Friday, August 22, 2014

Yes, she still reads books.

But I don't have time to write book reports anymore. It's sad. So you get the short version. (And I can keep track of what I've read.) So, in no particular order, the books I've read and forgotten to write up:

  • Thomas Peele- Killing the Messenger. If you have lived in Oakland for at least 10 years (ish), you know "Your Black Muslim Bakery." (If you came too much later, the Beys were on the decline, though more recently they seem to be coming back.) If you follow Oakland politics, you know the Bey family. Peele has written this amazingly fast read- true crime- of the history of the Black Muslims and what happened leading up to the murder of Chauncey Bailey in 2007. YBMB is Oakland, and maybe Oakland is the only place that YBMB could have happened. OPD is so tied up in the murder of Bailey, as is West Oakland and even East Oakland. I couldn't put it down. That said, the facts are a little murky, but maybe that is the nature of working with an insular religion that sees itself as constantly being persecuted. Which leads me to the next book. Recommended: very readable nonfiction. Also good for people interested in Oakland.
  • Lawrence Wright- Going Clear. I read Killing the Messenger months ago, but finished Going Clear a couple of days ago. Wright, author of the Looming Tower, has written what is apparently "the" academic book on Scientology. If all you know about Scientology is the front of the tabloids about Tom Cruise, then basically you're just like me. Wright has written a book that aims to put Scientology in the context of other new American religions. He explains the draw of the religion to people, especially celebrities. And the comparison to the Black Muslims is one someone could make (maybe I'm making it). The difference? YBMB employed unemployable dirt poor young black men and women, often straight out of prison, in Oakland who felt they had nowhere else to turn. There was often sexual abuse by whichever Bey was in charge at the time. And by employed, I mean provided housing and food and promised money that often never came. YBMB was in the business of getting rich, often through shell games. They didn't really get rich. Scientologists, in the meantime, employed middle class white young people and budding celebrities, often in Hollywood. Many of these signed up to do work for one billion years (literally) for little or no money. The Scientologists, also in the business of making money, were wildly successful at it. And once again, the insularity of the group make the facts a little unclear. Wright's book makes heavy use of accounts by people who have left the group, and of course those still in vehemently deny these accounts. And contrary to the article linked above, I actually appreciated the even handedness. Recommended (also readable nonfiction) for those interested in this bizarre religion and those who like to read about religion.
  • Melissa Gira Grant- Playing the Whore. Now for something completely different. This little tiny book took a very long time to read. A very important and not particularly readable book on the discourse of sex work, Grant urges us to stop panicking over sex work and start listening to sex workers themselves. It would be nice if we stopped talking about the terrible horrible trafficking that happens and started discussing what really happens, the way the people involved in the work really wanted us to.
  • Marc Perleman- Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague. I was so excited to read this book. I had been waiting to read it for years, it seems like. They never had it at the library and Link+ didn't have it. I finally got it. It was also a tiny book. And I never finished it. Perleman is a Very Enthusiastic writer, and from the beginning I could tell that, as my boyfriend likes to tell me, he was taking things too far. I agree with him that many large-scale sporting events are quite cruel to the host countries (see this year's World Cup in Brazil or the Olympics in China) and that often teams are as much about other-ing as the are about inclusivity, but if I wrote this book review as emphatically as he wrote his book, you would have given up, too. Unreadable nonfiction. Oh, and translated.
  • Brittney Griner- In My Skin. Leading me to the next book, which is not a traditional themacinator read. Griner wrote In My Skin to tell her story as one of the first (the first?) out professional athletes. Out since high school, Griner played basketball at Baylor University, which has a specific anti-homosexuality clause in its rules. She's never quite convincing in saying that she didn't know about that rule when she committed to the school as a sophomore, though it is believable that Coach Kim didn't tell her. Because as Perleman argues, sports are about winning, not about inclusivity. Fast read, ghostwritten, interesting (but now old, which is good!) story about growing up gay and forging your path. Unsurprisingly, the WNBA seems accepting of lesbians. 
  • Sudhir Venkatesh- Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy. This is the worst book that I've finished this year. But I'm on vacation and it's one of only 4 books that I've got with me. Meanwhile the Kindle readers with me keep reading and reading and reading and reading. Pro-Kindle argument, for sure. Venkatesh seems to have written a popular (as in audience- no idea if this book is popular or not- I doubt it) book about how he is searching for what to write about in order to fulfill the needs of his academic writing requirements as a professor at Columbia. I kept waiting- he kept finding and discarding topics and then saying "aha, I've found a topic" and then finding another. This seriously was a book without a plot or a topic. I learned some stuff about the "underground economy" in New York while feeling like Venkatesh, rather than having written anything sociological, was doing some sort of voyeuristic nonsense. Yuck. Don't touch it.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Atlanta: Where it’s perfectly okay for 23,000 white people to be racist in public.

