The Broad is Back!

September 30, 2017

Heading for a Fall of Massive Proportions

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln quoted the synoptic Gospels when he stated, “A house divided against itself will fall”. At the time, the Abolitioist Movement was growing, Dred Scott had been implemented, and the nation faced a decision: would slavery be outlawed everywhere or nowhere? It had to be one or the other.

His contemporaries were not happy with the speech or him. It was too radical, not good politics. It lost him the election to the US Senate, too.

In hindsight we see the speech as political prophecy. Three years later, America was in the midst of a bitter, violent civil war, the repercussions of which are still being felt today. We like to pretend it’s all over, done, settled, but one look at America today, and I think we can see it’s not.

So here we are, 152 years after the end of that war, 151 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and pretty much we’re still seeing a house divided.

I have never seen the US this polarized in my entire life. Granted, I’m not ancient, but I remember my Republican grandfather swearing that Kennedy stole the election. I remember the Civil Rights Movement, Watergate, assorted Clintongates, the GWB election, the start of the Iraqi War. Those were pretty rough times in the US.

Although I very much remember the anger and the hatred spewed by the non-Left members of my family and our neighbors, I don’t remember severed friendships, threats of violence. I heard about violence, but not around us.

Perhaps we were just as polarized, but the Internet and the 24/7 news cycle has changed the world. We hear about everything moments after it happens. It’s not that we’re more polarized; it’s just that we know how bad it is.

Forty years of poor education in large parts of the US has also lead to a nation that is unable to critically think. That’s not me being elitist (though when did elite become a bad word?). That’s from a career college professor. Much of my teaching has been in urban community or four year colleges. Currently, I’m teaching the exact same demographic I started teaching in 1988.

My students today are as bright, as talented, as lovely as the students I had then. Not all are wonderful to be around, but on the whole, I teach good people. But the students today are far less prepared to be in college. Their math, reading and writing skills are hovering somewhere between 8th grade and 10th grade. I’m a writing teacher, but if you need to figure out your grade, you need to know math.

They are ill prepared for college and ill prepared for life. And they know it after about the first three weeks of college. The plaintive cry of “why didn’t I learn this in high school” is heard almost every week. I tell them they might have just forgotten, but anyone in education can tell you just how poorly American secondary schools doing.

I don’t want to make this about education–it’s about polarization and our house being divided–but I also see daily proof that education is a major part of our problem. People can’t think. People won’t think.

They also have lost the ability to listen, to reason, and to have civil debates. This is also a topic I’ve written about in the past. Slap my face and call me Cassandra. No one listens to me.

The current president is not popular, especially here in New York City where I live. But it wasn’t too long ago that I was living in Tennessee, surrounded by his supporters. There are many who do not think his actions are racist or bad for America. We can say “that’s because they are racist” but that’s not the whole story.

He’s also called an illegitimate president because he lost the popular vote. He’s not the first, and until the Constitution is changed, he probably won’t be the last. To those who argue that he lost, I say, by three million votes. The final popular vote for the top two candidates was 62,980,160 to 65,845,063. But that translated into 304 electoral college votes to 227. We all know the numbers.

Three million sounds like a lot of votes, but according to the US Census Bureau, the US population in 2016 was 323.1 million, so that’s a less than 1% margin of the population. Of total votes cast it was about a 2.1% difference.

That’s almost half a nation’s voters supporting him. Sure, we can say sexism or Russian influence (and they are valid, Russia seeming more valid by the day), but we also have to address the fact that we are a nation ruled by fear mongering, hatred, and hysteria.

So right now, two sides of the country are at each other’s throat. I know young people who won’t even discuss politics anymore because it’s become dogmatic, intolerant, and personal.

Every day my twitter feed and even the news sources are full of ad hominem attacks against anyone who makes a point or an opinion known. If one of my freshmen tried that, I’d send the paper back with  “take this out–poor logic” in red letters. Actually, many of my freshmen do try this, because it’s what they see around them daily.

Many of the people I know are only able to do the same. I’m not claiming I’m better, but I do think I try harder to listen to people. When they spew hate, I’m more apt to ask why they think that then to spew back.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teachings are so deeply ingrained in me that I find it repulsive when I respond with hate. I’m human. I think bad things. I’ve said bad things. But at least I know what I’ve done.

