Thursday, January 29

Politics not as usual

Today President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter legislation into law. The Washington Post posted the president's remarks as he signed this legislation. President Obama observed that his signed the legislation for his daughters as well as all of the women who asked for or expected equal pay for equal work.

I wonder how many of us are surprised that it is still a battle for women to get equal pay. I suppose many of thought that battle had been won some time ago though many of us in the work place know the inequity continued to exist, perhaps for far too many.

Gail Collins of The New York Times reminds us of some of the particulars of the case: the woman who learned at the end of a 19-year career that she'd been paid less than the men who'd been doing the same job. She sued and was awarded $300,000 plus two years of back pay. The Supreme Court, however, overturned that decision and determined she should have filed her suit within 180 days of the first instance she learned she was paid less than her peers. As many of commented, that constraint is fraught with difficulties. Quick! How many of you know how much your peers, male and/or female, make each year? I don't.

[An aside: I'm already weary of the occasions that journalists insist of dragging Bush appointees or Bush through the mud. . . again. There's an organization that's promoting the idea of change. It's called MoveOn. And so, to journalists everywhere, to Speaker of the House Pelosi, to everyone who has to kick George W. a few more times or feels compelled to malign a few more times, get over it and MOVE ON! You're starting to sound petty.]

It's been a long road to the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and, as a woman and as an employee, I'm delighted to see it enacted.

Also in today's news, the Illinois Gubenatorial Clown Prince is once again in action. He's taken his show on the road, decrying the impeachment process as unfair. Rather than show up for the process and try to plead his case, rather than show up and answer questions that might help acquit him, he chose to show up on an amazing variety of talk shows to explain why he was not getting a fair trial and why this whole process is essentially a kangaroo court. He noted in his interview with Larry King that "[i]f they can remove a governor elected twice by the people, and a legislative branch can do it without being required to prove any wrongdoing, and, conversely, not allowing the governor to prove he didn't do anything wrong, if they can do it to me, they can do it to you and any other citizen and they can do it to other governors in other states." And still he ignores his single-digit approval rating.

Blagojevich has continued to insist that he has done nothing wrong. Hmmm. This has a familiar ring to it. Blagojevich has compared himself, both directly and indirectly, to FDR, Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He should really be comparing himself to Richard Nixon when Nixon was still insisting that he had done nothing wrong.

There is nothing that links the two stories except a refleciton on the character of the individuals behind them. Lily Ledbetter who realized there was a wrongdoing and sought to find justice, the individuals who agreed with her and wrote the legislation, the individuals who agreed with the legislation and voted for it, and the man today who signed it into law. These are people, I think, I hope, who really are trying to do the will of the people. Blagojevich, however, seems to be delusional and seemingly has no idea what might really be the will of the people. The approach to addressing a perceived wrong is light years apart which suggests to me that the moral authority, the ethical foundations, of these people are equally far apart.

At the end of the day, we are a better country for fair pay (at least for those who still have jobs, but those who don't have something to look forwward to). At the end of the day, we are reminded by Lily Ledbetter that is worth fighting for what you believe in especially when you are willing to be transparent and seek the truth. At the end of the day, Rod Blagojevich no longer has a job. At the end of the day, we are reminded by Rod Blagojevich that a PR blitz doesn't change the facts (or some minds); that bizarre behavior and playing the victim role isn't the way to win your case in court. Rod could take some important lessons from Lily. Perhaps we all can.

Monday, January 26

The Blagojevich Chronicles

Someone is going to make a movie out of this because it's just too insane. Today, January 26, the Illinois Senate embarked on impeachment proceedings to move Governor Rod Blagojevich from office. Those of us in the state of Illinois have been enduring his antics for far too long, but recently he's gone for embarrassingly comical to just plain pathetic.

Our poetry-quoting governor made the rounds of talk shows today. He claimed he was thinking about asking Oprah to fill the former Senator Obama's seat. The guv was on The View, Good Morning America, and Larry King. I wish I'd thought to tape each of them; I think they would have made for great entertainment.

He has completely misrepresented the impeachment process and has offered an incredibly delusional perspective of himself. But then he's hired the same PR firm that Drew Peterson is using, so I guess we shouldn't be too surprised. He has compared his life to a Frank Capra film and compared himself to Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He imagines that he is the victim of some conspiracy by the Illinois Senate and that somehow the state government is thwarting the will of the 12 million people who elected him. Except, of course, not all 12 million people voted for him and his approval rating was around 7% in December 2008.

I guess I'm not surprised he has taken his show on the road. Nothing like garnering a national audience in anticipation of his federal trial, the book option, and the made-for-TV movie that will inevitably follow.

