Friday, February 26, 2010

How Not to Reform Our Schools

The current recession has seriously reduced the tax revenue coming in and government agencies all over the country from national to local level are tightening their belts. Services are being cut. Even our public school systems are not immune to this treatment.

In the Chicago Sun-Times this morning, an article noted that Ron Huberman, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools is considering options to deal with massive budget shortfalls in the next year. Mr. Huberman stated that if CPS receives no new funding from the State of Illinois in the next year, CPS will experience a $700 million budget deficit. Meanwhile the State of Illinois is experiencing its own budget crunch and Governor Quinn is proposing that the legislature cut 15% from current educational funding levels. Huberman says if that happens the CPS shortfall could reach $975 million. That's a lot of teacher salaries. That's a lot of building repairs. That's a lot of after school programs.

This brings us first to the current nationwide push to privatize schools as much as possible. Privately funded charter schools do not cost the taxpayers as much money as do public schools. It should be noted that these privately funded school also do not play by the same rules as the public schools. They pay their employees less (Non-union). Their benefit packages leave a great many of their employees without a decent pension option. Their healthcare packages are abysmal. They usually require employees to work long hours without overtime (They are salaried employees, not hourly.) They do not have to take any student in the neighborhood who applies (Selective enrollment.) They can kick out students who are consistent discipline issues. So what happens to the students who get kicked out? Oh right. They go off to publicly funded schools, or should I say publicly underfunded schools, and the public schools cannot refuse them entry, regardless of the discipline issues.

Meanwhile, as the funding for the public schools gets skimpier and skimpier, these public schools find themselves scrambling for grants to make up for the shortfalls and hopefully to continue offering the programs and services they have been offering. Let's face facts boys and girls, there are a lot of public schools competing for those grant dollars and Bill and Melinda Gates can only fund so many programs. As for all those other big bucks guys, they are often not inclined to give money to schools with a bad reputation. That means that public schools for the academically gifted get a lot of money and schools for the struggling and not so gifted get squat, because only 10-15% of the students in those schools reach national norms on standardized tests. Things only get worse. Sports teams get de-funded. Clerical, security, and various support staff lose their jobs. Then classes get bigger and teachers lose their jobs.

In the Chicago Sun-Times article this morning it was noted that schools have already begun cutting non-varsity sports. Apparently lacrosse and water polo have already gone away from some schools. Excuse me. Lacrosse and water polo? Where are these precious schools that have lacrosse and water polo? My school has teachers who have paid for soccer uniforms out of their own pockets just to see that kids have a soccer team. On the whole we can barely afford uniforms and balls for soccer, basketball, baseball for boys, softball for girls, and volleyball. Most other sports are too cost prohibitive or we just don't have the facilities to provide them.

It should be noted that the current union contract limits classroom size to 28 for the most part. There are exceptions like art, music, and PE. Mr. Huberman suggests that if we could raise classroom size to 31, we could save $40 million. News flash! My classroom size may be officially limited to 28 students, but in my two freshman classes, I already have 33 students per class. By the way, Mr. Huberman readily admits that this larger classroom size would eliminate 600 teacher jobs. For the record, there is a relationship between larger class sizes and diminishing academic achievement.

The kicker is that Mr. Huberman actually said that if we could raise the classroom size to 45, CPS would save $270 million dollars. What planet is this guy from? Oh wait, he did say that many classrooms would not accommodate 45 students so perhaps this was just wishing for too much. Sigh. The fact that anyone could even halfway seriously suggest raising classroom sizes to 45 is a sign that this individual has no real grasp on what goes on in classrooms. I understand the man knows a lot about dollars and cents. He knows not squat about human beings and how to educate them if he can even semi-seriously entertain such a notion.

So what can our schools expect? Huberman wants to get rid of teachers, cut payments for pensions, pack as many kids as possible into every classroom, and streamline the public schools like you would a factory or a business. Why not just give every kid a laptop and have them learn online? Then you could eliminate the school buildings, all of those unnecessary teachers, clerical staff, building engineers, security guards, principals, librarians. What a savings! Realistically, there will be larger classroom sizes, and the magnet schools and schools for the academically gifted will thrive. They will get grants to continue churning out kids who will go to Harvard and the University of Chicago. the neighborhood schools will get poorer and poorer and there will be more pressure to shut them down and privatize them.

America is a place where a lot of people don't want to pay taxes, yet they want their government to take care of them. Doesn't work that way. Want your streets paved? Want police protection? Want any of a million public services? Got to pay for them. Want good public schools? Want to have lower crime in the poorer neighborhoods? Want to offer a future for all children, not just the wealthy and well-connected, not just the super bright? You have to have teachers, buildings, programs, and you have to pay for them. That means taxes. Furthermore, that means that corporations and wealthy citizens need to pay their fair share. The future of this nation depends on it. Otherwise, we descend into 3rd world status. 45 in a classroom? Walk a mile in my shoes Mr. Huberman. Try spending 45 minutes in a classroom with 33 freshmen in the Back of the Yards sometime. Then think about that 45.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Story of Rex and Babs

Once upon a time very long ago (1985) in a land very far away (Minneapolis) there lived a young man named Rex and a young woman named Babs. This is the story of how they met and a 25 year long romance was begun from a chance meeting.

In 1985 Rex was employed as a pharmacy technician in the surgical pharmacy of a large hospital in Minneapolis. He spent his days preparing intravenous solutions in a sterile laminar flow hood, for use in the surgical suites of this hospital. He was paid every other Thursday and for the most part life was good.

Now on the day in question, the last Wednesday in February, Rex had gone home after work and was extremely bored. He was, as they say, too broke to pay attention and had stayed home every night for the last three or four nights. He was frankly sick of reading science fiction novels and listening to the radio. Not much on TV either.

He struck upon a solution. This particular Wednesday was 2 for 1 Old Style night at Williams Peanut Bar in Uptown Minneapolis. That is to say that you could actually purchase 2 Old Style Beers in cans for the lowly sum of $1. He put together every last penny he had (Tomorrow was payday after all.) and soon found himself on the Westbound Lake Street bus.

Rex got off the bus at the corner of Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue. He then walked the 1/2 block south to Williams (Not Williams Pub upstairs with its imported beer list and higher prices, but Williams Peanut Bar, downstairs.). He went around the corner of the building and entered the door on the side, heading down the stairs.

Rex usually didn't go to the Peanut Bar because it was frequented by a great many U of Minnesota students and being 34 years old felt like someone's father or uncle or something. 2 for 1 Old Styles brought him in. When he reached the bottom of the stairs he looked around. The Peanut Bar was one of those large bars with a concrete floor that give away really salty peanuts for free, thus encouraging greater consumption of cheap beer. The shells from the peanuts were all over the floor, as management encouraged that means of disposal of the shells as well. Rex plopped himself on a stool at the corner of the bar, pulled out a dollar, and ordered an Old Style.

Now Rex was quietly minding his own business. Okay he was watching the crowd. Then these two young men in their early twenties came through the door. He watched them as they rounded the corner of the bar, walked the length of the bar and the room, and came back and occupied the two bar stools to his left. Rex was not much into conversing with the young men, but the one on the bar stool next to him was feeling conversational. He attested to the fact that he and his friend had tried their level best to meet and greet some young ladies and all to no effect. I believe the words he uttered were, "Women in this bar are stuck up man. None of them will even talk to you."