My dad and I just got back from the world’s fastest baseball trip: 3 days, 2 nights, 3 flights and 3 baseball games. Two of these games were in Atlanta, Georgia, home of the Braves.  You can guess about the origination of the name: braves, like the racist, un-PC name for Native American chiefs. Those of you who are baseball fans already know about the Tomahawk Chop. Those of you who aren't, this is when the fans “chop” their hands and chant this sing-song-y “oh, oh oh oh oh” thing. I tried to take a video. I failed. Here's someone else's. 


I thought it was a spontaneous utterance, but no, the PA system actually tells the fans that they need to Chop. They tell the fans to chop and they put it up on the big screen. And the fans chop away. Not only that, the stadium is unabashedly full of choppy puns. The Chop Steakhouse, the Chop Bar, etc.

(This history of the Tomahawk Chop credits/blames the fans and Florida State and ... Neon Deion for bringing the Chop to the Atlanta. The pride!)

To make matters worse, the fans at Turner Field are almost universally white. The first game we went to had an announced attendance of about 38,000. We estimated that this was pretty close to accurate, but let’s say it was actually 35,000. I’d guess that no less than 30,000 of these fans were white. And if I had to guess, I’d guess that at least 25,000 of these did the Tomahawk Chop when instructed, and a good 23,000 did it with gusto. The icing on the cake: at least 95% of stadium employees were black. These choppers were chopping away while black employees stood in the sweltering heat and humidity (I almost died), making somewhere around minimum wage.


It gets even more complicated. I think that the Braves organization is TRYING to get rid of the racist overtones of the “Braves” name (is that possible?) by aligning “Braves” with “brave” as in “bravery.” They’re doing this by emphasizing the red/white/blue color scheme and, in a perfectly awful combination, tying it into patriotism/nationalism. The first game that we went to (Tuesday night), we were treated to a 10 minute ceremony honoring veterans from Vietnam and the Korean war. We stood (in the sweltering heat and humidity) and heard about each veterans’ amazing feats of Bravery (one of them had killed 13 enemy fighters). Each strikeout by a Braves pitcher was followed by fireworks. There were lots of other flag and Amurica moments: basically, Braves Country was not just about the braves, but about the Brave men who killed off those same braves. Viva Racism!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Anthony Diener and Joshua Hagen: Borders

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Oxford University Press publishes an adorable little series of "Very Short Introductions." They're maybe 7" tall and 4" wide with simple abstract covers and they're just satisfying to hold in your hand. I stumbled on the collection by finding the book about borders (no surprise). The book is a round up of the what scholars of borders have found, and, while it's not news to me, it's nice to read the background and be reminded that there are borders beyond the US/Mexico border that I'm obsessed with.

Anthony Diener and Joshua Hagen start with an historical overview of borders and territory. Borders weren't always the way we think of them now. Without romanticizing hunter/gatherers, there had to be states to have borders, and even with states, borders weren't always the rigid territorial markers that we now think of them. Further, and this seems obvious, they weren't always the SAME borders that we have now. One of the things about borders is that we assume that they are natural and obvious, when in fact they are (usually) arbitrary and always, by definition, exclusionary. Not until absolute state sovereignty in Europe became a thing (16th and 17th century) were the means and requirements there for borders to be fixed. (Of course this practice spread well beyond Europe with colonization of Africa and the Americas.) Diener and Hagen explain the three implications of this: states were free to govern their territories without interference; states alone could legitimately engage in either diplomacy or war; and monarchs needed to mark borders of territories, people and resources to include and exclude in order to rule. Game on. 

