March for Science Chicago

Went to the March for Science Chicago today.  Saw many great signs — in fact, here’s one observation: scientists are big on clever signs, and not particularly into chanting.  So it was a quiet, polite, and civilized march.  Not as many came out as for the March for Women — but then, so much else is going on right now ….

Once again, a glorious day in Chicago for a protest march. Couldn’t ask for nicer. And we actually marched: it wasn’t just a stand. Marching is nice: a lovely walk with several thousand of your closest friends concerned about the same thing: data, the planet, evidence-based decision-making, climate change, the weather, new cures for whatever ails us, and so forth.

The fact that these marches happened all over the world is not just dismay over the current political situation in the United States — though that is a large part of it. It’s a global dismay that our dear leaders are not valuing science to any great degree. What is valued is money and corporate power.  Art and science are getting left behind.  And our world may not survive that choice.

When we can’t do anything about climate change at a governmental level, it’s left to individuals to make choices to protect the environment: and while individuals can do a lot, they cannot do it all. It is more powerful when the governments come in and prevent corporate entities (and themselves) from pushing harmful emissions into the air — and when the push for non-harmful, green efficiencies come not just from consumers but from government standards.

Plus, what good does cutting funds to the Center for Disease Control bring? More people dying from preventable illnesses, less tracking of epidemics, less support for communities experience epidemics: more death.

Add in the EPA, the NIH, the NSF, NOAA, NASA … and the consequences are damning.  More people will die who needn’t have died. More people will have less quality of life than need be.

Bottom line, this world is going to suck if we don’t do something.  Stand up and march, write your legislators, stop using plastic bags, take public transportation, ride your bike — but we need to keep funding research and we need to have government regulation to prevent disaster.

The Dark Ages were not man’s finest hour. Let’s not return to them.

MFS 4 22 2017 DATA

No, we don’t automatically support war

Read so much about how Trump’s ratings would go up now that he’s fired missiles at Syria.

Despite the fact that a large portion of the American people are tired of war in the Middle East.

Despite the fact that he campaigned against getting involved in Syria, criticized Obama for thinking about missile strikes in Syria, and many people thought he was less likely to start a Middle East war than Hillary.

Despite the fact that the Syrians were using the bombed airfield again the next day (memo to Trump: you could use some lessons from Mayor Richard M. Daley on how to take out an airfield in the middle of the night and leave it un-usable ever again).

Despite the fact that bombing an airfield didn’t actually help gassed children, and that the causalities of the bombing were mostly civilian.

Despite the fact that two things happened in the immediate aftermath of the war: Raytheon stocks went up, and so did oil prices.

Despite the fact Trump owns stock in Raytheon and rising oil prices help the Russians. (Memo to the press: everything else is just theater.  Learn to recognize theater when you see it: concentrate on the concrete end-results.  Prices went up on what? Who benefits?)

So we’re all suppose to rally around a “war president?” Really? When it was so transparent most Americans can see through the charade (even if Washington-based pundits can’t)?

I got news for you: bombs don’t help gassed children.  Bombs don’t help a refugee crisis. Bombs aren’t going to stop the humanitarian disaster there.

Bombs are not a humanitarian response to anything. They don’t work that way. In fact, they are the opposite of humanitarian aid.

So no: not distracted. Not impressed. Not my president, not my war.

Can we allow Syrian refugees to come in, now? Re-settle them, give them food and water and shelter and medical attention? And jobs? That would actually help.

 

Reading

There really isn’t enough time to read all the books, is there? There are so many books I would like to read, and then there are the books I think I should read … but there isn’t time. The books I should read get left on the shelf, because I have too little time to do anything but read for pleasure.

Books are always a guilty pleasure. Guilt because somehow we are always that child reading in the dark, after being put to bed, crawling out of bed to read by a night light or the light from the hall, or a flashlight under the covers. It’s that time you are supposed to be socializing, but would rather be in a corner with a book.

