Friday, September 28, 2012

Curmudgeon becomes a grandfather - Part I

Younger Daughter welcomed my first grandchild into the world Wednesday night.

My law practice has fallen off so far that (a) Younger Daughter didn't think twice about calling me Wednesday afternoon to drive her to the doctor and (b) I didn't need to think twice about leaving.

I'll spare you the gory details, but Younger Daughter felt compelled to call her doctors' office early Wednesday afternoon and the nurse who returned the call promptly agreed that she should come in ASAP. I jumped on the first train home. Younger Daughter met me at the station and off we went.

No, she wasn't in labor. I've been with Long Suffering Spouse when she's been in labor. I know from labor. This wasn't it.

So I didn't think there was any real chance her doctors would keep her -- but they did. Let's hope I'm a better lawyer than I am a doctor.

Once the doctors decided to keep Younger Daughter I had no choice: I had to call my wife's school and have her paged. Long Suffering Spouse was supposed to be a labor coach. I brought her up to date on the situation. "Call me back when classes are over. I'll leave as soon as I can," she said.

And there was also the necessity of informing Younger Daughter's husband. Olaf just started a job, you'll remember, and he is still taking a couple of classes. He'd gone to work for awhile Wednesday morning, then to class, and it was coming out of class that Younger Daughter got hold of him.

I would not want to have shared the road with him as he drove up from school to the hospital. But he says he didn't hit anybody or anything, and I choose to believe him.

By the time Olaf arrived on the scene, Long Suffering Spouse had finished school. It was arranged that I would go home and get her -- and Olaf's overnight bag -- and Younger Daughter's overnight bag -- and Olaf's phone charger -- and anything else they could think of while I was en route.

Long Suffering Spouse had one other mission at home: Her mother had to come over to pick up some sheets that she'd bought for Younger Daughter that were somehow wrong. I never did figure out how. Nor do I care.

Apparently this error had been discovered some days ago. Abuela was becoming increasingly agitated that the sheets had not been exchanged yet. Earlier Wednesday, Younger Daughter had promised her grandmother that she would take the sheets back to the store that evening without fail. But, of course, she would be unable to redeem that promise now.

Long Suffering Spouse had to tell her mother that Younger Daughter was in the hospital. Abuela was concerned about Younger Daughter, of course, and thrilled to death about the impending birth of her third great-grandchild. But who was going to take care of those sheets?!?

So Long Suffering Spouse proposed that Abuela return the sheets herself. Come by and get them, she told her mother. "I can?" said Abuela -- and she was happy. She had a job. An important job. She was already at our house when I arrived to pick up Long Suffering Spouse. Abuela was on the road to the store that had provided the wrong sheets immediately thereafter.

I collected the stuff I was sent to collect and Long Suffering Spouse and I left for the hospital.

I delivered the luggage and my wife and quickly withdrew. I was neither needed nor wanted at that point. But I'd been there long enough to observe that -- my impressions notwithstanding -- Younger Daughter was apparently having contractions. They have machines that determine these things, you know.

Of course, they had machines like this when my kids were born, too. You could see the contraction build up on the printout -- a big sine wave -- and, when the wave subsided, allegedly, the contraction did, too. More than once, I made the mistake of suggesting to my wife, when she was in labor with one of my kids, that the contraction was over. Long Suffering Spouse suggested in response what I could do with my suggestions. It wasn't pretty.

But even if a dolt like me could see that the contractions weren't the same for Younger Daughter, these were no longer my problem. I went home to sit and wait for further instructions. From the numbers relayed by the medical staff when I brought Long Suffering Spouse in, I had hopes of picking her back up by dinnertime.


The Pitocin (or some variant thereof) was introduced after my departure. Small amounts at first, then increased, and increased again. An epidural was started. (I never got an epidural, Long Suffering Spouse texted. I remember, I texted back.)

Still, no baby.

We'd alerted the rest of the kids not long after Younger Daughter was admitted. Older Daughter didn't see the text until she was almost finished with work.

She called her mother right away: "I'm leaving for Chicago as soon as I get off work." Long Suffering Spouse told her to call me.

Older Daughter was already planning to come up from Indianapolis for the weekend. The question was when. We were hoping for Saturday. She was indicating Friday. (After work Wednesday, she didn't have to be back at her hospital until Monday.) So, when she learned her sister was in the hospital, she was serious about leaving immediately.

And she made that abundantly clear to me when she called. I had to be abundantly clear in return.

"We don't want you," I said. "Not tonight. When this baby is born, I'm going to sleep. I don't want to wait up for you. I'm not leaving the door unlocked. You'd be exhausted when you got here anyway. Get some sleep and come tomorrow when you're rested. Then you can be helpful."

Older Daughter called her mother back. "Dad's grumpy," she said. But she agreed to postpone her departure to first light Thursday.

I'd become the press secretary for the enterprise. From the recliner in my den, communicating as necessary with my wife via text, I was able to field queries from my other kids as they came in.

And Abuela called, too.

She'd successfully exchanged the sheets. That's great, I said. I will be sure to tell Younger Daughter right away.

Around 9:00pm my wife texted that the doctors had abandoned hope of delivering the baby in the traditional manner. A C-section was to be performed. Long Suffering Spouse was no longer needed as a labor coach. But she was not leaving the premises. (I don't think the National Guard could have dislodged her.) She was shown a room where she could wait. I was told to join her forthwith.

I was told, too, that the baby would be born about 10-15 minutes after they started the procedure and that they were ready to start. We live at least 15 minutes away from the hospital, even at that time of night, so I had expectations of meeting my wife, chucking the baby under the chin, maybe saying coochy-coochy-coo once or twice and then going home.

I never learn.

For one thing, they hadn't started yet. They were still getting the OR ready. Maybe someone else had been using it.

I couldn't find Long Suffering Spouse in the waiting room that I had found earlier that day, mainly because she wasn't there. She came and got me when I texted, where are you?

Olaf was waiting for us when Long Suffering Spouse brought me back to the designated room.

I've written about how things have changed so much since my kids were born. This much, at least, hasn't changed: Fathers are only at the hospital for comic relief. In a normal birth, the father practices the deep breathing techniques that his wife needs to push the baby out. Since the father is not doing anything nearly so strenuous, he quickly hyperventilates -- and passes out. As long as he doesn't actually crack his head open, his pratfall can be a great source of mirth and merriment to the attending medical personnel. But Olaf would not be practicing breathing techniques during a C-section.

His comedic value, therefore, was largely confined to the effect of his ridiculous costume. This was surgery, you know, and he had to 'scrub' along with everyone else. And he had to wear a giant blue paperish showercap and blue paper scrubs. Doctors and nurses don't look stupid wearing scrubs -- maybe they take a course where they learn how to pull this off -- but prospective fathers always look like idiots. And Olaf had work boots on his feet -- his new job involves his being on a factory floor from time to time -- so the paper wraps for his feet were truly enormous.

"That's a nice look for you, Olaf," I said, when I could compose myself.

"Yeah, right," he said. I'd obviously not been very successful in concealing my opinions about his outfit.

"Let me take a picture," said Long Suffering Spouse to Olaf.

"Yes," I said, "this will have serious blackmail value in future."

She got the shot. Someone came and got Olaf. We commenced to wait. By this time I knew I'd be in for a bit of a stay: Long Suffering Spouse explained that the baby would be born almost immediately after the procedure started, but there would be a 45-minute-to-an-hour delay while the doctors put Younger Daughter back together.

Well, that made sense to me. But I wished I'd known this sooner, so I could have brought a book or my wife's iPad or something.

So we waited.

We talked.

