Monday, November 1, 2010

Moved On

Dear friends and dedicated readers. If you are at this site, you are at the wrong place. Views From the 14th Floor has moved to New look.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What Ever Happened to Respect?

It is Friday and I had a rough day at the neighborhood high school where I teach. Yes there are gangs in the building, but that's not the overriding problem here. The problem is that in certain sectors of society, or perhaps society as a whole, there has been a serious breakdown in the idea that one needs to show respect to one's fellow human beings. The idea that elders and people in positions of responsibility need to be shown respect is all too often found laughable. How did we get here.

Let me take you back to the jumping off point with a couple of anecdotes. I teach a senior level political science class during the second period of the day. The students vary from one child who dyes her hair green and made a 29 on her ACT test last year (If you don't know, that's really good.) to students who still read on an elementary school level and chafe at being made to sit in a classroom and do anything constructive, like learn about how your country is governed.

Today, two largish 17 year old boys were sitting in the left rear corner of the classroom while I was taking attendance and tending to basic administrative tasks. They were a little louder and more boisterous than I would like, but it was Friday and I was taking care of business. Then there was a loud crash. A desk was knocked over. Inwardly I was saying "What the fuck?" Outwardly, I let slip, under my breath, "Goddammit!"

I stopped what I was doing and told the young man in the corner to stop playing and pick up the desk. His reply was "I didn't do it. He did." I looked at the other kid seated near him. He didn't say a word so I asked him if he was responsible. He denied it. I was becoming annoyed. I needed to get the class back on track. "One of you needs to pick up the desk. I don't care who. Just pick up the desk." There was no response. No one moved. I had to repeat, this time in a more severe tone, "One of you pick up the desk or both of you will have to go. I really don't want to go there."

The two of them looked at each other and the second kid picked up the desk. The first kid made some smart remark. He has a history of smarting off in class. He likes to make remarks that have nothing to do with what we're discussing and trying to be funny at all times in that adolescent I'm a smart-ass and everyone thinks I'm cool kind of way. I told him to pick up his things and move to the front row. He said "Why?" I replied, "Because I asked you to do so and I'd appreciate it if you got up and moved to the front. He decided that he didn't have to move. "I'm not going anywhere. Go ahead. Call security. I'll go to detention."

So at this point what do you do? Cave in to the teenagers and you lose control of the room. They can and will do whatever they want to disrupt the class. I had to call for security and stop the class to a standstill while I filled out the paperwork. I turned my back to write something on the board for the rest of the class while I waited for security to show up and someone hit me in the back of the head with a small piece of paper. Shrugged it off and made a snide comment about seniors in high school behaving like 12 year olds.

Security came and took away the first kid. I looked at the second kid and told him to pick up his things and move to the front of the room. This one chose to swear at me and stalk out of the room. He tried to slam the door as hard as he could on the way out, but they recently put new hinges and springs on the doors so they close slowly and can't be slammed. Tsk! Tsk! Had to call the office and ask security to return to the third floor to pick up the paperwork on the second kid. Had to take the time to fill out the paperwork on the second kid. By the time all of this was over and I'd finished with the attendance report and basic b.s. somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes had flown the coop.

This afternoon I had to lecture a Freshman about his tendency to talk non-stop in class and disrupt the class. He was amazed for some reason. He had to argue with me. He told me, "You're crazy man. You're acting like I was......on and on." The point is that these kids have to know that they've done something wrong. It's not as though I never did anything wrong when I was their age, but I had the respect for the institution of education and the people involved to accept it when they dressed me down. Take the fall. Swallow the pill. Admit that you screwed up and move on. When did it become the norm for people to rail against their superiors? When did it become the norm to think that you could swear at people, call them names, throw things at them, and this would be acceptable behavior?

It is very tempting to write this off to the fact that I work in a neighborhood that most would call ghetto and the behavior of many of these kids is often called "acting ghetto." The trouble is that some of this sort of thing has permeated our entire society. A Congressman shouts out "You lie!" when the President is speaking. Tea Party ralliers shout racial epithets and throw things at African-American members of Congress. Glenn Beck and right-wing media routinely make up false statements about the President and sell it as the truth. Say something to another human being about how they've acted badly and they threaten your life.

People have learned to act and react with a sense of self-entitlement that is unjustified. If you screwed up, own up to it. There is structure to our society and rules for civilized behavior. When these rules and their sanctions disappear we might as well be living in an anarchy where life is, as the philosopher said, "nasty, brutish, and short." A little respect for your fellow humanity goes a long way, and in the long run results in more successful lives. That is all I wish to convey to the kids I encounter at times like these. We don't have to like each other. We don't have to hang out together. We do have to exhibit a modicum of respect for one another, however. Not doing so, has disastrous results.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Are We Just a Bunch of Cavemen, or What?

I was seriously prepared to comment on the upcoming Mayoral election in Chicago and the fact its devolution into a race-based free-for-all. Speaking of devolution, however, there is something else that has been pressing on my mind for a week or so now. It needs to be addressed, and odd as it may sound coming from a 59 year old white male, I am thoroughly appalled and annoyed by men's attitudes toward women, their expectations, and their assumptions. We're talking about male-female relations worldwide, not just in areas we might think of as backwards. America and the so-called developed world have their problems as well, in this respect.

Let me start from the beginning of my current annoyance about this issue. A short while ago there was a feel good story in the Chicago news about a man who rescued a woman from a rape attempt in a public bathroom at the Foster Avenue beach house. While it is admirable that the man in question had his head in the right place and responded to the screams from the bathroom, the other side of the story is that a man, an American man, followed the woman into the bathroom, punched her repeatedly, beat her head against the cinder block wall, dragged her into a stall, and was trying to get his pants and hers down to consummate the deed when he was dragged off by the rescuer. He punched the rescuer and ran.

The attempted rapist in this scenario was arrested and identified in a lineup, by the victim. Now here is where this story gets really sordid. In a statement to police, the perpetrator of this crime said, "She wouldn't fuck me, so I beat on her..." Now it occurs to me, "What kind of sick sucker just expects a woman to fuck him because he's a man who wants to fuck and she's a woman and she's there?" The trouble is that this attitude is all too common in many sectors of society.

Let me relate just one more little anecdote of this ghetto mindset to bring the point home. I teach in a public high school in a not so good neighborhood and a couple of years back one of my students was arrested for sexual assaulting a woman at gunpoint. When arrested, his statement to the police, in some apparent attempt to justify his actions, was something on the order of "My girlfriend is pregnant and won't fuck me. I ain't had none in a long time. I just couldn't stand it no more, so....." This is the thing. In some sectors of American society you take what you want from women. That's what they're there for.

Noted that these are extreme cases, but we need to take a long look at how male-female relations in general are structured on this planet Earth. When you take a long look at the more conservative societies of the Islamic world, you find that women are, as a rule, relegated to second-class status. The whole thing about women covering themselves head to toe is just mind-boggling. Are we to believe that men are incapable of restraining themselves when confronted with a woman's sexuality? Just looking at a woman who even remotely resembles a woman in shape and form is enough to cause a man to rape her? Is that what this is about?

Several years ago Babs and I were in Morocco on a train, in one of those cars that have little compartments that hold 6 people, 3 on each side facing each other. Babs was obviously with me, but was not wearing a head scarf or one of those "cover it all up" outfits common in that part of the world. Several Moroccan men got on the train in Rabat and entered our compartment. The Moroccan woman who had not felt it necessary to cover her head when she was alone in the compartment with Americans made a show of covering her head. Then one of the guys sat down next to Babs and proceeded to put his hand on her leg. Babs was indignant and he removed it, but the assumptions and the assumed right to do this were appalling.

This is just a drop in the bucket when you consider that women in Iran are threatened with stoning for adultery. Women in Afghanistan are routinely intimidated to keep them from going to school. Women in Saudi Arabia are prohibited from driving cars or from going out of their homes without the accompaniment of an adult male member of their family. Women in parts of Africa have their clitoris removed to prevent them from having any pleasure in the sex act. Apparently the males in that part of the world feel that females who have pleasure in sex are sluts and impure.

Mind you these examples are pretty extreme, but even in so-called civilized corners of the planet male-female relations are not exactly the relationship of equals. As I recall, there are various Christian groups that press the idea that the man is always the head of the family and it is a woman's duty to obey him. No less of a mainstream Christian group than the Catholic Church disapproves of any form of birth control. They press the idea that sex is for procreation only, and women have no say in whether they should give birth to a child if they opt for having sexual relations.

