The Busy Body

Thoughts on Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Rehearsals are not as fun if you are not actively participating in them.  Being a stage mom sucks, frankly.  All driving and waiting, and no payoff. 

On the other hand, elections are a participatory sport that everyone could participate in ... and doesn't.  How could early voting turnout in Chicago be so low with such an exciting number of contested races from Mayor on down?  It's the first election in the City of Chicago where things could actually change -- and people aren't voting.  Do not get it.  Stop complaining and start voting, people.  This is the real thing and not a rehearsal.  You can't just hang around waiting for your entrance: your entrance is now.

I am, in fact, paying attention.  If you post a spam comment, it will be deleted.  If you post something outrageously off-topic, I will delete it. Unless you are someone I know, and have a point.


Broke my leg
It's a drag. 

Didn't even do anything interesting: stepped off a curb into a pot hole, twisted my ankle, fell on my hands and knees, and oops! swelling.  After hours in the ER, turns out to be broken.  After more hours, sent home with a splint and vicodin. 

It's good to have friends who will rescue you and your car, drive you home, and feed you.  And show up the next day and babysit while you are unbelievably sick from the shock and the vicodin. 

Over the week since the break, I've gotten stronger, less nauseous, and able to do more things for myself.  But there are things that just take forever -- giving myself a sponge bath, washing my hair, dressing -- and things that I just can't do (take the garbage out).  Making food is problematic: my hip starts to hurt from standing on one leg for a while, I have to hop around ... and then I can't carry the made food.  Sigh.  Carrying dirty dishes back to the kitchen: not so much. 

A friend found me a walker to use instead of the crutches: really, it's a huge help.  So much more stable.  But not perfect -- my arms hurt like hell from propelling myself along.  And my hands hurt: it really needs softer handles.

One friend suggested I could use this time to catch up on reading.  So what am I reading?  Well, my vicodin-drenched brain wasn't interested in anything heavy.  I am re-reading all the Harry Potter books, in order. I am up to book number 4.

I could extrapolate from all of this that it's takes a village to take care of the ill in our community ... because so many friends have been here for me.  It's also good to have health insurance, so the doctors will take care of me.  However ....

I like to be self-sufficient.  The most fun I've had all week is talking to my friend who is thoroughly enjoying cooking school.  Go team.

Comfort in the void
Well, I haven't blogged since April, I see, and there are many reasons why.

1) I got hung up on the fact that I should go back and fix all the links in my last post so they were prettier ... and that seemed like an enormous task that I had no energy for.  Once you write a long post like that one, the last thing you want to do is re-post it.

2) Other people have been writing about Illinois politics (esp. the Giannoulias/Kirk race) much more competently than I -- and I have been enjoying reading their work.

3) Sheer exhaustion.

4) No time to myself -- really, too damn much going on, most good, some not-so-much. 

4) Stress at work: work has been incredibly insane.  My co-worker was fired (well, she was allowed to resign at the last minute -- perhaps forced to resign is a better phrase -- because if she were actually fired she could never ever be hired within the university for any post ever again: you think that rule is a little extreme? Work for a terrible boss and you're screwed for life.) two days before a major event.  The stress after her probation period was extended was incredible -- nothing like having a co-worker trying to cope with the notion she could be fired at any moment.  Which turned out to be true.  Also, a new dean was announced -- and again, my then bosses could not have been more clueless about how to deal with that announcement.  So we were dealing with a transition that was on its way but not quite there ... and a dean who was becoming more absentee by the moment, with a new dean who wasn't yet in charge.  Fun times.  Oh, and the work load: totally overwhelming.  Especially after said co-worker stopped working for us.  And then there were two ... when I joined the office, there were four of us.  And the work I do has grown significantly.  My old bosses seemed to have the philosophy that it was OK to just keep adding stuff to the workload without looking at viable workloads, giving decent raises or title changes -- no compensation, just keep working under this crushing load of stuff -- because we're too fiscally prudent to hire a new employee, and besides, we're burning all our chits trying to keep our jobs so we can't ask for more money for the office (well,  cynicism wins).

And a lot of other stuff going on with me running as hard as I can just trying to keep up.  I don't like to whine write all the time, so there hasn't been much motivation to write the same old whines.  Work is bad, life is stressful, can you believe I have to work on Saturday, there's too much going on, why am I gaining weight,  I drive too much, the heat and humidity, it is unbearable ... on and on.  Bah.  Who needs it?

But yesterday was a true breakthrough at work. What seemed like an endless transition suddenly speeded up.  We'd been told that the New Dean was restructuring our office, re-writing our job descriptions, and we would be laid off and need to re-apply for our jobs.  I had been strongly encouraged to re-apply for my job -- but whenever you have to apply for a job you are already doing, it's a bit stressful.  I had to apply for my old job at my former university four times ... once to get a visiting position, then again when they decided to turn a visiting position into a real one, then twice more as I got promoted (oh, the days when one got promoted ... I wish they would return).  And I had decided that after watching the EBFH deal with my former co-worker, I didn't ever want to watch him torture another new employee ever again.  I can no longer be complicit in any way: much too emotionally draining.  At any rate, the new job descriptions were posted.  I looked yesterday morning: mine was not listed.  I freaked out: is my job no longer important?  Am I just being laid off?  Did I completely misread the situation? 

On the other hand, the position announcement for the EBFH was a significant downgrade, as expected.  So, upside!

