The Broad is Back!

September 20, 2017

Oligarchy is Real & Love Doesn’t Make Money

The Graham-Cassidy bill is out and has people in a frenzy.

I keep seeing social media postings of parents telling the stories of their seriously ill children. “Are you willing to let my child die?” they ask in one form or another. Short answer: yes.

Prolonging the lives of the sick and dying who can’t be saved or cured is a waste of money and resources.

Did I just say that? Yes I did. Do I believe that? Logically? Yes. Do I think it’s morally right so something we should allow? NO!

And that’s the difference between me and the people in charge. I put human life at a higher value than wealth. Many of us still do.

But we will never change minds about our moral stance unless we can back it up with less emotional reasons than “my child will die”. Appealing to law makers’ humanity is a waste of time. Their standards are not ours.

Even when they profess to be Christian, it’s a different Christianity. Bet you dollars to donuts they come from a Calvinist strain, where financial reward is an outward sign of being one of the elect. While not all Calvinists are less than Jesus-like in their approach to the poor, there is a strong idea of “deserving poor” in this country. And fewer and fewer are falling into that category.

I went looking, quickly, I admit, at the net for real information about it, and most are against it for good reasons. FamiliesUSA: the voice for health care consumers posted “12 Facts About the Graham-Cassidy Repeal Bill” which, while written by a biased organization, pulls in information from non-biased sources like the Congressional Budget Office as well as other biased sources like AARP, the AMA, and Children’s Hospital Alliance.

From all I’ve read, and I’ve been reading a lot these days, it looks like an awful bill.

So yes, I’ve written and called and made my voice known. And yes, I’m shaking in anger. It’s no secret that I have a pre-existing condition as does my son. And it’s no secret that I am in medical debt up to my ears. This year alone, and it’s not over yet, I have a stack of bills totaling $8000. That’s not a lot considering what our health care needs have been this year, but put in context, I make a little over $27k a year. I made less the year before. I’ll pay, but it’s taking a while.

Now, part of that was a choice to live in a lower paying state so I could live with my mom and pay reduced rent. If it weren’t for my 85 year old mom living on a pension, I’d be in much worse shape. Now that I’m back in NYC, my salary has gone up, but so have my expenses.  And I’m still part time. So no health care and no guarantee I’ll be working in the spring. I think I will. I have hopes I will. I’m a damn good teacher and schools usually want to keep me because I am cheap as an adjunct, but nothing is guaranteed in this life.

But that’s a problem for another time. Yes, I have a sad story. Millions and millions of us do. My son is literally alive thanks to the ACA and my mother’s help. He had a crisis, it’s over, we know the problem, and blood monitoring 4-5 times a year should keep him healthy and back in the workforce. I’m at the start of my chronic illness, but if I take care of myself stringently and luck and God remain on my side, I should be able to work for another 25 years, which is the plan. I’ll be 81 when I retire, but I work with many people in their 80s who are still teaching.

So how to change minds, then? There’s the problem of living in an oligarchy. The Koch brothers have warned Congress: no more money till there are changes in health care, changes that save insurers money, not the insured. Google it. It’s been in the news since March. Now while I applaud their criminal justice reforms, the Koch brothers and the rest of our wealthiest citizens should not be running our country. That’s not democracy when the rich can buy the kind of country they want at the expense of the poor.

So we can vote Blue or Green or anything but Red and vote out the people in charge of the law, but they will be replaced by other people who can be bought and sold. As long as we have an oligarchy, we have a problem.

We’d think people would revolt against this, but they are held in check by that other bogeyman, socialism.  When I hear people talk of socialism, their fear and disgust is palpable. They collect their social security checks, but socialism is bad!

Socialism, I’m told, gives us Death Panels that decide who lives or dies.

That’s what insurance companies basically are doing now.

How many times have I donated to a crowd-funding campaign to help people I know get through devastating illness? I don’t mind at all, and I am happy to give, and frankly, I think we should care for each other. Many people think that this is how it should be done–communities and churches should help one another, not the government.

I get it–the frontier spirit of the Americans and our “I’ll do it myself” attitude. I believe that, too, but this is the 21st century. The world has changed radically since the days of the American frontier.

And they will say that they do support the sick, but they want to be able to choose who gets their money. That’s fair. I can understand that.

But often their money is earmarked for the “deserving poor,” and they are the ones who decide who is getting help or who isn’t.

And that’s the Catch-22.

I’ve lived in two countries with national health. It had problems, but it had benefits. I’ve lived in Switzerland, which had excellent health care which was mandatory, but expensive. But it was honestly the best medical care I’ve had in my life. But for mental health? It was terrible. So there’s that.

