America

All posts tagged America

I moved to Florida from France when I was twenty six. One of my first order of business was to open a bank account. The local bank I visited had two posters in the entrance, advertising loans to finance houses. One poster had a smiling white family in front of a nice white picket fenced house. The other poster had a black family in front of a similar house. My thought was “why not save by having one poster with a mixed race couple?” We’re not in France anymore Alice…

To emphasize where I come from, consider Alexander Dumas, not the famous French writer but his father Thomas-Alexander Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, a genuine Marquis. He was half black. He also was a famous French general who commanded vast armies of white Frenchmen and was married to a white French woman. This was right before the 1789 French revolution. His son wrote “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers,” among other things.

Thomas-Alexander Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie

Thomas-Alexander Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie

So wondering why that bank poster wasn’t picturing a black man, white woman and mixed kids in front of a white picket fenced house was a legitimate question for a Frenchman fresh off the boat. After twenty two years in the United States, I know better…

I am writing this today after the shooting in Dallas of eleven police officers, five fatalities so far and hopefully no more. Racial tensions in the United States are high, but racism is not new. Why such a big difference between Europe and America? Not that Europe is entirely void of any racism, considering the recent Islamic extremist attacks in Paris and Brussels, but Islam is not a race and most French people understand the difference. Racism however isn’t particularly directed at blacks.

What people don’t like is crime. The United States prison population is 37.7% black (BOP May 2016). The general population is 12% black (2015 Census). I would argue that poverty is the main cause of crime. Drive to MLK Boulevard in your city and have a look… Prisons are also big business and some people are getting richer every time some poor sod gets put in jail for smoking a joint. Still, the statistics can’t be denied.

Blacks are not especially poor in Europe. One of my good friends, both French and black is an airline pilot; not a co-pilot, but a captain on one of those giant airliners. He did well because his parents valued education. He valued education and worked hard to get his license, then jumped from poorly paid jobs to poorly paid jobs flying all kinds of planes, some you wouldn’t want to trust your life to, and finally reached the top. So, why are so many blacks in America selling crack on the street corners?

Before I continue I can already imagine some readers getting worked up here. The fact is, young black men have an image problem in America. The police is so afraid of them they will shot one at the slightest incident. Pervasive racism within law enforcement and to some extent, the white population doesn’t help. I don’t condone racism. Being racist is a sure sign of ignorance and close-mindedness, if not plain bigotry. I condemn racism from both sides, because it isn’t a one-way problem.

Today knowledge is widely available. The Internet is fraught with free courses, tutorial videos and free books you can reach with any computer or smart phone. Unfortunately education, to the young black man, isn’t cool. I don’t think the problem is new, otherwise there would be no black poverty in America, no black crimes and no racism. Poor whites are also as likely to commit crimes, so don’t call me a racist here. Education wasn’t available to the black population until fairly recently mind you, but the new generations are not taking advantage of its availability. I heard expressions such as “The white man’s game.” Unfortunately it’s not a game, it’s people’s lives. Science isn’t white, math isn’t white and money is green. The only way this problem will solve itself is if young black men pick up books and start reading, because they can do as well as anyone else. They should be able to do so without being made fun of by their parents, siblings and friends. I do not know the cause of this cultural pitfall, but it does exist. Just listen to music lyrics… What is extolled is easy money and material possessions. Excuse my French, but “shit doesn’t mean shit.” Better buy a bunch of books than a new flat screen television.

Blacks in America got a bad hand at the card table. Hell, they weren’t invited to the table until recently, but things are different now. America is one of the greatest country in the World because anyone willing to work hard can make it. Unfortunately not everyone believes it. The problem is that the government would rather give poor people hand outs in exchange for their votes instead of encouraging them to educate themselves. It’s easy to get used to stolen money falling in your lap, and I mean stolen by the government.

I wish I knew how to eliminate racism. I do believe education is the key, but education needs to be valued, it needs to be cool again. Otherwise the poor will stay poor, no matter what political party is reigning and there will be crime, violence and bigotry. How to encourage young people to educate themselves, I don’t know. Not by paying for their schooling, because a “free” education has little value. When I was in high school I didn’t learn much because I wasn’t paying for it and didn’t care. College was out of State tuition, and boy did I work hard. Yet the skills I use today to make a living I learned from books, not school. Some of my customers wouldn’t even know if I was black because all my work is online. What they know is that I can solve problems for them and my programs work. My first programming book cost me $50. That book is still feeding me fifteen years later.

Segregation still exists because people are more comfortable in their own communities, but it doesn’t help. We need to put the mixed couple on that poster. We need mixed churches. We need brown babies of all shades. It shouldn’t be forced on people. It should be encouraged. Where are the mixed couples in Hollywood movies? That is real racism, insidious, everywhere, yet not seen, until the bullets fly.

I just stumbled on an excellent article in the New York Times, “Time to Reboot America.” The author couldn’t have said it better: “Landing at Kennedy Airport from Hong Kong was, as I’ve argued before, like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones.” I didn’t have that impression landing in Philadephia sixteen years ago from Charles De Gaulle for my first time in the United States. However, I should have known America was in trouble when I saw my first American household appliances! Twenty years ago, my mother’s washing machine had a microprocessor in it. My credit card had an embedded chip; technology which took ten years to cross the Atlantic. I still need to tell my washing machine how much laundry is in it, and turn and old style knob to turn it on. Then, when the washing is finished, I must take the laundry, stuff it in a no less obsolescent dryer, and turn another 1960s style mechanical knob. Energy efficient? I doubt it.

