Sunday, February 17, 2019

Review of Snowpiercer


I just finished teaching Snowpiercer in my World Science Fiction class.

Read my review of it over here on my Patreon, for free!



Thursday, February 14, 2019

What I've Been Reading


I found this book at our local library -- A Thousand Books to Read before You Die. Some of them I had read already, and some I had tried and don't want to read; but a lot of them I either hadn't read or passed over. This book gives brief explanations of the content of each book and why you might want to read it, along with notes about similar books, and so on.

As y'all know, I am a reading junkie. So far this book had provided me with ten or twelve new books to read, and I am only up to the D's. (It's alphabetical by author.) Here's a few of the books I've read, on the advice of James Mustich:


Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh

This was one of the books I'd picked up or thought about picking up maybe fifty times, but never actually looked inside. The title put me off. It made me thinking this would be one of those preachy religious stories.

And indeed there is some religion! But it is mainly the story of the Pontifex family, from the great-grandfather John down to the narrator's main interest, the great-grandson, Ernest. The narrator is Overton (if we learn his first name, I missed it) who knew Ernest's father, aunts, and uncles as a child, and becomes Ernest's godfather.

Overton watches Theobald, Ernest's father, grow up and grow into a small-minded, narcissistic, sadistic man, who both emotionally and physically abuses his oldest son. Most of the book concerns the effect of this abuse on Ernest, and how he recovers -- somewhat -- from that abuse.

The part of the book which is about religion mainly concerns the ways in which abusive people use religion to justify their abuse, and the difference between healthy and unhealthy attitudes toward religion. Butler also wants us to notice that making religion into an industry leads inevitably to abuse.

This is a very readable and thoughtful book. If you like 18th Century fiction (though technically it was published in 1903), give it a try.


E.M. Delafield, Diary of a Provincial Lady

I have no idea why I never read this one -- I actually remember checking it out of the library once. But it's a lot of fun.

It's just what it says on the tin -- a (slightly fictionalized) diary of a woman who lives in a small village in England in the 1930s, and her minor adventures and troubles. She's always overrunning her allowance (of course she has a trust fund), her children are ingenuous and troublesome, her husband is a sit-com husband.

Don't look for great depth, but if you want pure entertainment, this one is delightful.


Sigrid Nunez, The Friend

This one reminds me a bit of Helen DeWitt's The Last Samuri, in that it's a discursive book without a really strong plot line that is nonetheless compulsively readable.

That said, there are things that annoyed me about it, and I probably won't read it again.

The premise is that a woman has been "mentored" by one of her old professors all of her life, since she was in his creative writing class as an undergraduate. Now he has died, and she inherits his dog, a Great Dane named Apollo.

Like Helen McDonald's H is for Hawk, which I liked a lot, as you'll recall, lots of this book is not even about the plot, such as it is. Lots of it is about dogs, dogs in literature, dogs owned by famous people, dogs the narrator has known, dogs in the abstract and the specific. More of it is about her relationship with Apollo, who soon comes to replace the dead professor in her heart.

But some of it is about the professor, who slept with everyone, especially -- or perhaps exclusively -- with his students. In fact, he commits suicide, the narrator believes, because he grew too old to be pretty anymore, and his students stopped finding him sexy and started finding him offensive.

Though that is not quite how the narrator puts it, which is the part I don't like about this book. The narrator, who herself slept with the professor, clearly thinks professors should be allowed to sexually exploit their students, at least the young pretty women students, and that it is only this snowflake generation that takes offense at such things.

This is why their writing is so bad, she explains. They're too quick to take offense at everything, and that leads to them writing bland stories about nothing -- oh, except for one very brave young man in her writing class. True, he turns in bland stories entirely about men slaughtering each other. But later he confides in her that he does include women in the stories -- rape victims, and incest victims -- he just cuts them out before he shows the stories to the class, because, after all, his fellow students would just get offended and probably report him for sexual harassment if he included such scenes.

