Every time an anti-government gun nut …

via WNYC
via WNYC

… would go on an internet rant about how he would rather be well-armed in order to protect himself against a government takeover (see top anti-government conspiracies here), I’d roll my eyes, and think to myself, “What is your weapon going to do against the military’s tanks or drones?”

Not much, I’d think. But now it’s time to revise that to, “What is your weapon going to do against the local police department’s war tanks?”

Take a look at all this military surplus sitting in the wee town of Little Falls, NJ, population: 10, 800, courtesy of WNYC‘s Sarah Gonzalez.

Police in the small suburban town of Little Ferry recently received six military trucks for its 25 police officers. 

Police departments in the state have received everything from armored trucks, rifles and grenade launchers to shirts for extreme cold weather, boots, and ladders. But the use of military equipment to quell protests in Ferguson, Mo., following the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, has sparked a national conversation about whether local law enforcement agencies are becoming too militarized.

For example, among the most expensive items on the list of supplies used in Iraq and Afghanistan are the MRAPs – 30,000-ton armored, mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles.  

Police in Middletown, N.J., have one. And the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office has just ordered two.

Read or listen to the rest of the report here. And then read about the sad demise of our democracy in this fantastic piece by Fordham’s Heather Gautney in the Huffington Post:

“Social control is the opposite of social change. And it is the opposite of democratic freedom.” (Ferguson and America’s Hatred of Democracy.)

English Café in Southwest Florida: where English conversation is on the menu

Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 8.27.24 PM
Conversation. The best way to learn a language. Making mistakes is part of the process.

With all the 24-hour cable news channels and news blogs reporting on the seemingly never-ending immigration debate with a side of bitter polarity, you would think the United States is chock full of folks who don’t want to learn the language, and another group demanding they learn it somehow– and fast!

Well, that’s just not true.

Take the “English Café” at the Lee County Library in Fort Myers, in Southwest Florida. This is a program where non-natives with little (very basic) command of English spend 90-minutes chatting with English as a Second Language volunteers. They also read English-language newspapers. Best part? The service is free, participants may start at any time, and advance registration is not required.

My parents immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. Back then, my dad was able to get a job at a factory, and it was survival of the fittest. If he didn’t know English, he wouldn’t be able to fully understand his boss or communicate with his coworkers. He muddled along picking up scraps by watching television shows and movies. (Lots of westerns, ‘pilgrim.’) But it was rudimentary at best.

Fast forward to the 1980s, and he was able to get a much better job as a machinist at the General Electric plant in Paterson, N.J., a very urban area where most of the workers at this General Electric plant he was working at were working class white or African American. His English had to improve because this was a job he wanted to keep.

So how did he learn? By speaking with us (he often asked us to respond to him in English so he’d get it), and talking with his (mostly) African American coworkers as they worked side-by-side with him. As a result, his English was hip! He would actually get home and say, “What it is?” Ha!

In today’s Internet-addicted world, my father’s scenario would be much tougher. And that’s why programs like English Café are a treasure.

There are many programs like it across the country. But unless one is very involved in local news and services, they may not know such opportunities exist. This is why I’m glad Univision Southwest Florida program, D’Latinos Al Día, reported on English Café. Watch the report below.

(Bonus fact: my aunt is a participant. A recent widow, she’s learning to do more on her own, and as she says at minute 1:33, she feels more equipped to speak English thanks to this “marvelous program.”) 

For more information on Lee County’s English Café, visit the library’s website.