Most people on earth are not horrible, soul less, evil, inhumane. In fact, they are very human. We’re not a very nice species. Racism is evil, but if they knew better, they’d do better. So let’s teach instead of firing back hate and insults. Education doesn’t always change minds, but hate doesn’t ever change a mind. Love can change minds. Love can open doors. Oh, I’ll just say it: love can move mountains.

I am, by nature, a Pollyanna, a Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, a person who is going to believe the best will happen. But I’m also a student of human nature and of history.

We are on a collision course in this country, and we’re pretty much split down the middle. There are nuances, of course, but the polarization is stretched pretty far and pretty tight. It is read to snap.

I do not want to see civil war, violent revolution, or an armed civil rights battle.

But I see it coming.

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January 13, 2017

Fasten Your Seatbelts…

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged about politics, so I have to start today’s post with some backstory. Sit back and relax. This one’s been brewing for about a year. I’m gonna be wordy here.

The first time I came back to America to live it was 2007, and the country was gearing up for the 2008 election. I blogged quite a bit back then about that race. I was a Kucinich supporter, saw him speak on the campaign trail, spoke to the man myself and really believed in him. Didn’t think he had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the party nomination, but I’m a self-avowed idealist. The good thing about the primary elections in America is that we don’t have to vote strategically.

How the press marginalized that candidate showed me a lot about how things worked. When he finally quit the race, I moved on, reluctantly, to support Obama. His inexperience and relative youth (I’m 6 months older and knew I was too young to run America), were the major problems I had with him as a candidate. But I am much more left than right, as impossible as these labels are, so most times I’m gonna vote Blue on the national level.

I blogged those first four years, but by the time of the 2012 election, I was jaded. I don’t always agree with President Obama’s policies and choices, which is to be expected, and frankly, it is politics as usual in Washington. Gotta play the game. He did it well, but faced incredible racism and obstructionism. Anyone who says race wasn’t an issue must live in white bubble of ignorance about race and privilege. That’s not meant to be an insult. I geographically live in one now. There are so few people of color here that race issues aren’t “real” for most folks. Coming, as I do, from a large, multicultural city, I have a different perspective.

I’ve taught in poor New York City community colleges for many years. I’ve seen systematic, entrenched racism up close and personal, thanks. Those students are mine. I love them and want the best for them. The obstacles that are built in to block their success are things I take personally as well see as insults toward what I think my great country stands for. So to see it at the highest levels, while unsurprising, was enervating in a way.

I left the country again during Obama’s second term, and was thrilled that I wouldn’t have to be here for the 2016 election. I really didn’t see anyone I wanted to support, and being half a world away makes it a lot easier to avoid American politics. Unfortunately, I had to come back to the US to live. I love my country, but love being an ex-pat. And I was here for the worst political campaign in my memory.

Trillions of pixels have been spent talking about the divide in our country this past election exposed. My candidate didn’t win the nomination, but I switched over to HRC for expediency’s sake. She wasn’t who I wanted. Sorry, fellow feminists, but I don’t support women because they are women. HRC has done a lot for women, and she’ll go down in history, which I hope will be kinder to her than America has been, but she’s politically coming from a different place than I am.

But the prevailing Republican candidate made me wonder what had happened to my country. This was worse than 1980 when Reagan got the nomination. People joked that a bad actor had gotten the nomination, but at least the man had political experience—he’d been governor of one of our largest and richest states, one with a diverse population and warring needs. He had some experience, and while not a genius, he was no idiot. He had principles and morals and loved America with a strong patriotism. No one ever thought otherwise.

But this one? Our new POETUS? As a New Yorker, I’d been subjected to tabloid headlines about this man’s self-centeredness for the past 30 years. He’s shown himself to be sexist, racist and morally corrupt for decades.

He’s a master showman and an expert in smoke and mirrors, I’ll give him that. As good at creating a national fantasy as he was in creating the worlds designed in his casinos, places purposely constructed to keep reality at bay and fleece the suckers. No one ever beats the House. That’s a maxim as old as gambling dens themselves. He sells a dream and gives enough of a taste to build a need.

His promises to America will be as hollow as his promises to Atlantic City. He will suck out the life, destroy the middle class, make the poor poorer and increase crime. Don’t believe me? Look at Atlantic City today. Ask people from there. The casinos promised prosperity. They created it, too, and it was sucked out by the owners who lived anywhere but Atlantic City. Organized crime moved in with its drugs and its prostitution, its corruption. But today, organized crime is the least of America’s worries.

