Thursday, December 29, 2022

Flying, Disappointment, and Lawsuit

The topic of air travel is often in the news. The hot topic in recent days has been the volume of flight cancellations. There have been a great many. Many don't know those daily cancellations are tracked in real-time by FlightAware.com. Tens of thousands of canceled flights have disrupted and stranded people in recent days. It has been a tough holiday season for many. Government is reportedly interested. Though prior to the holiday rush, I experienced a flight cancellation in December, the first I can recall. It was disconcerting, disappointing, and discouraging me from flying.

It is not the first report this year of airline issues. See The FAA and Seats (August 2022). The topic of seat size and passenger comfort was not new then. Comfort has been an issue of complaint for years. Remember the consternation over people who use the reclining seat function? In 2014, NBC labeled them "seat wars," and people actually bought devices to prevent having the seat in front of them operate as designed (your seat is in my space).

Short conclusion, space on airplanes is limited. Passengers want more space, but believe they can have their comfort legislated or regulated. They are campaigning for more government intervention and may find solace in standards dictating the size and spacing of seats. And, they may find fewer opportunities for the deep-discount fares they have enjoyed. In the inflation-wasteland we find ourselves, would anyone notice? Perhaps the government would fight that inflation effect by pumping more money into the economy? 

There are limits to space. Only one body can occupy a space at the same time. Thus, if you are sitting in an airplane seat, or beyond it, no other person can sit simultaneously in that same space. All of the space you occupy is not available to others. It is, your space, and within some reasonable perimeter, perhaps you also have some personal space. This "surrounding" space was discussed in Manspreading (November 2022).

Business Insider reports that a "plus-size" model was recently denied boarding on an airline. The Daily Mail reports she was striving to fly from Beirut to Doha, en route back to Brazil. Trip.com estimates this trip to Doha to require about three hours. The Mirror provides a more ready appreciation for the model's size. Another site reports she is 5'7" and weighs approximately 330 pounds (BMI 51.66). Is Body Mass Index relevant? See BMI Conundrum (August 2022). The Centers for Disease Control says that: 
  • If your BMI is less than 18.5, it falls within the underweight range.
  • If your BMI is 18.5 to 24.9, it falls within the Healthy Weight range.
  • If your BMI is 25.0 to 29.9, it falls within the overweight range.
  • If your BMI is 30.0 or higher, it falls within the obese range.
It makes no representation of what label might be used for a BMI of 51. Any such label would likely hurt someone's feelings. Perhaps the CDC avoids that for fear of paying for someone's therapy? Back to the "sticks and stones," and names apparently do hurt us. A Holiday Greeting with Best Intentions (December 2022). 

This model has made international news because she sued the airline for denying her boarding for a coach seat she purchased. They suggested a larger seat purchase, which the model declined. The lawsuit proceeded rapidly in a Brazilian court (it takes a long while to get a civil case to trial in America). 

The Brazilian judge ordered the airline to pay for the model to have a "weekly therapy session . . . for at least a year." It is valued at $3,700. This is to "ensure that the stressful and traumatic event is overcome." The model's attorney is quoted labeling this victory "a milestone in the fight against prejudice." The model claimed the denial was dehumanizing and she felt treated as "a fat monster that couldn't get on board."

The airline has a different view. It contends that the model "was denied boarding when she became 'extremely rude and aggressive' to check-in staff after a traveling companion failed to produce the necessary COVID-19 documentation required to enter Brazil." In years of travel, I have learned that arguing with airline staff never accomplishes anything.

For that matter, corresponding, chatting, texting, and even social media with airlines can be less than productive (as I learned in December when my flight was canceled). I invested hours in gaining a refund, and suspect that a great many travelers simply give up and let the airline keep the money. The motivation is clear. The execution was superb - the phone center insisted I must file a website request, the website habitually faulted and instructed me to call the phone center. It was a vicious circle of failure and incompetence.

There will be some tendency to see consumer victory in the plus-model holding this airline responsible for her emotional distress. She was shamed and this verdict will both help her and prevent others from being shamed in the future. As I have typed this, Weird Al Yankovic's take on Another One Bites the Dust (Queen, EMI, 1980) - Another one Rides the Bus (Placebo, 1983) has been running inexplicably in my head; and suddenly my memory lights on the clarifying lyric of that parody.

Mr. Yankovic, in Rides the Bus, laments the experience. The lyrics describe the discomfort of mass transportation, the aromas, the litter, the confined spaces ("packed in like sardines"). He laments that there is not enough room and notes that people just keep boarding ("Another comes on and another comes on"). Then he concludes with "Hey, he's gonna sit by you, another one rides the bus." And, there we perhaps have it. The "manspreader," the plus-size model, the man who elected not to bathe and instead has marinated in cologne or body spray, is going to sit by you. Or, it might just be that nice person that feels compelled to tell you a life story, series of bad jokes, or updates regarding what she/he read in today's news. 

The airlines will be increasingly reluctant or unwilling to enforce their (or any) rules. The cabin may become increasingly unbearable. Even if the seats are regulated to be larger, the knee room more generous, the seat coverings more supple, the refreshments more pleasing, someone you don't know or like may nonetheless share your seat and legroom with you. In accommodating someone, the airline will (or allow a fellow passenger to) impose on (sit on) someone else. It is an apt illustration of the balance of laws.

Every legal accommodation for any person is likely to work a corresponding impairment upon the rights of another. It is hoped that society can protect all, but airplane space is a zero-sum game. Every inch which I occupy is an inch that you cannot. Space is finite. We might hope that everyone in the world would be respectful of those around them. But we all know that is unrealistic. The answer to this conundrum of competing interests and rights is likely out there somewhere. I don't know where.

In the end, the needs and wants of some will result in the diminution of the rights of others (zero-sum in some instances). Airlines will either raise fares to pay for emotional injury claims or they will retreat from denying boarding and someone "will sit by you." Airlines may be forced to enlarge seats and legroom (less seats on each plane), and ticket prices will rise. In either event, there will be someone unhappy - with their seat, the price, or their neighbor. The immutable truth is that there is no perfect answer. 

In that, this discussion of regulation and imposition of damages is much like workers' compensation. The law, the balancing of rights, and the challenges of various duties, all amount to a grand bargain that teeters and swings. There is perception of too much this, too little than, and frequently imperfect outcomes. The construct strives to produce equity, fairness, and balance. At times, it succeeds, and in some moments it fails completely. Any regulation for the many will produce unwelcome results on at least the few (zero-sum). 

And life goes on. As a flight attendant recently announced, "it was our pleasure serving you today and we hope to see you on a future flight." Will the course they plot encourage you and discourage others? Or, will you be the discouraged one? Will you be hurt, insulted, imposed upon, canceled, or delivered to destination appropriately as promised?

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Finding Value and Diversity

There exists in the world a conflict. That is too narrow. There exist in the world many conflicts. They are all around us, and many are driven by economic wants and needs. It is likely that some desire for resources drives much of human conflict. 

We see it in our daily lives. Our desires for consumption are constrained by our ability to pay. We may each have chateaubriand tastes, but find ourselves saddled with peanut butter budgets. We may want to watch television every evening, but find ourselves with busy with other tasks instead. Perhaps we wish to live 10 minutes from work and find that such convenient housing is beyond our means, or beyond our preferences (highrise or single-family, yard, etc.). We will all make economic choices, resolving conflicts. There will be no "perfect fit," but merely outcomes, compromises, and effort.