We reminisced, mostly, about the birth of this one or the birth of that one. Long Suffering Spouse remembers some of my best stories quite differently than I do. Isn't that always the way?

Our quiet discussion was interrupted by a baby's cry. Long Suffering Spouse's face softened. "That's a baby," she said.

I looked at the thick wooden double doors that blocked the entrance to the corridor where Younger Daughter was being tended to. "I'm sure that one's not ours," I said. It didn't matter to Long Suffering Spouse. Not at that moment.

Not too long after, those giant wooden double doors swung open and someone in scrubs (who did not look like an idiot) flashed a thumbs up in our general direction.

"That was the anesthesiologist," Long Suffering Spouse said. If the anesthesiologist is done, my wife predicted, Younger Daughter should be out soon.

My wife's cell phone went off at that point. It was Abuela. "What's happening?" she wanted to know.

My wife hadn't told her about the C-section. Why worry Abuela unnecessarily? Her plan was to tell her when mother and baby were safely back. But Abuela had tired of waiting. "Did your husband tell you I returned the sheets?" she asked.

The double doors swung open again and a bed was rolled out, towards us. It was Younger Daughter. With passenger, only now on the outside. Olaf was trudging along behind. Statistics were reported, then shouted into the cell phone. 8 lbs, 12 oz. 19½ inches long.

Our waiting room had become the C-section recovery room.

"Who's on the phone?" Younger Daughter asked.

"Abuela," I answered. "I'm supposed to tell you she returned the sheets."

Next: Standoff in a hospital room.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A shameless plea for comments and other pipe dreams

I went to comment moderation on all my blogs when I started getting hit with all sorts of spam comments. Sometimes they're written in a Cyrillic script (presumably Russian, but I can't say for certain) or in some Oriental language (I don't pretend to know Japanese, Chinese or Korean either). Of course, some of the spam comments allegedly written in English aren't much easier to decipher.

An awful lot of these are apparently for sex sites of one kind or another (no, I'm not clicking over to see!). But one recent example started with this weird promise, "iphone arab porn german porn mp3 cool whip parfait" -- and went careening downhill from there (and it was submitted on a post about attending church!).

Others are for medications -- "generique viagra" in one recent example -- or boots or purses. Ugg boots seem to be very popular. (I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that the links provided in these comments are for knockoffs, not the real designer things.)

Another category of spam comment is the generic "very good informations (sic) here" remark -- coupled with a link to someone's business. Often, despite the questionable English language proficiency of the person providing the comment, these links are to American businesses, sometimes even to law firms.

Folks, at least sometimes, when you pay for SEO ("search engine optimization") this is the kind of garbage you'll get.

I flush all of these.

Still, sometimes, it's tempting to let a few of the comments through. This one, for example:
You are so interesting! I don't suppose I've truly read something like that before. So nice to discover another person with a few genuine thoughts on this subject. Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This website is something that is required on the web, someone with a bit of originality! Feel free to visit my blog post....
Oh my, did I forget to include the commenter's website? Why, yes, I did.

I cherish real comments. But I don't get nearly as many as I used to.

I'm not entirely certain why this is.

Part of it, I'm sure, is that I'm not visiting as many sites as I may have at one time. A lot of sites I used to visit every day have been discontinued. Others are updated only sporadically. In a few cases, the bloggers have passed away. But that's not the most common explanation. I am increasingly convinced that many people dip into blogging for awhile -- and then leave without a backward glance. Older Daughter started a blog when she went for a semester Europe many years ago (that's when I first adopted this nom de plume and started my first, since-abandoned blog). When she came back, her blog went dark. Recently, she blogged again. She didn't send us a link to her site, but she told us she was blogging anonymously about her IVF experience. She was seeking the community (and solace) of others similarly situated. When the second implantation failed, that blog, too, went dark.

Well, actually, this isn't me, still slogging away.
You figured that out by yourself, didn't you?
But, here I am, still slogging away. I have 'real' blogs now as well, that is, blogs written in my own name. And, of course, there's The Blog of Days -- a daily venture, if I can keep it up.

But I don't think I can make a career of this. Would that I could!

I keep thinking I could pull together similarly-themed posts and create an e-book or two. With Amazon's Kindle and similar devices, self-publishing is not as delusional these days as it may once have been. (Or, perhaps, I have become more delusional. I have to acknowledge that possibility....) With nearly 1,700 posts here, there's certainly an inventory of words on which to draw.

As blog posts, much of what I write may be just too long for someone to read at the office -- especially when there are so many other sites that one may want to visit every day. But as e-books? I see people with Kindles and Nooks and other screens every day on the train. Would my stuff 'work better' in that format?

When I started, I had dreams of a book publisher finding me. Other authors have been plucked from the Blogosphere... I thought that someone might pluck me. (Oh dear, that didn't sound right at all.) Well, maybe, with the new technology, I should be plucking myself. (Yikes! Where's that thesaurus?)

It's trying to figure out where to go, and how to get there, that inspires this post. I know there are some lurkers out there, some who visit when they can, some who visit regularly.

For purposes of this post, please de-lurk.

Tell me something about who you are, where you are, what you want to see on this blog -- and what (besides these occasional pity-parties) you'd like to see less of.

Oh, wait, this comment just in: "Link eхchange iѕ nоthing else but іt iѕ simрlу placing the οthеr peгson's web site link on your page at appropriate place and other person will also do similar for you. Here is my page...."

Never mind.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Past imperfect: Curmudgeon dredges up old memories about babies who are now about to give birth

Daddy's Home by Tony Rubino and Gary Markstein
I like the father's attitude here, even if I can't altogether agree with it.

Waiting still for Younger Daughter to deliver our first grandchild I can't help thinking about Younger Daughter's own birth (23 years ago this week) which highlights somethings about the past that were preferable... and not.

Younger Daughter came late. Four of our five were late. The only one who came early was Oldest Son... and he didn't look "done" yet. His eyes weren't open. I suggested we put him back until he was ripe, but you can imagine how well my wife took to that suggestion.

I had taken my law office into the Computer Revolution by 1989; I was still practicing with a firm then, a very junior partner. But I was the computer guru in the DOS Age, at least in our office, because I knew how to load software and I could show the secretaries how to use WordPerfect. This proves again the truth of the old adage "in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King."

I had completed a big project just before Younger Daughter came. As I remember it, the tape had been transcribed (we used dictation machines in those days) and I'd made my corrections and changes before I was called away.

A lot of my memories of this time are indistinct because I was ill. I had redeveloped polyps in my colon in places where it interfered with little things, like walking, or staying clean. I was waiting to get this taken care of until after the baby was born, but I knew I was going to do something soon. I just didn't know who I was going to see. This recurrence had come along waaaaay too soon, in my estimation, and I will swear forever it's because the doctor I was seeing then took the last one out without giving me any anesthesia. And he didn't get all the roots. (It's my opinion that polyps are like dandelions; you have to get the roots, too, but I'm not presenting this as scientific fact.)

Whatever, I was in the market for another doctor. But first we had to get this baby born.

I remember trying to walk with the family to Wendy's for dinner the night before she came. Long Suffering Spouse was already in labor, she thought, and she wasn't up for cooking. She was up for walking. I could barely keep up with three toddlers (well, Older Daughter had just started kindergarten) and a heavily pregnant spouse.

We went to the hospital next morning. The Cubs had apparently clinched the NL East title overnight and a rally had been announced for the Daley Center Plaza at noon that day. My wife's doctor was a Cub fan; he knew we weren't. So his jokes, that morning, were along the lines of 'hurry up, get some Pitocin going, I have a rally to get to.' I didn't mind. Usually he would interrogate me closely in the delivery room, making sure I was still doing insurance defense work (if I was doing plaintiffs' work, you see, I might be suing doctors). I didn't mind that either. Both my wife and I liked this guy.