Diener and Hagen raise important questions about borders beyond the physical aspects: "Do good borders make good neighbors or are borders impediments to international cooperation? Will state sovereignty continue to be prioritized over national independence? Will nation-states remain the primary global political/economic actors? Is a borderless world possible or even desirable?" (59) They discuss globalization and its myths and realities: can this concept (so popular in the '90s and early 2000s) really eradicate the need for borders? Are democratic states, demarcated by borders, possible? Borders, they argue, are not the result of democratic processes, as evident by the treatment of minority and indigenous populations who were trampled by the lines drawn. Is there a democratic way to create borders? As they write, "Ironically, democratic politics are expected to emerge from democratic institutions tied to modern states despite the fact that there cannot be democracy until democratic institutions and state borders are established." (70) Is it possible to overcome this tension? Do borders actually provide security or do they cause instability? Is there a way to balance this? This is a dense, important little book. It's dry and not the best written of books, but it's a good one and meets its goal: a short introduction.






Monday, May 26, 2014

Barbara Jensen: Reading Classes

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The more I read about education and the more classes I teach, the more I think that it's like dog training: The only thing two people involved in the field can agree about is that the third person is wrong. Professor X argued that higher education isn't for everyone at the same time that Obama is trying to push college for everyone. John Marsh argued that, actually, education isn't going to end inequality, sorry. Lisa Delpit explored the ways that inequality is built into our the system. In a way, all of these scholars agree (except Obama): the system is messed up, and we're doing it wrong. On the other hand, they all agree that if we revamp it in a certain way, we can get it right. The thing is, none of them agree on that certain way. 

Add Barbara Jensen to the mix. Jensen writes about how class fits into the picture and argues that the American education system is designed to both ignore the working class and replicate the inferior status of the working class. The modern education system, she believes, is part and parcel of the way we look at class: "having steps on a ladder and that those who work the hardest move to the upper rungs while those nearer the bottom belong there and thus are granted much lower pay, power, and control in their work lives." (24). "This," she says, "is pure bullshit." It is, however, how pretty much everything, including the way we teach our kids from birth, is structured in the United States. We teach kids that individualism is the way to succeed, even if this isn't the way all cultural and class groups function.

Jensen's writing is based mainly on her personal life as a "crossover." She was raised in a working class family in Minnesota and eventually went on to get a PhD in psychology. She struggled (and struggles) to reconcile her new middle class life with her working class background. As she gained cultural capital, she realized that her family, while working harder, would never get ahead in the way she now could. She also saw the middle class controlled this, unwittingly. This is a cycle: "class is an injustice that says some Americans deserve much more time, leisure, control, and far more financial reward than others. Classism is the set of myths and beliefs that keep those class divisions intact, that is, the belief that working class cultures and people are inherently inferior and that class itself demonstrates who the hardest workers and the rightful winners are." (31)

Jensen believes that classism in education presents itself as solipsism, "or my-world-is-the-whole-world, what I call class-blinders. This is the tendency to assume everyone has had the same experience we have had and to be blind to the experiences of others... Societywide institutions, like public education, do the same thing: presume we all think and learn like middle class people do, that we all work best as individuals in competition. American education then punishes kids who have not learned to work best this way." (37)  The working class mentality, she argues, does not privilege individual success and the competitive nature to achieve this success over everything. Rather, there is a collective spirit and an urge to be part of and to protect the group over everything else. This is not what middle class families, popular culture and the educational system teach us: we must strive to be The Best and to Stand Out to get ahead. Working class kids who have to choose often fall back on the culture they are steeped in and the values of their family, this failing at school or opting out, and fall back into the working class, which no longer has much material worth.

