Green Shoots

IMG_0537A few unseasonably warm and sunny days in mid-February, and we’re seeing a few green shoots peeking through the old grey mulch in the flower beds of Columbus.  It’s an encouraging sign of spring, but we know that Midwestern Februarys are notoriously fickle.  Sure enough, the forecast is for an abrupt turn for the worse, with temperatures in the teens predicted for later this week.  Now we’ll be worry about whether those nice green shoots will make it until spring.

Ohio’s Quadrennial Electoral Regrets

Here we go again.  We’ve gone through the first part of the presidential campaign, with votes in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.  The Democratic and Republican fields have narrowed . . . and weirdness prevails.

Let’s face it:  none of these states is really very demographically or culturally representative of the country as a whole, but still they get to be the filters that sift through the candidates for the rest of us.  So we get to see cardigan-wearing candidates yakking at town halls and hugging distraught young people.  We try to understand obscure delegate selection rules — why caucuses, and not outright elections? — and hear about which Republican is going to appeal most to the born-again crowd.  And Dixville North, New Hampshire gets it’s name on the national newscasts, just as it does every four years.

And each result in these early contests gets blown up to titanic proportions, even if the real differences are small.  Consider yesterday’s Democratic caucuses in Nevada.  Hillary Clinton won with 6,238 votes versus Bernie Sanders 5,589 votes.  That’s less than 650 out of less than 12,000 votes, yet now the pundits say HRC has Big Mo on her side.  And 12,000 votes?  In Ohio we get that many people at some high school football games.  Should a few thousand casino workers in Las Vegas and Reno really have such an influence on presidential politics?

Every four years we seem to ask this question — why don’t states like Ohio have a larger role in the presidential selection process? It’s being asked again this year, too.  Ohio is a state that closely mirrors the country as a whole.  It’s got big cities and rural areas, it’s got labor unions and small businesses, it’s ethnically and culturally diverse, and it’s politically diverse, too.  And, perhaps most importantly, every election cycle Ohio ends up being one of the crucial “battleground states,” whereas no candidates are going to Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina when general elections are in the balance and Election Day is drawing near.  Yet, in the primaries, we don’t get to Ohio until after the candidates wade through predominantly white states like Iowa and New Hampshire and largely evangelical states like Iowa and South Carolina, and some candidates who conceivably might be viable have dropped out because they’ve run out or money or failed to appeal sufficiently to the born again contingent.  This year may present the same kind of scenario.

I know, some people will talk about the historic role of Iowa and New Hampshire, or say that it’s good for candidates to start in “retail” settings before they move to “wholesale” politics, but those are just rationalizations for a candidate selection process that just makes no sense.  So this year we say what we say every four years:  why not start the electoral process where it always ends up — in Ohio?

Still Astronaut Wannabes

This year, NASA set a new record for the number of applicants to its astronaut program.  18,300 people applied to join NASA’s 2017 astronaut class.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of those hopefuls will be disappointed, because NASA expects to actually select only between 8 and 14 astronauts.

When I was a kid growing up in the ’60s, every kid wanted to grow up to be an astronaut.  Of course we did!  Every time there was a rocket launch we trooped into the school auditorium to watch it, and when the rocket cleared the launchpad we cheered in support of those brave men riding in the capsule at the very tip of that pillar of flame.  In my third grade class our science project involved a life-size mock up of the Gemini capsule, covered in aluminum foil, that sat in one corner of the classroom.  From watching Walter Cronkite on TV, we knew all of the steps in the launching and recovery processes.

worldmostexpensivesuit-americanastronautcostumeSo obviously we dreamed of one day being astronauts.  Astronauts were celebrities.  Astronauts were cool — like the Beatles, except clean-cut.  Astronauts were the future.  Astronauts were leading the great national effort for America to win the “space race,” and they got to go to the White House and meet the President, too.