Many of these will be due to personal choices. One might argue that I do not "need" a yard, and that my decision to live where I can have one is my personal choice. From there, you might conclude that my lack of time in the evening is merely a consequence of my yard choice and the hour-plus commute in which I elected to acquiesce. Choices. Challenges, and conflict. We could build a multitude of similar models that impact management, business, and employment. And through it all, we will make compromises. Those may burden us, and possibly no one around us will understand those burdens.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) recently ran an interesting article The silent struggles of workers with ADHD, on their "Equality Matters" platform. This leads with the premise that people are different, and can perhaps be categorized into the "neurotypical" and those who are not, because of challenges like "attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder" (ADHD). The article's tone is somewhat challenging with this categorization. The idea of categorizing people in today's world is itself challenged.

The author leads through a description of the distinctions of ADHD, focusing on two employees. One worker had been laid off, and "wasn't surprised." There is description of "underperformance" and "essential job duties," missed deadlines, tardiness, and more. One worker describes not being "detail-oriented," admits to challenges with "follow through," and "fall(ing) behind on his projects." These were not "conscious" decisions, according to the employee, but ADHD.

While the article laments the volume of adults who suffer from this (2.58%), it contends that "many people remain undiagnosed," and suggests disparities in diagnosis. The article laments the impacts of being non-neurotypical and suggests, less than subtly, that people are being treated equally in the workplace. That is, they are being expected to perform work just like everyone else. Equality. That, the suggestion is, lacks fairness for those with such a diagnosis or perhaps those with the challenges, diagnosed or not. But, we are all different, and so "just like everyone else" is likely a false premise.

Thus, the discussion may seem to evolve from the platform title of equality into a discussion more directed at equity. That is reminiscent of the broad tendencies today to discuss workplace topics like Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (October 2022), colloquially labeled DE&I. There is significant discussion of these in the employment world currently. In fact, the article coincidentally suggests that ADHD is an issue of diversity, "neurodiversity" that is. An expert is quoted describing that ADHD is not so much a "disorder," but is a "different kind of brain." We are all, at our cores, different. 

There is description of supervisors perceiving those with ADHD as "lazy, disengaged or incapable." And there is lamentation that traits and behaviors may impact someone's employment, a particular job, or career alternatives in the broadest sense. There is discussion of struggle, failing to meet deadlines and the "feeling of being incapable of performing as expected." The author labels supervisor conclusions as "perceptions," and suggests that those conclusions may be misplaced. 

A major focus of the discussion is the impact of these challenges on the worker's "self-judgment" and "knock-on effects that can send people with ADHD into negative emotional states." Those who are criticized for job performance can experience erosion of "self-confidence and emotional wellbeing." And, the implications seem to suggest either sharing the diagnosis with the employer in hopes of accommodation or "masking" and "restraining" in an effort "just to fit in." I would suggest that this description might be aptly employed with many people, not just the "non-neurotypical." 

And, the circle returns to the original point of economics in our daily lives. Just as one might choose a living arrangement, they choose who to employ, how to supervise, and how to manage. Similarly, they choose where to work, occupation, and other details. Not every job or profession is right for every employee, and not every employee is right for every employer. The list goes on. Differences abound. Perfection is illusory. Life brings challenges. 

I have found that there are many challenges in the workplace. They come from pressures real and imagined, deadlines rational and not, and more. Each business is in competition with many others who would as soon perform your tasks, and will offer the customer lower prices, promises of greater quality, etc. We've all seen the ads. Business is a competition for customers. Work is a competition for the job. There are economic realities no different than the choices we each make in our personal lives (highrise or yard).

Businesses similarly compete for employees. And, in the grand scheme, those employees come in all shapes and sizes. More importantly, I learned long ago, those employees each come with a fair quantity of blemishes and challenges. You may hypothetically find the perfect employee, and then face the reality that every business in your industry that is persistently trying to woo your customers will also strive mightily to woo that employee. And, you might just find in time that the employee is not actually perfect after all (if in no other way imperfect, their constant wooing may become distracting). 

Instead, it is likely that each of us brings to the workplace strengths and weaknesses. At all levels of labor and management, in all aspects of production, marketing, evaluation, and more, workers will have challenges. There will be learning curves, motivation issues, persistence issues (boredom, distraction), and more. In the end, success for employee and employer are inextricably interwoven. The world of work is symbiotic, and each succeeds only through the success of the other.  

That all said, we will not each fit into every role. There will be managers for whom we will not work, and employees that we cannot tolerate. There will be tasks left incomplete, deadlines missed, and underperformance (for us all, employers and employees). But, in the spirit of the DE&I discussion, there will be value (benefits) in each workplace, in each worker, and finding the fit will be challenging. But, what about business is not? There is room to discuss diversity in the workplace.
However, I have also come to conclude that people are different. They (we) each present with a conglomeration of skills, abilities, and aspirations intermingled with an equally vast array of personal challenges, shortcomings, and failures. Perfection only exists in theory, and the sooner we grasp that the better. This is not in any way to minimize that various challenges may be more troubling than others. But it is to suggest that somehow employers come to value what an employee does bring to the job, and has to strive to be accepting, flexible, and patient with the array of challenges included in that package. ADHD is a valid and worthy example, but frankly does not seem unique. 

Sunday, December 25, 2022

A Holiday Greeting with the Best Intentions

"Content Warning: This website contains language that is offensive or harmful. Please engage with this website at your own pace." We are not sure how we reached that conclusion, as it is abundantly and objectively clear that (1) no person can judge what is subjectively offensive or hurtful to another, and (2) any word may in fact be offensive and so it is ultimately best to not use any words. You can escape the following offense and harm by clicking the "back" button now. 

As the end of 2022 nears, and we stare down the cold and dreary months of the new beginning that will be 2023, I am drawn to retrospection. It has been an intriguing year. There have been many news stories. Some delivered more questions than answers, some piqued interest and debate, and some likely caused offense and consternation. It seems increasingly easy in today's world to offend someone (Stop here and click the "back" button). In another age, the world persistently delivered such offense with intent. Various groups and individuals were ridiculed, seemingly without consequence. As they say, times change. 

We are increasingly reminded that there is potential for hurt and even harm in our words. Gone are the "sticks and stones" assurances of our youth, and we have societally concluded that words not only can but do hurt. In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, there apparently exists the very real possibility that our hospitals will be overrun with hoards of diminished and shattered lives, suffering from the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" (Billy Shakespear, 1601)(Sarcasm. I warned you above to click "back" and avoid what follows). 

We glance around the globe this Christmas and see rape as a terror tactic in Haiti. There are 50 million people in modern slavery. Thousands have died in the war senseless aggression in the Ukraine, while many more there suffer from injuries, displacement, hunger, cold, disease, and more. Domestically, we see violence. CNN reports that there is a "gun epidemic" in America and that it is disparately impacting various categories that CNN (or others) has elected to employ in order to gather and designate co-equal persons based upon outward perceptions and conclusions of the observer (CNN or others). I apologize for exposing the reader to terms like rape, slavery, and war. I further apologize for raising untoward subjects like hunger, violence, and disease, and more so for repeating those words again in apologizing (The "back button" is on the upper left of your screen).

These are only examples. I don't mean to minimize Tibet, Ethiopia, hunger, and the list goes on and on. As William Joel noted decades ago in We didn't Start the Fire (Columbia 1989): "I can't take it anymore." If you think the world is in a state of higgeldy piggeldy today, look over the litany in that recording's lyrics. If William is to be believed, there was perhaps some turmoil even in the good old days.

