Thursday, July 30, 2009

Visiting Season

Today is Friday Eve. Streeterville Bay is pretty bare. Navy Pier is not. It is currently 76 degrees under mostly cloudy skies at the Mini. Just another mild summer day in the continual stream that is the summer of 2009 in Chicago. Everyone breathe a satisfied "Ahhhh." Didn't that feel good?

August is almost upon us, and that reminds me that I owe my sister-in-law a birthday card. News cycles this time of year are generally slow. Not much of great import happening. Most of Paris goes on vacation for the month of August. Truly not a bad tradition.

I just returned from visiting with friends and relatives of the in-law variety in Minneapolis and Northern Iowa. This afternoon I am awaiting the arrival of visitors of the in-law variety for a few days. While it is not the Parisian custom of taking an entire month and retiring to the country or to the beach, it is a very local custom that Babs and I have developed in this part of summer. It's visiting season.

A great many Americans do not get to experience the pleasantry of visiting season. They work too much. Babs and I have been able to carve out our own little corner of the summer because A) I am a teacher and I often take the summer off, and B) Babs is self-employed and gets to make her own schedule to a certain extent. Summers are meant to be slow and relaxing. Parisians know this. Babs and I have managed to grasp this. Meanwhile, most Americans are busy taking a weekend here, a week off there. Some may take two weeks and spend the entire time madly dashing around trying to compile a list of memorable vacation moments. They arrive back at work just as harried as they were when they left.

America has long prided itself on being the most productive country on the planet. The trade off is that Americans work more hours than do their Parisian counterparts. They get less vacation. They are more likely to die from a stress-related heart condition. I ask you, do you honestly know anyone who has ever taken an entire month off and just relaxed? (Hey! Quit checking that e-mail and texting people at work. You're on vacation Bubba.) Hell no. You're an American. Americans don't do that.

There was a time when Babs and I attempted vacations of 3 weeks at a pop. Off to Australia and New Zealand. Spend 90% of the 3 weeks madly driving about the countryside trying to see everything we could see, and the non-driving time doing every single thing anyone who ever went there ever thought was cool. Saw a lot of cool stuff. Had to sleep for a week after getting home to recuperate. Oh, and there was the drive from Chicago to Montreal to Front Royal Virginia and Washington D.C. and back across the country to Chicago. Man was that relaxing. NOT!

What Babs and I discovered was that, like other Americans, we are not socialized in a manner that allows us to vacation for a month at a time. Vacationing is work. Vacationing is stressful. We are Americans on vacation. We just don't know how to go someplace pleasant and chill for a month at a time. Rumor has it that there are certain members of the wealthier class who are capable of going to Martha's Vineyard or some such place for a month. Some rich New Yorkers may send the family out to the Hamptons for the summer and come on the weekends. This is in direct opposition to the other end of the spectrum who spend a month preparing for a drive to Disney World so they can stand in long, hot lines for an hour at a time and go home to pay off the credit card debt over the next 6 months.

Well, Babs and I still like a good trip overseas every now and again, but we don't do it as much as we once did. It's tiresome and frankly we've already been most of the interesting places on the planet. We know we can't just take a 3 or 4 week trip somewhere, but we live on Lake Michigan in the summertime and it's a very pleasant experience if you let the work slow down for the summer. Its' visiting season. Go away and visit for a few days. Have visitors come to Chicago for a few days. Work a little more. Enjoy the lake front. Go away to Wisconsin or Michigan for a few days of biking and wine tours. Then come home and enjoy some more work heavily mixed with relaxation at home. Come September, one's batteries are recharged. One is ready to take on the world once again.

If, by chance, you should decide to take advantage of visiting season in Chicago, hurry and call in your reservation, the one extra bedroom at the R & B B & B books up quickly, and hey Babs and I may be in Traverse City. You never know. Visiting season, it isn't the City of Paris emtying out for the Cote d'Azur, but it's certainly a healthy American alternative.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Practice to Die For

Tis a lovely afternoon. Blue sky? Check. Blue water? Check. White boats? Check. Comfy weather? Check. It's 78 degrees under partly cloudy skies, according to the Streeterville Weather Service. Unfortunately, it is not such a lovely afternoon for 3297 persons in the U.S. who are all on death row somewhere in the U.S.

A short while ago, I mentioned that the U.S. is the only major industrial nation in the world that does not provide health care for all citizens. This is a tragedy. Yesterday I was reading my latest issue of National Geographic, and I came across some statistics that were interesting in a similar vein.

Apparently, in all the world, there are only 56 countries that still have the death penalty. The United States is one of those. In Europe, only one nation has the death penalty, Belarus. Of the major industrial powers that sport Western style democracies, only the U.S. and Japan have the death penalty. In Japan they still hang people for capital offenses.

It is interesting that most of the Islamic countries of the world still have the death penalty. Two emerging economic powers, China and India still have the death penalty. Most of Western and Southern Africa does not. Most of Northeastern Africa does.

It has been noted that support for the death penalty is especially strong in culturally conservative areas and in countries with totalitarian regimes. Yet the U.S. still clings to the "eye for an eye" method of punishment for severe crimes, even though study after study shows that it is not a deterrent to serious crime. What does this say about the U.S.?

World wide there were 2390 executions last year. Over 71% of those occurred in China. The country with the second largest number was Iran and they were followed by Saudi Arabia. Let's see, one totalitarian regime with the world's largest national population and two small Islamic nations. People won't do what you tell them to do? Execute them. There's an equation for stability (Until the people eventually get fed up and execute their leaders).

The trouble is that, knowing what one does about China and conservative Islamic regimes, one almost expects this sort of behavior. The really troubling thing is that the two largest economies in the world, countries with democratic institutions, a high standard of living, and a great deal of freedom, the United States of America and Japan, continue to condemn prisoners to death. Most of the nations of the world have decided that using death as punishment for crime is barbaric. Yet these two nations persist in using execution as a punishment for certain crimes.

I cannot speak for the people of Japan, but I find the practice unsettling and a little bit wrong in a nation that supposedly bases its life on guaranteed freedoms and equal opportunity for all men. The fact is that roughly half of all inmates on death row are located in 4 states, California, Florida, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Texas is known as a state that follows through on these executions at a rate unrivaled by other states. There is a strip of states across the North and East that have outlawed capital punishment and New Mexico has recently joined them. Other states like Illinois have placed a moratorium on executions, although the death penalty is still on the books as the law. Still, though, the Southeastern U.S. and rural Northwest still clings to execution, as necessary. (Remember that thing about culturally conservative?)

The bottom line here is that death by lethal injection, as commonly practiced in this country, or death by hanging as in Japan, or death by stoning for adulterers, as practiced by extreme practitioners of Shariah, all result in someone being just as dead. They all result in a state sponsored murder. They all harken back to the earliest days of civilized humanity, to Old Testament Law, to Hammurabi's Code. They are all based in trying to make someone feel better because they "got back" at someone who aggrieved them. Or in the case of dictatorial regimes they represent keeping the people under the thumb of the government by threatening those people with death for failure to obey.

This is all very crude, very barbaric, very uncivilized in the year 2009. Have we not moved beyond this? Apparently not. The U.S. is full of a lot of mean-spirited individuals who do not wish to provide health care to anyone but the wealthy, and who wish to kill off any who will threaten their good life. Welcome to the Land of Opportunity, the Land of Tall Fences and Armed Guards. One last thing. It's racist. By far, the largest number of individuals on Death Row in the U.S. are minorities, poor people. White people and people of any color or ethnicity with money are not in danger of being executed for crimes against the state or against other individuals. Think about that.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What Happened While I Was Gone

After several days of vacation-like activity, i.e. driving around across Wisconsin, Southern Minnesota, and Northern Iowa, I have returned to Streeterville, and the view from the 14th floor is as it ever was, only more so. It's summer boys and girls. The sky that was partly cloudy has turned mostly cloudy and we anticipate rain sometime before the night is over. It is 82 degrees and muggy at the Mini. For the uninitiated, that is roll down the windows and open the sun roof weather.

I'm not certain that I have anything of great import or significance to report today, mostly the mundane. Nevertheless, I find it important to process the catching up process. What indeed, occurred during the 5 days that I was gone?

Well, let's see, the fat cat (Katu) got fatter. The skinny cat (Sammy from Miami) got skinnier. My brother, the one with the recent back surgery that followed the prostate surgery, still complains of back pain, and swears that he will never go to a doctor again. (Good luck with that one.) I have gotten an appointment with a doctor to see what the problem is with my abdominal pain. Is it a hernia? Is it a strained muscle? Should I continue working out and running? Should I not? Babs has no current issues, although she did receive her new contact lenses in the mail. That's about it from mundane medical.

