Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Drowning in a sea of political correctness

I grew up 3 miles from the border, where half the kids were Mexicans (that’s what they called and still call themselves – not “Mexican Americans”).  They were the friends I went to school with, played Little League with, ate with at their homes, and dated.  I’m fairly fluent in Spanish, understand and like the Mexican people and culture, and every year at least one student asks if I’m part Mexican.  No, I’m not.  But kind of.

My best friend for many years at school is African-American; he’s always been a strong advocate of civil rights and black empowerment.  We socialize together outside of school, as well as work closely together in school.  I’m proud that some of my nicest letters of thanks over the years, and postings of support recently, have come from black students and former students.

I’m a big fan of native-American history and culture.  My sister’s husband (RIP) was half Lakota Sioux.  He was the only real brother I ever had, and we were great friends.  And one of my greatest honors ever was being able to hunt buffalo with the Blackfeet Nation a few years ago.

My mom’s mom was Jewish, which makes me Jewish according to Israeli law.  All of her relatives in Austria and Poland were killed by the frickin Nazis.  In the late-1990s, I formally studied Judaism (at Temple Beth Israel, on Laurel St.).  Eventually I decided it wasn’t for me, but do feel that Judaism comes closest to what I value in a formal religion. So I'm not Jewish.  But kind of.

I have been married to the same wonderful woman for 37 years.  I also have a daughter and a granddaughter, not to mention a sister, a mom, and several cousins whom I love dearly, including one who’s been on the national board of NOW for decades.  I’ve worked closely with two female principals and many female teachers over the years, and have had no problem with any of them.  I like women and consider them my equals. 

My wife and I have had gay friends for many years, and we love getting together with them.  I have two gay nephews, whom I love dearly.  One of them recently married a transgender person who physically changed her sex.  That’s kind of tough for people my age to wrap our minds around, but nevertheless we were the only aunt and uncle who accepted their wedding invitation. 

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These facts don't describe a person who is racist, misogynist, or homophobic/transphobic.  So if that’s the case, then how do we explain comments that people interpret otherwise?  Well – some people will ignore my claims and stay with those ugly labels.  Others believe that I have no social filter and just say whatever comes to mind.  But there are better explanations.

First off, many people misunderstand and misuse terms like racism, and I decided years ago to actively fight against this.  (There are actually two earlier blogs on this topic, the first of which appeared here in 2008.)  If you look it up in the dictionary, racism refers to the idea that people’s race is the primary determinant of who they are and what they can do.  It also implies the superiority of one race over another.  It does not apply to mentioning that someone is black or Jewish or whatever, or that their skin is darker or lighter, their culture tends to stress education more than other cultures, etc.  Unless there is some hint that the race or ethnic group is inferior or superior, as long as there is no intent to put someone or their group down – then this is not racism.  The same general idea applies to sexism and similar–isms. 

I enjoy learning about the differences among people and find them fascinating.  What a horrible waste to pretend that we’re all alike!  Yet our world has moved sharply in the direction of political correctness, to the point where people consider virtually any mention of race or ethnicity or sex or whatever to represent prejudice.  I believe this is unfortunate and misguided.  As a result, I make it a point to regularly talk about races and cultures and sexual preferences and whatnot in non-judgmental ways in an attempt to counter the ban on those things that students get elsewhere.  I’ll present various points of view, and sometimes even throw out controversial statements about racial/ethnic/sexual stereotypes in order to elicit critical responses from students.  Most students understand that these are not my personal opinions, although not all students get this point all the time. 

Then there is the humor connection.  I happen to think that a big sense of humor makes the world a better place. The reality is that my Mexican and Jewish and gay friends and I joke around a lot with one another about our ethnicities and sexual preferences and all.  Nobody’s trying to put anyone else down.  This is part of how normal, healthy adults relate to one another and show friendship.  So guess what?  Sometimes that real world adult attitude slips into my classroom.  Most of the kids get it and find it refreshing; some misunderstand what’s going on.