As a child, I brought a book with me everywhere. Just in case. Just in case there was a chance to read. Just in case I needed to have something to do while the adults talked. Just in case there was waiting time. Just in case I was bored and could retreat into a much more interesting world. I read in class (I finished my work early, so there was always time to read while others continued to work).  I read as much as possible. I found libraries, I frequented used book shops, I finally found a part-time job in a local bookstore as a teenager.

As an adult, you are expected to socialize at parties rather than retreat into a corner with a book. It’s one of the disappointments of adult life (indeed, there are many). And I can’t finish my work early and sit there and read the rest of the day: I have to figure out something else to do for my employer so my salary is justified …

As I did not find a job that pays me to read (oh, to be a researcher … to spend time in libraries during the day during the week … ), I have only my “free” time to read. Free of work, free of social life, free of political work, free of household maintenance, free to retreat into another world.

And so I read for pleasure. And I parse books by how much comfort they will bring my life, whether my mind will be stretched in good ways or beyond what I can bear at this juncture. I begrudge the time: I look at my bookshelves, at the unread books, at the old friends I would like to re-read, and at the ones that would teach me something new – and I would like the time to read and re-read them all.

Where can I get a job that pays me to read the lovely books I don’t have time to read?

Snow day

So I worked from home today.

I didn’t intend to. I got up, showered, dressed, put on boots, got my kid up, made two lunches, and went outside.

I cleared about 4 inches of snow off my car. Maybe 5, if we’re generous. The kid came along, got in, and we drove to the bus stop. I did not have to shovel the car out of the parking space. There just wasn’t that much snow.

Drove out of the hood on the sketchy side streets. This is fine: side streets are the last to be plowed, that makes sense. Least traffic, last plowed.  But then I got to the main roads: and they did not seem to be plowed or salted either. Lots of cars on them, just after 7 am, but no plows, no salt trucks.

I was hearing on the radio the Kennedy was over 2 hours in from O’Hare. That is absurd. It’s a ridiculous time. I thought to myself, well take local roads, maybe go southeast on Milwaukee. It’s got to be moving faster, right?

Every major road I was on was a mess. The great northwest side of Chicago had no roads plowed.  I saw one truck out: going north on Pulaski as I was going south. That’s it.

At some point as I was white-knuckling it down a major artery of the great city of Chicago I thought: I’m not going to make it in. I have to turn around and go home, or I’ll be on the road ALL day trying to get to the southside.  What is it, about 17 or so miles from home? Yeah, not going to make it.

So I spent two hours on the roads this morning, during rush hour, to get as far as Belmont before heading home. Not quite three miles. And back. So … six miles in two hours.

Now the really horrible part of this was that it was completely unnecessary. I have made it into work in far more snow than this, in far colder temperatures than this, in far worse conditions. The roads weren’t bad because of the snow.

The roads were bad because of choices made by our elected officials. There was a dearth of snowplows not because Chicago – a northern city – doesn’t have snowplows. Nor do we lack salt at this point in the season: we had no snow at all in January and February which is exceedingly rare (and very weird and unsettling).  The weather forecast was dead on: there was plenty of warning that the weather would be exactly what it was.

No, there were no snow removal trucks out because our Mayor is awful. Maybe he didn’t want to spend the money on overtime for the Streets and Sanitation guys, because if he got them up before dawn to take care of the roads before rush hour, the city would pay overtime.

Or maybe he’s getting back at the aldermen of the northwest side (and south side, and west side, and …) for not supporting him enough and raising questions about budgets.

Or maybe he’s just incompetent and hired incompetent people to run Streets and San. He doesn’t really care about actually making the city livable for it’s people. It’s not what he considers an important part of his job portfolio.

But wait, you say. The city isn’t responsible for the Kennedy and that was terrible. Yes, the expressways are under the purview of the State of Illinois, and the responsibility of IDOT, so not the Mayor’s fault there.

So let’s move on to our stubborn governor, who can’t get a budget passed in Springfield because he is too bone-headed to know you have to compromise with legislatures, equal branches of government being what they are and all. He is not a CEO, he is a governor. Not the same thing. State government is not a business, and can’t be run like one.