The days of intense national interest in rocket launches and sending a man to the moon are long behind us.  We don’t even have a space shuttle program anymore, and space flight opportunities are limited to occasional trips to the International Space Station.  But NASA is hopeful that a new era in space flight is just around the corner.  It is talking about sending a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s, private companies are increasingly getting into the space business, and the movie The Martian was a big hit that made astronauts world-wide heroes again.  Maybe the manned space program will once again come to the forefront.

I think it says something positive that more than 18,000 people applied for the astronaut program.  People still want to be part of a great effort, still want to move the frontiers forward, still want to explore.  In short, they still want to be astronauts.  Why not?  Heck, I still think it would be cool to be an astronaut.

 

Bush Fatigue, Clinton Fatigue

They say you can get “chicken fatigue.”  It happens when you’ve eaten a lot of chicken, and suddenly you just can’t bear the thought of choking down another bite of it.

Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton must feel like the last drumstick right about now.

hillary-and-jeb-bushToday is a big day for Bush and Clinton.  For Bush, it’s the South Carolina primary; for Clinton, it’s the Nevada caucuses.  Both started out the 2016 race as apparent lock-cinch winners, dubbed by pundits and Beltway insiders as the presumptive nominees.  As designated front-runners, they raised huge sums of money and seemed to have every advantage.  But it hasn’t quite worked out.

Bush has been knocked down into the single digits, eclipsed by the bizarre Trump phenomenon, and just doesn’t seem able to take off.  If he does poorly in South Carolina, where he’s spent lots of money and brought in his brother and mother to campaign, he’s probably finished.  As for Clinton, she’s struggling to break through against a surprising challenge by Bernie Sanders.  Who would have thought that Hillary Clinton would be getting a run for her money from a septuagenarian socialist?

Why has this happened?  Obviously, part of it is that Bush and Clinton just aren’t great candidates.  Bush doesn’t seem to be able to identify a good, compelling reason why he should be President, and Clinton is weighted down by baggage, like the ongoing email investigation, and bad decisions, like the continuing inability to deal with being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak at Goldman Sachs, where one attendee said she gave “pretty glowing” remarks about that Wall Street firm.

I think part of the reason, too, is that a lot of Americans have come to realize that they are tired of the Bushes and the Clintons.  We feel like they’ve had their moments in the sun, and now it’s time for somebody else to have a turn at the wheel.  We groan inwardly when we see people like Bill Clinton giving another speech, or think of the possibility that the Bush crowd or the Clinton crowd could be back in the White House.  Enough already!

This has been a weird and astonishing presidential election so far, but the struggles of the Bush campaign and the Clinton campaign really shouldn’t be surprising.  It’s just a case of chicken fatigue writ large.

 

TFO Rocks The House

IMG_0524Last night Kish and I and a big group from the firm went to the Park Street Saloon near the North Market to watch our friend and colleague, the Jersey Girl, up on stage.  She’s one of ten members of TFO — for the Trans Fat Orchestra All Star Musical Revue.

It’s pretty cool that the Jersey Girl has the talent and moxie to sing under the spotlights to a crowded house.  What’s almost as cool is this:  because we paid a $5 cover charge, that means by definition that TFO is a professional rock band . . . which in turn means that we know a professional rocker in person!  I can finally scratch that one off the bucket list.

The Jersey Girl did a great job, of course, and TFO puts on a really good show.  A little Blues Brothers, a little Steely Dan, a little Joe Cocker, a little Johnny Rivers, some Janis Joplin — the Jersey Girl’s trademark — thrown in for good measure, and a lot else, besides.  As a ten-person group, with a three-member horn section, TFO puts out a really big sound, and they got the crowd to dancing.  (I’ve always liked horn bands, too.)  I’d definitely go see them again.  And the Park Street Saloon is a good venue for a show.

Way to go, Jersey Girl!

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Harper Lee, R.I.P.

