Saturday, June 27, 2015

On Marriage and Dominicans, etc...

Yes, yesterday was a good day, since I spent the earliest decade of my life being sick, the second and third decades being criminal, and the last decade being married in some places and single in others. None of that matters, in quotidian life, but it might have been an issue if one or the other of us had been hit by a bus. Potentially, I could have been seeing my husband’s family stream into the ICU, while the nurses and doctors barred me.

So yes, it was a good day, and I went to the march and waved the flag, since that was what I had done off and on for decades. But it was miniscule to what so many other people had done, and minor compared to what I had done, which was come out to everyone including the guy who parks cars on the street (OK—I didn’t actually come out, but he saw me with the flag, gave me a special look, and don’t you think that counts?)

Between being in tears for most of the day, I read all the Facebook posts from all my religious former-students-now-FB-friends, who were writing things like this:

En mi opinión la reciente decisión del Tribunal Supremo de los Estados Unidos de legalizar el matrimonio entre personas de mismo sexo es un paso más de esta nación hacia un abismo de autodestrucción, no solo en lo que respecta a lo moral y espiritual sino también como potencia mundial.

My apologies to anyone who needs translation, but in fact, does anyone need translation? Because for the last month or so, we’ve been hearing that the sky was falling, or maybe that the jaws of Hell were opening up—right, that may be a mixed metaphor, but don’t worry, because the whole subject is so emotionally charged that nobody will notice—and the United States was going to be cast into the flames and the stench of sulfur and the cries of the anguished souls who have languished there….

So I waved the flag and walked hand-in-hand into Old San Juan, and had the happy discovery that people were on the streets, snapping photos and, in almost every case, applauding and cheering. It hasn’t always been that way: ON my first pride march in Puerto Rico, someone threw a bottle at me from a hotel window. Luckily, it was one of my life’s many disconnects.

Well, wouldn't you celebrate, too, if you had just torpedoed Western Civilization?

Then it was time to do that scandalous thing we gays do—we ate dinner. OK, he cooked, I did the dishes, and we had a bottle of champagne, since we learned a long time ago: In a world where not much can be expected, you have to create your family and celebrate your own milestones. And today? Well, I woke up and didn’t need to get out of bed to know that the world was still with us, since the same construction work that has been going on all week was still very audibly going on today.

So the world hasn’t fallen apart in any significant sense for anyone except that yes it has, if you are Dominican of Haitian descent, since what some are calling the biggest Humanitarian crisis in recent times is about to take place. Or rather, is taking place, but at night and in the early morning, since Dominican authorities are taking somewhat less bureaucratic routes, and travelling down the well-established paths of intimidation and brutalization. There is, for example, the Dominican guy who had the army guy pound on his door, order him to leave the house and, if he didn’t, he would return with gasoline and matches. Oh, and it’s a wood house (all right, more like a shack…).

Well, it was a situation we all had seen coming, since in 2010, the government announced that anyone born in the Dominican Republic was not automatically a Dominican, as had been the case. Then, the Supreme Court went further and announced that anyone without at least one Dominican parent was illegal. Oh, and that went back to 1927.

The court got around that by declaring that the Haitians had not been living in the Dominican Republic for all those years, cutting the sugar cane and harvesting the plantains and building and then cleaning the houses and doing all the things that immigrants do. No, they had been passing through, those guys who arrived in the 1960’s, and now have grandchildren, who—like so many immigrants—don’t speak Creole, don’t know anyone in Haiti, and consider themselves, very justifiably, Dominican.

In fact, the international pressure was intense, so then the Dominican Republic instituted a program designed to help those people who could be naturalized be naturalized. Although sometimes that was a trick, since some of these people were illiterate, many were without any papers, and therefore couldn’t ride a bus, since the bus would be stopped and identification demanded. Then, there were the reports that the lines were humongous, the people were waiting for days on end, bribes were being solicited and paid for people to jump in line. Oh, and for those who simply had a birth certificate from the Dominican Republic? Well, they had to provide an unwieldy pile of documents, which may explain that—out of hundreds of thousands of people—only 8,775 people completed the process, and all of that is under review, except for some 300 people who have been granted citizenship.

