Monday, August 31, 2009

Immigrant? We're All Immigrants Here

Ever since Congress has begun the debate on healthcare reform Lou Dobbs has found a new topic and has backed off his ongoing crusade against illegal immigrants. Nevertheless, this is a subject that still divides the country along ideological lines, every bit as much as does healthcare reform.

This is a topic that is on my mind, specifically, because I am a teacher in a school that is 2/3 Latino. A great many of my students are new immigrants to the U.S. An unspecified number every year are what we in education refer to as "undocumented immigrants." For our purposes here, undocumented=illegal.

One of the things that I hear most often from the uninformed is that illegals are coming here and getting free healthcare and government assistance. I ask these people to think for a moment what they are saying. If a family is here illegally, they are ineligible for any government assistance. They don't get access to healthcare any more than anyone else in this society. What do we think the hoopla in D.C. is about anyway? Further, if an illegal were to apply for government assistance, it would come to light that they are illegal and they would be deported. Get real people.

Another objection to illegal immigrants is that they are taking jobs away from American citizens who were born here. I don't think so. Illegal immigrants come here to live a better life than they had wherever they came from. The fact that they do live a better life here than in the countries of their origins is testimony only to the fact that they had a pretty miserable existence before. Most find work that pays pitifully low wages and live below the poverty line. Unscrupulous employers provide them with work while paying below scale, below minimum wage, because they know they can get away with it and increase their profits.

What this essentially means is that the illegal works and spends and becomes a positive force in the economy while flying below the radar. Their lives are generally better here than it was where they came from, but is still pretty miserable by American standards. Who do we think is picking the fruits and vegetables that go to our grocery stores? Who are these people who mow lawns and clean houses? Who buses the tables and washes the dishes in our restaurants? Hard-working people who just want a better life for their families.

The sad thing is that when their children do well in school, they often can't go to college to move up the socioeconomic ladder and achieve the American dream. They aren't here legally. Their parents can't afford to pay for college tuition. They can't apply for financial aid. If they did they would get their families deported. They may be better off in the U.S., but they aren't allowed to fulfill their potential because of immigration laws.

Often when we hear people speak of illegal immigrants, what they are actually saying is code for Mexican. There is a lot of anti-Mexican sentiment in the U.S. Anti-immigrant sentiment is a disguise for ethnic discrimination. It is true that we have a large number of illegal immigrants in this country who hail from Mexico. It is also true that we have illegal immigrants who come from Ireland, Poland, China, and who knows where else. I don't hear an outcry about illegal European or Asian immigrants, though.

People complain about immigrants not speaking the language, about not being socialized into the American way. Working in a school with large numbers of immigrants, what I see is that the first generation struggles with the language, struggles with the customs. Then the successive generations become just as American as the rest of us. This has always been the way. In the late 1800's there were huge German neighborhoods in Chicago where you would be hard-pressed to find an English speaker, and where you were more likely to find a restaurant that served schnitzel than beef stew.

I suppose the point of all this is that if a person is working, if they are a contributing member of a society they should be given a green card. They should be made legal. Then they can pay taxes like the rest of us and contribute to society fully. Honestly, I'm far more concerned about people who are born in the U.S. who won't work and who engage in criminal activity. Can we deport them? No, but we want to deport people who will obey the law and work hard. The U.S. is still a place where an immigrant can get ahead. Just remember that almost all of us are immigrants here and the Native Americans must have been pretty annoyed when all of the white guys started showing up. "There goes the neighborhood."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Fall has Fell

Today is Friday, the last Friday in August, the beginning of the last weekend in August. Next week it will be September. Summer is gone and fall has arrived. It is currently 65 degrees under partly cloudy skies in Streeterville.

Although the official beginning of autumn (fall) isn't until the 22nd of September, I have begun hearing a lot of TV meteorologists referring to something they call meteorological fall, meteorological winter, meteorological spring, and meteorological summer. As best as I can tell, what I think they mean is that the first day of the month in which the change of seasons occurs is really the beginning of said season. Next Tuesday is the beginning of meteorological autumn.

Mind you other people use other markers for the change of seasons. Ask any student or teacher when fall begins and they'll tell you that officially it begins around about the 21st or 22nd of September, but fall really begins when school begins again. For those of us in the Chicago Public Schools that means fall begins with Labor Day. For some fall means that both the Cubs and Sox have been eliminated from any possibility of going to the World Series and it's time to focus on the Bears football season.

There are those who actually look at things like autumn weather patterns, and believe me, by that standard fall has already arrived in Chicago. The sun has just emerged for the first time in 3 days. It has rained on and off for these last 3 days, and I don't believe the temperature at the lakefront has gotten out of the 60's for these last 3 days. Looking at the extended weather forecast, we don't expect temperatures out of the 60's for the next 4 days and not above the 70's for the next week. Temperatures are trending downward and fall weather has arrived.

Some people judge summer to fall transition by the activity at the lakefront and on the lake itself. I went for a run today and while the professional beach volleyball tour has arrived at Oak Street Beach, for the most part the beaches are beginning to look deserted. The running and biking path is in use, but the numbers are dwindling. Looking out the window I can see that there are no boats in Streeterville Bay this Friday afternoon. There are a few triathlon trainees swimming their laps next to the shore, but even those numbers are shrinking. (A few days ago there were so many swimmers that they were swimming into each other.)

All of this evidence is pretty serious evidence that summer has indeed passed us by once more, but I have to point to the most serious evidence there is, the meteorological observations of Larry the Doorman. Larry does not lie. Larry is rarely wrong in these matters. He has beaten that other weather forecaster, Phil the Groundhog, 3 years running, in the matter of when spring is coming. Now it appears that Larry also has pronouncements on the arrival of fall.

