We really are the sum of where we’ve been

Let’s get back to our current recurring contention that, with rare exception, even the most well-intentioned of politicians can only represent their own experience. And that postulate is never more apparent than when dealing with representatives of different races.

After all, we intrinsically tribal humans have a propensity to be somewhat monochromatic in our daily endeavors. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that our instinctual capacity to crave homogeneity has certain side effects.

And it was via a rather humorous conversation with Elgin City Councilwoman Tish Powell regarding the appointment of Rosamaria Martinez that this truth became self-evident.

Tish Powell

Tish Powell

As we were discussing the phenomenon, I mentioned that my lovely wife and I had had just been to see The Three Redneck Tenors at the Paramount Theater in Aurora. It was a really fun show, but considering all the showtunes, arias, and classical music involved, about halfway through I internally mused about just how “white” this kind of entertainment really was.

Sure enough, when I stood up at the intermission, the audience was entirely Caucasian. Despite the name, the show wasn’t racist in the least, it simply wasn’t something an African-American could generally relate to. They don’t come from that place.

More simply put, sometimes we white folks have rather strange tastes. Justin Bieber? Really?

But now let’s flip it around.

My private email address (until now) is jeffward3000@gmail.com and not a single one of my white or Hispanic friends ever “gets it.” But Councilwoman Powell immediately understood that reference because of her experience as a black American.

Please! This was no great social experiment. But it is amusing that, while it goes right over white folks’ heads, it was utterly obvious to Tish. Don’t worry! I’m not going to ruin it for the rest of you! Feel free to take a stab at that reference yourself.

So when I contend that white councilmen can only represent the white experience, it has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with very nature of this existence. And that’s exactly why we need black, white and Hispanic faces on every city council.

If we all came from the same “place,” black folks would pay to see the Redneck Tenors and white folks would understand my email address.

Holy crap! It’s Gwyneth Paltrow!

(Please accept my pre-apology for the foul language used in this post. It’s just that, when applied appropriately and used sparingly, it can be quite an effective tool.)

Normally we don’t delve into the national newsphere here because so many other folks already pursue that endless endeavor. But since this story is rife with local lessons, we’ll make an exception. And that lesson is, my fine right-wing friends have got to stop turning taking offense into an art form because Jewish mothers everywhere are getting very nervous.

They really don’t like being upstaged.  paltrow

So yes! Ironman actress Gwyneth Paltrow actually had the temerity to compare being on the business end of nasty tweets to serving in a war zone. What! An utterly self-absorbed movie star who believes her life experience is the standard by which all other lives should be measured? That almost never happens!

C’mon! This is the same woman who named her daughter after a piece of fruit. The only thing that surprised me about that is they didn’t call her “Banana.” This is the same woman who complained about the difficulties involved in being a multi-millionaire celebrity mother. Oh the hardship!

This is the same woman who coined the phrase “conscious uncoupling.” It’s fucking called breaking up! But what did you expect from her? The Gettysburg Address!

So now, by responding as if the sky just fell with a large thud, not only do conservatives grant her philosophical meanderings credence, but by also failing to consider the source, it makes them look like raving lunatics. And when you consider where they’re already sitting on that comportment bell curve, that’s no mean feat!

On occasion, I will certainly have some fun with these folks, but here’s the list of people whom I generally ignore:

  • Ann Coulter
  • Glenn Beck
  • Sean Hannity
  • Sarah Palin
  • Michelle Bachmann
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • Charles Krauthammer
  • Laura Ingraham
  • Anyone on Fox News
  • Bill Kristol
  • Michael Medved
  • Mark Levin
  • Bill O’Reilly
  • And now Gwyneth Paltrow

(Yes! There are offensive left-wing hosts as well, but their meager numbers and lack of audience render them moot.)

Half of them are entertainers trying to sell shit and the other fifty percent wouldn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. So, other than some well-placed satire, I chose not to acknowledge their existence because if I sternly respond to any of them, it would put me right smack in the middle of the very same mud hole.

