Breaking The Bad News

We’ve been seeing a lot of our nation’s governors lately.  In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine has been on TV so much with afternoon announcements about COVID-19 developments that some people are timing their first cocktail with the news conferences and enjoying “Wine with DeWine.”  We’re getting a living reminder of lessons learned during our junior high school civics classes and the fact that we live in a country where the states have significant powers and duties.  When a once-in-a-lifetime crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic hits, governors are put front and center in dealing with all of the issues.

img_2632Unfortunately for the nation’s governors, a lot of what they’re doing right now is breaking bad news.  They’re announcing shutdowns and “shelter in place” edicts and other orders and showing small-print graphs and charts that make people upset and anxious.  Nobody except introverts and hermits wants to be cooped up in their houses indefinitely.  But the time durations of these shutdown orders varies widely, from state to state.  In Ohio, I think the initial “stay at home” order covered the period until April 6.  In Virginia, by contrast, the governor just announced a shutdown until June 10 — more than two months longer than the initial Ohio order.

The current situation squarely raises the issue of the best way to break bad news.  Put yourself in the shoes of the governor of your choice.  If you were issuing a shutdown order, would you give your citizens the worst-case scenario — which seems to be the technique used by the Virginia governor — so that they can start to get adjusted to the prospect of being at home for two months?  It’s a kind of “rip the band-aid off” approach, isn’t it?  And, if you take that approach, you can hope that future developments might allow you to shorten that time period and give the residents of the Old Dominion a pleasant spring surprise.

Or, do you proceed in a more incremental way, issuing orders that have a shorter duration, acknowledging that this is a fast changing situation where you need to be responsive to new information?  Of course, all the while you would understand that you might well have to extend your shutdown, perhaps multiple times, and disappoint people who were hoping the current deadline would stick?  In that scenario, you’re doling out the bad news in bite-sized chunks, hoping it might go down easier.

I don’t think there’s any right or wrong answer to this, necessarily.  Some people are band-aid rippers, and others prefer to remove them a fraction at a time.  I’m normally a band-aid ripper, but I think if I were governor during this period I’d take the incremental approach.  We’re still gathering information about the coronavirus and its trajectory, and an incremental approach allows that information to be analyzed and addressed as it comes in, giving the governor the chance to keep the citizens of his or her state updated and abreast of the latest news.  The incremental approach seems a bit more humble and nuanced than the two-month thunderbolt edict issued from the executive.  And who knows?  There may be something to this “Wine with DeWine” thing, too.

The Boys And Girls In The Bubbles

Ohio has been in shutdown mode for some time now – hey, can somebody remind me how long it’s been, exactly? — and I feel like we’ve adjusted pretty well.  Human beings are good at that; genetically, we’re hard-wired to assess new situations, figure them out, and come up with new strategies and approaches.  In only a few days, changed routines have been established, new daily patterns have become the norm, and what was once unusual has been accepted and incorporated into our lives with a kind of resigned, collective shrug.

aidan2bin2ba2bbubbleFaceTime and Zoom and Microsoft Teams and countless other video applications have gotten a workout.  What used to be simple, voice-only calls have morphed into video calls as a matter of course, not because video makes the calls more efficient, but because it’s incredibly nice to see other human faces from time to time, to get a smile or a laugh and hope that you’ve lifted someone’s day as they’ve lifted yours.  Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, we’ve had virtual coffees and virtual beers after work and virtual cocktail parties with friends and family and colleagues to keep that human touch and to know that everyone looks okay and seems to be hanging in there.   Seeing faces turns out to be pretty darned reassuring and uplifting, when you think about it.

When we go outside for walks, we maintain that assured clear distance of six feet to the extent we can, veering into the street or onto the grass at Schiller Park to respect that buffer zone.  Social distancing is a physical concept, though, and it doesn’t mean we can’t maintain non-physical social contact with the people we see, through a smile and nod and a cheerful greeting and a brief chat as we stand appropriately apart.  People seem to be more consciously outgoing, as they steer clear of each other.  Maybe it’s just the fact that everybody is at home all day long where they used to be at their offices for most of the day, but it sure seems like there are lot of people out on the street at any given time.  Perhaps that’s because it’s another way to get that human contact — even if it’s remote contact.  That’s another element of this new paradigm that seems to have been adopted and incorporated without too much trouble.

During this shutdown period, we’re all living a kind of virtual life, but of course it’s our real life.  We’re all like the boy in the bubble, living in our little zones.  It’s a fascinating social experiment, and I hope people will remember this instinctive need for contact with fellow humans when this isolation process ends, as it will.  I, for one, will never take walking into a friendly restaurant or bar for granted again.

Rethinking “Essential”

As of midnight last night, the State of Ohio has gone under a “shelter in place” order.  That means all residents, like us, are supposed to stay home for the most part, except for designated exceptions like seeking medical care, shopping for necessary supplies, and going out to get fresh air and exercise by walking, biking, or jogging, so long as you maintain that “social distance.”  The order will be in effect until April 6.