Larry the Doorman has told me unequivocally that fall begins when the last airplane in the Chicago Air and Water Show flies away. Larry assures me that this has already occurred and I should note that the temperatures have begun to go downwards. There may be one or two odd days in the low 80's yet, but they will be an anomaly as the world drifts through fall and prepares for winter. Put your shorts and t-shirts and flip-flops away ladies and gentlemen. I expect you're getting tired of that summer wardrobe anyway. Get out your long pants. Put on some real shoes. Get the sweatshirts and sweaters ready. It won't be long until you'll need light jackets. Larry the Doorman has proclaimed it to be fall.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ode to a Lifelong Liberal

A great man just died, and with him went a tremendous positive force in the U.S. Senate. Ted Kennedy was the kind of liberal politician who could bring out the worst in the conservative elements in this country, the attack mode. He was not perfect. A lot of things about his personal life left something to be desired. Yet he qualifies as a truly great man.

In spite of being a part of a very wealthy family, he devoted a life to bringing equality to all Americans, regardless of income. And perhaps more importantly, he was never ashamed of who he was. He was never afraid to stand up and proudly announce to the world that he was a liberal, a man who cared about all Americans, not just those of a certain income status, not just those of a certain ethnicity, not just those who have the same religious beliefs as you do, not just those who have the same sexual orientation as you.

Just caring about Americans, just holding a certain belief system, however, does not in and of itself make one a great man. Ted Kennedy knew how to act on those beliefs and make something happen. He knew that in order to make positive things happen in our society one must actively engage the opposition. One must persuade. One must cajole. One must compromise. He was stellar at all of the above. He made things happen.

When the Civil Rights Act of 1963 was being debated in the Senate, it was Ted Kennedy who championed the cause and saw that it happened. When the Voting Rights Act was being pushed through Congress it was Ted Kennedy who saw that it got through the Senate and in the process added the amendment that lowered the voting age to 18 so our soldiers in Vietnam could vote for the people who decide whether or not to go to war. It was Ted Kennedy who championed the Americans With Disabilities Act. As late as 2007 it was Ted Kennedy who tried to re-introduce the Equal Rights Amendment, guaranteeing equal rights for women.

Let us not forget, though, that it was Ted Kennedy who for the last 40 years has been fighting for healthcare for all Americans. It was he who was responsible for expanding Medicare and Medicaid benefits. It was Ted Kennedy who saw that free clinics for the poorest of Americans continued to be funded despite efforts by the Reagan administration to cut that funding, in their "Government is the problem," binge.

Further, in our last election, it was Ted Kennedy who endorsed Barack Obama and gave it the boost that helped it reach The Promised Land. It was Ted Kennedy who endorsed and helped shape the legislative agenda the Obama Presidency brings to the table. John Kennedy shaped a legislative agenda of the 1960's that he was unable to complete because of his own untimely death. Lyndon B. Johnson, with legislative aid from Ted Kennedy made that agenda reality. Now the man behind the "liberal agenda," Ted Kennedy will be unable to make his agenda reality. Let us hope that the man he helped become President can follow through on this agenda as LBJ did when JFK died.

Ted Kennedy never became President, but as a 40 year veteran of the U.S. Senate and a man who has had a hand in shaping every piece of liberal legislation in the last 40 years, he is undoubtedly one of the greatest of all Americans, certainly one of the greatest 4 or 5 legislators in U.S. history. It was he who was the true believer. It was he who was the person who always pressed forward. It is not for him, but perhaps in honor of him, that we need to see his agenda to fruition, for the good of all Americans. Who will now step forward and fill those shoes? Who will become a champion for us all?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cheering For the Home Team

I saw a list today of the 100 best high school football teams in the country. No doubt the students and parents and faculty of these schools are very proud and have a great deal of school spirit. The funny thing is that if you made a list of the worst 100 high school football teams in the country you would probably find that a great many of these schools have a lot of school spirit. The students are still proud of being a student at their school. The parents are proud of their kids. The faculty are proud to a part of the school as well.

The funny thing is that the same can be said of nations. Doesn't matter where you come from. You have a connection to the nation that gave you birth. People in Russia are just as apt to believe their nation is the best place on earth as are those in the U.S.A. People in Uruguay are just as likely to believe they hail from the best place on earth as are those in France. It's just the nature of the beast.

The thing is that with all the rah rah sentiment regarding one's country, quite often people forget that maybe it could be even better yet. People start believing that their country is the best and no other country could touch it and part and parcel of that belief is the conservative notion that it needs no changing.

I love the U.S.A. as much as the next guy. I was born here. I have spent most of my life in the U.S. I think it's a great place. Oh I spent a couple of years in Guam, but that's a U.S. territory. I've traveled to a great many places outside the U.S., Morocco, Iceland, Australia, Thailand, Belize, and the island of Yap to name a few. These trips were merely vacations, though. I'm an American to the core.

Yet I can't help thinking that a few things could be better. Part of this thinking is, in all probability, due to the fact that I have seen a lot of the world. I know it's not absolutely awful everywhere else in the world. Some are awful, but a lot of places are pretty nice places to live.

Yet there are scads of people who seem to have the notion that our current way of life in the U.S.A. is the very best in the world and everyone else's way of life is terrible. Take the healthcare debate. (Please) There are a lot of Americans who seem convinced that the way we do it now is the best possible alternative. Yet the U.S.A. ranks 50th in life expectancy. The U.S.A. ranks 33rd in infant mortality. How is this possible in a country with the best health care system in the world? (Hint: It has something to do with the millions of Americans who don't have access to adequate healthcare. Rich people get good health care. Poor people don't.)

Okay, the health care system may leave a little bit to be desired, but we have the best technology the world has to offer don't we? Do we? Do we really? Apparently, when it comes to average broadband internet speed, the U.S. ranks 17th in the world. Ouch! Then there are huge chunks of rural America and in poverty-stricken neighborhoods in urban America where internet access is limited or unavailable period.