I suppose the good news is that soon we will be rid of Governor Blagojevich. We'll have to spend a fortune replacing signs on the highways he insisted be put up. The signs are part of the open road tollway and have his name on them, a tribute to himself from himself. There was some resistance because typically governors don't have their names on such things, but he managed to insist. Probably so he'd have some sort of revenge on the people once we kicked his a$$ out of office.

Personally I'm looking forward to enjoying Blagojevich's descent into obscurity, but eyes are beginning to focus on our Lieutenant Governor, Pat Quinn. No doubt he's already packing and preparing to move to the governor's mansion. I only hope, for his sake, especially as a democrat, that he's taken note of the Obama model of transparency. If Quinn hopes to serve his own term as governor, he'd be planning to implement an incredibly transparent form of government with a solid inclination to cleaning up state government. And Quinn should start with the governor's office.

Wednesday, January 14

Confirmation hearings drama. Not.

I've not really been following the confirmation hearings for the Obama Cabinet nominations, but I couldn't help but hear about the rather intriguing issues swirling around Timothy Geithner and his nomination as Treasury Secretary. I saw the news bulletins throughout the day and heard the story reported on NPR.

So the guy who is going to be in charge of the United States Treasury and the policies regarding all things financial for the United States had trouble understanding some rules about his taxes? Let me sum up: he made a mistake in his personal tax returns in 2001 to 2003 and owed $34,000. The shortfall has been paid, apparently fairly recently. As reported in the New York Times and NPR, Geithner's mistake with these tax returns and some IMF issues are common. But this is the guy who is the current president of the Federal Reserve Bank. Wouldn't you think that a guy with this much financial savvy would be able to a) hire a really outstanding tax accountant to keep him error-free or b) know enough to file his taxes correctly? In the NPR interview, the accounting expert was asked if Geithner's error is a sort of commentary on the complexity of the tax code. The expert said that the take-away here is to be sure to hire a really good tax guy. Mr. Geithner: I hope you do better with your taxes once you are Secretary of the Treasury than you've done so far in the 21st century. I'm not getting warm fuzzies thinking about you in control of our financial well-being.

I also heard about the Eric Holder confirmation hearing that is scheduled for Thursday, January 15. Apparently it is going to be a rocky confirmation that will be easy. I'm confused, too. I've seen headlines suggesting Holder will have a tough go of it, but NPR's Ari Shapiro sets the confirmation hearing will be easy. Apparently the Senate Republicans have some issues with Holder when he was Deputy Attorney General because of his role in Clinton's pardons and commutations, but there's also the issue that Holder did some legal work for the now infamous Illinois Governor Blagovich. And the Los Angeles Times wonders if Holder will be more than a "yes" man to the president; if he will, in fact, provide solid and objective legal skills and advice.

Other than the fuss people raised over Leon Panetta as the CIA director and some obvious lapses in protocol communication, there hasn't been a lot of drama with Obama's Cabinet picks. Even the Sentate dust-up over Roland Burris has been much ado about nothing. Yep, the guy is an affable and amiable dork who couldn't get elected to the Senate and now he can legitimately inscribe on his mausoleum that he was an Illinois Senator. And yep, he should enjoy the ride while it lasts because he probably won't get re-elected. But it torques me that I have to pay his salary because the seat is likely to be wasted on him.

Maybe everyone is being reasonably nice to Obama because he's mostly reintroducing Clinton-era folks and people know their capabilities and have a degree of comfort with those nominees. It's like welcome old friends back to the neighborhood. Yep, change is great, isn't it?

Wednesday, January 7

7 things you don't need to know about me

Folks in my Plurk PLN (search for "peregrinator" to find me) have been involved in this 7 things meme. I was tagged by Mindelei Wouri (US) and encouraged by Jo McLeay (Australia) to do the same. Be sure to check out their blogs, but also visit the 7 Things wiki to learn more about all of those who are participating in this meme.

How it works:
  • Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.
  • Share seven facts about yourself in the post - some random, some weird.
  • Tag people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter, Plurk, etc.

The focus of this meme is to reveal unusual things that others, virtual and tangible, may not know (or really need to know) about you.