This relates to the cover of TIME Magazine last year, which featured the very popular (and black) comedians Key and Peele.  Their opinion piece argued for comedy that makes fun of everyone.  To do otherwise, they wrote, is to assume that a group isn’t smart enough to understand humor or strong enough to roll with it.  We’re drowning in a sea of political correctness”, they wrote, in a piece that surely everyone won’t agree with.    

But I do.  I think gentle, open humor serves a larger purpose of bringing us together, able to be honest with and relate to one another better.  Some people either don’t understand that or just don’t agree with it, and they are offended.  That’s unfortunate, and in those cases apologies may be appropriate. 

There was an incident in my classroom this year that illustrates some of these themes.  The boys competed against the girls in a review game of Jeopardy.  In my mind, this is no different than one side of the class competing against another side, as in either case, neither side has an unfair advantage or expectation based on their sex.  The girls totally trounced the boys, after which I jokingly announced that I was switching sides, going to get a sex change operation and become a girl!  This was purely an over-the-top way to rub it in to the boys for getting creamed, and as a compliment to the girls for doing such a good job; that is all that was intended.  Making fun of people who get sex reassignment operations was the furthest thing from my mind at the time.  But I found out later that some people took it that way, and I regret that. 

People sometimes take exception to things I say because they misunderstand the motivations behind them or disagree with my methods.  But racism/sexism/homophobia, if we use those words correctly, is not the issue,

Sunday, September 21, 2014

San Ysidros's "Ready Lanes" - How to find them!

Calle Segunda 
Come into TJ from the toll road the same way as always, although now you don’t have to turn off to the right to “Periferico y o Librimiento Sur” a mile or so from Playas, drive ½ mile and then do a U-turn to head up the hill along the border.  (Thanks to Baja Bound Insurance Services - www.bajabound.com - for the helpful pictures!)  Now, you simply stay on the highway and there’s a normal, civilized turn off that takes you directly onto the road heading up the hill and to the border, as this photo shows (the sign says San Diego, Rio Zona):

So you drive along the border fence; watch for the SAN DIEGO/INTERSTATE 5 signs and continue to follow them.  Then there’s a tricky turn-off that we missed the first time around.  Here’s how you can avoid our mistake - After you pass under the bridge in the next photo,

get ready to turn off to the right.  You want to turn right at the Pemex station, where the sign says Paseo de los Heroes, as these cars are doing (#2)


After that, it’s really not too hard.  At the end of the block is Calle Segunda, and you can only turn left there (#3).  As soon as you do, get in the middle lane (#4), which is identified by signs saying Colonia Federal and marked on the pavement as Medical Services Lane. 

You’re going to go a ways, curving to the right and up a hill and then past the little kiosk that lets vehicles into the Medical Lane.  Stay to the right of the kiosk, and then get in the left lane (after the kiosk).  You’ll head down a little hill to a stop sign, where in front of you is a big building with MEDAC on it.  You’ll make a U-turn here (#5), along with a lot of the other cars. 

This takes you basically back in the direction you just came, where you’ll soon come to a big speed bump and stop sign.  Stop (duh!), then curve to the right. This is a little tricky, so pay attention here.  Get in the middle lane (#6), which is identified by “San Diego” and an arrow.  


Go through the next stop sign (after stopping!), and past a casino on the right.  Through another stop sign, and then up to the stop sign at a roundabout, where you’ll see a big LEY business sign on your right.  Turn right at the roundabout (#7), go a ways, then turn right at the next stop sign (#8). 

Now you’re heading towards the border again, and are not far from it.  As soon as you’re on this road, ease over into the left lane.  Pretty soon there’s a gap in the left hand side of the road, and you merge left through it onto the Via Rapida (#9), as this red car is doing.


This takes you up a little hill and to the Ready Lanes, and soon you’re back in the USA!

Here are a couple of maps to help you visualize the route; you can click on them to make them bigger.  The red numbers correspond to the numbers in the text.   

Again, thanks to Baja Bound Insurance Services - BajaBound.com - for the helpful pictures!










Monday, September 2, 2013

Happy Labor Day!