But, thankfully, we have American higher education and its sheltered elites wise pedagogues to bring us back to reality from all those pseudo world challenges. The view, you see, is far better from an ivory tower altitudinally enhanced structure, and thus those who dwell there are privileged to bring us their enlightened and superior perspectives. (There I go lumping people together in categories, apologies; hit the "back button" or click here to escape to a safe space).

These Some academic critics leaders urge that "small change could make a huge difference." They are upset that using terms like "walk-in" is insensitive to those "who use a wheelchair." They think the use of "insane" is insensitive to those who have mental conditions. The academics are seemingly perturbed by a wide variety of words. If you have credentials, you might even penetrate the website to which they link. Yes, the EHLI website linked from Stanford "Introducing the Elimination of Harmful Initiative" is behind a security wall. Not only is it seemingly pompous enlightening, but it is secretive exclusive as well. (Apologies for the use of "exclusive, "which is in no way intended to convey exclusion of any particular person or group to or minimize the pain or discomfort of those who long for inclusion, but is only to describe the effect of the implementation choices of our intellectual guides).

What other words reside there? For one, the one that is garnering attention, there is "America," according to Newsweek.  The fine people at Stanford, "snug in their beds, . . . visions of sugar plums danc(ing) in their heads" fear that utterance of "America" may offend, upset, unsettle, or worse. They ask that we all be more conscious of the way we use words and how our choices may create harm, pain, or discomfort in others. 

Stanford University coincidentally has an American Studies Program. It has an American Studies Instagram account. It has a Latin American Studies ProgramAnd yet, it has suggested to the rest of us that we should not use "America" as that word may offend. At the end of the day, any word you use might offend someone. Perhaps someone should be employed full-time to focus on all the words the elites experts choose to question, disparage, or censor? Or, we might accept that because any word may offend, the onus is on the listener to change the channel (click that "back" button) or at least make mention of their discomfiture, concern, or objection?

We have lived through many waves of censorship in this country, America. We, in America, have survived many challenges. In times of strife and discontent, it is largely America to which the world turns for succor. It is America that protects, shelters, and facilitates our intellectual superiors as they gather and compile lists of grievances, shortcomings, and even subjectively discomforting words. There is always room for improvement, and that goes for America also. There is always room for discussion of what troubles, offends, or hurts. But, it seems a bit hypocritical to be offended by the same America that affords you the very freedom and security to be offended and hurt.

I am not in the "love it or leave it" crowd. But, I would suggest that there is much challenge and strife in this world of ours. In the grand scheme of 2022, offense at the word America should be at the bottom of anyone's list. (having a list at all, and including "America" is a pretty solid indicator you have too much time on your hands). In the spirit of the season, some academics across the country have striven (in good fun perhaps, though I am nonetheless reserving the right to be offended) to neutralize the pain in the old Night Before Christmas. In the spirit of today please check this holiday wish

(Click "back" now, trigger warning! Potentially offensive words follow)

Merry Christmas and God Bless America! 

If I have hurt or demeaned you in any way, please accept my apologies.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Kill Every American?

In the cult classic Caddyshack (Warner Brothers 1980), groundskeeper Carl Spackler misunderstands a simple instruction about gophers. His reply:
"Check me if I'm wrong, Sandy, but if I kill all the golfers, they're gonna lock me up and throw away the key..."
He nails it in this dialogue. The analysis is impeccable. Killing people is wrong. Killing people can lead to incarceration. Fentanyl is a huge element of the American issues of drug abuse, overdose death, and international relations. Fentanyl is killing people. Well, if you buy that statement then guns are killing people also. But, we all know that those are just instruments, and in the end, people are killing people. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration has been around for almost 50 years. We can thank the Presidential Reorganization Plan that year, in which President Nixon merged various elements of the federal government into a consolidated organization to spearhead America's efforts as regards illicit drugs. These included - the "Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement, the Office of National Narcotics Intelligence, and elements of the Bureau of Customs and the Office of Science and Technology." 

The DEA describes its purpose succinctly: "The Drug Enforcement Administration enforces the United States' controlled substance laws and regulations and aims to reduce the supply of and demand for such substances." How we each describe ourselves is critical, and we cannot be judgemental, at least euphemistically. But, honestly, do you perceive that either supply or demand is less today than in 1973? For that matter is America less dependent upon foreign oil than we were when the Department of Energy was created in 1977?  America is great at creating bureaucracies and staffing departments; but are they solving the problems?

Since the 1970s, the DEA's efforts have featured in such Hollywood efforts as Breaking Bad (High Bridge, 2008), Pablo Escobar (Cankpamedia 2021), Narcos (Gaumont 2017), The Mule (Warner Bros. 2018), Sicario, Day of the Soldado (Black Label 2015), Bad Boys II (Columbia 2003), and License to Kill (Tarpan 1989), among many others. Drugs are featured in a plethora of other offerings too numerous to mention. Hollywood loves drugs, shootouts, and car chases. Oddly, they are drawn to topics and representations that draw viewers (and their dollars). Parallelism perhaps?

Drug lords are popular. For the sake of curiosity, Google "Pablo Escobar" sometime. You can get posters, clothes, and more featuring this drug lord. America is fascinated with drugs, drug runners, and the counterculture that they represent. 

Drugs are part of America. They have been for some time, and they have an unfortunate impact on many people. I have repeatedly written about the challenges of overdose: Does Farr's Law bring us Good news (July 2017); PDMP and Opioids in Ohio (March 2017); What Worthwihile Can you do in 11.2 minutes (December 2015); The Time has Come, the Time is Now (April 2021), and many more. In the most succinct terms: Dying to me don't Sound like all that much fun. (October 2013).

American overdose is at an all-time high, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Through intent or misadventure, many lives end through the use of drugs. That is a problem for the people who choose to partake, and for the victims of those who may administer such substances without notice to the unsuspecting. Should society care? Is the loss theirs, or collectively ours?

A recent news story featured video of a Florida police officer, gloved for safety, doing a traffic stop search being exposed allegedly due to wind when a bag of drugs was opened. The police suspect it was Fentanyl. She was reportedly provided Narcan and revived. There are those who doubt the story, and who champion fentanyl. They take issue with the news story and suggest that the police will stop at nothing in their efforts to mislead us and make us think this stuff is dangerous. 

Is there room to debate how easy it is for fentanyl to kill? Perhaps. 

Do the police want people to stop using drugs, stealing to fulfill such habits, and killing each other? Of course. 

Is fentanyl deadly? Unquestionably. Your friends at the DEA say that “Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered.” It has its own national awareness day (May 10), and the DEA has built an awareness display in Virginia to display the "faces of fentanyl." Axios reported this week that the DEA seized "over 379 million doses . . . of fentanyl in 2022." This included "fake prescription pills," and over "10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder." The sherrif here in paradise made a similar announcement as to local seizures and local population. 

This DEA report says that the drugs are primarily produced in Mexico, using Chinese chemicals. The DEA claims that the production and importing (adopting the media's preference for euphemisms) is mainly the work of "two Mexican drug cartels" (or should those be "enterprises?"). The DEA noted that they are "primarily responsible for the fentanyl that is killing Americans today" (should they instead say "northerners," "mid-continentians," or some other better description for the general geographic area that is north of Mexico and south of Canada? More to come on euphemisms another day. 

