where the writers are
The last soap box stand


One of the very nice benefits of being an English teacher abroad is that during the breaks between semesters I get to travel. This particular vacation I am going to London.  One of the benefits of traveling to London this particular time is that I get a five hour layover in Moscow.  This leads to a third joy in my life which is being the self declared unofficial spokesman Generation X. This particular circumstance in my life, which happened after I found the aforementioned title in a bag of potato chip and when I tried to return it the store I got the legal equivalent of a "no backsies" thrown at me, is that I get to actively pursue my favorite hobby. My favorite hobby, for those who have not added one plus one and gotten three, is listening to myself speak.

So I was in Moscow. It is a natural destination for anyone going to London, Particularly if one is flying Aeroflot and Moscow happens to be more or less in the middle of Beijing and London. This gave me time to think about my flight from Beijing to Moscow. You see I am a child of 1980s and like all normal children who had very few friends I actually heard about Aeroflot in the 1980s. Back then Aeroflot, like all things Soviet, was this scary thing. Between rumors of  the pilots being all ex-MiG pilots who occasionally suffered  from the flashbacks of the battle of Stalingrad during flights while flying airplanes that had been built well before the Battle of Stalingrad. So naturally I was a bit nervous about flying one fourth the way around the world on Aeroflot.

I had never been so wrong in my life. Correction, I had never been so wrong about something not involving basic math. The airplane was a modern spacious plane. It had the personal on demand TV sets in the headrests. The crew were friendly and treated you like a guest. The meals were quite delicious, even for economy class.  Even the small details were not looked over. The bowls for salad were quite solid and filled with fresh produce or fish. The plastic ware was solid and comfortable to use.  The seats were big enough to accommodate a 6'3 passenger and have enough room to comfortable stretch his legs.  I was so won over by the quality service provided by Aeroflot that I am changing my flight plans to the United States and avoiding American based airlines as much as humanly possible. I think Aeroflot looked at the American business model and said "Right , these American airlines are failing miserably, everyone hates their service, let's do the opposite of them."

In fact as the "Worst recession ever to happen in the history of the United States since the last one" (trademark pending) most countries seem to be pulling out their recessions by doing, well, opposite of what the United States does. The airline industry typifies what is wrong with American business and the iGeneration (Ha! Beat you to that Steve Jobs). The iGeneration is a trendy, well off, group within the  baby boomers. It  is responsible for the cowboy capitalism that has caused this current recession.  As is pretty much the case with the iGeneration they will blame everyone else except themselves for the problems that are occurring in their lives. The American based airlines blame everyone for their mismanagement and inability to treat their customers  better than  one treats dead  cattle. They blame foreign government s for the poor business decisions made by American based airline industries. While airlines around the world are improving services and reducing prices to attract new customers, American airlines are increasing prices, and giving us a worse  flying experience for the privilege. Have you ever heard one airline executive say they were to blame for their own mistakes? Have you looked at their ages?

There is much that can be said about what needs to be done to change this collision course with mediocrity that America seems to be lining up around the block to get on.  But my flight is being called to London is being called (on time). We were requested by the lady making the gate announcements to leave our soap boxes  off the aircraft as soapboxes are not allowed  on vacations. It's okay for four or five days I won't need one.  

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You hit on one really important idea: America is headed for mediocrity and quickly. I see this all the time in class: a student will get a C on a paper and I will encourage him to rewrite it and he'll say instead, "nah, a C is fine with me."

I personally believe this mediocrity trend happened while I was growing up. My parents have had the same yellow refrigerator and oven that they've had since before I was born (over 30 years ago). Though the over door sticks and things in the back of the refrigerator freeze, these two appliances still work, and they survived through three kids.

My dad also has a VCR player that still works well, and it is at least 20 years old. He is hard on it, too, constantly recording shows on the now obsolete VHS tapes. However, I purchased a $75 DVD player about a year ago, and alredy it sticks on the main menu and won't play the movie. My DVD player (higher in technology than a VCR) has already crapped out after a little less than a year. If that's not a clear example of acceptance of mediocrity, then I don't know what is.

We as consumers need to revolt. That is the beauty of the system; if the consumer stops consumind the crap being produced and demands higher quality, the company will eventually meet the consumer's demands. So, why don't we do this? Apathy, the second killer of America.

I hear so many people complain about being ripped off by a business, yet they do nothing to ensure they get their money back or a fair compromise. When I ask why, they simply say, "It wasn't worth the hassle." Getting a fair deal is no longer worth the hassle? What is America coming to?

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here is a thought that will keep you up at night

Rome went from the height of its political and cultural acheivemnts to the dark ages in a generation.
I reckon unless we get our act together and we are headed in the same direction. The funny thing is it is this sense of entitlement that is doing it to us.
What to do about it? Not so sure about that. I am trying to wash my hands of all of it really. I am just taking my ball home and staying out of the game until there is a game being played that I like. Is that good citizenship? I think so. better to not be part of the problem and accomplish nothing than be part of the problem and make things worse.
Okay so tired from hiking around London...more rambling later.

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So true!

It is chilling to think about how quickly a country or nation can go from the heighth of civilization to the dark ages in one generation! I agree with you that we are headed for a similar fall unless we do something about it.

I also know how you feel when you say you just want to wash your hands of it. It is easy to feel that way; that the game isn't even worth playing because the rules are made up and changed so frequently that it isn't a game at all, really. However, I really do think that it is up to people like us to help make change. Maybe we are only changing the lives of some students, but I believe that if we were all to do that, it would make a difference in how a new generation thinks and views the need for political change. Maybe I'm just being too optimistic. Hard to tell.

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I am trying to be dark and gloomy. But in a way we can stop playing the game and we can bring up a better smarter generation. Although I have to be fair and give credit where credit is due and point out it has been my students in Thailadn, China and Korea that have really forced me toi rethink my values because they should me the value in becoming more human and worrying more about people and less about things.
But don't tell anyone I have a pessimistic and detatched persona to maintain. Being optimistic, or even smiling may ruin it

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Your secret is safe with me.

I can get on board with your dark and gloomy; I have those days, too, but since I work in the education field, I feel I have to stay positive overall or my work is in vain. If I don't believe my students and I can change and grow as people and academics, then what is the point? Know what I mean?

And you are right; the students almost always teach me something very valuable about myself or about life in general. It is refreshing as well to hear that you value people more than materialistic things. I function in much the same way. My sister and I don't always get along because of this; she is much more into buying things and makes fun of me for my thrift store couch and second-hand clothes, but I feel sometimes that I have less to worry about than she does, as I have less crap and less bills. And who cares if my couch belonged to someone else before me? It gives it more character that way.

I think you should at least smile; it can be taken as a cynical or sardonic smile, so I don't think it will ruin your rep. :) (I had to...)