Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Curmudgeon falls into the streaming revolution -- Part II

I begin today's installment (for yesterday's, click here or just scroll down) with something of a confession: I was not entirely ignorant of streaming services before the kids gave me the Roku stick.

The TV in our family room -- the one that's hooked up to the DircTV service -- came with Netflix and YouTube and something else (I forget which) built in.

And, when Olaf and Younger Daughter were living here (they moved out four years ago already!) I was allowed to use their Netflix account.

See, it can be set up for five people -- and I was one of them. I think my designated screen name was "Mooch." No, that's not a name I chose.

Anyway, that's when I learned an important lesson about how these services operate: Every time I clicked on a program or movie to watch, a computer algorithm started whirling and twirling deep within the bowels of Netflix -- if I clicked on a Mickey Mouse cartoon, I got all sorts of cartoons and other Disney effluvia "suggested" for me next time I watched. And, of course, if I clicked on a rom-com I'd get a whole bunch of those suggested for me. Eventually, the Netflix algortihm would start getting to "know" me -- just as Amazon's algorithm has since gotten pretty good at figuring out what books or movies I might like. Scary good.*

Sometimes, with the DirecTV, or, before that, with the cable, when I've clicked through the channels, I'd pause on some cheesy movie or tasteless TV show, just to see what all the fuss was about. You've done this, too, I'm sure; don't pretend otherwise.

But the way I figured it, the show was on anyway, and would be there, whether I lingered there or not. Unless I was hooked up to a Nielsen meter, I didn't contribute to the decline and fall of Western Civilization by peering in.

On the other hand, with Netflix or some streaming service, when I order up a program to watch I am in some small way endorsing it. I am complicit. Because the algorithm will note what I have chosen and then serve up more or whatever it was that I elected to watch. A reality show. A Chuck Lorre sitcom. Any movie with the words "bikini" and/or "hot tub" in the title.

I understand that I could give a negative review if I thought the program tasteless or trashy or whatever -- but I assume the algorithm would just wait and see if I called up another episode or similar show before sneering, yeah, right.

So I'm a little uncertain about how much I'll actually use my new Roku stick. I might learn -- or confirm -- things about myself that I don't really want to know.

* Long-time readers -- as if I had any left given my erratic, and infrequent, posting here -- might remember that, in 2011, I publicly declared that I was afraid to buy from Amazon. I wasn't lying. And I did not in fact buy from Amazon until the giant corporation made peace with my home state by collecting taxes on purchases. And, once that happened, I didn't suddenly start buying everything online -- mostly, if not always, I confined my online orders to stuff not readily available from local stores. But even this was enough for the Amazon algorithm to start predicting with increasingly eerie accuracy stuff I might like. Recently, I've begun searching on Amazon for things I don't like and wouldn't buy -- so I can put its computer off my scent....

Monday, January 07, 2019

Curmudgeon falls into the streaming revolution -- Part I

My children were generous again at Christmas, giving Long Suffering Spouse and me a Roku stick and a "new TV." And all it's cost me so far is $132.

You may wonder why the phrase "new TV" is rendered in quotes. (You may also be wondering what a Roku stick might be and why gifts from my children are costing me money, but all things will be revealed in time, Dear Reader.)

TVs in this day and age aren't really TVs at all. They are monitors. No different, really, than the monitor on which you are viewing this post, if you're reading on a desktop.

TVs today have no tuners; they receive neither VHF or UHF stations (remember when that was a big distinction?); they have no knobs or buttons -- except possibly a manual power switch, well concealed. They do have plugs in the back. Since this was allegedly a "TV" it had a threaded protrusion as well as an HDMI cable plug. The threaded protrusion is where one might connect an antenna with a coaxial cable.

The TV that formerly stood atop my dresser was where the juvenile squirrel that invaded my house in 2007 perched when said squirrel, after I'd noticed him mewling in the open living room window, opted to ignore my suggestion that he exit through the front door, and scrambled up the stairs to the second floor instead.

This was a small color TV -- 12" maybe -- and an outmoded, analog type to boot. Somewhere along the line, though, we'd gotten a digital TV tuner -- which we connected to the TV with one of those aforementioned coaxial cables -- enabling us to watch TV in our room, sort of, depending on the atmospherics, or whether it was our night to be on the main flight path for O'Hare. Which it is, seemingly, on most nights.

But, whatever, I had the digital tuner. The new 24" super keen flatscreen had a threaded protrusion for a coaxial cable so -- I thought -- at least I'd be able to sorta kinda watch TV as we had before, if on a bigger screen.

I hadn't taken the rabbit ears into account.

The old TV had an antenna -- rabbit ears -- that, while not designed for these frequencies, allowed at least some of the modern digital signal to reach the connected tuner.

The super keen new flatscreen, of course, did not.

As a result, we got no picture at all from the digital TV tuner. Not even a sporadic one.

So I knew I would have to buy a digital antenna.

But, first, I would install the Roku stick.

The Roku stick -- about the size and shape of a pack of gum, only with an HDMI plug on one end (that plugs into the back of a super keen flatscreen TV) and a power cord on the other -- picks up a signal via the home wireless Internet. The signal that the Roku stick picks up allows the viewer to log into Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime or ESPN or CBS All-Access or any number of free, or allegedly free, providers -- including Roku.

"Yes, yes, yes," Long Suffering Spouse said, with some exasperation, as I offered this explanation. "But how does it work?"

I gave the best answer I could. "Magic, I think," I told her, and, unsurprisingly, she found this answer less than satisfactory.

Still, it's the best one I have.

The First Law of Technology is that one need not know how something works in order to use it. I gave up trying to keep up with how computers worked when Windows replaced DOS -- but I've managed to get by, more or less, ever since.

This, of course, would be one of those "less" situations -- but I didn't know that as I gamely plugged everything in, set up my account, linked it to my laptop and started downloading Roku "channels."

I did everything properly -- it's my blog, so you'll just have to take my word for it -- at least on the second run-through. Long Suffering Spouse and I went out to a New Year's Day reception while the Roku "channels" were first installing. At some point, while we were out, the operation failed, leaving me with only six of the 20-something "channels" that I was supposed to have gotten on the standard install. When we got back, I started installing these one at a time.

It took... a... long... time.

But this was nothing compared to the time it took to load and play a 90 second instructional video.

Now we did have a wireless network before this. And it worked fine. Our phones or iPads got signal upstairs, as did my laptop. When Olaf and Younger Daughter were living with us, I'd upgraded the cable modem, which intensified the wireless network throughout the house to the point where the kids could use their computer in their room without difficulty. Youngest Son fell asleep at night, when he was living with us, watching reruns of The Office or Seinfeld on his computer.

But, apparently, Roku sticks need more signal than my modem -- however adequate it had been heretofore -- could provide.

I consulted with the kids and their spouses and learned that I would need a Netgear router.

So, now you see how the kids' gift cost me $132 -- the price of the digital antenna and Netgear router.

And I still had to install them both.

The antenna installation was fairly straightforward, of course. It has a flat panel that is supposed to be part of the antenna rig -- but it also has rabbit ears. I knew what to do with these.

But I thought the Netgear device would replace the AT&T modem.

Not so.

It apparently takes the modem's feed and amplifies the signal throughout the house -- pumping it up to the point where, now, I could finally find out what was available on all those Roku channels. And I should talk about that in my next installment.

But, for now, the best part about the Netgear super high-tech Nighthawk router?

It has rabbit ears.

The more things change....

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A marriage made on Tinder? A somewhat apologetic introduction to a story I may never actually tell

So... this could be -- and may eventually be, I think -- a cute story about the marriage of one of my many cousins' many kids. But the story wouldn't make sense unless you know what Tinder is. Long Suffering Spouse assumed it was just another dating app -- but, as you may or may not know, Tinder has little or nothing to do with "dating" in any conventional sense.

So... I thought, for purposes of the story, maybe I should find and link an article that explains Tinder to those who, like Long Suffering Spouse, might not understand what Tinder actually is. This morning, I found an August 2015 Vanity Fair article by Nancy Jo Sales entitled, "Tinder and the Dawn of the 'Dating Apocalypse,'" -- but, after reading it, I am so depressed I don't feel much like telling my little story.

You know how to make a man a feminist? Give him daughters -- and granddaughters. Now, of course, the 'woke' feminists (you'll have to do your own research on what 'woke' means -- I'm researched out for the day) wouldn't have me. Which is fine. I don't subscribe to a lot the ideological nonsense that so many self-proclaimed feminists espouse. But I do understand how awful I feel for the poor young women interviewed for Ms. Sales' article. I hope that most, if not all, of them have found some happiness and fulfillment in the intervening years (the article is three years old already) -- but I fear they have not.

And I realize, now, better, after reading this article, why one of my cousin's wives was giving us the Death Glare as we boys chortled at the wedding reception dinner. Her daughters are younger than mine. And still single. She has to deal with this horrifying Tinder "culture."

I still think it's a good, funny story. But the Death Glare and the linked article make me cautious about the telling.

So I'll have to come back to it.

