Friday, December 30, 2011

Really, Kansas?

So, the bills for defending anti-abortion legislation in Kansas are in:  $476,000 for the year.  Redistributing the people's tax dollars to lawyers across the Kansas City metro area.  Great.

Bear in mind, none of this money went to help even one woman keep her child.  No money to help a woman who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant pay for pre-natal care or baby needs.  No money went to assure parents of babies to be born with disabilities that maybe, just maybe, having the child will not devastate their family financially and make them unable to care for their other children.  No money from that went to help any woman get appropriate, non-abortion-causing contraception.  No money went to provide better lighting in public places or anti-rape efforts (and yes, the legislation they are defending does require women to "prepare" for the possibility of pregnancy due to rape).

Just once, I would like to see this whole freaking country and culture with all its warped values try to make a good, hospitable world into which babies can be born; a culture that supports child-bearing and child-caring, instead of devoting money and resources and time to making abortion illegal while also making pregnancy more difficult.


(yes, yes, in the grand scheme of a state budget this is like a penny of money, but still. Also, this is only a little less than the money that the legislature DID vote to give the Kansas Arts Commission, but that Brownback vetoed.  If this is such a tiny amount of money to defend bad legislation, then it's also a tiny amount of money to give the arts!)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot
by Jeffrey Eugenides
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
October, 2011

Knowing that Eugenides had a new book coming out made the summer more literarily exciting.  I pre-ordered the book to have it as soon as it came out, but alas had no time to read it until vacation.  But when vacation came, it only took me two days of spellbound attention to polish off this page-turner.

And for the literary theory, book-reading nerd that I am, this was indeed a page turner.  Glissandos of action-packed semiotics theory, the swell of new responses to Roland Barthes, the dramatic adoption of theory into the sacred texts of English departments--it's all there, amidst the tale of love and mania.   I could empathize with the protagonist, Madeline Hanna, a graduating senior at Brown University in 1982.  She's an English major for the reason that she loves books, that she has always loved books, that she found obscure old hardcovers wherever she went on vacation and read them with relish.  She finds other people's bookshelves the most interesting part of their houses.  

I also became an English major for love of books--novels in particular--and still smarting is the memory of the day that my "superiors" informed me this was a naive reason to study literature and language.  Madeline's slow discovery of the the first hints of this reality is also painful.  She seems like me, a person who remembers places primarily based on what she was reading when she was in that place; and I'm not sure how many more of us there are, or if there will ever be people like us again, post-video games and iPhones. 

Ostentatiously, The Marriage Plot asks if the title object is so much a part of the novel that its upending must bring the end of the form itself.  The book says no, kind of; I'm not sure this is a necessary question, though, as Eugenides has already written two wonderful novels that eschew the marriage plot all together. Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides were both, like this novel, middle-brow easy reading for people that often enjoy high brow difficult reading.  All are excellent; all worth your time.  But this third novel is less political than the other two, and dare I say less original.  Yet his understanding of some forms of feminine experience are far superior to most working American writers, even women writers!  

There are also several men in the novel, including two in a romantic triangle with Madeline.  I'm deliberately ignoring them; they are mostly interesting to me only in the fact that they demonstrate typically male approaches to the world (reading religion instead of fiction, becoming a scientist instead of a literary scholar, etc.) .  They aren't bad characters.  They're fine.  Just not the focal point of the novel, IMHO.  All the characters share the annoying defect of being highly privileged, but low enough on the totem pole that they feel like they're at a disadvantage.  We're talking the poorer, less-connected people who attended BROWN UNIVERSITY after all.  People whose parents' second house is tiny, and that is a source of embarrassment.  At one point, a character actually says, well, it's still an Ivy-league school even if no one has ever heard of it.  But seriously?  We are talking about people who can walk into virtually any room in America and instantly pull rank based on their alma mater, people who regardless of the specifics of their material circumstances have climbed a hierarchy of education that allows them the assert their intellectual superiority, that makes their ideas more 'important' than those of us who graduated from lowly humdrum regional colleges (me bitter?  no, not at all!)  Which, of course, only obscures the even greater gulfs between the attention we give the voices of people with more formal (college) education over the voices of people without college education, or those who graduate from high school over those who do not.

Back to the book--the novel's ending, which I won't reveal here, is simultaneously predictable and disappointing.  Which might actually be the point. Don't read the book for a satisfying ending, or for much political wisdom, or a new view of the world.  It doesn't provide those things.  But yes, read The Marriage Plot for its splendidly capable writing, for its meta-novelistic wisdom, and for its general appeal to bookworms. If you are the kind of person who likes this kind of book, you'll like it; if you're not, this will do nothing to change your mind.

Four out of five stars.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Trying to Fix the World

We're enjoying the holidays with my husband's family and our beautiful baby niece.  This is typically a very laid-back time of year for us; a lot of reading and game-playing happens.  I've managed to finish scott crow's memoir (Black Flags and Windmills:  Hope, Anarchy, and the Common Ground Collective) as well as Jeffery Eugenides' new novel (The Marriage Plot) so far, and have plans to complete and review three or four more of the books that have occupied my to-read shelf before the break is over.  
I played some card games with family last night, including a variation on poker.  That game such a microcosm of capitalism:  you learn how to play the game and try to accumulate everyone else's chips, either by getting a lucky draw or by bluffing.  I've always been terrible at poker--I can't keep the cards straight, nor do I focus enough to learn how; my priority has always been to keep the game going as long as possible, keep everyone playing and having fun until the wee hours.  Maybe my dislike of capitalist systems stems from my deep awfulness at manipulating them, and the truly virtuous are those adept in the means of capital accumulation who choose not to do so.   

One of the Kindle books that I'm eternally half-way through is Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, where John Perkins goes through and details the harm he did by creating and manipulating economic projections for countries in the developing world, helping ensnare them in debt that is now visited on their children and grandchildren.  His information is good, solid--the kind of perspective that only a converted insider can give.  But part of me is always wondering, when someone like Perkins, who does know how to play the games of wealth acquisition, "turns," is he really trying to bring down the system, or is he just reinventing his career, finding a new way to accumulate capital, this time off of idiots like me? (I have no reason to suspect that Perkins is trying to do anything other than expose the evils of the organizations he has worked with--I have no malice whatsoever towards the man--I just struggle to trust his positioning in the world.)

Anyway, during our discussion with old friends today, I was defending direct democracy.  Later in conversation, someone asked, what do you want, for seven to nine every night to be a widely aired public debate where people can enter their opinions via Twitter or something similar, and then vote on it at the end?  And I thought about it, and the speaker thought about it, and yes.  that would be ideal.  All I want for Christmas is public forums every weeknight where people can air their views and then actually act on the democratically determined opinion.  Heck.  I guess I still want OWS to take over the world.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Came Early for Kansas

In case any of us forgot for a moment, the world is going to hell in a handbasket.   The Senate again demonstrated the uselessness of partisan representative 'democracy' by allowing a push to accelerate the XL Pipeline, which apparently will speed up global warming by quite a bit and get us a lot closer to widespread death from drought and hunger.  I attended an event this weekend that has made me physically ill (again, something I can't write about online), and the town where I work remains devastated by recent losses.