Now on to other issues. While away, Lance Armstrong came in 3rd in the Tour de France and his teammate Alberto Contador won the whole ball of wax. They apparently can't stand each other and continue to feud in the media. Forget the war of words. Let's see some punching and kicking and gouging. Let's see who the real man is, but let's have some urine and blood tests first to see if anyone is doping before the kick ass session. Not saying that steroids should be banned from a barroom brawl, but if they're being used by one participant, let's give some to the other so the playing field will be somewhat evened. Then place your bets boys and girls.

In other sports news, the habitually .500 Chicago Cubs have somehow won 8 of their last 10 games and managed to borrow 1st place from the St. Louis Cardinals. Got home last night after driving for 7 hours, and turned on the TV to find the Cubs engaged in a 13 inning epic battle with the Houston Astros, only to be ultimately surprised when the Cubs (Drum roll please) actually won when Alfonso Soriano hit a walk off grand slam. Have aliens taken over my baseball team? On the South Side, the White Sox, on the other hand, have managed to lose 6 of their last 10 games, despite Mark Buehrle pitching a perfect game in one of those ten. The Sox continue to trail Detroit in the standings. Oh well. I heard that there was a Blackhawks mid-summer fan fest, but truthfully I have no clue what that means or how important it is. Grew up in the South. Never been to a hockey game. Know one joke about hockey. (Went to a fight and a hockey game broke out. Insert appropriate rim shot here.) All Bears and Bulls news at this point is merely idle speculation.

On the political front, Sarah Palin continues to be an embarrassment for the Republican Party. Mayor Rich Daley has once more pissed off local politicians by appointing someone he wanted and they didn't. Sonia Sotomayor's nomination for the soon to be vacant Supreme Court seat has passed out of committee despite "no" votes from just about every Republican on the planet. (Oh, they're outnumbered.) A vote on the floor of the full Senate will, in all likelihood occur next week and because of the aforementioned Democratic majority, Ms. Sotomayor, barring some act of God or nature, will be confirmed as the next new member of the U.S. Supreme Court. During Republican efforts to stall the vote, Minnesota Senator Al Franken can be counted on to make some smart-ass comment. Should be entertaining for devotees of C-Span. Meanwhile, the debate on "Healthcare for every American" drags on. Oddly enough, I was listening to NPR while sitting in line at the last toll booth on my trek home last evening, and there are actually people in the Obama administration who know details about how this healthcare reform stuff should be done. Now if the naysayers, obfuscators, and general ne'er do wells will just get out of the way and let some concerned individuals actually go about reforming the system so everyone can afford to go to the doctor, I'd sincerely appreciate it. (For the record, I have insurance, as a Chicago Public School employee.)

Apparently, it was a slow news week. The U.S. still has troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran still hates us because we're evil supporters of Israel. Israel thinks we don't support them enough. Car bombs still go off in Iraq. Pakistan is pissed at us because we continue to attack Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives who are hiding out in their country. Africa continues to be a mess.(See Somalia and Nigeria to name two likely suspects in that place.) China still treats its own people like shit. Kim Jong is ill. (Pun intended.) The Honduran army still won't let that dude who was legally elected President back in the country. Myanmar continues to put on trial anyone who is in favor of basic human rights. Hugo Chavez has apparently been funneling Swedish weapons to Communist guerrillas in Colombia. Iceland, whose banking system collapsed, subsequently followed by their entire economy, has decided that maybe they want to join the European Union, so as to hedge their bets against further economic distress. The ice caps continue to melt. Like I said, slow news week. Oh, and all life on the planet Earth could possibly be destroyed by a collision with a big-ass comet or asteroid, perhaps one followed by the other. This last item is best described in weather-man terms, "An infinitesimally small chance of death by comets or asteroids this evening, followed by ongoing global warming and rampant air pollution tomorrow."

At any rate, it's good to be back. Hello to all, and enjoy your week.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gone on Vacation

Views From the 14th Floor is on vacation. R.D. will return on Tuesday, July 28.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Those Who Oppose

The morning was swell. The early afternoon was lovely. The later afternoon has turned overcast and the possibility of early evening rain looms above us. Most of the boats have abandoned Streeterville Bay as the threat of rain has risen. I believe this is what, back in school, was referred to as an inverse proportional relationship. The number of boats in the bay is in inverse proportion to the number of clouds darkening the sky, thus creating higher probabilities of precipitation. The Streeterville Weather Service tells us that it is currently 77 degrees and rain is imminent (though, not eminent).

One thing that does not appear to be imminent is the passage of a universal healthcare bill for the United States. President Obama has set a goal of August for the passage of a comprehensive healthcare reform bill. Foot dragging has commenced. Predictably, Republicans have begun a vocal opposition to healthcare reform on two fronts, one from the fiscal conservatives (aka Rich Dudes with ties to the healthcare industry and Rich Dudes with no conscience who can afford healthcare and don't care about anyone else.) and the other from the Christian Right (aka Abortion is Murder anti-abortion activists)

Support for Mr. Obama's healthcare reform push is sagging just now, as one would expect. The Republican Party with its two front assault in the media has begun a serious campaign of disinformation, misinformation, and just plain propaganda to defeat any meaningful healthcare reform. On the one hand they are claiming that the plan being pursued in Congress will cost us millions of jobs by requiring employers to provide health insurance. Then they are screaming that it is socialism and will further cost us millions of jobs by putting a tax on the wealthy to pay for it. Such scare tactics have an effect. They make undiscerning Americans think, "Oh my God! Obama is sending us to hell in a handcart, and I won't be able to choose my own doctor and me and everyone I know are going to lose our jobs." Thank you Rush Limbaugh and company.

The second prong of the media attack on healthcare reform is the suggestion that government reform of healthcare will require all insurance to cover abortions, and baby killing will run rampant as a result. One article from a Christian News Media source suggests that the government is even now out recruiting abortionists and is planning to mandate the provision of abortions in hospitals and clinics across America. This is uniting large numbers of Christian Right groups across the country to oppose any effort to provide universal healthcare in America.

Then there are the so-called "Blue Dog" Democrats in Congress, the conservative Democrats, who in many cases have more in common with the Republican Party than they do with their own party. These Democrats are dragging their feet, claiming that Congress, at the behest of President Obama and his woman in the House, Nancy Pelosi, is moving too fast. Mind you, it would be of great interest to me to find out how many of these individuals are taking donations from the insurance and healthcare industry. At any rate, they are making the argument that we need more time to consider what exactly needs to be done to fundamentally reform our healthcare system.

As if this were not enough, I encountered something at a party the other night that I did not expect. What I encountered was opposition from the far left. Apparently, the far left in this country feels that any healthcare reform coming from Congress will not go far enough. There are those who want nothing less than the total takedown of the insurance industry as it exists, to be replaced by a single-payer government run system. Nothing else will do for these.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party, recently reported to be in disarray and seriously lacking in respect from the American public as a whole, is gleefully licking its chops. The inner circle has been heard to say that if they can take out the healthcare reform, the centerpiece of Obama's agenda, they can send the whole Obama package down to ignominious defeat, just as they did Bill Clinton's agenda in the early 1990's. Then we can all get back to business as usual, which means the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and the U.S. continues its spiral down that hole that leads to 3rd worldization of our country.

This is one agenda that we, the people of the U.S., need to get behind. It is time to draw that line in the sand. It is time to support the needs of the people and the economy of the U.S. against the wants of a privileged few who benefit from keeping things the way they are. Can we change our country for the positive. In the words of President Obama, "Yes we can."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Outer Space and Inner Motivation

Today is July 20, another partly cloudy day in Streeterville, another mid-summer day with all the usual markers of that event. The lake is blue. The sky is blue. Navy Pier is packed with visitors and tourists, spending money wildly, trying their darndest to get the economy back on track. Assorted boats are floating. Runners and bikers are running and pedaling to their hearts' content. Life is good and it is 74 degrees at the Mini.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon's surface and Armstrong uttered those now famous words, "One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind," although he now claims that he actually said, "One small step for a man," and the word a was lost in the recording of it. Did he say it? Did he leave out a word? Who cares? It was still a momentous occasion.

In the ensuing 40 years, we have become accustomed to busing astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station. The Russians have their space ships. We have our Space Shuttles. Astronauts and scientists galore go back and forth between this little outpost in the vacuum that we call outer space and the safety of the atmosphere protected planet below. A couple of gazillionaires have even paid to take a space tour, albeit short.

