Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

I meant to post this yesterday, in order to show my EDUSolidarity, but WordPress was having some issues and I couldn’t log on to finish it. Well, better late then never.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, when I first entered the field of education, I was skeptical of unions, but was coming to appreciate the protection from short-sighted policy and budgetary broadsides that a union affords. One of the benefits of the events in Wisconsin is that it has served as a clarifying point to many people like me who may have been on the fence or uncertain about their support for unions. It forced me to examine whether I really supported the collective bargaining rights of a union, as well as to consider more broadly whether I felt the field of education might even be better with the power of unions subverted. As I considered these issues, I realized that the tactic which Republicans and businessmen were calling for was not surprising, given the values of management and capitalists in general, but that it brought to the forefront a major issue with untrammeled access of private interests in public education. Education in our country is based on the ideals of a working democracy, and if we can’t handle the messy debates and political process that such democracy entails via a system of checks and balances, then we will be cutting out the legs from under the efforts of education reform, even as it might momentarily appear that we would be gaining greater efficiency.

Simply because our economy is suffering due to misguided policies that benefit the wealthy few does not mean that we should begin slicing away at the very foundations of our democracy. The Economist is heralding the demise of unions, and they sound so eminently reasonable, don’t they? Problem is, they’ve forgotten that they are discussing real human lives in their equations.

Unfortunately, our society likes to pay lip service to our soldiers, our teachers, our firemen, our policemen, etc. But if the issue is ever broached that we would have to raise taxes to pay for those essential services, everybody clams up. And they hide away in their protective ideologies and behind their pacifying Fox news blather and tantalizing talk show hate radio. I don’t care what the situation with the economy is. We should NEVER cut essential services such as education or social services in our budgets. Because those services are the cornerstone of a functioning democracy, and when we cut those services, we cut into the lives of those members of our society who need them the most. We can talk about accountability, sure! I’m all for it. I’ve seen too many of those federal and state dollars go to waste sitting in a closet. We need to invest that money smarter and track the effects of contracted programs in districts. Definitely! But should we be laying off teachers, subverting the roles of unions, and eliminating some of the few incentives and protections that teachers have in a highly challenging role that produces a product (competent students and citizens) that is of utmost value?

We need unions to protect the interests not only of teachers, but of the children who are raised in poverty. When we cut services or diminish rights in the interest of efficiency or economic duress, we cut directly into those children’s lives. Unions serve to balance the power of government and private interests. That doesn’t mean unions are saints or that I agree with all their policies or organizational structure. It means that I believe unions are a necessary counterbalance to bring the interests of various stakeholders to the bargaining table.

Geography of the Mind

Why can’t we look at people based on the color of their minds, the fruit of their perspectives, their intriguing meshed inner map of happenstance and outward trajectories of decisions, the varying shades of individualism interwoven within the living fabric of all that exists? We’ve got people convinced that somehow the color of their skin defines their capability and outlines their personality. That the accoutrements of one’s gender defines their ability to succeed or perform. That we’ve got to talk a certain way, act a certain way, perform a certain way.

It’s now been proven that sexual orientation is a formation of the brain before thought. There is no will, no choice in the matter. What appears can and often will contradict what is.

In the United States, we have furthered and maintained the myth of an identity known as the ‘black’ or ‘white’ person. Is the type of genes that one possesses relevant to anything but one’s healthcare provider? The color of one’s skin only becomes relevant outside of such concerns in a society that has bigotry at its core. The classification of black and white should not be used to subdivide cultural identity. We are all citizens of our country, with common goals and standards. Our perceived differences should merely lie in geography and ideologies, not in genes.

We live in a world based on diaspora. The identity of the citizen of a country is no longer based on the color of one’s skin nor even necessarily on the language one speaks. We create artificial subdivisions based on wealth and seclusion, and use excuses like racial identity to explain away inequity.

