El Gringoqueño

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

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.

She Wouldn’t Be Quiet

“I don’t know if I really liked her humor,” I said. “It’s not that I dislike her, but it seems to me that her humor was mean… or just not funny. I don’t know.”

“Me neither,” Laura replied, “her brand of humor did seem mean, self-deprecating. I don’t know, either, I’m not a terribly big fan of comics who put themselves or others down. But she was brave and strong and made her way in a tough world. And I think one thing that she had that was extraordinary, was that she wouldn’t be quiet. You know, in a man’s world, men want women who listen to them. Men want women with a sense of humor, but only so they can laugh at the man’s jokes. But Joan wouldn’t be quiet the way we wanted her to, nor tell jokes the way we wanted her to.”

“Oh my god, I think you have revealed an unpleasant truth about my gender, Laura. Did I not care for her humor because deep down I am uncomfortable with opinionated women… that what is more comfortable is a woman who knows her place? Wow, that’s a real revelation. I know I wouldn’t answer that way on a test question, but maybe what is comfortable, what seems right is a partial product of our male dominated society.” I thought about it for a bit, “You know what, I admire Joan more now. She made America think. She wouldn’t be quiet when America wished she would. Through her humor she could resist the pressure to be quiet by making people laugh and changed society for the better.”

“You know what? It makes even more sense that Johnny Carson banned her from his show for all those years. When she took her own show on CBS, he felt it was a personal betrayal, but I think his actions reveal it to be more than just a simple infidelity. Johnny Carson thought he owned her. He made her, gave her her first big chance, and felt that she was his. Instead of being happy for her continued success, hoping that she take flight and soar, he wanted to control her, possess her, and have her do his bidding. Ugh, it makes me so so sick. Johnny was a dick. I’m glad she succeeded without him and made her own way.”

Even for all her insensitive jokes and gaffs, the world was a better place for having had Joan Rivers in it.

 

Go little Bumblebee GO!

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Every day when I go out to check my zucchini for fruit, this big noisy bumblebee comes abuzz buzzing over. He sounds like an Army helicopter. I don’t know if he’s angry or what, but he buzzes me every day. A couple of days ago, I finally saw him crawling in and out of the flowers, and now I have some fruit. Great work little guy!

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Another. If I remember correctly these things grow to edible size in a day or so. Can’t wait.

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Lots and lots of fruit are growing all over these tomato plants which are nearly 6 feet tall. Two cherry tomatoes and one beefsteak.

Coffee_Designs_04886_sm

This is one of Laura’s favorite things. After a delicious batch of French press coffee, we get these interesting designs in the grounds. You almost hate to wash the cup, they look so cool.

I am Michael Brown

I remember when you came to my school. Your shoes were so shiny, and they squeaked when you walked. Your uniform was neat and crisp with its badges and buttons. Your belt shone too. It was so reflective, and it had all these little cases and buckles. I wondered what they were for. Secret compartments were cool. The walky talkie squawked intermittently in unintelligible codes. You towered over us. And your dog was so big, his ears straight up in the air as he sat there still as a statue.

We were seated on the floor, but we all straightened our backs to get a better look as we said in unison, “Good morning, Officer Jones.”

You talked to us about your job, how you like to help people, how you wanted to stop the bad guys, that you were there to help us if we ever needed it. You told some funny stories, and you let us pet your dog. I was a little scared at first, but his hair was soft and he looked at us with sensitive brown eyes. I remember thinking how impressive you and your dog were. I wanted to help people too. I wanted to be like you and have a dog like you and stop bad people too.

As with all things, though, I grew up. When I turned 18, I was 6’4″ and no longer held those illusions of elementary school. I had not thought about your visit to my classroom in years, having long since changed my interests. Sometimes I felt silly for wanting to be a police officer. It’s as with all my peers, white and black. We all go through that phase, don’t we? I want to be a fire fighter. I want to be a police officer. We all want to help. In our innocence, that’s what first-responders represent. But I now no longer entertain those notions.

I am what people perceive me to be, a large black man and for those who don’t know me, maybe I look scary. I still feel like that third grader inside, though. I still would like to pet that dog, and I would still like to stop bad people from doing bad things.

When did I become the bad person, Officer Jones?

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