This Year’s Down Yard Projects

I got a lot accomplished during my two-day Stonington gardening frenzy this past weekend. Mother Nature was a great help in the effort. It had rained for a few days before I arrived, so the ground was soft and perfect for weed extraction. During my visit, however, it was sunny and cool—ideal conditions for some heavy duty planting and general yard work.

Yard work and gardening have a sequence. The winter storms had knocked down a lot of branches, so the first step in the process was to pick up the debris and deposit it in our compost heap. That gathering effort also allowed me to survey the plants to see how they fared. I’m pleased to report that our major perennial plants all survived. I’m also pleased to report that the lupines and ferns I’ve been cultivating in the weedy, between the rocks areas of the down yard came through the winter in thriving fashion. You can see some of the lupines in the photo above and the photo below. The lupines and the ferns should minimize our weeding obligations and give us some pretty lupine blooms besides.

The next step was weeding. Last fall I had dug out and edged some new beds in the down yard, and the Borgish weeds had invaded in force. After removing them, I planted some orange and yellow marigolds and a nice flower I discovered last year called a verbena. The marigolds grew well here last summer, produce a lot of flowers, and also, according to local lore at least, have a smell that helps to repel deer. The red verbena are hardy, have a bold color, and should spread. I added a white geranium, shown in the photo at the top of this post, and a red geranium, shown in the photo below, for a bit of contrast.

The goal this year is to make the down yard for interesting, visually, and to use flower color to accent more of the rocks. It’s a risk, because the rocky soil is not great for planting. I used lots of potting soil while planting in a bid to compensate. I also repositioned many of the abundant rocks in the yard to better delineate planting areas. I’m pleased with the results so far, but we’ll get a better sense of how the experiment is working when I return later this summer for more weeding, watering, and mulching.

The Borg In Our Yard

Two very full days of gardening — more on that later — have convinced me of one thing: weeds are the Borg of the plant world. They are relentless in their quest to assimilate every tidy garden area and turn it into a snarled, disheveled, grotesque, tumbledown mess. And weeds, like the Borg, don’t care about you. They are oblivious to your aching back, your hamstrings that seem to be on fire, your muddy knees, or the knuckles that have been skinned on rocks. And while you may need sleep, the weeds never rest.

You can’t really get rid of weeds, either. Like the Borg, they will keep coming back. You might spend hours digging them out, carefully removing them from the footprints of the plants you want to keep, and tossing them into the compost area, but you know they will return. Spend hours turning a weedy area, above, into a neat, well-tended bed, below, and you may as well take a picture to remember it by, because when you return the weeds will have encroached again.

When I weed up here, I half expect to see a grim black cube hovering overhead. The weeds are ever on the march

A Serene Sunrise

This morning I awoke as the first glimmers of the coming dawn penetrated the heavy curtains of our bedroom (4:56 a.m. to be precise) and enjoyed my first Stonington sunrise of 2022. As always, I was struck by the absolute, unearthly, ears searching for any hint of a sound quiet you find up here. The lack of any—and I mean any—background noise makes for quite a contrast with life in Columbus. The beautiful colors and the silence are a wonderful way to start the day.

Coastal Colors

When Betty and I took our walk this morning we passed the Island Ad-Vantages building, which has a new paint job. It a pretty bold color scheme—which means it fits right in.

One of the things I like about Stonington is that people aren’t afraid to use bright paint on their houses. That is true in many seaside communities. To be sure, there are many houses that are white or coastal gray, but there also are vibrant yellows, blues, reds, and greens. It makes for a very pleasing palette. It also says “vacation.”

The new shades on the Island Ad-Vantages offices just add more hues to our multi-colored Stonington rainbow.

That First Whiff Of Salt Air

We’re up in Stonington this weekend to do so spring clean-up and planting. It is still very cool up here—the high today will be around 50—but it’s sunny and the weather app indicates that the below freezing temperatures are behind us.

This morning I took Betty for a walk and, as we ambled down the aptly named Sea Breeze Street I caught my first whiff of salt air. Its invigorating tang quickened my step, and when we reached the small harbor next to the mail boat dock, the sunlight was dazzling on the water. We completed the walk by trudging up Granite Street, looping back through town, then heading up the Pink Street walkway. When we crested the hill on Highland Avenue, we were rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the lobster boats in the harbor and the islands beyond.

It’s nice to be back on the coast, even if only for a short while.

