Big Smoke

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


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Yvette Espersen was asked by the NYTimes to wax prose on what the Oslo killings meant for the European right wing as it related to immigration. Her response leaves much to be desired:

Historically, people have moved around Europe for thousands of years, and the region and its ethnic groups have, in general, been welcoming and tolerant. During the last 40 years, Europe has gone through a cultural change with the enormous immigration of Islamic people. This change in demographics presents a great challenge to Europeans and what their democratic societies can tolerate. Islamic communities generally do not, as many other religious communities do, assimilate, and many Muslims are demanding accommodations that we view as radical to our way of life.

While she continues on to promote dialogue from all parties, which is always good, the assumptions here are staggering, especially considering that Europe has for the last fifty years been going through something of a miniature version of what America went through for the last two hundred.

To start,

  • Historically, people have moved around Europe for thousands of years, and the region and its ethnic groups have, in general, been welcoming and tolerant.

Yes. Europeans have been somewhat* tolerant of other groups… so long as they’re white and Christian. What is the point of tolerance if you’re only tolerant of your own? Indeed, clan-based heathens have always been excluded as have north Africans of whatever creed, and the wars fought between Christian sects were only bested in savagery by the wars fought between Christianity and non-Christianity. There is no love lost where the ‘alien other’ is concerned, in Europe.

  • This change in demographics presents a great challenge to Europeans and what their democratic societies can tolerate.

And here I thought the mark of a mature democracy was its ability to defend the rights of the minority over the tyranny of the majority.

  • Islamic communities generally do not, as many other religious communities do, assimilate, and many Muslims are demanding accommodations that we view as radical to our way of life.

As an American who once held a history book, I find that to be a frightfully dubious statement. Indeed, similar statements have, in this country’s short tenure, been said of Catholics – and vicariously, all Latin people – and Jews, and similar has been said as per the impossibility of assimilation of Blacks, American Indians and, quite lately, Latinos. Many, many times have there been attempts to repatriate these out-groups elsewhere.

Furthermore, even of most historical American in-groups, social cohesion of immigrant communities have lasted longer than expected when it came to assimilation. Germantowns, language barriers and all, persisted straight until World War I, with predictable results.

Furthermore, it is the height of hypocrisy to state that the laws of Islam are any special threat to a government when that government is already under siege from the laws of Christianity. I know that in Europe it’s a bit different, but in America I find the bible-thumping evangelists who attempt to get congressional seats far more threatening to the ostensibly secular state than the nascent Muslim communities peppered about the country because, well, those bible-thumping evangelists are equally as scary as Koran-thumping extremists in what they’re saying and yet have a far greater chance of actually getting into office.

I honestly do believe that the problem isn’t anything special about Islam but merely the existence of outsiders, and the “fear” exhibited by these Christian extremists and the conservative constituency that have been voting in right-wing politicians all over Europe are nothing more than bald xenophobia and racism. To say that the solution is to assimilate them as quickly as possible is as to say “your culture is offensive. Please hide it while in polite company,” which is offensive, and were the shoe on the other foot, there’d be an uproar by the same people.

In my humble opinion, assimilation isn’t the key. Just ask the native Americans or African-Americans who adopted Christianity and the western mode of life if they were, by doing so, accepted into the larger culture. Tolerance is the answer, and tolerance comes from understanding and understanding is a natural result of familiarity. Only by education can we stem the hate, which means abandoning this peevish desire to make the alien un-alien through assimilation and instead making the alien un-alien through understanding.

*yes, somewhat – as in, “hey, historically, weren’t most immigrants to America fleeing European religious persecution?”

Summer School


Out of the 400 students in my school, 250 need summer school. Nobody in my school seems to be surprised by this fact. So, when in Rome, be as cynical as the Romans are.

Come to find out, however, the school’s summer session is ten days long. Ten. Days. Long. Not six weeks: Ten days. And each student can take up to three classes. An hour and a half each class, three classes a day, four days a week for two and a half weeks.

They get credit for three classes. Four months’ work condensed into ten days.

If that wasn’t insane enough, they’re not even showing up. Fully 150 students cut most of the first week. In this, the second week, an average of 75 students aren’t showing up. I’ve even spoken with one boy who cut school because they’d confiscate his cell phone if he entered the building and he “needed it for work.”

To add lethargy to laziness, the students that do show up mosey in up to half an hour late. We’re practically giving them free credits, and they’re not even accepting them. This is a New York City public high school; one of Bloomberg’s babies.

