Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Monsters of Halloween

Happy Halloween all. It's that day when kids in some neighborhoods go trick or treating, when gay men hold incredibly lavish costume parties, and when people in some neighborhoods get high as kites and a little crazy and go out with guns and shoot up shit. It's a night when people in some neighborhoods go nuts and burn things down and loot at will. Of course it's also the night that the movie industry celebrates by making movies about teenage girls in various stages of undress getting slashed to pieces by maniacs. Now that's entertainment.

Personally, I have many warm fuzzy memories of Halloweens past. As a child you'd go tromping door to door with a group of other kids and carrying bags to put all the loot in (spelled c-a-n-d-y). Then all the adults would have to put up with the ensuing sugar rush for several days afterwards until all the loot was eaten. Then there were the Halloween Carnivals that were held at your school, with costume contests, and Halls of Horror, and various games to raise money. For kids Halloween was just cool.

Of course there was the time in 6th grade when I got to go trick or treating with a group of kids that included Cindy Simon, who I had a huge crush on. We walked through the graveyard at the end of the street I lived on, and dared each other to walk on graves and kept a wary eye out for ghosts and goblins. Then on the way home that night, as I walked down the street alone the last block or two, a carload of teenagers drove by and hit me with a water balloon. Didn't really hurt anything but my pride, but it was kind of a drag of a way to end a night that had been a lot of innocent fun. Still, I was not maimed or seriously hurt.

Somewhere out there kids still go trick or treating and feel safe in America, but a lot of parents are very cautious about letting their kids go out alone these days. When I was a child, we always went out after dark. In the City of Chicago today, people walk house to house with their kids and start at about 4 in the afternoon. By 7 o'clock it's mostly done. People take their kids down streets with businesses and trick or treat in stores, who have candy on the counter to give to the kids. Still, in middle class neighborhoods the streets are awash in kids dressed as princesses and pirates and ghosts and goblins and dinosaurs and doggies, for hours on the last day of October.

Then there are the neighborhoods such as the one where I work, The Back of the Yards. On the last day of school before Halloween, or on Halloween proper, if it comes on a school day, large numbers of kids don't come to school. They are afraid to leave the house. The thugs have a heyday on Halloween. They throw eggs at everything that moves or doesn't. They get drunk and high and beat people up for sport. After dark the older sorts get drunk and high and the looting, burning, and shooting starts. The police have a very busy night.

One thing I have learned over the years is that there are varying degrees of safety in American society. If you live in a middle class or upper class neighborhood, life is generally safe. People can walk down the streets unmolested, day or night. Children can go outside and play. In places like Back of the Yards, 99% of the population lives below the poverty line. Gangs and illegal activity abound. Very few people have much education and life, at times, is anarchical, or as Thomas Hobbes said about life in a state of nature, "It's nasty, brutish, and short." Police have a difficult time protecting the citizens there. There are far too many opportunities for something to go amiss and another citizen to be gunned down, or in some cases beaten to death.

I work in a high school in this neighborhood and for the most part I work with really likable nice kids, doing their level best to grow up and have a normal life in the midst of all this mayhem. Friday afternoon at about 3 PM, one of my students came to me and asked if I would help him to get his lock open. He couldn't get his hoodie and notebook out of his locker. He's a nice kid, but for some reason he hasn't figured out combination locks yet. He knew the numbers, but couldn't get it right to open it up with the combination we all learned somewhere back there, 1 right, 2 left, and 1 right again.

I helped M. open his locker and his girlfriend was there with him. Neither of them are going to be a doctor or lawyer or engineer, but they're basically good kids and I do everything I can to help them on their way to gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to getting some kind of sustainable income and being a functioning citizen. I got the lock open for them and before they left I asked M. where they were going. "What are you guys doing now?"

M. looked back at me at that point and in all seriousness he told me, "Mr. Ray, I'm going home. It's Halloween. I ain't gonna get shot." I gathered all the warm memories I have in my mind of Halloween, and I thought about all of those kids in the good neighborhoods and their parties and costume contests and trick or treating, and I nearly wept on the spot for this young man and his girlfriend. All too many Americans grow up in these circumstances, and strangely a great many of them turn out okay. We don't hear about them. We hear about the ones who went out on Halloween, the ones who got shot, the ones who shot someone, the ones who were arrested for assault, robbery, rape, and various other ways to screw up your life and the lives of others. I begin to pine for the innocence of my own Halloweens, and wish like hell that these kids could just for once experience that, instead of what they do experience.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Battle of the Bulge

Let me just get it out here once and for all. I have trouble with my weight. It's a war ladies and gentlemen and right now the weight is winning. The tide of this battle needs to turn and I'm not sure I'm willing to use the weapon that I know will win it. Of course there is the argument that I'm not fat, just too short for my weight, or I'm not fat, just big boned. Somehow these arguments don't get it, though.

For the record, I am 59 years old and I remember being 21. I could drop 10 pounds in a week. I was, how shall I put it, hmmm, okay, skinny. Any hint of the weight going up beyond acceptable range and I'd just cut out eating one of my daily meals for a while. That cranked up 21 year old metabolism would just burn those calories like dried out leaves in a pile in fall. Blammo! The weight would be gone in a week or less.

In my early 30's I lived in Austin, Texas and I was poor and didn't own a car. I walked a lot. Now that I look back on it, I don't think I ate that much either. In 1983 I moved to Minneapolis and weighed in at 20 pounds less than I weighed when I graduated from high school. I was really skinny. I got a better job. I got a beat up old car. I walked less. I think I ate more as well. I gained weight back to my high school graduation weight. Still, relatively skinny in R.D. World.

Then I met a woman that I ultimately married. I stayed out till all hours less. I ate regular meals. I quit smoking. I moved to Chicago. I discovered Chicago style deep dish pizza. I got a better job yet. I turned 40. The metabolism began to slow a bit. I joined a gym and started working out regularly. Gained a little weight, but within an acceptable range. I only weighed 5-10 pounds more than I did in high school.

Then came the late 40's and early 50's. The old metabolism just quit burning calories. The gym workouts held the line for the most part until the Thanksgiving to New Year's stretch each year. Too much party and family and food and drink and every year I'd put on a few pounds. I'd usually work really hard to get rid of the holiday weight in the months afterwards, but somehow every year a couple more pounds would be added on to the operating weight.

Then one day in my early 50's I woke up and got on a scale and I weighed 220 pounds. My older sister remarked at a family gathering, "You're finally starting to look like a Ray." Woop! Woop! The alarms went off. The gym workouts weren't getting it. I went outside and started running. (Dieting never entered my head. Two ways to lose weight: 1) Eat less. 2) Burn more calories. I opted for the burning more calories option.)

At first I could barely run around the block. Then I started getting used to it and running farther, and for a longer time. I got to where I was running 25 miles/week. I was losing weight. Someone told me, "Hey, if you're running that much, you should run a race." Me? I don't think so. I ran a 10K. I thought I could run it faster and signed up for some training. I ran it faster.

Next spring I signed up for training for a Half Marathon. Completed that. Signed up for training for the Chicago Marathon. Completed that. I was hooked on running. I lost 25 pounds. Still significantly over my high school weight, but my sister wasn't telling me I looked like a real Ray anymore.

The thing is, if I don't run all the time, the weight keeps coming back. It's never reached 220 again, but the metabolism seems to be creeping toward the zero factor. I look at food and gain weight. If I experience one of those running injuries that occur occasionally, and have to quit running for a while the weight creeps up. It's a struggle to keep the weight below 200. (Sometimes I lose the struggle.)

I am reminded of my Grandpa Vandevier who never was fat. He ate cold All Bran cereal for supper every night at 5 PM. Sorry, I like pizza occasionally. I like a glass of wine or two in the evenings. I like to go out to Italian restaurants and pig out at 9 or 10 o'clock at night. Grandpa Vandevier I'll never be. I try to eat less, but it's difficult. I try to keep running and for the most part I do. Then after a satisfying 5 mile run, I order pizza. I earned it. I'm not fat. I'm just too short for my weight.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Republicans Vs. Democrats, Senatorial Smackdown

Ever wonder who owns the Republican Party? Well if you want a clue just pay attention to what happens in Congress every time some legislation is brought up with anything to do with major business interests. Every Republican in Congress, and some of the conservative Democrats are there to support giveaways to business and defeat anything that remotely smells of regulation of business, and they're moving so fast you'd think their asses were on fire.

