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.

--------------------------------------------------------

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

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

Pretty big undertaking, wouldn't you say?

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

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

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

And Amara Enyia is not Donald Trump supporter.

Far from it.

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

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

But he won.

Fair and square.

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

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

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

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

And then the idiot tweets again.

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

Oh... you are surprised?

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

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Curmudgeon's van again requires service

Our family van is old now. Very old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It may have worked for a week.

I took the van back and had them replace it.

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

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

Then it rained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So we make do.

Or we have tried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blower worked fine.

I parked at school, and delivered the cord.

I started the van, heading back home.

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

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

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

Oh, yes, they remembered me from last time.

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

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

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

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

We'll see for how long....

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

What happened to the necktie?


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

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

A lot of them aren't.

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

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

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

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

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

But that was then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 04, 2018

All I wanted was a little piece of coffeecake

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

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

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

I am very partial to cheese coffeecake.

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

At least, I've done so recently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, stuff has to go somewhere.

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

That's where my coffeecake was this morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Devil hosts a celebratory banquet

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

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

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

But none of these were at the head table.

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

And he smiled.

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

Which only made the Evil One smile more.

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

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

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

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

Knees buckled.

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I kind of doubt it, don't you?

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, I can't figure that out either.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

I have a new tyrant in my life


Behold the Fitbit.

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

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

[Cue ominous-sounding music here.]

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

She was not amused.

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

Yes, I enjoyed playing chauffeur.

Duh.

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

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

She got me this new infernal device a week ago.

It has surprised my wife, and confirmed my perceptions.

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

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

Tyrant.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Why do we do it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

My kids are largely a lost cause on this subject.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shakespeare's place on his pedestal remains secure.

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

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

At least, that's my plan.