Jar Psychology

Are you a jar person, or a non-jar person?

I’m guessing the jar people out there, at least, know well what I’m talking about here. The jar people realize there is intrinsic value in a good jar or other potentially useful former food container. When, say, a peanut butter jar has been emptied of its rich, peanutty goodness, they carefully put the jar and its lid in the dishwasher for cleaning and, when the cycle is done, take the jar and place it is the jar storage cabinet in the kitchen that already holds a random collection of old pasta jars, coffee cans, and plastic storage containers that used to carry lunch meat. Why do jar people do this? Because you never know when you might actually need a good jar, and you don’t want to get caught short.

The non-jar people find this thinking to be baffling and utterly alien. They routinely toss perfectly serviceable jars that have been emptied of their contents into the trash, and if you ask them why they would patiently explain that such jars have fully served their intended purposes. They might also ask, pointedly, whether we really need to keep a supply of jars around when no one can remember the last time we actually needed a jar for any purpose whatsoever. They reason that, if once in a blue moon a storage container is needed, they can just go out and buy one.

This kind of thinking makes the jar people shake their heads in dismay and think of the fable about the industrious ant and the cavalier grasshopper.

It’s just one of the many points of division in this great country of ours. The jar people and the non-jar people just can’t understand each other, and probably never will.

Recognizing “Financial Abuse”

Recently I ran across this article on “recognizing financial abuse.” A mother wrote to a financial advisor about her son’s circumstances, out of concern that the son was in a “financially abusive relationship.” It seems that the son’s fiancee manages the couple’s finances and controls their accounts, so that the son is dependent on the fiancee for “anything he wants, even spending money.” Mom worries that the fiancee is intentionally creating a dependency relationship — and the advisor says the Mom is “absolutely right to be concerned.” The article then goes on to discuss financial abuse and its warning signs.

There seems to be a pretty significant back story lurking behind the Mom’s inquiry about potential financial abuse. You can detect a whiff of a Mom who is pretty darned involved in her son’s life — to the point of knowing intimate details about how a couple is managing their private finances — and might, conceivably, have been an overprotective helicopter parent who resents the fiancee’s role for a lot of reasons. But laying that issue aside: when one person in a couple takes principal responsibility for their joint financial affairs, is it really a cause for concern about “financial abuse”?

In my experience, most couples make an allocation of responsibility for financial matters, just as they decide who will be responsible for different chores around the household. That makes perfectly good sense to me and doesn’t seem like a danger sign in any way. You don’t want two people writing checks, and it is a lot more efficient to have one person tracking the household budget. If the son who is the subject of the letter from the hovering mother isn’t incredibly responsible with his spending habits, it’s perfectly understandable that the fiancee might want to assume responsibility for money management and put him (and herself) on an allowance so they don’t have an issue with overspending and growing credit card debt. So long as the couple talks about the issues and reaches agreement on who is going to do what, it’s hard to see why their situation might be cause for concern.

The article linked above notes — correctly, of course — that “financial abuse” can be a form of domestic abuse, and that people need to be wary of things like forged checks, “secret” credit cards, using money to manipulate, intimidate, or interfere with or control a person’s job or lifestyle. And clearly, people need to be sensitive to financial abuse of the elderly and fraudsters emptying accounts that credulous seniors carefully funded over their lifetimes. But those circumstances seem pretty far removed from one member of a couple simply taking charge of finances and trying to make sure that they stick to their budget. And there is a danger, too, in defining potential “financial abuse” so broadly that it sweeps in entirely innocent and rational allocations of household responsibilities. That’s not only going to embolden nosy Moms, it’s also going to make it less likely that people recognize the signs of true financial abuse.

GM’s New Logo

In case you hadn’t noticed, General Motors has redone its logo. It’s still got the letters G and M in it, of course, but instead of the proud, stolid capital letters, the G and the M are presented in lower case form.

Corporations apparently believe that consumers spend huge amounts of time carefully studying corporate logos and brands, reacting to each little feature. In this case, the newest General Motors logo is supposed to show that the company is moving toward electric cars. That’s why the new logo colors include “electric blue,” and the white spaces within the lower case m are supposed to make consumers think of an electric plug. (I would have totally missed that one.) I’m sure the rounded circle and the underline of the m also are supposed to have some deep meaning, too, but I’ve got no idea what.