Aside from the Americans and Russians, the European Space Agency, the Japanese, and the Chinese have all launched satellites. We have all become dependent on satellites, for communications, for GPS devices to show us how to get from place to place, for weather prediction, and scads of other things that I probably have not mentioned. There is so much junk floating around out there in orbit around the planet and there are so many flights going back and forth to the International Space Station that I'm amazed that there have not been space collisions, prompting State Farm and Geico to enter a bidding war over who can provide the cheapest and most complete space collision insurance.

We have satellites. We have space stations. We have orbiting telescopes so sensitive that they can see to the ends of the universe. We have orbiting space junk that occasionally deteriorates in its orbit so that it comes blazing through the atmosphere in a flaming arc. We have sent robotic flights to Mars and beyond, to explore the outer reaches of our solar system, and even beyond that. Yet we do not return to the moon. We do not set up little scientific colonies there. We have resisted sending men beyond the meager orbit of the space station.

After our robots landed on the surface of Mars and poked and probed and tested, and sent back photos for all to see, there has been a lot of talk about sending men to Mars. This falls into the category of "I'll believe it when I see it." It costs a lot of money to send men to Mars. We can't get people to pay the taxes necessary to provide healthcare for all in this country. Far too many people are opposed to funding a trip to Mars, for what? For scientific research? To what end? What's in it for me?

Then there are those who still refuse to believe that man ever actually walked on the moon. There is a significant minority in the United States who choose to believe that Neil Armstrong's moon walk was produced in a studio with all the wizardry and artistry that Hollywood has to offer. They choose to believe that the government did this just to make us feel good about the accomplishments of our country at a time when we were losing a war in Vietnam and many feared the Communists were going to win the Cold War. Needless to say, these individuals are not supporting a move to send men to Mars. I suspect that many of these persons also are global warming deniers. I suspect that many of these persons put our little excursions into outer space in the same category with Captains Kirk and Picard of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek.

Bearing all of this in mind, that "Giant Leap" begins to look like a baby step that got us a lot of useful technology for living our lives on the planet Earth. It got us out of the atmosphere proper to enable us to do some serious research beyond the constraints of air and gravity, but it has not moved us to "boldly go where no man has gone before," as The Enterprise does on a regular basis in that fictionalized future of TV and movies. I just have to say that, if the tiny steps we have taken out of our atmosphere, into orbits around the planet have produced the wonders we take for granted 40 years after those first steps on the moon, who knows what trips to Mars and beyond may yield? Who knows what wonders our children's children will be able to accept as normal? Who knows? Maybe we'll actually figure out how to build machines to conquer the vastness of space and time, and really "boldly go where no man has gone before." Maybe we will one day actually discover other sapient beings in this vast universe and cease to feel so alone, so insignificant in that vast vacuum. Is that really so radical?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Parallel Thinking, Parallel Lives

R.D. has been gone for a couple of days. Sometimes this summertime stuff just gets in the way of serious blogging. At any rate, it's Sunday evening. I'm missing 60 Minutes, not a good thing when trying to maintain one's Old Fart status. Watching 60 Minutes is, after all, required behavior for the serious descent into Old Fartitis. Yesterday the lake was aswarm with sailboats, as the boat parade and Race from Chicago to Mackinac proceeded. Today it has been cool and overcast for most of the day. As a result there are but a few scattered power boats in the Play Pen and fewer still sailboats beyond the concrete breakwater, in the deep. The sunshine has finally returned, however, lighting up my afternoon view from the 14th floor admirably. The water appears placid and a nice shade of summertime blue. It is currently 69 degrees under partly cloudy skies in Streeterville.

Last evening I went to a birthday party in the West Loop. A great deal of the party was spent on a rooftop deck overlooking, for the most part, other decks and other parties, and a great many tall buildings. Nevertheless, it is summer, and it was open to the sky. The party was an interesting mix of old liberals and artsy fartsy sorts and young liberals, and young artsy fartsy sorts.

The circles I travel in tend to be dominated by college-educated, lefty leaning intellectual and artistic sorts. The funny thing is that among the younger attendees at this party, they were dealing with exactly the same issues that we older sorts have been dealing with all our lives. How do you realistically live a life with a reasonable standard of living while still trying to be true to your artistic self? How do you realistically justify your political beliefs and support with your idealistic self that has been with you from an early age? What do you expect to get from life?

Interestingly enough, among the older group at the party, those in their 50's and some who appeared to be in their early 60's, no one in this group talked about their children or grandchildren. I suspect the route that a great many of those people at this particular party have taken a route in life that led to no children, an oddity in the majority of America, but a fairly common occurrence among a particular group of primarily urban, well educated sorts. It is possible, on some occasions to be with a group of people one's own age and not feel like an outsider because you don't have any children.

It was especially interesting to interact with the younger attendees at this party, and to discover that the trajectories of their lives paralleled my own. In point of fact, I was introduced to one young man who appeared to be in his early 30's because I mentioned that I was using the Garage Band program on the MacBook Air to record some songs that I have written. It seems the young man I was introduced to is doing exactly the same thing. He used to play in a band. Now he has a real job. He is putting together a demo with the idea of selling some songs in the country music market. I just want to record a bunch of songs that I have written for god knows what reason. For posterity? To regale friends and family? For my own vanity? Some of the above? Nevertheless, two men separated by a generation, but engaged in precisely the same activity. I even met two young women from the same hometown that I claim. Their paths, and even schools they attended in their escape from that town eerily paralleled my own, just separated by a number of years, and by the fact that they are female and I am male.

I suppose the point of this ramble is that for all the talk of the difference between generations, for all the talk of how youngsters today are different, the truth is that the wheel just keeps on turning. We now have digital media out the wazoo. (Question: Where, on an anatomical chart does one find the wazoo? Bonus points for the answer.) These kids grew up with Clinton and Bushes as Presidents. We grew up with the Vietnam War and protests. These kids grew up in an age of AIDS and designer drugs. We grew up in an age of sexual liberation and LSD. On the surface these are two worlds apart. Upon examination, they are worlds in parallel. The same impulses drive them that drove us, and still drive us. The surprise is that we can see eye to eye, despite generational age differences. We're all fighting for the same things. The world we live in provides us with the same solutions, and parallel lives. Then we bump into one another at a birthday party on a rooftop in the West Loop in Chicago.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Shorts and Flip Flops

It's Thursday, July 17, 2009 and life is as usual in Streeterville. The mid-summer cumulus clouds are morphing into rain clouds and it is warm and humid out. Note that I say warm, not hot. My compatriots who live in places such as Little Rock, Dallas, and Austin have been weathering temps in the high 90s and low 100s for a long time now. The Streeterville Weather Service assures me that it is 79 degrees at the lake front just now. The water temperature is a comfy 70.

There are reasons that R.D. chooses to live in Chicago. Naysayers may point out that the weather in January and February is godawful cold and it was not too long ago that R.D. was grousing about this summer being cold (50 degree temps in June). R.D. would like to point out that he once upon a time lived in Minneapolis, and that is cold. Chicago is wussy in comparison. That is not to say that in January, when one walks out the front door onto the sidewalk on Lake Shore Drive, it isn't cold. The wind comes whipping off the lake and it cuts through you like a knife. It gets cold.

That is why they invented really warm coats, and hats, and gloves, and boots, and bars with fireplaces. See a blog from last winter entitled "The Hat With Flaps Factor" for more on that topic. True one survives the winters to get to the time of year known as summer. Summer here is relished. Summer in more Southern climes is survived in much the same way Chicagoans survive the winter. Trouble is that in Chicago in summer it's glorious. Down South, in winter, it's still godawful. It's not cold enough to snow, but it's still cold enough to be miserable. It starts raining in December and it doesn't stop until May or June.

In Dallas everyone holes up in their homes with air conditioning in the summer and go to their air conditioned cars to their air conditioned offices, malls, and restaurants. In the winter they stay indoors in their heated homes and go to their heated cars to their heated offices, malls, and restaurants. Indoors year round. There may be a short window of opportunity for enjoying the outdoors in spring and fall, but it's indoors for the most part, and these places are built around freeways and parking lots. Got to drive everywhere you go.