But amidst all this, there are some bright spots.

We are about to celebrate the coming of Jesus, who leads us towards his rule of peace and justice even these two thousand years after he left the earth.

Our niece is two months and a little bit old, and more than a little bit beautiful, and soon we get to spend a week with her.  I'm sure most of you are also looking forward to seeing family in the near future!



Siedlecki IS RESIGNING!!!!!!!

He was the SRS Secretary (in charge of welfare services, child protection, etc.) of Brownbackistan.  He has appeared on this page before as the architect of the program to shut down a number local SRS offices, including the one in Lawrence, where many people in need accessed important government services.  A former member of Jeb Bush's regime in Florida, he also pushed programs that encouraged marriage as an important way out of poverty, a short sighted initiative that received a lot of criticism.  His love of marriage was confined to other people, as he and his wife divorced some time ago, and in moving to Kansas he left his two adolescent daughters in the southeast (this is only relevant for his hypocrisy, not because I wish to judge others' familial choices).  He also focused his work on uncovering welfare fraud.  This was the man who hired something like a dozen new workers to investigate that fraud, while trying to find ways to cut back on the services offered to people who needed them.  

As soon as NPR mentioned this on Friday, I broke out smiling, and despite other grim political news this makes me smile every time I think of it.  There are some things that Kansans will not tolerate, and apparently this time hypocrisy and victim blaming lost.  Who knows if his replacement will be better or worse, but at least we know that Brownback will respond to popular opinion under some circumstances.  

See ya, Siedlecki.  Go persecute poor people in other states. Here's hoping that someone compassionate and sincere and capable replaces him.

Monday, December 12, 2011


We are far into the church season of Advent; I always enjoy Advent and Lent just as much or more than Christmas and Easter.  This year, as we ask Emmanuel to come and ransom captive Israel, I think of our longing for the (re)turning of the world to the beautiful place of peace and justice that God imagined in the creation.   We wait for the long-expected Messiah to usher in the turning, the Messiah who may not come again but in whose image we must recreate the world.

I get all teary-eyed during Advent hymns.  In church this is such a hopeful time of the year.  In our home, it is a beautiful time of the year; I am currently writing from the warm and cheery glow of our Christmas tree lights, and we have a lot of peppermint hot chocolate in the pantry.

Alas, in the rest of the world there's a lot of instability and crazy.  Apparently our totally dysfunctional Congress is going act in a bipartisan fashion to keep the government from shutting down later this month, whoop de doo.  (Recognizing that if the government shut down, many bad things would happen.  Sure.)  The Republican presidential candidates continue to say any number of offensive, false, ridiculous, misleading, and otherwise just all around foolish statements, but if you expect anything else from this lot you haven't been paying attention.  There are some freedom movements in Russia and Syria and other places that might be the revolution for real this time, or might manage to institute regimes that are different that their predecessors in name only, or they might just provoke bloody crackdowns (as I begin to fear is what is happening with the occupy movement here, though it is not nearly as bloody as the one in Syria).

Brownback is trying to gut education in Kansas and let all the local areas raise their own school taxes, meaning that the Johnson County schools will get richer and richer, and the poor rural schools will get poorer and poorer.  He claims that whatever new formula he comes up with won't do this.  I don't believe a word he says.

If you want to read a good article on school reform, Diane Ravitch wrote a pretty good one today.  All the teachers I know were pretty enthusiastic about it.   Don't privatize public schools.  It actually doesn't go very well.

But the town where I teach experienced a horrible tragedy this weekend that I'd rather not blog about.  This is at least the sixth tragedy the town has suffered in the past six months, and this one worse than all the rest in many ways.  It has a political dimension, to be sure, but mostly it's just one of these terrible things that I can't imagine even the perfect anarchist society eliminating.  My students are suffering, the whole damn town is in pain--and to be sure, the revolution could fix a lot of it, but not everything.

In any case, I am still alive and still following political happenings and hope you are doing the same.  But there isn't much that I can bring myself to focus on for a whole post right now.  I'm scattered, my seasonal depression is starting to set in, and only a lot of peppermint hot chocolate and Christmas carols can help!  We're off to a family wedding this weekend, then to a little bit more work, then to my fine in-laws (and beautiful, perfect two-month-old angelic niece) for a bit of time.  Looking forward to the break.

And always, always, waiting for the revolution.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Speaking the truth to Santorum

Sometimes truth comes from unexpected sources.  Now, in many ways I point to the day we moved to Sioux County, Iowa as the day that I was predestined (ha, ha, Calvinist joke) to flee fascist ideology and conservative reprssion.   My home town has been featured this year in both the New York Times and the Washington Post, using it as a test case for conservative lifestyles.  When I was growing up, my home county was something like 89% registered Republicans.  In my high school, Nader beat Gore, polling at the same rate that Nader polled in the rest of the country.  I could go on, but you get the picture.

Yet it was Sioux Center, Iowa, that stuck it to Santorum at a routine stop this week.  It's so rare that I'm proud of my hometown.  See this beautiful story:

Yup.  That kid who shocked Santorum, who thought he was making the safest stop in his route, by sticking up for gay marriage?  We had the same piano teacher.

Oh yeah.  It's a beautiful day to be from Iowa.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Brownback Watch

I realize I've been neglecting Brownback Watch between NaNoWriMo (which is awesome, even though I am seven thousand words behind...maybe only five thousand behind by the end of the night), scholars' bowl, and, oh, my job.  But the devil never sleeps, and the nefarious deeds of our state's CEO never cease.

Currently, he's plotting to privatize Medicaid, because not enough people were making profits of the back of Kansas' poorest and most in need of health care.  Managed care for them!  If you don't already feel horror at this, then I don't suppose there's anything much to add.  Made my stomach curdle for sure.

Also, we had a school finance meeting; like one of our higher-ups (who, despite being an employer of sorts, is also pretty great) said, there really isn't anything we do that isn't good for kids.  So any cuts we have to make are going to be bad for kids.  And with a proposal to cut the income tax completely, and limits to how much we can raise property taxes, we are looking at serious cuts to kids' education.  The state also didn't even come up with the pittance they promised us this year.  Talk about financial responsibility!  I mean, you can hate on us overpaid public school teachers all you want, but the more of us they have to cut, the more extra-curriculars you have to cut, the more caring adults and educational opportunities you cut out of young people's lives:  you are stiffing the young of their presents and their futures.   Greed and recession are not their fault.  Don't cripple them for life.

