Victoria Jelinek


IX Public Education

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey

Pacific NW Oak TreeThe state of public school systems throughout the world is generally deplorable. It’s disheartening to consider how this reflects societal values and it’s frightening to consider the implications of this culturally now and in the future.

I spent a year observing classrooms in England, the USA, and Switzerland before I decided to re-train as a teacher. What I saw in public schools (not “public” in the English sense) was alarming: overcrowded classrooms, horribly behaved students, excerpts of books taught rather than entire books because there isn’t enough time or motivation to teach the entire book, and teachers privately asking me how to get ‘gigs’ writing literature guides, as I did at the time, rather than “having” to teach. I remember crying one day as I walked back to a friend’s house in London after having spent a day observing classes at a local academy. I felt, then, as I do now, as though there is little hope for future generations given the incredible challenges for public schools as a result of the lack of social and governmental support for them.

Because the quality of training, support within the schools for teachers, the general behavior of the students in the classrooms, and the curriculum of the international baccalaureate, I did my practical training at a private school in Switzerland while I simultaneously completed my pedagogical certifications at a school in England. When I graduated, I went to work at another private school in Switzerland for the next four years. Having seen the kids through their courses and off to university, I decided to take some time out. I was fed up with the level of privilege I saw, and what I perceive to be the growing inequity in society between kids with money who are able to have superior educational experiences (such as smaller class sizes, teachers paid well and consequently not “burnt out”, and a level of general expectation from both parents and administrators that education is key to success personally and professionally) and kids who do not.

So, I offered myself up as a substitute teacher in a local high school where I live in France. It wasn’t teaching literature, as I was trained to do and which I am passionate about, but, rather, English as a foreign language for an eight-week placement, full-time, 200 kids per week. Even so, I was excited to get in there and to bring IB philosophies to students who had not likely been exposed to it before. How naive I was. The kids did not understand that the games I played with them in the classroom had learning objectives. They were so unused to play and autonomy, that they became over-excited and consequently disruptive, thereby destroying any possibility of an appropriate learning environment. My desire to reason with them, to model respectful and open-minded behavior, was seen as weakness to the majority of them. Most were only responsive to base punitive measures. My carefully constructed lesson plans which integrated visual, oral, written, and kinesthetic activities, were never completed because I spent much of my time each class, each day, managing poorly behaved students. Exercises that I assigned that involved their having to create, imagine, make connections between ideas, were simply too difficult for most of them to do. They preferred rote exercises and prescriptive worksheets. The majority of them do not value education – they want to be ‘celebrity bloggers,’ or ‘international sports stars.’ When I tried to reason with them that IF they became, for example, a professional sports figure – and that’s IF they were good enough and opportunities presented themselves – their careers would be over very early. What, then, would they do to earn a living? I was met with blank looks to this question. When I tried to speak to them about how ‘celebrity bloggers’ should be able to write, to observe and to process cultural trends, they could not see the connection. This doesn’t surprise me, given that many of the parents don’t value education or encourage respect for teachers. For example, one English parent over a casual dinner told a friend of mine shamelessly and stupidly that her son had pretended NOT to speak English “just to mess with me,” his substitute teacher. The child of a friend of mine at the school (who was not in one of my classes) wants to be a filmmaker when he grows up but does not know what a literature class is OR the point of being able to deconstruct stories in order to make good films. His parents, likewise, also do not make the connection. Another parent of a very naughty child in one of my classes simply rolled her eyes at her daughter’s continual misbehavior and said that she never did “go in” for school. (She has already been held back a year and she’s 12). Another parent told me that literature and the arts are “useless,” and her child – who was in one of my classes – refused to do “extension” work in literature (while I taught fundamentals of English to the French kids) ‘cause “there’s no point to it.” Under the influence of parents like this, ignorant of the role of education on the quality of their children’s lives and for the betterment of society collectively, who don’t value respectfulness towards teachers or peers, opting, instead, to reward Darwinian competitive behavior, and who believe sport, and maybe science and math (which of course trump the humanities and the arts), then it’s no wonder that their children have the values they seem to, behave in the classroom as they do, and require constant ‘sticks’ to maintain order, rather than ‘carrots’.

But here is the crux of the trauma for me – my colleagues and the school, itself, should have known better. As it was, most of my colleagues at the school were disdainful of me, opting, often, to put on English language films for their classes to watch (to students who couldn’t spot a verb if it bit them or string together a rudimentary English sentence, much less understand a film in English) and saw me as a disruptive idealist who didn’t know how to teach “properly” and who made them look bad. The administrator’s gave me zero support: I had no computer in the classroom, no way to project images, no sound system, no books, no dictionaries, just, literally, chalk and a chalkboard. Adding to this, I would intermittently be moved to random classrooms when there were visiting seminars or intermittent meetings, thereby disrupting any rhythm I might have had, as well displacing 200 students in the process. Wouldn’t it make more sense to assign the visiting class to another room? Each week, I would write up a brief report of the material I had covered in each class as well as the comportment of the students, and then send it by email to the Vice Principal and the teacher I was ‘covering’ in order to keep them informed. Over eight weeks, I did not once receive even a response of ‘received and read’ to any of my Saturday morning emails, which would have been a simple courtesy. When I completed my contract (a mighty challenge as I frequently wanted to run screaming from the school) out of professional courtesy (and even as I had a date with a very large cocktail), I went to the Vice Principal’s office to shake her hand, let her know I’d tidied the classroom, returned the keys, and was finished. She made me wait outside her office for twenty minutes while she chatted and laughed with a friend, then she limply shook my offered hand and did not say a single word to me – not a ‘thank you’ for teaching kids who had had NO teacher for five months before I came in, or any kind of acknowledgement for the hurdles that had been placed in my path by the school itself, my colleagues, the parents, and the students.

