Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Book Review: Dare to Speak


Image: The cover of the book is a white background with the title in large black bold letters taking up two lines. Across the word "speak" is a stretch of red tape. Across the top in red smaller letters is the author's name and "ceo of pen america" and across the bottom is, "Defending Free Speech for All."

Whoooh, boy, is this one going to be a doozey- and not in a good way. I virtually picked up "Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All," from the library because it was available and I needed something to pass the time until my intended books became free. Before this, I had never heard of Suzanne Nossel, nor her organization PEN America of which she is the CEO. I knew going in that I might not like it as much of the free speech discourse these days comes from white supremacists or white neo-liberals who want to protect white supremacists. (For those who do not know, I use the term liberal here to refer to liberals in the USA who see themselves as one of only two political options and sometimes think they are leftists when they actually occupy the center-right wing these days while most conservatives in the USA occupy the far right wing.) I did not realize just how much I would detest this book. I tried to keep an open mind and I finished it for one reason: no one can claim I took away her "free speech" before reviewing it.

The first thing you need to know is that Nossel is a liberal white cis Jewish woman who is also a Zionist. The oppression you will see given the most attention and direct reference in this book is anti-semitism. Anti-semitism should absolutely be included in a big way within these discussions. However, as time passed, it became clear that either consciously or unconsciously, Nossel can only really see oppression that would affect her personally. Furthermore, despite having multiple sections calling out the problems with exaggerated responses to overstated harm (something I agree with,) she also calls any critique of Israel and any Palestinian liberation activism anti-Semitic. She does this multiple times, so I am sure that I am not just misunderstanding a one off comment. I was able to tell the exact demographics that Nossel came from before I looked her up based on her writing. She also uses multiple examples of her complete cluelessness and inability to see oppression that does not affect her- even if people are telling her directly and explaining it.

The most glaring examples of this are, once again, multiple anecdotes about Black women coming forward to talk about quite obvious racism either overtly or in the form of microaggressions. Every time, Nossel openly admits to not believing what happened was racist and needing these Black women to walk her through it and explain to her even further why something is racist. This is not the only instance of this kind of thing. So, Nossel not only calls liberation movements antisemitic by default, she also defaults to NOT believing victims of racism and misogynoir until they make a massive case about what should be blatantly obvious to someone who is the CEO of a freeze peach organization. She does mention how she eventually is convinced, but it exemplifies a long pattern of her contradicting herself in almost every argument she makes, most of the time defaulting more to protecting the oppressor and calling for limitation of the speech of the oppressed ironically enough.

Another glaring issue that shows the privileged viewpoint that strengthens Nossel's unawareness of reality is how she will make a statement, then claim she "sees no evidence" to the contrary. One such argument is that racist or other oppressive speech does not have any lasting impact on the targeted population. Are you serious? The only reason she "sees no evidence" of the harms of oppressive vitriol is because she didn't look for it. There are extensive social psych and sociology studies on this. How anyone could think that protected white supremacist speech has no lasting impact is beyond me. Once again, a very troublesome (but unsurprising) stance from a white liberal free-speech-at-all-costs type.

Where else does she contradict herself or misinform you may ask? Well, to detail every instance would require this review to be close to the length of her book. Instead, I will focus on the remaining ones that made my brain explode in irritation and wtf-ery. One of my favorites is how she basically insists that the best way to fight white supremacist fascists is to give them a platform and it will either resolve itself or a "debate" will resolve things. Basically, let the white supremacists gather unfettered and they will go away- there is no evidence that this is the case. She invokes anecdotes where antifa, campus activists, and others had a huge hand in resolving, and boils the success down to "just let the nazis talk and, see, they will just go away!" Once again, she insists that having Nazis speeches and rallies on campus does not have lasting impacts in the negative for the targeted populations. She claims that the best solution to hate speech is giving them a platform and then using "counterspeech" to combat them. She argues that absolutely any belief or point can be successfully argued with the right words (yes, including white supremacy- I guess just use the right dog whistles and it will all be ok.) So, I disagree with this, but I thought, hey, I understand the argument and will continue to hear her out.

The problem is that she follows this with a section on all of the kinds of "counterspeech" that you should not use. No distruptions, no blockades, no protest that isn't 100% legal and state sanctioned, no interruptions, nothing that would in any way disrupt the platform of the Nazis or other harmful speakers. So, what counterspeech is the best antidote for hate speech? Very little apparently. As a result, Nossel does what many liberal freeze peach proponents do- they actually fight for the most deplorable people to have the right to speak while simultaneously taking away the speech of those most affected and kettling them into a little metaphorical free speech zone. She has a clear disdain for antifa actions, disruptive protest, and pretty much anything effective. If you aren't willing to sit a nazi down to tea and have a logical discussion about why genocide is bad, you're an enemy of free speech and freedom.

There's more. In her discussion on hate speech she talks about hate crimes. Who better to be the arbiters of justice and stopping hate than... the police? There is not a single mention of how often cops are the ones who commit the hate crimes. There is no mention of the problems with racism and other oppression at the hands of police. She discusses them as tools and heroes in the fight against hate. Ok, when is this happening? I will not hold my breath (unless a cop forces me to, I guess.) Her romanticism of the police is matched by her fawning over the founding fathers, not realizing the irony that the laws she invokes where not written with her included and definitely were not written with Black women included. When a Black woman says to her at an event, "the first amendment was not written for me," Nossel once again doesn't get it and needs to be dragged along wherein she still doesn't really get it. In true white liberal fashion though, she does manage to repeatedly quote Martin Luther King Jr out of context, sticking to the quotes white people like, and ignoring the ones that would have called out this book for the mockery that it is. If you want to talk about the importance of free speech, maybe don't glorify slave owning white fathers of genocide. 

The sad thing is, there are some good ideas here. Criticism of callout culture, especially when misdirected due to false information, the problems with overstating harm and calling any disagreement "violence," how any restriction of free speech can possibly be used against marginalized people, and so on. This book could have been a decent exercise of, "I disagree, but I hear you." Instead, it just left me feeling happy that it is not a popular book and hoping that the contradictions and misinformation do not spread outside its pages. 

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Review: The Sandman

Image: The audible book cover is an illustration of Dream/Morpheus from The Sandman. He is shown from the waist up with his right hand held upward, bent at the elbow. He has fabric draped over his right shoulder and across his torso from there. He stares directly at the reader. He has very light skin, dark, straggly medium length black hair, and black eyes, the left of which glints brightly like a star. Across the top in white, sans serif letters is, "audible original."  Across the center is the title in stylized letters with the authors names below it. In the bottom left corner is "DC" enclosed in a circle (the DC Comics logo.)