There is no escaping the conclusion that we all share common goals and agree to accept the standards of capitalism and democracy and human rights. Beyond that, why are we divided? Beyond that, why are we afraid? Beyond that, why do we classify ourselves as limited due to our appearance, when all of the evidence around us points not to what we look like, but where we happen to live, or what we happen to belief in?

All this hullabuloo during the presidential campaign has revolved around race and gender politics. What a petty misdirection of our attention from the issues that truly matter, and what concerns us all. It’s like everyone is patting themselves on the back because a woman and a black man are finally considered viable candidates for president of the United States. But guess what people? Wait to pat yourselves on the back until the day comes when we dismiss race and gender as completely irrelevant to the realm of politics—and to any other realm of public domain.

Let Obama Stand for What He Truly Represents: US

Well, corporate media has done it, you gotta hand it to them: they’ve consistently portrayed the presidential campaign as completely boring, distanced from all real issues, and overblown so many small dramas out of proportion that most people are sick of it all already. Good job guys! Way to promote apathy!

And guess who the winner will be if this environment of apathy and disconnect continues to be so convincingly portrayed? Why, the party that appears to best benefit from voter apathy, ignorance, misunderstanding, bipartisanship, and bigotry: the Republican party.

I don’t want to see this happen. So I’m urging you to please bear in mind when scanning your newspaper or Google news or whatever source you use to get your information that politics is not simply about soundbytes, allegations, and big media-backed rebuttals. Politics can be whatever people demonstrate concern about. We don’t have to allow ourselves to be steered into gossip politics, where the “hot topic” revolving around Barack Obama is something that his pastor said. Who cares what his pastor has said? (Heard what some of McCain’s spiritual advisor has said?) What about what Obama himself is saying, or any of the other candidates, for that matter? Have you been listening to any of that? Well, the media sure ain’t. They are just looking to sell drama and sensationalism. Apparently they don’t think that issues that actually matter will mean anything to the masses.

What’s frustrating is that the whole national discourse has changed, and politicians are reflecting this change, but the big media is still desperately plugging away with the same routine. Haven’t they gotten it yet? I want to see headlines describing the environmental policy stances of the candidates. I want to see investigative articles about long-term plans the candidates will have to combat our country’s educational system decline, global warming and carbon emissions, and suburban sprawl.

What’s especially interesting when it comes to Barack Obama is that they are obviously looking for some weakness in his armor, something they can use to bring him down. But the worst they can find is something his pastor has said. The worst they can find is the fact that he is calling for trying diplomacy first before wildly dropping bombs and invading all enemies (remember why we ended up in Iraq in the first place?). These tactics must be seen as the pathetic diversion that they are: attempts to keep the public from concentrating on the real issues that matter that Obama and Hillary have been bringing to the fore, such as increased coverage of health care, working together across party lines to create a common plan and vision for the future, dealing with climate change, and attempting to address the problems in Iraq in a more healing manner than simply throwing contracting money and troops at it.

I’m going to keep bitching about big media until I consistently see important issues reflected in the presidential campaign, not just squabbling, gossip, and smear tactics.

Overplayed Songs on the Radio

We all know how radio stations have been sterilized and homogenized by large conglomerates such as Clear Channel. It’s almost pointless to even bother turning it on, unless it’s a last hold-out local station or NPR. I think part of the blandness of radio is also the simple, aggravating annoyance of having to always hear the same old perennial favorites played over and over and over and over and over again every single day. Whatever value of freshness and wonder that these songs may have once possessed has been completely ruined by overplay. How many times can you listen to U2’s One or Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing (wait, I guess I could listen to that one again) or EMF’s Unbelievable or Eagles’ Hotel California , etc, before it just sounds like, well, like the same song that it was the last time that you heard it. . . like yesterday, for example. I think that there should be a quota for songs, world-wide. A song can only be played so many times before it must be shelved until a certain amount of tasteful time has elapsed, like a few weeks to a month. After all, there’s plenty of good music out there to play, other than Nirvana or Queen or Nickelback or Jessica Simpson or whatever crap they’re looping as we speak on a station near you.