This current crisis will pass. I’m hoping that Graham-Cassidy will go down in flames, but I have a sick, sinking feeling that it won’t. It will be a shallow victory, though, because I’m thinking that this might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Take away people’s health care, take money from their pockets and food from their mouths in dire emergencies, and then all Hell truly will break loose.

 

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January 27, 2017

Too Big to Fail

When the financial crisis of ’07-08 was addressed by incoming president Barack Obama, many Americans were unhappy with the resolution. Yes, we got “back on track,” and things did get better for many. But banks were declared “too big to fail” and were bailed out.  That, I think, was one of the seeds that led to our current president.

For good reason, people blamed the banks. When banks got help and no punishment, many Americans who had lost homes, cars, jobs, and even a lifetime’s work got rightfully angry. And for the next six years that anger brewed.

Sure we got the ACA, which to me will always be Romneycare as I first encountered in when I came back to the US in ’07 and lived in Massachusetts, but I know people who literally had to choose between insurance and food. Even the subsidies through the ACA were not enough. It depends, of course. When I came back to the US the second time, I used the ACA because I had no health care in my part time jobs. I paid a lot but got excellent coverage. My subsidy was about $500 a month, but since I literally paid more into the government in taxes than American Airlines, United Continental, and Hewlitt-Packard, and now it seems, President Trump, my conscience is clear. I have always paid every penny of taxes due, and I am willing to pay them to cover things like medical care and roads and so on.

So in spite of the ACA, we have millions of people who realized that they were unimportant to the government in spite of all its propaganda. Protecting the banks was protecting them, we were told, because if the big banks failed, the economy would suffer.

Well, you know what else is too big to fail? The United States of America. And failing we are.

We have a sitting president who is totally unfit for the job. Yes, he is a businessman who gets things done, (including bankrupting himself and many, many small businesses left in his wake) but countries are not businesses. It’s not about the bottom line. It’s about people’s lives. He has not divested himself from his businesses. He has named unfit people for almost every position in his Cabinet. Most are now in the position to make the very wealthy even wealthier. Many of them have outright conflicts of interest.

Many don’t know a thing about the departments they’ve been nominated to head. I could see Ben Carson as Attorney General. I wouldn’t like it, but the man is a physician. But as head of HHD? No experience. And don’t get me started on Betsy DeVos. As a career professor, I am appalled. I have been teaching students who have suffered at the hands of federal interference in education for decades. I’ve seen the steady decline in knowledge and skills. Not intelligence—preparedness. The thought of her policies literally makes me shudder. And I know the meaning of literal.

Ironically, in light of people’s growing fears of more wars, I think one of his best picks for a Cabinet position is Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense. While more hawkish than I’d like, he has the experience needed and is respected by folks in the Pentagon.

But the worst thing I see is the polarization between every day Americans. It’s been growing since the 2016 election cycle started, but instead of calming down, it’s getting worse. We are hating like we haven’t in a long while. We’re mean, petty, bitter, snide, personal, not only to people in government, but to one another.

We call each other names, generalize and stereotype. We’re more openly prejudiced than we have been in the past 50 years, not just against race but against one another based on political beliefs. I was never a fan of being “politically correct,” but I have always been a fan of trying not to offend people. I try to use non-gendered and people first language. I try to use the identifiers people prefer. To me, that’s just good manners and a fulfillment of the Golden Rule. Many quip that the new Golden Rule is “He who has the gold makes the rules.” Not a quip, the truth, and always has been the truth. But if we say we are the best country on earth, let’s treat each other with respect and humanity. Let’s act like the nicest people on earth. Bullying and hatred are not parts of greatness.

Don’t like someone’s choices? Think their life is a sin? Fine. But don’t curse them, threaten them, harm them or kill them. That’s not acceptable. And I’m not looking at one side or another or another here. I see people on ALL sides of the political spectrum acting unacceptably.

The true core values of our country, democracy, equality, and freedom, have eroded at a pace that frightens me. America is the only thing that’s too big to fail. And we are. America is an idea. And ideal, really. And because we are no longer living up to our ideals, because democracy was trampled on for decades, because corporations have the same rights as citizens, we’ve been a functional oligarchy for a long time. Equality in this country is a joke. Some lives are just worth less. Many see this on color lines, but I believe it’s more on wealth lines. The poor of this country have been abused, manipulated, lied to, and used as tools of the ruling powers since the beginning.

Race is also a problem. A middle class person of color does face stereotypes and prejudice. I am not unaware of the problem, and I’m not stupid. My own son identifies as “non-White” and has faced prejudice both from law enforcement and regular folks. But a poor white person has more problems and inherent difficulties than that middle class person of color. I live in a predominantly white place and the problems of poverty I see are only slightly different than the ones I saw in NYC. Drugs, poor education, lack of family structure (I’m not saying a traditional family is necessary, but when mom and dad are meth dealers, life is nowhere near normal), poor nutrition, poor medical care, and the list goes on.