Finally heard back late afternoon: no significant changes in my position, so no need for me to re-apply: I am not being laid off and I get to keep my job!  Whooo hoo!  Applying for jobs is depressing enough: applying for one's own position is just defeating.

At this point, the EBFH left early, so a bonus: last hours on a Friday afternoon without him.  

And you know what, karma is a bitch.  And sometimes, damned enjoyable to watch.

I feel comfortable saying all this because no one reads this blog.  It's like throwing seeds in the wind and watching them get sucked into the void: just nothingness.  And that's OK.  If you write and no one reads your work, can you still call yourself a writer? Or are you just a dilettante?  Or does dilettante-ism imply an element of exhibitionism?  Writing on an anonymous blog, one of many which are rarely read, does not imply exhibitionism.  It implies ... well, perhaps I'm too close to it to know what it implies.  An element of delusion?  Perhaps. A willingness to throw oneself in the void and find comfort there?  Or a need to fill a void no one else perceives?  Does the void call to be filled? 

Or will it go away if ignored? Perhaps it is an addiction: you think you've beaten it, but then it comes back to haunt you, just when you think there is nothing more to say, you suddenly feel the need to write about anything, nothing, something not-quite-on-the-tip of your tongue.

As I said, earlier in a different context, karma is a bitch.

Corruption, Politcs, and Illinois: when there is a there there, and when is there not

Here in Illinois, we talk about corruption a lot.  As Jon Stewart pointed out when our last governor was arrested, Illinois governors have a better chance of going to prison than most murderers, with 3 of the last 7 ending up in prison … and now, with Blagojevich’s arrest, that makes 4 of 8 so – chances of going to jail:  50% as an Illinois governor, 48% as a murderer (   And yet they keep thinking they can get away with it: not the brightest bulbs, our govs.  More stories from other sources:  The Wall Street Journal says one in five, or 20%, of our governors in the last century have been indicted or convicted of felonies (, while MSNBC had a nice little article on more widespread corruption of politicians in Illinois (  It's a spectator sport here in Illinois: we watch one corruption trial after another and marvel that neither politicians nor those who pay-to-play ever seem to learn anything from the process.  We not only are used to corrupt politicians, but we have a fine scale of respect to no-respect that slides from those who are suspected of being corrupt but don't get caught, to those who are mind-blowingly stupid in their corruption and absolutely deserve to get caught. 

To digress into the personal:  I moved here in the mid-eighties from Vermont.  My parents were living in Vermont when I was old enough to register to vote for my first presidential election.   Since I was going to school not too far away, I registered to vote in Vermont.  This meant I went down to the courthouse, raised my hand, and took a “Freeman’s Oath” (despite the fact that I am clearly not male) swearing that I would vote as a free and independent person.   (Apparently this oath is still in effect: from the Vermont Secretary of State’s website, “You can vote in Vermont ONLY if you:  1.  are a citizen of the United States; 2. Are a resident of Vermont and a resident of the town in which you apply to be added to the checklist;  3. take, or have previously taken, the Voter's Oath (formerly called the "Freeman's Oath"); and 4. are 18 years of age or older (or will be eighteen on or before the day of election). More on the oath: “The oath is unique to Vermont. It was originally required in the 1777 Vermont Constitution. It was known as the "Freeman's Oath" until the Inclusive Language Revision Amendment of 1994, when it became the "Voter's Oath". The oath simply says that you will vote your conscience and not let anyone tell you how to vote.”)  When I moved to Chicago a year or so later, I registered at a card table under the El tracks, no oath required.  When I left Vermont, they were having a major scandal about one public official, a superintendent of schools, who was found guilty of widespread corruption in 1988 (in an odd turn, that official was elected via a write-in campaign in March 2009 to serve on the Bennington School Board - everyone was shocked.  When I came to Chicago: Operation Greylord was in full-swing (  No one was shocked.   By the end of Operation Greylord, a total of 92 people had been indicted, including 17 judges, 48 lawyers, ten deputy sheriffs, eight police officers, eight court officials, and a member of the Illinois Legislature (James DeLeo, who currently represents me as a State Central Democratic Committeeman: why let a little legal trouble keep you down?).   We could go down a list of “operations” since then undertaken by the FBI and the United States Attorney’s office,  most notably Operation Silver Shovel ( which took out six aldermen and two city inspectors as well as ten others ….  but that not really the focus of this post. 

