Tuesday, February 02, 2016

How I Became A Radical In Opposition To Authority-Part Two


This is the second part of the series. Part One can be read here.

By Der Kosmonaut

  As explained in Part One I had from an early age overcome all the traditional figures and institutions of authority: Religion, Family, School, Teachers. It's important for one to understand that this was quite unique and specific to New York in the 1980s. In my essay on Robert Moses, I explained how he set the template to undermine the authority of the politicians and bourgeoisie and after his fall, his legacy was fifteen years of Anarchy in NYC. I was born and raised in the middle of this period. I wasn't alone in defying authority.  Undoubtedly, my personality made my defiance less mundane. Many in city defied authority by engaging in crime and acts of violence. I was never a criminal and I abhor violence. For example, the boxer Mike Tyson is typical of how many of my generation took extreme liberties with the weakness of authority at the time.


  After High School I attended Boston University. Here my defiance took on greater dimensions. Unlike New York where I was a dime of dozen rascal, in Boston I stood out rather starkly as I was now in the United States of America, which is one of the most conformist countries in the world. As I explained in The Fall of New York , before  the mayoralty of Rudy Giuliani, New York City was a separate country culturally, politically and socially from the United States. In Boston, I was confronted with Americans for the first time. These were mostly Upper Class whites from Middle America. It was inevitable that there would be a clash and how!
  What I first noted about Boston was how soft it was. Neither the bourgeoisie nor the authorities ever had any serious challenges to its rule. With a obedient and compliant population, Boston didn't even make attempts of keeping order as New York did. Since practically everyone in New York in the 70s and 80s were scammers and out to get over by any means necessary, the authorities were compelled to put up a semblance of control. The Boston subway known as the T was a case in point. It was and remains one of the easiest subway systems in the US to ride without paying. I quickly took advantage of it. Indeed, I was suspicious at first because it looked too easy. At certain stations at particular hours one could walk into the subway without any turnstiles or gates at all.
  I didn't take my university colleagues very seriously. Many were from small Midwestern towns or from the South. Many of them had never been to New York and Boston was the first large city they had ever been to. The more I interacted with them, the less respect that I had for them. They were as plain thinking as they were plain looking. Not one of them had an original idea or opinion. They were as boring as they were dim. I took great delight in shocking them with my New York antics.
  As little as I took my fellow students seriously, I had developed even less respect for my professors. Already by the first semester, I had professors who were even worse than I had in Grade School. I had this dreadful professor for Expository Writing. She was the ditziest, dim witted, dip stick, ding a ling that I'd ever seen. Actually when I think about it, she actually remains so more than twenty-five years later. Which is saying quite a bit considering how many people I've encountered around the world since who were, as it's said in Newfoundland, stunned as me arse. She was always late for class. The rule was that if the professor was fifteen minutes late, the class was considered canceled. She would arrive harried and rushed every class just before the fifteen minute deadline, often to my chagrin. The dear reader must indulge me for a moment as I describe this hideous specimen of a human. She was a Jewess of slender build with lanky arms and legs. She had dark beady eyes which were as vacant as an abandoned mine shaft. She had a messy bush of a jet black hair which was neither brushed nor combed full of white flakes of dandruff. Some of us in the class speculated that rather than dandruff, they were instead lice eggs. Either way the white bits of debris stood out in contrast to her dark hair. The lights in this particular building were operated by a timer switch. Once the switch wound down to zero the lights would go out. The first time this occurred the professor assumed that there was a Blackout. She was confused and perplexed that the hallways lights were still on in the rest of the building. Then she thought that the room fuse had blown.
"Is anyone here an electrician?", she asked with complete sincerity. It was only after we explained the timer, that she got it. The light timer switch became a constant challenge for her throughout the rest of the semester. Without fail during every class the lights would go out and time was wasted with her trying to manipulate the switch. To turn on the light one had to turn the knob clockwise. She turned it counterclockwise which would cause to lights to come on briefly but the knob spring would bring it back to zero and the lights would go out.  She would try to turn around but the lights went off. This did this at least five times. "Is anyone an electrician?" A student would inevitably get up and turn on the light for her.
