Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Roxanne Gay: Bad Feminist

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What I'm about to say is going to come out totally wrong, and I apologize in advance for any potential meanness that it may sound like I'm projecting- that's not what I'm going for. A little jealousy, maybe, a little bewilderment, sure, but in the not-judgemental sense of the word.

Bad Feminist is a collection of insightful, often right-on "damn, I was thinking that but I sure wish I had written that" blog posts. The cover says "essays" but the whole time I was reading it, I was thinking, man, I want to get well-respected enough and famous enough to have enough time to think out and expand my blog posts and have an editor help me clean up my blog posts and then put them together in a nicely designed book and call them essays! Again, this is not a bad thing. I am not being a bad feminist (I think Roxanne Gay would understand this, at least I hope she would- and I suspect she might be the type of person who occasionally googles her name to see who's writing about her- much of her writing is very timely, which I love, and talks about the effect and importance of the internet and social media on our culture). I am not taking a slam at Gay by saying she shouldn't be able to publish a book full of insightful, sometimes funny, critical, important blog posts, I'm just startled and a little jealous.

The fact that Bad Feminist reads like a bunch of blog posts strung together makes it a not-great-read. Ten years ago, before the possibility of it being published blogs, I would have said it was made to be a text book- lots of great fodder for college readers. I'm not sure I would have been any less critical- still hard slogging through a book that really should be a reader. That said, many of the essays are great, timely and kind of like if a smarter, more educated version of me had been writing what I was thinking. You know, when I try to explain to people why The Help and Django really aren't the most wonderful, sensitive, be all end all pieces on race? No one gets it. My boyfriend says I'm taking it to far. Gay says it. She says it well, emphatically, and I would like to see the looks on unbelievers' faces when they have to pick their jaws back up off the floor. OH, you mean, I didn't really need to fetishize slavery by watching ANOTHER movie about it? I already knew it was bad? OH! The Help made black women help out a young white woman again? Or rather, the young white woman helped the adult black women "find" themselves? Gee, we haven't heard that before? Gay writes insightfully about trigger warnings (blugh), men ruling women's lives because women's rights aren't actually inalienable (true story), being likable (or not), and what feminism is or isn't. Strangely, even though this is a book I don't love, it's a book I wish I own (not borrow from the library) so I can pull out certain essays and look at them again or xeorox them and slip them under unsuspecting and needing-education friend's/neighbor's/relatives doors.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I've been Branded.

After admitting a current crisis of faith to my family, they united together and decided that I should be branded: possibly with a capital "R" for Republican or maybe worse, a small "c" for Conservative. I've mockingly called myself a conservative before and I have written about how we get more stodgy (read: conservative) as we age, like it or not, but this is the first time I have felt like my politics are shifting because of my circumstances. (It may just be the first time I can remember- I have a bad short term memory and you know we block out things about ourselves that we want to forget!)

I love to brag about my love of paying taxes. It's like a party trick- sure, I voted for that tax increase! Yes, I love paying taxes- how else will we get x, y, z? I always fill my parking meter, as those fees go to vital services. I rail against the money from our federal taxes that is allocated toward war and defense and other pukey, conservative causes, but I pay up anyway. Basically, I'm a liberal. I willy-nilly check boxes to raise local taxes, knowing that Oakland is woefully lacking in quality basic public services like infrastructure, public safety and schools.

Until now. I purchased my house almost a year ago (I had lived here 2 years before that). When I was busy voting for increased taxes, I wasn't busy PAYING the taxes. Life as a renter had its problems, for sure, but paying property taxes wasn't one of them. Feeding parking meters is great, but it doesn't come close to the money that Oakland home owners- not all of us wealthy- pay in property taxes. (Note: I'm still feeding meters!)

This year in Oakland, we're voting for a couple of fairly substantial property taxes. The first is Measure Z, an extension of Measure Y. Measure Y is a parcel tax (and a parking surcharge tax) used to fund public safety stuff like fire and police, notably community policing and measures like ceasefire. It is sunsetting this year and Measure Z is the proposed renewal, for another ten years. $88/year, at $99.77/year, to do the same thing. Mostly everyone is for it, except for those who think that the City didn't do what they said they would do with Measure Y funds and, well, those who don't like to pay more taxes.