Then there is the thing about women in modern industrialized societies doing the same jobs as men and making significantly less than men who do the same job. There is the thing about women being pointed toward vocations "more suited to women" and away from traditionally male-dominated professions like engineering and science. On and on and on ad infinitum. It is 2010 A.D. We can clone body parts, but religions don't want us to. We can send humans to destinations beyond our planetary boundaries, yet men around the globe cannot grasp a concept so simple as "women are our equals, just made sexually different so we as a species can reproduce." Is that so hard to grasp, really? Or are we still just a bunch of glorified Cro-Magnons?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Republican Politics and Reality

The mid-term elections will be coming up in just a little over a month and the TV attack ads are ratcheting up. All manner of Tea Party rallies are out there raking in money to finance assorted right-wing craziness and the personal spending habits of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. And now the Republican Party has unveiled its "Pledge to America." I have perused it and frankly it reminds me a lot of Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" of a few years ago. As I recall, a lot of us referred to it, more realistically I'd like to think, as "The Contract On America."

Just for the sake of clarity, let's review what is included in the Republican "Pledge to America."
1) The Republican Party pledges to keep tax rates absurdly low on the richest 1% of Americans. That would be millionaires and billionaires. This is despite the fact that doing so will increase the national debt by several hundreds of billions of dollars.
2) The Republican Party wants to roll back regulations on big business and Wall Street. This is despite all evidence that points to the fact that lack of regulation is part of what caused the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930's.
3) The Republican Party is in no way, shape, or form prepared to insure the future of Social Security or Medicare. This is despite the fact that millions upon millions of elderly Americans are dependent on both to insure their health and livelihood. Apparently, if you're rich you don't need either, so therefore you don't believe anybody else should either and you damned well don't want to pay for their retirement or healthcare. Tell it to my grandmother.
4) The Republican Party is in denial about any links between fossil fuels and global warming and are not prepared to do anything to stop or slow down the process. This is despite real scientific evidence that we are creating eco-disaster.
5) The Republican Party is not prepared to pay for repairing or updating our crumbling infrastructure. That would mean tax dollars, and they are against paying taxes. This is despite the fact that investment in our infrastructure is necessary and doing so means creating jobs for our citizens.
6) The Republican Party is apparently against any government spending whatsoever, unless it is for salaries for Republicans and for any and all military projects. They seem to have never met a military expenditure that they didn't like.
7) The Republican Party wants to repeal the recently enacted health care laws. This is despite the fact that millions of ordinary Americans are benefitting from affordable health care because of this reform.
8) The Republican Party would like you to believe that returning to the same tired old Trickle Down Economics nonsense and corporate giveaway policies will benefit America. Sure they will benefit America, but only a small part of America, really rich America. Everyone else will continue struggling.

To be sure, what the Republican Party is advocating is the same ideas that were expressed in the 1920's as "Trickle Down Economics." Those policies famously led to the Great Depression in the 1930's. For the record John Maynard Keynes recommended that government invest in creation of jobs so as to create a cash flow and get the economy moving that time. Remember the WPA, the CCC, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and scads of other projects that helped put Americans back to work, and built roads, bridges, and public buildings? Remember that? The Republican Party was opposed to that too.

To be sure, what the Republican Party is advocating is the same ideas that were expressed in the 1980's as "Supply-Side Economics" or "Reaganomics" or as George H.W. Bush called them, "Voodoo Economics." Mr. Reagan and company argued that we could actually create more tax revenue by cutting taxes and stimulating the economy. He also was known to pretty much oppose any government expenditure except, you guessed it, military projects. He created the greatest budget deficits in U.S. History, to that point and a 6 trillion dollar national debt.

To be sure, what the Republican Party is advocating is the same ideas that were promoted by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney during their 8 year fiasco in charge of our nation. While Bill Clinton left office with a balanced budget and a shrinking national debt, G.W. Bush, through his tax cuts, ill-advised wars, and total gutting of all corporate regulation managed to leave office with an even bigger national debt than was created by Ronald Reagan and with the worst economic disaster in history since the Great Depression.

As Joe Friday would have told us, "Just the facts Ma'am." Let's get real here. The current administration hasn't totally changed the world, but they did save the country from certain economic disaster when they gave assistance to the banking industry and the auto industry and they began a process of oversight of corporate America. The Republican Party has, despite opportunities to do good for all Americans, become the party of "NO!" They have become the party that uses any legal means possible to obstruct anything that might be good for average Americans. They have become the party of "Let's make up facts or twist the real facts any way possible to make the other party look bad." They have, to a large extent, become the party of liars.

There is so much more that can be said, but we, as Americans, need to know the truth. We need to seriously consider the consequences of our vote. We need to recognize the fact that this country is going to become a backwater nothing of a country if we turn it over to the Republican Party. We run the risk of becoming a nation that people want to leave to go somewhere else where there is opportunity instead of the "Land of Opportunity" that we have historically been. Just remember that voting Republican is irresponsible and bad politics and do the right thing. Remember, "Friends don't let friends vote Republican."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

So When Is the Autumnal Equinox (First Day of Fall) Anyway?

Today is the Autumnal Equinox, or at least it should be. Having Googled the equinox, I found out that some say it's on September 22 this year, and some say it's on September 23. Traditionally, the Autumnal Equinox has been September 21 and the Vernal Equinox has been March 21 and all of that scientific fact is just getting in the way I tell you. Does anyone really care that the suns rays cross the equator at exactly 9;43 AM EDT on September 23? Just made that fact up, so don't quote me on it. The Naval Observatory tells me it occurs at exactly 11:29 PM on September 22. Another source assures me that it occurs on September 23. Google it yourself if you're so insistent on being to the minute scientifically correct for goodness sakes. September 21 is close enough and traditional enough for me.

If the truth were known, everyone would know that my wife's birthday signals the beginning of Fall for me, and that occurs on September 20. Happy birthday Babs. Happy beginning of Fall. Equinox Schmequinox. The trees are beginning to change colors. The days are getting shorter. Let's not get picky. Next thing, you're going to tell me that summer doesn't actually begin on the day that school's out.

What's that? The Summer Solstice. Yes I know a Solstice is a Pontiac. Yes I know Pontiac's are not being made anymore. Can we get back to the point? Yes I know the summer solstice is when the sun's rays are northernmost in our hemisphere and this occurrence can vary from June 20 to June 23 from year to year. Once again, who cares? As a kid, my summers always began precisely when I picked up that last report card of the year and went home until September. As a teacher, my summers begin when I have handed out that last report card, turned in my keys to the school office, and when I head out the door with the idea of going home and changing into shorts. Actual solstice dates be damned. Got nothing to do with real summers.

Vernal Equinoxes? Okay I know that they occur somewhere between March 20 and March 23, but let's get real. This has nothing to do with real spring. Hours of sunlight be damned. In the city of Chicago, right next to Lake Michigan, it is cold and wet until sometime in late May or early June. Spring lasts maybe two days and then someone flips the switch and it's mid-summer temperatures. Fifty one day. Eighty-five the next day. There are some in the City of Chicago who think Spring is a myth as elusive as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Just something you teach your kids. Doesn't really exist. Of course there are those who say the same about Jesus and religion as well, but that's a topic for another day.

Now I've gone through both equinoxes and one solstice, and that leaves one lone seasonal marker that I haven't mentioned. That is the Winter Solstice. Yes we know that it is traditionally December 21 (in the Northern Hemisphere) and can vary from December 20 to 23. And we know that in my mind it is not likely to be quite that scientifically exact. Yes I know all about the sun shining its hardest on the opposite end of the planet and circles around said sun and days getting longer after that, but when does actual winter set in in my mind, in your mind?

This brings to mind a serious digression. If you think the days get seriously short in the Northern U.S. in mid-December, try going to Iceland at Christmas sometime. Did that. One word to describe most of the day, dark. The sun comes up for a few short hours somewhere around 10 AM and goes down shortly thereafter, at about 2 PM. The sun never achieves any serious brightness, but has that late afternoon yellowish slanting light look that you get in late afternoon, only it's like that all day, all 3 or 4 hours of it. Got to see the Northern Lights up close and personal though.

Anyway, I was trying to decide when the Winter Solstice (First Day of Winter) actually is. You know, living in the Upper Midwest of the U.S. it gets crappy cold somewhere around the middle of November. I could make those last couple of weeks of November the last gasp of Fall and December 1 the actual first day of winter. Makes sense to me. I could make the first serious falling of the snow the first day of winter and that varies from year to year, but it's usually somewhere in December. (This is not to be confused with winter in Minneapolis. I lived there for a while and it snows from the end of October to the beginning of May. I defy you to tell me that Fall or Spring have intruded on that long-assed winter.)

Of course winter sometimes signals its beginning by the beginning of Winter Vacation from school. We could go with December 25, Christmas Day, as the beginning of winter. The Christians made it a holiday so they didn't have to take the winter festival away from the pagans. That could work. All in all, though, the beginning of my winter is pretty loosey goosey. When it gets cold and crappy, it's winter. Has nothing to do with hours of sunlight. Has nothing to do with actual scientific solstices. So when does winter begin this year? Don't know yet.

