Friday, June 27, 2014

The Reverse Ghandi: First We Fight Them...

During the latest iterations of the Far-Right Conservatives dickishness -- I am speaking here, among other things, of Ann Coulter's amazing column on Why Soccer Is Bad, and (more locally) Republican Senator Jason Rapert, here in Arkansas, attacks on the judge and the ruling overturning our state's gay marriage ban -- during these times, as I was saying, a general truth emerged to me.

You all are familiar with Ghandi's rules for how revolutions progress: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

It occurs to me that the inverse is true for those on the other side of this hegemonic discourse, and our dealings with that side.  Which is to say:

First we fight them, then we laugh at them, then we ignore them, and then we've won.

Those on the losing side of this battle -- Coulter, Rapert, Rod Dreher, Rush Limbaugh, Phyllis Schlafly, Dennis Prager, Mike Adams -- for a while, they had a nice gig going.

They only had to speak to be taken seriously, by the media, and more importantly, by those of us who were fighting them.

Progressives would spend hours and weeks battling their most ridiculous statement, while they received praise and (frequently) book deals for their reactionary fluff.

So when Schlafly said, in 2007, that rape within marriage was not rape, because women consented to sex by marrying a guy, she got a lot of attention.

When Rush said we didn't need to protect the environment, that there were more trees in America now than "when Columbus discovered the continent," many people took time to consider and refute his bizarre contention.

And when Coulter (who has said so many ridiculous things it's hard to keep up) wrote her pile of nonsense, Slander, in 2006, Progressives went nuts refuting it.

Even here on this blog, I used to spend a lot of time refuting and disputing Right-Wing bullshit.

That was during the stage when we were fighting.  It lasted, probably, from about 1850 to somewhere around 2010.

Now we're mostly laughing.  Limbaugh's constant racism and Schlafy's constant sexism and Mike Adam's tinfoil hat fantasies no long seem worth refuting.  We just roll our eyes and maybe snort in derision.

When Jason Rapert started his fulminating after the Piazza Ruling (for reference, Rapert also runs an Impeach Obama movement here in AR), we likewise just rolled our eyes and snorted.  "Now he's just being a dick about it," I posted on FB.

We are very nearly through the laugh at them stage, in other words; we really have begun to (mostly) ignore those whose worldview used to be hegemonic.

Soon they will all be what most of them already are -- the equivalent of those cranks who corner you at a party or in front of the Wal-Mart and complain at you lengthily: how you can't tell the men from the women anymore (these haircuts!), or how kids today have no respect, or how women used to cook for their families, back when America was Great!

Really, we're already laughing only a little, and mostly ignoring them.

Really, we have already won.

Update:  This is what I'm on about (Probably apocryphal, but none the less!)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Theological Inquiry in The delagar Household

So I'm writing away on my current novel, listening to Gangstagrass through my neon-green earphones, when my kid comes and stands patiently in front of me, which is how she always gets my attention when she wants to talk.

I pull off the earphones.  "What."

The Kid: "If Christians...some Christians...believe that life begins at conception, you know, like when the egg gets fertilized...?"

Me: Yes, what?

The Kid:  "Well, what do they do about identical twins?

Me:  "What now?"

The Kid: "The egg splits after it's fertilized.  Right?  So what do they think that one twin doesn't have a soul?  Is it a demon sort of thing?  Or that the twins have one soul between them?  Or what?"

Me: "They don't actually believe that life begins at fertilization, is the answer."

The Kid:  "Well, but if they did believe it.  How would they handle twins?  Does God put two souls in the egg he knows is going to split? Or..."

Me: "You are way over-thinking this.  They don't bother thinking about any of this in any kind of depth."

The Kid: "When does God put the souls in?  I mean, could he come along and stick an extra soul in after?  Does one of the twins not have a soul for awhile, and then --"

Me: "Some cultures used to kill one of a set of twins, you know.  Maybe because it's a demon."