I’m guessing that IDOT has a cash-flow problem, like every other state agency, and wasn’t prepared for this snowstorm. Or perhaps, like the mayor, the governor put incompetent people in charge. Being a Republican, there’s no reason to suppose he believes government should work for the people. But you’d think he’d care that his buddies in the northern and very wealthy suburbs could drive their BMW’s into the City to get to the office …

Or maybe not. Maybe he just wants to ram home how disfunctional state government is, so he can continue to dismantle it.

I’ve gotten to work plenty of times in worse weather than this. The fact that we had the worst travel times EVER this morning was no accident and not a result of the relatively minor snowfall we had (4-5 inches? In Chicago? Pah. Trivial). That was a direct result of the choices made by the Mayor and the Governor.  Equally incompetent, equally smug and ego-driven.

The Twin Disasters.

Unhinged

Life feels a bit unhinged lately.  This starts at the top – Our current president, whether or not he is personally unhinged, leads in a very chaotic and unhinged manner. Chaotic evil, one might say, if one were using Dungeons and Dragons terminology. His view of the world seems dark and nightmarish, easily startled by the shadows in the night.  Or in his mind.  Or both.

His team would probably have an easier time of it if they could wean him from TV.  I think there’s a metaphor in there somewhere: we’ve worried so much about how much TV is good for our children, it turns out that the real problem is in how much TV we allow our elders. It seems to be rotting any number of brains.

The executive orders coming out of the White House are nuts. The way ICE is acting, rounding up law-abiding folks, interrogating people as they step off planes – it’s like a whole bevy of stupid bullies suddenly got the green light to act out their tough guy fantasies. None of this has anything to do with keeping us safe: it’s all about pretending to be macho.

And it’s not rational. It’s not based on anything other than a vigilante instinct, and a desire to seem more masculine. So sad.

 

 

 

 

And I’m not even talking about politics

Some days it all seems like a bit much.

When it doesn’t seem possible to make one’s step count.

When your ankles hurt.

When you didn’t sleep well last night.

When your diet isn’t as pristine and perfect as you would wish, and the desire to eat right, eat sustainably, ea healthy, and shed pounds is a constant reminder of imperfection.

When the next thing on your list is either cleaning the cat box – or paying bills. Hmm: which to do?

When it’s your only brother’s birthday, and you have not gotten him a gift or wished him a happy birthday as of yet.

When you are worried about the kid, and what happens next.

When your blog post won’t save and won’t post, and won’t tell you why …

When the weather sucks, with that cold rain and snow vibe.  Well, it’s March, what did you expect? Except we didn’t really get February, what with that whole global warming thing – so it feels a bit depressing that we’re getting the blah of March.

And you try to be grateful about not driving to work today, and having a nice warm house, and an evening of precious alone time to oneself: to eat for just oneself, to read, perchance to watch just what you want without reference to others desires and needs ….

And still … blah. Blah.

Tomorrow is another day. Right?

The things you do to survive

I think somewhere out there there’s a triad of needs (and my kid, who is taking “adulting 101” at his high school, probably knows the answer to who dreamt it up and what the real theory is) – first comes the most basic: food and shelter and companionship. Then comes the other needs: the things that feed our souls, like art (for some), religion (for some), and service to others (the fine art of being needed). After that, on the pyramid of needs, comes all the STUFF we want and for which our real need is dubious at best.

I find myself thinking about this lately, because in this first year of Trump as our President, there is a need to do it all, to be constantly outraged, to be on the alert, to not let them get away with ANYTHING without protest – their ideas are so mean, so cruel, and so useless – it feels like it all has to be resisted at every moment.

But we can’t resist constantly: we’ll burn out.  And so there are the things you do to live another day and fight – the things that revive one and bring back the energy.

For me, there are a few things that are sustaining me: reading (preferably fiction), cooking and thinking about transforming my eating to a more plant-based diet, and art.

I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” which is about her family retreating to a family farm and making a vow to eat local for a year – preferably from their own farm, but also supporting local farms for the things they didn’t grow themselves.  It’s a fact-filled book that will fill you with both joy and fear – but this isn’t a book review.

