Overmasked

I noticed them doing some work around the Schiller statue on one of my recent walks around the park, and when I walked past the statue on Saturday I saw that Herr Schiller is now sporting an oversized mask. I suppose somebody in the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department decided we need yet another reminder of the need to wear masks — even though the statue is honoring social distancing dictates by staying more than six feet away from, and above, anyone walking by.

I’m sure whoever came up with the idea of masking the statue thought they were being pretty clever — even though masking up stuff has been done to death already. But the sight of the giant veiled statue provoked a pretty negative reaction from me. Must the authorities take every opportunity to hit us over the head with masks and other reminders of this ongoing pandemic? Can’t they leave at least some things alone, so we can get an occasional taste of the world as it was before “coronavirus” became a household word?

Trust me: we’re not going to forget that there’s a pandemic going on, even if there’s not a mask on every statue.

Deboarding Downtown

Before the election, there were cautions about potential unrest in downtown Columbus during the period while votes were being counted. Most of the businesses in the downtown area put plywood over their street-level windows for protection against rock throwing, just in case. The boarded-up windows, which tend to attract graffiti, gave the downtown area a creepy, apocalyptic feel that matched, and maybe enhanced, the general sense of trepidation many people had about the whole election period.

Yesterday I went downtown for work and was glad to see that the plywood had been taken down from many of the buildings, while removal efforts were underway at still other buildings like the one shown in the photo above. Two weeks after the election, businesses evidently feel that the danger of civic unrest has passed and that it’s time to get back to normal. I was happy to see that development, because reflective windows are a lot nicer to walk by than plywood.

I’ve always been a believer in the “broken windows” theory, which posits that physical surroundings can send cues about expected behavior. Boarded-up buildings send a very distinctive message, whereas businesses that have removed the boards and are happy to let the sun shine in send a different message entirely. And although normally I’m the first person to question holiday decorations that are put up too early, this year I won’t mind seeing festive trimmings put up on downtown buildings, even if they go up before Thanksgiving. They will be a tangible sign that the election is behind us, the holidays (and the end of 2020) are on the horizon, and it’s time to move forward.

Jinxing The Year

Lots of people were pretty happy with the election results. Add in some apparent good news on progress toward a coronavirus vaccine, and there are many who have been in a celebratory mood lately. Social media has been littered with photos and video footage of sparkling champagne bubbling away in delicate flutes, ready to be quaffed as part of the party.

Speaking as a Cleveland sports fan, these displays of happiness, glee, enthusiasm, and even confidence for the future are causing me enormous concern about jinxing. 2020 has been an unbelievably difficult and punitive year so far, which suggests that the fates controlling the year are like the fickle and perverse gods of Greek and Nordic myth. My Cleveland sports history means I know all too well what happens when such capricious gods feel taunted or tempted by premature human displays of hope or optimism: that’s precisely when the gods will take steps to crush your soul and send it hurtling into the black pits of despair. Having already steered a pandemic and toilet paper shortages our way, the 2020 gods are clearly capable of just about anything that will further toy with the lives of puny humans.

I’m not saying this is definitely going to happen if the celebrations continue, of course — but it being 2020, why take a chance? Better to remain meek and humble so as not to tantalize the gods with another chance to toss a few more thunderbolts and chuckle at the resulting misery. Better to wait on the celebration until 2021 actually gets here — if that ever happens.

Fighting The Good Fight

Two people I know pretty well were candidates in last Tuesday’s general election. Both were motivated primarily by noble desires to serve the public in the judicial branch of our government. One of them won, and will be a great addition to the state court bench in Ohio. The other, regrettably, did not — but she fought the good fight. She was a great candidate who worked tirelessly and cheerfully and did everything that successful contenders must do.

As the 2020 election recedes into the distance, I’d like to focus for a moment on those candidates who fought the good fight. All of us have tasted the bitter dregs of defeat at some point in our lives, in an athletic contest, a spelling bee, a talent show, or a competition for the heart of another. We all know that losing really hurts. I cannot imagine, however, how it must feel to lose an election, after devoting countless hours to fundraising, campaign events, and — it being 2020 — awkward Zoom calls. Even worse, politics being what it is these days, the losing candidate often has also been the subject of demonization and the most negative advertising you can imagine. It takes a lot of guts and fortitude to run for any office — whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, the Green Party, or the marijuana parties that appeared on some state ballots this year. Most of us, myself included, would never dream of doing so.