Soon, I hope. But not this morning.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Random observations, each worth exactly what you paid for it

  • If you wait until the last day of early voting -- that's today, in Illinois -- are you really an "early" voter?
  • I love baseball. But too many baseball fans look like me -- old and white. How can baseball attract young fans -- kids -- by having World Series games that last until 3:30 a.m. on the East Coast?
  • Do you really need me to answer that last question for you?
  • I will never understand why a half gallon of milk costs nearly as much as a whole gallon. Shouldn't it cost half as much?
  • What is Daylight Savings Time supposed to save? Not daylight, certainly. The days get shorter between now and the Winter Solstice whether the clocks are set up or back.
  • There is great consternation in Chicago this morning. Despite the pretense and posturing of our local bigwigs, Amazon seems to be focusing its search for its "HQ2" on Northern Virginia (Crystal City). Now let's think about this... Amazon is currently headquartered in Seattle. But its founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, owns the Washington Post. Seriously... why was this ever in doubt?
  • Memory is a great thing -- and, thankfully, not very reliable. We can look fondly back on our own idyllic childhoods, forgetting all about the near constant sniffles, fevers, and viruses that we probably suffered from then, just as our grandchildren are suffering from them now.
  • I hope this year's flu shot actually matches up against the flu viruses that will actually circulate this year. It was -- what -- 10% effective last year? We could have just worn cloves of garlic and done just about as well -- and we'd have kept away vampires, too.
  • When the elections are finally over, we can go back to nice commercials that won't get us all upset -- like those for erectile dysfunction -- no, wait a minute.
  • About those medicine commercials, why would anyone who listens to the potential side effects ever 'talk to their doctor' about the medication -- unless it was to beg that it never be prescribed?
  • I remember when the History Channel ran history programs. When SyFy was spelled SciFi -- and it showed science fiction programs. When MTV showed music videos. Forget about truth in advertising. How about truth in network names?
  • Spell Check is an invention that I'd rate up there with sliced bread or air conditioning -- not as high as indoor plumbing, certainly, but way up there.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Curmudgeon attempts to explain Kanye West, Donald Trump, Mike Madigan and the "Blue Wave" - Part 3

For Part 1 of this series, click here; for Part 2, click here.

So what's all this "Blue Wave" stuff we've been hearing about incessantly these last several months?

Well, the True Blue Believers think a "Blue Wave" of energized, mad-as-Hell Democratic voters will turn out at the polls next week and turn out all the Trumpsters and Trumpettes and their (often very reluctant) Fellow Travelers in the Republican Party. The House of Representatives will turn from Red to Blue, and maybe the Senate, too!

Will this happen?

I'm not Nate Silver, but I have lived awhile. And I've studied history besides. So I have an opinion -- a prediction, if you will.

Now, of course, my prediction, as is true of all predictions, mustn't be taken too seriously.

If I could really predict the future, I would have picked the same numbers as the lucky winner of last week's $1.5 billion Mega Millions drawing and split the pot. I might even have gone to South Carolina, elbowed aside the would-be winner, and gotten the sole winning ticket for myself.

And that didn't happen.

Also, of course, I've been wrong before. I thought no one would vote for Donald Trump. Ever. That he'd be laughed out of the Republican primaries in 2016 once actual votes were cast. Hoo boy, was I wrong. And then I thought there was no way in Hell that Hillary Clinton could lose to Trump. She might have been the worst Democratic nominee since James Buchanan, but Trump was such a nonsensical alternative. I was actually willing to believe that Bill and Hillary put Donald Trump up to running, directly or indirectly, in hopes of sowing such chaos amongst the Republicans that Hillary's coronation was assured. (You know, I'm still not certain she didn't have a hand in it. No, seriously.)

Anyway, I was wrong. Just like just about every pundit in America. Only no one paid me for my totally wrong predictions.

Nevertheless. I have an opinion here and, while for the reasons aforestated I make no warranties or guarantees, you can bet heavily on this one. Really.

My prediction is that the Democrats will gain seats in the House. Maybe enough to flip it to Blue. They might even pick up a Senate seat or two.

So is that the "Blue Wave?"


It's just history repeating.

The President's party -- whether the President is Republican or Democrat -- almost always loses seats in Congress in the off-year election.

The only recent exception was 2002, when the Republicans gained a handful of House seats -- but it was only a year after 9/11 and Bush the Younger's popularity was at its peak.

The folks who hate, loathe and despite Donald Trump will come out in large numbers and vote Blue. But most of these live in urban areas that are True Blue already. The folks who are wary of hypocritical urban elitists will come out in large numbers and vote Red. But most of these live in rural or exurban areas that are Red already.

And the pundits will tell us that this was a referendum on Trump, Trump, and more Trump. Especially if the Republicans' narrow margin in the House and/or Senate disappears. As is entirely possible.

But that's all a bunch of hooey.

See this guy on the right?

This is the late Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, former Speaker of the House of Representatives. A Democrat. But a Democrat at a time when one such could go to the White House and enjoy a stimulating beverage with a Republican President (Reagan) and not be branded a blood traitor.

Yes, kiddies, there was such a time in America. And in my lifetime, too.

Anyway... all the Anti-Trump voters will cancel out the Anti-Anti-Trump voters (and the pro-Trump voters, too, hard as it is for me to conceive that there could be such persons) and the election will actually be decided in accordance with the wisdom dispensed by the late Mr. O'Neill: All politics is local.

Next week, the people who will decide this mid-term election will vote (if they haven't voted early already) in accordance with their own interests. Their local interests. Are their taxes too high? Are home values rising? Do they have jobs? Are their kids' schools doing well or badly? Are the streets paved? Do the bridges look to be in good repair? Do they feel safe enough in their homes? At their places of work or worship? On the street?

My neighbors may reach -- and almost certainly will reach -- conclusions on these questions that differ from my own. That's why I'm a Curmudgeon, I guess. One of the reasons, anyway. But those will be the decisive questions. As they always are. And should be, Trump be damned. As he almost certainly is anyway.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Curmudgeon attempts to explain Kanye West, Donald Trump, Mike Madigan, and the "Blue Wave" - Part 2

For part 1 of this series, click here.

The gentleman on the left is Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.

Those of you who are not from Illinois may not be familiar with him.

But Mr. Madigan has been Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives since about the time the Earth's crust cooled -- OK, since 1983 -- though there was a two-year interregnum from 1995-1997. He got his start at the Illinois Constitutional Convention in 1969, the same year that he was elected Democratic Committeeman of Chicago's 13th Ward -- a title he has held, of course, ever since. (In Chicago, though this is perhaps less true than it used to be, the committeeman post is the source of his true power.) And he is also (since 1998) the Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. He has been around so long that his daughter Lisa is retiring this year after a long career as Illinois Attorney General.

As with Kanye West and Donald J. Trump, I don't know Mr. Madigan personally. But, unlike those others, I do know a number of folks who have worked with and for Mr. Madigan over the years.

Good people.

Honest people.

Nice people.

Not the sort that would be attracted to serve with the Devil.

And, so, even though some of these nice, decent sorts that I do know personally have helped Mr. Madigan draw the most astoundingly convoluted electoral maps (contrary to what you read in the national press, it is not only Republicans who gerrymander) and even though some of these people that I do know have helped Mr. Madigan torpedo efforts to draw competitive electoral maps, I believe I can say with some confidence that Mr. Madigan sports neither a tail, nor horns, nor cloven hooves.

He knows the rules. He works them to his supreme advantage. He assumes nothing, and allows his people to assume nothing either. They knock on doors. They listen. (That's good.) They figure out what people fear, and they prey on it. (Not so good.) They cram mailboxes with flyers, pamphlets, postcards (big and small), some factual, some outrageous. Madigan has figured out a formula for victory and, generally, he wins.

In Illinois this November, Mr. Madigan will almost certainly win in that, thanks to his cartographic skills, and his field work, Democrats will have another veto-proof majority in the House, which will again elect Mr. Madigan Speaker.


If you have the misfortune to watch television in the Chicago market, especially during news programs, you'd think Mr. Madigan was the Boss of All Bosses, the capo di tutti capi, and, moreover, a candidate for every elected office.

Again, if you were forced to watch the commercials, you would think that Mr. Madigan's opponent in every race was President Donald J. Trump.

Four years ago, after two of our most recent governors went to jail (one Republican and one Democrat -- in Illinois, corruption is bipartisan) -- we elected as our governor a Republican billionaire, Bruce Rauner. He was going to "shake up Springfield." And the personification of Springfield was, in his view, Speaker Madigan.

Mr. Rauner had exactly zero qualifications for elected office other than his wealth. And like a lot of big shot, big-headed businessmen, he thought that all the political system was lacking were his management skills.

Mr. Madigan had a veto-proof majority in the House. Democratic State Senate President John Cullerton had a veto-proof majority in the Senate. What did Rauner think he was going to do? Fire them?

Mr. Rauner had reason to want to 'shake up Springfield.' Despite a constitutional balanced budget requirement, Illinois was drowning in debt. There were mountains of unpaid bills -- and Illinois' pensions were in abysmal shape. In Springfield (and Chicago, too, for that matter), while government workers paid a chunk of their every paycheck toward their pensions -- it was automatically deducted -- the governments themselves skimped or even skipped their required contributions. When the real estate bubble was billowing, everything looked good on paper. The pensions seemed adequately funded, despite the missed governmental contributions, because of the paper value of the assets owned by the funds.

When reality intruded, however, the pensions' parlous positions were revealed.

The last governor, Pat Quinn, had sealed his electoral doom by obtaining a temporary state income tax hike from the Legislature to start paying down our debt. But that temporary hike was due to roll back in 2015, at the start of the new gubernatorial term.

Rauner didn't want to announce that we'd better keep the higher tax rate in place -- and Madigan wasn't going to do it for him.

Because neither would blink, Illinois went nearly three years without a budget.

I blame Madigan.

Now that may seem unfair inasmuch as it is, in Illinois, the governor's constitutional duty to prepare and submit a balanced budget.

But Rauner had no clue. He was a billionaire who bought his position. Mr. Madigan was the seasoned political professional -- with a veto-proof majority, at least on paper.

He could have lead.