The Kid: "But how would you tell which was the demon?  I mean, they're identical.  Also, how does God get the soul into the fertilized egg?  Is it like an automated process, or does he reach down and poke it in along with the sperm."

Me: (Putting back on my earphones) "Way over-thinking this."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Books I'm Reading / Have Read: Recommendations

Here is my somewhat didactic list of books you might ought to read, if you haven't read them yet.

You'll notice these lean heavily to the SF/F side of the bookstore.  Don't act so shocked.

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie. This is hand's down no fooling the best SF novel I have read this decade.  It's also causing a small amount of (insider-baseball) controversy, because of a gender-issue thing Leckie does with her pronouns.  That's only one bit of the book, but it is an important one, and one (apparently) deeply disturbing to the time-anchored SF writers / readers among us, who dismiss the entire book due to it.

The Rosie Project: The story of how a scientist who does not know he's on the autism spectrum, having determined he needs a wife, goes about attaining one.  This is probably the most charming of all the novels I have read this year.  Also an excellent example of your unreliable narrator.

My Real Children, Jo Walton: I've been a fan of Jo Walton since reading her Tooth & Claw, which is sort of Jane Austen but with dragons as the main characters (and highly recommended).  This, her latest book, kept me up and reading until three in the morning.  It's the story of a woman with lives in alternative universes, who finds (at the end of her life/lives) that she can remember both of them.  One choice changed everything.


The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grissom: Set 19th century Virginia, this reminds me a tiny bit of Octavia Butler's Kindred.  Only a tiny bit, though. It's a slave narrative that centers around an indentured Irish orphan child and the slaves who become her family.  Conflict arises as she comes of age and can't align herself with the white culture which claims her, but can't remain part of the slave culture.  This was a risky book to write (obviously), but Grissom navigates the tricky ground with success, mostly, and the book is a page-turner. (Trigger warnings apply,

THE KITCHEN HOUSE by Kathleen Grissom

Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women & Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South. Stephanie Camp. I discovered this one through Historiann's blog.  It makes an excellent pairing to The Kitchen House.

A Discovery of Witches: I'm only halfway through this one, but I'm liking it a lot. The writing is lovely, and the author, Deborah Harkness, seems to be deviously and subtly interrogating many of the tropes common to vampire / romance novels in general. (Such as that women secretly want to be overpowered by dark, dangerous, infinitely superior men, and to be told what to do by these men.)  I also love this one for the academic background.  It's (somewhat) realistic portrayal of what life as an academic is like.  (Diana doesn't do enough teaching or dealing with students, is my only complaint.)

The Rabbi's Cat, Joann Sfar: I'm re-reading this because I'm teaching it.  It's a graphic novel about a cat that gains the power of speech after eating a parrot.  Set in 1920's Algeria, the book gives a charming picture of life in a cosmopolitan world and time, while also discussing some hefty ethical and religious questions. The art is lovely.

What are y'all reading that you recommend?

Monday, June 16, 2014


The kid and I have been taking our walk just at sunset these days, which means we've been seeing plenty of bunnies.

"Because spring," I explained to her.

"But why?" she wondered.  "Don't rabbits have to eat in the winter and summer too?  Or do they eat later then?"

"No, bunnies are always crepuscular.  It's just that they breed in the spring, so there's a lot of them now.  And, well," I quit talking.

She pondered my silence.  "Oh."

"Yes," I agreed.

Big Dog always walks with us.  He's too old to chase rabbits now, but he quivers when he spots one, and stares after them longingly.  Oh, when I was young and eager, rabbit, he is clearly thinking.  Oh, when I was a young dog!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Things That Make Me Laugh

Apropos my post on Hating The Fault In Our Stars, this, which is an article responding to one of the posts I linked in that post, makes me go LOL:

A Young Adult Author's Fantastic Crusade

"I scooped a lock of hair behind her ear in a way that said I would support her if she decided to have our baby. “You don’t gain credibility by being widely read, Ruth, you gain credibility by being accepted by rich, white, men.”

Her gills shimmered furiously. She was a mermaid, I realized."