Writer Harper Lee died today in Monroeville, Alabama.  She was 89.

gty_harper_lee_tk_131016_16x9_992I’d be willing to bet good money that most obituaries about Ms. Lee will begin with the words:  “Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird, . . ..”  She was, and always will be, associated with that one book.  Why not?  It is indisputably one of the greatest works of fiction by an American writer, and also a book that captured a moment in history, and a time and place, so vividly, and sketched characters so indelibly memorable, that it is one of those books that you would gladly read over and over again.  No one who has read that book will ever forget the adventurous Scout, the thoughtful Jem, the quiet dignity of falsely accused Tom Robinson, the mysterious Boo Radley, and the noble Atticus Finch.

And, of course, To Kill A Mockingbird is one of those books that did far more than what most books ever even aspire to do:  it helped to change the world.  By quietly telling a story of one instance of rank and sickening racial injustice in a small town in Alabama, To Kill A Mockingbird illuminated the dark underbelly of the American Dream and the blindered perspective of 1950s America.  The book, published in 1960, was one of the cultural elements that forced America to deal with the Jim Crow South and the heinous mistreatment of African-Americans in the states of the old Confederacy, and in the rest of the country as well.  What other novels have accomplished so much?  Uncle Tom’s Cabin, perhaps — but the list is not a long one.

Rest in peace, Harper Lee.  You have made your mark, left a legacy that will endure, and served your conscience and your country well.

GULC Storm

I graduated from the Georgetown University Law Center — known to students as GULC — in 1985.  In those days, it was a law school that taught traditional courses, like Contracts, and Property, and Civil Procedure, through the traditional Socratic method, where professors posed questions to specific students who were expected to be able to explain and analyze the rules of law set forth in particular cases.  Our professors were of different political persuasions, no doubt, and one professor advocated Critical Legal Studies, but the school was not politicized, or politically divided, in any meaningful sense.

Things apparently have changed over 30 years.  Now GULC is home to an internal political storm provoked by the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

scalia702a_1Justice Scalia was a regular visitor to the campus, most recently in November when he came to speak to first-year law students.  When he died, GULC issued a public statement describing Scalia as “a giant in the history of the law, a brilliant jurist whose opinions and scholarship profoundly transformed the law.”  The current dean, William Treanor, added that “I am deeply grateful for his remarkably generous involvement with our community, including his frequent appearances in classes and his memorable lecture to our first year students this past November,” and concluded:  “We will all miss him.”

Some GULC professors objected to the release.  One professor wrote to the entire campus community, and said: “I am not suggesting that J. Scalia should have been criticized on the day of his death, nor that the ‘community’  should not be thankful for his willingness to meet with our students. But he was not a legal figure to be lionized or emulated by our students. He bullied lawyers, trafficked in personal humiliation of advocates, and openly sided with the party of intolerance in the ‘culture wars’ he often invoked. In my mind, he was not a giant in any good sense.”  That professor also said:  “I imagine many other faculty, students and staff, particularly people of color, women and sexual minorities, cringed at headline and at the unmitigated praise with which the press release described a jurist that many of us believe was a defender of privilege, oppression and bigotry, one whose intellectual positions were not brilliant but simplistic and formalistic.”

These comments provoked a response from the two “conservative” professors at the law school, who said the comments of the other professors said “in effect, your hero was a stupid bigot and we are not sad that he is dead.”  The professors added:  “The problem is that the center of gravity of legal academia is so far to the left edge of the political spectrum that some have lost the ability to tell the difference.  Only on a faculty with just two identifiably right-of-center professors out of 125, could a professor harbor such vitriol for a conservative Justice that even Justice Ginsburg adored.  Only on a faculty this unbalanced could a professor willfully or knowingly choose to “hurt … those with affection for J. Scalia,” including countless students, just days after the Justice’s death.”

The dispute has been covered by the Washington Post, in the story linked above,  by the Above the Law website — which refers to the dust-up as “Scaliagate” — and by other media outlets.  It’s probably the most news coverage GULC has received in years.  It’s not exactly what I would call favorable publicity.

