El Gringoqueño

All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

R.I.P. Billy

He was a little chihuahua mutt that I rescued from a military installation. Some young soldiers were kicking and throwing things at him. I hollered at them and scooped up the little guy. My heart went out to him. On the car ride home, he stood up on his hind legs looking straight ahead through the windshield while he tried to bite me. I was already beginning to regret this.

He was a nervous, bad-tempered little dog. At first, I met his aggressiveness with force, but he just got more desperate and anxious. Soon, I realized I couldn’t  force good behavior on him. It sounds stupid for that to even be a revelation, but alpha dogs don’t coddle. In the pack, you either get your act together, or you get a beat down. But I realized I couldn’t strong arm him into obedience. I would have to meet him with gentleness no matter his mental state. When he got worked up in a frenzy it wasn’t good for anyone. So I tried to adopt a kinder softer stance with him. Loud voices, sudden movements, forcing him to do anything, would get him worked up and he would spin around and try to harm himself.

Also, we never did break him of the peeing on everything in his sight – inside or outside.

When we went to the park he would bark at us until we came back to get him and take him too. He hated the leash though. Another thing to torment me, he seemed to say, but I guess he preferred to be with us than to be left at home.

Once we came home to him huddled in a corner on our terrace all bloody and disheveled. “Oh my God,” I yelled, “Billy’s chewed his tail off.” He’d always hated it, it tormented him. He would catch it out of the corner of his eye and spin for the attack. Around and around and around he would go until we thought he’d have a heart attack. It wasn’t really funny, but we did not know how much it tormented him until he almost killed himself to be rid of it.

After one surgery and the cone of shame, we were nearly ready to pack it in. He was still bent on harming himself like an insane asylum patient. We had to be with him all the time, and his growling and frenzied attacks on his butt were putting us all on edge. I remarked at the time that this must be a small window into what the parents of addicts go through. No matter what we did, he wanted to hurt himself and there was nothing we could do but supervise him 24/7.

We closed our eyes for one second, and he had what was left of his tail again.

After another surgery and an infection, we were able save his life. He now had a nub. We bought him a spiky collar to go with the new tough-guy image. He seemed to enjoy not having his tail. He became a decidedly calmer dog. His hated nemesis was gone.

Soon after we moved to our new house, he developed a cough. It persisted for more than a week, so Laura took him to the vet. An x-ray revealed a large tumor nestled next to his heart, pushing on his trachea. It was so large already and in a difficult place.  “He’s already 10, let’s just keep him comfortable. If we see he is suffering too much, we’ll put him to sleep.”

He carried on like that for a little over three years. There was a moment last year when he stopped eating. I thought it was time and we discussed it as a family. Everybody was distraught, especially the little ones. They didn’t want Billy to die. Billy, so as to not let us down, suddenly started eating again. He was back to his peppy self, and we soon forgot about his little episode of sorrow.

Recently, he had been eating less and less. He’d take a few bites of food, wander over to be petted. If we petted him sufficiently he would take a few more bites. The bites became fewer and fewer, the pets more frequent. We’d have to stroke him many minutes before he would go into his kennel at night.

Today though, he didn’t want to eat. He just stayed in his kennel all day. I roused him to go out and pee this evening. He needed to go out for a little bit. He was so pitiful, but he trotted out after some cajoling.

After twenty minutes or so, I called them in. Jessie wouldn’t come, and I didn’t see Billy at all. I went out to look for him in his usual places, and I found him collapsed near his favorite flowerpots.

I wouldn’t say he was the best dog. He was soft and cute, but he was nippy, generally nervous and bad tempered. We had made a choice, though, to take care of him, to accept into our family. He taught us that love isn’t an affection, that we don’t love because of what you do or because you are smart or cute or fun. We loved you Billy, because we could, because you needed us to.

I’m gonna miss you, little guy.

Roasted Coffee

These images digitized to look like paintings make a nice series, I think. From harvest, to fruit, to roast, I can get a bit of distance from the difficulties of everyday life and appreciate these abstract and idealized qualities of culture, tradition, hard work, and the gusto that go into a delicious cup of coffee. It’s a bit of homage for the hard working farmers and roasters.

Commercial coffee production is hard and doesn’t pay well. Anyone who does it here in Puerto Rico will tell you they don’t do if for the money. Life is hard, money is tight, but they continue to toil in the hot sun because it is a cultural treasure y vale la pena.

Light Play in the Harvest

Pickers chatted among themselves, flirting and wandering and teasing their way through the rows, placing ripe cherries in their baskets. Soon there was enough coffee and the day was growing hot.

