Friday, March 08, 2019

The gear-shifting problem -- we have different faces in different places but it's not always easy to transition

In yesterday's post, I lamented that my babysitting obligations are preventing me from getting any real work done.

I call it the 'gear-shifting' problem.

Long Suffering Spouse has experienced it: She teaches kids from preschool to 8th grade, albeit with varying frequency. She sees the middle schoolers three days a week, but she only sees the kids in Pre-K through 3 once a week and then only one trimester a year. Anyway, she has noticed that, after a grueling battle -- er, class -- with noisy, disobedient, disrespectful (i.e., normal) 8th graders, she finds it difficult to transition to a class of kindergartners. They file in, cute and ready to learn, only moments after the sullen 8th graders have trudged out, and my wife sometimes greets the little ones with fangs bared and raised hackles and, on those occasions, scares them half to death.

It takes a moment or two to calm down and reach the right 'pitch' with which to address a class of eager 6-year olds.

And teachers also have to shift gears when dealing with grown-ups, whether each other, as colleagues, or with (*gulp*) parents.

I think some of them can't do it at all -- which may explain some of the difficulties Olaf and Younger Daughter are having with Granddaughter No. 1's kindergarten teacher.

But I digress.

For me, the transitions are even more abrupt. Dealing with obnoxious opposing counsel, with clients who can never seem to find their checkbooks, or with court personnel who have no discretion and no imagination (and couldn't use either if they had), gets my fangs bared, hackles raised, and stomach churning. It's hard to calm down, some days, to try and think which, after all, is what I'm pretty much supposed to do for a living. Hard to 'gear down' to the point where I can dispassionately analyze facts and read and interpret and apply case law and then formulate and coherently express opinions. And that's when Lexis is working, as it wasn't, for me anyway, for a couple of weeks recently. And every time the phone rings, that little bubble of concentration bursts, and must be reformed.

That's the range -- and the challenge -- for lawyers generally.

But I have to field calls on potty training. Or babysitting requests. Or just, well, I'm driving from one appointment to the next and I like talking to someone instead of listening to the radio.

Yesterday, Older Daughter called to ask if I could babysit next Wednesday afternoon. Younger Daughter had previously requisitioned me for Tuesday morning. Then she called me yesterday to ask me to pick up Granddaughter No. 1 from kindergarten because her younger two had not cooperated on naptime and were, according to her text "WRECKS." (I had to walk to my wife's school to pick up the family van; she drove yesterday, you may have noticed.)

How can I say no to any of these requests? Why would I want to? And, yet, I somehow have to get work done.

But, with the grandkids, far from being angry or even analytical, I want to be happy and playful and downright silly and make as many googly eyes or silly voices or fake pratfalls as may be necessary. Who wouldn't?

But I've gotten less done than ever this year so far, less still now that I'm home full-time. And I have an appellate brief due later this month that I haven't really begun. And my stomach is really churning this morning, and my chest hurts, too.

I need a better clutch.

(For you young people out there, once upon a time, we had to push the clutch pedal in the car in order to shift gears. I won't explain every reference for you; some things you should look up on your own -- but, now and then, I'll give you a break. As opposed to a brake. As in I think I've downshifted enough that I can hit the brakes on this morning blogging exercise and get some work done... as long as the phone doesn't ring.)

Thursday, March 07, 2019

It's all my fault, as usual -- Curmudgeon tries to explain what he should have said. Once again.

Long Suffering Spouse is having a tough morning already.

She was looking for something.

She'd set up a packet of materials for expense reimbursement -- she just needed one item, that being a copy of the charge card bill on which we'd booked her recent seminar -- and that bill did not show up until this week.

It took me a couple of days to get around to making a redacted copy of the charge card bill (no one at my wife's school needs to see what else we charged on that card in order to confirm that we paid for the seminar) -- but that wasn't really the reason why it's all my fault this morning.

That just started things down the wrong road.

See, I did prepare the redacted copy yesterday and left it on my wife's chair. All she had to do was insert that one missing piece of paper into the set she'd carefully assembled to present to the office -- the seminar brochure, for one thing, a copy of her certificate of completion, for another.

But she couldn't find those papers this morning.