Ohio — The Library State

The U.S. Senate and Ohio gubernatorial races got most of the attention in Tuesday’s Ohio primary election. But the election also featured a series of levies, bond issues, and other decisions to be made by Ohio voters. And when you drill down into the results, you find something striking: libraries kicked butt.

In fact, library issues went a perfect 6-0 in the election, and all of them passed resoundingly — garnering, on average, approval votes from 71 percent of voters. In contrast, many school levies and bond issues went down to defeat.

Why do Ohioans vote overwhelmingly for libraries? A representative of the Ohio Library Council says its because Ohioans like the services they offer, and she speculates that the free COVID test kits offered at Ohio libraries during the pandemic might have played a role. I don’t know about the test kits, but I do think that the pandemic helped to drive home how important it is to have a place where you can find books to read, videos to watch, and CDs to listen to while you are social distancing. More generally, I think people like the community element of libraries. In many parts of Ohio, libraries are a source of local pride, and also one of the connections that hold communities together and allow neighbors to see each other. And library issues typically aren’t breaking the bank in terms of what they are asking.

I’m a big library supporter, and we are big-time library users. I think libraries are an important part of the fabric of this country, and I’m glad to see that my fellow Ohioans agree with that sentiment.

JGI, Concourse C, 4:35 a.m.

I’m on the road this morning, with very early flights. Being the prototypical Uptight Traveler, I got to Columbus’ John Glenn International Airport early to make sure there were no snags, which meant I encountered a gleamingly clean and mostly vacant terminal when I headed to my gate. (And, for those who make fun of my U.T. tendencies, I should note that there were long lines to check in bags at many of the airline counters when I arrived, so I am firm in my view that getting to the airport early remains a good option.)

This is the first flight I’ve taken since the mask mandate was lifted and masks became optional. Some travelers are wearing masks, but the vast majority are unmasked. I’d say the ratio of unmasked to masked is about 9 to 1. It’s kind of weird to be in a mostly unmasked airport after two years of pandemic-fueled masking. It makes the two-year masking period seem like a strange, unsettling dream.

In Dangerous Times

Earlier this week Dave Chappelle was ending a show at the Hollywood Bowl when he was assaulted by a man who came up on stage and tried to tackle the comedian. The attacker, who was armed with a fake gun that contained a knife blade, was subdued by security as Chappelle finished his show. Ironically, during the show Chappelle had apparently just been joking about having increased security in the wake of the Will Smith-Chris Rock-Oscars incident, and Chris Rock–who was at Chappelle’s performance–came on stage and jokingly asked Chappelle whether the assailant was Will Smith.

We can tip our caps to Chappelle and Rock for their faithful adherence to “the show must go on” tradition in show business, but the attacks on performers obviously aren’t funny. The Hollywood Reporter has published a piece headlined “Nobody’s Safe: Dave Chappelle Attack Raises Concerns For Performers” that addresses the incidents that reflect the increasing risks involved in performing in public. The concern is that the invisible but previously respected barrier between the stage and the audience has been breached, and that performers now have to be wary of the possibility of being physically confronted by some lunatic every time they go before the public to do a show. While that is a risk for any live performer, the risk is greater for a comedian, who is up on stage, alone, and might just make a joke that some unbalanced person in the audience finds personally provoking. And the Chappelle incident, coming on the heels of the Will Smith-Chris Rock assault, raises heightened concern that copycats might be lurking out there, ready to charge the stage at any comedy venue.

Chappelle, who is a real pro, issued a statement after the attack saying that he “refuses to allow last night’s incident to overshadow the magic of this historic moment.”  I hope that turns out to be true, and that performers everywhere continue to perform before live audiences, albeit with enhanced security and greater attention to their safety. There is a certain magic in seeing a live performance that simply can’t be replicated in a Netflix special, and I would hate to see that lost. But if these kinds of incidents continue, I wouldn’t be surprised if some performers decide that live acts just aren’t worth it. In dangerous times like these, who could criticize them for being unwilling to take that risk?

Changing Party, Changing State

Yesterday Ohio held its primary election. There was a fierce contest on the Republican ballot for the nomination to replace retiring Senator Rob Portman, a moderate. Most of the candidates who were vying for the nomination, in contrast, were much more on the conservative side of the ledger, seemingly trying to “out-Trump” former President Trump. J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy who was endorsed by Trump, won the primary with just over 30 percent of the vote. Vance will now face Democrat Tim Ryan in November.