As soon as the very modest proposal for healthcare reform was out of the Senate Finance Committee the insurance industry mobilized and had a media blitz of anti-healthcare reform propaganda. The Republicans in the Senate, with one notable exception circled the wagons. This was a version of reform without a public option. The conservative Democrats and one lone Republican, who is described as a moderate accepted this wussy version, Healthcare Reform Lite. All the other Republicans treated it like the coming of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The people spoke. The President spoke. The sensible portion of the Democratic Party spoke. They were all in agreement, "Reform Lite is not good enough. We need a public option." Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid said, "Okay, saddle up boys. Let's do it. We're adding a public option." (Liberal Man was rumored to be proud of the boys in the Senate, for once.)

Then the ownership of the Republican Party cracked the whip. (A minority whip to be sure.) The Republicans went scrambling. Some of the conservative members of the Democratic Party began to scramble. The lone Republican supporter of healthcare reform, rescinded her support. The party that supported Bush and Cheney for the last 8 years in their quest to sell the entire nation to corporate interests and send the world economy down the tubes began fighting the effort to pass this scourge like it was the new holocaust. They rallied around the sound bites that assured Americans everywhere that healthcare reform with a public option is a fast trip to economic ruin. (Didn't the Republican Party already take us on that trip? Talk about your Halloween Horror.) They assured the public that the White House itself is occupied by Satan, leading his minions on this quest to send America to hell in a handcart. (Handcart? Is that like a grocery cart, one of those big ones you get at Costco, or more like one of those things you see in the movies where guys hand pump that cart down the railroad tracks?)

Now you might ask yourself, "Self, what is the big deal? The Democrats have a clear majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Why not just bring the doggone bill to the floor, put it to a vote and get on with the celebrating?" Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate has this thing called filibuster, where anybody can talk and talk and talk without limit. If you're opposed to a bill and you don't want it brought to a vote, you just get the floor and talk ad infinitum, until the other side caves and moves on to other business. In past years Senators have been known to take the Senate floor and read from the Bible, read from the New York Telephone Directory, and engage in all manner of odd behaviors to hold the floor (filibuster). Apparently the only way to defeat a filibuster is to override it with a Super Majority (No, Super Majority is not a close friend of Liberal Man. It is a percentage of the total votes available.) In this case, a simple majority of 51 votes is insufficient. In the U.S. Senate you have to have 60 votes to shut up a filibuster.

So anyway, when the health insurance industry cracked the whip (The Minority Whip) and all of the Republicans fell in line and the lone Republican in favor of healthcare reform changed her mind, the majority fell to 59, one vote short of Super Majority Whup Ass. Then the conservatives from the Democratic Party pulled out support for a reform version that includes a public option. (But that's what the public wants and needs! Who do you think elected you clowns?) Anyway, at this point there is still a clear majority in favor of reform with a public option, but not a Super Majority sufficient to shut up a filibuster.

So where do we stand? Depends on how good the President and the Senate Majority Leader are at twisting arms and getting people to fall in line. This is when you need someone like Lyndon B. Johnson. This was a guy who could get stuff done, a guy from Texas who managed to get Civil Rights legislation passed in an era when the conservatives thought equal rights for African-
Americans would bring about the apocalypse. Let's hope someone out there can channel their inner Lyndon.

But to the original point, "Ever wonder who owns the Republican Party?" I think that is pretty much self-evident, based on obvious behaviors. As for myself, I proudly carry the liberal banner, and I am reminded of what Will Rogers had to say once, "I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Smell of New Leather, The Feel of New Clothes

Perhaps I am easily amused, but I went to the gym today and I was totally thrilled to be seen wearing my brand spanking new pair of Asics Nimbus running shoes. These are shoes that have never yet been outside and met a puddle. They are so white you practically need sunglasses, just to wear them. After 600+ miles on the last pair, it was time for a change, and I could not be happier about it. New stuff makes me happy.

I grew up in pretty modest circumstances in Central Arkansas in the 1950's and 1960's. When you say modest circumstances in that place and time, you're talking pretty damned modest. Okay, we were poor. We so poor we couldn't afford a pet peeve. We were so broke we couldn't pay attention. We were..... You get the point. Anyway, in those days my mother would go down to Pace's Department Store and buy us all our school clothes in late August on store credit. We would pay it all off a little bit every month and by Christmas it was all paid off and it was time for Mom to buy us some more clothes for Christmas, you know winter stuff instead of that late summer, early fall stuff from August. I seem to remember coats and sweaters and a few toys thrown in. I also remember underwear and socks. At Christmas? Oh yeah.

The thing is, whether it was the bunch of new clothes at the start of the school year or the mid-winter wardrobe renewal, I loved it all. The crisp feel and that brand new smell you get with new clothes, there's nothing like it. When you spent some of your early years wearing used stuff from Goodwill Industries, new stuff was just a thrill and the smell and feel of it stuck in your brain. New shoes were especially nice. To this day I love the smell of new leather. I love the look of shoes that have never been scuffed, that have never been worn and creased from walking in them.

All of this baggage about new clothes has stayed with me over the years. I still feel the thrill when I get something new to wear. I still feel ultimately cool when I wear it out in public for the first time. I can still get an olfactory jolt from smelling those new shoes. Why wear them? Why not just keep them in the box and get them out long enough to stick your nose in them and smell that new shoe smell instead of that been worn on sweaty old feet smell? Because then you wouldn't get to show them off to people. That's why. Never stopped me from taking that surreptitious sniff of the new shoes when no one was looking though. It's just a little sad when that smell goes away. They're broken in. They're no longer new. Then they're good for wearing, but not good for sniffing any more.

As I've gotten older the thrills have gotten a little more expensive, but not necessarily more sophisticated. I walked into the office of the building where I live yesterday. There was a new smell about it and it made you feel good. The building manager looked at me sniffing and said, "New carpet." It made that office smell new. It made you feel good. Not particularly impressive or overly decorative, but new carpet. It was all a part of a multi-million dollar restoration project that is being paid for out of my assessment and the assessments of the other owner-tenants at 860-880 Lake Shore Drive. Like I said new smells and feels have gotten a wee bit more expensive.

What about that new car smell? There is nothing like that new car smell. The funny thing is, I never owned a new car until I was 40 years old. I got used to the smell pretty quick. I like it. That first new car was a Mazda Protege and it cost the whopping sum of $10,000. It smelled great. I think I could get used to savoring the smell of a brand new Mercedes, but I haven't advanced quite that far as yet. The last new car smell I savored was a Mini Cooper. Not a Mercedes, but considerably more than the cost of that new car smell in the Mazda Protege.

The last item that gave me that new thrill before the running shoes was a birthday present. Babs knows how much I lust for leather coats. My last one finally bit the dust several years ago, and I've been suffering through the Chicago winters in a cloth coat, albeit with that microfiber lining to keep you warm, for the last several years. The zipper broke. I was due for a new coat and on my birthday, Babs presented me with the most fantastic heavy winter coat, made of the most wonderful supple leather. I was overjoyed. It smelled fantastic! It still hasn't gotten cold enough to wear this coat. I've been wearing my lighter weight suede coat so far, and it doesn't smell new anymore. I really want to wear that new coat out so everyone can see it, and I can strut my stuff. In the meantime, however, I can still go to the closet when no one is looking and take a hefty sniff. That new leather coat smell is marvelous. And I'm thinking that I may just need some crisp new shirts to wear with that coat, maybe a sweater, and probably..........

Monday, October 26, 2009

War, Uh! What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothing!

I have a history of speaking out against wars, and violence in general. I was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. When I was drafted, I spent two years working in a hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas instead of serving two years in the army and being sent to fight a war. I was then and still remain proud of the fact that I stood up for my convictions.

I am also proud to say that I was not one of those who yelled epithets and treated the returning servicemen badly, those who either chose to go or were forced to go to Vietnam. I knew far too many who were not as lucky as I, who had to serve. I knew far too many, who believed they were doing the right thing by serving their country, right or wrong. I knew far too many who were killed or came back from the war maimed, either physically or mentally. War takes its toll. I am enough of a realist to know that there are times when a person has to protect himself or his family, when a citizen has to protect his nation and his people, and a fight is necessary. 90% + of the time, however, it can be avoided.

In 1985, I met my wife, Babs, and became a part of her family, as she became a part of mine. Her father was a proud Marine who fought island to island in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Her brother-in-law was a Vietnam Vet, who downplayed the experience, but was a proud member of the American Legion. In time they came to know my experience as I came to know theirs, but I never once suggested they were wrong and they never once told me I was wrong. We were family, and everyone has their reasons. We respected one another.

