Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Unpopular opinion time again

Saw this on Facebook this morning:

It points out to me again the odd dichotomy I constantly see from any number of my teacher friends on Facebook:

  1. Teachers are the bulwarks against stupidity and take extra special care of your precious snowflakes and teach them all they need to know to make it in the world, so you should pay them a lot more than they are already paid.
  2. If a student fails in school, it's not the teacher's fault but someone else's.  It is therefore unfair to judge a teacher on the performance of her students and want to fire teachers whose students underperform.
Again, I say: you can't have it both ways. 

If teachers are superheroes who deserve--as I have seen claimed--to be paid on the level of pro athletes or executives, then there must be a way to winnow out the poor ones, and reward the good ones with higher pay just the way we do with pro athletes and executives.

If, on the other hand, teachers aren't responsible for their students' outcomes, why pay them even what they're paid now?

Here's the data from Salary.com for elementary school teachers in San Antonio (to the best of my knowledge, there's not actually any difference in pay for teachers at other levels, but this is how the website breaks it down):

Now, according to the website of SAISD, the largest district in the city, brand new teachers without a single day of experience start out at $47,900/yr.*  Quite frankly, I can't think of too many other careers where you walk out of college after four years and into a $47K/year job.

To put that in further perspective, according to the chart above, the median income of a school teacher in San Antonio is $48,753.  The median income of San Antonians in general, across all careers?  According to the Census Bureau folks, it's $42,613.  Now, I realize the median income is fairly meaningless, but this still says the following: Teachers in San Antonio make enough to be in the top half of wage earners in the city.

It's at this point where I am forced to admit my blog post took a different turn than I had intended.  I was going to reiterate my usual point that teachers can either be paid well and be held accountable or they can not be held accountable and be paid like the daycare workers they really are (if they're not responsible), because you only get high pay and zero accountability in politics.

I am not, mind you, saying that teachers are paid too much.  Some of them are, a few are probably paid too little, and the rest are probably right on.  I don't have a problem with teachers making more than the median if they will accept at least some responsibility for student outcomes.

I'm not saying "fire them if standardized test scores aren't consistently high."  I'm saying "fire them if they consistently send out e-mails to parents containing multiple spelling and grammar errors" (I've been on the receiving end of that recently).  Or at the very least, deny them tenure and replace them as soon as they find someone better.

I won't bore you with my stories about sub-par teachers, but I will say this**: everybody who has gone through the public school system in the US has had an experience with teachers who need to be fired, and yet the current system makes it nearly impossible to do so.  I will also say that pretty much every other job out there--even ones that pay minimum wage or nearly minimum wage--have mechanisms in place to weed out poor performers, so the claim that teachers shouldn't face any sort of evaluation and consequences for sucking is specious as hell.

* I very nearly published this calling SAISD the largest and lowest-paying school district in the city, because it was true when I first researched the issue back in '04.  Over the course of the last decade, they have gone from being the lowest-paying to the highest-paying district in the city.  My experience with the district as a parent did not give me any indication this has paid off.

** OK, I'll give you this story.  Esther's first Kindergarten teacher (we moved very early into the school year) spoke English so poorly I couldn't understand half of what she said and Esther understood even less; she is the one who famously said she was going to "pre-pair" children for first grade...that woman makes at least $48K.  That actually really fucking pisses me off.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I would say it's disingenuous, but it's not.

Bless liberals' little hearts, they really do think they've fixed poverty.  One of my bluest friends posted a link to this Washington Post story on the effects of Johnson's War on Poverty, and this was the quote she chose to pull:

Why don't people think it reduced poverty?
Largely because people rely on the official poverty rate, which is a horrendously flawed measure, which excludes income received from major anti-poverty programs like food stamps or the EITC.

If that's not a pretty bit of bullshit, I don't know what is.  Bless the author's stupid little heart.

Let me spell this out for Dylan Matthews and the others who think like him:

Making poverty more comfortable is not the same as actually increasing people's incomes.

I really shouldn't have to explain this, but I have to explain this.  Listen, I'm not knocking SNAP here.  I've said before, it's helped me eat in the past.  I love me some fucking food stamps, 'cause I love me some food.

And, as I've said a whole bunch of times before, the Right's bitch fit about how poor people aren't, like, ashamed of government assistance is just idiocy with no connection to how the poor are actually treated.   But, you know, at least Republicans are honest about it.

At least Republicans aren't standing around patting their backs and pretending that government intervention has taken people out of poverty, because it hasn't.  It has made poverty more bearable--things like food and shelter aren't taken for granted by anyone who has struggled to obtain either of those things.  But there's nothing that says more clearly that Dylan Matthews has never actually been impoverished than his back-patting over this.

When it comes down to it, Democrats and Republicans fall into the same trap: poor people have stuff, so they can't really be that poor.  Which is a ridiculous statement, because it overlooks how cheap a lot of stuff has become and also how poor people over-pay for their stuff in a way middle class and rich people simply don't.  You don't find Rent-a-Center and buy here/pay here lots in good neighborhoods, OK?  A "welfare Cadillac" is no more a sign that the government has pulled another family out of poverty than it is a sign that a family doesn't actually need assistance.  What it is likely to actually be is a sign of a family that needs a car and is probably paying through the nose for something they've been taught is a status symbol that will make others in the 'hood envious of them.

