Breaking Bad

The IBM Punch Card Building - Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center

The IBM Punch Card Building – Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center

Yesterday, Anne was able to regale me with two stories of people behaving badly. Today, I was able to try to one up her with a story of one of my co-workers breaking bad. The company routinely provides coffee pots, refrigerators and microwaves so that employees can drink coffee, safely store perishable foods and then reheat them. Some employees riff on this motif and bring in personal tea kettles, juicers and even a gelato machine, I kid you not. These appliances are frowned on, they can become fire hazards. More frequently, their use can throw a circuit breaker, necessitating the call for an electrician to reset the breaker within the locked cabinet. The loss of power and subsequent delay can lead to loss productivity, but such difficulties are only an occasional impediment to normal cube farm life. The incident that occurred today at work goes way beyond the pale though.

According to news reports, it started with a fire alarm. The fire department was called. They discovered the problem, chemicals that were later identified as precursors to making meth. This incident occurred in an office environment, in the building across the street from mine. The police were called, an employee arrested and the chemicals disposed of. Nothing in the news reports indicate that any meth cooking occurred, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something like that was going on in a cubical near mine.

I’ve gotten Anne’s approval to relate one of the two stories that she told me yesterday. The other one is too tragic to tell, but sadly, it easily tops mine. This one involved an adult who photo-shopped a picture of a child, by putting dog poop over his head. The photo was captioned, S***-Head. This adult is gone. Anne said, “Just because you work with children is no excuse to act like one.”

Corrections and clarifications: I spoke with one of my co-workers who knew about the story that Anne told me. He vouched for the individual and said that nothing like that happened. It was a much more mundane personnel matter.

A Manifesto Against Momism

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, blier, limer lock
Three geese inna flock
One flew east,
One flew west,
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest

In preamble I should state that I really hate this story! It viscerally tears at my psyche. Anyway, the kids did alright. Hell, they were fantastic. I loved McMurphy (Miguel Hernandez) and hated Ratched (Anna Wermuth). Please take no offense dear, it was your role, not your performance that offended me. You did your job to perfection. The rest of the cast also ably portrayed their characters. By the end of the show, I was glad that Anne had dragged me along, on Saturday night to see Maplewood-Richmond Heights High School’s production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

Nurse Ratched, who is so inflexible, so unseeing, so blandly sure she is right, represents Momism at its radical extreme, and McMurphy is the Huck Finn who wants to break loose from her version of civilization.”, wrote Roger Ebert. “Cuckoo’s Nest” is much less about insanity and much more about rebellion to authority. I cannot think of a better staging local for such a drama than in a high school, because it is in high school where America’s future rebels are bred to question authority.

I was first annoyed, but then came to love the audience’s giggling, like whenever a cast member exhibited spastic behavior. This is a small close-knit high school, everybody knows everybody else’s business.

Running this school puts the real world facility’s talents for growth, in direct contrast to Big Nurse’s destructive reign of terror. She would have never condoned this play. The behavior of Big Nurse in another venue, say a prison or say Gitmo, would easily fall within the guidelines of torture.

Nurse Rat Shit made Billy commit suicide and then she first degree murdered McMurphy. Chief Bromden only later sort of unplugged the still breathing corpse.

I’ve vented here, but the play still portrays an evil woman, but then so are men. We are all sinners. In the real world, men are tagged as the perpetrators of most of this world’s wrongs. Men are still the world’s majority power brokers, so the blame fairly falls at their feet. This play illuminates the truth that women, given unchecked power are just as sure to abuse it as their male counterparts.

I’d rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy.

Somebody Else’s Baby

Baby Pix #1

Baby Pix #1

These two photos were texted to Anne yesterday. They show Anna, wearing her new sweater and knitted cap. She looks pretty good in both of them. She looks really happy with her new cap. Anna was born last fall and while her mother was on maternity leave, Anne taught her mother’s fourth grade class until the end of the year. Anne thought that it would be a nice idea to knit a baby shower gift.

When Dave was growing up, he looked askance at Anne’s affection for other people’s babies. If we were in a restaurant and he caught Anne making goo-goo eyes at a baby, at a neighboring table, we would scold her for it. His usual reasoning went along the lines that the other people might suspect Anne of some sort of foul intentions. Anne and I both saw through this dodge for what it really was, jealousy. David is our baby. This behavior was most apparent in his tween years. He is a grown man now and a doctoral candidate in biomedical engineering at Purdue. He no longer chides his mom for looking at other people’s baby, but then Anne is noticeably restrained in this behavior now, at least while she is in his presence.