Well, the world watched all this being played out, and the social networks came through, but did the mass deportations happen? Because it had been reported—the government or the army (if there’s any difference) had rented 12 big busses, and had constructed seven deportation centers, and the situation looked all set for the deportations to begin.

So then the government announced that the deportations would begin after a 45-day period, during which those 8,775-minus-300-out-of-500,000 people’s papers would be examined.

So last week was a tense week, since what would the U.S. Supreme Court do, and what was going on at the border of Dominican Republic and Haiti? Were the deportations going on? And where was the press? Yes, it had been reported, but it was hardly being played in the way that a beheading in France or the Charleston murders were being played. So hundreds of thousands of people were—potentially—going to be upped and put into Haiti, and the president of Haiti has said that he won’t welcome any Dominicans of Haitian descent, and anyway, how much of a welcome is Haiti able to give? They’ve cut down most of the trees to cook the food that now they don’t have, so what’s left? Sharing dirt with their third-cousins from across the border?

So I was Googling, and then hit upon one of my many absurd schemes: I would download Google Earth, and then spy in on the border by satellite from the next island over! See? Technology wins again, just like love!

Except that it didn’t, since I couldn’t figure out how to download the program, nor how to enlist an army of will volunteers, to sit at their computers and monitors various spots along the Dominican / Haitian border.

Fortunately, a more connected generation has started a new twist on journalism, since now, anybody with a smart phone can be a journalist, as Vice News is proving, and if television brought the Vietnam War home more than the New York Times ever could, the Internet and YouTube is just as revolutionary. And so I watched, today, and absorbed the fact that some 14,000 Dominican / Haitians have already crossed the border—some of them, presumably, are Haitian and getting out before “voluntarily” before they’re evicted. So they’re selling off all their stuff and guess what? This is not how you want to plan a move….

Well, it’s an interesting world, since one of my questions has always been, well, isn’t it stretching the imagination that all of those concentration camps were built in Nazi Germany, but the good German people didn’t know anything about it? Now, of course, Vice News would be showing the trains, and anyone with an Internet connection and an interest would be able to see it. It being, of course, whatever atrocity was going on at the moment.

So now I’m married and that was nice but now I have to be worried about what is happening now and may happen in the next month on the next island over. And to all of my students for whom I still have a great affection, and who are reposting the rants of their Evangelical friends, let me ask a question….

…isn’t it time to move on, and worry about something real?


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dumbing Down for Dummies

Lately I’ve busied myself teaching a very nice Chilean woman the 100 citizenship questions that every foreigner has to study, since during the interview with the INS every candidate is asked ten questions; of these, he or she must answer six correctly. So how do the candidates do? Well, according to the National Review, 91% pass. OK—and what about our high school kids? In the same article, only 4% of kids in Oklahoma and Arizona passed.

Each time I prep someone for citizenship, I come away feeling that I’ve gypped the student, that my own teachers had done so much better for me, that they had brought more depth and subtlety and passion to the subject. Oti, my student, tells me that the Constitution has to be obsolete, since it was written in 1787 (which is, by the way, one of the one hundred questions). I counter by telling her that the framers of the Constitution very deliberately couched their language in general terms, allowing for interpretation as time and technology change.

As an example, I gave her the case of a zookeeper in Milwaukee, who had posted on Facebook that the white clientele of the zoo had lousy manners. Somehow, his supervisor read the post, and fired him. Apparently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the zoo’s favor.

Or maybe it didn’t—I’ve looked it up just now, and can’t find anything about the affair. But that was hardly the point, since Oti and I went on to talk about the merits of the case: Didn’t the zookeeper have the right to free speech? Shouldn’t a person be able to post what he likes on Facebook? Could you argue that a zookeeper with that attitude was unlikely to perform his job adequately, since one part of that is to deal with the public? All of those questions my old civics teacher would have pounced on, and many more.