Got to tell you, I'll take 80-85 degrees in summer over 90-95 degrees (and assorted 100s thrown in) any day. I'll take 20 degrees and snowing over 35-45 degrees and drizzling rain in the winter any day. And living in Streeterville I'll take the ability to walk anywhere I want over getting in my car and driving everywhere any day, as well. The springs, in truth, do remain pretty cold for a long time, because of the water temperature and consequent "lake effect." The flip side of that, though, is we have the longest, warmest autumns you could imagine. The water is still warm for a long time and it keeps us warm on the shore until the water finally gives up the ghost and gets cold for winter.

If, in the winter, when it just gets darned cold, and the snow begins to fly, and the wind is whipping between the tall buildings downtown, that is "The Hat With Flaps Factor," then the warmth we have currently begun to enjoy must be "The Shorts and Flip Flops Factor." It is a time for enjoying the weather and wearing as little as possible. It is a time for white people, such as I, to attempt the impossible, "to tan, perchance to brown." Truth is I get color in my skin, but I'm not sure it could be described as tan. I lived on a tropical island for two years, and all I achieved was deeper shades of red. It worked for me.

The hat with flaps factor brings with it the warm fuzzy dreams of hot toddies and fireplaces, while the shorts and flip flops factor brings warm fuzzy dreams of gin and tonics or frozen, blended drinks on a beach. They are the opposite ends of the spectrum, the yin and the yang of the meteorological year. The one balances the other and makes the other more special when it finally arrives. Right now it's the middle of the summer. Put on your shorts and flip flops. Get out the sunglasses. Have something cool to drink.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mid-Summer Evening

It's half past July boys and girls and real summer has finally come to Streeterville. It's 85 degrees outside and humid as all get out. There is not a cloud in the sky, save a few scattered wispy cirrus up around the stratosphere. The boats are boating on a lake of deep blue against a backdrop of pale blue sky. Indiana and its last few steel mills and its blossoming crop of casinos is clearly visible to the south and east. It's the kind of mid-summer evening when people with porches sit on them and say hello to the neighborhood when it goes by. It's the kind of evening when beer gardens make their serious cash. It's the kind of warm summer evening when young men search diligently for young women to kiss (and vice versa I would assume.).

Mid-Summer Evening

Young men on bikes
Young women in pink
Some of them fat
Some of them sleek

Old men in running shoes
Mothers on skates
Children try keeping up
But Mom turns and waits

Volleyball tournaments
Dogs chasing balls
Jugglers with juggling clubs
That never do fall

Girls in bikinis
Guys with tattoos
A beach filled with tanners
A bar filled with booze

Lake full of sailboats
Power yachts and crew
A barge full of cargo
And cruise ships, a few

Yellow slanting sunlight
And shadows that grow
As day becomes evening
In a never ending flow

R.D. Ray

This has been a bit of a departure from the normal format of Views, but some days the muse strikes your fancy and your fancy strikes the muse right back. Go out and do something outdoors. The cold will return all too soon. The days will grow shorter and Daylight Saving Time will end. There is time enough to consider the confirmation of Ms. Sotomayor, the state of the economy (The Dow Jones jumped 300 points today.), and our country's effort to provide healthcare for all. Happy Mid-summer.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Visit From Coach R.D.

It's another lovely day in Paradise aka Streeterville, boys and girls. The sun comes and goes today and the skies are mostly cloudy, but it has not rained as yet and it is 76 degrees at the Mini. Funny how the clouds affect the goings on in Streeterville Bay aka "The Playpen." Most of the partying types have eschewed (Gezundheit!) the bay for the day, but the serious types, the Lone Water Skier, the "We love our jet skis" people, and of course the cruise boats from Navy Pier are here.

Today we are very lucky to have a guest here at Views, Coach R.D. Coach R.D. likes to pay us a little visit every now and again and answer questions from those amateur runners who appear every summer, and suddenly decide that they too can run a marathon, compete in a triathlon, or sometimes, just lose enough weight so that they don't qualify as morbidly obese. Coach R.D. is, in fact, such a talented coach that on occasions he can actually anticipate questions from athletes without them even asking the question. The answers are generally spot on, despite what those who didn't ask the questions in the first place really want to hear.

Our first question comes from Ugotta B. Kiddinmee in downtown Chicago. Ugotta wants to know, "Hey I'm 58 years old and while I'm not bad for a fat old guy, I'd like to be faster yet. I've seriously considered adding speed work to my training program, but I'm afraid that people will people laugh at me? Will people be grossed out by the sight of a human butterball hurtling around the track at the unheard of speed of 10 minutes per mile?

Coach R.D. replies: Ugotta, the ugly truth is that people will laugh. If you wish to scale greater heights, if you wish to "dream the impossible dream," aka a 9 minute mile, you have to develop a thick skin. Let it all hang out. I just have one question of you. Do you have those huge "man breasts" that jiggle when you run and flap around at a different rate than the jiggling roll of fat around your waist? If so, give us a break man, Ugh! Or maybe you could go to the track really early in the morning when no one else is there. Have a nice day.

Our next question comes from Ing Glishmann in Lakeview. Ing wants to know, "Coach I run pretty fast and I like women, but I can't seem to get the two together. Every time I meet a woman that I like she seems to be too slow and the next thing you know I'm at the finish line alone. What to do?

Coach R.D. replies once again: Ing, old sport, the thing is you have to decide what it is you really want. Do you want to win races or do you want to have a relationship with a woman. Coach is reminded of one track and field star who found that when he slowed down a couple of minutes per mile he met a lot more women. Of course the same man got so carried away that he contracted a sexually transmitted disease and his brain rotted away. Just depends on what you value. In this case, it sounds to me like you're very dedicated to your running. Go out and run hard, old chap. Just don't expect to get laid very often.

Our last question comes from Magnus the Magnificent in Uptown Chicago. Magnus wants to know, "Hey I'm a really great bike rider, and I can kick ass in a short sprint, but everybody else I know has run a marathon. Is there a chance I could meet girls if I train for a marathon?

Coach R.D. replies relentlessly: Magnus, my man, I know you didn't actually ask this question, but I sense your question in the air. OK the other two guys didn't actually ask a question either. I'm on a roll. Don't stop me now. Magnus, marathon training is quite possibly the best pickup spot in the known universe. This is the biggest singles event for the health conscious since the original Whole Foods opened in Austin, Texas way back when. Go for it. You may even finish a marathon. Just remember the story I told to Ing Glishman. If you opt to slow down for the girls and say, run at a slower pace than you normally would, remember to stop for water. It's good for you, and it gives you the opportunity to carry on with the ladies. Bring a little extra GU. GU and Gatorade among friends. It's the beginning of a lovely relationship.

We at Views would like to thank Coach R.D. for his fascinating insights and hope he comes back to visit again soon. In the meantime, have a nice Tuesday and get a little exercise between drinks (Walk to the bar and back.). The coach says it's good for you.

Monday, July 13, 2009

It's Summertime and the Living Is Deadly

The sky above is pale blue. The lake below is deep blue and dotted with little white boats full of rich white people. Navy Pier is hopping. The 4 masted schooner is moving out, taking people on a late afternoon/early evening lake cruise. It is one of the loveliest of lovely mid-summer days, a day for a leisurely 20 mile ride, a day for an encounter on the tennis courts with friends. It is 75 degrees at the Mini.

Summer means many things to many people. To me it means I don't have to wake up early and drive to work. It means I have time for leisure and personal pursuits that make me more than a one dimensional man. In the traditional Chicago it means stoop sitting, and visiting with the neighborhood as it passes you by. To a great many people it means evening meals cooked on a grill in the backyard. It means being outdoors and savoring the ease that is summer, before the winter winds arrive again and we all go in again for the long, cold season.

To a great many people in Chicago and in most large cities, however, it means that someone you know is going to die from a gunshot wound. It means the weather is warm enough to bring the gangs outdoors to strut their colors and wave their weapons ,to shoot anyone who they think may be dissing them, and to shoot a great many innocent bystanders because they are godawful shots. It means that on the Southside and the Westside of Chicago someone is going to get drunk and get in an argument with someone and resolve the argument with a pistol. It means that in Brooklyn, and Harlem, and the Bronx someone is going to catch a boyfriend or girlfriend with someone else and is going to get revenge for their bruised ego with a gun. It means that in East L.A and South Central someone is going to need some cash for drugs and is going to shoot a clerk in a convenience store. In the poorer neighborhoods of America, this is summer.