"Reading Classes" is an interesting read. It combines personal narrative- Jensen's story of moving from working class to middle class- with oral histories she collects from her family with an extended literature review of the few authors who have looked at the effects of class on education. She combines a few major studies with her insights and experiences as a "community psychologist" to work her way through the educational journey from small child to adult learner. The problem, she thinks, is in how education defines working class (and lower class) students as deficient. We can learn by bringing the experiences of cultural crossovers like Jensen an others to light, problematizing the idea that we are all a happy middle class, best served by institutions tailored to the middle class. What's missing (as usual, I have to say), is a solid platform of solution, or even of what a better situation would look like. Special schools for the working class? (I don't think Jensen would argue this.) Better training for teachers so that they can understand where different students are coming from? (I don't think Jensen would think this sufficient.) Less stratification in the school system? (Not sure this is feasible.) The book has certainly opened my eyes, and there's nothing really to argue with, except perhaps the "lumping" of people in the working class, though Jensen explains herself in this. The question is where to go next.

Ugly Uniform Day

Today is Memorial Day, when the new thing is to wear camouflage uniforms. You may think I'm going to talk about the uniforms today, which are in fact, hideous. But no, I'm talking about two days ago: Saturday, May 24th. I'm not sure what happened, but it appears that MLB got together and decided to declare it Ugly Day.
Texas and Detroit must have had some flashback thing going on.
Only the flannel look is actually jersey, like jersey sheets.
And what is "BP"? Batting Practice? Only... this is during the game.

Number on the pants. Yup.

I guess Michigan is the One Star State now?

Cute font. For a teddy bear, or something.



The Astros. Notice the way the jerseys have elastic bands at the waist.



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Jason Turbow: The Baseball Codes

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Some people (my boyfriend included) think baseball has too many rules. He calls it a "gentleman's game," and not in a nice way. There are just lots of things you can and can't do, and should and shouldn't do. In my opinion, that is what makes the game- it's not like we have to golf clap, or anything! And if I wanted to watch a bunch of dudes run and violently slam into each other, I'd watch football. If I wanted to watch hours of sheer athleticism, I'd take up basketball. No- I'm content with my slightly dull talking sport. And rules give us LOTS to talk about. This short video gives you an idea of what happens when rules are broken, and, if you watch with sound, you'll hear two perspectives on rules. (Me and THB were there that day and had NO idea what happened- it happened really fast. Note: the two featured players aren't in the game anymore, though who knows where A-Rod will be next year...)


Dallas Braden flips out by udrtwe

Jason Turbow's "The Baseball Codes" is all about the rules of baseball that not everyone knows about. Not the neighborhood play or the blowing on a foul ball rules or even more common ones like when the infield fly rules. These are the unwritten rules like when it is and isn't okay to cross the pitcher's mound or when it's expected that a pitcher will throw at a batter and when it's considered beyond the pale. It also discusses why Nolan Ryan threw at guys so much and why some guys wouldn't do it at all. Turbow talks about cheating and when it's okay and when it's not- basically, everyone cheats as much as they can get away with. Interestingly, there's only a tiny bit about PED's, and that's a big oversight. It might be too much to tackle in this kind of book, but it's hard to talk about cheating and unwritten rules without this discussion.

There's a timely discussion of pine tar on the neck (see: Pineda), which includes a discussion of why tony La Russa didn't ask Kenny Rogers to be checked for pine tar in a game in 2006 or make a bigger deal out of the incident. Rather, he was content when the umpires asked Rogers to wash off. Turbow on this: "La Russa's [had a] general acceptance of a base level of cheating in his sport. A baseball man through and through, the manager harbored clear notions of on-field propriety, spending significant time considering the integrity of his actions and those of others. To him, baseball's Code allowed for subtle bending of the rules." This is noteworthy for two reasons: one, La Russa's clubs are notorious for steroid usage (from the Bash Brothers to the Cardinals). Is this a subtle bending of the rules? Baseball seems to think so, as he goes into the Hall of Fame this year. Second, he also does SOMETHING for Major League Baseball. A "baseball man," a believer in the code, and a believer in some level of cheating is clearly endorsed by MLB. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the code is part of the sport. On the other hand, it needs to be acknowledged, and I'd say offered up as part of the humanity of baseball. Let's tell it like it is: no amount of instant replay will make the sport "clean." There's a human element, a tradition element ,that makes the game what it is.

