Federal law enforcement meddles in politics…

December 31, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

Since embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich still legally holds office and apparently still has the power to appoint a senator to fill the seat left vacant by President-Elect Barack Obama and since he did just that and since even though he, Blago, was arrested by federal authorities, but then released on bail and since even though the state legislature has the power to impeach him and remove him from office or maybe call for a special election but has not been able to or done so yet (and the state’s Supreme Court refused to remove him), I would say: what’s the fuss now that Blago has made his appointment?

On Tuesday he appointed former state attorney general and former primary election opponent Roland Burris, 71, to fill the senate seat.

And besides big talk and bad language was there any evidence that an actual offer to sell the senate seat was made and that anyone responded?

Also, is it not kind of chilling that the feds can listen in on calls made by members of state or lower level governments and decide what the difference is between politics (the competition for power) and out and out misconduct in office and subversion on the democratic process and then proclaim as some type of mandate from on high without trial and the defendant being able to face his accusers that the accused is unworthy to hold office and say or imply that he must be removed?

If there were a hue and cry from Illinois voters it would seem that Blago would be forced to resign or removed from office (Illinois apparently does not have a recall by the voters provision in their law at this time, but they could inundate their lawmakers and even the governor with e-mails).

While Blago is said to be highly unpopular with Illinois voters, they have elected him two times.

So far, no one is accusing his appointee, Burris, of any misconduct or having paid for his appointment.

There is a disturbing suggestion from an Illinois congressman and some others that Burris should get the senate seat because he is black and that any attempt to remove him or prevent him from being seated would be a “lynching”.

No one, but no one deserves a seat in government because of the color of his skin. Mr. Obama is celebrated as being the first Black man to be elected president, but his support was so widespread, and continues to be so far, it is clear that he was not elected because he was black.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Secretary of State has said he would refuse to certify Burris’ appointment. And the Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate say they will not accept Burris, even though they have nothing against him, it’s just that his appointment was made by someone who is under the cloud of suspicion and that as such the whole process is tainted.

And now I read that some legal experts question whether the U.S. Senate has the authority not to seat Burris, especially if he has been legally appointed and has not engaged in any misconduct himself.

Burris today asked the Illinois Supreme Court to rule that his selection as senator be confirmed by state officials.

From what I have read about Blago and about Illinois politics, things certainly don’t seem to be right there. Blago by most accounts is a jerk and seems to be up to his ears in various pay to play scandals, but he is not the only one there playing or accused of playing that game. There’s a long history (Obama himself had to wade through the morass that is called “politics” in the Land of Lincoln) .

But the timing (why now?) and manner (going to his home) of Blago’s arrest I find troubling. It was early in the morning, not much different than in the middle of the night. The police came to his door while his family slept.

Sounds kind of Gestapo-like to me.


Math: you have to begin at the beginning…

December 30, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

I once had an English teacher who admitted that she wasn’t good with spelling. Ouch! That’s kind of like having a math teacher who is not good with adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.

As much as I liked that teacher – she was a character – she had no business being a teacher.

My eighth grade math teacher was a nice man, but I don’t think he should have been a teacher either.

The reason I say that is that he had a class full of not-good-at-math students and rather than teach us he threatened us with the warning that we would never make it when we got to high school and had to do algebra. Ha! I showed him. I didn’t take algebra in high school. I was too scared, too lazy, and the powers that be were too lenient. Had I gone through college straight out of high school in the late 1960s I would never have had to take algebra. While it was required for some majors, it was not required for others. I would have taken the others.

By the time I made it to the second half of my college studies California had upped its requirements and mandated that I at least pass intermediate algebra for what ended up being a BA degree in political science. Of course that meant I had to take beginning algebra first.

Actually I had tried to take beginning algebra through a night class while I was working at a newspaper. I couldn’t keep up with the homework demands, though. Later I took a summer course which as I remember was three hours per night, five nights per week for several weeks. The instructor warned everyone that they would not be able to hold down a job by day. We would be spending all day doing homework. He was right.

That cost me a lot. It would have been better to get it when I was supposed to, in high school.

Actually, these days they start teaching algebra in grade school. I think they introduce algebraic concepts before youngsters even know it is algebra or at least the building blocks for it. Anyway, I think this is good.