Just recently, my father-in-law, 92 year old former Marine, and my mother-in-law, 88 year old former WAVE from World War II, were part of a group of World War II vets who were flown to Washington D.C. to visit monuments and to be honored for their contributions to this nation. My mother-in-law was touched that in Washington D.C. hundreds of people showed up in the pouring rain to honor them. She was amazed that hundreds more met them at the airport in Mason City, Iowa when they returned. She was appalled that her hometown newspaper in St. Ansgar, Iowa ignored them.

She wrote a letter to the newspaper and saw to it that a notice of the experience appeared in print. She then wrote a letter about the whole thing to Babs, and her heartfelt eloquence touches me at my core. This is a woman who grew up in an age when one unquestioningly accepted the actions of the USA simply because it is your country and your country is on the side of right. This is a woman who, for any foibles I may think she has, has garnered a little bit of wisdom in her 88 years.

In her letter to the St. Ansgar Enterprise-Journal my mother-in-law, Dorothy Brasch, had this to say, "The rain was almost a fitting background as we viewed the World War II monuments. The awesome monument of sculptured gold stars, one for every 100 Americans killed in combat: 'The Price of Freedom, Lest We Forget.' These monuments are not by any means a celebration of war, but instead a tribute to all the men and women who died for our freedom." I am in awe of her eloquence.

Then, as if I were not enough in awe, she had this to add in a personal note to her daughter, my wife, "We have had constant rain for days and it is getting depressing. I became even more depressed tonight when Dick Cheney appeared on TV in his tuxedo at his fund-raising dinner, having the audacity to say Obama was taking too long to send 40,000 troops to Afghanistan. I've seen enough gold stars and shed enough tears over all those men who died in the war. Enough wars. they don't solve anything." There is more in those words than I ever have or could say on the topic. I am choked up and I salute you Dorothy Brasch. Your heart and your head are in the right place. Would that we all had your wisdom.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Afghans? I Like the Kind Grandma Used to Make.

I have mixed feelings about this business in Afghanistan. The good liberals are saying get out. General McChrystle is saying more troops. Our NATO allies are saying McChrystle is right. Joe Biden is saying we ought to focus more on Al-Qaida in both Afghanistan and in Pakistan and forget trying to fix everything in Afghanistan. The President is silent while he considers all the facts. Dick Cheney is against anything that the current administration does, even if it is the same thing his administration did. So what's the solution?

Anyone who was alive on 9/11/2001 knows that Al-Qaida is dangerous and committed to attacking targets in the U.S. and within the borders of our Western European allies. Anyone who was paying attention back then knows that the Afghan government, then run by the Taliban, gave aid and support to Al-Qaida. Well the Taliban government is long gone. Al-Qaida went into hiding and for the most part has been operating out of Pakistan.

It's a given that we shouldn't have gotten involved in Iraq in the first place and the Obama administration seems committed to withdrawing from Iraq, leaving the Iraqi people to iron out their differences or blow each other up or whatever they want to do within the confines of their own borders. The question is, is Afghanistan a threat to the U.S.? Well, only as much as the possibility of the Taliban returning to power there is a possibility. We know what happened last time they took over in Afghanistan.

So is it a possibility? Apparently General Stanley McChrystal thinks so, and he seems to have convinced European Defense Ministers from NATO. He recommends sending more troops to stop the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and the Europeans seem to be buying the argument. So are they committed to sending more troops? Are they willing to invest money and lives from their countries to this task? All too often it seems that Europe is willing to support a military action as long as its American money and troops being committed. Want a war in Afghanistan? Well commit your fair share. The whole world is suffering from the current economic malaise, the U.S. included and we have suffered our fair share of loss of lives in this conflict already.

There are those, the President and Vice President of the U.S. included who seem to be advocating a focus on stopping those elements that would pose a terrorist threat to the U.S. (and our allies) and kicking their butts. That would mean turning over the protection of Afghanistan from internal enemies to the Afghan people. Ultimately, that would mean leaving some U.S. troops in Afghanistan for a while until the Afghan government can be trusted to take on its own military actions, but it would mean withdrawal over time, as is happening in Iraq.

The value in this tact is that the U.S. could focus on one thing, stopping the operations of the radical Islamic elements that operate with impunity along the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the Europeans need to be more than just cheerleaders for the U.S. NATO is an alliance and an alliance has duties and requirements for all members of that alliance, not just some. When Afghanistan is stabilized, then they could contribute to the effort. Pakistan has already begun some efforts at cleaning up the situation on their side of the border, but a great deal more needs to be done.

Furthermore, radical Islamic militancy does not just threaten the U.S. and Western Europe from this base of operations. Russia and China are both just on the Northern side of the border from Afghanistan. Russia has been making a lot of noise about the heroin epidemic there, and the heroin has its beginnings in the poppy fields of Afghanistan. They are also experiencing small Islamic insurgencies in portions of their country. It is in their interest to get involved. Why aren't there Russians helping out? (Could it have something to do with the previous war they had in Afghanistan in the 1980's when they got their butts kicked?) There are Chinese areas where radical Islamic elements would like to get hold. Where are the Chinese troops to stop the spread of this scourge of the planet?

We all know that Afghanistan is a difficult place to control. The British pacified all of India and at that time India included Pakistan. They were never able to control Afghanistan, however. The Russians set up a puppet Communist government in Afghanistan and could not keep it in power. An Islamic insurgency toppled it. Now the U.S. is mired there. What are our chances of pacifying Afghanistan and controlling the Islamic radicals?

"It takes a village to raise a child," and it takes a planet to stop a radical movement that threatens to destabilize an entire region of that planet, while making life unsafe for anyone different from themselves all over the planet. This is not just a threat to the U.S. It is a threat to every advanced nation of the world. This is not a job for just the U.S. It is a job for all of the advanced nations of the world to share, in order to make this go away. We all have to share in the protection and in the cost of that protection. The U.S., at this juncture, can ill afford to continue throwing money and lives at a problem that belongs to everyone. Not our job, even if there are elements of our society who think it is. Not our job, even if everyone else in the world has become accustomed to the U.S. taking on the lion's share of military responsibilities.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Real Teacher Conversations, Brought to You By CPS

The following snippets of conversation have been gleaned from real conversations by real teachers in the course of doing their jobs. Okay, some may be subjected to the artistic license rule, but for the most part they represent the essence of conversations that have really occurred in all too real Chicago Public Schools. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, the perpetrators, and the instigators.

"I can't believe she can just do that to people. Where is the Union in all of this?"
"You know what she's trying to do, don't you? Trying to make it uncomfortable enough for them that they'll retire. Then she'll hire someone else to do the job, and they'll owe her for their jobs."
"Yeah and they'll save a lot of money by hiring younger teachers who get paid a lot less."
"I'm really surprised the new librarian isn't younger."
"Oh you know she likes to hire people from her church. This school is full of them."
****** ******* *******
The teacher said, "I can give you one name, XYZ. She's not officially labeled BD (Behavior Disordered) or anything, but she acts like it. Nobody ever documented it and got her labeled as such. Every time she walks in a classroom, she creates a scene over something and the drama is contagious. By the time security comes to remove her the rest of the classroom is out of control."
The administrator said, "Maybe you can write it up and get her referred to the social worker for some counseling."
Another teacher said, "The social worker is only here one day a week."
Yet another teacher said, "I tried that. She won't go to see the social worker." At that point the conversation fizzled and someone interjected something taking the conversation in another direction.
Later 3 teachers, not in the company of an administrator were talking. One said, "When you write her up and call for security, she bolts the room and wanders the halls. Nothing ever happens to her."
Another teacher replied, "Well you're better off without her in the room. At least you can get some teaching done when she's not there."
The first teacher agreed, "Yeah. You know it's gotten to the point that I saw her in the hallway before class the other day and when she turned and went the other way I pretended not to see her. Without her there, class progressed reasonably."
The third teacher smiled and added, "Now that's good teaching. See you learn something after teaching for a while."
******* ********** ******
In another instance several teachers were discussing what to do about chronic hall-walkers, students who don't go to class unless forced to do so, yet show up daily at school.
"We should make a list of the ones who are always in the hall, and put them in in school suspension every Friday until they stop roaming the halls."
"Do you really want to have all of those kids in one room all day long? Do you want to deal with all of them in one place?"
"You know most of them are really low functioning and they just don't like being in a classroom. They read on a second grade level and we're asking them to do high school level work. People just pretend that they can be successful when they can't and they get frustrated and roam the halls."
"Yeah well, if we're making a list of hall-walkers, I say we need to put Student XXX on the list. He never comes except when he's rounded up and made to come."
"Student XXX? That kid is dangerous."
"Dangerous? When he's in my class he never causes any trouble. He's kind of quiet, but then he only shows up when he's caught in the hall, and then it's usually halfway through the period."
"Really? He probably doesn't have any of his buddies in that class with him. They feed on each other when they're together. Believe me, that kid needs to be locked up."
"Are you going out for lunch?"
"Yeah. Need a ride?"

