Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friends At Work

I had some time off from my current job (vacation) recently and on one of the days I went back and visited some of my former co-workers. We had a lovely lunch and I stayed and visited during part of the work day.

I don't know if it's as common to socialize with your co-workers in other cultures as it is here. In a land where people move around a lot, where families are spread over hundreds, even thousands of miles, it is not unreasonable to expect to form a support system among your co-workers.

I certainly don't always make friends that I want to see outside of work at every job. And many people hold the concept that "if I see them at work that is enough". Yet, like it or not, there is socializing. Whether it's company sponsored gatherings (picnics, banquets, fundraisers) or baby showers, wedding showers, and other life celebrations you will find yourself spending time with co-workers away from the job.

This can be both good and bad. You might discover that someone who is barely tolerable at work is really an interesting person with a fascinating life away from that environment. Or that nice person who seems so easygoing has an obnoxious husband and monster children.

But what happens when you change jobs? Sometimes the ties continue, usually they slowly fade away. Once the last string holding you together was an annual exchange of Christmas cards. Now they are probably just one more Facebook 'friend', their postings blending with all the other daily commentary.

I don't know why I enjoyed going back to visit so much. I genuinely like these women, and enjoy their company. There are people that I work with now that I like, yet it is hard to imagine using a day off to go back and visit them if I left. I do hope that we are able to keep in touch beyond the Christmas card/Facebook strands.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

How Did We Live Without Them?

I love to read. In fact it is hard for me to go into a bookstore and not spend my entire paycheck. I used to have shelves and shelves of books. Because I liked having them around, and I liked their accessibility if I wanted to check something or learn something about a given subject. Or check a passage in a novel. Going to the library just wasn't as convenient. My questions did not always coincide with their business hours. And I just liked owning the information.

Once I gained regular access to the internet, that lifelong obsession slowly disappeared. I still love books, and love to read. However, with a wealth of information about any given topic at my fingertips, I don't need to own all of those books.

I soon got in the habit of reading magazines, newspapers, websites and blogs on a variety of subjects. I still love to read online news at different sites around the world. However keeping folders with long links to all of these places was always unwieldy. Then Google Reader appeared. Now, I can spend hours clicking through my different sites. I can quickly skim through headlines and short intros and pick and choose what I want to read. I have several hundred subscriptions, many of them bloggers around the world. It is now almost impossible to imagine life without Google Reader.

As far as t.v.--I've always been less addicted than most. I've always had shows that I enjoyed, yet they never seemed to air at a time that was convenient for me. When VCR's appeared I would tape show after show, but not always find time to watch them. About a year ago I learned about Now I can watch countless shows, movies, episodes, and documentaries when I find a convenient time. There are other websites, such as Comedy Central (The Daily Show, Colbert Report) and MSNBC (Olbermann, Maddow) that I can access and watch online. I can watch Congressional debates on C-Span, and comedy clips on YouTube. I find it all incredibly convenient and liberating to have all of this at my fingertips, on demand.

How did we live without them?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Make Your Signs Bigger

Every day on my way to work I drive past our county court house. Once in a while there are protesters in front, demonstrating for or against something. I firmly believe in the right to protest, and I certainly admire those that take the time to stand up for something that they believe in.

I think the largest group I have seen there was about forty people. Most of the time it's about ten, a few times one or two people in lawn chairs with big signs propped in front of their legs.

Here's the problem. I never know what they are protesting about. On t.v. coverage of protests we always see easy to read signs. We have a nice audio of the chanting. In reality, at least here, I only have a few seconds to glance while driving by. If they are chanting, I might here the sounds of their voices, but never what they are saying. And their signs? Never can read them. They might have one word I can make out quickly: "Fight..." or "Stop..." or "Support" but the rest of the words are too small to quickly read. And unlike the televised signage, the signs I see are usually filled with words. Like twenty or thirty words. Not really getting the message across.

I'm not sure what audience the protesters are trying to reach. If it's the few people strolling around that part of town that day, or the employees at the county courthouse then I guess they are making their point. But if they are trying to inform the community at large---the people that drive by--about their beliefs I'm afraid they are missing their mark. It actually makes them look a little pathetic and inept--not smart enough to make their signs big enough or condense their concept into fewer words. This is a college town, and there should be enough educated people to be able to manage that simple feat.

I know that this weekend Glenn Beck, a man who makes his living off driving fear into the hearts of white America, is planning a big rally in D. C.. It's supposed to be remniscent of the march on Washington and giant rally that took place on the same date about forty years ago. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous "I Have A Dream Speech".
Beck's followers are the antithesis of people who support real freedom, equality, and opportunity for all Americans. There are too many of them in this country, and I'm sure they will be out in force. And I'm sure their signs will be nice and big and easy to read, and probably spelled correctly. Perhaps that is the difference between genuine citizen protests and rallies that are backed by sponsors promoting their particular agenda.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What Do You All Have To Say That Is So Important?