At this point, it is necessary to note that the aforementioned Babs and her roommate Penny were in this very bar. It seems the two of them had been to Happy Hour at Guadalaharry's and had consumed many gold margaritas. Penny had a thing for one of the bartenders at The Peanut Bar and so a trip to said Peanut Bar was called for. The only problem was that Penny was engaged in flirting heavily with the bartender and Babs was getting bored and lonely.

Babs looked around and spotted Rex sitting at the end of the bar. She picked up her drink, walked over, and sat down on his right. The words that came out of her mouth were, "You look interesting. I think I'll talk to you." The young man on Rex's left who had not two minutes earlier attested to the fact that women in this bar were stuck up was dumbstruck. His jaw dropped. He gaped in disbelief. He and his friend drank up and left.

Rex and Babs talked away the evening. They talked about everything under the sun and some things that are not. Then the witching hour arrived, Last Call. The lights came up and the bartender assured everyone that they did not have to go home, but they had to go somewhere else besides The Peanut Bar.

Now it was the time for decisions to be made and it should be noted that Babs had standards. "Don't go sleeping with guys the first time you meet them." Okay, understood. Now in addition, Babs had recently developed three concrete guidelines for boyfriends. 1) He must not live with his mother. 2) He had to have a job. 3) He had to have a car.

Rex met Babs's first two guidelines with flying colors. 1) He had no family at all within 1000 miles. They all lived in Arkansas and Texas. He had an apartment. 2) He was a duly certified pharmacy technician and had a full-time job at a noted hospital. Then came the possible deal-breaker. 3) (He had to have a car. Remember how he got to the bar?) It seems that Rex actually had a car, but it was in the shop and that is why he had to take the bus to the bar. Now Babs was pretty excited about Rex having met all criteria so far, but then he said, "Can you give me a ride home? My car is in the shop."

Oh dear. Babs went through some changes and permutations in her head and thought seriously about her criteria. Should she fudge them just a little? Was it possible he really did have a car and it was in the shop? She thought and thought and then offered the ride home. When they arrived at Rex's place he tried desperately to get Babs into his little place and subsequently his bed, but she had nothing to do with that. She had standards after all. She'd just met this guy, albeit a cute and smart and kind of funny guy. She gave him her phone number. The question remained, "Will he use that number and call?"

Did he? Of course he did. Otherwise this would be a pretty sad story. Those two have been together ever since. Of course the story of how Babs came to his apartment, his two bedroom apartment, only to be met at the door by a woman claiming to be Rex's roommate and nothing more than a roommate, well that's a story for another day. Today is the last Wednesday in February and it's 25 years later. This is a very special day, a day for a toast to chance meetings that turn into lasting relationships. Here's to it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Southern Accents and Southern Roots

I've been indulging myself in a lot of self-examination lately and one of the themes that continually recurs is the fact of my Southern birth and upbringing. There is truly a lot of baggage that comes with being a native Southerner, some of it that is something to be proud of, and some of it that many of us prefer to avoid acknowledging.

Take country music for instance. A great many people assume that being a native Southerner, a person must as a result have a penchant for country music. Well, a great many people in the South do, but a great many also do not. The same can be said for cities like Chicago, where I currently reside. I personally feel about country music much the same way Jerry Seinfeld feels about homosexuality, "Not that there's anything wrong with that..." I just do not indulge in it myself. I'm more inclined to a jazz bar than a country and western bar. I do, however, treasure that moment in The Blues Brothers when the bar owner attests to the fact that this bar welcomes both kinds of music, "Country...and Western."

That being said, there are a great many people who automatically assume that, being Southern, you must be a racist, and either tell you the most annoying racist bullshit jokes you ever heard, or lambast you for being a racist asshole. In an earlier post, I believe that I already noted that at my high school graduation I was the guy who danced with the black girls, and drew stares. I was also the guy who got into a fight and got the shit kicked out of him for having black friends in the dorm Freshman year at college. I was the guy who hitchhiked from Jonesboro, Arkansas to Blytheville, Arkansas with a black friend who needed to get there for a band rehearsal. I was the guy who dated a black woman in Little Rock, Arkansas (Drawing stares) and a Mexican-American woman in Austin, Texas (Drawing stares) and numerous women of all races, colors, accents, shapes, and sizes until I met the love of my life. (That would be Babs and she's from Iowa for goodness sakes.)

Then there are the people who don't believe that you're really Southern because you don't sound Southern enough. Needless to say, most of these people have no clue what a real Southern accent sounds like, much less that there are very different Southern accents in different parts of the South. The Virginia/North Carolina area sounds nothing like the Western Tennessee/Arkansas area. Texas and Oklahoma can sound alike, but they sound nothing like people from Mississippi or Alabama. Ever been to Atlanta, Georgia? I like to think of that as sort of like a Scarlett O'Hara accent. Most of Northern Louisiana is like Southern Arkansas, but when you enter Cajun country get ready to experience another entity altogether I guarontee. I can emulate most of these verbally. They are more difficult to put down in writing.

A lot of people from other parts of the country tend to lump these various areas together and when pressed to do a Southern accent, it comes out roughly like something out of the Beverly Hillbillies. That is to say that it sounds ignorant and uneducated. Somehow I became acutely aware of this phenomenon at an early age and the Southern accent never took serious root with me the way it does with some individuals. I didn't want to sound dumb. I emulated people I saw on TV, heard on the radio, watched in the movies. I was drawn to acting. I learned that I had a facility for doing all kinds of accents. Not only could I distinguish a Virginia accent from a Georgia accent, but I could do cockney, Scottish, Irish, French, Italian, on and on and on. The accent I spoke with in everyday life tended to change with my locale. I absorbed the local linguistic flavor. Still do. Oh God, you should have heard me when I spent five years in Minneapolis, "Ya sure, ya betcha..."

At any rate, what we're talking about here is stereotyping. I abhor it. We all do it to an extent, but I honestly try to avoid it as much as possible. I don't like having it done to me. Others don't like having it done to them either.

I dropped the y'all thing a long time ago you guys. (No not youse guys. That too sounds ignorant and uneducated.) However, when pressed to do so, when with relatives in the South, when speaking with friends from childhood, it all comes flooding back. At least that's my perception of it. They usually remark on how foreign I sound. I suspect they wonder who I really am since I don't sound like them anymore. And as I have attested in these pages, I am an amalgamation of all the places and accents I have been privy to over the years. The question is "What does an amalgamation sound like?" It's American boys and girls. It's American.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Choose the Best Post of 2009 and Win Valuable Prizes

I've considered entering a contest and I have to submit 3 posts from the year 2009. If there is anyone out there who read at least 3 of my posts last year, I need your help. For the last 3 posts I've been off on this navel gazing "Who Am I Really" tangent and apparently some people like that. Over the past year or so I've indulged myself in a lot of different kinds of writing. I've written about politics and religion. I've written about myself. I work in education so I've spent a bit of time examining education. What did you like?

Okay the title of this post may be a bit misleading. Win valuable prizes? Frankly the most valuable prize I can offer is a thanks for reading my views and then coming back and reading them again. Thanks for indulging me and letting me know what trips your trigger. It's just sort of a catharsis for me. I just do it. I get an idea or not. I sit down and I write stuff. When I think it's good, no one comments. When I think I'm just sort of pulling it out of my ass, people go "Hey man that was good." I never know.

