ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Sunday

23

April 2017

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COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – April 23, 2017

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Must-Read

“Dolezal chuckles as she says this, as if it is the most clever and original idea anybody has ever had. I don’t know how many times a white person has told me that they don’t care if I’m “red, green, blue, or purple” when they are trying to explain to me just how “not racist” they are—I’ve lost count. I do know that I’ve rolled my eyes every time. As my brother Ahamefule said to me once, “They may not care if I’m red or green or blue or purple—but they sure as hell care that I’m black.”” The Heart of Whiteness: Ijeoma Oluo Interviews Rachel Dolezal, the White Woman Who Identifies as Black (by Ijeoma Oluo for The Stranger)

Fight Back

Direct link to spreadsheet listing details of all who donated to the Trump Inauguration. Trump Inauguration Donors

Horrific Executive Action and Legislation

“Montes had left his wallet in a friend’s car, so he couldn’t produce his ID or proof of his DACA status and was told by agents he couldn’t retrieve them. Within three hours, he was back in Mexico, becoming the first undocumented immigrant with active DACA status deported by the Trump administration’s stepped-up deportation policy.” First protected DREAMer is deported under Trump (by Alan Gomez and David Agren for USA Today)

“The letter describes Severino’s “long history of making bigoted statements” about the LGBTQ community and states that his hire raises “deep concerns” about the Trump administration’s hiring practices. The two-page letter was obtained by the Washington Blade, and the office of Senator Patty Murray, the ranking member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, confirmed its existence to NBC Out.” Senators ‘Deeply Troubled’ by Trump’s New Health Department Pick (by Julie Moreau for NBC)

Racism

“Since 1988, we’ve never seen such a clear correspondence between vote choice and racial perceptions. The biggest movement was among those who voted for the Democrat, who were far less likely to agree with attitudes coded as more racially biased.” Racism motivated Trump voters more than authoritarianism (by Thomas Wood for Washington Post)

“The “incident”: another passenger on the plane, who was obviously inebriated, accused my husband of child trafficking. She claimed that my fair-skinned daughter didn’t look like her Mexican father, and stoked suspicion that he had kidnapped her. This passenger had no basis for this claim, nor any evidence to back it up.” My Mexican Husband Was Accused Of Trafficking Our Daughter On A United Flight (by Maura Furfey for Huffington Post)

“For most black women, the findings will not be surprising but, perhaps, will provide hard evidence and affirm what we’ve known for some time: bias against natural hair is real.” The Beautifully Complicated Reason I Created a Quiz That Tests Bias Against Black Hair (by Alexis McGill Johnson for Essence)

Classism

“Despite the protestations of editors and linguists, it’s still mainstream to believe that the strict enforcement of standardized squiggles in English is a linchpin not only of communication but also of virtue. So I’m here to hammer it in: That belief is wrong. It’s technically wrong, because the fetishization of specific uses of punctuation marks does not actually improve communication. Worse, it’s an unfair judgment of people who, through no fault of their own, don’t have the background and resources needed to produce what’s widely seen as good English.” ‘Good Grammar’ Comes From Privilege, Not Virtue (by Sarah Bronson for The Establishment)

Capitalism

“Second, as Slate Chief Political Correspondent Jamelle Bouie tweeted, the demographics of a job can determine its political salience. Coal mining is still 95 percent white and 95 percent male. Department store workers are 40 percent minority and just 40 percent male. The emphasis on work that is white, male, and burly may represent an implicit bias against the working class of the modern service economy, which is more diverse and female.” The Silent Crisis of Retail Employment (by Derek Thompson for The Atlantic)

Saturday

22

April 2017

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COMMENTS

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

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Five Stars

Best for: I don’t know. Everyone?

In a nutshell: A man’s suicide attempts are repeatedly foiled by his incompetent neighbors.

Line that sticks with me: “Men are what they are because of what they do. Not what they say.”

