Friday, April 30, 2010

Moving to the City to Start Again, American Migrants

The thing about moving to America to start again and get a new life is that a lot of people who gripe about all of the immigrants don't recognize how many of their own have done the same thing, only within the country. This is a large country and it is entirely possible to migrate to another place, start all over, reinvent yourself, and become a smashing success in a new location. This is speaking from experience, my own, a great many people I know, and a great many more I'm related to. Not to say that I don't know the people I'm related to, but......well you get the idea.

A great many people come to America from other countries because there is economic opportunity here and there isn't in the place they are from. The same thing happens to some people if they happen to be from, say Arkansas, or Montana, or South Dakota, or West Virginia, or a host of other places that are primarily rural and small town. The motivated go to school and leave for larger cities with booming economies and more opportunity. The difference between themselves and the immigrants from other countries is that they don't have to learn a new language. If you happen to be from someplace like Arkansas or West Virginia you might want to leave the accent at the door, though. It sometimes gets in the way, just as that Mexican accented English can do for the immigrants.

The thing is that in America, a lot of this internal migration is regional. People from Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana tend toward the City of Chicago. People on the East Coast, depending on where exactly you're located, go to New York City or Boston. There are Los Angeles and San Francisco migrations out West, or Portland or Seattle migrations in the Northwest. Where I come from most people end up in the economic powerhouses of Dallas-Fort Worth or Houston. Some go to Austin and some end up over in the Old South in Atlanta. And of course those with a government bent always hold out an eventual destination of Washington D.C. Opportunity abounds in a thousand different ways in a hundred different places.

I've even known some who grow up in large metropolitan areas who migrate to small towns and reinvent themselves as small town outdoorsy sorts. It happens, just not as often. There isn't as much economic opportunity there. Some become entrepreneurs. Some commute to larger cities to support their more rural lifestyle. Just not my cup of tea. Don't want rural or small town. Don't want suburban. My internal compass is drawn inexorably to cities and the bigger the better.

Bearing all of that in mind, I tried on a number of cities before I found one that fit. Went to Austin, Texas. Nope. Went to Minneapolis. Not quite. Even spent two years on a tropical island in the Western Pacific. Tropical? Yes. Paradise? Nope. Finally landed kerplop in the City of Chicago, the third largest city in the U.S., the largest city in the middle of the country, and arguably the capital of the middle of America. Chicago been very good to me. I started in a ratty little apartment, subsequently moved to ratty larger apartments, bought a house in an upcoming neighborhood, and somehow managed to land downtown with a place overlooking Lake Michigan.

Success boys and girls. Yes it is still possible in America. The key? Education, even if it isn't an Ivy League School or the University of Chicago or Stanford. It is possible for someone with education from state supported universities to put together a successful life with good choices and a nose to the grindstone kind of approach. State supported universities? No we're not talking about an MBA from Michigan or UCLA or UC-Berkley. We're talking about Arkansas State and Northeastern Illinois University. Okay I, personally, have to throw in a stint at Loyola University Chicago, but all in all a pretty modest educational background.

However, education is the key. No college? Quite often no job. The jobs that are available for the non-college educated are drying up and with them go the opportunity for a middle class existence for the high school only kind of person. Go to your local college or university and invest some time and money to get a Bachelor's degree and your prospects rise. Get an advanced degree from the same kind of college or university and they rise even further. Of course we're not talking stratospheric success like the elite who go to the elite universities. We are talking about a pretty comfortable existence and the prospect of being able to retire comfortably in a warm climate with swimming pools, tennis courts, and golf courses abounding.

The point here is that the American Dream still exists. It's just necessary to know the rules. A lot of immigrants from other countries endure incredibly low paying jobs and terrible poverty (by American standards) in order to get the opportunity for their children to play by the necessary rules and grab that American Dream. For those of us born in America, it is possible to move from poverty to that nice house and car and plasma TV in just one lifetime. It just means that you might have to migrate, which brings up another dilemma. The best and the brightest in small town and rural America leave. Those who stay behind are either part of the local economic elite or are the ones who will struggle to keep their heads above water the rest of their lives. The opportunities are not there. The ability to see a new way and create their own opportunities are all too often sadly lacking.