 While this was entertaining and provided an bottomless well of guffaws and endless wisecracks on my part, I could endure the twice a week slapstick sitcom. However, it was the coursework that led to my first collision course with a professor. According to the syllabus we were supposed to write eight essays for the semester. We only wrote three. That was because this first class moron had us re-write our essays up to three times. I turned in my first paper and she graded it B+. She wrote very enthusiastic and positive comments. She was impressed with my writing. In spite of her personality defects, I had thought that we would have a cordial relationship. Wrong! Wrong like a cat fucking a dog. She made all of us rewrite the first essay using her comments as guidance. I followed accordingly and rewrote the essay using her suggestions. I had expected a better grade, perhaps A- or even A. To my shock and anger when she handed back the second essay my grade dropped to C+! She dropped me by three grading points from the original essay. It was deja vu all over for me. I recalled my low grade received by my High School Economics professor. I was incensed. At the end of the class that morning I confronted her.
"What's going on? The first time you gave me a B+ and said that it was well written. I rewrote the essay according to your comments. Why the grade of C+?"
"Well...." She began. I stepped back because of her halitosis. She was walking hygienic nightmare in addition to being an intellectual disaster. "When I read your essay again, I realized that it wasn't really good...."
"WHAT?!?" I raised my voice. "HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE! HOW CAN YOU THINK IT WAS GOOD THE FIRST TIME AROUND BUT NOT THE SECOND?"
"Well, I had time to go over it and think about it. But don't worry. The entire class is going to rewrite that essay."
  I had lost all respect for that woman. She kept lowering my grades on each successive essay that I had submitted. I was fed up with her. Fed up with having to rewrite the same goddamn essays four times over. I tried to contain my anger but  I lost it one morning. I interrupted her lecture with an outburst straight from the streets of the South Bronx: "SHUT THE FUCK UP!"  The entire class looked at me. My best friend at the time, a native Bostonian, had to stuff his fist in his mouth to prevent uncontrollable laughter. The girls in the class smiled at me. Others had smirks on their faces. The professor was dismayed but pretended not to hear or notice it, and carried on with the lecture. For that outburst, I received an overall grade of C- for the course. I really didn't care one way or the other but I made some conclusions:
1)She was more dishonest than any teacher that I had previously. Even my sworn enemies knew that I was an outstanding writer. There hadn't been any teacher who could've honestly give me a poor score for my writing. The ones that despised me had to concede that point.
2)The caliber of the Boston University faculty was sub par which was confirmed the next semester.
3)I was not in the academic or intellectual paradise which I had fancied when decided to go to Boston University.
  Things didn't improve for me. The next semester, I took Sociology 101 given by the chair of the Sociology faculty. While he was light years ahead of the Expository Writing professor, he was nevertheless, a dimwit. He would utter endless nonsense during his lectures. As one who has always called out bullshit from whichever quarter it came from, this wasn't any different. I would always raise my hand after one of his outrageous quips and interrupt his lectures. An example of one of his blatant falsehoods was the following:
"Cities developed on rivers because of the water wheel." Huh? Immediately my hand shot up into the air. He would yield to me.
"Cities didn't develop rivers because of the water wheel. Cities developed on rivers because of water. We need water to live.We need water to eat. Animals would to the river to drink and that's how we caught them. Moreover, rivers were a primary source of transportation and rivers were key to the agricultural revolution. Mesopotamia developed between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. It had nothing at all to do with the water wheel!"
  These exchanges went on nearly every class. The professor clearly didn't like being upstaged and contradicted by an upstart Freshman. Despite the fact that my papers and exams were consistently grade between B- to B, I was given the grade of C for the course. This was a new development for me. I had managed to get through Grade School, despite my recalcitrance, due to my consistent test scores. At Boston University, grades weren't based on academic merit alone. My defiance and questioning of their academic authority resulted in low marks. I really didn't care one way or another but I realized that university was a joke and, moreover I wasn't learning anything.
  In the second year at university things came to a head on multiple fronts. The first semester of Sophomore year I took Economics 101. I was confident in that subject after taking it in High School. In Part One of this series, I scolded and insulted my Economics teacher for a much lower grade than which I clearly deserved. However, in High School I actually learnt Economics. At BU I was taught Neoliberalism  which is in fact, an ideology and one could make the case that it's the official religion of contemporary totalitarian capitalism. My conflict with my High School Economics teacher was not the content of the subject, whereas at BU it was.
  During the first couple of weeks of the course we were assigned to read a "case study" given by Columbia University about Rent Control in New York. According this this "Economics" "case study" the reason for the housing shortage in New York was Rent Control. The "case study" concluded that Rent Control kept rents at an artificially low price. Hence, people didn't move from their apartments which in turn led to a housing shortage. The "solution" according to the esteemed economists was to abolish Rent Control. This would force tenants to move, providing "fluidity" to the market. Rents would rise and fall according to demand and more importantly, this create competition between landlords and the housing shortage would end.
What a crock! It was a pack of lies! Up until that moment, I had never before read such inanity. This was was in university textbook! This is what was taught in a Boston University Economics course?! I couldn't believe it. I was livid.