This economic disparity, this racism, this throwback to “traditional Christian values” of intolerance and hatred for those who choose to live outside one’s ideas of Christianity, these are also seeds that led to Trump’s shocking victory.

Folks like to argue that race is the only reason he’s president, but that’s balderdash. Back in ’92, Bill Clinton’s famous campaign reminder was “it’s the economy, stupid” hasn’t changed these 24 years later. We allowed the oligarchy to grow, and now the White House has become the Palace of Versailles, especially the gilded New York White House in Trump Tower. Cronies and supporters are put into positions of power, regardless of ability, and dissent is harshly treated.

I’m not buying into Trump’s rhetoric of “make America great again.” It has needed work my entire life, but it’s always been a great country. Things are possible here. I am the daughter of a construction worker who earned a PhD. I have taught young people who have literally gone on to change the world, young people who grew up in poverty, or were immigrants, or were people of color, or all of the above. They are America. I love my country, and I love its people. We are what’s made America great, but America has failed too many because money rules.

Greed is not one of America’s values. We’re too great to fail, and this is something that needs to be addressed. I am not calling for communism. That was tried and failed in the USSR and China, among other places. I’m calling for competence in government, experts in charge of departments, not political cronies, corporations losing the rights of citizens, and support for measures that give a leg up. I’m calling for democracy to come back, unhindered by lobbyists, restrictive voting laws and outside manipulation, for freedom to come back through solid educations so that people can make good choices and for humans to live as they wish as long as they remember that their rights extend no further than the tip of their noses. That’s what I learned in 7th grade social studies. My rights are for me, and I can not force others to do what I think is right unless it’s something protected by the Constitution. And finally equality. No human being is born better than another. There is one race, the human race. Because of my personal beliefs, I believe we are all brothers and sisters, and I should treat you as I would a sibling. You may infuriate me, you may test me, but at the end of the day, I do love you. But you do not have to share my beliefs. Believe me, most people don’t as I don’t identify as any specific religion. But as members of the same race, we have to work together.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is my manifesto, I guess. We’re too big to fail. We’re an experiment in democracy that needs to backtrack a bit and see where we went wrong. I’m pretty sure I know where that was. Who will join me?

January 21, 2017

Childhood Flashbacks

As I have said many times on this blog, I am a child of the 60s. I was born in the opening months of 1961, and I have been blessed and cursed with a long memory. My earliest memories are of early 1963. I’ve been blessed and cursed with intelligence, so I was processing things faster than some of my peers. And right now, I’m having flashbacks to that era.

Unlike many people, I’m not a fan of nostalgia. The good old days weren’t all that good. My earliest childhood memories of the world are Vietnam, civil rights marches and abuses, National Guards shooting college students and the Cold War. Sure, I had fun playing with my friends, but my bestie and I discussed what we’d do when we learned the bomb was coming. We really thought there was a good chance we’d die. We were going to run to Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church and be near the statue of Mary if we couldn’t get into the church. These were serious conversations held by 8 year old girls.

We weren’t alone in those fears. Soviet children grew with fear, too. I know that my Swedish husband had no fond Cold War memories. Vietnamese children lived out many of our fears, of course. Bestie and I were relatively safe in our little New York City suburb.

Things changed. Vietnam ended, civil rights were almost fully codified into law, and the Wall came down. My fears died down, and I moved on to actively trying to change the world and keep the dream of a better world alive. So did my bestie, who after all these years is still my bestie and still fights for human rights and justice and a better America every day. We matured into True Believers and our 60s values of equality and justice for all races, creeds, colors and, a later addition, orientations have just grown stronger. We do not walk alone in this country, but there are far fewer of us than I’d like.

But everything old is new again. Today, the war has moved west to the Middle East, civil rights marches are still needed and happening, government authorities are still killing young people, and I actually saw the phrase Cold War 2 in print this week, written by a professional writer. Today talking to my adult son, I felt myself choking up when relating my flashbacks, because that’s what’s happening. The violence and hatred of that era is alive again. Much of what we fought for, and even in the 60s I fought, is gone.

Those childhood impressions run deep, and my childhood fears are reignited. But I am no child, and I know I must not only fight the fear but help the young ones, as well.