That said, it also may be true that I don’t do too badly, since reading the 100 questions can be a dismal affair. Does anyone care that the constitution was written in 1787? Of course not—more interesting is the fact that the Colonialists fought a revolution, and then had the thought dawn on them: How in the world were they going to govern themselves?

That’s hardly the worst: One question is why the Pilgrims came to America. Well, good liberal that I am, you know my answer: They were so hideously intolerant in their religion that even the Dutch couldn’t stand them. Wrong—they came seeking religious freedom, at least in the INS’s view.

And so we come to the dismal fact: If anybody is teaching Civics, they’re doing a singularly lousy job of it. But that might not be surprising, since two years ago, I discovered that my niece, a professor of English pedagogy, was set to go off to Vienna, to teach a course on teaching English grammar to ESL teachers.

“I’m sort of worried about that, since the students tend to get so hung up on the pluperfect and continuous tenses, and I don’t know anything about that stuff….”

Yeah? She was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, her specialty was teaching teachers to teach English, and she couldn’t conjugate a verb? Even more troubling, in several conversations with her, I attempted to understand what her thesis was all about: I couldn’t understand it then, nor can I now. The best I can say is that it had something to do with racial stereotyping on children’s reading abilities—but that’s just a guess.

What’s happening in our schools? Well, we seem to be trading learning basic facts and information for dealing in broad concepts and critical thinking—all of which would be fine, if having a basic bed of knowledge weren’t the first step in being able to engage in critical thinking. 

It’s all part of the dumbing down of our schools, and anyone who hasn’t tried to pass the 1912 Eighth Grade Bullitt County (KY) knows: We’ve all been victims. Sure—I aced the Grammar section, but the question, “Through what waters would a vessel pass going from England through the Suez Canal to Manila?” Remember looking at the floor, at your shoes, or indeed anywhere, all to avoid making eye contact with the teacher?

In fact, one symptom of our dumbing down is that we are now preferring video versus print, and so I went to YouTube—of course!—for a very instructive clip on the problem. Teachers, it seems, are no longer correcting spelling errors, since my “because” has equal weight to your “cuz.” Did I believe this? Wasn’t sure, but my interest was piqued by the allegation that schools were bumming out their students by teaching “death education.” Yeah? So I looked that up, and got the following paragraph from a New York University professor:

From twenty years of teaching a college course, I can see the value of a course offered as an elective. As for requiring high school and elementary school students to study death and dying, I am skeptical. Advocates of death education say that the traditional college age is too late for beginning ones education in this area. That is true and I return below to the need to begin death education as early as possible. Before describing how to answer the need, however, are we certain about the need itself.
Why do I feel that no eighth grader who could navigate—or at least identify the waters to be navigated—from Britain to Manila would navigate so ineptly through that paragraph? Consider punctuation—there’s no question mark on the last statement, and no apostrophe on the “one’s.” But even worse is the logic problem posed by the author’s first saying that he is skeptical about requiring high school and elementary students to undergo death education, and then averring that “death education as early as possible” is necessary. But wait—then we are told that we might be uncertain about the need itself! Is it just me that doesn’t get all that?

Nor is it the case that this is some adjunct professor. Rather, it is—probably—by a man named G. Moran, where he would eventually become Director of the Program of Religious Education at NYU.
Rather curiously, believing that the education of our time has been deliberately dumbed down leads you straight into the arms of the conspiracy theorists, since why has this happened, and at whose direction? Of course—it’s the New World Order, otherwise known as the Illuminati, that sinister oligarchy and plutocracy that pulls the strings and moves the world. Obviously, the last thing they want is to have an informed citizenry, so what have they done? Fed us with the drugs of materialism, nationalism, religious fervor, and emotional non-rational discourse. Think George Orwell, only on an order of magnitude many times worse.
Is it true? Probably not. What is true is that if anyone wanted to create a mindless, malleable proletariat, well…

…wouldn’t that be the way to do it?