With the parents, administrators, and the teachers themselves – often absent for months at a time with no substitutes in and without any recourse to their positions and accompanying wages – disrespectful, over-extended, exhausted and ‘calling in’ their lessons, or, ironically, too ignorant and lazy to exemplify the ideal of being a lifelong learner, it is no wonder that the majority of children aren’t motivated and enthusiastic about learning. For the last few weeks since I left this school, I have had an existential struggle: do I ever want to teach again? Having been treated with such disrespect every day, all day, for these weeks, how can I regain the confidence that I am, indeed, worthy of respect? And if I can’t regain that confidence, how can I ever command a classroom again and consequently create a positive learning environment? With parents who don’t give ‘a fig’ about education, much less the humanities, who implicitly and explicitly indoctrinate their children with the same notions, what hope is there in communicating its importance to their children? Why bother?

However, the fact is that in several of the classes, there were students that were interested, engaged, and who appreciated my efforts. I know this because they made ‘goodbye’ cards for me, I received many hugs upon departure, a few classes stood up and applauded me and then shook my hand as they filed out of the classroom, and one child cried. Even so, exhausted, saddened, and angry, I have perversely turned this positivity to negativity because I now criticize myself for not protecting THESE students when the foolish students were being disruptive. I should have kicked these kids out of the classroom. I should have been harsher to them in terms of punishment. But I was operating under the arguably misguided ideology that they, too, were worthy of my respect and patience.

Upon reflection, I suppose I’ve learned a few things, both good and bad. I think that I can’t work in a public school system because there are little resources financially, many parents often view school as a ‘necessary evil’ or a type of day care, so there is little support there for one’s efforts. This breaks my heart because I have ALWAYS been a staunch advocate for public schools, believing they’re the lynchpin of a successful society. I also feel that I’m a coward, walking away from a necessary and important fight to educate children for a better world. In a day and age where politicians and the general public are complaining about public school teachers asking for a living wage, and are braying idiocies such as “They already get their whole summers off!” and “They leave work at 15:30 each day!” I should be trying to fight the good fight by attempting to effect change, to reach a few, bright, motivated students, modeling idealism, curiosity, and a life spent learning, both formally and personally, as the true measure of success. But I can’t at this moment. I feel injured and confused. Right now, I don’t even want to speak to people outside of my closest friends and my immediate family, because I’m horrified and saddened by where society’s values seem to be, and, subsequently, the cultural trajectory we’re collectively on. Where fame and money are the ultimate measures of ‘success.’ Where intellectualism is seen as a ‘bad’ thing. Where kindness and sensitivity are signs of “weakness.” Where it’s okay for children to be impolite to their elders because their parents don’t discourage this behavior and are unwittingly creating narcissistic, entitled future adults.

Also unsettling is that my son is destined for the same public school that I worked in and saw close-up. There are no private schools within practical proximity, so going to a private school would require uprooting him from a gorgeous environment and an ideal lifestyle, where he learns so much about the natural world. Moreover, my husband argues that our son is, and always has been, a good student, a respectful child to his teachers and elders, and that the onus for fortifying his general education is, ultimately, on us, his parents. There is reason to what he says, and I think that I’m up to fighting this righteous cause…But what about teaching again? I have always honored the profession and I once loved doing it. I know that I was an effective teacher and that I changed many of my student’s lives because they and their parents have told me so repeatedly. Do the few who I am able to inspire through my love of literature and the disciplines it touches upon (geography, politics, philosophy, culture, film, history, psychology) become the fortifying force that keeps me ‘in the game’? Do I keep teaching despite the troglodytes I encounter, or, perhaps, because of them? Do I return to teaching in private schools – even as my own son is not in one and even as I ideologically don’t condone them – because the comportment of the students is better, the resources and support available to teachers is good, and I’m paid exponentially more than what I get paid in a public school? Or, is this being complicit to a global system that actively does not want the masses to be able to think?