In the waning days of 2022, there will be opportunities to remember those lost. it is an annual ritual. It too often focuses upon the famous, or allegedly so (as I age, I recognize the names of fewer and fewer of the "celebrities," their bands, teams, or achievements). There will likely be actors, sports participants, musicians, and more. While tragic, the loss of their lives is no more or less important than any of the estimated 71,000 people killed by fentanyl in 2022. People are dying. Supply is seemingly increasing. Efforts are failing. 

Some describe that the so-called "war on drugs" instigated by President Nixon has failed. The American Progress website provides staggering statistics on use, arrests, racial disparity, overdose and cost. It contends that we have spent $1 trillion on this war (We are said to have spent double that on the Afghanistan war, and those who identify as female there still cannot attend school). Progress advocates an end to this war, and legalization. If drugs were legal, the argument seems to be, then fewer overdoses or death would occur. Would free access to drugs alleviate the street trade, the violence, and the other crime?

The volume of seizures in 2022, "over 379 million doses" is said by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to be "enough fentanyl . . . to kill every American." And, what are we doing about it? What should we be? The hand-wringing is not working. The statistics are not deterring. The deaths are not enough; the costs are not enough; and, the tragedies are not enough. What would be enough? We outlawed drugs and people kept dying. Is it possible that bans and wars don't change people?

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Awards, Recollections, and Hope

I have known Jacob Schickel for a number of years. I will save us both the embarrassment of stating how long. I have known Judge Ralph Humphries for about as long. They were both "old hands" in the comp community of Jacksonville when I happened upon the scene some years ago. As old as I feel, it is some comfort that there are many who are older. The bar in those days was different than today. I know it sounds like pure nostalgia, and perhaps it is. 

In Everybody's Free, Luz Burhmann provided some advice on nostalgia. I remember it each time I am tempted to reminisce.
  • Be careful whose advice you buy but be patient with those who supply it
  • Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past
  • From the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts
  • And recycling it for more than it's worth
So, let's start from that premise. This may be utterly worthless, and it is most certainly recycled. But, I contend there is great hope for professionalism and collegiality in the Florida workers' compensation bar.

Early this century, Jake Shickle envisioned the establishment of an Inn of Court devoted to the workers' compensation practice. He selfishly conveniently focused on his own community in Jacksonville. By that time, he was one of the old-timers and had enjoyed a decorated and recognized career. He gathered community members, recruited the local judges and led the effort to establish what would be the E. Robert Williams Inn of Court. That effort grew, and there are five workers' compensation Inns in Florida now.

The Williams Inn has thrived since that time. There is power in community, collegiality, enthusiasm, and professionalism. The Williams Inn has exhibited these repeatedly. I have been privileged to be called an honorary member over the years, though I am not sure that is a real thing. I have also been privileged to speak at some of their events. They are a lively and interactive group. The fact that I have known so many there for decades likely impairs my impartiality and militates toward my enthusiasm for their efforts. 

The Williams Inn met recently and had their holiday extravaganza for 2022. The program, as I understand it, was outstanding. Mr. O'Rourke was reportedly dead-on with his anecdotes and impeachments. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of two recognitions. The first is a professionalism award that the Inn presents annually to a member. The award is named for Jacob Schickel, and has an impressive list of recipients. This year, the Inn presented it to Hon. Ralph Humphries. The complete list of recipients:

  • Doug Myers 2011-2012 See Two Emails and Two Stories (September 2021)
  • Ben Samuels 2012-2013
  • Michael O'Rourke 2013-2014
  • Alan Gordon 2014-2015
  • Amy Warpinski 2015-2016
  • Richard Stoudemire 2016-2017
  • Michael Rudolph 2017-2018
  • Judge William Ray Holley 2018-2019
  • Mary Nelson Morgan 2019-2020
  • Michael Crumpler 2020-2021 but awarded in 2021
  • Greg Lower 2021-2022
  • Ralph Humphries 2022-2023
That is indeed a distinguished list of attorneys. I can think of only a few humorous anecdotes about each. All but Mr. Gordon, I encountered in the days when I practiced in Jacksonville, so long ago now. That is an esteemed company in which to be included. Congratulations Judge Humphries!

The Inn has also bestowed two Lifetime Achievement Awards:
  • George Rotchford 2018
  • Alan Gordon 2022
That too is an esteemed group. Notice Mr. Gordon made each list. 

I first met George Rotchford at a final hearing eons ago. He was trying the claim against a lawyer I worked for, and I was carrying the briefcase. My job, I was told, was to sit and listen. And that I did. Mr. Rotchford did not prevail that day, and he later called to speak to that lawyer for whom I worked. Failing to connect, and wanting to file a motion for rehearing, he asked for me (not by name, "that guy" as I recall) with the intent of certifying to the judge that he had "in good faith" striven to avoid the need for motion/hearing. 

I was fresh out of law school, had not tried the case, and vividly remembered my instructions (sit and listen). Mr. Rotchford kept me on the phone for a good while explaining his perspectives on the case, and what he thought the judge had missed or misconstrued. I felt he was seeking my acquiescence or concession as if such were my role (I was paid to carry the briefcase, see above). Tormented and anxious, I fell into platitudes. I could think of nothing else. The call went like that: Mr. Rotchford explaining this fact in detail; Dave: "that's water over the dam." Mr. Rotchford explaining that law; Dave: "that's a horse of a different color." And, on we went until he thanked me and hung up. If he ever knew how nervous I had been, he never let on. 

That was a difficult call, one for which I was neither prepared nor particularly competent. But I learned from it. In fact, in retrospect, I learned a lot from many telephone calls I had with lawyers over the years. Conversation is enlightening, even when it's not (you can learn a great deal from a bad example). One of our big issues today is too little conversation and too much bloviating. 

Similarly, I ran across Ralph Humphries in a complex case. He represented a co-defendant, as did former Judge Rhodes Gay. It was a tremendous conflict, one in which there were potentials for judicial disqualification, legal complexities, and tragic injuries. The experience was nerve-wracking and I was surrounded by far more experienced and able counsel. But, I learned a great deal. I was fortunate for the opportunity to study Judge Humphries's processes, perspectives, and efforts. There was a collegiality and communication that is seemingly eroding (or already washed downstream) today. 

As I reflected on the news that these two awards had been bestowed, I found it gratifying. In the sense that lawyers still gather and converse; that they joke and laugh; that they recognize achievement in each other; that they are professionals in an increasingly challenging world.

I applaud the effort and the dedication. I congratulate the winners and the Inn that supports them. I encourage every set of eyes that sees this to find such a group, opportunity, or home and make yourself a part of it. This profession too often chews up and spits out. It is way too hard on the young and the inexperienced. It is ripe for a post-pandemic return to in-person camaraderie, collegiality, and community. I hope you find a path there yourself. Congratulations again gentlemen. Enthusiastically so. 