All of that being said, I guess the seasons of the year are a state of mind, and right now it is Fall, Autumn, whatever you want to call it. Forget the fact that the scientists are telling you to wait a day. Forget the fact that it was 88 degrees today. It's Fall now. Drive north and look at some leaves for goodness sakes. Enjoy it. Embrace it. It's part of the cycle.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Scatalogical Interests

Go figure. Here I bust my hump day after day trying to well-reasoned and pertinent posts on this blog and only a few of my closest friends pay attention. When I write about education, my fellow teachers read and applaud. When I write about politics, my fellow lefties read and applaud. When I write about religion or social issues, likewise a limited audience shows their appreciation. Through it all a dedicated few friends and relatives read most of what I write, to show their support. I don't think even my wife reads all of it, though.

Then I endure an incident with a bozo on the running and biking path on the lake front and label it, "How to Piss Off a Dumbass," and oh my god the hits at this site go through the roof, so to speak. I have spent nearly two years now cranking out this blog and trying to get the world to take what I say seriously, with well-written, socially relevant posts and the odd bit of satire now and then, but apparently that's not what the world really wants. They want dirty words. They want scatalogical prose. They want to be entertained.

That is to say that a large number of people are not much entertained by well-reasoned arguments or by satiric views of the world. They are entertained by poop. Want to get rich in publishing? Write dirty books with lots of sex and dirty words. Want to get really rich? Don't write anything at all. People don't like to read. Make dirty movies with lots of sex, violence, and dirty words. But I digress. Want to write socially relevant stuff? Don't quit your day job.

The point is that while I have my regular readers, after my last post about "pissing off dumbasses" I was suddenly getting hits from Maine to California, from Texas to Michigan. I was getting hits from New Zealand, India, the UK, Venezuela, South Africa, and even one or two from the Middle East. Who knew? Don't work at writing well. Just swear a lot. Had I embellished the story a bit and added actual violence and a little sex to boot, maybe I could have gotten so many hits that Google would be overwhelmed.

If I had included a link to a video showing actual violence and/or sex while all parties are swearing at the top of their lungs, I could've maybe been a You Tube sensation. Trouble is I'm not that guy. I'm a 59 year old guy, soon to be 60, with a long history of intellectual artsiness. Not the kind of stuff that makes you an overnight sensation. Maybe I could change though. Maybe I could do just enough of that to make me rich and famous. Probably not, but it might be worth a try. Got that you ignorant m****r f*****s?!!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to P**s Off A D*****s

I am a person who runs a great deal, and spending an inordinate amount of time on the lake front running and biking path I sometimes have occasion to encounter some people who are less than civil. This is the story of one of those encounters. If you are a person who is easily offended by less than civil language, please read no further. If you really don't give a rat's ass, read on. In this little story I will make reference to: 1) Being pissed off, and 2) Someone being a real dumb-ass. Okay, perhaps not as bad as you anticipated, but still not the kind of talk for more sophisticated society.

So anyway, I was out running a little 5 mile Wednesday afternooner and I was on the lake front path that is shared by runners, bikers, roller bladers, various gawking tourists, and mothers pushing strollers. I was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 1/2 miles into the run when I found myself approaching the North Avenue biking, roller blading, pedestrian, gawking tourist, and mothers pushing strollers bridge over Lake Shore Drive. On this particular day I was planning a trip over the bridge into Lincoln Park proper and not to proceed directly up the lake front. I looked briefly over my shoulder, turned, and took a step to the left to head across the path to the bridge.

This is where it turned ugly. Excuse me. I had to visit the bathroom momentarily. So where was I anway? Oh yeah. It turned ugly. When I had turned my body to the left and taken one step, I realized that there was a bike closing in on me quickly. I stopped dead in my tracks. The guy on the bike whizzed by about two feet in front of me. I recall thinking to myself, "Oops," somewhat cheerfully. Then the guy on the bike slowed down, turned gave me a really dirty look, and made a rude gesture, suggesting that I had done something really wrong and he was terribly put upon.

He pissed me off. I responded. "So say something dumb-ass, like on your left. How am I supposed to know you're there?" Okay so I shouldn't have included the term dumb-ass in the retort. It leaped unbidden from my lips. So sue me. Well turns out the guy wasn't the kind of guy who wasn't into suing me. He was pissed. He turned his bike around and came back to where I was off on the path heading to the bridge. He rode up and stopped his bike right in front of me.

So now this guy who was looked to be in the neighborhood of 30 years old, 6 feet tall, and possibly an abuser of steroids was right in my face. The first thing out of his mouth? "Don't call me a dumb-ass." Oops.

So anyway, discretion may be the better part of valor, but my mouth wasn't into too much discretion or valor at that time and this ape on a bicycle was really annoying me. I replied, "Well you are a dumb-ass." Oops. I thought for a moment of adding, "So what are you going to do, beat me up?" Then discretion kicked in. I thought that maybe I didn't want to put any of those kind of ideas in his dumb-ass brain. He might follow up on the suggestion.

Anyway, the guy got really flustered when I insisted that he really was a dumb-ass, and at that point, he of the crimson face began spitting out his reply, "Yeah, you know what you are? You're a fat old man. You're a fat, disgusting old man. You are just disgusting and ..........." on and on infinitum.

At this point I elected to roll my eyes and continue my run. Instead of continuing straight up the lake front in the direction he had been riding, he followed me over the bridge, all the while screaming, "You're a fat, old, disgusting man and......." Who knows what other insults he chose to hurl at me? I tuned him out and ran on.

On the other side of the bridge he hurled a few last insults at me, "Fat! Old! Disgusting!" Yada! Yada! Yada! I continued my run through the park. He rode his bike ahead to a water fountain about 200 yards up the path and stopped for a drink of water. I kept on running at my usual 9:30 pace.

Then he turned around and began riding back up the path toward me and as he neared, he purposely swerved to his left so he was riding directly toward me. When he got close enough to hear me what came out of my mouth was, "Now you are really acting like a dumb-ass." I kept running. He swerved back to his right and went around me, shouting as he rode into the distance, "Fat! Old! Disgusting!"

The odd thing was that he was obviously trying to intimidate me and I didn't feel very intimidated. If he had actually gotten off the bike, perhaps I would have, but basically all I could think was, "Jesus what a dumb-ass prick!" He rode off into the distance and I ran the rest of my 5 miler, smiling and enjoying the day.

Now as for the accusations of being fat, old, and disgusting, well the truth is that I will have my 60th birthday in a couple of weeks. The truth is that I stand 5'8" and I currently weigh 205 lb., a bit too much for a guy my height. Trouble is that after you reach a certain age your metabolism slows down and it gets to be a bitch to keep the weight off. I've been running 30 miles/week for the past 3 months and though the weight is easing off, it's not exactly melting away. As for the disgusting part, well that's a value judgement and my wife, family, friends, and work colleagues don't seem to share that view, unless they're just being nice and not saying it. Who knows?

The thing is that when I was this guy's age I weighed 165 lb. and even though I weigh significantly more now, I'm in better shape. Resting heart rate in the neighborhood of 50 beats/minute. My blood pressure is good. My cholesterol is good. I suspect angry dumb-ass guy is on the road to high blood pressure and an early heart attack.

The thought occurred to me that maybe I was out of line and this guy was so angry about being called a dumb-ass because he really is mentally challenged and it was like called a kid who is mentally handicapped a retard. His reactions suggest that he certainly is emotionally stunted. If this is the case, I certainly apologize. I was way out of line. It is just unconscionable to be taunting a mentally handicapped individual with calling them a dumb-ass.

Do I believe that? Nah! It is altogether likely that the guy is just a Type A dumb-ass prick, and he needs some serious anger management. Don't guys like this have anything better to do than harass 60 year old men who are just out for a run to try and keep themselves healthy and to enjoy a warm sunny afternoon? I guess not.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tea Parties Should Have Tea and Scones, Not Right-Wing Politics

Although I'm in a reasonably good humor this afternoon, it has been several days since I put up my last post, and it is Monday, and Mondays are associated with the color blue, and they're supposed to be a time for crankiness. Therefore, I have elected to spend some time bitching about the Tea Party and maybe if I have room, bitch a little bit more about the core of Republicanism, "Trickle Down Economics." It is past Labor Day and November elections are just around the corner. Electioneering and silliness are cranking up to their silliest.

Apparently, the core of the Republican Party is in the throes of trying their damnedest to stop Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and the Tea Party set in general from taking over the party. So what's the difference between the two? Well I do believe we're talking about the difference between right-wing and righter-wing, between conservative and radically stupid about downsizing government.

The Republican Party has always been, in my lifetime, the party of less government, and the party of big business. More recently they have taken on an infusion of social conservatism as well, i.e. anti-abortion, pro-religion, and anti-gay. Now the Tea Party set have added a whole new dimension to this. Their stances are somewhere just this side of anarchy. They believe whole-heartedly in declaring this to be a Christian nation and one that speaks English, by gosh. Needless to say, this doesn't sit well with the big business, Country Club Republicans who like to keep a low profile and keep the buckolas rolling in by gutting the government's ability to regulate business and tax it. Let's just all have another martini and chill out a little, shall we?

