Saturday, August 03, 2019

El Paso

Since El Paso is just down the road from here, and the Cielo Vista WalMart is one I might go to at any time, I thought I'd weigh in on the shooting there even before I know all the facts.

One reality today is that we are armed to the teeth. Some angry young white guy on a racial rampage has no trouble getting the arms he needs to attack an entire store full of Hispanic Americans whom he considers the "enemy." And this is entirely for racial reasons. He's white; they're not; they are happy and prosperous; he's not. Shooting up a place is how you do it these days.

One way to see this is that some people are itching for a race war, quick while the white folks are still better armed than the rest (you don't see black folks, or Mexican-Americans, advocating for race wars). A random killing of twenty people will stir things up, for sure. It will probably make people vote, and then Trump will lose, and then the excretory material will really hit the ventilating device.

We go to El Paso to use the airport, and the Costco, which is halfway between the airport road and the Patriot Freeway back to Alamogordo. To us, El Paso is the big city: it has busy freeways, with new cars going eighty or ninety; it has a lot to see even as you try to keep your eyes on the road. It's sun-baked, compared to the mountains, always twenty or thirty degrees hotter. You can't leave your windows up when you park your car.

It is, in fact, prosperous, positive, and maybe 85% Mexican American. University of Texas at El Paso is only 7% white. Almost everyone knows Spanish and uses it for at least part of their day. But I, a white person, almost never hear it (and this is too bad, because I'd actually like to try mine out, though it is the Spanish of a viejo, fifty years ago). It seems to be comfortable with its bicultural nature.

We went to a Chihuahuas (minor league baseball) game one weekend a while ago. I'd gone down to Costco for my hearing aids adjustment but we made a weekend of it. To my sons it was all about food, motel, city. To me, it was about the possibility of walking across the bridge to Mexico. Across the bridge is Juarez, perhaps the most dangerous city in the Americas, sprawling, bigger possibly than El Paso and definitely one of the biggest of the border cities.

People around here all remember the days when people walked across all the time. They'd go over for dinner, or to get drunk, or for whatever, and they'd go back and forth easily. Those days are over. People are afraid to go over these days, and don't. The drug wars have torn the place up, and made it so people who are drunk or just having a good time might be targets. I was afraid to put my boys in that position; I would consider it impossible. Yet I also want them to see another country; it's important to me. To just set foot in another country, speak another language, look back at the USA, I value all of those things, and wanted to do it.

But I woke up the morning we would have done it, and there it was on the news: an incident on the bridge. The Border Patrol was out there rounding people up and arresting them. Not today, I said to the boys; I loaded them up, and brought them home, the hundred ten miles or so of searing desert, back to the base of the mountains.

In isolation, I think of Spanish puns. Namely this one: We all know that "El Paso" refers to "the pass," the place at the mountains, where the mountains leave a place to cross, a place between the mountains where it's easy to travel. But, with the accent on the final o, El Paso' means "it happened," or "he passed;" actually, it could mean a number of things. Couldn't it? Something to think about, I guess.

So this kid was alt-right, fascist, whatever. I have a problem with this. One is that we, New Mexicans, El Pasoans, locals, have known and worked with Mexican-Americans every day for many years. They are our neighbors, our environment, our friends, our colleagues. We can't go anywhere without doing business with friendly, polite, Mexican-Americans who have been here in some cases for generations. It is their city too, as it was held out to them as a promise: you move up here, you live here, you pay your taxes, you join the army, you fight overseas, you become a citizen with all the rights we all have. The idea that this was a white nation was never true out here, as the Spanish were here long before we were, and agreed to be part of the US with the understanding that they could keep their culture and language indefinitely. And it was going fine in that respect, except in Arizona, where whites started acting like they owned the place and started putting people in 110-degree tent camps. In New Mexico, whites were all the minority, and they always knew it. We were the minority, we still are, and the governmental and cultural things we imposed on the area were in some cases well accepted, and in some, well, life went on as usual.

I taught in the Alamogordo schools for a while. Alamogordo is a town about 100 miles north of El Paso, where a lot of people are related to people from El Paso. Among my students were scores of Hispanic names; maybe eighty or ninety percent. But there were people with Anglo names that clearly looked Hispanic, and people with Hispanic names that looked very Anglo. There were was one very white kid who didn't have a word of English; he was from Juarez. There were people who had been in that town for four, five, six generations, with lots of mixing. Anglos had married Hispanics, and then their kids had married each other, and it went on, so that racially they were totally mixed, or in any case I couldn't tell. There were a good twenty or thirty percent of them that I wouldn't want to identify as one race or another; I simply couldn't tell.