On the other hand, I keep reading that as a nation we are deficient in math and science (and, as most of us realize, those two subjects are virtually inseparable).

It seems that even though we were put on notice back in the 1950s when the Soviets launched Sputnik we might have a math and science problem, we haven’t come a long ways.

Well, in reality we were not behind or, if we were, not as far behind in the space program as we were led to believe. But I think the problem is that we still have not greatly improved our approach to math and science instruction.

I’ll just zero in on math here. Those who have a natural inborn talent with numbers usually progress despite any lack in instruction. They are interested enough to seek out the answers and go on to places where that is the specialty.

For the rest of us, it is catch as catch can, and it can be quite discouraging.

Anyone who has read some of my previous blogs is likely to notice that I’ve covered some of this ground before, but reminders in everyday life keep bringing me back. Today I saw a headline on Yahoo News that said our nation needs more math and science teachers (I think that headline has been running for several decades now).

Those of us who have managed to slip through life being a little more math deficient that we know we should be, might be tempted to console ourselves by saying, who needs it? We don’t do complex calculations and we have calculators and computers.

But of course all that means is that we cede our power over to those who do know what they are doing. No, most of us have no desire to be rocket scientists or number theoreticians, but we do want to know how good of a deal we are getting on that after-Christmas percentage markdown, our home mortgage (sorry, a bad word), or on those canned food items packed now in odd sizes.

Even the wizards of Wall Street were fooled by the mathematicians who used complex algorithms to split and bundle those mortgage securities that have thrown the whole nation into a financial catastrophe (well at least that was part of the problem).

I talked to my oldest brother, who worked with electronics and computers in the Navy and who later taught math.

He tells me that for instructors at the college level, one of the major problems is that their students did not get the basics down in elementary school. And before I go further I will say that what follows is a combination of what he told me and my own observations and opinion:

Elementary school teachers are often not comfortable with math themselves. Sometimes they teach the minimum and in the process fail to make sure their pupils are well grounded in the basic operations of arithmetic. Without that background it is impossible to succeed in algebra or higher math.

Teachers must make sure that their pupils or students understand fractions, really understand. They need to know how to manipulate fractions. They certainly need to be able to know the various notations used to represent fractions.

And here’s one I like: they need to understand word problems and understand what the individual words mean math wise in a problem. An example, the word “are” usually means an equal sign. I’ll just go off track here a little and mention that I once did a newspaper story about, well I don’t remember the education-speak term, but maybe “interdisciplinary learning”. At any rate, it goes something like this: you have to be able to read (English instruction) in order to do your arithmetic (word problems).

Still another one I like: teachers should devise and use word problems that fit their students’ familiar surroundings so they can identify with what is trying to be accomplished. I know I once did a photo-story about a college farm. One of the captions explained that the student was calibrating a fertilizer spreader. She told me she had to do an algebraic calculation to know how to set up the equipment. Now even allowing that in the real world things are often dumbed down enough that you don’t have to do the figuring yourself, you also have to know that someone did. And do you really want to always be in the dark? Equipment does not always work right and things don’t always fit the pre-programmed plan, and knowledge is power.

And I have always thought that a good way to teach fractions would be with rulers (measuring boards and such) and with wrenches, in order that one might have a visual and a real world application.

Let me just wrap up this tome with another anecdote from the tony walther file:

After doing graphing in algebra and working with those numbered pairs, I still did not see the real world connection (well yes there was map reading in the Army, but that’s a different story) and then years later I watched a school administrator calculate test scores, create her own numbered pairs, and proceed to do a graph showing a bell curve. Well I am too rusty to do that now (implying slyly that I could have done it before), but at least I have some mental picture of the process.

Just one more thing: if there is a math teacher reading this, please explain to your beginning students what algebra or whatever form of math you are using is for and what its practical applications might be. Also, test everyone to make sure that he or she actually understands the words used. When we define our terms, we can get somewhere.


Barack the Magic parody pure racism…

December 29, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

Ugly racism – is there any other kind? – is alive and well with the parody “Barack the Magic Negro”, to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon” now in the news and available on the internet.

A CD containing the parody was sent out to prospective supporters by Chip Saltsman, a Tennessee Republican, who wants to be chair of the Republican National Committee (but probably won’t be). Apparently the CD has been around for quite awhile and is familiar to Rush Limburger (not his real name, I know) Radio Show fans.