In other words, both y'all are missing the damn point.

Look, if government programs were the poverty cure Matthews seems to think they are, then their use would naturally decline as time went on.  Because if I'm pulled up out of poverty by food stamps, then I'm in the middle class and naturally my  kids are going to be even more solidly middle class and won't need government assistance, because the government has magically handed me all the opportunities and benefits of being in the middle class.

Only, it doesn't work like that.  If I need food stamps because I'm struggling and my kids grow up and need food stamps because they're struggling, then precisely what has been accomplished?  Yeah, tummies are being filled, and like I said I'm a fan of not starving, but poverty is more than not being able to buy stuff; it's having fewer opportunities.  And the government isn't fixing that, and Matthews even kinda sorta acknowledges it:

The impact of non-transfer programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Job Corps on poverty is harder to measure, but what indications there are are promising. Amy Finkelstein and Robin McKnight have found that Medicare significantly reduced out-of-pocket medical expenditures for seniors, which increased their real incomes. The Oregon Medicaid Study found that the program significantly reduces financial hardship for its beneficiaries, who, under Oregon's eligibility rules at the time, all fell below the poverty line. A randomized evaluation of the Job Corps found that it caused improvements on a variety of outcomes, most notably a 12 percent increase in earnings of participants but also reductions in rates of incarceration, arrest, and conviction.
 Oh, and just for funsies, I clicked on his link about how the Job Corps "caused improvements on a variety of outcomes" and this is what it actually says:

Based on the administrative records data, however, the earnings impacts for the full sample did not persist after the four-year period covered by the survey. Consequently, program benefits appeared to be small compared to the program’s cost of $16,500 per participant. Nonetheless, the statistically significant short-term earnings gains experienced by participants made Job Corps the only large-scale education and training program shown to increase the earnings of disadvantaged youth. Furthermore, the benefits of Job Corps appeared to offset costs for the oldest youth. In addition, benefits exceeded costs for the participants themselves, suggesting that Job Corps effectively redistributed resources toward low-income youth.
The emphasis, of course, is mine.  And it should probably be noted that this study is old; it seems to have completed in 2000.  I'd think if there were newer, more promising research out there, it would have been used.  That Matthews has to go back fourteen years to give shaky support to his thesis is, I think, telling.

Yet again, I am forced to admit that I don't have the answers.  All I can say is, the answers being offered right now are the wrong ones.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


...some folks out there don't think Gary Allan sings country music.

Songs like this put the easy lie to that theory:

Granted, it's rougher than his early stuff, but it's on par with my absolute favorite song from him:

I guess it might not be what some folks think of as traditional country, but to a girl raised on the outlaws it's pretty much spot-on.  Gary Allan hits all the classic touch stones of country music except the blue-collar stuff, and there's damn near no one left in Nashville who knows what the fuck do to with those themes.

I know how the argument goes, though.  Gary Allan recorded a cover of a Vertical Horizon song!

Yeah, and he did it so well that precious few people recognize the other one as the original:

And anyway, covering a rock song can't possibly kick you out of country music, 'cause if it does Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash are both gone.  Jennings in particular recorded a lot of non-country stuff, and made it his own*.  So to call Allan non-country because of the one song while ignoring an incredibly country discography just doesn't make any sense.

Of course, the people I've seen doing this have by and large all been over on Saving Country Music, where they think that Hank III is the be-all and end-all of country, so it's pretty clear they don't actually know what the fuck they're talking about.

*I recently learned that Waylon Jennings did a cover of "McArthur Park", apparently to get in the pants of some female singer.  Coulda knocked me over with a feather.

Monday, December 30, 2013

You know what will fix this, don't you?

The proposed streetcar route, that's what.

If you don't want to click the link, here's the deal.  According to Men's Health magazine, San Antonio ranks 99 out of 100 cities in the US when ranked from soberest to most drunk.  Usually I roll my eyes at these things since MH isn't known for its stellar methodology, but here's what they took into account, according to the linked article:

The magazine looked at number of cases with liver disease, number of binge drinking incidents, number of deaths in DUIs, DUI arrests and DUI laws.

The full list, by the way, can be seen here.  We're only more sober than Bakersfield, which makes "Streets of Bakersfield" a suddenly dangerous song.  We're drunker than, among other places, Austin (93), San Diego (89), Tampa (73), Cleveland (67), Washington, DC (59)--that's right, we're drunker than Congress--Los Angeles (41), not one but two cities in Hampton Roads (Norfolk & Chesapeake, 37 & 38 respectively), Oakland (29), New Orleans (15), and NYC (3).

I have encountered wrong way drivers so many times I have lost count; there have been at least three in the past month.  None of these recent encounters were under what the city tells us are dangerous conditions--they were all on surface streets downtown, all before 7PM (one was around noon on a Saturday).  Am I saying these folks were drunk? Of course not; I have no way of knowing that.  They could have all been colossally stupid, which is usually a pretty safe bet in this town.  But there's at least a chance they were already drunk.

