Friday, March 7, 2014

Super Wealth


Jake Gittes: How much are you worth?
Noah Cross: I have no idea. How much do you want?
Jake Gittes: I just wanna know what you're worth. More than 10 million?
Noah Cross: Oh my, yes!
Jake Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can't already afford?
Noah Cross: The future, Mr. Gittes!

-      Chinatown
The greatest disappointment of childhood is the moment you realize that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.  

The second greatest disappointment is when you realize that getting doused in toxic waste or bitten by a radioactive spider will not give you superpowers.   You learn that men are not faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, or able to leap tall buildings with a single bound.  Superpowers, you are told, do not exist.

You are wrong.  

There is one superpower.  Wealth.

Some are born with it.  Others, like Tony Montana and El Chapo, will do anything to gain it.  Most dream of it, some pray for it, hardly anyone will ever come near it.  A few, like the Sultan of Brunei, who on his 50th birthday paid seventeen million to fly in Michael Jackson to sing a private performance, are wealthy at birth.  Those born with wealth are typically hedonists; pleasure seeking, self-gratifying, indulgent gastropods that scratch every whim while they indulge every desire, but don’t have a clue about the power they wield or how the world functions.

Other people do everything for them.

Then there are the self-made. The true super-powered individuals are not those born with it, but those that built their fortunes brick by brutal brick, cementing their empires via a heartless combination of Sammy Glick ambition and Scarlet O’Hara ruthlessness, avarice and greed a gravitational pit that vacuums in a dangerous fortune.  The Koch Brothers, George Soros, Sheldon Andelson, these are the true super-wealthy - cold men who worship the Green God, a deity who cares not about righteousness or morality, learnedness or wisdom – only one word: MORE.

Yeah, that’s right, MORE.

Note that Lebron James is not one of them.  He will never be one of them. He’s just a high paid employee.

Nor will Oprah Winfrey.  Sure, she’s got money.  Lots of it – but that’s not the same as wealth.  Oprah is at best a diva whose influence waned the moment she stopped being present on TV.

Then there’s the Donald.  Donald Trump, billionaire, proud owner of the 110,000 sq foot Mar-A-Lago manor, President of Trump Plaza, arguably the world’s largest self-aggrandizer and shameless self-promoter.  For decades, Trump has desperately tried to convince the world he’s one of the super-wealthy, but it’s a futile exercise, doomed to failure because the super-wealthy don’t brag. Unlike Trump, they don’t have to exclaim how great they are or create catch phrases exclaiming, “You’re fired!” Their money talks for them.  Trump hasn’t learned that the super-wealthy don’t have to make it rain in a club because they own the club, and if they want, any of the people in it.

The super-wealthy aren’t the loudest kid on the playground, they are the playground. If the Democrats and the Republicans were playing each other in the Superbowl, the super-wealthy wouldn’t be on either side, they’d be the stadium.  Their influence is both intangible and ubiquitous, an abrupt investment by any one of them in real estate can cause housing prices to soar or a decision to dump their stock can crash a company.  From the products you consume to the information you see, one modern autocrat has more power to change your life then the president.

Think about it. Which has had more impact on your day-to-day life?  Obamacare, or the smart phone?  George Bush, or Fox News?  Sorry Al Gore, you didn’t invent the Internet. 

It was the wealthy. 

The top 85 wealthiest people in the world have more wealth then the bottom 3.5 billion.

That’s approximately 41 million wretches per one super-wealthy individual, in terms of purchasing power one super-wealthy individual is equal to a half-dozen 3rd world nations.  The lower 3.5 billion have no pull economically or militarily and short of an epic disaster (tsumani’s, earthquakes, and typhoons) aren’t worth any attention in the media.  Some liberals, like Michael Moore and Noam Chomskey, cluck their tongues and whine about the economic inequality, but in America, they’re talking to a wall.

In America, we want super-powers.

Taking away the money from the super-wealthy by divvying up their wealth and giving it to the very poor wouldn’t change anything.  All you’d guarantee is that everyone would be poor.  Zero times zero is still zero.  When socialists tell people they have to share, they’re really telling them that they can’t be John Galt, Lex Luthor, or Batman.

I love Batman.
Bill Gates could be Batman.

Well, maybe not the physical part, but Microsoft has got to be the equal of Wayne Enterprises. Truthfully, Bill Gates has had a lot more success than Batman.  Batman has been policing Gotham for over fifty years, and he still hasn’t permanently dealt with the Joker, the Riddler, The Penguin, or the Rogue’s gallery of villains that continuously crop up.  Batman’s got a mean right hook, but he hasn’t figured out how to fix Gotham.

Bill Gates gave the world windows.  Microsoft put a personal computer in every home.  Microsoft changed the way we filter media, shop for goods, search for information, meet people to date, connect to loved ones, consume porn, and even formulate new conspiracies.  (Could the tea party exist without the Internet?)  Microsoft enables white-collar workers to waste more time then ever before, grants the NSA the power to spy on us while simultaneously granting whistle blowers the power to disseminate inconvenient truths that embarrass the government.  Bill Gates instigated a technological revolution.