Needless to say these conversations didn't take place at an elite college preparatory high school. They happened at a neighborhood high school in a neighborhood known for gang shootings. Teachers had this to say about their school as opposed to an elite college preparatory high school.
"Wouldn't it be fun if you could have a one month social science experiment where you switched all of the teachers from Elite College Preparatory High School with all of the teachers from Bad Neighborhood High School and saw how each group fared? Who do you suppose would have the most success with their students?"

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Baseball in November? Why Not Hockey in June? Oh Wait...

I have very fond memories from childhood of the World Series and childhood friends debating the merits of Yankees vs. Dodgers. It was early October and while summer was officially over it was usually sunny and warm enough yet to justify a summertime pursuit like baseball. Most of the games were played in the daytime. TV had not yet brought its cash and need for after work audiences to bear on the culmination of the nation's pastime for the year.

Then TV ratings and stuff happened and baseball moved to evenings, except on weekends. I remember when the last holdout, the Chicago Cubs gave up the ghost and put lights in Wrigley Field. It traumatized half a city, but in the end the furor died down and profits rolled in. The American League and National League both added teams. They divided each league into divisions.

Divisional playoffs were added. The American League said pitchers didn't have to bat, and added a designated hitter. Ticket prices went up. Luxury skyboxes went into every stadium. Baseball enlarged its spectrum and went into Canada. Cold weather cities built domed stadiums. Really hot weather cities built domed stadiums. Cities built stadiums with roofs that could be retracted in good weather, and closed in inclimate weather.

Jeeesus! Is this baseball? Okay, I admit going to Twins games and enjoying watching Billy Martin blow a gasket over one of those high pop flies that got lost in the massive white roof of the Metrodome. That was before they painted it blue, to emulate the sky I suppose, and to reduce the incidence of what came to be known as "Dome Balls." Still, in retrospect, it seems a little silly, and the Twins are moving to a new outdoor stadium next year. They saw the error of their ways.

The latest and greatest travesty to beset the National Pastime, however, is the expansion of the playoffs until the divisional rivalries are not settled until the end of October and the World Series will not be over until sometime in November. Have you seen the players on the field in Boston and New York wearing hooded things under their hats to keep their heads and ears warm, wearing insulated batting gloves, sitting in dugouts with electric heaters? What ever happened to "The Boys of Summer"? It's mid-autumn for crying out loud. They had to postpone a playoff game in Denver because the weather was more suited to "cross-country skiing."

Frankly, there is a point of diminishing returns when the baseball season goes on this long. People grow tired of it. There is simple baseball fatigue. And it has to compete with football (Both pro and college), basketball, and hockey. Want to play baseball this long? That's why they have leagues in the Caribbean and in Mexico.

As for the cold and inclimate weather factors, there are two possible solutions for the future of baseball playoffs and the world series. One possibility is that you forget that home and home format and make all playoff games go to a domed stadium to play. Frankly, that is untenable. Home crowds watching their teams play and the advantage that comes of playing on the home turf are integral to the game and its playoffs. The other option is to shorten the season to, say 150 games. That would end the season a couple of weeks earlier. The playoffs would begin earlier. The actual World Series would be back to being played in the early days of October like it traditionally has been. I vote for that.

Now as for the other problems of professional baseball, can we please get rid of the designated hitter? That's not real baseball. Can we stop with the corporate naming rights of stadiums? I can't really buy into U.S. Cellular Field. I still think of the White Sox as playing in Comiskey Park. Of course I think the football Cardinals moving to Phoenix and the football Rams moving to St. Louis is just wrong too. Some things cannot be fixed.

But one more thing. There is serious professional baseball in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Venezuela, and all over the Caribbean. Of course the U.S. and the Japanese are the only ones who pay serious salaries for their players. That's an issue too. Good God! $30 million to play baseball! As I said, some things cannot be fixed. How about a real World Series sometime, though. Let's see how the rest of the world stacks up against baseball in the U.S., or how we stack up against them, sort of like the World Cup in Soccer (Futbol). Little League has a real World Series. How about the Major Leagues?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Popes and Anglicans and Leaning Towers of Liberals

The Pope and the Anglicans are in negotiations over bringing the Anglicans back into the Catholic Church. It seems the liberal leanings of one part of the Anglican Church have gone and ordained women and gay men into the priesthood and the more conservative elements have issues with all of this liberalization. Next thing you know the Americans will reject the British monarchy and start calling themselves Episcopalians instead of members of the Church of England. Oh wait. That already happened, didn't it?

Funny thing, once upon a time there was one Christian Church and the Romans saw to it that the radical responsible for that upstart religion was crucified. Then the Emperor decided Christianity was the one true faith and all of Europe had to become Christian. Then the Empire weakened and split in two and good old Constantine moved the capital to the East and named the city Constantinople (Great to have a city named after yourself, don't you think?).

Next thing you know the Christians in the East and the Christians in the West were arguing over the use of icons and there was an Eastern church at Constantinople called the Orthodox Church and one in Rome called the Catholic Church. This lasted a pretty long time. The two churches left each other alone and they both agreed that neither liked Muslims. There were some religious wars called Crusades.

The Dark Ages ended. The Renaissance came and more people started thinking for themselves. Along comes this monk named Martin Luther. Seems he had an issue with corruption in the Catholic Church, so he posts all of these theses on the Cathedral door, gets himself excommunicated by the Pope, and "Oh my God," the Protestant Reformation was on. The Catholic Church didn't want to be reformed, so Luther got his own church and, "Voila," there were Lutherans all over Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Last I heard, in places like Northern Iowa, the German Lutherans and the Norwegian Lutherans couldn't agree on anything so now there are separate German Lutheran churches and Norwegian Lutheran churches.

Well Luther started something and John Calvin came along and started preaching pre-destination and hellfire and brimstone, and copycats in France called themselves Huguenots and copycats in Scotland called themselves Presbyterians, and the French Catholics had no sense of humor and killed several thousand of those smarty-pants Huguenots. Presbyterians had better sense, and moved to America and became just one more group of Europeans that took advantage of the Indians.

Then along came Henry VIII of England and he wanted a male heir. Wife had a girl and for some reason couldn't get knocked up again. Henry wanted a divorce so he could marry someone else and the Pope wouldn't give him one. He was siding with the Spanish King, whose sister it was that Henry wanted to divorce. Henry said, "Screw it," started his own church, and gave himself a divorce. Dude went through six wives before he died and when he did, turns out his daughter by his second wife became Queen. (The only male was a sickly little shit and died.) Anyway, the Church of England was born.

Can't leave out the Puritans. Puritans came along and a bunch moved to Massachusetts and spread out all over New England, bringing one hell of a work ethic and the idea that anything remotely fun is sinful. Back in England where they started, they got rid of the king and set up a dictatorship run by this Alpha Puritan, Oliver Cromwell, and he ran shit there until he died, and then the British decided they liked kings better than Puritanical dictators, so they restored the kings to power. Meanwhile in America, the Puritans were busy killing Indians and hanging people as witches. (My personal favorite test for witches involved throwing them in the lake. If you floated you were a witch. If you didn't you weren't. Of course, if you didn't, you drowned, but you went to heaven, not hell.)

Over the next couple of hundred years we got Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Mormons, snake handlers, holy rollers, and next thing you know we had more Christian denominations than a dog has fleas. Not sure where Jehovah's Witnesses came from. Now the Pope and the Anglicans are talking about reuniting. Frankly they ought to take all of the cultural conservatives, the gay-bashing, keep women in their place (barefoot, pregnant, and in the home, that is.), kill criminals, give everyone guns, and outlaw all abortions and morning after pill conservatives and put them all in one church. They'd all be much easier to keep track of that way. And then it would all come full circle.

In the meantime, I attend services with the Reverend R.D. at the "Church of There Ain't No God, But There Sure As Hell Is Morality." We meet on Saturday evenings for services at your finer establishments of imbibery. We're partial to full-bodied red wines and sharp cheeses for communion. We have one key principle, "Judge not and we'll all get along a lot better. Can I buy you a drink brothers and sisters?" Oh and we hold special services during the week at about 5 PM. We call it the Happy Hour.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Peace Brothers and Sisters.

Looking out the windows from the 14th floor, the lake is now empty of boats. The water temperature has dipped into the low 50's. The leaves on the trees in Olive Park are changing colors. Yet the lights of Navy Pier still beckon tourists and families to come on down. The ferris wheel still beckons to the paying customers, "Come and see the skyline from on high." And this past weekend an altercation broke out that resulted in a stabbing near that very ferris wheel.