A week ago I went for a run along the lakefront and ran into some crowds at North Avenue Beach. As I was making my way through the crowds and was about to get onto the pedestrian bridge that crosses Lake Shore Drive to Lincoln Park, with its trees and ball fields and rowing lagoon and driving range and zoo, I encountered a group of teenaged Mexican boys. They had obviously just come from a soccer game and several were still in their team jerseys. Then I noticed one pulling his long t-shirt down over his belt just so. It occurred to me at that moment that he could be pulling that t-shirt down to cover up a pistol that he had tucked in his waist band. Then I thought, "Oh man how callous have I become? He's just a teenage kid with his friends." Then I looked closer and there was no pistol tucked in his waist band. There was a pistol, an obvious pistol handle, sticking out of the pocket of his jeans. And I thought "Mother Fucker! What is this kid (no more than 16) doing at North Avenue Beach with a fucking pistol?" I looked around. There was not a cop in sight. There was a sea of people on a warm Sunday afternoon, at the beach for a little fun. I had no cell phone with me. I continued on and said nothing. I am not one to create an altercation with a kid carrying a gun in his pocket.

As it turns out I didn't turn on the news that evening and subsequently hear about a shooting at the beach. I thought about the possibilities, though and the result of none of them was good. There were thousands of people at the beach that day. There were black kids, white kids, Latino kids, women with children, people out walking their dogs, runners, bikers, roller bladers, and dumbass drunk white guys with tatoos. This kid could have ended up in an argument with any number of people at the beach that day, and the fact that he had a gun in his pocket would have made him just a little bolder, a little more stupid, and someone could have died. If he had been just an arrogant teenager with no weapon and he got in an argument, someone might have gotten their nose broken, gotten a busted lip, or in a worse case, a busted skull and bruised ribs. In all likelihood they would have survived. Add a gun to the mix and they die, almost every time.

The National Rifle Association likes to quote the Second Amendment to the Constitution, and its guarantee of the Right to Bear Arms. They like to incite people in rural areas and tell them that the liberals want to take away your hunting rifles. They like to incite the poor in major cities and tell them that the Constitution guarantees them the right to have a gun to protect yourself from citizens who are outlaws, and from a repressive government that has become outlaw. The government has never, I repeat, never tried to outlaw hunting weapons. People can go shoot deer and birds and rabbits to their heart's content. The government does not give a shit. For the record, automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles are not hunting weapons. That is, unless the game you are hunting is human. AK-47s, Uzis, M-16s, and weapons of this class are not intended for shooting deer. They are intended for killing other people. You do not have the right to kill other people, and frankly, if you are one of those who wish to go off the grid because you think the government is oppressive, and you think you need an assault rifle (or several) please stay in the middle of nowhere in Idaho, Arkansas, or wherever the hell it is that you're hoarding your stockpile of weapons, because frankly my life is pretty good here, and I have never ever needed a weapon to protect myself from the government.

Fact: The Mexican drug cartels that are so heavily armed that they are a threat to the Mexican police and the Mexican military are arming themselves with easily obtainable weapons bought across the border in the U.S. Fact: The easy accessibility of weapons across the U.S., coast to coast, allows gangs to arm themselves to the teeth and kill thousands of people every year in the process of their illegal pursuits. Haven't we had enough? I have lived 58 years on this planet and I have lived in good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods and I have traveled coast to coast, in rural areas, in urban areas, and in suburban areas. I have never, not once, in my life had need of a gun. People aren't protecting themselves with their constitutionally guaranteed guns. They are killing each other for incredibly dumbass reasons.

Do I believe we need gun control? Hell yes! No one in this country needs an assault weapon. No one really needs a hand gun. Both of those categories of weapons are intended for one purpose, the death of other human beings. The NRA would have us believe that if more of us owned guns, then fewer of us would die from lethal assaults using hand guns, because we would be able to protect ourselves. The truth is that if guns were more controlled, fewer people would have access to guns, and fewer people would have need of protecting themselves from idiots with guns. As for the real deer hunters, the real pheasant hunters, etc. out there. I don't want your guns. You are not the ones making people afraid to come outdoors in the summer. For those of you who like to get drunk and run around in the woods with high powered rifles and shotguns, well maybe I do want your guns. You who shot the woman in her backyard in Vermont because she was wearing white gloves while hanging clothes on a clothesline and you thought she was a white tailed deer. You who provoked an argument with a Hmong man in Wisconsin and then complained bitterly because you lost the argument when he shot several of your friends. I want your guns, and the guns of the Hmong men who would also solve arguments with their hunting rifles.

I have come to the end of my day's rant, but I just need to let it be known. I am tired of children dying in the summer, instead of riding their bikes and playing in the park. I am tired of the death trap that summer has become in the poorer neighborhoods across this nation. I am tired of stupid people carrying around weapons and ruining the lives of countless people because of some cowboy mentality. We, as a nation, have to stop the insanity. We, as a nation, have to realize that guns are not protecting our lives. They are destroying our futures.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Roller Coaster Ride of a Week

Welcome to this week's TGIF edition of Views From the 14th Floor. Honestly, the view has been pretty dreary for most of the day. It has been stuck on gray, and the temperature has been stuck on 70 as it rained lightly off and on. As the day has stretched on, however, the sun has been attempting a comeback, even as the Cubs have made their own little comeback against the Cardinals, tying the game at 3 apiece. Of course the Cardinals came back and added another run in the 5th to stop that little charade. The rain may yet return as well. It's 72 degrees under partly sunny/mostly cloudy skies in Streeterville.

This week has been one of mixed results as well. The stock market was up. The stock market was down, and then down some more. The U.S. continues withdrawing troops from Iraq. The Iraqis take advantage of this event to explode more car bombs. The U.S. made some gains in Afghanistan, but Al Qaeda is expanding operations in North Africa. A majority of Congress is Democratic and they have begun working on a universal healthcare plan, but as it turns out, some of the more conservative Democrats are siding with the Republicans and gumming up the works.

In international sports news, an American, Andy Roddick, made it all the way to the finals and played the best tennis of his life, only to lose a 5 set marathon to Swiss tennis ace, Roger Federer (You know, that guy who has won more major tennis tournaments than anybody else ever.). American cyclist, Lance Armstrong, returned to the Tour de France after being retired for 3 1/2 years and surged into 2nd place mere 100ths of a second behind the leader, Fabian Cancellara. In the first mountain stage of this year's Tour, Armstrong fell into 3rd place, 8 seconds behind the leader, Renaldo Nocentini, and 2 seconds behind teammate, Alberto Contador.

I suppose one should get used to the roller coaster ride of life after 50 + years on the face of this planet, but somehow taking the yin with the yang, the up with the down, the in with the out, and any other mixed metaphors you can think of gets old sometimes. Sometimes you'd just like to sustain some of the good, without having to expect the bad close on its tail. The up and down is enough to give a guy motion sickness. (Bring on the Dramamine.)

Just when you thought the news, from a Democratic liberal perspective, was really good what with Sarah Palin resigning and the South Carolina Governor embarassing himself right and left in the media, and Al Franken finally being sworn in as Senator from Minnesota, all of this takes a back seat to Michael Jackson's death. Can we all just get over it?

I have scrupulously avoided remarking about Michael Jackson, so as not to join the cacophany. Was he a genius? Was he a pedophile? Was he eccentric, or was he just plain nuts? Having polled the residents of the 14th floor views office, I have this to say, and then I will say no more. Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 were part of a bubble gum pop movement of the early 1970's. Michael was a cute and talented little black kid. Then the Jackson 5 disappeared from most of the nation's consciousness. In the early 1980's Michael Jackson hit the jackpot again as he scored hits with his Thriller album and hits like Billy Jean. Then he faded from the musical consciousness of the nation once again. Unfortunately, he did not disappear from the media entirely. He just got weirder and weirder. His nose went from being a perfectly ordinary African-American nose to a little sliver of a nose, barely wide enough to breathe through at all. His skin color went from ordinary African-American brown to whiter than white. He bought the Neverland Ranch and began consorting with chimpanzees, and sleeping with little boys. He was not convicted, because he made a large cash settlement with the family of the kid who charged him with molestation.

I do not know if Michael Jackson was guilty of pedophilia. I was not there, but think about it. A 40 year old man in bed with little boys. Deep in your heart of hearts, what do you think? We routinely prosecute priests for such actions, but we give Michael Jackson a pass? Now we learn that the body was reportedly riddled with needle marks. People close to him report that he had a problem with abuse of prescription drugs. And this is a guy who has captured the news cycle for the last week. Even if he was not guilty of pedophilia, he was an exceptionally odd duck. He was an aging pop star, destined for the recycle bin of Las Vegas, where old pop stars go to recreate their glory night after night until the endless plastic surgeries cannot hide their age anymore. I've had enough of hearing about him, and I hope you have too.