The Republican primary for Senate leaves me thinking about just how much the Republican Party in Ohio has changed in my lifetime. Shortly after we graduated from college, we moved to Washington, D.C., where I got a job as a press secretary and legislative aide to Rep. Chalmers P. Wylie, shown above, a Republican who represented part of the Columbus metropolitan area and some of the surrounding rural counties. Mr. Wylie had fought valiantly in World War II in the European theater and been decorated for bravery; after the war he earned his law degree and then worked for years in various city and state public service jobs before being elected to Congress in 1967 and ultimately serving 13 two-year terms.

Mr. Wylie was a quiet, friendly, unassuming person who was the quintessential moderate Republican, very much like Senator Portman. Mr. Wylie didn’t seek the limelight, didn’t make bombastic speeches on the House floor, and had many friends on the Democratic side of the aisle. He was more interested in trying to get things done and serving his constituents than making headlines. To him, “compromise” was not a dirty word, but rather than essence of the political process. His philosophy, expressed to me in many ways when we worked late into the night answering constituent mail, was that you never burned your bridges and that the people you represented, and the country, were always better served by your engaging with the other side, rather than berating them. It’s hard to imagine him in politics now, where his gentle approach would stick out like a sore thumb.

At the time I worked for him, though, Mr. Wylie wasn’t alone. There were other moderate Republicans in Congress from Ohio, and Ohio had a reputation for producing moderate politicians in both parties. But the party has changed and the state has changed to the point where Mr. Wylie, were he with us today, likely wouldn’t recognize it. The changes began even before President Trump decided to run for President, with the internet, communications technology, social media, enormous infusions of cash, and much more frequent primary challenges–all of which have served to push politicians away from the center and move them toward the edges, where they are less likely to be questioned by the far wings of their parties. That is true of both Republicans and Democrats, and it is highly notable in Ohio, where moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats have become a vanishing breed.

J.D. Vance once spoke out against President Trump, but when Vance decided to run for Senate he (and most of the other Republicans seeking the nomination) positioned themselves for Trump’s endorsement, figuring that the former President carried Ohio twice, with surprising margins. With the Republican nomination now secured, will Vance move back toward the center? I think the center still exists in Ohio, but no one really seems to be trying to find it.

A Supremely Problematic Leak

America was rocked today by the news of the leaked Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case addressing the continuing vitality of Roe v. Wade. The leaked document was a draft of an opinion written by Justice Alito that would–if ultimately issued–reverse Roe as wrongly decided, and leave abortion rights to be decided by state legislatures.

The views on both sides of the abortion debate are so heated it’s impossible to fully set them aside to focus on the fact of the leak itself. But the leak deserves attention in its own right, regardless of which side of the Roe debate you are on. Although there have been leaks at the Supreme Court, those instances are rarer than hen’s teeth. The Court is used to conducting its deliberations and opinion-writing in complete secrecy, with no indication of its decisions outside of the tiny universe of Justices and their clerks until the Court’s opinion on a matter is publicly announced to the public. There is good reason for that rule of strict confidentiality: the Supreme Court routinely handles cases of enormous importance, and any kinds of leaks could have far-reaching political, economic, and social consequences–just as the leak of the Dobbs opinion did.

The idea that someone leaked a draft Supreme Court opinion under these circumstances is horrifying to those of us in the law profession. A tweet from SCOTUSblog, a non-partisan website that carefully covers every case before the Supreme Court, aptly captured the reaction of many: “It’s impossible to overstate the earthquake this will cause inside the Court, in terms of the destruction of trust among the Justices and staff. This leak is the gravest, most unforgivable sin.” Chief Justice Roberts echoed that sentiment in the statement he issued today, which noted: “Court employees have an exemplary and important tradition of respecting the confidentiality of the judicial process and upholding the trust of the Court. This was a singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here.”

The Chief Justice has ordered the Marshal of the Supreme Court investigate the source of the leak, which is absolutely the right thing to do. We don’t know yet who leaked the opinion, but it’s clear that their intent was to manipulate the decision of the Dobbs case, the votes of Justices, the terms of the Court opinions, and the political and public reaction to a potential reversal of Roe. The Chief Justice vows that the work of the Court “will not be affected in any way” by the leak, and states: “To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the Court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed,” But what’s troubling here is that someone–a clerk, an employee, or even a Justice on the Court–attempted to exert extrajudicial influence on the Court in the first place. That prospect is extremely unsettling, because if someone thought it was appropriate to leak the draft of the Dobbs opinion, what’s to prevent leaks in the future of opinions in cases involving redistricting, or presidential powers, or the death penalty, or any of the other hot-button issues that the Court regularly addresses?