Living in the city, as I do, I don’t have garden space — I do have a porch, but my porch is more suitable to flowers than vegetables, between the west-facing aspect and the marauding squirrels (the squirrels are fierce in my ‘hood). Herbs are really the edible of choice, and I grow them and horde them  until they flower …

Her descriptions of the joy of cooking food, cooking as a communal activity fill me with some kind of nostalgia – for me, cooking is a solitary activity, mostly because my own kitchen is so small. And I get crabby when there is an other who gets in the way. But I do like to talk to folks when I cook – as long as that other is out of the way.

And her book is clarifying some problems with the way most of us consume food, and why Americans are so fat and unhealthy – and why family farms are dying off. So, I’m resolving to spend more time at the farmer’s market, and trying to eat more locally, and cook more.

Tonight a ward committeeman who I like and admire is hosting an event discussing immigration, and has a great panel.  Instead, I am going to a panel at the library featuring black playwrights – opting for the politics of art over the politics of deportation. Why? Because the art will feed the soul a bit as it brings up issues we need to wrestle with.

Since January, I have found my involvement with art and artists to be the most sustaining work I do: whether it is performing myself (rare these days) or going to see others perform or talk about art. Even though it is frequently political – it is NOT escapism – the performative nature allows for a communal engagement and response that is somehow more affirming.

The point is: there are many forms of being engaged. Supporting local artists, like supporting local food, is an act of resistance in and of itself – as this administration moves to cut all funding to the arts (like it would like to do to science as well), local artists will need our support more than ever.

 

 

Taxes

Did tax things today.

Walked over to the bank, and paid the property taxes.  Walked home, stopping at the grocery store on the way.

After eating a bit of lunch, I settled in to do my income taxes. They don’t take me long: I have a single employer, I get health insurance through my employer, I have one deduction I claim, and I didn’t get to claim my kid this year (his father did).

They still make me cranky.  Not because I have to pay taxes. But because the property taxes are so high, and the income taxes relatively low.

This state is falling apart. Education funding is abysmal. We should lower our property taxes by raising income taxes — and oh, yeah, switch to a graduated income tax like civilized people instead of this flat tax nonsense.

Then the state should pay it’s bills, including what it owes to the education system and the retirement benefits for state employees.

The current system doesn’t work. It needs to be re-invented. The state’s education system is way too dependent on property taxes, and it needs to be de-coupled from those taxes. A graduated income tax would solve a lot of these problems.

And yes, rich people would hire lawyers and tax accountants to try to get out of paying their fair share: that’s what they do.  We’d still end up ahead.

Addendum: in an article by the Chicago Tribune comparing Illinois in 2010 to 2014, the Tribune used an ALEC scale to claim Illinois’ ranking had improved — significantly because more children had access to charter schools. The take-away number, however, is that Illinois lost ground to other states in terms of education spending per child.

It’s 61 degrees here and that’s crazy

It’s February.  Here in Chicago where I live, February is usually a dark and dreary month, cold, snowy, slightly depressing, and made for endurance.

It’s wonderful. It makes you feel hardy to go outside, shovel out the car, totter over to the train station, and walk into work.  Where you can complain to your co-workers in a slightly congratulatory way about how bad it is outside, so that your own ability to make it into work becomes a feat worthy of note and praise: truly remarkable that we are able to function in this weather.

But right now, it is 61 and sunny.  You don’t need a coat to go outside, a light sweater or sweatshirt will do. It’s actually quite lovely out. One feels like going for long walks. It could be late May.

And that is very weird indeed. So instead of really enjoying this gorgeous weather, one has an asterisk in your head. “It’s so beautiful* ….” *but it’s February in Chicago and that’s kind of odd.

It begins to feel like we are doomed. While I never doubted the scientists, I wanted them to be a bit off in their predictions: I wanted us to have a chance.

And it feels like … we may not. It may be too late. And there may be nothing we can do at this point to stop it.

This US government certainly won’t save us, as they decline to believe global warming exists, and rush to make everything much worse.

It’s 61 and sunny in Chicago today. It’s gorgeous out.*