Thursday, December 11, 2008

so in illinois they make all state employees take this ethics test, and you sit by this computer for about half an hour or an hour, and read about who the ethics commission is, who you should go to if someone you know is on the take, and why you shouldn't contract out part of your office work to your brother-in-law. i'm a lowly worm, the closest i get to an ethics question is how soon should i return all the paper clips that find their way to the laundry after hiding in my shirt pocket. but i'm a busy worm, so the half-hour or so that it takes to take the quiz is no small piece of change, and it irritates me a little to have the state of illinois tell me anything about ethics whatsoever, since i always considered illinois to have the same relationship with ethics as alaska has to crowdedness. some academics here took the test too quickly, said they were speedreaders by trade, what's the problem, but the state rejected their tests on the assumption that anyone who passed it too quickly must probably have been cheating. this case actually almost ended up in court, since the professors in question didn't want it to go on record that they had been guilty or done anything wrong, it was a matter of principle not to have to do again, something which was already done right the first time. i myself am not a speed-reader, did not have to take a stack of papers to grade into the quiz just in order to finish it in a slow-enough time. but i did allow myself the luxury of getting lost in memories...after all, i used to live in iowa, which is a lot like illinois, except that illinois has a city in it, and i used to visit chicago as any country rube might come to the big city.

back then i was kind of taken aback by how city folks would just assume that all judges were bought. this was a city that was proud of its corruption in the same way they seemed to be proud that the cubs not only lost all the time but also lost in glorious ways. as an indian fan, that part about being proud of it kind of got under my skin. but with the judges, i thought, ok, that's ok unless i wanted some kind of fairness out of a judge. in iowa they'd disown a politician just for having his/her name in the same sentence as corruption, but illinois seemed to own the concept much in the same way alaska owns the concept of rugged independence. but to get back to that ethics test, here i am sitting at my desk at the office, the desktop has thousands of jpeg files on it, pop-art renditions of buildings and scenes at the university and of people associated with it. and as a matter of fact, as a writing teacher and a grader, i find most of the ethical issues involved in teaching pretty easy- no matter how close a friend i feel to my students or to people i'm grading, i'm still paid to teach and grade as i read it, not to let friendship get in the way. that part about accepting gifts for example, not an ethical dilemma at all. of course you don't accept gifts and then give out grades in return. and there, you see, it points up the fact that the grades i give probably aren't worth enough to make someone even offer that kind of gift, my being a lowly worm and all. but the photo, on the other hand, represents a murky kind of area, where people who actually shoot the photos are sometimes quite sensitive about who uses them, how and where, and it's so easy these days, to just take any given photo, click on it with one's mouse, and move it over onto one's desktop, from whence one puts it on facebook, or on one's blog, or wherever. here again i try to take my own photos, but there are a lot of them out there, and it's easy enough to lose track.

so the photo in question had a modern-looking, chicago-looking revolving door photoshopped onto an old red-brick brownstone-looking government building, perhaps in springfield, and the ethics test was talking about the revolving-door law, which is something to the effect that you can't work for the state, and then go the very next day and work for someone who does a lot of business for the state, like a supplier of goods or something like that. it all makes perfect sense, which brings up the point that, in fact, i agree with the idea of the ethics test, it makes me more aware of drawing the proper lines around me, not selling my significant influence or my important standing as a representative, as one who carries the name of the state around on everything i write or do. in fact i have to work hard, and harder as time goes by, to separate the personal from the professional, in much the same way i'm right now as i write staying in lowercase letters to show, i'm not a state boy at this moment, i'm just a humble blogger, late at night, at the tail end of 49 >50-hr. weeks of grading writing papers & various sundry tasks, come home to an end-of-year break, to sit in my easy chair and read how the governor, having been hauled to jail for trying to sell obama's senate seat, tells us it's 'business as usual' in the state of illinois.

which brings me back to that test, which, even as i take it, it riles me just a bit, not the learning of what's right and wrong, which is actually ok, i actually learn from it, and it helps me out in my daily life even, not that i have any trouble knowing who owns my paper clips. it's more the time, the fact that of all the stuff i do, someone above me gets to tell me to stop, now you've got to take a half-hour out of your life, do this, print out a certificate that says you took the test, etc. and the test, btw, doesn't even care that much what my score is, as far as i can tell, as long as i take the test, and don't take it too quickly. in other words it allows me to miss a few of those questions, on the assumption that missing them will make me go back and read them carefully anyway, if i'm like most students or like most well-socialized test-takers, as most state employees are. well it might be a case of 'you assume too much,' as they say in the movies, but i'll leave that question for another post, since in my case, as i've said already, the whole experience is overall positive, and i also have to say, my overall experience with judges in the state of illinois has been, overall, quite limited, though the one that married me the first time in the basement of the cook county (chicago) courthouse we later saw on television in a 'judge judy' type show getting publicity and fame selling her association with the bench to the networks, well, that marriage went the same way as a bad sitcom anyway, and i don't watch much television anymore, but illinois is pretty much a farm state, miles and miles a corn and beans once you get out of chicago, very much like iowa only more so, and way down here on the southern edge of all that farm country it's a bit more wholesome, and my second marriage is going much better, so far. so i'm grateful that it's break, i'm home, and it may be that i'm incorruptible only because i have so little real power, which actually may be deliberate in its own twisted kind of way, or it may be that it was because my wife kept reminding me that paper clips were choking hazards for the little babies, when they fell out of my pockets and onto the floor, and not especially good for the washer and dryer either, that i began fastidiously collecting them and returning them to the office from whence they came. it may be that i'm not a saint, as i am often reminded, i have a hazy memory of driving five or six hours up to the city, then five or six more out to iowa, then five or six back, all in one day, then getting off the interstate and down into the western suburbs, late at night, and going too fast and actually getting a ticket, my only one ever, but one of my inlaws got me put on 'supervision' which meant i paid a fine but never actually saw a judge, and it never appeared on my record, after i was a good driver & kept a clean record for six months or so. and it may be that there's a jpeg file picture of a revolving door up there on my desktop, i musta put it there by mistake, but there's thousands of other jpeg files too, and it's there in case i ever need an image of a revolving door, or, in case i need to make pop art out of it, like i do with a lot of pictures of the campus, but the main point is, i never tried to sell it, so i'm grateful i'm spending my break rounding up laundered paper clips, as opposed to, say, explaining to my kids & my wife, what exactly i meant by 'business as usual.' you did what with that senate seat?


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