Absent HeaderI just read this article online.  Please take a minute to read this excerpt from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online.

Madison Law enforcement officers are searching for Democratic senators boycotting a Senate vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair plan Thursday in an attempt to bring the lawmakers to the floor to allow Republicans to act on the bill.

As Republicans denounced the move, one Democratic senator said that he believed most of the members of his caucus are in another state. However, an aide said that at least one, Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), was still in his Capitol office listening to constituents.

In a telephone interview, Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) declined to give his location but acknowledged that at least one other Democrat was with him. He said that law enforcement would be able to compel him and his members to the Senate floor if they are located in Wisconsin.

“I can tell you this – we’re not all in one place,” Miller said. “This is a watershed moment unlike any that we have experienced in our political lifetimes. The people have shown that the government has gone too far . . .  We are prepared to do what is necessary to make sure that this bill gets the consideration it needs.”

Fighting Quorum

Basically, the Wisconsin legislature (under the governor’s direction) is trying to pass legislation that significantly reduces  the ability of unions in the state to hold the upper-hand in negotiating contracts with the government.  This would enable them to set salaries and benefits for state workers that are more reasonable in light of the seriousness of the government’s economic situation.

The reaction in Wisconsin has been teacher strikes, marches on the state capitol, and loud complaining by Democrats.  Though of course state workers would want to have the best bargaining positions possible, the state is facing a $3 billion shortfall in its budget over the next 2 years.  That means they are going to have to make serious cuts, or  face bankruptcy.

Democrats feel they have no choice but to resist this.  The unions are both a major source of funding and voters, although there is no chance that the union voters will abandon them even if this passes.  However, the Republicans have a majority in the Wisconsin congress, so the Democrats can’t do much to stop them.  The Dems were in a situation where they could not possibly win.

So the Democrats left.  They walked out and hid.  This would seem silly, except that it creates a problem in parliamentary procedure, the rules that govern how the legislature is run.  In order to take a valid vote, the legislature needs something called quorum.  Quorum is the number of members that must be present in order for any action to be valid, and is greater than the number it takes to pass a law.

The quorum rule was created to prevent a minority from holding a secret session, or meeting during some sort of emergency that prevented most members from attending, and passing some strange law.  But the rule of quorum was never intended to be used as a blunt instrument to prevent democracy from working when a minority didn’t like what was happening.  This kind of action is unfortunately not atypical of the kind of tactics that Democrats have played throughout the years, but it is a very bad sign for the gridlock that could be coming in many states and nationally.

What neither the state Democrats, nor anyone in the media seem to be asking is, “What is the best thing to do for the state’s $3 billion defecit?”

The Real World

America needs to wake up!  Nationally for the first time since World War 2, our country owes more money than we have in our entire budget.  The national debt is currently $14 trillion, with total obligations above $55 trillion.  But these numbers seem to be too big to really wrap one’s mind around.  So maybe an easier scale would help to make this all make more sense.

Let’s say a small family (father, mother, and small child) have a yearly income of $50,000.  But by the end of this year, the family will owe over $50,000 to the credit card companies, more than their entire income for the year.  All of that would be a difficult situation, but not impossible.  The problem is that every month, even though the family gets a salary of over $4,166, they are keep spending $4,582.  So, each month they are more than $400 in debt more than the month before.  This is obviously an impossible situation.  It won’t be long before the credit card companies cut the family’s credit line and sue them.  They will go bankrupt.

Any family would have to sit down and start cutting their budget.  That might mean moving to a smaller house or apartment, selling a car, not eating out.  They would have to make these changes, no matter how much they didn’t want to.  Anything that was not necessary to keep them alive would have to be cut so that they would be able to pay off the debt.

But many in America are loath to see this happen nationally.  There have been protests over the proposed de-funding of PBS.  Recently, some lawmakers even held a press conference with characters dressed as cartoons from popular PBS series, trying to drum up support to “save these shows.”  On the radio, callers have talked about the Republicans “killing Big Bird.”

Killing Big Bird

No one wants to “kill big bird.”  These TV shows are important in American culture and life.  Many children have learned important things from these programs.  But they are just that, TV shows.  PBS can go away if need be, and America will go on, children will learn about the alphabet, and people will be forced to go to the opera instead of just watching it on television.  People will miss PBS.  Maybe the arts will be less supported and there won’t be as many educational TV shows.  Everyone would miss PBS.  No one likes to reduce spending.