I did a little bit of research and found out a few of the things that the Tea Party stands for and a couple of things they seem to be against:
1) They are against all pork barrel spending, and by their definition, just about anything could qualify as pork barrel waste.
2) They oppose the 2008 Wall Street bailout, despite the fact that the entire world economy would, in all likelihood, have experienced a serious meltdown and precipitated a serious depression, not recesion, had the government not acted to bail them out. I might add that their opposition is despite the fact that none other than G.W. Bush championed these bailouts.
3) They are opposed to any sort of climate change legislation. A lot of Tea Partiers seem to be in denial about global warming and the need to act to stop global disasters.
4) Tea Partiers, on the other hand, are for keeping God in the Pledge of Allegiance, despite any possibility that this might run contrary to the Constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state.
5) Tea Partiers are for massive spending cuts, not tax increases to balance the budget. Apparently, no one in the Tea Party has a father or mother who need Medicare or Social Security. Apparently no one in the Tea Party needs government assistance in seeing that they or someone they know and love can receive healthcare. Apparently no one in the Tea Party sees the need to spend money on educating our population so they can become productive citizens and can function in a 21st century job market. Apparently no one in the Tea Party cares about funding the military to protect us or cares about building roads or overseeing airports or upgrading the train system so our nation can claim to be one of the advanced nations of the world. Perhaps they would rather we continue down the road to becoming another backwater with a wealthy elite and huge uneducated poverty stricken underclass.
6) Tea Partiers believe in personal responsibility, not handouts and in unfettered capitalism, not government oversight. All I can say to this is Oh my God. Have these people not been paying attention? Have they no idea that poverty breeds poverty and wealth breeds more wealth? Have they no idea that ethnicity, social class, and educational level of parents are big time determinants of how children grow up and function? Have they paid no attention whatsoever to the history of the past one hundred years? Unfettered capitalism got us into this mess. Government oversight is necessary to protect the rights of the many from the excesses of the few.

This brings us to the intersection of mainstream Republicanism and that of the Tea Party. They both are pushing the idea that getting government out of the business of regulating business will benefit the entire populous. They are both promoting the idea that less taxation of the wealthy means those wealthy invest that money and create more jobs for the not so wealthy. There is a word for this. It is bullshit. This is the same tired idea of "trickle down economics" that has been promoted by the Republican Party since the 1920's. It was recycled by Ronald Reagan as "Supply-Side Economics" and was better known by the general public as "Reaganomics." No less a Republican than George Herbert Walker Bush (Bush, the elder) called it "Voodoo Economics."

You cannot cut taxes and create more tax revenue. You cannot cut taxes and fund endless oversea military adventures. You cannot keep the big business community from screwing the American people by gutting the government's ability to oversee and regulate business. You cannot rid the country of dire poverty by asking everyone to just pick themselves up by their bootstraps and accept responsibility for themselves. Doesn't work now. Didn't ever work.

Part of the hue and cry of the Tea Party is to take the government back, to get back to what made this country great, to get back to the principles that are embedded in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. As a teacher and student of history and government, all I can say is that these are a lot of people who weren't paying much attention when they were in history and government classes. I'm not sure that any of them have spent much time in a Constitutional Law class. If they had, they'd have a much better grip on reality.

A great deal of our governmental foundations are based on the Enlightenment Principles set forth by John Locke and Baron de Montesquieu, among others. Governments exist by the will of the people. It is government's job to protect the innate rights of their citizens, i.e. "Life, liberty, and property." Separation of powers protects the citizenry from having one group gaining too much power and screwing the others. All of that being said, what is allowed by the Constitution is open to interpretation of what protecting the rights of the citizens means. Many things are permitted, and a graduated income tax is a much more just system of paying for what is necessary than are sales taxes and such that are regressive, costing poor people larger percentages of their wages than wealthy people.

Protecting the rights of the citizens sometimes means protecting some groups within society from other groups. That can mean government oversight of business. Sometimes that can mean giving a little monetary assistance and healthcare to the elderly when they can no longer contribute to society. Sometimes it means giving a little assistance and counseling to those who cannot take care of their families. Sometimes it just means paying a little from your own pocket to assist those less able to fend for themselves. It means having compassion.

To gut government and make it continually smaller, is to set large sectors of society adrift to fend for themselves against a tide of forces much more powerful than they are. It brings to mind yet another Enlightenment political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, who said that "in a state of nature mankind's life is nasty, brutish, and short." Personally, I'll take a compassionate government over the dog eat dog state of nature, law of the jungle life.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Goodbye Mr. Daley. America Will Miss You.

Richard M. Daley announced that he will not run for re-election yesterday. Babs and I moved to Chicago 25 years ago and Daley has been Mayor of this fine city for 21 of those 25 years. His stewardship has pretty much shaped my Chicago experience these many years. I have to admit that I'll really miss him. I worry about what will come of our city now. It's big. It's unwieldy. The racial politics are alarming. Rich Daley's shoes are some big mothers to fill. Let's hope someone worthy steps up to the plate.

I saw some Chicago Sun-Times interviews with local citizenry on what they thought about Daley's 21 years as Mayor and there was a lot of negativity. People have very short memories. People often have skewed views of reality. Recently, to meet a budget shortfall, the Mayor pressed the City Council to sell the parking meter franchise to a private corporation for a substantial sum of money. Now parking rates have gone up. Now places that never used to charge for parking are suddenly charging. People are pissed. This is the one big thing that a great many people remember when they badmouth the Mayor. Truthfully, it may not have been his most far-sighted decision, but there are a lot of other events in Chicago in the last 21 years that far outweigh that one questionable decision.

Oh and there was that one time that the Mayor wanted to get rid of Meigs Field and turn it into a public park. For those of you who do not know, Meigs Field was a small air strip located right on the lake front in downtown Chicago. The only people who used it were corporations with their jets and super wealthy individuals who didn't want to land at Midway or O'Hare and have to taxi into the center of the city. It was a perk for the bigwigs. Rich Daley remembered the promise from a hundred years earlier that the entire lake front would be public space for the use of all Chicagoans. Resistance to getting rid of Meigs? Tough! He had it bulldozed in the middle of the night so the next morning the runway was useless. Now there are outdoor concerts held there. I have to admit that, as an ordinary citizen, I am a great deal more likely to get use of the arena at Northerly Island than the air strip at Meigs Field. Some think this was an arrogant power play on the Mayor's part. Most of them are Republicans. This was a victory for the little guy. Thank you Rich Daley.

There are people who like to grumble about Daley engaging in union busting and various and sundry crimes against the Working Joe, but honestly life is better here in Chicago for the Working Joe than it was in 1985 when I arrived. The unions have always supported him in elections while sometimes bad-mouthing him in the interim. Complex situation that. There is less crime now than there was when he became Mayor. The city looks a lot better now than it did when he became Mayor. The city has become a serious international destination since he became Mayor.

What, specifically, has come to pass in Mayor Daley's tenure? Navy Pier went from wasted space and eyesore to the number 1 tourist destination in Chicago. The "Bean" became the crowning glory of Millennium Park. Oh, and Millennium Park became a reality. Flowers and trees went into the medians of Lake Shore Drive and beautification projects all over the city turned the entire city into a much nicer place to live and look at. And the guy likes to ride bikes and has made a city of 3 million people pretty much bike friendly. I could go on.

Before Rich Daley, there was Harold Washington, and Harold Washington was a great man, make no mistake about that. He led this city, united it, and healed old racial wounds like no one before him was able to do. Tragically, he died far too soon and the dog fight to fill his position became a circus. The yoke fell upon Alderman Eugene Sawyer, a nice man, but not the man to fill Harold Washington's shoes. In retrospect, Eugene became Mayor pretty much because a black man had been Mayor and a lot of people thought the person to fill out the rest of his term should also be a black man. Not particularly sound logic, but it carried the day. Eugene was so lackluster that he didn't get re-elected. Rich Daley took over.

Before Washington, there was Jane Byrne, who got elected because Michael Bilandic's administration did a positively crappy job of removing snow from the streets after the snow storm of the century. Bilandic got the job because Richard J. Daley died and he was Daley Sr's chosen one. Too bad. He was really a crappy Mayor. The city suffered in those Bilandic and Byrne years. The City Council was seriously divided along racial lines. Jane Byrne tried to prove that she was a Mayor of the people and that the "projects" were safe and moved into Cabrini Green. Jesus Jane! What are you, goofy? A great many people came to call downtown politics "Silly Hall."