So, what is the City Council concentrating on? The County Commissioners?  Nothing so mundane as addressing the culture of a city that not only excuses but expects DUIs for a large portion of its residents.  Nope, they're working on making downtown SA a more attractive place to live.

Or to, y'know, get hit by a drunk driver.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Phantom Whataburger

Can y'all tell I have really lost interest in blogging since my computer took a nosedive out of Bobbie's arms?  I'd come up with an excuse, and having two small children probably does have a lot to do with it, but in truth I'm not even really reading blogs these days (except for Erik's), much less writing them.

Still, every once in a while, something comes along that piques my interest.

We took a walk today up along NW Military Hwy, to check out a former Whataburger Bobbie and I had looked through the windows of a few weeks back.  This time, I had a camera, and thanks to my kid's eagle eye, I realized it was even more interesting than I though to begin with.

(Please forgive the way some of these photos are shimmery; they were all taken through the windows.)

From the get-go I was calling this a Phantom Whataburger because it's been painted-over in white.  This isn't one of the real old-school A-frame buildings, but it's an evolution of that design, and in Texas A-frame means Whataburger.  Were this a working restaurant, the siding on the A-frame itself and the roofs of the other part would be orange-and-white striped.  They've clearly done all they can to ensure no one mistakes this for a current store.

Get a little closer (sorry about the reflections) and you can tell it's a bit odd.  There's a bunch of stuff in this building still.  I'm not entirely sure when this one was closed down, but we've been here since June 2012 and it was closed before we moved in.

This is what first struck me as weird when Bobbie and I stopped to peer through the windows the first time.  That's the beverage station all set up for use.  Not just the soda fountain, but the tea and coffee urns, an extra stack of cups, napkins and stir sticks aplenty.  It looks as though they just walked out one day expecting to return but never did.

Rows of chairs and cleared-out tables make it obvious that was not the case, however.  There are some other really large things in here that I thought to begin with were fryers or what have you, but on closer inspection today the kitchen seemed to be intact, so I'm not sure exactly what they are.

Billboard with some employee-aimed something-or-other blocking the building's front entrance.  Old people love them some Whataburger; I'm betting it was quite the shock to have to learn to go a little further down the street to the new one they built.

I probably had a lot more fun than I should have walking through the drive-thru.  This is the menu board--it looked covered up rather than disassembled--and the speaker box.

This is here just because I never noticed the little balcony at the back of these older buildings before.

Tee-hee, I'm walking through the drive-thru!  Complete with oil stains.  For those of you  not familiar with Whataburger, there is actually a lot of waiting involved.  When they say they don't make your food until you order it, they mean it.  It's fast food in name only.

It was when I was taking pictures through the drive-thru window box that Bobbie realized the really weird thing about the Phantom Whataburger.

"Mom," she said, "their registers are on!"

Huh.  So they were:

Ready to take orders!

The POS seems to still be up, there are fry boxes and salt waiting...

Kind of a pulled-out picture of the same area.  You can see the entire menu board is up.  The orange box below it on the far end is one of their condiment trays, and it was fully-loaded with condiments.  You can sort of tell, if you look at the reflection on the menu board, that one of the overhead lights was still on.

The whole thing is very eerie.

Their sign pole.  They are very serious about no one thinking the location might still be open.

One last photo (that's Bobbie in the drive-thru, looking for a ring Marie thought she dropped).  I have no idea why the electricity is still on.  Part of me thinks I should e-mail Whataburger corporate and let them know they forgot to shut off the electricity.  Part of me is thinking Extra-Fancy Ketchup soup come Zombiepocalypse, baby!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A quick debunking

Dave asked me about this last week and I had a chance to look at it yesterday:

I'll admit I'm lazy so it's handy when these memes carry the key to their own debunking with them.  I went right over to the 2012 Tax Receipt page on the White House website and since this said $50,000 per year I selected the given $50K option from their estimates drop down menu, which I figured was most likely to be the source of this meme: 

And, well, it was clear from the get-go that this meme is full of shit:

Short version is everything's higher in the given WhiteHouse.gov tax receipt.  Since you can enter your own numbers, it's entirely possible you can come up with the right combination of them to provide what's shown.

I think it's worth noting that there is nothing on the White House site that gives a figure for corporate subsidies.  I'm not even going to waste my time on CommonDreams.org because that website's bias is screamingly obvious from the name.  It's worth it to note that even other liberal sites don't agree on the $4,000 figure; numbers range from $1740 in direct and corporate tax subsidies on Bill Moyers's website to $6000 claimed by "Truth-Out" (which seems to cite the same CommonDreams.org bit the image above does; it also parrots the $36/yr SNAP claim, and references Democratic Underground for this**).

Since everyone seems all hopped up on the "food stamps only cost you $36/yr" bit, allow me to drill down into the Job and Family Security heading it's located under:

Huh.  Seems they underestimated it by very nearly half.  Within 20¢ of half, in fact.