And he really was only kidding about Pitocin. Once Long Suffering Spouse got going, no medications were needed. In fact, she progressed so quickly that she never once, in the course of giving birth to five children, ever got the opportunity to get an epidural.

There was always a point, however, where my wife would request drugs.


At-the-top-of-her-lungs-screeching loudly.

Women who've delivered children since the end of the Forceps Era will know the point I'm referring to.

Younger Daughter came into the world without additional controversy, however, and I went home to take care of everybody else while Long Suffering Spouse was bundled off to a semi-private room.

Semi-private rooms were the best you could realistically hope for in those days; private rooms weren't covered by anybody's insurance.

My wife's roommate turned out to be a young girl from India. She was receiving calls from excited relatives back home.

All night long.

All night.

Long Suffering Spouse called me the next morning with a command. "Get me out of here!"

She was not in the hospital 24 hours on that occasion, including our time in Labor & Delivery.

But now Long Suffering Spouse was coming home to three excited kids, towing a new baby, and completely sleep-deprived. To get the older kids' attention away from their new baby sister (and give their mom and opportunity to rest) I needed a pretty powerful attraction.

Fortunately we live in Chicago, on the far Northwest Side. We could walk to the train and go right into the airport. And we did. We went wandering around O'Hare to look at planes. In those days, before 9/11, people could walk around airports without triggering security lockdowns. We could go to gates and everything so the kids could see planes pretty darn close.

I milked the trip for all it was worth. I kept them going as long as I could. I wasn't in as much pain as I'd been the night before last; maybe it was a post-partum 'high.' Who cares? I was trying to buy my wife some time to sleep.

But all in vain.

Remember that project I'd finished at work and left with the secretary, all corrected and everything? Well, my life's equivalent of Dilbert's Pointy-Haired Boss got a call from the client about it and panicked. He didn't know how to respond to the client because he only pretended to handle the business; he relied on my report to tell him what to say. He hadn't seen my report so he jumped to the conclusion that it was never done. He made the office manager call my house to track me down (this was before we used cellphones at all times). The office manager was mortified to reach my wife -- and to find I wasn't at home -- especially when he made her call again. And perhaps again. My wife said he called about 100 times. I haven't seen this guy for 14 years, but I still hate him with a deep-burning cordiality. Nevertheless, even I am willing to admit the possibility that he may not have made the office manager call 100 times. It merely seemed like it.

So, when I walked in the door, I had to drop the kids (who immediately climbed on their mother) and get on the phone to this jerk and tell him exactly where to look for his project. Surprisingly, I did not embellish. Maybe I talked to the office manager rather than take the chance of what I might say to this guy, my "partner." Either way, the "crisis" was speedily resolved.

So, about the past. Some things were simpler. I miss DOS, at least to the extent that a reasonably intelligent person could puzzle computer issues out for himself. The ubiquity of cellphones today is a decidedly mixed blessing -- but my having a cellphone might have done Long Suffering Spouse some good that day 23 years ago. Younger Daughter will have a private room when she delivers her baby; that's the new standard. That's certainly an improvement. I'm out from under my version of the Pointy-Haired Boss. That's good. But I'm going broke. That's bad. At least in those days I made some money. Even if it did give me polyps. OK, those were bad, too.

But I miss the idea of going out to the airport and just wandering around freely, looking at the giant planes and watching the kids' faces as they looked at the planes too.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Curmudgeon not a grandfather yet... but soon?

The headline, I suppose, could be that Long Suffering Spouse was wrong in guessing we'd be grandparents by this morning. (I reported her prediction here last Thursday.)

This could be the headline because it is 'news' in the 'man bites dog sense': News, in this commonly accepted view, is not just 'what happens' but what happens and is also unusual. What's unusual here is that my wife appears to have been mistaken.

That hardly ever happens.

But, as always, there are extenuating circumstances. Last week I told you that Olaf's job interview had gone well, so well that his prospective employers wanted him back for another interview as soon as the next day (Friday).

Friday proved too soon for the person-who-needed-to-sign-off-on-Olaf; he was just back at work after an illness and he needed more time to catch up. So the interview was postponed until this morning. That gave Younger Daughter a strong incentive to wait.

Not that you can turn these things on or off, of course, not consciously -- but, well, attitudes and expectations probably have more to do with these things than science can prove.

We were joking yesterday that -- given the importance of Olaf securing gainful employment -- Younger Daughter wouldn't actually tell him she was in labor (even if she was) until after the interview was concluded. Younger Daughter thought that a splendid idea; Olaf was not nearly as amused.

Nevertheless, it got me thinking.

There's lots of things that Long Suffering Spouse shields me from for as long as possible. Long Suffering Spouse operates (sometimes) on the theory that I have enough trouble focusing on things I'm supposed to without worrying about this relative or that one. So I sail on in blissful ignorance -- or at least fret about only one thing at a time.

Today (no surprise here) my major concern is financial. I have, by my count, $11 and change in my checking account. I have a charge card bill due today with a $12,000+ balance; the minimum payment is only $166. "Only." It might as well be the whole $12,000+ because I can't pay the big amount or even the little one unless a check comes in the mail. I'm waiting for one at home and one here. And there's another card due tomorrow and phone bills and....

Well, you know the story. It's one all of us have in common, to greater or lesser extents, from time to time (Mitt Romney excepted, I suppose).

Anyway, it occurred to me that Long Suffering Spouse might not even bother to tell me when Younger Daughter's labor begins lest I lose focus on the crisis du jour. I'm downtown now. I'm not at all useful: I'm a good hour away by train, counting the walk home from the station. I could come home tonight and (eventually) notice that Younger Daughter was absent. "Where is everybody?" I might ask.

Long Suffering Spouse could tell me that Younger Daughter and Olaf were out for a walk; I'd buy it. Then I'd eat dinner and fall asleep in front of the White Sox game. (The way they've been playing on this current five game losing skid, it's the only way to watch.)

I'd go to bed eventually. Maybe I'd ask, "Is everybody here?" Long Suffering Spouse would only have to tell me "yes" and, if she'd already closed the door to the kids' room, I'd believe it.

I wouldn't necessarily see the kids on my way out in the morning either; I don't always.

If my wife put her mind to it, I wonder how many days my grandchild could be in the house before I figured it out? Two? Three? A week?

I actually saw Younger Daughter this morning (she was up getting Olaf out to his very early morning interview) and she was still 'great with child' then. But tomorrow?

Well, I'm sure I'll find out eventually.....

Friday, September 21, 2012

Frivolous Friday: Everything I need to know I get from the comics, part 4,793

Dilbert, by Scott Adams; this image obtained from Yahoo! Comics
Every morning I sit down in the den at the old Curmudgeon Manse and browse the comics.  Dilbert is a daily read.  Maybe it's because I once had a boss who reminded me of Dilbert's pointy haired boss.  Today's Dilbert strip struck me as particularly funny -- in a wicked, wicked way.

I actually began laughing out loud -- well, I cackled in a low, sepulchral tone that Olaf, who was in the den as well, sipping his morning coffee, found somewhat disturbing.  (I once issued a challenge to those who claim to have "LOL'd" at a comic or a blog post to really try it sometime; I don't think most people who say they've LOL'd really have.)

The Lockhorns, by Bunny Hoest and John Reiner; obtained from the Chicago Tribune Comics Kingdom

This edition of the Lockhorns, however, did not make me laugh out loud.  Rather, it struck perilously close to home.

(Only I'd have to bring something home first.)