Turbow's book is a decent one, especially for those who want to learn more about the game. It's a jaunt through memory lane of all kinds of baseball players- names you haven't heard for a decade (or more). My man Charlie Manuel made the cut, as did lots of former A's. Dusty Baker appears frequently as does pre-Giants Bochy. If you already are a student of the game, though, a lot of these unwritten rules are already pretty ingrained in you. This will just give you extra fodder when you want to show off to ballpark rookies (as if you need that!) or to bore your boyfriend with. Not that you would ever do such a thing...

Monday, May 05, 2014

David Axe and Tim Hamilton: Army of God

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I think this is the third graphic novel that I've ever read. It's also the third graphic non-novel I've ever read and I'm still not quite sure why we call graphic nonfiction "graphic novels," but since I'm also still not quite sure why I'm still reading graphic nonfiction novels, I'm not really going to worry about it. "Army of God: Joseph Kony's War in Central Africa" could actually be called a graphic nonfiction novella: it's very short, clocking in at 100 pages of illustrations which contain very little text. Where "Vietnamerica" was a stunning visual piece and "Fun Home" was a striking memoir, "Army of God" is kind of like a short expose that happens to be illustrated. David Axe went to the Democratic Republic of Congo and was horrified by the carnage Joseph Kony, a lunatic leader with a fierce following was reaping on the country. He came back, and along with Tim Hamilton, put the piece to words and images. The result is kind of, well, easy to pass over, which is unfortunate, because the situation is really icky. I'm going to stick with words.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Evgeny Morozov: To Save Everything, Click Here

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Evgeny Morozov is one of those guys who has a lot of great ideas but doesn't know when to stop preaching and start teaching. I made it through about 50 pages and had to stop. Where Rebecca MacKinnon convincingly argues that the Internet is a vital part of activism that, while not the impetus for changing the world, is a Very Important Tool, Morozov could convincingly argue we put too much faith in what he calls "the Internet." I agree with him that we do: just like MacKinnon, I don't think a computer or the wires between two (bajillion) computers are really going to fix everything, and I think that some people have fallen into the tech trap. (In Oakland right now, there's a mayoral candidate who has argued that Bitcoin will help Oaklanders out of poverty...) Here's what Morozov says about why he calls it "the Internet":
The physical infrastructure we know as "the Internet" bears very little resemblance to the mythical "Internet"- the one that reportedly brought down the governments of Tunisia and Egypt and is supposedly destroying our brains- that lies at the center of our public debates. The infrastructure and design of this network of networks do play a certain role in sanctioning many of these myths- for example, the idea that "the Internet" is resistant to censorship comes from the unique qualities of its packet-switching communication mechanism- but "the Internet" that is the bane of public debates also contains many other stories and narratives- about innovation, surveillance, capitalism- that have little to do with the infrastructure per se.

He compares "the Internet" to Louis Pasteur, the historical figure, to "Pasteur" who we all think of as the guy who invented hygiene. Pasture didn't invent hygiene. The Internet didn't invent activism and isn't going to fix the world. Morozov isn't just railing against "the Internet," he's railing against technological solutionism: a philosophy where every problem has a solution. The problem is bigger than that, though, as Morozov sees it. Not all of the problems that techies want to solve are actually problems. And some problems that DO need solving are overlooked because they don't have quick technological fixes. Some of his examples are cooking- there's some really technologies out there to "help" people cook in a clean, neat way that allow people to make things exactly right. But is that really what cooking is about? And what are the hidden side effects? Well, the technologies are tracking everything. I'm guilty of things like this: I've been having groceries delivered (not one of Morozov's examples). A solution for lazy ass people like me who hate grocery shopping- have people do it for you, for a fee! Well, was shopping really a problem? It was, a first world problem. And now the company knows what I'm eating and a whole class of contract laborers are doing something I consider as "dirty work." And a whole bunch of smart people have put a lot of time and labor into solving this "problem" instead of real food related problems. And I'm having food shoppers go to Safeway instead of picking up the same things at a farmer's market. You get the point, right? This is part of Morozov's point.

The problem is, I couldn't read it. Because after the first 50 pages I was *really tired of being told this from a soapbox. I wanted to hear it in a measured, academic tone, or maybe with some proof, or maybe just like I wasn't defensive. Good food for thought, bad book.