ADDENDUM:

A few English friends have seen this piece as an attack on the French system and the ‘heart’ of France itself, without my considering context. This was absolutely NOT my intention. As a result, I have included my response to one such friend’s feedback:

This is in no way an attack on the French system or government. (I love this country with all of my heart – AM French too – have chosen it over all the other countries I have spent years of time in!).  I had hoped that by mentioning initially that this is about public school systems globally; the observations that I did in Europe, UK and USA before becoming a teacher; that I reference English parents’ behavior/statements regarding their kids here; and my general, philosophical questions about income inequality and private versus public resources and morale, that this essay is about public schools versus private schools (with the theme of income inequality and consequent motivation and opportunity), rather than a specific system. I have used the French system because it’s a recent experience. It’s an example, but by no means the only one I could use and, given the aforementioned, doesn’t really matter which one I would use because their ultimate root – in my opinion – is still the same (income inequality, consequent resources/pay/motivation/morale and practical learning).
 
Also, if I were to have gone into the ‘nitty gritty’ cultural complexity of  “Why?” the French system (or any other public school system) is as it is, it would be another essay (or would be very convoluted. A virtual treatise. Or academic 😦 ). For example, as you note, speaking about the way the French “channel” kids into specific professions, could also apply to a certain extent anywhere, based on more subtle socioeconomic aspects. For example, I went to secondary school in Scotland, and lived in England for 13 years, and I would argue that while it’s not, perhaps, as overt as the French system with their (very early) channeling, the Scottish and the English “channel” their kids, too, by having most leave at 15 – like the French – to learn trades and do unskilled labor (like the French) and the rest go on to college then university. And then, as you note, the uni that they end up going to in the UK effects their work prospects (as well as the accent they end up using). I would also question the motivation behind England’s intention to test under-fives now (me thinks this is very dubious…about financing elements and “channeling” possibilities). In the USA, again, while all kids MUST go to school till 18 (or receive an alternate high school certification), the reasons for inequity in the public school system there also goes back to economic realities. Yes, the American Dream exists for a (very) few, exceptional (and lucky) lower class and middle class (by US standards, not “middle class” by UK definition) folks, but I would argue that, ultimately, it comes down to their family’s social and practical resources and consequently the public school resources available to them. And, again, where Americans go to uni matters a lot and the price is extortionate, even for mediocre uni’s (such a bloody Socialist me).
As for my colleagues at the French school, I also met a few that were lovely and tried to be helpful…but I suppose (and perhaps here’s where working in Hollywood for so long may have ruined me), mentioning them detracted from the general experience and point, which, in my opinion, comes down to income inequality and consequent lack of financial/practical support for public schools, teachers, and the kids who go to them. I will, however, reflect upon your points and, perhaps, adapt this to another essay (or make it one of many in a book? Perhaps write about elements of my time in Switzerland teaching? Perhaps include observations as a student in various places? Hmmm…).
Thank you, v.

May 2, 2019: An article from The Guardian on education and general poverty, which is NOT unique to England or the UK. It’s an epidemic throughout the world.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/30/staff-fantastic-but-can-fight-pupil-poverty-incoming-president-headteachers-union?CMP=twt_a-education_b-gdnedu

 



VIII Virtual Aggression Jan. 15, 2019

robber-in-a-mask-and-with-money-bag-vector-illustration_k18850995Cyber warfare truly is the combat of the future. Over the last year, I’ve had all of my credit details stolen via Experian, the credit monitoring agency in the USA, and my passport and credit card details hacked via the British Airways site. That’s right, the almighty social security number every American is told to guard with their lives has been exposed – what an ineffective way to identify a person. I have diligently had my credit report monitored and received yearly reports because I have bought into the idea of identity theft and the need to protect my credit rating in case I want to buy more stuff. Then the very agency gets hacked (with the CEO’s of said company resigning mere weeks before the news broke and those of us effected were alerted). I can barely access my own bank accounts in the USA because of the levels of ‘security’ on my account, with numerous passwords and questions/answers that I simply forget. Which means, I can’t even prove I’m me often enough, yet others can break into the “super secure” storaging systems of corporate entities. This week, I received an email that had the password to my computer in its subject line, and then there was a letter of blackmail. The letter tells me that I have two weeks to pay $1000 to a bitcoin account (with no reference number or name, so I’m not sure how they’d know it was me if I paid up, or why they would stop at that). If I don’t pay up, all of the contacts I have on social media and via my email accounts, will receive an email telling everyone that I watch pornography and am a disreputable person, etc.

Meanwhile, Trump and his cronies pretend to question the need for increased cyber security? Oi vey. Well, we know why that is, but I won’t digress.

As a result of this threatening email (yes, I have been known to watch porn online – adult, consensual material, with the knowledge of my husband) I have spent the day changing passwords for the myriad of accounts that I use online, updating spyware software, running diagnostic checks to make sure that my system is still not hacked (the software identified two threats and removed them) and eliminating saved details across accounts. Not because I’m afraid that all of my contacts will receive a disparaging email from these unknown assailants, but because I am thoroughly freaked out that the camera on my computer may have a little hacker eye looking at me, and a little hacker ear listening to my computer’s microphone, and these same hackers are aware of all of my personal and professional banking details, accounts, behavior, interests, as well as my thoughts and wishes conveyed via personal missives.