Here’s a suggestion for how to attain this goal: have a centralized database of songs (operated by the UN or something) that must be accessed by commercial radio stations and advertisers, which logs how many times a song has been accessed and begins to impose a tax after a certain number of plays, with the tax increasing incrementally until no one will have any reason to play it anymore, whereupon it will begin to incrementally decrease until it is free again. Or impose some kind of cap and trade system on songs like they do with carbon emissions. Something. Anything. Anything to end these endless loopings of the same old songs. Anything to force commercial radio stations to start rotating something new and interesting instead.

Alas, I know, it’s a pipe dream. But wouldn’t the world be a much better place?

Sick of Partisanship

As the whole presidential race idiocy begins winding itself up in the media, I grow increasingly agitated at the state of politics in this country (the ol US of A for those of you who stumbled acrost this page randomly). The whole nature of all interactions here, whether political, economic, or legal, all seem to have to be made on adversarial terms. It’s always A vs B. It’s never A working with B to produce C. It’s Democrats vs Republicans. It’s capitalism vs socialism. It’s environmentalist groups vs corporations. It’s good vs evil. Etc, ad nauseam.

The problem with this state of affairs is that when it comes to issues where all parties involved need to work together to create any kind of real solutions to major problems, such as in the arenas of public health, or reducing carbon emissions, then there is never any progress made until things attain such a state of degradation that it is undeniable to everyone that drastic measures must be made. And by that point, of course, it’s just a little too late. It’s “damage control,” instead of “preventing catastrophe.” It’s “rebuilding from the ground up,” instead of “retrofitting existing structures.” Aside from those of us who subscribe to neither liberal nor conservative, nor Democrat nor Republican, most Americans are quite happy to delimit their perceptions to one side or the other. Once you’ve picked a side, most issues resolve themselves rather conveniently into black or white. And you will never understand the perception of the “other side.”

If you’ve read any of my political rants in the past, then you know that I obviously don’t hold much patience with Republicans and conservatives of most any stripe. I really don’t have any interest in seeing their point of view, because it dominates enough of the political and cultural scene as it is, even as “liberal” as Americans pretend their major cities might be. But I also despise Democrats and people who blindly adhere to notions of liberalism as simply ideological opposition to Republicans, while mostly, in action, still just big-business economic ass-kissing just like conservatism. But ultimately, I really don’t give a hang about Republican or Democrat. I care about issues that truly affect the world and the nation, and that truly need to be addressed, one way or another. Issues such as revitalization of the economy, global warming, and public health. And the only way that such issues will ever get addressed is if people in positions of leadership put their fat heads together and work out the nitty-gritty details as a team, instead of squabbling over ideological issues that they will never resolve simply so that they can maintain political supremacy.

And this is the exact point where the pseudo-Democracy of the United States begins to look a bit out-dated and inefficient. Because it seems to be in the very nature of our economic, legal, and political systems to be adversarial, partisan, and privatized and individualized. Any kind of notions of “teamwork” seem to invoke knee-jerk allergic reactions to the ideologies of socialism and communism. But addressing and resolving trenchant issues such as those embedded in public health and global warming require a social cohesiveness that will not be achieved through mere partisanship. We must somehow go beyond ideologies, whether political, economic, or otherwise, and attempt to look at issues through a cumulative scattered cohesion of lenses, the liberals and conservatives and goods and evils all sewn together into a temporary visage of futurity. A rainbow quilt of different perceptions, meshed into a higher vision, beyond that which could have ever been achieved through the simple antagonism of isolated fragments. Such a networked collectivity of expression can still be competitive, aggressive, and progress oriented. But it must necessarily demolish the currently seemingly intractable obstacles of factions squabbling over (largely irrelevant) ideological issues.