Anyway, if you are willing to consider this, email me your suggestions for the best "Views" posts of 2009 at Prize? Hey, come see me. I'll buy you a drink sometime. I can show you the actual "views from the 14th floor." Or I could just say thanks for the help. Think about it and have a nice day. RDR

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Who Are I Really? Part II

Yesterday I embarked on this twisting turning journey and I thought I knew where it was going, but then a woman named Lori from Georgia remarked on something I said and it sent my mind on a new tangent, related, but a tangent nevertheless. It has to do with y'all. Seems I lost my y'all, but I was never able to destroy the Southernness at the core of my being. Tried desperately, but it just didn't happen. It will always be there lurking in the darkness, waiting to emerge when I least expect it, like when my brother calls from Texas and suddenly the accent takes over my being like a demon possessing my mouth.

I was a little tow-headed blue eyed kid and my Mom must have thought I was a looker. She kept putting me on these local kids shows on TV. Nobody from Lassie ever came looking for me to replace Timmy though. Lots of people thought I was smart, myself among them and I developed a healthy ego early on. I kept getting good grades in school and nobody disabused me of the notion that I was smart. Developed a love for using big words early on. Represented my elementary school in the district spelling bee and misspelled the first word they gave me. Now that was an embarassment, and me in my new dress clothes for the occasion.

Got into Junior High and got the nickname Sexy Rexy. Was scared shitless of talking to girls though. Developed a couple of really fierce crushes on girls that I was too scared to follow up on. Got to go to take the National French Honors Test after I took French I. Scored above the national average, but not much.

Got into high school and became Oedipus Rex. Tried playing football and was kind of small for the game. Got hurt a few times. Began to develop some serious quirks. Liked Bob Dylan and electric folk rock. Got into a discussion with a friend's father where I broadcast it all over that I was a liberal. He inquired if that meant I was in favor of giving away welfare to lazy folks who won't work? Don't remember what I replied, but I was passionate. At the graduation after party the black girls in the senior class showed up, but the black guys didn't. Nobody was dancing with the black girls so I did. People stared.

Went off to college. Didn't fit in with the frat crowd. They don't avow liberalness. I had moved more toward radical left. Started hanging out with the marijuana for lunch bunch. Grew my hair really long. Somehow managed to complete two years of Army ROTC. Protested the war and wrote a lot of depressing poetry. Got a draft lottery number of 87 and as soon as I graduated from college I got a letter from the draft board telling me to report for a pre-induction physical. I failed the hearing exam. (I wear a hearing aid these days.) They passed me anyway. Seems they thought I was bullshitting to get out of the army.

Well I wasn't bullshitting about the hearing, but I managed to bullshit well enough to get myself conscientious objector status and after being offered a real job that paid pretty well when I graduated, I ended up working as a stock clerk in the pharmacy of a hospital for two years for $2.31/hour to satisfy the CO Alternate Service requirement. Somewhere in there I married this hippie chick who was a counselor at a Crisis Intervention Center and bought a two bedroom mobile home. Really big mistake. Which, you might ask, the hippie chick counselor or the mobile home. Answer: Both!

Anyway my very own personal crisis popped up and I quit my job and left my wife and moved to Illinois to go to graduate school. Never returned to Arkansas except to visit after that, and after my parents passed away the visits became even rarer. I became a Yankee. Started doing graduate work in political science, got involved with an improvisational theater company and ended up in Minneapolis somehow. Let's see, moved to Carbondale, Illinois, stayed for a while, kept going north, took a left turn at Chicago, and plopped myself down at 10th and Portland in downtown Minneapolis. Got a job in a hospital pharmacy. Knew that CO Alternate Service had to come in handy somehow.

Had a girlfriend in Hoffman Estates, Illinois (Chicago suburb). Went down there and got a job as an assistant manager of a bookstore. That lasted about 4 months before we split up for good and in the middle of the worst winter in 50 years I decided Austin, Texas was better than a return to Minneapolis. Worked in a bookstore for starvation wages, did theater on the side, and hustled pool to make ends meet. Returned to Minneapolis after a year and a quarter.

Met Babs in Minneapolis. We sort of meshed. Met in February. Moved in together in June. Moved to Chicago together in December. Quite a driving in a snowstorm story there, but that's a story for another time. Ensconced ourselves in the Western suburbs of Chicago for about 9 months. Moved into the city proper. Realized suburbia doesn't suit us. Joined the Democratic Socialists of America about this point. Shortly thereafter I realized that serious Socialists are just about as annoying and dumbass as fundamentalist Christians, or fundamentalist anythings for that matter. Became a leftie Democrat.

Got a job in a pharmacy in a children's hospital that came to an end when I realized I was supervising newly minted Pharm D's who were making about 6 times as much money as I was. The hospital paid my tuition to go back to school to get a teaching certificate. Quit doing theater about this time. Teaching takes up way too much time to spend all your evenings rehearsing, performing, and drinking heavily. Did I grow up? Not much really. Just broke with that theater lifestyle.

Now this little odyssey had one more odd turn for me. I took a two year teaching contract on the island of Guam, so Babs and I went off to a tropical island in the Western Pacific for two years. I went to work in shorts, island shirts, and sandals for two years. We went to the beach in January and February. I got addicted to snorkeling. I got addicted to traveling. We went to Thailand and Taiwan and Australia and New Zealand and the islands of Palau and Yap and Saipan. Came back to Chicago after two years and I got a teaching job on the Southside. We continued to travel. Went to Morocco and France and England and Belgium and Iceland and St. Martin and Belize and Toronto and Montreal and the Baja and New York City, again and again.

Babs had her own journey of growth and discovery and at some point was being offered a job as the communications director of a think tank in Manhattan. We went to New York and we looked at real estate and I got certified to teach and administer schools in the State of New York. I had several interviews and was offered a job in Harlem. Babs and I did a lot of soul searching and we came to the conclusion that we would A) make more money in Chicago B) live more cheaply in Chicago and C) experience just as much culture in Chicago.

We returned to Chicago and sold our house in the Andersonville neighborhood. (100 year old houses need lots of upkeep and someone with handyman skills, not intellectuals who hate to get their hands dirty.) Bought a place on the 14th floor of a Mies Van der Rohe building on Lake Shore Drive downtown and got the urban lifestyle we secretly had always wanted. Just had to adjust to having doormen, maintenance guys who fix stuff for you, and garage attendants who park your car for you. Had to get used to being treated with deference. Kind of hard at first, for a guy who grew up poor, the son of a bread truck driver, and who lived large amounts of his adult life poor, as a starving artist sort. I know in my heart that I've worked hard and possess an advanced degree and then some, but somehow the old Talking Heads song keeps running through my head, "How did I get here? How do I work this? Is this my beautiful house? Is this my beautiful wife..." And I pinch myself and it's real.

Now we are contemplating a retirement home in warmer climes. This has set off a whole new round of "Who am I anyway?" That's how I got started on this several post venture. And after much ado and a great deal of navel gazing, the answer I come up with is this, "Life is one long voyage of change and discovery. Every time you think you know who you are, you realize you don't because you've evolved again and you're someone else. A line from a poem I wrote when I was 19 comes to mind. "I've pondered and questioned. It all seems quite clear. Change is the only thing permanent here."