We all need to remember that our republic would not work if at least two candidates did not summon up the gumption to run for the office in question. On our ballot this year, there were a handful of uncontested races — and that’s too bad. Campaigns serve a crucial purpose. They help to frame the issues, they give us information about the contenders for the office, and the positions staked out by the candidates often increase public awareness of the issues and the duties performed by the office itself.

So, here’s to those candidates who fought the good fight. We appreciate your personal sacrifice and your commitment to public service. Our system couldn’t do it without you.

A Future Without Polling

The American people may be politically divided, and the emerging 2020 election results certainly reflect that reality. But I suspect we all could agree on one thing: pollsters who were trying to take the temperature of the American voter during this election cycle didn’t exactly cover themselves with glory. To the contrary, the polls were remarkably, and dramatically, inaccurate predictors of the actual results.

This year, virtually every pollster produced results that diverged from reality by percentages that far exceeded the “margin of error.” Florida, which was one of the most highly sampled states in the country, provides a good example of the phenomenon. The final pre-election polls, by respected pollsters, predicted that Joe Biden would win the presidential election by between four and six points, and the final results had President Trump winning by about three and a half points. That means the polls that were announced with great fanfare and breathlessly discussed by talking heads on news shows were off by between eight and ten percentage points. And Florida is not alone. Across the country, in the presidential, Senate, and House races, the vast majority of the polls were simply wrong.

Why were the 2020 polls so wrong — even after pollsters vowed that they had learned their lessons and tweaked their procedures in the wake of 2016, when polls also were demonstrably inaccurate? People have come up with a lot of theories. Maybe the pollsters aren’t very adept at predicting who is actually going to cast their ballot and are sampling the wrong populations. Maybe the polling questions reflect intrinsic bias. Maybe there are “shy” voters out there who don’t want to admit who they really support. And maybe people don’t like having their days interrupted by intrusive pollsters, and are increasingly likely to lie about their true intentions and feelings as part of an effort to consciously mislead the pollsters. Or maybe, just maybe, the notion that polling can be viewed as reasonably “scientific “ is a charade, and we should just accept that trying to detect and predict political currents in a country as broad and diverse as the United States is a fool’s errand.

I personally think we’d all be better off if there were no publicly announced polling. Polls don’t advance the national discourse, and they have made journalists into lazy, incurious creatures who don’t venture outside to actually talk to real people or cover real issues. If reporters spent less time trying to analyze inaccurate polls, they’d have more time to actually do their jobs. And if there is any chance that poll results cause certain voters not to exercise their franchise — either because the polls show their candidates to be far ahead or far behind — eliminating polls would eliminate that vote-suppression factor. We can also, I think, agree on the proposition that anything that suppresses voting is not to be encouraged.

I hope people remember the inaccuracy of polls when the next election rolls around, but I also hope the news media does some soul-searching about how it covers poll results. This election cycle demonstrates that poll results aren’t really news in any meaningful sense, and shouldn’t be reported as such. When polls are off by double or triple the claimed margin of error, they are little more than speculation, and not much more credible or informative than reporting on the armchair predictions of your relatives and friends. A case can now be made that, if the news media really wants to stick to reporting news, it won’t report on poll results at all.

The Turnout’s Tale

After a wait that seems like it has lasted forever, Election Day 2020 is finally here. Of course, we’re all interested in what the result of the presidential election will be — and also when we will know for sure. And of course, there are important Senate, House, state, and local offices to be decided, too.

I’m interested, though, in another result: what the overall turnout will be. According to the United States Election Project data, total U.S. turnout for the 2016 general election was about 60 percent of eligible voters; Ohio voters hit 64.2 percent. (You can see the data and state-by-state results here.) Sixty percent participation by eligible voters is pretty embarrassing. This year, we’ve been regularly reminded of the importance of voting by professional sports leagues, Google, every form of social media, and many companies’ TV commercials. In this election, which has easily been the most contentious election that has been held during my adult lifetime, will we do better at exercising one of our most important rights, and duties, as citizens in a republic?

Of course, this election comes in the midst of a pandemic — but voting absentee, and early voting, has never been easier. Many of our friends and colleagues went the early voting route, and by all accounts the experience was painless. If you’re on Facebook, no doubt you’ve seen pictures of your early-voting friends, wearing their masks and sporting their “I voted” stickers. They are not alone. According to CNN, early voting this year smashed all records. Officials believe the total number of early voting Americans will hit 100 million — which is more than two thirds of the 138 million people who voted in 2016.