A Friendly Note to the Cars that Tail Me

One of the joys and wonders of Southern California is the excess amounts of asphalt that are slathered all over the desert floor, chock full of giant steel reinforced jalopies driven by nannies, soccer moms, ‘working’ stiffs, teenagers (a car for every one!), and all other sorts of uncoordinated fools. Having to drive absolutely everywhere I need to go on mile-wide streets is one of those small delights that I’d slightly forgotten about while living in a smaller northern Californian town. So herein follows a little diatribe written from the build-up of this past week of being re-introduced to this great car ensloshed culture:

Alright listen, assholes. When ya drive right up in your oversized SUV and start riding my ass, I am NOT GOING TO SUDDENLY START SPEEDING EXCESSIVELY. First and foremost, because I am already going over the speed limit. Secondly, because I am just following whatever the cars in front of me are doing; I can’t go any faster if there’s a line of cars ahead. But most importantly: because you are PISSING ME OFF. And so I am going to do everything in my limited power, as the object in your moronic path, to piss you off. This will include: 1) driving more slowly; 2) staring directly at you as I drive slowly in my rear- and side-view mirrors; 3) mouthing “fuck you douchebag” to you in my rear- and side-view mirrors as I drive slowly staring at you; and 4) flipping you off as you finally pass by when I either turn off onto another road or it changes to two lanes.

Look, I will ride someone’s ass if they are driving ridiculously slow myself. And if that doesn’t wake them up to the fact that other people have somewhere to go, then I will use my horn. Yes, that’s what those things are for. But if they are going at a reasonable speed, even if it might not conform to my ideal race-car driver speeds, I am not going to ride their ass. Firstly, because it’s fucking stupid, because if they have to slam on the brakes cuz some dog ran into the road or they misapplied their mascara into their eyeball or something, then I’m screwed. Secondly, because it’s just fucking rude. You don’t rub your dick against people’s asses while you are waiting behind them in line, do you? Well, then learn the concept of personal space and apply that complex thought to the area around the immediate vicinity of your spotless little luxury vehicle then, genius.

I just really don’t get it. Either people watch too much NASCAR and think that they are cutting down on their fuel consumption by drafting your ass, or they just suddenly become giant fucking rude assholes the minute they step behind the wheel of their supersized station wagons and pick-ups. And the stupidity of these giant sized cars is whole other rant that I’d like to delve into, if I may, while I’m in the mood for belittling idiots and their stupid cars. Just what purpose is served by driving a pick-up the size of a swimming pool? What is it that these people are trucking around in these things? Is it just egos that require all of this extra room?

Anyway, if you happen to be the kind of person who just mindlessly and automatically begins tailing whosoever is unfortunate enough to be in front of you when you are driving, please, try to alter your behavior. It’s bad enough that getting a driver’s license is easier than beating the first level of Mario Brothers on the old Nintendo. At least people could just demonstrate a little human decency in their cars, even if they can’t drive a gigantic motorized vehicle worth a lick. (I’m privy to the idea that during the driver’s test, all drivers should be forced to demonstrate a working knowledge of the exact dimensions of their vehicle. There would definitely be a lot less people on the road. And hence, a lot less carbon emissions. Reducing carbon emissions and reducing idiots on the road: two birds with one stone!) Getting into a car does not void suddenly all politeness and other normally unstated (because commonsense) laws of human decency. Show a little respect for the other people trying to get to where they are trying to get to. If we all drove with a little more respect for each other, why, maybe traffic might even flow better because then people wouldn’t be trying to cut other people off, and they wouldn’t be tailing too close, and no one would have to keep slamming on their brakes! Yeah, right. I’ll keep dreaming. And I’ll very happily leave all of the driving to you Californians and go seek out a living somewhere where there’s less asphalt.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright law is an interesting field in this day and age of internet decentralized flows of international information. Back when things like music, knowledge, and systems were all packagable and distinct, it was easy to delineate the producer, an audience, and a middle-man marketer. In order to get their music out there and heard, musicians mainly had to get their advertising and packaging done through big name record companies, who of course took all the profits. And the dislocated audience had to pay fees to buy the record, the tapes, the CDs, whatever.