Navel gazing over for the moment. Time to move on to considering other issues. Thanks for bearing with me while I recounted the condensed version of the journey that is my life and my voyage of discovery. Nighty night boys and girls.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Who Are I Really?

I just looked at my last two posts and it seems that I'm a wee bit obsessed with this "Who am I," stuff lately. First I went and bought my own domain so my blog is coming from and I needed to let people know just who I am and where I'm coming from and there's a whole story behind the Real Rex Ray label that has to do with a San Francisco artist who uses the same name. Then Babs and I went to Florida looking at communities in which to buy a warm weather home. Man did that result in some soul searching. Gotta know who you are so you can know where you'll fit in and where you won't. You'd think that with all that soul searching and elucidating and crap I'd be quite done with all this "Who am I," and "This is who I am" stuff. Unfortunately, not so. Bear with me. Just one more, and I'll leave this alone.

The problem with asking the question, "Who am I," when you're 59 years old is that there has been a lot of life lived, a lot of water under the bridge and who you are is kind of an amalgamation of 59 years of experience carefully blended with the inherited DNA that made you who you are at birth. Sifting and sorting through all that data and keeping some and discarding some is a seriously daunting process. So where do you start?

For the record, I bought a kit and swabbed my cheek and joined the National Geographic Human Genome Project. I waited for a couple of months and what came back was basically not a huge shock. Like all human beings, my DNA can be traced back to its African origins, but the more recent data, tracing the migrations out of Africa led straight to the British Isles. That is to say that my ancestry is, for the most part, Celtic in origin. Ray is a good Scottish name. Surprise, surprise. Buncha doggone Scottish fundamentalist Protestants who immigrated to America by way of Ireland. That makes me Scotch-Irish.

In America this group settled in the mountains of Pennsylvania, headed south to the Carolinas and Georgia. When it got too crowded there they went westward into the hills of Tennessee and all over Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. Scotch-Irish, also known as rednecks, hillbillies, and the inventors of country and bluegrass music. This is part of who I am. Try as I might, I cannot deny it. My father drove a bread truck.

Then there was my mother's side of the family. Family name was Vandevier. Buncha fundamentalist Protestants from the Netherlands who immigrated to Pennsylvania, went south to Georgia, west to Arkansas, etc., etc., etc. (See above history of Scotch-Irish Rays. Same crap.) Intermarried with Scotch-Irish fundamentalist sorts and pretty soon the two were indistinguishable, and if you throw in one or two Native American Baptists of the Choctaw variety you have a pretty good idea of where my ancestry comes from. It means Southern. Learn to say "Y'all." (Question: What is the plural of y'all? Answer: "All o' y'all.")

At any rate Grandpa Ray was a pain in the ass and died from a heart attack when he was in his 60's. Had a small farm and an outhouse and cows and chickens in the yard. Scared the shit out of me when I was 4 or 5. Cows are big and chickens, well they're dumb and ugly and birds. I lived in Little Rock and we had phones, indoor plumbing, and television. He chewed tobacco and had a spit can at all times. Of course Grandma Vandevier dipped snuff and had a spit can too. Come to think of it, she was pain in the ass as well. Grandpa Vandevier was beloved by most, but decidedly a tyrant when it came to religion and traditional roles and values. He served as a substitute preacher when the full-time guy was off doing a revival or something. Wouldn't let my mother go to college because women were supposed to get married, have kids, and do those wifely woman things. Mom was decidedly frustrated. Wanted to be a teacher, so she said. Ended up raising her own kids, working at a burger joint, and doing day care for other people's kids on the side.

Somewhere along the line, my family ended up in a suburb, on the same block with teachers, retired Air Force officers, doctors, and insurance agents. My older sister got us all involved with this church that pretty much demanded that you go to church for Sunday school, Sunday morning sermons, Sunday evening sermons, and Wednesday night Bible study classes. Then, if they could get you to do so, you ended up with other church people doing something church related a couple of other times during the week, and your whole life revolved around church. Need a job. Some guy at church can help you out.

Trouble is, all of that church and fundamentalism and crap didn't really take with me. When I was a little kid, the fear of going to hell scared the shit out of me. As I grew into my teens and I started to think seriously about it, the religion stuff just kind of got less and less realistic. Then I stopped going to church altogether. I started searching for something and worked my way through most major religions and philosophies. Somehow, in my college years, serious atheism took root and still hasn't gone away. Science is, well, science. Religion is, well, faith, that is stuff based on believing in something that isn't rational and can't be proven. Oops! Several centuries of fundamentalist beliefs in my family and I did away with them in a few short years. Went and got rational. And I went and dismissed racism and country music in the bargain. Racism is just ugly, and well country music is just too country. Don't drive a truck and I do like cities. Country is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. Jazz? Well that came later. We'll get there eventually.

I know I promised early on in this post that I'd end this "Who am I stuff," after this post. That now seems a bit premature. I'm on a voyage of self-discovery and I've barely scratched the surface. Haven't even gotten to college and the hippy era yet, much less leaving the South and mixing with Yankees and perverts and such. Who are I really, will go on at least one more episode, so stay tuned boys and girls. We're gonna figure out just who the heck I am sooner or later, or at least get a little closer. What I do know is that for a serious atheist, I sure can quote some scripture. If I could live with myself, I could easily be a bigtime preacher, but I couldn't, and that's part of who I am. See all o' y'all later.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Finding Out Just Who You Are

Babs and I just returned from a whirlwind 3 day reconnaissance mission to the Gulf Coast of Florida. We are thinking of buying a warm weather property in Florida and we have to check out the communities and the available properties and find out if we could actually live there or not. Since last Friday I have seen the Gulf Coast of Florida from Tampa Bay to Naples and back. Some of it is posh. Some of it is trashy. Some of it is a little funky. A lot of it is one long strip mall.

Funny how a little soul searching is involved in that. Babs and I have lived in Chicago for the better part of 25 years now and have ultimately landed in a high-rise downtown, overlooking Lake Michigan. This is part and parcel of who we are. So if we consider relocating to warmer climes when we retire, where will we feel comfortable? We're on a mission. True, we did take 2 years from 1993-1995 and lived on the island of Guam. We returned to Chicago, however. I remember a short-lived comedy many years ago about a guy who gives up his job and moves to Hawaii to open a surf shop, his life-long dream. Then, upon arriving and seeing his new home, he shakes his head and says, "I just didn't think it would be so much like rural Alabama." Guam was a lot like that.

Anyway, what we discovered while looking at Florida communities was that we have to come to terms with who we are and what tradeoffs we'll be making by leaving the life we know in Chicago. I believe it was who had an article online a while back about what great deals could be had in the community of Port Charlotte, just across the bay from tonier Punta Gorda. We stopped in both places, and lo and behold, Port Charlotte, FL is a dump. No wonder there are cheap properties galore there. Who wants to relocate there? Went across the water to the supposedly tonier, pricier Punta Gorda. Yes it was nicer, but still, kind of small town and not the kind of culture we're really looking for.