It feels strange reviewing the Audible production of Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman" in the book category. Not because it is an audiobook, but because it is more than that. It reminded me much of what I imagine an old school radio play would have been like in the years before TVs were a fixture in many households. I was cautious at first. Having read all of the comics a very long time ago, I wasn't sure I remembered enough to be able to follow an audio version. But, they managed it quite well and I think I even ended up liking it more than I liked the comics- which is really saying something because the art in the comics is a huge draw for reading them. I still encourage people to check out the print versions. Dave McKean's covers alone make that worth doing.

Like any good goth industrial kid (and adult,) having read The Sandman series felt like a bit of a rite of passage. I will admit, it's honestly not my favorite thing in the DC Vertigo universe. I lean far more towards loving science fiction than I do this kind of fantasy. But, Neil Gaiman's forte is fantasy and he does do it well. I can appreciate that. Thus, I was happy to experience this story again in audio form. Something I realized while listening is how much the Sandman series included gay characters. This was pretty revolutionary at the time and still is to a certain extent. There are both women-loving-women and men-loving-men couples that appear as extras or minor characters in the story.

Gaiman is the narrator of the first installment of The Sandman (in what I hope ends up being a series,) and his voice fits very well with the whole atmosphere. He actually sounds a bit like the late Alan Rickman to me. I am showing my USAmerican ignorance, but they both have a similar distinct sort of British accent and I am not sure if it is just personality or location derived (or if I am not hearing it correctly at all.) The rest of the casting (boasting a great many big names) was also really great- particularly James McAvoy as Dream/Morpheus and Kat Dennings as Death. McAvoy captured Dream's complex, over dramatic, salty, vengeful personality well and Dennings' version of the kind, gentle, and laid back Death is just how I would have imagined her. 

Unlike most audiobooks, this one comes with a fully immersive set of sound effects and music to enhance the experience- which is a creative move to replace the visual aspect of comic books. This is what truly elevated it from audiobook to radio play for me. It helped to really visualize and feel immersed in the happenings of the story. I am going to refrain from an indepth review of the story due to comics having more of a production than a story alone. Overall, I hope they continue doing this for the rest of the series. 

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Book Review: Anarcho-Blackness


Image: The cover of the book is a black background with a bold font with an ombre color that morphs from red to orange, yellow, and green. Across the top is Anarcho, bending down the right side is blackness. About a third of the way down, bent halfway through the sentence again is "notes toward a black anarchism." On the bottom left corner, in smaller letters that morph from red to pink is the author's name: Marquis Bey.
It seems like the perfect time for a release like Anarcho-Blackness: Notes Toward a Black Anarchism by Marquis Bey. With all of the inspiring and brave uprisings for racial justice currently going down, (and the usual false painting of anarchism being composed solely of rich white kids breaking windows for no reason,) amplification of the voices of Black anarchists is critical. When I saw that AK Press was going to be putting out this title, I got pretty excited. There is not nearly enough exposure of the words of Black anarchists out there. The writer is trans as well and thus, I knew this writing would likely be inclusive of all or many issues undeniably intersecting with Black anarchist theory and practice. As a result, I may have set my expectations too high. What I did not realize is that this book is a heavily academic text that perhaps could double as a graduate thesis. When I say academic, I don't just mean exploring theory, I mean it left me feeling at times like I wasn't smart or educated enough to grasp what Bey was saying. 109 pages of text took me quite a long time to crawl through as I found myself reading and rereading sections to make sure I grasped what was said. At other times, I felt that the book was having similar results of other academic texts I have read which is to say that it uses a lot of big words, huge quotes, and lots of gender studies language to say something that could be said in a simpler, more accessible manner. That is not to say that this book doesn't offer anything. Just know that, going into it, one should not expect a book designed to be accessible to most audiences- including perhaps marginalized Black people without access to college that Black-anarchism is supposed to liberate. It can however add something to the field of critical feminist, race, and anarchist studies. The review of literature it provides alone is reason for that.

Bey quickly discusses intentions for the text which are not to force labels onto Black activists and theorists even if their actions and theories fall in line with anarchism. The text leans more towards a gender and race studies lens in which Bey persuades the reader to understand why anarchism is linked to Queer and Black feminisms. Bey mentions that As Black As Resistance (also put out by AK Press,) was an inspiration for Anarcho-Blackness. As Black As Resistance is one of my favorite anarchist texts of all time and while it can also be heavier academic reading, I found it to be much more accessible and better constructed than Anarcho-Blackness. You will find a lot of Zoe Samudzi quotes throughout Bey's work and rightfully so. As I mentioned before, Bey offers a good review of much of relevant literature out there. I was a little perturbed to find a Gandhi quote opening the book due to Gandhi's history of anti-Black racism. From then on, though, the reader will find a lot of quotes from various anarchists, feminists, activists, and theorists throughout. I put a ton of page flags on the pages, much of the time to mark quotations from other texts. 

Since the book is a collection of "notes toward a Black anarchism," the reader will find essays focusing on specific topics such as activist history, Black feminism, gender and Queerness, and so on. I found the final chapter in the book to be the most accessibly written. I always find myself on a seesaw of thoughts regarding academic texts like this. I absolutely believe there is an important place for critical studies and I do not believe that all texts need to be accessible to all readers. But, when a text focuses on the struggles of the most marginalized people in society, something feels a little off if said people can't access the text. I have a B.S. and have done my share of reading and writing papers and thus, I assume that if I struggle to grasp something, someone less educated and practiced than me may also struggle. That said, I have developed cognitive difficulties over time due to disability, so perhaps it's more accessible than I realize. There is, however, also something to be said about texts that require full attention, rereading, exploring citations, and so on, and how the reading process of those can be more involved in a good way. So, this text is an example of the latter. Perhaps those who would benefit most from this are academics or those who frequently read academic texts, particularly in gender and critical race studies, who need a better understanding of how anarchism fits into that. For those already more on board with this idea, I recommend going for As Black as Resistance by Samudzi and Anderson instead.

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Book Review: Hood Feminism

Image: The cover of the book is a white rectangle placed over top of a minimal illustration of several brown skinned women mostly made up of color blocks for hair, head, and body. Cut out of the white rectangle like stencils are the words "Hood Feminism" in large capital letters across the top half and the author's name in smaller cutouts across the bottom. In the center, in a capital letter written font is "notes from the women that the movement forgot."