Still, my opinion on SNAP is a 180 from the majority of my fellow conservatives.  You can see with this that it's a minute percentage of your tax dollars.  I'll tell you now the Republican party is going to continue to fail as long as they're beating the "poor people shouldn't eat" drum, which is exactly what opposition to SNAP sounds like to the average person.  All of this bitching about what poor people buy and how the EBT cards don't carry the same stigma as paper food stamps 'cause people aren't ashamed like they should be ('cause fuck them for wanting to eat, right?) is frankly pretty damned ridiculous.  It's not a winning strategy; it makes us look like a party of assholes and we really need to STFU about it.

Thing is, I think no matter what side of the aisle you're on, you probably will agree with the conclusion on that graphic: Are you sure you're pissed off at the right people?  Of course, they want you to be pissed off at Republicans, which is silly because Democrats are no friend to poor people except in their own minds.  (The SNAP program reduction has been known about at least since 2010 and actually came from the administration; there was no outcry over it back then because not enough time had passed to pin it on Republicans.)

But, y'all, look at this:

(I drastically increased the text size on the web page before taking this screenshot so it would be a little clearer, by the way.)

More of your tax dollars go to SNAP alone than to all of the Education and Job Training category.  Here's the drill-down of that category:

Not even fourteen bucks goes to college financial aid and job training and employment services: $13.60.  Over five times as much (if my math is right, which it may well not be) money goes to SNAP than to programs that might actually help people get off SNAP.  Which is more evidence to support my hypothesis that both Republicans and Democrats are more than happy with a permanent underclass.

**Seriously, when the fuck will people realize that linking to opinion sites known for spewing bullshit isn't going to prove anything other than you're an idiot who wouldn't recognize an unbiased source if it reached out and slapped you?  But hey, FauxNews amirite?

Friday, November 22, 2013

On Creationism

I am not atheist.  I am a cradle Episcopalian and while I waver in my faith from time to time, there is no doubt in my mind that God created the heavens and the earth.  I am thankful, among other things, to have been raised in a faith tradition that counts Reason as one of the pillars of faith; I know that my Catholic friends and other mainline Protestant friends most likely join me in my frustration with this new idea that religion and science cannot live together, particularly evolution.

I have heard it said of atheists that they cannot grasp anything larger than they, that somehow they have difficulty appreciating the wonder of the universe.


Tell me, who has a more narrow understanding of the world and the universe it inhabits: the person who sees Earth was made so many years ago the average person finds it impossible to comprehend, and has, along with the species on it, changed minutely in uncountable ways over those incomprehensible years to become the way we know it today, who has seen and appreciated the complex mathematics that go into making the world what it is, who accepts that we are but one small dot in the center of incomprehensible other planets and stars, that species have been born on Earth and changed and died off and yet left clear evidence of their existence behind...

Or the people who see all of this beauty, all of this complexity, and reject it, saying "God made the earth a few thousand years ago, just as it is today, and dinosaur fossils are there to test our faith"?

Again, I am Christian.  And I will tell you that even from the standpoint of a Christian, young Earth creationism--or any literal form of Biblical creationism--simply doesn't make sense.  You cannot on the one hand say that God is all-knowing and all-powerful and then on the other claim that this omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being couldn't have or wouldn't have built the earth over the course of billions of years, that this loving God would not have had the patience to guide uncountable minute changes (or at the very least, set them in motion) of evolution.  That's not faith.  That's tying God down, bringing Him down to a human level, forcing Him to have worked with numbers that we can easily understand.

You get to do that.  You get to have a faulty understanding of the Bible and of God.  But for the love of Christ that you claim to have, keep the fuck out of science classrooms.  Have enough faith in your version of the world that you don't have to attempt to force other people to believe.  If your puny understanding of the world is true, we will come around to it in time.

Meanwhile, if you can't tell the difference between a hypothesis and a theory, kindly shut the fuck up and let the grown-ups run things.

Monday, November 18, 2013

QOTD: Nothing to do with anything edition

This just popped up in my news feed...

There's more to it, as the number indicates.

Ray Wylie Hubbard is probably my favorite celebrity to follow on Facebook, as well as one of my favorite singers.  I've shared my favorite of his songs, "The Beauty Way" on my blog before, so here's another one:

I share this one 'cause it about encapsulates my preferences for country music too.  I know it's not something one admits to these days, but I don't have much use for bluegrass.  It's not that I don't like it; it just bores me. Blues, funk, soul, old school R&B? I'm there.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Myth of the Equal Start, Part Two

If you haven't yet, read yesterday's post here.  (Or, y'know, scroll down.)  I explain the whole thing I'm about to go into here in the form of a story, with horrible pictures.

There is a truism that the difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals want everyone to have an equal outcome, while conservatives want everyone to have an equal beginning.

It sounds nice and comforting to us conservatives, in part because we realize that an equal outcome is not possible nor fair (and fair, of course, is a word that liberals love).  If everyone starts out at the same place, then where they end up is largely up to their own efforts.

There is, of course, quite a deal of truth to this idea.  As I've said before, the main difference between me and the people I know who have more than I do is that they've either worked harder or have more education or ambition, or some combination of the three.

However, it is not the only difference, and for some folks it might not even be the important difference.  Because the truth is this: the idea that everyone in America starts out equal is an absolute myth.

I realize that this goes against the very core of what a lot of my readers believe.  And yet, it is true.  It is also almost impossible for a lot of folks to even perceive, let alone comprehend.