When I was a teenager between the ages of 13 and 18 I got into a number of fights all of which, in retrospect, were avoidable and stupid. These were, each and every one, fist fights that ended up in some bruises, black eyes, fat lips. No one was ever hospitalized from one of these altercations. Somehow, when the teenage years arrive and the testosterone starts to flow, and the young men begin to feel it necessary to prove their manhood, they are more easily provoked. They feel someone has insulted them. They feel someone has disrespected them. They feel that someone has questioned that blossoming manhood. They feel it necessary to fight to prove that manhood.

For as long as human beings have been human beings this has been a normal part of human behavior, as normal as butting heads is for rams. Stupid when viewed from the outside, but nevertheless a normal part of establishing pecking orders. Though we, as humans, have a greater capacity to reason than those rams, there are times in our development when that reason fails us, when hormones and instinct take precedence. If it's just a fist fight, and nobody gets seriously hurt, we can accept this as normal adolescent behavior.

The problem enters this scenario when weapons are introduced into the mix. When knives, guns, baseball bats, two by fours, kicking people when they're down, and use of all manner of blunt objects are introduced into the mix, this becomes a horse of a different color. Suddenly we're not talking about two teenaged boys, pumped full of testosterone duking it out. We're talking about trips to the hospital, trips to the morgue. We're talking about prison time. We're talking about retribution involving drive by shootings, gang attacks, and oftentimes innocent bystanders being hurt or killed.

When was it that the USA became a land where teenage shooting deaths began to take the place of black eyes? Where is the outrage that our sons (and sometimes daughters) have become so inured to violence that the taking of a life is just a way to show that you're a man (or woman)? When did violence of a deadly sort become so widespread that a safe place to take your children for some family fun became the site of drunken altercations and stabbings?

The violence escalates and I am not talking about some 3rd world country here. I'm not talking about Asia, Africa, or South America. I'm talking about the USA. The movie industry echoes this trend with ever more violent movies. The game industry sell ever more violent video games involving killing of foes. The NRA feeds the demand for more guns with their propaganda that tells us we need guns to protect ourselves from violence. The guns become more readily available, legally and illegally. The number of deaths by gun violence escalates. Fights without guns turn into brawls with blunt objects that kill as well. People are beaten senseless and the frenzy continues until the victims are nothing more than a bloody pulp.

I am not a religious man, but the inherent message in Christianity of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your fellow man." This is a message I can buy into whether I buy into the religion as a whole or not. I am not a religious man, but the Buddha's message of "Harm no living thing," is a message I can buy into. I am not a religious man. I am a rational man. If humanity is to rise above its animal origins, humanity has to resist its baser urges. It has to restrict access to deadly weapons. It has to teach our children the value of non-violence.

Our children can never be all that they can be if they are dead. Our children can never be all that they can be if they are locked up for crimes of violence. Our children can never be all that they can be if they continually negate the ability of their minds to forge rational solutions to conflict by giving into their animal urges for violence. Our world has changed. It is no longer acceptable to solve every teenage argument with violence. The violence has become too dangerous. It threatens the fabric of our society as a whole. Rome fell to barbaric violence that came from outside. The USA can just as easily fall to barbaric violence from within. I really don't want to spend the rest of my days locked behind a wall with armed guards because our society as a whole has become so violent and amoral that I cannot move freely within that society. We can stop the violence, but it takes all of us. We all have to buy into this, and make it happen. Peace on Earth. Good will to all men. (Even if they hate your guts and say really rude and disrespectful stuff to you.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

In a Blue State of Mind

It's very easy, when one surrounds oneself with people of a like mind, to begin to believe that the whole world thinks that way. Or at least you can forget for considerable periods of time that there are numerous souls out there who disagree with you, who have a very different slant on life. Specifically, in the blue state bubble where I choose to live my life, it is very easy to believe that the world has changed and society as a whole is much more accepting of differences than it once was.

Alas, it is not so. A couple of days ago, I walked into the main office at the school where I work and two older women (That is to say that they are about my age, 50 something.) were talking to a twenty-something female teacher about why she and her long-time boyfriend had not gotten married yet. Now I know the teacher in question and I have known for some time that she and her boyfriend live together (I believe cohabitate is the term.) and have bought a house together and have a stable relationship. Perhaps I was a little oblivious, but it never occurred to me that anyone would have an issue with this. It's so normal. So I blithely jumped into the conversation, "How long have you and your boyfriend been living together anyway?"

I thought everyone knew the facts. Not! The two older women were taken aback. One jerked her head around to the young woman and said, "Is this true?" The other woman of the older persuasion said, "I guess you and I live in a different world." An unstated "Tsk! Tsk!" hung in the air. I knew I had screwed up and mentioned something that I shouldn't have, but in my world it was not an issue and I forgot for a moment that there are still cultural conservatives lurking everywhere. I felt it necessary, being an old guy, to let them know that my wife and I lived together for quite some time before we finally got married, and more than anything else, it just made life easier, from a family standpoint, and for tax and legal purposes. We had always been committed to each other, married or not.

I live in the middle of a major city. I have friends who are black, white, various kinds of Latino, immigrants from Europe, immigrants from Africa, immigrants from Asia, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, those without religion at all, gay and lesbian, and just about variety of humanity. A great many friends who I have known over the years live together for the long haul without getting married. I have gay friends who have chosen to get married. I have both gay and lesbian friends who raise children in non-traditional settings with perfectly normal and acceptable results. This is my state of normalcy.

Bearing all of that in mind, it is just absolutely mind-boggling that a Justice of the Peace in Tangipahoa Parish in Southeastern Louisiana (Hammond, Louisiana or somewhere thereabouts) refused to perform a marriage for an inter-racial couple because he said that he had reservations about the hard life that children of such a marriage would have. Is this real? In 2009? I believe the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed such outrageous practices somewhere in the last century. I find it unconscionable that most states do not recognize gay marriages or civil unions, for reasons so numerous that it would take an entire post just to go into that, and yet there are still cultural conservatives who think an African-American and a white person of European ancestry should be prevented from marrying. And yet those people think that they have a personal mandate to prevent this from happening. Oh, and the Pope still doesn't believe in birth control either.

What planet are these people from? What century do they think they're living in? Some of their beliefs are narrow-minded, racist, destructive, and stupid. Some are just narrow-minded, destructive, and stupid. I suppose a lot of one's beliefs and actions spring from the paradigm within which they operate. Well this is 2009 and the predominant paradigm for survival and successful navigation of the next century is a lot closer to that of the blue state liberal than of the red state cultural conservative. Those attitudes that are the least accepting of ways of life that are not like one's own, that are judgmental and punitive of those ways of life not like one's own, these are the attitudes that divide a society, that are destructive of people's lives, that do not allow us as a society to progress.

Now, if you'll excuse me, Liberal Man has a date at the Interracial Gay Atheists Cohabitation and Child Rearing Society. I believe he is the guest speaker and I wouldn't miss this for the world. All of my closest friends will be there. I may have to bring my guitar. I'm in a blue, blue state of mind........

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Love Means....

A couple of weeks ago I had the flu and I lost one weekend and three days of work, before returning to the upright, functioning world once again. Babs had the chutzpah to brag that she hadn't gotten the flu from me. Now, a couple of weeks later, she is down and out and congested and suffering from body aches, fevers, and acute tiredness. She tried her best to work through the whole thing and treat it as some minor inconvenience. Today she has been on the couch under a blanket with a raft of assorted OTC medications, a box of tissue, and a bottle of water on the table next to her. Hasn't gotten out of her jammies all day. The television is tuned to the Dumb Comfort TV Sitcom Channel. I believe it takes the Mega-Premium cable package to get that channel and it's only available when you're sick.

The thing is, when I was down and out with the flu, Babs was there for me. She brought me food and drink, and pillows and blankets. She was Super Nurse, all the while continuing with her work. (She is a full-time writer and has a home office.) I was duly impressed, and being sick I felt a little warm and fuzzy knowing that all of that care was heaped upon me.

Now the tables are turned and it is my turn to reciprocate. I know a lot of people would expect a guy to write about how it was a lot more difficult for him to do what his loving wife had done for him, but not so. I'm there. It takes two to tango, and if one partner has the flu there won't be any tangoing happening. Step up to the plate partner.

Need a blanket? I got it. Need chicken soup? I got it. Need a run to the drug store for anti-flu meds? I got it. Just need a little love and compassion? I got it. Last night Babs wanted something gooey and cheesy for dinner. I used a recipe, but made kick-ass macaroni and cheese from scratch. Don't know if I'll ever be able to go back to lesser mac and cheese now. Tonight she's feeling a little better, if still horizontal, but wants a pizza delivered. Hey I can do that with my eyes closed, and both hands tied behind my back.