This is a man who has never shown the smallest amount of compassion for his fellow humans, who calls heroes stupid, and glorifies the worst traits of this nation: ignorance, self-glorification, anti-intellectualism, false piety and self-aggrandization.

I don’t actually hate him, though. I pity him. Because while he’s a master showman, he doesn’t run this circus. I truly believe he’s the tool of masterminds, people much better at the game of manipulation than he is. He’s so out of his depth, he even looks lost. He’s not the first US president to have “handlers,” or even a power behind the throne. But I do believe he’s the first to be handled by a foreign power. He’s a puppet. A bold, brash, self-serving puppet, but a puppet in the hands of people so much smarter, so much more in control of themselves and their actions, that our country is in the worst danger it’s been in years.

Rumors about sexual peccadillos and pettiness? Smoke and mirrors. Thirty years of poor education has created an American voting populace with no critical thinking skills. If you’ve read my writing, you know I’ve been singing this song for the past 10 years. A large percentage of American college graduates cannot tell the difference between a fact and an opinion. And they are the “educated” ones. Many Americans don’t know how to find reliable information on the internet. 

Another problem is that our press is no longer free. It’s in the hands of too few controllers.  On top of that problem, reporters too often see themselves as the shapers of news narratives instead of the people tasked with reporting it. The job title kind of says it all.  In Journalism 101, I learned rule one of writing a news story: get verification. Have none of today’s reporters even watched All the President’s Men much less read it? Woodstein went to great lengths to verify, verify, verify. Ben Bradlee, where are you when we need you?

The salacious bits become the focus, comedians mock the politicians (which is part of their job) then the reporters pick up the jokes as news. It’s an endless cycle that leaves many Americans morally outraged or entertained depending on their worldview yet unaware of what’s really happening. The American press has been a weapon of mass distraction for going on two decades now.

Sadly, over three years ago, I wrote about how the American people had to rise up and take control again.  And someone else sensed this need, this anger, this frustration, and tapped into it. An “outsider” who was relatively new to politics, though he had run for president before. A showman, quite literally, who is an expert at “give the people what they want.” But this time, unlike his 2000 run, he had expert backing. Millions and millions of angry, frightened people flocked to his campaign.

Folks who decried the “softening” of America enjoyed his taunts, his violence, his hate, his pettiness. Here was a tough man who put women in their place, knew that “retarded” was an all-purpose taunt, and didn’t take shit from no one. And he was a TV star! He made them laugh and always gave a good show. He didn’t rely on boring facts to make a point. He echoed their desires with his pithy soundbites.

He probably wouldn’t have won if it weren’t for some help from people who needed a puppet in the White House. This man’s narcissism played into their hands perfectly. There were plenty of other, more qualified Republican candidates—one of them surely should have gotten the nod. Ted Cruz was more experienced. And he also had the “angry outsider” schtick down pat.  Marco Rubio was more photogenic and appealed to many of my students. Why not them? Was it just the will of the American people? How long has outside influence been at work? Frankly, I didn’t think the poor Republicans had much of a choice going in, but their ultimate choice surprised many.

So now, instead of healing, the crack is getting wider.  Over 65 million Americans out of 200 million registered voters are terrified about what will happen next week. Another 63 million are mostly jubilant (though like Brexit voters last year, there’s a lot of buyer’s remorse being reported). And 80 million registered voters didn’t bother to vote, so who knows what’s up with them.

We’re in for a bumpy ride. I do believe there are ethics violations already in place. The word treason is also not too strong for me. Others, with more powerful voices, agree with me. We wonder what will be done.

Unfortunately, I’m a scholar, far too familiar with history not to have some uncomfortable moments. Things I see happening in my nation’s capital have me deeply concerned and writing my representatives. As I live in a Red State, I know this is like spitting into the wind, but like I said, I’m an idealist.

I will be blogging in the future. Change is coming. Real change. Often terrible change. I tell my students I want them to use their voices. I have one to use, and I will.