And now you want to have a race war? And split up these families, and force them onto one side or another? And why, because white folks are feeling outnumbered, like the other races are gaining ground? Or because some people feel like this country should be white?

I get the idea that it's all about white uprising. There is no doubt, white anxiety is what made it possible for a shill man, a rapist thief, to win the presidency. He represents to them, in his code, the anger that has been building up over the loss of white dominance and privilege. So he activates the mentally unstable forces that play this out. This young kid plays out the role that the race-baiters want him to play, and goes out and kills twenty of my neighbors. It's not easy for a country to keep its cool, and keep from falling apart into racial division and hatred as these people would like. To them, instability leads to war, and war is good. To me, war is never good. And, these are my neighbors.

Enough. I am staying off the highways, staying out of the city. It happened, that's all I can say. It's like 9-11; it's possible for nineteen boys to bring down the empire. How? By spreading permanent racial hatred and making people feel that our tribe is permanently threatened by some other tribe. And in the race to waste all our resources fighting, and increasing security, we all lose. Yes, we're secure. We're locked in, to a hateful country, with the culture that our race has assigned us to. I thought we were better than that, but, I was wrong.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Annals of Public Education, part II

I am ready to admit defeat in my pursuit of full-time teaching in Middle School or High School, as I have now had two instances of failure. True, in both cases students knew I was a sub, and behaved accordingly, refusing to do work or take me seriously. It would perhaps be different if they'd known I was a permanent teacher, with real power over their lives, and the ability to start them off on my own conditions.

Nevertheless, the problem was, in a nutshell, that I was unable to be mean enough to set them on the right course, and, sensing the ability to take advantage of me, they did. There were 25 of them, and one of me, or in some cases, an assistant who was of no value in this regard. If as many as eight students, one-third, of a class like this chooses to make a racket, get out of their seat, throw a paper airplane, or whatever, the teacher's main choice is discipline. Send them to the office. Yell. Plead with them to shut up and do something they really don't want to do. I found myself spending too much time making everyone miserable, most of all myself.

I have two observations to make in order to keep myself from dwelling on my own failure (I may not be finished yet, but I AM 65 now, with social security, etc., and less and less motivation to start over or go full time). First is that class size is by itself the single most determinant factor I have noticed. In a class of 12, it's much easier to make people care; in a class of 25, I've found it virtually impossible. The school district would do better by and large to spend those assistants, by giving them their own group of about eight, and let them teach whatever they can, than by sticking them in there with some teacher who is doing his/her best to manage 25. Anything they could do to lower that number would help greatly.

Second is that by and large, "gifted" and "honors" do the same thing - separating out the better students - but this leaves the other classes weighed down with those who don't care. In my class I found, as I've said, maybe 8 or 9 out of 25 who truly didn't care. Another 5 or 6 were easily swayed if they thought they could get away with not caring, and that's where having a sub was crucial (with a sub, they were more likely to get away with not caring). But the absence of students who did care, I though, made a huge difference. In 6th grade math, we had no honors, and gifted was only a small percentage, so it wasn't a huge numerical balance issue in this last particular case. Earlier, though, I had a similar experience with a 9th grade algebra class, that also broke down into anarchy. Why? Many reasons. Classes should be orderly, with productive learning going on, and I couldn't sustain that. I thought they would just respond to the basic coolness of math; how wrong I was.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Annals of Public Education

This particular sixth grade math class has had three, maybe four teachers, and they know I'm a sub. They're out for blood. They're drunk with power, knowing that if twenty two of them talk at once, what can I do? Keep them all in for lunch detention? Write all their parents?

The district has trouble finding math teachers, and it's not just subs when things fall apart early in the semester. It's right at the beginning, when someone is supposed to sign up for nine months of teaching these little monsters. The kids are actually quite innocent when they arrive, but they work themselves up into a frenzy of hormones when they sense weakness or lack of authority. And, they don't like math. They've had poor math education in the elementaries, and they know it's their weakness. They don't necessarily buy our pleas that it's important for their future. Or, they just get caught up in the fun of beating a sub.

