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.