Why I chose it: I found myself in a a bookstore and saw that this was on sale. I figured it was finally time to check it out.

Review: Some very mild, non-specific spoilers follow.

Two novels in a row, both dealing with the issue of loss in very different ways. The book follows Ove, a 59-year-old man who has just been sent home for early retirement. He is a deliberate, regimented man who believes in things that you can see and touch. He builds homes and works on cars. He takes a daily inspection walk throughout his little housing community to make sure no rules are being broken. He’s basically “get off my lawn,” come to life.

Ove is also a young man, growing up and meeting the love of his life, Sonja. To tell this story, and to give the readers an understanding of how Ove came to be, nearly every other chapter is some sort of chronological flashback to his past. Through this we learn why he doesn’t trust the people from the government, and how his life experiences have led him to where his is today.

Once I realized what this book was about, I was a little worried to be consuming yet more media about a cantankerous old white man. But man, was it worth it. I think that what I loved most about this book is how I don’t really feel like the total personality of Ove changes by the end. Yes, there are definitely some different actions, but it’s not as though he starts as this regimented man and then ends up throwing all the rules out the window. He just manages to find some new motivation in his life that still (mostly) fits with how he wants to live it. By the end of the book I found that I hadn’t laughed nearly as much as the blurbs seemed to suggest I would, but that I did feel a whole range of emotions deeply.

Thursday

20

April 2017

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COMMENTS

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

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Four Stars

Best for: Anyone who likes gorgeous, evocative writing and simple but deep stories.

In a nutshell: A writer and his wife ‘share’ custody of a neighborhood cat.

Line that sticks with me: “The garden just didn’t seem the same. It wasn’t our garden anymore. It had lost all its energy and spirit.”

Why I chose it: It was on the ‘popular with our readers’ shelves at the local bookstore and looked pretty cute.

Review: This is a very short (136 pages in a small-form book) little story that I found to be lovely, sweet, honest, and sad. Spoiler – the cat dies at some point. But that is just part of the story, and while it is sad and definitely colors the parts of the story that follow, I didn’t find myself wracked in sobs or anything, as the author is not attempting to manipulate my feelings to that degree.

The narrator and his wife live in what used to be the guest house on the edge of the grounds of a large estate, which is occupied by an elderly couple. They also have a set of neighbors, who ‘own’ Chibi, an independent and playful female cat. Chibi takes to wandering through the small neighborhood, and has a profound impact on the narrator and his wife. The story follows how Chibi enters their world, changes their world, and then leaves their world.

There is very little dialog in this book – but there is tons of rich scene setting. I can picture the gardens, the home, and of course this cat. I really enjoyed this writing – it is very different from what I usually read – and think anyone who loves any type of animal will likely enjoy this book.

Tuesday

18

April 2017

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COMMENTS

Happiness: A Philosopher’s Guide by Frederic Lenoir

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Three Stars

Best for: Former philosophy students, current philosophy students, or anyone interested in looking at happiness from a more philosophical, less how-to perspective.

In a nutshell: French philosopher Frederic Lenoir examines what many great thinkers have had to say about how we can be happy in life.

Line that sticks with me: “It is essential for us not just o know ourselves, but also to test out our strengths and weaknesses, to correct and improve within us those things that can be changed, but without trying to distort or thwart our deepest being.” (p 48)

Why I chose it: The cover art is pretty fabulous – it made me smile, which seemed like a good sign.

Review: This is fairly concise survey of ancient, modern, western and eastern thought as it relates to happiness. Is the Stoic concept of being aware of how we will lose everything eventually and so not getting too attached what will help us be happy? Or is it a spiritual connection to the divine? Is it self-knowledge and self-improvement? Is it serving others? Does our disposition lead to some self-fulfilling prophesies – are optimists happier because they are optimists?