Meanwhile small town America loses population at an alarming rate and the cities and surrounding suburban areas grow at an increasing rate. One hundred years ago we were a country that was primarily rural and a person with little education could strike out and become a success. Fifty years ago a person with little education could achieve that American Dream by working in a factory or any of a thousand other blue collar jobs that paid a good wage. Today it is still possible to grab the ring, but you darned well better have some education and a salable skill that is useful in the 21st century.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Coming to America to Start Again, Part I

There is much ado on the right about how government regulations and taxes are going to totally screw up anyone's ability to achieve the Great American Dream. There is much ado on the left regarding how unbridled capitalism has run amuck with little or no oversight from the government and monied interests have benefited at everyone else's expense. As my mother used to say, "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer."

Frankly, I have to think that this country needs a bit more regulation of business. Unbridled profit motive does tend to yield some really ugly results. On the other hand, not everyone is getting totally screwed by the wealthy elite. Let's face it. It is still possible to start with nothing and end up with a lot in America. The American Dream lives.

Just ask any immigrant. Doesn't matter where from, Latin America, Africa, Asia, Australia, Oceania, or Europe. People come to America because it's still possible to succeed if you work hard and prove your capability. Why do you think we have so damned many people trying desperately to get within our borders? Not all of them are Islamic terrorists looking to blow up the infidels. Most are looking to make a decent life for themselves, including a large number of Muslims from the Middle East.

Much has been said in America about the illegal immigrants from Mexico. Frankly a lot of the Latino illegals are not from Mexico but from Central and South America as well. Why do you think they come? Because it is possible to work hard and get a nice house, an education for your kids, and a big American car and a 50" TV to boot. Can you fault them?

For that matter, a lot of Americans are missing the fact that there are illegal immigrants from all over the globe entering this country all the time. They just seem to focus on those from Latin America. Living in Chicago I've noticed an awful lot of illegals from Ireland working in construction, working in bars and restaurants. Nobody seems to make a big stink about these guys. They're white, European, and speak English. I've noticed a lot of women from Poland cleaning people's houses. Nobody seems to care if their cleaning lady may not really have a green card.

There are Chinese immigrants who pay outrageous sums to get here whether they have a legal visa or not. Many of them are abused, ripped off, and entered into a state that nears slavery. Most Americans become outraged at how they are taken advantage of, not that they are in the country illegally. How does this compare to the fate of Guatemalan immigrants who come into the U.S. via the coyote smugglers? Same shit. Different ethnicity. Yet Americans are all too quick to condemn these immigrants. They are Spanish speaking brown people and there is a prejudice there that goes back a long way.

The point here is that unless you belong to one of the Native American tribes you are an immigrant too. The Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, Pawnee, Apache, Ojibwa, Hopi, Navajo etc., etc., etc. all feel that we are all a bunch of uninvited illegals. Same shit. Different ethnicities. At some point all of our families came here to start again, to make a new life. It has, historically, always been possible to raise your status in life in America if you were willing to put your nose to the grindstone. It still is.

We are a nation of immigrants and refugees. We live in a nation with an abundance of resources, natural and human. There is creativity in the air. If you want the country to stay the same as it always has, please step aside. It is a living, breathing, growing, changing entity. Try to stop its growth and progress and it will swallow you up. Hold it back by force and other parts of the world will pass you by. What America has always had to offer is its endless possibilities. Embrace that.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Cause Plus B Cause Equals C The Cause?

This morning I was looking out the windows from my perch on the 14th floor and I noticed a large number of people out walking in the rain on the path next to the lake. When I say a large number, what I mean is a couple of thousand. The walk had all the earmarks of a walk for a cause. People walk to raise money for cancer research, for zoos, for children's hospitals, for AIDS research, etc., etc., etc. In my experience there are two kinds of causes a causes and b causes. All of the above mentioned subjects of fund-raising are a causes.