October 3, 2013

Still Hoping for Power to the People

“We want to empower our people; we want to strengthen them; we want to provide them with the kind of qualifications that will enable them to build up their own country themselves.” ~ Aung San Suu Kyi

When Aung San Suu Kyi said these words, she was referring to the people of Burma, but I think this is what we should want for people in all places.  But instead of empowerment, much of American culture (and I’m speaking as an American–I know it’s similar in other places) sets out to disempower the people.

Yesterday I spoke of our broken educational system. I do often wonder quite seriously how much is done deliberately. We have a popular culture that glorifies ignorance, stupidity, vapidity and violence. We undermine authority figures in almost all genres of entertainment. Authority isn’t a bad word, but if we teach people it is, no one will want it or seek it other than those who turn it into a bad word through their actions.

This post started on my other blog, but as often happens when I’m thinking about things that are important to me, it spills onto this one.

I’m deeply disturbed by the state of America right now. Not just the current crisis, but by all the factors that brought us here: poor education, weapons of mass distraction, selfishness and even a sense of ennui in so many people. Working hard for too little money, scraping by, living paycheck to paycheck dulls the mind to other things.   According to a report released last year, over two-thirds of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.  It’s hard to think about eroding freedoms when you’re worried about missing work and getting pay docked.

This is a trend that must be reversed.

I teach to empower people, but as much as I want to give my students the tools they need to take control of their own lives, true control, free from the overbearing corporate influences playing on people today, no one can be empowered with the desire to wield power.

So many people are perfectly willing to abdicate responsibility for their own lives. This is a sad way to live.

Actually, as I tell my students, this can be a fine way to live. Nothing is your fault when it fails and no hard decisions need to be made. Multitudes aer plenty happy in this kind of life.

Those who want to live freely know that they must have power over themselves. And as Francis Bacon famously wrote, “Knowledge is power.”

Societies have changed radically in the past. All things are cyclical. When I call for change, people tell me, “You can’t change anything. This is the way it is now. It is what it is.”

Lie. That’s a lie sold to us by people who don’t want change. We can turn this around, hopefully. It will not be easy, but it can be done, but only if people want to be empowered.

 

October 2, 2013

Another Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Us Into

Sequestration. That’s a rather benign sounding word, isn’t it? Doesn’t sound like it could hurt a fly. Automatic budget cuts that put some people temporarily out of work and cut services doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

And as everyone here in the US knows, we’re in day two of sequestration. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

On Tuesday morning, I found myself steaming mad. Why? Because a small, and I mean small, core of hard line Republicans are holding America hostage because they don’t like a law that was passed by both houses, signed by the president and decided upon by the Supreme Court of the United States. Welcome to democracy, folks. Welcome to the “three ringed circus” that is American federal government.  Checks and balances. Sometimes you don’t always get what you want.

Maybe it’s not a great law. It’s certainly not perfect. But bad laws have been passed before. Then even repealed sometimes. But the repeal didn’t come from playground level hissy fits. It came through getting out to the people and changing their minds. Engaging in discussion that leads to change. Instead of winning the people, theoretically the most powerful force in a democracy (but I’m not an idiot. I know the reality of that scenario), most Americans are now livid with all of the government.

Personally, I’m glad.  We need to be mad. We need to be hopping, spitting, crazy mad.  And we need to channel that anger, hone it to a fine point and use it to say “Enough! We the people are taking, no, wresting back our government!  Because obviously the people we’ve elected are not fit to lead.”

I pray that this comes to pass.

As Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.” The press is this country is freer than in many, I admit. But it’s tamed. My first career was as a reporter, a legislative correspondent in Albany, NY, to be precise. That was 30 years ago. A lifetime ago. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hirsh just wrote about the decline in the quality of the American press. He called it “pathetic,” which sums it up from my view. Very interesting reading, and you can find it here, ironically in The Guardian, a British paper!

The whole point of this blog is that I left America for 14 years, but now I’m back, so I comment on the changes. One of the huge changes is the quality of the news media. While I was gone 9/11 happened, and that event, terrible and evil, has done more to change American cultural values than I care to admit.  The Internet has changed people, as well. Because of it and jumps in technology, ideas about personal privacy are shifting at an alarming speed.

Whistle-blowers are vilified and praised. That’s a topic for another day, one I don’t find myself ready to discuss.  But we have truly undergone a cultural sea-change.