It’s sad, for me, on several levels.  First, I am sad that notions of civility and simple decency appear to be leaching out of our society, to the point where people feel the need to blast out their own negative views about a public servant who has died, rather than doing the proper thing and holding their tongue so that others may mourn.  Surely the professor who depicted Justice Scalia as a defender of “oppression and bigotry” whose intellectual positions were “simplistic and formalistic” knew that others would disagree with those statements and be hurt by them.  So, why say them in the first place, so soon after Justice Scalia’s death — rather than, say, writing a law review article critiquing Justice Scalia’s opinions on their merits, which is what law professors used to do?

And second, I am sad that law schools seemingly have become political hotbeds, where “liberals” and “conservatives” joust in an apparently lopsided battle.  When I went to GULC, it and other respected law schools were viewed as scholarly intellectual bastions, where cases were reviewed with analytical rigor and rules of law divined, in order to help students develop judgment and prepare them for a career in the law.  Sharp political exchanges and name-calling are antithetical to intellectual rigor — but perhaps intellectual rigor is not what law schools are looking for in their professors these days.

As I said, things apparently have changed a lot in 30 years, and not for the better.

The Pope And The Donald

While aboard the papal plane today, flying back from an appearance in Mexico, Pope Francis was asked about Donald Trump’s notion of building a wall between Mexico and the United States.  The Pope said that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”  When Trump heard about the Pope’s comment, he replied that it was “disgraceful” for “a religious leader to question a person’s faith.”

pope-mexicoI suspect that the Pope will soon regret his response, if he doesn’t regret it already.  It’s not that the Pope doesn’t have every right to give his opinion on what qualities or actions are “Christian” and what are not — of course he does, because after all this is the Pope we’re talking about.  As the head of a Christian denomination with millions of members spanning the globe, he obviously can, and regularly does, speak about such topics.

In this instance, though, I think the Pope’s comments were ill-advised, because they come in the middle of an American presidential campaign and obviously were directed at a particular candidate.  It seems to diminish the Pope, somehow, for him to weigh in on something so secular and tawdry as an American political campaign.  We’ve come a long way since the days of the Kennedy-Nixon election of 1960 — when John F. Kennedy’s Catholic faith was a big issue, because opponents whispered that he would be taking direction from Vatican City — but the Pope’s comments on a candidate still seem . . . unwise.  When most people associate the Pope with a focus on the spiritual, even a brief foray by him into an increasingly bitter, mud-slinging political campaign is a bit jarring.

And, of course, Pope Francis’ comments just serve to allow Donald Trump to mount his high horse, clothe himself in righteous indignation, and further burnish his reputation as the anti-establishment candidate.  I’m afraid that Pope Francis will learn that anyone who associates or interacts with Donald Trump ends up being tarnished by the experience.  Why stoop to comment about such a person?

 

At The Honda Heritage Center

IMG_0431Recently I drove out to Marysville, Ohio to attend a farewell celebration for a Honda employee who was moving on to a new position with the City of Columbus.  The event was held at the Honda Heritage Center, a new building in the Honda complex of buildings that have sprung up in western Ohio since Honda built its first factory more than 30 years ago.

IMG_0433While I was at the Heritage Center I visited a little Honda museum that is located in the building.  It’s a neat feature, and provides the opportunity for car buffs like me to take a nice trip down memory lane.  I got to see the very cool, sleek-looking Asimo in person — or should that be, in robot — gape at the Honda race cars, and check out some of Honda’s other manufactured products.  For me, though, the highlight was the vintage cars that are displayed there, in pristine condition.  They included the very first Honda car that I ever remember seeing on American streets:  the Honda Civic, circa the early ’70s, which is pictured below.

Honda has been an important part of Ohio for a long time now.  It employs huge numbers of Ohioans — all clad in the trademark Honda white uniform — in good-paying jobs, emphasizes quality and teamwork, and continues to build lots of excellent vehicles. Last year, Honda North America reached a new record:  1,862,491 Honda and Acura vehicles.  And for those who emphasize made in America values — which always seems to be someone’s theme during election years — it should be noted that Honda reports that its eight auto plants in North America produced more than 99 percent of the Honda and Acura cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. in 2015.