Hood Feminism should be everyone's feminism. In reading this book, I can't see how anyone could think otherwise. Yet, Mikki Kendall's brilliant and accessible text had to be written for a reason. Mainstream feminism and/aka white feminism often focuses on a few key issues that affect white women while ignoring or even speaking against liberation around issues that disproportionately affect women of color and other marginalized people. Kendall explains that books like this are often written/published ABOUT women like her instead of BY women like her.

Kendall hits you hard from the start of the book with unapologetic story telling and historical analyses. She tells us she is "the feminist people call when being sweet is not enough." Some readers may remember some of the hashtags she started that stirred things up such as #solidarityisforwhitewomen. She tells us that this book will not be an easy read. She is not afraid to be blunt, direct, and passionate- something we need more of (and need more people to be open to.) Kendall also uses this book as a mini-memoir of sorts. She peppers little bits and pieces of her own lived experience throughout the text before moving on to the next big topic. There is a balance to this, she doesn't overdo it like some authors do, but the information she shares is intense. It seems like the book also may have been a vehicle to work out some of her own trauma. I think this adds to the book, making the abstract personal.

One of the best things about Kendall's text is that Hood Feminism is for ALL women and focuses on ALL of the Black women, other women of color, disabled people, trans people, and many other people forgotten or pushed to the side by mainstream feminism. This is not just a book for a single demographic who experiences one or two types of oppression but no others (a pretty small amount of people if you think about it.) In every section she brings up how not only cis het abled etc women of color are affected, but how disabled Black women, poor trans women, undocumented immigrant women, and so on are affected. If we focus on the issues that hit these people the hardest, it automatically trickles up to everyone else. As Kendall aptly states, "Black women are the canary* in the coal mine of oppression." 

In different sections of the book, Kendall details why and how feminists need to focus on a great many struggles that are often seen as part of other movements (or not seen at all.) Food security, housing security, gun violence, eating disorders, mental health, the inclusion of sexual harrassment and violence in police brutality resistance, healthcare outside of abortion- including the right to have children and not be sterilized, disability justice, trans liberation, and others. I have read a lot on these topics, but this book brought so much to the table. The way Kendall explains things truly puts them in perspective. For instance, I am a disabled transgender person who spends a lot of time at medical facilities. When the author discusses trans people in healthcare, she describes us as often being forced to provide "free education" to doctors on irrelevant topics to our visit, then WE are billed for it. Having it worded like this made me have so many feelings. "Yes! Why AM I not getting free healthcare if I am spending hours doing research and providing the doctor with college courses?!" She also elegantly discusses ableism in pro-choice movements. She urges people to never use eugenics and suggestions that disabled babies shouldn't exist in arguments for choice and instead encourages us to focus on bodily autonomy and resource access among other things. Now, Kendall knows she is not the first to say these things. Yet, she puts them together in very concise and accessible ways. The book is rather short for just how much is packed into it. I often only see discussions of ableism in pro-choice rhetoric in academia or the occasional obscure disability anthology. Kendall is bringing issues on the sidelines into the center. And that is what Hood Feminism is all about.

This was also posted to my goodreads.
 *Y'all know I can't resist calling attention to animal analogies. RIP to all of the canaries that were forced to die of carbon monoxide poisoning in order to protect miners before humans came up with automation and better detection methods. They are of the many ignored members of the working class in history. If you think about it, though, it is a good analogy for groups of women that have been sacrificed for other women to get ahead in the name of stopping oppression and suffering.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Book Review: How We Fight for Our Lives

Image: The cover of the book is a background of what looks to me like mixed red and gold paint, unevenly swirled around in an oval. On top of that, in a black hand painted uppercase font is the title of the book which covers most of the cover. Below that, in the same but smaller font is "a memoir, Saeed Jones."

I have mentioned before that I don't really consider myself a memoir person, though that seems to be changing as more voices are published. Memoirs tend to have to meet a higher bar in order for me to truly enjoy them. Saeed Jones' short memoir, "How We Fight for Our Lives," definitely met that bar. Jones has a very accessible way of writing about things while also managing to capture the complexities of existing within multiple dimensions of oppression and liberation as a gender nonconforming gay Black man. Jones' skills as a poet also are reflected in his writing adding to it being entertaining and gripping the whole way through. I could have read hundreds more pages and didn't want the book to end.

What strikes me most about this memoir is its honesty. Jones gives us a transformation story rather than a revamped history that some memoir writers put out. One of the most obvious coming of age transformations in the book is how Jones overcomes the shame pounded into him by society for being a Black gay man. He captures what it is like to hold that shame, to give into it, and eventually to fight it and turn it into pride. He captures the complicated discomforts of being young and naive and to then be taken advantage of by adult closeted/downlow child abusers who are sometimes the closest that isolated queer youth can get to community. This is not a linear journey though. Long after being out, he discusses more ways that society attempts to shame Black gay men in particular- even from the nice, well meaning college liberals. 

What begins as a history of both generous family support coupled with awful religious oppression moves forward in a liberation story. His mother is a constant source of support and is able to overcome her own struggles despite being brought up in a strictly Christian household, with her own mother that later asks God to "curse" her for being a Buddhist and letting her son "become" gay. 
Jones also captures what life after violent traumas is like. It's not often that I read someone able to vocalize the loneliness that comes with some of the experiences he shares in such accurate and vivid ways. 

Don't go into this thinking it's a trauma porn fest though. While Jones definitely overcame a great many struggles, the memoir is balanced. It includes enjoyable parts of his life as well as the ones that were devastating. He uses great analogies and poetic humor all throughout the book. I was purposely vague in certain sections because the book is short and I didn't want to end up regurgitating his entire story in my review. I definitely recommend picking this one up, regardless of where you come from.

This was also posted to my goodreads. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Book Review: Me and White Supremacy

[Normally I place a book cover and image description here, but blogger is deciding to make that impossible at the moment. I shall try again another day.]

"Welcome to the work."

Layla F. Saad's "Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor" is truly a gift to the world and especially to white people. This is someone directly affected by racism, misogynoir, and other oppressions (though she admits privileges of living outside the USA among others,) taking your hand, caring about your feelings, and also giving you an honest, no-nonsense education about how to combat white supremacy. I grabbed the audiobook version of this on a whim because it was available and was a racial justice book for white (and white passing) people that I had not read. I did not realize it was in workbook format, and am not on instagram, so I did not know it was previously and insta challenge. I was listening to it while doing other things with my hands that prevented me from writing down answers to all of the questions. This led me to quickly answering them in my head which is not good enough, so I will be returning to the print version of this book.

