White World

It has been brutally cold here in Columbus, with several below-zero days.  Yesterday we got a lot of snow and the temperature almost hit 32 — but we didn’t quite make it, and now the mercury is plunging down again and more frigid weather is in the forecast.

I’m not complaining; other parts of the country have had it worse than us.  In fact, there is cold, snowy weather throughout the heartland of America.  A photo taken of middle America by NASA’s Terra satellite shows the wide snow belt, with the Buckeye State right smack dab in the middle.  It makes me shiver just to look at it.

Hey, it’s winter — what did you expect?

Looking To Legalize In The Buckeye State

Should marijuana — growing, selling, and consuming — be legalized in Ohio?  A number of different groups and legalization advocates are pushing to put the issue before voters in the Buckeye State, perhaps as early as this fall.

In fact, there are several apparently well-funded efforts pursuing different proposals that vary in material ways — a sign, perhaps, that legalized marijuana is now a big business, but also a source of confusion.  One proposal wants to permit cultivation and use of medical marijuana, as 23 states have done; others want to move directly to making Ohio the fifth state, after Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, to fully legalize cannabis.  There are other differences as well, on issues such who can grow the crop and where, how much people can possess, and whether revenues from taxes on marijuana would be dedicated to fund pension plans, fix roads and bridges, or used for other purposes.

The bigger question, of course, is whether Ohioans are ready to move toward legalization.  Ohio has never been the leader in new initiatives that move sharply in any direction on the political or social spectrum; it didn’t legalize casino gambling until it was surrounded by states that had done so — and even then only in the throes of the Great Recession when casino gambling promised to deliver desperately needed jobs.  The Buckeye State has long been a place of moderation, where political disagreements don’t get nasty and common sense prevails, which is why Ohio is always a crucial swing state when presidential elections roll around.

I doubt that Ohio voters are ready to legalize marijuana right now.  I expect opponents to make the argument that the Buckeye State should take a wait-and-see approach.  Let the states that have gone the full-scale legalization route be the laboratories of democracy, and let Ohio sit back until the evidence is clearer on what it all means in terms of overall use, drug addiction, crime, job creation, tax revenues, pot tourism, and the other areas that might be affected by legalization.  What’s the rush?  With the bump in employment and tax revenues delivered by the Utica Shale development efforts in eastern Ohio, opponents might argue, it’s not like Ohio needs to be out front on the issue.

On the other hand, Ohio’s status as a bellwether state presumably makes it a tantalizing prospect for legalization advocates.  If moderate, level-headed Ohioans can be convinced to amend their state constitution to legalize marijuana, that would certainly tell you something about the overall national mood on the issue.

Shopping In The ‘Hood

Many of the new large-scale developments in America are framed as “mixed-use” developments.  They are designed to offer office space, retail shops, and residential options in one planned undertaking, and they are marketed using slogans like “Live. Work. Play.” or “Eat. Shop. Live.”  The idea is that Americans want to get away from sterile suburban designs, where only houses can be found for blocks and blocks, and live in places where they can stroll to a pub, restaurant, or green grocer.

German Village is the quintessential mixed-use area, except it wasn’t pre-planned — it’s that way because that’s what life was like everywhere in America before suburbs were conceived.  Even in the core residential areas you’ll find antique stores, flower shops, coffee houses, art galleries, restaurants, and delis, as well as doctor and attorney offices and even the Franklin Art Glass Studios, which has been making stained glass window since 1924.  As a result, people are constantly out on the streets walking to these commercial establishments, which gives the area an enjoyable bustling feel.  It reminds Kish and me of our old neighborhood on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

If you have commercial establishments in your neighborhood, though, you’d better support them or they won’t be there for long.  Fortunately, this hasn’t been a problem for us.  It’s easy to frequent local businesses when they offer quality goods and services at reasonable prices.  We haven’t bought any stained glass pieces — at least not yet — but we’ve gladly purchased excellent sandwiches to go at Katzinger’s deli, freshly ground coffee at Stauf’s Coffee Roasters, and wine at the Hausfrau Haven, which offers a great selection, helpful advice from the proprietor, and a weekend wine bar to boot.  And when you’ve got G. Michael’s, Lindey’s, the Sycamore, and Barcelona, as well as more casual options, within easy walking distance, it’s not hard to spend your dining dollar in the ‘hood, either.

Shopping and eating out in our neighborhood is one of the things that I like the best about our move.  It makes German Village feel like much more of a real community.