  1. I tried skydiving when I was in college. A friend of mine (Anne, I think; we'll go with that) and I walked into the Student Union and there was a parachute on display. Over a couple of beers we talked about skydiving and the jumpmaster, someone Anne knew, talked us into it. She and I were both freshman orientation leaders that summer so could only do our training after hours, which meant starting around 9P and finishing around midnight. Those were the days! On the day of the jump we took some test and the next thing I knew I was reaching out to grab a strut and getting ready to throw myself out of the plane. This was a static line and before the current practice of jumping with the jumpmaster. Oh my, though, it was incredible!!
  2. Because of my skydiving escapade, two items on my life "to do" list are hot air ballooning (I have a ticket and will go this spring as soon as weather and timing conspire on my behalf) and learning to fly a small plane. The former is more likely sooner than the latter.
  3. I LOVE TV, movies, and the theater. I watch a lot of stuff on TV but refuse to watch "reality" TV, though I have watched a couple of seasons of The Amazing Race. Somehow that feels less contrived. I watch all kinds of films except horror flicks: indies, arthouse, musicals, classics, etc. I'd go to plays all the time if I had the time and the money, especially in Chicago. There are so many small and amazing repertory companies in the area. I wouldn't want to be a critic, per se, because I think those folks are paid to critique on things mere mortals don't notice or care about. We want the story. Granted it's got to be a good story, but I've rarely read a review with which I've agreed.
  4. I love to travel and hate being a tourist. Some of the tourist phobia probably comes from growing up in Orlando, FL and spending way too much time working at the Mouse House (aka, to the cynics, the Tragic Kingdom). When I go some place, I want to see more than the gussied up tourist attractions. I want to go the restaurants the locals love and see and do the things the locals enjoy. I love to immerse myself in the culture and try to learn some of the language; that's true even in the US! ;) I try to go with no preconceived notions and the expectation that I'll be moved to my core. I've been privileged to visit Vancouver (did a 7-day sea kayaking trip from Vancouver Island) and Toronto in Canada, the San Juan Islands (I know that's the US, but it's soooo cool!), Nova Scotia, Scotland, Germany, Austria, Greece, Kazakhstan, and South Africa. On my more immediate list are Ireland, Iceland, Labrador/Newfoundland (I have a thing for such places), but also Australia, New Zealand, Spain (The Prado in Madrid!), Italy (Tuscany at the very least), the Czech Republic (Prague), and Russia (The Hermitage). There are few places I don't want to go, which is part of the problem.
  5. I worked at Walt Disney World (Orlando, FL) in its early days. I started working on the monorail (:Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Elaine and I'll be your pilot to the Magic Kingdom. No smoking, eating, or drinking while on board." There's more, but that's enough.) back when people could ride in the front and there were actual drivers. Then I worked in the Emporium in the stuffed toys department on Main Street. My then best friend worked in the Confectionary and the oddest thing would happen now and then. She'd call me to tell me someone had accidentally dropped a box of fudge! Of course, I had to go help. I loved walking down Main Street after hours when it was just the lights and the music. That made me believe in the possibility of pixie dust. I also loved going to work in a T-shirt, cut-offs, and flip flops because we would pick up our costumes for the day at Wardrobe.
  6. My undergraduate and Master's degrees are in English. I'd planned to go to law school after undergrad, but got derailed (money and energy) and ended up in the computer industry. It was quite serendipitous. A career "plan" is a foreign concept to me. I was a programmer/analyst for a number of years, learning how to code in assembly language and then C, when it was developed, but also worked in FORTRAN and Pascal. When I worked for a small company in Tarrytown, NY, I was privileged to go to Durban, South Africa to install a newspaper system there. The Durban Daily News went from hot metal type to a computerized system in a mere 8 months. Should have taken longer, but there were, of course, complications. I did some work on the Johannesburg Star, but also did some training for some of the Durban personnel. I was there in the early 80s before the end of apartheid. It was a remarkable experience that has marked and shaped me in many ways. I LOVED working with the Indians and was so honored to be invited into their private lives. That meant I was shunned by some of the whites which was fine because they were the sort I didn't want to be with anyway. One of the Scottish women at the paper invited me to the Durban Tattoo. It was amazing to be in these huge grounds and see all of those drummers and pipers! That was an exhilirating day as was the day I stumbled into a gathering of Zulu dancers. I was so taken by the dancers, I climbed up in the stands without realizing I was the only white person. I spoke to a woman next to me so she could hear my accent--distinctively NOT Afrikaans--and everyone relaxed. The kids delighted in touching my hair and skin and telling me about what I was seeing. That, too, was remarkable. As for Kazakhstan, I spent 10 days there as a guest lecturer. That's a long story itself, but the coolest story is about the girls who volunteered to give me a tour of the area. We were in a little town in the northeast corner of Kazakhstan called Ust-Kamenogorsk. We did the town and then we took a long bus ride so they could take me to an old Russian Orthodox church. They talked to me a lot on the bus, mostly, I think, so the other riders would know they were with an American. I desperately wanted to buy some icons at the church, but it was forbidden to remove them from the country.
  7. If time and money were no object, I would teach the occasional college-level freshman writing or literature course, I would write, and I would have a used bookstore. I imagine big comfy chairs in my bookstore with lots of reading lamps. I'd have a couple of coffee pots (decaf and regular; no fancy latte machines and all that but I'd be near a Starbucks or some other place so folks could get the fancier beverages) and a few bottles of wine for those who might prefer a glass of wine to sip (after a certain hour, of course, and provided they're of age) as they linger over books. I'd host book talks and discussions led by me and others. I'd probably have wifi and a little computer section so I could do a little tutoring on the side of the side.