Madigan could have tried to craft a budget. But there would be a tax hike -- in the end, of course, there had to be. And Mr. Madigan didn't want to take the political hit for it (and Republicans now are screeching about Madigan's 67% tax hike -- our income tax rate went from 3.75% to 4.95% 1 -- and it's probably still not enough). Democrats are claiming that Rauner cost the state a billion dollars (through increased borrowing costs as budgetless Illinois' credit rating kept drifting downward) -- but it was as much Madigan's fault as Rauner's.

Eventually -- and the use of the passive voice is entirely intentional here -- a budget was crafted. The passive voice is used because no one claims ownership of it, though Madigan is blamed for it. Rauner vetoed it. The veto was overridden. And this budget is almost certainly not balanced(magical accounting assumptions are needed); on the other hand, though our debts will continue to grow, the rate of the increase of our deficit should slow.

Maybe Madigan could not have moved faster than he did. "Progressive" Democrats from Chicago share little in common with conservative Democrats from rural areas Downstate. Mr. Madigan is not the absolute monarch portrayed in the Republicans' commercials. He could not dictate any result. The few Republicans might have refused -- as they ultimately did refuse -- to collaborate.

So why do I blame Madigan?

I guess I blame Mr. Madigan because he was the adult, or should have been. He should have shouldered the responsibility once it became clear that Rauner would default. While he does not wield absolute power, he has considerable influence, mainly because he has substantial control over campaign funding for his delegation in the Illinois House. I think he was slow to use the influence he had -- I mean, seriously, three years?

I guess I blame Mr. Madigan because our fiscal problems grew and festered while he has been in office. Our problems pre-date Rauner; they will persist once he is gone.

And how do the Illinois Democrats propose to solve these long-standing, and at least somewhat self-inflicted, problems?

Well, instead of acknowledging and cleaning up the mess they helped to make, the Democratic Party of Illinois has made it their number one priority to get Rauner the heck out of Springfield. Toward that end, the Party has embraced J.B. Pritzker -- another damn billionaire without any real political experience (his sister Penny was Secretary of Commerce in the Obama Administration, but J.B., aside from being a delegate to a couple of Democratic National Conventions, has never held elective or appointed political office -- he ran for Congress once, in 1998, and lost).

To solve the problem of a clueless billionaire Republican governor, the Democrats recruit a clueless billionaire of their own? (And clueless he must be: If you want to be a Democrat in this state you must be 100% pro-union. Mr. Pritzker used non-union labor to rehab his mansion. A Democrat has to support the rich paying their fair share of taxes. Mr. Pritzker bought the mansion next door to his, had all the toilets removed, and then sought -- and received -- a property tax break on his own home... because the house next door was uninhabitable. Months after being exposed, Pritzker finally offered to pay back the tax savings he unfairly won. Totally clueless.)

Anyway, Pritzker's stated solution to our chronic fiscal woes is that Illinois should tax the rich more than the poor. A graduated income tax.

But there's a small problem with this -- and it is one the media either doesn't understand or deliberately refuses to report.

See, the Illinois Constitution of 1970 (Con-Con being the place where Mr. Madigan got his start in electoral politics, remember) provides that Illinois can have only a flat income tax. One rate for all incomes. To get the graduated tax that Mr. Pritzker purports to support, we will need to amend our constitution. That can't happen before 2020 -- it has to come before, and be approved by, the voters. The media have finally figured out that there can't be such a tax before 2020, but they haven't addressed the necessity of the constitutional amendment -- or the uncertainty of its passage.

You see... here, as in most things, the Devil is in the details. The Democrats, well aware that most of us are not millionaires, would like to focus on hiking the tax rate for incomes in the millions of dollars. Fine. But what will be the tax rate on $50,000 in income? What will be the tax rate on $100,000?

And what guarantees will there be that our property taxes -- which are extraordinarily high compared to rates in other states -- will actually go down?

To pass, under Article 14, Section 2 of our Constitution, a proposed graduated income tax amendment would have to approved by "either three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election."

You may wonder what that means.

Remember, this proposition will be at the very bottom of the ballot. A lot of people come out to vote in presidential election years, as 2020 will be, but vote only for President -- or President and a few other top offices. As one goes further down the ballot, historically, fewer and fewer people vote. Unless the constitutional amendment enjoys the support of a super-majority, every non-vote on the constitutional question, therefore, is an effective "no" vote.

To illustrate: In the November 2016 election, according to the records of the Illinois State Board of Elections, 5,666,118 ballots were cast in Illinois. But, only 4,811,115 voters made it all the way down to the proposed constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot, adding a new Section 11 to the Revenue Article, Article 9, of the Constitution (dealing with transportation funds). The amendment enjoyed overwhelming support across the entire state -- carrying every single Illinois county -- with 78.91% of those voting on the proposition supporting it -- but those yes votes amounted to only 67.47% of the total ballots cast.

So maybe the Democrats can pass a constitutional amendment in 2020. But what will we do in the meantime?

The State is in a bad way. Chicago is on its way to becoming the next Detroit. Substituting one inept billionaire for another will not solve anything.

I'm tired of the posturing. I'm tired of the nonsense. I want grownups to handle our political affairs. I know the Republicans are no better. But I can't support the status quo any longer. I know I'm spitting into the wind, and I know all I'll get for my troubles is a wet face.

But it's that frustration with the way things are that leads me not lend unquestioning support to those who have been in charge here since forever. And while I might not agree with Kanye West on how to make things better, or what we need to change, and how, I think I can understand, a little bit, anyway, why he'd wear that silly MAGA hat.

And I know I haven't talked about the "Blue Wave" yet. That will be next.


1 Some of you may know how to do math. You may protest that this is not a 67% increase -- which, of course, it isn't. But Illinois' flat income tax rate used to be 3% -- in 2011, Gov. Pat Quinn (the governor who didn't go to jail, but succeeded to office when Rod Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office on his way to jail) got a temporary hike of that 3% rate to 5% with a 'rollback' permanent rate of 3.75%. An increase from 3% to 5% is a 67% increase, and an increase from 3% to 4.95% is close enough -- and no one pays attention to numbers anyway, right? Math is hard.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Curmudgeon attempts to explain Kanye West, Donald Trump, Mike Madigan, and the "Blue Wave" - Part I

Pretty big undertaking, wouldn't you say?

Well, let's start with this: I don't know Kanye West. I wouldn't know Kanye West if he bit me on the leg.

I certainly don't know Kanye West's music. I understand he recorded a track or two with Paul McCartney. I haven't heard them. And I guess Mr. West is married to a reality TV star who became famous for making a sex tape with someone who is not Kanye West.

But I do know Kanye West is from Chicago. He was just here yesterday, with Chance the Rapper, at a rally for longshot Chicago mayoral candidate Amara Enyia. Mr. West has contributed somewhere around $73,000 to her campaign.

And Amara Enyia is not Donald Trump supporter.

Far from it.

Mr. West, on the other hand, has been supportive of President Donald J. Trump. He's been warmly received in the Oval Office. He's been photographed, as shown here, wearing a MAGA hat. Why? I think I can explain. But you'll have to stay with me awhile.

Meanwhile, let's get this straight: I don't like President Trump. He is a bully and a boor and a loudmouth. When he speaks, I cringe. I can't understand how he got a single vote in the 2016 Republican primaries.

But he won.

Fair and square.

I'm not about to throw out the Electoral College or any other part of the Constitution simply because Donald Trump had the insane good fortune to run against Hillary Clinton. Who thought the election was a mere formality. Who assumed the Rust Belt and the Upper Midwest would vote for her without bothering to do anything to court their votes... oh, wait, she threw a concert in Ohio. LBJ was there. (No, not that LBJ, you old fogies, he's long dead -- you know, LBJ the basketball megastar.)

The one good thing about Trump that I can say is that -- since this is still America -- he will soon be gone. In January 2021, presumably. By no later than January 2025. We will outlast him.

There are times when I can almost feel sorry for Mr. Trump. Sometimes I think he has been the subject of the most negative press coverage in history. It's not that the horrible, mean, vile things said about Trump are anything new. Horrible, mean, vile things were said about his predecessor -- my fellow Chicagoan, Mr. Obama -- as well. Different things. But horrible nonetheless. And, unlike a lot of the terrible things said about Mr. Obama, some of the things said about Trump, though vile and mean, are true, or mostly true.

But there is a difference: When people were reported saying horrible, mean, vile things about Mr. Obama, those people were vilified, publicly shamed, humiliated. Many lost jobs. When people are reported saying horrible, mean, vile things about Mr. Trump, they typically receive applause. Plaudits. Appreciation. To the point where I can almost -- almost -- feel sorry for the man.

And then the idiot tweets again.

So -- knowing, as you now do, how I feel about Mr. Trump, you will be unsurprised to learn that, this November, I will be voting for every damn Republican I can find. Not that I'll be able to find many on my Cook County ballot.

Oh... you are surprised?

But the explanation is simple: Like Kanye West, I am from Chicago.

I realize that, for most who happen upon this post, I will have to expand on this in order for you to understand. And that's what I will do in the post or posts to come.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Curmudgeon's van again requires service

Our family van is old now. Very old.

This sporadically-updated collection of essays began in late 2005. Our current van was new then. In fact a tribute to its predecessor is about the only post I can specifically recall from my first, long-abandoned blog (you are reading, now, you see, my second effort at blogging).

I readily concede that all older vehicles have their eccentricities... but I think our van is actually haunted.

By what, I don't know. Some mischievous sprite who has taken a personal dislike to me, I suppose.

I've never been any good with cars. Or car people. I have discovered that car people can actually smell automotive ignorance. And, brother, do I reek.