I would make one final point: although the Court typically keeps virtually everything about its operations confidential, I think it is important for the Court to disclose any findings the Marshal makes about who did the leaking, and why. The role of the Supreme Court is essential to our constitutional system, and leaks erode the trust that is one of the Court’s most powerful attributes. The public deserves to know who–as the Chief put it–tried to “undermine the integrity” of the Court’s operations.

Should Earthlings Be Advertising That We’re Here?

Stephen Hawking was, by all accounts, a pretty smart person. He also was very concerned about our ongoing efforts to reach out to potential alien life in the cosmos. Hawking rejected the notion that an advanced alien species would necessarily be a peaceful friend that would help backward Earthlings to achieve a higher level of consciousness. Instead, he thought it was at least plausible that any aliens might be interested in plundering Earth’s resources or finding new locations for alien colonies. As Hawking put it: “Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.”

So, should Earthlings be waving our arms and letting others in the cosmos know that we are here? And who should decide whether to accept the risk that such a decision could prove to have disastrous, alien invasion-type consequences?

In some ways, we’ve been reach out to aliens for a while. We’ve sent out spacecraft with information about humans and our location, and radio and television signals have been projected out into space for a century or so. But the chances of aliens coming across a spacecraft in the interstellar void is like finding a needle in a haystack, and radio and television signals fade below background radiation levels shortly after they leave the solar system.

However, scientists are getting ready to launch new messages to aliens that are designed to maximize the chances of letting the aliens know we are here. In China, in 2023, the world’s largest radio telescope is planning to send a message in radio pulses that will convey prime numbers and mathematical operators, the biochemistry of life, human forms, the Earth’s location and a time stamp. The message will be beamed to stars that are from 10,000 to 20,000 light-years from Earth–which means it will take a while before we get a response.

The other effort is focused on a solar system that is much closer–only 39 light years away. Later this year, scientists in England will beam a message toward the Trappist-1 system, which includes seven planets, three of which appear to be Earth-like worlds where the distance from the Trappist-1 star indicates that liquid, and life, could exist. If life exists on one of those planets, and if it is advanced, and if it detects the signal–and those are pretty big ifs–we could get a response back in as short as 78 years.

But the bigger question is, should we be doing this at all, and should such attempts be left in the hands of scientists who think it is an interesting project? Or should we focus instead on improving our technology, developing our own ability to venture out into space and explore, and getting better prepared for any aliens who might take us up on our invitations to visit? Either way, it seems silly and pretty darned naive for us to assume that any aliens who might come to call will inevitably be peaceful friends who are looking only to help us out of the goodness of their hearts.

Henry IV, Part II

Many passages from Shakespeare have passed into everyday speech, often without people who use them knowing their provenance. Henry IV, Part II has one such saying that became familiar to the Webner kids when we were growing up: if we brought our neighborhood friends home for Popsicles, Twinkies, Kool-Aid, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, after Mom distributed the goodies she would look at the throng and say, with a happy look on her face, that we were “eating her out of house and home.”

I wonder if Mom knew that she was quoting Hostess Quickly’s statement in Act II, Scene one of Henry IV, Part II (about her deadbeat tavern guest Sir John Falstaff, of course!): “He hath eaten me out of house and home.”

Henry IV, Part II is full of such good lines, embedded in a sequel’s plot that is a bit schizophrenic. Because it’s a sequel, we’ll need to find out what happens with those three significant plot threads that were left unresolved at the end of Henry IV, Part I. One thread concerns the rebellion that was a significant focus of Henry IV, Part I, another follows the antics of Falstaff, and a third explores the long-delayed maturation of Prince Hal and his complex relationship with his father, the king, and with the irresistible Falstaff. Shakespeare masterfully pulls them all together for a conclusive and somewhat bittersweet ending.