We’ll be going the traditional route today, and voting in person on Election Day. It’s an experience that I always find humbling, and rewarding. Normally I vote first thing in the morning, before heading to the office, and usually there are long lines. Since I’m working from home today we’ll probably head over to our voting place later in the morning. I’m hoping to see lots of my fellow voters there, and keeping my fingers crossed that, as a country, we’ll hit much higher voter participation rates in 2020 than we did in 2016.

This election has been almost unbearably bitter and divisive, but if all of the rancor has spurred more people to vote, at least something good will have come from it.

Between The Lines

They’ve started a new campaign in German Village. The aspirational goal: to bring order and regularity in on-street parking.

Since we’ve been here, parking has been — to put it mildly — chaotic. Most houses don’t have driveways or garages, so street parking is a necessity. To complicate things, there are a few zones where stickers are required and non-stickered cars can get ticketed, but other areas are open for parking by anyone. The result is that people park where they can, which often means precious street parking space is wasted by yawning gaps between cars that nevertheless aren’t quite big enough to accommodate a car. When you’re hunting for a nearby parking space late at night, the not-quite-big-enough gaps and wasted spaces can be frustrating.

The new approach seeks to conserve and fully employ the precious street parking space. The city has painted corners like the one shown above to define specific parking spaces, and has also posted signs like the one below explaining the program and noting that people who flout the spaces can be cited with a $47 ticket. I can’t speak to whether people are reading the signs — I did, at least— but they do seem to be honoring the new spaces and parking between the lines. That will mean more parking spaces for us all.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that painting indicated spots on streets would spur parking compliance and end the Wild West parking atmosphere. If the price of achieving more parking spaces is simply the cost of a few cans of white paint and the wages of whoever painted the corners, German Village residents can reasonably wonder why this simple solution wasn’t tried before. But let’s not be grudging, shall we? A delayed solution is still a solution, and the new program shows the city is paying attention to the unique needs of our community. That’s good to see.

For Court Of Appeals Judge: Lisa Forbes

Early voting has started in Ohio, and today I am going to break my vow not to write about the election for a second, and last, time. If you live in Cuyahoga County, I urge you to vote for Lisa Forbes for the Eighth District Court of Appeals, which is the Ohio appellate court covering Cuyahoga County. You can find Lisa’s campaign web page and information about her background and involvement in the community here.

First, the appropriate disclosures: I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of working with Lisa Forbes at Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, LLP for decades. Lisa and I have worked together on matters for clients and have served together on firm committees. She is a valued colleague and friend. I like and respect her, and I think she’s got all of the qualities that would make her a terrific court of appeals judge. Living in Columbus, I can’t vote for her — unfortunately! — but I have contributed to her campaign because I think supporting smart, qualified, hard-working people to serve on our courts is good for our judicial system and good for the Buckeye State.

For those of you who aren’t lawyers and therefore aren’t intimately familiar with the Ohio state court system, appellate courts are the courts that review trial court decisions and jury verdicts. If you’re a civil case litigant, or a criminal case defendant, and you think your trial court made a mistake, you go to the court of appeals for a second look and second opinion. After the court of appeals has had its say, you have the opportunity to ask the Ohio Supreme Court to take your case — but the Supreme Court accepts and considers only a small fraction of the cases that go through the Ohio court system. The vast majority of Ohio state-court cases end at the court of appeals level, and the decisions made by the courts of appeals are viewed as important legal precedent by other courts throughout Ohio.

That’s why it is so important to have really good judges on our courts of appeals. Because the Ohio courts of appeals review all cases that are properly submitted to them from the trial courts in their districts, they’ve got a significant workload of both civil and criminal cases. It is essential to have hard-working appellate judges who can review the briefs, thoughtfully analyze the legal issues, question lawyers for the parties at oral arguments, and then reach a decision with the other court of appeals judges assigned to the case and write an opinion explaining the court’s reasoning. If court of appeals judges don’t work hard, the system becomes clogged and appeals can drag on for months or even years, which can be frustrating for everyone involved.