In my day, receiving phone calls at home from telemarketers was considered intrusive. Is this how “progress” is defined? What a waste of a day. What a waste of humanity’s technological ingenuity that it has come to this: intruding, blackmailing, and threatening your fellow (small change) man in order to get a few bucks simply because you can.



Factfulness – a review of the book

factfulness book coverStatistician Hans, Ola, and Anna Rosling’s book Factfulness is about the progress that mankind has made over the last century and continues to make. The book proves that the world is not as bad as we sometimes think because we are bombarded with negative news about the state of current affairs. It’s accessible, interesting, and inspiring — filled with anecdotes and stories that support the facts and contribute to the book’s relevance.

I understand why it’s a bestseller. People are hungry for positive, factual information and this book provides it. I appreciate its efforts and the facts it conveys. I frequently consider the short test at the beginning of the book, when I discovered that my construct of world affairs is negatively biased. And, it’s interesting to contemplate why this is — we humans are compelled by dramatic events, and the media capitalizes on this historic compulsion in order to attract and sustain our interest. It’s a relief to discover that globally more people are literate than ever before, and more children are immunized than ever before. It’s interesting to discover that infant mortality is exponentially decreased across the world, and, in general, life spans are longer.

However, I’m not convinced that more humans being born, and more people living longer are “good” things. The Rosling’s focus for the book is human “progress.” The notion of a second and third world, a “them” and “us” perspective of the western world and the developing world that is out-dated. Populations across the globe are increasingly armed with clean drinking water, motorbikes, cars, appliances, mobile phones, televisions, and the ability to take holidays with their families. This book heralds these developments as achievements, and I understand that, indeed, they are in the sense that it’s more just that most people now have the opportunity for a higher standard of living. But, I believe this abides by the capitalistic notion of what “success” is, which is the ever-increasing accumulation of material wealth at the detriment to the natural world. More consuming by the ever-growing human population means there is more destruction of forests, rivers, agricultural lands, land historically needed by animals to live in, and, overall, contributes to increasing pollution in our oceans and in our atmosphere, as well as to the destruction of ecosystems. Little is said over the course of the book about the effect that this human “progress” has on the environment, which I argue is of more pressing importance.



December 21, 2018 – Cheerful Thoughts

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.” Elizabeth Wurtzel

lions breathing through a cageI love Christmas because it seems to bring out the humane in people. The individualism of the world is dismissed for a moment as people look outside of themselves to be kind and helpful to others. For most of us, it’s a time of loved ones and good food…ceremonies and lights. For many others, however, it’s a time of year when we feel we must pretend to be happy when we’re not. How does one begin to explain depression to a person who doesn’t know it first hand? How does one explain it even to oneself? As I consider how to describe it, a barrage of words come to mind: fatigue, panic, sadness, anger, confusion, suspicion, hesitation, reticence, loneliness, regret, fear, isolation, hopelessness, self-hatred, and an interminable longing to simply have it stop. It’s bleak.

I’ve suffered depression since I was an adolescent. Now, however, I somewhat understand the ways-and-means to avoid a rough bout of it – defined by me as the inability or wish to do anything but to be left alone to sleep, and when that’s not possible, the desire to achieve an altered state through substances in order to dull my senses and make things tolerable. To avoid these terrible times, I know to do a few things when I can feel it’s becoming hazardous, usually indicated by my having excessively destructive ‘self speak.’ I take a walk outside each day. I write each day. I watch comedies rather than dramas, and read novels that won’t delve into any existential battle or dystopian reality. I sleep more and drink more water. I also avoid certain types of people when possible. For me, I find it too challenging to spend time with people who exacerbate my sense of failure. People who seem happy and say positive things in an upbeat manner all the time. Privately, I find myself feeling that something is even more terrible about me that I’m miserable whereas obviously it’s possible that such contented people exist. At the same time, I have  disdain for these types of people, thinking they’re simple-minded or, worse, they’re false. This depresses me more.

Often, there is an internal struggle as I imagine a choice to either avoid depression or succumb to it. Part of me does not want to make it ‘better’ for myself, to do the things I know will help, but, rather, wants to delve into the monstrous abyss of it because I feel I deserve it and I’m too exhausted to fight. Another part of me thinks it’s utterly foolish to imagine I can escape it anyway. Sometimes I pretend for others that I’m not feeling as I do in the hope that it will go away if I simply ignore it. I know others prefer this. It never works. I went through a period of AA decades ago. One of the things that the group talked about is how those who suffer depression attempt to diminish their feelings through excessive drinking and/or the taking of drugs. Not only does this not lessen it, they asserted, the feelings of unhappiness become addictive (as do AA meetings!). I still consider this, but I don’t agree entirely. Indeed, I agree that unhappiness is a richly complex feeling that becomes habitual. I also think there’s credence to the idea that your brain creates ‘pathways,’ if you will, to well-used ‘roads’ of thinking when in doubt. Certainly a degree of self-absorption plays a role. However, happiness is also a rich and complex concept, with a plethora of words to describe subtleties of the feeling, so by rights, isn’t it equally addictive? The societal pursuit of it seems to be. Ultimately, I think that imagining depression is a choice, one that is created and perpetuated by the depressive person, means the onus is on them for how badly they feel. This type of thinking exacerbates the suffering that the depressive is already experiencing. It also doesn’t seem fair when it’s likely a matter of wonky chemistry and predisposition. Believing it’s ‘simply’ a choice is akin to the archaic and ignorant idea that depression is a ‘luxury.’

