Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Life in a Capitalist Hellscape

My kid and his boyfriend are moving into their own apartment (they've been living with a roommate for the past several years) and oh my God y'all, the bullshit hoops we have to jump through in order for them to rent an apartment for an obscene amount of rent in a standard issue apartment complex. 

First of all, the rent for a one bedroom is nearly $800/month. Then the apartment wants both me and the boyfriend's mom to sign as guaranties. We can't just agree to do it, we have to fill out a detailed and pretty invasive form, and have it notarized.

Then they want a huge deposit. Then they want the kid and the boyfriend to get renter's insurance.

All to rent a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Arkansas. 

Back when I rented a two-room duplex in the same town in 1988, I signed a printed form, payed the first month's rent, and moved in. It was $200/month, too. 

Honestly, life is becoming untenable in this nation. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Child Sacrifice

I hardly know what to say about the slaughter of children in Texas yesterday, sacrifices to the Great God of the GOP, the NRA. Obviously the solution is better, and better enforced, gun regulations, but just as obviously, we've decided against that in the USA. 

As one of my conservatives students said after the mass shooting in Parkland, the "feelings" of liberals about dead children does not trump his right to own any firearm he pleases. That's what America believes, and until they stop thinking guns have more rights than school children, this is where we will be.

It's certainly been ironic to watch conservatives squeal that the obvious solution to school shootings is to put more armed police in the schools, and to give teachers guns. And by "ironic" I mean "really fucking depressing."

School shootings in America in the 21st century. My PhD advisor is on this list, by the way. He was shot in his office in August 2000.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

"Given with Love"

"Given with love" is an odd way to spell "how I keep you locked in the box I built for you."

This reminds me of the woman who lost her rag because her son got a tattoo. Imagine believing your child is your property to such an extent that you can't handle it when they change. 

My kid changed his name. Not only am I fine with it, I think it suits him better than the name we gave him at birth. 

Your kids don't belong to you. They belong to themselves. When you put strictures on your love like this you're revealing far more about yourself than about them.

Friday, May 20, 2022

What I'm Reading Now

Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs, Birds of a Feather, Pardonable Lies

These were recommended on someone's blog, I forget whose. Thank you, whoever you were! These are sort-of mystery stories, set in England and France from 1929 and into the 30s, though there are also flashbacks to just before and during WWI. Maisie is the daughter of a working-class family who has the luck to encounter wealthy patrons who organize her education, securing her a place at Oxford, just as WWI breaks out. A year or so into the war, Maisie leaves school and serves as a nurse, eventually as a battlefield nurse. Much of the series (so far, I'm only on book 3) is about the wounds and trauma of the war, not just on Maisie, but on every character in the series. 

Maisie is a bit like Sherlock Holmes, in that she sees and understands what most people don't; but very unlike him in that some of her ability is psychic in nature -- she picks up on ghostly emanations, for instance, and can feel, somehow, what other people are feeling and thinking. 

Very readable. A little more woo than I actually like in my mysteries, but not so much that I couldn't get past it.

Larry McMurtry, Moving On

This is a re-read. Moving On is one of top ten favorite books, though I can't really say why. It's a thousand-page doorstopper which follows a character, Patsy Carpenter, and her friends around the country for a couple of years of their lives in the mid-1960s. The focus is mainly on marriages, or at least on male-female heterosexual relationships, and there's no real plot. I my mean, things happen -- people have kids, have sex, die, go to rodeos, eat sandwiches -- but there's no sense that McMurtry has any sort of driving theme or plot strand he's following.

And yet I love this book. McMurtry captures life among the middle-class and wealthy in a certain era of American life with pristine clarity. It's set mostly in Houston, but in the first 300 pages or so of the book Patsy and her husband travel through the High Plains and the Midwest, going to rodeos. I love this section of the book: the American road-trip, roadside motels, gas stations, great vistas, small towns, all before the internet, where if you wanted something to read you had to find books at a drugstore, on the magazine rack. I remember that world.