Here in Illinois, we know corruption when we see it.   After all, watching public official after public official go to trial and get convicted of various crimes related to corruption does give one an education.  The things our public officials seem to have thought were normal business practices are astonishing.  But everyone does these things, was often their defense, and they were surprised when the jury didn’t buy that justification for their own chosen criminal endeavors.  It is amazing, after the trials we have had in the last five years alone, to find a public official who is surprised that getting cash gifts from anyone – especially his or her employees – is OK, a part of doing business, just part of life.  (for example, see  Does anyone in the non-government world give a cash gift to their boss for Christmas?  No.  I get gifts from my two bosses (they’ve settled on mediocre chocolates as appropriate gifts these days), but I don’t give them anything.  I don’t feel like I’m on those terms with them: plus, they get paid much more than I do – whatever would I give them?  I don’t even know when either of their birthdays are: so much for birthday gifts.   We also have a former governor accused of trying to sell the current President’s Senate seat – and the amazing thing about this case is that everyone in the world knew the Feds were bugging him – hell, even I knew the Feds were bugging him and I had absolutely NO inside knowledge.  Let’s just say, if they weren’t bugging him they were falling down on the job (turns out, they weren’t).  The rumors were rampant and clear to the even mildly interested (and I’m sure I couldn’t have gotten a bet on the likelihood of the Feds bugging Blago with anyone in Illinois, even with those who aren’t interested in politics and don’t pay attention to the news).  And yet – he still talked.  He still said completely inappropriate things on the phone to more than one person.  He got nervous that perhaps his office phones were bugged, but it apparently didn’t occur to him that they would bug his home phones as well.   This bit of smarts was from a man who worked in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office for awhile as a prosecutor when Richard M. Daley was the State’s Attorney. (more on Blago here: His law degree is from Pepperdine: I would imagine he is not one of their star graduates.  Not only did he talk on tape, he's still talking to anyone who will listen.  One is grateful not to be his defense attorney, frankly.  And yes, the governor before Blagojevich is now sitting in federal prison, thinking about his latest appeals for clemency, having been successfully prosecuted for what he thought of as "business as usual."  So the point is, here in Illinois we understand what political corruption looks like (and I neglected to mention some of the city scandals of the last ten years that have sent some of Mayor Daley’s friends to jail … some of those convictions are being appealed, but they are really too numerous to go into here – Hired Trucks, patronage, the water department, the Hispanic Democratic Organization … oh, one could go on). 

Then there is the appearance of corruption.  What is that?  Many people assume that Joe Berrios is corrupt.  But wait, he has never been indicted of anything, as far as I know. Is this an unfair assumption?  Joe is the Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party (right there, an assumption might be made without looking further, but let’s assume that pay-to-play has not been an integral part of Cook County Democratic politics for the moment).  He also sits on the Cook County Board of Review, which handles tax assessment appeals.  He is currently running to be the Assessor for Cook County.  His day job is as a state lobbyist, including for some video poker clients.   Michael Madigan is the Speaker of the House in the Illinois General Assembly.  He is also Chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.   His day job is as a lawyer, with the firm Madigan and Getzendanner.  The Tribune notes that the firm is the go-to firm for property tax appeals (,0,1771641.story).  Where do those appeals go?  To the Board of Review.  Remember that Berrios’ day job is as a state lobbyist?  If you are a state lobbyist, would you be interested in annoying the extremely powerful Speaker of the House?  Perhaps not.  Rumor has it that the relationship between Madigan and Berrios has been investigated, and no charges have ever been brought.  Does it stink to high heaven?  Definitely.  Has anything illegal actually occurred?  Well, apparently nothing that prosecutors thought they could make stick (in other words, it’s very likely that neither man crossed the line of illegality: both are very smart men and have the ability to figure out the boundaries between the appearance of impropriety and an actual criminal act.  Important Note: Did I mention I have no inside information?  Six degrees of separation between me and any investigations that may have gone on or may be going on does not even begin to cover it: I have no actual knowledge that any investigations have happened, and no insight into any discussions that may or may not have occurred about what is or is not a prosecutable offense and what evidence might be needed or lacking to support charges).  Should this cosy relationship be a concern to Illinois voters?  Well, if you believe that the cost of doing business should not include payments to elected officials to make problems go away (or assessments reduced, or to make sure video poker gets approved by the Leg …), then yes, voters in Illinois should be wary of this relationship.   We can also think about why Mike Madigan’s day job involves him getting property taxes reduced for his corporate clients at a time when state and municipal coffers are going bankrupt and need all the help they can get (not that I’m advocating anyone overpaying taxes, mind you – but everyone, including corporate entities, should pay their fair share).