Not everything in life is an affront. Not every perceived slight requires a response. Then there’s the fact that some people just say stupid shit. Have you ever listened to Ted Nugent?

Who cares what Gwyneth Paltrow has to say – ever? I don’t!

Another View: Todd Martin was there

While I watched the festivities from the comfort of my home office, TheFirstWard contributor Todd Martin actually was at that Wednesday Elgin City Council meeting. Though you can certainly catch the gist of what’s going on from the video, you do miss all the nuance that sitting in the gallery provides.

Photo courtesy of the Daily Herald

Photo courtesy of the Daily Herald

Thus, I want to offer a tip of my hat to Todd for filling in those blanks.  Here’s what he had to say:

When I sat in the Council chamber audience last night and witnessed Councilman Prigge’s diatribe, I was shocked and horrified.  Right in front of me were Rosa’s children, elderly parents, friends, and leaders of the Hispanic community.  They were shamed in his allegations that her qualifications were moot.  That she didn’t deserve it.  That her appointment DIVIDED the community.  He skipped the cake and reception downstairs.  Later, he voted against a contract regarding Diversity.  Later, he calls out his fellow council members WATERBOARDING the citizens.

Terry Gavin is a more complex person.  Sometimes, he does great work serving the community.  Other times, his opinions or ignorance of an issue are troubling.  I balance the help he gave volunteering to put up the Bison fence versus his opposition to electric cars because they “cause more pollution”.  Terry honestly tries to help.

My earliest political memory is watching Jimmy Carter win the presidential election.  Gerald Ford called Mr. Carter to concede the election and congratulate his opponent.  Every 4 years since, I’ve seen the same thing.  You can call it good sportsmanship, or being kind, or reaching out to unify the people, or supporting Democracy by respecting the political office, or being civil to facilitate compromise and good governance.  I like concession speeches.

That basic courtesy is important to me.  I think it is important to society.

Why did he do this?  I know what many in the crowd were muttering, and it wasn’t the preference of elections versus appointments.  It was bigotry.  It was recognition that if 5% of the “Citizens” listen and approve of these outrageous statements, then the low voter turnout will keep him in office and perhaps propel him higher.  

Sadly, we do have a small minority in our community that embrace the hate speech.  It is easy for them to embrace it when cloaked in code words.  It’s a game, with a nod & a wink about the stated arguments (however contrived) versus the real agenda of keeping certain peoples down.  

Other than old age, I don’t think there is anything much we can do regarding that demographic.  My hope is that Rosa can work to bring more residents out to vote.  That’s the only way to fix this mess.

The 5-29 edition of Left, Right and You is…

… right here: 

Rosamaria Martinez

Rosamaria Martinez

Considering all the consternation surrounding her appointment, Larry and I truly want to thank new Elgin City Councilwoman Rose Martinez and current Mayor Dave Kaptain for sitting in on the entire show! It’s hard to make Larry and I look good, but they managed to do just that.

When you listen to the show, please note that Rosamaria has a certain calmness and confidence that will serve her very well on the city council. Larry and I believe she certainly has a bright political future.

And speaking of Larry, I also want to thank Left, Right and You progenitor Tim Elenz, for suggesting that the smiling conservative Larry Jones join the show. Though we certainly don’t always agree, I have to say I’m having a blast working with him.

Don’t forget, next week, Tim Elenz will fill in for the vacationing Mr. Jones. McHenry State Rep Jack Franks will call in to discuss how the privatization of the lottery hasn’t really worked out and the future of gambling in Illinois in general.

Until then…!

The answer to John Prigge and Terry Gavin? Ignore them!

So there I was, all set to take aldermen John Prigge and Terry Gavin on regarding their blatantly disrespectful May 28 Elgin city council behavior, when a politically astute friend completely reframed the impending conversation. elgin city hall

Unable to fathom their endgame, my query was something along the lines of, “I can’t figure out what they’re trying accomplish. They can’t possibly think that kind of conduct helps their conservative cause.”

And just like a Zen master, he immediately responded, “Maybe they think it does help.”