So that's my story. In addition to Mindelei and Jo, you'll want to check out any of the amazing people who are listed in the wiki. You can just go to the wiki and follow the link to any one of several people who have shared at seven things you don't need to know about them.


Tuesday, January 6

Tragic implications for a new year: rugged individualism gone further awry

I was flipping through my current issue of Newsweek this morning and read a quote by Russian academic Igor Panarin that the United States is likely to disintegrate by 2010. I'd missed this when this article when it first came out on or around December 30. I was being blissfully unaware as the old year shuffled to a close. Idris Mootee blogged about this by mostly including the WSJ article and included some notations. I've some thoughts on this intriguing form of potential plagiarism, but that's too much of a digression just now. Aftermath News included the story as a blog post, but also included a delightful map that illustrates Panarin's view of the Disintegrated or Divided States.

Quite honestly, I don't think we're going to disintegrate quite that soon, but I'm not so sure the Republic will continue to endure if we don't see a lot of changes, and not just those the new president may theoretically implement.

A headline that caught my eye today reads "Angry Ohio boy, 4, shoots babysitter." Say what? A four-year-old boy got miffed with his babysitter and shot him? Seriously? (I don't know how to express the incredulousness in my voice and how many octaves it might have climbed.) The babysitter is fine; the shotgun attack was not fatal. Now you might read the story and get all righteous because they're living in a trailer and you have certain impressions of the kind of people who live in trailer parks, especially in Jerry Springer's state. Come on, you know you went there. And why did the 4-year-old shoot his babysitter? Because he got angry because the babysitter "accidentally stepped on his foot."

It's this kind of thing that makes me fear for my country. It's not the Clinton administration redux we see happening in DC right now. It's not the excessive amount of money that's being spent for the Obama Inauguration (Yes, I know it's an historic event, but so is this recession. LOTS and LOTS of people without jobs. Businesses crashing like buildings in the path of a rampaging economic Godzilla. Is this really a good message to the American people?). It's not the proposed tax cuts that may be forthcoming (intended for spending stimulus, I get that, but states are going bankrupt; can we really afford more tax cuts?).

What this story represents to me is rugged individualism gone further awry. We've certainly seen plenty of evidence of the danger of individualism or unilateral decisions, rugged or otherwise. The concept of "rugged individualism" has certainly been disparaged over time, but elements of that sense of individualism and all the rights we imagine appointed thereunto are biting us in the collective ass, I think.

Cultural historians refer to those born in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s as the "me" generation. Classroom teachers bemoan the sense of entitlement that some of these kids seem to have. An article in the New York Times (oddly dated January 17, 2008; did I miss something?) reports on this as a narcissitic generation. If we're objective, we'll see that many of these characteristics can be applied to nearly any generation and we do all a disservice by generalizing the behavior of an entire generation. Even so, when we look back on the 1980s and the 1990s, we do see certain cultural behaviors. Parents spending a great deal of time raising their children to feel good about themselves and getting huffy with teachers for giving kids the grades their learning deserved because the child might feel bad about himself. Parents spending way too much trying to make their children's lives easier and more palatable rather than requiring them to do their homework or holding them accountable for their behavior and actions. Not all parents and not all kids, but perhaps too many of them.

I think much of what we see today in attitudes and sensibilities about "rights" has been fueled by these last 30 years of behavior and perceptions. We need to get a handle on our attitudes and be more willing to think about something larger than ourselves. This is one of the dissonances of our more global world. Many of us are thinking more globally and are very aware of situations in which the world is being and has been flattened. But an enormous part of the population hasn't experienced either flattening or globalization. Because of television and movies, they are very much aware of the distorted and insidiously creeping definition of "personal rights."

While the whole United States might not disintegrate in 2010, I would say we have some serious fractures in our cultural, moral, emotional, psychological and behavioral infrastructures if the response of a 4-year-old is to pull out a shotgun because someone accidentally stepped on his foot.