Despite my limitations, I have done my best to maintain our family fleet. I get the oil changed as directed, for example.

A year or two ago, when the family van's front left turn signal went on the blink (*ahem*) I took it to my neighborhood oil change place -- they do turn signals there, too -- and got the blinker replaced.

It may have worked for a week.

I took the van back and had them replace it.

But, once again, it stopped working within a matter of days.

Incensed, I made plans to take it back a third time, fantasizing about driving the vehicle through the overhead doors.

Then it rained.

And the blinker blinked, just as it was supposed to.

But, when the weather cleared, the blinker stopped blinking.

It took us awhile, you understand, to see the relationship between the rain and the restoration of the turn signal. What rational creature would make that connection?

But, eventually, there was no denying. The blankety-blank blinker only blinked when it rained. Or snowed. You know... adding water is not recommended for the ordinary operation of electronic devices. I may not be a car person, but I could figure that much out. Still... what was there to replace?

I had every reason to fear that some sort of electrical system failure underlay the blinker issue, the same sort of electrical issue that made our power door locks inoperable... and unfixable... some years ago. (On one of my thousand-dollar forays to the dealer, I asked them to repair the locks -- and they did -- for about 48 hours. No, I didn't take it back then. Some things we just must accept.)

Rust is steadily claiming the van's sliding doors. One of these days the doors will simply disappear. If the family purse permitted it, I would be considering the purchase of a new vehicle. But, alas.

So we make do.

Or we have tried.

Lately, though, the van has developed a new trick. The air conditioning works fine -- but the fan that blows the cold air into the vehicle has begun working only sporadically.

'Sporadically', for any of you young people out there with a limited vocabulary, means that the blower generally works when I'm driving -- but generally doesn't work when Long Suffering Spouse drives. Or is along for the ride. Especially if the outside temperature is 90 or more.

A week or so ago, Long Suffering Spouse put her foot down. I had to do something about the blower.

And it is a safety matter. That same blower which keeps the van comfortable in the heat is what keeps the defroster defrosting.

So I took the van to a different car repair place -- not the dealer -- I don't have $1,000 to spare at the moment -- and as I was within a mile or two of the place on that first occasion the blower suddenly kicked on. The van was positively chilly by the time I got to the dealer (the outside temperature -- which had been over 90 the day before -- 'coincidentally' crashed at about the same time -- a pneumonia front came in off Lake Michigan). But I gamely explained these facts to the nice people at the car repair place... and they looked at each other... and back at me... and they agreed to take a look.

An hour or two later, an earnest young man delivered the verdict -- keeping his distance from me, you understand. "We looked at it," he told me, carefully. "But, you see, it's working. Why don't you bring it back if it should stop working? Maybe then we can figure out what's wrong."

They were so eager to be rid of me on that occasion that they didn't give me a bill.

And, of course, the blower has worked flawlessly since.

Until yesterday.

Long Suffering Spouse drove the van to school yesterday, and then to Younger Daughter's house. Younger Daughter had to schedule an unanticipated doctor's visit for Granddaughter No. 1 and Younger Daughter's husband had their family vehicle. Long Suffering Spouse was to let Younger Daughter borrow the van and sit with Younger Daughter's other kids so Younger Daughter could get to the doctor. (We have backup car seats in the van -- that's another story -- so it's all legal.)

Anyway, the blower noticed that Long Suffering Spouse was driving and immediately stopped working. It didn't start again when Younger Daughter took the wheel either. Long Suffering Spouse advised me of these facts, at some length, as she drove back -- with the blower still inoperative -- from Younger Daughter's house last evening.

Accordingly, this morning, I packed up my laptop, hoping to get a little work done at the repair place. Long Suffering Spouse had to go to school this morning -- classes are over, but there are end of the year meetings all week -- and I was to drop her off on the way.

But the blower noticed I was driving... and sprung back to life.

I figured to work from home this morning, and I no sooner exited the van when my cell phone rang.

It was Long Suffering Spouse. She needed to return some school-owned equipment this morning, and she'd forgotten to bring a power cord belonging to same. I went inside, grabbed the cord, and fired up the van again.

The blower worked fine.

I parked at school, and delivered the cord.

I started the van, heading back home.

But guess what decided to stop? Well, hot weather is predicted for the coming weekend....

So, here I am in the repair shop. Typing.

The blower stayed off on the trip over. I told Long Suffering Spouse that, given how they'd looked at me last time, there was no way I was setting foot on the premises if the blower resumed operation en route.

Oh, yes, they remembered me from last time.

But, when the blower didn't work for them this morning either, they agreed to undertake its replacement.

That earnest young man has come into the waiting room a couple of times now to tell me that they've encountered unexpected difficulties getting it out.

The mischievous sprite is no doubt toying with them, too.

But, supposedly, at some point ere long, the van will be restored to me and the blower will work.

We'll see for how long....

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

What happened to the necktie?

With Father's Day nearly upon us, this is not merely an idle question. The struggling retail industry would like an answer. Remember when a new tie was the quintessential Father's Day gift? Is this no longer the case?

Every day this week, as I've wandered around Chicago's Loop, I've taken time to notice whether men are wearing neckties.

A lot of them aren't.

Men are wearing sportcoats, even suits, but open-collared shirts. Old men, young men, middle-aged men -- clear majorities of men in all age groups are tieless.

That's particularly surprising in my little corner of the world. My Teeny Tiny Law Office is located in a building pretty much crawling with lawyers. I am three blocks from the Daley Center -- a primary county courthouse. There are lawyers everywhere around me, presumably, but very few of them are sporting ties.

Of course, I'm not wearing a tie today either. Truth to tell, I only wore a tie on Monday because I had to go to court. With the sole exception of one judge, since retired, I can't imagine a male lawyer deliberately going to court without a tie.

Of course, accidents do happen. I came to work once, some years ago, wearing a flannel shirt -- I think I was planning to move boxes or something -- only to realize, upon arriving at the office, that I'd forgotten a court date. Desperate, I scrounged a jacket from a colleague -- he was shorter than me, and thinner, so the jacket had no chance of buttoning and the sleeves came only about three quarters of the way down my arm -- but at least I didn't feel completely naked when I approached the bench. The judge -- with whom I'd been friendly when she was a privatus like me (we'd had some cases together) -- regarded me with exasperation: "Really, Curmudgeon? Flannel?"

But those kinds of accidents don't happen if one comes to work dressed in the uniform of the profession -- that is, wearing a jacket and tie. And it really was unusual for me to come downtown without both.

But that was then.

If this tieless look among professional men is a trend, and I think it is, what accounts for it?

I remember noticing years ago that Israeli politicians frequently sported an open-necked look. But I figured that was probably a consequence of the warm climate in that country. Who likes to wear a tie when it's hot out? But I only noticed the look because it was unusual. Out of the ordinary.

A few years back, I noticed that President Obama didn't always wear a tie, even while giving speeches. In the 2016 presidential primaries, it occurred to me that a lot of candidates were campaigning without neckties. I guess the idea was to appear more a 'Man of the People.'

Donald Trump, on the other hand, always seems to be wearing a necktie. Tied too long, but always on.

Oh, Lord, this can't be a political thing can it?

Please tell me that the disappearing necktie is an American phenomenon -- not just a Blue State thing....

Monday, June 04, 2018

All I wanted was a little piece of coffeecake

It was almost time to go this morning. This is Long Suffering Spouse's last week of school but, though the year may be winding down, and her students long ago checked out, she still has to be there by 7:40.

We were both moving more slowly than would be optimal (it had been a busy weekend) and I had to get the garbage and recycling bins out before I could get even a sip of my much-needed morning coffee.

But, finally, I could sit down at the computer and begin an abbreviated version of my morning routine (checking the email, reading the comics). As the first cup of coffee began to take hold, and the will to live began to return, I remembered that my wife had found cheese coffeecake when were at the grocery on Saturday.

I am very partial to cheese coffeecake.

And now that Long Suffering Spouse and I are empty nesters, I can enjoy a little coffeecake all week long.

At least, I've done so recently.

Last week, admittedly, I didn't make it to Thursday.

But I'm sure you understand how these things work.

Anyway, I'd had a little piece on Sunday and, as Long Suffering Spouse had not yet begun actively packing up, it occurred to me that I might have time for a little piece now.

In a normal house, perhaps, the cake would have been on the kitchen counter. But ours, alas, is not a normal house.

It's been a wet spring and, for the most part, a cool one -- though we did have an unusual run of 90-degree days just around Memorial Day.

As near as I can tell, cool temperatures allow for the proliferation of little tiny ants who like to infest the counters of our kitchen. (Our kitchen sits atop a very old, gravel-lined, very shallow crawl space; we think that's probably where most of our invaders originate.)

In our house, ants also seem to proliferate when the weather is warm, wet, or dry. If it's below freezing, they mostly keep to themselves. But that's about it.

When this year's invasion began, Long Suffering Spouse went to the hardware store and bought a whole bunch of plastic ant traps. Now, I understand how these are supposed to work -- but, as near as I can tell, these traps merely discourage any lazy ants who get tired of detouring around these obstacles.

But, fine. If Long Suffering Spouse thinks the ant traps help, I think they help, too. And I don't put any food on the kitchen counter.

Still, stuff has to go somewhere.

We have a kitchen table in the room adjoining the kitchen. (If our kitchen were bigger, the table would be installed in our kitchen. So calling it a kitchen table seems appropriate to me.)

That's where my coffeecake was this morning.

I brought it into the kitchen, intending to set it temporarily on the counter while I fished out a knife to cut me a slice. I opened the box... pulled out the cake... and began brushing away ants.