Lenoir offers up support for all of these ideas, examining the regulars (Aristotle, Kant) while also bringing in some who might be lesser known even to those who study philosophy. I found that the book got me to thinking even more about what I value and the decisions I make each day about how I choose to live my life. It is not a guide to becoming happy, at least not directly; instead it is a meditation on what happiness looks like, whether it is even worth striving for, and what it takes to retain it.

This would have gotten four stars except for one glaring, frustrating issue: save a brief discussion of his enjoyment of Indian sage Ma Anandamayi near the very end, Mr. Lenoir does not bring any women philosophers into the discussion. As someone who chose to take on this project, ostensibly with fairly limitless boundaries (he has published many books previously and so is a known entity), he could have taken the time to explore some of the lesser known philosophers who are women. The book isn’t about which thinkers influenced the philosophy of happiness so much as a discussion of the validity or import of their thought; as such I think there was a ton of space for him to bring in much more interesting individuals than the usual parade of dead white guys.

Sunday

16

April 2017

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – April 16, 2017

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Fight Back

This is Ashley talking – remember the absurd and vague executive order demanding a review of all EPA regulations? Public Comment is open! Might I suggest making your opinion heard? Evaluation of Existing Regulations

“We’ve heard a lot of complaints (and received a lot of reports) about businesses which have recently added small 1% – 5% “minimum wage” surcharges to their bills in what seems to be an attempt to send a political message about their opposition to raising the wage. We’re listing those businesses here.” Paying Your Employees is a Basic Cost of Doing Business

Horrific Executive Orders and Legislation

“The bill, which the usually camera-friendly President signed without any media present, reverses an Obama-era regulation that prohibited states from withholding money from facilities that perform abortions, arguing that many of these facilities also provide other family planning and medical services.
The bulk of federal money Planned Parenthood receives, though, goes toward preventive health care, birth control, pregnancy tests and other women’s health services. Federal law prohibits taxpayer dollars from funding abortions and Planned Parenthood says 3% of the services it provides are abortions.” Trump privately signs anti-Planned Parenthood law (by Dan Merica for CNN)

Environment

“News of the oil seeping to the surface could be inconvenient for TransCanada, which is now trying to convince communities across Canada to accept its proposal for a gigantic new pipeline infrastructure project — the 4,600-kilometre Energy East pipeline.” TransCanada shuts down Keystone after oil seeps to surface (by Mike De Souza for National Observer)

Gender

“There’s a reason women and girls leave STEM. It is because STEM is so hostile to women that leaving the field is an act of survival. It was for me. Microsoft, do not dump this shit on the shoulders of young girls. It’s not their responsibility; it’s the responsibility of those in power. That means you.” Dear Microsoft: absolutely not. (by Monica Byrne)

Health Care

“If Roe is overturned, the most likely immediate consequence would be that individual state legislatures would decide whether or not to allow abortions. According to legal analysts at the Center for Reproductive Rights, some 34 states are at risk of banning abortions, largely in the Midwest and South. About 40 million women live in those states.” If ‘Roe v. Wade’ Falls, Women Will Go to Jail (by Carole Joffe for Rewire)

Homophobia

“One of those who escaped told Novoya Gazeta that prisoners were beaten to force them to reveal other members of the gay community. Another prisoner who fled said that before being incarcerated in one of the camps, he had been forced to pay bribes to Chechen police of thousands of rubles every month in order to survive. Now the regime had taken another step against gays by creating these camps, the survivor said.” Chechnya opens world’s first concentration camp for homosexuals since Hitler’s in the 1930s where campaigners say gay men are being tortured with electric shocks and beaten to death (by Thomas Burrows for Daily Mail)

Sexual Abuse

“Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) filed the complaint on Tuesday on behalf of 27 people who are in immigration detention or have been released from detention and who say they have experienced sexual abuse.” Complaint: Sexual Abuse, Harassment in Immigrant Detention Largely Goes Uninvestigated (by Tina Vasquez for Rewire)

