Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Are We Just a Bunch of Cavemen, or What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 24, 2010

Republican Politics and Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Scatalogical Interests

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 13, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Goodbye Mr. Daley. America Will Miss You.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 6, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 2, 2010

In a Secular State of Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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