This country still has the largest GDP of any nation in the world. This country is unquestionably the greatest military power on the face of the earth. This country offers unparalleled freedoms, unavailable anywhere else in the world. Could we just have a rational discussion for once, though? Can we logically discuss areas where we could use some improvement. If we fall behind in health care, in technology, we inevitably risk falling by the wayside as a second-rate nation. If there are people out there promoting change, it doesn't mean they're evil, or a communist, or a Nazi. It means they care about their nation, and its people. Rah rah! Go U.S.A.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pet Peeves, Everybody Deserves One

When I was a kid the joke around my house was "Our family is so poor we can't even afford a pet peeve." Then the follow up line was, "We're so broke we can't pay attention." There were, no doubt, others that escape my memory, but the pet peeve line has always stuck with me.

Now I'm older and I've managed to raise my status to somewhere in the neighborhood of middle class and the line just doesn't seem apt any more. Furthermore, my new found status gives me leverage that I didn't have before. I can now afford a pet peeve, and I have several.

It may seem like the pet peeve line is just a throwaway line that is just there for the play on words and a little humor, but if you think about it, when you're poor you just can't afford to be as picky. Your status has dictated that you can't dictate to others and you pretty much have to accept whatever is thrown your way. With cash comes power, and with power comes the right to show annoyance at others.

Ain't capitalism grand? Poverty=Groveling obsequiousness and Wealth=The right to speak your mind. Middle class (Neither poverty-stricken nor truly wealthy, but in between)=The right to speak your mind to people with less power and cash than you. Not sure where you stand with some people? Speak your mind at your own risk.

All of that being said, know what really annoys me? People who can't spell and don't give two hoots. I'm not even talking about words like obsequious or making sure you get the right number of c's and m's in accommodate. I'm talking about people who don't know the difference between there, their, and they're. I'm talking about people who have the unmitigated gall to go online and publish blogs, to write in newspapers and magazines, and they don't even do spell checks. Jesus, get a proofreader people.

Don't get me started on people who use the number 2 instead of to or too, who use 4 instead of for. Okay for text-messaging, but not for other media. While we're on the topic, LOL and TMI are one thing. There are some people who use little abbreviations for all their communication and some are so obscure I quite often find myself wondering "WTF?"

Now these things may seem just a little picky to you, but everyone has their own pet peeves and these are some of mine. I earned them. I also don't like people who try to go around you on the right at the traffic light and then cut in front of you. I can't stand people who think they know everything when they know damned well I do. And then there are people who bring every conversation around to themselves because they are absolutely sure that the most exciting and important things in the room are themselves.

I could go on, but then you might get the idea that I've gone far beyond pet peeves and have shown myself to be just one more cranky individual. Furthermore, based on my previously stated theory regarding money, power, and the right to be cranky about people, it might seem that I need to seriously consider making a lot more money before claiming all of the above as pet peeves. Perhaps I should leave you today, then, with a quote from one of my favorite intellectuals, Charlie Brown. "I love humanity. It's people I can't stand."


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Naming Rights

School is almost back in session here in Chicago and with the new school year comes the usual questions of "Where will all the money come from?" Only this year it's worse. The economy is in a downturn. The state and local lawmaking bodies are all looking for ways to trim the fat, to make the budget a little less unbalanced. Duly noted that some of the lawmakers themselves may need some balancing.

There are a number of ways to balance budgets and cut expenditures. Fire a few people. Make the remainder do twice as much work. That will cut expenditures. Borrow scads of money and make our children's children's children pay it all off in the year 3225. That might work. Get rid of all those benefit things like health care. That would save a bunch of money. Sick days? Get rid of them. If they can't work, hire someone to replace them. That'll cut costs and help the unemployment problem. Maybe we could shut down a bunch of schools and put all the kids in overcrowded classrooms in overcrowded schools. That will save money. Better yet. Let's just shut down all the public schools and turn them over to private education companies. Can you say Charter Schools? I bet you can.

The problem is, ladies and gentlemen, we haven't been thinking creatively. Why not sell naming rights to our schools? It brings in lots of money for sports franchises. This goes back to the 1920's when the Wrigley family of gum fame built a stadium on the Northside of Chicago for the Cubs. Of course the concept turned out to be a bit of an embarassment when the Enron scandal hit and the Houston Astros had to resell the naming rights to Minute Maid. Small setback.

Just think of it. Instead of having schools named for heroes, we could sell the naming rights to corporations. Instead of Marie Curie High School, we could have Abbott Laboratories High School. Instead of Abraham Lincoln Middle School there could be Exxon-Mobil Inc. Middle School. I couldn't wait to get my kid in Wells Fargo Bank Elementary School. How about the Blue Cross Blue Shield School of Insurance Studies? The possibilities are endless.

The cafeterias could be sold to food service companies and restaurant chains. What kid wouldn't want to eat lunch in the Olive Garden cafeteria or perhaps the Pizza Hut Food Court. The school sports teams could be sold to corporate sponsors. What kid wouldn't want to play for the Boeing Jets? The New York Stock Exchange Bulls? How about the Geico Geckos? The money would come rolling in.

And that's just the public schools. We could do away with the national debt by selling naming rights and sponsorship. Exploit the continuing competition between Coca Cola and Pepsi. We could have the Coca Cola Congress. We could have the Pepsi Presidency. Get the Supreme Court in on the action with the Subway Sandwich Supreme Court. Sub-group naming rights with the International House of Pancakes House of Representatives and the Seven-Up Senate. Every department in the government could have its own corporate sponsor, from the Department of State to the Department of the Interior. This country could be back in the black in no time.