I got to thinking about this and frankly it sounds almost like one of those Love is...cartoons that you see in the comics section of the newspaper. In this case, love is being taken care of when you're sick, and love is taking care of someone when they're sick. It works both ways. Funny thing about that.

When relationships are young and new, oftentimes we think of love as sex 16 times a day in every room in the house. Love is taking your lover to do all the things you love and having them appreciate them, while going with them to all the things they love and appreciating those things as well. Love is just being together and taking walks in the park and being all gaga over each other.

After twenty-plus years love takes on new meanings. Love still means sex, just not as often, and perhaps not on the kitchen counters any more. Love is still appreciating those things the other loves, but love is also buying your lover a gift, not because you think it's cool, but because you know they will think it is ultimately cool. Love means sometimes you don't do things you'd really like to do, because you'd really like to do something else with the one you love. And yes love means giving the one you love a lot of love and personal attention when they're sick while knowing in your heart, when it comes your turn, when you feel like crap they will be there for you too. And every once in a while, amazingly enough, you still get a little gaga over each other.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

If I Pay for a Study, Will They Say What I Want? Duh!

As if it weren't bad enough that the right-wing nuts have made a crusade out of bashing Obama and his efforts to get healthcare reform enacted, now the insurance industry has begun funding studies to show that healthcare reform would cost Americans more money in higher insurance costs. This comes from the industry that has made massive amounts of money over the past decade and still takes every opportunity to raise costs even more.

So on the eve of a vote in the Senate Finance Committee on a really mediocre healthcare reform bill that would not include a public option, and would still leave millions of Americans uninsured, the insurance industry released a study that showed, guess what? That this healthcare reform bill would result in higher insurance costs for Americans. Who paid for this study? The insurance industry. What did it show? A result that the insurance industry wanted. Most thinking individuals have dismissed this study as simple "pay em to say what we want." And frankly, insurance costs are going up anyway, if we don't do something about it. Can you say healthcare reform? I bet you can. Write and/or call your Congressman and your Senators. We all need to get behind this or lobbyists and idiots in Congress will make it go away, like it has a bunch of times before.

Anyway, today the Senate Finance Committee bill on healthcare reform passed out of committee when a majority, including one lone Republican voted for it. This is the bill that has been pursued by Senator Baucus and which does not include a public insurance option. Now this bill will be combined with a more liberal version from the health committee and the fighting and compromising on the Senate floor will begin. This 15 round heavyweight bout is scheduled to begin sometime next week. How long will that take? Who knows?

Of course the eventual passage of some healthcare reform in the Senate only means that it then passes over to the House of Representatives and Congressmen in the House will spend an inordinate amount of time arguing over reconciliation of their version of the bill with the Senate version, and some eventual compromises will be reached this decade hopefully, this century surely. Meanwhile the insurance companies will continue to put out as much propaganda as they possibly can to obfuscate the issue and make it seem like we need to keep things the way they are. Of course they want things to stay the way they are. They're making money hand over fist. Who cares about the public and their petty little healthcare needs? This is the land of the free and the home of the profit. Capitalism rules dude! Get the government out of my profits! (Oops, sorry. I was channeling a Blue Cross executive for a moment there.)

Meanwhile the public will continue to pay through the nose for their healthcare. Meanwhile millions upon millions of Americans will continue to have no health insurance and will not be able to get any healthcare except emergency care. Meanwhile the cost of healthcare in America will continue to spiral upwards. Meanwhile the average citizen of most every other advanced industrial nation in the world will continue to get better healthcare than we do in the U.S. and will enjoy better health as a result. Isn't there somebody out there who wants to get pissed about this? Isn't there somebody out there who wants to start a citizens' movement? Isn't there somebody out there who remembers what the public at large can do when it mobilizes, as it did against the Vietnam War? This is our country. This is our health. This is our issue. For God's sake, let's see that a reasonable reform of our current system is reached. Let's see that all Americans have equal access to healthcare. I think it's a Constitutional right. (Equal protection under the law.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

What Would Have Happened If Chris Columbus Had Stopped to Ask Directions?

Once again it is Monday and here I am with my Views From the 14th Floor. Yes, boys and girls this is the blog that dares to ask the hard questions. "When have your t-shirts' underarms gotten so yellowed from sweat stains that you should throw them out? How many holes are allowable in your underwear and how large can they be before you throw them out? How long can a person reasonably wear a pair of gym shoes at a public gym before it is no longer socially acceptable?" Now, my readership is divided into two camps, male and female. I would be willing to wager that the female component is at this point thinking, "EWWWW!" Meanwhile, most of the males are thinking, "Good question. I've often pondered these issues as well." And no doubt they have. Trouble is I sometimes pose these great questions but have no real answers. If you have any, there is space at the end of each of these posts for commentary. Feel free. I may very well need to make a trip to Macy's to replace various undergarments, and possibly my running shoes. However, I have larger fish to fry today.

Today is Columbus Day and like many government employees that means a three day weekend. I read in the newspaper today that the modern version of Columbus Day was created during The Great Depression by FDR because he thought we needed another public holiday. October 12 is, ostensibly, the day on which Christopher Columbus first set foot in America. Of course we all know that Chris never actually set foot in North or South America, but on various islands south and southeast of North America. So really Chris Columbus really didn't discover America, as much as he discovered the gold mine that is tropical tourism in the Caribbean.

Chris Columbus was a very bad tourist, more like a forewarning of things to come, the Conquistadors. (And no Conquistadors is not the name of a punk band, although it might make a good name for one.) The funny thing is, when I was a child (Some, my wife for instance, might say that I have yet to emerge from childhood, but that's another issue.) I was taught that Christopher Columbus was a visionary, out there to prove that the world was round when ignorance of that fact abounded. He was a man with a vision and a quest to be quested.

Well, as it happens Chris Columbus, who sailed on Spanish ships for the Spanish crown, was an Italian, and he had a vision alright. He had a vision of great wealth. Trouble was, no one in Italy would invest in his vision, nor would anyone in France or Portugal or anywhere else but Spain. I don't know if Isabella thought he was cute or what, but she got talked into giving him a little cash and three ships. She talked Ferdinand into going along.

Off went Chris Columbus and crew in the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, thinking they would reach Asia in a month or two. Boy was he lost. People used to think that he landed on the island of San Salvador. Current thinking is that he landed somewhere in the Bahamas. Apparently he couldn't afford a condo, so he took a bunch of natives prisoner and went back to Spain.

What we now know is that Chris, not only didn't discover America, but a bunch of islands off the coast, and the natives there seem to think that they discovered them first, but we also know that Vikings, not Minnesota Vikings, but Viking Vikings from Scandinavia (Now we know them as Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes.) landed in North America (Canada really) several hundred years before Chris Columbus even thought of sailing westward to reach the East. Trouble was the Vikings, being practical people decided that fighting with the natives all the time wasn't worth the effort, especially if you had to live in Canada. Had the Vikings discovered Martinique, say, they might have stayed.

At any rate, the important thing about Chris Columbus is that his arrival began the coming of the Europeans to America in droves, and not going away. They took over. It should be noted here that in some states with large Native American populations, they celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day and not Columbus Day. Columbus brought the priests and the soldiers, and America was never the same afterwards. "There goes the neighborhood," so to speak.

The thing is, the Europeans believed themselves to be superior. They were Christians and they believed that it was their duty to Christianize people with other religions. Some didn't really want to be Christianized. They died. They had superior technology. The Scientific Revolution had come to Europe. They thought it was their duty to civilize less advanced cultures. Some didn't really want to be civilized. They died. And then they had lots of diseases that indigenous peoples had never been exposed to. Nobody wanted those, and guess what? Millions of them died.

The Republican across the hall at work likes to remind me that it was not just the force of superior arms (Guns and cannons and stuff) that gave America to the Europeans. It was the fact that European nations had full-time armies. Most nations in those days had only citizen armies to protect themselves. The Native Americans often had to leave their farms and their villages and go to fight, leaving the villages to take care of themselves, or not. The Europeans had full-time farmers and businessmen and people back home taking care of the economy while full-time soldiers did their full-time jobs, conquering and killing people.

I got to thinking about this aspect, as described by the Republican across the hall, today. And it occurred to me that during the George W. Bush years, this nation was committed to one war in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. Both required thousands upon thousands of soldiers. The manpower needs of the war went beyond what was available in the full-time professional army that the U.S. had. More men were needed. In previous generations a draft would have been instated. Yet the lesson of the draft during the Vietnam War gave the nation's leadership pause and they opted to call up regiment after regiment of guess what? Citizen soldiers who had to leave their jobs and their families and their villages to go off and fight so there would be no draft to protest, as in Vietnam.