Why People Don’t Vote in Elections

We tell ourselves that those that don’t vote don’t have the right to complain about the outcomes of elections, that they don’t deserve to have democracy work for them because they didn’t vote. Not only is this fallacious reasoning and a misdirection – it does not account for the totality of what it is to be a disenfranchised voter.

Perhaps we can begin to understand how it feels and a reason why someone might not be able to muster the will to register their vote.

We humans are a social people are we not? Wasn’t expulsion from the tribe probably the single worst thing one could do as punishment? Our world simply does not function without the cooperation and interconnectedness of our global and local society. The invention of the telegraph, telephone, internet – these are social inventions designed to bring us close together. Belonging, being valued, and having a meaningful place in our community are more important to us than practically any other commodity.

What happens when, in any number of ways, we take steps to thwart the participation of certain members of our society? We’ve done these things for centuries, perhaps not deliberately but no less effective to cutting off participation of those we deem less useful, desirable, or simply at odds with our sensibilities. Before the ACLU what did the handicapped do to participate? Were there ramps? Were government offices handicapped accessible? Were town hall discussions facilitated by a sign-language translator? Wasn’t simply going to the store, watching TV, interacting with the world just too much work?

If you really wanted to vote, you should have crawled up those stars to the polling place!

American culture’s deification of the car makes it an almost obligatory requirement to fully participate. Cars are very expensive, are they not? They require loans to purchase, and they will never be an investment, as they depreciate the moment they leave the lot. What do you do if you don’t have a car in America? Sucks to be you, doesn’t it? So if you are old, handicapped, young, poor, you find that there are barriers to your participation. It’s not that you can’t, but you have to try harder because society says so.

If you were black under Jim Crow, in many cases it wasn’t absolutely against the law to vote, but there were added provisions, obstacles placed before you. Poll tax? Special reading/writing test? If you were illiterate, if you were poor, if you were deemed just not quite qualified to vote, then you were shut out of participation. In many cases it was a secondary blow to self-esteem. I’m neither educated/smart enough nor wealthy enough to participate. They might take solace in the fact that the system was unfair, but I’ll bet it worked on their psyche too, making them feel that they somehow let down their families. The tribe told them their voices weren’t good enough – that they were not needed.

So they stopped trying, becoming disenfranchised.

If you are old, perhaps you no longer drive for poor eyesight. You’ve let your driver’s license lapse, or even if you haven’t, the state now requires that licenses comply with “Real-ID” Federal Standards. You haven’t updated yours. It requires someone to drive you across town to the government office. The law was passed but no one saw fit to put a small government office in your part of the city. If you want to vote, they say, do your duty and get or update your ID. It’s simple, they say, but it’s anything but simple for you as your son and your daughter are both working. The government office is only open to 3pm on weekdays. They would have to take off work to drive you across town and wait a few hours while your paperwork was processed. Didn’t cross your “T’s” and dot your “I’s.” You’ll have to come back another day. Your children are both okay, but struggling and can’t take the time.  You might take a bus, except that you would have to walk 5 blocks and cross a busy street to get to the nearest bus stop. Call a taxicab? That’s $67.50 you don’t have.

So you don’t vote, and you almost don’t feel like you deserve to vote. Can’t pay for a cab ride, why would they want my vote, you think to yourself. I don’t count, nobody wants to hear from me. I’m old and the future belongs to the vigorous.

You are a student attending University in a new city. You are young idealistic and you want to participate in this new community. For many it is the first time they will be be involving themselves in a community outside of where they grew up. This will be the first time their direct agency will be exercised. But for locals, students represent a mass of voters many times at odds with the sensibilities of that same community. I’m sorry, you need a new state issued id to vote. You need to register your car in this state to vote. Your student ID is not sufficient, they are told. Most students don’t even have cars, and unless they really really care, probably also can’t come up with that same $67.50 the old woman didn’t have.

Voting day isn’t a national holiday in the US like it is other places (like Puerto Rico where participation is +90%). In Puerto Rico, we collectively say to the entire pueblo, “We think your voice is important. Please come register your voice. We want to hear from you whether you are young or old, dark or light, literate or illiterate.” In fact, as an electioneer, I have been witness to people signing the registration list with an “X.”

But in America, there is no national holiday. We really want to see how much you love this country before we register your vote. There are tests that try your economic status and your patience. If you are just making ends meet working an hourly shift, you might not be able to spare the resources. Sure, one might counter, the salaried employee would need to take off work too, but again, it’s a question of degrees. Equal isn’t always equal. In any case, if you’re too limited to take off a couple of hours to vote, then we don’t want to hear from you anyway. You’re probably not the kind of voice that matters to me.

So we have the poor, the minority, the old, and the infirm – the voices of society have told them in the most tacit of ways, don’t bother letting us know how you feel. We don’t really want your input. We will run this country how we wish to run it, and don’t worry your little head about it.