Went down the coast past Fort Meyers to Naples. Yes it was much nicer, much larger, a great deal more to offer. Just a little problem there. Are there any people of color in the entire county who don't work serving the rich white Republicans who populate this place? Are there any funky, artsy sorts? Have to admit, I didn't see any. I guess I'm just not fond enough of boat shoes, Dockers, and pastel sweaters to fit in there. I probably have enough money to afford it, but I live in Chicago with African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, assorted artists, musicians, writers, gay and lesbian couples and we all celebrated big-time when Barack Obama was elected President. Naples? Nope.

I have to admit that we were getting a bit depressed over how the trip was turning out, but the next day we happened on a little town south of Sarasota, called Venice. It has promise. Then we wandered out to a little island called Siesta Key. Beach community. Condos, beach, bars, restaurants, and a lot of people under the age of 65. Did I mention that some of these Florida communities are filled with boring-ass retirees driving around in boring ass big old cars and living boring ass lives? God that's depressing. Yes I am 59 years old, but I just can't relate to those people. I can still run 10 miles. I still like the artsy life, and did I mention that I don't look good in Dockers and pastels?

Got up to Sarasota and downtown Sarasota is interesting. Went over the bridge out to Longboat Key. Upon first arrival on the island it looks a lot like Lincoln Road in South Beach. Not sure I'd like to live right there, but if you go up to the north end of the Key there are stretches of beach, nice condos, and lots of tennis courts and running and biking paths. Not bad.

All in all the Gulf Coast reconnaissance mission was a success. Babs and I have decided to rank our favorite places. As you may have guessed, Siesta Key, Venice, and the north end of Longboat Key rank #1, #2, and #3. At the end of next month we are taking a trip along the Atlantic side, from Miami Beach up to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach-Boca Raton. The question becomes, "Can we afford it over there? Are there sufficient numbers of foreclosures to afford a good deal in one of those places? Will we fit in there?"

I guess one of the things we are coming to terms with is that we are not classic Middle America. We don't aspire to classic Middle America. We honestly like South Beach, and Key West. We like artsy. We like gay friendly. We like areas that attract free-thinkers and assorted liberals and loonies. There are perfectly good reasons why Babs left Iowa and I left Arkansas. There was a reason why we migrated to Chicago together. Seems Minneapolis just wasn't big enough to hold us.

The question becomes, "What place is funky enough to hold us now, yet not priced off the chart?" There is also a reason that Babs and I do not live in Manhattan. Simple cost-benefit analysis dictated a move to downtown Chicago instead. So yes, we may be artsy inclined, left-leaning, and reasonably well educated, but there is a practicality to us that Babs thinks of as quintessentially Midwestern in nature. We're not giving up what we have entirely just to live someplace ultimately warm and funky, only to have to live in poverty in a postage stamp sized abode.

There are no doubt those who wonder why we would leave our current place at all. We have floor to ceiling windows looking out over Lake Michigan, right in the middle of downtown, and mere blocks from the best of it all. We have the arts, the liberal community. The thing is, Chicago has been very good to us, and in the summer it is a place to be. It's just that the winter gets a little old after a while. When I'm 70 I'm not sure I want to be walking out the front door of this place in February while 20 mph winds whip off Lake Michigan and the temperature is 15 degrees. I think I'd like to live someplace where there is funkiness and art and liberal vibes and urbanity and where you can run on the beach year round. Oh and someplace where you don't have to drive everywhere you go so you can park in a parking lot the size of Wisconsin. Walking is good. Is that so friggin much to ask?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Letting People Know Who You Are

Views From the 14th Floor is entering a new era very soon. This blog has been around for just a little over a year and while has served me quite well, Views will now be found at In the interim, it will still be found at but I found the need to brand myself. In addition to teaching and blogging, I am attempting to write a novel and while the 8 or so friends, relatives, and assorted accidental readers who find themselves here on a regular basis are gratifying to have out there, I would like to expand my readership a little and reach out to the world.

There are those who might ask what this "The Real Rex Ray" stuff is about. Well, I'll tell you. I always thought that I had a somewhat unique name. Never met that many people named Rex, and Rex Ray is a real anomaly, so it was quite the surprise to me when I started asking for e-mail addresses and I was told that the ones I suggested were already taken. Now I asked myself, "Self. How can a name like Rex Ray already be taken?"

Eager for an answer, I googled myself. As it turns out, there is this guy out in San Francisco who is sort of a semi-famous artist. (I actually purchased a calendar with 12 months of his art last year.) While he was not born Rex Ray, he chose Rex Ray as a name to be artsy by because he thought the name sounded appropriately artsy. Hey! I was born with this name! I have the birth certificate to show for it. I didn't just choose it because it sounded artsy. I have lived with this name for the entirety of my life, and this clown in San Francisco is trying to corner the market on it.

You have to understand that I have the whole package that comes with a name, the story on how it came about, the childhood nicknames, the stupid remarks from strangers because of it. I have it and I'm prepared to share it with the world. I am "The Real Rex Ray." A name like that deserves its own domain name don't you think.

Now you may ask, "How did such a name come about?" Got you covered. It seems that in 1950, when I was born, my mother had a thing about this singing cowboy named Rex Allen. At age 7, I was dragged to a rodeo where he was making an appearance, on his horse Cocoa, all dressed in rhinestone cowboy gloriosity. Even at age 7 I knew that A) I don't like horses so much. B) I don't like rodeos so much. Too darned many large hooved animals. Livestock is for farms. I lived in the suburbs. C) I wasn't that impressed with Rex Allen. Roy Rogers was a much better singing cowboy and as far as Rex people go, well, I was the Real Rex Ray.

And what about these assorted childhood nicknames The Real Rex Ray had to endure. Well, somewhere about 4th grade I became Tyrannosaurus Rex. In 7th grade I became Sexy Rexy. Go figure. In 9th grade I became Oedipus Rex. (Pronounced with a Southern drawl and sounding quite lewd. Figure it out.) Then there have been X-Ray, Sex Ray, and assorted variations.

As an adult there have been variations as well. I remember a pharmacist I once worked with who called me Rexray like Astro, the dog on The Jetsons said "Rastro." Something like a million times in my adult life I have been introduced to people who have responded with "Rex Ray. That sounds like an actor's name." Imagine their surprise when told that I actually aspired to being a professional actor, but the name was not a stage name, but mine.

Then there are those who, upon being introduced to me, inquire, "Rex. What's that short for?" It's not short for anything numbskull. It's Latin. It means King, so kindly bow down to me or pay me some tribute or something. I could use some obeisance.

At any rate, the part of the address is going away. I am "The Real Rex Ray." I am henceforth using the domain name, Who knew that you could get your own domain name for $10 a year? Maybe I'll buy several. I can be a whole bunch of people. As one of my favorite cartoons of all time says, "Online nobody knows you're a dog." (That's an old New Yorker cartoon.) Now and forever, though, people will know that I am the real Rex Ray. Gotta go. Flying to Florida tomorrow. Stuff to do boys and girls.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Hoity Toity Factor

The enabler in chief has given me permission to skip the gym today. It's snowy and windy and crappy out and I don't feel like walking the 3 blocks over. Imagine what it was like when we belonged to a gym 7 blocks away. Now that was an ordeal. So anyway, I hurt my foot on Sunday and I'm trying to determine if it's a stress fracture or a sprain of some sort. The enabler in chief says it's okay to stay home today. She likes having me here, keeping her company. Besides I finished the laundry and put it away, and loaded the dishwasher and ran and got the mail. So don't guilt trip me, okay? Okay.