We all of us--and I by no means except myself from this--are prone to believing that the way we experience life is the default norm, and that other people are exaggerating or outright lying when they talk about how it is for them.  To put it another way, we think our perception of reality is actually objective reality, and if other people don't perceive objective reality the exact same way we do, then their perception must be off.

See,  there is this conservative habit of thinking that everyone is middle class if they want to be.  It assumes that middle class is the default and that everyone, poor or middle class or rich, has the exact same opportunities and experiences and mindset.  And it's not true, and the belief is kind of fucking ridiculous and actually pretty insulting.

Now, I am not going to pretend to be an expert on the middle class, having only the slightest experience with it.  But, from watching my peers who were middle class grow up, I have been able to cobble together some commonalities.  These are things the middle class takes for granted:

  • Health Insurance.  I put this first just because it has been in the news so much lately.  There is a difference between not having health insurance as an adult and in growing up without it.  And I'm going to lump dental insurance in here too, because it's a similar thing.  Middle class folks by and large grow up with health insurance, and that means that getting sick isn't a scary thing.  You get seriously ill, you go to the doctor, you get a prescription and you get it filled and take the medicine.  And you never think twice about this.  Growing up without health insurance means fear of something very bad happening, and guilt for getting sick enough to have to see a doctor you know your parent(s) cannot afford.  It means waiting out things like infections because there's no way your parents can afford the antibiotics.  It's the difference between regular dental treatment, and your normal state not being some level of pain because you've learned to ignore all but the worst of it.  My husband broke his two front teeth getting back on the family's boat(!) just before going into middle school and had them fixed almost immediately; I still have a fear of something happening to my teeth because people absolutely judge you if they're broken.
  • Food Security.  Maybe you were sent to bed without dinner a few times when you misbehaved.  Not the same.  Middle class kids know there will be a good dinner every single day.  Know the real reason poor people tend to be fat?  Because when they have access to food, they tend to overeat because they know it won't last.  But there's more to it than that.  Remember signing up to bring stuff to school for class parties?  No big deal for middle class kids.  Poor kids, on the other hand, either have to beg off or bring something cheap, either of which marks them as weird and undeserving to the other kids in class.  Then you get to high school and there are all these occasions to eat out with other kids--for me in particular it was at German contest and the Model UN and things like that--and either you pretend you're not hungry or you feel guilty because you know your parents are suffering to give you the money for these things.  Or, at the very least, you look at the other kids eating whatever the hell they want and you kind of want it too, but you have to sit there and pretend to be happy with your cheaper option.
  • Extracurricular activities.  True story: all my cousins played trombone in the school band and so I wanted to play trombone in the school band.  That lasted right up until I discovered you had to pay to rent the instrument.  Then, in high school, I wanted to be in pep squad (damned if I remember why anymore), right up until I learned it was $100 for uniform and supplies and then I'd have to go to competitions and stuff.  I could tell a similar story about Girl Scouts.  I remember going to the thrift store for my uniforms.  Don't even start on things like Driver's Ed (which I somehow did have, but it was through the school district rather than a private driving school like most of my classmates) and school dances.  
  • Popular culture.  You remember Trapper Keepers?  They were the shit back in the '80s and '90s.  What about Popples?  Nintendo?  Nickelodeon?  Walkmans?  Microwave ovens?  Yeah, poor people got none of that stuff, to say nothing of the clothing fads that most of the rest of us are embarrassed to have taken part in.  I don't remember when MTV had music, and neither do other people my age who grew up poor, because cable TV is something other people had.
  • Wanting stuff.  This one sounds a bit crazy.  But it's true.  Most people I know can tell at least one story of wanting some toy or bit of technology really really badly, and how elated they were when they finally got it.  Poor kids, on the other hand, learn to not want stuff because they know they won't get it.  Oh, I'm not saying I didn't have toys.  I did, and rather a lot 'cause my dad used to buy them for me and my mom was always shit at managing money.  But they were the cheaper versions 9 times out of 10, and there were many, many more things I decided I actually kind of hated because it was easier to disdain things.
  • Milestones.  When we met, my husband still had the stereo he'd bought with the money he was given at high school graduation.  I found this both charming and bizarre--people really do give high school graduation gifts!  I'd heard of it, but, y'know.  And the thing now is senior pictures.  Not the Lifetouch portraits we all had, but like hiring a professional photographer to do portraits the senior year of high school.  And all that other stuff...school dances, proms, senior trip, yearbook, varsity jacket, class ring.  I managed most of it (I only had the varsity jacket because the school paid for a certain number of them), but there are plenty of kids out there who don't.  There was certainly no car--used or otherwise, or dinner out before senior prom, or any of that stuff.
  • College.  This is perhaps the most significant difference.  Middle class kids took the PSAT, they may have taken the SAT/ACT multiple times.  They wrote up lists of colleges they wanted to attend, they visited some of them, they applied and were accepted and arranged funding with little fuss.  The poor kids who even had a concept of college had no one to guide them.  The entire application process is a fucking mystery if you don't have someone there to guide you through.  Obtaining a waiver for application fees is every bit as difficult to understand as the idea of paying $50 to several different institutions.  The entire experience may as well be a myth.  Speaking of myself again, I can tell you that after 7 years of being forcefully dragged down to the level of the dumbest person in class, the idea of paying for another four years of that shit seemed crazy.  This is one of the intangibles.  One person to sit me down and say "Look, the dumbasses? In college, they're shit out of luck.  The professor is only going to be willing to put up with so much" would have completely changed the trajectory of my life.  And the other kids?  The ones for whom college would be a waste of time?  The way things are set up, there's even less ambient knowledge about how to obtain school for a decent trade.  
Really, it all boils down to one thing: opportunity.  Middle class kids don't just have expectations of a continued middle class existence, they have endless opportunities to maintain it.  They know how to get education.  They have the luxury of thinking through problems.  They know people.  People who own businesses and can get them a job.  People who have been successful and can show them how to be successful merely by example.