I should mention some things about my history with being a white person doing my best to fight racism. I am not looking for cookies here, you'll see eventually where I am going with this. So, like many white people, I have done a slew of racist things throughout my life that I am still embarrassed about (even though I know that all that guilt does is take up even more space with white neediness, so I am working on this.) I have made many mistakes while actively fighting racism and will undoubtedly continue to make mistakes (the book is very good at discussing this.) When I got serious about fighting white supremacy, I read a ton of books (and still do,) I started organizing and going to events, protests, and workshops and having real conversations with people close and not so close to me. I eventually co-founded an anti-white supremacy group that focused on helping white people with the lifelong journey of dismantling white supremacy within themselves that included study groups, conversation practices, organizing of events, and so on. I eventually became less involved in person due to my health and did a lot of secretarial stuff online for a while. Eventually stepped back completely due mostly to disability and stressful life stuff that I felt made it too difficult for me to participate well. I continued doing the regular upkeep within and outside myself on my own. All of this is to say that I would not call myself a beginner. And here's the point: Even though this book is focused on being accessible to beginners, I got a TON out of it. I think any white person at any phase of fighting white supremacy would get a lot out of this book, so please don't walk past it just because you've been around.

Saad encourages the reader/listener to come to the book with as fresh eyes/ears as possible. She encourages us to experience each chapter and concept as if we are for the first time. This was good advice that I did my best to follow. Something that I think Saad does especially well is realizing that, well, we white folks tend to be pretty fragile by default. When you grow up in a white supremacist system, you don't have to think about race and racism every second of every day like many BBIPOC (Black, Brown, Indigenous, and (other) People of Color) do. This results in us not having as much practice managing those emotions. We hear racism and white supremacy and unless we are full blown Nazis, we think of it as an egregious personal insult that we must defend against. Rather than telling us we're awful trash or coddling us like babies, Saad prepares us for the feelings and tells us why they are common, painful, and necessary.

"Here's to doing what is right, not what is easy."

“Antiracism work that does not break the heart open cannot move people toward meaningful change.”
Layla F. Saad,
Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor

I felt she was quite gentle and kind about this, but, no matter what, there will be white people who aren't ready for this workbook. Some of the reviews exemplify just that (in which angry white people act out every chapter of the book within their hyperbolic 1-star reviews while not even realizing it.) I was there in the past, especially in my youth. (By the way, young people who are already fighting racism and white supremacy, thank you for getting it so much sooner than I did and making the world such a better place.)

As I said, I got a lot out of this despite my past experience. I have read pretty much every book that she quotes in this. All of them are also books I would recommend. As a non-newbie, the sections that I got the most from were probably those on cultural appropriation and white apathy. (She even directly mentions that white folks who think they don't have to write down their answers or do the work are practicing a form of this.) Called in. This is when I made the promise to return to this book later. I also think that for others, this book is set up really well as both a beginners course and a continuing education course. I imagine that I could come back to it in 10 years. While some of our language for things will likely have evolved, the prompts and questions will still be valid.

Saad also mentions that this book is for white passing people of color, but stresses that their experiences will be very different than that of white people. At times she addresses them separately from white people in order to stress this. I can't say if she does this perfectly being that I'm white, but she did seem to put a lot of care and thought into addressing them as a separate group.

This book is quite short, but nonetheless, Saad manages to introduce a huge amount of information. She stresses that each person can tackle this at their own pace- day by day and week by week like she has it set up, or faster and slower. I listened to it all quickly which is another reason to return. Were there a couple things I don't totally agree with? Sure. Very small ones that are gripes over the evolution of word meanings. For instance, the original meaning of gaslighting was used to describe an intentional form of lying and scheming in order to disorient one's victim (often of intimate partner or family abuse) in order to harm and control them. Saad uses it basically to describe any disagreement white people express about people of colors' experiences. Many social justice people have grabbed onto the term and used it in a variety of ways outside the original abuse definition. I think this evolution of the term can water it down. It continues to be spread further and further as I have also seen radicals use "gaslighting" as a description for anyone who disagrees with them at all, even while sharing their own experience of oppression. As a result, I think when abuse victims try to discuss how gaslighting feels in its original definition, people don't understand what we mean. But, words evolve and there is a very real phenomenon of silencing of BBIPOC both intentional and strategic as well as unintentional and ignorant. Both can have the same horrific detrimental effects, so maybe I need to accept these new definitions.

The other thing I disagree with is that there is the suggestion that white people are giving up everything by giving up white privilege. I disagree that we only have something to lose. White privilege, entitlement, and other forms of supremacy actually rob us of real and authentic experiences and relationships with our BBIPOC friends, lovers, acquaintances, coworkers, etc. It's also a lot of work to run away from accusations of white supremacy the way many white people do. In my opinion, while the lifelong work of fighting white supremacy is very hard work, it can also provide quite a lot of relief. Saying, "I'm sorry I did harm, thank you for telling me, here is what I heard, here is what I will do better, I am open to anything else you have to say and am also ok if you don't want to say anything else," is actually not as hard as people think once you overcome the fear. It is a hell of a lot easier than writing facebook novellas about your black friend who said you're cool and how you voted for Obama and how you're a good person because you went to a protest at your library or whatever.

These disagreements are of really small parts of the book- a few sentences. I am really only mentioning these disagreements to combat some of the aforementioned white people 1-star reviews claiming that people are afraid to disagree because they'll be called racist. No, social justice people disagree all of the time. We spend hours, days, months, years disagreeing. It's gonna be ok, I promise. Give the workbook another shot, will you?

Anyway, white folks, please read this, reread this, and if you are able (and if not, can have someone help you,) please do the workbook part, too. Even better, organize a white people study group where you can go through the book together and support each other. There are other formats for groups you could organize before and after this as well. Make sure you listen to BBIPOC, realizing they are not a monolith and will have many different- sometimes conflicting- things you will need to navigate the best you can. But also, don't lean on them for venting and processing your racist issues unless they explicitly ask you to and give their permission. And, for real, try really hard to hear the words "racism" and "white supremacy" as prompts to learn and do better rather than as terms to run from as perceived insults.

As I was writing this, I had the privilege of seeing this, in which Kimberly Jones gives us 500 years of history in 7 minutes. So, go watch that in the meantime.

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Book Review: Deciding for Ourselves

Image: The cover of the book has a scrapbook type of style to it, complete with scotch tape pieces holding down images (which I initially reached for and attempted to peel off, thinking I had put them there!) The background that can be seen around the edges is an ombré of pink fading downward to yellow, white, blue-grey, and finally black. Taped on top of this are three clips of the same photograph on top of one another. In the image is a very large group of people standing with their fists raised in the air. There appears to be a large quantity of women and children making up most of the people. The photo is stylized with a low contrast ombré overlay of orange fading down to pink, red, and purple. In hand written black marker style font, the title of the book is written in cursive with each word placed on each photo panel. Printed in small white letters going down the right side is "the promise of direct democracy," and below that in the same letters, the author's name.