“Like his history of sexual harassment, O’Reilly’s history of domestic abuse has been an open secret since at least 2015, when court transcripts from his custody trial with his ex-wife revealed that the couple’s teenage daughter saw O’Reilly “choking her mom” as he “dragged her down some stairs” by the neck. O’Reilly also told his daughter that he struggles to control his rage around his family.” Trump, Roger, and Other Ailments at Fox News – Enough of This Billshit (by Dahlia Grossman-Heinze for Bitch)

 

Saturday

15

April 2017

0

COMMENTS

Why I Am Not A Feminist by Jessa Crispin

Written by , Posted in Feminism, Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: People interested in feminist critique who have a lot of patience.

In a nutshell: There is something called universal feminism, which is what feminism is now. And it is bad, because it is not doing nearly enough. Also, if you don’t worship Andrea Dworkin, you are the worst.

Line that sticks with me: “It’s easier to complain about the power you don’t have than to think about how you are wielding the power you do have.” (p 83)

Why I chose it: Someone in a Pajiba-adjacent Facebook group posted an interview with the author. It seemed like it might be challenging enough to be enjoyable.

Review: I wrote in the margins of this book more than I have in a while, and nearly every comment was negative. Right up front she makes the claim that today’s feminism is trying to be ‘universal’ but doesn’t provide strong evidence to that claim (at least, I didn’t see it). And I get what she’s going for here, but it really doesn’t work. It feels more like she came up with this idea and decided it would be the focus of the book, and then refused to ‘kill her darlings,’ as it were, when it didn’t end up working out that well.

But let’s say she’s right, and that the problem with feminism today is that it tries to be universal. This does not save her from spending a large portion of this book both railing against women who tell other women how to be feminists, while then telling us how we are doing feminism wrong. It’s like she’s decided that the Alanis Morissette definition of irony is correct, and thus chooses to ignore how so many of the complaints she has about ‘universal feminism’ can also be found in the pages of her own book.

She also really has a problem with ‘identity politics,’ which maybe she doesn’t fully understand? Because later in the book she seems to support the concepts behind recognizing that people have different intersections of marginalization. The writing makes me think that this is what might happen if Bernie Sanders and Susan Sarandon had a child, and that child grew up to write a lot of strong words with not a lot of support.

And the thing is, she does have *some* good things to say. And some interesting things to say. For sure. I didn’t always agree with her, but some of her more challenging ideas were certainly interesting. One section, albeit brief, talks about marriage as problematic. In later interviews I think she said something about how feminists don’t get married, but in the book at least, her point wasn’t entirely ignorant about the current state of marriage; she instead seemed worried about what it means to younger women when marriage is the goal. So not so much that marriage itself is the problem, but what choices we make to guarantee we will get to marriage. Not totally ground-breaking, but definitely interesting.

But she absolutely, unreservedly refuses to show her work. If I were grading any of these chapters for a college course, she’d get maybe a C at best in most of them, because she makes wide sweeping generalizations without supporting evidence. In other interviews she has said this is because she didn’t want her message to get lost in the inevitable claims of cat-fighting that would follow. And I am sympathetic to that … but she still has to support her claims. This isn’t a personal blog or a letter to friends. She’s making very strong claims about an entire political and social movement; I shouldn’t have to write “citation needed” in every margin.

The author clearly has a lot of problems with our current society. And so many of the concerns she raises are, I think, valid. She just, in my reading, does a very poor job of creating any sort of cohesive narrative around how these problems and feminism – the current reality of it, not the straw man she’s invoking – are currently at odds. But I’d love to discuss it with others who have read this.

Last thought – she repeatedly expresses her frustration that feminists aren’t fans of Andrea Dworkin. But, as I understand it, Ms. Dworkin was very supportive of anti-trans author Janice Raymond. I admittedly am not that familiar with either of their works, but considering Ms. Crispin only name-checks maybe three feminist authors in the entire book, this seems an odd choice for sure.