I would guess that GM, like many companies, spent a lot of money on consultants and spent a lot of time deciding whether to go to the new logo — which, as the article linked above indicates, is getting decidedly mixed reviews. The thing that strikes me most about the new logo is the decision to go from capital letters to lower case. The straightforward capital letters, without stating the full company name, were instantly recognizable as the mark of a corporate colossus whose interests were once equated with the interests of America itself, but those days are long gone. Now, in the years after taxpayers had to bail out the company from some really bad corporate decisions, GM is a shrunken shell of its former self, and with the new logo it’s formally become the e.e. cummings of the American corporate world by going to the understated, meek, and frankly somewhat pathetic lower case mode.

That’s what the new logo conveys to me, but that message is probably not what the consultants and branding experts and logo designers and General Motors management intended.

Back To The Cup

I went back to the office this past week, to make sure I had a sound connection for a videoconference. The office wasn’t the same, of course — the hallways were darkened, there was no one around, and the water fountain on my floor was turned off as part of our COVID-19 protocols. And wearing masks in the common areas is mandatory.

But at least I got to drink some coffee from the stoneware cup that has been a part of every workspace I’ve had since I received it as a gift just before starting law school in the fall of 1982. It felt good to have that familiar, comfortable heft of that specific cup in my hand as I slurped down my coffee. In fact, the deep-seated familiarity of the whole experience made the coffee taste a little bit better.

We’re still a ways away from getting back to normal—whatever “normal” is going to be—but quaffing some hot coffee from my favorite mug helped me to realize that the “normal” is still there, waiting for us to return from this weird period and reengage with our routines. I liked that feeling, too.

Outrage At The Capitol

When I was a kid I received a small bronze replica of the U.S. Capitol with green felt on the bottom as a gift. I kept it on the dresser in the bedroom UJ and I shared, and when I looked at it it made me feel proud to be a kid in America. Years later, Kish and I lived in an apartment only a few blocks from the Capitol and worked in the neighboring congressional office buildings and in the Capitol itself. We saw the colossal Capitol dome, white and bright against the sky, when we walked to work in the morning. We had lots of visitors in those days, and I often took them on a tour of the Capitol, statuary hall, the legislative chambers, the former seat of the Supreme Court, and the awesome Rotunda beneath that huge dome.

For me, at least, the Capitol, with its graceful marble facade and great dome, has always been a solid, reassuring, tangible, powerful symbol of our American democratic systems and way of life. And it is precisely for that reason that the riots that occurred yesterday — riots that, according to D.C. police, left 4 people dead and the Capitol littered with broken glass and smashed doors as rioters surged through the building just as Congress and the Vice President were fulfilling one of their most important electoral obligations — were so unforgivable. The rioters deliberately interfered with the workings of government, put the lives of elected representatives at risk, disgraced and defiled one of our most important democratic symbols, and made a cruel mockery of our proud tradition of the peaceful transfer of power after an election.

The D.C. police are reporting more than 52 people have been arrested, but I am hoping that that is just the tip of the iceberg. Authorities should pour through the photos and video of the people cavorting through the Capitol, vandalizing the building and its grounds, standing on statues, and stealing and smashing, and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. We should make them pay for debasing our symbols, our processes, and our traditions.

To their credit, Congress and Vice President Pence went ahead and certified the election results after the rioters were cleared away — which means the rioters failed in their essential purpose, as Vice President Pence observed — and after the certification President Trump finally pledged an “orderly transition” when his term ends on January 20. From the President, those words are too little, too late. By refusing to acknowledge reality, associating with the lunatic fringe, and stoking their feverish tantrums, President Trump has given our country a black eye in front of the watching world. He sowed the wind, and he has reaped the whirlwind. His antics have been inexcusable. He claims to be an “America first” patriot, but he has deeply embarrassed our country, all of its citizens, and the many people who held their noses and voted for him in good faith — and himself, assuming he is even capable of feeling embarrassment.

Donald Trump may never admit to any mistakes, or accept any fault or responsibility for his actions, but apparently he is concerned about the value of his “brand.” I hope he is capable of understanding that what he has done has stripped his “brand” of any lingering value it might once have had. Americans aren’t going to forget this outrage or Trump’s role in it.