Then there's Measure N. EVERYONE is for Measure N. In the ballot where you look to see the opposition arguments, it says "there is no formal opposition to Measure N." All of the newspapers and people that matter (or at least have loud voices like the newspapers) support N. A coalition of politicians who don't even like each other very much phone banked together for Measure N. Measure N, "College and Career Readiness for All,"is too big to fail. Only, it is $120/year for 10 years, and honestly, I can't find any reason TO vote for it. (Senior citizens and those who qualify for "very low income" are exempt, but it's my understanding that this is on an opt-out basis, as in, you have to know that you don't have to pay, and then you have to be brave enough in this very liberal town to stand up against people like me who and this Measure with huge public support and say hey, I am opting out!) And this is where my crisis of faith started.

Oakland has a lot of problems and schools are one of them. I'm not going to go into the details- if you don't know them, they're easy to find. The thing is, we're already paying a lot of taxes, and the problems don't seem to be getting much better. (I put all the property taxes here.) As noted above, I don't mind paying taxes. But the more attention I pay to Oakland politics, the more I wonder where this money is going to. And we're already paying $195/year in a parcel tax to OUSD- this tax does not sunset- it's indefinite. You can read Measure G, passed in 2008, here. Basically, it adds to the normal taxes that we pay to do things like recruit teachers, shrink class size, buy books, etc. Like, normal things.

So what does Measure N do? If I read it right, it changes the education strategy to "Linked Learning." And I can't figure out why we need more taxes for that, since we're already paying a lot of taxes for a broken system. Here are my questions, which I have yet to find answers to anywhere. If this makes me a Republican, I am worried about my future. Jeb, you running??

  • Is Linked Learning the future of OUSD? 
    • If so, would it be possible to reorganize the existing org structure, mission statement, strategy and budget to do this? 
    • Why is new money needed- does a strategy shift require outside resources? 
    • What happens after the 10 years? 
  • Does Linked Learning have proven success? Outside OUSD? More importantly, inside OUSD?
    • Has a pilot study at OUSD been done? Longitudinal study?
    • What does "success" look like? Is data being used to measure success? 
  • Are stakeholders already involved in this project?
    • Linked Learning relies heavily on "work place learning" and career training. Have job sites already been identified and/or have local companies committed to placing hundreds or thousands of OUSD students? (It is my experience with the local charter "internship" school that this is done last minute with minimal supervision. Local nonprofits and small businesses are called on and then expected to find work out of goodwill.) 
    • Certain "career pathways" are more likely to be actually successful than others- ie: there are job sectors that are predicted to grow and jobs sectors (like library science!) that aren't. Has OUSD established which these are? Has OUSD figured out how to both encourage students to pursue their dreams (go librarians!) and be realistic in a career-readiness track? (ie: is this a realistic job preparation program where there are pathways to service jobs, healthcare jobs and law enforcement type jobs?)
  • How will OUSD avoid the career portion of Linked Learning becoming the worst form of internships on a mass scale? (No secret that I have some issues with internships.)
    • How will OUSD insure that students are provided with a meaningful learning experience in their workplace experiences?
    • How will OUSD insure that workers are not displaced with the unpaid labor provided by yearly students on career pathways?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pretty fucking awesome

No, really.

More Books- tale of the Erics

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Eric Schlosser wrote Fast Food Nation- you've probably read it- an eminently readable expose into the food behind fast food. If you haven't read it, you should. Then he wrote a book called Reefer Madness which I have not read. His most recent book, Command and Control, is about the nuclear weapons system, told through the story of the serious accident in Damascus, Arkansas in 1980. This book is a little longer and a little less eminently readable than Fast Food Nation, but it's still a good one, and it's quite disturbing. Where Garry Wills walks us through how the bomb has changed America's government (for the worse), Schlosser tells us just how perilous the bombs (plural) are.