Old tools on a wooden tableOne of the more interesting things about the Ohio order is that it designates specific businesses and jobs that are considered “essential” for purposes of operations during the brief shutdown period.  The Ohio list is based on a list prepared by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and you can read about it here.   In a society as complex as ours, with an economy as varied and multi-faceted as ours, you’d expect the list to be an extensive one, and it is.  (And I’m happy to report that lawyers made the list, incidentally.)

The list should get us all thinking, however, about the concept of “essentialness” when a crisis arises.  Obviously, people who provide medical care — doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and the like — and people whose jobs involve facilitating the delivery of medical care, like pharmacists and emergency medical technicians, are at the top of the list.  We should all be grateful for the health care professionals who are truly on the front lines as we deal with COVID-19.  And, of course, police officers and fire fighters are essential in times of crisis, just as they are in more normal times.

But many of the other jobs that are crucially important might be a bit under the radar — and, until now at least, perhaps underappreciated as well.   Like truck drivers who are hauling and delivering needed supplies and driving incredibly long hours to do so.  Like the people at the grocery stores repeatedly stocking the shelves, arranging for new deliveries, and checking out the worried consumers who want the reassurance of ample supplies at home.  Like the postal service and delivery truck drivers who are continuing to bring messages and products to our doorsteps.  Like plumbers, and electricians, and roofers and repairmen who can fix our appliances and keep our homes in working order.

The long and short of it is that many of the truly essential jobs when we get into a pinch are traditional blue-collar-type trades that don’t require a four-year liberal arts college degree.  Those are the people who keep the food supply chain working and the toilets flushing and the lights turned on.  We should all be thankful to them for their hard work and their unrelenting efforts during this period, but when this episode passes — and it will — perhaps we should also rethink the prevailing view that everyone should go to college and go deeply in debt to do so.  Perhaps we should focus, instead, on the concept of “essentialness” and making sure that we’ve got an ample supply of those truly essential tradespeople on hand and ready to serve when the need is critical.

Degrees in comparative philosophy are nice, but in a crisis you just can’t have too many plumbers.

Seeking The Star

On October 1, 2020, the Transportation Security Administration will stop accepting the old Ohio driver’s license as a form of identification.  If you want to travel after that date, you need to have a new, compliant Ohio driver’s license — one with a little star in the upper right-hand corner.  Because deadlines such as this have a tendency to sneak up on you, and then suddenly you’re desperately trying to do everything at the last minute, Kish and I decided to be rational and proactive instead.

web1_compliantStep one in seeking the star means pulling together documentation to prove that you are who you say you are.  Kish assembled separate packets of compliant documents for each of us.  My documents included my current driver’s license, my passport, my original, dog-eared from being carried around in my wallet forever, paper Social Security card, issued in about 1969 when my family still lived in Bath, Ohio — I can’t believe I still have it, more than 50 years later — and multiple bills that show our current residence address.  (You can get information on the necessary documents here.)  Getting the required documents together is a big part of the process; I’ve heard about people who had to go back several times to get everything they needed.

Step two meant going to the sprawling BMV location on Alum Creek Road.  The office opens at 8 a.m., and we got there just as the doors were being unlocked.  There was already a line, and we steeled ourselves for a long wait — but that BMV location knows what it is doing.

We first went through a kind of processing line, where employees determined what we were there for and, in our case, looked at our documents, told us we had what we needed (Yay!  Thanks, Kish!) and put the documents into a specific order, then gave us a number and directed us to the waiting area.  When our number was called a few minutes later, we dealt with a pleasant, professional woman who looked at the documents, typed our information into the system, asked us background questions, gave us the eye test, collected the fees for the new licenses, and then ultimately took our pictures — which, in my case, was remarkably unflattering.  The whole process, from beginning to end, took about a half hour and was remarkably efficient and painless.  We’ve all heard people make fun of the BMV, but these employees really did a good job.  I even responded to an on-line survey to give them kudos for their efforts.

We’re supposed to get our new, compliant licenses in a few weeks, which will be step three in seeking the star.  Until then, we’ll be carrying around our old license, with a kind of paper version of our new license information.  We’ll also be carrying around a welling sense of pride that we didn’t wait and get snarled in a last-minute crush in our quest for the star.  It feels good to be proactive every once in a while.

The Purse From 1957

In 1957, Patti Rumfola was a student at Hoover High School, in Canton, Ohio.  At some point that year, she lost her clutch purse while attending the new school, which was built just the year before.  You can imagine her wondering what happened to the purse, but when you’re a freshman life moves on pretty quickly, and it probably wasn’t very long before the purse was forgotten.

edaed322-04c9-42ce-b75c-61a6c93c0aab-pattiIt turns out that Patti’s purse somehow fell behind lockers at the school.  Last year, a custodian at the school building — which is still in use, but now serves as the North Canton Middle School — was working on the lockers and found the dust-covered purse, which had been lost for 62 years.  The custodian and some secretaries at the school took a look inside, found a library card, and tried to track down the former owner of the purse.  They learned that Patti graduated from Hoover High in 1960, became a school teacher in Maryland, founded a theater arts guild and young women’s club in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, got married, had five children — but unfortunately died in 2013, at age 71.