What with the ups and downs of the week, I really would like to take an opportunity to end it on an upbeat. I'm going to an early movie to see Johnny Depp recreate another American icon who was irreparably broken, John Dillinger. People obsessed about him too. Think I'll go to see an early movie and then have a burger at a good pub. TGIF ladies and gentlemen.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Goldilocks Never Had It So Good

What a difference a day can make. The sky above is blue. The water below is blue. The boats have returned to Streeterville Bay, aka The Play Pen. The Wheel of Life, aka The Big Honking Ferris Wheel, turns slowly at Navy Pier. Indiana is visible in the distance. The Streeterville Weather Service tells me that it's currently 79 degrees at the lakefront. The water temperature in the lake has finally reached 70. All in all, it's a day that is tailor made for Goldilocks, "Not too hot, not too cold, but just right."

In the summertime, life can be just right when you're a teacher on summer vacation. From September until June life is often too hot or too cold, figuratively speaking. You bust your butt trying to teach things to kids and they don't really want to learn. You get called on the carpet by administrators. You do your best to get uninvolved parents involved in a positive way in their kids' lives. They don't return your calls. Your friends and family continually tell you what a great thing it is that you have dedicated your life to teaching. The media incessantly assure you that you're doing an incredibly bad job, and American education is going to hell in a handcart.

Then comes summer, and in the summer you just are. Not hot. Not cold. Just right. If you want to sleep in, go ahead. If you want to get up early and go for a run, or a bike ride, just do it. If you have a hobby or an avocation that is neglected while you make the money to pay the bills, indulge it. The checks keep on coming. They took the money out of your regular pay during the school year, so you wouldn't become an indigent during the summer.

Summertime is a sample of what it would be like if you were independently wealthy and didn't have to work at all. Summertime is a sample of what it will be like when you retire, only without getting really old. Every other Friday, like clockwork, the payday fairies plop some money into your bank account, and "Voila!" You can survive another two weeks in comfort.

Once upon a time, I had to work year round, and got 2-3 weeks vacation. I had to travel when I could squeeze it in. I had to pursue artistry at night after having worked 8 hours already. There were too few hours in the day, and life could wear a person down. This is not to say that the September to June grind of teaching in a public school in a bad neighborhood doesn't occasionally wear one down. However, the teaching life gives you the summer to renew oneself, to discover who you really are, to discover who you want to be, to discover any lovely fantasy you want to indulge.

To date, the teaching life has enabled me to drive the highways of America at ease, and to Canada on occasion. It has enabled me to fly to Australia and New Zealand, to Thailand and Taiwan, to Morocco and St. Martin, to Iceland and Belize, to England and to France, and on occasion just to fly to California to visit friends. With summer vacations that are just right I have learned to play guitar and write songs. I have traveled to Cape Cod and indulged in fiction writing seminars. My summers have enabled me to train for marathons and complete them. They have made it possible for me to spend endless hours riding a bicycle along the shores of Lake Michigan with the wind blowing in my hair. (It also enabled me to fall in Lake Michigan, bicycle and all, once, but that's a story for another time.) Summer has made me tan.

Currently, my summer has given me the time to discover that I really do like writing a lot, and I do have it in me to write every day and by the end of this summer I really do think that I will have the first draft of a novel completed. It has been 20 years since I first returned to school to get a teaching certificate. It has been 18 years since I first embarked on education as a full-time career. In that time my hair has turned gray and I have developed an incredibly large bald spot on the back of my head. I've taught a lot of classes and I've even had my share of successes with students. summers have been unparalleled successes. The vacations have restored me year after year, but more importantly, they have provided me with the opportunity for personal growth in those areas that people think about when they think about who I am, the songwriter, the world traveler, the runner, the biker, the guy who thinks he can write a novel. And this summer everything is...just right.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Doctor, It Hurts When I Do This

Alas, it is a gray day in Streeterville. The sky above is gray. The lake below is gray. The hair on my head is gray. Rain comes forth from the gray above, periodically. The Streeterville Weather Service tells me that it's 64 degrees outside. It's 4:30 PM on a Wednesday, July 8th. Do you know where your summer is? Mine has apparently been lost in the global warming shuffle. Been thinking of moving to Canada. As long as it's this cool here, I might as well move to Toronto. They have universal healthcare.

Come to think of it just about everybody has universal healthcare, but the U.S. In point of fact, there are two major industrial nations that do not have universal healthcare. They are the United States of America and Turkey, and it may be debatable whether Turkey counts as a major industrial power. Nevertheless, this is the company that the United States keeps when it comes to healthcare.

In the Americas, not only does Canada have universal healthcare, but so do Brazil, Colombia, and Peru for goodness sakes. When it comes to major English speaking countries, U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, everyone has universal healthcare, save one. Guess who.

The European Union, in its entirety, offers universal healthcare. For that matter, virtually all of Europe provides universal healthcare for their citizens. In Asia, not only communist nations like China offer universal healthcare, but Japan, Taiwan, Thailand (Thailand for goodness sakes), India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, and, of course, Israel offer universal healthcare.

This has not been an exhaustive list boys and girls, just a short representative one to make a point. Virtually every advanced nation in the world sees the advantage and the need for providing healthcare to everyone. Yet the United States has firmly resisted taking care of millions of people year after year after year. You have to wonder why.

Are these countries getting healthcare that is somehow not as good as that in the U.S.? I think not. A great many of these countries have average life spans that are longer than ours. They have a lower infant mortality rate. They have advanced, modern healthcare, and they provide it for every man, woman, and child.

Is healthcare for everyone just too expensive? Is it realistic to expect us to pay for such a thing? Absolutely. Perhaps the best measure of a country's wealth and productiveness is its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the total monetary value of all goods and services produced in a country in a year. OK? The largest GDP, and arguably the wealthiest place on earth, is found in the European Union. Of course the EU consists of a bunch of separate countries who have combined their economies. The next largest, that is the single country with the largest GDP in the world? That would be the USA. No one else is even close. Japan and China are distant also-rans at this point in time, even with the worldwide economic slump.

What I'm saying here is that every single country in the world has less operating capital than does the US, yet somehow they can pay for universal healthcare and we can't. Even if you look at per capita GDP, and not at the overall GDP, the US and the other industrialized nations are very close. We can afford to provide healthcare for all. The fact that we do not is shameful.

What we have is a society of self-centered individuals who think because they can pay for medical care out of their own pockets, everyone should be expected to do the same. What we have is a society that is rapidly becoming like a 3rd world nation, with large gaps between rich and poor. What we have is a society where those who are wealthy enough can get the world's finest healthcare and can expect to live to be at least 80 years old. What we have is a society where the poor, the unemployed, the underemployed cannot afford to go to the doctor and if they (God forbid) have to undergo surgery or other such expensive treatments, risk losing everything they own, risk bankruptcy, and have life expectancies similar to that in 3rd world nations.

The hospitals, the doctors, the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, they have all failed us in the US. They have failed us in the name of profitability. It is time that we, as Americans, took a long look at ourselves, and at our healthcare system and do something to fix it. It is time that we, as a nation, showed that we care about all people, not just for the wealthy, and for the profit, for once in our history. Bill Clinton tried to do something about this situation during his Presidency, but was not able to make it happen. The US now has a President who is, once again, committed to universal healthcare in the US. Congress is struggling with this issue right now. Yet there are those who still trot out the same lame arguments, who swear that it can't be done, that socialized medicine is the downfall of all that we hold sacred.

At this point I find myself thinking of those who resist universal healthcare like those who resisted the end of slavery, like those who resisted equal rights for all citizens. I find myself thinking, like the civil rights leaders of the 1960's, "If you're not a part of the solution. You're a part of the problem." Everyone needs to get on board with this. For those who don't have health coverage in America, it's sort of like the medical advice dispensed in the old vaudeville skit. The patient says, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." The doctor says, "Well don't do that." Well, as a nation we are saying, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." So what is the answer?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A House Divided

The day began well, sunny and warm, but then this afternoon the skies have turned cloudy. The Wheel of Life still turns at Navy Pier, but the boats have gone from the bay, save for one lone boater who either hasn't yet figured out that the rain is coming, or who really doesn't care. Perhaps he or she has battened down the hatches, and gotten out the rain gear, preparing for being tossed about on the wild seas like, well like a really tiny boat on a really big body of water. The Streeterville Weather Service tells me that it is 69 degrees and rain is imminent. The view from the 14th floor tells me that the sky above and the water below are a rainy looking gray, but none of the cars on Lake Shore Drive have turned on their windshield wipers as yet. So it ain't raining yet Bucko.