I went walking in the rain today as well. However, I went walking for a b cause, b cause my wife's prescription had run out and she needed her thyroid medication. I often run in races, 5K races, 8K races, 10K races, 10 mile races, Half-Marathons, and Marathons. Now I'm certainly not in danger of winning any of these races, although in shorter races I sometimes place 2nd or 3rd in my age group. Frankly, most people who run in these races do so not because of any chance at winning the race and the money, but for their a causes and b causes. Most people run these races for a cause, the research foundations, the hospitals, the zoos. I, however run them for a b cause, b cause I tend to get fat. Running the races give me the kick in the seat of the pants to train for them so as not to embarrass myself. The training means I run several days per week and b cause I do that my weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels stay down within an acceptable level. I like this b cause I plan to live to a ripe old age and not have all sorts of debilitating conditions.

I do not fault those who spend their time and energy in the pursuit of a cause. I find that admirable. It's just that I, like many other people, spend so much of my time and energy taking care of my b cause, I really don't have the energy or the desire to spend more time and energy in taking care of a cause. What I am talking about is the b cause many of us share. B cause we weren't born rich we work diligently trying to assure ourselves of a comfortable retirement. In my own case, I have managed reasonably well, but I would really like to retire someplace warm (Miami Beach) in comfort. B cause I grew up poor and not so comfortable, I have done the nose to the grindstone thing in order to secure that future. I share this b cause with a great many other people of various races, ethnicities, religions, non-religions, professions, and persuasions.

This is where lies the rub. A great many of us have dedicated our adult lives to educating other people's children in public schools. The pay is low. The stress is high. The day does not end when you go home for the day. A large sector of the public is convinced that teachers are lazy, overpaid, and not worth their tax dollars. You often end up working in bad neighborhoods where at least one student per year is seriously injured due to gang confrontations and illegal activities. The payoff is that, as a teacher, you get a couple of months off in the summer, a little time off at Christmas, and a Spring Break to boot. You pay into a pension fund that is, by law, also paid into by your school district and your state. In the end, if you have been wise in your monetary decisions, you can retire with a reasonable pension and live 30-40 years pretty comfortably and without having to work. B cause you play by the rules, you get rewarded....., unless the state legislature plays fast and loose with the pension money.

Mind you, this scenario has been playing out in states all over the nation, but being a Chicago resident and a Chicago Public Schools employee, we shall use the state government in Springfield as our shining example of how not to treat loyal employees. It seems that b cause the legislators down in Springfield are unwilling to make the hard decisions necessary to properly fund a state, they have been borrowing liberally from money that was supposed to go to fund teachers' pensions. B cause they are afraid of alienating those on the right who don't want higher taxes or those on the left who don't want programs cut, they have taken millions upon millions of dollars annually from that which is earmarked for pensions, just to pay the regular bills. "Nobody will notice, right?" Wrong.

B cause of the recent downturn in the overall economy, there are more people unemployed. There are more people who have lost their homes. There are more people who are in financial distress, and as a result, tax revenues have dropped drastically. The downstate Illinois Teachers' Pension Fund is in serious poo. The Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund is in distress, but not going out of business yet, b cause the Chicago Teachers' Union has stood firm when really serious efforts to cut the Chicago Teachers' Pension funding even further. Nevertheless, this has created a situation where a great many teachers all over the State of Illinois may end up living in poverty for the duration of their retirement b cause of a lack of spine by legislators who are afraid of losing votes by doing something that is unpopular yet rational.

Let's recap for a moment. B cause teachers played by an agreed upon set of rules, they expected to retire comfortably. B cause legislators wanted to get elected again and again and use their legislative positions to enrich themselves, they made very bad choices that may lead to the demise of teachers' pension funds. B cause these legislators made those decisions, the teachers who played by the rules will suffer in poverty. For the record, when you pay into the Teachers' Pension Fund in Illinois, you do not pay into Social Security, so if your pension fund tanks, you won't even have Social Security to count on, and we all know how small those payments are.

So what should teachers do? They should damned well start finding some new legislators who will have the stones necessary to do the right thing. They should damned well throw out the present batch of ne'er do wells who have been enriching themselves at public expense all these years. Otherwise, we face a public shame in this state and many others. The people who educated your children, the people who gave of themselves for so little remuneration will be literally condemned to an old age of poverty b cause we have a state and a nation that does not care for their own b cause they're too busy caring about a cause to worry about caring about their neighbors and public servants who are in distress.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Teachers Aren't the Only Ones Whose Pay Isn't Linked to Performance.