And then there is the corruption implied but not proven.  Not only not proven, but with wide gaping holes in the narrative of implied corruption.  Today’s Tribune (April 24, 2010) ran a lovely headline about the failure of the Giannoulias’ family bank: BANK FAILURE A NAIL IN GIANNOULIAS BID.  Alexi Giannoulias, currently the State Treasurer, is running for the US Senate (yes, indeed, that same seat that Mr. Obama once held, the one that former governor Blagojevich got in trouble over the appointment of a replacement once the President had resigned in order to … you know, be President of the United States).  The Tribune is completely in the tank for Mark Kirk, Giannoulias’ Republican opponent (see various entries at Ellen’s Illinois Tenth Congressional District Blog the 10th is the home of Kirk’s congressional seat, and Ellen has been following his exploits for years.  Ellen and Carl have done a nice job of staying on top of the hypocrisy of both the Sun-Times and the Tribune on this matter). A sidenote: both papers are attempting to emerge from bankruptcy, and in the case of the Sun-Times, some of their financial troubles had to do with the mismanagement and financial improprieties of Conrad Black, now in prison for criminal fraud – coincidentally, put there by the same prosecutorial team now going after Blagojevich -  In the case of the Tribune, most of their issues stem from the odd deal that was struck when Sam Zell bought the paper.  For either newspaper to be criticizing someone else’s business decisions seems a bit … contrived.  Strange.  Self-serving, even.  Apparently, hubris is not exclusively a fault of politicians.  To return to the story on Giannoulias' family bank: what actually happened?  Well, the bank, a community bank begun by Giannoulias’ father and still owned by his family, failed.  You need only to follow Atrios’ blog Eschaton (  for a few weeks to realize that this is an all-too common occurrence across the country these days (Atrios typically notes on late Friday afternoons how many banks the FDIC “eated” that day).   Very few of these bank failures have anything to do with corruption, and most have everything to do with the sudden collapse of the real estate markets across the country.   Maybe some bad decisions were made, but for most, they were caught up in a vortex of bad debt.  Thank you, Mr. Bush, for leading the economy down the tubes!   Oh, yes, and wasn’t the Republican Congress complicit in many of those bad decisions that led to the downturn in the economy?  Not only by legislation, but also by refusing to do oversight on the regulators who were surfing for porn instead of doing their jobs (  Not to mention by approving an extremely expensive war and then refusing to do oversight on the costs of the war, whether by the military or by private contractors ( .  So you’d think, that if the newspapers were really interested in focusing on the candidate who has made extremely poor economic decisions that have affected millions of Illinoisians, they would be tearing Mark Kirk from limb-to-limb given his congressional record.  Instead, they’re going after Alexi Giannoulias, whose family business just went under, like many other Illinois businesses during this downturn.   So why is the failure of his family’s business a nail in his campaign?  You’ll have to ask the Tribune: I have no idea.  Giannoulias himself has been accused of no impropriety, he hasn’t been with the bank nor made decisions relating to it for at least four years, and one could hardly have expected him to disapprove loans to friends’ of his father’s (then the head of the bank) – some of whom are now accused of being a bit shady.   As a friend of mine pointed out, banks don’t run criminal background checks on those they lend to, they run credit checks.  Where is the criminal wrongdoing?  Where is the corruption?  I’m not getting it.   Which would you rather see elected: a candidate whose formerly successful family business went under as the direct result of an extremely bad economy, who had some personal experience in the private sector, and has experience in understanding how government policy affects the average Joe business dude, a guy who has pretty successful run and modernized the state Treasurer's office, or the candidate who has never held a private sector job (oh, I’m sorry: he was with a law firm for all of a year once, between government gigs:, who helped validate the lies that got us into a costly quagmire of a war, and whose governmental policies has lead to the collapse of economy?  Because really, that’s our choice here.   But neither the Tribune nor the Sun-Times can be bothered to critique Kirk’s record, and so they endlessly rehash issues that have been gone over before.  To make the obvious Shakespearean allusion, much ado about nothing.

There is no there there.   The Tribune Company and the Sun-Times should take a deep breath, and get over it.   Or else they should start reporting their stories against Alexi Giannoulias as in-kind contributions to the Kirk campaign.

I have a problem with tea. 

I drink tea everyday, all day.  This is not the problem.  Tea is relatively healthy for you, especially if you manage to drink it without additives.  Its pretty good for your teeth, its enough caffeine but not too much, they think it does good things for your metabolism.  Fine.

I buy tea.  Here is the problem.   People give me tea.  This is also a problem. 

Some people give me kinds of teas I don't actually drink.  Others give me way more tea than one person can drink in five years.  They also give me little itty-bitty tea pots, as if brewing tea one small pot at a time is actually going to make a dent in the tea stores.  While I have no idea how long its going to take me to drink two jars worth of chamomile tea -- a "tea" I will only drink if really really sick -- many of the other loose teas I have been given have been absolutely delightful treats.  Of course, those go first, leaving me with the ones that don't quite stack up.

But its the buying of tea that is more of the problem.  I drink about three kinds of tea on a daily basis. Its somewhat expensive tea, and not always found in every store (particularly the loose tea).  Therefore, when I come across it, I tend to stock up.  I don't actually have storage space in my place, so stocking up is not a particularly good idea.  I also buy tea on impulse: oh that looks good, that's on sale, maybe I should try something new.  Sometimes its good; more often, its disappointing.  But I still have these impulse teas hanging around, taking up space.  I was recently tempted to buy three tins of tea bags. It was on sale, it was a local company, try something new, perhaps its good.  First of all, tea bags that come in tins ... over-packaged.   Right from the get-go, you know that the packaging is most of the price of the tea.  Secondly, upon opening up the tins and seeing the bags ... they've engineered them so that they have little cardboard holders to hold the tea to the teacup -- on both sides of the tea bag.  Think about that.  This means in order to brew this tea perfectly, the way it was meant to be brewed, you have to find exactly the right size cup/mug that will hold the tea bag perfectly suspended in the middle of the cup.  None of my mugs are the right size.  So far.  I have three tins of this over-packaged, over-designed tea, all taking up more space than the cardboard boxes with the same number of tea bags do.

Sometimes its good to have teas I don't drink around.  I don't drink fruit teas, but several of my friends do.  "What kind of tea would you like?" "Oh, something without caffeine and that doesn't taste like tea."  And the point of that is what, exactly? I don't say.  Instead, I go over to my canisters of miscellaneous teas and pull out a few and they will select one and I will think "good! another one used up! getting rid of some of this!"  And the guest is actually happy with the fruity tea, much to my amazement.

This all comes up because I recently purchased new appliances, one of which was a fridge.  Which meant pulling all the teas from their home on and next to the fridge (oh, yes, in case you were wondering why the tea doesn't go on a shelf somewhere, there are indeed two shelves of tea in the cupboard by the stove as well ... I mentioned I have a LOT of tea, right?) so the old fridge could go away and the new one be installed.  Today, I tried to replace it all -- and make it look neat, so that it will match my elegant new appliance.  And leave me a few inches of counter space next to the stove so I can actually put stuff down once in a while.  It was a sobering experience.  I thought I'd done it, put it all away, made it look neat, found a place to store the reserves ... and then I found a shopping bag full of tea hidden under the china cabinet, including the ridiculous tins.  It was at that point I began to contemplate the radical and disturbing thought that perhaps I have too much tea, and what it means to be addicted to the acquisition of tea.  