Time ticked inexorably by as she searched with increasing franticness upstairs and down -- talking, mainly to herself, but not entirely so.

And that's where I stepped into it.

Somewhere in the course of this search, Long Suffering Spouse suggested I drive her to school. That way, I could have the car. You know, she added, in case Younger Daughter needs you.

Now, a smart husband, a wise man, would have said "OK," and left it alone.

But... unfortunately... I am not always so smart.

"I don't need the car," I said. (Superfluous, but not problematic.) "I don't want the car," I said. (Redundant, unnecessary, but still not dangerous.)

But I continued.

Maybe it's because I didn't yet know what she was looking for -- and my part, however inadvertent, in creating that problem -- or maybe it was because my morning coffee had yet to take effect.

Or maybe it's because I'm a little sensitive about this "working" from home stuff -- maybe I'm a little prickly about not contributing to the family exchequer these days -- OK, maybe I'm a lot prickly -- anyway, what I said was something along these lines: "Look, I'm happy to retire right now. But, if I'm not going to retire, I have to work here -- I can't be dropping everything everyday just because one of the girls needs something."

"Yes," said Long Suffering Spouse, darkly, though I was oblivious to the warning signs, "you do have to work. You can start by getting off the iPad."

Admittedly, as I was slurping my morning joe, I was playing a word game on the aforementioned tablet.

A smart person would have immediately put down the device and found a way to change the subject (e.g., what are you looking for? can I help you find it?) but we have already made abundantly clear that this was not one of my brighter mornings.

Having walked to the edge of the cliff, I decided (without consciously thinking about it) to swan dive off: "I have a hard enough time gearing up to work," I said -- this is true, although this is probably a personal failing, and not characteristic, necessarily, of lawyers generally -- "without being interrupted all the time. I don't just grade papers."

Ouch.

It is true that Long Suffering Spouse generally has with or near her person, at almost any hour of the day or night, in almost any place she goes, a bag of papers to correct. And she doesn't just carry it with her; she pulls stuff out constantly to work on. It came with her to all our kids' sporting events when they were growing up. If she has five minutes to wait in the car, she gets a stack out. And she never gets caught up -- there is always more work to do.

"I don't just grade papers," she said, icily... and truthfully, too.

"I know that," I said -- too little, too late --

"But you are available for emergencies," Long Suffering Spouse continued.

"Of course I'm available for emergencies. When I was downtown, I was available for emergencies, too."

There may have been more, but I think the quest for the missing set of papers once again consumed Long Suffering Spouse's attention.

Eventually, dimly, aware that Long Suffering Spouse was going to be late, I put down the iPad, refilled my coffee, and went out and started our poor, dying car. With my key. I was going to drive. I put on my coat.

Long Suffering Spouse came downstairs again, muttering something about maybe the papers might be... but they couldn't be there... I'll just look here one more time... and, lo and behold, she found them. "I don't know how they got there," she said. "I don't know how they stayed there," there being an area that would likely be disturbed by crawling grandchildren. She quickly finished assembling her stuff to take to school.

The first thing she noticed was that her keys were still on the dining room table.

"Why are my keys here?"

"I'm driving you."

"You are not driving me. You don't want the car."

"It's OK," I said (too, too late).

"No," she said, "you need to work. You said so."

"I'll drive," I said, and headed out the front door.

"I'll walk!" she said, and she meant it, too, as she barrelled past me.

In the end, she drove. She turned off the car and threw my key at me, then put hers in the ignition and started off. I half expected to see or hear a crash before she got a block away -- she was that angry and, besides, it's very busy on our street at and just after 7:30, as the cars come streaming past en route to a nearby public high school. But I believe she made it to her school without incident.

"And this is before I see any kids today," she said on her way out.

Woe betide the first kid to cross her this morning.

I have a colleague who says solo practice is another way of saying unemployed. At least, that's how our family members view it. This week, just to cite a single example, Older Daughter called immediately after Granddaughter Number 3 did number two in the proper place. Now there's a very good reason for making this call: She wants to reinforce how happy she is -- how happy we all are -- that Granddaughter Number 3 has achieved this latest milestone on the road to being successfully potty trained. (And hers has been a long and winding road, too.) My job, in this circumstance, is to say "hooray" and "yaay" and "good for you" without the least hint of irony or snark. I can do that. Truth be told, I like doing that.