I've been thinking about the Republican Party and its ongoing attempts to self-destruct, one politician at a time. This brings me to wonder how the current state of affairs came to pass at all. Once, the Republican Party was the Party of Lincoln. It promoted an end to slavery and homesteading and pull yourself up by your bootstraps self-sufficiency. Then by the turn of the 20th century the Republican Party had somehow become the party of the wealthy, the party of less government and more power to the moneyed interests.

By the time I became a person, the Republican Party had claimed a position as fiscal conservatives with a liberal social outlook. It was the party of big militaries and stopping the spread of Communism. It was the party of wealthy, well-educated, well-connected sorts who looked down their noses equally at Communists, Socialists, and narrow-minded racists who promoted segregation. It was the party of Eisenhower.

Then came the Nixon disgrace, and the subsequent Democratic grab of power in Washington. And then came Ronald Reagan, and his Reagan Revolution. He cut taxes, enlarged the military and forged an alliance of the fiscal conservatives who held Wall Street up as its god, and working class conservatives who believed the Communists would be walking down the streets of America if we didn't stand up and stop them, and the social conservatives who believed that all Democrats are a bunch of atheists who are plotting to take away their Bibles.

The Republican Party became a party at war with itself. In order to win elections it had to attract both fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. They became the party of little, if any government, and the party of "Let's put an end to abortions. Let's put prayer back in the classroom. And while we're at it, why don't we just turn the clock back to, say 1950." This was, and is, a mixture that cannot last.

This country has become immersed in a culture war, between those who wish to press forward into a realistic culture for the 21st century and those who wish to return to a way of life for the 20th century. On the one hand America has transformed itself into a country where the majority of the people live in urban/suburban metropolitan areas with diverse populations. On the other hand there is a smaller population that lives in rural and small town America with very homogenous populations. The cities are the most diverse and typically vote Democratic. They have staked out the diversity angle and the government can be used to help all Americans live a good life angle. The suburbs tend to be inhabited by a slightly less diverse, more educated, wealthier population. The suburbs tend to be those fiscal conservative Republicans. Lower taxes, less government, but liberal on many social issues. The small towns and rural areas tend to be the havens for the social conservatives.

As a result, gay populations, liberals of all ilk, artistic sorts, immigrants, and the super poor and the super rich gather in the cities. They cannot imagine leaving for the suburbs or the rural areas, partly because of the clash of values, and partly because of their perceived quality of life issues. The suburbanites often recognize the value of the things a city has to offer, but they wouldn't want to live there. They often hold the rural life up to idealization, but they really wouldn't want to live there either. The small town and ruralites can't imagine living anywhere else. The cities are perceived as crime-ridden, crowded, and dirty. The suburbs are just an extension of the city and there's not enough space there either.

What this presents us with is an America divided by three. There are Republican fiscal conservatives (Elites and well to do suburbanites). There are Republican social conservatives (Less educated and more rural). Then there are Democrats (Residents of New York, L.A., Chicago, and other large cities). The cities are pro-choice, pro-universal healthcare, pro-government oversight, pro-separation of church and state, and anti-big military buildup, can you please get us out of the current war de jour. The small towns are get the church back in government and schools, pro-life(anti-abortion), pro-lower taxes, pro-less government regulation, and pro-military buildup and kick anybody's ass that disagrees with us (These guys still love George W. Bush and Sarah Palin.). The suburbs are a mish-mash. They hate government and taxes. They think the Jesus belongs in the schools people are nuts. They're pro-military buildup and kickass as long as it doesn't send their kid to Iraq or Afghanistan. They are the swing vote. Currently enough of these people spoke up loudly enough to send Obama to the White House and to put a majority of Democrats in both houses of Congress.

We are a society at war with ourselves. The Democratic and Republican parties are at war with one another, and the Republican Party is at war with itself. We only have two viable political parties in this country, yet there are three distinct factions within the nation. The one party that is trying to be a big tent for two factions, both a little misguided at this juncture, cannot long sustain this struggle. As the greatest Republican of all time (I mean Abraham Lincoln, not Ronald Reagan.) once said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Frankly, the Democrats among us are rejoicing. The Republicans simply do not get it and they have apparently forgotten everything valuable about their earliest roots.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Sudden Fall of Sarah Palin

It is a lovely day in Streeterville. The summertime cumulus are attempting to take hold and push the big rain clouds away. Even on a Monday a handful of boaters have taken up residence in Streeterville Bay. More to the point, the Lake Michigan water temperature has warmed sufficiently for large numbers of swimmers to return to their triathlon training. The roughly mile long training area from Ohio Street Beach to Oak Street Beach now has swimmers, some sporting wet suits, some in mere swimsuits, swimming their long laps, preparing for the most daunting leg of their triathlons. It is currently 82 degrees under partly cloudy skies at the lakefront, and last I checked, the water temperature had reached 66 degrees.

There has been much ado in the newspapers in the last few days regarding Sarah Palin's sudden resignation from the Governorship in Alaska, a year and a half before her term was up. There are those who would have you believe that she is resigning because she is devoting all her time ramping up for either A) a Senate seat from Alaska, and subsequently a run for the White House in 2016 or B) a serious run for the White House in 2012.

Frankly, I think Ms. Palin has not a snowball's chance in Hades of reaching the White House. The number of people in this country who can be identified as either the Christian Right or the Conservative Wing of the Republican Party representing family values, etc., etc., etc., those who would support her Presidency are not sufficient. Even among the more conservative elements in this country there are not enough people who really believe she has the intellect, the knowledge, the ability to lead this country effectively. I have to point out that it is the social conservatives who are most likely to denigrate a woman's ability to lead, simply because she is a woman.

Then there are those who believe that Sarah Palin resigned because of the "Can't Stand the Heat. Get Out of the Kitchen" syndrome. Ms. Palin's conspicuous stumping for conservative values, get the government off the backs of the people approcach to social, economic, and political problems have indeed brought a lot of heat to bear on her. Her social conservatism and Christian activism come off as hypocritical, in light of her own family problems. Her call for smaller government and honesty come off as hypocritical, in light of her abuse of state funds in Alaska, her spending of campaign funds on truly expensive designer labels during the Presidential campaign. Furthermore, her babbling incoherence and obvious lack of grasp of the facts of international affairs, and of the ins and outs of the national government make her appear as one who has not the ability to govern the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world. It's a very large, complex job and not one for a self-styled populist who calls herself a "hockey Mom" and whose detractors refer to as "Caribou Barbie." The bottom line here is that Sarah Palin chose a life in the political arena. If she is resigning the Governorship of Alaska because she can't stand life under the microscope, she should have chosen another profession. The microscope may not be as obvious as Mayor of Wasilla or even as Governor of Alaska, but when you step onto the national stage it is there. People care who is governing the country.

In today's New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat suggested that Palin's woes were due to widespread discrimination due to her sex and social class. Mr. Douthat suggested that Barack Obama represents the idea of a meritocracy where anyone can grow up and go to Eastern elite schools and be successful and eventually become President. He further suggested that Ms. Palin represents the traditional democratic ideal whereby anyone can grow up to be a success without going to the elite schools. Mr. Douthat suggests that it is because Mr. Obama went to the right schools and Ms. Palin did not she is being discriminated against. He thinks it is a matter of class, oh, and of sex.

While I will agree with Mr. Douthat that there is a great deal of sex discrimination alive and well in America, I do not agree that it is one of the primary reasons that Sarah Palin is being roasted in the media. A great many women have risen above this and have moved onto the national stage despite this. I agree that there is discrimination nationwide based on class, I do not think this is the reason that Sarah Palin is being held up as a joke either. Mr. Obama came from humble beginnings, but made his way to Harvard Law School and excelled despite being black, and not a wealthy individual of the Eastern elite. Like Sarah Palin, I went to state-supported schools. I hold a B.A. from Arkansas State University and a M.A. from Northeastern Illinois University. Yet my grasp of international affairs and of basic governance are fairly solid compared to that of Sarah Palin.