And then there’s education. This, as faithful readers know, is my personal bailiwick. I am a professor. I teach writing and literature, but mostly writing these days because few students can write well and even fewer can read. I teach college level students, but I’m teaching skills I learned in 6th-10th grade. If I had to guess, I would say the average reading level of my students is 8th-9th grade. They struggle to read The New York Times, a paper routinely read in American high schools. I do not teach stupid people. I teach bright people, lovely people, hardworking people. But they have been very poorly educated in New York City’s public schools.

When my parents attended New York City’s public schools, they were the finest in the nation. In fact, my mother remembers observers coming from all around the world to see how excellent public education was run. She graduated reading adult level works, in two languages, with a third language at conversational level. Sure, she was a smart cookie and worked at it, but she went to the neighborhood PS4 and Long Island City High School. Now I’m not saying New York City doesn’t still have some fine schools, some of the finest in the nation. But statistically speaking, over 50% of New York City high school graduates are not prepared for college level work or an entry level job when they leave school. And that comes from the city’s own reports.

Sure, there are a lot of challenges facing New York, and I’m not picking on New York, but I’d guess that about 80% of the students I teach are from New York City high schools, so it’s what I know best. About 5% are from other places in America and the rest are from foreign schools. I had a class last term with a student from Italy, one from France and one from Germany. I almost wept with joy as their academic skills were so strong. Until I wept with pain that their American peers were so weak.

And I do spend time from students from other places and even at other schools, good schools, Ivy Leagues, even. And I am amazed, constantly, at what they don’t know that I know I knew when I was their age. This is what happens when as a culture we glorify stupidity and are proud of ignorance.

And sometimes, in the dark recesses of my slightly Orwellian soul, I do hear whispers of “This is not a terrible mistake.” And Orwell’s whispers are joined by Huxley’s ruminations in Brave New World. There are times I think the brave new world is now. (Though to be perfectly honest, I do not believe in a huge government conspiracy. A huge corporate conspiracy is much more likely. As far as I can see Congress is the lap dog of corporate interest in this country. Corporations really don’t want you educated. Why educate a slave race? That was Hitler’s view. It’s rather pragmatic when striving for world domination.)

So, we live in a populace without a truly free press and with men, and women, since it’s the 21st century now, who are unable to read. We are not safe. We have much to fear.

If our government is so easily hijacked, it needs to be replaced. If the people ruling this country are so weak and ineffective that a tiny minority can close down government, well, I can’t see why they are staying in office. With pay yet.

Many have called for their pay to be docked. We the people are their employers. Fire them. And if we don’t do that, at least don’t pay them. Not that I think the predominantly wealthy people who run this country will suffer much with the loss of a month’s salary or so.  But how many of the federal workers who are now sitting home, effectively out of work, are living pay check to pay check? How much do support staff, park rangers, computer tech people make?

I realized yesterday that I had to do more than tweet my anger, that 140 characters weren’t enough. Well, I’m about to hit 1200 words, and all I can really say is please, Americans, let’s join together to stop the madness. Even if we’re of different parties we have to realize that what’s happening in America is a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. It’s stupid, pig headed stupid, and we deserve better than that!

 

July 23, 2013

Babies are Signs of Love I Thought

Yesterday, a baby was born. A little boy who seems destined to take a role in the world, one he didn’t ask for, but that’s the point of destiny.  His birth became an event, and it was celebrated around the world.  He is not the savior of the world, but people need something happy to latch on to, so they latched on to his arrival.

Like all babies, he’s a sign of love and hope, but you wouldn’t always know that reading press reports.

The press has been waiting outside the hospital where he arrived for the past two weeks, just waiting for his mother to go into labor. When she arrived early Monday morning, a feeding frenzy started. I was amused. A first baby? Nothing is going to happen for a while.  The parents, knowing that this child of theirs would also belong to the world on many levels, waited four hours to announce his birth. They had four precious hours when their boy was theirs and theirs alone.

Yesterday somewhere around 370,000 other babies were also born. Each one’s life just as precious as the one born in St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington.  But these little ones are not carrying the baggage of a 1000 year old monarchy on their little heads.

Too many of yesterday’s babies will die in the first years. Others will live a life of grinding poverty, be exiled from their homelands, be terrorized by war. Still others will grow up happy and comfortable, educated, pampered and secure.  Most are loved, though some are unwanted.

But each of these babies is a blessing–a sign that the world is still going to continue and should still continue.