Say what you will. Life these last 21 years has been pretty darned good. Now there is a plethora of noise in the press from those who want to be Mayor and those who somebody wishes would be Mayor and those who have a pipe dream of being Mayor. It remains to be seen who will step up. Whoever it is, really should be a serious player. The job of Mayor of Chicago is a powerful position. People give up jobs in the United States Congress to step up to the job of Mayor. The Mayor of Chicago has historically been a person who can deliver the State of Illinois in Presidential elections. The Mayor of Chicago is a person who can satisfy a lot of different racial and ethnic constituencies. The Mayor of Chicago is a job that calls for someone who is bigger than life. This is a nuts and bolts city and the Mayor don't have to talk pretty. He just needs to know how to get shit done. This is "The City That Works," "The City of Big Shoulders." This is the city that produced the first black President of the United States of America, and the Mayor has to have his finger in every little pie seeing that all of that keeps on plugging along. Okay, we didn't get the 2016 Olympics. Get over it. And go out and find somebody really good to fill those big-ass shoes that Rich Daley has been wearing for 21 years.

Monday, September 6, 2010

College Ain't For Everybody, But Everybody's Gotta Work.

Today is Labor Day and in honor of labor I have to say that our nation is not doing it's level best at providing opportunities for labor for all, at least not opportunities that pay a decent wage and allow people to live a decent middle class life. There are a great many factors that play into this scenario. A lot of manufacturing has been outsourced to cheaper labor pools overseas, leaving a great many Americans searching for work that does not require a college degree. A huge chunk of the available service sector jobs pay pitifully low wages and their accompanying benefit packages all too often do not meet the needs of the employees. Then there is that factor that I, as an educator, know most about. The public schools are not doing their jobs in preparing American kids for their futures.

Just this last week I was subjected to the platitudes of one more career administrator who put forth the proposition that we need to prepare all students in our high schools for college. While this sounds great on the surface, it simply is not realistic. Not all students want to go to college. Not all students have the ability financially to go to college. Not all students have the innate academic talents to go to college. We need to be thinking about how best to meet the needs of these kids who will never graduate from college. Continuing to pretend that college is best for all kids is doing a disservice to the kids of America, and to America itself, a sprawling nation of 310 million with needs for citizens who are very real rocket scientists to garbage collectors.

Let's get real about this college thing. A full 40% of all students who begin college never complete a 4 year degree. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% of Americans have at least a B.A. Advanced degrees fall into the 10% and less category. What this means is that fully 70% of our population does not have a college degree and in all likelihood will never possess one. What about these individuals? What about the 70% of public school students who will never get a college degree? What are we doing for them?

What would happen if every high school graduate went on to college? Honestly, that would mean that a 4 year degree is meaningless, and to get a good job you would have to have an advanced degree. It would mean a lot of dropouts or it might mean that there would be massive grade inflation to assure the graduation of scads of kids who don't have what it takes to realistically complete a B.A. or B.S. as we know it. Come to think of it a lot of that is already in progress and 4 year degrees have become devalued already. Makes me really glad that I have an advanced degree.

To be honest, America needs people to repair cars, to work as carpenters, plumbers, electricians. America needs people to work in technical capacities in healthcare and electronics. America needs people to do any number of things that do not require a college degree. So why are we insisting that every child should go to college? Why aren't we training kids to do all of these other things and reserving the college prep programs for those kids who really want to go to college and have the ability? We're setting these kids up for a lifetime of struggle instead of training them for careers that will pay a reasonable wage and allow them to live a middle class existence.

Truthfully, America needs to be finding ways to bring industry back to America, instead of farming it out to foreign countries and foisting unemployment on those who staked their lives on factory labor with a living wage. Even if we bring back manufacturing, though, it will need to be higher tech. Lower tech manufacturing will continue to be a place where 3rd world nations can provide jobs for their citizens while their nations develop. Instead of low tech manufacture, we can focus on green technologies, on high tech technologies.

Changing our focus in education to one where not everyone is college bound will mean providing vocational and career training to some on the high school level and providing further technical training in 1 and 2 year programs beyond high school. Community colleges are perfect venues for such a thing. Furthermore, industry could provide internships and apprenticeships to give kids the skills they need while on the job. This could assure us of continuing to have a viable middle class in America. Should we not adapt, America will continue to widen the gap between rich and poor and continue the process of moving citizens out of the middle class and into the lower classes. Unless we do this, we risk becoming another 3rd world nation with a small wealthy class that lives in gated communities with armed guards and a huge underclass living in squalor.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

In a Secular State of Mind

Labor Day is this weekend and the traditional back to school date arrives next week. With the arrival of a new school year comes a lot of silliness in the back and forth between liberals and conservatives about what schools are doing wrong and what needs to happen to improve public schools. If the dialogue involves how to do more to educate kids I'm for the dialogue, even if I don't happen to agree with what some people are saying about what's wrong and what will fix it. This means that people are thinking about it and perhaps we can sort through it all, separate the wheat from the chaff and move forward.

The one thing that comes up year after year, however, is the quest for some sectors of our society to include their religion in public school education. Their ranges from demanding prayer in public schools to denial of evolution and claims that the Earth is only 40,000 years old. Let's face it. Religion and science have no place in the same classroom. Religion is based on faith and faith is, by definition, something one believes in that cannot be proven. Science is that which can be proven by observation and testing. Belief in God or gods is an article of faith. Evolution is a proven scientific fact. The Earth is billions of years old. This too is scientific fact. As for prayer and acceptance of Christianity as the one true religion, well these too have no place in a public school classroom.

A great many people in this country posit the idea that this is a Christian country and the founding fathers accepted this principle. Sorry fellas. This is just not true. It is true that most of the early colonists were Christians. Puritans in New England exiled anyone not loyal to their brand of Christianity. To live in most Southern colonies, one had to belong to the Church of England. Catholics in Maryland allowed any denomination of Christianity and accepted Jews. In Pennsylvania the founding Quakers accepted pretty much anybody. They were, for the most part, Christians though.

By the time the founding fathers of our nation showed up, however, they were all heavily into the prevailing thought of the Enlightenment. Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were definitely Deists, not Christians. Evidence points to James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Paine all being Deists as well. Deists believed in a supreme being who created the universe and set in motion, but who did not take any more interest in human activity afterwards. Some believed in an eternal soul. Some did not. They believed in the power of human reason to understand the universe. They rejected organized religion. They rejected prayer and miracles from God.

These Deists of the late 1700's definitely did not see this as a Christian nation, and rejected the notion of tying religion of any sort to the state. Separation of church and state were considered a vital part of the Constitution. Really? So what about "In God We Trust" on our money? What about "one nation under god" in the Pledge of Allegiance? Where did that come from?

Turns out "In God We Trust" first appeared on some coins in 1864, almost 100 years after we became a nation, and long after the founding fathers had died. It did not appear on all money until 1956, at the height of the Cold War and was being fed by propaganda against the godless Communists. The Pledge of Allegiance never included the phrase "under God" until 1954, also during the Cold War, and suggested that God was on our side since the evil Communists believed in no God. Even in these instances, nowhere was Jesus or Christianity mentioned, just a belief in God.

It is true that, historically, the majority of the population of this nation has espoused Christianity as its religion. It is also true, however, that institution of separation of church and state has made this a nation where all religions, or none at all are accepted. The government officially recognizes no religion as the truth. To state otherwise is contrary to fact, just as to deny scientific facts such as the sun being the center of the solar system and the Earth being billions of years old are contrary to fact. Want to believe otherwise? Our nation allows you to do so despite the fact that you will be wrong.

In nations such as ours, most people are brought up to believe that Jesus was the son of God and his teachings constitute the true faith. Jewish people are brought up to believe that the Messiah has never come and Jesus was a teacher, nothing more. Muslims are brought up to believe that Jesus was a prophet, not the son of God, and Muhammad was God's final prophet. In India, a majority of people are brought up to believe in Hinduism and reincarnation. Large numbers of people in Asia are brought up to believe in the teachings of the Buddha. On and on. During the extremes of the Cold War, the Communist world unilaterally rejected all religion, as the opiate of the masses, and millions upon millions of people were brought up to believe in no religion at all. What you believe is generally a product of where you are born and where you grow up, a local norm.

The great thing about this nation is now and has been, historically, is the ability of people from anywhere on the globe to bring these belief systems with them and yet fit in in a nation that allows all religious beliefs, and embraces by law, none of them. In a society that is global, our children must be taught this fact. To succeed in a global society, you must be tolerant of many different beliefs. To do otherwise is divisive and creates conflict. That means that religion belongs in churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples of all sorts, not in a public school, not as a manifestation of our government.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Of Light and Dark

In a few weeks I will be having my 60th birthday. It's very easy to joke about someone else's 60th, but somehow when it's your own it's different. At age 60 you've already been getting AARP materials for 10 years. The fact is inescapable that you're getting old. Unless you turn out to be a miracle of a human specimen and live to be 120+ years old, there is less life before you than there is behind you. When you take stock of yourself, you realize that you can't put things off any longer if you really want to achieve them. It's time to crank it up and get it done if you haven't managed to do it already.

What it is is a not so subtle reminder of one's mortality. Now you're a senior citizen, even if the Social Security and Medicare don't kick in for a few years yet. Even if you can't afford to retire for a few years yet. In society's eyes you're old. In your insurance company's eyes you're becoming a liability. In your employer's eyes you're becoming one of those big salaries to be urged out as soon as possible. In your wife's eyes, you're one step closer to biting the big one and leaving her all alone to try and make ends meet and suffer through the rest of her days alone. Ask Babs sometime about her fantasy regarding after my death. It involves being dirt poor, living in a ratty little apartment, and having a skinny German shepherd for company.