"They're good kids," some people say, but the side I've seen of them hasn't been good. I've seen them using lotion as a weapon; taking little blocks out of a game and throwing them; crumpling up paper and throwing it at each other; leaving so much marker on a seat that other kids get their clothes marked; having to go to the restroom because their face is marked up, or their clothes, or there's lotion in their hair or hands, or any of various problems. They are certainly not doing their math homework. They don't know from averages. They can't answer simple questions. One can't read their handwriting. Their numbers don't make any sense, or, are copied from their friends, or both.

You may think all this is my fault, that perhaps I'm not stern enough for them. Yes, I guess that's true. I've been as mean as I could be, and it wasn't mean enough. I yelled and screamed, but they threw a little block at me when I turned my back. They stood on tables, and wrote on all the boards. They took whole boxes of kleenex out of the cupboards when I turned my back.

I'm too old for this, I might say. They don't think I'll make it, so they haven't given me the keys to the Synergy, or grading program. Without power over their grades, I'm just a sub - why should they listen? And, I have jury duty on Tuesday. Maybe I'll get a break from the whole ordeal.

Sixth grade math is not that hard. It forces them to think, though, and they've developed a resistance to that. They're too busy talking to think. They might be able to think at home, or maybe in a room with another teacher. At the moment, though, it's all-out war.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

In welding shop, with sexy hoe

Thursday, November 08, 2018

NM-2 One more update

Miracle of miracles, the last 8,000 votes were counted, and put Xochitl Small Torres on top. She beat Yvette Harrell by less than 2000 votes, but more than a razor-thin margin that would require a recount. She won and she's going to Washington.

This will make New Mexico entirely blue, in governor, two senators, and three congresspeople; it makes our congressional delegation the first to be all "people of color."

This sudden turnaround has gone somewhat unnoticed in the press. We found out from the Las Cruces Sun News, and the New York Times picked it up, but it went virtually unnoticed on politico or other sites that we follow. A turn of a seat is usually news, at least on the day it happens, but this wasn't - far overshadowed by the firing of Sessions, etc. The dust settles on the southern desert, and we have a Democratic congressperson, but the world goes on. I haven't heard either of their names mentioned at all today or yesterday.

I find New Mexico to be polite in a genteel, kind of southern way. A lot of the people say "y'all" and they don't call each other by first names for a long time, long after meeting, only with permission, etc., as is an old Hispanic custom. That's why they don't talk politics much. You have to get to know someone; you can't go around disagreeing with each other. It disrupts the harmony and the general rhythm of life.

Their margin was less than 1%, and I think on some level people won't forget. Two more years, and it'll be a whole new game. My own guess is that two more years and we'll be hurting economically; tariffs will have sunk in, and T will be mired in a corrupt and ineffective administration. The battle we are preparing for is the release of Mueller's report, but there will be more; the ever-shifting line, marking the center of American politics, will move one direction or another.

I find it very noteworthy that it landed here, in southern New Mexico, where ranchers share a sparse landscape with old Mexican-American families and an occasional set of young folks who move in for the same reason they've occupied Colorado, Arizona, and Montana. Really the ranchers dominate, but, in our case, we have a thousand mile border and this issue of $45 mil/foot wall. You'd think they'd welcome the jobs, but we don't; New Mexico's senators were the only ones, besides Kamala Harris, who voted against the wall. My own feeling about it is that walls will be outdated with the arrival of drones (which are already here) and since you'll need drone protection anyway, forget the wall and put it all into drones. A wall would be an utter waste of $45 mil/foot.

Or whatever. The price keeps going up, on account of the tariffs.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

NM-2 update

Our race was very close. A normally very conservative district, the vast majority ranchers, almost flipped blue, but the Democratic candidate, Xochitl Small-Torres, ended up losing barely to Yvette Harrell, Republican, by about 1900 votes. The last I heard, there were a few thousand left to count, all in Dona Ana County, Xochitl's stronghold, but I would think it would be unlikely that they'd count a few thousand, and have them all go to her. I think it's over. And I think you could point to a number of reasons she was unable to flip it.

The first was a merciless television campaign. Harrell got the support of a wealthy national organization that funded television ads for R candidates in crucial districts, and they flooded the airwaves. People in my hometown thought Xochitl would take their guns (not true), that she would do whatever Pelosi says (not true), that she would vote against Social Security (where this came from, I still don't know). Nationally, they had figured out what people's hot buttons were, and pressed them. It was undeniable that she came from a liberal, community activist (water-rights oriented) background, and they pushed that too, as if that were some kind of liability. Most important, the Trump base was energized; they all came out to vote. They were aware of the "blue wave," well afraid of its consequences, and they were all there on election day.