The point is that things must be cut.  Some of these things will be government programs that people love, and often count on.  There will probably be few if any budget items that no one will miss, in the same way that the fictional family in the previous illustration will probably miss going to the movies and living in their 4 bedroom house.  But the truth is that there are very few, if any, government programs that don’t affect anyone in some way.  And if any do exist, they aren’t taking up that much of the budget anyway.

When the Democrats walk out of legislatures and hold press conferences with cartoon characters they send a clear message that they are unwilling to do the difficult things that must be done to save the country.  They also send a clear message that their political power and fund raising efforts are more important than the good of America.  If the country is going to pull itself out of this horrible mess, this kind of budgetary brinkmanship must be avoided at all costs. -Ryan

Tiny Planet Project – Sam the Lamb

I haven’t talked a lot about the painful events recently involving my family lamb, Sam.  Over the last few months Sam has grown increasingly private.  We used to sit and talk about the events of our respective days, but that somehow changed.  Those who know have asked the same question we’ve all asked in the face of this, “Why?”  Right now, I have no answer for this.

I guess in the end, all I can do right now is remember the fun times I had with Sam the Lamb.

*Yes, I know that someone is bound to be offended by this–and actually, I am not really intending to make light of a serious subject that has affected many people.  This photo shoot started far more innocuously than anyone could imagine, then turned dark.  The statement (if there must be one) is two-fold: First, it is an exploration of two juxtaposed things that are very opposite in extreme ways.  Second, it is also addressing something that should not be ignored in a less grotesque way than could normally be done.  It is walking a line, I agree.  But perhaps it is a line that should be walked.  Is it better to not show this (an idea I entertained) and avoid controversy, or show it and open a dialogue on this issue?  I am still not sure–but I have made my decision.  I hope it is the right one.

Adventures in High School – Part 4

High School Header

This is part 4 in a multi-part series.  Click here to read the beginning of the story, Part 2, and Part 3.

Note: While I have kept as many details as possible completely honest, I have changed all of the names of the people in these stories.  I didn’t think it would be fair to write about them in the way that I have if I hadn’t protected the real people a bit.  In the case of one particular person, I don’t remember his real name anyway.  Also, please don’t take anything I say in this story to be tacit approval for the way I or anyone else acted.  I was in High School, and sometimes acted like quite a punk.

The biggest caper involving Mr. Grady concerned a video that he was planning to show in our class.  We knew that a film was on the schedule because there was a TV and VCR on a cart in our room at the beginning of class.  We asked him about it and he told us that we would see it in the last half of the class, after that 15 minute break.

When break time came, Mr. Grady left the room, as people went to the bathroom, caught some fresh air, or whatever they wanted to do.  Some of the class stayed inside.  One of the other students, Shane, and I were standing near the TV and talking about something Mr. Grady had done earlier that was unintentionally hilarious.  One of us got the idea that it would be funny if we switched one of the plugs on the back of the VCR.  I honestly don’t remember whose idea it was, but I did think it was a brilliant one.

Like many DVD players today, the VCR had 3 RCA-type plugs: a red, a white, and a yellow for the actual video signal.  The red and white were for audio left and right channels.  All we did was to switch the white audio channel with the yellow video plug—just two.  We giggled as we sat down and waited for Mr. Grady to enter and class to restart.

The rest of the class knew what we had done.  It wasn’t secret.  The problem with the class was that everyone was in on everything together.  We all had a secret disdain for him that was due both to the fact that he openly disliked all teenagers, and the fact that he had somehow created a new strain of boredom that was completely resistant to all forms of self-entertainment.  So, we were all co-partners in crime, trying to give him enough ulcers to ruin any trips to IHOP that he had planned for his golden years.  It was pure evil, but it was what we all thought.

When Mr. Grady returned class started as usual.  We resumed counting his uhhh’s and doodling aimlessly in our notebooks.  Finally, he announced that it was time to watch our video.  In many classes, messing with the video would have been social suicide.  Everyone knew that videos were more entertaining than class lecture.  But on the few occasions that Mr. Grady had actually shown us films they happened to be even more boring than his lectures had been.  They were from the 1970’s, and consisted of long-dead economists discussing numbers in thick accents.  I was pretty sure some of the economists were even dead before the interviews began.

Mr. Grady hit the play button and the VCR began its whirring noise.  The TV continued to show snow.  He looked puzzled, and he actually slapped the side of the TV, as if he needed the vacuum tubes to warm up or something.