I am happy to share in the birth of a baby–any baby, really. Parents sharing their joy with us makes the world a better place. Some of those parents are people I know, yet others are in a public position.

Unless there is a radical change to the structure of British government, that one baby boy in London will someday become king. As an American, I don’t really “get” monarchy, but as a scholar of English literature, I surely do “get” how important his ancestors have been. And he may very well take his place in a long line. His job will be ceremonial, but for many people he’s a symbol of something they love and hold dear.

But for many other people, he’s a symbol of all that’s wrong with the world. Once again, at what is a happy event, I see vitriol being poured out, aimed at a little tiny baby too young to have done much of anything yet but eat, sleep, cry and poop.  And again, I don’t really understand vitriol.

I’m amazed at how many people waste precious energy hating, hating with a passion.  Yes, we all do actually know that there are babies being born every day who will live lives of unutterable misery. Yes, we need to remember that and work to change to world every day.

Many of my fellow Americans are mad for British royalty, but most of the people I know don’t seem to care all that much. That’s fine. Ignore, but hate? I don’t get it. Anger? Why be angry at other people’s joy?  Some people just confuse me.

Personally, I’d like to welcome him to earth, him and all the little ones who joined us yesterday. They are all made of stardust, and deserve love and magic.

I wish the new little one health, happiness and love. Many blessings on the new little prince and on his parents. New parenthood is tough, and I do not envy their visibility.

And I wish the same to all of yesterday’s children. Many blessings on all the babies born.

And may we all be blessed with the wisdom to find ways to make all babies’ lives better

July 14, 2013

National Anger

I’m watching the maelstrom of anger, sadness, disappointment and frustration on social media since last night’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial. The reaction was expected, of course, especially by anyone who remembers the response to the Rodney King beating trial verdict and the fear following the OJ Simpson verdict.

I’m glad to see that things are peaceful–well, perhaps peace isn’t the proper word, but non-violent.

My comment on Twitter last night was to repeat the old Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr quote, “this is a court of law…not a court of justice.”  In his address to the nation today, President Obama said something similar: “we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”

That’s what they do. Was it overt racism, bad prosecution, good defense? Who knows? I didn’t follow the trial testimony for the same reason I don’t follow many of the sensational trials splashed on television and the news outlets.  While the death of a teen is lamentable, while vigilante justice is wrong, in the big picture, the US has worse things to worry about. Teens get killed every day for stupid, stupid reasons. Most of the time, the rest of America doesn’t notice.  But every once in a while, a trial will catch the nation’s attention.

Deep in my heart, I believe that when this happens, corporations and government heave a sigh of relief. Another weapon of mass distraction to help keep people from paying attention.

It’s not that I’m callous. In fact, it might be a little too close to home. I deplore the entire situation, and as a mother, as someone who teaches and loves the many young black men (and Latino, and Asian, and White) I teach, my heart breaks.

In my own family I’ve seen the anguish of the mother, grandmothers and aunts when the woman who killed my cousin and damaged his brother so badly he lives with pain every day got off with a slap on the wrist. It broke their hearts once again.  His father, grandfathers, brother, and uncles were shattered as well, but it’s the mother love that speaks most closely to my heart.  But the entire family felt stripped of justice.  It’s been years and there’s still anger.

I pray that Trayvon Martin’s family will find peace in their hearts, because I have seen the damage done to a family like his up close.

George Zimmerman will have to live with his actions for the rest of his life. I also pray that he realizes the enormity of what he’s stolen from the world. I pray that he turns his evil to good somehow. But that’s for time to tell.

In the meantime, I just feel sad and hope is hard to find. The fact that the streets are not burning is a good sign, I think.

But perhaps this is one more straw in the camel’s basket.

 

March 29, 2013

That Jefferson Man

I ran across a quote today and it struck me as relevant:

“I hope we shall take warning from the example [of Great Britain] and crush in it’s [sic] birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws our country.” (Letter to George Logan, Nov. 12th, 1816)

That’s Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, principle crafter of the Declaration of Independence, US ambassador to France, inventor, polymath, slave holder, complicated human being.

Today far too many people negate the good about him because he held slaves. He was sexist, racist and probably a bunch of other “-ists”. He was an 18th century man. He was well ahead of his time, but for these politically correct days, that’s often not enough. If one doesn’t possess 21st century sensibilities, one is diminished in people’s eyes.