I need to stop buying tea and just drink it for a while.  Concentrate on whittling down the stores.  Maybe have a few tea parties.  

Its absurd. 

Odds and Ends and Crankiness
1.  Dan Lipinski is a bad Catholic who couldn't give a shit about helping the poor and the friendless, who disses nuns, and is arrogant besides (arrogant being the opposite of humble, just in case you thought I was veering off the religious theme).  He is also a bad Democrat and should be kicked out of the party.  He also hates women, and doesn't trust them to run hospitals, their families, or their own bodies.

2.  The Democratic Party of Illinois won't throw him out of the club.  The only thing "bad" that will ever happen as a consequence of his "no" vote on health care reform is that he was not invited to the White House for the signing ceremony with the rest of the Illinois delegation.  Small slap administered.

3.  The Democratic Party of Illinois should remember that Barack Obama is still extremely popular in this state.  Dan Lipinski isn't even popular in his own district.

4.  Broken bones suck.  Good thing I have health insurance, even if I have to play stupid referral games in order to get a cast on the boy.

5.  To be clear, the three broken bones the boy has suffered have never occurred under either of his parent's watch.  One at day care, and two at school.  A broken leg, a broken arm, and now a broken bone in his ankle.  In two of the three bones, another kid was involved in pushing him.  All were freak accidents however.

6.  I have realized that to have a kid means driving.  Because I could not have gotten from work to his school to pick him up if we were on public transportation.  And then to the ER -- not happening.  If I want to decrease the amount I drive, it will have to be when he's with his father.  But even then ... though I take public transport very occasionally, I think one reason I don't more often is the fear that I may have to step in and pick him up suddenly if something unexpected happens.  Because you never know.

7.  The CTA just automatically put more money on my Chicago Card, because I actually used a fair bit on Saturday when hanging out with the cousins.  Then it sent me a note saying I should use up the money on this card because it will expire in 45 days.  Why do Chicago Cards expire?  How can I use up the money if they automatically re-up them?  Why do I feel like I've been had?

8.  I would like more comments on my blog.  C'est la vie.

9.  Work is done on my condo for now.  Well, nearly -- a light fixture needs to be restored to its original place.  Some return to normal has occurred, although a fair amount of cleaning still needs to happen.  I did not like living in a construction zone at all: I felt like I was camping out.  I tried to spend as much time away from home as possible.  However, the work done is beautiful, even if its my ceilings which have to be deliberately admired.  They were a mess.  They are now gorgeous.  

10.  Consequently, I have not yet filled out my census (that not home much thing).  I have carried it around with me, but somehow it doesn't get done at work either.  I feel guilty about this.  How can I be a good progressive liberal if I haven't done the census immediately?

11.  I am looking forward to having the day off tomorrow, even if I have to take the kid to an orthopedic surgeon to be tortured.  It will be less driving than I've done in the last two days, just cutting out Hyde Park as part of the routine.  And maybe I can clean up my house before the cleaning ladies come so they can really clean ...

12.  Frankly, I think a glass of wine is in order. 

To borrow from Atrios
What he said:

My Congressman, Bart Stupak, Has Neither a Uterus Nor a Brain ...a letter from Michael Moore

I do not like living in a police state. 

What, you say, we're a long way from Communist Germany and the Stasi or the religious police in Saudi Arabia or Nazi Germany .... maybe. Maybe not.

O'Hare got its first full body scanner today: big news here in Chicago.  It will see beneath clothes to detect weapons .... and your body.  Its creepy.  Could there be a bigger invasion of one's privacy?  Telling one that only someone of the same sex will view the scan doesn't help: still creepy.  The idea of prison matrons never filled me with joy either.  The fact that there's a great deal of debate about how effective they are doesn't stop the TSA from going full speed ahead installing them: somebody is making a pile of money off of the fear of the flying public.  I hate taking off my shoes too: of all the stupidity.  I might point out that both the Shoe Bomber and the Underwear Bomber were stopped before they managed to do any harm: forcing us to take off our shoes every time we fly or march through full body scanners smacks of huge over-reaction.  I am sickened by the people interviewed in the media who seem to have no problem as long as it makes flying "safer" -- I realize these people are selected by the corporate media who makes a lot of money off of fear-mongering, but I wish I were seeing the stories of those of us who are really angry about these ineffective and stupid "security" measures.  I'm tired of the show of security: I want real security.  Screening all cargo, for example, is one place to start (but that's too expensive, apparently).

Meanwhile, here on the ground we're talking about the effectiveness of red light cameras: cameras that snap photos or videos of those who go through red lights.  If you don't give a decent pause before turning right on red, they'll snap you as well.  They go off suddenly, big flashes -- very distracting.  Many have reacted by screeching to a halt at intersections, inviting rear-end collisions.   This is separate from the many many police cameras that are going up on poles around the city -- monitoring unsafe areas.  At first they were only in the most dire of neighborhoods, and seeing a police camera on a pole meant the neighborhood was more than dicey.  Neighbors were assured that the cameras could only view public spaces, and many liked having them around: bad guys got caught faster, the neighborhood felt safer.  Now I see them all over.  Now they've just bought smaller, more effective cameras .... and I wonder: does the ACLU still sign off on them?  Are they still just pointing in public spaces? Is it really ok as long as they have the little blue flashy lights on top?  Are we just getting so used to cameras monitoring our every move?  I've been hearing lately that the average person in London has their picture taken 36 times during the course of a day.  Surveillance: we has it.