All Batman ever did is punch out the Joker.

You’d think after earning $101 billion, being made an honorary knight of the British Empire, the Order of the Aztec Eagle and awarded the Silver Buffalo medal (the highest award the boy scouts can give an adult) Gates would stop.  But Gates doesn’t just want the now - Bill Gates wants the future. He doesn’t just want to change the way people interact with technology; he wants to change how people think.

About seven years ago he initiated the small school movement, believing that smaller schools would help struggling children.  Gates believed that children were getting lost in giant, monolithic school systems, and the best way for them to begin to achieve was to put them in a smaller school setting.   Gates had no evidence that this was true, only his intuition, his personal belief system, and his gut.  He was half right, smaller class sizes do improve student performance, but smaller schools are irrelevant.  Smaller class sizes, unfortunately, require hiring new teachers.  Creating small schools by dividing up big ones is much more cost effective.

Donating billions, Gates managed to break up schools around the country, splitting up campuses, chopping up large campuses into smaller ones, each with its own principle, time schedule, grading system, and discipline policy.

At one LA school they decided to break up a three-story building into three separate schools, each school on a different floor.  Kids now roamed the hallways at will, claiming to be from a different school thanks to the conflicting bell schedules which confused everyone.  After the first year it was so hopeless most of the staff quit.   Another failing LAUSD school was broken into two separate campuses, one for the college bound, the other for the kids going nowhere, creating a permanent rivalry and mini-war zone within the school itself.  At South East, where I teach, the school was transitioned from academies into small schools, which enabled LAUSD to rift teachers based upon their seniority in the small school, not the overall campus.  In an instant, dozens of veteran teachers were displaced, a decision based not on scientific validity or public opinion, but solely on Gates’ intuition. 

Seven years later, test scores remain low, and small schools show no improvement.  Gates however, is Superman.  Bureaucratic kryptonite isn’t about to stop him.

His second foray into education was an attempt not to change the schools, but the rules the schools follow.  Hiring a private foundation to create new national standards, Gates invented the Common Core curriculum. By law the U.S. Department of Education is legally prohibited from exercising any influence or control over curriculum or instruction in the schools, but a private foundation, well that’s a different story.  Diane Ravitch, national education historian, summed it up best:

“So The Gates Foundation stepped in and assumed that responsibility. It gave millions to the National Governors Association, to the Council of Chief School Officers, to Achieve and to Student Achievement Partners. Once the standards were written, Gates gave millions more to almost every think tank and education advocacy group in Washington to evaluate the standards—even to some that had no experience evaluating standards—and to promote and help to implement the standards. Even the two major teachers’ unions accepted millions of dollars to help advance the Common Core standards. Altogether, the Gates Foundation has expended nearly $200 million to pay for the development, evaluation, implementation, and promotion of the Common Core standards. And the money tap is still open, with millions more awarded this past fall to promote the Common Core standards.
Some states—like Kentucky–adopted the Common Core standards sight unseen. Some—like Texas—refused to adopt them sight unseen. Some—like Massachusetts—adopted them even though their own standards were demonstrably better and had been proven over time."                                                                                                       

Never mind the fact that the last time we imposed national standards with No Child Left Behind, they were an unmitigated disaster.  Students performed terribly, teachers were demoralized, schools were denied funds for factors they had no control over, and the education gap between African American and White students grew even larger.  Bill Gates isn’t an educator, has never taught in the classroom, and has no experience running a school, but it hardly matters.  His money speaks for him.  He is a massive blue whale, and the teachers are hapless kelp, pushed through the water from a thoughtless shrug of his bumpy fins. His small school ideology had a direct impact on my life; I lost some of my friends and co-workers when they were displaced.  When my school decided to accept the money from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, they locked us, and the students, into staying an extra hour at the end of the day.  As a result, our school has lost 600 students in the past two years, it turns out most students would rather go to a school that gets out an hour earlier.  When forty-five governors decided to accept the Common Core curriculum in order to earn Obama’s Race to the Top funds, I was suddenly subjected to dozens of hours of professional development in Common Core; I also lost two Saturday’s and a Spring Break.

Never mind that no one is really sure what Common Core is. Common Core hasn’t been tested, peer reviewed, studied or examined with any meaningful critical analysis.  Common Core was not passed by any of the 50 state legislatures or the Federal government, it was not voted on by any ballot measure or voter initiative, and it was not imposed by a judge or court in an effort to improve schools. 

It was created and made compulsory by one of the Super-Wealthy.

Bill Gates will now not only be in your home, he’ll be teaching your children, molding them to the standards he thinks they need to learn.  Of course, much of the Common Core curriculum also relies heavily on digital technology because all of the testing will be done online, a financial windfall for the tech industry.  While it does not say where schools have to buy their technology, Microsoft remains the largest supplier of software on the planet. Bill Gates’ push for Common Core helped convince LAUSD they needed to spend a billion dollars on new iPad’s instead of spending money on raises, hiring new teachers, school maintenance, or vocational programs.  Like a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Bill Gates inadvertently stamped out art, music, woodshop, mechanics, and band.  Computers cost money.