As if this state of mind weren't bad enough, one of my cats is on his last legs and we're going to have to "put him to sleep," to euthanize him. Who knew you could get so attached to a 15 year old mass of fur? Talk about your reminders of mortality. His kidneys are failing. We've spent the last few months giving him Lactated Ringers solution subcutaneously and trying desperately to get him to eat something, anything. Mostly he likes to drink water and lactose free milk. Now he's beyond skinny and somewhere in the realm of gaunt. He's gotten weaker and walks very slowly, with the gait of the old and fragile. For the last couple of days he's pretty much holed up in the guest bedroom and on the rug in the guest bathroom.

I made the call today. I called the veterinarian's office and told them the story and requested an appointment to euthanize him. I got choked up and had a hard time speaking with the clerk in the vet's office. I feel complicit in bringing about the death of a friend, albeit a very sick old friend. How do you say good-bye to a friend when you asked the vet to put the needle in and give him the sleep from which he will never wake.

Then that brings me back around to my own mortality. How will I feel when I too walk the walk of the old and fragile. If it is hard to face the death of an old friend, of a close relative, how then does one face one's own demise? How hard will it be to go to sleep at night, knowing that any one of those nights could be the sleep from which you will never wake? How do you say good-bye to those with whom you shared a lifetime? Talk about being choked up.

It is times like these when I remember Dylan Thomas and his urging to "not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light." As humans we have that option. As cats and dogs, our old friends of the feline and canine variety do not. They generally just give up and let you know it's time. They seem to know that at some point it is all futile. The cycle must be completed. The old must make way for the new.

There are those, perhaps wiser than I, who would advocate a similar resignation for human deaths. They are, however, people with religion. Whether one believes in heaven and hell, in reincarnation, or in becoming one with Mother Earth, it gives one a reason to not dread the end. How I wish it were that easy. Unfortunately, logic and a lifetime based on reason tell me otherwise. When the darkness comes, it comes. There is no relief. There is only wishful thinking, in that respect. One must make one's own peace with death, or one can fight it tooth and nail until it finally is able to overtake you.

There are people with painful, terminal diseases who welcome the coming of the darkness, the release from the pain and misery. There are those who live very long productive lives who make peace with their end, having squeezed every ounce of living out of their lives and are ready to go. We can only hope that we are not reduced to the former. We can only hope that we are fortunate enough to qualify for the latter. In the meantime I am still in full-blown "Rage, rage against the dying of the light" mode, and I plan on squeezing a lot more life out of my remaining years. I'll miss my cat greatly, though. Sammy, we salute the short little fuzzy life that was yours.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Summer Fades Away.

It's 6 PM on a Monday in late August. The sky above is a light blue, untouched by clouds. The lake below has taken on that dark blue of late afternoon on a sunny day. The sun itself is slanting lower in the sky and the light it gives off is not as intense as the midday sun that beats down mercilessly. When last I checked, it was 78 degrees at the Mini.

A couple of power boats are in The Playpen. Out beyond, in the deep water, there are a handful of sailboats drifting slowly, their white triangular sails crisp and white in the afternoon sun like freshly laundered sheets hung out to blow in the breeze. There are runners, bikers, roller bladers, and assorted tourists on rented bikes out on the lakefront path.

At the beach there are still young people in swimsuits, playing volleyball, throwing frisbees, splashing in the water that has grown warm from the heat of the sun over the summer. The chess pavilion is full of chess aficionados. The rink has roller blade hockey in the mornings. The tennis courts had disabled people playing today, including some in wheel chairs. Damn, that one guy was good. One has to wonder how good he would be if his legs worked and he weren't dependent on a wheel chair.

All is normal in Streeterville and on the Gold Coast. Yet, something is different. The air is just that little bit cooler. The sun is retreating a wee bit sooner. Its rays are beginning to come from a more southerly direction. The combination of heat and humidity has subsided enough that I feel comfortable running 9 minute miles now instead of the 10 minute miles that are more comfortable in July and early August.

This weekend is the last weekend in August and then comes Labor Day. Teachers and students are busily making purchases in preparation for the new school year. Looking in the shops on Michigan Avenue, the mannikins are displaying items with fur, long sleeves, and features that enable one to remain comfortable in cooler temperatures. Gone are the retail signs of summer. Retail America has moved on. The fall selling season is here, soon to be gone itself, traded in for the Christmas and Winter push.

Although the beaches and parks are still brimming with people in warm weather attire, their activities have taken on a late summer desperation, a push to squeeze every last drop of summer out of the tube. People find themselves trying to squeeze activities in that they planned on for summer but never got around to, affirming that they didn't let summer entirely slip away. In that vein, I find myself traveling to Traverse City, Michigan later this week, to enjoy the dunes, to enjoy the lake, to enjoy the country air, to enjoy a bicycle on a country road leading to a winery. Last gasp, for next week is September, time for autumn and sweaters and yellow and red leaves in all their splendor.

Just a warning boys and girls. Summer is about to end. Soak up what you can of what is left. Then prepare yourself to shift your gears. Put away your shorts and t-shirts and get out your sweaters and coats. Begin to think in terms of warm drinks in mugs instead of cool drinks in icy glasses. It's okay. It's just different.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Elections? I Just Love a Good Clown Show.

Election years have always brought out the worst in some candidates, and the open mouth insert foot syndrome is all too familiar to any of us who have endured very many elections in America. Following the election process, though, can be a huge source of entertainment. The entertainment varies from the sexual escapades of politicians with campaign workers, gay-bashing Congressmen being caught with their pants down, so to speak, soliciting sex in public restrooms, and the implosion of those who just can't figure out what not to say in public.

This year's crop of Republican candidates across the nation have been an especially entertaining bunch in the "You can't possibly mean that," category. The party has tilted so far to the right this year that it appears in danger of falling over. And not all of these "let's just abolish government" sorts hail from the ranks of the Tea Party. Some are just legitimate Republican wing-nuts. The campaigning process has devolved into something like a circus, only in this circus it's all clowns, no wild animal acts.

It should be noted that both Democrats and Republicans have emerged this silly season, running as pulled myself up by my bootstraps outsiders. Most are millionaires and billionaires. Well that's certainly outside the experience of most Americans. That much is for sure. One of my faves in this category is Linda McMahon, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Connecticut. She pulled herself up by her bootstraps by running the World Wrestling Entertainment corporation. Now there's some good training for the U.S. Senate.

The State of Colorado has produced an exceptionally goofy and entertaining group of Republicans this season. Ken Buck, running for the U.S. Senate has gone on record as supporting the repeal of the 17th amendment (Direct election of U.S. Senators. Suppose he's got a friend in the Governor's office who might appoint him if it weren't for that nasty direct election thing?) He also has gone on record as saying the separation of church and state is too strictly enforced and he wants to eliminate the Energy and Education Departments.

Not to be outdone, the Republican candidate for Governor in Colorado, Dan Maes, went on record as saying the Denver bike sharing program was converting the city into a United Nations community and is one step in the ongoing conspiracy to take over the U.S. city by city. Last I heard, getting more people on bikes and out of their cars does only good for traffic congestion, air pollution, and fossil fuel consumption. Apparently Mr. Maes thinks that congestion, pollution, and burning oil are the foundations of our society and not to be tinkered with. Go figure.

No list of election year nut jobs would be complete without Rand Paul of Kentucky (Son of Ron Paul, famous Libertarian.). Rand has criticized the minimum-wage law and civil rights and fair housing laws. He doesn't like unemployment insurance and Medicare either. Just more examples of socialism creeping into our system. Mr. Paul wants to nip that in the bud. Really, why should we be funding lazy do-nothings with unemployment insurance and why should we be cutting into the profits of companies by making them pay people $7 or $8 per hour? And while we're at it, who out there really thinks Grandpa and Grandma need healthcare? Let em die off like nature and God intended. More room for the rest of us. That Rand, he's such a card. He really needs a show on Comedy Central with material like this.

Then there is Sharron Angle, U.S. Senate candidate from Nevada. Doesn't believe in same-sex couples adopting kids. Doesn't think the U.S. should be in the United Nations. Doesn't believe in government run Medicare and Social Security. More of that socialism stuff. Are we seeing a pattern here, among these Republicans? Ms. Angle goes further, though than most. She has suggested that if she does not defeat Senator Harry Reid in the election, the people maybe should consider other more drastic means of ridding this nation of Democrats. What means you might ask? Well ask Sharron. It might be an interesting answer.

