In Favor Of More Police Cameras And Fewer Assault Vehicles

The fatal shooting of a homeless man by four Los Angeles police officers is the latest incident to show the value of cameras in police cars and on police uniforms.

The shooting occurred in LA’s Skid Row neighborhood.  Police say that the man, who had a history of mental illness, was the suspect in a robbery and was shot after he reached for an officer’s gun during a scuffle.  However, witnesses — including the man who shot the video of the incident that went viral on the internet — instead describe a situation in which four police officers tried to subdue the man, apparently Tasered him, and then shot him five times.  At least two of the officers involved had activated their body cameras, but the footage hasn’t been released yet and will be used as evidence as the incident is investigated.

Police officers have a difficult job and deserve our support.  However, that doesn’t mean they should get a free pass on whatever they do or that deadly force incidents shouldn’t be objectively evaluated and, where warranted by the facts, prosecuted.  In 2014 alone, 16 people were shot and killed by Los Angeles police; 252 people have been killed by LA police since the year 2000.  With so many instances of deadly force, in Los Angeles and elsewhere, we should ensure that we have meaningful evidence that allows us to fully investigate those incidents, protect police officers from false accusations of excessive force, and ensure that police officers are complying with use of force rules. Routine placement of cameras in patrol cars and on uniforms would supply such evidence.

I believe that the vast majority of police officers are well-trained and careful, and therefore video evidence of deadly force incidents will likely show that the use of force was justified in most instances — but I also think the recent wave of fatal shootings is undermining public confidence in the men in blue.  In addition, such shootings can fuel racial tensions and trigger large-scale public disruptions, like the riots in Ferguson, Missouri.  We would all be better served if our police departments refrained from buying more assault vehicles and instead invested in cameras that will allow the public to see the difficulty of police officers’ jobs, and how well they perform one of the most important roles in our society.

Ready For Rhapsody

Last night Richard, Julianne, Kish and I went to the Columbus Symphony for the latest installment of the American Roots Festival series.  This performance was at the Southern Theater, a beautiful, more intimate venue than the mighty Ohio Theater, and featured engaging guest conductor Donato Cabrera and wonderful pianist Thomas Lauderdale.

IMG_4826It was a great program and will be performed again at 8 p.m. tonight.  It began with Dvorak’s delightful Humoresque, Op. 101, No. 7, written when he was visiting the United States, which set the evening’s theme — American-inspired music, with jazz and ragtime influences.  Highlights for me were Scott Joplin’s Overture to Treemonisha and Kurt Weill’s Little Threepenny Music, both of which I had not heard before.  I also liked the recomposition of the orchestra from piece to piece as the composers added a banjos and large saxophone section, and gave the bassoonists a moment in the sun as they sought to capture an American sound.

According to the program the night was to end with Stravinsky’s Scherzo a la russe, but Maestro Cabrera announced during the performance that the order had been changed to close with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.  This was a very wise decision, because it’s hard to imagine any piece following last night’s performance of Gershwin’s opus.

Last night was the first time I’ve seen the Rhapsody performed live, and I’ll never think of that music in the same way again.  From the meandering wail of the clarinet that opens the piece, to the beautiful melodies that pop up unexpectedly and are tied together at the end, to the piano trills and fills that give Rhapsody in Blue its spine, the visual aspect of the performance will be forever fixed in my mind.  Thomas Lauderdale is a consummate showman, and he gave his grand piano a workout that brought every bit of sound and texture from the instrument.  It was, in a word, epic.  See it if you have the chance!

Hot Showers And Home Ownership

A shower is an essential part of the morning routine.  You get squeaky clean and move back into conformance with prevailing social hygienic norms.  You ruthlessly eliminate that lingering case of bed head.  And you finally complete the drowsy transition from blissful sleep to outright, whistling-as-you-get-dressed-for-work wakefulness.

IMG_4820I like my showers hot.  In fact, scalding is closer to accurate.  I like clouds of steam to rise from the shower floor and fog up the shower door, so that I could write “Kilroy was here” with my index finger if I desired.  I want to emerge from the blistering deluge wide-eyed, scourged clean, and as red as a Maine lobster fished out of the bubbling cookpot.

Unfortunately, for the last few months this hasn’t been possible.  At our rental unit, the hot water temperature never got above tepid, probably for cost saving and liability avoidance purposes.  Even at the maximum heat setting, a shower had no sizzle.  As a result, the morning shower there was not a particularly satisfying experience — functional but ho-hum, and sort of like getting woolen socks from your grandmother as a birthday present.

But now we are in our own place and in complete control of the hot water heater, which has been cranked up to high-end, fast-food-carry-out-coffee-before-they-got-sued-into-moderation temperatures.  Yes, I think: this is one of the essences of home ownership and the American Dream.  Now I get to decide water heat, and “room temperature,” and what to put on the walls, and how much light there will be in each room.

So turn that shower handle to maximum at your own risk, baby!  Let the scorching begin!

White World

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

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

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

Looking To Legalize In The Buckeye State

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

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

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

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

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

Five Pfennig Found

Some people who buy old houses find treasure — caches of money, bearer bonds, or jewelry squirreled away beneath floorboards, behind a loose block in the basement, or in a secret compartment in the attic.  Unfortunately, we haven’t found anything remotely like that in our new house — which actually is an old house, built in the early 1900s.

IMG_4802We have, however, found a 5 pfennig coin.  It was issued in 1950 by the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, or the Federal Republic of Germany — that is, the Cold War era, pre-unification West Germany.  We do live in German Village now, after all, so finding an old German coin is apt.  It makes me wonder if perhaps one of the former owners of this house took a trip back to the Fatherland in the years after World War II, got this coin on his trip, and simply paid no attention to it when he found it in his pocket upon his return.

The pfennig was the equivalent of the penny in the years before Germany switched to Euro, and the pfennig and the penny are linguistically related.  It’s also interesting, and a bit galling, that the value of German coins plummeted as of 1950, the year of our coin.  During the years immediately after the end of World War II, before the Federal Republic became the national government in 1949, some German states got together and minted Deutches Lander coins that are of interest to collectors.  Once the Federal Republic took over, however, its coins became commonplace, so our 5 pfennig coin has no real value — except as blog fodder and a good luck charm.

If only our prior owner had returned to the homeland a few years earlier!

Shopping In The ‘Hood

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

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

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

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