On the Eve of Politics and Education, Our Struggle with Covid

Tonight I am deeply sorrowful because of the cheap shots taken at me from behind the scenes, the trust I extended dashed to the dry and cracked, filthy ground. The long week of pitiable nonsense and dismal returns on my shabby dollar, and all of it because of a sisterhood of angry and jealous protractors that wallow in myth and gossip, while burrowing into a dark well of competition and back biting during a historical time of disease and political strife. 

Kamala Harris, while certainly not a perfect choice, is a representation of smart and tough, something we need during a time when people are willfully engaging in ignorance and conspiracy, the kind of anti-intellectualism that destroys credibility and engenders a dangerous philosophy of white supremacy and anti-science idiocy. She belongs with us, just as all strong women belong with us.

When we need help, we get voter suppression. When we need togetherness, we get isolation and distrust. When our healthcare professionals need respect and protections, they receive conspiracy theories and ignorance instead. We have an executive branch actively suppressing the vote while they openly destroy and defund a national treasure, our postal service. 

When I look into the conversations online, I see a school district in my neighborhood so overwrought with politics and football, that they would willfully risk the lives and health, the well-being of their entire workforce, for a dream consisting of nothing but denial and silly nostalgia. The risks involve my entire community because as they force teachers, staff, and other workers to convene on crowded campuses, the virus will spread from person to person, and ultimately exponentially infect us.

Donald Trump, Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and others like them, represent the lowest of human form during a time of crisis and ill health. They are the type of men that would beat a child from its bed because it was sick. They look down upon ill health as if it is the fault of the bearer, yet, Abbott himself is profoundly disabled, confined to a wheel chair. His lack of empathy is shocking and offensive because Covid creates disabilities; it causes wheelchairs to become occupied; it disrupts the livelihoods, the health, the well-being of all who come into its path. Covid has made its own form of political power and oppression. To deny this, is to be dangerously arrogant. 

BlackLivesMatter


Trump: A Letter to the Most God Awful President Ever

Thank You Mr. Trump: Things are really messed up 😷

I can’t think of anything more grotesque than you being president. Wait, let me back up and start at the beginning because this is pretty heavy stuff. The fact that people are so imbecilic that they actually voted for you is extremely frightening and unreal even though it happened way back in 2016. The fact that they continue to support you is like witnessing a terrible wreck and the remaining bloody carnage. The fact that your followers align you with some kind of religious sanctity is laughable and ridiculous. Your hateful, aggressive tone, your mannerisms, remind me of a rapist, and this becomes especially apparent when you tell women to “be calm” or “to just relax.” I agree that Biden is a creep too, but I’m going to vote for him because another four years of Trump-style destruction and authoritarian tendencies will destroy what is left of our natural world and human decency. I can’t think of even one nice thing to say to you because you are responsible for so many deaths. The fact that all you care about is the next MAGA rally is catastrophically disturbing as the virus is continuing to spread and more people will become infected because of your dumb policies. People are trying to save their businesses and their jobs, but you made it an even more dog-eat-dog world because the “help” that you and Congress provided didn’t go far enough or long enough to save anything. Your “help” was really just designed to fit the needs of big business, not to mention the pain and suffering your callous neglect caused our healthcare workers, and doctors and nurses. Your press conferences are abusive and disgusting, just opportunities for you to falsely advertise your nonexistent skill set and give big business free advertising it doesn’t deserve. Now, this equally unattractive and ugly toad, Mitch McConnell, is trying to force people to go back to work in a world that is unsafe, unclean, disorganized, and infectious. The Senate should have thrown you out of office when they had the chance. It's a crime that they let you slide.

Suggesting that this virus will just disappear is grotesque, completely grotesque. Suggesting that disinfecting the inside of a person’s body is grotesque, completely grotesque. Overriding your own healthcare team with stupid distractions and misguided, dumb hunches is grotesque. You are a disgrace to America in every way possible. All of those bodies, the chaos, the pain, the loss, all of it is on you. Nothing is is more grotesque than you being president.

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Governor Abbott, Why are You Lying to Us?

