks like the murderous Assad might conceivably stay in power?

How does Kirby explain that the U.S. was involved in “Bringing Peace, Security to Syria”?  He doesn’t, really.  He says only that the U.S. has “stepped up to aid the Syrian people during their time of need” and that “the UN Security Council passed a U.S.-sponsored resolution that puts forward a roadmap that will facilitate a transition within Syria to a credible, inclusive, nonsectarian government that is responsive to the needs of the Syrian people.”  Americans should be proud of their traditional generosity to others, of course, but neither increased aid or the passage of a preliminary United Nations Security Council resolution can reasonably be characterized as “Bringing Peace, Security to Syria” in the face of intense ongoing fighting.

Oh, and another “success” included by Kirby is “Winning Fight Against Violent Extremists.”  It touts the “Summit on Countering Violent Terrorism” hosted by the White House in February 2015 and says “this monumental summit launched an ongoing global CVE effort now underway that reaches throughout the world and across countless nations” that ultimately will lead to the defeat of ISIS.  Seriously?  We’re supposed to count a summit meeting that barely hit the news as a success?  Only a flack could say, in the wake of the events in Paris, San Bernardino, and other locations of horrific terrorist actions in 2015, that we are “winning fight against violent extremists.”

Diplomats are supposed to have credibility, but when you’re searching for “success” and trying to present your case in 5-word hashtags that were recently trending on social media, this is what you get.  Maybe there’s a reason the Department of State’s official blog is called “Dipnote.”