However, let's look at this a moment.

Older Daughter might call her husband for this purpose -- but he's too busy in his office. She might call her mother -- but Long Suffering Spouse can not be disturbed at school. She might call her sister -- but Younger Daughter is chasing after her own kids.

The perception is that I have nothing better to do.

And, again, in terms of what is good, and what is useful, and what I like, this statement is true.

But it is hard to try and analyze a case, or recreate time for billing purposes, or explain the finer points of the law to a client who doesn't want to hear bad news. And when I have finally got the legal oxen hitched up and plowing a straight furrow, it is jarring, and often fatally jarring, to any productivity I might otherwise have achieved, to get called away to say "yaay" and "hooray" for successful pooping.

If this working from home business is to have any hope of success, the family is going to have to think of it as working first, and to be just as wary of interrupting me, toiling away in the girls' one-time bedroom, as they would be of interrupting Long Suffering Spouse.

No, I don't think that's going to happen either.

And, to refer back to the title of this morning's post, the above and foregoing is not what I should have said. I should have avoided the entire conversation -- under the circumstances -- particularly under the circumstances -- and just said "OK."

Once again we see the wisdom in the epigram that appears on the front page of this blog: "Ve grow too soon old, und too late schmart."

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Curmudgeon grapples with depression, death, and dying

Really fertile ground for an alleged humorist, doncha think?

But these less-than-cheery subjects are much on my mind of late.

Winter weather in Chicago can account for a serious mood indigo all by itself. We set something of a record recently for consecutive days of one sort of precipitation or another. It's been gray, it's been gloomy, it's been wet, it's been cold. We have less sunlight in an ordinary February, I believe, than in any other month -- and we're running well below average this month.

Of course, the Sun is out this morning, just to make me look like a liar.

But the weather alone does not account for my current funk.

I mentioned yesterday that I closed my downtown office and am now 'working' from home.

I didn't do this because I had paying clients climbing over each other to shower me with money. I did it because I didn't make one thin dime from the practice of law last year.

I'll let you chew on that for a moment. I did pay the rent, or at least my portion of the rent and electric and Internet. I paid a King's ransom for my Lexis research service. I paid my membership dues in all the various bar groups to which I belong. I paid medical expenses through the firm -- I operate as a C corporation expressly for this reason. But never, not once, during the entire year, was I able to squeeze out so much as a penny of salary. In fact, I had to lend my firm money to keep it going -- doing strange magic with credit card advances -- and the chickens are about to come home to roost on that venture.

All the years that I've been whining about my impecunious stature here on this blog -- in all those years but 2018 I was still able to pay myself something. Thus, last year was awful, even by my low standards.

My lease was up at the end of January. Rent was an expense I could cut, so I did. With efiling it really is almost possible to work from anywhere and still practice law.

I wish I still wanted to.

Now there's a problem.

I do have some work to do. Some of it may eventually realize income. Emphasis on eventually.

But what I've noticed lately is a complete disconnect between effort and results. I do good work on something -- what I think is good work, anyway -- and I get shot down by this judge or that one. I did actually "win" a case recently -- and, from a cynical lawyer's perspective I should be rejoicing because I not only won, my opponent filed an immediate appeal. And this on one of my only paying cases.

However... I should have won that case two years ago. I have been beating my head against the wall -- figuratively, so far at least -- filing motion on motion, raising argument on argument, laying out an airtight case -- and until the learned trial judge who had been handling the matter suddenly retired, I was losing. The other side would -- and I am not exaggerating -- make stuff up -- sometimes inventing some ridiculous claim in open court -- and the judge lapped it up. When I did win, the new judge based the ruling on something that, in all candor, was pretty much irrelevant, at least insofar as I was concerned.

I settled a case last year -- pursuant to client instructions, of course, but for far less than I thought the case was worth -- as it happened, the client's conduct had undermined the value of his claim, but let's leave that to one side -- and the insurance carrier immediately reported the settlement to Medicare. Which meant that I had to deal with Medicare's "Super Lien."