If I could write Abbott a letter (I could, but I don't think he would read it), I would ask him why he lied to the citizens of Texas during his press conference update on Coronavirus today. He claimed that testing "wasn't any good if you are testing negative." This is totally wrong, and I don't know why he would say this unless he just wants to make an excuse for catering to the Trump administration. We can't know who is silently spreading this disease unless we test wide swaths of the population, sick or not, because carriers are frequently asymptomatic. 

He also said that he was going to follow Mnuchin's directives about restarting business. Mnuchin would be happy to sacrifice the working class on the altar of his stock market in order to satisfy Trump. When Mnuchin and Trump talk about sacrifice, they are talking about your life. Abbott was happy to kiss up to his conservative base and strangle rural hospitals out of existence by cutting the funding. Anything that neoliberals like Abbott can do to destroy the fabric of public life, they will do. Destroying the fabric of public life includes using austerity to cut funding and collapse safety nets like county hospitals, rural doctors, Medicaid, and so on.

These "holier than thou" conservative types like Abbott believe that safety nets for working class people and generational poor are a waste of money; they think these populations of vulnerable people are undeserving of anything except charity. That is why charity, especially from Christian sources, is encouraged over using government to properly distribute tax dollars. When charities manage everything, then charities can make decisions based on their private set of moral values. They use these moral values against the recipients of their charity.

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This is a destructive and undemocratic way to govern a society. Neoliberalism leads to death and violence. We can see this in action as Trump uses briefings to spread disinformation and bully and insult the free press. As we sit here now watching this horror unfold, we can also see the gaps, huge chasms really, between the haves and the have nots. But people like Abbott see the world through a neoliberal lens, a lens that devalues human life using deception and a "profits over people" approach to every decision.


Coronavirus and My Late Relatives: What Would They Say or Do?

It's my late brother's birthday today, and usually I dedicate this date to him as a sort of holiday or time of reflection. But today is so incredibly bizzarro with Covid-19 declared as a pandemic and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo shut down, that I'm just totally discombobulated, like a person in a corn maze wandering around lost.

I always try to think how my late relatives might feel about current events, as a means of putting it all into perspective while attempting to access some of their wisdom. 

My brother would probably make rude comments about Asians and wet markets and what animals certain people are drawn to eat. Then he would probably flip right around and tell me that it's none of my business what people of other ethnicities are eating, and that I should learn not to judge. My brother fought against his bigotry on a daily basis. His granite colored eyes would glaze over when he struggled with something ethical, reminding me he was nobody to underestimate. Remarkably rough and uncivilized at times, he seemed to have an honest affinity for dogs and babies, but everything else was dispensable. 

My Uncle Alfred would sputter angry curses and blame the "women."  He taught me everything I know about horses and random acts of kindness, but he was a total misogynist from day one. 

My mother, in spite of periodic fits of anger and drama, always remained calm and logical in a complete meltdown of all social or family norms. In the midst of this pandemic, my mother would recommend stocking a few groceries and making some good cocktails even though she never drank herself and didn't cook much. She would be on top of everything for at least a minimal length of time, and then she would wither away into her room and start making threats via phone or letter that would make the pandemic seem unimportant. 

My grandma could manage the whole crisis from the top of her cookstove, ordering people around as if they were drawing a salary from her neat and well computed check book. Her hand, extremely calm and nurturing, could quickly clip a grapevine for a sound thrashing if you dared get lippy in the midst of an emergency. Grandma would have a lot to say about Trump, and none of what she would say would be feathered in any notion of kindness. She would hate his guts.

Tonight my relatives would wonder why specific questions weren't answered by their president. They would all sit around the kitchen table and talk about how our lives are going to change. They would wonder why the Republicans are so selfish.

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Collapse of Coronavirus Leadership: Alex Azar, Trump, and Pence? Heck Ya I'm Nervous

No doubt this virus is nothing to joke about because of its dark nature. Look at all of the souls it has recently dispatched, and the intense suffering that it's causing around the globe. If the Trump administration and the CDC are resistant to calling this calamity a pandemic, if WHO doesn't want to call it that, then what exactly are we dealing with? It's certainly more than an inconvenience, especially in the United States.