The inspiring Scott Crow came to visit this fine town in Kansas this weekend, promoting his new book; he is an enthralling speaker and full of great stories and wisdom.  I tend to avoid the inspirational, but he really was!  I'll get his book later this month, with my shipment from PM Press; look forward to another review of a revolutionary memoir.  Anyway, one thing he said stuck with me in light of the school finance meeting:  even if we got nationalized health care--which would be a great humanitarian effort--we would still need to open up community health centers.  My first impression was, why?  Wouldn't nationalized health care allow us to move our energy to other things?  But then I realized:  what the hierarchical government gives, the hierarchical government can take away.  The hierarchical government gave us the promise of education for all.  Alas, without a culture that reveres education, skill sharing, knowledge in general, that promise cannot be fulfilled.  Now the promise is being revoked, with its unfulfilled status offered as justification.

ARRRGGGG.  I could write all day about this.  And all night.  But I have a pep talk, a novel, a devotional, and an algebra test to write tonight.  So we'll have to live the ritual blog-lashing of education reformers for another day, not quite as beautiful nor as horrific as this one.

Take me down, to where the worlds collide

Where to begin.   It's a crazy world to live in this week, and a crazy world in which to be a teacher, and a crazy world in which to be an anarchist.

You probably have heard by now:  Occupy Wall Street--the big kahuna--the occupation in New York City--got evicted last night.  While it doesn't sound like the police brutality there was quite as bad as what has been happening in California, the protesters were still manhandled.  I'm actually kinda astonished at how little information has gotten out--all the media sources that I've been looking at (NYT, Common Dreams, my lefty blog roll, Slog out of Seattle) have roughly the same story, with only bits and pieces coming out around the edges.  The real story is probably on YouTube, which I haven't checked yet.  I'm watching a livestream from Berkeley right now, and there a stream says that NYPD are keeping press away from the occupation there; people are reoccupying as I write.  Several early sources said that the OWS library was the most famous and most mourned casualty of the raid, with tales of destroying the 5000 curated books, who absorbed sound waves from Jonathon Letham and other prominent writers who read around them; as well as excited chatter from really good protesting conversation; as well as, well, they are BOOKS, fucking damn it.  DON'T DESTROY BOOKS.  I mean, really super plus don't destroy people, but next to people...

Other sources now are saying that the collection was not severely injured, and maybe the protesters can pick it up from city storage.  Not sure what the truth with that is.  In any case, there were at least 200 arrests of peaceful protesters last night, demonstrating again that our rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression  are illusory at best as far as the law is concerned. 

Weird stuff is going on in California.  I wish I had been following it closely enough to comment more intelligently, but from what I hear several members of the English faculty and many students at UC Berkeley suffered quite a bit of police brutality.  A friend of mine at UCLA reported a large march there resulted in the arrest of several activists who were then jailed, with ridiculous bail.

Losing the permanent Occupy Lawrence camp a few weeks ago was sad, frustrating, but expected.  Losing Liberty Park is hard--but also, it seems like we're ready to take the fight to a new level.  Now that we recognize that the movement is literally about repossessing public spaces for public good, we have to recognize the bellicose element here.  War:  strategic land games.  I don't want to be at war with the police.  I don't want us the people to have to arm our spirits against the state--but we have no choice.  (I said arm our **spirits** not our camps.  I do not endorse any kind of physical violence that is not in defense of self or one who is defenseless, ever.)  We must recognize we have become persona non grata in our own countries, written out of decision making by money and power.  

The eviction can be, will be, should be a galvanizing event.  Even this anarchist who prays daily for the turning of the world was skeptical about the Occupy movement, with its ill defined objectives, until this morning when NPR woke me up with the news of Liberty Park's eviction, and I recognized how much hope OWS gives me every single day that it is in existence.  I may not be camping (I may be too much of a wimp, or too calculating, or both, to get arrested, to engage in much civil disobedience), but my spirit knows that OWS is working for me in a way that the government and the corporations never have.  

We are two days away from two months into the revolution.  As Flogging Molly says,

So take me down to where the worlds collide
I need to be here 'till I'm satisfied
There'll come a day when all of us will show
We all feel free!
Although we crash it we will burn
Let the revolution
The revolution begin

Sunday, October 30, 2011


That's right, tomorrow is that national holiday which centers around the crazy freakiness that emerges at midnight, all the goblins and memories and characters of past and present that will come out of the closet to celebrate NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH!!!!!!!  At NaNoEve, I'll be with my fellow Wrimos in Java Break in Lawrence, where we'll be starting our novels, ready for the 50,000 word miracle that will follow.

I'm helping to lead our group in town in this brave month.  And I have to ask myself, is writing a novel that will probably be terrible, that will never get published, that will be read by maybe five people if it's very fortunate, a good use of time?  Is it useful to encourage other people to take time away from their families, jobs, volunteer opportunities, even from the Occupy movements, to do so? 

One of my major qualifications for good actions, for positive involvement in the world, is "Would I do this action if the revolution had already come, either because it was necessary or because I wanted to do it?"  If not, am I doing this action because it is necessary in a fallen world?  If neither of those questions can be answered in the affirmative, I have to stop and think about the worthwhileness of the activity.

For me (and for my brave fellow writers), I can attest that should the revolution happen tomorrow, we would gather around in a newly liberated space, with our newly liberated time and lives, and start writing like there was no yesterday.  We would want to tell stories, to shape worlds, to respond to the situations unfolding around us.

And even if we were so caught up in the moment (or, well, trying to get the counterrevolution started, as surely many writers would be) (or, also, trying to emphasize the illegitimate nature of the revolution that had just happened, and why we still needed to strive for the needed turn in the world and resist the quickly coalescing power structures, as many writers doubtless also would be) (or also just so smashed) that we no longer wanted to write novels, we would be using our honed communication skills to write broadsides and communiques and opinion pieces and deal with all the other emergency writing needs that would present themselves!

Beyond the fact that we the participants are seizing our own desires and making them happen in a way largely outside of consumer culture, NaNoWriMo is an inherently anarchist activity.  It relies on networks instead of dictums; it is self-policed; it involves voluntary associations organized within a centralized organization for the benefit of all; it celebrates individual possibility while simultaneously emphasizing the value of community; it is open to all, with those who are able asked to contribute to the financial side of it; and it is a lot cheaper than Prozac, with fewer side effects.  

NaNoWriMo helped me escape a moderately severe depression a couple of years ago, and allowed me to think of myself as a writer again.  Many other people have reported similar effects.  

So, I'm off to a life-enriching month of accomplishment and communal celebration!  My novel concerns a phrenologist, c. 2075, investigating some mysterious deaths.  Delia is my favorite character from my novel last year, so I'm going to revive her and give her more of a starring role.  Check back for updates, although I probably won't be writing here as much due to the event :-)  If you want to join me, please do look up the Lawrence, Kansas group on! I am the co-Municipal Liason.  Happy Writing!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

Moore, Michael.  Here Comes Trouble:  Stories from My Life.  Grand Central Publishing, 2011.

Michael Moore's new memoir scored off the charts on Angela's Revolutionary Memoir Do's and Don'ts.  He had me from the introduction, and I liked his book even more than his films (most of which I found very enjoyable).