And the carrier should never have done this: My client had slipped past his 65th birthday during the pendency of the claim -- but he was not a Medicare recipient when the accident happened, nor was he a Medicare beneficiary during the entire time he treated for the injuries sustained in that accident. The carrier, in a move apparently calculated to add injury to its insulting settlement offer, made the bogus Medicare referral so that it could try and delay payment on the claim. This is illegal under Illinois law, as long as I made the undertakings required by §2-2301 of our Code of Civil Procedure, which I promptly did -- but I still had to complain to the Illinois Department of Insurance to get my check -- which I had to keep in my client funds account for the inordinate amount of time it took me to convince Medicare that it really didn't have a lien.

I could go on.

I don't have many cases these days but each and every one of them has some obnoxious, nonsensical twist that squeezes any satisfaction from the case that might otherwise exist. And/or the client doesn't pay. Usually and.

Long Suffering Spouse has noticed my depression, and she tries to encourage me to get back in the traces and work my way through all this.

Which, certainly, is the right thing for me to do.

But Long Suffering Spouse's situation also distresses me.

She is a teacher, of course, and, as indicated above, pretty much the sole breadwinner in the Curmudgeon household at the moment. And, because she teaches in the Catholic schools, she makes a fraction of what her colleagues do in public schools -- and she has no pension besides. (Actually, that's not entirely true -- the Archdiocese of Chicago did not discontinue its pension plan until shortly after my wife began teaching full-time. It lasted long enough for my wife to partially vest in the plan. I believe that, when our golden years arrive, we may look forward to $17 a month from that plan. Or maybe it was $17 a year. Whoopee!)

Basically, my wife works so that we have health insurance. (The Cardinal has not yet -- thank God -- discontinued that benefit.)

And, brother, does she work.

As the school's Spanish teacher, she sees every student in the building at some point during the year. She sees the middle school scholars three days a week, the fourth and fifth graders two days a week, and everyone else, from preschool on, one day a week for 'enrichment' during one trimester a year. Many days she has no break at all. Many days, she can't even go to the bathroom even once during the school day.

This has predictable consequences.

And because she has students during virtually every period of the school day -- when she does have 'breaks' she often has students in her room anyway -- she has no time for grading, or posting grades, or doing lesson plans, or doing any of the other tasks she has been assigned by an ungrateful and unsupportive administration. She's in charge of the honor society, for example. (And, for the record, I like her principal -- I'm just telling it like it is.) So, consequently, when my wife does get home (and after she makes a bathroom stop) she continues to work here. She falls asleep every night -- no exaggeration -- every single night -- grading, or posting grades, or doing lesson plans, or responding to anxious or angry parent emails.

Ah, yes. Parents.

Our school parents pay enormous sums of money to send their children to our parish school. For these prices, they expect miracles. In fact, they demand miracles.

And the teacher is always wrong.

I attended Catholic schools when I was a boy. We had nuns then. That's why the tuition was so much lower; the nuns were really paid next to nothing. Yes, even though modern lay teachers make a pittance compared to their public school counterparts, their salaries and benefits are still 90% or more of our school budget. Divide that up among the number of students in the school, and voila!, you have a princely sum per student.

When my older kids were still in school, the parish was allowed to subsidize the cost of operating the school -- and did -- some years kicking in as much as $250,000. The Archdiocese demanded an end to this before my youngest kids graduated. There is no way Long Suffering Spouse and I could have sent our children to Catholic schools the way things are now.

(And still the bishops wonder why Catholics are falling away!)

So it's understandable why the parents have such inflated expectations about what our school can do for their kids.

The problem is, of course, that the kids don't know any better; they don't appreciate the sacrifices their parents are making to send them to the parish school. So some of them behave as some kids have always behaved -- indifferent, even hostile, to attempts to teach them anything.

My wife's students hate her. She makes them work. She holds them to standards. She will threaten to actually fail those who will not toe the line. She doesn't always succeed at this because the parents of these miscreants scream bloody murder -- and the administration almost always intervenes on the side of those who pay the bills. The teacher is always wrong.