This little rant is at the very end of the book, and quite frankly such a cliched rant, straight from the propaganda machine of Turning Point USA, spoiled what had been an engaging and charming little book. I winced my way past it and finished the book, but I can't say I recommend it. Read H is for Hawk or The Last Samuri instead.


J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country.

This one I do recommend. It's also not very plot-driven -- it doesn't have much of a plot at all -- but the writing is beautiful, and Carr's ability to create characters is wonderful.

The plot, such as it is, is that a veteran of WWI, suffering from PTSD (or shell-shock, as they called it then), comes out to a village in England in 1920 to work on restoring a mural in a local church. He spends a summer (not a month) at this work, and gets entangled in the village culture and its people. He develops a crush on the vicar's wife, who reciprocates, but neither of them do more than flirt with one another. He builds a friendship with another WWI veteran, who is excavating a piece of land near the church. At the end of the summer, he returns to London.

That's it, so far as the plot is concerned. It's the wonderful writing and the narrators ruminations on art and war and existence that make this book stellar. It's very short, and I read it all in one gulp, staying up until 1:00 AM to do so, even though I had to get up at six for school.

Well worth it.





Wednesday, February 13, 2019

My Kid Makes a Video


This is actually the anniversary video for his sweetie.



My kid is the lizard; the sweetie is the wolf creature.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Science Fiction Reviews


Today over on my Patreon I wrote a review of Russian Doll, the new Netflix series which (as I only later found out) was written entirely by women.

You can read the review for free!

You can also read the first three chapters of my novel, Triple Junction, for free over there.

And if you want to support the Patreon, for as little as $3/month you can read a new chapter every Friday.



Saturday, February 09, 2019

Attendance and Retention


At our university, as at many I suspect, we're having a big push to increase retention.

Image result for university attendance cartoonFor all y'all who don't work at a university, what 'retention' means is that when someone starts full-time out our university, we want them to graduate from our university, within four years, or six at the outside.

Your retention score is a big part of how much funding you get. So say 70% of the people who start full-time at your university in 2013 graduated 'on time,' which is to say within four years. Then you get more funding, and you keep your access to Pell grants, and all sort of lovely things happen.

70% is a really high score, by the way. Most universities have retention rates well below 50%.

Some of this is because students transfer. These students count against your retention rate even if they do finish in four years, because it's at some other school.

Some of it is because students can't handle the workload of attending college full-time and working full-time (as many students do today). Some of these students will flunk out; some will 'stop out,' as it's called, meaning they take a semester off, or two, and either never come back, or come back but don't finish in the four year period.

Some of it is because students can't handle the workload, period. They just don't have the reading and writing and math skills to do college-level work.

Some of it is because students never show up -- as in literally. They sign up for classes, and then never come.

But some of it is because college is so different from high school. No one is driving them to the door and forcing them to attend classes all day every day. They have freedom to come to class or to not come to class, to do the work or not do the work; and for some of them, this means they don't come to class and they don't do the work.

These last two groups are the groups we're aiming at with our new attendance policies. What we're doing at our university is tracking attendance via a program (sold to our school for a pile of money, I suspect). When students miss class, they get an email, reminding them that they missed class. Every time they miss a class, they get this email.

Also, the program allows professors -- me, for instance -- to issue an alert. This tells our administration that X student has missed a troubling number of classes. Then someone whose job that is contacts the student and tried to find out what the problem is. If they've got financial problems, for instance -- maybe their car broke down and they don't have a way to get to school -- our person in administration arranges help (we have a locally funded grant program for just such problems). Sometimes the student just hasn't realized that missing classes is a big deal. Sometimes there are other problems.

So far, this program seems to be working -- that is, when I send in an alert, the missing student almost always shows up, back in class.

I've gone through several approaches to attendance in my years as a professor. Back when I was a baby professor, I didn't take attendance at all. If the student wanted to be in class, I figured, they'd be in class. They were adults, that was their business. My business was to grade their competence, in the form of the work they turned in to me. If they could pass without being in class, then I would give them passing grades.