What we are talking about here is basic competence and ability. Ms. Palin is not being held up as a national joke because she comes from humble background and holds degrees from lesser universities. Ms. Palin is being held up as a national joke because she is an A-One doofus. She is being held up as a national joke because she doesn't know the first thing about actual governance. She is being held up as a national joke because frankly, believing in "creationism" is not an intellectual trait most Americans are willing to have living in the White House. A great many of us come from humble beginnings and rise above them to never be thought of as "white trash" as Mr. Douthat suggests has been done to Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin has somehow managed to rise to the Governorship of a state with a small, conservative population. On the national stage that act does not fly. Thank god.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

R.D., All American Guy, Part III, Dogs and Kids

The sun has finally returned to Streeterville, and the temperature has at last crept upwards to the outrageously high mark of 70 degrees. However, when I went out for lunch it felt like I should have been wearing long sleeves because the wind was blowing from an Easterly direction off the lake. Oh yeah, cooler by the lake. A few of the boats have returned this afternoon, and no doubt tomorrow will be warmer yet and Streeterville Bay will be packed with July 4th weekend celebrators. In the meantime we can take a breath and enjoy the lack of boom, boom, boom from the fireworks.

Oh boys and girls I have tread in dangerous waters. It seems that these last couple of days I have displayed the unmitigated gall to question some American norms, "Big American Cars," Big American Houses, and "Big American Yards" in the suburbs. I more or less expected some fallout inasmuch as all of my family, most of my wife's family, and countless numbers of friends and acquaintances choose this existence. And I didn't even mention "Big American People." Lord, my family is, on the whole as wide as they are tall, and might have me drawn and quartered. Nevertheless, I bravely (insanely?) soldiered on, daring to go where angels fear to tread (Oh hell, I don't believe in angels either. So there.). Today I continue with my quest, just as Napoleon bravely soldiered toward Moscow. (We all know how that turned out, don't we? You don't? Shame on you. Read your history.)

The final piece of the puzzle is just this. What most Americans believe is "normal," what most Americans aspire to along with those "Big American Cars," Big American Houses," and "Big American Yards" is family, and what most Americans envision as family includes #1 Kids (2.3 on average) and #2 Dogs (Usually just one, but sometimes more.). Now don't get me wrong. I have no problem with dogs and kids, as long as they are other people's dogs and kids. I just do not aspire to that myself. I believe it was W.C. Fields who was quoted as saying, "Any man that hates dogs and children can't be all bad." I wouldn't go that far. I believe it was my own brother, who once was heard to say, "The only thing more obnoxious than dogs are the people who own them." He denies this quote now, however. At the time I believe he had just been bitten by a neighbor's dog. Enough said?

As regards dogs, I have mixed feelings about them. A long time ago, when I was just a wee lad my family moved from a rural area just outside Hot Springs, Arkansas to the city of Little Rock, Arkansas. At that time, my father gave away the family dog. He wouldn't have a dog in the city. He always thought dogs needed room to run, to be dogs. We never had one. My mother got a cat. I grew up with cats. My experience with dogs was one of having neighbor dogs chase me on my bicycle and biting me, and neighbor dogs howling and barking in their back yard prisons, keeping the neighborhood awake at night. I've met a few since that are pleasant enough creatures, but can't say I'd have one of my own. Rather own a couple of cats. Don't have to walk them. They're clean. They poop in litter boxes. They don't smell like umm, wet dogs. There are dog people and there are cat people. I am undeniably one of the latter. Don't even get me started on the big dogs (woofers) vs. little dogs (yippers) thing. That's a topic for another day. Ooohhh, I hate it when the big ones jump up on you and lick you in the face with that big slimy tongue. Oooohhh I hate those little yippy hyperactive mutts that bounce off the walls and try to chew your ankles off. Enough? Enough.

And now for the really touchy part. I do not, repeat, do not hate children. I do not think people with children are dolts. I just choose not to have any myself, and I would appreciate it if people out there did not audibly feel sorry for me for such an empty life. I teach in a public school. I deal with other people's kids 5 days a week for many hours a day. Then I go home and there is adult quiet and sanity. At one time I acted, directed, and wrote children's plays. I enjoy teaching and entertaining and encouraging children in their growth toward adulthood. Other people's kids. It's okay. Babs and I give a lot of focus to professional and artistic interests. We get to go to places like Europe and Africa and Asia and Australia and go to bed when we want and get up when we want and we don't have to save for someone's college education. We can save for our own retirement and expect to live a decent life. Do you think this is really self-centered and pathetic? Oh get over yourself. I grant you your life. Grant me mine. It is one more way of being "normal."

Okay let's do a little normalcy check here. Big car? Nope. Big house? Nope. Big yard? Decidedly nope, unless of course you count that huge strip of park land along Lake Michigan, across the street. Now that's one big honking yard. Anyway, dog? Nope. Kids? Nope. And it's all okay. I hope you all enjoy these things. I will certainly enjoy the things I've chosen. Life is short. Do things that make you happy, assuming of course those things that make you happy don't infringe on the life, liberty, and property of others. We can all enjoy different things, but we can also get along and be happy for others who are different. We can all be real Americans. Wave the red, white, and blue boys and girls. I just plan on doing it in the middle of a large city where I feel most at home.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

R.D., All American Guy, Part II-Big American Houses, Big American Yards

It has been truly an odd beginning to the month of July. It has been a day more suited to long sleeves than short. The buffalo do not roam, and the skies have been cloudy all day. It has rained off and on all day. From the 14th floor I can see people wearing jackets, sweaters, hooded sweatshirts, and all manner of apparel not normally associated with the month of July. Streeterville Bay aka "The Playpen" is empty of boats save one lone sailboat, who is no doubt freezing his or her posterior portion off. A couple of hours ago it was 59 degrees in Streeterville. It has currently soared all the way to 64 degrees. "We're having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave...." Not!

Yesterday, I mentioned that one of the things that people associate with "normal" Americans is the "Big American Car." Today I would like to mention one other aspect of "normalcy" in America. What I'm talking about is the "Big American Home" with its requisite "Big American Yard." After World War II a great many people moved to places known as suburbs. The newly built freeways allowed people to work in the cities, but to live out of the city in a place where land and houses were cheap and where one could easily commute in their "Big American Cars."

People began to idealize this existence. It got to the point that people began to think that it was a god-given right, probably in the Constitution itself, that everyone gets a good job, a big car, and a "Big American House" with a "Big American Yard" in the suburbs. Before World War II, most Americans lived in rural areas and small towns. Now after World War II there was a huge population shift because there were more jobs in the cities. People moved to metro areas for those jobs, but not to the city itself. The city populations began to shrink. People wanted to escape the congestion, the crime, the pollution. They settled in the suburbs and soon the largest number of Americans were located there.

The suburbs were hailed as "better places to raise children." A family could have a bigger house. A family could have a bigger yard where the kids could play. A family could be assured that the kids would have a more wholesome environment, and emerge more successful as a result of living in that big house with that big yard, and with that big dog in that big yard. Space boys and girls. Not the space of the plains with the miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles, but space enough so the neighbors couldn't see in your windows, and where everyone in the neighborhood looked just like you and the kids were sheltered from all of that weird stuff in the cities. Who would want anything else? Big house. Big yard. Big cars. Big expectations for all concerned.

Most of those kids who grew up in those big houses with big yards in those homogenous communities accepted this as the good life and went away to college and graduated and may have flirted with cities in their youth, but when they married and children came along they returned to their roots. Big houses. Big yards. To aspire to other things was not "normal." Yet a smaller group, a group of successful, college-educated Americans rejected this. They moved to the cities and they (Gasp!) stayed there.

Some of these people moved to neighborhoods in cities that emulated the suburban existence, with big houses, but often with much smaller yards. Nevertheless, these sorts owned the big barbecue grills, sent their kids to schools where other college-educated sorts sent their kids, and usually drove "Big American Cars" just like their counterparts in the suburbs. Perhaps, their neighborhoods were a little more diverse than the suburban neighborhoods, but for the most part there was not much difference in their existences and that of the suburbanites.

And then there are those like myself and my wife. We hold perfectly normal jobs. We pay our bills. We are not drug addicts, or perverts. Yet we choose to live in the middle of a large city on the 14th floor of a high rise building next to the lake. We have no yard, period. We own a mere 1600 square feet of living space. We pay $250/month to park our car in an underground garage. We have spurned the most basic of those things that most Americans hold near and dear, a "Big American Car," a "Big American House," and its accompanying "Big American Yard."

Where did we go wrong? I submit to you that we have not gone wrong at all. It is merely a different way to be a "normal" American citizen. While it is true that sometimes I miss my barbecue grill and sitting in the backyard at night and being able to see the stars, it is not often, and there are enough offsetting positives that I often find myself wondering why I didn't do this sooner. Frankly, my carbon footprint is smaller than the majority of "normal" Americans. I can walk to most things I want to do. I do not heat or air condition scads of unused space. I have a view "to die for." Tomorrow-"Dogs and kids." Same channel. Ta ta boys and girls.