Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'


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A number of decent articles to ponder. Krugman in specific appears to be easing into a new assumed role of political analyst since his tirades about how Obama isn’t radical enough economically earned him a drubbing by Emanuel.

But then, I read liberal rags.

A couple of very interesting older articles abound, especially about the fallacy of the “productive rich.” Indeed, the whole point about high finance and economic bubbles is that there is no actual production involved.

Manufactured Distractions

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The Huffington Post is “reporting” on a “feud” between Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly. That this takes up the space of real news is not news, but the commentators to the article are, thankfully, beginning to push back. To repost a comment by jungpatawan:

This is exactly what is wrong with the MSM today – “fairness” to them has devolved into giving a sound-bite soapbox for every wandering kook and a bully pulpit for useful idiots (Hello, Joe the Plumber and his new radio show!)

There is a huge miss going on here, and it is symptomatic of the whole problem with public discourse filtered via the media today. Essentially, they are not making a distinction between legitimate protest and crazy ranting.

It was legitimate to protest Bush’s policies which led to thousands of American deaths and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths, the destabilization of the whole Fertile Crescent, and the devaluation of the American “brand” throughout the diplomatic world. This level of cause and effect was demonstrable, and the only debate possible was whether the results were worth the cost.

Today’s “patriots” as they are being described by Fox, are protesting a death-panel which doesn’t exist, an embryonic Naziism which was a fitter description of the previous administration, and socialism, which some can’t even spell, judging by their signs, much less define.

Bush protestors were consciously trying to stop a war. Obama protestors are unwittingly (sometimes wittingly) trying to protect corporate profits. Bush protestors were self-motivated and self-organized. Obama protestors are astro-turfed.

Jon Stewart is more trusted as a newsman than actual newsmen. We have a 24 hour news cycle with little to no in-depth coverage (a statement one commenter misappropriated to David Frum). What we have are not news networks but propaganda machines – with the Huffington Post among them – and hopefully enough people are beginning to pay attention that we may turn this around before we lose our place in the world.

What It Means To Be Liberal

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When I was in the fine arts residential college at Cornell, enterprising students discovered that if you pulled the washing machine out from the wall, cracked open the back panel of the coin slot, stripped the wires and shorted them at intervals, you could dupe the machine into thinking coins were being dropped. flick flick flick flick a dollar. flick flick flick flick two dollars.

This was all well and good – after all, who doesn’t want free laundry in a school that costs $45k a year? – until some overeager freshmen inadvertently brought it to the residence hall director’s attention, whereupon he promptly threatened the whole dorm with the cost of replacing the washing machine with the most obvious manhandling. Never mind that we’d just do the same thing with a new machine, mind you, or that a $500 machine split between 150 residents is a little over $3 per resident but people being innumerate as they are, they heard the number he gave, which was five hundred dollars, and that was enough to galvanize the dorm – chock full of radical liberals as it was – to rally against him for the unfair burden brought down upon, if not the poorest of the poor, then the brokest of the broke.

They couldn’t stop the school from eating reservation land or exploiting its own staff or passing on capital construction costs to the undergraduates or suppressing hate crime statistics, but damnit, free laundry is free laundry and you have to put your foot down somewhere.

Rubber Rooms

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Another article on the New Yorker about the incredible inefficient bureaucracy that creates the situation of the Rubber Rooms, but even more incredible is the sense of entitlement in some of the teachers in it. To quote,

Neither the Mayor nor the chancellor is popular in the Rubber Room. “Before Bloomberg and Klein took over, there was no such thing as incompetence,” [elementary school teacher] Brandi Scheiner, standing just under the Manhattan Rubber Room’s “Handle with Care” poster, said recently… “Before Bloomberg and Klein, everyone knew that an incompetent teacher would realize it and leave on their own,” Scheiner said. “There was no need to push anyone out.”

*cough cough BULLSHIT*

It takes between two and five years for cases to be heard by an arbitrator, and, like Scheiner, most teachers in the Rubber Rooms wait out the time, maintaining their innocence. One of Scheiner’s Rubber Room colleagues pointed to a man whose head was resting on the table, beside an alarm clock and four prescription-pill bottles. “Look at him,” she said. “He should be in a hospital, not this place. We talk about human rights in China. What about human rights right here in the Rubber Room?” Seven of the fifteen Rubber Room teachers with whom I spoke compared their plight to that of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay or political dissidents in China or Iran.

Except, y’know, the full pay, vacation time, union-supervised arbitration and the lack of torture. The rest of the article speaks to the ridiculously high satisfactory ratings (98.7%) and the difficulty even in dealing with those who fail to make it – along with a list of probable causes, ranging from Teach for America to the United Federation of Teachers – but my money is still on the tenure track and the lack of any direct relationship between student success and teacher retention.

As an aside, this isn’t to say that I want the UFT’s back broken. Amidst the hiring freeze and budget crunch thanks to the economic downturn, I’ve been in the unenviable position of witnessing the layoffs of five teachers (including the UFT rep), three in the maths and sciences… while the school band got new uniforms and instruments. I’ve also been in the awkward position of having to serve as a witness in the arbitration of a rubber roomed teacher – it was settled out of court; I don’t want the blood of somebody’s career on my hands – that largely boiled down to politics. It’s a dirty world out there.

Missionaries in the Provinces

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I dare you to read this tripe and not start brain hemorrhaging from the hypocrisy and the casual racism. Coming from a “teacher” by the name of Christopher Jackson, it’s a long diatribe from a white man about teaching in a majority Black school, including such gems as:

Most of the blacks I taught simply had no interest in academic subjects. I taught history, and students would often say they didn’t want to do an assignment or they didn’t like history because it was all about white people. Of course, this was “diversity” history, in which every cowboy’s black cook got a special page on how he contributed to winning the West, but black children still found it inadequate.