In his introduction to the paperback version I have now, McMurtry writes an essay about how, after he published this book, all the women he knew scolded him because Patsy cries so much, and on my re-read I have to say I agree. Patsy cries pretty much non-stop through the entire book. McMurtry says, sounding bewildered, that all the women he knew did cry pretty much non-stop. But I think he's being disingenuous -- even in this book, not all of the women spend all their time crying. Just Patsy. 

There are a lot of women in the book. In fact, I think this book is more about women than it is about marriages and m/f relationships -- although all the women are in relationships. 

Anyway, if you're looking for a long, wonderfully written book in which nothing much happens, including nothing really bad, this one is for you.

John Barnes, Mother of Storms

This is another re-read: a science fiction novel about what happens when the methane under the polar ice caps melts (or in this case, is melted). Rapid warming over the oceans of the world, in this book, followed by massive and deadly hurricanes. Written in 1998, when global warming was not yet on everyone's radar, this book gets many things right -- the disaster that global warming will be; the pervasiveness of the internet; the damage channels like Fox News can do to the world politics. It gets other things wrong, and it has an extremely squicky subplot involving a politician who has children raped and murdered for his own pleasure; there's also a bit of woo here, involving the internet (still in its infancy at the time). I hadn't read this one since it came out, and the re-read was interesting. Only for hardcore SF fans, though.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Living in a Red State

I still like exercising, but it is less pleasant when I have to listen to my elders explain to one another that even though being gay is a sin ("It says so in the Bible!"), they still love their gay co-worker; or that a friend's daughter's friend really shouldn't dress so immodestly. (Apparently she wore a sports bra and shorts to a BBQ.)

On the other hand, my kid and his boyfriend pissed off another elderly couple as we were going into the local thrift store. "Are you a socialist or aren't you?" my friend demanded of his boyfriend, and the couple gasped and shot each other offended looks.

Though to be fair they might have been offended about the early part of the conversation, where my kid and his boyfriend were discussing how much loyalty the boyfriend owed his boss, a small business owner who pays minimum wage to all her employees and won't schedule anyone for more than 20 hours a week and is insisting the boyfriend (somehow) buy a car if he wants to keep working there. (He's been cadging rides from other employees.)

Does the boyfriend owe his boss loyalty? Should he keep working there, or should he quit and get a job in town? Does it matter if he likes the job, mostly? That's what they were discussing.

The kid's position is that no, someone who pays minimum wage and won't schedule you full-time is owed no loyalty. Here in Arkansas, where bosses run their businesses like personal fiefdoms, and workers are serfs who should be glad they have jobs at all, that part of the conversation may have been what offended the old folks at the thrift shop.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Everything's Happening at the Gym

I used to run and bike when I was in my 20s and 30s. Then when I had a kid, I stopped, for various reasons. No time, but also because we were living in such hot and miserable places. (Though of course I used to exercise in New Orleans in my teens and 20s, and you don't get more miserably hot than that.)

Anyway, I've only been walking now and then for the past 20 year. But now we've joined the gym I am exercising seriously again -- the recumbent bike, the rowing machine, the weight machine. There's also a pool, though we haven't used the pool yet.

Usually we go at five a.m., when the gym opens, and we're almost the only ones there. But today we went at eight, and the place was packed with people, most of them people in their seventies and eighties. Apparently this is the hot spot for elders in the Fort Smith Area.

10/10 for exercising again, highly recommend.


Thursday, May 12, 2022

Family? What!

My nephew (who went to college in Fayetteville and now has a job and a wife there) is having his first child, and my brother and sister-in-law (who was my BFF in high school) have just moved to Fayetteville to help take care of the baby. (They're also retiring.)

This means that for the first time since I was 26, I have extended family in the area. It's very nice, I must say. Yesterday my brother and SIL came down the hill and we went looking at used furniture shops together and then had lunch. And Saturday they are all coming down for my kid's birthday dinner.