The funny thing is, those same kids will eventually, despite their best efforts, wind up in high school. Where they will retake Spanish I -- and, usually, get A's. The good students, who also hate my wife because, you know, they are kids and don't want to work (and we do?) will place out of Spanish I or place into an honors class and also get A's. Many of these kids, even some of those who were the most hostile and disruptive in junior high, will come back and express gratitude for the preparation they received from my wife. Some of their parents will seek Long Suffering Spouse out and praise her to the heavens -- these same persons who just a year or two ago were sending angry emails to my wife's principal -- and some will even have the good grace to admit that they were wrong back in the day.

There's some satisfaction in that.

But it doesn't stop the next crop of angry, demanding helicopter parents who, despite having access to their darlings' grades all trimester long, wait until the last week of the grading period to insist on extra 'help' or demand 'extra credit.'

I've tried to explain to my kids that there is a great deal of difference between "want to" and "have to." The psychic satisfaction from the many kids who come back and thank Long Suffering Spouse for their success would be so much greater if she didn't have to keep working to keep us afloat.

And Long Suffering Spouse carries the extra burden these days of worry about her mother.

Abuela is 85 now and is on what, if memory serves, is her third round of cancer treatment. Maybe fourth. The day after Grandchild No. 8 was born, Abuela went into surgery to have radioactive "seeds" planted in her liver. This is the second time this procedure has been done; the first did not keep the cancer at bay for even six months. (This was originally a colon cancer. I've had colon cancer.* Mine did not escape the colon. Abuela's did, moving to the liver -- thus the seeds.)

My mother-in-law is not the world's most compliant patient. She's not eating or drinking as directed and, although her initial "numbers" following this most recent procedure are very encouraging, she is convinced that she will not recover this time.

Of course, Abuela says this every time -- but one of these days she must, of necessity, be correct.

And Long Suffering Spouse has become persuaded that this time really may be it. She is having definite forebodings -- and I have been with her too long to dismiss these out of hand.

I have long held the belief that Abuela was destined to outlast me. If she really is going, this time, I'm getting even more nervous than usual.

But I have whined too long today. I do have things I should be doing... and while there's more on these unhappy subjects I'd like to talk about, I'll have to come back to it later.

Perhaps. When I can better articulate what else I want to say.

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* If you are interested, you can read about my somewhat cockeyed experiences here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

In which the Curmudgeon takes a stand against personal corruption... what an idiot

We're #1! (In public corruption, that is...)
We take a sort of perverse pride in the breadth and depth of corruption here in Chicago.

There was no actual civic rejoicing when a new University of Illinois at Chicago study was released recently confirming that Chicago is the most corrupt city in the country -- but the study received prominent play on all the local news broadcasts -- and there would have been considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth (or at least some serious skepticism) if the authors of the study had failed to accord our miserable metropolis its accustomed place atop the garbage heap.

If you're interested, you can find a link to the actual report at the Chicago Politics website, a website maintained by the study's leading author, Professor (and former 44th Ward Alderman) Dick Simpson. Yes, the professor was a member of the Chicago City Council during most of the 1970s. Simpson was already a professor when he got to City Hall. Many of his colleagues, and many other Chicago aldermen down through the decades, became 'college guys' after leaving the City Council. Some went to Oxford.

(Is 'college guys' a strictly local expression? Can you figure it out from context anyway?)

Anyway, the new Simpson study was on my mind last week when I went downtown for an interview. I suppose I might be accused of burying the lede here, but, as of this month, I have closed the Teeny Tiny Law Office and now exist, as a professional, entirely in the virtual world. That's the fanciest way I can think of saying I'm working from home now.

Or I'm supposed to be.

So I had this interview downtown, and I had to drive because, wouldn't you know, I had a meeting to go to in a western suburb immediately thereafter. There was no way to take the train.

Our van, as I've mentioned, is on its very last legs. You know things are bad when the guy at the repair shop just shakes his head sadly and says, "You know, Curmudgeon, we all have to go sometime."

Every trip is an adventure at the moment.

But I made it downtown, the check engine light and the oil light notwithstanding. I'd changed the oil in the van one last time two weeks before -- and the day before this trip I added a quart.

Which reminds me. It probably needs another quart, or maybe two.

But I parked in the garage across the street from the former Teeny Tiny Law Office without serious incident.