When the iPads break or their batteries inevitably stop holding a charge, most of them will have to be replaced.  The warranty is only good for three years.   Maybe next time LAUSD will replace the iPads with Microsoft tablets.  That might only cost $500 million.

Although Bill Gates is not solely responsible for my lack of a raise, he is paying me an extra hour to stay at school.  (I voted no, but the staff couldn’t pass up the money.) His foundation also inadvertently provided money to get every teacher at my school an iPad mini.  I didn’t ask for one, I didn’t even need one, but what the hell, I love it.

As one of the millions of kelp I can either get swallowed or get carried along for the ride, in the wake of Bill Gate’s passing I caught a flight to Portland for a Common Core seminar offered by the Discovery Channel.  If it wasn’t for the Gates foundation, Discovery wouldn’t be hopping on the educational gravy train, and I wouldn’t have had an excuse to visit Portland and write the trip off my taxes. 
People frequently worry about Obama and his abuse of power.  Benghazi,   drone strikes, NSA surveillance, illegal targeting by the IRS – pick a scandal.  None of it matters because anytime Obama tries to get anything done, people oppose him.

No one opposes Bill Gates.

In a few years, Obama will be out of office and out of power.  In a few decades, mostly forgotten.

In a few more years, Gates will be richer and more powerful then ever. Forbes magazine consistently ranks him as one either the fourth or fifth most powerful man on the planet.  Unlike Obama, Gates won’t be a memory in your rearview mirror; he’ll be the sign in your headlights down the road, because Gates is buying up the future.  That’s what it means to be one of the Super Wealthy.  You get to be a modern day pharaoh and shape our civilization.

Yet the Pharaohs were more humble. They only controlled Egypt and wanted to control their lives after their deaths. 

The Super Wealthy don’t just want Egypt, they want the planet.  They don’t just want to control their future - they want to control yours. 
They want everything.
They want more.

And some, like Bill Gates, want to control how your children think.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Random Encounter

Random Encounter

On Saturday morning, I get mugged. Like most muggings, it happened quickly and with no warning.
It’s my official last day at my old apartment. I’m moving boxes out of storage, mentally focused to getting the hell out of dodge, away from my low class neighbors, the pawn shops and liquor stores, the section 8 housing. I’m alone in the parking garage digging through a storage cabinet when two men round the corner, unmasked faces cloaked with menace. Similar to what a gazelle must feel to when it spots a lion on the Savannah, the minute I saw them I knew I was in trouble. They were not normal people, but hallowed men, empty receptacles filled with hungry avarice, souls scooped out and tossed away somewhere during childhood. They radiate rage and terror, mouths shut, demeanor and posture shouting violence.
It’s a random encounter; an unpredictable event that get hurled into life in an effort by the Creator to alleviate boredom and create excitement. In this, God functions much like a film or TV director who will toss in a bit of random “action” whenever they need to pick up the pace; Spider Man webbing a purse snatcher, Bruce Lee beating the crap out of a street gang, Arnold Schwarzengger mowing down a legion of minions in Commando. While I appreciate the “Big Man” trying to keep me on my toes, I am unfortunately not a super hero, martial artist, or indestructible action hero.

In fact, this encounter is blatantly unfair for several reasons, the first being that I’m unarmed, and the second being that I’m a dual class 8th level teacher/3rd level comedian. Some people choose to be soldiers, or hunters, or boxers; adventuring classes that can defend themselves. One example would be my friend George, a 3rd level marine corp sniper. Others like Vinnie are tough just by nature of where they live, (10th level New Yorker) armed with a protective aura of attitude.

So when God rolls invisible cosmic dice, determining that is time for one Brian Leiken, 8th level teacher/3rd level comedian to be robbed by a pair of 4th level thugs, I’m not prepared to handle it. A moment before the robbery I’m mentally focused on moving out of my old apartment, returning early Saturday morning to collect the last of my belongings, most of which remain stashed away in a small parking garage storage unit. (This is the exact same spot where my car was stolen, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised about what is going to happen next, even though it is broad daylight.) I’m digging through the storage cabinet for a box of old clothes, wondering if I should just throw them out when the dice are thrown.

The odds of getting robbed at 8 in the morning are extremely low, probably about 1%, but unbeknownst to me - God’s daily been rolling a d100, looking for that 01. Today, he rolls it. Two 4th level thugs materialize around the corner.

It reminds me of a time I was playing in a D&D game being run by Dan Kaplan, who randomly rolled up a pack of a dozen trolls against Dave, a 4th level thief armed with daggers. Having no chance against such fearsome enemies, Dave fled. It turns out that even against such overwhelming odds, his imaginary character had a better chance than I do.