Today ushers in a new era, one that is terrifying me more than Reagan’s inauguration and later GW Bush’s. These are two presidents whose policies I believe harmed America. Lest you think me fully partisan, I also think President Obama’s financial policies harmed America. I shall miss him, but I wrote a fair share of letters of complaint to the White House during his tenure. But I fully believe all three men had a clear set of principles. Pragmatism, as well, and a too-large debt to the wealthy of this country, but principles. I admired them on some levels. OK, admire is strong, especially for GW Bush. Pity has always been the dominant emotion there. But while I feared what might happen, I never thought it a massive turning point in the history of my country. Obama’s election was historic and a great step in our country’s maturity, but I didn’t think it would bring a sea change.

But we have turned a corner and found ourselves back in the Gilded Age.  Almost. America in the Gilded Age had high wages, much higher than Europe, and that brought in waves of immigrants. Well, we do have higher wages than developing countries, which is bringing many immigrants, but wages for our middle class have dropped when adjusted for inflation. I know as a professor overseas, I made a comfortable wage. I’d never be rich, but I earned a wage that allowed me to work one job and use my summers for scholarship and learning new technology and methods of teaching. In the US, I’ve never held a college teaching job that has made that possible, and I’ve even had to turn down three positions because the salaries they were offering were literally not enough to live on in the urban areas the schools were in.

I’ve said it before. If we adjust for inflation, in America, I have yet to make an annual salary equal to what my father, the high school dropout, earned in the decade before he died in 1972. He was a heavy machine operator in NYC, a union man who helped build the original World Trade Center, the Verrazano Bridge, Madison Square Garden and countless New York skyrises. Yes, his job took skill. Yes, his job was dangerous—he operated the cranes up on the scaffolding—but my job takes skill, as well. And education. And in today’s world, it can be dangerous. I have been threatened with a beating by a screaming student (while pregnant), stalked for a while by another angry student, and threatened with murder by a very angry student. As an urban teacher, I’ve taught in schools where shootings have happened on the sidewalks outside our buildings and knife attacks have happened in the school.

And I’m not alone. One of my high school friends is a crackerjack secretary. Her grammar and spelling are above the level of the freshman I teach in college. She’s organized, professional and cool under pressure. Earlier generations of executive secretaries made good wages. She doesn’t. Many of my friends are teachers. Teachers are the lowest paid professionals in the country, and their pay has been stagnant for almost a decade. We have an education crisis because teacher burnout is so high and many people just can’t afford to stay in the profession. Even many of my lawyer and doctor friends aren’t making what they thought they’d make when they went into the professions.

These are the angry people who just want a square deal. But instead of Roosevelt (and I mean Teddy, the Republican, not his cousin, the Democrat), we now have as president Donald Trump.

I can’t tell the future. I don’t like the signs I see, but as the eternally optimistic idealist, I have hope. I’m trying not to worry because worry only makes us suffer twice. But I am concerned about my “kids.” In fact, I’m concerned about all kids. I don’t want any child anywhere growing up in fear. I’m worried about my country.

Today was a surreal day. I’ve avoided social media, only popping on for a few minutes before I left in disgust. Too much hate and nastiness from both sides. In remembrance of my 60s values, I wore my best tie dye.  I also wore my “courage” and “wisdom” bracelets, not because I think they give me anything, but as reminders that what we need are wisdom and courage so that this country that I love so much emerges from this dark period stronger and wiser than we’ve been since the beginning of this century.

June 24, 2016

Southern Hospitality

So yes, I’m back in the US, but I still have some culture shock because now I’m living in Tennessee, in an area some folks refer to as “the buckle of the Bible Belt”. My mom’s dad was a Southerner from Virginia, but as he lived in NYC and I lived in NYC, there’s very little Southern influence in my upbringing.

We see America becoming more and more homogenized thanks to television, the internet and less poverty. But there are still regional differences.

Southerns are polite. Southern hospitality is a real thing.

People take the time to say hello to strangers. I am addressed as “ma’am” by strangers and even by acquaintances. People use please and thank you on a regular basis. And instead of calling each other “idiots,” “jerk-offs” or “stunad” (I come from the NYC area so lots of Italian influence), it’s “bless your heart”. Basically, it means the same thing (geez you’re being an idiot), but it’s so much nicer to hear. To be fair, it’s also used when people are overworked or doing something difficult, but I get it a lot at work when I trip over something or break something.

My students are polite and helpful. The young couples living on both sides of my Mom have offered to help her if she ever needs it, and I have yet to encounter someone surly behind a counter or serving in a restaurant.

Now, before you tell me that people in other parts of the country are polite, good to elders and all the rest, I actually agree with you. I’ve always encountered great folks and had good neighbors in NYC. My students were a mixed bunch, but if I ever asked for help, someone would help me. I think New Yorkers would give the shirt off their back to help people–but we can be curt, rushed, and sometimes even potty mouthed. Imagine that.