Luxury is too fun for it to be likened to depression. While I think there are elements of choice in the sense that the depressive can work to inhibit a full onslaught of depression, moving it from the caliber of ‘high fidelity’ to ‘low fidelity,’ I think it’s a disease that people don’t like to think about despite its prevalence. If one had cancer (other than lung cancer) then people would not blame the one who has it. Despite the progress made to understand and consequently reduce the stigma of depression, there’s still a stigma attached to it. I think it’s because people want those around them to reflect their illusion that life  has meaning and is ‘good.’ One only has to turn to Instagram or Facebook to see that the appearance of a perfect and happy life is a common objective. Ultimately, however, these are idle ruminations because once the curtain of depression descends, logic and reason do not enter. For me, depression is akin to a bad acid trip: one side of me recognizes that the perceptions and feelings are not ‘real’ and that I must simply wait for it to pass. The other side of me feels that my bleak perception of myself and the world, and the ‘inevitable’ outcomes for my emotions, are very real. It’s tortuous.

If you love someone that struggles with depression and you would like to support them, I suggest the following: keep a wide berth. Not really. In fact, try to let the depressive know (without being oppressively cloying) through verbal and non verbal actions, that they’re not completely alone and they do matter to someone. But don’t use platitudes, that’s horrible. Try to be honest. When in doubt, humor always helps.



December 19, 2018 VII – Baby It Does Seem Cold Outside

Baby Its Cold Outside cover

“Leaving sex to the feminists is like letting your dog vacation at the taxidermist.” Camille Paglia

Something I always stress with my students when we begin studying a book in class is the context in which it was created. The context (time period, locale, gender and socio economic status of the writer, historical and cultural events during the period in which it’s written) informs why and how the text is written. It is the seeming inability or unwillingness for many to consider the context in which songs, films, theater, photography, painting, art in general, is created, that gives me the impetus to write today. Specifically, I address the once-again attempt to ‘ban’ the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which is frequently played during the holidays.

In 1944, Frank Loesser wrote “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in order to perform it with his wife at their housewarming party as they said ‘goodnight’ to their guests. It was written by Loesser as a playful call-and-response duet in order to amuse its listeners. A few years later, the song was used for the musical “Neptune’s Daughter,” in which the male and female parts are identified as “The Wolf” and “the Mouse,” respectively. In the musical, the Wolf and the Mouse have been out on a date and after having a nightcap at the Wolf’s house, the Mouse is making her excuses to go home while he’s trying to persuade her to stay. In this back-and-forth between them, “I really can’t stay…” the Mouse sings, “But, baby, it’s cold outside…” those wishing to ban the song argue that he’s trying to ply the female with alcohol against her wishes and then take advantage of her – certainly many of we women have experienced this attempt and it’s what is, essentially, “date rape” the reasoning goes. Is she succumbing to his unflagging persistence against her wishes? Or, does she really want to stay, but is playing hard to get?

I believe she does want to stay but is playing coy because “good girls” in the 1940’s didn’t have sexual desires outside of marriage (or, arguably, within marriage, but that’s another post). At the time in which the song was created, women – or the Mouse in this case – understood that there were distinctly “acceptable” behaviors for women that were in direct contrast with what was deemed “acceptable” behavior for a man. It was beyond the confines of social “acceptability” for a woman to succumb to her sexual desires and stay the night with a man she had just been on a date with. Giving in to one’s desires could invariably prevent a “good girl” from having a “good marriage” later, which was at the time the raison d’etre for women. Realizing the boundaries of social expectations, the Wolf, through his repeated refrain, is offering her the excuses she needs in order to stay the night without any guilt. Moreover, at the time in which the song was written, “What’s in this drink?” was a stock joke because claiming to drink too much could ostensibly be used as an excuse for bowing to one’s ‘hidden’ wishes – behaving as one wouldn’t normally according to the social expectations at the time. Additionally, if one listens to the song, there are no predatory elements in the tone and style of the music. The female singer is not anxious or afraid – she’s playful, sexy, and desires the male. The song is, indeed, suggestive of light, flirtatious banter, just as the author Loesser intended when he wrote it to sing with his wife after their party.

I include the link (below) to a cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” performed by Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In this version, the roles have been reversed – Lady Gaga is the “Wolf” and Gordon-Levitt is the “Mouse.” I think it’s a wonderful rendition that captures the essential spirit of the original song.