Got on the elevator a short while ago to go down to the mail room and get today's mail. There was, for lack of a better term, a hoity toity woman in a fur coat on the elevator. She lives in the building. I live in the building. Most people exchange pleasantries in such a situation. Common courtesy and established modus operandi, so I spoke. "You're making me feel guilty here, going out in this mess. I usually go to the gym on Tuesdays, but I'm trying to convince myself not to. It's pretty bad out." Then I smiled and nodded. Hoity Toity Woman snapped back, "I don't have a choice. I'm late and I have to pick up my son from school." Then she pulled out her cell phone and began punching numbers. Well excuse me. Didn't mean to put you out by actually speaking to you. I mean this woman positively oozed attitude that said, "Who are you, low-life, to speak to me?"

Then we reached the first floor. The elevator doors opened and she shot out without a word or a nod. Dave the Doorman opened the door for her and she nodded and said, "Mr. Olsen." Then she promptly went through the revolving doors into the weather and disappeared to get her son from whatever hoity toity private school she sends him to. Can't be far. She was on foot. She didn't ask Dave to get her a cab.

When that woman disappeared into the elements I found myself wondering two things. The first was "Mr. Olsen? Who the hell walked in?" I know Dave the Doorman's last name is Olsen, and some pretentious sorts call him David on occasion, but let's face facts he's a Dave. This is the guy who tells off color jokes to the tenants. This is the guy who keeps a bookie employed and in the money. This is a guy who admits that his favorite pastime when not working is drinking until all hours of the night. Mr. Olsen he is not. Dave he is.

The second thing I found myself wondering was, what kind of prissy kid does this woman have that he can't walk home from school by himself? She didn't drive to get him. She walked to get him. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, it's possible that he's a little kid and goes to pre-school or day care or such. But what the hell, this is not a woman who works. This is Hoity Toity Woman in a fur coat. She spends her days shopping, getting her hair and nails done, getting pedicures and spa treatments. Why in the hell does this kid go to day care and have to be picked up at 4:30 in the afternoon by Hoity Toity Mom? Answer: She spends her time shopping, getting her hair and nails done, getting pedicures and spa treatments.

Maybe I'm being a little harsh. She probably has to go to yoga classes too. There are those important luncheons with friends and it's possible she sits on the board of a charity. Still can't help thinking, though, that this kid she's picking up would be fodder for a beating down in the neighborhood where I teach...,over and over, even if he is only 3. They make some fierce 3 year olds down in Back of the Yards.

What really gets me thinking is, however, what exactly gives this woman her attitude, her sense of "I'm better than you."? How does that work? I live in the same building as she does. I'm one of the owners, not a tenant in a rental unit. When she ran into me in the elevator I had just come from work and was dressed in a professional manner, so it wasn't like she could judge me on my slovenly appearance. It's not like it's apparent that she's a rich Hoity Toity Woman and I'm a mere school teacher with pretenses of being a writer. From whence comes the attitude?

The only answer I can come up with is just "It's the Hoity Toity Factor." This is a woman of privilege who came from privilege, who married privilege, who expects every man on the face of the earth to fall at her feet. Okay maybe she didn't come from privilege, just married it and wants to treat everyone else like shit because she thinks her looks and her fur coat entitle her to this. If her looks should begin to fail, she has the best cosmetic surgeons at her beck and call. This is a woman who would never dream of calling Dave the Doorman, just Dave, nor would she ever put up with being subjected to his off color jokes or insights into the betting world or drunken carousing stories. This is Hoity Toity Woman.

Just one problem. If she's really that Hoity Toity, why does she have to go get her own kid? Shouldn't she be one more step up the social and economic ladder? Shouldn't she have a servant to go get that kid? So spare me the attitude Ms. Hoity Toity. That's a pretty cheap looking fur coat anyway. Think I'll go back to my place and have a glass of Baron Philippe De Rothschild Mouton Cadet. Your hoity just doesn't seem so toity anymore.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Why Don't These Kids Learn Anything? Well Let Me Tell You...

Recently the President proposed changes to No Child Left Behind. He proposed that we judge schools based on progress instead of a benchmark, that is provided by standardized test scores. Sounds good on the surface, but in reality schools in large urban school districts succeed or don't succeed for a variety of reasons. Students succeed or don't succeed for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons do not even pop up on the radar of people who propose to overhaul education.

I work at a school that is housed in a building roughly 100 years old. Sometimes it creaks and moans and gives off all the normal complaints that any 100 year old would give. Sometimes stuff breaks or just quits working. Note that I differentiate between the school and the building itself. A building does not a school make. The students, the staff, the people who occupy the building are the school itself, but they are all affected by the building and its operation.

This morning I arrived to discover that the fire in the boiler (We have radiator heat.) had gone out over the weekend. The building engineer was busily seeing to the building's needs by getting the heat on again. In the meantime, I arrived in my classroom only to discover the radiators were stone cold and the temperature in said classroom was 57 degrees, a very good temperature for storing wine, a good temperature for a British ale, but a wee bit brisk for a learning environment.

When my first class arrived, it was a balmy 61 degrees. Students were encouraged to wear their coats in the classroom. Somewhere around 10 AM the temperature reached normalcy. That is to say it was at least 68 degrees. Then, of course, radiator heat being what it is and impossible to control with any accuracy, the temperature went upwards of 74 degrees and students began clamoring to open windows. "It's hot in here Mr. Ray," said the young man sitting right next to the radiator. He promptly threw the nearest window wide open.

Five minutes later the young woman sitting next to him said, "I'm cold." How much real learning goes on when young men and women are actively debating the temperature of the room, and arguing over whether a window should be opened or not? How much learning goes on when the students are shivering and the teacher feels the need to wear gloves in the classroom? The flip side of this is in the warmer months when every window is opened to allow maximum air circulation and the room temperature still rises to 80. Whining, moaning, and copious sweating occur. Then the bee flies in the open window and screams of panic ensue. Let's not even talk about the time the pigeon got into the classroom.

Then there are the demands of No Child Left Behind itself. A school's fate can rest on standardized test scores. In efforts to raise the test scores, a great deal of coaching, cajoling, test prepping, and practice testing goes on. Can we just get some time to actually teach our subject matter? Rumor has it that if students can master the normal subject matter, they'll do OK on the tests. What a concept! Two-thirds of my day today and also tomorrow were spent and will be spent giving practice ACT tests to Juniors. My freshman students went to extra math classes because I was testing Juniors. Oh heck, Freshmen don't need to know social science. Standardized testing in Illinois doesn't include social science. They need more math. Who cares if it's the third period of the day in a math class and they're plain sick of it?

Of course, in the mix are the students who are constantly in the hallway creating disturbances. Most of them don't really want to be in school to begin with, but the school is where they have to go to market their drugs and meet their fellow gang members to find out what's going on later in the day. Go to class and learn something? What for?

Then there are all the days of non-attendance for students. They have a holiday to commemorate Christopher Columbus, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Presidents in general, Casimir Pulaski, Memorial Day, two days for Thanksgiving, two weeks for winter break (Christmas), one week for spring break (Easter), and at least one day off every month for teacher professional development. Add in assorted assemblies, pep rallies, field trips, and special circumstances and I often wonder how they learn anything. They're never in class.