Hmmm.  For a 'frivolous' Friday, this post is taking a rather sombre turn.  Let's see... this comic yesterday struck me as rather funny:

Bliss, by Harry Bliss; image obtained from Chicago Tribune Comic Kingdom

You know, when life gives you lemons...

Although, on second thought, this one is only funny in a rather sad way, isn't it?

Well, one more chance.  We'll try the webcomic xkcd, by Randall Munroe (and if you have time, go to the site and view the comic before this one and spend the time clicking and dragging -- it was wonderful, but, I thought, enormously sad).  Of course, it might have been just me.

On the other hand, you know... this isn't much happier, is it?

So much for my "frivolous" Friday.  It seems I need an attitude adjustment, and pronto.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Baby alert?

Younger Daughter's time is drawing near. My wife's antenna have been up for a few days now, since Younger Daughter recounted her last doctor's visit.

Not only does the original October 2 due date appear unattainable, it also looks like I went too long picking a date in the family pool (September 29 if you need to know). I don't know that I'll be a grandfather at this time tomorrow... "nothing's organized," says Younger Daughter, referring to the signs and symptoms... but Long Suffering Spouse is pretty sure we'll be grandparents by Monday.

On the other hand, Olaf had a job interview this week and it went well. Another is planned. Perhaps tomorrow.

If, of course, he's available.

And his actuary exam is Monday, too.

Everything happens at once. Maybe I'll get some calls on my cases today too. Or is that too much to hope for?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

About Romney's 47%: I, too, am increasingly dependent on government -- and I don't like it

Gov. Romney's informal remarks at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida are the swirling controversy and death knell of his campaign -- this week.

Next week, it will be something else.

According to NBC News (and that's a link to the full transcript) the infamous "47% remarks" are these:
Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right? There are 47% who are with him. Who are dependent upon government, who believe that-- that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they're entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it. But that's-- it's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.

And-- and-- I mean the president starts off with 48%, 49%, 40-- or he-- he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. 47% of Americans pay no income taxes. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. And he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that's what they sell every-- every four years.

And-- and so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5% to 10% in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion. Whether they like the guy or not. What they-- what it looks like. I mean the-- it's the-- the-- when you ask those people-- we do all these polls. I find it amazing. We poll all these people, see where you stand in the polls. About 45% of the people will vote for the Republican and 48% or 49%--
The NBC transcript reflects a break in the audio there; whether Mr. Romney said anything intelligent or intelligible immediately after this can not be known. When the transcript resumes, Mr. Romney is talking about China and (apparently) defense spending.

Now, let's start off a sensible analysis by acknowledging that Mr. Romney was speaking informally, to a group of potential donors (many of whom were not shy about interjecting their own opinions into his remarks).

This was not a prepared speech. Granted, Mr. Romney was riffing on familiar themes -- but, if you are among the many who believe that President Clinton's recent address to the Democratic Convention in Charlotte was a tour de force (and I refrain from expressing an opinion because I didn't watch it) you perhaps know that the Clintons acknowledged that there was extensive preparation for that moment. Mr. Clinton was not speaking off-the-cuff, whether or not he departed occasionally from his carefully prepared text.

Like Gov. Romney, President Obama has not always fared well without a teleprompter -- to the point where, early in his term, Mr. Obama was ridiculed for using teleprompters on even minor occasions.

But there was a good reason.

Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign was almost derailed by the leak of informal remarks that he made to a group of supporters in San Francisco (this was during the primary season, so both Sen. McCain and Hilary Clinton piled on).

You remember, don't you? Quoting now from the April 12, 2008 Chicago Tribune, accessed this morning via Lexis ("Foes try to label Obama elitist; They say he slighted rural Americans," by John McCormick):
Sen. Barack Obama was criticized Friday by his two fellow presidential candidates for statements he made recently at a San Francisco fundraiser that could be viewed as derogatory toward rural America.

"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," Obama said Sunday, according to the Huffington Post Web site.

"And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not," Obama reportedly continued. "It's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Obama does not allow reporters into fundraisers at private homes, so they were not reported at the time.
Yes, it was persistent opposition research (like James Carter IV's digging in the current case of Gov. Romney) that brought these remarks into the light of day: What percentage of America did then-Sen. Obama casually dismiss with these seemingly snide remarks?

So: If you want to insist that Gov. Romney's remarks are a shaft of sunlight illuminating his sick, twisted soul, don't you also have to see Mr. Obama as a faculty-lounge elitist who harbors naught but disdain for those without his Ivy League credentials (and who "cling" to foolish things like religion)?

Instead, let's start by agreeing that candidates -- just like real people -- will speak more colloquially, less carefully, in shorthand, when they think they are speaking off the record. And we shouldn't hold candidates accountable for garbling statistics when they speak extemporaneously -- unfortunately, statistics are so politicized at this point that we can hardly believe anything we hear anyway even when candidates are attempting to speak for posterity.

We can also agree that 47% of Americans are not entirely dependent on government. We have a transfer payment problem in this country, but we're not Greece. At least, not yet. It is instinctive among Republicans to think immediately of "welfare queens" but, to the extent such creatures may be found, they are not the only ones who live off what the government provides. For example, among those that truly are entirely dependent upon our government are our permanently disabled troops. So dependency per se is not an indictment of those dependent.

On the other hand, I live in Chicago. I know welfare was reformed during the Clinton administration and requirements tightened. But I also know that, despite these reforms, there are generations of families here where no one has been (legally) employed. Illegal employment -- such as the selling of drugs -- has fueled our incredible murder rate, a murder rate higher (at least by some reckonings) than the rate in Kabul or Baghdad. (There are other factors that account for the recent increases in our murder rate; illegal drugs has long been the strongest industry in many of our worst areas. I tend to believe sources like Second City Cop which blame an [officially unacknowledged] decline in police manpower for the murder surge -- a lid has come off.) One of the big problems in our school strike (just settled, supposedly) was that so many kids depend on the schools to provide breakfast and lunch. The CHA's infamous skyscraper projects are gone, but the people who lived there are not: There are many dependent on the government for housing. Long before Obamacare, poor Chicagoans obtained medical treatment at the taxpayers' expense at Cook County Hospital.

So, if Mr. Romney were more careful, and simply said that there are some "[w]ho are dependent upon government, who believe that-- that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they're entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it[;] that [] it's an entitlement[;] [a]nd the government should give it to them," would he have been wrong?

Would he have then been wrong to suggest that persons who depend on one level of government or another for food, shelter, and healthcare are the least likely to support his candidacy?

Jesus said the poor will always be with us. In saying that, He gave no license to ignore poverty or permission to look the other way as people suffer or starve.

But, though there may always be some who must have the help of us all or go under, should government policy be to foster independence or dependence on government's largesse?

You know what killed Republican Rome, don't you? Bread and circuses.

At first it was the free distribution of grain to the city's poor in conjunction with the funeral games of some noble. An occasional magnanimous gesture. But it evolved. It grew. Soon grain had to be produced as incentives to support this candidate or that one. In office, the young man trying to climb the cursus honorum would have to fashion better games and better grain distribution than did his predecessors. Soon free grain was a feature of every public observance -- and there were public observances virtually every day. Rome became a city entirely dependent on grain handouts. Those who would lead the city and the empire based from the city had to keep the mob happy.... Eventually the Republic was swept away by the Caesars, but even the Emperors had to keep the favor of the Roman mob. A number died trying.

Our Founding Fathers were far better steeped in the Classics than contemporary Americans. They feared direct democracy and created a Republic to keep an 'American mob' from forming. And they were dead set against government giveaways. Thus, James Madison could say to the House of Representatives in 1794, "The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government." On another occasion in 1794, Madison told the House that governmental charity "might hereafter be perverted to the countenance of purposes very different from those of charity." He could not find, he said, any passage in the Constitution that gave a power to "Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."