For us, this pandemic could endanger millions of people because of our lack of a basic social safety net. No one from the Trump administration has said that our government will pay for these long hospital stays and thousands and thousands of tests for individual citizens. If our profit partnerships with hospitals and insurance companies are in charge of billing for this disease, then we could be facing a financial collapse for thousands of individuals with insurance and the certainty of long term debt for those without it.

People are buying food and supplies in bulk, at least around my town. Yesterday, one lonely bag of jasmine rice remained on the shelf, and the dried noodle aisle was almost completely empty, as if a big storm was rolling in. I'm finding sales on weird items like holistic cough medicines and immune support supplements. Name brand vitamins are getting pushed, and so are some off -brand cold and cough medicines.

The liquor store had quite the run yesterday considering that most people were down at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Bar B Q event. I guess maybe this isn't that unusual, except if you follow what people are actually saying around town they pretend they aren't concerned at all. I haven't seen anyone wearing a mask, but I have seen an uptick in people rubbing on hand sanitizer. I, in fact, purchased the last bottle of 365 Lavender Hand Sanitizer at my local Whole Foods.

I am going to go ahead and act as weird as possible. I'm a nerd anyway, so no one will notice (not that I think anyone should care what others think about them). Since I pick up nearly every single virus that my kids bring around, I'm spraying all surfaces liberally with Lysol. I'm using hand sanitizer even when I don't need it, and I have picked up quite a few extra things from this place and that place just in case I decide to park myself at home. I'm unabashedly unashamed of my paranoia because I feel as if I am on a winding mountain road with a drunk at the wheel. This morning's visit to the Sunday news shows by Alex Azar the Human Health Secretary, previous pharmaceutical lobbyist, did nothing to assuage my fears. He's not a doctor, and this is not a political hoax as Trump has tried to declare.

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Why the Bloomberg Message Matters so Much! Listen America...

Writing in juxtapositions hyphenates how circular and connected everything in the world is. When I interact with my dogs, I parallel their train of thought with my own because I respect the brain, the little soul, that exists in this furry, needy, little body. As Lukács relates his theory of social realism to Marx, he "contends [that human beings] are essentially socio-historical beings" and that the "formation of human society across time is a process of economic transformation, in which deep economic tensions resolves themselves in higher forms of social organization" (Graham 198). Even though Georg Lukács theory of the novel is simply that, a theory about novels, the economic juxtaposition is impossible to ignore. How does this all relate to what is happening in American politics now? Trump, an obvious fascist, represents an opposition to what most Americans fear the most, a debasement of the social structure as it swings left to shelter and support vulnerable individuals coded out of the mainstream economic upturn. 

How much of this upturn is due to an increased expansion of the fossil fuel industry is unknown by me, but I would say that it goes far enough to spike fear in the worker, enough fear to maximize a winner-take-all mindset such as the one that Trump represents. Critical realism debunks any possibility of a happy ending in the great American story because these higher forms of social organization, the economics of the neoliberal/capitalist state, will forbid any transfer of wealth into more sustainable energy forms. While Americans do see a few more solar panels and electric cars around, nothing is happening to offset carbon and methane output, quite the opposite, so a dirtier and more perilous world awaits for our children and grandchildren, even as we now watch helplessly as a worldwide pandemic unfolds. Politics at large, especially left leaning lip service, fails to permeate the echo chamber of winner-take-all-fascist-mindset even on the eve of our destruction.

The politicians on last night's debate stage fail to grasp Lukács theory of society functioning as an economic process constantly in transformation, so in other words, they will fail to beat Trump's fascist ideology because they are unable to adequately assuage the fears of the common worker, the fear of sustainable energy overtaking the fossil fuel industry. Even so, another, more dark and shady goblin lurks behind the transference of power from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, artificial intelligence. Fossil fuel workers realize at some level the sloughing off of jobs to machinery and robots. Even as we transfer wealth from one sector to another, skill based jobs are declining, no matter the purpose or intent. Following a cruel fascist into a dirtier future will only make this economic transformation more difficult and result in more penury and suffering. 