Yesterday I was driving to work behind a man that was simultaneously smoking a cigarette and texting while he drove. I know this for sure because he kept holding the phone up to text one-handed. I'm still not sure how he was steering (?his knees?) but I do know that he drove ten miles under the speed limit down a long road that had double yellow lines. (Double yellow lines mean that you cannot pass another car).

It seems like everyone is texting all the time. The other day I was driving home from the store. A young guy on a bicycle was on the road ahead, weaving on and off the road. When I was young, the only time you saw an adult male on a bike was when they'd lost their driving privileges because of drunk driving. Although that isn't true today, I was wondering if that was the reason this guy was bicycling. When I pulled next to him I could see that he was texting while he cycled.

People I work with all seem to carry their phones and in random moments pull them out and text. It's against all the rules, but who's going to tell? In the cafeteria at work, nearly every solitary diner sits and texts throughout their meal. (I like to read a book.)

Let me be clear, I text. It's not my primary source of social interaction. I can understand that it's a handy way to communicate. I would much prefer that people text than to have to listen to their one-sided phone calls everywhere I go. But this constant constant texting every spare moment. What can they possibly have to say that is so important?

Recently, Dr. Frank Ryan (a plastic surgeon in California) crashed his car and died while tweeting a photo of his dog in the car with him. I'm sure he thought it was a cute moment to share. Apparantly the concept of pulling over to take the picture, or waiting to send the picture was too much trouble. It cost him his life. Of course there are accidents every day caused by people texting and tweeting when they should be paying attention to other things. Now they are talking about passing laws against texting while driving. I'm not sure how easy it would be to enforce them. The scarier part to me is that they have to make a law to enforce what should be common sense.

As the saying goes, 'common sense' isn't common enough.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

We Live In A Crazy World

I work in a hospital and I see all kinds of situations. Yesterday, a patient left against medical advice. We knew why, but it wasn't written anywhere. He didn't want the diagnosis to appear in his medical file. If it did, he would probably lose his job. So he refused medical treatment, and his decision will probably shorten his life. Yet it was more important to him to hang on to his job, and his insurance, for as long as possible. I know changes are coming, but not soon enough. These stories play out every day in the middle of America.

Another patient, recovering from heart surgery. Snuck out of the hospital to have a cigarette. With her oxygen tank still attached. Guess what happened?
I'm a former smoker. I know how tough it can be to quit. Whoever snuck in those cigarettes to her...I hope they feel real good about themselves. She's in the burn unit now.

Then there was the lady who was discharged after a long stay and multiple surgeries. Sent home on a strict diet. She decided to celebrate at McDonalds instead. She collapsed right afterwards. Only out of the hospital for eight hours.

What are people thinking?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Illinois Governors

When most Americans think of corrupt State politics they think New Jersey or Louisiana. Both States seem to have a long long history of politicians ending up in prison. Of course the City of Chicago is famous for it's dirty politics--but as anyone from Illinois will tell you--Chicago isn't the whole State. However, Illinois governors have gone a long way in giving the State a corrupt reputation.

A most recent example, former Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, was impeached and removed from the Governor's office in 2009. He had his trial last month, there were 24 charges. The only conviction--a local headline said it best: "Blagojevich Is A Liar". After 14 days of deliberating, the only charge the entire jury agreed on was that he had lied to the FBI. For the rest, one juror-one holdout resulted in what is called a ''hung jury'. That means the jury could not reach an agreement based on the rules for that case. Luckily for Blagojevich, the rules were that the jury had to be unanimous.

Blagojevich is the second consecutive Illinois governor to be convicted for illegal activity while holding office as Governor. If he goes to prison he'll be the fifth Illinois Governor in my lifetime to serve time.

In case you are not familiar with the Blagojevich case (it may not receive the same publicity as it does in the greater Chicago area), he was Governor of Illinois when Barack Obama became President. Obama had been a Senator from Illinois when elected, and when a Senator leaves office before their term is up, the State's governor can appoint someone to complete the term--or serve until a special election is held.

There is evidence that he was trying to 'sell' the Senate appointment to the highest bidder. In fact, fears that such a sale was about to take place prompted his arrest in December of 2008. In recordings of his discussions it seems that was his intent, but it was considered difficult to prove. Other charges are based on his attempts to have editors at the Chicago Tribune newspaper fired for allowing written criticism of his policies. Even worse, there were charges that he was trying to obtain a campaign contribution before releasing State funds for a children's hospital. The whole case against him was based on his demands for something in his pocket any time the State, or he, gave anything out.