The front page of the Chicago Sun-Times this morning had a headline writ big, "Teacher Pay Not Tied to Success." This would appear to be just one more example of teacher bashing, a favorite national pastime in the best of times, and in the current economic climate an even more rabid pursuit. It also comes off as part and parcel of a concerted effort to discredit teachers' unions and bust them. Apparently routine 6 figure salaries for anyone associated with the business world is okay, but $75,000 for a teacher with a degree, and in many cases an advanced degree is just too much to ask.

This brings to mind the old saying, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." As for paychecks not being tied to success, the same could be said for bankers, as is evidenced by the large scale meltdown in the fiscal sector and resulting in the current state of affairs in the larger economy. Apparently, executives of major auto manufacturing companies in this country are not being paid according to success either, or the government wouldn't be bailing their sorry butts out so that we could save jobs for working class schmoes.

Speaking of auto manufacturers, engineers must not be paid based on success either. If they were, Toyota wouldn't be the major mess it currently is in, and ponying up major fines to the government. For that matter, what about Congressmen? Based on what's been coming out of Washington D.C. what can we say about the relationship of success to their salaries? State and local legislators? See above statements. The same thing applies at the state and local level. A great many of our state and local governments are going broke because of mismanagement. How much are they being paid, at taxpayer expense?

Better yet, how much are newspaper executives and editors being paid? Is this based on their massive success? Are any of them receiving bonuses for that success? Last I heard, large numbers of newspapers, including both large dailies in Chicago are in Chapter 11 restructuring because of their great success. Based on this logic, it seems to me that the people living in glass houses and throwing stones here must also be stoned.

For the record, I actually read the above-mentioned article and lo and behold, they admitted that funding for schools and subsequent pay is based on property tax, primarily. This means that districts with the largest tax base/student also pays teachers the highest. Live on the North Shore? Your kids' teachers are being paid well. Then again, due to all of the benefits associated with being the children of North Shore, well-educated, well-heeled families, your kids also achieve at a pretty high rate. Live in certain Southern suburbs of Chicago with a lot of poverty and low tax revenues? Surprise! Surprise! Your teachers don't get paid diddly. They'd get paid more if they went to work in the inner city schools of Chicago.

But more to the point, even in the City of Chicago all teachers are paid by the same pay scale regardless of what school they work in. Is this bad? Should teachers in schools that succeed be paid more than teachers in schools that have chronically bad results? Let's look at the facts, shall we?

In the Chicago Public Schools, teachers in those schools with the best students, i.e. Whitney Young High School, Northside College Preparatory High School, Walter Payton High School, LaSalle Language Academy for you elementary school buffs, etc., etc., etc. work on the same pay scale as teachers in schools like Collins High School, Chicago Vocational High School, Hirsch Metro. High School, and my very own Richards Career Academy. Is this fair? The first list of schools produces a majority of students who succeed. The latter produce a majority of students who do not.

Well of course they do! The Whitney Youngs and the Northside College Preps, just to name a few, cull the best of the best from the student population of the public schools in Chicago. They are schools for the gifted and talented. Then there are other schools like Morgan Park High School that are, in name, neighborhood schools, but they have gifted and talented programs within their walls. They raise their percentages of successful students by including some gifted and talented students.

The Hirsch High Schools, the Richards Career Academies, etc., etc., etc. are schools that serve the students who didn't get into the gifted and talented schools. These are schools that serve large Special Education populations. These are schools that serve students who aged out of the elementary schools and had to be sent to a high school. These are schools that serve kids who can't read or speak English. These are schools that deal with gangs and violence and anti-social behaviors on a daily basis. Do we really expect these schools to produce four star shining examples of academic success? What planet do you live on?

Frankly, the teachers who work day after day in these battle zones, should be paid extra for the work they do. They care. They work hard. Kids routinely come into these schools reading years below level and unable to do simple math. Yet a great many of their students manage to live successful lives, become productive citizens, and they all know that their teachers busted their butts for them and honestly cared. Who says teacher pay isn't linked to success? Spend a week or two with one of them sometime. Check out what it is that they do for their students, and for society as a whole. Then come back and tell me about how overpaid they are, how unsuccessful they are. Then let's look at all of those other people who get paid much more to produce less than spectacular results.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Dignity of Labor. The Indignity of Laboring.