Well! Some Good News

I got my contract for this year in the mail.

Not only did I actually get the pay raise for my bump to Full Professor, I also got the Cost-of-Living raise (tiny, but still!) that the rest of the faculty got as well.

It brings my salary up to something we can almost live on.

Which, you know, is pleasant!

Monday, June 09, 2014

Hating on The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars.jpg

Last year, my kid read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and immediately compelled me to read it also.

Usually, with books we share, this process goes the other way around -- I like a book, and wheedle (or force) her into reading it.

I had discovered John Green first, in fact, via Will Grayson, Will Grayson, a book he had written with David Levithan, and urged her to read it, along with a couple of others of his; but she really hadn't liked many of his books very much until this one.

But this one: she stayed up late reading it, and she dumped the book into my hands when she was done.  "Read this," she commanded.

I did.  Like her, I read it straight through, unable to quit.  Like her, I loved it. Like her, I've been anticipating the movie madly.

So -- like her -- I'm a little taken aback at the internet hate for the book and the movie.

Unsurprisingly, the hate seems to be coming from those who haven't read the book, and seems to fall into two camps: those who think YA literature is intellectually inferior to "real" literature; and those who think the novel is inferior because it concerns cancer patients.

Actual comment I read today:  "The fault in out stars seems like a movie made for people who don't have enough actual sadness and cancer in their lives."

And that is, more or less, the tenor of those who are complaining about the cancer aspect of the book -- that Green should not have written it, or the book should not have been made, or people should not be enjoying it, because it's somehow, I don't know, exploiting cancer suffering.

Here's the thing.  None of those people complaining about the exploitation of cancer and cancer patients in this book or this film actually seem to be cancer patients, or to know those who have had cancer.  As someone who had thyroid cancer -- just like Hazel, though mine was not as lethal as hers -- I have two words for this lot: y'all can fuck right off.

John Green, who wrote the book, worked with kids who had cancer.  That's what moved him to write the book: his understanding of what it was like to be those kids.  And this book captures what it is like to be on the other side of the cancer divide (to be in Cancer Land, as I used to think of it) better than anything I have ever read.

Cancer Land is not a heart-warming topos where you find Jesus or feel enlightened.  It's not a Hallmark movie land.  It's a bleak and empty landscape, a place way past fear, and you're alone there, except for other people who are on that side of the divide with you. No one else knows Cancer Land.

I was lucky (which will seem an odd word only to those who haven't lived in Cancer Land) to be there with a friend of mine, who was diagnosed with malignant melanoma a week after I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

We would call each other up at three a.m. (you don't sleep in Cancer Land) and talk until dawn, four or five nights a week.  There was no one else on the planet we could talk to.

Almost all of these conversations we spent laughing hysterically.  Because frankly, everything is funny in Cancer Land.  But I promise you, none of the jokes we told would have seemed funny to you.  Dark humor doesn't even begin to touch it.

Well, I lived.  So did she -- that's another thing, how many people survive Cancer Land.  But it was a horrible, world-altering journey; it changed my understanding of life entirely.

Green's novel captures this, how the journey through Cancer Land will alter you, better than any other book I've read on the subject.

The Fault in Our Stars is great on the bleak, black humor those living in Cancer Land share; it captures the scoured calm that lies past fear; it captures the anger, too, because despite that calm there is still anger, though often you just don't have enough fucks left to express it. (Resignation, this gets called, but that's just too benign a word for it.)

Is The Fault in Our Stars a perfect novel?  No.  Probably yes, the kids are a bit too clever for adolescents, their dialogue a bit too sharp.

But it's very good at what it does -- giving you an inside look at Cancer Land.

Which is a land, trust me, you'd really rather never visit.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Educating The Kid

As long-time readers of the blog know, we've been home-schooling the kid for the past few years.

It's been great in many ways.  Homeschooling has let the kid direct her own education, so that we could focus heavily on her art and on the subjects she was interested in -- anthropology, for instance, and Latin -- which were not offered in the local public schools.