A friend points out a campaign Mayor Daley is running to require internet domains that purvey porn to have separate domain names -- end with .sex (see Carl's rant about it at ).  This would allow libraries, for example, to refuse to allow .sex sites -- filtering them out for both adult and child users equally.  Can you say "censorship?" What is free speech if we don't all have access to it?  Are we over-protective of our children?  Will it really scar them for life if they catch a glimpse of someone surfing porn sites at the library?  Really?  Inappropriate, maybe -- but also maybe it does them no great harm either.  More children have been seriously harmed by priests in churches than have been harmed by viewing porn accidentally in a public library -- and yet there is no movement to ban children from attending churches, now, is there?

They can track our movements through our cell phones (if you ever go on the run from the law ... leave your mobile behind).  The CTA tells me where my money was spent on my Chicago Card: stations, bus routes, dates, and times: keeping a record of your movements, they are indeed.  There was a high school in Philly tracking their students at home through the web camera on the school-issued laptops ...

And then there's the big privacy issue: abortion.  Here we are, in the middle of a debate about "health care reform" and whether it goes far enough... and Mr. Stupak wants to ban anyone who gets federal funds for anything from purchasing private insurance which will provide abortions.  Which is a legal medical procedure in this country, btw.  I don't agree with Mr. Stupak's religious views on this issue.  Why should I have to follow his moral code?  Why does he get to tell me what to do?  What was the deal with that male legislator in Utah who wanted to criminalize miscarriages?  Why do all these men think they have the right to tell women what is best for their bodies?  It is the ultimate invasion of privacy, to have to justify one's life choices to someone who will sit in judgment on you and decide for you whether what you did is moral enough -- or whether your reason for terminating your pregnancy is valid.  Or whether you deliberately tried to have a miscarriage; or simply acted recklessly. 

These are the same people who also feel that they need to legislate who other people can have sex with -- who they can even form partnerships with.  Some partnerships are more equal than others.  If the ultimate invasion of privacy is to pry into what you do with your own body, prying into your bedroom comes a close second.  Here's the deal for me: most of the time I don't want to know what other people are doing in their bedrooms, thank you very much.  If it makes them happy, great -- I don't need to know the details.

Speaking of people who want to force their religion on me and mine, there's the Texas Board of Education deciding that their religious beliefs should trump history, and schools across the country are going to be stuck with a re-written version celebrating conservative "heroes" who I think are morally repugnant.  Phyllis Shafley?  Newt Gingrich? Replacing Thomas Jefferson with John Calvin?  These are people who are deliberately inserting their religion into the state -- into public education -- and if your religion (or lack of it) disagrees with their point of view, too bad.  Your children will still be taught this nonsense -- nonsense that has no historical basis in fact, mind you.

Veering back to law enforcement, today I heard that the Obama administration is arguing for keeping a national database of the DNA of all who have been arrested on a felony charge.  Not all those convicted, mind you: arrested.  So even if you are completely innocent of the charges against you, your DNA is off somewhere where goodness-knows-who can get it and use the information against you.  "Oh, sorry, we pulled up your records and your DNA test shows that you have a genetic pre-disposition for lymphoma: we won't hire you because our insurance rates will go up."  You think it wouldn't happen?  You think it wouldn't be hard to figure out that what was going on was genetic discrimination? 

So, yeah, I'm seeing a police state becoming more and more real.  The American Taliban is hard at work, taking away your religious freedom so they can feel smug in their religious views.  The corporate world is out there telling law enforcement that what they really need is more and more expensive equipment.  Governments are buying it sight-unseen in an attempt to seem like they're reducing crime, without any real analysis of the true effectiveness of the equipment or the techniques involved.  And my fellow citizens seem to be cheerfully giving up more and more rights in the name of "safety," "law enforcement," and "terrorism prevention."   

How soon do we begin turning each other in, again?  For crimes against the state? 

On Candidates and Elections

Here in Illinois, we have another election in less than a month – 20 days or so, actually.  Wait, you say – didn’t you just have an election?  Why, yes, yes, we did.  We had a special congressional election less than a year ago to fill the seat vacated by Rahm Emanuel when he went to work for the President.  And now we are engaged in the first election of 2010; we’ll have another in November­­­­ – the general – and we’ll turn around and have another election in February of 2011 for city offices.  Unless, of course, we manage to get the primaries moved to a reasonable month – say, May or June – so we don’t have to canvass in the coldest month of the winter. 

Really, the February primaries are all about suppressing voter turnout – it’s a incumbent protection racket.  It was sold as a critical way to help Barack Obama win the presidential primaries … although in the end, it was the states who voted later who were more critical.  And now we’re stuck.  Both irrelevant and freezing our buns off.