Anyone who teaches blacks soon learns that they have a completely different view of government from whites. Once I decided to fill 25 minutes by having students write about one thing the government should do to improve America. I gave this question to three classes totaling about 100 students, approximately 80 of whom were black. My white students came back with generally “conservative” ideas. “We need to cut off people who don’t work,” was the most common suggestion. Nearly every black gave a variation on the theme of “We need more government services.”

There is something else that is striking about blacks. They seem to have no sense of romance, of falling in love. What brings men and women together is sex, pure and simple, and there is a crude openness about this.

Many black people, especially women, are enormously fat… Many black girls simply do not care that they are fat. There are plenty of white anorexics, but I have never met or heard of a black anorexic.

Many black girls are perfectly happy to be welfare queens.

Blacks can be smiling, seemingly perfectly content with what they are doing, having a good time, and then, suddenly start fighting. It’s uncanny.

The real victims are the unfortunate whites caught in this.

Many white students possess a certain innocence; their cheeks still blush.

“Do you think I really hate black people?”
“Have I done anything to make you feel this way? How do you know?”
“You just do.”
“Why do you say that?”

He just smirked, looked out the window, and sucked air through his teeth. Perhaps this was a regional thing, but the blacks often sucked air through their teeth as a wordless expression of disdain or hostility.

It may come as a surprise after what I have written, but my experiences have given me a deep appreciation for teaching as a career. It offers a stable, middle-class life but comes with the capacity to make real differences in the lives of children.

and many, many more. I’m tempted to quote the whole thing, but it sickens me.

I teach in a majority Black school. Almost all the teachers are white, fresh from college, and new to the city. The kids know they’re getting short shrift. They know these teachers come like missionaries to the provinces and try to extol the virtues of civilization to the savages before burning out in three years and entering into a real career, and the students are generally pissed about it. They’d have to be blind not to be.

The biggest problem the new teachers have to face is that the hostility the kids are focusing on them is entirely justified, and that the problem is no less than systemic. The term of the day is “self-serving prophecy” and the fault is institutional. With such obvious social disconnect as this man (who is thankfully no longer teaching in that school) it’s no wonder why.


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The debate continues (and continues) on bike lanes and just who owns the road in NYC. Staten Island thinks itself a “car culture,” Chinatown thinks they add congestion and the commentators think bicycling is the only mode of transportation where people disobey the posted rules.

Now instead of going on yet another diatribe about the uselessness of bike lanes for anything other than symbolic gestures by the city to accommodate bicyclists (or the infinitely more satisfactory practice of removing a lane of motorized traffic) or pointing out that while bicyclists run red lights, ignore the bike lanes and zip up the wrong way on one-way streets, motorists frequently speed, shift lanes without signaling, block the box and do all sorts of oddball maneuvers in traffic and pedestrians jaywalk like cars don’t exist and if they did it’s their own damn fault for driving in the city… but that’s just the joy of it.

Everybody crunches down on everybody. The debate will never – ever – subside and nor should it. The fact that people are paying attention is good enough.

Friday I saw a taxi being pulled off the wrought iron barrier by a tow truck after having slammed into the 72nd St 1/2/3 subway station. A woman interviewed said she asked the cabbie, bleeding on the ground, if his brakes failed and when he answered in the affirmative she told the reporter for NY1 she thought he was lying. Tuesday I glided past a block’s worth of apoplectic motorists on Dean St to see a guy parked in the middle of the street, making progress impossible. When told to get the fuck outta the way, he replied that it was alternate side parking and it was a $200 fine to park in the bike lane: Apparently he didn’t worry about being assaulted and battered by the dozen furious motorists behind him. That’s the kind of city this is: Ain’t no law that’s gonna stop people from their opinions.

I’ve had an NYU student purposefully block my path at Lafayette and 8th to slow me down and while my frantic evasive maneuvers had shorn the chain clean off my bike both I and the hapless activist remained whole. I’ve had a suit attempt to elbow me on 51st and 6th when I buzzed his wife as she obliviously wandered into traffic to hail a cab. I’ve been thrown to the sidewalk on 194th and Broadway when a city bus crossed two lanes of traffic in a plunging angle to make a stop. I’ve glided through raging arguments between motorists that lasted as long as they were going the same direction. I’ve had cabbies with two lanes of space slow down to berate me for not being in the bike lane and I’ve had cabbies cut me off when swooping into the bike lane to deposit passengers. I’ve been waved through a red light by a cop at Columbus Circle and 59th while I was waiting and yelled at by a cop at 61st and Broadway for running a red light. I’ve had SUVs squeeze me so tightly I could elbow them both at the same time. I’m personally responsible for the loss of at least three Starbucks beverages and I’m not at all remorseful, for I have encountered pedestrians shocked – shocked! – that bike lanes are not an extension of the sidewalk. I’ve had a cabbie reach over a front seat passenger to wrestle an apology out of me for dinging his rear view mirror on 42nd and Park Ave South and I’ve had a cabbie offer me a hat while biking in the rain on 57th and Madison. I’ve had pedestrians not hesitate to pick me up and dust me off after faceplanting on Washington and 14th and I’ve had a woman in pantsuit deadpan “nice brakes” when I stopped at 42nd and 5th. She was so straight-faced I still don’t know if she was being sarcastic. I’ve had just as weird an experience walking: It’s the city!

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