  I must make a fairly long digression to explain the source of my extreme irritability. First of all, I'm from New York City. Second, I lived in rental apartments all my life. I had lived in three of the five boroughs of New York City. I knew firsthand the rental market. All my experiences and facts of living plainly contradicted this "case study". Myself and everyone in my family had moved often. Up until I was Eighteen, I had lived in no less than sixteen different apartments in New York. That wasn't an anomaly. Many New Yorkers changed apartments frequently. It was common to move at the end of two or four year leases. To say that New Yorkers never moved and clung to apartments like life preservers on the high seas was patently untrue. To blame rent control for the housing shortage was as preposterous as it was false. I could barely wait until the next class when I would raise my objections. Boston University might have been able to dupe the provincial Americans from the Midwest who lived in houses all their lives. But there was no way that there were going to let this one pass by a native New Yorker who knew the deal.
  No sooner had the class began that I raised my hand and offered my criticisms and objections.
“I read the case study about Rent Control in New York. I hate to say it but none of it is true.” 
The professor was stunned. “No, that was a case study done by a team of economists in New York.”
“I don’t doubt that but this team got their findings completely wrong!”
I doubted the professor ever had a student flatly contradict anything from the text books. At first he was confused but his tone became aggressive. “Are you an economist Mr. D?”
“No, I’m not but….”
“Then how do you know that trained specialists of Real Estate Economics are wrong?”
“Because I’m from New York! I know what’s going on. Do you want to know what’s really going on in New York?”
“I don’t believe you’re qualified to know anything about Economics Mr. D.”
Rather than putting me on the defensive as he expected, I got more aggressive and charged on the offensive.
“I may not be qualified to know anything about Economics,  but I’m qualified to know everything about the New York housing situation!”
“Do tell. Perhaps you would like to come up to the front of the room and lecture the class?”
“It would be my pleasure!” I started to walk towards him. He became very alarmed.
“No, stay where you are Mr. D! Just stay where you are! Just give us a quick summary of your critical findings of this case study.”
“This is the thing. There are more than enough apartments in New York to house almost double the population. There are two reasons why there’s a housing shortage in New York which I’m quite surprised that the case study didn’t mention.
“One, in 1977 landlords in The Bronx paid arsonists to burn down hundreds of buildings in The Bronx….”
“Why would landlords do that?” The professor asked aggressively as he interrupted me. “Why would they burn their own property investments?”
“Because of insurance. They did it to collect insurance money!” I replied.
“I don’t believe that! That makes no sense!”
“Of course it makes sense. They got more money from the insurance than from the value of their property.”
“I still don’t believe that. If they did it to collect insurance, and if many of them did so, the insurance companies would have found out. Insurance companies always investigate fires precisely against the very fraud that you are accusing.”
“Well they got the insurance money anyway. If you don’t believe me, look it up. I just read an article about it in the Village Voice last summer!”
“You are making some very wild accusations!”
“There’s nothing wild about it. It’s the truth. Everyone in New York knows about it. It’s common knowledge. Anyway, there are thousands of abandoned apartments in New York. If they were only renovated then there wouldn’t be a housing shortage. That’s something that the case study doesn’t mention.”
The professor sighed. He refused to even acknowledged or validate my points at all nor could he even refute what I was saying.
“Second:” I continued. “There is currently something called warehousing. Warehousing is when landlords keep apartments intentionally empty. What they do is wait until a tenant moves out. Instead of finding new renters, they keep the apartments empty. The reason they are doing this is to get enough units in a building vacant. Under New York Housing Law, if 25% of the units in a building are vacant, then the landlord can convert them to co-ops and condos. This is really what’s killing the rental market.
“More and more buildings in New York have turned into co-ops and condominiums. If you are looking to rent, there are fewer and fewer places which are renting because many buildings that were formerly rentals are now co-ops and condos. These are the two reasons why there is a housing shortage in New York. It has nothing to do with Rent Control!”
“Well that is not in the case study. We will use this case study for this course.”
“I’m sorry but the case study is wrong.”
“We are not going to discard the case study just because you don’t like it.”
“Well the case study is wrong and I will not use this case study in my papers. If I do, I will use it to disprove it.”
  What made me angrier was that everything that was taught for the rest of the semester flatly contradicted what I had  learnt in High School Economics. I had a running battle with my professor the entire semester. For my troubles I received a grade of D. Just one notch above failing. This was the beginning of the end of my academic studies. However, my clashes with my ignorant and lying professors was nothing compared to what I went through with my roommates, the general student community and ultimately the university authorities.
To be continued....
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