If one follows the logic of the Republican across the hall, we have made our nation more vulnerable to attack from the outside. We are not using a full-time professional army, but citizen soldiers who fight in a time of dire need. The best and the brightest are taken from their positions in the civilian world to fight and die. Are we turning ourselves into a nation ripe for the pickings by a nation with a full-time professional army who are trained to conquer and kill, while their industry and farms continue with full manpower? Oh, probably not. We have nuclear weapons and high tech stuff that is mind boggling. Yet still, it gives one pause. Perhaps we should not commit our country to military engagements that are so large that we do not have the available manpower, unless we are dead serious and willing to commit the nation to those engagements with the kind of manpower needed. That is to say, if you're not willing to draft the men and women needed to carry out such a mission, it's probably not worth draining our resources from home to meet those needs via a back door draft (Calling up the Reserves and National Guard).

Following the logic of that argument, then perhaps it's time to get the heck out of Iraq, (I believe the President is planning for that end sometime next year.) and plan for an end to the mess in Afghanistan without committing more troops. I believe the mess in Afghanistan has spilled over into Pakistan, and is a problem for a lot of nations, not just the U.S. Perhaps the Russians, the Chinese, the Indians could take an interest in stopping the spread of radical Islamic fundamentalism and all that it represents. Perhaps it is enough in their interest that they too will commit a few troops to put the kabash on this mess.

All of that being said, I had a very nice day off from work. I did not celebrate the beginning of the European invasion of the Americas, nor did I partake of a Columbus Day mattress sale. I did, however, take advantage of an extra day off from work. For that I have to thank Chris Columbus. So a Happy Columbus Day to you all.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Nobel Peace Prize for the President. How About That?

On my way to work this morning I heard that the President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. Upon arriving at work, I immediately sent Babs an e-mail and told her. I thought about it a moment and knew that I had to tell the Republican across the hall. He constantly regales me with his righty viewpoint and I just thought it would be fun to irritate him a little with the news that the man he would like to see fail is getting respect from the international community (Even if he didn't bring home the Olympics to the U.S.).

The somewhat amazed response to the news, from the Republican across the hall was something on the order of "Grumble, grumble, grumble, don't see a single thing he's done to deserve that. Are the troops out of Iraq? Afghanistan? Grumble, grumble, grumble." It should be noted that he could probably be a competent Republican candidate, as his response falls perfectly in line with what many of the GOP politicians around the country have said. Of course another portion of the GOP elected have taken the President to task as a pursuer of peace because he has failed to jump at the opportunity to build up our troop presence in the Middle East, or put massive numbers of troops on the Iranian border.

One conservative commentator, Erick Erickson on went so far as to suggest that Obama won because he was black. His statement went "I did not realize that the Nobel Peace Prize had an affirmative action quota for it, but that is the only thing I can think of for this news." The underlying racism behind a great deal of the criticism of the President becomes ever more obvious.

Apparently the Nobel Prize Committee appreciates that the current President of the "most powerful nation in the world" is winding down the war in Iraq, has not caved into every demand for ever more troops in Afghanistan, and is speaking of focusing on al-qaeda and not the Afghan situation per se. They seem to appreciate that he is open to negotiations and international cooperation rather than sword rattling and "big stick diplomacy." Apparently they appreciate the fact that the world is, on the whole, a safer place with a thinking individual in the White House rather than a man with a cowboy mentality and the idea that America can dictate to the world down the barrel of a gun.

This group, who has chosen to bash the President's recognition in international circles is the same group who just last week waxed ecstatic because he failed to bring home the Olympics for 2016. It is mind-boggling that an honor for our country, and not just for its President, has been bestowed here and the President's detractors attempt to get some political capital from it by further bashing him. The world community has chosen to recognize that our President, and by extension the U.S. as a whole, is trying to make the world a better place to live in, and a safer place at that. And this is reason to criticize him? What planet are these people from?

Even if you believe in your heart of hearts that Mr. Obama has not done enough to deserve this prize, I have to ask you, "In the year 2009, who in the world deserves it more?" Even if you believe in your heart of hearts that he has not done enough to deserve this, isn't it still an honor for him and our country? Doesn't it suggest that the world, as a whole, is a little less hostile toward the U.S.? Doesn't that bode well for our interactions with the rest of the world? Isn't that good opinion from the rest of the world good for us?

To the President's detractors I have to say, "Get over it people!" The economy is better since he was sworn in. Our relations with the rest of the world are better. If those detractors had an ounce of shame in them they would humbly beg forgiveness and say loudly and clearly, "Congratulations Mr. President. We're very proud of you. Now help us show the world that we deserve this honor."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Youth and Violence and Schools, Part II

Let's see. The rain has stopped, at least temporarily. I survived another day with rooms full of smart aleck teenagers with no clue of how to behave appropriately in a classroom environment, in a job environment, in any environment that doesn't involve nonstop swearing, screaming at the top of one's lungs, and making sexual references out of any innocent statement. Ah, that's why I get paid the big bucks I tell ya. It's all about socializing them, and if I teach them anything along the way, that's a bonus. Most of them will, no doubt remember my Yosemite Sam impressions and the time I sang "Happy Birthday" to the little girl in the front row. History? What's that?

Yesterday I mentioned that Ron Huberman was being touted in the New York Times for his plan for dealing with violence among teenagers who happen to be Chicago Public School students. What I didn't mention was that last week he was mentioned in the Chicago Sun-Times for his fiscal management while he was the head of the Office Emergency Management and Communication (The 911 center.). Apparently his oversights cost the city of Chicago $2.25 million in contracts with Motorola for products that have never been seen. This does not bode well for a guy who is supposed to continue the improvement of the Chicago Public Schools that was started by a guy named Paul Vallas and continued by a guy named Arne Duncan, who is now the Secretary of Education for the nation.

Speaking of Arne Duncan, Mr. Duncan weighed in recently on the violence among public school students and some accused him of creating some of the violence by closing some schools and sending their students to other schools in the name of Renaissance 2010, his plan for improving the public schools by closing failing schools and creating new schools with a better plan and approach. The argument goes that closing some schools and sending the students to other schools cause students to cross gang territories and introduce new gangs from other neighborhoods into the schools and neighborhoods where the students have been moved. As a result, it is argued, the conflict between existing gangs and newly introduced gangs at a school cause serious outbreaks of violence that was not there before.

Mr. Duncan called the charge ridiculous. Mr. Duncan does not work in a school on the Southside or Westside of Chicago. In point of fact some violence and disruption of school environments does occur when attendance boundaries are changed for students. Mr. Duncan's denial of these simple facts comes across as the denial of a man on the hill, looking over it all and seeing what he wants to see. Real actions have real life consequences that are not dreamed of in middle class and upper class think factories.

In point of fact, the culprit is not attendance boundaries or school reform efforts, however. The culprit is a society that produces large pockets of squalor, poverty, and need where gangs breed and thrive. A society that does not recognize its inequities encourages reaction. A society that does not offer some solution to the underlying causes encourages the situation to boil over. A society where the wealthy wall themselves off from these problems and denies having caused them is asking for trouble. These problems cannot be dealt with through police and arms. These problems must be dealt with through education, counseling, mentoring, jobs, and putting some time, money, and effort into communities that is not police to lock up perpetrators.

I believe that with Barack Obama as President and clear Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress we now have the best opportunity in my lifetime to address some of our country's social ills, that contribute to the violence among teenagers. We just cannot continue to be in denial about the root causes. We have to recognize those causes. We have to come up with real solutions for helping kids avoid the pitfalls. I'm tired of kids in blue and black colors on one side of the street and kids in red and black colors on the other, looking across the street angrily at one another. I'm tired of wondering when this staring match will result in one side pulling out a 9 mm Glock and starting the carnage once again. I'm tired of reading about a mother being devastated because her child was the innocent victim of thugs who were bad shots and missed their intended targets.

I speak as a teacher from Chicago, but I know that this is a national problem. We all need to get on board with this. It is not a teacher problem. It is not a school administrator problem. It is not a police problem. It is not the Secretary of Education's problem. It is not the President's problem. It is a problem that belongs to all of us as Americans. It may cost a little in tax dollars to deal with it, but in the long run it will be a hell of a lot cheaper than incarcerating and/or burying another generation of our youth.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Help Kids Become Productive or Lock Them Up?