My first American car was a Ford 1978 LTD. It was great, confortable, the AC worked, and I paid only $750 for it. It had a few little quirks, but all in all, it worked. The fuel consumption was appaling, but why care? Gas was less than a dollar a gallon, almost four times less than in France. We thought gas reserves would last forever, we still do.

Today, I still can’t take a high speed train (look 3:25 to 3:55) from Sarasota to Tampa or Orlando. I must drive on I4 to get to the East coast. I you have driven on I4, you understand.. No amount of money could get me to commute daily from Tampa to Orlando via I4.

The list goes on and on. I do have another list, with all the good things about America; it is longer than the bad one, that’s why I’m still here, for now. We have NASA, a top of the line computer industry, the Internet, medical research as good as in Europe, Universities like MIT. Then, why do I feel like I live in 1975 sometimes? We don’t produce much here anymore, everything is service based. Most of the stuff I owed says “Made in China” or Japan, Taiwan, etc. When I think of American products, I think “rugged,” “old fashion,” “reliable” (except for cars).. Certainly not “high-tech.”

America needs to look East, not at it’s own navel. I am affraid Obama will plunge us into a socialist/protectionist era that will be the last nail in the coffin. At least we might not spend billions in unecessary wars abroad. This is not the time however to close our borders to commerce. We need to produce so that my next cell phone says “Made In USA.” We will be in competition with Europe and Asia, whether we like it or not. We should be the ones selling them goods. American high schools produce students who are two years behind Europeans. When I went to college in Florida, to perfect my English, I thought it was a joke. The college level math was the same as when I was 12. Yes, I agree, time to Reboot America.

School reforms: We need to be more demanding on both students and schools. Schools should be held accountable for their results. The “everyone wins, you’re doing great” bullshit needs to stop. If you suck, someone has to tell you, so that you can correct your attitude. When I was in school, no student would ever dare to talk back to a teacher. Today, teachers get assaulted in class! Why? Simple: No consequences. Being suspended is not a punishment, it’s a gift. Parents don’t care anymore. When you’re 15, you don’t care about your future, you care about right now, maybe tomorrow. There should be immediate consequences to lazyness. Also, why do kids still have to learn how many ounces are in a pound, and a flurry of other stupid measurements when there is a metric system? Want to know how many litres are in a 3x3x3 meter tank? Simple: 3x3x3=27 x 1000 = 27000 litres. And guess what, it weights 27000Kg, 27 metric tons. I don’t need to spend fiften minutes on the problem, I can do it in my head in 5 seconds. Australia went metric in 1970. If they can do it, why not America? NASA uses metric, otherwise we’d probably never go back to the moon in our lifetimes.. As to schools teaching stupid theories like creationism, don’t even get me started on that…

Free markets: Why Ron Paul wasn’t elected is beyond my comprehension. Here is a politician who understands exactly what this country needs, and he doesn’t even make it to the last round. We need businesses, and we need them to be successful. Here is where Europe failed and America can prevail. Europeans have this funny idea that a business has social obligations beyond not causing harm to people. That’s not the purpose of a business. In France, money is seen as somewhat dirty. The European attitude is that the government and businesses must take care of the people who have the right to be fed, clothed, and pampered, given what they need. They just shot themselves in the foot, just not the same foot we shot ourselves in. Businesses are the life blood of the country. Nobody else can produce wealth, except maybe the Federal Reserve when they print money, which compounds the problem. Wee need to compete with Europe and Asia on the same footing, not with artificial tariffs to level the field in our favor. Opening the markets might hurt us for a while, but long term, it is our only salvation.

No bailouts: If a company fails, they ought to go out of business. Taking taxpayer’s money to save a business is stealing, clear and simple. Since when does a Republican government use socialist tactics to redistribute wealth? I think they do it because they want a quick fix, a patch that will hold for a bit before cracking wide open, but that will make them look godd right now, until retirement with a bit of luck..

Better news: American news on television is a dog and pony show. How can a nation be aware of it’s lagging behind if it doesn’t look at the countries that are a decade ahead of them technologically. I once had a flat tire on my old Ford near Alachua County Florida. A pickup truck stopped and a guy offered me help (after yelling to his wife “Get back in the fucking truck!”). Anyway, I guess he was nice to me. Hearing my accent he asked “Where you from?” I said “France.” “What state is that?” he replied. “It’s overseas..” “Ah” he said, “do you have power over there?” I’m not making this up! That’s an extreme of course, and I couldn’t resist mentioning the story. We never hear most of what goes on in the world here on TV, except when it affects us directly, and immediately. Did you know that France launches satellites in orbit for cheaper than NASA, and I think more often with it’s Arianne rocket? Stop watching “Desperate Housewives” go to BBC, and even then, I’m not sure their US programs are the same the rest of the world sees.. I have access to about 300 channels, but I can’t hardly ever find an interesting show. Get your news from foreign agencies on the web.

Promote reading books: In 1982, 60% of young adults engaged in literary reading, while in 2002, only 43% do*. I don’t have recent numbers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went down even more. Understanding other cultures and philosophy by reading could probably save us a lot of grief with our foreign policies. Even our politicians sometimes lack basic knowledge of geography and foreign ideology. When was the last time you bought a book or went to the library?

Maybe next time we can also talk about getting rid of the Federal Reserve…

I have heard about the demise of America for decades, never paid too much attention to those predictions. The signs were there, it’s easy to see them now in retrospect. How low it will go is hard to tell, the depression is here. We just don’t want to see it. We refuse to imagine the consequences, and we don’t want to see the solutions. Americans need to get educated and take their heads out of the sand. The United States was a great nation, not so long ago. We have great minds, visionaries, we can do it again.

* US Census 2002.