My basic guidelines for revolutionary memoirs are as follows:
** The less sex, the better narrative.  
**Humor and hope are vital.  
**Be Proud but not self-important
** Let the audience rage at injustice with you.

And Moore succeeded admirably in all these ways.   Fortunately, he never, ever asks us to contemplate his sex life.  He jokes a lot about his lack thereof, but he gets zero of his cred from bragging of sexual prowess.  

His trademark hilarity comes through on the page perhaps more effectively than in films.  These short recollections use typically self-deprecating humor to get you laughing, then thinking. His stories about early political victories (giving a speech against racism in the Elks, running for schoolboard while still a student in the local high school) show some examples of concrete actions he took in his lifetime, not the actions of celebrity and fame but ordinary actions that any of us could take.  

Moore demonstrates a modest satisfaction in his accomplishments, but the book really isn't about his career making movies.  It's about him being human and having human responses to the terrible injustices in the world.  He avoids self-importance by telling stories of friends and family members as well as those where he is the main character.  His story "Zoe," for example, about his friend who had an illegal abortion, started out humorously and focused on his affections for his friend; by the end of the story, it was tear-jearking, anger-inducing, and totally focused on Zoe's tragedy. 

This book took me right into the injustice alongside Michael Moore.  I ended the book hopeful and laughing through tears, but really really really angry at the terrible injustices that ruin lives and steal the few beautiful years God gives us on this earth. He brought me into his righteous fury at war, at lousy boyfriends, at short-sighted authority figures, and at bigotry and cruelty everywhere.  (Granted, it's not hard to bring me along into righteous fury).  I stayed up late finishing the book.  Simultaneously it left me wanting more stories from its author, and wanting to go into the fray righting wrong and rooting out injustice where it grows.  Michael Moore is a prophetic voice, and a hell of a writer.  Go find this book.  Read it.  You won't be disappointed.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The world really might be about to turn this time

It's been a big week for potential revolutionaries.  There's been this major international movement, you may have heard of it :-)  That's right, the Occupy Lawrence movement has been going strong for three weeks now (I think? Maybe a little longer), and occupiers have camped continuously in South Park for over a week.    It's incredibly exciting, and one part of me wants to be involved up to my ears, move into the camp, get arrested, go to every protest, every General Assembly, days of action, help cook, set up emergency Algebra I teach-ins (ha, ha, ha)...

My life does not allow me to do this right now.  I sat down and thought about it, and quite frankly, I am proud of most of what I do with my time.  During the day, that is--my nighttime internet browsing isn't exactly my best trait.  But my full time work with young people, trying to help them realize their dreams, and around the edges trying to make the world a better place for them (and for me, and for the rest of the kids, and for my future kids, and everyone else too), is probably the most effective thing I can do for any movement.  

This week, I have attended a couple of General Assemblies;  like most observers whose accounts I've read, I find them hopeful and inspiring, but also endless, and not necessarily the best possible use of my time.  Reaching consensus on everything takes time.  I understand that in a cosmic sense it is probably worth it, but in another, less cosmic sense, I have a lot of stuff to do, and a limited lifetime in which to do it.  

However, I've found some things to do that were worth my time.  Saturday night, the campers at Occupy Lawrence were harassed and physically assaulted by some passers-by (read:  drunk people going home from bars).  This is obviously shameful and ridiculous.  So we brought over some coffee for them; while we were at the occupation, a need to pick up a participant from the jail arose.  I found out where the county jail is.  If you couldn't get ahold of someone to come get you from there, it'd be a long walk back to Lawrence.  The jail itself is deceptively well-designed; it looks more like a school should look, plus creepily steampunk bolts on the doors.    

On suggestion from Alternet of other ways to help, I'm going to record here, publicly, how I am part of the 99%.

The most painful part, for me, of being part of the 99%, is that even as a professional full-time worker I cannot afford to have a baby.  The skyrocketing costs of health care force me to postpone childbearing.  I have many years yet to have a child, probably without huge problems, thankfully; however, that this decision has to be financial, and not emotional or relational, makes me very angry and frustrated.  Should we have a child, I have no paid maternity leave, no ability to take off from my job to take care of my child, and also no access to decent child care if I wanted or needed to keep working.  And, the most damning part, no way to provide health care for me and my child if I do quit work, not enough money for health care for my child even if I don't quit work.

My profession has been under continuous attack from the 1% under the dubious guise of "school reform," which generally seeks to shift all blame for student underachievement, drop-out, lack of engagement, etc., onto teachers.  Never mind the large body of research that indicates American schools without large populations of kids that live in poverty are among the best schools in the world, that poverty, not teachers, drags down kids.  The economic inequality that keeps all kids from achieving their full potentials is not teachers' fault.  Yet movements to limit our rights to collectively bargain, movements to reduce our salaries, to take away our benefits, to lengthen our hours, are rife and gaining speed. 

Meanwhile, 20% of kids in the USA live in poverty; another 20% are near it.  My students often mention that they can't get medical treatment; they can't attend the school play because of the $5 admission; they can't participate in school activities because the budget cuts forced us to institute an activity fee.

Indeed, even as a worker in a position of privilege (relatively stable work, relatively good benefits, acceptable salary, all resulting from my high level of education and being born into the middle class), I am still a worker.  I stand in solidarity with all workers whose rights are dissolving in a pool of cowardly political pandering to the wealthy.  

I encourage you also:  share how you are part of the 99%.  Share what changes you would like to see.  And if you are so inclined, stop by your local occupation and see what you can do to help.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupation, Immigration, and One Big Union

Potential signs I was thinking about making for the Occupy Lawrence Rally on Saturday:

    I just want the revolution already so I can have a baby and crochet and garden.

    The act of resistance can be an act of love. (Adapted from Paolo Freire)

     The hungry poor will weep no more for the food they can never earn/
         There are Tables Spread; every mouth be fed/
         For the world is about to turn. (From Canticle of the Turning)

Sign I actually made:
     We are the 99% we've been waiting for.

We have the power, we have to change the world and wrest power from the sadists that hold it currently, replace the corrupted old order with a new, kind order, rooted in our collective desires for well-being and social justice.  

Our rally here in Lawrence was somewhat dispiriting, with just a few of us holding signs.  But nationally yesterday was a big day--lots of wonderful, spirited protests all over the country.  Several people have occupied South Park and have committed to camping there until the resolution comes.  As one of my friends said, this might not become anything, but it looks like the closest thing our generation will have to a revolutionary moment, and I'm going to seize it.

I thought the New Yorker actually offered some of the more cogent analysis of the movement:  "Occupy Wall Street is a political project, but it is equally a cri de couer, an exercise in constructive group dynamics, a release from isolation, resignation, and futility.  The process, not the platform, is the point."  

This is helping connect lots of activists in our community; that part is exciting.  My ties to local anarchists are strengthening, and I get so much succor from my interactions with them.  