Why any responsible member of the Republican Party would even want to be associated with the vile thing is beyond me. And I’ll stop right here and admit I thought it was a catchy tune and maybe even a little humorous (poor production quality, though), but then again, even though I don’t go for political correctness, I would not want to be publicly associated with the dissemination of the racially motivated political parody.

In the antebellum South when the slave owners wanted to keep their black chattel in line they played on the racial fears of poor whites and the mockery and condemnation of a whole race of people in order to create an atmosphere in which their people-owning way of life could thrive down on the old plantation.

And after the slaves were freed and the aristocrats lost their slaves and often their plantations and much of their power and wealth along with them, they were threatened by poor whites, some of whom moved into the power vacuum (read William Faulkner’s fictional, but educational stories about the Snopes family).

For self-protection, the Southern aristocracy once again fanned the flames of racial fears and with the help of the poorer white folks rode around with hoods over their heads and terrorized their black neighbors.

And fast forward to the 1960s, the Republicans developed the Southern Strategy. Appealing to racism, the party of Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves, fought against civil rights legislation and appealed to racism in the South and all over the country, especially where white workers felt their jobs might be threatened.

Perhaps the Democratic Party went too far with civil rights legislation, creating special privileges (such as hiring preferences for government employment and other so-called “affirmative action” policies). This helped keep the Republicans in power for a long time.

(While I was in college taking a constitutional law class from an ultra-liberal professor, I suggested that rather than invoke racial preferences or quotas when an employer had two or more equally qualified individuals of different races apply for a job one remedy might be to put their names on slips of paper and put them into a hat (or drum) and pick them out in lottery fashion. The professor seemed dubious of that suggestion.)

Now that Republicans see themselves headed for political oblivion (at least for the next two to four years), some of them have reached for the race card once more (how that helps now, I’m not sure).

I really don’t care what kind of jokes people tell one another in private (can’t control that and wouldn’t want to), but I have to shake my head why any responsible person would want to be associated publicly with the Barack the Magic Negro parody (except for that Limburger guy, whom I’m convinced sees his broadcasts as a way to make money exploiting bigotry and knownothingism).

The afore-mentioned parody might be good for a laugh, maybe, but not good for our country.

P.s. And don’t you think that even much of the Republican leadership who publicly object to the racist parody know in their minds that the target audience will keep them in mind, thinking, yeah they have to publicly disavow it, but we know they are on our side?

P.s. P.s.  Also, I hope I have not implied that racism began and resides only in the South. In my lifetime I have observed that it thrives among all races and in virtually all geographical locations. There are, after all, always competing cultures, and when one gets power over the other there is likely to be a push back and there are always those third parties who play on natural racist tendencies for the purpose of furthering their own power.

P.s. P.s. P.s. And now I see that there is an entry in Wikipedia on the “Magical Negro” or “Magic Negro”, a plot device used in stories. Something about a black guy with no past that always gets the white hero out of trouble (sounds famliar; I need to study that one more).


Migrations: characters, circumstances change

December 27, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

John Steinbeck made a prediction back during the Great Depression that the migrants who came to California from Oklahoma would change the face of the state, that they would take over the farmlands, and that politics would move leftwards.

Hmmm. My sense of it is they did indeed change the face of California and, yes, many did become successful farmers, along with successful skilled tradesmen and businessmen and professionals. I don’t think the politics of the state moved left, though, at least not on their account.

Many people were desperate back then, not the least of which were the uprooted poor tenant farmers from Oklahoma and Kansas and Texas, and Arkansas, areas that were suffering from the double whammy of the Great Depression and the drought that had turned much of that part of the nation into what was called the Dust Bowl, where top soil blew away in the dry winds. Back then, among various groups from the various strata of society there was agitation to move far to the left (socialism, even communism – although you would have a hard time finding anyone admit to it now), anything to buck the status quo which was not keeping things together (sound familiar?). But a funny thing happens to folks. Once they settle down and life settles down and especially if they become successful, it is not uncommon for them to become somewhat to quite conservative. I quickly add that this is not always the case, but it does seem to be a quite popular occurrence.