For poor kids, it all might as well be a fairy tale.  Even if they understand that these things are out there, as I did, the way to obtain them is a mystery unless they get lucky.

You may have seen a news story circulating about how poverty makes you stupid.  It's not that stupid people are more likely to be poor, either.  It's that when you are impoverished, so much of your brainpower is devoted to just keeping your head above water that you don't have any left to figure out how to improve your life.  I know from personal experience as an adult that it can feel as though you are reeling from one emergency to the next.  How the hell do you get ahead?  How do you build up savings when you have to decide which bill to put off until next month?  How do you get a new, better job when the hours of the one you're working right now are so screwy you can't schedule an interview?  There's almost no breathing room. 

I still listen to Dave Ramsey and I am occasionally just as bemused by him as I ever was.  It's not so much the twenty dollar designer envelope system now.  It's the way the people who call into his show to talk about how they are debt free never seem to make below about $50 grand a year, and a lot of them make $75K or $100K a year instead.  And they will talk about how they're middle class and struggling.  Witness the middle class conundrum about cutting cable television.  Or foregoing a family vacation.  You think poor people have that stuff to cut back on?  (And right now, someone reading this is mentally composing a rant about how poor people have big screen TVs and iPhones and new cars.  Go look up rent to own, then learn about buy-here-pay-here lots and kindly go fuck yourself.)

There is a disconnect, and it is one of the reasons I am alienated from conservatives just as much as liberals.

Poverty is not a moral failure.  Ending up poor when you started out poor is the default, just like ending up middle class when you start out middle class is the default.  The error comes in the common belief that middle class is the standard and that poor people can easily end up middle class unless there's something wrong with them.  It's the objective reality vs. perception thing I was talking about earlier.

In this country, we celebrate the Average Joe who hits it big.  We realize the little guy becoming rich and famous is rare and should be celebrated.  What too many of us miss, however, is the poor guy making it to average is just as rare and worthy of celebration.  Maybe even more so.  Because the other thing the middle class takes for granted is hope. 

Let me explain it like this. You've got Jon and Joe and they're both in San Antonio and they both want to get to Houston.  Joe has an atlas and a car and a knowledge of where Houston is.  Jon, on the other hand, is on foot and someone shit on his map and he only knows that Houston's "over there toward the East".  Now, who's more likely to get there?  Joe.  Who really has to work his ass off and figure out a lot of extra stuff to get there?  Jon.  If they're both in Houston a month later, which man really deserves to be congratulated for it?  And if Jon can't find his way to Houston, does that make him a bad person?  Or just an unprepared one?

It's like that.

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Myth of the Equal Start, part one

This post has been longer in the making than anything else I have ever put on this blog.  It was years ago that I published the first part of this, so long that I don't recall the title of that post and am not feeling up to digging through old ones to find it and link.  One of the reasons I hesitate is because it will make me sound kinda liberal and maybe alienate some people and I really don't want to do that, but the truth generally lies far outside the liberal/conservative dichotomy anyway.  So, buckle in and prepare your vitriol for the comments section. (Also, since I am not at all immune to blog trends, there will be terrible pictures involved.)

Let me start out by telling you a story.  It's about two towns and the people in them and the distance between them.

This is PoVille.  It looks nice enough to the people who live there.  Nothing's really fancy, but their whole family is here, maybe minus a person or two.  As we learned in school, there are all sorts of families.  There are some with two parents, some with only one, some with three or four (yay stepparents!) .  Some families have one or two kids, some five or six, some none, and every other permutation you can think of.  Family, of course, is very important to the PoVilliens.  They look out for one another and want the best for each other.  Sure, the folks of PoVille have their problems, but by and large they get by.

This is PerityVille.  It looks nice enough to the people who live there.  Nothing's really fancy, but their whole family is here, maybe minus a person or two.  As we learned in school, there are all sorts of families.  There are some with two parents, some with only one, some with three or four (yay stepparents!) .  Some families have one or two kids, some five or six, some none, and every other permutation you can think of.  Family, of course, is very important to the PerityVilliens.  They look out for one another and want the best for each other.  Sure, the folks of PerityVille have their problems, but by and large they get by.

They sound pretty much exactly alike, don't they?  And there really are many, many similarities, even once you look past the surface.  There is one big difference, though: the people of PerityVille spend a lot of time thinking about the people of PoVille.