Now if there are any corporations out there who might be offering a reasonable sum, Views From the 14th Floor could be sporting a new name in no time. Don't like R.D. Ray? For the right price I might be willing to become YOUR NAME HERE!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Autumn's a Coming and the House is Full of Loons

The Air and Water Show is over and done and Larry the Doorman assures me that this is the first true sign of autumn, or autumn to come. As we have seen before (See Larry the Doorman vs. Phil the Groundhog.) Larry is very rarely wrong in matters of meteorology. Labor Day will soon come a knocking and the slow cooldown will be rocking. Next thing you know we'll be viewing the Chicago Marathon. Then it'll be Thanksgiving. Next thing you know you forgot to buy your wife a Christmas present and it'll be the last minute. Thanks for the update Larry. The skies and the lake are looking a little gray at the moment. Currently it's 81 degrees under mostly cloudy skies, with a chance of a thunderstorm later. This, from the Streeterville Weather Service. Neglected to ask Larry about specifics.

Even as summer winds down and autumn tiptoes in, the weird season endures. My favorite story of the day involves yet one more fiasco of a townhall meeting, this one being held by Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts. Townhall meeting organized in a Senior Center in Southeastern Massachusetts, a quiet respectful exchange of views and information, right? Wrong.

A woman holding a picture of Obama with a Hitler-style mustache stepped up to the microphone and demanded to know why Frank supports what she called Nazi policies. Representative Frank looked at her at that point and asked, "On what planet do you spend most of your time?" He went on to say, "Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it."

Apparently the meeting progressed with various loonies yelling and booing when people attempted to express real thought and when faced with the prospect of taking the next question from the audience Frank said, "Which one of you wants to yell next?" You go Barney. Got to like that guy. This country could use a little more smart-ass in the dialogue when the opposition to your policies resorts to tactics from the lunatic fringe.

It's just frustrating to attempt to have a real debate about healthcare, or anything else for that matter, when those who disagree with you begin making up facts, resort to name-calling, and plain old shouting you down to shut you up. What that means is that no one gets the actual facts. No one hears a reasoned response. It makes for entertaining shots on the evening news, but not much more. It obfuscates the real debate.

Sometimes I find myself pining for those quick-witted sorts who had the ability to put people in their place, who had the ability to make people feel about 3 inches high. Where are those quick wits and sharp tongues when you need them? Barney Frank got a couple of shots in, but for the most part the quick wits are too civilized to resort to barbs even when the opposition is calling them really rude names. The opposition is busy being shouted down by orchestrated groups of loonies. At this rate, American politics is going to devolve into something akin to the circus that is Italian politics, a sideshow including strippers and porn stars who get elected to the national legislature. Well, at least they have something to look at while the yelling and screaming is going on.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

They've Bought and Sold You

The Streeterville summer has taken a break from rain and lightning and thunder for a day of partly cloudy skies. Streeterville Bay is active with boats once again. Navy Pier is, no doubt, humming with activity and raking in the cash on this fine day in the middle of August. The Streeterville Weather Service tells me that it is 82 sunny and pleasant degrees, just the kind of day for spending and making money.

Speaking of money, my broker called this afternoon and assured me that we had recouped most of our losses recently. My ROTH IRA is currently only 25% down from where it was when the economic shit hit the fan, when the Bull Market suddenly morphed decidedly into a Bear. It all seems a little unreal. The money is on paper, and sometimes it comes and sometimes it goes. It's like reading a novel, entertaining, but then real life goes on. For that matter, the fact that I can say that my broker called me seems a little unreal. When and where and how did the long-haired kid from Arkansas get to be a guy who has a broker and lives on the 14th floor overlooking Lake Michigan?

For a long time I resisted money and comfort. I grew up in the 60's and 70's and the whole peace and love thing dictated that you were supposed to eschew (Gesundheit!) material comforts. We all thought it was a movement that was going to change the world. Crosby, Stills, and Nash sang "We can change the world, rearrange the world...." There was a lot of talk about justice and freedom and capitalism and greed. We were all about the former and all against the latter. What we didn't realize at the time was that a great deal of the idealism was being marketed to us.

Is it really surprising that I know all the words to a Coca-Cola commercial? "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony...." Remember the 7-Up commercials with Peter Max graphics? Psychedelic dude. Three-fourths of the peace and love sentiment was being fed to us via rock and roll bands, who were selling a product via recording companies and FM radio stations. We knew how to look hip because it was all over the television.

Looking back on it, among those who really thought they were sticking it to the man, avoiding the capitalist, materialistic trap, the most ardent were usually the ones with the most expensive stereo systems and the most extensive album collections. They were the ones who wore clothing most likely to be seen on TV. Now overlay this scene with lots of marijuana and cheap wine. Welcome to 1972.

The funny thing is that last week was the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. It was advertised as 3 days of peace and love. What it was was one of the best marketing schemes in the history of capitalism. Yes the gates were crashed and it turned out to be free for a lot of people who wallowed in the mud and got high. Gail Collins of the New York Times mentioned on the op-ed page last Sunday that she barely remembered any music. It was a big party, well and a huge traffic jam. It was also sold to the rest of America as a highly grossing film. Didn't go to Woodstock? You saw the movie. You bought the album. Liked the people on the album? You went out and bought the albums of the individual groups. This wasn't a rock concert. It was an industry.

Now, 40 years later, they're still marketing this crap to us, this time as nostalgia. If you hadn't noticed, there's a movie coming out. If you hadn't noticed there are reunion concerts. It won't go away. The thing is to recognize it for what it is. Did you see any pictures of the 40 years later concert? No mud. No nudity. Still some marijuana, but very little LSD. The big advance? Folding chairs with cup holders. Ladies and gentlemen accept it. We've been marketed to. We just don't have to be so damned uncomfortable in the process. Bring a good bottle of wine, and some hors d'oeuvres while you're at it. Frankly sitting on the ground and being uncomfortable never was all it was cracked up to be. Peace and love dudes and dudettes.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Not From Around Here, Are Ya?

After a mostly cloudy day, with periods of rain here and there (There was a dramatic thunderstorm about 6 AM, and Babs didn't have to attend Boot Camp this morning.) the sun is attempting to peek through. Streeterville Bay is relatively quiet this afternoon. The running and biking path, likewise. The Streeterville Weather Service tells us that it's 80 degrees under partly cloudy skies at the moment. I find myself wondering, "Are the skies half cloudy or half clear?"