It was the German chocolate cake fiasco all over again. Only I wasn't meeting a prospective daughter-in-law this morning. (Hey, she married Middle Son despite my issues with the carpet of ants on my Easter dessert -- so there.)

I made a disgusted noise -- which immediately got my wife's attention -- and I began knocking ants off my cake and dispatching them mercilessly. But there were too many. "Throw it out!" said my wife, as she ran into the kitchen, and, reluctantly, I complied, tossing my precious coffeecake into the new bag I'd just set up in the kitchen.

"Where was it?" Long Suffering Spouse demanded, and I told her, and she raced into the adjacent room to see the locus in quo for herself. "Get me the bleach!" she screamed a millisecond later.

Coming round the corner myself, I could see there were ants all over the table, and on the side of the tablecloth. I hadn't noticed these when I grabbed my cake. Perhaps my coffee hadn't taken hold as well as I thought.

"Take that bag out!" Long Suffering Spouse commanded, not bothering to look up -- and I quickly complied. My wife was in the grips of a killing frenzy at this point, and I did not want to be mistaken for an overlarge ant.

I'd barely gotten back in the house, though, when my wife issued another command: "Get the vacuum cleaner! The rug is moving!"

Apparently, ants are just about as fond of cheese coffeecake as I am; about a gazillion or so had come up looking for their own piece.

I wonder how I got away with having cheese coffeecake the last couple of weeks.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

When she'd calmed down a little, after the vacuum was put away, and we were finally on the road to school (she drops me off en route, so I can catch the train), Long Suffering Spouse acknowledged that it was probably a good thing that I'd seen the ants now.

"Can you imagine what it would have been if we didn't see it until this evening?" she asked.

Well, tell the truth, I hadn't imagined it before she asked. But, thinking on it, now I think I have a bit of insight into how a lot of 1950s horror movies got their plots....

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Devil hosts a celebratory banquet

It was quite a gathering in one of the lower circles of Hell last weekend, a sumptuous-looking banquet (though it tasted like shit, because it was made of shit) in an ornate ballroom from which the damned are usually barred.

The Prince of Darkness himself presided. As imps and other minor demons cleared away the gold plates, still reeking of horse manure, Satan poured himself another generous goblet of blood and strode to the dais, looking out at the many guests of dishonor.

Below the head table the entire room was filled with the shades of Catholic clergy -- priests and brothers and even a few nuns. Every one of these had stolen the innocence of boys and girls in their care -- parishioners, students, orphans, relatives. A great many priests, in fact, who'd carefully cultivated seminarians or altar servers. Teachers who groomed students. So many who'd been 'treated' and returned to different churches or schools -- rested, refreshed, and more than ready to renew their pursuit of innocent children.

But none of these were at the head table.

No, as the Devil gripped the podium with one claw, and hoisted the goblet in the other, he looked right and left at the bishops and abbots and provincials, all garbed in their best ecclesiastical finery. Not by their choice. No, this was at the Devil's own insistence.

And he smiled.

It was a terrifying sight to behold, and those beholding it shuddered and shriveled.

Which only made the Evil One smile more.

"I drink to you, reverend fathers, brothers, and sisters," the Devil began, nodding gravely. "I could not have done it without you -- and I am grateful."

There was a buzz in the assemblage, despite themselves. Gratitude was not something ordinarily expressed by the Prince of Darkness. Anger, fury, hatred -- sure -- but gratitude? This was unexpected, and quite unsettling. None wanted to get back to their specific torments, you understand, but the Devil's gratitude stung more, at that moment, than their usual hot pokers.

The Devil paused. He knew that no one in the room followed events back on Earth; an eternity of torment leaves no time for such things. So they didn't know what they'd done to merit his thanks.

That made the coming revelation even more delicious, he decided. He chuckled.

Knees buckled.

"Without your betrayals of your vows, without your abuses of authority, the Irish would never have done what they did this week -- but I am especially grateful to your superiors, to the bishops, and abbots, and provincials here assembled" -- and here the Evil One gestured to include those at the head table. "Not all of them shared your interest in little boys or little girls," the Devil said in a confidential tone, "but they squandered the moral authority of the Church by protecting you instead of the children you defiled.

"And it's not just the lives of those that you ruined, or the many members of their families who renounced their faith when your depredations were finally revealed, so many of whom eventually came to me--" he paused again, savoring the thought -- "no, now the Irish -- the Catholic Irish of all people -- have voted to legalize abortion! And all because of you....

"Who will listen to a Catholic Church that protected the likes of you?" The Devil actually laughed. "So, thank you, thank you, thank you!" He lifted the goblet a final time, then drained it. "Now get the Hell out."

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Curmudgeon vents about laboring in obscurity -- even when he's out in the open

As I've mentioned here before, I also write a blog under my given name.

It's actually fairly popular -- a thousand page views a day is not uncommon these days, sometimes more. This week, lots more. I've won awards for the blog, and prominent people have told me it provides a genuine service. It recently was mentioned in a news article in a genuine newspaper. You know, a major metropolitan daily.

But no one in my family, and no one among my close friends, actually reads the damned thing.

A friend of 40 years told me not long ago that he did stumble across an article on my real-life blog -- he was researching a particular topic, and my article came up. What's more, he told me, he agreed with the position I took. And, yes, he did look shocked about it. I'll have to look at your blog again, he told me.

I don't know whether he has or hasn't. But judging by everyone else in my immediate acquaintance, I doubt it.

I wonder if this happens to writers who make a living from what they publish.

I kind of doubt it, don't you?

Can you imagine J.K. Rowling at a Rowling family reunion, making small talk with a cousin? J.K. makes some offhand reference to Harry Potter and Cousin Reginald just gives her a blank look. Harry who? he asks.

Of course that couldn't happen. J.K. could show up at that reunion in a limo the size of Luxembourg (whether she does or doesn't is irrelevant -- she could if she wanted to). All her friends and relations (including all sorts of relations she probably didn't know she had 25 years ago) would cheerfully follow her around anywhere she cared to lead, all waving wands and slurping pumpkin juice, if she asked them to.

Why? Because J.K. Rowling has made tens, if not hundreds, of millions from her writing.

Me? I've made tens, and maybe even a few hundreds of dollars from my blog. Not quite the same thing.

But, for cryin' out loud, if you can't get friends and family to read what you write, how can you hope to turn those tens or hundreds into tens or hundreds of thousands?

Yeah, I can't figure that out either.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

I have a new tyrant in my life

Behold the Fitbit.

Youngest Son and his wife got Long Suffering Spouse one of these contraptions for her birthday a couple of months back. She liked it. She marveled at how many steps the device registered just as she moved in her classroom, especially on days when she had younger children (my wife teaches Spanish at the parish grade school and, over the course of the year, sees everyone from three-year old preschool through 8th grade). If she ever had time to use the walking track above the gym in the Parish Center -- she seldom does -- she'd come within daily striking distance of the magic 10,000 steps everyone talks about.

Then my wife began thinking. She began to wonder how many steps I was taking each day, going to the office, running errands, pacing while on the phone.

[Cue ominous-sounding music here.]

"A hundred, perhaps," I guessed, when she asked me. "A hundred fifty if I have an extra cup of coffee."

She was not amused.

But I already knew I'm going slowly to seed. I'm not going downtown as often as I used to -- and, many times, when I do, I drive down. Recently, I've driven frequently because I've needed to provide chauffeur service for my oldest granddaughter -- Younger Daughter didn't always have access to her car -- Olaf drives to work -- and Granddaughter #1 still had to get to preschool twice a week.

Yes, I enjoyed playing chauffeur.


But walking to and from the parking garage is not the same thing as walking home from the train. And, with efiling, I really don't have to come downtown at all except to check the mail and go to court. And I don't have a lot going on in court at the moment. So there have been many days when I haven't bothered to go in. And it's been a cold, wet spring in Chicago this year. Who wants to go downtown when it's raining? The drive is miserable. And who wants to take the train when you know you're going to get rained on? I probably haven't walked home more than 10 times this year -- Long Suffering Spouse will pick me up at the train.

So, when my wife asked me how many steps I thought I took each day, she thought I was being a wisenheimer -- even though I was exaggerating only slightly.

She got me this new infernal device a week ago.

It has surprised my wife, and confirmed my perceptions.

So now the question becomes -- what am I going to do about it? What do I have to do about it?

It's about to buzz me again -- I haven't taken my 250 steps in the past hour.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Why do we do it?

Oddly enough, this is the first post I've put up here in a year -- to the day, actually -- which would make this Granddaughter No. 4's 2nd birthday today. Since then, she's been joined by Granddaughters 5 and 6 and Grandson No. 1. Youngest Son got married last summer, too. Small wonder, then, that I haven't blogged here -- with the demands of work and family, I can barely keep up the things I must do, much less those that I might want to do.

But, whether I write them down or not, things are still churning around in my brain (my motto: space available), and one idea in particular has come to the fore repeatedly.

As I'm growing older (growing up?) I realize that I don't just like things anymore, I really like sharing things I like.

When I was younger, I collected music. I collected movies. I collected books. I listened to music. I watched movies. I read books. And I could do so all by myself.

And I still can... I just don't want to. Not to the same extent, anyway.

I want to share what I like with those I like most -- grandchildren, mostly, of course. I want to educate them about the movies I like. About the music I like. About the books I've read.

My kids are largely a lost cause on this subject.

Middle Son used to have a 'rule' about what movies I could put on in his presence -- it had to be in color -- like most Millennials, he can't abide black and white movies -- and it had to be made after 1950. And he could not stand musicals.