The rebellion is really a minor element of the play and is resolved in short order. Lord Northumberland decides not to participate in the fight, leaving the other rebels high and dry and causing one of them to ruefully remark: “Thus do the hopes we have in him touch ground and dash themselves to pieces.” Without Northumberland’s resources, the rebels decide to parlay with King Henry’s representative, Prince John of Lancaster, who promises to redress their grievances–only to then arrest them as traitors and send them to their deaths. After being accused of breaking his word, Prince John explains his position with a nimble and almost lawyerly bit of hair-splitting:

I promised you redress of these same grievances
Whereof you did complain; which, by mine honour,
I will perform with a most Christian care.
But for you, rebels, look to taste the due
Meet for rebellion and such acts as yours.
Most shallowly did you these arms commence,
Fondly brought here and foolishly sent hence.
Strike up our drums, pursue the scatter’d stray:
God, and not we, hath safely fought to-day.
Some guard these traitors to the block of death,
Treason’s true bed and yielder up of breath.

With the rebellion quashed neatly and without bloody battle, the play is free to concentrate on Falstaff, the King, and the struggle for Hal. Shakespeare recognized that his audience would care most about that human story, not the high-level struggles of mighty lords. As in Henry IV, Part I, Falstaff is the subject of considerable attention. When we first see him, he is being insulted by a page who dutifully reports that Falstaff’s doctor believes “he might have moe diseases than he knew for.” Falstaff’s response is vintage Falstaff:

Men of all sorts take a pride to gird at me: the
brain of this foolish-compounded clay, man, is not
able to invent anything that tends to laughter, more
than I invent or is invented on me: I am not only
witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other
men.

Falstaff remains the shrewd, unethical, self-centered rogue who delights in low company. But we see still more of Sir John’s dark side as he attempts to dodge the grip of British justice in the form of the Lord Chief Justice, cheats and then charms the widowed Hostess Quickly, dallies with Doll Tearsheet, and accepts bribes from recruits who have no wish to fight the rebel forces. He also takes advantage of the aptly named Justice Shallow, a contemporary of Falstaff’s whose recollection of his role in their ne’er-do-well past has been colored and inflated by the passage of time. After Falstaff grudgingly concedes that he and Shallow “have heard the chimes at midnight,” Falstaff later remarks:

Lord, Lord, how
subject we old men are to this vice of lying! This
same starved justice hath done nothing but prate to
me of the wildness of his youth, and the feats he
hath done about Turnbull Street: and every third
word a lie, duer paid to the hearer than the Turk’s
tribute. 

Prince Hal, after having killed Hotspur in Henry IV, Part I, seems to have backslid into his old habits, and remains deeply intrigued by Falstaff, his lifestyle, and his companions, especially Doll Tearsheet. The Prince observes that “This Doll Tearsheet should be some road” and his companion Poins responds: “I warrant you, as common as the way between Saint Albans and London.” Unable to resist the lure of Falstaff, Hal and Poins devise another ruse to trick Falstaff–as they did in Part I–this time by posing as servants while Falstaff romances Doll Tearsheet. When the unknowing Falstaff insults the Prince and Poins and the Prince and Poins reveal themselves and object to the abuse, Falstaff’s quick wit is shown again:

No abuse, Ned, i’ the world; honest Ned, none. I
dispraised him before the wicked, that the wicked
might not fall in love with him; in which doing, I
have done the part of a careful friend and a true
subject, and thy father is to give me thanks for it.
No abuse, Hal: none, Ned, none: no, faith, boys, none.

The Prince is called away to see the King, and his jesting with Falstaff ends–with some sign that the Prince is beginning to regret his unsavory activities:

By heaven, Poins, I feel me much to blame,
So idly to profane the precious time,
When tempest of commotion, like the south
Borne with black vapour, doth begin to melt
And drop upon our bare unarmed heads.
Give me my sword and cloak. Falstaff, good night.

The King, meanwhile, has become increasingly ill, and is unable to sleep. He reflects on his condition (and not incidentally shows a lack of appreciation for the harsh and difficult lives of the English commoners), in a famous soliloquy:

How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee
And hush’d with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull’d with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds, and leavest the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common ‘larum-bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them
With deafening clamour in the slippery clouds,
That, with the hurly, death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

The King’s condition worsens, and even the news of the capture of the rebels and the end of the rebellion cannot fully revive him. When Hal finally visits the King on his deathbed and see the crown sitting on the pillow, next to the King’s head, the Prince similarly reflects on the burdens of leadership:

Why doth the crown lie there upon his pillow,
Being so troublesome a bedfellow?
O polish’d perturbation! golden care!
That keep’st the ports of slumber open wide
To many a watchful night! sleep with it now!
Yet not so sound and half so deeply sweet
As he whose brow with homely biggen bound
Snores out the watch of night. O majesty!
When thou dost pinch thy bearer, thou dost sit
Like a rich armour worn in heat of day,
That scalds with safety. 