The Last Civil War Widow

The news media is reporting that the last documented American Civil War widow has died. The woman, Helen Viola Jackson, passed away on December 16, 2020 at age 101 in a nursing home in Marshfield, Missouri.

You’re no doubt thinking that the Civil War ended in 1865, more than 155 years ago So how could a 101-year-old woman, born in 1919, be a Civil War widow? The answer will remind all of the lawyers out there about “the rule against perpetuities,” “fertile octogenarians,” and other bizarre common law principles about property rights and inheritance that allowed law school professors to tie students in knots while posing uncomfortable, head-scratching hypotheticals about improbable family arrangements.

Ms. Jackson married James Bolin, who served in the 14th Missouri Cavalry in the Civil War, in September 1936 — when she was 17 years old, and he was 93. The two met when Ms. Jackson’s parents volunteered her to help Mr. Bolin with his chores on her way to school. Mr. Bolin did not want to accept charity, so he proposed that the two marry, which would allow Ms. Jackson to be the beneficiary of his Union Army pension payments after his death. She accepted, and they were married. Mr. Bolin then died in 1939, and Ms. Jackson never remarried.

But here’s the kicker: Ms. Jackson did not publicly disclose their marriage, or ever make a claim to receive a pension payment — despite Mr. Bolin’s wishes. She kept their marriage a secret because she did not want Mr. Bolin hurt by “wagging tongues” in the community, and she wanted to preserve her reputation, too — especially since one of Mr. Bolin’s daughters wasn’t happy about the relationship. Ms. Jackson didn’t raise the issue of the marriage until 2017, which caused the Daughters of the Union Veterans organization to examine historical records and verify the marriage and her Civil War widow status.

So, the last living link to the Civil War is gone, generations after the last shots were fired. Ms. Jackson’s story, and her proud decision not to claim those pension payments even during the days of the Great Depression, also reminds us of just how much America has changed.

Home Prices In The Heartland

The coronavirus pandemic has had a very unequal financial impact on people. Those who have been laid off, or been forced to close their businesses altogether, because of COVID-19 shutdown orders have been devastated. Many white-collar workers who can do their jobs remotely, on the other hand, are looking back on 2020 as a year where their financial situations surprisingly improved. They didn’t spend as much on discretionary items such as travel, dining out, and trips to the corner tavern, paid off some or all of their credit card bills, and saw their 401(k) accounts enjoy a solid year in the stock market.

Another area of unequal impact is on housing and real estate prices. House prices are up nationally, and the biggest increases are concentrated in the heartland — in the Midwest, the states of the Great Plains, and the Southwest and Mountain West. Cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Boise, and Kansas City have seen 10 percent jumps in house prices over the last year. And the rate of increase in house prices in those markets seems to be escalating.

Analysts attribute the jump to people fleeing the crowded coasts for middle America, where living is a bit less concentrated and house prices are a lot more reasonable. You’re going to get a lot more housing bang for your buck away from the coastal cities. And with remote work becoming the “new normal” for many people — a trend that isn’t likely to change even when vaccines become widespread — people are seeing new possibilities and opportunities in living in flyover country. Salaries are going to go a lot farther in establishing a really nice lifestyle in a place like Kansas City than they would in, say, San Francisco.

The American economy is a huge, sprawling, complicated thing, and expert predictions about it are often dead wrong. One thing is clear, however: unequal economic impacts aren’t good for our society, or sustainable long term. It’s interesting that some people have seen their financial situations improve, and that big-picture demographic changes seem to be underway, but we can’t forget those people who have been directly harmed by shutdown orders. The vaccine rollout, and the lifting of restrictions on bars, restaurants, sporting events, and live music performances, can’t happen soon enough.

Let Your Fingers Do The Tapping

The other day I saw a plumbing truck drive by with a company name that started with “AA.” “There’s a Yellow Pages” name, I thought.

Then I wondered: are there even “Yellow Pages” any more? I can’t remember the last time I saw that thick softcover book with the flimsy yellow pages.