With the horrible example of Rome clearly before them, our Founding Fathers were scared to death of what might happen if citizens became increasingly dependent on the government for their existence.

I am still a taxpayer. I am not -- yet -- wholly dependent on the government for my existence. But all of us are increasingly dependent on government. Case in point: College tuition.

I put up a post here in February 2006, "It's FAFSA time again." FAFSA has become, in my lifetime, the cornerstone of all college financial aid:
In the FAFSA you tell the government how much you earn and how much you've saved and the government tells you how much you are expected to "contribute" to your child's college education. It is also used to determine eligibility for student loans and work study. Even "academic" scholarships typically require parents to submit FAFSA's.

Somehow the government always thinks I can pay more than I think I can pay.

There was a time when middle class parents would be mortified at making such a comprehensive disclosure of their assets -- but there was also a time when an ambitious kid, working during the summer and part-time during the school year, could put a sizeable dent in his or her own tuition. That time is called the "distant past."
I wrote how my father refused to fill out any papers for government-supported loans. When he ran out of money to supplement whatever I was able to contribute, he sent me to his bank to take out a private loan.

Of course, tuition was miniscule then, compared to what it is now. Tuition for higher education has rocketed ahead at a pace far greater than inflation.

Government assistance helps me ameliorate the effect of these increases -- college is not yet beyond the American middle class, but paying for college without government assistance is beyond the reach of more and more each year. Is the availability of government assistance also a cause of the dramatic increase in college costs? There are rational people out there who will say yes.

Should we be looking at programs like FAFSA -- not to deny families the chance to send their kids to college -- but to explore whether a noble intention has created a larger problem? Should we look instead for ways to decrease dependence on FAFSA rather than pour increasingly more government money into student loans?

We could look at any government program (and a lot of tax deductions, too) and ask these questions. Don't you wish the candidates would explain why we should abjure or embrace increasing dependence on government and why each candidate thinks their position right? In public, I mean, not just when talking to persons who already support them....

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Feeling a little sorry for the CTU's Karen Lewis

CTU President Karen Lewis
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is not the warm and fuzzy sort. Her remarks to the press are often inflammatory and nearly always caustic. But right now I feel a little sorry for her. Let me explain.

As a civil lawyer, I negotiate settlements in cases. Most cases never go to trial; most are settled, some without filing suit, some on the courthouse steps or while the jury is deliberating, and the rest in between.

But negotiation is a two-way street. I don't mean that both parties at the table have to give some, although that's true. Rather, I'm referring to the communication that has to take place from the negotiator to his or her opposite number and the communication that has to flow back to the client in the course of negotiations.

It's called 'managing expectations.' Managing expectations means is that I have to make sure my client doesn't believe my bluster (what I'm telling the other side) and that my client understands that, when I take him or her aside to discuss where things are going or where I think they may wind up, that's the part the client should believe. I educate my client on where I think we're going and my client educates me on what he or she can live with.

Settlement negotiations are often compared to artillery barrages. Overshoot -- demand too much -- and the other side stays comfortably entrenched, unconcerned, certain that, in the worst case, they won't lose as much as you're demanding. Undershoot -- demand too little -- and you wind up hurting your own cause, like artillery shells falling short on one's own advancing troops. But when your fire is properly targeted, that's when you can see the other side start to squirm: They evaluate the case similarly. When your opponent sees you asking for something that they think you're likely to get (always a range, you understand) they have to weigh the cost of resisting your demand vs. the prospect of losing the deal plus the cost of getting to trial (and, always, the possibility that the jury may do something really adverse).

Labor negotiations add a level of complexity. Tort or contract cases are about money. Some amount will get the deal done. But labor negotiations will have a money component and, often, lots of other issues as well. Take the current Chicago Public Schools strike. According to various accounts, the issues under discussion include base salaries and
  • When textbooks will come in;
  • Air conditioning in older schools;
  • Coordinating school schedules (some schools start sooner than others; some are on a year-round schedule);
  • School closings;
  • Student test scores and how these will impact school closings, teacher firings, and teacher re-hirings;
  • Re-hiring laid off teachers;
  • Hiring new teachers to cover the previously negotiated longer school day;
  • Seniority raises (lanes and steps); and
  • Teacher evaluations (and how these are going to be impacted by student test scores).
A proposed merit pay system was also on the table at one point, but CPS allegedly caved on that one.

The point is, there were all of these issues floating around (when Mayor Emanuel insisted there were only two points of disagreement, Lewis, characteristically said there were 50) and different members have different expectations regarding each point. And there isn't one client, there are 700 or 800 members of the Union's House of Delegates which must recommend this deal back to the teachers in the various schools.

Were all of these varying expectations adequately managed? Could they be?

The way I read this is that Lewis and the Union's negotiating team are not wildly enthusiastic about the tentative deal. Saying 'this is the best deal we could get' is not the same thing as saying 'this is a great deal and we wholeheartedly endorse and recommend it.' So Ms. Lewis and her team are lukewarm -- and she may have found her delegates even colder. But what she didn't say is that she was not recommending the deal.

Lawyers do this sometimes: We go through a negotiation and we get the best offer we can. We don't like it. We think it is insufficient. We tell the other side we don't like the deal and can't recommend it but, because we have an ethical duty to take it back to our client; it is always the client's decision to settle or fight on. So we tell the client, 'this is the best deal we could get but we don't recommend it.' If the client doesn't take the deal, we have lost no face with the other side; indeed, the other side knows that the client is really under our control (they may also think we're both stupid, but that's another story).

But I didn't hear -- despite her lack of enthusiasm -- Lewis say that she's not recommending the current deal. Therefore, if Lewis can't sell this deal to her own House of Delegates, she may well be done as CTU President. Oh, she may continue in office for awhile -- but her authority would be gone. The Board will conclude, and reasonably so, that she no longer speaks for her members.

The CTU's House of Delegates meets this afternoon. How that meeting might turn out is anyone's guess.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I'm not deaf, darn it, but my hearing has changed

For many years I used to grumble about judges who were so insistent about absolute silence in their courtroom. I'm not talking about talking during an opponent's closing argument to the jury -- I could always understand getting riled up about that -- but, you know, on the morning motion call, when relatively routine, mundane business is being transacted before the bench and the room is chock full of lawyers trying to streamline their pending appearance. You get a crowded courtroom full of lawyers whispering, "Yes, I know I owe you written discovery. Can you give me 28 days?" or "The doctor's on vacation and we can't schedule her deposition until a week from Monday when she returns," and the buzz can get rather, well, buzzy.

But no one person is being intentionally disruptive; everyone is trying to be as quiet as possible and the parties the judge actually needs to hear are right in front of the bench. So I used to take umbrage when the learned judge would "shush" the room, or ask the deputy to do so. What's the matter with the judge? I'd think to myself. Is the judge so unable to focus that he or she can't hear the persons standing right there?

But now, finally, I understand: The answer is yes, the judge is having trouble focusing on the parties in front of the bench when the room gets too loud -- not because of ADHD but because the judge literally cannot focus on the conversation in front of him or her when there's too much ambient noise.

It's happened to me.

In a restaurant, or at a social function, I can't hear the person right next to me because I hear too much of the the noise around me. I'm not deaf, but I seem to have lost the ability to zoom in on the sounds I want to hear and exclude the rest. It was always the case that, in a crowded bar, if the band was too loud, I'd have trouble picking up conversation around me. But that was long, long ago and everyone has trouble hearing beyond a certain ambient noise threshold. It's just that, as I've aged, that threshold has clearly been lowered.