Down here, I’ve never felt rushed (of course as a  New Yorker, it’s pretty difficult to make me feel rushed. I’m usually the one doing the rushing. And I don’t hear much cussing at all. Even I’ve cleaned up my act and only drop the F-bomb around my family. And some people at work. And some young people. Mostly.

I find myself constantly trying to slow down my pace. It’s not easy, but I realize that I unintentionally fluster folks when I move or talk or speak my thoughts too quickly.

This slowness in Southerners has led to the stereotype that they are not so smart. One of the easiest ways for an actor to portray “dumb” is to assume a Southern accent. Well, bless your heart, you just go right on and believe that one. Southern folks encourage it. The easier to pull the wool over your eyes and fleece you.

The smartest person I ever knew was my grandfather, the southerner, so that’s not something I’ve ever believed. And I’ve taught local students long enough to know that there are sharp brains here. Polite and slow speaking, but never confuse that with slow thinking. I mean, really, think of all the brilliant American minds that have come from the South. Google if you must.

Many folks from other parts of the country often stereotype Southerners as “hicks” or “rednecks” or ünsophisticated or flat out ignorant and violent because many have guns, support the 2nd Amendment, hunt and fish. Many are also religious, conservative, and patriotic.

I have no problem with hunting and fishing, and many of the folks I know who engage in those sports eat what they catch and appreciate the lives they are taking. Guns are tools, not toys or weapons to be used during crimes. Is there gun violence? Yes. Are there accidental shootings or intentional murders? Oh, yes.But it’s a small portion of the gun owners who are shooting and killing.

I’m no NRA member, and I support tighter controls on who has access to guns and what type of guns people have access to. One of my favorite lines in film is spoken by Samuel L. Jackson in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown: “The AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every m—–f—– in the room, accept no substitutes.”

It’s a rare situation when one has to kill everyone in the room. And I understand that if we ever need to overthrow the government as a militia, an AK-47 would be handy to have. There is a conflict there for me. But then there’s Orlando and and and. I know guns don’t kill, but people do, but we allow some crazy people to have those guns. It’s a conundrum, but I don’t think it’s just a Southern problem.

I grew up in a very patriotic family. Anyone who’s read my blog in the past knows that I love my country deeply. That doesn’t mean I follow my government blindly. Being around patriotic folks doesn’t bother me. Being around blind followers of anything does. And I have seen that attitude on both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

I can be conservative about some things, but I’m incredibly liberal about others. I do believe very much on self-reliance, but I also believe in safety nets and social programs to help those who need it. So again, this isn’t something that bothers me. Some of my own New York relatives are conservative Republicans. As long as people are respectful and open to learning facts instead of soundbites, we’re good.

When it comes to religion, I have no problem with people’s religion. I have no problem with people asking me where I worship. I have had fewer problems dealing with my Christian friends questioning my beliefs than with my atheist friends questioning my beliefs. Most Christians pray for me. Most atheists mock me. Guess which I’d prefer?

I have a problem with people’s religion being codified into restrictive laws, and that’s something I’v had to deal with here, but only tangentially.I don’t teach young people, and I refuse to teach young people because of the things I’m not allowed to talk about. That’s something that bothers me, I admit.

I currently work for a domestic abuse and sexual violence prevention organization, and the folks who do programs in schools are not allowed to use “gateway words” like sex, alcohol, drinking and so on. It frustrates them and makes the kids laugh. “Gateway words”? Seriously? Religion getting in the way of science is something the rationalist in me can not understand and will not accept.That’s a big culture shock for me.

Overall, though, I enjoy the slower pace, the friendlier faces, the openness. The guns were prevalent where I can from, too, so nothing new there. Even concealed carry permits don’t really bother me. It’s not like the armed folks in NYC were wearing the guns on the outside of their clothes.

In upcoming blogs, I want to look at some of the things that flummox me and have my students laughing at me.

May 31, 2016

So Two Years Later…

In August 2014, I posted what I thought would be my last The Broad is Back when I moved to Dubai. Once I left, I wrote A Broad Abroad Again, which chronicled my life in Dubai and 10 days in the UK. Last summer stuff happened, as it does, and I ended up not going back to Dubai. And I also ended up an adjunct in Tennessee, living with my mom and my ill son. I have not blogged since the last “A Broad Abroad”.

A dear friend kept asking me if I was going to start up again, but I was swept up in other things, and this year’s presidential race has left me disenchanted with American politics, and frankly, with many of my fellow Americans. We are more polarized than I ever remember, and yes, I do remember the 1960s. Politics today is striking me as much closer to the brash irrationality and power mongering of the 19th century, so I refuse to blog about that.