For the past six years I have worked in a Chicago Public School that is located in a neighborhood that is best known locally for being a place where there are a lot of gang-related shootings. My school has attendance boundaries that place it at the crossroads of five different street gangs, some primarily African-American, some primarily Latino, and at least one that does not discriminate. The latter accepts thugs of all races and ethnicities.

A great deal of attention has been brought to the Chicago Public Schools recently because of the continuing patterns of violence, student against student. Students have been shot on city buses. Students are regularly shot while walking down the street because they belong to a gang and another gang targets them. Last week a student was beaten to death outside a high school because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and two rival gangs were having it out after school was out. He belonged to neither gang.

Two years ago one of the students at my school shot another student from my school while he was walking the two blocks from the bus stop to the school. The shooter had just changed gangs for some reason and was proving his loyalty by shooting a member of another gang. As it turns out he was a lousy shot and the young man that he shot was a member of neither gang. The Principal and Assistant Principal were both gone to a meeting that day and as the third in command, I was in charge that day. The entire school had to be put on lockdown, and crisis management had to be put into place to reassure the students in attendance that there was not going to be a gang war in the school or out in front of the school that afternoon.

In the Chicago Public Schools, the best and brightest, the most promising students are siphoned off and sent to magnet schools, college preparatory schools, schools for the gifted and talented. The students who are academically challenged don't get into those schools and they go to neighborhood schools. These schools are full of kids from questionable homes, kids in special education, kids who belong to gangs and are more committed to the gang than school. An underlying current of anti-social behavior, larceny, and violence permeates many of them. It is the job of the staff at these schools to cull the ones who can be saved and give them the best education they can, to prepare them for some sort of productive future, hopefully involving post-secondary education. It's a difficult and often stressful job.

Amazingly, there are a lot of good kids who survive this environment and go on to live very ordinary lives as good citizens. We have to work at protecting them and guiding them. To do this we have to minimize the disruptive elements, the gang pressures, the disruptive behaviors in the classrooms, in the halls.

Today, at my school, there were a number of students who went on a field trip. As it turned out a number of the students who were gone were students who routinely add to the disruptive nature of the day. Another group of disruptive, anti-social sorts were just absent for whatever reason. There were maybe twenty-five or thirty kids absent from the mix, but the makeup of that twenty-five or thirty kids was such that today was a very peaceful, productive day in the life of the school. It made a difference.

Last week Marilyn Stewart, President of the Chicago Teachers Union, was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times as supporting the funding of an alternative school where chronically disruptive students or those with criminal behaviors would be sent to receive appropriate counseling and behavior modification before being allowed to return to their regular schools. Apparently, some other cities have tried this approach with good results. The changed atmosphere in my school today because of the absence of a group of key troublemakers suggests that it would have a positive result in the neighborhood schools.

Meanwhile, on the front-page of the New York Times today, there was a very large article devoted to a program being advocated by Ron Huberman, the new CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. (The former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools is now the Secretary of Education, in Washington D.C.) Mr. Huberman commissioned a detailed statistical study to provide a profile of the most vulnerable students in this violence epidemic. Who are the ones most likely to be violent? Who are the most likely to be victims?

A plan, financed by $60 million in federal stimulus money is being started up to identify at risk students and provide them with adult mentorship, a paid job and a local advocate who would be on call for support 24 hours a day. This program would focus on mental health and prevention over security as has been traditional in efforts to deal with inner city violence among youth.

From a teacher viewpoint, I say "It's about time." I do not advocate lessening any police protection or security for the schools in question. This is still necessary. However, over time we may be able to ease up on the security efforts if kids get the counseling and assistance they need. Teaching and learning in schools goes only so far. Too many of our kids need something more. They need structure. They need socializing. They need counseling. They need nurturing that cannot come from an already overtaxed classroom. Our cemeteries and prisons are full to overflowing with those who did not get this assistance.

How do we go about helping the violent, the criminal youth? Do we use the methods advocated by the Chicago Teachers Union? Do we use the methods advocated by the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools? How about we get the two together and get them to jointly create a workable program. We're all here for the kids, and kids are the future of this nation. An investment in the counseling, the structure, the care will cost a lot less in the long run than the police protection and costs of incarceration for a large chunk of our population. And it will have long-term positive effects for our nation as a whole. Lower crime rates? Lower poverty rates? More productive neighborhood schools? Who can not get behind that? Invest in your country or risk seeing it become something less than a major world power, and good place to live.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Amazing Adventures of Liberal Man

Last week I wrote about one-upping the Joneses and conspicuous consumption to the Nth degree. It was about AMEX black cards and the latest in "rubbing it in your face" just how wealthy you are. Well, as it turns out, not to be outdone by AMEX, Visa now offers a black card as well. It's not titanium like the AMEX card, but it's some kind of carbon compound, not plastic, or at least not wholly plastic. Today, one day shy of my 59th birthday, I received a pre-approved offer in the mail for a Visa Black Card.

This, to the guy who openly stated last week that he wished to downgrade to an ordinary green AMEX card and a plain old blue Visa. If there were a devil, this might be what he would do. "Just how serious are you Mr. Ray? Wouldn't you just like to flaunt how successful you've become to people? Don't you like having people look at you with that little extra bit of respect? How about it? The Black Visa is only $495 per year, $195 extra per year for the little woman. What do you say?"

I have one thing to say to that Devil. "What success? I'm a Chicago Public School teacher for goodness sakes, and I don't make a penny off this stupid blog. My wife is a writer. Think we're getting rich? The only way we live as we do is the fact that we don't have kids. And who are you referring to as 'the little lady' buster? And $690 per year for what? A credit card that has a higher credit limit and a couple of percs thrown in? Get thee out Satan!"

However, that's not really what I intended to write about tonight. What I really intended to blather on about is the fact that a friend (who shall remain nameless) observed that I've been spending an inordinate amount of time bemoaning the fact that Chicago lost the 2016 Olympics to Rio, or going on about Black Cards and stuff, and not spending nearly enough time taking right-wing nuts to task for making a big deal out of President Obama going to Copenhagen to pitch the Olympics bid in the company of Chicago Mayor Daley and Oprah and assorted others.

I thought about this and perhaps she was right. (Oops. Now you know the person in question was female, but still nameless. However, if you narrow it down to 35-40 of my closest Facebook friends, well you get the picture.) I may be guilty of dereliction of duty as a card carrying liberal blogger. You know what this means. Don't you? Really.

This is a job for Liberal Man! Faster than a speeding NRA bullet. More powerful than a right-wing talk radio host. Able to leap tall Republicans with the aid of a trampoline. It's Liberal Man! Stand in awe ye right wing cretins! Welcome to the Amazing Adventures of Liberal Man1

When last we left Liberal Man he was being beset by right-wingers claiming the President has better things to do than go off to Copenhagen and try to sell the IOC on Chicago as a site for the 2016 Olympics. "There is the National Healthcare debate. There is the War in Afghanistan. We still have troops in Iraq. Iran is building nukes. National unemployment is at 9.8%. The President has embarassed our nation on the international stage."

Liberal Man strokes his chin hairs in thought. "Well maybe you have a point...."

A voice is heard from the audience, "Wait Liberal Man. Don't waffle. You must be strong. Remember that seeing both sides is like kryptonite to all liberals. Step up. Show your cajones. Well, don't show them exactly. That would be gross, but let it be known that you have them."

Liberal Man hears the voice. He shakes off his revery. He speaks. "Where were you clowns when the previous President was clearing brush in Crawford, Texas? Where were you when Dick Cheney was busy selling the country to the corporate interests? Where were you when the government oversight of industry was being gutted and that led to the near collapse of the economy? Whap! Bam! Thwap! Besides, what's bad about the President trying to convince the world that the U.S.A. is a good place to hold the Olympics? Furthermore, I believe he conferred with several heads of state while he was there and spoke with NATO Generals about the war in Afghanistan. What have you done to help the country in the last couple of days?Had another affair with one of your campaign worker bimbos, much to the chagrin of your wife and supporters? Gotten yourself addicted to yet more prescription pain killers? Whack! Blammo! Pow!"

Liberal Man has them on the ropes ladies and gentlemen. It's looking good. No wait! The right has snuck up from behind and unleashed a sneak attack..."Take that Liberal Man! We know you once called yourself a Socialist. We know you once smoked marijuana at a party, and inhaled, (Gasp!)..."

Liberal Man is reeling ladies and gentlemen (No he hasn't been smoking marijuana. Hasn't done that in years and years.) Will he recover? Will he break the choke hold of Right Wing Nut? Stay tuned to this same channel to find out. This has been the Amazing Adventures of Liberal Man. And now for a word from our sponsor.

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