December 18, 2018 VI – Brexit talk

“No amount of political freedom will satisfy the hungry masses.” Vladimir Lenin

Brexit SimplifiedI went to see Three Men in a Pub the other day in town. They’re three English men who create podcasts about current events that are aptly recorded in pubs. The topic for the evening was Brexit. It was held in an imitation of an Irish pub. Despite having lived in France for ten years, and knowing many of the expatriate community even by sight, as I looked around at the room, I didn’t recognize a single Brit present. There seemed to be none of the families who have homes here and children in local schools. Instead, the room was full of men who were drinking a lot of beer. There were four women, including me and the barmaid (who exclaimed loudly to a customer, “I don’t know what this is about! I don’t know a single thing about politics!” I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t be proudly broadcasting that these days love – it makes you look foolish. But, then again, perhaps, that was the point?”). Unfortunately, there was only one of the three men from the podcast, but he bravely outlined the argument against Brexit and the activism that he and his colleagues have been doing in response to the 2016 referendum. I’ll recount what he said, as well as recreate the environment in the pub as well as I can from the notes I scrawled over the course of the evening:

There is nothing grown or manufactured in the UK that can’t be made elsewhere more cheaply. Most folks don’t realize that Spain takes the UK’s garbage. The Welsh farmers who almost unanimously voted for Brexit don’t realize that Europe can find sheep elsewhere. Moreover, the tariff for Welsh lamb is currently 0%, but with a no trade deal, it will rise to 40%. Great Britain can’t feed itself. It’s possible that the UK could create 75% of the food needed to feed its population, but not the rest. 60% of Great Britain’s overall trade is with the EU. Currently, a single ship has 60k containers on it, and with the UK exiting the EU, each ship and each container on it will need to be checked by customs authorities in Europe. Meanwhile, there isn’t enough space to safely store the goods – particularly perishable goods, while the respective authorities check the shipments, nor are there finances to hire the man power to do this. As a matter of fact, Amazon (as in Jeff Bezos’s company) bought much of the warehouse space left in the UK over the last few years, and with the inability to export to Europe or elsewhere soon, the UK will need the space to store goods and Amazon will be right there to charge a fee for the service.

1.7 TRILLION dollars in trade agreements with 46 countries will be eliminated once the UK is out of the EU. To get back into these agreements, 45 of the countries have to say “Yes” to the UK, and Moldova has already said “No” to the UK joining. By leaving the EU, the UK is pulling out of 759 trade agreements – and by pulling out of these 759 trade agreements, those holding the agreements will sue the UK because they’ll want their money back for investment not realized. Recreating 759 trade agreements will be a “complete palaver.” The biggest hope is a trade deal with India or Paraguay in order to avert a 4% knock on GDP per year, which is “hilarious, given their respective situations.” The government and Leavers claim a trade deal with the USA is “in the works.” At this, the host rolled his eyes and then asked the crowd the likelihood that anything salient would come from that – at least anytime soon – given the man who’s currently in the White House. Leaver hopes that the commonwealth will agree to trade deals with the UK have “little promise” because the commonwealth is poor. In fact, putting all their wealth together, there are less financial possibilities in trade with all of them than through trade with a single country such as the UK, France, or Germany.

“Not everyone who voted to exit is racist, but everyone who’s slightly racist voted to Leave.” Moreover, a referendum is “advisory”– it shouldn’t be taken as legally binding. If a “regulatory election” had happened instead of a referendum, there would have been another election because of all the “irregularities.” For example, what is the source of all the money the Leave campaign had? What part did Cambridge Analytica play in propaganda efforts? There have been 45 years of peace throughout Europe and now this. Putin and Trump want to destabilize Europe and Europeans are falling for it. Already Poland, Hungary, Italy and France (of recent) have strong right-wing movements that want to see their respective countries pull out of the EU. Even so, the Remain campaign garnered 48% of the vote and they were “asleep,” with “shitty leaders,” providing “shitty information,” and there wasn’t a single leader that was popular, nor were any of the Remain activities organized. However, if a referendum was held now, “It’d be another story altogether,” because Brits are actually aware of what the consequences of leaving the EU are. According to the deal that Teresa May has recently negotiated, Brits may be able to stay and live in one country, even retire in that country, but they won’t be able to move to another country or do trade in another country without that country’s permission. The politicians are placating people rather than educating them about the facts.

Adding to the melee, Brits aren’t willing to talk about religion or politics, so no one is talking with each other. A no-deal with the EU means no trade deals with anyone (a few angry, drunk men began muttering that this information is “absolutely fucking false”). The World Trade Organization provides “basic deals” only. In Geneva recently, regardless of whether there is a deal or not, he discovered there would be 12-18 months for the agricultural production in the UK to survive. (At this point, men starting interrupting and arguing with him, and with each other, whilst a fat, greying long-haired English man squished my leg against the bar where I was sitting with a bar stool that he was leaning on for support and didn’t hear my squeal due to his inebriation and his focus on the increased tension in the room. I pushed him physically aside and he didn’t notice).