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Grandma, Santa, and Tom Petty

Randy Brooks wrote the song back in 1977, which has become a classic. Not too much from that era can be called "classic." In it, Mr. Brooks describes an untoward outcome of a forgetful matriarch struggling home from a holiday celebration. She somehow comes across a right jolly old elf and his team. In the process, she tragically meets her end. The song's lyrics are no doubt running through your head by now. The two lines that apply here today are:
"You can say there's no such thing as Santa
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe"
Yes, 'tis the season, and many will be jolly. The Florida OJCC will be closed for several days in observance of holidays. The Governor was most gracious this year extending our holidays in recognition of the fantastic job that state employees do for you all year. I could not agree more with that sentiment. The OJCC is so lucky to have such a fantastic team that works so hard for all of you. The closures will be:

December 23, 2022 (Friday)
December 26, 2022 (Monday)
December 30, 2022 (Friday)
January 2, 2023 (Monday)(get used to writing that "3," always a new year challenge!)

But, back to "me and Grandpa." The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) recently published a parenting column in its Family Tree section. The headline caught my eye: "Time to end Santa's 'naughty list'?" This was followed by a question "is there a darker side to the beloved Christmas tradition?"

And all I could think was Humbug! Though, admittedly, I have no idea what that word means. Somehow, I am inclined to also exclaim "Bah," but I'm holding it in. 

The legend of Santa Claus is ancient, dating likely to the fourth-century a.d. according to the historians over at Coca-Cola Australia. I've seen their polar bears, so we know this is a trustworthy source regarding the holidays (and they did try to get us all to sing in perfect harmony, once upon a time?). Despite the significant volume of empirical evidence in support of the existence of that "jolly old elf," the BBC author is a doubter. He refers to Kris Kringle as a "myth," and describes how he has crafted his own myth for his daughter. He acknowledges the "naughty list," and "can't help but feel pangs of guilt." In the spirit of my rapidly advancing age, I am tempted to tell him to keep his helicopter off of my lawn.

The suggestion is also there, however, that the author does invoke the "Santa's watching" and "naughty list," despite some angst about it.

The story notes that in 1978 a survey "found 85% of four-year-olds said they believed in Santa." In 2011, we were gaining ground with 85% of "5-year olds" (don't be distracted by the "four" and the "5," unless you are a grammar guru and can tell me why those would be different). These youngsters are, the author assures us, the "true believers." There is some lamentation expressed, noting that with the media blitz in his favor this is not hard to believe ("features in every Christmas TV Show and movie"). Ok, let's be honest, Old St. Nick likely gets more press than Kim or Meghan (whoever they are). 

The story proceeds to quote a philosophy professor and opinions about "the Santa lie." The "emphasis on belief over imagination" is seen "as harmful." There is some hand-wringing about parents' "creation of false evidence and convincing kids that bad evidence is in fact good evidence." The conclusion is that this myth-making "undermines the kind of critical thinking we should be encouraging in children." This might be a bit more persuasive from a vast raft of potential professionals, but philosophy? Really? 

This myth-making is philosophically seen as damaging as it "encourages people to believe what they want to believe," and yet, there is no mention of any right to "live like a refugee." Sorry Tom, RIP, Refugee, Backstreet 1980).

Not to be outdone, there are some contrary experts quoted as protagonists for the so-called myth. One expert psychologist contends that the "transition period" over which most kids cease to believe in Santa is about two years. She explains that this is a developmental time in which children "gradually build up their understanding and knowledge of the world." They begin, in this period, to become "operational thinker(s)" and as such, they start to question, then they reach conclusions regarding "logical sense," and finally "they start to gather evidence." Ah, evidence. Finally, he gets around to something that is related (remotely perhaps) to workers' compensation!

How do we anticipate the process of trying a lawsuit (or workers' compensation claim)? Well, first we hypothesize, then we analyze, and then we "start to gather evidence." Evidence - a novel idea, and according to some it is periodically a myth. In a recent evidentiary ruling, one of the Florida judges made some observations about a trial process. The judge noted:
"Between 05/26/22 and 08/03/22, claimant was paid ten (10) weeks of impairment benefits. This is a simple, undisputed fact. Yet, both sides steadfastly refused to stipulate to this simple fact, and both sides vehemently objected to the other side’s attempts to produce evidence in support of it (for the claimant, largely illegible copies of the checks, and for E/C, a payout ledger, neither of which were timely listed, produced or filed). It was only after 45 to 50 minutes of arguments and repeated objections that this simple, undisputed (yet ultimately immaterial) fact was finally 'established.'"
One might wish in that setting for "operational thinker(s)." An hour spent arguing about something no one disagrees with? An hour trying to prove what need not be proved? An hour "vehemently objecting" to each other striving to independently prove what neither denies? The myth in this recent little legend, I might humbly suggest, is professionalism. There is no point in proving what everyone knows. 

And, I would submit that you and yours are welcome to take the Tom Petty approach if you prefer ("You believe what you want to believe"), but "as for me and grandpa, we believe." Believe what? Well in Santa, of course. But also, that some may struggle with identifying the issues, exercising logical sense, and gathering evidence. At the outset, the "logical sense" step is where you might conclude you don't need evidence, or the hour that might be unnecessarily spent wasted on it.

Me and grandpa? We believe that lawyers should talk to each other. We believe that issues should be framed and defined before the trial starts. We believe that stipulations are appropriate, effective, and useful. We believe in Santa also, but we may either of us grow out of that last one. Is the legal profession collectively, and utterly lost on some path that obscures professionalism? Can we as a community of lawyers bring ourselves back from the edge of the abyss and begin again to speak with one another? Can we reclaim the next generation of lawyers to be effective litigators?

Well, I for one believe we can. And if you say we cannot make progress, I say Humbug! (I can hear Inigo Montoya noting "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means” (Princess Bride,  20th Century, 1987). Get another cup of coffee, and I will go look it up. In the meantime, stay safe this holiday season. Consider where we might all get if we spoke with each other more and at each other less in 2023. It is going to be the year of professionalism, and you are invited to join in. Stay tuned, more on that effort(s) is coming soon. 

I'm back. Humbug, it seems, means "something designed to deceive and mislead." So, it fits perfectly. To all those who want to talk about how the legal profession is irretrievaly lost, Bah Humbug. Stay tuned. "M and grandpa, we believe" in you and in ourselves. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

COVID Vaccine Petition

Anyone that has visited this blog has perceived the impacts of COVID-19 on workers' compensation. Many of the related posts (about 25) are linked in Florida Covid-19 Litigation September Update (September 2020). Links to about 32 more are in Long COVID Seminar (April 2022). It is fair to say that COVID has had a breadth of impacts on workers' compensation, from a variety of perspectives. 

COVID has impacted the way businesses were run, the management of employees, and more. The potential for infection has impacted workplace safety, attendance, and efficacy. There have been management and employee issues with vaccines, mandates, and more. COVID has contributed to many blog posts. And, it is back in the news today.

On December 13, 2022, Governor Ron DeSantis filed a petition with The Florida Supreme Court "for an order to impanel a statewide grand jury." The focus of the petition is COVID, with a more specific focus on vaccination, and the process and promises that evolved in the responses to COVID that impacted lives, business, and the workers' compensation community.

There were challenges in participation with vaccinations. See Vaccination Implications (February 2021). I have noted that some displayed little interest in the COVID-19 vaccine. See Vaccination Tribulation (February 2021)("I have spoken to some who are ambivalent, and others who are fearful."). There has been variety in people's perceptions of the virus, and the appropriate reactions to it. The vastly different opinions regarding masking and other precautions were of great interest in communities and offices. I know people who still choose to mask today, and others that have only ever masked when forced. I have striven to be respectful of each. 