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Labor Day was officially created in 1894 and is “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.”  Working conditions a dozen decades ago were intolerable by today’s standards, and there wasn’t a lot that workers themselves could do in the vastly unequal equation between businesses and labor.  But huge strides for America’s workers in the succeeding years make me wonder how relevant Labor Day is in these times.  Mostly, its value just seems to lie in marking the unofficial end of summer and giving us yet one more three-day weekend.
I’m not sad to see summer go.  San Diego has joined the rest of the country in a series of hot, humid days that remind me of why I’m happy to live in a place where such an occurrence is a rarity rather than the norm.  And the investments world has lived up to the old saw of “sell in May, buy back on Labor Day”, with the Dow down some 500 points since Memorial Day – the unofficial start of summer.  Meanwhile, silver’s a bit higher since May, but gold and the mining shares – despite lots of interim movement – are right back where they started.  Yeah, why didn’t I just sell everything 3 months ago and forget about them over the summer?
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In honor of the holiday, fast food workers are demanding $15/hour, about double what most make now.  Classic economic analysis tells us that doubling their wages should result in some combination of higher fast-food prices and fewer burger flippers – not such a good outcome.  Numerous studies question that conventional analysis, however, implying that raising the minimum wage would benefit low-income workers without really hurting the rest of us.  Whether that’s true or not, I still don’t have a lot of sympathy for those working entry-level jobs that don’t pay enough to live on.
Look – most of us started out working at those kinds of crappy jobs.  The point wasn’t to support a family.  It was to make a few bucks while learning some workplace skills; a first, necessary step up the ladder, rather than an end in itself.  And to give you a wake-up call; figure out a better way to make a living!   If you’re well into your 20s or older, and you’re stuck at Mickey D’s or KFC, chances are you didn’t have much of a game plan when you were in school.  I see it all the time: kids with tons of potential, but not putting in the effort.  Or going on to college, but majoring in something that “speaks to them”, rather than something that society values – as evidenced by decent-paying jobs.  So they’re stuck with only a U.S. high-school diploma which, if you didn’t know this, is seen by the rest of the world as not worth the paper it’s printed on, or a college degree that’s worth not a helluva lot more.   
Surely there are many people stuck in minimum-wage jobs for reasons beyond their control, but I think they are more the exception rather than the rule. For the rest – for the majority – I don’t know why we should guarantee them a “living wage”, basically rewarding them for making poor choices.  This is part of the cult of entitlement that so many Americans, especially younger ones, have embraced.  It basically says: “Enjoy life!  Do whatever you want, and don’t worry.  You’re an American, so somebody will take care of you no matter what.  
What if, on the other hand, the message to young people was: “If you want a good life, you need to – YOU MUST – really apply yourself.  Otherwise, your life is going to be really tough.  It kind of reminds me of the claim that most of us only use something like 10% of our brains (very high achievers, people with ESP, etc. apparently use more of theirs).  In the classroom, most students don’t work to their full potential.  They put in, on average, perhaps half the effort they’re capable of because – well, because of the “you’re an American, your life will be good regardless” idea.   As an experienced classroom teacher, even in a very high-performing school, I see this all the time; kids turning in crap, kids not studying when they know they should, not doing assignments that they could easily do, and so on.    
Now I don’t think that was the case 40 or 50 years ago, and I don’t think that’s the case in most of the rest of the world.  I think that earlier, and elsewhere, kids worked and work harder because they knew they’d be screwed otherwise.  It’s cause and effect.  We’ve had 20, 30, 40 years of good times in the U.S. – even during the Great Recession of 2008-2011, how many people didn’t have a place to sleep, food to eat, and unlimited texting on their iPhones?  As a result, trying to tell kids about the necessity of actually doing their best, rather than just whatever they feel like doing, simply doesn’t register with them.  Meanwhile, in most of the world – it does.  Not surprisingly, that’s where many of the high-paying jobs have gone, leaving fast-food and WalMart jobs as the only option for so many Americans.  
So good luck on the $15/hour thing.  I rarely buy that horrid, unhealthy food anyway, so it’s no skin off my nose.  But I won’t feel sorry for them if they don’t get it either.
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