Sisters, sisters/
There were never such devoted sisters...
So imagine Middle Son's aggravation this past holiday season when he showed up at his younger sister's house to pick up his infant daughter (Younger Daughter watches Granddaughter No. 5 three days a week) and found the baby cooing along happily with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in White Christmas.

Middle Son blamed me for his daughter's apparent corruption -- even though I was nowhere near Younger Daughter's house on the occasion in question. Nor was he mollified when I pointed out that the movie in question was both in color and made after 1950....

Of course, in order to transmit my cultural legacy it will be necessary for me to endure whatever the grandkids like at any given time.

These days, the Disney Princesses and the Paw Patrol pups are at the top of the charts with my grandkids.

Much as I would like to grumble about the failure to teach the U.S. Constitution in our preschools these days (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8 -- the Emoluments Clause so much in the news of late -- begins, "No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States" -- and yet all my granddaughters want to grow up to be princesses!), I realize it will not advance my purpose. So I have learned instead to tell Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella apart at sight. (That's not as easy as you might think. Thank goodness for Disney diversity; it's much easier to tell Merida from Mulan, or Jasmine from Belle. Ariel has the red hair -- and fish tail. Snow White's a brunette....)

And I've impressed my fellow grandparents with my recollection of the various and sundry Paw Patrol pups and their catchphrases (Chase -- Chase is on the case! -- Marshall -- I'm all fired up! -- Skye -- Gotta fly! -- Rubble -- Rubble on the double....)

Shakespeare's place on his pedestal remains secure.

But when I recite all the Paw Patrol pups to the grandkids, I always ask, "Where's Ishkabibble? Ishkabibble's my favorite and I never see him." The older ones wait for it, now, ready to howl: There is no Ishkabibble!

But I will demand a high price for this willingness to learn what the preschool set finds to be culturally significant. Someday, they'll have to watch Fred and Ginger movies with me. In glorious monochrome. Just as God, and the RKO Studios, intended. And then I'll get to watch them again for the first time, through new eyes.

At least, that's my plan.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Granddaughter No. 4 turned 1 on Saturday

Well, actually, that's fake news. Or at least premature news. The actual natal day is today, but the family party in honor of Granddaughter No. 4's 1st birthday was Saturday night at the home of her parents, Younger Daughter and Olaf.

All of Younger Daughter's siblings put in an appearance, at least for part of the festivities. Youngest Son came late, his fiancee arriving at least a half hour before he did. Youngest Son is an assistant coach on a local college baseball team this year and, on Saturday, his team won their third and fourth games in a row. Since they've only won six games all season, that's a big deal.

Middle Son made only a cameo appearance. His wife, Margaret, is expecting (Granddaughter No. 5 should arrive in early August), but his wife's delicate condition was not the reason for the brevity of his visit. This past Saturday Middle Son and his wife were babysitting two of their nephews. I'm not sure where the parents were -- Margaret's family is from Eastern Michigan -- so I assume the boys' parents were here doing touristy things sans kinder. Margaret has four nephews in all, just as Middle Son has four nieces. Margaret's mother is over the moon that Margaret is carrying a girl; it seems she's bought dresses---just in case---before all her other grandsons came. She has always put on a good face about things, of course, or at least she believes she has; still, one of her grandsons' fathers, when he heard that Margaret was carrying a girl, supposedly told his son, "say goodbye to your grandma."

Now it's Middle Son who's trying---and not doing very well---at putting a good face on things. Clearly, he had been rooting for a boy. I predict, however, that his funk will last only until his baby girl is put in his arms for the very first time.

Of course, he has to live that long. After he left the party, Older Daughter and Younger Daughter were speculating about whether or not Middle Son would live through the weekend. It seems that Margaret had begun complaining recently that her work clothes were no longer fitting properly. (Who'd have thunk it, right?) Anyway, as Middle Son explained to his sisters, he took it on himself to pick out some new clothes for his wife. He knew what she liked; he just got things that were similar, if not identical, to favorite outfits -- but not from a maternity store. Oh, no, my genius son picked out regular clothes just a few sizes bigger. Middle Son seemed baffled by his wife's response: He reported that she screamed at him, "Do you really think this is my size?" His sisters' response varied from open-mouth horror to shock to outrage and Middle Son eventually seemed to realize that his family was not lining up on his side on this one. "But the clothes all fit," he whimpered, before deciding it would be best to head home and watch his nephews play video games.

* * * * * * * *

We had amazing weather in Chicago on Saturday; the thermometer may not have hit 70, but the Sun was warm and the breeze mild and I'm sure ours was not the only house with all the windows opened during the day. However, if a person had been magically transported into Younger Daughter's living room on Saturday, without the opportunity to take his or her seasonal bearings from the weather outside, that person might have been forgiven for thinking it was Christmas.

Saturday's party provides another handy illustration of the concept of 'Mission Creep.'

Initially, the plan was that Younger Daughter would invite all her siblings (as many as were in town) over to watch Granddaughter No. 4 bury her face in a birthday cupcake. Long Suffering Spouse and I were also part of the initial invite list.

Older Daughter's was invited, too, but she lives in Indianapolis, if not for long. Initially, it was not expected that she would attend.

Older Daughter's husband, Hank, the architect, has been transferred to his firm's Chicago office. He must be in place by July 1. So, for the last couple of months, we've played host off and on to Hank and Older Daughter and their children, Granddaughters 2 and 3. Mostly on, it seems. Granddaughters 2 and 3 take turns not sleeping through the night, and they can seemingly be awakened up by the softest footfalls. Our hardwood stairs are much more likely to groan and creak and crack no matter how we try and tippie-toe.

Granddaughter No. 2 is also in the home stretch of potty training; much of it has taken place under our roof. I tell my wife it gives us good practice for the future; someday our conversation may be largely about bowel movements, too. I think Older Daughter and the kids were with us for much of March -- they had to be away from home because (and this is another who'd-have-thunk-it) it turns out that it is difficult to get a house ready to show with two toddlers and two golden retrievers in residence. The good news is we didn't get the dogs, too.

Anyway, Older Daughter got lucky, or so it seemed at the time, because she got a bid on her house within a day or two of its going on the market. Long Suffering Spouse and I congratulated ourselves; our sacrifice seemed worth it. But now Older Daughter and her husband have to pack, and quickly, since the sale will close before the end of the month.

So the one thing we were sure of was that Older Daughter and her kids would have to take a rain check on Granddaughter No. 4's party.

That changed late Friday.

Yes, I understand that they don't know when they're going to unpack, or where, since no replacement home has yet been procured, but---to me---that does not make the obligation to pack any less urgent.

But Older Daughter decided differently. And Hank had business in the Chicago office yesterday and today -- and so we have houseguests again. Maybe until Wednesday. Maybe later. I am always the last to know.

The problem with Older Daughter coming up for the party---aside from their staying with us so soon again---is that Granddaughter No. 2 turns 3 later this month.

And there really couldn't be a party for Granddaughter No. 2 on her birthday, not when the family has to move out three or four days later.

So what had been a birthday party for Granddaughter No. 4, turned into a birthday party for Granddaughters 4 and 2. Mission Creep.

And Younger Daughter had another complication to add: Her mother-in-law's birthday was yesterday. But the plan was that Olaf and Younger Daughter would take Olaf's mom out on Sunday. They were thinking of going to the Shedd Aquarium; they'd done that when Granddaughter No. 1 turned 1. Adding the M-I-L to that party wouldn't have been that difficult -- but that changed late Friday, too.

The M-I-L had plans for Sunday -- but she and her husband would be available Saturday night.

Olaf's folks were added to the guest list and his mother added to the birthday extravaganza. More Mission Creep.

And that, boys and girls, is one of the reasons Fannie May sells so many boxes of mint meltaways.

But getting a present for our in-law was the easy part. What were we going to get Granddaughter No. 2?

Never mind that we'd just bought her two dresses. No, Long Suffering Spouse decreed, grandparents also have to give toys. (Aunts and uncles can give clothes -- should give clothes really; giving toys -- especially toys with batteries and sound effects -- can lead to retaliation... and escalation.)

And so Long Suffering Spouse and I were at Costco late Friday afternoon. By this time Younger Daughter had given up on the cupcake idea---she'd never find time to bake them, she told us---and so we had to buy a cake. More Mission Creep. And, once Long Suffering Spouse found out the in-laws were also coming, there was the question of what else we would have to bring. This too would have to be procured. Still more Mission Creep.

We got a cute little toy lawnmower at Costco for Granddaughter No. 4. The child will walk any day now. Long Suffering Spouse was particularly pleased with the little lawnmower because, she noted, any toy that the child can push and lean on a little will only help her learn how to walk. I was pleased, too: Get the kid used to pushing a lawnmower, I said; then, when she's a little bigger, we can have her use the real thing to cut our grass.

Long Suffering Spouse hit me.

Our next stop, after a quick supper, was Barnes & Noble. B&N is, or used to be, a major book chain. It may still be; we did pass by some books on the shelves -- but mostly, these days, as near as I could tell, the store sells toys, lots of cute, retro toys that the grandparents swoon for. We still had to have something for Granddaughter No. 2.

It was during the course of this visit that I realized that my wife had selected a lot more than one present.

"Well," she told me, "you can't have two of the girls opening presents and the other two not opening anything. You're asking for trouble."

"But it's not their birthdays!" I protested. Futilely. At least we got the word Friday about the expanded nature of the party. Oldest Son and Abby and Middle Son and Margaret weren't notified until Saturday morning; they both did panic shopping then.

When the girls get older, this problem will be solved by a "party bag." You know, candy and a small toy -- a miniature Beanie Baby, perhaps -- stuffed into a paper bag -- one for each party goer other than the guest of honor -- that they take on their way out the door. My periodontist gives me one every time I have an appointment -- a new toothbrush, some dental floss, maybe a travel-sized tube of toothpaste. They give out party bags to the Oscar nominees, too. Those, though, contain more expensive things. Like jewelry.