Mind you there are places where learning goes on. They are called magnet schools for the gifted and talented and college preparatory high schools. The best kids in the city go there. The district showers money and resources on them. They succeed beyond your wildest imagination. The kids who couldn't get into those schools? The kids who were never very good students in the first place? They go to neighborhood schools and the schools struggle, and the students struggle. They get fewer resources. Their schools struggle to keep the heat and the lights on. Their schools struggle to ensure every student has a textbook. They try their best to get as many kids as possible into a position to be normal, decent, working citizens. And they are held up by the public as examples for scorn. Come visit us sometime and see what we do for kids. Just remember to wear warm clothes.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I Don't Do Tea Parties

Winter has returned to Streeterville. The temperatures have dipped. Currently it's 27 degrees at the Mini. The frozen circles that look like white corpuscles have returned to Streeterville Bay. My thoughts have returned to Tea Party types and the question stands out, "Who are these people anyway?"

In a gleeful moment for the Democratic Party, and bona fide members of the left-wing in this country, Sarah Palin, the darling of the Tea Party and Rush Limbaugh, the pit bull of the Dick Cheney set are at each other's throats. It seems the former Governor of Alaska takes umbrage at the use of the word retard. She has a Downs Syndrome baby and has gone on a tear, comparing the use of retard to the use of the N word as a means of denigrating people with mental handicaps. Ms. Palin went so far as to demand the firing of White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel for referring to certain people as f_____g retards in a closed door meeting.

Meanwhile there are trouble makers out there who noted that Right-wing commentator (Why isn't this commenter instead? Never have understood that.), Rush Limbaugh regularly refers to anyone who disagrees with him as "retards." Suddenly there is a rift in right-wing land. Limbaugh shot back, "Our political correct society's acting like some big insult's taken place by calling somebody who's a retard a retard." Obviously Mr. Limbaugh has issues with those who question his right to call somebody a retard. Yet Ms. Palin who demanded the firing or resignation of Rahm Emmanuel has yet to demand the resignation or firing of the Right-Wing Pit Bull, Rush Limbaugh. On the one hand we have a rift in right-wing land. On the other hand we have hypocrisy on Ms. Palin's part. On yet the other hand, we have Rush Limbaugh behaving like a moron (Note that I did not call him a retard.). On the other hand yet we have much ado about nothing.

So who are these disparate elements of the right-wing? Rush Limbaugh represents the mainstream of the Republican Party with all their "I'm rich. I plan to keep it that way. I think the rest of the world is made up of dumbasses who need to listen to me and help me pad my bankroll some more." The Tea Party sorts are a group who are made up of socially conservative and anti-tax Republicans, some who call themselves Independents, and some who call themselves Libertarians, and some who say "Call me anything you want. Just don't call me late to dinner."

The thing is that they are all basically Republicans under the skin, no matter what they say. The big corporations and fat cats love and embrace them all. They all chant the same mantra "That government that governs least, governs best." If it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. If it does everything in its power short of creating anarchy to limit the role of government, it must be a Republican.

Each and every one of these people fail to see that it was precisely this mantra that got our economy into this mess in the first place. Lack of government oversight of business and banking allowed all the shady practices that nearly brought down the entire Earth's economy to flourish. The Limbaugh faction is just cynical. They benefit bigtime from laissez-faire. They think Adam Smith is a demi-god. The Tea Party sorts are well, how shall I say this...hmmm, ill-informed and really unaware of how the government could help them out if they'd only let it. They're too blinded by abortion and gay marriage and propaganda that demonizes taxes and government supervision of the economy. (Note that I called them ill-informed, not retards. Take that Sarah Palin.)

Our infrastructure is crumbling. How are we going to pay for rebuilding and repair? We gotta pay taxes people. Our schools are falling behind the rest of the industrialized world. How we gonna fix em and pay competent people to do the job of educating our children? We gotta pay taxes people? Most of the industrialized world has high speed rail and healthcare for everyone in their societies and a really good social safety net. How we gonna pay for that? We gotta pay taxes people. The upshot here is that many of the people who would benefit the most from healthcare reform, from the jobs created by government investment in the infrastructure and in technology and education are doing their damnedest to thwart efforts to benefit them. The rich and powerful wing of the Republican Party is laughing all the way to the bank and calling them all "retards" while they're sipping their champagne.

Me? I'm just glad that I have a college degree, a job, a pension plan, healthcare, and I live in a city that has mass transit, albeit not high speed. How did I get all this boys and girls? I paid for it with government guaranteed loans to get through college, with taxes to pay my salary as a teacher, with more taxes to pay for the mass transit that allows a large city to function. I don't live in a suburb in a gated community, walled off from the poor and desperate. I don't declare them all lazy and worthless while calling them all retards. I don't do Tea Parties.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Morning Meets Evening and Sometimes They Marry

Yesterday I went off on how right-wingers are loudly complaining about how the Obama administration does nothing while doing everything in their power to thwart any effort to do something, by the Obama administration. What led me there was my co-worker across the hall's rantlet before I had even finished my coffee. Truly, he has the ability to annoy me even in the afternoon with this kind of stuff, but a real source of annoyance yesterday was the earliness of the sneak attack. There should be some kind of fail safe device to prevent this kind of thing.

There are morning people and there are evening people. This is an unescapable truism. Clearly I am one of the latter. The fact that I have been able to hold down a regular job that requires me to function and think at 8 AM is nothing short of a minor miracle. No less a miracle is the fact that for the last 24 years I have lived with a woman (married to her for 23 of those) who is a genuine, dyed in the wool, morning person. This is a woman who is perfectly comfortable getting up at 5 or 6 in the morning and going to sleep at 8:30 or 9 in the evening.

When Babs and I first met, I took her to a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. She fell asleep, although she admits to only nodding for a moment. I knew then and there that I would have to adapt certain practices in my life. I'm sure she feels much the same way about my lack of coherence at the breakfast table. For me, in the early morning, "Uh huh." and "Huh?" and "Mumble" serve as conversation. This is usually juxtaposed with a woman across the table who is actively devouring the New York Times and actually asking me to think about concepts she has gleaned from these pages. Do we make it work? Somehow...for 24 years.

Mind you, there are some very nice things about 2 people of opposite time orientations getting together. I get to see sunrises as well as sunsets, and some are quite spectacular. It's just that my verbal response to these glorious episodes is usually limited. She gets to see fireworks at midnight on New Year's Eve when she might otherwise be inclined to go to bed earlier. I actually get necessary things done before noon on weekends, leaving afternoons and early evenings to do more fun things. She sometimes gets to experience the fun of a party that goes on until 4 or 5 in the morning. (There was a time when I thought sunrises were supposed to be experienced only after having been up all night.)

At any rate, we have reached an equilibrium after 24 years. Reality means I have to go to bed earlier because I have to get up early for work. Sometimes I even arise before Ms. Morning Person. But I don't have to like it, and I definitely won't be at my best in mental acuity at that time of the day. And all any night person asks of all you early people out there is to recognize that. We who are creatures of the night by nature get better as the day goes on. We may be able to do a great many things that do not require the utmost of our attention early in the day, but the creative juices do not flow until later. I routinely write my posts here just prior to the dinner hour. Babs complains of having used all her creative energy way before that time.