All of the News of the Weird seems to be focusing on New Jersey today. Apparently a Bollywood star, Shah Rukh Khan, was detained at the Newark Airport in customs because he has a common Muslim name. The news tells us that this set off protests over racial profiling, in India. It seems the gentleman in question was on his way to Chicago to attend an Indian Independence Day parade. U.S. customs said they detained him for 66 minutes and then only for that long because his luggage didn't arrive on the same airplane as he did. He downplayed the whole incident, but Indian citizens burned American flags.

Call me suspicious. Call me paranoid. Just don't call me late to dinner. However, it seems a wee bit suspicious that the gentleman in question is currently promoting a movie called My Name is Khan about a Muslim gentleman who becomes the victim of racial profiling in the U.S. after 9/11. Was he strip-searched? Nope. Was he actually arrested? Nope. They asked him some questions. Terribly sorry that most U.S. citizens have no idea who Shah Rukh Khan, SRK to his fans, is. A wee bit of suspicion of Islamic guys from the other side of the planet exists, and sometimes it gets a little ugly. Was this orchestrated to make a point? Who knows? I do wonder why a rich actor from Bollywood is going through customs in Newark, though, when he was on his way to Chicago.

Meanwhile in another part of New Jersey, Bob Dylan was preparing to do a concert with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp at a local baseball stadium. It seems Mr. Dylan needed to kill some time before the concert and went for a walk. Some woman called the police and told them that some eccentric looking old man was standing on her lawn, and she would like the police to check out what he was up to.

A 24 year old policeman showed up and asked the lawn-stander who he was. Said lawn-stander replied "Bob Dylan." No reaction from the young policeman who apparently didn't know who Bob Dylan was. The policeman asked, "What are you doing here?" Mr. Dylan replied, "I'm on tour." The policeman insisted on knowing exactly what Mr. Dylan was doing standing in front of houses on a public street and Mr. Dylan said, "I was just looking at houses."

At any rate Mr. Dylan, unaccustomed to having to prove his identification, had no I.D. card on him. The policeman escorted Mr. Dylan back to the hotel where he was staying and did not leave until it was verified that he was indeed Bob Dylan, a reasonably famous singer/songwriter and considered by some to be the voice of a generation. Where is the outrage for police harassment of Bob Dylan, I ask you. Why is it not OK for eccentric looking men in their 60's to walk down the street looking at houses, even if you aren't Bob Dylan? What if I had been walking around the neighborhood looking at houses? I might have been locked up. I'm not famous. Who knows what kind of reaction it would have created if Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp had opted to go walking around the neighborhood with him. "There was a whole gang of them. I had to lock the kids in the basement." Better yet, what kind of reaction would it elicit if Mick Jagger and Keith Richards went walking around in small town America just to see what they could see? That might get really ugly.

What we're talking about, whether it's a guy named Khan, or just some funny-looking old guy walking around the neighborhood, for no apparent reason in small-town America, is the "Not from around here, are ya syndrome." People are suspicous of those who do not look like themselves, of those whose names do not sound like theirs. Out come the prejudices and the ill-treatment that result. As for myself, I'm quite accustomed to seeing people with funny names and eccentric looking old men. A great many of them are my friends.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sailing the Seas; Traveling as You Please

Another blue water, blue sky, white boat kind of day as seen from the 14th floor. Runners, bikers, and beach goers are being slowed and detoured because of preparation for the Air and Water Show this weekend. The Streeterville Weather Service tells us that it is 84 degrees under clear skies, and you may have already missed the best of the Perseid Meteor Shower for this year. There's always next year. As my old friend Pogo would have said, "Looks like Friday the 13th comes on a Thursday this month.

Life in this city is really amazing. As a part of any ordinary day you meet so many people and have so many incredible conversations. I went out to an Italian barber shop this morning and had my hair cut by a Ukrainian woman. She really wasn't clear on the American holidays and was wondering when Memorial Day was because she was planning a trip to Door County to do touristy stuff and attend a fish boil.

I quickly ascertained that what she meant was Labor Day and let her know that it was late this year on account of being the first Monday in September and the first Monday in September being not until the 7th of the month. Well long weekends being what they are, never quite long enough that is, the Ukrainian lady marked her calendar so she could ask for a 4th day that weekend. It's a long drive up to Door County.

Somehow it came out that said Ukrainian lady is also taking some time later in September to go to Scotland and visit Edinburgh, Glasgow, and some of the Scottish Highlands. In passing I let her know that my ancestors were Scottish. She then replied, "You've been to Scotland then?" Sadly I have not. I have been to England, France, Belgium, and even Iceland, but never Scotland. I had to tell her that my family have been in the U.S. for some 200 years and nobody has really felt like a Scot for a long time. Never worn a kilt or a tam. Don't know one end of a bagpipe from another. Don't even really like Scotch whiskey.

Turns out the Ukrainian hair cutter's life is one long boat ride after another. Ferries from Milwaukee to Mackinac Island. Cruise ships along the Alaskan coast. Big cruise ships in the Caribbean. Who knew Ukrainian immigrants who cut hair for a living could afford the Life of Riley?

Of course, I then had to explain that I do not ride boats very often. It seems that my wife, the lovely Babs, gets motion sickness and throws up. Ukrainian hair-cutting lady then explained in graphic detail about seasick passengers on the Alaskan cruise puking over the side of the boat. I felt empowered to share my poor wife's seasickness tales. The rainy, stormy ferry ride across the English Channel when I spent half the trip trying to find crackers and ginger ale, or some substitute to calm poor Babs's stomach. The ferry ride from Phuket, Thailand to Ko Phi Phi when we stayed above deck and were bathed in sea spray rather than go below and endure the motion sickness. Our abbreviated ride on a friend's sailboat in Lake Michigan with ginger snaps to help the nausea.