Lisa Forbes has all of the capabilities you would ideally want in a court of appeals judge. She’s one of the most conscientious, hard-working people I know, someone who has deftly juggled family responsibilities and work obligations for years. She won’t drop the ball or disappoint litigants and lawyers who are looking for prompt decisions. She has a keen legal mind, she has lots of experience in wrestling with difficult and novel issues presented in challenging cases and finding the precedent and authorities that are relevant, and she is a gifted writer. Based on her years of experience, no case that might come to the Eighth District Court of Appeals would be beyond the ability of Lisa Forbes to thoughtfully and fairly evaluate and decide, and she would then explain her reasoning in an opinion that would be clear and understandable to everyone who read it — lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

The last point is a crucial one, because an important part of our judicial system is showing even losing parties that they have been heard, their arguments have been respected and fairly considered, and there are solid reasons why those arguments haven’t prevailed. We want our courts to be regarded by all as even-handed bastions of justice and fairness, and it is important to have judges who will always focus on and strive toward that goal.

I know that Lisa Forbes will do that. If you live in Cuyahoga County, in this election I encourage you to vote for Lisa Forbes for the Eighth District Court of Appeals.

My Interview With RBG

I was very saddened to read yesterday of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, after a long and hard-fought battle with cancer.  She was one of those rare Supreme Court justices who was not only a towering legal figure, but also a titanic cultural figure as well.

As the second woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg was a role model and iconic figure for generations of women entering the legal profession and, more broadly, women breaking boundaries in formerly male-dominated professions of all kinds.  Her jurisprudence shows that she was a tireless, and relentless, advocate for women’s rights, but also a brilliant and careful legal analyst and deft writer whose considerable brainpower was well applied to every case that came before the Supreme Court.

And in my view, at least, Justice Ginsburg was an important cultural figure in another way as well.  She was great friends with former Justice Antonin Scalia, even though their views on the law and its purpose could not have been farther apart.  They shared a love of opera, enjoyed socializing, and actually performed on stage in a 1994 Washington National Opera production.  It says something about the character and temperament of both Justice Ginsburg and Justice Scalia that they could put aside their political and legal disagreements and still enjoy each other’s company.  It’s a quality that we could use a bit more of in these bitterly divided, hyperpartisan times.

I had the privilege of actually interviewing for a clerkship position with Judge Ginsburg in 1984, when she was serving as one of the leading, up-and-coming judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and I was beginning my third year of law school.  I had sent resumes and letters to all of the court of appeals judges and was thrilled to get a callback interview with Judge Ginsburg.  (I suspect that her husband, Martin Ginsburg, a Georgetown Law professor who had taught two tax classes I had taken, may have put in a good word for me.)  Alas, when I arrived for the interview Judge Ginsburg told me, with characteristic gentle forthrightness, that she had just offered the position to another candidate, who had accepted, and she said that under the circumstances if I wanted to skip the interview she would understand and be fine with that.

I was disappointed at the news, but figured what the heck — how often am I going to get a chance to talk for a while with one of the world’s leading legal minds? — so I said if it was okay with her I’d like to stay and chat, anyway.  We spent a very enjoyable hour talking about her husband and his great teaching style and a law review article I was working on about the intersession pocket veto, an issue that had arisen before the D.C. Circuit.  Judge Ginsburg asked some incisive questions about the issues and had some interesting observations about them, and then flattered me by asking for a copy of my draft article, which I promptly sent.  I may not have gotten a clerkship out of our brief encounter, but I did get a good story and some insights into an important historical figure from the experience.

When President Clinton appointed Justice Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, I knew she would be an important Justice, and of course she was.  Today I remember not only the leading jurist and influential role model, but also the funny, dynamic person I met more than 35 years ago.  The world is a little poorer today with her passing.

Sports And Politics

Yesterday my ESPN app sent me an “alert” that Baker Mayfield, the Cleveland Browns’ starting quarterback, had tweeted that he had decided to reverse course and stand for the National Anthem at the start of today’s game. (Or maybe it was the other way around; I really haven’t been paying close attention to Baker Mayfield’s apparently evolving stance on the National Anthem.)

Mostly, my reaction was that things sure have changed in the wide world of sports.since I was a kid. Of course, there wasn’t Twitter or social media of any kind in those days, but it’s hard to imagine any professional sports figure of my youth sending out any kind of politically oriented messages on the day before a Big Game. Their focus would be exclusively on getting their Game Face on for the contest — or, at least, they sure would want you to think that mental preparation was their sole preoccupation.