Big surprise, almost no one could do that. Eventually, I started tracking attendance and issuing threats. If you miss more than X number of classes, I would say in the syllabus, then you lose X number of points. I almost never actually followed through on this threat. That is, I still based the final grade on whether the student could do, or had done, the work.

After a time, I started offering rewards: if you came to every single class, you earned a five point bonus. This was only slightly more effective. That is, many students earned that bonus, but they were the very students who didn't need a bonus. They were already coming to class and doing stellar work. They would have gotten A's without the bonus.

This semester, I'm basing none of the grade on whether students come to class, and I told them that up front. I told them I wanted them in class, but I wouldn't add or subtract points based on attendance.

So far students are mostly coming to class. And when they aren't, our attendance admin chases them down.

This two-pronged method (so far) is keeping more students in the classroom.

Does it mean those students will do the work, stay enrolled, and graduate in four years?

I'll let you know.

I do know that this is not a tactic I like -- chasing after grown-ass adults about their attendance. I'm not their mommy and I'm not their nanny. If they don't have the time or the interest to be in college, they shouldn't be in college. That's their business.

The lack of funding, the one that is causing so many of them to work full-time while also trying to attend college full-time, that's another problem. But I don't think that's one we're going to solve by harrying them about their attendance. That can only be solved by changing the way we finance university educations.

Without that change, our working students will continue to -- mostly -- do subpar work in their classes, because most people can't do excellent work when they've only got a few hours a week to devote to reading and thinking about their classwork.

So I guess we have to decide, as a culture, whether we want our citizens educated, and by that I mean actually educated, or do we want to make our richest citizens even richer, at the expense of our working class citizens.

Given that the GOP thinks higher education is an evil scam, we know which way they will vote. So if you care about educating Americans, maybe vote the GOP out of power.

Until that happens, all the nibbly little patches around the edges, like this attendance policy, are only stopgap measures, and probably ineffective ones at that.









Sunday, February 03, 2019

Our Visit to Planned Parenthood


As many of you know, my kid is trans masculine.

Image result for planned parenthoodOver the past several years, we have done mountains of therapy, culminating this year with a new therapist who specializes in working with LGBTQ people (the genderman, as the kid calls him). The genderman agreed that the kid should start HRT (hormone replacement therapy) sooner rather than later.

He also advised us that Planned Parenthood in the kid's college town was the best place to go. (We live in Arkansas, so it can be hard to find physicians that will work with trans people, or prescribe HRT. Fun fact! It can also be hard to find a pharmacy that has T in stock. Ours had to order some.)

So Friday the kid had his first appointment with Planned Parenthood. And may I say, as happy as I have been to support Planned Parenthood in the past, this experience has increased my approval rating 1000%.

First, scheduling the appointment was super easy. They have an online portal, and you just find the time you want to come in and book it. They ask for other things, like if you have insurance and what you're coming in for, but it's all very easy to use.

And we had to reschedule, from Friday before last to this Friday, and that was also very easy!

The facility was small and a bit run-down, but very clean and cheerfully decorated. One wall had a trans-positive poster on it; another had a statement in both English and Spanish explaining that no one could make you get an abortion or any other treatment against your will, and that you had the right to call the police or social services if anyone was abusing you or trying to compel you to seek treatment against your will.

While the kid and I were there, two girls came in who looked like they were seventeen or eighteen, and a little later, two women in their 30s with a toddler in a bright pink parka. The toddler was there for a wellness check. The girls were there because one of them wanted birth control.

As far as I could tell (I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but it was a small waiting room) no one who was there was seeking an abortion -- although if they had been, that would have been their business and their choice. This fits with the statistics PP releases, which show that most people show up for health and medical reasons not related to abortions.

The toddler, by the way, was adorable. Her mothers clearly loved her deeply, and she was happy and bold, toddling about the waiting room demanding that people  pick her up or look at her toys. Everyone there was enjoying her immensely.

The nurse took my kid back alone, to make sure I wasn't coercing him into treatment. This seemed to be standard procedure -- everyone had to go back and talk to the nurse first on their own first. (Except the toddler, obviously.) After my kid had been back there about an hour, they let me come in too.