I wavered between giving this book two and three stars. If we had half stars, this would be a solidly 2.5 stars book. I did, however, choose the higher option because there are very interesting ideas in here – I just don’t think she does a good job of communicating them.

Friday

14

April 2017

0

COMMENTS

Locked Down, Locked Out by Maya Schenwar

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4 Stars

Best for: People interested in what justice could look like.

In a nutshell: Author Maya Schenwar – whose sister has been in and out of prison – explores what is wrong with our current system, as well as alternatives.

Line that sticks with me: “Isolation does not ‘rehabilitate’ people. Disappearance does not deter harm. And prison does not keep us safe.”

Why I chose it: A political podcast I used to listen to interviewed the author. It struck both my husband and I so much that we accidentally bought two copies.

Review: I grew up assuming that if something bad happens, I should call the cops. Aside from the recognition that this is rooted deeply in the fact that police responding to any incident I report will see a white woman, and thus probably won’t shoot me, it is also based in the idea that justice means the ‘criminal’ is apprehended, tried, convicted, and sent away. This book asks those of us who hold that assumption to set it aside and imagine something else.

Ms. Schenwar is the editor of Truthout, and has written a lot about the prison-industrial complex. Part of her writing is informed by her personal experience of having a family member – her sister – in and out of prison and the broader criminal punishment system for many years. This fairly quick read (I took in all 200 pages in two days) is broken into two parts – the first looks at all the ways the criminal punishment system tears families and communities apart, and the second explores alternatives.

The basic premise is, I think, summed up in the line that stuck with me. Society sees individuals who harm others as needing to be taken out of society. Allegedly, this should ‘rehabilitate’ them, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t keep people who haven’t caused harm yet from harming others, and it isn’t making me any safer when I walk down the street. Instead, our current system is causing more harm by removing individuals and perpetuating even more harm. If the person who earns money fro the family goes to jail, what happens to her husband and children? If a child’s father is in prison and her mother is working multiple jobs to meet her needs, what options does the child have?

So much of our society is built on this very specific way of viewing “justice,” even though there’s not a lot out there to suggest that throwing people in prison gets justice for anyone. The language choices Ms. Schenwar makes throughout really got me thinking – she doesn’t talk about our current system as ‘criminal justice,’ it’s ‘criminal punishment.’ And instead of referring to crime, she talks about harm. The discussion around the latter point I found especially interesting.

The only reason this isn’t a five-star book for me is that, while the examples of alternatives are plentiful, Ms. Schenwar doesn’t, for me at least, offer up what this could look like on a large scale and what it would take to get there. But it’s a starting point for me, and one that will lead me to learn more about prison abolition and what I can do to support such movements.

Wednesday

12

April 2017

0

COMMENTS

Aha! The Moments of Insight That Shape Our World by William B. Irvine

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Three Stars

Best for: Philosophy students, maybe?

In a nutshell: Philosopher William Irvine looks at the ‘aha’ moments in religion, morality, math, science and art.

Line that sticks with me: “More generally, when I cannot give reasons for the moral beliefs I hold, I take it as compelling evidence that I need to take a closer look at those beliefs.”

Why I chose it: I needed a little philosophy.

Review: I’m not totally sure what this book meant to be. The writing is good, but the overall cohesion is a bit lacking.

Irvine breaks his book into five sections, each with three chapters. In the first, he gives examples of the topic area (religion, morality, math, science, and art). In the following chapters he … also does things.

I found the section on math the most interesting, because it was fun to read about the different discoveries and also just learn more about what mathematicians do. But the section that I most enjoyed was on morality. It really gave me the fix I needed to not lose my connection to my philosophy education.

Seriously, it’s not bad, but I’m just not sure what I just read. There’s not a lot of cohesion, and he doesn’t really get at the problem I think he’s trying to solve.