You may have known, but I did not, that nuclear weapons were designed with no thoughts about safety. As in, bombmakers were concerned only with ensuring accurate eruption, not how to keep them from explosion when they weren't supposed to, like in the middle of a flight over non-enemy territory, or when a mission had been aborted, or if a switch was accidentally switched when it wasn't supposed to be. Then there were little details that were overlooked like communications between warring powers during the Cold War. At the height of the Cold War, there was no red phone like we see in movies for Russia and the United States to communicate with each other. Nuclear war could be accidentally triggered well, basically anytime- by a swarm of birds flying over the radar or the wrong disk being put into the computer system that implied that warheads had been launched. It could take hours for the communications telling the other side that it was a false alarm to arrive. Also, planes carrying live nuclear warheads were constantly in flight over Siberia, just in case. Basically, it was a miracle that there were no accidental nuclear explosions during the Cold War. Although safety measures have since improved, it's not clear (Schlosser's book stops in 1980) just how much, and honestly, I'm too scared to look. This book is a force- a little long- but worth a read. Just be warned- you might not sleep well at night afterwards.

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According to the back of the book, Eric Ambler "invented the modern suspense novel." I'm not sure how I found this book (THB?), but it is quite a suspenseful book. Written in 1939, this isn't a suspense book or a thriller like any other suspense book I've read or you've likely read- the old timey language and scenarios are more like reading Sherlock Holmes than John Grisham. There are all kinds of European shenanigans and parties and cross continent trips. There are fig pickers and faked passports and investigators in uniforms. The book is both a trip down a nostalgic (in the sense of nostalgia that you haven't lived) lane and a sweet, suspenseful read.

Friday, October 17, 2014

When I am a highly paid and well respected librarian...

I won't make things like this, because I'm shy.
BUT! I will wish I did.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

More Books

Doris Kearns Goodwin- Wait Till Next Year. This book was highly recommended to me, and I understand why. Goodwin was raised by a baseball fan dad who taught her to score when she was young. Her memoir is as much of a memoir about growing up with the Brooklyn Dodgers as it is about being a kid. It's sweet and a little bit salty (just a little bit) and I should like it. But I don't. I remember trying to read something else by Kearns Goodwin and finding it unreadable, and, although I slogged through this one, the subject matter wasn't enough. It's a great story, and I love my dad and how he taught me (indoctrinated me?) baseball young just like she does, but some sappy writing just can't be overcome.

Melissa Mohr- Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing. I was really looking forward to reading this book. I requested it at the library months ago. And the first half did not disappoint. Mohr romps through the history of our most taboo words, which have, of course, changed over time. The "holy" in the title refers to the fact that swearing used to actually mean taking God's name in vain in various ways. "By God's bones" is one of Mohr's favorite examples- talking about God's various body parts was actually dangerous- you could injure God's bones by cursing in this way. Words that we consider exceptionally offensive (nasty words for our body parts, for example), were, at various points in history, quite inane words, used in dialogue and literature like no big thing. The thing is, Mohr's book goes on for way too long. I gave up when she gets to about the 1920s. Each section includes about 50 examples, and really could do with 25. I liked the book, but could have done with 200 pages, not 275. Sad, because 275 isn't even a long book.

Edward Achorn- The Summer of Beer and Whiskey. The best book of the bunch, Achorn tells the story of the 1883 season and, he says, the popularization and salvation of baseball as the American pastime. The National League (the only professional league at the time) was a stodgy place in the 1880s: no drinking, expensive (50 cents) tickets and no baseball on Sundays. Along came a German immigrant by the name of Chris Von der Ahe who wanted to make some money. He probably liked baseball, too. He owned a beer garden in St. Louis and realized that baseball could be highly profitable if gate fares were lowered, the game was played on a day when working class people could make it and beer was sold. So he founded a league- the American Association, which eventually merged with the National League- and, as in the Field of Dreams, they built it and they came. Achorn's lively book is a pretty awesome book for those interested in baseball (duh!) and also Americana. Baseball as capitalism and history and beer, well, not bad. Readable and short- maybe I should have saved this for the offseason (tomorrow!) to liven up the dull, sad days of winter.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Notes on a Head Injury