All in all it was a pleasant enough haircut, but I didn't get to share the good boat experiences, or the 170 mph train ride from Paris to Brussels, or the Northern Lights in Reykjavik, but perhaps another time. Today the Ukraine came to my neighborhood for an hour, and we shared a few experiences and chatted for a while. Who knows who I'll meet tomorrow?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Melancholy in the Air

It's 6:12 PM on Hump Day and late, late summer is in the air. The singing of the cicadas is in the trees. Reee! Reee! Reee! The days are getting shorter, and in spite of the warmth of the air, a hint of fall around the corner is on the breeze. The Streeterville Weather Service tells me that it's 82 mid-August degrees under clear blue skies.

There's something about the month of August winding down that is a little melancholy. You don't really recognize it until it's snuck up on you and grabbed you by the melancholy glands. It's not one tangible thing that you can put your finger on, but a host of little things that begin adding up to create an effect.

On the surface it's still summer. It's sunny and in the 80's. Babs is out playing tennis. I just got back from a long walk by the lake. Navy Pier is still teeming with tourists. The boats are still on the lake in large numbers. The slanting rays of the late afternoon sun are still lovely as they highlight the blue expanse of Lake Michigan.

Yet there are subtle signs of change. The bright sunlight isn't waking me as it comes in my window at 5 AM any more. It's almost 6 AM now. The slanting yellowish sunlight of late afternoon comes sooner now. The real key for me, though, is the cicadas. As I was walking past the Chess Pavilion just south of North Avenue Beach, I heard the cicadas in the trees. When I thought about it, the heat of the sun had lost a notch or two as well, and something on the breeze hinted of autumn around the corner.

The overall effect was one of distinct melancholy. Suddenly, the people at the beach, the bikers, runners, and roller bladers on the path, the boaters, the tennis players all seemed to be grasping for the last drops of summer, trying to wring every last bit they could out of the month of August.

The big ship in the distance on the lake is heading to Gary to pick up a load of iron, and I suddenly find myself singing "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." The Bud Billiken Back to School Parade has already been held. The Chicago Air and Water Show is coming up this weekend. Labor Day is around the corner and September heralds the cooling of temperatures, the appearance of cool weather wardrobes, the lighting of fireplaces for the first time in the new season.

Summer is nearly over. Embrace it while you can and embrace the coming of the new season with its cyclical changes. Embrace the melancholy for a moment. Then move on. The cycle of the ages never stops. It's just that I really hate putting my shorts and t-shirts away again and getting out all that cold weather gear. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Utopia? Can't Find It On This Map.

Looking out my 14th floor window I can see a lone sailboat floating on the expanse of blue that is Lake Michigan, framed by two towers at the end of Navy Pier. It looks like a little white football that has been just kicked through the uprights for a field goal and is frozen forever in time in a news photograph. the heat and humidity have mostly dissipated today. It's 81 degrees under mostly sunny skies in Streeterville, with light lake breezes.

Sometimes a mere day can make a world of difference. Yesterday was a trying day, with loonies from the fringe sending personal attacks as e-mail because I dared to differ with them. My mind was in turmoil as I struggled with issues and those who would obscure the issues with nonsense. Today, at least one of the loonies sent an e-mail apologizing for said personal attacks, and general bad behavior.

This set a positive tone for the day and for human interaction as a whole. It suggests that we, as humans, actually have risen above our animal ancestry and there is hope for progress. It is sometimes, possible to discuss, and not rant. It is sometimes possible to disagree, and not resort to our primitive animal nature.

I am often reminded of the debt we owe to the Enlightenment thinkers and their belief, passed down to us, that humanity can improve its lot by using the power of reason. Yet, I often have a dark turn of mind and I find myself thinking of good old Thomas Hobbes and his take on the real underlying nature of humanity. "In a state of nature life is nasty, brutish, and short." I find very little evidence to dispel that notion.

There are those who would have you believe that no government at all is "the best of all possible worlds." Well thank you Monsieur Voltaire. We have seen what happened to Master Pangloss in his "best of all possible worlds." There are those who would have you believe that the best government is that which governs least. In such a world, who is to protect us from those who are in need of restraint? Who is to stop the eventual collapse of economies, governments, and societies because of greed and lust for power?

In a perfect world with perfect human beings, perhaps this lack of governing restraint is possible. Unfortunately, we do not live in such a world and as the illustrious Mr. Hobbes pointed out so long ago, we need governments to protect ourselves from one another. The world of the Republican Party, the world of the Libertarians, the world of Ronald Reagan is simply untenable.

Call me the Anti-Republican. Call me the Anti-Libertarian. Call me the Anti-Ronald Reagan. Just don't call me late for dinner, and don't tell me we don't need government controls to protect the rights of people.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I Have Met the Lunatic Fringe. I'm Related to Some of Them

It's a cloudy afternoon and hot and muggy, just right for early August. Out on the lake front there are scads of sweaty people. The Thunderbirds have been buzzing the lake front for much of the day, and reminding us that the annual Air and Water Show is upon us. It's 82 degrees and very humid, what we refer to as the "Dog Days."

The health care debate has dominated the news recently, and not surprisingly, I have this on my mind. Last week, while reading about it I read in the New York Times that (sorry I can't remember who to attribute this to.) while the Republican Party once embraced the lunatic fringe, now they are the lunatic fringe. This begs the question, "Just who is the lunatic fringe."

I honestly suppose that this just depends on your point of view, but as I have noted before, I have my point of view up here on the 14th floor and I'm firmly convinced that it has more credence than those other guys' points of view. You just have to take sides. So back to the point. Who is the lunatic fringe?

Well, all over the news is a group being referred to as "birthers," those who despite all rational evidence continue to insist that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. and is, therefore, not eligible to be the President of the U.S. Then there are the "teabaggers," so called because they are anti-tax and claim some direct line to the Boston Tea Party. These have been shown to be Republican operatives and Republican-inspired operatives who use every opportunity to deny free speech to those who disagree with them while claiming that there own outbursts are a validation of free speech.