Then there is Mike Lee, the U.S. Senate candidate from Utah. Mike thinks we should do away with the progressive income tax and we should put a really low limit on liability for oil companies that cause damage to the environment. Pollution! It's your constitutional right as an American, right along with making obscene amounts of money and not having to give any of it away to the government to pay for stuff like armies and navies and roads and health care for Grandpa and Grandma. Oh, and he wants to change the 14th amendment to prohibit American-born children of illegal immigrants from being granted U.S. citizenship. Naturally.

Okay, there has been a lot of focus on the idiocy coming from the Republican Party, but let's get this straight. There are others out there who can quite entertaining with their idiocy as well. Let's take the case of Ieshuh Griffin, an independent candidate for the state legislature in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin people have a pretty good idea what you stand for if you're a Democrat or Republican, but if you're an Independent people don't always know. Therefore, the State of Wisconsin allows Independents to add 5 words below their names on the ballot, so as to inform the public what it is you're basing your candidacy on. It seems that Ms. Griffin, of Milwaukee, wanted the 5 words, "Not the white man's bitch," placed below her name on the ballot. Somehow Ms. Griffin has convinced herself that this message is not racist or offensive or obscene. Darned election judges wouldn't let her put her little message there, however. Now she wants to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court. She also wants to serve as her own lawyer in this case. Don't hold your breath Ieshuh. Print it in your campaign literature. Say it in stump speeches. Ain't gonna show up on the ballot, though. Won't get you many votes either, I'll wager.

While Independent, Ieshuh Griffin, is a most entertaining sideshow this election year, it is the Republicans that carry the weight of this Clownarama. Just one thing really puzzles me. While all of these Republicans are basically saying that we should dismantle the government, why is it that they all want to work for the government? Apparently, all government expenditures are bad unless they are government expenditures on oneself and one's friends.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Finding Nits to Pick For Elections

By now the entire state of Illinois and a largish number of citizens from the rest of the country know that former Governor (He was impeached.) Rod Blagojevich of Illinois was convicted of lying to the FBI. On 23 other counts the jury was hung. Apparently one or two of the jurors couldn't find it in their hearts to convict Mr. Blagojevich on corruption charges just because he was on tape blatantly demanding money for his campaign fund in exchange for favors rendered. Now Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois is planning for retrying the other 23 counts, hopefully with better results next time around.

Rod Blagojevich was elected as Governor of the State of Illinois after the previous Governor, George Ryan, a Republican was convicted of taking bribes and was subsequently sent to prison. (I suspect a dedicated Illinois wing of the Federal Correctional Facility in Terre Haute, Indiana is in the works for all of the convicted politicians.) Now he certainly face the same fate as his Republican predecessor, even if the process is taking a little longer than expected. The Illinois Republican Party is positively salivating. (Foaming at the mouth? Only a few of them.) Now that Blagojevich's very public trials will be extended well into campaigning season, this can and will be used as evidence against the Democratic Party so the Republicans can attempt to retake the Illinois legislature, Governorship, assorted Washington Congressional posts, and maybe even President Obama's former Senatorial post.

This is how politics are played in America, Home of the Brave, Land of the Free, and the place where attack politics play out in 30 second commercials on TV in between sitcoms, reality shows, and yet more shows where cops try to stop violence and mayhem while occasionally creating more violence and mayhem. Find something your dumb ass opponent did that is very embarrassing to himself, his family, and his political party and exploit it for your own personal gain. Take a guess as to which American political party excels at this kind of politics? Hint: Starts with an R-e-p-u-b-l-i-c-a-n. Know who we're talking about? Good.

On the national stage the Republican Party is busy making hay from xenophobia, racism, and general hatred of all things Muslim. The proposed Islamic Center to be built two blocks from the sight of the 9/11 attacks have become a lightning rod for every right wing nut in the country and the Republican Party is using this as leverage for the upcoming national elections, in an all out effort to regain control of Congress. Our President, in a reasoned response, said that Muslims have a right, as do all religions, under our Constitution to purchase property and build houses of worship wherever they wish. This includes Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and even Wiccans.

Sadly, a large number of Americans fail to differentiate between the moderate group of New York group of Muslims who are proposing this Mosque and the radical Islamists who perpetrated the 9/11 bombings that precipitated a worldwide emergency. Now America is being split into liberal and conservative camps, based on your response to what is being called "The Ground Zero Mosque." The President and by extension, his political party and all citizens of a liberal persuasion are being branded as anti-American by a media lynching party headed by, hmmmm, who would that be? You guessed it, the Republican Party.

Then there is the immigration issue, brought to the public's attention by the passage of a law in Arizona that basically legalized racial profiling. Fear of illegal immigration running amok and specifically Hispanic illegal immigration has reached epic proportions in America recently. Why? The Republican Party is pandering to the cultural conservatives in their ranks who, despite real facts, insist that illegal Mexican immigrants are living large at the expense of American taxpayers. These same cultural conservatives seem also to be convinced that hoards of illegal Mexican immigrants are at the core of a massive crime wave in America. Recent data show that all of those states along the border with Mexico are experiencing a very low crime rate compared to other areas within the U.S.

Across the border in Mexico that's another matter. If you check closely, you'll find that the Mexican government is busy blaming Americans and their demand for illegal drugs and their easy access to high-powered weaponry for the shootouts in Mexican streets. It is not in America that these shootouts are occurring. It's in Tijuana, Juarez, and assorted other cities on the Mexican side of the border, but the money and means to carry out these shootouts, murder, and mayhem are coming from the American side of the border, not the other way around.

And then there is the issue of gay marriage. The Republican Party has also enlisted the faithful in the "Homosexuality is a Sin Against God" campaign. A Federal judge in California recently overturned Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage. A large portion of conservative America is opposed and appalled by homosexuality in general and the idea of gay marriage specifically. They are outraged and want to Just one more issue being dredged up by the Republican Party to unite as many ill-informed and bigoted citizens as possible against the rest of us.

The bottom line is that the Republican Party in America is willing to unite all of the most extreme conservative elements in America in any way it can to benefit itself. They are willing to exaggerate, invent facts, and pander to the most racist, xenophobic, illiterate, and ill-informed sectors of our society to get votes, votes that ultimately benefit a wealthy minority of Americans, a group that continues to live by their own rules despite the image they project to get the votes needed to further the process of giving all of America's wealth to the 1 or 2% who currently control 90% of the money.

This is, of course, nothing new. It is of concern, however, because the furthest left elements of the Democratic Party are also busy picking apart the current efforts by the Democratic Party to repair what was thrust upon us by the previous 8 years of Republican stewardship nationally. No our President and our Democratic representatives in Congress, our Democratic Governors and Representatives in various state governments have not gone far enough to the left for me either. But sometimes in a democracy, it is necessary to compromise. Sometimes the tenor of the entire society, taken as a whole, makes it necessary for a group to temper their, perhaps just impulses, in order to make any progress at all. If we wish to make further progress, it will be necessary to once again unite all of those progressive elements in American society to offset the unity of the nuts, the unity of the right. Don't kid yourselves. Vote Democratic if you want to benefit all Americans.

Monday, August 16, 2010

End of Summer Pleasantry and Wistfulness

I'm going to have to depart from my usual political, educational, and social commentary today. I just returned from a day in Michigan City, Indiana over by the Indiana Dunes. A friend has one of those 32 foot boats that sleep 4 comfortably and 6 or 8 if they're really close friends. Cruised the lake. Grilled out. Enjoyed good company, good food, good wine. Drove home down wooded 2 lane highways through the Indiana Dunes State Park. A cooler, drier air mass moved through bringing temperatures in the low 80's and a very manageable degree of humidity. (Thank you Canada.)

My pleasantometer is reading off the charts just now. Speaking of which, if you plan on buying a pleasantometer, don't be fooled by some fast talking salesman who wants to sell you a European pleasantometer. Those things are metric and for most Americans they're a major pain in the butt. Every time you read it, you end up having to do a lot of complicated mathematical conversions which inevitably lower your pleasantry reading. The other option is buying an adaptor, and European-American pleasantometer adaptors will end up costing you more than you paid for the original pleasantometer, resulting in, you guessed it, lower pleasantry readings.

This afternoon, after having caught up on errands that went undone over the weekend, I went for a little Monday afternoon run along the lake, soaking up the warm but not too warm temperatures, the pleasant humidity levels, and the let's get some last beach time in before school starts up again and the weather gets too cold crowd. It was overall quite pleasant, but somewhere in the back of my head there was something nagging at me, intruding on all of the pleasantry.

I had to think very hard about what it was, but then I realized what it was. It was wistfulness. If I had a wistometer, it would have been reading about 9.75 on a 10 point scale. Why? Chicago's annual Air and Water Show is over. This is an annual signal that summer is almost gone and return to the working world of educators is imminent. Running under the trees between the Chess Pavilion and the North Avenue Boat House, the sound of cicadas in the trees gave me another clear signal that summer is in its waning days. The very fact that a Canadian air mass had brought cooler, dryer temperatures in itself revealed itself as a signal of the end of The Dog Days, if not summer itself.