If I didn't have a job that required me to get up at 5:30 AM, and if I were not living with another person who is a morning person, I could probably do my writing at 11 PM or midnight or later. That would be alright. As it is, I need to squeeze in my serious thinking between 10 AM and 6 or 7 PM. That I can do. Had an emergency meeting immediately after work today and there were obviously some morning types there who were having a hard time planning and strategizing after a full day of work. I was at the top of my game and ready to go. Those 8 AM meetings I go to? I'm worthless. Let me drink my coffee and I'll get back to you in a couple of hours.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Of Coffee and Right Wing Verbal Assaults

The Republican across the hall...Excuse me. Let me start again. The guy across the hall who studiously denies being a Republican, but whose views time and again come out sounding very Republican, stopped me in the hallway this morning while I was still drinking my coffee. Let's be clear here. I'm not very clear headed or cognizant early in the morning. The later in the day, the clearer I get. That's how this train operates.

At any rate, the guy who thinks he isn't a Republican, but who clearly is stopped me and said, "Excuse me but I know that you're certainly more left than I am." If further left than tea party right is what he meant, then I suppose I certainly am. Then he went on, "So in your opinion, has Obama done anything right, or good, since he's been in office?"

First of all, it's annoying enough to have people beset me with these kinds of questions when I'm fully awake, knowing that these are people with a certain mindset and an agenda, but when they do this to you first thing in the morning, knowing your political leanings and knowing it's sure to piss you off, well that's exactly what it does. It pisses you off royally, and then you're in the position of trying to come up with a reply that sounds reasoned and to the point and not a pissed off rant. When you're still having your early morning coffee, it sometimes comes out as a minute of two of silence, followed by "Um well, er...."

I had to think a little bit to think of something that would appease a right winger on a mission. What I came up with was, "He did rescue the banking system, and if he hadn't the entire global economy might have collapsed. We may not like it that all that money went to the banks, but it was necessary, and it worked. I think that he might need to be a little more forceful in urging Congress to get on the ball and do something, but he did that and..."

Mr. Not a Republican harumphed loudly, and started the little rantlet that I knew was coming. "We could use a little more bailout for GM and Chrysler and a little less for the banks. Frankly that's just helping a bunch of rich people while working people are suffering...." I had to agree that we could use more job stimulus, and let's hope that is coming. Nevertheless, the bank bailout was necessary. It maybe just needed some more strings attached, as in "Don't go using the stimulus money to give million dollar bonuses to executives. I believe everyone concerned recognizes that, including Barack Obama. That's why he's urging a tax on the banks to recoup some of that money.

What really irks me is that so many people are ready to jump all over Barack Obama for not fixing what ails the country overnight, when it took the Bush administration 8 years to put it in this mess. He didn't give stimulus money to banks, but kept up a climate that allowed them to flourish and put us in this mess in the first place. Mr. Obama has urged Congress to pass healthcare reform, but that silly little thing about needing a supermajority in the Senate to get anything done because of the filibuster has negated that possibility. Mr. Obama has regularly urged Congress to adopt measures that will create jobs in growth industries for the next century but Republicans fight any measure he proposes as "too expensive" for the nation.

On the one hand the right wingers want the President to do something that will help the nation out of its malaise, but they oppose anything that he proposes as "big government sticking its nose in the business of working Americans" and as "costly boondoggles that our grandchildren will be paying off." I have to remind people that the last time the U.S. budget was balanced, the economy was ticking along just fine, and the national debt was being paid down was when Bill Clinton was President, and he tried to do many of the same things that Mr. Obama is trying to do.

I am reminded of Mr. Obama's statement in the State of the Union Address when he told Republicans "If you have a better plan that you think will work, I'd like to see it." What is going on right now is that there are people on the right who oppose anything the President and the Democratic Party attempt and then blame them for not doing anything when the right wing opposition is successful in thwarting the attempts at doing something constructive. It's just annoying. It's very clear that there was an agenda that the American people wanted accomplished, a majority of the American people, so get the heck out of the way and let it happen will you? And while you're at it, quit assailing me first thing in the morning before I'm fully awake.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Celebrating Groundhog Primary Day

Today is a very special day in Illinois. This is a once in a blue moon day when the two separate events, Groundhog Day and Primary Elections, converge. This is a very special event indeed. Not only do we get some insight into what the weather is going to be like for the next 6 weeks, but we get the added insight into what is going to occur in this state's politics for the next 6 years.

So the legend goes, on Groundhog Day, if the groundhog emerges from his burrow and sees his shadow, he will return to that burrow for an additional 6 weeks of winter. If no shadow, we'll have an early spring. On that extra special day when Groundhog Day and Primary Election Day converge, when the first politician of the day emerges to politic, a shadow poll is taken and if the shadow is seen, we will have 6 more years of bad politics.

On Gobbler's Knob in Punxutawney, Pennsylvania there are all manner of theatrics and celebration accompanying Punxutawney Phil's emergence from his burrow on February 2. There is music. There is fanfare. There is a Groundhog Queen crowned. Pomp and circumstance galore to celebrate the prognosticating rodent's pronouncements.

In Chicago, on Groundhog Primary Day, there was no less pomp and circumstance. When the first polls opened, former Governor Rod Blagojevich appeared and in a fine example of mixed metaphors threw out the first voter. The former Governor, still out on bail, then launched into a rousing rendition of "Viva Las Vegas," waved to the crowds of waiting voters, and promptly returned to the reality TV circuit to make more hay while the sun was still able to shine upon his countenance. It is expected that sometime later this year an encounter with a federal prosecutor, judge, and jury will send Rod the Mod into residence at the dedicated Illinois wing of a federal penetentiary, currently housing another former Governor and assorted Illinois politicians of state and local levels.

The upshot of this appearance, Mr. Blagojevich being the first politician of the day, and his subsequent early exit into exile, suggests, as Groundhog Primary Day tradition dictates, 6 more years of bad politics. Local analysts speculate that this may be a bad omen for whomever wins the U.S. Senate seat formerly occupied by President Obama. The interim Senator, it seems, barely escaped indictment, but did suffer Congressional censure for events that led to his taking the seat in the interim. Former Governor Blagojevich was rumored to be involved somehow, even though no one has been able to find a money trail leading from the Senator to the former Governor, Rod the Mod, Elvis Impersonator Extraordinaire. What ugly fate can be awaiting the Senatorial candidates and eventual winner?

In downstate Groundhog Primary news, the Groundhog Primary Day Parade in the state capital of Springfield was dazzling, according to attendees. Marching bands from high schools all over the state of Illinois were in attendance, and in their finest modes. Sixteen separate versions of "Hail to the Chief" were played in the course of the parade. Floats depicting groundhogs, elections, and federal bribery indictments were simply exquisite in their detail. The whole shebang was led by The Marching Inmates of the U.S. Federal Prison System, spectacular in their orange jumpsuits. Their precision marching, while sporting arm and leg chains, is a sight to behold, a once in a lifetime experience. Several local celebreties were applauded and cheered loudly as they strutted their stuff.

When Phil the Groundhog was asked about his view of the competing festivities in Illinois, he was silent, as usual. Phil anticipates prognosticating as usual next year when there will be no convergence of his day with primaries. Officials in Punxutawney noted that Groundhog Primary Day is a bit of a misnomer in that there are no groundhogs actually running against one another for the opportunity to be the chief prognosticator for Groundhog Day. The Groundhog Queen smiled and waved.