But the girls aren't yet older, my wife explained, patiently, when I protested that we had multiple things for each of the girls (well, multiple things for everyone except Olaf's mother -- she'd have to content herself with mint meltaways) so one little gift for the two non-birthday girls would cause nearly as much upset as giving them nothing at all.

And thus it looked like Christmas at Younger Daughter's house on Saturday evening. I kept looking for the tree....

* * * * * * * *

The party itself went well. Olaf grilled. In addition to the Costco cake, my wife brought along a vegetable plate. And lettuce. (And, no, we did not make multiple trips to and from the car -- but only because Oldest Son and Abby pulled up when we did and could help us bring everything along at one time.) Olaf's father and I both knew that the vodka was kept on the bar in the basement and we both helped ourselves. Rank hath its privileges.

After everyone had eaten, and the Costco cake was duly set on fire, and Happy Birthday sung, and the older girls got to try on their new princess dresses -- after all that, somehow, the girls found room for lollipops.

These weren't big lollipops like the one on the right. Theirs were more like Tootsie Pops or Dum Dums.

This did not stop me, however, from recalling a little ditty I'd learned from my father, many years ago.

He told me that he'd learned it when he was very young -- probably not much older, if any, than Granddaughter No. 1 is now -- and he'd sung it at some neighborhood talent night.

Maybe it was just a local event, something in the parish. Maybe it was a tryout for a Major Bowes-type program -- the Major Bowes Amateur Hour being the great-great grandpappy of more contemporary programs like America's Got Talent or The Voice. The details of my father's story are lost to me now, these events being 85 years or more in the past, and my father being gone now 16 of those years.

But I could remember the words.

I started singing:

Oh, I'd rather suck on a lemon drop
Than try my luck with a lollipop
With a lemon bean I'm always clean --
But a lollipop gets icky

Granddaughter No. 1 disagreed instantly: "Lollipops are not icky, Grampy!"

I continued.

Oh, it makes me sick
The way they smear
The way they stick in my hair and ear
With a lemon bean I'm always clean --
But a lollipop gets icky

Granddaughter No. 1 was screaming now. I had to make sure it was good-natured screaming and not genuine, if inappropriate, anger. I looked carefully; she was laughing as hard as I was -- and still screaming: "Lollipops are not icky!"

I sang the second verse again.

Granddaughter No. 1 thundered: "LOLLIPOPS. ARE. NOT. ICKY!"

And we both laughed some more.

And that's when I realized: Granddaughter No. 1 is ready to be a talking head on cable news right now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"So -- what are you guys doing this evening? Do you mind if we stop by?"

What are we doing? I thought to myself. Falling asleep in front of the TV like usual, I thought. Game 3 of the ALCS hadn't even begun and already I was anticipating Morpheus's embrace.

The only reason I was even still partially conscious was because Middle Son was texting me and Long Suffering Spouse pictures of his newly painted den---he and Margaret put in new windows and a wood floor, too---and he was asking our opinions about the way the paint job turned out.

Yes, it was green. Kind of a civil service green---the kind of bilious shade you'd see long ago in certain public buildings---but all things old become new again. Not my cup of tea, because I remember the prior usage, but this color is apparently in again among Millennials. Long Suffering Spouse and I had just debated whether the green in Middle Son's den was the same shade as the green in Older Daughter's Indianapolis dining room. I said it was; my wife said I was wrong.

Even in my semi-somnambulant state, I could see that this seemingly harmless inquiry about my opinion concerning the paint job could put me in the middle of a debate between Middle Son and his spouse or Middle Son and his contractor. I was therefore trying to clear the cobwebs, at least for the moment, and ask careful, clarifying questions before venturing any opinion whatsoever.

Olaf's call interrupted this. He sounded bright and chipper, like this was Sunday morning and he was inquiring if we were free for brunch. "Um," I said, "we're not doing anything special. What's up?"

"Oh, nothing," said Olaf, still chipper. "Your daughter tried slicing a potato with her new mandolin-slicer and sliced off a significant portion of her thumb instead. It's been bleeding non-stop for 10 minutes and we can't seem to stop it, so we're going to go to an immediate care and maybe the kids can come play with you for awhile."

Ah ha. Good for Olaf! Keep the tone light and conversational and the kids, particularly four-year old Granddaughter #1, won't pick up on how serious this is or how worried and scared Olaf was. (I don't suppose it mattered as much to six-month old Granddaughter #4, their second child -- but, then again, even small babies can pick up on tension and stress and reflect it right back.)

"Sure!" I said, "C'mon over." Olaf hung up quickly and Long Suffering Spouse and I started picking stuff up to accommodate the young people.

First, though, I had to stand up.

It had already been a long day. I had to babysit the kids in the morning while Younger Daughter had a physical therapy appointment. Then I had to go downtown for a client meeting. Then I had to get back to pick up Long Suffering Spouse. The driving alone would have been tiring. I haven't been sleeping well anyway. Getting up three and four times a night is not conducive to well-rested days. I haven't been able to breathe well in what seems like forever (when we went to Florida in March 2015 I think my sinuses were clear -- but they haven't been clear on consecutive days since).

And Long Suffering Spouse was dragging, too.

There's a reason, you know, why people have their kids at a young age: They have the energy to deal with them. I thoroughly enjoy my grandchildren... but they tire me out more quickly than I'd care to admit.

In the event, we did our grandparental duty and Granddaughter #1 had a pleasant time. Granddaughter #4 came in tired and wanted to sleep, but she wanted her bottle first, and Olaf had told my wife that she should probably stall until 9:00. Granddaughter #4 has a set of lungs on her. By 8:30 I had texted Olaf and told him we were going to try the bottle ASAP. He approved the measure. More importantly, it worked -- the child finally was asleep before the bottle was halfway gone.

I was so jealous.

I'm no less tired today; Long Suffering Spouse even slept in an extra 15 minutes this morning -- waking up in a panic when she realized she'd stayed asleep until nearly 6:00.

But there's work to be done, and I must stop stalling and do it.

And then I have to find out what this business is with the green den.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Hey, hey, holy mackerel, no doubt about it -- the Cubs are on their way

Photo obtained at this site.
Yes, but to where?

Older readers may hear the 1969 Cub anthem when they read the headline of this post. That was the year that I flirted, however briefly, with becoming a Cub fan. Well, my White Sox were playing on an Astroturf infield with a grass outfield and they were rumored to be heading to Milwaukee (they even played a number of games in Milwaukee that year as Bud Selig schemed to get a team to replace the Braves). Things were so bad for the Sox that they didn't even have a major radio station outlet in Chicago---my memory may be playing tricks on me; this could have been 1970---but it was around this time that the Sox games were consigned to a bunch of low-power suburban FM stations. The Chubbinis, on the other hand, were winning, destined to win, certain to win, and on 50,000-watt powerhouse WGN. My sister actually bought Hey, Hey, Holy Mackerel on a 45rpm record. I actually listened to a couple of Cub games on the radio....

It's a beautiful day for a ballgame
For a ballgame today
The fans are out to get a ticket or two
From Walla Walla, Washington to Kalamazoo

It's a beautiful day for a home run
But even a triple's OK
We're going to cheer -- and boo --
And raise a hullabaloo
At the ballgame today....

I felt dirty and ashamed and I never did it again.

And, of course, the Cubs choked anyway.

Cub fans and Sox fans coexist in Chicago, often uneasily, sometimes under the same roof. And some Sox fans hate the Cubs and some Cubs fans hate the Sox.

But a lot of Sox fans, and I count myself among these, don't hate the Cubs; we are largely indifferent to them. We would rather they moved to Omaha or someplace (the Ricketts family hails from Omaha), but we save our hatred for the New York Yankees. And that's a frustrating, unrequited hatred indeed... because the only Sox the Yankees and their fans worry about are Red Sox.

Cub fans are obnoxious. There are some who follow the game, of course; there are real baseball fans among them, people who can keep score, people who can recite the Infield Fly Rule, people who have even played the game above the sandlot level. And some are just playfully obnoxious -- like my wife's doctor in late September 1989, as he was delivering Younger Daughter, who made a big show of demanding more Pitocin to speed my wife's labor along because he wanted (he said) to get downtown for the Cubs pep rally. But the knowledgeable Cub fan, or even the merely good-natured and playful ones, are often hard to find among the young, intoxicated, ignorant horde that hangs around Wrigleyville on game days.

These Cub fans can't believe we won't join them in going gaga over their team. And so many of them won't shut up. Ever.

Long Suffering Spouse really has it hard this year: Junior high kids are obnoxious to begin with. Add normal 13- and 14-year old obnoxiousness to general Cub fan obnoxiousness -- well, she's showed admirable restraint so far. After only five minutes or so, I would probably clobber one or more of them and wind up in jail.

And the Cubs really are the favorites this year to win it all (for the first time since 1908, as you may have heard). They have the best record in baseball this year. They're pretty healthy coming in. Their starting pitching matches with anyone's and their bullpen is strong. They have one of the best managers around; I like Joe Maddon (my wife does not, but she can't quite explain why).

But... the team with the best record doesn't always win in the Wild Card era. The Wild Card winners, in fact, seem to have a bit of an advantage -- as the 10-1 shellacking Wild Card Winner Toronto gave Texas yesterday in the ALDS opener illustrates.