Phish might have been one of the first big names in the music industry that heralded the power of word-of-mouth in the medium of cyberspace. Suddenly, hippies and college music aficianados were re-united, through a grassroots movement amplified by friends e-mailing, chatting, and sharing music on-line. This new undefined medium of word-of-mouth is also demonstrable in the slow but steady growth of homegrown record labels started by artists such as Hieroglyphics (Hieroglyphics Imperium) and Ani Difranco (Righteous Babe). These artists demonstrated that they could make money much more directly themselves by producing their own CDs, self-advertising, word-of-mouth, and live shows.

During the rise of Napster, Kazaa, Gnutella, and all the other various forms of information-sharing networks, the major record labels immediately reacted in panic, fear-mongering, intimidation, and other acts of regressive dinosaurism. For anyone with any clear view of reality, the recording industry is run by a bunch of numbnuts. I’m speaking as someone who was 19 years old at the time, when the free-music-downloading bonanza was at full bore, and I was saying back then that if the record labels were smart, they would start an easy on-line service that charged people to download music. It isn’t exactly rocket science: there is no way of controlling information on the internet; however, there is a way to make some information more easily accessible, and you can charge for it. Just like idiots still shell out doe for AOL when you can get all of that shit for free, all without the “You’ve Got Mail!” annoying ass voice. There’s always a market for lazy people. But of course, the morons that run the recording industry were too greedy and corporate dulled to note that. Instead, they quoted figures of how much money they were losing to on-line music piracy. But what was not calculated in such a figure was: 1) the money they could have been MAKING if they stopping whining and started utilizing the new on-line medium; and 2) the fact that most people don’t have such a large expendable income that they can buy all the music they’ve ever wanted to, and would never have shelled out the doe for many of the songs they downloaded for free.

What’s amazing is that now, almost 10 years later, the recording industry is STILL using Gestapo-like tactics and trying to instill fear in the populace, desperately attempting to save their toppling edifice of an industry. It’s pretty pathetic to watch, knowing that there is absolutely no way that they could ever stop people completely from sharing music on-line. It’s simply impossible. And this leads us to some interesting topics: in a time in which information is easily transferred and accessible, where do we draw the line between producers, and audiences; and where are new spaces opening for evolutionary collaborations, new economies, and a whole new way of thinking?

The fact is, not many people out there feel guilty about ripping free CDs. But nobody would argue that artists and sound engineers shouldn’t be paid for their efforts. It comes down to what one thinks about something like music, art, and all acts of creativity. Isn’t it a community thing? Isn’t it a social thing, at root? Yet somehow such simple acts as creating music have been disassociated from what they are really about, and it has become focused primarily on money. On projecting a marketable image. Such “artists” are pretty easy to discern: just turn on the radio, and there you are. A bunch of manufactured bullshit bent on appealing to the broadest possible lowest common denominator, just like McDonald’s. And the recording industry harvests giant profits off of these namebrands.

I think what is becoming apparent here is that simultaneous with the rise of the new medium for music distribution, there needs to be a new economic medium for artists and producers to make their money, that will hopefully enable them to make money directly, rather than having money be made off of them by corporate douche-bags. In connecting an artist directly with their audience, the internet may open new realms of possibility for music making that were hitherto unforeseeable. And it may just turn out to be a disguised boon for smaller artists who would be more than happy to see their music shared on-line for free to bigger multitudes of people. Suddenly, artists that before would turn out maybe 15 people in a distant city from their hometown may now be turning out 115 due to on-line file sharing.

One thing is for sure: those people who are innovative and creative will rise to the top of this new medium, and all the reactionary dinosaurs (like Metallica, for example) will settle on down to the bottom with rocks tied to their legs.