I am, theoretically, working on a novel, the most autobiographical thing I’ve ever written, about being an under-employed academic in America, caretaking for the generation above and the generation below. Seriously, it’s a comedy. That’s fulfilling many of my writing needs, but obviously not enough.

I’ve been wondering if I should restart this blog, observations on American culture, or if I should retool and reboot my other, daily blog, Patchouli Haze. It’s been two years since I’ve written for that one. It’s more thoughtful, more didactic, but neither are what I am feeling now.

Living in America’s South, in the “buckle of the Bible Belt,” has been an interesting experience, and I don’t mean interesting as a pejorative. I definitely find things of interest. Something tells me that the The Broad is going to be back. I’ve spent a year observing a different culture, so perhaps it’s time to start writing again.

Did you miss me? Probably not. But yes, I admit, I have missed you.

May 3, 2014

It’s the Worry that’s Killing Us

“Work is healthy, you can hardly put more upon a man than he can bear. It is not work that kills men; it is worry. Worry is rust upon the blade.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher, quoted in The Teachers’ Institute, Vol. 18, No. 1 (September 1895)

I used this quote today in my inspirational blog, and as I was writing, I knew I had to come over here, because this reflects something that’s been on my mind a while. Of course, I don’t have a lot of time to develop it today, but it’s a taste

I’m one of those people who works on weekends–that’s when the majority of my grading gets done. So work is on my mind today. I saw this quote, and it resonated greatly.

I do love my job, and even the grading doesn’t bother me overly much. I’d rather have fewer classes or the same number of classes with fewer students, and that’s where the worry comes in.

Am I spending enough time on each student’s paper? Will I get it done in time? Will I have time to spend with my son? Will I have time to sleep? Probably similar questions to what others have.

Education has changed in America, especially public higher education. As teachers, we know that the optimal number for a composition class is around 15 students or so. You want enough for a lively discussion but few enough so that the professor has time with each student. Depending on where I’m teaching (as one of America’s permanent adjuncts, I teach at up to three different schools at a time), I have between 29-45 in a composition class. Most of the time I have to teach six sections at a time to make ends meet.

So on average, I have about 150-170 students a term. And every one of them writes a paper, usually one a week. And some of those papers are 1200-1500 words. So in a heavy week, I can read 238,000 words. But I also grade them. Each paper takes me 10-20 minutes. Sometimes it’s longer if I have a particularly weak student; sometimes it’s shorter for a brilliant job. But even if I average 15 minutes a paper, that’s 2550 minutes during a heavy week, or 42 hours or so. I’m in the classroom 18 hours, have four hours of office hours (where I can often get some grading done), and so there you go. Welcome to the life of a composition adjunct.

So that worry about my students? I think you can see where that’s coming from. I went into this field to empower people with communication skills. That’s the theory, at least. How much am I really teaching them?

And like all positions, I worry about work related things that have nothing to do with my job. Because I’m not a permanent worker, every 15 weeks, I worry whether I will have work in the next term. Summers and January are the hardest times as jobs are scarce but the rent is still due. This is my reality. The vagaries of the student population and the state budget impact whether or not I’ll have work, but my friends in all fields face similar worry. I don’t think I have a friend who hasn’t either been laid off or had a spouse laid off in the seven years since I’ve been back in America.

Many have gotten new positions, but always at lower pay with more hours and no job security.

No wonder we are a nation of obese, unhealthy people. Our stress levels, worry levels, are off the charts.

Beecher is right. It’s the worry, that’s getting to us.

As a nation, we say we want to combat our national poor health and obesity, but we have created an employers’ paradise in which individual Americans have fewer days off than workers in most other industrialized countries. The Far East Asians beat us on hours worked, but they are about the only ones.

If we all just died from stress-related illness, that would be bad enough. But mostly we don’t die. We’re left on medications, or medically handicapped, and that is where it starts getting expensive.  According to Cornell University, obesity accounts for 21% of US health care costs. Now there are many reasons for obesity, but stress is a major factor, as is eating junk food or fast food as it’s called, which many who work long hours rely on.

I know that this term I have packed on pounds because I don’t have time to cook all the time, so dinner is often a peanut butter sandwich or two. I don’t like to eat fast food, so as a result, I eat far too many carbohydrates because they are quick and easy. No time to eat? Grab a bagel and go. Not the best of diets for a woman of my age, let me tell you!

So just putting this out there as some points to ponder.

 

March 15, 2014

A Question of Ethics

“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.”   ~ Albert Camus

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about ethics this week because I had my students reading an essay that flat out said that students arrive at college these days lacking ethics, so it’s something that needs to be taught. This was in terms of the enormous plagiarism problem we face in schools these days–that students don’t have a sense that stealing, at least stealing of this sort, is wrong.  That’s true, we do have a problem, but no ethics?