And we have a great art tutor who's also brilliant at math.  That second bit has been essential, since my math skills are basic.

But we're at the point now where she needs more education that she can do on her own, so this fall she's going back to public high school.  The local high schools here are really good, and she's going to one of the best ones.  That's all fine.

On the other hand, it develops that we missed a few classes.  She should have been studying something called physical science instead of anthropology, and we didn't study civics at all.  (Who knew?)  So now she has to pass "competency" exams in these subjects to enter high school on level.  Also competency exams in Algebra I and English I, but these exams shouldn't be an issue.

Physical Science is a kind of intro to physic and chemistry.  The kid's enjoying it, mostly, and her math tutor is helping her with the sticky bits.

Civics she's complaining about a lot, especially the second half of the book, which she's into now, and which is entirely economics.  "Why do I have to learn this?" she demands.  "What do economics have to do with being an American citizen?"

"Because what is the true religion of America?" I ask.

This is a point I have made before and more than once, so she rolls her eyes.

"Capitalism," I say.  "The job of the book is to explain to you what Capitalism is, and how it works, and why it is the best system ever."

She sighs heavily.

"Just make sure you say that on the exam," I tell her.  "Don't be a socialist on the exam."

"It's explaining about labor unions now," she informed me.


"Why would anyone not want to be in a union?" she demanded.  "That's just stupid."

"Propaganda," I explain.  "Wal-Mart, when you get hired there, Wal-Mart spends a whole day teaching you that unions are evil and destroy jobs and will take your money and give you nothing in return.  And if you don't know the truth -- what's the book saying about unions?"

The book, interestingly, was actually giving good data on unions.  And, so far, from what I can tell, all of the information in her textbooks is accurate and well presented.

The high school is also really well-run, and its counselors and its teachers and its physical plant -- everything I have seen so far seems very promising.  The physics and chemistry labs, for instance, rivaled those at our university.  And the school offers not just three years of Latin, but AP classes in biology, physics, European history, English, and several other classes.

I'm hopeful, is what I'm saying.

Friday, June 06, 2014

What Have I Been DOING?

Lots.  Just not blogging.

Summer I session started on June 2, which means I'm teaching two Comp II classes back to back, starting at the punishing hour of 8:00 and going on until 1:00 in the afternoon, not counting office hours -- office hours add another two hours/day to that.  (I do them from 6.30-8:00 and 1:00-1.30.)

On the one hand, teaching Comp II is pleasant because it's all about instructing students in the skills of evaluating sources and arguments, something very few of them have had any instruction in at all before this class -- so they love it.  There's also some work in putting together their own arguments and how to support them with actual sources, and a little bit on how to write.

But (and I know this goes against received wisdom) most students coming into the university these days already know how to write pretty well.  At least here in Arkansas (and I have a really hard time believing we're doing it that much better than other states), our middle and high schools produce students, for the most part, who can construct good sentences and good paragraphs.  Most of them even know the rudiments of grammar, though they occasionally slip up.  But it is nothing to what I saw when I began teaching 25 years ago.

So when I'm teaching Comp II, I am actually teaching what the class says I should be teaching -- the art of evaluating sources and arguments, the art of constructing their own arguments, the understanding of when and why to provide documentation of sources, all the tools of academic writing.

So, as I said, that part is pleasant.

The less pleasant part is that I have to read and comment on work put out by 29 students (20 in one class, 9 in the other) every day, and at least occasionally, large quantities of that work.  It's...labor intensive.

And I have to prep to teach, every day, because summer classes meet every day.

Except Friday.  Yay for Friday!

So: I'm doing that.  And I've been editing for Crossed Genres' next issue.  And I've been writing.  And my kid is getting ready to take some exams, dealing with her entrance into high school in the fall, so I'm working with her Extreme Studying.  (Among other things, she has to take and pass exams in Physical Science, Algebra I, and Civics.  Not exactly easy exams, either.)

My point, and I do have one: I might have a week or two this summer when I'll be able to breath.

Can't say when yet.