That’s a shame, because Jefferson had one of the finest minds ever to sit in the White House. As John F. Kennedy famously quipped at a White House dinner for Nobel laureates,

“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” (You can find the full text here)

Obviously Jefferson was aware of the dangers of a monied corporation. If he could come back and see the US right now, he’d be aghast. His word “aristocracy” was prescient. It was not crushed at birth, and now it crushes so many.

Every day I work with people whose lives have been crippled by the aristocracy of the corporations. They dictate what is taught in schools, creating a class of workers and consumers for their products so when I see them in college, I’m often faced with young people incapable of independent thought.  If you think this is hyperbole on my part, read Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Joseph Roksa. Published in 2010, here’s a blurb from Amazon’s page:

“According to their analysis of more than 2,300 undergraduates at twenty-four institutions, forty-five percent of these students demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills – including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing – during their first two years of college. As troubling as their findings are, Arum and Roksa argue that for many faculty and administrators they will come as no surprise – instead, they are the expected result of a student body distracted by socializing or working and an institutional culture that puts undergraduate learning close to the bottom of the priority list.”

There’s no corporate influence there, so why do I blame them? Corporations aren’t making people socialize.  Of course not. It’s not that simple. Watch television. Watch movies. Read popular novels.  What images are being churned out about education, its role in people’s lives, and so on.  That’s the diet our children are on.

Yet corporations don’t hire secretaries without a four year degree. The corporate model prevails in even public universities. I’ve read that corporations are dictating college curriculum.

I really just wanted to share Jefferson’s quote here today. And now I’ve written over 500 words, and I’m just getting started. Just warming to the subject. I still have 90 papers and midterms to read between now and Monday, so I don’t have time for this.

But I hope I gave you something to think about.  I’ve raised a bit of the curtain. I hope you take a peek underneath.

March 21, 2010

Bumpy ride on the information highway

Filed under: American culture,media,New Broads — by maggiec @ 4:54 pm
Tags: , ,

It all started so innocently. I just wanted to know what an aquiline nose looked like. I have seen so many different noses called aquiline, so I wanted guidance. It’s the same thing as a Roman nose, hence my confusion.

But if you google “aquiline nose” and actually look a some of the text you will find with the pictures, you might be struck anew, as I was, at how much raw hatred there is in this world.  Unfortunately, all of the specimens I saw came right here from the good old USA.

I stumbled on two white supremacy sites, one “premiere conservative” site that was a bastion of both ignorance and nastiness (and I know many, many intelligent conservatives, and they would be appalled), and one gossip site that in itself was “innocent,” but the people posting wrote some of the most racist things I’ve seen in a long time.  And just so’s you know, it wasn’t just racism, though that was the biggest part of it since I was searching for a nose type.  There was sexism aplenty as well as hatred for those who have different beliefs.  Freedom of thought is fine, as long as you agree with me, I guess.

Anonymous posts seem to give people a license to let it all hang out.  I’m all for free speech, and I am certainly not calling for censoring the internet. But own up to it, people.  You want to spew hate, go ahead, but put your name on it.  I wonder how many would be as free with their opinion if they had to use a name.

There is no such thing as coincidence, and lately I’ve been thinking much about the fervent hate that is building in America.  Some of it is race-based, some of it is class-based and much of it is just plain fed-up-mad-at-the-world hatred and bitterness.  This is something I want to write about this week, so it was a frightening illustration to go poking into places I usually don’t poke.  I’ve written in the past about the America-Roman Empire analogy but lately, I’m seeing another, scarier relationship. I’m thinking America-Court of Versailles.  And the people who are seething with rage and hatred aren’t the people in the palaces.  But more on this another day.

In the meantime, I just wanted to share my perturbed state after cruising on the information highway without a map.  On the plus side, I know what an aquiline nose is, and my hero has one.

June 6, 2009

Weighty Matters

Filed under: media,New Broads,overweight,Uncategorized — by maggiec @ 8:05 pm
Tags: , ,

One thing that has bothered me about American culture for years is its obsession with bodies. We attack celebrities for being too heavy or too thin. Who is just right?

Since I’ve come back, I swear it’s gotten worse.