This is why I think it's vitally important to the public that Mike Bloomberg use his platform if not to win, then at least to inform. Stopping Trump means that Americans will face a brighter future even in the face of this economic transformation. Maybe we are trading one neoliberal narcissist for another, but at least Bloomberg is authentic, a strong juxtaposition to Trump.

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Donald Trump: Hateful and Bloody, a Danger to Everyone

While we all sit here in shock that our government reached out with a drone and assassinated a top general of a sovereign nation, I wonder why the surprise. Obviously, these swings in policy, these outrageous and perilous acts, simply mean that our government has been hijacked by an authoritarian that has no intention of using regular channels to debate policy. Trump doesn't care at all about the 3500 souls he just issued into certain conflict. Instead of removing our soldiers from the Middle East, he has now insured us of years of entanglements, revenge, and war. He did this dramatic act in order to sway attention from his impending removal from office. 

The Iranian government complied in full to the agreement of 2015, so why did Trump feel it necessary to reestablish sanctions, withdraw from the promise, and plunge our young people into another useless, hate-filled war? He did it because of his destructive nature, the same nature that so many ignorant and hateful people find attractive. In restaurants, bars, and other gathering places, people talk about how he at least "does something." Yes, he certainly has done a lot to bring about an age of darkness unlike anything else we have ever seen. Everything, from his policy of environmental deregulation, to his war-mongering, connects to death, disease, and disaster. Trump alone, even without his neoliberal disgusting family in tow, characterizes the negative downside of unfettered capitalism, a troll that physically resembles the very thing he symbolizes, greed, gluttony, and grief.

For quite some time I have been sitting around just trying to make a difference with the few people I know on social media that are under the star struck spell of hateful Trump and his ignorant GOP followers. But now it has become even clearer to me that as a country we can definitely not risk another four years of this pain. He has to go no matter what it takes. No matter who ends up as his democratic opponent, they must get your vote. If you care anything about the lives of our soldiers and the future of our country, you must vote against Trump. 

In the meantime, while we still can focus, we should turn out attention back to removing him from office. Obviously, he did this as a detraction because he knows he risks going to jail after serving this term. His only recourse, in his mind, is to get reelected at any cost. He doesn't care who dies or suffers. 

TrumpMeme


Moonlight Ramble 2019: The Astros Win!

Honestly, I never expected this year's Ramble to make me so happy. Saint Arnold's Brewery didn't disappoint us by hosting everyone in their beautiful patio, and the Astros made the night more fun by winning the game against the Yankees sending our proud city to the World Series another time. The Astros played their best when our community needed it in 2017 after Harvey, and they pulled it together this year. The only downside to the Saturday night win was clogged sidewalks and city streets with game winning partiers, but I don't know how I can complain about that. 

This year I pulled Bob around in the cart and left Bill at home due to his leg surgery. Thank God I didn't try to drag both dogs this time because I swear the event managers lied about the distance. If it was only ten miles, then that was the longest ten miles I've ever pedaled. My legs felt like rubber, and the streets stretched out forever, plus I swear we had a head wind all night. It also seems like the planners finagled a track that meant we were pedaling uphill because I just felt like I was looking up a long straight incline all night.

Anyway, a long uphill slope, a dog in the trailer, a sliced banana and an outhouse, and an endless ride through Houston's most cultural neighborhoods made me a tired cyclist with a sore bum, but I'm glad I went. 

See you next year!

BicycleHalloween


Writing in High School: Why the Standards for Teachers and Students are too Low

Copied from a friend:


Right at this moment I am experiencing the frustration of trying to undo the damage and neglect that happens when teachers fail to take any composition theory courses or engage in any practicums or actual student teaching. I'm basically cleaning up after people that think that teaching English is simple and you don't need a degree for that--a crazy assumption in some education circles that speaking the language is enough and learning everything by the seat of your pants is just as effective as years of education and experience.

Currently, I'm struggling with a group of students that are a case study in the administrative philosophy that English teachers are dumb, expendable widgets. This results in a group of inhibited writers that had no idea that you could compose an expository paper without including sources, or that their instructor would have any respect for their original words, or that some of the silly grammar rules they had been taught are nonexistent, or that writing is for everyone and not just the elites.