For those of you who are too young to remember the Yellow Pages, it was the household sources that you used to consult whenever you needed a plumber or electrician. The Yellow Pages came to you every year, along with your regular White Pages phone book. Both were made with the cheapest, thinnest paper you can imagine, but the Yellow Pages tended to be a lot bulkier than the White Pages. The White Pages listed the phone numbers of people and businesses, listed in alphabetical order, while the Yellow Pages was reserved solely for businesses, and was organized functionally, by type of business or service offered. If you wanted a plumber, you turned to the plumber entries of the Yellow Pages and all of the local plumbers were listed there, in alphabetical order — which is why the Yellow Pages caused a lot of plumbers, roofers, and electricians to come up with company names that started with “AA” so they would be among the first entries in the listing. They figured, correctly, that people would start at the top of the list and wouldn’t go much beyond the first few names.

The idea was that you were supposed to let “your fingers do the walking” through the Yellow Pages, rather than roaming around town yourself to find the right trademan for the work you needed to have done. Of course, nobody does that anymore. We’ll do a Google search for a plumber, or post a Facebook message to friends to get a recommendation for a painter, and therefore nobody really needs to start their business name with “AA” these days.

But the Yellow Pages, cheap and ponderous as it was, was a kind of precursor to the modern way of shopping for goods and services. Our fingers may not do much walking, but they still are the way we get information.

Lincoln On The Verge

I’ve had a chance to do some real leisure reading over the holidays, which is a wonderful way to spend a few days away from work. The first book I tackled was terrific: Lincoln On The Verge: Thirteen Days To Washington, by Ted Widmer. I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in American history generally, and Abraham Lincoln specifically. (And a hat tip to JV, who recommended it to me in the first place.)

You might call Lincoln On The Verge a microhistory. It focuses specifically on the thirteen-day train trip Lincoln took from his home in Springfield, Illinois to Washington, D.C. They were thirteen momentous days, as the South was moving from secession to a full-blown Confederacy, with a government, a President of its own, and ongoing seizures of federal facilities as the do-nothing Buchanan Administration sat idly by, twiddling its thumbs and utterly failing to uphold, preserve, and protect the Union or the Constitution. It’s hard to read this book and not come away with the distinct view that James Buchanan was the most worthless holder of the Presidency ever: corrupt, inept, helpless, and presiding over an Administration thoroughly infused with southerners who were actively undermining the Union they were supposed to be serving.

For Lincoln, it was a dangerous time on a personal level. As the country was coming apart, he was the subject of countless assassination threats — and, on the trip itself, actual assassination attempts and other dangers as he went out among the people. He also faced a different kind of risk. As was traditional during that time period, Lincoln had remained silent during the campaign for the Presidency, letting his surrogates and many campaign biographies work for his election. But as the train trip began, Lincoln began to speak, and ended up giving dozens of speeches as his special train followed a zig-zag course through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio (including Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus), Pennsylvania, and New York. Some of his speeches were clinkers, but others were brilliant reflections on the American experience. Lincoln’s speeches to the masses that came out to greet him on his winding journey set a marked contrast with President Buchanan, who never spoke in public, and helped to build essential public support for the Union cause and for the Civil War that lay just over the horizon. The journey was capped by a run though the dangerous slave state of Maryland, where the threat of an assassination attempt loomed large, to finally reach Washington, D.C., the capital city nestled between two slave states.

Along the way, the formerly clean-shaven Lincoln continued to grow the beard that we now associate with him, and was seen and distinctly remembered by hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans — including some who went on to become famed poets, sculptors, advocates for the abolitionist movement, and future Presidents. As the journey progresses, the reader also gets glimpses of a very different, rapidly growing America on the cusp of earth-shaking conflict and change.

It’s a fascinating story, and one that strongly resonates today. The subtext of the entire book is pretty clear — good leaders can make a profound difference and bring people together in a common cause even in the face of incredible divisiveness And the ultimate message is clear, too: where would we be if Abraham Lincoln had not been there to accept the greatest challenge in American history?

Yes, Virginia

The editorial pages of newspapers are often dull, uninspired affairs, but every once in a while genius strikes. So it was in the September 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun, when a veteran newsman named Francis Pharcellus Church was asked to respond to a little girl’s innocent inquiry about whether Santa Claus really existed. He produced a classic that became one of the most reprinted editorials of all time — with a simple and timeless message that continues to resonate down through the years, and seems especially apt today, as we come to the end of a very difficult year:

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!