We vote for everyone in Illinois.  Governor, yes.  Lieutenant Governor (the guy who waits for the governor to be indicted so he can take over in a crisis), Comptroller, Treasurer, down to Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (they deal with sewage and storm water and have a huge budget),  county government,  assessor, board of review, and everyone’s favorite … judges.  Oh the poor judges: as candidates they’re the most disadvantaged.  They have to be careful who they take money from:  they have to remain impartial.  They can’t express opinions:  because they have to remain impartial.  Most people have no idea if they’re competent, let alone if they’ll be good as a judge.  Most people spend their lives hoping they will never have to find out if a judge is competent or not through personal experience.   Bar associations rate them … but who carries the bar association rankings into the booth with them?   

So¸ because I belong to several groups that are politically minded and like to meet candidates, I have seen and listened to a lot of candidates over the last few months.   We have candidates all over the place: everyone is running.  This is the result of two events that completely upset the applecart of power and privilege:  1) the election of Barack Obama and the departure of politicians to Washington to serve with him, and 2) the indictment and subsequent impeachment of the Governor.   The Regular Dems are trying hard to fill the vacancies with their favored candidates; the Republicans are trying to get their act together long enough to win some of those seats away from the Dems; third parties are trying to take advantage of the chaos to win seats (a pox on both their houses!); and those of us trying to save the Democratic Party from itself are trying to win a few seats ourselves.   There are challengers all over the place.  It’s really quite exciting.  And in the middle of the most exciting elections in recent Illinois history: most voters don’t care.  They are too cold, too snowed in, too tired of politics, too disillusioned by corruption, too dispirited by the never-changing, never-solved, always ongoing budget crisis faced by this state (and many others), too many elections in too short of a time … all of these add up to a profound apathy and dismay (what, we have to vote?  Again?  Please tell me there are no judges on the ballot? …. Um, no, we do have to vote for judges, so sorry).  

Most people just want it all to go away: they do not want to be bothered with getting out and meeting the candidates in person; they will make their decisions based on a mailer or two, or an ad or two, or will just vote for the incumbent, or in some places they will just vote for whomever their precinct captain tells them to vote for.   While the influence of ward bosses are diminishing due to the Shakman decree which makes patronage hiring much more difficult here in Chicago (oh, as well as the occasional federal prosecutor who notices when city or county workers are used for campaign work), there are some areas where the Regulars still have a great deal of control.  That includes the “Liberal Lakefront” where the “Machine” espouses much more progressive values … but gets upset when someone challenges the primacy of the “family.”  So why should people bother?  They don’t have time to meet candidates: they have to work, they have to have family time, they have to clean the house, they have to watch TV to decompress, they have to feel guilty about not exercising – elections are one more thing to feel bad about not participating in fully. 

And that’s too bad, actually.   It’s really not that hard to meet candidates.  Candidates are dying to meet voters, to be allowed to tell you why they are wonderful and why their opponents are not as wonderful as they are.   They like talking about the issues (and frankly, if they don’t talk about the issues, that’s a sign that it’s just ego, no substance … and who does that remind us of?)   Candidates will contact any group that shows any remote interest in meeting with them, and demand to be invited.   Participatory democracy is really quite easy, it turns out.   Ask and they will come.   They will show up for coffees in your house, they will show up for a meeting of your group even if you put together the group yesterday.   There are a number of groups that do the work of inviting candidates to come speak: it just requires a little attention to find one near you and go.  Anywhere there are voters candidates will go.    

What is the advantage of meeting candidates in person?  Well, hearing them speak gives you some clue as to how well they will perform in a legislature: can they speak persuasively?  Do they make sense? How deep is their commitment to the issues you care about?   

I don’t need the barrage of ads coming in the next two weeks to inform me about the candidates: I know who I’m voting for in the majority of races because I’ve heard the candidates speak in person.  I even know one or two of the judges I’ll be voting for.  Unfortunately for me, I’m still undecided in the big race – US Senate – even though I’ve heard four of the five candidates who are running.  Pluses and minuses on all of them …. though I have to admit, two of the five were eliminated based on their speaking (dull for the one, crazy for the other …). A forum on TV the other night left me in much the same place: I like all three of the remaining candidates, and find things about each that are truly annoying.  No clear favorite wins.

So if you are a voter in Illinois and you want “change” – throw the bastards out, they’re all evil – how do you know who to vote for if you haven’t been paying attention?  Do you vote for all Republicans because they’re out of power now?  But they’re the ones who had the bright idea to run Alan Keyes against Barack Obama (and that was a choice: they disqualified the candidate who won the primary (Jack! Ryan) based on the accusations of marital difficulties that came out when his divorce papers were made public, and picked Alan Keyes [yes, THAT Alan Keyes, the one who actually lives in Maryland and is totally nuts] to replace Jack!), and their last governor is now sitting in a federal prison.  Do you vote for an independent party?  Do they really win?  Is that throwing away your vote, or making a strong protest?  And then there are the Democrats …. Which ones are “good,” and which ones are corrupt?  Can we really tell?  How many people will know which Democrat is the reform Democrat and which is the president of the Cook County Democratic Party when they vote for the Cook County Assessor? 

Really, we need a bright talent to lead us out of the wilderness.  That means that we need to build up the farm team – elect bright, committed, and talented people in down ballot races.  To know who the bright, committed, talented people are you have to pay attention.   Those of us who do pay attention seem to be political geeks, different from the rest of the electorate.  Unfortunately for us, the reporters who cover politics – who feed our geekdom – are disinterested in politics itself, and only interested in horse races, in the obvious, in repeating right-wing talking points without any critique.   So the way the political geeks dealt with that problem was on the internets, where we can talk to each other and learn what’s really going on, and read and write a divergence of political analysis that has nothing to do with conventional wisdom out of Washington.   