A lot of the PerityVilliens think that the folks in PoVille are all good, no bad.  They are, of course, wrong.

Conversely, a lot of PerityVilliens think that the PoVilliens are, to a person, horrible, untrustworthy folks.  They are, of course, wrong.

In news which will surprise next to no one, some PerityVilliens think that PoVilliens are stupid, and some think that they're lazy, and while there is some overlap, it pretty much lines up like you see above.  We should note that the PerityVilliens who think of the PoVilliens as a bunch of benevolent dunces like to fancy themselves superior to the ones who think of the PoVilliens as slatterns.  They are, of course, wrong.

Naturally, reality is far more complicated.  Some PoVilliens are wonderful people.  Some are shitty people.  Some are both, depending upon circumstances, while the vast majority are neither.

The folks in PerityVille are...Well, pretty much exactly the same as the folks in PoVille, actually, except for generally thinking they're better than the folks in PoVille (something which is true for almost all PerityVilliens, no matter how they look upon the folks in PoVille).

So, why do PerityVilliens spend so much time thinking about PoVilliens?  Well, it just so happens that PerityVille is the place to be.  Everybody in PerityVille agrees on this, and so do a a lot of the folks in PoVille.

The problem lies in the distance, and in perception of it.  Here we see PerityVille up top and PoVille down below.  It's not an insurmountable distance, by any means, but most of the folks in PerityVille don't have a clue how the trail actually is.

Most of the people in PerityVille think there is a broad, wide road between them and PoVille, and that it's an easy jaunt up a small hill.

In reality, the path from PoVille to PerityVille looks more like this.  Not only is it incredibly long and meandering and difficult, it is tiny and nearly impossible to find, and that's if you know it's there. 

You see, for a significant proportion of the PoVilliens, PerityVille may well not exist, near as they can tell.  See, they don't know anyone in PerityVille, and they don't know anyone in PoVille who has visited PerityVille.  Sure, maybe Aunt Myrtle's second cousin's hairdresser's ex-boyfriend moved there, but no one's heard from him in years, so who knows what really became of him?  Why should they even worry about leaving PoVille?  After all, it's a nice place.  It was good enough for their mother and grandfather and their entire family.  And their family is pretty damn great, so PoVille is good enough for them too.  To hell with PerityVille anyway, right?

So why is it that PerityVilliens think it's so easy to get there?  Because sometimes an exceptionally clever PoVillien will figure out a way around the obstacles that lie between the towns.  And if he can do it, surely all those other folks can too.

Complicating matters are the folks who fight their way along the path between the two, and end up thinking that anyone can do it, because they somehow have missed the fact that they are stone-cold badasses.

Of course, there are some people in PerityVille who know the truth about how hard the path is.  Maybe they took it themselves, or maybe their grandmother did and told them about it, or maybe they talked to one of the lucky people and heard about how clever they had to be to bypass it.  Whatever the case may be, for the most part the other folks in PerityVille don't want to hear it.

Why is that? Well, there are some folks in PerityVille who have decided that other PerityVilliens are mean, evil people who exist only to keep those sweet innocent PoVilliens from coming to PerityVille.  (Remember, almost all PerityVilliens think the road is wide and easy, regardless of what they think about the people in PoVille.)  Whether they actually believe this or just claim to because it helps them to control other PerityVilliens is a story for another time.

Another issue at play is that nearly every PerityVillien really does think he or she is better than PoVilliens.  Some of them feel very bad for the PoVilliens (usually the folks discussed above, and those who feel the PoVilliens are stupid).  Some just feel superior to them (usually the ones vilified as above, and those who think PoVilliens are lazy).  But they all think the PoVilliens are lesser folk.

 And so, the disconnect continues.

The End.

Upon coming to the end of my story, I realize that this is becoming ridiculously long, even by my standards.  So I am going to cut it here and publish the rest of it tomorrow.  And I promise this time that it will be published tomorrow; I'm going to write it right now and schedule it ahead of time.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

View Today: OCR

I actually did not hear about the open carry rally near the Alamo until yesterday, and it was kind of a spur-of-the-moment decision to head down this afternoon and document it.  I was more of an observer than an actual participant, not because I don't support the cause--I do--but simply because I don't own any long guns, and that's what is legal to actually carry in Texas.

That's right, here in the wild, wild West, you have to carry concealed, with a permit that's kind of a pain in the ass to get as far as must-issue CHLs go.  Never forget how long Texas was run by Democrats.  Apparently, San Antonio itself has an ordinance against open carry of even rifles, but Chief McManus went on record that it would not be enforced at today's event.  He's not dumb enough to try to violate two of the Bill of Rights at once.  Since we aren't exactly swimming in spare cash at the moment, I had Erik drop me and Linda off a little ways away and we walked maybe three blocks to the Alamo.

Now, most of this post is going to be a picture dump.  I'm curious how local media will report the event.  The Associated Press is already making specious claims.  To wit: 

When the organizers of “Come and Take It San Antonio!” made plans for a display of long guns today, this setting seemed ideal but the event is now drawing attention for breaking a century-long tradition against public demonstrations at the shrine of Texas liberty, where Col. William Travis and 200 Texas defenders famously died in a siege with the Mexican army in 1836. Such public displays have usually been relegated to an adjacent plaza.