Long Suffering Spouse would disagree, of course. She thinks I'm deaf as a post. But if she's saying something in front of me and the TV is between us -- or sometimes even with the radio too close to my ears behind me -- I can't pick up what she says.

Of course, sometimes I wasn't listening because I was watching the TV or listening to the radio and because sometimes Long Suffering Spouse talks to herself as she gets things organized. I can't always tell the difference when she stops talking to herself and starts talking to me. But I sure do hear about it.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Curmudgeon goes on a field trip

Long Suffering Spouse's school goes down to Springfield every couple of years -- at least the middle school students go to Springfield -- there to visit as many of the Lincoln sites as they can in a single day.

I last went with in 2009. I wasn't asked to go again until yesterday.

"We need another male," I was told.

Well, OK, I thought, that's fine.

"We need someone who's mature," I was told.

Well, OK, I thought, that's kind of a nice way of noting that I'm not as young as I used to be.

"We need someone who knew Lincoln personally --"

Now cut that out!

Sadly, the gloves I wrote about in 2009 were no longer on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. I asked what had happened to them. "They're being given a rest," I was told. "We like to rotate the artifacts we have on display."

There were a lot of retired schoolteachers at each stop on our itinerary, leading the tours or supervising the exhibits. I got something from each of them; I'm not sure how much the kids picked up, of course, but you never know what might stick, even by accident, inside the mind of a junior high kid.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bears vs. Packers on a September Thursday?

Bee, I don't think this is necessarily a "sports post," although I'm going to talk about sporting events.

You -- and anyone else -- can agree or disagree in the comments.

The Chicago Bears have gone up to Wisconsin, there to play their dreaded foe, the Green Bay Packers.

On a Thursday night.

In September.

Football on a Thursday is fine, if the Thursday in question is Thanksgiving. That's tradition. Without the Detroit and Dallas games, when would we know when to serve the turkey?

Chris Sale is pitching against the Tigers
tonight in a game that may be decisive
in the AL Central race.
Football involving teams not from Chicago may even be alright on other Thursdays -- just not tonight, not when Chris Sale is going to duel Justin Verlander on the South Side in a game that may well determine whether the Detroit Tigers or my beloved Chicago White Sox will win this year's AL Central race.

The Tigers and the Sox are both staggering at this point of the season, like punch-drunk fighters. The Sox bullpen, so dominant for so long, is suddenly showing its youth and inexperience. Just when Sox fans began to long to see Adam Dunn at the plate, he can't pick up a bat (he's got a strained oblique, Bee; I tell you so you don't feel you have to look that up yourself). Even Paul Konerko is scuffling. The surest way to keep the Sox off the board is to load the bases with Pale Hose. Then they get themselves out for you.

But one of these teams will play through the pain and seize control of the Central. The Sox can bring their division lead back to two full games tonight; the Tigers can leave town tied for first, with all the momentum in their favor.

With this going on, why the heck do we have a Bears-Packers game scheduled for tonight?

In Chicago, Fall weekends are divided in two (yeah, says the wise guy, Saturday and Sunday, just like every weekend -- but the wise guy is wrong).

In the Fall, and into the Winter, Chicago weekends are divided between Bears Pre-Game and Bears Post-Game. The game itself is the fulcrum, the pivot point.

Now, of course, sometimes the game isn't until mid-afternoon on Sundays, when the Bears go to the West Coast or when the Bears are good enough to rate a national game on one of the networks. So the post-game period seems short. But anticipation should be longer than reflection or cool-down or whatever you want to call the aftermath. With anticipation, all things are possible: Jay Cutler might throw for 500 yards. Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin might get three sacks apiece. Devin Hester might score on a punt return, a kickoff return, and on a pass reception. Let irrational exuberance reign supreme!

But after... well, after, if the Bears lose, a gloom settles in on the City. Carl Sandburg said the fog creeps in on little cat feet, but a Bears loss falls on the City like a painter's heavy canvass drop cloth. Everyone walks with a little less spring in their step, a little more hunched over. The refs were terrible, the O-line couldn't protect Cutler... whatever the reason, it doesn't matter. Husbands and wives exchange sharper words than they should. Kids can't focus on their homework. Dogs instinctively look for slippers on which to chew.

Even if the Bears win, the rest of the weekend is anticlimax. Denouement. Roll credits. Iron shirts, shine shoes, fold socks, make tomorrow's lunch. The Sunday night "news" is mostly highlights from the game, including critiques of what should have been done better. It can get tedious. But at least a win makes that anticipation of next week's game just that much more delicious.

A Bears game on a Thursday just screws up this natural rhythm of Chicago life. We haven't had time to really anticipate the Packers yet -- did I mention the Tigers are in town and the Sox are playing for their post-season lives? -- and the Bears game will all be over all too soon.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday -- all anticlimax in Chicago.

Roger Goodell, what were you thinking?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chicago school strike: What's in it for Rahm?

Full Disclosure: I approach the CPS-CTU contretemps (now entering Day Three) without personal knowledge of the inner workings of Chicago's public schools. I sent all my kids to Catholic schools -- just like a lot of CPS teachers and administrators do. On the other hand, the largest chunk of my real estate tax goes to support CPS; I am a stakeholder.

So let me try and answer some questions that some of you outside Chicago may have.

Was this strike inevitable? Probably. The Chicago Teachers Union had a contract that called for teachers to get a 4% raise last year -- but the School Board reneged, citing the sad truth that the City is broke and couldn't afford it. This was apparently something that CPS had a right to do under its contract.

CTU President Karen Lewis
Meanwhile, Mayor Rahm Emanuel started campaigning to lengthen the school day in Chicago. He wanted a 7½ hour school day at first (up from 5¾ hours in many cases) and started 'finding' extra money for individual schools that would go along. (Wait... weren't the schools broke?) Eventually the Mayor settled for a 7 hour school day and promised to hire all sorts of new teachers and staff to help existing teachers cope. (Wait... weren't the schools broke?)

In the run-up to the strike the relationship between Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis became incredibly toxic. At one point she openly called him a liar -- and said that he had dropped an f-bomb on her in the course of suggesting how she might spend her spare time. (Rahm Emanuel cursing? I'm sure that will come as a shock to the national press....) And it wasn't just the union leadership that came to doubt Rahm's word. The rank and file teachers began to doubt anything Rahm said -- and they began to resent Rahm's insinuations that they were underworked and overpaid.

Are Chicago teachers overpaid? No... and maybe. I'll come to the "maybe" part later on; here's the "no" part of the answer.

Long Suffering Spouse, as you know, teaches in the Catholic school system. She's been teaching 16 years, full-time for the past decade, and her current salary is not quite two-thirds of what a freshly minted college graduate gets to start in the Chicago Public Schools. If my wife continues to teach middle school kids in the Chicago Archdiocesan system, she will never make as much as a first-year teacher in CPS.

On the other hand, my wife's school can... and has, on rare occasion... turned down a prospective student, or kicked a misbehaving kid out. If my wife needs to reach out to a student's parents because of behavioral or academic concerns, she will find them (maybe at two different addresses, even in the Catholic schools, but this is, sadly, the modern world) and they will be concerned. They may even support her -- not always -- but often. Maybe even usually. Parents are highly motivated to have their kids succeed in school; they are paying a high price to send them (much higher now than I could have afforded, were my kids still young).

CPS has to deal with everyone else. There are gang problems and drug problems and babies having babies. There are kids whose parents have never held a job. There are kids who don't know who their fathers are. There are kids who are homeless, who speak no English, who arrive hungry (one of the things Chicago schools are continuing to do, during the strike, are feeding breakfast and lunch to kids at some locations). Some parents are highly, deeply motivated, many despite problems of joblessness or homelessness. But all too many don't give a hang. Others might be concerned but simply don't know how to be helpful.