But, alas, I'm not sure that the Occupy Together movement is going to accomplish much (although I of course hope otherwise, that at least we can bring about massive reforms if not the needed revolution).  So, in the spirit of participating in another large, historical movement, I'm joining the International Workers of the World (aka the IWW or the Wobblies), an anarcho-syndicate which has been around since 1905.  I'm not going to blog about this much, but if you have any questions about it, feel free to e-mail me or call me.

I have been listening to their wonderful "Little Red Box of Protest Songs," which compiles several decades of delightful resistance music.  I've also been listening to IWW member Anne Feeney's music, which anyone who likes rousing political music should certainly check out.  So much spirit!

So the IWW seems like a source of life and light, and I'm proud to be part of it.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

Odds and Ends

Some addendums that didn't fit into my previous ramble:

Topeka has decided to decriminalize domestic violence.  Yes, you read that right.

Shawnee County not prosecuting domestic batteries  (this is probably the least inflammatory article on the web, on this topic.  Feel free to supply your own outrage.  this will earn its own post in the near future.  Of all the possibilities for decriminalizing....fuck.)

As much as I am in sympathy with and support the Occupy Wall Street movement, as much as it's great to see people in the streets protesting for our rights, going against the bankers (stand-ins for everyone who has lived for profit at the expense of the rest of us), we have to remember that all social movements in America bear the scars of our racist past and present.  Rebel Diaz, a hip-hop collective whose work I admire, wrote a very thought provoking response which you can read here about their experience of casual racism on the ground in New York, and their observations on the lack of participants from the Bronx and other more severely impoverished communities.

Yesterday I participated in the zombie walk in Lawrence.  It was crazy.  Look for anarcho-zombie musings in the future!

~Love, peace, and newborns to all.

The Myth of the Job Creators

A venture capitalist gave an unusually frank interview to NPR that made me think about how business operates.  He gave honest answers to the interviewer's questions, which I found rare and unusual and made me appreciate him even though I loathe everything he stands for.  Anyway, he argued against seeing businesses as "job creators," explaining that every business wants to avoid hiring people since that interferes with their basic objective of making money.  He backed off from saying that we shouldn't give businesses perks to be "job creators"--he's not totally honest here--and said that we should still see business as the engine of growth and job creation in the long run, just reminding us that government can't force corporations to hire people since providing people with a livelihood and benefits is far from the interest of business.  Business exists only to make a profit, dammit.  How dare anyone ask anything else of them?

His comments dovetailed with my frequent and frustrating conversations with my father, about the necessity of the profit motive. He reiterates over and over again that without the goal of making money, no one would ever do anything.  Everything good happens because someone wants to make a profit.  

I have my differences with my father, to be sure; but if he ever in his life did anything to make a profit, he hid it well from me. Dad worked some jobs he didn't like to pay for college, sure, but then became a pastor and was one 24-7.  He is a living refutation of people's "need" for profit.  No one really requires him to go visit anyone who asks for it, any time of the day or night; when I was a child, we'd often hear him getting up at midnight or one to go to the hospital to comfort a grieving family, or to be with one of his hospice patients.  When I hear of other pastors who have up-front prices for presiding a weddings or funerals or baptisms, I shudder a bit in horror; while he usually did get some sort of honorarium at such events, Dad would die of shame before charging anyone for church work.

What I am trying to say is that while he says he believes in profit, he has never, ever acted on that belief. This is the spirit in which my parents raised me--try to find something you can do that is good for the world, and someone can pay you for so you can live.  I have struggled with much of my upbringing, but this I can embrace and thank my father for: he gave me an example of someone who does things because they are right, not because they are profitable, and encouraged me to do the same.

I agree with the aforementioned venture capitalist that business exists (right now, in our cultural climate) to make money.  I disagree that this is right, or acceptable, or necessary.  A healthy society cannot survive having organisms whose sole goal is to extract resources from their environment. 

Now, as an anarchist, I am not actually against good business practices--if we redefine good business.  No organization should be permitted to have profit as its only goal, and none of us should patronize or have to patronize such groups.  This is totally different than encouraging innovation in the provision of goods and services. We should be free to pursue interesting ways of making a living that enrich society. The goals of providing tasty food and coffee to people and a nice place to sit and talk with peers, for example--those are fine goals.  Growing food because people need it and you enjoy the process--good goal. Developing new medicine--good goal. Prompt service, quality products, medical care--providing all of these things are fine goals, and if people can make a good living doing those things, more power to them!  But any time that people's lives are reduced to labor whose only purpose is to earn money, they are forced into prostitution.  When profit is the motive, all else suffers--the employees, the customers/clients, those who are forced out of work and can no longer be employees OR customers.  

This is why we need the Occupy Wall Street movement.  We need to have spaces in which we consider how profit has seriously messed up our society, how our economy is not a process for providing goods and services and livelihoods to all, but a process for squeezing the lifeblood from all of us for the "benefit" of a few.  Even for those few, what have they gained if they steal the whole world but lose their souls?  Jesus warns of the evil in the love of money, and we must resist this love.  At the risk of repetition--people are not for money!  Money is for people!

If you are in Lawrence, join us at Occupy Lawrence on Saturday--12:00-3:00 in front of US Bank.  (I will not be at this event, as we are visiting our newborn niece--the reason for trying to make a better world).  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Changing plans

So, I was planning to blog here about the most recent travesties of justice in this fair land of ours.  Naturally, I'm developing a morning ritual with NPR when I change the channel every time the phrase 'narrowly averted government shutdown" occurs.  If I listed to NPR in my living room, it would be a drinking game...but...I don't much care about government or shutdowns or NPR right now because...

My niece was born today.

Ten fingers, ten toes, perfect baby.

We've gotta make sure her world is beautiful and just.  Welcome to the world, little one.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Vocabulary, vocabulary.

One of my friends just posted on facebook how "occupation affects wardrobe..."

and all I thought about was Occupy New York and what was appropriate attire for occupying public space potentially for long periods of time, through various temperature and weather conditions!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Review: "The Wrong Thing"

Graham, Barry.  The Wrong Thing.   PM Press, Switchblade Series:  2011.

 "The Wrong Thing" was a serious genre stretch for me--I don't read a lot of crime fiction, and only picked this up because of my PM Press membership. I read the novel, or more properly novella, on a lazy Saturday morning, and for that purpose it was enjoyable. The book follows the brief life of The Kid, a young man of Latino heritage who falls into a lifestyle of crime in Santa Fe. The book is deadpan with a lot of social commentary on the traps of poverty and marginalization. Perhaps the best moment of the book actually comes at the end when we meet the narrator for a moment; had this part come earlier, I think it would have been a stronger tale. I wasn't particularly impressed by the book's craftmanship while reading it, but now that it's over the short saga is sticking in my head, and I am baffled by how to feel about The Kid--surely a guilty human being, but also one whose every impulse towards good has been maligned by evil systems. This is a relevant text about the problems of "criminals," especially those who commit crimes that would be wrong in any conceivable good society (as opposed to those who merely break silly or immoral laws). Should one be judged only on the worst actions in one's life, or the best? How could we break away from a punitive justice system? Would a more restorative system have saved The Kid and his victims? The book poses excellent questions and a case study to complicate the answers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Scattered Thoughts, Post-yoga

In the alley between the Bourgeois Pig and Z's Divine Espresso, there is a wonderful picture of Brownback.  We should enshrine it.  Blessed be its creator. 