The school district located Patti’s kids and delivered the purse to them, and they opened it last fall, to get a peek into the teenage life of their Mom through this inadvertent time capsule from the Eisenhower Administration.  Inside they found old-fashioned black and white photos, including snapshots of family, friends, and a dog, membership cards, a football schedule, some religious medallions, a stick of Beech-Nut peppermint gum, make-up, a comb, a compact, some pencils, a pen, and an eraser, and some Lincoln wheat pennies that Patti’s kids kept as keepsakes of their Mom.  Kudos to the school district for not throwing away the old purse and diligently working to find Patti and her kids.

Imagine finding a long-lost trove of bits of your life during your teenage years, or opening up your old school locker from your freshman year 50 years later, with its contents undisturbed during the intervening decades.  What would you find — and what memories, fun or embarrassing, would the contents suddenly stir?

The Iowa Reboot

The electoral debacle in this year’s Iowa caucus has had one positive effect:  it has made other states carefully examine their election processes, in hopes that they won’t become “the next Iowa.”  In Nevada, for example, officials took a hard look at the 2020 Iowa caucus and made several changes to the planned Nevada caucus procedure, including getting rid of apps that were going to be used and going instead to paper ballots.  Even so, many people have concerns about the Nevada caucus, which starts in a few days.

states-with-same-day-registrationIn Ohio, where the primary won’t occur until next month, the concern isn’t about apps, caucus rules, or complicated vote-counting procedures.  Instead, some people are questioning whether the turnout in Ohio elections should cause Ohio to address a more fundamental issue:  the process for registering to vote and then voting.

This article from the Executive Director of the ACLU of Ohio frames the issue.  It notes that the turnout in the 2018 mid-term elections in Ohio was about 50 percent of registered voters, placing the Buckeye State’s participation percentage at 29th out of the 50 states.  The turnout by voters in the 18 to 24 group was especially pathetic.

But, what causes low turnout?  The ACLU director rejects the possibility that some citizens simply lack interest, and instead contends that Ohio’s procedures discourage participation.  He advocates for abolishing the Ohio requirement that voters register at least 30 days before an election in favor of allowing “same day” registration and voting, and argues that would-be voters should be able to register at Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices.  He also supports making sure that early voting — a process that Ohio already follows — provides for ample evening and weekend hours and simple absentee procedures to allow people who work two jobs, live in remote areas, are homebound, or are serving in the armed forces overseas to cast their ballots without a hassle.

I’m in favor of taking a fresh look at Ohio’s procedures and auditing the elections in other states that have different procedures to see whether Ohio’s processes can be simplified and improved.  I have to admit, however, that I’m leery of same day registration and voting, which seems like a recipe for Election Day chaos and potential fraud — and therefore I’m particularly interested at an objective look at how that option has worked in other states.  I also wonder at the most fundamental premise in the ACLU director’s article:  if a voter can’t be bothered to register at least 30 days before an election, is it really the procedure that is keeping that voter from the polls, or is it good old-fashioned voter apathy, instead?

Medical Marijuana Buzzes Ahead

It’s flown a bit under the radar, but the medical marijuana business in Ohio is moving ahead, slowly but surely.  The Ohio State Medical Board has been meeting to determine which conditions can properly be the subject of a medical marijuana recommendation.  People have been registering to participate in the program.  Medical marijuana dispensaries are open and operating, and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy has been issuing licenses to dispensary employees.  And new jobs have been created, too.

2133Let’s start with the jobs.  One website looked at reports from the Ohio Department of Commerce and other state regulators and determined that, in the year since medical marijuana dispensaries first opened, 4,275 new jobs have been created.  That number includes 951 state-licensed dispensary employees, as well as 1,686 people working for cultivators, testing labs, and processors.

There are now 49 regulated medical marijuana dispensaries found at different locations across the state, including a number in Columbus.  (If you are over 21, you can see the list here.).  More than 70,000 Ohioans are registered with the state’s medical marijuana program, and the average person who uses the products is more than 55 years old.  Many apparently use the products to deal with chronic pain.  Reports indicate that nearly 56,000 Ohioans have bought more than $50 million in medical marijuana products at the dispensaries, and prices have come down as more dispensaries open and more product becomes available.

In the meantime, the State Medical Board has been meeting to consider the conditions that may appropriately qualify for a medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor.  Only this week, the Medical Board denied a request by long-suffering fans of the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals to qualify their fanship as a disease that can be treated with marijuana to ease the pain of constant losses, but also voted to move anxiety and autism forward as potentially qualifying conditions.

Ohio tends to be a cautious place, and it took a cautious approach to medical marijuana.  So far, at least, the cautious approach seems to be working.