Don't tell Long Suffering Spouse -- but I don't necessarily begrudge the CPS teachers for making more than she does. Whoever employs them, teachers are all artisans with similar techniques, but the Catholic school teachers have better-quality, more consistent clay with which to work.

So we just write off the public school kids, is that it? No, we can't. As a society, we can't afford to. As a city, we can't afford to have a sizable population that is simply not suited for work in the 21st Century.

Isn't that what school reform is all about? In theory, yes. We need to improve the education our public school kids receive, despite the disadvantages faced by so many.

One of the ways Chicago ramped up public school education was separating out the wheat from the chaff -- in magnet schools and gifted schools and other 'selective enrollment' settings. Kids apply to get in to these schools and graduates of these schools place in elite colleges and universities.

One of the first of these was opening when Oldest Son was choosing high schools -- and (thinking of the tuition I could save) I was all in favor of him checking this out thoroughly. Problem was, the building was not built when he was looking -- and there was no football team.

He was accepted, but chose not to attend. If he were applying now I doubt that he'd be as fortunate: Admission is carefully rationed among zip codes now -- although there are always rumors that the offspring of the politically connected somehow manage to get into their first choice. If Oldest Son were 13 now, I'd guess that his best chance would be at Whitney Young, not at the magnet school closest to our home.

But there was a price to pay with these new magnet schools: As some schools got better, others got much worse.

And then came "No Child Left Behind." The idea is wonderful. The standardized testing that comes with it is much more controversial.

Under President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program we tried to measure a school's success or failure with kids' test scores. Under President Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative, we're trying to measure a teacher's success or failure with kids' test scores.

Striking Chicago teachers fear that they may lose their jobs over test scores. They argue that as many as 28% of all CPS teachers may go on the chopping block as a result of the current proposal to tie continued employment with test scores. The school administration stoutly denies that this would happen and insists it wants to work cooperatively with teachers to develop a fair system.

Here is where the teachers don't believe the administrators -- and I understand and sympathize with them in this. The administrators are not all pols, but they are beholden to politicians. Whatever agreement is eventually reached, it will be more than the already financially-strapped school system can afford, so there will be immediate pressure to cut costs. And what better ways to cut costs than to close 'unproductive' schools and to fire 'unproductive' teachers?

On the other hand, I don't necessarily believe that the teachers -- as a group -- want any meaningful evaluation system. Many teachers -- and, I believe, most teachers -- are dedicated, caring professionals that want their students to succeed and who toil away nights and weekends, just like my Long Suffering Spouse, to do their jobs the right way. As I said earlier, these teachers are not overpaid.

But, because the good teachers don't trust administrators or principals to separate good teachers from bad, the good teachers might rather see the deadwood carried along with them lest some of the good teachers be unfairly cut down. The deadwood teachers are certainly overpaid, whatever they get, but the so-far insoluble problem is how to fairly identify and remove the bad teachers from the good. And all teachers, good or bad, would want a way to stay employed if their schools close. That's understandable. And good teachers, even from bad (underperforming, low-test-score) schools, should be the first ones hired by principals at surviving schools.

Should principals be able to pick their own teachers? Yes, absolutely. The union wants laid off teachers from closed schools to be recalled first, but if principals are really to be accountable to the school system for the performance of their schools -- test scores, you know -- they have to have the flexibility to choose their own teachers.

The reason that many good teachers resist this is not because they have a featherbedding, assembly line mentality, though I can see where this might be the perception -- but because they don't trust principals to pick good teachers. Bad principals may favor friends and cronies over quality teachers. But if the principal is sufficiently connected, however the test scores go, he or she won't be 'left behind.' Again, it's a matter of trust.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
So, what's in this for Rahm? It is everywhere reported that Rahm harbors ambitions far beyond being Chicago's mayor. He's worked in the White House a couple of times now; supposedly, he wants to live there, too.

But no Democrat is going to get far in the primaries by alienating public employee unions. And "school reform" is a loaded phrase for the nation's largest teachers' unions. I guess trust issues may exist even outside Chicago.

Rahm can't be happy. Republicans are praising him (tongues firmly in cheek, of course) and exhorting him to stay strong. Meanwhile, he's alienating his base.

And police and fire negotiations are still to come. And Rahm has alienated them, too.

That popping sound you hear may be Rahm's presidential balloon bursting.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Osama bin Laden is DEAD! But the TSA is STILL ALIVE!

Yahoo! links this morning to this post on ABC News, about a woman who was detained at the Houston airport instead of being allowed to board her flight because the TSA gate agent did not 'like her attitude.'

No, seriously.

The video above purportedly shows the incident in progress. The production values are less than optimal because, understandably, the video was surreptitiously shot. The linked ABC News site reports further:
The person who uploaded the video writes, "I was not allowed to board a plane (even though I had already been through airport security) because I drank my water instead of letting the TSA "test" it. The TSA agent finally admitted that it wasn't because they thought I was a security risk-it was because the TSA agent, Louis Godeaux, was mad at me!"

Though the audio is garbled, the exchange goes like this:

Woman: Do you think I'm honestly a threat? Do you think that?

TSA agent: No, no, no but with your attitude . . .

Woman: Wait, let me get this straight, this is retaliatory for my attitude? This is not making the airways safer, this is retaliatory.

TSA agent: Pretty much, yes. [Inaudible]

Woman: Is that legal?

TSA agent: Yes it is.
If this is legal, it should not be. It. must. not. be.

Today, of course, is the 11th anniversary of the Al Qaeda attacks on the New York and Washington. For those of you who were alive and aware on that tragic day, don't you recall the many, many variations on this theme?

If we allow our freedoms to be taken
away, then the terrorists will have won.

Well, Osama bin Laden may be dead, but as long as the TSA is with us, he and his sorry ilk have won.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thinking about evangelization generally, conversion in particular

Regular readers already know that Younger Daughter and her husband Olaf are residing under our roof.

Olaf follows neither of the two major faith traditions of our household. Oh, he will accompany us and his very pregnant wife to 7:00am Sunday Mass, but he is very definitely not Catholic. His roots are Lutheran -- one of his grandfathers was a Lutheran missionary in South America -- but Olaf himself is, at most, an agnostic -- a skeptic -- at times inclined to outright atheism. His parents got swept up in an evangelical movement -- they are proud believers in Biblical Inerrancy (you'll not watch any dinosaur shows in their house) -- and Olaf, mathematically inclined as he is, rebelled in an equal and opposite fashion. How Newtonian.

Now I am not inclined to criticize sincere people who believe as they do in order to live a better life and secure their place in the World to Come. (I don't want persons holding these beliefs organizing the science curriculum in the schools any more than I'd want to put the Amish in charge of NASA, but that's another story....) On the other hand, Olaf was also raised as a Cub fan -- and having that sort of infidel under my roof stretches my tolerance to the breaking point.

But, seriously, I know my wife and daughter have hopes of someday bringing Olaf into the church. I think Catholicism provides the flexibility and intellectual rigor that could attract Olaf, eventually. At this point, though, when he sees us watch shows on dinosaurs, I think it indicates to him that our religious principles are shallow, or merely cultural. It has not yet dawned on him that sincere religious belief and science can be compatible -- and even complimentary.

The one thing I know for certain is that Olaf would resist any direct approach to conversion. Pleading won't do. Pamphlets certainly won't.

That got me thinking about evangelization.

When we think about it at all, we think that Christianity spread by mission. During His lifetime, Jesus sent his earliest followers out to proclaim the Good News to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" without a "sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick." Jesus instructed them to move on from places where they were not well received, shaking the dust of the place from their feet. (Mt. 10:5-15.)