And now, for someone who hasn't been dumbed down….

Friday, June 19, 2015

On White Supremacists and Naked Violinists

Full confession: I have spent half an hour watching Mr. Bean, because there’s nothing for it, there’s no sandbox deep enough to bury my head, the truth is as blinding as it is numbing. “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” and what can I do about it? Precious little.

Again, a kid had too much time on his hands, too little to do, began brooding about the soon-to-be-disappeared white race, and got it into his head to grab a gun, go and sit for an hour in a Bible study group, and then kill nine people.

As always, it’s the details. That hour that he spent—what was he thinking? Was he studying the group? Was he identifying which people he would kill first? Which he would spare? Was he wrestling with his conscience? Or was he gathering up the “courage” to act?

As always, it’s the reaction. An Episcopal bishop writes that the attack wrote that the attack was “unimaginable.” Was it? Wasn’t it almost predictable, since insane attacks have now happened in movie theaters, elementary schools, and now Bible study groups in churches. Oh, and pretty much anybody in the black community can tell you: There’s a long history of attacking and often torching the black churches. The liberals are saying that this is terrorism, as much as a Muslim planting bombs at the marathon in Boston was terrorism. The gun-loving crazies are…well, I don’t know what they are saying because, guess what? So polarized have we become that neither side is listening to the other, which means that nothing will ever get done, because the money is with the guns, and anyway, they’re out there, and so how do you lure the genie back into the bottle?

As, always, it’s not the individual. Although it will be painted that way—this “terrible tragedy” had nothing to do with systemic racism, failed educational systems, fractured society, warped values, and lax gun laws. No—it was an isolated incident, regrettable but not indicative of anything that need be done, except perhaps to be more vigilant.

And does anyone really think that our police departments are not waging a war against black people? Because, in 2006, the FBI published a paper entitled “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement.” Who knew? And by the way, even I could be a white supremacist, since I could be cloaked in what I now know is a “ghost skin,” a term referring to a white supremacist passing as a liberal, or at least not as a crazy.

Then, of course, there’s the rest of the world to consider, since absolutely everybody is the developed world is convinced that we are bloodthirsty savages, and who’s to say they’re not right? Consider the case of Stefan Arzberger, the first violinist of the Leipzig Quartet, who went out after a concert, met and took a transsexual prostitute to his hotel in New York City, got rolled, and, according to him, was drugged. So what happened? At 8 in the morning, he was naked and roaming the halls of the hotel, pounding on doors. An older woman opened the door, and the violinist nearly killed her. So she is suing him, he is claiming that he was the victim of a drugging and a robbery, and the entire classical music world is scratching its head. Oh, and making comments like this:

The problem of “drugging” other people at a bar in order to rape, rob or murder them is, fortunately for the rest of the world, a rather unique and peculiar American reality, more or less unknown and unheard of in Europe, Japan and in other developed countries.

See more at:   

Well, it’s all familiar ground: People who are not classical musicians or lovers of classical music are questioning why no one can believe that a violinist would be roaming the halls naked at 8 AM attacking older ladies unless drugged. Just because he plays the violin, does he get a free pass? Evidently not, since he is still in New York, facing huge legal bills—he may have to sell one of his violins to get out from under them—and his string quartet has been scrambling to find other violinists to replace him. Oh, and they got into a nasty scrap when they substituted Arzberger but neglected to tell Wigmore Hall.

So we have just a nice normal 21-year old who shot nine black people, and we have a drug-maybe-crazed violinist running very amok through the halls of his hotel, very much seeking “whom he may devour,” and why do I feel it’s my job to do anything about it? Although I now know, thanks to the comments section of the article sited above, that most likely it wasn’t a date rape drug, but rather a bath salts drug which apparently acts as a stimulant, and which anway would be self-induced, and not slipped into Arzberger’s drink.