The thug on the left is a bald Latino in white baggy t-shirt and shorts, the universal uniform of the LA cholo; he eyes me with the contempt of a schoolyard bully. His companion, eyes wild and amped, is African American, but has opted to don a gray sweater and black sweats, crack head approved drug user apparel the world over. Two feet away the pair of them stop; flanking me, bracing themselves for resistance or an attempt to escape.

Unlike Dave and the trolls, fleeing isn’t an option, I’m pinned into a corner of the parking garage, my only chance is to try and run through them. Standing over six feet tall, skin pock marked and crisscrossed with scars, they are physically intimidating. For all I know they could have weapons concealed beneath their baggy clothes.

I have no gun, no belt knife, not even a can of pepper spray. All I got is my fists – and a mouth. Perhaps I could offer to grade them, offer critical feedback on their technique by creating a four point rubric that assesses their mugging on intimidation, efficiency, risk, and professionalism. Alternatively, using my teacher powers I could lecture them about the history of crime, or use the Socratic method in an attempt to appeal to their higher reason.
Shit, as a character class teachers are more worthless than a D&D druid.

At least the Druid could turn into a bird and fly away; all I can do is grin and try not to sweat. Should have picked a modern day adventurer class, like a cop, martial artist, spy, or bounty hunter. I guess I could always try to joke my way out of it, make them laugh and hope they decide to let me go. It’s time to make a decision. Fight, run, or surrender.

Having gained the surprise round, the Latino speaks first. “You know the drill, empty your pockets.”

I attempt to make a skill roll to talk my way out of it. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I snarl angrily. That's it? You got to be kidding me? The roll fails.

Their turn, the Latino rolls for intimidation. “Do it, or you’ll get beat up.” He gets an 11 on a d20, not a great roll, but given the circumstances he only needs about a five or better. His friend assists, adding +2 to the roll by glaring menacingly. That makes it a 13. Shit! I pull out my wallet, phone, keys, and toss them to the ground.

“Is that it?” the Latino asks, rerolling his intimidation a second time. It works, but I got nothing left to give.

“That’s it!” I bite back, pissed at myself for failing my saving throw.

The Latino approaches and pats down my back pockets, but they’re empty. His friend snatches up my belongings.

I rally, roll a 15 and have the temerity to ask a question. “Can I at least keep my ID?”

Neither of them respond as they dart around the corner. I follow, suddenly afraid they might try and steal my car. At least it’s lo-jacked.

“Can I have back my keys?” I ask.

“They’re in the dumpster!” the black man shouts back. Neither of the thugs run, but they move at a brisk pace. I follow, not sure what I should do. “Hey, they’re in the dumpster,” he calls back again, “I swear.”

“Don’t follow us!” the Latino warns.

I stop to look in the dumpster. Sure enough, my keys are on the top of a pile of trash. I’ve never been more grateful to see them.

I look up, but the thugs are already a block away. I could pursue, but then what? I’m not armed; I don’t even have a phone to call the police with.

I run into the building and knock on a neighbor’s door. The apartment building I’m moving out of has turned into government housing, and not filled with the friendliest people. I can hear kids crying out from behind the door as I knock, a concerned mother’s voice telling her children not to answer it. I shout that I don’t mean to alarm her, but I’ve just been robbed and need to contact the police.

A black woman answers the door, her three kids behind her, all staring with wide eyes. I explain what has happened and she nods, dialing. I contact an operator and she tells me to sit tight while they dispatch a patrol unit.

A few minutes later a police car rolls up, I wave to them as one of the officers calls out that they’ll patrol the block to see if they can spot the thieves. I nod, hoping they’ll catch the unrepentant scum who took my belongings, the yellow bellied trash.
But in my heart I know they won’t.

The police return five minutes later, take a report; ask for a description and how much was stolen. Losing the wallet is painful, I had $120 in cash, $70 of which was going to a maid I had coming to clean out the apartment. The loss of the iPhone is near catastrophic, there is no insurance on it and it cost me $300. Because I’m in the middle of a move, I have no Internet and no way of immediately contacting anyone about what has happened.

I give the police a description, but while bald cholo’s and black crack heads might attract notice in small town USA, in Los Angeles I might as well be describing lampposts and freeway pavement. The cops are sympathetic, but there’s little they can do, expressing surprise only that I got my keys back. They call my phone number, but the thugs are smart enough not to answer.
I’m given a report and told that a detective will be in touch if they find anything. (Yeah, right.) Quivering with rage, I go back into the apartment and lock the door, waiting for my roommate to arrive to help with the rest of the move.

I play the event over and over in my head; wondering if I should have tried to fight or make a run for it. I’m not Jackie Chan, I can’t do back flips and spinning round house kicks. I didn’t have any weapons, I’m not particularly strong or massive or trained how to fight. Like a low level character being forced to fight a dragon, this wasn’t an encounter but a Kobayashi Maru, an unwinnable scenario.