Of course, politics did mix with sports from time to time in those days. The John Carlos and Tommy Smith Black Power salutes during their medal award ceremony in the 1968 Olympics were a big deal, and if I recall correctly Redskins coach George Allen publicly endorsed President Nixon and let him call a play during a game. But for the most part sports was separate, and a chance to get away from politics and enter a world where your sports allegiances were far more important than your political inclinations and people from across the political spectrum could unite in celebration of the Browns’ 1964 NFL championship victory or commiserate about the ineptitude of the Cleveland Indians during the ’70s.  Sports was a kind of safe space for cocktail party conversation or backyard cookout chatter.

Those days are long gone.  Today’s athletes seem to be as immersed in politics as anybody else, and are very open about their views.  I’m perfectly okay with that, and recognize that these days a figure like LeBron James or Baker Mayfield has to be thinking about his position on issues like standing or kneeling for the National Anthem, because other people are going to be paying attention to it,  And athletes are as entitled as the next person to express their political views and use platforms like Twitter to do so.  Of course, political speech adds a new dimension to the sports star-fan dynamic.  Athletes who venture into the political world have to recognize that, just as they have the right to express their political views, fans do, too — maybe by booing, maybe by criticizing what they perceive as inconsistency or hypocrisy in the athletes’ positions, or maybe by just deciding that the world of sports is no longer as fun and innocent and apolitical as it used to be and not buying tickets to games or watching broadcasts or buying jerseys with their favorite player’s name,   

The days when sports and politics were separate worlds probably will never come back.  Politics has invaded everything, and sports is not immune.  That’s the reality, but I do kind of miss the days when you could watch a ball game for a few hours without politics intruding into the triumphs and heartbreaks of the sports fantasy world.   

Judge Gina Russo

My regular readers know that this year I’ve sworn to avoid writing about politics, and so far I’ve kept my pledge. But today I want to deviate from that course and write about a candidate who is running to keep a seat on the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas:  Judge Gina Russo.  You can read about her on her website.  

Judge Russo began her legal career as an associate at our firm, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, LLP.  She was a smart, capable, hard-working member of our litigation group who had a special love for trials and the courtroom.  Judge Russo also was an absolute pleasure to work with:  someone who invariably displayed a positive, cheerful, can-do attitude and who could be counted on to get the assignment done, and done right.  She worked on pretty much every kind of case our firm handles, large and small, and got a lot of experience in various aspects of the civil litigation area.  Judge Russo also showed a knack for establishing strong relationships with clients–which is one of the hallmarks of gifted lawyers.  If a client keeps coming back to you when they’ve got a legal issue, it’s a tangible sign that the clients think you really care about their problems and are doing a good job on their behalf.  I’m happy to report to you that Judge Russo’s clients kept coming back.

Judge Russo left our firm because she relished the courtroom, and civil litigation trials tend to be few and far between.  If you want to get that regular courtroom experience, the prosecutor’s office is where to go–and that’s where Judge Russo went.  I was sad that she left our firm, but people have to follow their star, and I knew that she yearned to be on her feet before judges and juries and had made a careful, thoughtful decision, as she always had done.  It turned out to be a very good decision for her, because Judge Russo got the courtroom work she craved and rapidly worked her way up in the prosecutor’s office to the point where she was handling some of the office’s most challenging, high-profile felony cases. 

In March of 2019, Governor DeWine appointed Judge Russo to fill a vacancy on the Franklin County Common Pleas Court bench.  Now she is running for a new term as a judge, in the election to be held this November.  I’ll be voting for her, and I recommend that others do so, too.  Judge Russo has the breadth and depth of experience that we ideally look for in a judge–with significant direct involvement in civil and criminal litigation and first-hand exposure to the law in both of those areas.  And the same personal characteristics that made her a fine associate at our firm also serve her well on the bench.  Our society wants and needs judges who care about justice, objectivity, and fairness, who aspire to reflect those qualities in their conduct and their rulings, who will read and think carefully about what lawyers have written and argued, and who will work hard at their jobs.  And I want to emphasize that last point, because court dockets can become clogged and inert if judges aren’t always focused on deciding motions and keeping the cases before them moving forward.  I know from positive personal experience that Judge Russo will do all of those things, and no one will work harder, or with a more positive attitude, at their job.

It’s wonderful for the Columbus community and the justice system that we have excellent judicial candidates like Judge Gina Russo.  I recommend her wholeheartedly and without reservation.  Remember her when you head to the voting booth this fall.