And then it occurred to me.

As a tenant in that building, I was entitled to park in this garage for a reduced rate -- $15 for the day, which is a serious savings over the $50 list price.

If you're reading this in midtown Manhattan, you may be envious.

If you're reading this in rural Iowa, I'll wait until your heart stops racing.

I was thinking about the casual atmosphere of corruption in which we Chicagoans live. My wife's students give her Christmas presents in the hopes that she's susceptible to a bribe. (She isn't.) Everybody's got an angle. And, here I was, interviewing for a job that requires impeccable honesty and character.

Why, then, was I thinking of running my ticket through the machine in my former building?

Was even thinking about this demonstrating that I, too, was not immune to the corrosive effects of corruption in the air? And, yet, if I were to walk into my old building, the security guard would greet me warmly and ask how I'm getting on -- and wouldn't blink as I ran the card through the machine on his desk. The folks at the parking garage would never know the difference -- and, if they did, they probably wouldn't care either. I figured the odds at about a million to one against anyone so much as giving me the stink-eye.

But then I wondered -- what would folks in Minnesota or Oregon or one of those other supposedly more virtuous jurisdictions say about validating my parking ticket in this way? I went to my interview, thinking on this the whole time. I probably should have thought more about what to say, and how to say it, during my interview.

But, whatever, in the end, I decided to prove -- if only to myself -- how virtuous I was by not getting my ticket discounted.

Fortunately the interview was brief -- and I was back in the car quickly. The full $50 charge kicks in after two hours and I was done before that.

Still, my personal refusal to buckle under to our amoral atmosphere cost me $40 when I might have spent only $15.

I can really use the $25. I must be an idiot... right?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

And another thing we never dreamed we'd have to worry about: Breaking the seal on social media

Long Suffering Spouse and I welcomed our eighth grandchild into this world on Monday.

Thank you.

Another girl -- that's seven girls and only one boy so far -- that boy, our seventh grandchild, is one year old today.

Thank you again.

Anyway, Middle Son gave us a little warning that Margaret's time was getting really close. But his mother-in-law was coming in for the weekend (she lives in Michigan, but winters in Alabama and doesn't much like it, so she comes up here as often as she can) and we thought she might be tasked with taking care of their older daughter (our fifth grandchild, if you're keeping score at home -- she just turned one in August).

Thank you. Really, you're very nice, but stop interrupting, OK? I have a lot of work to do this morning.

Anyway... Middle Son disabused us of this notion over the weekend. The MIL would go with them to the hospital when the time came. We would take care of Grandchild No. 5. I reminded Middle Son that he should call his mother's cell phone when he needed us; that is the phone we keep in our bedroom overnight (we cut the landline awhile back -- but that's another story).

Hmmm. Now I'm interrupting myself.

The phone rang at 3:50 a.m. Monday morning.

Older Daughter installed custom ring tones on my wife's phone some time ago, apparently at a time when she was miffed with her brother: When Middle Son calls, we hear the Imperial March from Star Wars. It's distinctive, certainly.

The phone is charged on my side of the bed. So I answered. And fairly promptly, too.

Middle Son was impressed. "Were you awake?" he asked.

I looked at the clock radio on the nightstand. "No," I said, "I was up at 3:00 as usual, but I'd fallen back asleep." (Hey, this is what happens as men age, OK?)

"[Grandchild No. 5] was up then, too," he told me.

"That's nice. We're in sync," I said. "So, is it time?"

"Yeah. I'm just going to jump in the shower and we're going to go. Can you come over?"

Now, as I'm writing this, it looks like a two-person conversation. This shows the limitations of my art. Long Suffering Spouse woke up during this -- if not while the phone was ringing, then immediately after I started talking -- and was sitting bolt upright, instantly on Red Alert. As soon as I heard her moving, I put the phone on speaker. No point in repeating everything.

"Sure. We'll be right over."

"The front door will be unlocked."

"OK."

I terminated the call -- I'd say I hung up, but of course you don't hang up with a cell phone, do you? -- and told Long Suffering Spouse I'd run downstairs and turn the coffee on.

We always have the morning coffee ready to go; this was not the result of any baby-related anticipation.