But what If I had won? I would have gotten to keep my belongings, $120 in cash, my ID’s, and my phone. But if I had lost I would have lost not only my belongings, but taken a beating, possibly been hospitalized or killed. Any kind of rational analysis leaves only one correct solution: give up your belongings; it’s not worth it.

Then why do I feel like such a coward?

I log onto my laptop and piggy-back on someone else’s internet, leaving a message on Facebook that I’ve been robbed. My sister (10th level producer) arrives about an hour later with her husband (12th level entrepreneur); both are supportive and concerned. “You made the right move.” She exclaims, worried. “Things can be replaced, you can’t.”

I nod dumbly. All I really want to do is take a bat to the mugger’s heads and split them open until the red runs out like ice cream sherry. Friends and family alike contact me, are you okay, is everything alright? I tell them I’m fine. Really. Other then wanting to bury a couple of fools, I’m fine. I daydream in my head if I had just had one good friend with me, this might have worked out differently.

I decide to Skype Harry, a 10th level grad student/5th level professor. He tells me I did the right thing. I complain bitterly about being a teacher and feeling so helpless.

“You’re not a teacher,” Harry responds, “your a bard.”

“I should have fought back!”

“Fight?” Harry scoffs. “Over what? Some cash and a phone? Street trash like that is a dime a dozen, bards are rare. As a criminologist I can tell you that eventually they’ll be caught, or robbed by other thieves, or end up murdered in a crack house or a ditch. You did make one mistake though.”

“What’s that?”

“You should have called out that you’d pray for them!” Harry laughs.

The next day I get an email from my father, and although I’m still pissed about what has happened, he somehow still makes me feel better.

Remember these two assholes do not and never will have 1/100th of what you have. They are still losers and you are Brian Leiken, teacher, writer, and world traveler who is loved by hundreds of people you have touched.

Thank you for that Dad.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Old Man Rivers

“But you didn't prove that vanilla was the best.”

“I didn't have to. I proved that you're wrong, and if you're wrong I'm right.”

“But you still didn't convince me”

“It’s that I'm not after you. I'm after them.”

- Thank You For Smoking

The Philippines, dusk. Sitting at the hotel bar with my father, enjoying a San Miguel Light, the official (and only) light beer of the Philippines. We’re discussing immigration, and both being of the liberal persuasion are expressing a point of view Democrats would readily agree with. It’s a lazy conversation, the kind people have when they aren’t really debating but more interested in agreeing with one another; many men use sports to bond with their father, but I use politics.

Drinking alone at a nearby table, an older man drinks by himself. The weather is humid and sticky, almost unlivable to anyone familiar with the comforts of air conditioning but like a stoic hero, he sweats in silence. Grizzled and weathered, the man wears a dark T-shirt and black jeans.

Face darkening, he rises from his table. “I once hired a crew to fix the roof of my house,” he barks, interrupting our conversation. “Other than the foreman, not one of them was white, all of them were Mexican.”

“How much money did that save you?” I crack.

“Probably a lot, but you interrupted me!”

I blink. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it, continue.”

“I was making a point! He should have hired Americans to do it!”

My father decides to leap in. “Hey, take it easy. There’s no need to be rude.”

But Old Man Rivers is already walking away, irritated. “You expats are all the same, you all think you know it all! Can’t talk to you people about anything!”

I’m surprised, but decide Old Man Rivers is just a crotchety real life version of a cartoon villain from a Scooby Doo cartoon. I let it go, but the next day I see him, and the day after that I see him again. Old Man Rivers scowls in my general direction, but I ignore him, which considering the small size of the hotel is not so easy to do.

Every day, Old Man Rivers comes to the bar to flirt with the serving girls, expounding about his life to anyone who will listen. A loner, he’s been retired for the past 13 years, hasn’t been married in thirty, and has no children, a man fond of bitterly focusing on his failures. When not reflecting on his life, Old Man Rivers spends the rest of his time complaining angrily about the decline of America, which is falling apart for any number of reasons, namely:

1. The federal government

2. Obama

3. Minorities

4. Immigrants

5. Bankers

6. The Chinese

7. Liberals

I like to think I'm a patient, kind person - that there is little, if anything, that gets under my skin. I listen with half an ear, trying to ignore the words that pour from his mouth, opinions based not on fact but Fox News. But hey, he’s entitled to his opinion – it’s not my place to judge.

But there are times some people take it a step too far.

A few days later Old Man Rivers is talking with a retired firefighter named Bob, as good natured and cheerful as anyone you'll ever meet. I walk out to the bar to get reception on my computer when Bob tells me that he heard on CNN that all teachers are losing their summer vacation. I politely laugh.

“He’s a teacher,” Bob explains, looking over to Old Man Rivers. “So is my daughter.”

"Well," Old Man Rivers begins, "I'll tell you one thing, I hate those teachers unions."

I close my eyes. Do I let this go? Old Man Rivers is just a crotchety old codger who speaks piss and vinegar, spouting words so sour lemons seem sweet in comparison. I should let it go, who cares what he thinks? But not this time. He might have been attacking “teacher’s unions”, but I can read the subtext.