Deciding for Ourselves: The Promise of Direct Democracy, edited by Cindy Milstein, gives us something we don't see enough of in our worlds of utopian ideological purity politics. I don't necessarily mean that as a negative or positive, but simply a realistic statement. Some politics and ideas should never be compromised. Yet, as history and the present continuously show us: the everyday grind of existing in this world with each other, especially in the long term, is far messier than the way we envision a better world to be. In this text, Milstein has gathered an international selection of people's writings on self-governed spaces that have existed or currently exist. The formats range from interviews between organizers to clips of stories and the essay format you would expect from this type of book. There is also a small amount of poetry by Milstein at the beginning and end of the book. I was not a fan and prefer her writing in other mediums far more. I am not a poetry person in general though, so perhaps I don't know what I am talking about.

"Deciding for Ourselves" is not another book on what these spaces are or why self-governed space are needed. Instead, it offers real-life praxis from many areas throughout the world. Off the bat, in the introduction, Milstein talks about this messiness and the complicated nature of true community. She describes self-governed spaces as beautiful and necessary as well as fragile and complicated. The movements and communities detailed in the book are written about in various stages from very new to long-lived to destroyed. She also mentions that the entries are often from people who do not speak English at all or as their first language and takes credit for any miscommunication. As far as I could tell, the translations and editing were done well. I suppose time will tell if someone were to come out and say, "that is not what I meant," but it seems like she communicated closely with each contributor.

It was interesting reading this book, (albeit slowly due to everything going on,) in the current climate of a pandemic existing simultaneously with one of the most brilliant uprisings in the USA that I have witnessed in my 37 years of life. Sparked to action by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the constant stream of other victims of murderous police, there have been huge masses of people out there every day, defending Black Lives and fighting the violent authoritarianism of police and governments. Among the people in Costco getting into fist fights over toilet paper, there have also been people (some of whom had never considered themselves radical) building effective mutual aid systems to make sure people have their needs met throughout this pandemic. People have been setting aside conflicts and working together, including anarchists working alongside unlikely allies to gangs declaring truces and uniting in struggle. Reading this book has me asking myself frequently- what happens when the protests and pandemic end? How can we keep these things going?

One of the news sources that is actually trustworthy during all of this is Unicorn Riot. So, I was pleased to read an entry with one of the founding members of the alternative media outlet- Niko Georgiades- discussing Greek self management. The entries in the book by contributors other than Milstein that I would count as my favorites are: "Pan-Africanism, Social Ecology, and Intimate Direct Democracy," by Modibo Kadalie in conversation with Andres Zonneveld, "Christiania: A Free City in the City of Copenhagen," by Asbjørn Nielsen, "'Only with You, This Broom Will Fly': Rojava, Magic, and Sweeping Away the State Inside of Us," by Dilar Dirik, and "Pirate Ships, Stormy Seas, and Finding Solid Ground: The Quartier Libre des Lentillères," by Natasha King. That said, I put a ton of page flags throughout the entire book. All of the entries are excellent.

Some of the themes that are explored are so important and are things that can easily divide communities to the point of fracture and complete breakdown. These include issues like social and ecological interactions, drug use and addiction, cultural differences, interactions between people in a space for politics alone (for instance white cis male anarchists from middle or owning class backgrounds squatting) and people in a space out of necessity (such as homeless people, refugees, those marginalized into a life of trauma and poverty,) communities in conflict (such as gangs or others with different ideologies,) avoiding restricting definitions and labels, being open to constant change, and the capacity for "ordinary" people- who may never have seen themselves as activists- to organize and revolt. All of these themes and more were explored with real life examples of people making really tough stuff work as a community as well as when communities failed. Basically, truly cooperative communities are full of messy struggles that defy definition. But, in that messiness, truly beautiful, necessary, and successful things can exist- showing us that a better anti-authoritarian world is indeed possible. 

I kept asking myself: Where can I and others bend on our beliefs without breaking the core important issues at the center? How can people with very different needs and desires best share space? How can we continue to cooperate when there are major conflicts and disagreements? What happens to people who are kicked out or barred from joining? How can we make these things accessible to the most marginalized of people? How can we make expensive accessibility methods exist or utilize outside structures when necessary? These and many other questions exhibit the book's successful execution of starting real-life conversations about real-life struggles.

Another less important note, I really love the cover and interior design of the print book done by Crisis. I am not sure if the ebook was able to include any similar formats, but it definitely added to the experience of reading for me. So, it's definitely worth picking up the print version if you are able.

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Book Review: Exhalation

Image: The cover of the book is a black background with scattered white specks that are or resemble stars in the night sky. All of the letters on the cover are disintegrating at parts into said stars. Across the top is the title in large capital very light blue letters. There is small text across the top too blurry to read. In the center of the cover is the word "stories" in smaller letters. Across the bottom is Ted Chiang's name in larger capital letters followed by another string of small text too blurry to read.

Exhalation: Stories, by Ted Chaing, sets itself apart from many other short story collections. Usually, collections like this have one or a few bad or boring stories in them. This is not the case here. It is clear that Chiang's usual method of sticking to short fiction has made him a master of it. Even the stories that bent in a way that is usually not my taste were so well written and engaging that I remained immersed. The book also has something I don't see a lot of- the inclusion of author's notes at the end of each story. These little anecdotes were very interesting. Learning Chiang's inspiration and thought processes in writing were a welcome transition between stories.

My favorite story in the book was also the longest. The Lifecycle of Software Objects is one of the best AI stories I have ever read. What makes many of Chiang's stories interesting is the very human (or sentient) elements he adds to it. He captures everyday life and long term results of big decisions we make throughout our existence. This particular story takes a look at evolution of AI life forms over time within the realm of human interactions with AI and with each other in the time of late stage capitalism, increasing automation, rapid obsolescence of technologies, social and sexual consent, and many others.

Other themes include time travel, the unreliability of memory, the gray areas of technologies that can both help and harm us, alternate histories, determinism, materialism (the philosophy/physics version) vs creationism, and others. In every one of these themes, no matter how common in science fiction, Chiang managed to explore them in original and interesting ways. I am glad this collection exists as it was a great introduction to Chiang's work for me.