Then there are those (approximately 6 of ten Republicans, according to one recent poll.) who believe in Creationism and firmly deny the reality of evolution. There are those who absolutely refuse to believe in global warming. Just my opinion, mind you, but I believe most of these to fall squarely into the category of corporate related rich dudes trying to protect their profits.

But who are all these people? If you are like me, you travel in a circle of friends who are anything but the above. It's very easy to begin believing that most of the world is just like you. Believe me people, the truth is anything but that.

I have seen the lunatic fringe. They are right there on Facebook. A great many of them are people you have chosen to friend. They are relatives, spewing racist sentiments, praying for everybody in sight, professing to the world that God and Creationism are real and that Barack Obama is an evil man who wants to bring socialism to America and take away your doctor.

I have seen the lunatic fringe. They are people you went to high school with, who want to catch up with old friends and then feel it necessary to tell the world, (on my FB page) that AK-47s don't kill people. Terrorists kill people. They are friends of friends who verbally attack you on Facebook for stating what you believe in and call you stupid and then say, "God bless you."

Who are the lunatic fringe? They are all around you. It just took Facebook to take down the barriers that kept them from openly avowing their lunacies. Now they're in your face, on Facebook. Sadly, I enjoyed interacting with people I hadn't seen or heard from in a long while, if only for a short while. Now I realize, I chose the friends I did because they were of a like mind. I abandoned the others a long time ago because their views and my own simply did not mesh.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

It Was a Hard Cell

Dot da dot da dot dot dot. Thursday, August 6, 2009. The view from the 14th floor is spectacular as usual. It's 81 degrees under blue skies according to the Streeterville Weather Service. Dot da dot da dot dot dot. And now for something completely different.

At the end of yesterday's little post I mentioned cell phones. Don't really feel like talking about cell phones today, but I suppose I will. Mine's plugged in and charging. Where would I be without it? Sigh.

Here's the scoop, though. According to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times 26% of kids between the ages of 8 and 11 have cell phones in the U.S. By the time they're in the 15-17 age range 82% have phones. Old people resist. Youngsters embrace.

20% of U.S. households have cell phones only and no land lines. The only question is why? Why don't the rest of us get rid of our land lines? They've become superfluous. Not only that, they can't take pictures. They can't text message. They can't be used to download and play music. They can't be used to check your e-mail, or give you directions when you're driving in your car. Just what good are they exactly? Don't really know dude. Mine just came with the cable and internet package. It's been sitting there inert ever since.

I recall when I lived on the island of Guam back in 1995 that there was much ado about the Chinese trying to provide telephone service for all 1 billion plus people and realizing that the idea of constructing a grid tied together by wires all over the country would be very very expensive. They elected to go with all cellular at a time when most of us in the U.S. were going "What the heck is a cell phone?" Now I find myself wondering if we wouldn't save our nation a boatload of money by doing away with land lines altogether.

The problem is that once upon a time you could get away from it all. When I was a kid, if you weren't home, the phone rang, no one was home to answer. People called back at another time. Then everyone got answering machines or voice mail. That meant the phone rang. No one was home, or sometimes you just weren't answering for a reason. People left a message. If you were gone, you got the message and called back. If you were home, but not answering, you got the message and called or didn't based on who it was. Now everybody (Okay, most of us) has a cell phone. You can't get away from it. You are bound to answer the friggin phone, no matter where, no matter when. Gone on vacation and someone from work wants you for something. They call your cell phone. They text you. They send you an e-mail (They know you have a Blackberry or an I-Phone and you'll get that message.). You simply cannot escape it. That's what vacations are for, getting away from it, not having to think about it. Weekends? Forgetaboutit. You're getting a call, and not one of those good kind from friends.

The digital world has turned us all into cell phone junkies. Eating a meal in a nice restaurant? Someone in the group is going to take a call. In a passionate embrace with your loved one at a very special hotel? Someone is going to call you. Count on it. Is this an advance in civilization. I am firmly ambivalent. I too love my cell phone and I was once a person who was accused of being a Luddite. Still, there are moments when I miss that party line my family had back in 1956.

Before we go, R.D. is instituting a new feature today, THE WORD OF THE DAY! Today's word, boys and girls, is COGITATE. Don't know what that is? Tough. I didn't say I'd tell you what it meant. I just said there would be a word of the day. Look it up for crying out loud. That's what dictionaries are for. Dot da dot da dot dot dot.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Who's Wired?

Welcome to Hump Day afternoon. There are a smattering of boats in Streeterville Bay. There are a smattering of clouds in an otherwise blue sky. Swimmers, runners, and bikers are all training for their upcoming competitions in their chosen sports, and drivers are anxiously fighting the traffic on their assorted ways home. The Streeterville Weather Service tells us that it is 77 degrees under partly cloudy skies this afternoon.

As I sit here in my perch on the 14th floor, I am acutely aware of the fact that I am wired into the grid that connects the planet. I keep in touch with family, friends, work colleagues, and assorted miscellaneous sorts via the electronic medium called the internet. We're all just a keystroke away from one another. We seem to be connected more than at any other time in my life.

Most of us in the adult world were initially introduced to the internet via the work world. We had to master some aspect of it in order to do our jobs. Then more and more of us got wired at home. We began using it for keeping in touch, for shopping, for searching for stuff, for amusing ourselves. It became an integral part of our lives, to the point that if the internet service was down, we didn't quite know what to do with ourselves. (How much time do you spend on Facebook?)

I work in a school and the kids I teach have grown up with the internet. It is now and has always been an integral part of their lives. They can't imagine life without it. Yet, I read just yesterday in an article in the Chicago Sun-Times that one-fourth of all Chicagoans never use the internet. Who are these people who don't use the internet? How do they function?