 

 

I thought my students would be outraged, but this wasn’t a part of the essay they brought up in their comments. I was ready for my students to attack the author, but no one said anything.  Amazed, I pushed the question, and asked what they thought of the statement.  To my amazement, they all agreed with the author, far too nonchalantly, I thought. One young man even said, “My generation is basically screwed.  Parents aren’t doing their jobs.”  There were nods of agreement, and a number of students added stories and gave insights.  I was proud of them, because obviously they are paying attention.  And this insight and commentary tells me they absolutely do have ethics, perhaps not fully developed yet, but they clearly have a sense of right and wrong.

 

 

One student, one of my very bright ones, added that because I was older, my ethics were more firmly established, so it’s easier for me to live by them.  She’s right, of course, but I also think I had a more finely tuned sense of guilt when I transgressed at their age.  I never knowingly plagiarized when I was a student, but when I did transgress–skipping the reading, being late on a paper, skipping class–I did feel guilt. Misbehavior was always a struggle between “what will I gain vs the guilt I will feel.”

 

 

This lack of ethics obviously worries me.  I don’t mind shifting ethical standards, but missing ethical standards is a problem. I am positively irked each year when my employer has me attend a mandatory one-hour training on ethics. I am taught that I shouldn’t lie, cheat, steal or undermine people.  Um, I got that when I was 8, I think. I was telling my students about it, and the same bright one from above said, “Well, you’re obviously observant enough to know why they have to have that course, right? You can’t blame them.”  Yes, sadly, I am aware of the why.

 

 

Since I’ve come back to America almost seven years ago, I’ve seen more and more to upset and worry me.  I am very much heartened by the students I teach who have finely tuned ethics and values.  But I have to say they are in the minority.  What has happened in this country?  My students who blamed parents obviously are on the right track.  Teachers also got part of the blame, both from students and from the author of the original article. We allow poor behavior to go unchecked, so we are tacitly giving approval.  Well, not me, of course. If I suspect it, you’re going to hear about it.

 

 

But something to think about, to worry about, and hopefully to change.

February 27, 2014

Pay Attention! The Grapes of Wrath are Filling Up

“In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.” ~ John Steinbeck

 

This quote comes from that great novel of the Depression and the Dustbowl, The Grapes of Wrath by the Nobel laureate John Steinbeck. Today would have been Steinbeck’s 112th birthday, so in honor of him and his view of America, I wanted to post something.  His novel, one of 27 books he wrote, is an American classic and one of my favorites in the American canon.  Its theme of social justice called to me when I first read it as a high school senior;  later readings only made me love it more.

 

Steinbeck wrote of the radically unequal America of the Depression, and as he said when he was writing it,  “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this.”  After it was done, he said, “I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.”  He certainly did for this reader, and for millions of others since its publication.

 

But Steinbeck wrote this novel in 1939. That was 75 years ago.  I wonder what he would think of this America, now in 2014.  Based on his writing, I suspect he’d be shattered.

 

His words still fit today. I see the grapes of wrath building, building, building.  Something has to give.  Something must give.  There must be social change.  Greed has taken over, and the “greedy bastards” are kings in our society.

 

What has happened to my America? Have we learned nothing from history?

 

If you haven’t read the novel, please do. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

February 17, 2014

It’s Not Just a Sale Day–Presidents’ Day 2014

My inbox is full of sale offers–it’s Presidents’ Day–shop! Shop! SHOP!

 

I get sick of it.  Why is everything in this country an excuse to go shopping?  No, I know why. That was a rhetorical question.  This is supposed to be a day to remember Presidents Washington and Lincoln and frankly, any others you’re particularly partial to, I guess.

 

One of my favorite presidents is Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president, Republican and founder of the Progressive Party.  I’m thinking had I lived under his presidency my view of him may not be so rosy, but so many of his words have resonance for me.

 

Like these: “The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.”

 

Those points about prosperity, safety, soft living and get rich quick are ringing bells.

 

When did duty, discipline and hard work become negative words?  When did laziness become a virtue? Every semester I hear students tell me they are “lazy” as if it’s something to be proud of. No shame, no embarrassment.  I don’t want people to hang their heads in shame, but a little perspective, please?

 

Poor Teddy is often depicted as a macho man, “cowboy,” and hawk. And he was. But he’s consistently ranked as one of America’s greatest presidents–he busted up monopolies, made laws to protect people from corporations, fought to keep food and drugs pure.  No one is perfect, and I’m not one who believes that leaders need to be perfect.  But what I love about Teddy is his no-nonsense approach to life.  He told it like it saw it. He was blunt. I love that.