And just like that proverbial bolt out of the blue, enlightenment was mine. Had I unleashed those verbal dogs, it would’ve been exactly what this not-so-dynamic city council duo wanted.

But before you provide me with the opportunity to explain my particular version of satori, since we won’t be spending any more time on their immature antics, should you choose to do so, you can view the proceedings for yourself. Simply follow this link and set the slider about an hour in.

You see, the mistake I made with Messrs. Gavin’s and Prigge’s general mien was believing their insistent dissent to be a means to some greater political end. But armed with that amazing new insight, I realize it’s not. To them, divisiveness and disrespect actually is the end!

You can gain government board status in two ways. Kane County Board Member Kurt Kojzarek ascribes to the first, which includes speaking only when you really have something to say, always attempting to iron out differences in private, and understanding when a vote is lost and letting it go.

The problem with that method is the results take time.

Ah! but the fastest way to dominate a political body is to be disruptive by dissenting at every turn. Then the others will immediately resort to adjusting what they say, they’ll get fed up and fight back, and the debate will revolve around the dissenters and not the issues.

And that’s exactly what happened last night. At a time when Rosamaria Martinez should’ve had her moment in the sun, Prigge and Gavin insisted upon making themselves the center of attention.

And sure enough, the rest of the council took the bait by sequentially firing back at the pair. Even mild mannered Mayor Dave Kaptain got more irate than I’ve ever seen him before and Gavin and Prigge were positively glowing in all their self-important glory.

So what’s the answer? Don’t respond to them!

Because when the debate becomes the end, you can’t win. You only feed the dynamic by engaging in it. If the “liberal council faction” suddenly agreed with everything Aldermen Prigge and Gavin put forth, they’d either change their minds or find something else to bitch about.

There are two great quotes that truly apply here. Mark Twain warned us to, “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.” And then George Bernard Shaw said, “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

Trust me, I know how difficult it is to simply stay silent, but the next time Terry Gavin says something silly like “speaking for the council” or John Prigge accuses you of “extreme political hubris,” (though he is an expert on the subject) simply let them have their say, ignore it, and move on.

Deprived of their center of attention status, they’ll ratchet up their behavior and get worse in the short term, but that’s exactly the point. If you have the patience to give these folks enough rope, they will always hang themselves.

You also have to have faith that the majority of your constituents are smart enough to see through their act. Because the only other option is getting in on it, and then the voters really will start to wonder.


Quick Hit: Barnes & Noble, you haven’t changed a bit

Is it just me, or is big box brick and mortar retail completely lost? Like newspapers, they seem to be convinced that if you simply reject that Internet reality and repeat all manner of past behavior, everything will be alright. barnes

I used to love bookstores. My wife and I would end our dates at bookstores (I’m such a geek!). I may well be one of the last people who can tell you that Kroch’s and Brentano’s isn’t one of those late night Channel 26 law firms.

The sad truth is, before today, I hadn’t stepped foot in a bookstore in well over three years. Between membership sales pitches, a generally indifferent staff, a dwindling number of in-stock titles, and the advent of e-books, Amazon makes it so much easier.

But since I was already feeding my sushi habit at the Commons, in an effort to expand my writing possibility horizons, I popped into Barnes & Noble to pick up a copy of Mother Jones and The New Yorker.

It was the chain’s big opportunity to win me back.

Apparently they now have a greeter/nook person up front who’s job it is to completely ignore you. Just for journalist purposes, I stood by the doorway for about 10 seconds before the gentleman offered a stilted hello.

Then, with those periodicals firmly in hand, I headed over to the register and, sure enough, there was one clerk working at the 12:50 height of the lunch hour. And, sure enough, the first person in the line wanted to do a return.

I actually found myself longing for an automatic checkout option!

Even I know it doesn’t herald the end of western civilization, but how does purchasing two magazines turn into a 15 minute effort? They eventually did open a second register and, even though the nice new lady politely apologized for the wait, I wanted to reply that the Amazon checkout experience is virtually instantaneous.

Not to mention I could’ve gotten the same Kindle Mother Jones issue for 84 percent less than I paid Barnes & Noble.