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Book Review: Until the End of Time

Image: The cover of the book is a time lapsed photo of a landscape showing the movement of the stars across the sky. The bottom third of the image is water with dark through light blue reflections and a single yellow white light shining down right of center from a light on the horizon. Above that is a mountain rainge of dark blue with black upper edges. Behind that is the sky with hundreds of thin lines moving in a circle around the center. In large white capital letters across the top is the author's name, below that in much smaller letters is "author of The Elegant Universe." Below that, in large letters again is the book title. Across the bottom is the byline: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe. There is also a white sticker reading "large print" on the lower left side.

Brian Greene is by far one of my most favorite science writers and speakers. You can always tell that he is extremely passionate about education and trying to make very difficult to understand concepts more accessible to the layman, and more fun. His books often have a range within them where  readers can skip around to an extent based on their education level. "Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe" has a similar formula, but is different in some major ways. It is by far Greene's most philosophical book that I have read and includes the most diverse range of subjects and discussions. Sometimes it works for him, but it pains me to say that sometimes, it really doesn't. I was very excited when I saw that Greene was putting out a new book. It has been 9 years since his last (which I also enjoyed) and I was looking forward to all of the scientific discoveries and updates that have happened since then. He does do a bit of this in gratifying ways. If the book were cut down to about the size of a novella, it would have been great.

The book starts off strong, the first few chapters capturing concepts that you expect from the title and description of the book. It is accessibly written and it made me familiar enough with things like entropy. This allowed me to understand what another reviewer meant by their witty comment that the book unfortunately increases in entropy as it progresses. The book becomes an odd sandwich where the beginning third and end section are in line with what the book promotes itself to be. In the middle, we get Brian Greene's musings on different subjects that interest him outside of his field of expertise. Some of them loosely align with the book's focus and demonstrate some understanding of the topics, others do not. The most enjoyable parts are Greene's writing style and his expressions of passion and wonder about the world. The biggest flaw in this section is that it is not well researched enough.

I can't fault anyone working in academia too much for this. Requirements for more and more specialization and the sheer amount of information out there makes it very difficult to adequately consume enough about other fields. This is why I wish Greene would have left these sections out. Other reviewers with a different education than me expressed issues with his discussion of evolution and other topics, so I am going to focus more on one I have read a ton about. I have both scientific issues and issues of mere disappointment in Greene's discussion of other animals. Greene is an ethical vegan who went vegetarian as a child and then vegan after a visit to Farm Sanctuary in NY. Now, there are plenty of ethical vegans who still struggle to understand other animals, often viewing them all as a uniform group of innocent voiceless children, which is far from the vast and complex realities of other animals lives and experiences. I guess I expected someone with Greene's intellect and ethics to give us a bit more in his discussions of nonhuman animals. I think he's either the kind of vegan that doesn't care if anyone else is or he is afraid- like many vegans- of coming off as the crazy, preachy, mood ruiner. Nonvegans often respond by shutting down or attacking vegans- even the most polite, passive, and educated ones. This might throw a wrench in the gears of his intention to make his books accessible to as many people as possible. But, when I saw him veering off into other directions, I really hoped he would approach discussions of other animals with more care and use his platform in a way that was more in line with his ethics.

So, what exactly did I take issue with? He refers to other animals as "it" which is very common in speciesist human language, but I still always try to point it out. His discussion of animal language and communication shows a very outdated understanding of the subject. It is true that human language is unique. What he missed is more recent information, a long history of research, newer theories, and an expansion of the definition of language suggest a likelihood that many other animals do have language, we just aren't adept at listening to or understanding it (despite some of them actually learning our languages.) Some of his quotes from long dead scientists are ancient and even downright demeaning. He also highlights extremely cruel nonhuman animal studies from the past with excited passion while making no mention of the ethical horrors or the point of view of the animals tortured and killed in said studies. From the average science writer writing a very specific type of book, I may expect this. But, in something this philosophical written by an ethical vegan, I wanted more from him. I kept waiting and waiting and the moment of gratification never came. I could write a ton more on this in detail, but I've already digressed enough.

The last third-ish of the book gets back to his area of expertise, which was more enjoyable. It was still a bit more disorganized than he usually is, but it still taught me a lot and I made a lot of highlights. It is also the most difficult to understand section for a layman. He packs a lot of information into a small amount of space which left me wishing that he used the space in the center of the sandwich to elaborate more on what was at the end. 

Overall, I don't regret reading this book by any means. It's just definitely not his best. So, if you are new to Greene, don't start here. Even if his older works have an outdated section here or there, you'll still learn a lot more from "The Elegant Universe" than you will from this book. If you're familiar with Greene, you may want to skip around a bit.

This was also posted to my goodreads. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Book Review: Tongue Tied

 Image: The cover of the book is a light sky blue. Across the top in two lines taking up almost half of the cover is the title "Tongue-Tied" in a tangled pink bubble like script font. Below that is a white dialogue bubble with the point to the left of the upper title. Inside in black letters with cracks resembling a cracked window is "Breaking the language barrier to animal liberation." In the bottom right corner is a white thought bubble with the smaller bubbles decreasing towards the lower corner. Inside is the author's name in small pink print.

Going into Hạnh Nguyên's "Tongue-Tied: Breaking the Language Barrier to Animal Liberation," I expected a book that would lean to the academic side of things. While it does have academic aspects, it is clear that Nguyên intended to write this book for a wide variety of audiences- including those who may be new to the idea of animal liberation. While I am pretty far away from my pre-vegan days, I do think Nguyên succeeded in this. This is no easy feat. Quite often I will find a book is all introductory or all highly specialized discussion. Yet, Tongue-Tied manages to pack a lot of information for several audiences into a small space. I suppose one could even call it a well-researched manifesto on the importance of language and inclusion of who she calls other-than-human animals. Nguyên's writing style really appealed to me and I found myself breezing through what could easily become a cumbersome topic. This book manages to make very strong, direct, unapologetic statements about these subjects without assuming that the reader has a PhD in animal studies. I am sure that, as a 14 year vegan who has read a lot on these themes, I may grasp it better than someone new to it all. But, I do think a wide variety of people could read and enjoy this. Even before I had finished it, I decided I was going to add it to my repertoire of books that I recommend to those new to the ideas of animal and collective liberation.