And it gave me a chance to slip away before I would have to plead ignorance to all of Long Suffering Spouse's first dozen questions -- did her bag break? how far apart are the contractions? -- I heard a couple of them as I worked my way down the stairs.

I was going to say that I bolted down the stairs. "Bolt" is a nice action verb. But at 3:51 a.m., in January, in Chicago, it's dark out. The expression "it's always darkest before the dawn" has some scientific validity, at least if my observations mean anything. Also, while I am still reasonably limber, it generally takes at least a little while for my legs to respond efficiently to commands. So I plodded at best. I turned the living room light on at the switch, dispelling the early morning gloom. I got into the kitchen and turned on the coffee. Perhaps I can accurately state that, by this point, I could, and did, bolt back up the stairs.

Long Suffering Spouse was up and moving. Middle Son lives about 10 minutes away. His shower time was our driving time. So we conducted only the most basic, abbreviated ablutions, threw on some clothes and headed out.

With our coffee.

I'd never have made even that short drive without a few sips of that life-giving fluid.

When I say we are 10 minutes away from Middle Son's house, I do not exaggerate. But, on this occasion, at least, I underestimated. There are precisely six stop lights between our home and his -- and we got stopped at the first five of them. At 4:00 a.m. Long Suffering Spouse was exasperated with me, with our route, with the persistent 'check engine' light on our failing van, with traffic signals generally, and with the ones along our route specifically, and she let me hear about all of it. She was nervous. She knew, better than I ever can, what Margaret was experiencing, and she wanted Margaret to get the hospital as soon as possible. Sooner, even.

Imagine our surprise, then, when we walked into Middle Son's house -- the front door was not just unlocked, it was open -- and found Margaret sitting, alone, on the couch, watching television.

She didn't get up to greet us or anything -- but she was remarkably composed, given what was going on. She's a tough kid.

We even chatted a bit, while Middle Son finished writing out detailed instructions, and Margaret's mother stood ready by the door. At one point, a contraction hit. Margaret did not cry out or even wince -- I only noticed because she paused to enter something into her phone. It turns out there's an app for that, too.

There really is an app for everything.

Off they went, finally, and Grandchild No. 5 stayed asleep for a reasonable while longer.

We had a lovely day with her, our fatigue notwithstanding, and Grandchild No. 8 made her appearance before the morning was done.

Margaret's mother -- and Margaret's sister, who'd driven five hours from Michigan when the labor started -- came back to relieve us late in the afternoon.

Long Suffering Spouse had made arrangements to pick up her mother to meet the new great-grandchild (her 12th!) something that had to happen Monday evening or not at all for a month, inasmuch as Abuela was scheduled to undergo a procedure on Tuesday morning that would leave her radioactive for about that long. That's still another story.

And Long Suffering Spouse had a present for the new baby all ready to go -- but we had to stop home to get it.

And Middle Son asked if we might also stop at the restaurant across the street from the hospital and bring them dinner. Well, we had to eat, too, didn't we?

We did all these things -- I went to the restaurant alone, of course, after dropping off Abuela and Long Suffering Spouse -- but I eventually got to meet the new arrival, too. Youngest Son and his wife Danica were already there. We ate. The obligatory Grampy-holding-the-new-baby-like-a-football pictures were taken. As were pictures of Middle Son and Margaret with Grandchild No. 8, and Long Suffering Spouse and the new baby, and Abuela and the new baby....

You know the poses. You've seen them all a million times on Facebook. From a million different families.

Which, of course, is where I'm busting to put these.

But I can't.

Not yet.

With all of our grandchildren so far I've given the parents first dibs on posting about their new arrival. It seems only fair, right? Middle Son deleted his Facebook account -- not that I blame him -- Facebook is getting darn near as hostile as Twitter -- but Margaret still has hers. And she does post from time to time.

But so far... nothing.

So I want to put up a post -- and bask in the glow of the many 'likes' I will receive, some of them from people I've actually met -- but I don't think I should. Yet.

At what point, if the parents don't do it themselves, can I break the seal and make my own post?

This is another question I could never have imagined having to ask 30 years ago... or even 20.

And how do I find an answer?

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?"

Nope.

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.

But.

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.

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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 had 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.