And so they don’t even try anymore. Their agency has been eroded. Society has told them they are unimportant, unnecessary at best, and unwanted and undesirable at worst.

Can you image yourself in that situation? Can you imagine what it feels like to have an entire infrastructure of culture in a myriad of ways, tell you that you aren’t important, that they don’t want you?

Sure, nobody is physically stopping you from voting, but why would you want to vote in a culture to which you don’t belong?

Roasted Coffee

I roasted a nice batch of locally grown coffee beans. These were harvested in Ciales, Puerto Rico just this past month. I normally roast two pounds worth. Roasting coffee is like toasting marshmallows. The line between perfection and burned to a crisp is thin indeed.

I was particularly proud of this batch.

In the Weeds

It’s been a rainy couple of weeks as passing Caribbean instabilities have dumped buckets of water on us, over twelve inches worth.

In that time, it’s difficult to get to my garden, but today, I finally was able to survey the damage. Sigh, it was as I thought, weeds everywhere, choking off my Genovese basil, Puerto Rican cilantro, peppers, and pumpkin squash.

Creeping vines had reached up and entwined the delicate basil, pulling them down until they were nearly horizontal. It is hard sometimes to see the weeds, because they wrap themselves so completely, disguising and supplanting the foliage along the way to match the victim.

I donned army boots, old jeans, a workshirt, and a pair of gloves and waded into the tangled mess. It’s frustrating trying to grow anything because the weeds are so prolific. They reach up and snatch whatever I try to plant, and whatever I plant seems just to yield in the face of assault. Better to give up trying and just die.

I began pulling out the viney weeds first, coaxing and wiggling the tendrils loose and then lifting the mass up and over.

In the midst of the mess, all that can be done is to protect yourself the best you can from the molesting bugs, the wet dirt, and the prickly weeds and begin pulling one by one. I sat down in the shade and the mud and attacked first a little corner, a small patch of mixed basil and cilantro. As I brushed by my plants I was rewarded with the most delicious aroma.  Man, if I could only bottle this stuff as perfume. Oh my God, it was a beautiful smell.

Bit by bit, the morivivi, a thorny irritating weed, the creeping vines and assorted grasses gave way and I began to see my plants again. I will have to see if the basil will survive, though. They are delicate and took the harshest beating. The peppers fared a better, but after pulling the creeping vines from them I saw they had hardly any of their own leaves.

The Puerto Rican cilantro fared the best, its leaves standing big and strong and green.

White Flight, Black Blight

This is this dynamic in the United States. No one likes to admit it, but it happens – little by little, bit by bit. No one person is responsible. No one person thinks they are causing a problem, just reacting to forces outside of their control. My property values are going to go down, they say. Another code word that white people use is, “Schools.” I moved for better schools.

The bottom line is this: white people believe that when black people move in, neighborhoods turn bad. So white people leave. The problem is that they are creating a self-fulfilling prophesy, and they don’t even realize they are causative rather than reactive. Those forces are in their control. White people are the hegemony. White people are not helpless homeowners just looking for good schools, simply reacting to forces outside of their control. It is disingenuous to conclude that white people are powerless to stop the inevitable decline when communities turn black.

White people say: When black people move in, neighborhoods turn to shit.

I say: When white people move out of neighborhoods, they take their shit with them.

That’s it, isn’t it? Neighborhoods don’t degrade because black people are moving it, they are degrading because capital is fleeing. The power, both political and economic,  the hegemony – it’s mostly in the hands of white people. It has been this way for hundreds of years, and I don’t see it changing any time soon. The only way for it to stop is for white Americans to stop fleeing from black Americans. Stay and invest. Maybe you would earn more living in a more affluent area, but is acquisition really the point?

Please stop fleeing with your capital; stop driving communities to poverty.

Burke, You’re Out!

In an interview with a Spanish Catholic weekly published last week, Burke said of the pope’s leadership: “Many have expressed their concerns to me. … There is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder.”

To which Pope Francis replied, “How’s this rudder feel, bitch?”

Threatening Compliments

As some of you may know there’s been a series of videos and discussions going around, almost meme-like, of a woman walking around New York and the catcalls she received as a result. It has sparked parody videos, conservative backlash, imitators and apologists.

First, here is what the apologists sound like. “Ah, they didn’t mean anything by it. Men are just being men. She should take it as a compliment. She’s pretty, right?”

Then there are those would think that somehow it’s the woman’s fault, as if she’s asking for it. “What does she want us to do dressed like she is, looking the way she does? We’re only human.” It’s as if women should cover themselves in some sort of head to toe garment with eye-slits for navigation.