He’s attacking me.

"Are you trying to start a fight?" I call out.

"What, I don't know what your talking about!"

"Are you trying to start a fight?” I say again, repeating myself. “When you make a statement about teachers unions after hearing I'm a teacher, I'm assuming you want to start an argument."

"You think you know me, eh?" Old Man Rivers snarls. "You deduced that I don't like you from one statement. You are so smart, I didn't know you were such a genius."

"No, I deduced it from your earlier behavior. You snapped at me, I apologized, and then you stormed off. Now I'm assuming you want to pick up where you left off."

"I don't remember any of that."

"Well I do," I continue. "And yes, you are looking to start something. Because you could have said anything, you could have said: "You know, you teachers do hard work," or "I don't know why anyone would want to be a teacher," or "I know there are some good teachers, but I don't like the teacher's unions," or you could have commented about the weather or said nothing at all. But you deliberately made a provocative statement."

"You don't know what you’re talking about," Old Man Rivers snaps. "You don't know the first thing about me."

"You're right! Have you worked in an inner school district, or as an administrator, or had a kid threaten to shoot you in the head, or threaten to rip out your teeth? Ever had a kid dribble spit all over your desk?” I snap back. “I have! If you haven’t taught, I don't think you have the right to be so critical."

"All you teachers are the same." Old Man Rivers responds. "That's what you all say, you think you are so much better than the rest of us, but your not. I guess then you don't have the right to criticize Viet Nam because you weren't there."

Viet Nam? Where the hell did that come from? "No, I don't have the right to be critical of the soldiers because I wasn't there - unlike how you are criticizing my profession."

Bob interjects, looking embarrassed. "I'm sorry I started something, I didn't know this was..."

"Don't apologize," Old Man Rivers interrupts, jerking a thumb at me. "This guy doesn't have good manners."

I rise from my seat and move over to Old Man River's table, sitting across from him. "I want to hear your opinion, but in return you have to listen to mine. But unless you've really experienced what is like to be a teacher, you can't understand the importance of the union and how it protects my wages and my benefits."

"So now we know the price of your soul." Old Man River's huffs. "A few benefits and wages."

The bar has grown quiet, both Filipino's and expats watching with wide eyes amazement. Evidently I'm not just a teacher, according to Old Man River's, I'm some sort of priest that's supposed to sacrifice everything for my students. From this point on the conversation revolves around refuting his half-baked facts while he counters with anecdotal evidence (probably from Fox news) about how teachers unions protect bad teachers. I tell him that a few bad teachers aren't the reason why kids fail, kids fail because of indifferent parents and byzantine regulations that make it impossible to enforce consequences.

Old Man Rivers changes topic to how the federal government has taken control of local schools, I inform that the majority of school funds come locally from the State, and that other than Title One and other limited programs, the Federal government has little influence how states run their schools. Old Man Rivers expounds that teacher's unions make it impossible to fire teachers, I tell him that we just lost 25% of our staff at my school, and that three other schools fired 50% of their teachers in my district.

"Well I don't know the case of your school, but I don't know why you are wasting your time talking to me, because I'm not going to change your mind and you aren't going to change mine." I spare a glance over to Bob and the Filipino's behind the counter. He's right, I'm not going to change his mind, but I have an audience, and he's played his part of the old fool to the hilt. Bob pays his bill, but approaches me, muttering. "You are a lot more patient than I am, after he cut me off I was ready to hit him."

It's rare to meet someone who really dislikes teachers and thinks we're spoiled, overpaid, crybabies, but it's clear to me that Old Man Rivers really hates my profession. Of course, I think he hates most people.

Why is it that if soldiers lose a war, no one calls them lazy or cowards? Why is it when crime rises in a city or district, hardly anyone says it’s because the police were eating too many doughnuts? But teachers are different. We’re supposed to give everything – even our own wages and benefits for the public good, and when we don’t we’re often labeled as greedy and selfish.

Maybe it’s not because people hate teachers, but it’s because when you badmouth a teacher, they don’t have any real power to hurt you. Badmouth a cop or a soldier, and you might get punched in the face.

I think as a profession we should start carrying nightsticks.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Slut Walk

Feminism: Organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

SlutWalk first started in Toronto.

In January of 2011 Toronto police constable Michael Sanguinetti was invited to New York University to lecture to a group of young co-ed’s about safety and personal security. During the class Sanguinetti told the students who had gathered that: "Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."

Local feminists Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis were outraged: Sanguinetti's blame the victim mentality infuriated them along with the insinuation that women who are sexually assaulted are somehow responsible for their own rape. True, neither Barnett or Jarvis were at the event where Sanguinetti made his comment, but this didn’t stop them from deciding to do something about it. Sanguinetti and the Toronto police department apologized, but Barnett and Jarvis still weren't satisfied, and a week later both they and three of their friends organized a five woman march - or SlutWalk, to protest victim blaming, sexual profiling, and to reclaim the word “slut”.