I generalize these reasons, and say, it probably happened all over the country. Record turnout at the polls. Highly motivated voters on both sides. Increasingly contentious and polarized electorate. More money pumped into the propaganda machine than ever. And the Republicans, by and large, are better at that than the Dems.

Frankly, I thought that Hispanic turnout would be more than it was. We live on the border, with a huge population of Hispanics in every county, particularly in the towns, like Roswell, Alamogordo, Carlsbad, and Socorro, but also in the smaller places along the border and over by the bootheel. the eastern part of the state has seen an oil boom, in places like Artesia, Hobbs, and Jal, and those towns are very conservative, I assume because they believe Trump is good for the industry. It's not clear to me whether there was record turnout in the oil districts, or, if increased Hispanic turnout would be good for the Dems; a surprising number of Hispanics are very conservative, and abandoned the Dems a few years back. I'm still studying the results in this area.

Nationally, I have few things to be happy about. I'm glad Scott Walker is out of there. The Iowa Nazi won another term but Iowa itself shifted more to the blue. A congressman I detest in my home district of Illinois won one more time. This time the Green influence hardly mattered. An interesting local race saw the candidacy of Gary Johnson, Libertarian, not make much difference. He got maybe 20% of the vote, and one could argue that most of it came from the red side, but the reds lost by about thirty anyway, so I don't think they're too mad at him. Most of New Mexico has gone blue, and the big news in the far west is that Arizona, Nevada, and even Montana are going that direction as well. It's a new dawn, with only Utah and Texas still staunchly in the red column, and it's possible to question even Texas. Things can happen, and it might be interesting in 2020.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Rise of Nazism II

I know two people who fell for the general resurgence of white nationalism as represented by the swastika, or the general blaming of Jews for problems of the white culture, or the nation, in this case the USA. I should say that there are plenty of white nationalists who are not Nazis, i.e. don't specifically blame Jews for everything, yet still attracted to the rigid order presented by a guy like Trump. There are also people who blame Jews for everything, i.e. Palestinians and Palestinian supporters, who are not so rigid in their idea of how a government should look, but who are simply anti-Zionist or firmly against the Israeli state.

But these two acquaintances give some idea of why we occasionally see the swastika these days: underground, of course, but spreading like a disease. You want to bring back Hitler? Simply kill people that aren't like you? That idea is not as unacceptable as it used to be. It's possible to say and think all kinds of stuff.

The first swastika I saw was on the site of a distant relative. He's white, uneducated, in sorry shape; in short, a kind of person who has fallen out of the system as we know it, with not much chance of making it. I don't know him well, not at all in fact, but that's all I know about him. How could he put that on his site? It was on a knife, as part of a picture of his dinner, but the message was clear: he's reaching for the times of Hitler. He's not ashamed to show that, or let us know.

The second is a guy I knew through Quakerism. He was a more complex case; he had joined the army, come back, sought out Buddhism and Quakerism both as ways to curtail the rage inside him. Who was he mad at? In the end he blamed the Jews. He just took on this whole conspiracy idea, that there are Jews among us, who want us to fall into decadence and dissension, who are behind everything from gay marriage (control of Hollywood) to the Democratic Party (George Soros, or whoever). I find this kind of thing unacceptable, but I kept him on my facebook; facebook itself would remove him occasionally, as he would forward things that were blatantly race-baiting, provocative, and untrue. He seemed to be attracted to the idea that the culture was crumbling, and something within it was at fault. That to be strong, and survive, we must seek our own tribe of like others.

White nationalism takes a different form in Europe, where each country has a distinct white identity, separate from the others, and takes measures to limit the degree that that identity can be compromised racially. In the US it's always been more of an open question; this place wasn't white originally, and was established on the idea that others could come here, as we, the white Europeans did. So there's a much more realistic chance that the white majority will cease to be a majority, and whites are seeing their majority slip away at every turn. Thus the popularity of a guy like Trump, who, in spite of his corruption and every other problem, turns around and curses the caravan, or even pays the caravan to keep walking, so he can win re-election. He stokes the white nationalist flames, and can't even say anything bad about a guy who walks into a temple and shoots people. He won't rally the country against white nationalism, or its rise, as he represents it, in a very direct way. He doesn't wear the swastika. But it doesn't matter; everyone knows what he represents.