After the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, after receiving the Holy Spirit on tongues of fire, the Apostles spread out across the world with the Gospel message. The most famous missionary of all joined them along the way: St. Paul, once a persecutor of Christians, brought Christianity with him all around the Roman world. His letters to communities of believers in various cities and towns are still read in churches today.

And these missionaries seeded the Christian faith, planting it here and there.

By the time Constantine became Emperor, not quite 300 years after the Crucifixion, Christianity was sufficiently widespread, and Christians sufficiently numerous, that it made good political sense for Constantine to embrace Christianity as the official religion of the Empire.

Missionaries did not accomplish this.

In the second and third centuries, Christians were not out proselytizing and sending missionaries door to door. Many hid in the Catacombs when persecutions came. Those identified as Christians might be martyred for their faith. Nero used Christians as human torches in the first great prosecution of Christians after the Great Fire in Rome in 64 A.D. In that and many subsequent persecutions, Christians were torn apart in arenas by wild beasts or executed by gladiators.

And yet Christianity grew during these trying times. The ranks of Christians swelled. From a tiny sect, Christianity grew to the point where it became politically astute to make Christianity the official faith of Rome. Granted, the persecutions were not constant in the years between Nero and Constantine; there were many years, even decades, of peace in this area or that one. But there were no great missionary movements in these years -- nothing to compare with the journeys of St. Paul or the later epic voyages of the Jesuit missionaries -- nothing, even, to compare with the mission work of Olaf's own grandfather.

So how did it happen?

I think it must have happened person-to-person, family member to family member, slave to master (as in the case of Sts. Serapia and Sabina), or neighbor to neighbor. It must have been the examples set by Christians, their serenity, their certitude, that attracted others to them. It is how the Christians lived -- and not just how they died so willingly, even cheerily, though they did not court death or volunteer to be slaughtered -- that attracted new believers. Persons observing them must have passed through a 'they-must-be-crazy' phase to a 'maybe-they-are-on-to-something' phase before converting themselves.

Our daily lives are our best witness of our real faith, or lack thereof. That is how we really evangelize. That is evangelization. Moving back from the general to the specific again, it will not be dragging Olaf to church that eventually brings him around (if he is to be brought around); rather, it will be what he sees there -- and in our home -- that may, someday, excite his interest.

Of course, St. Monica also prayed a lot for the conversion of her son, St. Augustine. But that's another story too....

Friday, September 07, 2012

Frivolous Friday: Everything I need to know I get from the comics, part 4,792

I'll spare the world my opinions about the Drew Peterson verdict -- for now. I have to read some more of the source materials first.

I'm not sure why. It's not as if this blog will ever be nominated for the American Bar Association's Top 100 Blawgs (nominations close today if you still haven't nominated your favorites). (If you really are interested to read what I suggest as "legal" posts here on Second Effort, click on the "legal" tag at the bottom of this post.)

Meanwhile, it's Friday. It's raining in Chicago and I'm tired.

Why are "short" weeks so long?

So, instead of offering a half-formed, half-baked post this morning, let me share some cartoons that made me smile recently.

Mr. Watson may be onto something: I think the young
people use phones for everything except calls. (Source.)

From F Minus, by Tony Carillo:

Obtained from Yahoo! Comics
Messrs. Obama and Biden tell us Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.

But since Osama bin Laden is dead, why is the TSA still alive?

Darrin Bell's Candorville is one of my daily favorites, but this week Lemont and Susan's rooftop conversation coincides with one of my own fantasies:

Also obtained from Yahoo! Comics
In my very active fantasy world, someone takes it on themselves to promote this blog -- but I can't imagine 800,000 daily visitors. I can't even imagine 20,000. Two hundred would be an improvement.

Steve Kelley and Jeff Parker offered a more realistic take on blogging this week in their strip, Dustin:

All obtained from Chicago Tribune Comics Kingdom

And, since this is an anonymous blog I can't even claim young Dustin's demographics.


Thursday, September 06, 2012

Getting up to go? Or getting up to get ready to go?

When my late father-in-law was ready to leave a family gathering he would stand up and announce (in his Cuban-accented English) "I am going!" And then he would walk to the door...

And go.

Just like that.

My father didn't fuss around any either. When he said he was going, he was ready to go.

I am the same way.

Every morning I get ready to go -- phone in my pocket, glasses in my jacket pocket or in my briefcase, sandwiches in the briefcase. Then I sit at the computer, sipping my coffee, reading the comics or checking here for comments or looking at Facebook. Long Suffering Spouse will announce, "It's time to go!" She may even stand up, though not always right away.

I will keep browsing online.


Because her announcement -- it's time to go, or, I'm ready to go -- means something different to her than it does to me. When I say it, I can walk to the front door and go. (This smooth progress may be complicated or frustrated entirely when the stupid computer decides to install updates in the morning, but -- thankfully -- that is not an everyday occurrence.) But Long Suffering Spouse will say it and then she'll begin gathering her papers -- where is my lunch? -- is my phone plugged in? -- did you see my hat?

There may even be a comfort stop. Regardless of what exactly she needs to do or look for, the fussing will go on for a few minutes at least. I try and guess when she's just about done. Then I close out the Internet and stand up grab my briefcase and walk to the front door. And I'll generally beat her there.

This aggravates her no end. In the car, on the way to the train, she will quiz me. Do you have your glasses? -- yes -- did you take your sandwiches? -- yes -- do you have your phone? -- yes.

I'm not prepared to say this is a male/female thing, although readers may have their own ideas on the subject. But I've noticed, in the evening sometimes, when Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter agree to go for a walk, there is at least a 10 minute interval between "OK, let's go" and the front door. Both might decide on comfort stops. Where are my shoes? -- Are you bringing your phone? -- Don't you want to wear a hat?

But the reason I'm not willing to say this a male/female thing is that this pattern sometimes reverses.

Take Saturday night.

You'll remember from last Thursday's post that Long Suffering Spouse and I were going to a 25th anniversary party for our friends Steve and Charlotte. We were bringing Steve's old friend Carl, who flew in from Virginia for the occasion and would be spending the evening with us.

It was a grand affair. Steve has a large Irish family and no one went thirsty. I harbored ambitions of driving home, so I was pacing myself, but several hours into the affair, after the dinner had been served, our host, one of Steve's brothers, called us all out onto his patio (tented, no less, for the party) where someone had produced a microphone.

Alcohol and microphones are a potentially dangerous mix.

The next thing anyone knew, all the graduates of this South Side Catholic high school were gathered around singing their school fight song. Which meant that the microphone had to be wrested from them promptly so the graduates of that South Side Catholic high school could sing their fight song. Charlotte is from the North Side. She and her classmates (her bridesmaids of a quarter century ago) had to grab the microphone next and sing their fight song.

Then one of Steve's less shy cousins decided it was time to lead the entire assembly in song. The Notre Dame Fight Song. The South Side Irish song. Now Carl and I are singing along and Long Suffering Spouse is beginning to fidget.

The fidgeting got even worse when Steve's cousin launched into a medley of other Irish drinking songs and Carl and I began shouting out suggestions.

Finally, Long Suffering Spouse had had enough.

"I'm leaving," she said, and stood up. "You two can walk home."

And there would have been no 10 minutes of fussing here at all if Carl and I hadn't jumped up instantly.

We could stall for a few minutes saying good night to our hosts and the guests of honor and one or two others -- but, if we hadn't moved when the announcement was made, we would have had a long walk indeed.

So I ask you: Are you one who gets up to go -- or do you get up to get ready to go -- or does it depend on whether, well, whether you've started to sing?