And that means I should Google it, since it’s vital to tell you all, my legions of readers, exactly what it is, the dangers of it, and precisely why you shouldn’t experiment with it. And in fact, I have done just that, and can tell you not to bother running to your bathroom to dispose of the offending item, since the ordinary bath salts are just bath salts. But since they were sold at times as real bath salts, the name stuck. Anyway, they are apparently the fourth most consumed drugs in the nightclubs. Oh—and they can’t be detected in urine tests.

So it’s a melancholy business—and who can tell when it will finish? But here’s a start: Beware of the white dude in your black Bible group, and think really hard before you open your door to naked violinists! 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Montalvo Dances with the Grim Reaper

“6:30,” I told him, since my phone had told me it was Montalvo, and he tends to dislike formalities.

“No,” he replied.

A twenty-two year old refusing dinner?

“I’m having surgery! They’re transferring me to Centro Médico right now.”

So I went back home to take a shower, and to inquire if Mr. Fernández, my fellow parent, wanted to accompany me to Centro Médico. This he declined to do, citing the urgent necessity of getting a haircut.

Right, so it was only I stuck between the completely disparate worlds of extended and extreme adolescence and what was, at times, healthcare in name only.

“I cut my fuckin’ hand opening a goddamn bottle of wine at 10:30 this morning,” explained Montalvo to me via his brother in Spain, who had called to wish him well.

“And was there a corkscrew in the house?” I asked

There are times I sound just like my father.

Montalvo peered intently at the television, and completely disregarded me.

There are times he acts just like me.

So there I was with the two of them, since Montalvo’s roommate Alexis—a somewhat bland gay pre-med student, currently more interested in marijuana than school—were both sitting / lying around wondering if the ambulance would show up to take them from one hospital to Centro Médico. Both stared happily at me….

“Who’s your nurse?”

“How the fuck should I know! Shiiit, they sent so many damn people in here, I don’t know nothin’ from nobody! Damn.”

He’s in pain, but he also in a teaching moment, so I point out to him—learning someone’s name and being nice can get you places, such as Centro Médico in an ambulance.     

“That’s their JOB, man!”

Right—so now it’s my job to go find the nurse, identify her and call her “Ivette,” and learn that the ambulance is en camino, or “on the way.”

“From where, Mayagüez?”

That was Montalvo, and Mayagüez is on the other side of the island.

So the ambulance arrives, and we go the place I had been dreading: Emergencia, alias The Anteroom to Hell. Remember that famous Russian Medicine? Well, we do it worse.

It started with the nurse, who successfully did an intake on the patient without actually seeing him: The nurse was at his desk, shouting questions at Montalvo, lying on the stretcher. Then we got the doctor, who spent even less time, but who did drop the news that nothing could be done today—Saturday—but perhaps Saturday? Or maybe, Monday—who knows?

“Motherfuhhh—that dude just blew in and dropped that shit on me and blew out? Fuhhhh!”

“Listen, Montalvo, it’s Saturday afternoon, and in a couple of hours the gun shot wounds and the stabbings are going to start rolling in, and do you think anybody wants to have an operating room being filled with a kid who cut his thumb?”

“Man, I sliced my tendons! You could see ‘em wiggling around in there, when they cleaned it up!” Actually, everybody could see them, since Montalvo had taken a video on his cell phone, and was sharing it in person as well as social-medially.

Right, so we went to “overflow 4,” since there were no curtained-off areas in the ER available, so that meant that Montalvo was lying in a cart in the hall. Actually, it wasn’t a bad place to be, since it was a bit like being in a really bad reality show: A woman was sobbing at the nurse’s station, the nurses were completely oblivious to anything going around them though they were vigorously chatting, the doctors were walking through the unit with unseeing eyes. There was, however, one gentleman interacting with patients, whom I had noticed while filling in the intake questionnaire with Montalvo.

“Religion,” I asked him.

He gave me a long look.