Before I went to graduate school, my brother and his family lived close to my parents' house and we were in and out of each other's places every day. I'd forgotten how pleasant it could be.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Learning Haitian Creole

I've been learning French on Duolingo for 746 straight days now, and can read simplified French novels and stories. I'm hoping to read real novels at some point -- Dr. Skull did French for his PhD language requirement, so we have all these French novels around the house, from when he was reading for his comps.

Anyway! Duolingo just added Haitian Creole in Beta to their available languages, and I have been messing about with that. When a language is in Beta, it's missing a lot of things -- like, so far there is very little help with grammar, or explanations of why things are right or wrong. I did find this page on Wikipedia which is some help. 

But in any case I am mainly interested in looking at it as a creole language. Most of the vocabulary comes from French, but much of the grammar derives from West African languages. Further, like most Creoles, it was a mainly oral language for some time, so the spelling / grammar reflects that. The lexicon split from French back in the 17th century, and the two languages are no longer mutually intelligible. This sort of thing is fascinating to me. If I had the time and the money, I would love to do a degree in linguistics somewhere.

For now, I'll just mess around on Duolingo.

Monday, May 09, 2022

My New Icon

I asked the kid to draw  me an icon for mother's day. "Except make me cute," I said. "And cool."

That's Jasper with me, and that's just about where she sits when I am trying to write.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Exercising at the Gym

 Today marked our first full week of exercising at the gym. (Not every day -- right now we're doing four days a week.) 

The first few days I felt great. Hey, this isn't so bad, I thought happily.

Today I came home, lay down on the couch to read, and slept for five hours. Every single muscles aches like I'm on the third day of a terrible flu.

Tomorrow will be better, I'm sure.

What I'm Reading Now

Frans de Waal, Different: Gender through the Eyes of a Primatologist

This was an interesting read, though it didn't tell me much I didn't already know. It's as much about the sex lives of primates as gender, though to be fair de Waal is looking about how different genders in primates and other mammals deal with sex and the sex drive. There's a bit about how kids of different genders choose and respond to toys, and and another bit how boys need rough and tumble play so they can learn to deal with their greater physical strength -- again, none of this is really news. A lot about bonobos, some of which I didn't already know.

There are bits about trans people, and about LGB mammals. One review calls this book superficial, and I get that -- I would have liked more depth in places. Still, very readable, and if you don't already know everything about gender and biological sex and what bonobos do v. what chimps do v. what humans do, it's very much worth reading.


Haigh, Jennifer, Mercy Street

The center of this novel is a woman's clinic in Boston, in which -- among other things -- abortions are performed. That makes it sounds very ripped-from-the-headlines, but in fact it's a thoughtful look at the lives of the people who work in the clinic, and the lives of those who stand outside protesting abortion and harassing those heading into the clinic.

The main characters is a counselor at the clinic, and through a series of her reminiscences we watch her grow up as the impoverished child of a teen mother in rural Maine, and watch the steps that lead her to this job. There is also a kind of funny dope seller who is being put out of business by the legalization of marijuana in Massachusetts.

Well-written and absorbing. I've requested all the other books by Haigh which our library owns.

Zhang, Jenny Tinghui, Four Treasures of the Sky

I can't exactly recommend this one, although I read it straight through. A first-person narrative, it tells us about Daiyu, who has a blissfully happy childhood in Northern China, until her parents vanish one day -- arrested, as we later learn, and then executed. 

Her grandmother, fearing Daiyu will be next, disguises the 12 year old as a boy and sends her off to fend for herself in the nearest big city. Just as Daiyu is finding her feet there, she is kidnapped and shipped to a brothel in San Francisco. Indomitable, she orchestrates her escape, ending up in Pierce, Idaho, where -- still disguised as a boy -- she works in a Chinese-owned grocery and saves her money to return to China. Unfortunately, it is the early 20th century, and racism against Chinese is rising fast. The book, as Zhang tells us in a afterwards, is based on a historical event in Pierce, Idaho, which is to say the lynching of five Chinese immigrants. That's how this book ends too. I didn't exactly enjoy reading it, despite the moments of real beauty, and I don't think I will read it again.

Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves

I read this one because I loved Fowler's new novel, Booth, so much. This one wasn't as good as that one, which is, after all a masterpiece, but it was pretty good. Other reviews talk about the "twist" in the story, but it's not really much of a surprise, so I'm not going to dance around it. This is the story of a family that raises an infant chimp alongside their own children, in one of those experiments done in the 1970s and 1980s, to see if an ape can be taught language -- sign language, obviously -- when raised in a human household. 

As with most of the experiments, this one is terminated when the chimp, who has been raised as a human, becomes large enough to be dangerous. Most of the story concerns what happens after that. The chimp's human brother and sister have their lives completely derailed by the loss of their sister (as they see it), and both spend much of their lives coming to terms with that loss.

Fowler is an excellent writer, and there is a (mostly) happy ending, but this is grim reading, dealing as it does with the abuse of animals and the unnecessary cruelty of some of the scientists involved in animal experimentation.

Kage Baker, Garden of Iden et al

I re-read all of Kage Baker again, though I usually save her for when I'm sick. Like Octavia Butler, Baker died far too young, but she did, at least, get to finish her Company series. 

If you like science fiction, historical novel, cyborgs, and a soupcon of romance, I highly recommend Baker. She also wrote several fantasy novel which are funnier, and a YA novel, Bird on the River, which is excellent.

Ursula Le Guin, The Found and the Lost

This is a collection of Le Guin's novellas. It contains two of my favorites, Paradises Lost, and The Matter of Seggri, but these are all good. Aside from her early novels, which I do not like (including, I admit, A Wizard of Earthsea), you can't go wrong with Le Guin. The only trouble with this book is that it is massive, which means it will be difficult to read if you like to read, as I do, lying on your back on the sofa.

Summer Arrives

 After a relatively cool spring, with days in the upper 60s and low 70s, it appears that summer has arrived in the Fort.

I put the AC on last night, and it looks like it's going to stay on. Six months of summer. My least favorite part of living in Arkansas.

Friday, May 06, 2022

Happy Birthday to the Kid

 My kid turns 24 today. Everyone always tells you, when your kids are born, that the years are going to fly past. You don't believe this when the kid is little, since the days and months seem endless then. But looking back now that the kid has a job and his own place and a boyfriend, wow, yeah. Time just gets away from you, as Charles Portis noted.

It's his comic's birthday as well, so he drew a comic charting his transformation and the comic's transformation from age 13 to now:

I remember that 13 year old! 

He loved his new job, by the way, and is thinking of going into IT as a career.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Pro-life is Forced Birth (for other people)

I had a student give a presentation in my Women's Lit class once, mainly I suspect to "witness" to me and the other evil feminists there, about how abortion was murder, and how 20 week old fetuses could survive an abortion and then be "murdered" by nurses, and various other "pro-life" talking points. During the discussion afterwards, it was revealed that two of the students in the class had had abortions, one because they were a diabetic and could not survive the pregnancy, and other other because of a fatal malformation of the fetus.

"That's different!" the student giving the presentation cried. "Those aren't real abortions!"

It's always going to be "different," you understand, when it's them or theirs who need an abortion. Those won't be "real" abortions. "Real abortions" are those which evil slutty women who like to have sex and kill babies have. 

"Abortion isn't birth control," they cry; at least, until their birth control fails, or their daughter forgets to take hers. Then it's an entirely different matter.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Watching the Northman

Dr. Skull and I went to our first movie since before the pandemic hit. 

Unfortunately, the movie was The Northman, which was a kind of Viking Hamlet. The movie is supposed to be historically accurate as far as the focus on Viking clothing, housing, religion, all that, and as far as I could tell it was. It was also hyper-focused on violence -- which again is probably accurate for Vikings in the 9th century, but left me frankly bored. How many times can we watch the violent torture and murder of women and children and still find it shocking, or at all interesting?

If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will like. 

I did enjoy being in a theater again, though. I have missed watching movies on the big screen.