The December 13 petition asserts "it is in the public interest to impanel a statewide grand jury" for the investigation of "crimes and wrongs" as regards Floridians. It alleges
"The federal government, medical associations, and other experts have created an expectation that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine is an ethical or civic duty and that choosing not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is selfish and harmful to others."
Some of the focus in this regard is on statements that vaccination would hinder the virus' spread. Vaccination, we were told, would protect us individually and protect those around us. The petition contends that "some Floridians made the choice to receive the COVID-19 vaccine because they believed that receiving the vaccine would prevent them from spreading COVID-19 to others." There is one particularly heart-tugging quote out there about protecting your grandparents. Florida has a fair number of such seasoned citizens, at least for part of each year. 

There is mention of federal attempts at vaccine mandates for "healthcare workers and members of the military." The foci of these being a diminished "spread (of) the virus." There is also mention of specific instances in which broader statements were allegedly made about the self-protective effect of the vaccination, and its efficacy generally. The petition notes that the virus has nonetheless spread, and that a vaccinated individual may nonetheless spread the virus to others or be infected personally.

There is discussion of the vaccine approval process, manufacturers, and the Center for Disease Control. It notes commitments made regarding the vaccine's safety and efficacy by medical professionals, government leaders, and more. Specifics are cited regarding manufacturer claims about the extent to which vaccines were "effective" in protecting the inoculated over time. It is perhaps a sign of our times that there are references there to Internet websites and social media. While the old standby, Television, is also mentioned, it is clear that the manner in which information is transmitted and received in the twenty-first century has truly evolved.

Despite the hopes and claims regarding immunity and protection, the petition cites the "breakthrough" infections that became part of our reality. See Breakthrough, Vacillation, and Consensus (August 2021). Science is about hypotheses being subjected to testing and study. Reliability and proof come through multiple studies and confirmations of results. Consensus is more about collective thought, and can be driven to or by "groupthink." See Consensus in the Absence of Proof (January 2021). That an idea is not the best cannot be changed by the volume of those who believe it. 

During the COVID experience, we were encouraged to inoculate. There was a perceived need for rapid roll-out and protection. We thereafter witnessed "waning immunity" and a campaign for repeated inoculations, "boosters." At first, this was for the seniors and other "at risk" portions of society and then for us all. As time passes, and research continues, we are perhaps learning more about this virus. Science, studies, and findings are perhaps now beginning to replace the conjecture and consensus of the virus' early days. When there is no data, we are perhaps forced to the consensus of the bright and brilliant. But, over time, our admonishment should be "bring data." That data flow has likely only begun, but the studies and data will grow. 

There are allegations in the petition regarding the vaccine's testing. One asserts that one vaccine was not tested regarding its ability to "prevent() the transmission of COVID-19." There is discussion regarding perceptions at the World Health Organization (WHO) about the potential for breakthrough and the potential for preventing the virus' spread. The petition asserts that various statements and representations regarding vaccine efficacy may have been since undermined or contradicted by studies and academic efforts. 

There is discussion of potential side effects or risks of vaccination. This includes both general population focus and specifically notes children, adolescents, and others. The extent to which we are different from each other, despite our many similarities or identicalities is intriguing. There is specific reference in the petition to "myocarditis and/ or pericarditis," and the perceptions and statements regarding these conditions. There are references to the prevalence and impact of such conditions. And, there is mention of scientific studies regarding the prevalence of such conditions "following receipt of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines."

The petition suggests that there are questions worthy of consideration regarding the vaccine producers, "veracity of () representations," marketing, safety, efficacy (protection), and societal benefit (preventing "the spread"). It concludes with an allegation 
"that there are good and sufficient reasons to deem it to be in the public interest to impanel a statewide grand jury to investigate criminal or wrongful activity in Florida relating to the development, promotion, and distribution of vaccines purported to prevent COVID19 infection, symptoms, and transmission."
There are challenges with anything described with the word "statewide." Florida, is a great deal "wider" than people give it credit for. I once compared Florida to New York and noted some interesting facts. See Comparing Florida to New York (February 2015). Florida is larger than New York, and more populous. But the distances across it are most surprising. I noted there:
"the 12.6 hour, 832 mile, drive time from Pensacola to Key West illustrates this. By comparison, the drive from Manhattan to Jacksonville, Florida is only 13.5 hours, 932 miles. It can be a great distance between two points in Florida." (ed. note - it sure looks like that last hundred miles only takes an hour, but the drive to Key west includes much two-lane road). 
In light of those significant distances, the petition requests that the Court designate a geographic subset from which to draw a grand jury, and for a "base operating area." The suggestion is in the center-west of the state (the Fifth, Sixth, Tenth, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Judicial Circuits). This is essentially from Ocala south just beyond Lakeland and west to the Gulf. The major cities in that area also include Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and Bradenton.

The issue will likely remain in the news. The Court's decision on this request for a grand jury will be interesting. For the convenience of the public, the Court maintains a list of "high profile" cases (to ease public access to filings and other information). This case (petition) has been added to that list for convenience.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Technology for Safety

Sometimes you can learn a great deal about home by reading news from a world away. As I write the following, I could not get Douglas Adams out of my head. He is credited with the truism:
“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”
That one has gotten a fair bit of travel over the years, and I have seen many varieties on the theme (the replacement of "fool" with "idiot" is common in some parts of the country, which may say more about them than it does about the fools). There is some tendency, or at least a possibility, for people to go where they should not. The world is a potentially dangerous place, with a variety of challenges confronting us persistently. I thought of that last summer when an article came up on my news feed about 23-year-old Philip Carroll visiting mount Vesuvius in Italy. This is a famous volcano that is credited with destroying Pompei centuries ago.

Vesuvius is an active volcano, and Mr. Carroll reportedly ignored restrictions, and "took a trail . . . closed to tourists." Ignoring "a small gate" and "no access signs," he "boldly went where no man" (Star Trek, 1966) was supposed to go. He reportedly took a selfie, dropped his phone into the crater, and then "tried to recover it." The end result was an American tourist "stuck" in a volcano and injured. The story seemingly screamed "Safety," and might serve as a lesson in appreciating danger, following directions, and self-preservation.

Why do people go where they are not supposed to? Why do people ignore warnings? What compels us, persuades us, allows us? It is intriguing, and way too many work injuries occur every year as a result of failure to heed and follow such instructions, restrictions, and warnings. A wayward tourist from around the world made me think about that. 

I was intrigued therefore to learn that right here in Florida there is an effort to engage technology in an innovative manner. It took a story from a Virginia television station, also arguably a world away, to make me aware of this. It is "the most sophisticated wrong-way detection system of its kind in the U.S." and is deployed in Orlando. Car accidents are a significant cause of death. Forbes reports that 46,000 Americans die in accidents each year. Striving to decrease that number is a significant part of the purchase price of each automobile (seatbelts, airbags, cameras, warning systems, and more).

Florida is the nation's third-most-populous state. It is not surprising that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that only Texas and California report more vehicle death tolls than Florida. And, according to Patch, a notable volume of accidents are "wrong-way" collisions. It reports that an average of 500 deaths occur each year from these people going where they should not. That rate is reportedly on the rise, which is itself troubling. WSLS 10 (Roanoke, Virginia) reports "most wrong-way driving happens at night because a driver is drunk or tired or confused or . . . suicidal."

But, in Orlando there are "creative people . . . working to make the world a better place, one solution at a time." NBC10 reports that Orlando "has a dangerous track record of wrong-way driving." Inspired by these accidents, the Central Florida Expressway Authority teamed with the University of Central Florida to examine the challenges and threats of such accidents, and invented "one of the best and most-advanced wrong-way detection systems in the entire country." They imagined, innovated, and improved.  