Some are asking whether a pro-gun group has gone too far in extolling firearms rights, a feat considered near impossible in Texas. And whether a politician may have been too willing to accommodate them.
 This insinuates that the rally was held on Alamo grounds.  And, well, that's stretching it.  A lot.

Here's the satellite view of the area in Google Maps, including the Alamo itself:
See the green patch in front of the Alamo itself, and the little thing that looks like a pedestrian path in front of it?  And then the space between there and the street, which for some reason is also marked Alamo Plaza?  That's where it was, and 90% of it was on the pedestrian path, which I am pretty sure was still being used as a street when I was a kid, and on Alamo Plaza.  Really, the only folks on anything that can be considered Alamo grounds were the ones on the stage. 


You can see in this photo that there were indeed some folks on the sidewalk in front of the Alamo.  Most of the people further in were, y'know, tourists, and the demonstrators were all being very careful to not block their way.

Anyway, on to the rest of the photos:

Banner for one of the larger groups sponsoring the rally.  Here's their website.

Come and Take it, for my non-Texas readers, is a line from the Gonzales flag.  The Battle of Gonzales was the opening battle of the Texas revolution, in which a Mexican army detachment tried to take back a cannon they had given settlers.  Settlers drew a picture of the cannon on a sheet and wrote those words underneath it.  For obvious reasons, it's a pretty common pro-2A slogan here in Texas, and variants of the flag printed with images of modern rifles, especially evil black rifles, are pretty common.

This one is here 'cause, well, nothing sets off a miniskirt like a rifle, amiright?

I was standing by this dude when I told Linda the media will probably try to paint this rally as a bunch of white people.  He said, "I'm not white."

As I said on Facebook, this rally actually seemed more diverse than the Marriage Equality rally.  About half the people were obviously white; a significant proportion were Mexican, a handful were black, at least two were Native American, and the bulk of the rest were what I call Texans of Questionable Ethnicity (like the lady above).  These are folks who could be white or Latino or American Indian or some mix of all of three.  Also, there were a fair amount of disabled folks--wheelchairs, canes, braces-and-crutches combo in one case.  The dog you can see in my picture of the Alamo looked to be a service dog of some sort.  (I saw three dogs: that one, one on a leash, and a purse dog.)

At some point, the decision was made to march from Alamo Plaza over to Travis park.  Of course, we all had to stand around while even organizers talked about it.

Anti-gunners say pro-gun folks are a crime spree waiting to happen, and they're right.  Just look at all that flagrant jaywalking!  Also, holy shit does that building need to be pressure-washed.

Another picture of the march.  I don't know how many people were at the rally, but it was enough folks to fill up two city blocks pretty thick, and not everyone went over to Travis Park.

This dude had his gun marked open & empty per guidelines replicated here.  The only part of it I felt a little silly was this:

This event is not a field training..... And showing up in multi-cams,LBVs,PCs does nothing more than reinforce the stereotype that we are pushing against..... If you want to dress up in full battle rattle, join a local militia group and attend the FTX's...
 However, very few people were in camo of any type.  This is Texas, there were a lot more Western outfits.  But no few of the people were kind of obviously ex-military, made obvious by the backpacks and hats.

Severe social anxiety makes me a shitty citizen journalist.  I have no idea who this dude was, aside from "probably an event organizer."  He mentioned the diversity and produced the Quote of the Day (hell, I can probably give it Quote of the Month): "Freedom isn't just for white people."

Two of the three or so folks in Guy Fawkes masks.  Right Wing rallies are always fun because there are inevitably a bunch of smaller groups pushing their own agendas within the main thing.  There was a petition to have a secession resolution added to the Republican primary ballot (which I signed), a petition to recall the mayor and repeal the NDO (which I did not sign), a petition having something to do with Indian burial lands, one InfoWars flag, and a lone old dude holding an anti-Obamacare sign.

This is the Confederate war memorial in the middle of Travis park.  I just thought this was a neat picture.

Again, freedom isn't just for white people.  You can see the helmet of a bicycle cop over her head.  I didn't chat up the police, but they seemed mostly respectful and stand-offish.  (But if anyone contradicts me on that, believe them instead.)

Another view of the crowd.  I always have plenty of pictures of people's backs.  By the way, I saw no sign of the counter-protesters who were supposed to show up, and I did ask around and no one else had, either.  One dude wandered through Travis Park yelling something unintelligible, and there was another guy at Alamo Plaza questioning one of the attendees about why we were protesting in support of this right but not others.  (The answer, by the way, was exactly what I would have given: This rally is about this one thing.  Don't assume we don't go to other events and do things to support other issues.)

One last photo of the Travis Park portion of the rally, pulled out a little to show the participants' guns and the statue's.  Fairly large amount of women.  I am, by the way, going to do Sign Guy there a favor and assume he chose bare as a pun since it's an open carry event.

Naturally, every attendee was polite, not just to one another but to random folks they encountered.  Public reaction was mostly puzzled rather than either positive or negative, but one gal in an electric wheelchair did join in as we were headed to Travis Park, I think just for the fun of it.