First the nurse and then a doctor (all of them women, interestingly, and all of them very calm and friendly) discussed the kid's history as a trans man, how long he'd been out as a man, how long he'd been in therapy, and so on. Then they talked to him about what HRT would do and what it wouldn't do. They did a complete physical. They drew blood to run tests. Only after all of this did they prescribe T.

They also made sure the kid knew if he wanted to stop transitioning at any point, that was something he could do.

Over the next year, they'll be monitoring the kid's health and his blood work to make sure everything's working.

A second nurse came in and taught the kid how to inject himself with testosterone. And the nurse up front, who gave us the actual prescription, told us if the pharmacy or the insurance company gave us any trouble, we should call them and they would handle it.

Though the kid is a little nervous, mainly he is buzzing with excitement. The T is supposed to arrive on Tuesday, and he will probably start taking it then.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because all over the internet, people who know nothing about trans people or about being trans are making, frankly, ridiculous claims about what it's like to be a trans parent or how doctors force "confused" "children" into going on HRT, or how being trans is a "fad" or a symptom of misogyny or 9000 other things.

This is what it's actually like to be trans. Years of misery,  years of therapy, years of careful, even obsessive, thought and research. Only then does the trans person -- who is an adult, not a child -- start HRT.

And everyone, every step of the way, is being as careful as they know how not to make a mistake.

So when people make these really ridiculous claims, writers of transphobic blogs and Fox News fans, Jordan Peterson and Rod Dreher, about trans people, all they're doing is showing how incredibly ignorant they are.

Not to mention how incredibly hateful.

My Wonderful Kid
As we were leaving Planned Parenthood, a tiny little mob of protesters with their ridiculous gory posters lit up with delight -- fresh victims!-- and began shouting at us about how abortion was murder, how we were murderers, how every life was precious.

I mean, except trans people's lives, of course. Fuck trans people.

The mob has to stay a 100 yards away, by law. So they couldn't get in our faces. But as we were leaving the parking lot, one of them came over to smash his silly poster against our car window. I made an obscene gesture at him, which appeared to shock him very much. Apparently scarlet women are supposed to be too mortified to fight back.

tl;dr Donate to Planned Parenthood. They're the best.




Saturday, February 02, 2019

Become a Patron!


Over on my Patreon, the first three chapters of Triple Junction, the sequel to Broken Slate, are now available to the public. You can read them free of charge!

And for as little as $3.00 a month, you can have access to a new chapter, posted every Friday, as well as my reviews of SF novels, movies, and TV shows.

Come on aboard!

(If you haven't yet read Broken Slate, it's available from Crossed Genres Press or over there on Amazon.)



Thursday, January 31, 2019

Sabbatical


I have submitted the paperwork for my sabbatical request.

If y'all have any mojo you can put to work for me, mojo away!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Poor Abused White Straight Cismen


Over at Rod Dreher's blog, a comment from a white cis man claims that the man is being "lured" into white nationalism because of the "constant barrage" from the media which tells him he's the source of all evil in America.

Hold on, let me laugh hysterically.

But I am sure this gentleman believes what he is claiming -- that, for instance, the Gillette ad (which suggested being masculine doesn't have to mean being toxic), and the #metoo movement, and the affair of the MAGA teens is equal to a barrage accusing all white straight men of being evil.

I remember a study (which my google foo cannot now find) which showed that when ten percent of the women in class spoke up, the men in the class (30% of whom spoke in class) perceived the women as 'dominating' the classroom.

And when more than one woman wins an award -- so like two or three win awards, say -- men perceive that as women 'rigging' the awards, or getting special favors.

And we have seen the hysteria which is arise because slightly more women than men (and yes, it is just slightly more) are succeeding in the college classroom. My God, it is a national emergency that 56% of college graduates are women.

Is it true that the media is "attacking" white straight males?

Let me tell you a story. When I was a baby professor in my first job, out in Idaho, the men there complained to the dean that I was always "attacking" men in class, and that I "hated" men. When the dean asked for examples, the complaining men had nothing to say. "Well, she's always talking about feminism," they finally said.

