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.