Note 1: I'm fine.
Note 2: Don't try this at home.
Note 3: When you're about to use a ladder, especially when you're alone, make sure the ladder is securely fastened in an upright and locked position. This should be obvious, but sometimes it is not. Make sure the ground is level and that all four feet of the ladder are on this level ground. Make sure the safety bars between the legs of the ladder are locked.
Note 4: Wear shoes when going on a ladder. Especially wear shoes if you have recently had an incident on a ladder in exactly the same place on the exact same tree where you were not wearing shoes and were specifically warned about this. You should know better if this incident involved clipping an electrical wire with shears while you were standing barefoot on said ladder, barefoot, especially if you were lucky enough to have clipped the neutral wire, thus not getting shocked and falling to a certain death. Don't worry, it only cost you $3500 to get your house rewired.
Note 5: If you are going to climb a ladder AND use a sharp cutting implement (see Note 4), you should wear gloves or have someone else do it, especially if you have recently used the ladder in exactly the same place on the exact same tree. Sometimes sharp shears and being on ladders can lead to injuries to the fingers and resulting blood loss. Although gloves will not prevent this, they will provide a buffer between you and any potential shearing.
Note 6: If you fail to do any of this, it is wise to stay off the ladder altogether. If, however, you must use a ladder, you might consider putting padding under the ladder, should the tree in question be planted on a hard piece of cement.
Note 7: Sometimes you are stupid, and fail to do all of these things, and the ladder falls out from under you, leading to your head crashing onto the cement from a height of maybe 8+ feet. That really hurts bad.
Note 8: You are lucky to be alive and writing this!
Note 9: Although many friends claim to be clumsier than me, I think I win. However, I did *not do this to win! Sheesh!
Note 10: The body is amazing. As in note 5, when your finger healed miraculously quickly from a deep shear-wound, a lump the size of a tennis ball or baseball or other sportsball springs up immediately from the skull. What is this lump made of? Where did it come from? Not surprisingly, it hurts like hell. Also, glasses made of plastic are awesome. They can fly through the air and land 5+ feet away and not break. Nicely done, inventors!
Note 11: Ice and tylenol are the way to go. Don't take Advil. The advice nurse will tell you that, but I'm telling you now.
Note 12: It's important to have a friend sit with you. Thank you to M, who is awesome, for sitting with me, even though we were supposed to go to the baseball game. Thank you to C, who is also awesome, for waking me up all night and feeling my eyes when I thought they were doing weird things.
Note 13: You are not allowed to drink alcohol, even though this is the one thing you will really want to do. Falling off a ladder (or more accurately, the ladder falling out from under you) is fucking scary, and having a beer will sound really good. The advice doctor will tell you no, because it will make determining what a symptom of a head injury and what alcohol is very difficult. DAMMIT.
Note 14: For days, you can use this head injury as an excuse. The NIH tells you to tell your coworkers and friends and family that you will be irritable, noise sensitive, slow, unable to do important things, etc. It is absolutely true. Tell them, because it is true. And then use the excuse. Because even though you might be all those things all of the time, no one will buy it any other time.
Note 15: Your neck will start to hurt the second day. I'm guessing this is related to whiplash, but maybe it's because your head is carrying an extra 1/3 of the weight. You can't take advil or another anti-inflammatory, and that just sucks. Moving the ice to your neck kind of helps.
Note 16: Strangely, you will learn how to sleep on ice and other hard frozen items. Do not over-use frozen vegetables, especially peas. When they melt, the bag will leak and you will stink like melted frozen peas. Take it from me.

Note 17: I am fine. I hurt like hell, but I have amazing people who have been amazing. Seriously, don't try this at home. I may remove the cursed rose tree that has caused 3 major problems in a little over a month. And no, I won't go on a ladder when I'm home alone again.

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.