Their solution included some reasonably simple components. One was "wrong-way signs outlined with obnoxiously bright LED lights" that "flash when detecting a wrong-way driver." "Perhaps that American tourist in Italy would have benefitted from signs telling him to read the signs that said do not enter? Or, perhaps the flashing lights and signs are merely a good start? Despite them, potentially some "fool" would nonetheless utter the immortal "hold my cell phone, watch this?" Absolute safety is perhaps immutably elusive? "But wait, there's more." 

The Orlando system is more than signs and flashing lights. Motion sensors that initiate the flashing lights also activate cameras and notify the "traffic management system and state troopers’ cellphones." This is perhaps the one instance in which I will readily agree it is OK to look at a cell phone while driving (police only, please). The "overhead digital signs" on the highway then "warn wrong-way drivers to turn around" and "warn innocent drivers about what lies ahead." This is thus both passive - signs, warnings, lights, and active - troopers. As an aside, there is some good advice here if you find yourself warned of a wrong-way driver (road sign) or confronted with one. 

This sounds reasonably sophisticated, but the Authority notes it was "not terribly expensive.” The entire process involves about "65 detection systems throughout and was deployed at an overall cost of about $5 million. Effective? Since deployment, the system has detected "1,200 wrong-way driving events." The result? "Over 1,000 of those resulted in turnarounds." One cannot say with any certainty that each of those would have otherwise resulted in an accident or a fatality, but it seems fair to credit that success rate (87%) with saving some lives. Calls to 911 about such drivers have dropped 66%.

It is inspiring to see that technology can have a positive impact on safety. One may wish it were "foolproof," but not as yet. The process will likely follow an arc similar to that of other innovations, with early adopters footing the bill for innovation and implementation. While the Orlando system was notably inexpensive, such systems will undoubtedly become cheaper still to replicate elsewhere. With repetition will come diminishing costs, and likely further innovation and improvement. 

This technology has the potential to remedy a great many threats. These are more likely the "tired or confused" drivers. Perhaps there is hope for it to help somewhat even with the drunk or otherwise impaired driver. Perhaps not. And, the "suicidal" driver, the intentional wrong-way, will not likely be affected at all. The WSLS story notes that those instances when "turn around" does not occur then become a challenge for police, and a significant threat to oncoming traffic.

Despite that shortcoming, the story reinforces that 87% of alerts result in turn arounds. Similarly, from the absence of news reports, we might conclude that the signs and gates on Mount Vesuvious work well with the majority of self-preservation-focused volcano visitors?

But, the goal of 100% wrong-way prevention from such technology is predicted "to require systems like this that are continuously upgraded and implemented throughout all interchanges.” And with that, more cameras, more monitoring, and likely more who will perceive threats to civil liberties. See Artificial Intelligence Surveillance (August 2020). It will be interesting to see whether such concerns are voiced, and what accommodations occur. Much of our measure of individual rights we find balanced against the rights of others, the powers of government, and societal norms. I always pity those whose personal constructs and perceptions include absolutisms regarding either government power or rights and these inevitable conflicts). 

The day will not likely come when all interchanges are equipped with such technology, but then I predicted in the 1970s that airbags would never expand beyond the luxury car market (for the record, you heard it here "I was wrong"). Perhaps such cameras, lights, and more will eventually come to rural America one day as airbags have come to the most basic automobiles. But, in the meantime, this innovation seems immediately ripe for the bustle and congestion of urban America. 

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Workplace Violence Again

There seems to be some recurrence of workplace safety in my news feed recently. Despite this, the holiday season of 2022 will perhaps be overshadowed by various other captivating news stories regarding elections, Ukraine, celebrities, and more. It is an eventful time. Nonetheless, I recently noted two drunk driving allegations and the implications those can have for workplace safety, see Workplace Road Safety (November 2022). 

But, another tragic story brings focus to education and preparation. The Associated Press (AP) reported last month on workplace violence in Virginia. A disturbed and disgruntled team leader in a retail store entered a break room and began shooting coworkers. There were six killed and another six wounded. The gunman "then apparently killed himself." It was a tragic incident and will touch many lives. It reiterates the questions we too often ask about mental health and the decisions people make. Some jurisdictions say they will take more active roles as regards mental health, which bears watching. 

In this Virginia instance, one of the team leader's employees noted that this team leader "was the manager to look out for." She described him as having "a history of writing people up for no reason." The AP asserts that there may be some method or process for identifying "worrisome behavior among employees," and "recogniz(ing) warning signs." Beyond the recognition of potential problems, the AP asserts that employees "don't know how to report suspicious behavior or feel empowered to do so," citing "experts." 

It is easy to find an "expert." Too often, they are Monday morning quarterbacks (see Perspectives on Evidence, December 2022). An "expert" may be "a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field" (Niels Bohr). Or, an expert may be "somebody who is more than 50 miles from home, has no responsibility for implementing the advice he gives, and shows slides (Edwin Meese). Or, an expert may be somewhere in between. "Experts" tend to draw adulation or disdain, often based in large part on whether they agree with one's individual perspectives.

The AP story also notes the effort that has been invested in recent years upon "active shooter training." This is training that focuses on what we might do when faced with the immediacy of violence. There is a great deal of information on the Internet regarding active shooters. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has admittedly done much in its history to impair its own credibility, but its active shooter information is worthy of consideration. 

The FBI defines "active shooter" as "an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people." It then continues with "in a populated area," which seems to make less sense. If "populated" means there are "any" people present, then it is redundant. If "populated" means that there are many people present, I would suggest that is irrelevant. Killing is killing, and the population of the location in which killing occurs seems of little import. But, I am no expert. 

The FBI acknowledges the role of law enforcement in responding to an Active Shooter but stresses the important role individuals play in their own response to such a situation. It is often easy to say/predict how we think we might individually respond to any situation or hypothetical. But, I certainly don't know how I would respond to such a threat (onslaught) of violence. The FBI advocates "three tactics" as the best individual response. In order, it recommends that you "run, hide, and fight." There is no reason to take the risk of a fight if you can run or hide. The website also has online training available. 

The FBI also notes how it has invested in "successful prevention of these active shooter incidents." It describes "operational, behaviorally-based threat assessment and threat management" as a path to "help detect and prevent acts of targeted violence." It acknowledges that part of the challenge lies in mental health, and envisions a broad coalition prevention approach that includes "business, community, law enforcement, and government entities."

The focus of this is to "recognize and disrupt potential active shooters." The FBI suggests that those "on a trajectory toward violence" may be identified and perhaps deterred or intercepted before the actual violence begins. Perhaps, this is what the AP suggests as a worthy element of training that should be provided by employers. Perhaps employees could be instructed regarding profiling their coworkers and reporting behavior to management? It is critical, perhaps, that the alleged shooter in Virginia was apparently part of management. 

The AP suggests that workers "too often don’t know how to recognize warning signs." Can employees be better aware of potential threats and processes for forestalling violence? If they do note such behavior, to whom should they report it, and what potential implications or complications might they face as a result? I have worked in "chain of command" businesses in which approaching upper management was at best discouraged. Some might have perceived it as forbidden. How does the work culture both train employees to spot concerns and facilitate and enable open communication and consideration?