N.P.A.

We’re getting closer and closer to the 2020 election. You can feel it.  And as Election Day draws nearer, one of the local shopkeepers felt compelled to post the sign pictured above.

The political types among us don’t understand this N.P.A. — No Politics Allowed — attitude.  They could rail against President Trump, or make fun of “Sleepy Joe,” all day long — and all night long, too.  They can’t get enough of the Politics with a capital “P,” and they want to make sure that everyone knows exactly where they stand.  To them, nothing is more important.  The very future of the country is at stake!  They’re immersed in it, they’re fascinated by it, they follow every development avidly, and they just can’t help talking about it and hoping that someone will be persuaded by their passion.

But there’s a solid core of people out there who are in a different camp.  They’ve got their political views, no doubt, but they don’t feel compelled to share them.  They don’t want to get into arguments about the election.  They may not find it all that interesting to hear people berate one candidate or the other, all the time, either.  Heck, they’d rather talk about COVID-19 mask designs than politics.  And they might also recognize that it’s very unpleasant to witness people get into a bitter political dispute — particularly if the people who are jawing at each other are patrons who are supposed to be enjoying a pleasant shopping experience.

So come in!  Look around!  Shop to your heart’s content!  But please . . . keep those impassioned political opinions to yourself, will you?  Please?

Some Independence Day Thoughts

It’s Independence Day.  As we recognize our oldest national holiday, dating back to before the country was even formally founded, no doubt many people are thinking that these are strange, difficult times, and are wondering just what the future may bring.  We’ve experienced significant protests across the country — with “Black Lives Matter” signs being seen even on a small road in this remote corner of Maine — and in this presidential election year political passions are running high.  

The spirit of unbridled protest has always run deep in this land.  We’ve fought two civil wars in an effort to define and structure concepts of liberty and freedom, and we’ve experienced other periods where the vein of protest pulsed strongly.  The country has seen the mass civil rights marches and Vietnam War protests of the ’60s, the women’s suffrage movement, the Prohibition and anti-Prohibition movements, and the organized labor movements in the late 1800s — and that’s just scratching the surface.  Each of these protests has changed the country in some meaningful way, and there is no doubt that the current protests will, too.  The spirit of protest is so important to this country that we have codified our right to protest in the very first provision of the Bill of Rights and specifically stripped Congress of the ability to make any law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  People who wring their hands about protests simply don’t understand our history, or our institutions.  In reality, protest is as American as apple pie.  

We often think of the “Founding Fathers” as gentlemen with powdered hair in fancy dress who secured freedom just by signing the Declaration of Independence — the execution of which gives rise to the holiday that we celebrate today.  From our vantage point, more than 240 years later, we tend to forget that country’s first civil war, which we now know as the Revolutionary War, was a harsh, bloody fight that occurred in a bitterly divided land — and the Founding Fathers in their silk stockings were the rebels

Courtesy of a present from Richard, I’m reading an excellent book about the first part of the revolutionary period by Rick Atkinson, called The British Are Coming.  One passage had particular resonance with me, in view of the period we are currently living through:

“John Adams, never taciturn, later would be quoted as saying, ‘I would have hanged my own brother had he taken part with our enemy in the contest.’

“Few were hanged, at least not yet; incivility rarely turned to bestiality.  But no one could say how brutal the war would become.  Conformity, censorship, and zealotry now flourished.  Even small sins, such as ‘speaking diminutively of the country congress,’ might be punished with forced public apologies, boycotts, ostracism, or property confiscation.  A mild word of praise for the British government–or simply being suspected of thinking loyal thoughts–could provoke a beating.  Militias served as a political constabulary, bolstered by the Continental Army.  When Queens County, a loyalist stronghold on Long Island, voted 788 to 221 against sending representatives to the provincial congress, the names of those in the majority were published in the newspaper; they were forbidden to travel, hire a lawyer, or practice a trade.  More than a thousand militiamen and Continentals then swept through Queens, arresting opposition leaders, seizing weapons and extracting allegiance oaths–except from the 250 obdurate men who fled into the swamps to await General Howe’s arrival.

Such measures spread.”