This group of polished and polite students had previously fallen victim to a form of teaching that only scrapes on the surface of what one needs to know. They were taught that every paper must be a research paper with boring sources and whacky formatting, that any kind of arrangement and weak thesis statement will suffice.

I had one student tell me that they hadn't written any kind of an expository text since ninth-grade STAAR; I felt intensely sorry for that kid because most of the writing in the world is expository. What do people think most magazine articles, blogposts, newspaper articles, reports, and nonfiction bestsellers are? What about your history textbook and letters to friends? Not every text is a research paper or an argumentative essay even when it contains an artistic arrangement of rhetorical moves. It doesn't require us to follow a process, like a recipe, so it certainly isn't the famous "how to" essay of middle school days, even though it is rich in its own way. It explains something. It's not a story, typically not a narrative, and filled with hypothetical or actual examples. So if these students have no awareness of genre, then what in the world have they been doing in English class?

A simple four page paper that asks the student to identify a problem in society and discuss and explain how they would contribute to a solution should be easy. Using one article for inspiration should be enough. I have kids that have a poorly formatted works cited with eight or nine sources listed in varying fonts and font sizes. I have kids that have plugged in so many quotes--incorrectly--that I can't discern where one thought ends and another begins. I have students who have shrouded their own intellect in a cocoon of worthless ideas belonging to an endless array of dumpster like Google searches of unknown authorship and origin.

Time after time, I have told my students that I want to see their writing, their ideas, their solutions. What I see instead is a dropped quote placed at the end of a paragraph, just sitting there while I stare at it in fascinated horror and wonder where in the world it came from and why it isn't cited. I wonder why it is sitting there in the first place glaring back at me equally horrified when I clearly instructed my class to give me their own expository writing, their own ideas, and their own insightful, original solutions. I would much rather untangle a badly written paragraph and provide a writing conference on original work than look at dumb facts generated from a website. Crazy paragraphs are the kind of horror I can handle.

Around my classroom, I see a multitude of confused faces that ponder and argue back: 

 "I was always taught that everything that I wrote had to be backed up with sources. You mean I can write what I want? How do I just make something up? What do you mean by hypothetical? Is that a medical term?"

My students have no knowledge about genres of writing, or even what kind of writing belongs with what audience. They don't know the first thing about creating a research question, how to avoid cherry picking sources, and most of them can't even embed quoted material. I see every form of accidental plagiarism known to the human species. Think about that. How could they have ever written a successful research or argument paper even under some form of guidance? When the expectation is that the students have surpassed English IV and are ready for dual credit, then one would think that the basics have been covered. My most talented students hesitate to take a risk with anything except formatting. I have seen all kinds of weird headers, footers, works cited pages, fonts, bolds, italics in bizarre spaces, and margins several inches wide. How can this be? 

Well it would seem that at the end of the day, people in power are sitting on their hands avoiding an obvious truth: our kids are being cheated out of a meaningful English class experience. Low level work and zero accountability is an everyday good practice in a low rigor, free-for-all, no pedagogy existence. We are doing a disservice by not raising our standards for our teachers, and by not providing adequate training to our teachers. In some cases, we are just filling a seat with a warm English speaker. In some cases, this warm English speaker would best be cast as an instructional aide or even as a math teacher. We need actual English majors teaching our subject. English majors that are willing to go the extra yard and write for the love of writing. We need English majors that will share that love with their students and enroll in high quality, advanced course work. At the least, we need teachers that are willing to recognize their own gaps. And once we recognize our own gaps, it becomes easier to learn from others because we realize we must. Pretending that we have all of the answers and don't need advanced course work or quality professional development is as mythological as a unicorn wearing a Steelers jersey zooming by freeway traffic perched on a skate board. 