Anna offers and I needed a little ray of sunshine for this blog post and I suspect that many of my readers need it too. It has been rather dreary as of late here in the Lou. We were hit last week by Storm Q, but managed to dodge the worst of Storm Rocky this week. We only had rain and lots of fog. The other day, I watched the Liam Neeson movie, “The Grey”. It is set in northern Alaska and involves man-eating wolves, but the thing that is most notable about this film is the constant overcast that persists throughout the motion picture. If it doesn’t clear here soon, I’ll soon be looking over my shoulder for a stalking wolf pack.

Baby Pix #2

Baby Pix #2

Soul Food Supper

A Pair of Mergansers on the Birch Point Rocks

A Pair of Mergansers on the Birch Point Rocks

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word – Martin Luther King Jr.

The high school held the annual Soul Food Supper tonight. There were lots of good foods to be had, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy (we showed up too late for the sweet potatoes), black-eyed peas, ham and beans and collard greens. I ate too much and was too full for dessert. Anne only had the thinnest sliver of pie.

Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken, winged bird that cannot fly. – Langston Hughes

This year’s program was much briefer then in years past, partly because we showed up too late to hear the high school’s jazz band play. I would have liked to hear them play again, because they have gotten so much better than when Dave was in it. Sorry Dave, I know that I could have said that so much better. There were the usual opening ceremonies, followed by one church choir and then the highlight of the evening, musical selections from the Medina family, a brother and two sister trio. They really rocked! Only one of the girls is still in high school now.

I feel that the most important requirement in success is learning to overcome failure. You must learn to tolerate it, but never accept it. – Reggie Jackson

After dinner, we hung around and socialized for a bit. We spoke with Joann and Jim for a while and then Nelson. His wife Gina Mitten, a newly elected State Representative was up at Jeff City tonight, fighting the good fight against the agitprop [1] Republican machine whose panjandrum [2] leaders have spread the diktat [3] that any compromise is anathema. I love finding and then using big new words (at least to me), with a hat tip to Michael Tomasky.

[1] Agitprop – propaganda; especially: political propaganda promulgated chiefly in literature, drama, music, or art. Origin of Agitprop: Russian, ultimately from agitatsiya agitation + propaganda. First known use: 1935

[2] Panjandrum – a powerful personage or pretentious official. Origin of Panjandrum: Grand Panjandrum, burlesque title of an imaginary personage in some nonsense lines by Samuel Foote. First known use: 1856

[3] Diktat – a harsh settlement unilaterally imposed (as on a defeated nation). Origin of Diktat: German, literally something dictated, from New Latin dictatum, from Latin, neuter of dictatus, past participle of dictare to dictate. First known use: 1933

Pencils Down



Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D) proposed a new grading scheme for state public and charter schools. The new wrinkle in his scheme involves using letter grades (i.e. A, B, C, …). I think that this new grading scheme will be better, because it is more visceral than the 14 point scheme it would replace. I mentioned this at the dinner table to Anne. This got her going and she told me what she really thought about it and No Child Left Behind, the root of Nixon’s grading scheme. She cited how No Child not only tests students and by proxy their teachers and schools, but it also demands continual progress, always raising the bar.

I was reminded of Walmart and its goal to always lowering prices. Walmart continually increases the pressure on its suppliers, by demanding more, but doesn’t offer anything in return for its lower prices. No Child demands higher test scores, but doesn’t offer any reward for success either.

Whether it is Walmart or No Child, you can only squeeze for so long, before there is no more. Somehow at this point the conversation devolved into an analogy involving Lance Armstrong and doping. I think that the point being made was that we would eventually have to resort to drugs to maintain No Child’s projected learning curve. In stream of consciousness fashion I thought of an xkcd comic strip that I had read just the other day.

The following is my derived transcript of an apropos strip, “Steroids“, from my favorite web comic, xkcd: Disembodied alien asks, “Explain to me this ‘steroid scandal'” The human female [Drive by Anne: You can tell the gender in xkcd? Me: She usually has hair, he not so much.] answers, “Well, uh … We humans are sacks of chemicals which stay alive by finding other chemicals and putting them inside us. We hold contests to see which humans are the fastest and strongest. But some humans eat chemicals that make them too fast and strong. And they win contests!” “That sounds bad”, the alien commiserates. She agrees, “It’s awful!”

At this point I went off on my own little tangent. I thought yeah, let’s drug the little kids and I don’t just mean with Ritalin. We could enlist the pharmaceutical industry in this endeavor. We could make it another Manhattan Project. It would make a great sop to this already heavily subsidized business. I bet that we could synthesis messenger RNA pills for the entire curriculum.

We could layoff all the faculty, keeping only the school nurse to administer these meds and maybe an assistant principal or two to deal with any side effects. Out of work educators could find employment at Walmart and greet their former students, when they come in to buy their back-to-school supply of drugs.