I wasn't 'always' talking about feminism, of course. I had mentioned it maybe twice in class. But any discussion of women and women's rights was perceived as an "attack" on straight white men.

That's what is happening here, also. Trans people are speaking up about the rights of trans people. Immigrants are speaking up about the rights of immigrants. Occasionally someone suggests maybe women should have equal rights as well. Now and then someone mentions that rape is probably a bad thing, and that rapists aren't prosecuted as they should be.

And this is seen as an 'attack' on all white straight men. This is seen as a "constant barrage" of hate against white straight men in general.

Anything other than a media which constantly discusses the rights of white straight men equals a "constant barrage" of hate. Any suggestion that white straight males are treated better than other groups is the same as calling all white men evil.

And the slightest suggestion that white straight men might have it easier than other groups in our country? Well, that justifies those white men joining white nationalist groups.

I mean, who can blame them? Should they just sit back and wait to be treated like women? Like black people? Like they're trans?




ETA: See also this thread, where a well-meaning white guy objects to a writer mentioning her new book on twitter, because books about girls are an attack on  men and boys.




Friday, January 25, 2019

Trump Ends Shutdown with a Speech Filled with Lies


Shut down is over for now.

I don't know if you caught his speech, but it was -- as usual -- one lie after the next. I have to wonder if even his base believes him at this point.

The Stupid Wall


Here's a must-read about Trump's stupid wall.

A key point therein:


Estimates to construct a border wall of the kind Trump wants range from (DHS) $21.6 billion to (GAO) $70 billion. Now, I’d say based on my own experience in military and government work over the last 30 years, you can double the high end and you’ll still come out short, but let’s be charitable and split the different. $55 billion.
For reference, the annual budget for the entire Department of Homeland Security for 2017 was $40.6 billion.
Wait, what?
Yep, that’s right, $40.6 billion.
Oh, and you need, conservatively, $120 million per year to maintain this wall once it’s built.
I know, math. But bear with me here, you’ll enjoy the punchline.
Now, the average border patrol agent makes about $56K per year, or about $21.50 an hour.
You know how many border patrol agents you could hire for $120 million?
Do you?
Two thousand, one hundred, and forty-two.
See? I told you you’d enjoy the punchline.
If you're still wondering why the wall is a stupid idea, there you go.

Also, the majority of Americans oppose the wall.

So why are Trump and McConnell trying to force an ineffective and harmful solution to a non-existent problem on the American people?

Well, something like 90% of his base -- rabidly far-right Republicans -- do want the wall*, and that is probably the only group in America Trump is hearing from, or at least listening too.

Also, of course, Trump doesn't live in a fact-based world. The fact that he wants this stupid wall at all tells us that. He makes up nonsense and lies, and then he believes them -- and his supporters, like the dupes they are, believe them too.

Or at least pretend to. I don't think either Trump or his supporters actually believe the ridiculous things they say. It's an excuse to be hateful toward their greatest boogeymans, liberals and brown people. Nothing more.

Nicole and Maggie tell us one way we can fight back.

Also, vote the rest of the GOP out in 2020.



*Or at least want to use the wall as a weapon to attack the rest of the country, and help destroy the federal government, which is their real aim.



Monday, January 21, 2019

My Kid Does Art


The Kid is taking a class in Color in Art. This is from this week's assignment:


Another part of the assignment:


Happy MLK Jr Day!



Saturday, January 19, 2019

Snow


Snow and ice today, plus gusty wind. We stayed in and wrote.

I also made arepas, which were recommended to me over on Nicole and Maggie's link -- perfect food for the gluten intolerant.

These are delicious, especially hot from the oven slathered with butter, but I hardly ever make them, because even though they only take like 30 minutes, I never seem to have the time.

But a snow day gives you time. Plus they smell wonderful, baking in the house that's being buffeted by snowy wind all day.

They're very good with black beans and rice, btw.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Patreon


Chapter Four of Triple Junction is now live on my Patreon.

You can support my work and read a new chapter every week for as little as $3.00/month!