Nguyên starts us off with some history about herself and a brief linguistic and philosophical history of human interaction with other animals. Here and throughout the book, she effectively argues the extreme importance of language in the fight for animal liberation- including humans. Humans can and have weaponized language against other animals, allowing us to obscure who they are by labeling them as products, possessions, fashion accessories, test objects, entertainment attractions, and other forms of exploitation and oppression they face. Nguyên also discusses how animality has been used in conjunction with other methods in order to oppress marginalized humans on the basis of disability. gender, race, class, national origin, and other facets. The author herself is a Vietnamese American "third culture kid" who has unique experiences in both USAmerican culture and Vietnamese culture. She utilizes this well to discuss many human-other animal interactions and relationships that aren't often highlighted in texts about animal liberation and linguistics.
Nguyên is also adept at discussing how both animal rights or other advocates for animals AND those who don't follow this path hold speciesist views, use speciesist language, and make many mistakes regarding interaction with other-than-human animals. Because I bookmarked about 1/3-1/2 of the pages in this book, it would be impossible to add all of the quotes I admired to this review. This one captures an important point for those who seek to ally themselves with other animals: "Other than human animals are the owners of their experiences; they are the protagonists of their stories... When we stop characterizing other animals as "voiceless," we can properly reposition ourselves as their allies." When we refer to other animals as a homogenous voiceless group, we take away their already existing collective and individual voices. She explains how doing things like describing animals by instinct and reproduction erases their relations with one another. We often describe the same behavior in humans as completely devoid of choice and emotion and other animals- a huge pet peeve of mine when I read books about other animals written by journalists or scientists who obviously have not seen other animals as much more than things. She also makes a very important point about fighting "animal cruelty." In fighting only the most severe forms of cruelty, we still support the idea that the exploitation itself is defensible provided it is "humane," which often just means "slightly less horrible." Non-advocates and welfarists are known for doing this, but many other more radical animal advocates contribute to this idea as well.

The author explains very well her reasoning for using language about other animals that emphasizes their individual personhood. While she is direct and firm, she does not beat the reader over the head with things. The book inspires critical thinking, questioning, and experimentation. She is also very aware of the shortcomings of humans interpreting for or writing about other animals, even when we do try to implement these things:

"Each person's story is known to them, if no one else. It is a rather unsettling realization: that human perception and understanding are not required for an other than human person to exist and persist or for their subjective experience to be extraordinary - that without any need to be seen and known by a human or validated by human constructs of reality, other than human animals continue to live with meaning and purpose."

Nguyên wraps the book up with an excellent summary of her thoughts and arguments. This book was fairly short, but has given me an immense amount to think about regarding my interactions with and how I think about other animals. There is so much more than is in this review and it was very difficult to choose which quotes to select or what to focus on because the entire book is full of fantastic, thought provoking, and important information.

This summary is followed by an unexpected set of portraits of other-than-human animals she has encountered throughout her life. It took me off guard as I looked through the images of everyone from animals at sanctuaries to her personal companions. I found myself in tears, practically sobbing by the end of the images when we meet a rat (or possibly a mouse) without a name who has sacrificed so much and that the author expresses desire to have known. I am currently providing end-of-life care to a rat with an advanced pituitary tumor while I was reading this book, have lost one other rat and dog of about 15 years within the past year, and have been exposed to massive amounts of loss, cruelty, and exploitation of other animals. Those undoubtedly played a part in my emotional response. At the same time, I found this to be an extremely creative way of approaching a conclusion. It really brought everything full circle- the individual personhood of other animals, their inherent existence for their own reasons, the important places they hold in our lives, the effects they have on every aspect of humanity, and how very serious and urgent an issue this is. It can be quite overwhelming when we try to wrap our heads around numbers in the trillions of animals killed per year for food alone. But, when we look at each individual, our human minds can grasp who this is happening to and this creates an understanding that is critical.  

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is fairly accessible, informative, passionate, well written, rational without being cold, emotional without being hyperbolic, and most importantly, it brings new ideas to the conversation.

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Note: I made the mistake of writing this review first in blogger instead of a word processor. As a result, while editing, I lost a large chunk of my review and blogger autosaved the draft. I tried to rewrite it, but it's still shorter and pieces are still missing. I will update this review if I can remember them.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Book Review: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

Image: The cover of the book is a graphic illustration with bold colors composing the trunks of trees or possibly vines with small, short, pointed branches or thorns sticking out of them. The 10 lines making up the trunks are mostly of similar size. 6 are all black and 4 are pink on the bottom and black on top. The background is a cerulean blue. On the second tree from the left, in small script, is the worlds "a novel" in white. The next trunk over has "drive your plow over" in larger white letters. The next two lines have "Olga" and "Tokarczuk" in capital black letters on the pink sections and "the bones" on the white section. The next over has small pink letters too small for me to read. The next trunk has "of the dead." There is a gold nobel prize stamp on the upper right corner.

It will be difficult to review Olga Tokarczuk's "Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead" without giving spoilers, but I am going to do my best. I chose this book because I saw others on my feed rating it highly, but I went into it only really knowing that it was a small Polish town murder mystery. I didn't know ahead of time that the author was a vegan feminist. I was pleasantly surprised, as the book progressed, to see speciesism, sexism/mysogyny, ageism, ableism, and other oppression as themes central to the novel. They are themes pleasantly smashed into bits by the novel's protagonist. It feels somewhat odd to call a murder mystery "pleasant," but this book was truly a joy to experience.

Not only did Tokarczuk include feminism, animal liberation, etc in her story, her story was well researched. I enjoyed the mentions of the very long and interesting history of consideration for animals within social and legal realms going back centuries. Most people don't know about this history. There were times were certain animals were given (likely quite unfair) trials and appointed attorneys (and sometimes won) their court cases. There have been a large variety of ways that humans have interacted with various species over time. I think we often learn about animals suffering immensely in current society and captivity and we tend to think it has always been that way. Some even think things have gotten better for animals over time which, in the big picture (most mammals in the entire world for instance, are farmed animals, followed by humans) they have certainly not. The history is more complicated, ever changing.

The biggest things that stand out in this novel for me is that the murder mystery is only really a small part of the story. It is mostly about our vegetarian astrologist narrator, Janina and her musings on the world. She is a not-young woman (to be honest, I never know what words to use anymore, but basically she is old enough to be called an "old woman" pejoratively often.) She suffers from chronic illness, much of which as a mystery, echoing the worldwide issues with womens healthcare. She is outspoken about her beliefs but also has the cooperative nature of someone living in a small town with rough, cold terrain. She still uses some animal products throughout the book, but seems like the type of vegetarian that would go vegan (in whatever ways were possible and practicable for her) in a heartbeat after having a conversation with someone who explaineddairy, egg, down feather, etc sources to her. She is human and imperfect like all of us, but immensely likable, relatable, and interesting. She has an appreciation and adoration of other animals that she expresses widely to the people she interacts with. Most of all, it's about Janina not being taken seriously, especially by the men around her. She is called crazy and dismissed due to her gender, age, love for animals, and outspoken nature. We eventually learn that the community refusing to take her seriously and see her as a valuable member of their community (despite her constant care taking and helping others) is one of the main reasons they can't solve the case. Janina helps us figure out and understand what happens over time, and the big reveal in the ending is very rewarding.