“Look, why the hell does that even matter? Dammit—just leave that question blank! I mean, how is that gonna help heal my thumb?”

So I returned to the “business office,” which featured a worker as spectacularly indifferent as she was inefficient—though not so inefficient that she refused to admit Montalvo into the system, since she didn’t have his insurance information, located on a card located in the pocket located in the wallet located…

…at Montalvo’s house.

“Well, he can’t be here,” she told me.

“Yes, he can, and where is he going to go? Are you going to put him out on the curb?”

“I need the insurance card.”

Right, so I call Alexis, who is sounding vaguer than ever and has sought relief—I begin to suspect—with the help of a substance perfectly legal in Colorado. But he has the wallet, and would be perfectly happy to bring it to the hospital, if only Montalvo hadn’t smashed up and wrecked his car, some three months ago.

“Look, can I just give you the numbers and stuff?” I ask the lady.

“I have to examine the card myself….”

So we go down a road that ends up in a place called Compromise, which is that Alexis will photograph the card, front and back, and send me the photo by text message. Which he does, and which, of course, arrives as a thumbnail which I have no idea how to magnify or open. So I hand the phone over to the woman—so young that it was her grandmother who taught her modern telephony, and she pinches and expands the photo—success!

So I had passed the only interactive person on the Emergency Unit, and then I had noticed that he had had his thumb on the patient’s forehead. OK, as I was chatting with Montalvo, I monitored the man’s progress through the unit—and whatever he was doing, he was doing a lot of it. At last he was at “Overflow 3.”

En el nombre del padre, hijo, y espírito santo…

Could it be?

Well, he came, announced himself as the chaplain, and then placed his thumb—anointed with sacred oil!—smack dab on Montalvo’ forehead, and started to give him, as he had the rest of the Emergency Room…

…Last Rites!

At least, that’s what I presume he did, comprehension being difficult, since his mouth hosted only one tooth.

“Listen, Montalvo, are you good with this?” I asked, in Half Rite. Montalvo, however, believes in good energy, however toothlessly delivered, so he closed his eyes and nodded.

So then it was time to get some food into Montalvo, since yes—there is a cafeteria, and presumably even a meal coming on a tray, but the reviews coming  from Nico, Lady’s husband and visitant after her operation in the same hospital two months ago, were hardly stellar.

“The cafeteria is down this long, dark corridor in the basement. It’s on the left, on the right is the morgue…”

“I won’t be eating that,” said Montalvo, who anyway is a vegetarian. But fortunately, the problem is instantly solved, since there is also a food court, and absolutely all of the health care personnel—since it had now turned five—were carrying little sacks of Burger King and KFC and super-sized drinks, some of which were in super-sized containers, some of which had settled onto the thighs and bellies of their occupants. Oh, and did I mention that virtually all of them were smoking cigarettes as they made their way to the fast food?

Well, he got lucky, my son, and was transferred to a room in the middle of the night. Then the pain got bad, so he got on his call light, and guess what?

“Those bitches were takin’ care of the guy in the next room all night, and did they ever take care of me?”

So his solution?

“I started makin’ these crazy-ass noises…”

He produced something like an Indian war whoop produced by an amplified Canada Goose, and did that attract attention? Certainly, in the form of Security.

“So the security guard says I can’t be makin’ all this noise, and I’m goin’ well, what else am I gonna do it they don’t bring me my pills! So he says I can’t make noise, and I tell him to get some pills, ‘cause the pain is really intense, and that’s when the doctor arrives and tells me the surgery is today, and tells the nurse to get the pills.”

Well, he had his surgery in one corner of the operating room, since the other corner was with a guy who had been in a bar the night before and had been hit in the right eye by a ricocheting bullet.

“So the doctor is telling him, ‘I gotta remove your eye,’ and the guy just loses it and starting wailin’ and all…”

So I’m glad it worked out, though I was well-prepared for any outcome, since what was being advertised on those many signs peppering the campus of Centro Médico?