We’re All Connected, Commercially

Here’s the latest confirmation of the interconnectedness of the modern commercial world.

We’re waiting to get shutters to put on the windows of our new house.  The shutters were ordered weeks ago, were assembled somewhere in Asia — since you’re ordering from a company through a contractor, it’s hard to know exactly where — and are sitting on a ship outside the Port of Los Angeles.

Good news, eh?  They should be here any day, delivered by rail or long-haul truck, right?

Not so fast!  There’s a labor problem at ports up and down the west coast, related to the expiration of a contract between port operators and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union that has clogged the ports.  In response to what it considers to be unfair demands by the union, the Pacific Maritime Association closed the ports this weekend, and President Obama has dispatched the Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, to try to personally broker a deal between union and management.

Ports are one of those crucial — but often overlooked — commerce choke points where problems can have huge repercussions.  In this case, a dispute at the Port of Los Angeles has kept eager people from Columbus, Ohio from getting shutters initially shipped from some foreign location.  I hope the Labor Secretary knows his stuff.  We want our shutters!

Bad Choice

So the Democrats have picked Philadelphia as the site for their 2016 National Convention, selecting the City of Brotherly Love over the other two finalists — Columbus, Ohio and Brooklyn, New York.

Apparently Philadelphia’s role in American history tipped the balance.  According to the New York Times report, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz touched the Liberty Bell and said:  “In addition to their commitment to a seamless and safe convention, Philadelphia’s deep-rooted place in American history provides a perfect setting for this special gathering.”  Because both Columbus and Brooklyn presumably also were committed to having “a seamless and safe convention” — at least, you’d sure hope so — we can surmise that Philadelphia’s past role as site of the Constitutional Convention, home of Ben Franklin, and so forth was the deciding factor.

I’m a fan of Philly, but I think this is a bad choice — and not just because I’m a Columbus resident who hoped that both the Republican and Democrat conventions would be held in the Buckeye State in 2016.  The issue is whether you are forward-looking, or backward-looking.  It’s like the decision that was made years ago to change the location of the presidential inauguration ceremony from the east side of the Capitol building to the west side.  The east side had tradition, but the west side was spacious, with a vista spanning the Mall and its monuments.  The country’s future lay to the west, and moving the inauguration ceremony was a solid symbolic move — as well as allowing more space.

Which city best represents the future here?  Growing Columbus, with its bustling economy?  Diverse Brooklyn, which is constantly reinventing itself?  Or Philadelphia?

A News World Without Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart, the long-time star of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, shocked his audience yesterday by announcing that he would be leaving the show this year.  In a sign of just how important Stewart and The Daily Show are to modern America, his impending departure from what is, at bottom, a consistently funny comedy show was headline news at such diverse websites as the BBC and CNN Money.

Stewart has sat at the anchor desk of The Daily Show since 1999 — an extraordinarily long tenure in the modern world.  For many young adults, he’s been an immutable part of the social landscape for as long as they can remember.  With Stewart as the motivating force, The Daily Show has launched the careers of other comedy stars, like Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver, but more importantly it has become an essential cultural and political touchstone for a huge swath of the American population.  It is amazing, but true, that a large percentage of young Americans routinely get their exposure to news from The Daily Show and identify Stewart as more trusted to provide accurate information than networks like MSNBC.

Commentators may moan that such survey results are a sign of America’s illiteracy — and the growing irrelevance of broadcast and print journalism — but the reality is that people just get their news in different ways now.  Stewart and The Daily Show became trusted  because they mixed the humor with a healthy dollop of news footage, factoids, and actual interviews of Presidents, political and cultural figures, and world leaders.  And, although The Daily Show unquestionably came from a general liberal perspective, Stewart and his crew weren’t afraid to skewer racial politics, the disastrous roll-out of the healthcare.gov website, and other causes and developments on the left end of the political spectrum.

With Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert taking over for David Letterman, where will younger Americans turn to get their tolerable daily exposure to the world’s events?  There’s no guarantee that the new host will capture their confidence, and the risk is that they won’t turn to other sources for such information at all.  That should be a significant concern for those who have used The Daily Show to reach the Millennials.  If those Millennials (and members of the next generation, which hasn’t yet acquired a catchy title) who have some interest in politics and news aren’t watching The Daily Show, how do you engage them?  Jon Stewart’s replacement will have awfully big shoes to fill.