And all it would’ve taken to have made that trip worthwhile was one more possibly part-time minimum wage clerk. But in their infinite wisdom, those far flung book store executives believe that customer service is optional.

That was my last trip to a bookstore.

When Jim Oberweis is the voice of reason (sort of)

Apparently having far too much time on their hands, last January, the Madison County Health Department shut down 11 year-old Troy resident Chloe Stirling’s $200 a month cupcake business.

“The rules are the rules. It’s for the protection of the public health,” a health department staffer told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “The guidelines apply to everyone.”  Chloe

This is exactly why anyone dead set on becoming a cop or code enforcer should never be allowed to be one. Trepidation isn’t always a bad thing. The capacity to perceive those shades of gray borne of a reasonable self-doubt is always an admirable trait for people in positions of power.

Though that’s important to note, it’s not our main point so let’s move on…

Enter downstate State Rep Charlie Meier, who tried to do the right thing by introducing a bill exempting enterprising food service folks like Chloe who pull in less than a grand a month. And it passed the House with flying colors.

But when it got to the Senate, sensing an opportunity to apply his trademark bad judgment, Sen. Donnie Trotter amended the bill to require Chloe and her ilk to cough up $145 for an eight-hour food sanitation course, procure a $45 health department permit, insert a cupcake ingredients label, and pay another $35 state licensing fee

And you thought Madison County was bad. Though I have to say the prospect of a gaggle of 11 year-old girls descending on a food service class is fascinating. Throw in Gordon Ramsey and you’ve really got something there.

Trotter tried to explain he was simply protecting constituents with food allergies, but if anyone with a serious gluten intolerance is silly enough to buy food from a driveway, they probably deserve everything they’re about to get.

Enter 25th District State Senator Jim Oberweis who made this impassioned press conference plea; “This is absolutely insane! Somebody in Madison County went crazy and decided to enforce a law against an 11 year old kid who was baking cupcakes. That was a mistake, but it happened.”

Had he stopped there, it would’ve made for the proverbial happy ending. But no! Jim had to embellish the already obvious with this; “Then what happened? It came to the Senate… We ‘Illinois-ized’ the bill, doing things the way we do in Illinois, which is everything we can to discourage entrepreneurism and to discourage business interests.”

And I have two problems with that.

First, remember when Freud said “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar?” Well, sometimes stupidity is just that. And there’s always plenty of it to go around. Not everything is a vast conspiracy intended to render Illinois a vast Democratic wasteland.

The simple truth is, those Madison County Health Department heads need to smoke a little more weed and Mr. Trotter has never been the brightest bulb in the state senatorial pack. So consider the sources, fix the damn problem, and move on.

Because the second issue is, by turning cupcakes into an end of Illinois entrepreneurial civilization as we know it argument, Sen. Oberweis and his GOP lackeys are guilty of the very charge we just levied against Madison County.

A complete and ridiculous overreaction!

Not only does crying wolf inure Illinois voters to the real issue, but by their incessant business climate bad mouthing, the GOP is doing even more damage to the state’s sad image than the clueless Democrats.

What self-respecting corporation would relocate here when our purported best emissaries keep saying it sucks? Apparently, as long as a sound byte serves their short-sighted purpose, Republicans have absolutely no concept of collateral damage.

So while we certainly need to thank Jim for leading the logical charge here, how about, instead of blurting out how bad it is at every turn, saying something like, “Illinois is a great place and we’re going to make it even better for business.” It’s called marketing 101.

On a happier note, after the amended bill went down to a ignominious defeat, the original Meier version passed and Chloe is back in the baking business. So with a couple of hitches in our collective giddyup, it all worked out exactly the way it should have.

So what’s the Illinois Republican moral here? Don’t turn cupcakes into conspiracies and shutup and fix the business climate problem.

Sneak Preview: Kaptain and Martinez on Left, Right and You!

That’s right dear listeners! Larry and I are looking forward to sitting down with Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain and newest city councilman Rosamaria Martinez.