 

Instead of shopping today (or realistically, maybe after shopping), spare a thought for those who tried to build this country up, save it, improve it.  Pick up a presidential biography, scan some history pages on the web.

February 5, 2014

You Mean That’s It?

Since Monday morning, I’ve been hearing about “that Coca-Cola commercial”.  People were offended. People were offended that people were offended. People thought “America the Beautiful” was the national anthem. That one flummoxed me. People getting offended seems to be the American way now. But getting the national anthem wrong? That takes a special kind of talent (especially if you’re complaining about Coke misusing it!)

 

I tell ya, Coke got its money’s worth.  They wanted to draw attention to their brand? Mission accomplished.

 

I have seen so much back and forth that I finally watched it today. It’s a minute of pretty pictures of ethnically diverse pretty people in pretty places in the United States. The hymn, yes, hymn “America the Beautiful” is sung, often by children, in eight different languages. For a few seconds, there’s a gay couple with what is most likely their daughter, though it could be a niece.  Shots of Coca-Cola are laced throughout.  That’s it.

 

It’s a commercial. It’s selling something. It’s selling something that’s not particularly good for humans to consume: high fructose corn syrup, caffeine, caramel color and a lot of empty calories.  But this is America, so selling stuff is okay. That’s not “offensive”.  Selling an idea that America might be a mix of peoples, that people might sing in their mother tongue, even a song about America? That’s “offensive”.

 

Of course, the “factoids” have been hitting social media, as well.  The hymn was written by the now famous (thank you, Coca-Cola) English professor Katharine Lee Bates, who lived in a “romantic friendship” with Katharine Coman for 25 years. I hesitate to use the word lesbian because Bates didn’t. But it was definitely romantic as Bates’s published poems illustrate. You can find snippets here.

 

Then there are the words to the song itself.  That the song is a prayer for America to be refined into a perfect place is being mentioned.  My favorite verse is this:

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

Those are my italics. I don’t think God cares what language (or style) we pray in. Mercy is important; success is nobleness and we’re hoping that we’re growing more and more godly. Hate and intolerance are not godly values. Nor are they noble.

 

I have to admit, this has always been my favorite of the national songs I learned as a child.  I like the values it espouses of self-improvement, national improvement, and striving for brotherhood: “And crown thy good with brotherhood”.  Love that line.  Some people are realizing how “Liberal” the song actually is.  Instead, I like to think of it as Transcendental, even Puritan in its lyrics.  Of course the adjective Puritan is double-edged. Yes, they pursued liberty, justice, literacy, equality, but from a very narrow, very specific Christian outlook. The irony of my word choice does not escape me.

 

But what’s really bothering me the most about this brouhaha is that this is yet another weapon of mass distraction. There are very bad things happening in America every day (I won’t give a list–every one has his or her own priorities). If someone thinks a Coke ad in multiple languages is the worst problem we have here in America, he or she clearly isn’t paying attention.

 

I do realize that some people feel that the commercial is a symbol of bigger things gone wrong: of the “gay agenda,” of a “Muslim agenda”. I don’t think asking for acceptance is an agenda, but then that’s me.  Isn’t America about freedom and having the right to live as one likes, as long as it’s not hurting someone else?   How is a married gay couple hurting anyone? There are some people who, for religious reasons, see homosexuality as a sin. That’s fine with me. Don’t practice homosexual acts.  Your religious freedom to believe that can not be forced upon other people, though.  Homosexuality is not a “lifestyle” or a “choice”. It’s like being left handed. Once upon a time, being left handed was considered a sign of evil, so people were forced to use their right hand. Made a lot of people a little nuts.  We don’t do things like that any more. And a “gay agenda” to “turn people gay”? That’s not a thing. Really, it’s not.  There seems to be a “straight agenda” to “turn people straight,” but the gays know how well that works. Why should they turn around and do the same?

 

As for religions, why shouldn’t we accept Muslims? Roman Catholics and Jews were once systematically marginalized and made second class citizens. Some think they still should be.  People actually thought the Catholics would rise up and kill all the Protestants some day.  (My godmother’s mother-in-law was sure of this back in 1939–when my Catholic godmother married into the family.)  Obviously, that hasn’t happened.  And won’t.  Some believe the Jews control a) the government, b) the media, c) Hollywood and/or d) banking.  Um, I don’t think so. Yet I’m sure someone will post and show me how they do.

 

The irony that I am writing about a commercial when I said there are better things to write about doesn’t escape me.  But one of the main goals of commercials is to generate buzz. As I said, mission accomplished.

 

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