A Facebook page was created, and via Twitter a social movement was born. SlutWalk didn’t have the "official" support of NOW (National Organization of Women) or other major feminist organizations, but that hardly mattered. The movement went viral and within weeks dozens of protests were organized throughout the United States and Canada, including Australia and South Africa. Although the movement started small, some marches have already gathered thousands of protesters, many of whom dress in corsets, stiletto high heels and fish net stockings in an effort to attract attention. For the first time in twenty years the feminist movement was no longer on the defensive. SlutWalk had given feminism a much needed shot of adrenaline.

In 1999 I was a part time substitute teacher who had recently completed my MA in U.S. history, but with no job prospects I’d leap at any chance to earn a little extra cash. I was contacted by Barbara Drake, editor of the Peoria Journal Star, who was on an assignment for the paper to interview famous people who had grown up in Peoria, Illinois. Drake was going to be in Washington D.C. to interview Betty Friedan, author of the Feminine Mystique and the official founder of the post World War II feminist movement. Drake informed me that my job was to make sure the tape cassettes ran smoothly and ensure the interview wasn’t interrupted – Friedan had a reputation for being difficult and Drake didn’t want anything to break up the flow of the interview. After Richard Pryor, Friedan was probably the 2nd most famous person to ever hail from Peoria, a city with just over 100,000 people surrounded by farmland in the heart of the Mid-West. I was curious to meet Friedan, who for me wasn’t so much a person but a piece of living history, for over 40 years a woman endlessly referenced in text books and articles by scholars and academics. Just as you can’t talk about the Theory of Evolution without invoking Darwin, or discuss the Communist Manifesto without referencing Marx, you can’t have any legitimate understanding of modern Feminism without discussing Betty Friedan.

And I was going to get to meet her!

Although Friedan was an intellectual and an activist who had successfully founded NOW and staged a victorious campaign to help legalize abortion, increase women’s wages and fight for paid maternity leave, Drake was more interested in interviewing her about her childhood and what it was like to grow up in Peoria. In other words, it was a “fluff” piece; Drake wasn’t interested in being adversarial, all she wanted to know was what it was like to have been born and raised in Peoria. The interview, if you’re interested, can be accessed here:

Located in North West D.C., Friedan’s apartment was decorated in awards and honorary plaques, including a political cartoon of her dressed as a 19th century maid sweeping away playboy bunnies and Hugh Hefner, the caption reading: SWEEPING OUT THE TRASH! Friedan herself was frail but her mind was still sharp, eyes glittering in a weathered face. I set up the tape recorders as Drake introduced herself, asking Friedan questions about her childhood and what it was like to attend school in Peoria in the 1930’s.

At one point Friedan’s phone rang, disrupting the interview. I looked at Drake, afraid to ask if I should answer it. “Damn it! Friedan snapped, “Isn’t someone going to get that!” I nearly leapt out of my chair, scrambling to reach the phone which was in the kitchen, but as I grabbed for the receiver the caller hung up. “That’s it, this interview is over!” Friedan exploded as she pounded her couch in fury. “I can’t believe you didn’t get that for me!”

Drake and I tried to hide our astonishment, but Drake recovered quickly, calming Friedan down. After several minutes of coaxing, Friedan relented and allowed Drake to finish the interview. But something had changed; Friedan was angrier now, more sullen, more bitter. No matter how easy the question, Friedan’s remarks become more biting and cynical. She was angry at younger women for not appreciating what they have, for all that she and other feminists fought for. She was enraged at NOW for turning feminism into a gender issue and steering it away from equality, “Normal women don’t want to be associated with a group of lesbians.” Friedan fumed about masculine culture and its unfair standards of beauty; she complained about ageism, sexism, and the glass ceiling which no matter how hard women push against it, always seems to remain just out of reach.

She was a revolutionary, and like Patrick Henry after the American Revolution had found herself put out to pasture. Friedan’s victory for women’s rights was so complete that her brand of feminism is passé, even the most die hard misogynist would have a difficult time arguing that women should get paid less than men for doing the same work. Certainly there is still sexism, but the basic privileges that Friedan wanted have been obtained. To survive as a movement, feminism had to change, veering further and further to the left until it entered the territory of the absurd. Early feminists objected to being portrayed as sexual objects, campaigned hard against the abuse of sex workers; they burned bras and pornography and refused to wear nylons, heels, use hair products or cosmetics.

How far we’ve come; from the glory days where millions of activists marched for the Equal Rights Amendment, now handfuls of thousands march for the right to reclaim the word “slut.” Known as third wave feminism, post-modern feminists no longer abhor lingerie; they relish in it, and are completely unapologetic about what they wear or how they should behave. Like libertarians who claim they have no fiscal or social responsibility to anyone, post-feminists feel they shouldn’t be held accountable for how they dress; they are women who insist they not be sexually objectified even if they dress like sex objects. They demand the right to wear whatever they want wherever they want whenever they want without being labeled, insisting that their clothing, or lack of it, should have no effect on the viewer – but then wear sexy apparel that deliberately incites the viewer into labeling them “sluts.”