The Abolitionists’ Carol

The other day I was listening to the essential Sirius XM Holiday Pops channel when a version of O Holy Night was played. It’s one of my favorite Christmas carols, and it was one of Mom’s favorites, too. She loved the Mario Lanza version, with the tenor using his great voice to hit some of the high notes that make the tune so stirring and powerful.

But the message of the song is powerful and stirring, too. Particularly the third verse that goes:

Truly he taught us to love one another:

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,

And in his name all oppression shall cease.

For Christmas carols, that’s about as political a message as you are going to get — but of course the notion of ending human bondage and instilling brotherhood for all fits neatly with the entire redemptive thrust of the Christmas story. The verse got me to wondering, though: when was O Holy Night written, and was its author an abolitionist?

In fact, the song does have a significant abolitionist history. O Holy Night began as a French poem, called Midnight, Christians, that was written in the 1840s by an atheist to commemorate the dedication of a new church organ. The poem was later set to music and became the French carol Cantique de Noel. It became popular even though French church authorities criticized its message as not being sufficiently reverential. The song crossed the Atlantic and, in the 1850s, as tensions between the North and South reached the boiling point, an American abolitionist minister named John Sullivan Dwight translated the song into English and no doubt applauded the resulting anti-slavery message. As the Civil War neared and then burst over America, the song became extremely popular in the Union states — and probably was never played, or sung, in the short-lived Confederacy.

It’s not hard to imagine church congregations of the North belting out the song with relish during the holiday seasons in an era when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was enacted and adopted by the states, and the horrors of slavery in America finally ended, once and for all. And who knows? Music can have a powerful influence, and the song may have helped to create the political climate that allowed those momentous events to happen. For that reason alone, O Holy Night might be the most historically significant Christmas carol in the holiday playlist.

The Ceiling Perspective

I’ve seen more of ceilings this year than I’ve probably seen in my entire life. In fact, it seems like every day, somebody’s office ceiling, or home office ceiling, or family room or dining room ceiling, is there in front of me, begging to be studied and analyzed.

It’s because of video conferencing, of course. It seems like there are three common video conference perspectives. There’s the straight-ahead perspective, where the camera is roughly on the same level as the person’s face, and the big issue is head size in the frame. Then there’s the setting where the camera is above the participant, looking down, and the person ends up looking sort of small and pathetic and overwhelmed by it all. (Not a good look if you’re interested in power dynamics during the call, obviously.) And then there is the ceiling perspective, where the camera is below the person, looking up, and you end up seeing the top half of their head and a whole lot of ceiling.

I’d never really paid much attention to ceilings before this year, finding them intrainsically uninteresting. I mean, after you determine whether or not the ceiling has crown moldings, what is there of interest? But I was wrong. On a boring video call, you can learn a lot from thoughtful ceiling examination. If you can see more than one smoke detector up there, for example, that tells you something meaningful about the person — or perhaps the fire trap status of their place. Is there a dream catcher or anything else hanging from the ceiling? Do they have a fan? Any spider webs up there? Are their light fixtures simple or elaborate, and what kind of lighting do they provide?

And if somebody is dancing on the ceiling, you’ve inadvertently called Lionel Ritchie.

2020 has changed my perspective on ceilings, as on so many things.

The Zillopraxin Bowl

Last night Kish and I were watching TV. When the show went to break, the first commercial to be aired was for a specific drug to treat a specific ailment. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. As the American population has aged and drug manufacturers have developed drugs targeting virtually every condition, large and small, drug commercials have assumed an ever-greater prominence on TV broadcasts.

Here’s a leading indicator of how our society is drenched in drugs: we’re seeing more and more drug commercials, even during football game broadcasts. It wouldn’t surprise me if, in some markets, drug commercials have knocked beer commercials off their long-time perch as the dominant football game ad time buyer. It’s to the point that I expect that, in the very near future, we’ll see college football bowl games sponsored by specific drugs: “Good afternoon, and welcome to the Zillopraxin Bowl, from beautiful East Adobe Springs, Texas! And remember–if you’ve got scabies, be sure to ask your doctor about Zillopraxin!”