What made me think of this is that while surfing the internet I ran across an interview a relatively young reporter did with John Steinbeck, who at the time was a young author who had already had some success, but was working on a novel that would become known as the Grapes of Wrath. But at the time of the interview, his working title was “The Oklahomans”. Steinbeck of course went on to eventually win the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes in literature.

That young reporter who wrote the story was my dad, Louis Walther. The story appeared in the Jan. 8, 1938 edition of the San Jose Mercury News. My dad would have been 32 at the time and Steinbeck 35. Dad was still relatively new in the newspaper business and I think that interview was one of the proudest of his career, because Steinbeck at the time was hiding out from reporters, being shy by character and busy with his writing project.

And Steinbeck’s comments in the newspaper story and of course his book, the Grapes of Wrath, are an eye opener into the thinking and mood of the times.

I was not there, of course, but I think in my own lifetime I have witnessed part of the progression of the very people he was talking and writing about.

Although born in San Francisco, I moved with my family to California’s Central Valley when I was about four. We lived in Tulare, a farming town between Bakersfield and Fresno, for many years and then later moved to Yuba City, which is north of Sacramento, and finally to Red Bluff, north of Yuba City.

Many of my school friends were either from Oklahoma or more likely their folks were. The term “Okie” was till used somewhat, sometimes proudly and sometimes in a derogatory fashion. But really, by the time I was around, many of the poor folks who had been driven out of Oklahoma and other nearby areas due to drought and the resulting Dust Bowl conditions and the Great Depression had long since quit being migrant workers and had moved out of the camps where they once had to live and had good jobs or professions.

Now to be sure, just because you come from a certain part of the country or a certain class of people does not make you successful anymore than it makes you unsuccessful and each person who came out of that 1930s era exodus out of the Dust Bowl has his or her own story.

But what happened in California is that there was a major influx of people who were at the time called “okies” (not all of them were actually from Oklahoma), and they were desperate for food and shelter and work and it was in the Great Depression. Workers already here were scared that they would take what little work was left. And farmers wanted their labor, but were also afraid that they might squat on the land and claim it to be theirs.

But World War II came along and relieved much of the pressure (temporary Mexican workers were imported and that’s a different story) and in the intervening years the Okies blended in. Well, actually, blended might not be the right word, at least not when I was a kid, in the 50s and early 60s, because successful or not, they had somewhat their own culture, with a twangy speech and a proclivity to play and enjoy country music. Many towns in the valley became what you might call: Oklahoma West. In fact, there used to be a joke that many people thought Bakersfield was the capital of Oklahoma.

But the Okies or Oklahomans did eventually blend into the fabric of the local culture and become quite status quo.

A few years ago as a truck driver picking up produce I visited several of those towns in the southern end of the valley I knew from boyhood, ones that seemed like Oklahoma West. But there is a difference. All the signs are in Spanish.

Things change and so do the people.


Behold! believer and non-believer alike…

December 25, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

A thought for Christmas:

As the biblical accounts go, the earthly parents of Jesus (son of God), Joseph and Mary, had to go to Joseph’s home town in order to be counted and taxed accordingly as per the edict of Emperor Caesar Augustus in Rome. And so, even though Mary was with child, they traveled to Bethlehem and once there could find no room at the inn. So, Jesus wound up being placed in a manger upon his birth, a box used to feed animals.

And that was the rather humble beginning for whom many have called the Savior or Messiah.

Shepherds at the time were out in the field “keeping watch over their flock by night.

“And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

“And the angel said unto them, fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David (Bethlehem) a savior, which is Christ the Lord…”

Indeed, it was such an event that three wise men were said to have come out of Mesopotamia to witness the coming of the Savior.

In this modern world, more than 2,000 years later, not so many of us are shepherds, but we are no less humble.

Many of us fear tough times ahead and we are even coming up against the time when once again we will have to render unto Caesar (today the IRS).

And while the practice may vary from individual to individual, our society as a whole is coming off a time when we have worshiped at the alter of the once almighty dollar, even while professing such to be against the principles set down by the babe in the manger who grew up to be the prophet of a great Religion — Christianity. Some even built huge churches and were exalted for what they had done, but seemed to be more interested in the glory it brought to themselves and in the gold and silver they could raise in the name of the humbly-born Messiah.

And through time, others were disgusted with what they saw and experienced and deserted the faith altogether.

