The Broad is Back!

February 11, 2017

Spineless Wonders

Every day I read the news, incredulous at the members of my government. I’m also heartbroken that party is more important than our beloved country. When are the 535 members of the United States Congress going to grow spines?

A few have chosen to use their voices and their votes to challenge the insanity, but sadly, that’s mostly on party lines, and the Democrats are in the minority.

But don’t the Republicans see that we’re in danger of being destroyed? They can’t be as stupid as they seem to be, can they?

I’m not a member of any political party but I admire members of most parties. When I see men and women who I thought had a measure of integrity blithely rubber stamping obviously unqualified people for Cabinet positions, my faith in our leadership dips ever lower.

When Senator McCain, a man whose integrity I’ve never questioned, approved Betsy DeVos, my heart cracked a bit more. That woman is going to tear down what’s left good in American education. And if you’re a regular reader of mine, you know that I don’t think much of American education at all.thanks mostly in part to federal interference.

The administration in today’s White House leaves me speechless. It is not only inept and amateurish in the most negative meaning of that word, it is either woefully ignorant of American law and government structure or so megalomaniacal that it truly believes that it is above the law. And I’m not just looking at the chief executive. I’m looking at all of them.

Why is this happening? That’s rhetorical because I have no answer.
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January 21, 2017

March on, Sisters and Brothers

I am not at one of today’s marches. I was invited by a niece to join her in DC, and I thought about it, but I’m doing a charity thing next weekend and taking time off work to do it, so two weekends off in a row wouldn’t work. She’s there, other nieces and my sister-in-law are there, and many former students are marching in NYC.

I’ve marched a lot in my time. I’ve been doing protest marches since the 70s, and have racked up marches in four countries. I’ve been out there for civil rights, police brutality, AIDS awareness, workers’ rights, anti-nukes, and I’m sure things I’ve forgotten. I’ve put in my time, and I’m frankly tired.

I also question the efficacy of marches. I think they had more impact in the 60s when they were something relatively new. But nowadays, I don’t think those in power pay attention to the “rabble.” It’s easy to say, “oh, Hollywood liberals spouting nonsense” or “That one’s always been an uppity troublemaker,” and ignore it. As for the rest, people who agree, agree. People who don’t, mock. I’ve not gone on much social media today other than Instagram, but I did see some “snowflake” comments last night and a wonderful “libtard crybabies” this afternoon.

But today I admit I was wrong about this one, and I wish I were there. This is massive, not only in America, but around the world. I think it would be very stupid and very dangerous to ignore this many women and men standing up for equality for women, for people of color, for LBGTQ+. But I think it was the pussy grab that really capped things.

Marchers today in their pink hats are calling for a stop to women being objectified and sexualized by men, especially men in power, who have a moral obligation to be role models, at least in public. While a reality TV star, Donald Trump said some things to women contestants that could have won him a lawsuit in the real world. Of course, in the real world, many women choose to ignore the overtly sexual comments and even aggressions in order to preserve their careers, though I am seeing a change in the behaviors of some people, which heartens me.

I am a very hard headed and realistic person as well as being the optimistic idealist. I revel in my duality most of the time. To those who say calling America a “rape culture” is hysteria, I say, oh really? I spend much of my professional life with women 18-26. I hear their stories of being groped, fondled, and even threatened and raped. I am 55, overweight and certainly nowhere near my prime, and I still get groped by men at work (not coworkers but customers) who think it’s all “a good joke”. Why do we get groped? Men think it’s their right.

When women use their voices on the internet, along with death threats come rape threats. We teach our young women how not to get raped. When I teach, I tell all my classes “don’t rape anyone. Now you can’t say no one ever told you don’t rape.” They laugh, but it’s uncomfortable laughter.

Young women on college campus and even in high school are raped every weekend. It’s called “date rape” but that’s just a pretty name for being raped by someone you know.

Most of these rapes are unreported. Why? Women have learned that they are the ones put on trial. What did they wear? What did they drink? Did they come on to him? If there is a conviction? Well, the Brock Turner case taught as to keep our mouths shut. It’s not worth the price. His future was considered more important that hers. And he was the rapist.

This is the 21st century. Back in the 1950s, my mother knew a NYC cop who made her go to a rape trial—one in which the rapist was caught “red handed”—and see how she was destroyed by the judge. That, for him, was a lesson she needed to see. That was over 60 years ago. Things haven’t changed and we’re still being shown that it’s best for us to keep quiet.

Sexual name calling, which can lead to sexual violence, is rampant.

Last semester there was a “Christian preacher” on my campus who called my students “whores” because they disagreed with him or wore what he termed revealing clothing. He called others “lesbians” because they wore pants. To him, that was an insult, to me, whatever. But that’s not protected speech under the law yet campus security did nothing about it. He told the young men they’d burn in hell, but he didn’t attack them sexually.

I’ve heard students I teach slut shame fellow students as well as celebrities. I’ve heard people trying to slut shame the new First Lady. I’m sorry. No. Double standards are not allowed.

There are very few sexual insults for men other than dick and maybe faggot, which are words that are also unacceptable.

Phew, I got angry there. I’ve had bad situations in my past, things I don’t talk in about in public not because I keep them bottled up, but because as I’ve seen over and over in society, when someone reveals rape, especially date rape, or sexual abuse, too many people see it as salacious gossip instead of someone’s personal pain. Or they see the person as a victim and pity them. I want no one’s pity. And I’m no victim. I was. But now I’m a warrior.

And hey, a message to a certain set of guys for whom the following shoe fits—think back to those incidents in college when you knew she didn’t want to, or she couldn’t speak for herself, but you did it  anyway. Know what? That was rape. Yes. Yes, it was. And she’s probably still really, really, angry with you. And she may just be ashamed. I remember having to physically bust in and save a friend who was passed out. Those guys who laughed at me trying to carry out the deadweight of a drunk and didn’t help me? I’m sorry, but you’re assholes.

Sorry, I went off on an angry rant there. And that just shows you how much anger is bottled up inside American women. The world’s women as we’re seeing today. I’ve worked very hard to purge the anger inside me, but every once in a while, it pops up and bites me in the ass like it just did now. I’m obviously still angry at those jerk fraternity brothers.

And now American women, at least, have a target for their anger. I hope someone in the government is paying attention. I hope these angry women go home and get to writing and working and watching their government. Maybe even running for office on the local, state or national level to more fully effect change. Politicians work for us, in theory anyway, and if we use our voices, some Congressional representatives might fear losing their jobs enough to challenge or do something positive to make America stronger and better.

To the women marching, I am there in spirit. To my bestie, sister-in-law, other friends and “nieces” and “kids,” you’re amazing, and I love you all. And to my blood nieces, especially, not only all of the above, but I am so proud of you, my darlings. Nana is up there singing and laughing and so proud that she passed on hell raiser genes.

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.

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.

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 19, 2014

Thinking About Free Speech

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.” ~ Benjamin Franklin in “On Freedom of Speech the Press,” Pennsylvania Gazette, November 17, 1737

Nothing we like better in this country than to expound on what the “Founding Fathers” wanted for our country. We talk about what they would have wanted, but really we should spend more time reading what they wrote. We pay attention to myths and apocryphal stories as if they were gospel truths and largely ignore large bodies of published materials.

Saw this today and it made me think. Hard.

Freedom of speech and the press?  Slowly but surely being eroded, not just by the government, but by the government in complicity with the corporations that are now running America.

This information is a little out of date, but in 2011, six corporations controlled 90% of media in the US. You can find the nice little chilling infographic here.

A little something to chew on this Monday morning.

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.

 

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!

 

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