Before the ‘one man in the pub’ could continue, several men started openly and aggressively arguing with him and with each other. Their arguments were along the lines that farmers in the UK would “Rise to the occasion” and create more agriculture “If needed…” they’d “certainly” rise to the challenge of needing to produce food and trade for the British people (ever wonder why it is that the English seem to be the only ones that say they’re “British?” The Irish and Scots don’t generally use this, opting, instead, to say they’re “Irish” or “Scottish” respectively). There were statements called out that the UK “loses” 140 million a year in subsidies to the EU, to which the speaker replied, “Excuse me sir, but the UK gains much more in subsidies annually…” but he was cut off by more grumbling proclamations straight out of the Leave campaign’s playbook. The “Q & A” that the speaker then proposed essentially involved questions and statements surrounding economic tourism: one man, a builder, worked in Spain, then Italy for another season, and now in France, what would happen to him? Another works as a van transfer driver and is “hoping for the best” regarding Brexit, that he can come out to France “every once in awhile to ski and work…maybe apply for a temporary visa…” (I smothered a chuckle at this, knowing how difficult it is to receive visas to work and live in a given country). The ‘conversation’ then became more unruly, fuelled by beer and testosterone. There were no questions and answers, just men vehemently asserting that the “cost” of being in Europe was much greater than leaving, that the “independence” that the UK will now have outside of the EU is much greater than the dependency they had while in it. (It was grimly amusing to me, too, because before each of these statements, the respective men would begin by saying, “I didn’t vote to leave…BUT…” and then accompanying the aforementioned statements, they argued about the need for an “independent parliament,” and “no more back breaking subsidies paid to Europe,” and less “problems” with the “threat of terrorism” by refugees). An Irish guy reiterated what the speaker had said about the trade options facing the UK after Brexit, then pontificated for a bit about its being “normal” in Ireland for this sort of “political nonsense.” The same men who had been openly snorting and sneering at the  information about what the trade deals meant for the UK, were acting as orators at this point and answering questions from the room put to the speaker, who was too polite to cut them off. A few men, always beginning their statements with “And I’m not for Brexit…” went on about how the referendum was “democratic” and that it was “a democratic process” that “needs to be respected.”

At this point, the speaker attempted to focus their contentiousness and get them back ‘on side,’ by saying something about being “banned” from the USA in an attempt to get the audience on board with a common enemy. Meanwhile, the folks around me began giving each other advice about how to stay in a European country, “Get a residence card right now…it’s good for ten years…” One member of the group said that if you apply for a French passport, you’re “automatically” allowed to stay while it’s being processed, to which another replied, “That would be good, ‘cause I don’t know which country I want to go to next.” Another group around me bragged that they still pay their taxes in the UK despite having lived in France for a few years, and that they’ll “just” go back to UK if they need anything just like they always do, and if necessary, they’ll work in the black. (I again wondered where all the Brit folks were who have homes, who have children here who go to school, who pay their taxes in France — sic, as I know that many Brits do not pay French income taxes. They will be effected more than these single men renting apartments if they have to leave, sell their homes, uproot their families, move their pets…).

The speaker again gained control of the room. He said that the UK is an aging population and without immigrants, there aren’t the youth necessary to work and pay taxes. That there are 180k vacancies in the NHS right now, so the NHS will have to rely on ex-commonwealth countries, where corruption and credibility is an issue, “especially with medicine,” to provide doctors and nurses. The same applies with teachers – there are a “raff of vacancies” throughout the UK for teachers, and, again, “We’ll have to rely on ex-commonwealth countries to fill these posts.” (I then couldn’t hear the speaker because the people next to me were discussing what they had for dinner. A woman in their party complained that if she had known she’d be “forced” to listen to “political talk” then she would have stayed at home and watched telly. On the other side of me, there was a ‘discussion’ between men about their various misinformed ideas about what it “really” means for trade, as opposed to what the speaker had said, and how to “dodge” being expelled from the country). A man received ‘the floor’ from the speaker and said that he’s not a Brexiter, “of course,” but he has issues with an EU army, EU regulations, and the lack of a representative in the EU parliament, but he enjoys being in the EU “because we can be.” (He also enjoyed speaking into the microphone a lot during the Q & A. I didn’t hear what the speaker’s response to these erroneous assertions were because the barmaid was laughing very loudly at something a man had said to her). Another guy took the microphone and was talking about patriotism, a “duty” to country and “identity,” to which the speaker responded blandly that we all feel an affinity to our “home country.”

The speaker then took the opportunity to say that the buildings, spaces, parks, etc. in his hometown of Liverpool have all been regenerated and renovated thanks to EU money. To this a man called out that the “Beatles yellow submarine money” (Festival Park) was sponsored by the UK parliament, and not the EU “by the way!” The speaker then talked about a 1947 agreement made by the UK to take refugees, and the fact that the UK did help start war in Syria in the first place. Now, there are no refugees ‘streaming’ into the UK, as the propaganda will have you believe, but there is rising racism. He told us about how he had travelled to Syria and spoke with refugees who are teachers, accountants, lawyers, doctors, and who just want to stay home but it’s too dangerous. (Behind me the men talked about how all the ‘Paki’s’ can just go home. How this guy-the speaker- is a “tosser” because he thinks he knows everything but he hasn’t even mentioned the war in Yemen).