Thinking that the King is dead, Hal removes the crown, places it on his head, and moves to another room to mourn. When the King awakens to find the crown is gone he thinks Hal has taken the throne before the time has come, and upbraids him:

Dost thou so hunger for mine empty chair
That thou wilt needs invest thee with my honours
Before thy hour be ripe? O foolish youth!
Thou seek’st the greatness that will o’erwhelm thee.

But the misunderstanding is resolved, and the King and Hal are reconciled before the King dies. When the news that Prince Hal is to be crowned becomes known, Falstaff and Justice Shallow head to London, expecting Falstaff’s relationship to bring them a rich reward from the new monarch. But Hal has finally grown up and accepted that the duties of the King do no permit his relationship with Falstaff to continue. When Falstaff speaks to his old friend after the coronation, the new King finally and conclusively terminates their connection, but with a trace of the humor and affection that has always marked their relationship:

I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
I have long dream’d of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swell’d, so old and so profane;
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape
For thee thrice wider than for other men.
Reply not to me with a fool-born jest:
Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn’d away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.
When thou dost hear I am as I have been,
Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast,
The tutor and the feeder of my riots:
Till then, I banish thee, on pain of death,
As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
Not to come near our person by ten mile.
For competence of life I will allow you,
That lack of means enforce you not to evil:
And, as we hear you do reform yourselves,
We will, according to your strengths and qualities,
Give you advancement.

We’re sad to see the new King rebuke his drinking comrade but, with everything we have seen of Falstaff over two plays, we accept that he really had no choice. Falstaff was not going to change, and due regard for the role of monarch would not allow him a significant role in government. And with the entanglements with Falstaff stripped away, and his youthful indiscretions behind him, the new King–Henry V–sets his eyes upon France. The stage is therefore set for one of Shakespeare’s greatest history plays: Henry V.

Root Causes Can’t Be Ignored

All big cities have some kind of homelessness problem. San Francisco’s is worse than most. To address it, San Francisco adopted a “housing first” policy and dedicated millions of dollars of the city’s $1.1 billion budget for the homeless to implementing it. The concept was to tackle the issue by getting homeless people off the streets and putting them into “single room occupancy” (SRO) hotels purchased by the city for that purpose.

A recent San Francisco Chronicle investigative report took a look at the program and concluded that the results have been “disastrous”–as the headline above indicates. The Chronicle article is behind a pay wall, but an article in the City Journal summarized the gist of the Chronicle article as follows:

“The horrors of SROs were put on display to the public in a recent San Francisco Chronicle feature. The story tells of people living in buildings with collapsing ceilings, toxic mold, vermin, noxious odors, constant noise, broken appliances, and unchecked violence. It also notes that at least 166 people fatally overdosed in these hotels in 2020 and 2021. This official number, however, is suspicious for being so low. San Francisco’s medical examiner reported at least 1,300 overdose deaths citywide in the last two years, most commonly for illicit fentanyl combined with other drugs.”

The City Journal article indicates that life in San Francisco’s SRO hotels is a nightmare. The article quotes one former resident:

“’There needs to be a better vetting process,’ says 25-year-old Darren Mark Stallcup, who until recently lived in an SRO. ‘The city was moving everyone in; people who were sketchy, violent. They were fentanyl addicts, just out of jail, or in gangs. People were breaking my door down. I would wake up having to throw punches.’”

The “housing first” policy may be good hearted, but it evidently isn’t working because housing is only part of the problem. Mentally ill people need special care; drug addicts need treatment to kick the habit. And putting violent people, mentally ill people, current users, and recovering addicts into the same facilities is only going to create a toxic stew and dangerous environment that won’t help anyone. The City Journal article quotes another “long-time SRO resident,” who explains: “If you’re a woman, your life will be a living hell. No one cares. High functioning people regress. Some want to stay sober, but they can’t. Eventually they pick up a pipe again because almost everyone around them is using.”