We’ll talk about the aldermanic selection process, how Rose survived it and what she hopes to bring to bring to that esteemed body.

That’s Left, Right and You, this Thursday on WRMN AM 1410 from 3 to 4 p.m.

Rosamaria Martinez

Rosamaria Martinez

Dave Kaptain

Dave Kaptain

Some Memorial Day thoughts

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to see that, on occasion, we actually do seem to learn from our mistakes. Because when I think back to how poorly we treated our Vietnam veterans, it still breaks my heart.

So progress is good.  memorial day

But as nice as all those coming home celebrations are, I can’t help but think it’s kind of like going to your wedding. You get that one day of being a star, but then you have to immediately resort to working your ass off just to make the marriage work. And all those friends who helped you commemorate that glorious day are long gone when you hit those first bumps in the road and you could really use them.

In that regard, I’ve noticed two themes that run through the books authored by returning veterans. The first, of course, is the difficulty in leaving behind the kind of daily violence that becomes as natural as breathing.

But the second isn’t as obvious.

To my great surprise, I’ve heard vet after vet talk about wanting to go back to Afghanistan because, after putting their life on the line day after day and building the kind of relationships necessary to keep themselves alive, how do you go back to office politics?

How do you go back to “normal” when this new reality they thrust upon you makes you realize that so many “critical” things really aren’t. The outcome of that t-ball game suddenly doesn’t seem quite as dire when you’ve had to watch a friend die.

So now, wise beyond their too-young years, you have to fit in with folks who can’t possibly comprehend what you’ve been through and firmly believe you’re still the same person.

But you’re not.

So all that public acknowledgment and gratitude has got to be nice and it’s a far cry from what we did to those returning 70’s vets. But it’s literally the least we can do. I’d be willing to bet the vast majority of Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers would trade all those public accolades and back slapping for some serious long-term support and a reliable safety net.

Therefore, it’s time to put all the partisan bickering aside and actually do something about it, because if this country can’t come together over this issue, then we truly are bleeped!

It’s time for Congressional Republicans to let go of their non-stop self interest soiree, dispense with the spoiled three year-old brat act, and pass a veteran’s bill or two. So what if it isn’t perfect – nothing in politics ever is.

And any President who can preside over the kind of ground game that won nine out of nine battleground states, can certainly crack a few VA heads and fix the bleeping thing. The fact that holding people accountable hasn’t been his strong suit doesn’t mean it’s too late to start.

Then there’s us! This may well be the only time that insipid one finger pointing at them while three point back at us analogy actually works. Why wait for the government? We elected those folks to represent us, not absolve us from our responsibility to our fellow man.

There are a plethora of social service agencies and causes run by competent and dedicated people who’s sole purpose is to serve veterans in need. If you can’t volunteer, then send them a monthly check. (Please be sure that most of their funding actually goes to the vets.)

Magnetic yellow ribbons are nice, but cash and volunteer work get the job done.

Even better, if you know or see a veteran who’s going through a tough time, don’t say anything, just listen. Let them talk. Let them tell you where they’re at. Sometimes a sympathetic ear is the best medicine there is.

I guess what I’m saying is this. We’ve certainly made some headway in how we treat our veterans, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do better.

So while it’s appropriate and fitting that we remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so we can sit around the barbecue, drink beer and argue with our extended family, let’s honor the vets who are still with us by taking care of them now, so they won’t be just a Memorial Day memory for at least a  little while longer.

How to get what you want at a city council meeting

Last week, First Ward contributor and citizen activist Todd Martin took to that Elgin City Council podium to explain exactly why they should lease the former Fox River Country Day School property to the Elgin Math and Science Academy.

Todd Martin

Todd Martin

I’d love to give you all the background on this, but not only is the manner in which Elgin acquired that land more complex than those portable basketball hoop assembly instructions, given the required pre-rental infrastructure upgrades, it’s not nearly as simple as signing a one-year lease either.

If you want those detail please read the Courier.

Besides, we’re not here to judge the efficacy of this potential deal anyway. We’re here to provide a primer on how to get your point across at any city council meeting. The sad truth is, you all love to sink yourselves long before manage to get to your main contention.