There is a SlutWalk being held at West Hollywood Park just off of Santa Monica , in an area of the city typically referred to as “Boy’s Town.” Boys Town is tasteful, full of trendy restaurants that serve delightful servings of what a friend of mine refers to as “gay-cuisine.” It’s a Saturday afternoon, and there are perhaps two hundred people in attendance, the majority of whom are young women holding signs and shouting slogans while a handful of men chant along half-heartedly.

“No matter what I wear or how I wear it!” a woman at the mike shouts.


“2, 4. 6, 8, stop the violence stop the rape!”


“Not the church, not the state, women must control their fate!”


“Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, but no means no!”


Most of the women are dressed in sweats and jeans, but a handful wear bras and fishnet stockings, including a cougar in a black latex corset with thigh high boots. Other girls wear black T-shirts with the word SLUT emboldened across them: I would stare but most of them don’t have bodies worth staring at. A pasty skinned rape survivor takes to the podium and speaks about surviving rape; a feminist professor in blue shorts, knee high black socks and hiking boots informs the crowd two women are sexually assaulted every minute in the United States. I do a quick calculation and estimate that’s roughly a million American women every year.

While a few in the crowd appear to be true believers, the majority look like they’re attending just to be a “part” of an event. For them, SlutWalk might as well be Halloween, it’s an excuse to dress up like “sluts” and party. One full figured alternative girl in a black T-shirt wearing fifties rimmed glasses informs a news crew that at least for her, it’s all about reclaiming the word “slut” and making it good again, similar to what “stud” means for men.

If you want to see SlutwWalks around the world, click below:

I should stay, but truthfully, I’m bored. After the speeches there is going to be a march around the streets of Hollywood, culminating at the gayest Hamburger joint in West Hollywood, Hamburger Mary's. Normally I’d stay, but something about the combination of feminist dogma and unattractive women wanting to dress slutty acts like a repellent bug spray, and after fifteen minutes I find myself beating a hasty exit. The next speaker drones on about the patriarchy and how it must be overthrown if women are ever to be free from the reign of men, the crowd claps appropriately - I wonder how many of these young women are attending for "college" credit. No one misses me, and I'm glad I'm ignored - by nature of my gender and skin color I symbolize the "dominant-patriarchy" and there is no place for me here.

Post Modern Feminism isn't about gender equality, it's a hate group.

Not even 6 years past Friedan’s death, and the feminist movement which she started has become an almost unrecognizable parody of itself, a mockery of the values she fought to change. As long as post modern feminism continues to bash men and promote women as victims, is it any wonder why so few women want to identify themselves as feminists?

Perhaps all social movements are destined to become corrupted; would Jesus even remotely recognize the religion Christianity has become? Ancient Christians identified themselves through drawings of fish, the cross was not a holy symbol, but an image of pain and terror until it was co-opted by the Catholic church in the 11th century. Whereas Jesus was outspoken against usury and the excesses of the wealthy, Calvinism actively cherishes the pursuit of wealth as an act of divine grace.

Today, more women attend college and earn college degrees then men, while the wage gap has shrunk and almost disappeared. Divorce and abortions, which at one time were virtually unobtainable, are now everyday rights. Each year, more women enter the male dominated fields of law, medicine and science; the most popular candidate in the Republican party is ironically, a woman. (True she's not "officially" running and she is an idiot, but she draws massive crowds.)

But instead of continuing to push for equal rights, modern feminists tell women they should be proud to dress like "sluts". Instead of being embarrassed for dressing like a skank, they should "own" it, flaunt it, and actively parade their sexuality in open public space. Instead of promoting individual responsibility, the message of SlutWalk seems to be that you're free to act however you want and if something "bad" happens to you, well that's the fault of the man who assaults you.

If men were to organize a "PimpWalk," dressed in ghetto fabulous street wear in an effort to promote soliciting prostitutes to live off their earnings and reclaim the word "pimp", would anyone take a PimpWalk seriously? That feminists would have to resort to shock tactics to garner attention does not bode well for the future of the movement - perhaps feminism, having accomplished what it initially set out to do, is past its due date and should be tossed into the ideological trash bin. It's one thing to promote awareness, rape is a horrific crime, but its another to do it while wearing bunny ears and lingerie as it reduces sexual assault to the level of a surrealist joke.

And yet SlutWalk resonates, especially with younger women. Friedan was right, younger women don't appreciate the sacrifices that earlier generations made. SlutWalk isn't a protest movement, it's a costume party, a chance to be simultaneously risque and yet be socially "aware". The majority of these girls aren't protesting for social change, they're protesting to get attention. They want the privileges of equality, but not the responsibilities. Just because you can dress like a "slut," doesn't mean you should.

Feminist – An opinionated woman with a strong dislike of men: see Feminazi