I find it pretty interesting that the people who are most likely to crow about the dignity of labor, and the redemptive qualities of hard work are generally those least likely to do any real hard labor. Garrison Keillor showed up in Salon in an online essay last week. In his essay Mr. Keillor touted the positives of labor and earning a paycheck. He actually calls it redemptive. I daresay if you talked to any of millions of individuals in America who draw a small paycheck from doing mind-numbing, hard physical labor they would be glad for the paycheck, but would label the actual work anything but redemptive.

To his credit, Mr. Keillor did suggest that America needs a jobs program, such as the Depression Era works projects, the WPA for instance. We do need something that will put millions of Americans back to work. Unfortunately, well-heeled Republicans oppose such a program en-masse. They say we can't afford it. It would either cause a rise in taxes or it would cause the national debt to grow even larger. Gotta wonder where these clowns were when G.W. Bush and company were putting two major wars on the buy now pay later plan.

At any rate, more jobs for Americans, doing things that are good for the infrastructure, is a good idea. It would fix a crumbling infrastructure that no one seems willing to pay to fix. It would provide jobs for unemployed Americans. Those now employed Americans would then go out and spend money, thus creating jobs for more Americans, and fewer Americans would find themselves facing foreclosure on their mortgages. Still, very few of them would describe their labors as redemptive. Paychecks redemptive. Labor not so much.

Mr. Keillor went on to talk about how he briefly held a job, in high school where he fed dishes into a dishwasher. Oooohhh, the hardship. Did he have to wash them by hand? Did he have to continue doing this job everafter so he could pay the bills? Not! Mr. Keillor has lived a life writing for newspapers and magazines, with the odd book thrown in, while hosting a nationally syndicated radio show. Not a lot of hard redemptive labor there.

At one point Mr. Keillor pointed out that he could have chosen to make a career out of manure spreading, but did not. The key word here is choice. There are those out there who have no choice but to take on that career in manure spreading, and anyone who calls that sort of labor redemptive is a lunatic. I graduated with a liberal arts degree in 1972 and spent a large part of that decade doing manual labor. I did not find anything about it redemptive or dignified. I found eating somewhat rewarding, however, so I continued to engage in such activities until something better came along.

There is a certain Republican anti-handout mantra that goes something like, "People feel better about themselves if they know they earn a living and don't have it given to them as a handout." People feel even better about themselves if the size of the paycheck will keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Frankly, if handouts are larger than what you get when you are actually laboring at a job, I doubt anyone finds themselves feeling good about earning a living instead of taking a handout.

Frankly, if America were so taken with the dignity of labor and its redemptive qualities, the lottery would not be such a boom industry. We've all heard the comments from lottery winners who say they won't change a thing about their lives. Then they proceed to quit their jobs, buy a big car and a big house, and live like the millionaires they've become. Redemptive schmemptive, people work because they have to. If labor were so redemptive, we'd find Rockefellers paving roads and building bridges. If labor were so dignified and redemptive, there would be no Paris Hiltons and her ilk filling the pages of the "Who did what to whom and with whom" columns.

That being said, I begrudge no one who doesn't have to work and thus doesn't. I often find myself being a wee bit jealous of these people. If I didn't have to work, I probably wouldn't. Then I could find time to do things that I really like doing, like writing and reading, and playing tennis and running, and traveling, and singing and playing my guitar. If I were able to make a living doing any of those things, I might find that redemptive. Just don't try to hand me a load of b.s. about the redemptive quality of the sweat of your brow and the dignity of callouses on your hands. Been there. I know better. I am not owned by the job. My job does not define who I am. Nor does it for the millions upon millions of men and women who work a great deal harder than I do every day. So let's all celebrate paychecks, instead. They make life possible, even if coming by them is a real bitch.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nukes? Who Needs Nukes?

Recently, the owners of the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world, the U.S.A. and Russia agreed to reduce the number of nuclear warheads they possess. In a followup, President Obama announced that, in the future, the U.S. will not hold the threat of nuclear retaliation over the heads of non-nuclear nations, even if they attack us with biological or chemical weapons. Mr. Obama went on to explain that this is an effort to assure that U.S. nuclear weapons are strictly for deterrence and we have no inclination to wipe nations off the face of the planet with them. He further noted that rogue nations, specifically North Korea and Iran, who are trying to develop nuclear weapons despite international efforts to contain the spread of nuclear weapons are at risk of nuclear retaliation.