The Cubs open their series tonight against Johnny Cueto and the San Francisco Giants. Cueto's been pretty darn good in the playoffs. And because the divisional round is only a five game series---and because Madison Baumgarner awaits the Chubbinis in Game 3---the Kismet arrow points to the Giants unless the Chubbinis win both their games tonight and tomorrow. The Giants had a terrible second half... barely squeaking in at the end... but they squeaked in because they caught fire in the last week of the season. And Connor Gillaspie -- former White Sox third baseman Connor Gillaspie -- light-hitting, inconsistent Connor Gillaspie, of all people, hit the three run homer to put the Mets away in the Wild Card game.

And I mentioned 1989 -- that year the Giants beat the Cubs in the NLCS (there was no NLDS then).

But I wish the Cubs no ill. Not even from the safety of an anonymous blog. I won't be rooting for them if they make it to the World Series---sorry, I'm an American League guy and I root for the American League team in the World Series unless it's Yankees---but I do not root for the Cubs to fail... maybe I root for the ground to open up under some of their fans and swallow them whole... but I've nothing against the kids actually playing the games. If they lose, therefore, it's not my fault!

But a word of advice: Don't bet anything too extravagant on the Cubs winning it all.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Reciprocity? Can you get an ointment for that? (More adventures of Youngest Son in the ignorant world of education)

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post suggesting that the best way to improve education in this country would be to tear down all schools of education. My rant was prompted on that occasion by my son's being refused the opportunity to student teach during his 7th college semester. After he had received fairly mediocre grades in his freshman year education courses---still adequate, mind you, according to the standards then in force---the Education Department at Youngest Son's thrice-cursed South Janesville College decided to raise the standards for student teaching.

Yes, I know. Ordinarily, I'd be the first to say "hooray" for raised standards. But the school retroactively imposed these standards---held them against---Youngest Son; they did not 'grandfather' him into the program. He wound up having to 'return' for a ninth semester---which was the Education Department's goal all along, to keep pumping kids for tuition for the longest time possible---and, even then, he had to battle because the grades he received freshman year, which would not have been perfectly acceptable for eventual student teaching according to the standards in place at the time Youngest Son earned those grades, were still used to threaten his prospects.

Now you may think that my beef is really with South Janesville College, that the SJC Education Department is particularly incompetent and inept---and it is---but my beef is with the entire education establishment in this country, at least insofar as I've encountered it. I said tear the system down in 2014. My attitude has only hardened: Blow up all the schools of education, I say now, burn the buildings down, raze the rubble and sow salt on the sites where the buildings once stood.

Now, not all of the dialog in the screed that follows is exact. I exaggerate for effect. But though I may exaggerate, it is only to expose to sad and sorry truth of the closed, dim, dumb, dense, peanut-sized brain of the apparently typical education bureaucrat and administrator....

Youngest Son did persevere in his quest to complete his teacher's credentials. He served his ninth semester largely at home, teaching in a near north suburban high school, under the mentorship of a friend of ours---someone we know not to have two heads, someone I would wholeheartedly exempt from my attitude toward teachers generally. Every rule has exceptions. My wife is a teacher; I surely exempt her.

And the 'supervising teacher' (I may have the idiotic nomenclature wrong, but this is the teacher who is enlisted by the college to see whether its student functions well or badly---it does not rely solely on the report of the classroom teacher to whom the student teacher is assigned) is the husband of a former colleague of my wife, a colleague that my wife and I both think very highly of. She's actually made appearances in these essays, at least a couple of times. I like her; I trust her. I don't know her husband from Adam's off ox, but I know he has a PhD in history (my son's a would-be history teacher) and a Vietnam vet (that makes a difference to me, which I will come to... eventually).

Anyway, both of these supervisors thought the world of Youngest Son. They thought he handled himself superbly in the classroom. They thought that he should be snapped up in a minute by the school district where Youngest Son was student teaching -- and there were, in fact, three history jobs coming due in the high school for the coming year.

Of course, Youngest Son completed his ninth semester around the end of 2015. Maybe his responsibilities stretched into January of 2016; I don't recall at this point and it really doesn't matter.

High schools hire for the Fall, not for January. And Youngest Son was cut loose, cast adrift, placed at liberty in January.

Sign up to be a sub, he was told. The rules with regard to subbing have long been that anyone with a college degree---even me, though I'm totally unsuited for classroom work---can be a sub. That's what we were told.

He was never called.

There was some delay in processing Youngest Son's license. In a final insult, South Janesville College couldn't quite finish its paperwork so that Youngest Son could get his Wisconsin teaching license right away. It took a couple of extra months, many phone calls and emails and even a pilgrimage to the old campus by Youngest Son to get the paperwork moving.

But eventually it moved. He had to be fingerprinted, submit to a background check, a few things like that. But the license was finally issued.

Now, Youngest Son could supply his license number when he applied for teaching jobs. And he applied to any and all teaching jobs in the Chicago area during the Winter and Spring and Summer---and the glowing recommendations he received from his student teaching supervisors notwithstanding---he got nary a sniff from anyone. Even the school where he had student taught, which had three history teaching positions to fill, did not give him an interview. That school interviewed a knuckleheaded grammar school classmate of Younger Daughter, a girl who'd stretched her undergraduate career to 11 or 12 semesters; Younger Daughter saw it on Facebook and was afraid to mention it to her brother lest his head explode.

Youngest Son became quite adept at applying. It was all computerized, he told us, and it was the delay in getting a license number that, Youngest Son later determined, created the first problem. The computer kicked out anyone without a license number: Even if the person in question had taught in the building and was vouched for by a senior teacher there, the application never made it to a set of human eyes.

How nuts is that?

But it gets much, much worse.

Remember how I mentioned that Youngest Son got a Wisconsin license? Thrice-cursed South Janesville College is in Wisconsin. Naturally its graduates would be licensed in Wisconsin.

Fortunately, Wisconsin and Illinois have a reciprocity agreement: An Illinois license is good in Wisconsin and a Wisconsin license is good in Illinois. Teachers are told that, if they wish to remain in Illinois, however, they should convert their Wisconsin license to an Illinois license within five years.

On this, all were agreed. South Janesville College said so. We heavily discounted anything SJC had to say, of course, but the teachers who supervised Youngest Son's student teaching efforts both concurred as well.

Finally, in August, having applied for a history position that just came open unexpectedly at a Chicago science and technology charter school, Youngest Son received an invitation to interview.

Initially, things went well. He had his Wisconsin license with him, and his glowing letters of recommendation, and the initial interviewer seemed quite taken with him. She called in someone else---an administrator, presumably---who came in and seated himself before the computer. A few keystrokes later he said, "Your name's not here." He was looking at a page on the website of the Illinois Board of Education. He read off a name. "Is this person related to you?" he asked. "My mother," said Youngest Son. "Well, she's here, but you're not," he said.

"Yes, but I have reciprocity." Youngest Son held up his Wisconsin license.

"Is that contagious? Maybe you should see a doctor."

"No," Youngest Son tried again. "My Wisconsin license is good in Illinois for five years."

"But it's not here," said the man, the apparent administrator at a science and technology charter school, gesturing at the screen.

The interview was over.

But---the statutes notwithstanding---now we knew: The Wisconsin license was bupkis. Youngest Son immediately began the process to convert his Wisconsin license to an Illinois license. More forms were required. South Janesville College was required to send records---Youngest Son's copies weren't good enough---but, wonder of wonders, on this one occasion, South Janesville College acted promptly. Still, two months later, according to the same website that charter-school jackass was looking at in August, the application is "pending." The kid can't get a job without the license---even though he has a license that is supposed to be good under the law---and he can't get the State to act on his application.

Meanwhile, we've learned that the State of Illinois does issue a substitute teaching license. It isn't required, so far as we know; it's just that no one will hire you as a substitute without one. So Youngest Son went a got a substitute teaching license -- I saw it this morning on the screen at the Illinois State Board of Education website. There were still more forms to fill out, another set of fingerprints, all for the hopes of getting $100 or so a day as a sub. A hundred dollars a day, even if you work every day, adds up... slowly... and not to very much.

Public high school teaching jobs start anywhere from $40,000 to $50,000 a year---decent money---but you have to jump through an awful lot of hoops to get there.

And, of course, you have to be on the screen.

Now you may be wondering---if you have a good memory, at least---why I mentioned that it was significant, in my mind, that my son's supervising teacher was a Vietnam vet.

Well, it may not be the only reason why departments of education, education bureaucracies, and educators generally suck (that's a technical term), but I'm absolutely positive that the Vietnam War contributed.

See, back when the war was on and the draft was going, one of the best ways to get out of the draft, and thereby avoid Vietnam, was to go to college. So many of our most hawkish neocons evaded actual military service in this way. A lot of schools, including my own alma mater, had "draft counselors"---students in good academic standing who could earn their continuing deferments---who helped their duller classmates find departments and programs that would allow them to stay in school, too. I was a little young for Vietnam, but some of the ex-draft counselors were still in school or hanging around campus when I started. I got to know a few (I worked for one for many years---I didn't meet him until my last year of law school---but, once I did meet him, I found out we had several mutual acquaintances). And I know a lot of the dullards got steered into education programs. Easy, easy A's and B's---or C's, anyway, for the really dumb ones---aided and abetted by sympathetic professors who did not want to be responsible for sending anyone to the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Yesterday's draft-wary dullards are the deans of education departments today, the superintendents, the principals. Once in power, they continued to recruit and promote equally dull, untalented, unimaginative people just like themselves. And public education in this country went careening downhill. I don't know why the husband of my wife's colleague actually served, but at least he wasn't 'saved' by draft counselors, which is why I automatically exempt him from the scorn I heap upon so many of the 'professional educators' of today. You may not think that's a proper tie-up, but that's my opinion anyway.