I am wondering these days if Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are anti-revolutionary in disguise.  Last night, they made me laugh so hard I forgot about the need for revolution, for a little bit, and I felt like there might be good people in the world even in places of power.   Like there are enough comrades that the world is about to turn, for real.

This is my third-to-last week of yoga class, and after yoga I'm in a stupor.  Today, I think it's mostly because of the pain.  Up until this week I was able to do everything the instructor asked us to do, but some of the new poses she introduced this time were just not possible for my body.  But it is nice to have to focus so entirely on my body and what it's doing that I can't think about anything else--for physical activity to be a strong cognitive task.  Also, I never knew how hard standing still was until I started taking yoga.

Oh yes, and today in crappy news from Kansas politics:  The legislature commissioned a study to find out if social security net benefits had an impact on marriage rates.  They wanted the study to demonstrate that people avoided marrying because they might lose welfare benefits, thereby bolstering claims about welfare encouraging cohabitation, bad poor people not getting married on purpose to con the government, immoral poor people just not getting married because they are totally motivated by money, victim-blaming, etc, etc.  Shockingly, the study concluded that people get married because they make a personal decision to do so or not.  Apparently, researchers found that there were some "loopholes" in the program that might provide a financial disincentive to marriage; however, in interviews, they found that virtually no one based their decisions to marry or not based on those "loopholes."  Didn't you know the poor based their marital statuses entirely on taxpayer-conning and not affection and circumstance like good people?  Dang.  

Now the study has contradicted the preconceived notions of the legislature, and they are demanding a different study.  This highlights the importance of a scientific mindset.  When evidence suggests that your preconceived notions are wrong, the notions must change, not the evidence.  This set of preconceived notions is ridiculous--offensive--dehumanizing to human beings and their complex relationships.  When not even evidence that you commission supports your bigotry, it's time to back up and look for evidence-based solutions rather than the other way around.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The State Being the State

I wake up to NPR in the morning.  This might have to change, as I realized that this last week my first word every morning was a curse word.  They keep giving air time to life destroyers, right about quarter to six, and my cursing them out first thing when I wake up does not actually communicate with them; it just makes me unhappy.

Anyway, it's been a long week of the state being the state, its inherent violence out in full force, its lack of "by the people for the people" qualities on display, the state as a mechanism for the preservation of privilege exposed.

On Wednesday night, late, the State of Georgia murdered Troy Davis.  Despite very strong evidence that the man was innocent of the murder they convicted him of, evidence that most certainly established a reasonable doubt, a poison filled his blood, and he died with many witnesses to the indignity of death.  The Law spoke, and no reasonable people, no kindness, no mercy could halt that death.  Of course there were those who could have stopped the murder--judges, juries, the governor of Georgia--but they hid behind legal proceedings, and said, no, we have done what we can, the execution must go on.   The power of the State must triumph over any remaining concerns about innocence. 

I thought about my students who are black males, who are at so much higher risk than the rest of my students of being murdered by their government. My vivacious, bright, talented students--Troy Davis could have been one of them.  No One should be murdered by their government.  I remember, again, today, that our Lord Jesus Christ was the innocent victim of capital punishment. He calls us from the cross to resist, to protest, to fight until the state can kill no one else, especially not in his name.  We must not forsake those under threat of death.

Meanwhile, a court in California has ruled that ten Muslim students protesting at a speech by the Israeli ambassador were not exercising their right to free speech, but instead violating the Israeli ambassador's right to be heard.  Dang. Why can't people not in positions of power have a right to be heard?  I would love a right to be heard.  My students would love a right to be heard. How odd that it's never been established for teachers or students or working people.

You may or may not have heard that there are people occupying Wall Street in a well-intentioned attempt to bring attention to the shame and guilt of greed.  I think the concept is great--oh, if only, if only progressive elements could ever learn how to organize--but anyway several of them were arrested for non-violent protest.  It's not the fault of individual police, they are caught in the immoral apparatus of the state, enforcing laws and non-laws that society needs to preserve the power of the wealthy.

And, finally, here in Brownbackistan, the SRS (Social and Rehabilitative Services) has announced some changes to benefit calculations.  One of their most astounding actions is a new policy of offering $1000 to families in exchange for them agreeing not to apply for public aid for a year.   In other words, buying off the poor to go away for a while.  Who in a desperate situation will not accept $1000?  And how many children will go hungry from the food assistance they won't be getting?  For people who claim to be rooting out fraud, this seems like an action designed to encourage fraud--change aid for food, housing, medical work, etc., for a wad of undesignated cash.  Then, if/when that money is not spent "well, " they can use that example to say the poor are lazy and don't deserve help, another excuse to direct invective at the vulnerable.

I suppose everyone already knows that Brownback endorsed Rick Perry for governor, and that he said he wants to make Kansas more like Texas.  All I can hope is that he meant he wanted a more racially and linguistically diverse population, right?  Right?  Not that he wanted us to lead the country in minimum-wage jobs, executions, and people without access to health care.  I'm sure that is not what he meant.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Last Garden Update (this year)

Well, it's definitely fall weather now (if not technically until Wednesday), and my tomato plants are on the edge of death; the squash, broccoli, and cucumbers are all extremely dead.  However, the peppers have finally started to produce, even the golden ones, and the tiny little hot-pepper plant has put out its own weight in blazing chilis.  The herbs still produce ferociously. 

This last month, I didn't take the same joy in my garden as I did before the squash bugs laid waste to most of it.  It's hard to weed when you're just making space for dying plants.  Unfortunately, every time I tried to get up the gumption to weed, and I was faced with hideous, living squash bugs, and beautiful, wilting, perishing squash plants, I couldn't help but make connections between our political "leaders" and  bugs, and I know that it is wrong to compare people to insects that you want to squish.  So, not much weeding happened after it became clear that the squash bugs won this round.

Despite my sadness at the deaths, I did have a very productive garden season.  My garden made about the same dollar value of produce as I put into it--around $150. This was in a season when half my crops failed!  The cucumbers are preserved in my cupboard as pickles; many of the tomatoes are in salsa and pizza sauce, also canned in my pantry. 

So, successes of this year's garden included the 15-odd pints of cherry tomatoes, the many delicious larger tomatoes, and the abundant cucumbers, in addition to fragrant herbs that have enlivened our food since April. The garden provided nearly everything for gazpacho, which was my organizing principle for choosing veggies this year.  I also gained a lot of skills this season; I started plants from seeds for the first time.  I learned that you have to put cages on tomatoes and provide dowels for cucumbers to climb.  And, of course, I learned how to can and preserve food!  Strike one against big ag! (At least many websites claim that canning your own produce strikes away at Big Ag and Corporate Food.  I sure hope so!).