I decided it was time to leave. I supported something different happening in my village. I tried a local beer that was okay and I don’t generally like beer. I have material for a ‘background flavour’ piece on a hot topic that I’ll write up for my blog. And, I see first-hand the men and women who supported Brexit, because these are a micro example of them – a lot of very strong opinions, doggedly held onto in order to support overall constructs of reality, and despite their constructions lack of factual fortification. They’re not concerned with an overall picture of global events, or political and social foresight into how it effects societies as a whole – they’re concerned with how it affects them individually. A problem that we increasingly observe throughout the world, as we see the rise in nationalism and right wing fervour in many countries, and despite these same elements claiming to be collectively oriented. I find myself feeling that it’s an affront that these ‘secret’ Brexiters are in France profiting from the country. I comfort myself that hopefully France is gaining some income from them, even if it’s just their bar bills at pseudo English pubs.

Having spent 13 years in England, and another two years in Scotland, I familiarized myself with pub culture in Great Britain (and then some). My opinion is that one only begins to know a Brit after spending a half-decade or more in their company. Hence the popularity of their pubs and the amount of alcohol they generally consume. I believe it’s in a pub that the very stratified society fractures, the politeness, the ‘chin up’ stoicism dissolves and, in my opinion, it’s where the greatest sense of humour in the world is on display. While this evening at the “Brexit debate,” provided me with further evidence of my assumption that it’s in a pub that the English relax and become more equitable, it did not support my belief that it’s also where their humour shines. Perhaps it’s as Ricky Gervais notes in his stand up show Humanity: “Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean that you’re right about the political opinions you hold; offense is about feelings and feelings are personal. Politics isn’t.” Or it shouldn’t be. But what Brexit has revealed is that there are very deeply entrenched feelings in the UK about what it means to be British and also historic feelings of suspicion towards Europe that are embedded into that identity.

***Just saw this article in The Guardian newspaper today about Brexit & ski resort jobs (though I DO believe there’s a two year transition period after March 2019, so nothing really changes till 2021?):

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/dec/18/brexit-thousands-ski-resort-jobs-at-risk?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other



December 12, 2018 V – Time’s Person of the Year

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” Mark Twain

Media photoJamal Ahmad Khashoggi is being declared Time magazine’s person of the year. Ostensibly, the magazine claims to be celebrating journalists as the “Guardians of Truth.”

I believe with all of my heart in a free press as a fundamental component of a democracy. * In this piece, I’m not saying that there are not great and absolutely necessary journalists in the USA who continue to find and chronicle the ‘truth’ in an effort to inform the public and contribute to judicious thinking. I’m not questioning these journalists who do investigative work and are critical of injustice and hypocrisy. Of course they exist and thank the gods for that. However, I question whether the modern press, particularly stateside, is, indeed “free” and are generally “guardians of the truth.”

And I encourage readers to ask themselves the following questions:

With the exception of a few US press companies, don’t corporate interests primarily own all the news outlets? In fact, aren’t there only a few conglomerates that own the majority of all the news outlets throughout the country? (Be it print, radio, or broadcast). Does that make them profit-making enterprises? Is the primary objective of most media outlets to capture readers/viewers or to inform? In essence, are the respective narratives within new stories inclusive of bias, left or right, or do they simply inform? Could this be related to ‘click bait,’ fear mongering, and competitive reportage of the same stories at the same time with only slight variations in how they’re told? Do these media corporations make campaign contributions that might effect the choices of the respective news outlets, such as what the public is informed about, how they are informed about it? (Bias, tone). How many investigative journalists do respective news outlets have on staff as opposed to anchors, editors, and assistants, publicists, etc.?

Did the US press continually deride Hilary Rodham Clinton for two years leading up to the 2016 elections? Did the US press publish and report Comey’s ‘findings’ on HRC’s emails ad infinitum just before the actual voting day in 2016? Did this effect voter choice? Does Trump lead each day’s news cycles? In other words, does the US press report tales of Trump’s antics every day on the front page or in the first few minutes of a broadcast? Does it seem as though a previous week’s relentless (story) focus is dropped and another one taken up almost immediately? By perpetually covering the words and actions of Trump and his administration, does this legitimize this administration’s behavior by allowing them to set the news cycles and to receive the attention Trump so desires? Are the stories told simply in the classical journalistic formula of “five w’s and an h” without the respective reporter’s interpretation of the information included? Does a reporter’s personal analysis of the news contribute to a sense of anxiety or scepticism in you? Does the twenty-four hour news cycles contribute to a general malaise that society is facing? If so, how?

Some people think that the modern age is akin to Orwell’s “1984.” I don’t agree. I think the modern age is more like Huxley’s “Brave New World,” where there is such an inundation of information that the public is desensitized to everything. And, lamentably, this style of reporting has undermined the credibility of all journalists, effectively and irresponsibly giving ammunition to Trump’s perpetual claim of “Fake News.”

*Please check out the 2018 free press ranking throughout the world via the link, below. Where does the USA rank? Considering the countries at the top ten of the list, what kind of societies are these? (How are the governed, financed, taxed, run?)

https://rsf.org/en/ranking