Honda has been a great corporate citizen ever since it first came to Ohio.  I’m glad it is using the Honda Heritage Center to celebrate its past, its present, and its future.

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When Data Security Meets National Security

Syed Rizwan Farook, the male shooter in the December 2, 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attacks, carried an iPhone 5C that was owned by the county public health department, where he worked as an inspector.  After the attack, the county consented to the FBI’s search of Farook’s phone, but it runs on Apple’s iOS9 operating system, which is built with default device encryption — and, after two months of trying, the FBI hasn’t been able to break through the phone’s data security features.

The FBI believes the phone may hold data, such as in contact lists, photographs, or instant messages, that could materially assist in the investigation and potentially identify others, in the United States and overseas, who assisted Farook.  So, what to do?

apple-iphone5c-16gb-att-blue-2The FBI went to a federal magistrate judge, who ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock the iPhone by disabling the feature that wipes the data on the phone after 10 incorrect tries at entering a password.  That would allow the government to keep trying new combinations, without deleting the data.  Apple says only the phone’s user can disable that feature, but the court order requires Apple to write software that would bypass it.

Apple is resisting the court order, saying that such software would be a back door to the iPhone and is too dangerous to create.  “Once created,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.”

National security and counterterrorism specialists say Apple should be a “good corporate citizen,” comply with the court order, and help in the investigation of one of the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.  Privacy advocates agree with Apple that the government is overreaching, and argue that the court decision could set a precedent that would undermine the privacy, and security, of everyone’s handheld devices.  So Apple will appeal the court order, and no doubt other technology companies and interest groups will weigh in, in court and in the court of public opinion, about the propriety of the order.

We’ll have to see how the appeal plays out, but for now we can draw some conclusions.  First, Apple’s default encryption system must be pretty robust, if it can withstand two months of probes and hacking efforts by a highly motivated FBI.  Second, in the post-Edward Snowden world, there is a huge amount of mistrust for our own government and an obvious unwillingness to hand them any code, key, or software that could then be used in another mass governmental data-gathering effort.  And third, with cell phones now ubiquitous world-wide and serving as wallets, photo albums, Rolodexes, mailboxes, message centers, internet search devices, and home to countless apps, all in one handy device the size of a playing card, we’re going to see more and more of these collisions between data security and national security in the future.

The Villain Comes Home

IMG_0483Evan Turner — improbably nicknamed The Villain by teammate Mark Titus — came back to Ohio State tonight to see his jersey retired and hung from the rafters.  Turner had a storied career with the Buckeyes, won National Player of the Year honors, and made a killer three-point buzzer-beater to beat Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.  Tonight he gave a heartfelt speech about his teammates, his coaches, and especially his Mom helping him along the way.

Oh, and the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines, too.  A good time was had by all.

Life In The Splatter Zone

  
Walking to work during a Midwestern winter is not for the faint of heart.  When the dreaded “wintry mix” of snow and sleet falls, as it did this morning in Columbus, careful foot placement is the order of the day.  Icy patches of sidewalk must be given wide berth, unexpectedly deep, ankle-dousing pools of slush must be avoided, and above all, the inside lane next to the buildings and as far as possible from the street must be maintained.  For the street on such days is the splatter zone, where a car or bus hurtling past will inevitably coat the luckless walker with icy muck.

Beware the splatter zone!

W’s Return

Yesterday former President George W. Bush returned, briefly, to the national stage.  He was campaigning for his brother, Jeb Bush, who is hanging on for dear life and hoping to make a good showing in the South Carolina Republican primary.

According to press reports, the former President gave a short speech that endorsed his brother and described some of the qualities, like integrity and judgment and character, that he believes are needed in a good President — implicitly drawing a contrast with the blustery bombast of Donald Trump, without mentioning Trump or any other Republican candidate by name.   “W” also recounted some memories from his former campaigns in South Carolina and added some of his trademark self-deprecating humor.

Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush Campaigns With Brother George W. BushIt was a bit jarring to see news reports of George W. Bush at the podium.  I hadn’t seen him for a while, and of course he looked older, and thinner.  Since he left office seven years ago, former President Bush has consciously avoided the public eye and maintained a pretty consistent non-partisan, apolitical tone.  His speech yesterday sounds like more of what we’ve come to expect from him in his post-presidential years.  He was there to support and help his brother, but he did it without attacking other candidates by name or, for that matter, mentioning President Obama or criticizing the Obama administration.

George W. Bush remains a figure to be mocked and reviled among some on the left side of the political spectrum; seven years later, he’s still blamed by many, inside the Obama administration and out, for virtually all of our current problems.  Now Donald Trump has joined in, by repeating the debunked conspiratorial theories that the Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to maneuver us into an unnecessary war and ignored clear intelligence that America would be attacked on 9/11.

Through it all, former President Bush has publicly remained above the fray, no doubt believing that, having served in the nation’s highest office, former Presidents shouldn’t engage in rancorous partisan politics or bash their successor on talk shows.  It’s an old school approach that speaks of personal humility and properly recognizes the dignity of the presidency.  His ego obviously doesn’t compel him to stay in the media spotlight.  Instead, he’s taken to painting, he’s written a book about his Dad, former President George H.W. Bush, and he’s focused on charitable and humanitarian efforts.

Yesterday, George W. Bush listed some of the qualities we want in our President.  I think the former President’s personal conduct since he left office illustrates those qualities — and draws a pretty sharp contrast with the vulgar, egotistical, limelight-loving loudmouth who currently is leading in the polls.

 

What Happens When A White-Collar Worker Has Too Much Time On His Hands

I’m guessing that the guy who came up with this video was inspired to experiment with binder clips when he was at the office, sitting in his cubicle, bored out of his mind.  It’s the kind of thing you’d expect the slacker guys in Office Space to do to help pass the time.

Still, it is kind of cool — who’d have thought simple binder clips could multi-task?

Mouthing

Recently I rode the office elevator down to the first floor at the end of a work day.  As the doors opened, I saw one of the janitorial staffers polishing a table a few feet away.

“Hello,” I said, aloud, because politeness dictates acknowledging the presence of another human being under such circumstances, and she mouthed something — probably “hello” — in response.

photo-24800461-talking-lips-of-a-womanEh?  What was up with the mouthing?  There was no one else around, and no apparent reason why the staffer wouldn’t speak.  The mouthing created a kind of weird imbalance in our communication, and I shuffled off into the wintry evening feeling vaguely shortchanged.

I can understand mouthing in certain, extremely limited circumstances.  If you were late to a speech, say, and sat down at a table while the speaker was talking, it would be perfectly acceptable for a table mate to mouth “hello” at your arrival.  If you were sitting in a meeting, clearly getting ready to interrupt the boss, one of your concerned co-workers could reasonably mouth “don’t” to try to prevent your blunder, or if you were at dinner with a group of friends your wife could properly mouth “No!” to try to discourage you from launching into an embarrassing story that she knows will otherwise be forthcoming.

But, really, that about covers the spectrum of appropriate mouthing scenarios.  In virtually any other setting, mouthing is not an efficient form of communication.  It presumes lip-reading skills, and almost always provokes a double-take from the recipient.  Why not just speak up, instead?  And yet, mouthing seems to be gaining in popularity for unexplained reasons, like some stupid internet meme.  What, are people now too cool to talk?  I’ve encountered it elsewhere, and I don’t know why.  All I know is . . . it bugs me.

I’m not blaming the janitorial staffer in this instance, I guess, because there may be reasons for the mouthing that I don’t suspect.  Perhaps her English is not good, or maybe a supervisor told her not to talk to the lawyers.  Who knows?  But from now on, if I am subjected to mouthing in a situation that doesn’t call for it, I’m going to say, aloud:  “Hey!  What’s up with the mouthing?”