But no more dwelling on failure.  Now I'm a gardener, and next summer's focus can be on quality of product, new veggies, increased yield to make more canned pizza sauce of goodness!  Also, all my harvest happened in one quick blast, and then it was over.  Next year I need to plant in a way that staggers harvest, and get some greens in there--something for the beginning and end of the growing cycle here.

After all this, I'm ready for fall, to let the dormancy begin, to start making butternut squash and apple stew, pull out the cardigans, and go on the fall tour next weekend!  Anyone in the Lawrence area, let me know--we can caravan to the various farms if you want!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Review: Revolutionary Memoir Do's and Don'ts

Fugitive Days, by Bill Ayers
Arm the Spirit, by Diana Block
Footnote, by Boff Whalley
Granny Made Me an Anarchist, by Stuart Christie

In my quest to understand the revolutionary movements of the past century, and the ways in which they have and have not succeeded, I've been reading a lot of memoirs by revolutionaries/anarchists this month.  Reading the four above listed tomes brought me moments of euphoria, of hope, of understanding, of disappointment, etc., et. al.  Actually, the American writers left me with some more comprehension of why some revolutionary movements have failed, and unfortunately with less comprehension of how to move forward. The Brits are more inspiring.

Bill Ayers may be familiar to many readers for his actions in the Weather Underground, a radical group in the sixties (about which I've written previously).  Diana Block was an important member of many underground movements, and her husband was on the Ten Most Wanted list of the FBI for a while; she herself is not a household name, but she and her family and friends were forced underground because of their support of the Puerto Rican liberation movement.  Boff Whalley is the guitarist/ideas man behind Chumbawamba, my very favorite band, and a committed anarchist in England.  Stuart Christie's book has already received a full review in this blog. He is most famous for his participation in an attempt to assassinate General Franco, the Spanish dictator, in 1961.

In my brief survey of the revolutionary memoir, I notice a few things.
 ** The less sex, the better narrative.  This might be my own personal bias, I suppose, but really--one-night stands turned into one-sentence memories are all the same, and you should keep your own memories on this unless the nudity is integral to the plot of the memoir. 
**Humor and hope are vital.  No one will gather to revolutionary causes unless we can forsee a better, happier future for most people.  No one wants to be harangued (yes, I need to learn that one); laughter is good, evidence of success is good. 
**Being proud of your actions is good; don't disavow your former self completely unless it is legally necessary.  At the same time, none of these guys brought the revolution.  Self-importance can ruin any narrative, and crush the hope you may wish to impart.  
** The audience of a revolutionary narrative is interested in the injustices that outraged the writer and spurred her/him to action.  Include enough info that we can feel the fury with you.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Darren Aronofsky and the Politics of Excellence

We finally sat down and watched Black Swan this weekend.  This was long overdue--I loved Pi and liked The Fountain.  My loyalty to Darren Aronofsky comes almost completely from the fact that he made a movie about a mathematician and about irrational numbers.  I remember watching Pi with some other math majors in college, which greatly disturbed one of us--she concluded that maybe the movie was right, maybe all mathematicians do go crazy eventually.

But Pi and Black Swan aren't exactly about math or ballet, although they do appeal to specific audiences based on those subject materials.  No, they are about obsession, about perfection, about quests for excellence and knowledge.  And (spoiler alert) how those quests destroy the people involved.

It may not surprise you to know that I think anarchotheism poses a strong and important response to these films.  Now, Aronofsky is clearly not an anarchist.  Neither is he a socialist.  Neither is he a capitalist.  Political systems are not what he interrogates in his films--he is an artist, an artiste, one who thinks about art and how it plays out in people's lives. And I think we are supposed to see the sacrifice of Black Swan Nina's sanity and life, the sacrifice of Max's (the mathematician in Pi) sanity and ability to love numbers, as noble, beautiful, tragic.

I say bah.  These are not tragedies in the sense of some internal flaw bringing about a terrible situation.  These movies showcase the logic of capitalism and what it celebrates as the best use of a human life--to be stressed beyond happiness at every point, to lose oneself in a role that profits others, to relinquish all human relationships in pursuit of Excellence.  Nina must push herself to be the best, to obtain honor--but this brings her no joy. She has only fantasies of relationships with other humans, a puppet for others' directions. Max's obsession brings him into contact with people who want him for his product, but he refuses the people who seek a genuine human connection with him.  These are both examples of people unable to live complete human lives because of values incompatible with life.  Good God!  Making art and pursuing knowledge should bring joy and fulfillment; when it only brings a thirst for further perfection, it is pointless.

Let us instead look to Christ and his example of what a worthwhile life entails--spending time with other humans, talking, eating, walking, participating in society, righting wrongs, healing.  Christ IS our perfector--we can be united with the Divine without pursuing a false earthly perfection, instead appreciating all the good things for which God created us.  And the longtime anarchist traditions celebrate similar concepts.  Art is for humans, not humans for art; dance is for humans, not humans for dance; math is for humans, not humans for math.  Anytime these concepts threaten to take over and ruin lives, we should not celebrate but condemn that impulse.  Human life is precious--every second of existence is precious--and we must work against any system that tries to oppress human life and harness it for profit. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Political Atrocities Abound

Well, I haven't provided a recent example of Brownback-watch moments, even though every day that continues provides new examples of abominations in favor of the rich and famous.  I still haven't recovered from anger at the 31.5 million of jobs-creating-money that Brownback returned to the federal government because it would support a federally mandated part of the health-reform bill.  In this difficult climate where we just don't have enough money to pay for schools or for art or for local SRS (Social and Rehabilitation Services)  offices or for health care, apparently we do have enough money to return it to the federal government--and to amp up welfare fraud investigation.  Oh, yes.  In this interview with our new SRS czar Rob Siedlecki, he reveals that we have enough state funds to hire nine new fraud investigators, bringing the total number of investigators to 17.  He claims that they will pay for themselves in no time at all!  How inspiring!  So, I estimate that with salaries and benefits, each of these ***** fraud investigators is probably costing the state around $100,000.  Meaning that our state has an extra $1.7 mil to dedicate to finding all those evil poor people who are defrauding the system.  

If food-stamp benefits represent about $300/month for a family of four, that means that each of those fraud investigators will have to find thirty families a year to remove from food stamps to pay for themselves.  I am sure that, somehow, they will manage it.  Oh, yes.  When you create people whose jobs depend on finding fraud, somehow the fraud will appear, and thirty-six families per investigator per year will be liberated from food assistence.  I am so glad that when resources are supposedly scarce that we can invest $1.7 million a year in making sure that everyone getting them is appropriately poor.