Homelessness is probably the most complicated social problem we face in America these days, encompassing a host of challenging issues like drug use, mental illness, spousal abuse, education, affordable housing, and employment, among others. San Francisco’s experiment with its “housing first” policy indicates that providing housing, by itself, isn’t going to solve the problem. If you don’t tackle the root causes, you’re not going to make any progress.

On The West Bank

Paris has the Left Bank; Columbus has the West Bank.

Columbus’ West Bank is the western, Franklinton side of the Scioto River. I’ve been trying to explore the various trails and walking paths that the Columbus Department of Parks and Recreation has created in the downtown area, and yesterday after the rain and drizzle stopped I decided to follow the Scioto Mile down to the Main Street bridge, then cross over to the west side and double back along the river trail. When you get to the point where the Olentangy River joins the Scioto you can cross a bridge over to the east side again, make a few turns that take you past the Boathouse restaurant, and then loop back along the river to downtown.

All told, the walk is a little over three miles, and it is a quiet, pleasant walk that yields some interesting views of the downtown area, like the photo above of the north part of downtown and the condos along Riverside Drive. The walking paths on the west side of the river are far less used than the east side, if yesterday’s experience is any indication, and the trek allowed me to walk through a part of the Franklinton area, just north and west of COSI, that I really haven’t explored before. The walk winds through a grassy and woodsy area between the railroad tracks and the river and ends up at the North Souder Avenue bridge, just past the confluence of the two rivers.

To its credit, Columbus has worked hard to try to establish and maintain walking, jogging, and biking paths to allow people to get away from their cars and use their legs instead. It’s been a challenge because Columbus has traditionally been a car-centric city, and much of the downtown area is a snarl of highways and roads that really aren’t well-suited to walking. Fortunately, the rivers provide a kind of natural opportunity for trails and pathways that take you under the highway bridges and allow you to walk and cycle without constantly having to stop for traffic lights.

I’m hoping that Columbus continues to emphasize non-vehicular ways of getting around, and takes the next step of cleaning up some of the riverfront areas. The trails are a nice feature of our town, they promote a healthier population, and they will come in handy if gas prices continue to climb.

Determining Kim’s Fate

We love the Kim Wexler character on Better Call Saul. She’s whip-smart, she’s a great lawyer, her heart is in the right place, she is about as loyal as you can be, and her ponytail is a nifty signature look. The main thing we don’t like about her character (aside from the fact that she has a dismal grasp of her lawyerly ethical obligations) is that she hasn’t recognized that Jimmy McGill is fatally flawed and that she would be much better off if she put her hair in that ponytail, packed her bags, and sprinted as far away from Alburquerque and Jimmy as she can get. Of course, that hasn’t happened.

One of the really interesting aspects of Better Call Saul is that it is a prequel. We therefore already know what happens to Saul in Breaking Bad, and we know what happens to Gustavo Fring and Mike, too. We even get occasional glimpses of Saul post-Breaking Bad, when he is in full hiding mode and working as the nebbishy manager of a cinnamon roll shop at a generic mall somewhere far from Albuquerque. But Kim, as well as some of the other Better Call Saul characters, didn’t show up in Breaking Bad. We already know what happened to several of them–including Jimmy’s brother–but the fate of Kim and her ponytail remains undetermined.

This creates a dynamic like you might see if you watched a car crash happen in slow motion. We know something bad is going to happen, we just don’t know what it is, and we can’t stop watching. And since this is the last season of Better Call Saul, we know that whatever is going to happen is going to happen soon. As a result, I feel like I should cover my face with my hands when I watch a new episode of the show, because there are only two choices for Kim: she gets killed as the inevitable result of Jimmy/Saul’s decision to become “a friend of the cartel,” or she finally wakes up after Jimmy takes another ill-considered wrong turn, recognizes that she has no future with this guy, and goes on to live a happy life somewhere else, where Jimmy can’t put her in danger any more. Either way, it’s not going to be pretty for Jimmy, and the loss of Kim helps to explain why he spiraled down into full Saul Goodman mode, with a gold toilet and the most garish, bad taste home decorations this side of Al Pacino’s mansion in Scarface.

Obviously, we hold out hope that Kim leaves and survives. I wonder if we’ll see a scene in the last episode where she meets up with Jimmy at that cinnamon bun shop, recognizes him–and then flatly rejects his attempt to get back together with her so salvage something from the miserable ruin he has made of his life.