How? Just, how?

On a separate note, the principal today handed me nine boys for tutoring and instructed me, in front of them, not to correct her when she gave her spiel about my being a “middling student.” On top of that, she added that she was surprised that I did not ask her for assistance after the previous day’s tutoring session. In front of the students.

This is personal.

Professional Courtesy


I’ve been commissioned to tutor students in math – mostly geometry – for the summer school session.

The principal introduced me to four boys, stating that I, like them, was “middling” in my mathematical ability in high school. The principal does not know my record. I don’t know whether she was attempting to seek a way to bring the students and myself into a sense of rapport via mutual experience or merely finding a manner in which to denigrate me in front of people I’m supposed to hold authority over, but I was not amused.

In this school, geometry is not as far as students go: It’s as far as classes offer. Science is just as bad – chemistry and physics were dropped due to high failing rates, and replaced with a regents-less astronomy course and the bullshit earth science and ‘life science’ courses, which are essentially science without formulas or analysis. The standards are fantastically low, and the students react accordingly: Given four years to do one year’s worth of math and science is laughable.

I took algebra and geometry in middle school. In high school I took trigonometry and calculus. I took AP physics after taking biology, chemistry and regents physics and, in college, took engineering calculus and physics. I work in a math-related field: Computers and IT. I know math. I see no particular reason to lie to the students – because all students in the public school system have highly honed bullshit detectors – and if I did I would not trump up the so-called difficulty of the subject by implying that I had trouble with it.

Moreover, if I were in a management position, I would not undermine the authority of my charges for what can most generously be called a bad joke, especially if only to reinforce the utter contempt and lack of expectations of the students themselves. They are better than that. I am better than that.

They picked up the information quickly enough: A mere lack of attention was the culprit for their being in summer school, and being forced to concentrate on the task at hand alleviated that in short order. I was and can only be shocked at how simple it was to deal with the problem. Tech support problems take longer to diagnose. And if all it took was to set their noses to the grindstones after proving to them how easy it was, why did it take so long? It’s as if they’ve been told math was hard for the sake of being hard.

I certainly know more than a few English teachers – masters degrees and all – who think that of math. Alas.

Again You

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And I’ve been laid off again. Budget cuts once again made my position redundant, which means that as the only tech in a building of six schools, soon nobody will be running the equipment. Can’t say I didn’t see it coming; we’ll see how deep it cuts this time.

Deus Ex: What are we fighting for

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I would love a cybernetic-implanted special agent in an urbane corporate dystopia. I loved Syndicate and Syndicate Wars. I liked the feel of Deus Ex’s settings. I’m looking at Brunner, Gibson and Stephenson on my bookshelf right now. Hell, I love Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell, which this trailer is not not reminding me of.

I want that postmodern cyberpunk noir, but it has to be smart.

The plot of the original Deus Ex fell flat to me because underneath all that New World Order talk was very little indeed. Mass Effect populated itself with plenty of good intrigue, but all that follow-the-money made me want to affect and disrupt Binary Helix, ExoGeni and Cerberus’ front corps, not just witness them and register the proper amount of disgust for paragon points. At this point I get more backstabbing and intrigue in fantasy games like the Witcher 2, and I’m not terribly fond of dragons and the black plague.

I’m worried this new game won’t deliver: Whether I’ll see something that makes me wanna think – actual honest-to-god philosophizing about future society – or if it’ll be all “shadowy puppeteers of shadowiness” like Alpha Protocol.

I suppose the gist of what I’m getting as is that I’m kinda sick of “save the world” story arcs. What I liked most out of Aliens, Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell was that the world itself was almost ancillary – the important part was the drawing out of primal questions. In the latter two, the question was, “what makes one human?” In the former, the question was, “how far are humans willing to go?”

Weyland-Yutani – and I remember the corp name off the top of my head – is, aside from Ripley, the real center of the arc, and not because it was omnipotent, but because it was not omnipotent. I’m reminded of the Greek heroes, where they weren’t more capable of insight as they were just supremely powerful. Likewise, the gist of Gibson and Stephenson wasn’t to save the world but just to survive in a system that was hostile and inherently flawed; specifically, to posit and log how it twists men.

Like good detective novels (and good noir or neo-noir movies). Like Palahniuk without the Jesus surrogates. I don’t necessarily want questions answered; I just want them to be good questions – and I haven’t really seen that in the previews to date.

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