Blagojevich is a lawyer himself, and even though there are countless recordings of him making demands, the charges were difficult to prove. He worded things very carefully. Yet his entire defense was along the lines of "he wasn't corrupt, just naive and stupid."

As crazy as it sounded, it seemed to have worked for at least one juror. But prosecutors plan to retry the case. I don't know if a new trial will make a difference. As usual, no matter what, lawyers get richer. Meanwhile, another sleazy politician gives Illinois a bad name. Want to know who will win the Governor's election in the fall? Probably the man most likely to go to prison.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

It Means That the Terrorists Have Won

I try to keep away from politics at work. Like any group of thirty or so people I'm sure there are a variety of beliefs regarding religion and politics. Unfortunately, it seems those of the conservative and/or Christian Evangelical persuasion are always the ones eager to spout their beliefs--and look around eagerly for any and all to dare to disagree.

Without thinking enough about what I was doing, in the early days of my employment I used pencils festooned with Barack Obama's name, celebrating his inauguration. I had been given a box of them as a gift. There are certain forms that require pencils only at work. The cheap mechanical pencils they supply fall apart and break, and we are always in short supply. So I grabbed a handful of my gift pencils and put them in my pocket one day. I used them and lent them without thinking much about it. After all, if you are desperate for a pencil, who cares what is on the outside?

One day a co-worker, in a voice shaking with rage, told me to get that pencil out of her sight. "How dare you bring that to work!" she exclaimed. "It disgusts me to see his face. And this is no place for political statements!"

"But it's just a pencil. And he's already elected, it's not like I'm using them for a campaign promotion." I tried to calmly explain.

"Just keep it out of my sight." she said still shaking with anger.

I kept using the pencils until that handful ran out or disappeared. I've brought in a few more now and then, but also purchased a box of plain yellow pencils to carry too. This co-worker will occasionally make comments about how she watches Fox News constantly because she wants to know the truth. She tried to engage me once on the topic---"Did you see that story on Fox News about (whatever the drama of the day was at the time)?"

"I don't watch Fox News" I said.
"Why! Don't you want to know the facts?"
Refusing to engage, I just told her that I didn't have a television. I don't. I obtain all of my news on the internet. I watch programs and movies online. Then I moved my work to another area.

Of course the recent controversy over the Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from ground zero is all the rage now. Recently that same co-worker, accompanied by two of her conservative pals, ambushed me in the break room.

"We are talking about those Arabs trying to build a mosque by Ground Zero. Surely even you understand how wrong this is!" she told me. "It's an insult to all Americans and it is like they are spitting on the families still suffering from the tragic deaths of 9/11."

"I guess that means the terrorists have won," I answered. I could see that I confused them. I couldn't decide which part to point out first.

The irony that our country was settled by people running from religious persecution. That a firm separation of church and state was one of the first amendments to the Constitution. That if we used the same logic, then no Christian churches should have been built in the South after the Christian men in the KKK started burning crosses on the lawns of Catholics and Jews (they didn't just hate Blacks).

Or should I point out that the Imam of that mosque is known for preaching moderation, and should be encouraged? Or that New York is a huge city and there are probably countless things within two blocks of 'ground zero' they may find offensive? Or that they don't live in New York and will probably never go there so it really isn't there business...

No, what upsets me the most, and what I finally said was this:

"A few weeks ago Congress rejected a bill that would provide health care for all the men and women that helped rescue people at ground zero, that helped clean up the mess. And no one in the Conservative media cared. A few Republicans were on TV griping about the cost. The cost of giving them health care. That was not very patriotic. All the flag-waving, all the moaning about the tragedy of 9/11--but really no one cares about the survivors, or the rescuers. Except when trying to promote their own agenda.

Suddenly, instead of trying to fix a real problem so many people are all excited about building the Muslim equivalent of a YMCA. Really? This deserves more time and attention that the lack of health care for those 9/11 workers? I think that is way more important. And that if this represents a majority view, then our American ideals are just a sham anymore. Since the real goal of the terrorists was to rip into our society and economic system--and both seem to be collapsing around us--I guess that means that they already have won."

I got up and left without giving them a chance to respond. Because I don't care what they will say, it will just be more nonsense they are repeating because it reinforces their prejudices, and their belief that they are exceptional and more important than anyone else.

I'm just glad that we do have a Bill of Rights in our Constitution. Even though eight years of the Bush Administration and their eager followers just about destroyed a good chunk of it with the "Patriot Act". It's still there to cling to, especially that very first amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...