There are suggestions noted by the AP "including confidential hotlines." The experts discuss spotting of “red flags,” but they stress those are not the solitary potentials. They note that "workers should be looking for the 'yellow flags'” that may appear in someone's behavior or perhaps even words. These, the "experts" suggest are more "subtle changes in behavior, like increased anger or not showing up for work." Perhaps, that anger could be manifested in a manager that is "the manager to look out for" or is the one that "writ(es) people up for no reason." Maybe such behavior, or changes in intensity or frequency of it, might be "yellow flags" that bear mentioning to upper management?

The AP quotes the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). It notes that most human resource professionals lack knowledge about their company's "policies to prevent workplace violence." Of the remainder, that knew about policies," a significant percentage knew their company "lacked such programs." In this, there is at least the suggestion that greater training may be necessary in awareness. It is possible companies have such policies and procedures, and employees are not aware. It is also possible that companies lack such training or policies, in which case "experts" may need to be retained. 

The AP concedes that workplace homicides are not at their worst. There was a period in the 1990s in which the problem was more widespread. Despite that, the AP quotes a NIOSH report that such violence is currently trending back upward. The threat of workplace homicide is real. Texas leads the volume reported there, with California in a close second. Florida ranks third, which is perhaps not surprising as it is the third most populous state. However, the report documents (for 2019) very low numbers, or even zero, in places like Virginia. The report is somewhat sobering.  

The safety of workers is a critical element of the employee/employer relationship, as is the workers' compensation construct. The safety interest is broader, however, encompassing the public as well. Spotting the "yellow" flags may be more difficult in the brief moments with customers and visitors, but the investment in employee training might bring dividends there as well. The awareness might well be instrumental in someone getting the help s/he needs before violence erupts. The AP's point regarding education and preparation is well taken. 

Thursday, December 8, 2022

These are the good old days

There is a broad spectrum of intriguing news parading across the Internet these days. I struggle with volume and at times with comprehension. I periodically just do not get it. 

These pages are frequently about automation. That is going to have major impacts in the coming years on employment, workplace safety, and even injury and recovery management. Artificial intelligence and robotics are here to stay. They are permeating society and will likely change our world, work and beyond. 

See e.g. Chatbot wins 160,000 Cases (June 2016), The Running Man from Pensacola (July 2015), Nero May be Fiddling (April 2017), and Robotics and Innovation (September 2016). The future is now, and yet I still don't have my flying car. In fact, even the fully automated car is looking a bit further (or farther) down the road. Apple announced this week that its autonomous car debut has been pushed to 2026. See Life Changing Seminar (May 2015). And, it is rumored this vehicle will have throwback features "like a steering wheel and pedals." 

But, as impactful as these innovations may be on the workplace, San Francisco made the news recently with their proposal to deploy Officer James Murphy on the Streets of San Francisco ((ABC, 1972-77). If you miss the first reference Officer Murphy was the lead in the film Robocop (Orion, 1987). That sci-fi adventure involves a Cyborg organism, largely robotic, with a weapon, patrolling the streets and enforcing the law with significant zeal. It is not Terminator (Paramount 1984), but it is similar. Armed robots are the work of science fiction, but now of impending California fact. 

In the news, ABC7 reports that the San Francisco government had approved its police deploying "lethal, remote-controlled robots in emergency situations." There were those who argued this is not conducive to civil liberties. They fear such a device might "lead to the further militarization of a police force." But wait. The police claim they have no armed robots and have no plans to get any. They merely want to be able to
"deploy robots equipped with explosive charges 'to contact, incapacitate, or disorient (a) violent, armed, or dangerous suspect' when lives are at stake"
It is not about guns (at this point, in that jurisdiction, but keep reading). It is about explosives. Some might see explosive-armed robots as concerning. But, apparently, others do not.

It is, after all, San Franciso (I left my heart there once, Tony Bennet, 1962). This beautiful city has made the news various times recently. It has been recently famous for the prevalence of human excrement on public streets and sidewalks. There is even an app to help folks avoid such encounters. To make the city more appealing, its leaders have opted for open-air public urinals in its parks. The city has struggled with the unhoused, and residents have felt challenged. It is intriguing.

In August, there was coverage of San Francisco's contest for a new garbage can for city streets. The city is said to be considering the replacement of some 3,000 trash cans, and so it held a contest for new designs. The Guardian reports that they are nearing the end of that process.

The need for new cans is that too many people apparently "rummage through them and leave behind a mess.” The cans need to contain the rubbish more completely. The Guardian article concludes that among the prototypes obtained thus far "none of the models revolutionized the world of waste disposal." That is a high bar to be sure. Some have been critical of the half-million dollar expenditure thus far in pursuit of a more perfect can. One particular unit is said to have cost $20,000. One outlet has labeled the entire contest process as "bizarre."

Despite the obvious cross-marketing opportunities, there has been no report of discussions to deploy trash cans "equipped with explosive charges." But, I digress.

On the topic of police robots, San Francisco is reportedly not alone. Built In reports that there are "countless stories involving police robots." It says that robots have been used "handing out speeding tickets and patrolling streets to taking down armed suspects and diffusing bombs." The deployment of robots is apparently a decision that has already been made in some jurisdictions. 

These devices have been deployed in places such as SeoulCaliforniaSingapore, and more.  There have been reports of frustration with robot police. In 2019, NBC News reported on such a device charged with patrolling a park in Los Angeles. When a fight broke out and a bystander tried to engage the robot for help, she was frustrated. A call to 911 eventually brought aid from a human police officer, but not before one of the fight participants was injured, requiring medical attention. 

Of course, that poor LA bot was perhaps hindered by being unarmed. Perhaps it would have been more assertive if it had been "equipped with explosive charges." There have been allusions over the years to the balm of "liquid courage" for humans. Perhaps "explosive charges" could provide such courage to bots? Or guns. US News reports that just across the bay, Oakland similarly tried "to arm robots with shotguns." When public attention there led to reconsideration, they armed the robot with "pepper spray" instead. It is not explosives, but does that really make it better?

Proponents have been advocating for robotic police for years. A 2007 journal article reported that the third generation of robots had arrived. It described these as "capable of making real-life decisions and acting upon them." While such a device might be directed by a human being, there is the vision for them to act autonomously. It is frankly a scary proposition that we might actually be answerable to our "new robot overlords." As these "generations" of technology continue to evolve, where will we humans end up? Autonomous car? Where is the flying car George Jetson promised me decades ago?

But, as I polished this post for publication, The Guardian reports on December 7 that 
"San Francisco lawmakers voted to ban police robots from using deadly force on Tuesday, reversing course one week after officials had approved the practice and sparked national outrage."

This "national outrage" apparently included local protests in San Francisco. US News reports that some there held signs reading "We all saw that movie... No Killer Robots." It is unclear if that is a reference to "Robocop," "Terminator," or "The Streets of San Francisco," but apparently the sentiment was clear to the local government. In repealing the prior endorsement of killer robots, the San Francisco leaders sent the proposal back to a committee and may debate the idea again in the future. Perhaps the city can return to its former fame of excrement, urinals, and expensive waste cans?

As I upload this post, I can hear Emily Latella (Gilda Radner, RIP,  "never mind"). But, the other half of my brain is wary that the issue of arming robots will be raised again. 

Killer robots, autonomous cars, and the potential for ongoing human involvement in the world in which we live. As Cheryl Crow advised: "Raise a glass and say 'These still are the good old days.'"