You want an example?  Here in Illinois we have an election coming up in a few weeks, an election that will be about change no matter how the voters vote – because so many offices are open seats, new people will be filling them.   Here you have an electorate that is disgusted straight on down:  from the inability of the State of Illinois to balance the budget and pay its bills, to the stench of corruption that has come down from the governor’s office down to City of Chicago Administration, to the anger at Cook County government over sales taxes,  to anger at the Mayor over the parking meter deal (which is compounded if you drive a car by excessive parking ticket enforcement and more speed traps than ever before in the City – oh, and lights that flash at you as you go through intersections as pictures are taken of your car so that yet another ticket may be given out; and we won’t even go into the rising cost of having a city sticker), to disgust at the ever-revolving rounds of indictments (as well as disgust that there aren’t more indictments: what are we waiting for, Mr. Fitzgerald?).    

So here is an election: an opportunity for change.  Capitalize on the electorate’s anger, and there could be major changes.  Is the media in Illinois talking about it? Discussing the issues (if a sales tax isn’t the right way for Cook County to raise revenue, what is? How exactly is the State supposed to get out of this cycle of budget crisis?), giving the voters something to think about as they make their decisions, discussing the races and the candidates and letting people know their options?  No.  There has been a disgraceful lack of coverage.  Even for the Cook County Board race, where a ton of voters dislike the current president exceeding and are dying to vote him out – there’s barely been any coverage.  How is the average voter supposed to know which of the three other people running against him makes the most sense?  No, clearly they’re just supposed to vote for the guy with the Irish name, because why would we vote on the issues? 

This is why candidates are so desperate to come and speak to anyone.  They can’t get media attention, very few voters pay attention, so they’re willing to go anywhere there might be an audience.  This is why they knock on doors, call you on the phone, send you mailings: they are trying to get attention to their issues, their race, their candidacy.  How can you vote for them if you don’t know they are running?

Candidates are the bravest people I know.  What a completely thankless job that is: put yourself out there, learn the issues that matter in your district for your particular race, try to raise money from all your friends and family and mere acquaintances, spend time making phone calls constantly, knock on doors … and try to get people to pay attention to you and your campaign.   Try to convince people that yes, indeed, you are a viable candidate with an actual plan to win.   Have nightmares whether the powers that be are going to arrange to have your kneecaps broken in a “mugging.”   

Of the candidates I’ve seen … I like the ones that sound like real Democrats the best, the ones who know what the issues are and have a plan to address it, the ones who know what the office they are running for actually does, and what needs to change to make it better.   If someone spouts a Republican talking point in a Democratic primary, I tune out instantly (so sorry, Mr. O’Brien, yelling “tax and spend” at me like a Republican does not make me confident in your fiduciary responsibility).   Some experience is good, though it doesn’t always matter in what – but if the candidate can convince me how its relevant to the office they seek, all the better.   I like the ones who get that this whole enterprise is about people: whether its labor, businesses run by real people, the water we drink and play in, the air we breathe, the health care we don’t receive … the things that kill us, the things that make us thrive.   We need jobs, yes, but we also need health care – and all of us need health care, not just the men , not just the children – and yes, women’s health care is way more complicated but there it is.  You cannot legislate it away.   We need to be protected from terrorism, yes, but we also need our own freedom, our privacy, our right to the privacy of our associations, our bodies, our thoughts, our religious (or not) beliefs.   

Most of all, we need to be able to hold up our heads as Americans.  To me, that means we don’t act like we’re scared to death of every little failed terrorism plot, we don’t bargain away our freedom and our morality to “protect” us from imaginary enemies, we don’t prosecute wars against people that never harmed us … and we spend our capitol on our own infrastructure, on taking care of our people, on helping other people (not bombing them). 

Of course, as a Democrat, I too would like to be able to hold up my head.  Somehow that’s not happening these days: I’m proud of my compatriots, the fighters, the activists, the grassroots, the bloggers, the ones who are clear on why we’re working so hard to achieve change.  I am not proud of those we have worked so hard to elect.  As Jon Stewart said, we should lower the bar of expectations to the ground for Democrats … and then watch them trip over it.  What is it with these people?  What is about a “change” election where the people in large numbers come out and say “business as usual isn’t working: change it!” and they said “oh, we can’t really do that, there isn’t the political will.”  What do you mean?  Are all of you suicidal?  It’s not that hard: stop giving away the store to the banksters, and pass simple health care reform that we can all understand – try Medicare for all, try single payer, try anything – just don’t make it an incomprehensible give away to the health insurance companies.  Guess what , Congress:  NO ONE LIKES INSURANCE COMPANIES: and anyone who tells you people do RECIEVES A CHECK FROM THEM.   

 This is exactly why the down-ballot races are so important, however: these are the people that will be able to lean on the elected officials up ballot from them; these are the people who will eventually run for the up ballot positions.  These are the people you can really talk to, get to know, if you take the opportunity to go out and talk to them.  These are the people who have to listen to you, if only out of gratitude that you’re paying attention to them. 

 Here’s the action item: pay attention and vote – don’t just vote in anger, vote in anger but with knowledge.  Otherwise we end up with idiots. 


Log in