But with the coming economic gloom and even catastrophe, the modern day Pharisees, the true believers, and even those who have left the flock, if the sky were clear enough, might look for the star to guide them, as it is said to have done for the Magi (wise men) from the Orient upon the birth of Jesus.

Even if such a star is not literally visible, it may be figuratively, nonetheless, in the minds of true believers and new believers.

It is not necessary that his be accomplished solely through the practice of Christianity. All the major religions profess much the same principles of belief in a higher power. Unfortunately, religions are often misused by mere mortals for the purpose of having power over others.

But the wise individual knows that true hope and belief lies between him and the higher power.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!


Public should e-mail over bailout abuse…

December 24, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The Wall Street investment firms who got the billions of public dollars in the bailout are refusing to say what they are doing with all the money even though the public was promised that the government would not just hand out the money with no strings attached and that there would be transparency.

And, to add insult to injury, they are paying out billions of dollars in bonuses, which of course are made possible by bailout money, to pay those who lost the money in the first place.

They argue that they have to pay top people top money, but the bonuses they pay are way beyond the pale (at least to the vast majority of citizens of planet Earth) and if these people were so talented those entities would not have needed the bailouts.

(I did read that some executives are getting paid in those questionable securities that have taken so much blame for this economic mess, rather than cash this year. But before you feel too good about that, that is that they got what’s coming to them, I also understand that some think those securities actually might be worth something some day.)

I was so hot about this that in my first blog draft (unpublished) I said now is the time for the revolution, whoops, there I said it, but I don’t mean it. But I do find it galling that the average citizen is forced to fund the extravagance of the Wall Street set.

But rather than taking any drastic steps as citizens ourselves, we should e-mail all of our legislators and let them know of our feelings.

While I see no justification in paying bonuses, I find myself having to be somewhat circumspect about whether the banks are improperly using the bailout money by not doling it out in loans. As one commentator put it, they may be having a hard time finding a prudent investment in this economically uncertain climate. Recklessly loaning out money is part of what got everyone into trouble in the first place. I read that some banks have invested in bonds (which are essentially loans). I would think, though, that the government needs to demand more transparency and control over the use of taxpayer money. I’m not even sure why the government has to funnel this printed up money through the banks.

On the subject of the bailout for the American auto makers I have said that they should not get the money – I know, too late, Bush decided to give them a bailout (and now I hear on the nightly news that the Big Three American automakers are expected to go bankrupt anyway). I wrote that foreign auto makers are producing cars here and they’re not going out of business. Well Toyota is posting its first operating loss ever due to depressed auto sales. I also wrote that maybe there is not a good market for new autos. And that seems to be the case (although I did hear a report today that suggested low gas prices might result in a new demand for gas guzzling SUVs – crazy, I know). The current poor demand for autos is partly the result of the spike in fuel prices a few months ago, although followed by a current downward spiral (caused by people not driving because of the high price of gas), and a lack of credit to buy cars, and the bad economy and a ballooning unemployment rate. Whatever, there’s a lack of demand right now.

But, if people decide they need or want new cars, car makers, be they American owned or foreign owned, might think about lowering prices.

But back to the abuse of the bailout. First there was strong resistance among the public and lawmakers to the original bailout. Then folks were cowed into supporting it when they saw their 401K fortunes vanishing with a tanking stock market.

But the stock market makes no sense. It has gone way up one day and way down the next and way up again – although the trend certainly is down.

But the stock market has always been a gamble and sometimes it’s a fixed game. Yes the experts will tell you that story that over the long haul people who stick with the market have made money. The truth is a lot of people who stuck with it have lost their life savings and may not have enough years left to get it back. And then there is the undeniable fact that there is manipulation in the stock market. It is not a level playing field. Just read an article in Forbes online that said electronic trading programs think and act much quicker than humans can and that the systems take advantage of those investors who are unsophisticated and not marketwise.

While I don’t believe in lockstep government control of the economy, I do believe that people need a transparent and regulated system that offers relatively safe ways of investing, and at least a level playing field for those up to gambling on the markets (CDs at guaranteed interest over a term, are an example of a safer way of investing).

Gambling pits that they are, the stock and the commodities markets need strict controls. After hours trading and gimmicks such as short selling should not be allowed. Even for those who do not participate in the trading markets there need to be safeguards, because we are all dependent upon the economy which is dependent upon these markets, as we have all found out in this current economic upheaval.