Not only that, the kind of composition theory that teaches teachers to become writing teachers can't be found in the snake-oil, commercial world of quick fix education articles and forums, and it is best accomplished in a college classroom beginning as an undergrad. Composition pedagogy is dense and confusing, takes practice and dedication to master, and promotes student literacy in ways that nothing else can. Books by Peter Elbow, Sondra Perl, Pat Belanoff, and Kenneth Burke, help teachers untangle the mysteries of writing well, responding to student papers, and creating workshops, journaling activities, and professional learning communities that engage everyone with appropriate grade-level materials. And that is only scratching the surface of scholarship available to the dedicated and well prepared English teacher willing to dig in and learn. If we fail to provide meaningful, professional instruction, our students will journey into the world underprepared for work and college. This failure is a problem for all of us, as it impinges on our ability to maintain a just and democratic, civil society, a purview of the English department.

Writer


Fresh Starts, The Crucible, and Joseph McCarthy: Relationships Matter

    Have you ever thought about what happens to a student, friend, colleague, or partner when you refuse to grant them a fresh start? What if we hauled our students into the principal’s office at the beginning of a fresh semester and reminded them of everything they had been accused of the year before? What if we did this to someone year after year? What happens when we continuously degrade a person even after time has passed, new facts have been substantiated, and old bullies and players have vanished from the scene?

    My current students never thought about life in America after World War II, the simmering suspicions, the Red Scare, the liberal silence, and the Senate hearings that blacklisted writers, actors, and artists from their livelihoods. Unwilling to recognize that American power easily overwhelms fringe politics, conservatives clung to the horrific past and fixated on a worldwide Communist movement believing it would overtake democracy. Even after the most obviously innocent citizens were exonerated, many of them never recovered their reputations or lost incomes. They never recovered because they were never really given a fresh start. But my students, open minded and pure of heart, wrestle with persecution and ignorance on a daily basis, so they know something about the importance of a fresh start and its lasting effects.

    By having them read the Crucible and compare it to McCarthyism, they are not only seeing how an artist can affect public policy, but they are also learning the value of a fresh start. They can see how petty grievances and gossip, jealousy and envy, and raw fear combine to create misconceptions and support lies. They can see how this form of finger-pointing indicates a lack of character and integrity that blossoms in a brain overstuffed with fear and silly, low-level thought processes. The Senate hearings differed little from the witch trials…a litany of hateful players, a lack of common sense, and a desire to indulge in cruelty is not acceptable in any business, school, or government. We all deserve a fresh start without prejudice.

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Goodbye to the NRA, Trump, and Greg Abbott--Enough is Enough

On days such as this, after a series of tragic, public mass slayings, I usually just fall silent. A side of me feels as if I am not up to the task of writing about such sensitive and important, unnecessary, and bloody crimes. What would I say? I guess I could write about it from some lens pretending it was some kind of sick, dystopian literary piece, and I could wrangle with some psychoanalytical interpretation of the events. But to lay it all off on the mentally unstable in society creates a false premise, a premise that suggests that these awful crimes present only in the psyche and not the social.

If I were to comment on facts only, I would focus on our government’s failure to act in these murderous rampages. Texas Governor Greg Abbott just sits on his proverbial political throne and offers up his condolences and prayers while he washes his hands in blood, NRA sponsored blood. Trump exhibits nothing but hate, and because of Trump’s hate, I hate him. Writing about Trump makes me sick because I am sick of his visage in my mind. I am sick of his presence, his words, his style, his lack of regulations, his stupidity, his fakeness. I’m saddened by his treatment of women, minorities, and the poor; his use of the word ‘loser’ makes me want to cry out in pain. I am sick of all of his hateful words.

I remember talking to my mentor and angel, and I asked how I could persuade others to stop the evil. He told me that some people were just bad people, and that nothing could be done to change their minds or steer them into another direction. They enjoy the mendacity of what they do. This acceptance of evil, the kind of evil that shoots down babies and mothers in cold blood outside of war time and inside a peaceful setting, contradicts everything in our social contract. In fact, our social contract is broken down by the people most responsible for maintaining its integrity.

I like powerful equipment, big guns, and unruly characters. But at the same time, I realize that equipment, guns, and unruliness belong only in the hands of certain strong people, not young haters and terrorists. Guns, like politicians, are too accessible, cheap, and easy to buy. Even now, as Trump and Abbot try to deflect responsibility and miser away their cash, the next mass shooter plans his attack. Let’s do the right thing and vote these sold-out leeches out of our government. Bye Abbott, bye Trump…

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