The most galling to me are those that offer what seems like an attempt to understand by saying, “Hey, I’m a guy, if a woman catcalls to me, I take it as a compliment. I smile and say thank  you, ’cause that makes my day.” It’s a false equivalency, folks. Don’t be fooled. Assholes use that technique for a variety of things, most of them racial or gender based, but it’s just flat out incorrect.

A woman catcalling a man, is not the same thing as a man catcalling a woman.

First, let’s construct a proper equivalency. Generally women pride themselves on their appearance, right? It’s a general tendency, not that it is universal, but rightly or wrongly, a woman’s appearance is an important part of her self worth.

What would the equivalent self worth trait be for a man? Money? Success? Let’s go with that. Men are judged less on looks more on career achievement – money. So women – appearence. Men – success.

So, we’ve got a woman walking down the street, dressed nicely. She’s got a knee-length (just below) pencil skirt, a nice top – bare shoulders because it’s hot out and she is walking. She has some low heels because she’s good at walking in them. The couple of blocks to her office isn’t that far. She knows she looks good, and she likes feeling desirable. “Hey there sweetheart. You got a nice pair of legs.”  says a construction worker.  From the other side of the street she hears shoutouts like “beautiful,” “sexy.” If she doesn’t smile, she will receive an aggressive comment, “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful. You should say thank you more.”

Now let’s have our man. He’s a successful businessman. He is wearing a business suit. He has his jacket draped over his arm with a smart phone. He has a Rolex watch, expensive Italian shoes, and a $300 belt. He knows he looks good. He knows his adornments show that he is successful, that he is wealthy. If you got it, flaunt it, he thinks to himself.

Suddenly, from an alleyway a delivery person calls out to him. “Nice watch ya got there.” Another, “Dude, those sure are some nice shoes. Bet they were really expensive. Where’d you get ‘em,” as he takes a step closer. “That the iPhone 6? Those are niiiiice. My brother got mugged for his. You should keep it safe.”

You see? They’re just complimenting him and expressing concern for his person. They are letting him know that they appreciate his hard work and wealth. If he didn’t want them to comment, he should have toned it down a bit, no? They are responding to what he is communicating – that he is successful, that he is wealthy.

But our businessman is anything but smiling when he arrives at his office. He breathes a sigh of relief as he passes through the lobby. It’s a small thing, I suppose, being suddenly aware of how vulnerable one is. He shakes it off and goes about his day.

As he leaves the office in the evening, he tucks his phone is his pocket, puts on his jacket and tells himself it’s just because it’s a bit chilly.

Mad World NewsAngry Mother Destroys Common Core by Writing This on Her Son’s Test

Mad World NewsAngry Mother Destroys Common Core by Writing This on Her Son’s Test.

Now, I think this is somewhat funny, and mock outrage is all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Just in case you want to take this seriously and get your panties in a bunch, read my rebuttal.

I’m not necessarily for these weird exercises (as I’ve gotten them with my kids, and they make me feel stupid), but I do think that being able to approach unfamiliar problems in different ways is a good learning tool.

It dawns on me that these sorts of things are ways in which to experience learning in a classroom that is decoupled from one’s previous education. For example, in a mixed ethnic and socioeconomic classroom you have kids who have previous experience with particular problems and the manner in which they are solved. They have parents who have given them a head start, so to speak – flash cards at home, reading at bedtime, camps, computers, etc. Others in the class may come from single parent households, lower economic strata, or have some sort of cultural obstacle when faced with the  “standard” pedagogy. They may not have had those experiences outside of school, like others in the classroom.

As a result of the standard exercises, those who are disadvantaged in that system come to believe they are not as smart as their peers, when in fact they are just not as educated. These new and abstract exercises, I believe, push boundaries of excellence in the classroom, while not necessarily disempowering those with advantage. The more educated kids will still have their experiences (no one is taking that away), but what you are doing is evening the playing field and not allowing the artificial inequity of society to intrude into the classroom learning environment.

The way we get to the right answer has changed so much in recent years. Even the tools we use to solve differential equations have changed. Mathematica anyone? The tools we use to accomplish tasks in this world are many and varied. Slide-rules used to be heavily used in engineering, but I doubt you’ll find anyone proficient these days. At one time, the slide-rule was the “right way” to solve the problem. We adapted and invented new tools, a new “right way” to get the answer.

If nature hates a monoculture, why have it in the classroom. Make the ways of learning as many and varied as there are little brains on this earth.

So I think that focusing on learning new and varied approaches, good and bad, creates an agility for learning that one might not get doing it the “right way,” especially when the “right way” may become obsolete in a few years.

The most important future skill is going to be:

Solve this problem which you have never seen before with tools that haven’t been invented yet.

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