But before we get to ours, let’s cover exactly what Todd said:

My name is Todd Martin. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. I would like to speak in support of the City accepting the rental offer from the Elgin Math & Science Charter School.

I have 2 children, a daughter in 1st grade and a son in 7th. My address is 1036 Logan Avenue in Elgin, so I live on the North-east side of town. Let me be clear, I want the best possible education for my children. I am not alone. Most people, when they choose where they raise their family look at the schools near their home.

In my neighborhood, my public school offerings are Coleman Elementary or McKinley Elementary for my daughter. Coleman is ranked 14.5% statewide, meaning 85.5% of Illinois public schools are better than Coleman. McKinley is ranked 32.8. For my son, his only public school choice would be Larsen Middle School. Larsen is ranked 33.6, so 2/3 of the schools in this State rate better.

This is unacceptable. It hurts families, it hurts my neighborhood, and it hurts the City. Elgin Math & Science Charter school would provide a quality Public School choice within easy reach of the North-East side. The Charter would provide competition to Coleman, McKinley & Larsen. If they want to retain students, they’ll have to start earning it.

As members of Elgin City Council, there are few votes which can change people’s lives for the better or affect a community more strongly than bringing in a high quality educational institution.

I understand that a few residents have voiced concerns about the rent not covering the City’s full cost for the property. It would not be fair to burden the fledgling charter school with the entire cost of the land and all its buildings. They only want to rent 2 of the buildings right now.

Others may suggest waiting and hope that a better deal comes around. Let’s be honest, the buildings are best suited for an educational use. It took years for the Elgin Math & Science Charter School to be ready to make this offer. Obstruction in the name of finding the perfect partner boils down to nothing getting accomplished. My kids are growing up fast. I’m asking for your help.

Thank you for listening.

Here’s why this works:

1. Brevity really is the soul of wit. Given the various issues, egos and some folks’ propensity for pandering, city council meetings already go on too long. Then, the public input portion always arrives at the end so, even though they’ll generally provide you plenty of latitude,  the last thing the aldermen want to hear is a two hour soliloquy.

To wit, it took Todd just three minutes to get his semi-complex point across and, trust me, those councilmen took note. Aldermen get paid virtually nothing for what often turns in to a full-time job. If you don’t respect their time, they won’t respect your premise.

2. Bitch, whine and blame and they’ll tune you out even faster. Do you really want to have to endure someone standing beside your workplace desk while they explain how much you suck? Well, they don’t either! The second you start spewing things like they suck, the school district sucks, and city employees suck, you’re toast!

You can have the best idea since the intermittent windshield wiper and it won’t matter a lick because you lost them after the first suck. Maybe they really do suck, but if you’re goal is to get something done, that ain’t the way to do it.

3. Just the facts ma’am. The second best thing about Todd’s presentation was almost everything was quantifiable. Unless you make ‘em up, (or you’re talking to Terry Gavin) it’s awfully hard to argue with the facts.

Nobody wants to hear the story of your twelfth cousin three times removed’s bad buttock tattoo experience. No one cares about what you had for lunch yesterday. And none of us want to hear your Ted Baxter-esque oratory about how it all started in a small 5,000 watt radio station in Bakersfield, California.

Aldermen love facts, so give ‘em to them!

4. What’s the solution? The best thing about Todd’s talk was he provided a solution! Sadly, some civic minded citizens competently blitz through points one through three only to bomb here. What’s your point? If all you really want to do is vent, then call your mother.

Most city councils really want to help, but I’ve been to all sorts of meetings where, for the life of me, I can’t figure out what the speaker just said. And if they can’t figure it out, they can’t help you out.

Better yet, if you come up with a reasonable solution, they know you put some thought into it and they tend to lean in a little more.

Todd told the council who he was. He explained how they could help. He described the problem with factual statements. He didn’t blame anyone for the problem. He suggested a solution which might even lead to another solution. Then he thanked them for their time.

And he did it all in three minutes. That’s how it’s done folks!