And here’s another thing about the drug commercials. Every person who is featured in the commercial is portrayed as leading the richest, most active life imaginable. They’re shooting rockets into the air, taking samba dance classes in public parks, riding cool convertibles to exotic open-air markets to try on jewelry, getting together with hilarious friends at great bars, jogging, swimming, hiking, and doing just about everything other than being sick and sad and homebound. And nobody in the commercial seems to be suffering from the endless roster of side effects that the announcer intones while you’re watching the drug-takers have the time of their lives–especially the one “rare but potentially fatal” condition that apparently has befallen a tiny minority of people who tried the new drug during clinical trials.

I’m sure there’s a lot of message-testing that goes into making these drug commercials, and the results indicate that these commercials are appealing and compelling to the sick people who are the intended audience. It’s weird to think that drug prescriptions for serious health conditions are being driven by the patients, rather than their doctors, raising potential treatments. It also seems kind of cruel to play on the emotions of people who are sick, but maybe the commercials give them hope that, if they just ask their doctors about enough drugs, they’ll eventually find the right one that will allow them to get out to the park for those samba dancing lessons.

In any case, the constantly increasing stream of drug commercials tells us that they are an effective way of selling drugs. That’s why it will be just a matter of time before we’re all watching the Zillopraxin Bowl.

Vaccine Politics

I was watching TV this week and saw two related stories. One featured a truck delivering the first coronavirus vaccines to Ohio, where a masked Governor DeWine took a look at one box being unloaded, as shown in the photo above. The other was a story saying that the NFL was not going to try to cut in line so that its players and coaches would get the vaccine before others do.

The second story seemed weird to me. I’m sure the NFL thought it was being noble by publicly announcing that it was eschewing any effort to jump the queue for vaccinations. But I had the opposite reaction: why in the world would the NFL even entertain the notion of trying to move up the vaccine priority list? The fact that the NFL apparently considered it, and decided not to try, just shows the risk of political games being played with vaccine distribution and administration.

I suppose this should not be surprising to anyone. The coronavirus has had a devastating effect on our society, our culture, our economy, and individual families who have suffered losses of loved ones. Of course people are going to want to get the vaccine so they can put this whole weird chapter of their lives behind them, and the sooner the better. (Unless, of course, they are anti-vaxxers who aren’t going to get vaccinated at all.) But priorities have to be established so that there’s not a mad scramble for inoculation, and that means there’s a chance that people will try to pull rank, call in favors, apply pressure, and move up the list.

The initial priorities are easy: front-line health care workers and the places where COVID-19 has had the greatest impact — such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities — and that’s how Ohio is going to proceed. But the tougher questions come after those obvious initial candidates are identified. I think there should be some consideration of impact and risk in the distribution decisionmaking. People who work in areas of the economy that have been crushed by shutdown orders, like restaurants and the arts, should have the opportunity to get vaccinated before white-collar workers who have been able to safely continue their jobs from home. And people who have existing health care conditions that increase the impact of the coronavirus should be ahead of healthy people.

I’m happy to wait my turn — hey, if the NFL is doing it, so can I — but I’ll be very interested to see how the vaccine rolls out. I’ll be watching to see when the political types get their shots.

Lincoln, Lincoln, And More Lincoln

I’m hoping to do some significant reading for pleasure over the holidays, and two of the books on the holiday reading list feature my favorite historical figure: Abraham Lincoln. Richard got me Abe, by David S. Reynolds, for Christmas, and I’ve also picked up Lincoln on the Verge, by Ted Widmer, on the recommendation of a friend.

I’m not quite how many books about Lincoln I’ve read. It’s easily dozens. I’ve read fiction about Lincoln, like Gore Vidal’s excellent Lincoln, and fine biographies like David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln, and histories in which Lincoln is the star of the show, like Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. I’ve read books about Lincoln’s early days, books about his melancholy, and books of his speeches. I’ve read the classic Carl Sandburg biography. And even so, I eagerly look forward to reading still more about America’s 16th President, that towering, yet somehow still elusive, historical figure and political genius who guided America through its worst conflict with decency, fortitude, and self-deprecating humor and whose writings capture the real essence of the American concept better than anyone else, before or since. Perhaps these new books will provide some additional insight into the man who has been shrouded in myth since his assassination at the moment the Civil War was ending.

In my view, Lincoln is easily the greatest of America’s presidents. The only bad thing that comes out of reading about him is this: I always end up wishing that the qualities he brought to the office and to his political career were shared by more of our current political class.