But I would urge everyone to e-mail their lawmakers and let them know we do not intend to continue to be extorted by sending our tax dollars to fund the wealthy set.

Most of us have hope that President-Elect Barack Obama will set things on the right course once he takes over. I would hope that he does not intend to hand out more money unaccounted for.

But I would say, don’t look to the Democrats or the Republicans to get us out of this mess. Look to yourselves.

P.s. I recently suggested in a blog that while I don’t want us to have to go to war to get us out of what looks like the second Great Depression, maybe we should build up the military. Now I read in the Wall Street Journal in an opinion piece by Martin Feldstein that defense spending should be increased now (we’d need to do it sooner or later anyway) and that there ought to be increased recruitment into the military, perhaps by offering two-year enlistments. I had suggested a military draft. Feldstein was an economic advisor to President Reagan (and by the way, I am not now nor have I ever been a fan of the late President Reagan, but I’ll let history judge how good a president he was).

P.s. Ps. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!


The best you can hope for at Christmas…

December 22, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

My first Christmas memories seem to be of riding around San Francisco in a car with my mom and seeing giant neon Santa head displays on the stores.

And then we moved to California’s Central Valley and I recall my brother and sister pulling out a string or should I say tangle of lights and ornaments from a box in the living room.

They strung the lights around the tree my folks had bought off a lot – I don’t ever recall chopping one down up in the woods. Problem was, back then in the early 50s if one light bulb went out on one of those light strings, they all went out. But each light was a lot bigger than the ones you see today.

I remember in one house we lived in my brother and I slept out on the back porch. Dad had attempted to close it in from the winter cold with some semi-transparent mesh stuff that would diffuse some of the outside light. At four or five I guess I still believed in Santa Claus or at least I felt it in my best interests to do so. Late at night on a Dec. 24 I thought I saw Santa and his sleigh and reindeer, a kind of illusion from the diffused light coming through that mesh added to some self-delusion.

Through the years of my childhood, even after I had accepted that Santa was just a pretend thing, I was always puzzled that a lot of my classmates at school opened presents with their families on Christmas eve, rather than Christmas day.

It seems like all of my grade school teachers were brought up back east somewhere in snow country and assured us all we just didn’t know what Christmas was. There should be snow and toboggans and one-horse open sleighs with bells a jingling.

From my dealings with snow in my adult life, I’d say keep your snow, I’ll just take the gifts, please.

As a child, for sure, I never went wanting at Christmas. It did seem, though, that many of my little friends had a lot more presents and more expensive ones bestowed upon them. At the same time, I have to think back now and realize that probably many of my classmates got very little. I think we had a good cross section of economic strata in my classes, from the wealthy to the extremely poor. The poor ones probably did not say much.

I learned early on that not everyone was as fortunate as I. I lived in a home where there was never a question of whether there would be a meal on the table or a roof over our heads or non hand-me-down clothes to wear, or presents under the tree (not saying my folks did not have to struggle with that problem).

But I was only in first grade when I found out not every kid lived in a safe and secure home. I happened to walk past my own home one day and go home with a friend of mind, at his invitation. We both had notes pinned on us – something about a PTA meeting, I imagine.

When we went into his house we were not so pleasantly greeted by a man and a woman. They seemed a little cross. My friend mentioned something about the note, and the man ripped it off his shirt and demanded: “what the heck is this!?” He read it and grunted something. I don’t recall what the woman said. I got out of there as quickly as possible. I had never experienced grownups acting that way.

I had another similar experience. A little girl wanted me to walk with her to her home. I was a little reluctant, but she was insistent. So I did. We got to the old apartment building where she lived up a flight of inside stairs. At the entrance to the stairwell was a ratty couch with a spring popping out, and I recall seeing a hoe leaning up against the wall. “I used to have a little puppy,” she said. “But my dad killed it with that hoe.”

I got of there as fast as I could.

These were just some thoughts on my mind a few days before Christmas. All I can figure is that I was thinking that as a little kid, or even as an adult, the best you can hope for or be thankful for at Christmas time is to have a safe and secure home and a family who loves you. Christmas gifts are nice too, but they’re optional.