Women’s magazines inevitably have a diet featured on the front cover. Just looking at some magazines in my room I see: “Lose up to 14 pounds!” and “Have a Bikini-Ready Body by June!” and “Better than Gastric Bypass! Lose 9 lbs a Week”.

But those same magazines also have stories on easy treats–Boston Cream Cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies and “fun party cakes”.

And one  magazines that published recipes for an everyday meal totaling 1065 calories and 55 grams of fat, also carries ads for Hydroxycut, Super Dieter’s Hunger Control Slim Mix, Apatrim and Xenadrine RFA-1. In fact, there are only three other ads in the magazine, so that’s a pretty overwhelming message to readers: You’re too fat!

And we are.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 66% of Americans over 20 are considered either overweight or obese and 24% of them are obese.  That’s a frightening trend.

In an earlier blog entry, I mentioned that when I returned to America, the shapes of some Americans frightened me so much that I lost weight.  Luckily, that trend has continued.  I’ve lost 40 pounds since I’ve been back.  That’s not an amazing amount over two years, but at least I buck the national trend of gaining weight every year!

By no stretch of the imagination could I ever be considered not overweight, but there are days when I’m riding the subway in NYC, especially when I’m not in Manhattan, and I look around and think: “I’ve got the smallest butt in this car!”  That breaks my heart!  Seriously, it does.  When I see young people, male and female, severely overweight, it frightens me.  Once in the grocery store, I heard a little girl, no more than 10 years old, talking about her high cholesterol with her mother!

What’s going on? Part of the problem is the complete and utter junk that passes for food in the country.  There is also the portion distortion that we hear about in the news.  In an effort to lure in customers in these financially lean times, fast food restaurants are offering more and more grease and carbs for your money.

Even nicer places are doing the same.  My family went to a seafood restaurant, and my sister and I took home so much of our dinners that we each got two more lunches!

One thing I do find worrisome is how weight is such an accurate class marker, especially here in New York City.  Riding the subway in the Bronx, I can feel pretty good about myself.  Once I cross over into Manhattan, people are radically smaller and healthier looking.  It’s no surprise that more money means better nutrition as well as better education.  But being able to eat healthily should not be a privilege of wealth and education.   That’s just a national shame.

I have no solutions.  It’s just a scary trend I see now that I’m back in the States.  And since I have so much to say about so many things, I thought I’d start with some scary observations just to get them off my chest.

November 3, 2008

One day and counting

Is it me or has this been the longest election season in the history of the world?  And it all ends tomorrow.  I hope.  Please, no 2000 election redux.

There has been much going on, and unfortunately, this has been a crazy time for me at work, so I’ve had little time to write lately.  There’s certainly been a lot happening that has been blog-worthy.  One thing that has been exciting me is the level of interest I’ve been seeing in my students, most of whom are young people who have never voted, either because they were underage or because they just didn’t care.  A number of them are having their first visit to the polls this year.  Yes, there’s been a lot of excitement, but will it last?

This year’s election has raised many questions and has gotten people talking, but will the conversation, will the action, still happen after November 10th?  I give us a week to calm down after the hoopla and then what?

Will we still discuss things like the electoral college?  Every presidential election people complain about it, and then nothing is done for another four years.

Will the politicians keep a focus on the young people in this country?  They’ve certainly courted them in record number, but will they drop  interest in them once the election is over?

Will the young people keep pressure on their elected officials?  Yes, they will do as we say, but only as long as we keep saying it.  Make them keep the promises.

Will the media ever give up control of the elections?  When will we have truly open debates?  In a land that cherishes freedom of speech and freedom of choice, why do we limit which candidates get to participate?  Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul, and Bob Barr are among the candidates shunted aside.  This isn’t fair to the candidates, but more, it’s not fair to the American people.

One message that has been repeated time after time in this election is the power of the Internet.  Obama’s campaign has taken the lead on this issue, but with the Internet giving access to so many, why does television news have a stranglehold on people’s minds?  Why are people allowing themselves to be muzzled?  Tell the  television stations what you think about their decisions about limiting coverage.

And will the people harness the power of the internet?  Things are changing, but we must embrace the change.

I think that for the first time, my students are feeling the possibility that they can have some measure of power in their society.  Hopefully it will not all  be illusion.  Hopefully a wellspring will bubble up that the conventional powers that be will not be able to stop.

After tomorrow, will things really change?  Both sides have promised change, but will it happen?  We can only hope.

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