Well obviously these people are not you. You are reading an online publication by an obscure Chicago teacher, blogger, writer. You are one of the wired, as am I. The unwired? They are sometimes older persons who simply have not digitalized themselves. My 88 year old mother-in-law rejected her PC and internet service to return to writing letters on an electric typewriter.

As it turns out, most of us who are wired (75% of us) live a comfortable existence, that is we live above the poverty line. We are especially prone to being wired if we are college-educated and qualify as middle-class or above. The reciprocal of that is that poor people are less likely to have access to the internet. They don't make much money. They can't afford to spend good money on internet service. They do without.

Having noted the income barrier, I should note that this means minorities with high levels of poverty are less likely to log onto the internet. Yes, white people are wired in larger numbers and percentages than are black people and Latinos. Black people and Latinos are more often poor, ergo....Duh! It's a simple step then to find out which neighborhoods are more wired than others. Rich people=wired. Poor people=not.

I can't say with any certainty that those who aren't wired live lives that are any poorer culturally. I cannot say with any certainty that they are at any disadvantage economically or psychologically by not having the internet. Would my own life be any less rich if I had to find some other way to spend my time, than being wired and online? Probably not. Just a little different.

However, there is one aspect of the internet that I can address with certainty. Children from homes without the internet are at a disadvantage in school. They only begin to develop internet, computer, and keyboard skills after they enter school. They do not have access to a world of knowledge that is just a keystroke, a click and a drag away from those kids who do have internet access. As regards education, I personally completed an Educational Administration graduate program without ever setting foot in the library of Loyola University. I had access to the internet.

This simply points out the possibilities and the disparities. As we progress further into the 21st century, those who have not entered the digital age are doomed to be left behind in the low-tech world and it should be noted that the upper strata of society, the high-paying jobs, the lives we all want to live, are most assuredly wired, and not low-tech. Is there a way to get every child the computers, the internet access they need? There damned well better be, or we are dooming a chunk of them (Say 25%) to a world with no promise of advancement.

Didn't mean to go on a rant again about class stuff, but I did didn't I? And I went on way too long. What say tomorrow we talk about cell phones?

Monday, August 3, 2009

When Does School Start Again?

It's Monday again and a pleasant enough return from a 3 day weekend. No, not one of those 3 day weekends that the whole world gets like Labor Day or Memorial Day, just a weekend when it really started on Friday, because out of town guests were here to be entertained, and ended at the usual time because said guests left on Sunday, leaving the rest of the day to Babs and I. This rest of the day involved decompressing from the visit, a lunch out, the purchase of groceries, a nap, a movie on DVD, and True Blood in the evening. There are a couple of slackers on boats in Streeterville Bay today, but for the most part it's nose to the grindstone once again, for one and all, this 3rd day of August. It's currently 83 degrees and humid under mostly cloudy skies at the lakefront.

Speaking of noses to the grindstone, I recently noted on a posting on Facebook by my niece in Texas that her oldest child is starting to Middle School this year, and he started back to school week before last. I know what you're thinking. "In July? How can this be R.D.? (How quaint. A rhyme.) Well, R.D. took the time to ask that same question of the niece. As it turns out, the niece's son, (That would be my great nephew, I think. Or at the very least a pretty good nephew.) goes to one of those reformed, "year-round schools." These schools get a month off in the summer and then go back to school when other students are still out for the long summer vacation that we adults all fondly remember.

Now mind you, these kids get the usual breaks that we all remember. They get time off for Christmas and New Year's. They get time off for a Spring Break. They just go to school at times in the summer when we are all accustomed to having kids out of school. The flip side is that they also get short vacations at weird times, like in October. It just depends on when their quarters end. Is this good? Is this bad?

The idea is that with less lengthy vacations from school, (You do know that they're not really going through their summer reading lists, don't you?) there will be less knowledge and skill loss caused by disuse. Frankly, the real reason for the current mainstream system is based on the fact that our country was once a primarily rural, agricultural nation. Families needed the kids for work in the fields in the summers. Labor Day until Memorial Day for school seemed to work. Memorial Day until Labor Day was for kids working on the farms with the parents. (People in those days weren't as concerned with child labor issues as we are. They were really dirt poor.) This schedule became institutionalized in America. Now we find ourselves in the 21st century where that makes very little rational sense any longer. Year round schools make a lot more rational sense.

The trouble for me is, that as an educator in inner city schools where there are a great many challenges that wear you down, I have become accustomed to having long summer vacations to recuperate. I like long vacations where I can ride my bike, go to baseball games, hang out, and get a sun tan. I return to school in the fall ready to face another year's challenges. Year-round sounds sucky to me, and to a great many other educators who are also accustomed to having long vacations in the summer. Are we positioning ourselves for the best option for the kids? Possibly not. Are we willing to change for the benefit of the kids being educated? Again the answer is possibly not. Inertia, and the way things have always been done are getting in the way of thinking about what actually might be best for the education of kids in public schools.

I suppose I could get used to a vacation in October, to a little longer vacation in the spring. I could get used to having moments for recharging the batteries in all 4 seasons. Reforming the schools to go year-round really means the same number of days and hours in school. It just means that the breaks between terms is much shorter in the summer and much longer at other times. I really need to look at the data on gains from going year-round versus traditional schedules, but maybe it's something I could live with.

After all, I might like an opportunity to go to Michigan in the fall for the leaves changing. I might like a couple of weeks at the beach in the spring. For that matter, a full month in the summer is a lot for most Americans. Most Americans get 2-3 weeks vacation total in the year, plus a few scattered 3 day weekends here and there. Educators get the 3 day weekends plus a long vacation in the summer, plus a couple of weeks at Christmas, plus a week in the spring. Out of self-interest I say, "Keep it the way it is. I have a good thing going here." If I look at it from the outside, objectively, I have to admit that year-round school might not be such a bad thing for me, and it looks like it might enhance the education of the kids I'm actually trying to teach.

Now if we can deal with the number of days per year that kids actually spend in school. That's a whole 'nother issue. Happy Monday boys and girls.