In short, there is nothing new under the sun, and we’ve been through these kinds of challenging periods–in fact, much more challenging periods–before.  Reading accurate histories of America would provide reassurance on that point.  Unfortunately, airbrushing history has also been a tradition in this country.  How many of us who went through the American school system were taught of the horrendous Tulsa, Oklahoma race massacre of 1921, or of lynchings, or the role of the Ku Klux Klan in subjugating African Americans — or for that matter the egregious history of lies, broken promises and mistreatment of indigenous Americans, Chinese immigrants, or other ethnic groups, or the Japanese internment camps that were created during World War II?  Those terrible racist episodes are as much a part of American history, and our ability to gain a true and complete understanding of our country, as the lofty pronouncements in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Emancipation Proclamation.  Those of us who were taught that America’s history is an unbroken story of freedom, liberty, and fairness in service to the world were not told the whole story.  We deserved the truth, but we didn’t get it.

I hope that that will be one of the positive impacts of these current protests.  We can only fully grasp the meaning and complexity of American history, and the true importance of crucial historical figures, if we take an unvarnished view of their lives and understand their faults, flaws, and failings as well as their successes.  I hope that the exercise of First Amendment freedoms that we are seeing in these protests ensures that American history is never sanitized again and the full story — good, bad, and ugly — is told from here on out.

The exercise of our freedoms is something worth celebrating.  Happy Fourth of July, everyone!  

Moving Goalposts And Quarantine Fatigue

The press paid a lot of attention to the American people being out and about over the weekend.  In California, the media focused on people flocking to southern California beaches to surf, get some sun, and otherwise do what the Beach Boys told us people do on California beaches.  In New York, there were reports of lots of people out and about in Central Park.  Here in Columbus, we got some pretty spring days after a series of cold gloomy ones, and that caused a lot of people to get outside, too.

200323002623-03-california-beach-coronavirus-0321-super-teaseNone of this should be a surprise.  When the weather warms up in the spring, people naturally want to get outside and enjoy it, whether they live in California or Kalamazoo.  But these aren’t normal times, thanks to the coronavirus, and the press attention was all about people flouting governmental orders and not engaging in social distancing.

For the most part, I think Americans, and Ohioans, have done a pretty darned good job of abiding by unprecedented governmental orders.  For most of us who haven’t been sent to prison and didn’t experience governmental rationing or curfew orders during World War II, the coronavirus edicts are the biggest and most detailed governmental intrusions into our normal daily lives that we’ve ever experienced.  Given the history of contrarianism in the U.S., you’d expect there to be some resistance, but for the most part people have yielded, and accepted the need for the government efforts.  No one — and I mean no one — wants to kill people or see the country decimated by a fatal pandemic.

But government leaders need to understand that they can’t move the goalposts on us, either.  When the shutdown orders were first issued, they were presented as necessary to “flatten the curve,” protect health care resources from being overwhelmed, and give government time to shore up ventilator and mask supplies.  All of that has now been accomplished — and yet some are arguing that the restrictive orders should continue until . . . when or what, exactly?  I think many people have the sense that we’ve experienced a bait and switch, and the switch is happening right now.  The goalposts seem to be moving from flattening the curve to some point in the future that is more ambiguous and ill-defined — as if some government leaders and modelers and health care experts will “know it when they see it” and let the rest of us in on their decision at their leisure.  That perception is not exactly a recipe for broad societal compliance.

The sense of “quarantine fatigue” is real and, I think, is shared by many.  Part of it is people getting antsy, and part of it is spring fever, but I think part of it is just the notion that we weigh and accept risk as a matter of course, and build those risk-assessment decisions into our daily lives.  If you drive to work or take a driving vacation, you are increasing your risk of death in a traffic accident.  If you live in a house with a staircase, you are increasing your risk of a fatal fall.  But the government would never think (I hope) of banning driving, or multi-story family homes, or any of the other risks that we encounter and accept on a daily basis.

We all know, intuitively, that we can’t stay sheltering in place forever.  We need to get back to work and, equally important, to being permitted the freedom to make rational risk-weighing decisions about our lives.  If seniors who have health conditions and are in nursing homes are at high risk, by all means come up with tailored methods to protect them from COVID-19.  If wearing masks in subways has a discernible positive effect, by all means require them.  And if some people are so worried about the coronavirus that they want to work from home until a vaccine is successfully developed and they have a job that allows them to do so, fine.  But the sooner the government stops trying to ban people who have been penned up for 40 days from congregating outside on a beautiful warm day and starts communicating where we are right now and letting people make reasonable risk decisions, the better.