(N.B. Yes, I am sure that welfare fraud actually does happen.  NPR did run a harrowing story this week on a grocery store owner who paid 50 cents on the dollar for people's food stamps.  Yes, this person is an asshole who should be in trouble for defrauding the government.  But still, I can't believe we are creating positions based on criminalizing the people who need services--shouldn't this be part of social workers' domain instead of brownbackers who profit from finding fraud?)

Also NB, I am furious about Lawrence having to pay a large sum of money to the state to get them to do their job providing benefits (see, and I see this as a low-level form of corruption--pay up or we won't give your part of the state services.  But there is nothing more I can do about that now.

Perhaps Brownback's least popular move so far was gutting the budget of the Kansas Arts Commission, which had received legislative support and is in fact the reason why some former Republicans of my acquaintance withdrew their allegiance to him.  It turns out that after slashing the budgets of everything that matters in our fair state, we have a surplus!  Go Kansas!  So some forward-thinking people have suggested that we restore funding to the Kansas Arts Commission,  which is apparently Right Out even though it would also make us eligible again for $1.3 million dollars in out of state funding.  Now, I am not a great mathematician, but I figure that the grand total of $2 million dollars, doled out across Kansas at maybe $10,000 a pop, would provide funding for 200 community organizations and efforts.  Two hundred life-enhancing organizations which provide jobs, rent, positive feelings towards neighbors, youth inspiration, and just make life in Kansas livable...but no.  We cannot have those things because they conflict with a rigid ideology of everything is private, nothing is held in common. 

Not that Brownback is the only person guilty of this right now.  Alas, alack.  I assume that most people have heard that Naomi Klein, Bill McKibbens, Daryl Hannah, and many other fine celebrities and non-celebrities have been arrested at the White House in protest against the Tar Sands oil project.  Naturally, I am sympathetic to their position, and also hope that Obama will decline to approve that pipeline (tar sands provide a particularly dirty source of oil because you have to burn a bunch of fuel to extract the oil, then burn the oil itself--in effect releasing a whole bunch of greenhouse gases).  But I don't see how that is going to happen in a world that is so dependent on oil, where we will look into all kinds of oil-company-profiting alternatives before we simply start trying to use less energy.  I mean, sure, I expect Obama to roll over on this one, but I don't think any potential president would do anything else to appease our oil-hungry world.

However, I would have expected Obama to stand up against smog!  Seriously!  It appears that Obama has backed off from his commitment to returning EPA-required ozone requirements to scientifically supported levels.  (another source:  Obama withdraws suggested EPA changes)  The standards for ozone/smog are supposed to be based strictly on health standards, not on economic considerations.  But cleaning up pollution costs a lot, and large corporations don't want to pay to do that.  So they don't have to! How easy was that?  This made me more depressed than all the other stories put together.  From my anarchist perspective, at least I can help build alternative organizations to meet  some of the social service needs.  I can help dream of a world that doesn't see oil as the ultimate good.  But there is not one thing that I can do to prevent creating that smog and help keep people from needless suffering.   Only a strong government with a lot of regulations and the foresight to see this as ruining the commons, or a mobilized public that destroys any business that causes this kind of needless suffering, can make that happen.  Since option A has failed...but I don't want to have to destroy stuff just yet.  :(

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Anarchy, Community Building, and the Kingdom Of God

NPR did me a huge favor this morning and decided not to bring any politicans' voices to shock me from slumber, but rather David Sloane Wilson's pleasant conversation to the airwaves.  He is an evolutionary biologist and has done some work on evolutionary lit-crit, which is why I knew of him.  Well, his most recent project traces what makes communities work and what makes people pro-social in communities.  Here's an excerpt from the interview on his findings:

YDSTIE: Where did you find enhances prosociality?
WILSON: Number One: a strong sense of group identity, and a strong sense of what the group is about. If you don't think of yourself as a group and if you don't know what the purpose of the group is, then it's unlikely to function well as a group. Two: proportional costs and benefits. This cannot be the case of some people do all the work and other people get the benefits. That's not sustaining over the long term.
Three: consensus decision-making. People hate being told what to do but they'll work hard for a decision that they agree upon. Four: monitoring. Most people want to cooperate but there's always a temptation to slack a little bit. And then a few people are going to actively to game the system. So, unless you can monitor good behavior, forget about it. Next, graduated sanctions: if somebody does misbehave, you don't bring the hammer down, you mind them in a nice and friendly fashion and that keeps them in solid citizen mode. At the same time, you do need to be prepared to escalate in those rare cases when necessary. Next, a fast, fair conflict resolution. If there is a conflict, it needs to be resolved in a fast and fair fashion in a manner that's regarded as fair by all parties. Seven: autonomy - for a group to do these things, they have to have the authority to manage their own affairs. Finally, in a large society consisting of many groups, those groups have to be put together using those same principles. That's called polycentric governance, a very important concept which emerged from political science but now has a more genuine evolutionary formulation.  [emphases mine]
It may be called "Polycentric governing," and I know an even more fun name for this concept--anarchy!! It's exciting to see an evolutionary biologist talk about the ways that our "human nature" actually works well with many parts of "anarchist" thinking, or the kinds of reforms we can create alongside systems that already exist--revolution from within.  It might not be in our power to overthrow the capitalist order all at once, but surely we can move towards building organizations with strong group identity, with strong respect for the individual but also strong group identity, with justice, with consensus decision making. 

This reminds me of a legendary class period when a substitute did not show up for one class at a high school that may or may not be where I teach; the students all together agreed to be very quiet and work on an assignment they knew had to be completed, in order to avoid having an authority figure called in on them.  They were capable of self-governing, or of working with guidance rather than commands--they are capable of consensus decision making--but that is not what schools train them in.  Our entire society takes away opportunities to self-govern, to make consensus-driven decisions about the issues that affect our lives.  In DSW's list, our society is particularly awful at proportional costs and benefits, graduated sanctions, and autonomy--it's no wonder a lot of us are not very pro-social when we have so many hurdles to social behavior in our way.  And sometimes I think the major reason most of those hurdles are there is because belonging to community is bad for consumption; as I've mentioned before on this blog, if you already belong to a strong group that values you for existing, you don't have as much need to consume mindlessly.  If you are already satisfied with your life and relationships, you are not as vulnerable to marketing that tells you what products might make you happy.

Also, I thought today's New Testament reading was a very apt description of the saintly behavior that can help bring the Turning to the Kingdom of God:
9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:  9-21

Someone recently asked me which texts linked me to Christianity, which I do see more as a lived experience that a purely textual tradition.  If I had to choose, though, I would put this passage pretty high on the list (despite its connections to Paul).  A lot of this advice is similar to the traits of pro-social individuals and communities.   What a beautiful celebration of solidarity, a text from the early church. 

In sum: Maybe anarchy is good human nature policy as well as good equality policy.  And, St. Paul is not as evil as I sometimes think he is.  Between the Bible and evolution, we have great insights into how to build effective liberatory institutions.  Revolution can come!  Otro mundo es posible!