This has provoked a massive outcry from the right-wing, claiming that President Obama has just made the U.S. less safe, and has encouraged terrorist elements to attack us because they no longer have to fear getting their butts nuked. Wrap your heads around that claim, will you? Since when have terrorists worried about getting nuked? Since when has the U.S. nuked an entire group of people, say Afghanistan, because they have sheltered terrorists who attacked the U.S.? The claim is entirely ludicrous. And this is beside the fact that we have enough high-tech conventional weaponry to erase a nation from the face of the planet without engaging in nuclear war, if we are so inclined. Let's get real here.

What we need to do is to applaud a man who recognizes that more nuclear weapons on the planet make it a more dangerous place. Currently there are nuclear weapons in the U.S.A., Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, India, Pakistan, Israel, and South Africa. There are ongoing efforts to develop nuclear weapons and sophisticated delivery systems (long-range missiles) in both North Korea and Iran, both on the U.N. list of crazed fanatics. The larger number of nations possessing these weapons, the greater the likelihood that either A) some nation will try to wipe some other nation out and start a nuclear exchange that will result in humanity going the way of the dinosaurs, or B) some fanatic terrorist group will get hold of a nuclear weapon and start a nuclear exchange that will result in humanity going the way of the dinosaurs.

Did it ever occur to anyone on the right-wing fringes that the only country in the world that has had a nuclear weapon of any sort used on it refuses to develop nuclear weapons, and their national security has not been threatened even once in the last 65 years? Has it occurred to anyone that the country that originally spawned nuclear scientists has gotten along marvelously without nuclear weapons. (That's Germany boys and girls, not the U.S. or Russia.) Has it occurred to anyone that the country that invented smart bombs may not need nukes? Frankly nukes, as a weapon, are just ridiculous overkill. Who needs them when you have the technology to obliterate individuals with a drone and leave the bystanders to gawk? Who needs nukes when we have missiles and bombs that will level entire cities and satellite guided missiles and stealth bombers to deliver those explosive devices?

Maybe it's time we took note of the fact that nuclear weapons are obsolete. Ever since the Reagan administration the U.S. weapons labs have been working on anti-missile defenses. Reagan called it "Star Wars." When, during the first Persian Gulf War, the Iraqis shot Scud missiles at Israel, the U.S. provided the Israelis with anti-missile missiles. They weren't very accurate, at that time, but that was almost 20 years ago now. In the meantime the U.S. has continued work on these defenses and on laser defenses as well. How serious should we take these efforts? Why do you think the Russians have been so adamantly opposed to U.S. development of anti-missile defenses? They're worried that we will have the ability to hit them with a nuclear strike and shoot down their reply. That's why. It's in their best interest and ours to agree to a nuclear reduction treaty, and to pressure the rest of the world to stop the nuclear stupidity as well. Let's get real. Any serious nuclear exchange would result in the annihilation of every living creature on this planet, or at least on a couple of continents. If anyone survived such a catastrophe, it would be "Welcome to the stone age."

All in all, I am reminded of a discussion I once had with one of my brothers. This older brother is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and decidedly more conservative than I on a great many issues regarding the government and the military. At this point in time I forget exactly what it was that we were talking about, but I remember his reply distinctly. He told me, "Do you really think that the U.S. government would get rid of some deadly weapon if we didn't already have something that is even better and more deadly?" Think about that boys and girls. It's a scary proposition.

Monday, April 5, 2010


I just returned from Spring Break, so-called because A) It is spring, and B) My employer gave me a break for a week, a paid break. This break is not to be confused with other sorts of breaks that are sometimes given by employers. If, for instance, your employer gives you an unpaid break this is generally known as a "Layoff," not a break persay, even if it does occur in the spring. Let's get that straight. Sometimes employers may use euphemisms for these "layoffs," such as "Furlough" or "Downsizing" or "Early retirement." Still, they are not what we might think of as legitimate breaks. Mind you, if your employer uses the "Furlough" term, it may mean that there is hope of actually returning to work at some future date, "when the numbers look better." Still not a legitimate break, though.