Sunday

9

April 2017

0

COMMENTS

All in Good Taste by Kate Spade New York

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2 Stars

Best for: I’d have thought me, seeing as I love etiquette and entertaining books. So … not sure.

In a nutshell: Large format, colorful etiquette and entertaining book.

Line that sticks with me: N/A

Why I chose it: I collect etiquette books. I even started my own version of an advice column (in website form). I like making things look pretty. And this book looked like fun.

Review: It wasn’t. I suppose a book written by a brand is probably not going to be the best.

I mean, it isn’t horrible. But it’s hard to read. There are pages full of quotes (as in, two pages with maybe ten words spread across it to pad the book). There are pages with random vignettes from people who I assume I should have heard of, talking about how they entertain. There are recipes. There are suggestions for games – some of which sound kind of fun. There are decor recommendations.

It just wasn’t that fun to read. I only found myself making note of a couple of the suggestions, which is not like me. I don’t know. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood, or maybe it wasn’t a great book. Probably a little of column a, a little of column b.

Sunday

9

April 2017

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – April 9, 2017

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Fight Back

“New York has become the first state to ensure that no immigrant will be detained and permanently separated from his or her family solely because of the inability to afford a lawyer. Without counsel, a study shows, only 3% of detained, unrepresented immigrants avoid deportation, but providing public defenders can improve an immigrant’s chance of winning and remaining in the United States by as much as 1000%.” New York State Becomes First in the Nation to Provide Lawyers for All Immigrants Detained and Facing Deportation (VERA project press release)

Trans Bigotry

““We recognize the quality championships hosted by the people of North Carolina in years before HB2,” the NCAA wrote. “And this new law restores the state to that legal landscape: a landscape similar to other jurisdictions presently hosting NCAA championships.” This is blatantly untrue. Only two other states, Arkansas and Tennessee, ban municipalities from passing LGBT nondiscrimination protections. No other state has North Carolina’s new prohibition on any subdivision of government creating policies assuring transgender people have access to restrooms.” NCAA caves, rewards North Carolina for stigmatizing transgender people (by Zack Ford for Think Progress)

Sexual Assault and Harassment 

“In the gymnastics world, among fans and athletes, the Nassar story is the story. “In the community it’s everywhere you look,” said Lauren Hopkins, who runs the gymnastics site The Gymternet, in an interview with The Huffington Post. The popular gymnastics podcast Gymcastic has covered the story extensively; four of the last five episodes have been about sexual abuse in the sport. Yet the story has barely broken through from the gym world into mainstream sports coverage, let alone prime-time news.” A Huge Sports Sex Abuse Scandal Is Unfolding, And You Probably Haven’t Heard About It (by Chloe Angyal for Huffington Post)

“Most of us can recognize explicit sexual violence — “everyone’s seen the guy jumping out of the bushes,” Schwimmer noted — but predatory men often take advantage of power structures in the workplace, pressuring women into uncomfortable, and even dangerous, positions. It might not be as obvious, Schwimmer said, but subtlety doesn’t matter.” These powerful sexual harassment PSAs by David Schwimmer are must-sees. (by Robbie Couch for Upworthy)

Racism

“Emails show that undercover officers were able to pose as protesters even within small groups, giving them extensive access to details about protesters’ whereabouts and plans. In one email, an official notes that an undercover officer is embedded within a group of seven protesters on their way to Grand Central Station. This intimate access appears to have helped police pass as trusted organizers and extract information about demonstrations.” NYPD officers accessed Black Lives Matter activists’ texts, documents show (by George Joseph for The Guardian)

“But the unemployment rate for Blacks is still nearly twice that of the national one. At 8 percent, there are 1.6 million Black people looking for viable work in this country. The rate for Whites is half that (3.9 percent). It’s 5.1 for Latinxs and 3.3 for Asian Americans. Rates for Native Americans are not published in this report.” Your Quick Reminder That the Black Unemployment Rate is Still Too High (by Kenrya Rankin for Colorlines)