“Is it plugged in?” Shane asked.  This was a hilarious question due to the fact that both the TV and VCR were clearly on, but it was hilarious.

Mr. Grady didn’t answer.

“Is it on channel 3?”  I called out.  Back in that day, the TV had to be tuned to channel 3 or 4 in order to get the VCR to show a video.

Mr. Grady still didn’t answer, but now clearly frazzled, he began to pull random plugs out of every possible place on the TV and plug them into other equally random places.  We continued to ask our questions.

“Mr. Grady, I don’t think it is getting electricity.”  “Maybe it needs to be on channel 4.”  Are you sure the TV is actually on?”  We were enjoying ourselves more and more, the more upset Mr. Grady was clearly becoming.

Finally, Mr. Grady gave up.  I stated to feel bad about what I had done.  I asked him if I could try to fix it.  He agreed.  I was actually his favorite, even though I was the secret source of much of his harassment, and he usually agreed to anything I asked.

I stood up and looked at the mess.  There were wires tangled all over by this point.  It now looked more confusing than an old fashioned telephone exchange.  But I began to unplug everything and rewire it according to what anyone could clearly see was the proper arrangement.  This took me about 5 minutes.

After that we watched the most entertaining video he had ever showed.  I still remember the title, Chicken-omics.

I have since thought of my time in that class many times.  Mr. Grady was one of the worst teachers I have ever had.  He expected students that he openly disliked to endure his torture without treating him poorly.  Or, maybe he didn’t—maybe he just didn’t care at all anymore.  But that didn’t excuse the way I or the rest of the class treated him.  I have felt guilty about it many times.  It gave me some fun stories, but I’ve always hoped that our class was the worst he ever had, and if nothing else, at least he had some funny stories of his own to tell about us, the class from hell. -Ryan

Stay posted for further episodes.

Tiny Planet Project

I got this idea recently for a photography project.  I can’t really say how this idea came about, or even where it is going, but I thought it would be fun, and explore and area of the art that I haven’t yet explored.  I truly don’t know what this will develop into, but here is set #1.  Let me know what you think.

Adventures in High School – Part 3

High School Header

This is part 3 in a multi-part series.  Click here to read the beginning of the story, and Part 2 here.

Note: While I have kept as many details as possible completely honest, I have changed all of the names of the people in these stories.  I didn’t think it would be fair to write about them in the way that I have if I hadn’t protected the real people a bit.  In the case of one particular person, I don’t remember his real name anyway.  Also, please don’t take anything I say in this story to be tacit approval for the way I or anyone else acted.  I was in High School, and sometimes acted like quite a punk.

Mr. Grady was a Christian.  This was well known at school.  His nephew, Sterling, was an outspoken Christian student-athlete, and I found out he later became a youth minister.  Although I was a pretty popular kid, I just never had much of a desire to hang out with the preppy crowd.  It seemed to me that they were a little too shallow for my tastes, although I was on pretty decent terms with most of the preppy kids.

People generally respected The Grady family’s strong Christian faith.  I don’t recall ever hearing anyone teasing any of them for that.  It probably happened at some point, but not in my circles.  I was of course, a pretty dedicated Christian too.

We liked to do our best to get Mr. Grady off his script during lecture by asking him questions that had nothing to do with class.  We did this for two reasons.  First, the lecture was always boring and never included any information that the book hadn’t already said.  It was a far more valuable use of time to read the book while he lectured, finish, and then read something more enjoyable.  He would never notice.  But the second reason was that Mr. Grady always had a unique way of putting his foot in his mouth.

One time Mr. Grady got himself in trouble in our class by making statements about “hearing voices.”  The way he said it, it seemed clear that he was referring to hearing God’s voice in his head or in the spirit.  His wording was very strange though, and made him sound like he was somehow schizophrenic.  After that we would periodically ask him what the voices were telling him at that particular moment.

A short time after this, one of the students in our class brought a portable mini-tape recorder to class.  He turned it on for a while, recording Mr. Grady’s lecture, then every time Mr. Grady turned around to write on the chalkboard, the student would play back a piece of the tape, lowering the volume when Mr. Grady would turn back around.

His hearing must have been suffering, because he would not notice until the volume was pretty loud.  He’d then turn around and ask us what the noise was.  We’d tell him that we didn’t hear anything at all, and ask him if he was “hearing the voices again.”  This continued for well over an hour.

We eventually got bored and stopped. -Ryan

Stay posted for further episodes.