Once upon a time, Spring Break was known as "Easter Break," and Winter Vacation was known as "Christmas Break." Then, for those of us who work for the government in some capacity or other, it occurred to the legal department that there is this constitutional concept known as "separation of church and state." Turns out a public entity shouldn't really be giving paid holidays to celebrate religious holidays. In a society that touts "freedom of religion" that's a really slippery slope. Then you have to give Jewish people paid holidays for "Passover" and "Channukah" and "Yom Kippur" and who knows what else. Then you know the Muslims are going to demand holidays and probably shut down the cafeterias from sunup to sundown during Ramadan, and well you get the picture. I don't even want to get into the Hindu and Buddhist celebrations, and don't get me started on the Wiccans, although they might have some pretty cool paid holidays, if they were given them. I could kind of get into that dancing naked around fires stuff, or at least a bit of ogling thereof.

It does seem pretty odd to me, however, that "Winter Break" magically occurs right at the time when we used to have "Christmas Break" and "Spring Break" always occurs at precisely the time when we used to have "Easter Break." Turns out that's pretty handy for the Jewish folks as well because for some reason Easter and Passover take place at just about the same time of year. Everybody benefits, unless of course you're Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or Zoroastrian or Wiccan or Rastafarian. Of course, if you're Rastafarian life is a big holiday, isn't it? (Note to self: Check out possible connection between Easter and Passover. Coincidence or not? Hmmm.)

The funny thing is that even though they've taken away our Christmas Break and Easter Break and replaced them with innocuous sounding Winter Break and Spring Break, life goes on. Hey, I have one atheist friend who prefers to celebrate the winter solstice and vernal equinox. I keep telling him that maybe he should check out the Wiccans and maybe the Greek celebrations at the Rites of Dionysius. Fertility, wine,.....What's not to like there? But I digress.

It is true that I personally do not espouse a religion, but I sometimes worry that with no religion I may lose, no not my soul...There is no heaven or hell, but all of my holidays. All of the holidays seem to be tied to some religion or other. Turns out that even when I was a kid, they weren't really about religion for me. Oh hey, I knew that Christmas was supposed to be about the birth of Jesus, the founder of Christianity, the Son of God, etc., etc., etc. It's just that Christmas was really about getting time off from school and getting a bunch of presents. Cool! Santa Claus and reindeer and bags of presents. Now that was a religion that every kid I knew wanted to belong to.

When it came to Easter, I never really dug that one. Never mind being reminded about some dude being crucified by the Romans. Really ugly way to be executed, that. For me and most other kids, it was all about bunnies and colored eggs and stuff. Ohhh, back to the spring fertility symbology again, huh? Okay, I get that stuff now, but as a kid, it was just about the Easter Egg Hunt and that really sucked for a kid who hated boiled eggs. Why in the heck would I want to get involved in a hunt for icky crap like that? Prize eggs? Well there was an incentive. I always liked monetary reward. Still, Easter was always something of a snooze. Had to get all dressed up to go to church to sing, "Up from the grave he arose! He arose!....." Then you went and did the obligatory egg hunt. Lord I was glad when I got too old for that. The only good thing was the big obligatory ham that you got every Easter. Could've called it "Ham Sunday" as far as I was concerned. It was sad to learn that Jewish people don't get ham for Passover. Matzoh just doesn't have the same pizazz, in my estimation. If I were Jewish, I'd probably start a movement to have ham declared kosher. Or then again, I'd end up where I am now, as a non-religious sort who decides his own what to eat and not to eat list. If there were a god, he or she should definitely put kimchi on the "Do not eat under any circumstances list," however.

Not really sure where I'm going with this, but after all is said and done, "Everybody deserves holidays." Everybody needs a break, a paid break, every now and then. The thing is, I think everyone should be allowed to pick and choose their holidays regardless of religious convictions. Even if you believe in nothing, some religious holidays, celebrations, and breaks have some pretty cool traditions. You ought to be allowed to participate. After all, I'm not even remotely Mexican, Irish, or French, but gotta love Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick's Day, and Bastille Day. But then those are American Bar Holidays, aren't they? So anyway, enjoy your holidays and breaks. I'm counting the days until Memorial Day.