Looking out my window, the water is a pleasant blue, reflecting the color of a cloudless sky above. The slanting rays of the afternoon sun have begun to color Navy Pier and the water crib in the distance in late afternoon yellow. A few stray boats are anchored in The Playpen. A couple of kayakers are paddling their way across the water. Further out, in the deep water a barge plies the waters southward to the steel mills in Indiana. The entire picture is off the charts pleasant, but the overriding wistfulness makes it clear that everyone and everything involved is trying desperately to wring that last bit of pleasantry possible from the few remaining days of summer.

What are these last remaining days, these pleasant but wistful days, but the last opportunity for sitting outdoors and enjoying a glass of wine while weather permits, the last opportunity for watching a symphony under the stars, the last opportunity for a long weekend of wine tours, bicycling, and staying in a nice hotel on the water. It is time to make hay while the sun shines, assuming one does not suffer from hay fever.

Personally, I have two weeks of this pleasantry offset by the intersection of wistfulness. It is a time of year to embrace. All too soon it will be gone. Then it will be time to plunge into autumn with a sense of abandon that will make one forget the pleasantries of summer, and indulge in sweaters, football games, warm drinks, and crisp temperatures. For now, though, the cicadas are singing to me.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gotta Have A Job If You Want Me To Buy Stuff.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is regularly above 10,000 again, but the national unemployment rate still hovers around 9.5%-10%. There are those who claim that it is actually worse than this, that there are large numbers of people who have given up looking for work and thus do not figure into the statistics any longer. All across America state and local governments are laying people off, cutting services, and in at least one case turning off the street lights, to save money.

So let's get this straight. Corporations have returned to profitability but they are not hiring and they continue to cut benefits and demand more of their workers for less. What they are not seeing is that without employment people cannot pay taxes. Without tax revenues governments cannot provide basic services. That means policemen, firemen, teachers, garbage collectors, and road crews who fix the potholes. This drives up the unemployment further and increases the numbers of people who are not paying any taxes.

Furthermore, when people are unemployed they do not make any purchases beyond the basic necessities, food, clothing, shelter. When they are unemployed long enough they may cease making even these basic purchases. Want your company to sell products. We need people to be employed. Then they buy air conditioners, televisions, cars, and houses. With a job, they are less likely to default on a mortgage and end up in foreclosure.

Then there are the retirees and future retirees. 401(k)s are tanking. Public pension funds are in danger of defaulting and leaving their membership out in the cold. Again, let's get something straight. Retired people without money neither pay any taxes, nor buy cars, televisions, or any of the other things that keep the economy humming along.

So what's up? How do we get out of the current economic morass? Part of the answer lies in one of President Obama's favorite topics, creating new industry via green technology. This country needs to create new sustainable industries that will employee people for the long haul in real jobs that create and sell things, not in more service sector low-wage employment. Recognizing that we live in a world where the economy is global, we have to recognize that certain types of manufacturing will continue to be done overseas until the standard of living in China, in Indonesia, in other Third World nations improves to the point that it is no longer profitable to send your work overseas. We need to be working toward worldwide minimum standards of living and wages.

Part of the problem lies, however, with corporations that had a 2% decrease in profits and promptly laid off 6% of their labor force, resulting in soaring profits. These same corporations cut benefit packages to those who were lucky enough to keep their jobs. Profits soared. Executives reaped huge bonuses to their already extravagant salaries. Stock holders cheered because their stock values bounced back. The trouble is that corporations need to recognize some middle path between enormous profits and low labor overhead and that of no profits and shutting down operations. If corporations employ more persons, there are more persons to pay taxes, keeping the roads paved, the garbage picked up, the streets safe, the fires put out, and the country's students educated. The more people who are employed, the more profitability there is for corporations that sell products, because now people can afford to buy them.

So what am I saying? Employ people you rich schmoes. Quit stuffing all the damned money in your owned already overstuffed pockets. With high employment (and I'm not talking about a nation of Wal-Mart greeters and Starbucks barristas here.) everybody benefits. Maximizing profits for the benefit of a few? Well, I have to think that's going to eventually result in social unrest and the overall standard of living in this country sinking to Third World status. So take your choice ladies and gentlemen.

Monday, August 9, 2010

And What's Wrong With Having a Pension?

My father was a route salesman for a bread company. He drove a bread truck and sold bread, buns, and cupcakes to grocery stores and restaurants. He worked hard, and in return the company he worked for rewarded him and people like him with a pension plan. He paid in some money from each paycheck. The bread company matched his contribution. In time he was supposed to retire with a regular paycheck and would be able to live comfortably in his declining years.

Then the company he worked for was bought out by a larger company. He was a valued employee so the new bread company kept him on after the sale was complete. His pension did not survive the buyout. The new company's bottom line was more important than rewarding long-time employees. The money that he had in the pension plane was given to him, and he used that money to pay off some debts, but the prospect of having a regular pension check in his retirement was now history.

As a result, my father worked as long as he could, and when declining health forced him to retire, he put together a meager living as best as he could. He took his Social Security checks and added a few dollars here and a few dollars there from anywhere he could. He picked strawberries. He bought truckloads of watermelons that he sold from the back of his pickup. He did odd jobs at a warehouse that stocked gimme hats, Arkansas Razorback blankets, and assorted odds and ends that I usually dub "useless crap." He survived, but he worked until he absolutely could not work any more. Then his health went into a rapid downward spiral and he died. This was his reward for a lifetime of dedication and hard work with a company. He was loyal. The company was not.

Now I am the adult and I have spent the last twenty years of my life working in education. I am a teacher. I hold two BA degrees and a Master's degree plus 57 hours of additional graduate work. In the business community that comes with monetary rewards. In education, it means you make a little more than the run of the mill teacher, but still it is not as much as someone with similar credentials would be paid in private industry. In return I have been promised a pension. I pay a percentage of my paycheck into the pension every payday and the school system and the school system matches this with their own contribution. As a teacher and public employee, I do not pay into the Social Security System. The public pension is to be my retirement.

The trouble is that now there is a movement afoot to do to me and my colleagues in public employment what that bread company did to my father. They want to take away my pension, or at least reduce it seriously. Why? It's considered too expensive. Why? Nobody in the public sector gets this, why should you? Why? Part of it is funded through taxes and nobody wants to pay their taxes to fund somebody else's comfort. Frankly, part of it is a misery loves company impulse. We've gotten nothing from life and you shouldn't get anything either.

Ron Lieber, in a recent New York Times piece, calls it class warfare. Mr. Lieber, taking a cue from the Republican Party playbook has framed his argument by using Marxist terminology, only turning it on its head. Instead of the working poor as the have-nots and the bourgeoisie as the haves, he refers to all government employees with their pensions as the haves and the private industry sorts with their tanking 401-Ks as the have-nots. He goes further to suggest that it's about time that all of us overpaid and over-pensioned government employees should just suck it up because the politicians are going to shove smaller pensions or no pensions at all down our throats. He suggests that those of us who elected to take smaller salaries, who expected a retirement reward down the road are asking too much of the public to follow through on what they promised.

Let's get to the meat of the matter, though. A lot of what has precipitated this crisis is the shortfall in funding in government pension systems due to large numbers of baby boomers suddenly retiring coupled with a recession that has caused a shortfall in tax revenues. What caused this shortfall in funding of the pension systems? First and foremost, let us not say that it is because it was unrealistic in the first place. Everyone knew that there were going to be a lot of boomer retiring. The problem resulted because of massive mismanagement on the part of governmental units that did not hold up their end of the bargain. In the state of Illinois it has been routine practice to raid the money that should go to pension funds every time there is a fiscal crisis. Raise taxes to meet the budget shortfall? Heavens no! Legislators might lose votes in the next election if they did that. Instead, they chose to use money that was supposed to go to pension funds. And now, duh, there's a shortfall in the pension funds. Whose fault is that? That of teachers and other government employees? Not on your life. It's directly the fault of pandering legislators and of citizens who feel no responsibility to the society as a whole.

Now a whole generation of teachers, policemen, firemen, and various other government employees are in danger of losing their pensions because they entered into a contract with the government, and in most cases they won't even have the little income that Social Security offers because as a public employee who pays into a public pension fund you do not pay into Social Security. These are employees who worked their entire adult lives in good faith that if they did their parts, the government, representative of the public at large would do their part when the time came. Well now the time has come and the politicians and large numbers of people in the general public want to renege.

Mr. Lieber in the recent New York Times article from the business pages suggested that we, as public employees were not thinking about the public at large and were being litigious. Well, Mr. Lieber, we contend that it is the public at large that is not thinking about us. We teach your children. We protect your streets. We put out the fires. We pick up your garbage. We manage your society. We gave of ourselves. We gave up the possibility of higher pay for a delayed reward. Now it is your turn to pay up. This was not a gentleman's agreement. It was a contract. We have rights and protections under a constitutional government. Should the government as a representative of the public at large choose to negate that contract, we will exercise our constitutional rights. We don't have 401-Ks. We don't have Social Security. What else can we do?