I adored this book as a vegan feminist but also as someone who enjoys good writing. Many books include great themes, but lack decent plot or writing. Some books with wonderful writing have horrific mistreatment and misunderstanding of marginalized people. This book excels in both arenas. I will definitely be reading more from this author.

This was also posted to my goodreads

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Book Review: Catch and Kill

Image: The cover of the book is a black background with blocky, solid illustrations and letters in white and/or red. Across the top is small red letters it says "new york times bestseller." Under that in very large white letters, each word on a new line, is "Catch and kill." Next to that in small red letters is "Lies, Spies, and a conspiracy to protect predators." Under and to the left of the title is a large cutout of a red hand that is sewing shut a pair of cutout white and grey lips. Below that is the author's name- Ronan Farrow- in white letters and below that in smaller red letters is, "winner of the pulitzer prize."

Content warning: this review has many direct mentions of many kinds of sexual and other violence, but no graphic descriptions.

I followed many of the sexual misconduct news stories around when the events in Ronan Farrow's "Catch and Kill" took place. The words "sexual misconduct" feel inappropriate to use as they make it seem more acceptable than it is. I understand the use of these words both as a method to cover a wide range of offenses and also perhaps to reduce the triggering effects of more intense words like rape. It is difficult to know exactly what words to use. I know this may seem like I am getting hung up of words, but this book taught me how serious words can be in these situations. Catch and Kill chronicles not only a movement to expose sexually violent men in media industries, but also just how rampant and terrifying interwoven sexual violence, power differentials, intimidation, stalking, libel, and other ways of literally destroying the careers and lives of women is a central part of many media industries. 

I knew that the vast amount of rape and other forms of sexual violence and intimidation at the hands of Harvey Weinstein and others like him were horrific, widespread, and hidden for a long time. What I did not know is what they and those who tried to expose these things went through after the initial events of sexual violence. It is infuriating and terrifying just how hard Ronan Farrow had to work to get these womens stories out there. While Farrow constantly repeats that he wants the story to be about the women and not him, it is clear that compassionate reporters must also be included in the pile of victims of these powerful, criminal men and all the men (and some women) who fight to protect them. It is clear that a great many reporters before Farrow were never able to publish their findings due to pay offs, intimidation, stalking, threats, and a climate of terror that was created by rapists and their protectors. Farrow himself mentions going into the fight thinking it would be stressful, but laughing it off when an informant told him he should consider getting a gun or some form of protection. By the end, he was no longer laughing. The sheer amount of harassment, intimidation, homophobia, misogyny, stalking, threats, loss, and everything else Farrow had to power through just to get this story out is immense. I kept asking myself, "How many more women did this happen to after every survivor, whistleblower, and journalist was intimidated and threatened into silence? How many artists did we lose? How many women could have become more prolific in their fields had they not been privately and publicly destroyed by these campaigns to silence them after they experienced sexual violence?"

I am not going to list everything that happens in detail for a couple of reasons. The first is that so many things happened that I don't think I can accurately summarize it in a review that remains reasonably short enough for its purposes. Second, I want everyone to read this book. It not only contains important information, but it is written and presented very well. I found myself completely immersed in the same ways I would reading a well written thriller or watching an exciting series. Not only do we get to dive deep into the occurrences around a long history of attempts and failures to expose sexual violence in and around media industries, we get to be entertained in the process. I use the word "entertained" because I couldn't think of another, but let me be clear. I don't mean that this is a fun read. I mean that it is an immersing, well written, exciting and terrifying account of real events.

Despite how well composed and exciting the book was, it was incredibly difficult to get through at times. Farrow manages to highlight these womens struggles in ways that were so realistic and accurate. So often in stories of sexual violence, there is an image created of the perfect virgin Mary type of victim and the horrible evil love wolf perpetrator because human beings tend to like binaries and black and white representations. They like stories that are easy to comprehend and they like villains that seem to be of a world outside their own. The problem is that these false representations make it all that much easier for people like Weinstein to use all of his resources to malign his victims publicly. Oh, this woman was possibly a sex worker and this woman had a lot of sex and this woman was flirtatious and this woman acted like this and this woman is just plain crazy. The truth of the matter is that rape and sexual violence happens to people- real people with real diverse struggles and histories. It happens at the hands of people we love, know, trust, and look up to. In fact, most violence happens at the hands of people we know, not strangers. 

Some survivors of sexual violence do everything in their power to find some way to avoid what happened being real. This can result in a variety of responses including continued association with the aggressor. Furthermore, when someone's entire career or their life itself is dependent upon her silence, then it is not surprising at all that she may remain silent. Those things are coping mechanisms of people facing aggressors without the kind of resources and power Weinstein had. Adding the power into the mix makes it all the more terrifying. The women who chose to come forward astounded me and undoubtedly saved many women that could have come after them. Now, I want to be clear, victims are not at fault for any victims that may suffer after them (unless they voluntarily become a honeypot or something.) But, one survivor of sexual violence at the hands of Matt Lauer mentions that many women before her likely fear for the women to come after them and that she felt the same about women that could be hurt after her. It captures the reality of how the actual aggressors and ones with the most power not only get away with sexual violence, but they also manage to place all responsibility for their actions onto their victims. Not only are survivors of said violence struggling with the violence itself, they rack their brains looking for what they did wrong and what will happen as a result of their actions. This is one of the ways that sexual violence creates a particularly vast power dynamic. 

I could go on and on about this topic, but others have said many things I could say already. I want to also echo Ronan Farrow in hopes that the womens struggles and stories will remain at the center of this story. The greater the power dynamic, be it socially, physically, financially, professionally, or in other dimensions, the more possibility there is for struggle and damage. This story involves extreme events in a setting that completely normalized them to the point that some people, mostly but not all men, saw it as just a necessary facet of the industry. Through the courage of survivors and related people who came forward knowing they could or would lose everything and the journalists like Farrow that were willing to go against intimidation by almost everyone they knew, a vast realm of abuses was exposed and consequences finally took place. It was not and will never be enough to make up for what happened. But, there are successes and when people can fight, they can win. As far as I am concerned, Catch and Kill should be read by everyone- both for the story itself and the far reaching implications of what happens in stories like this. I don't have a witty sentence to end this with as my mind is still reeling. Just go read it.

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Book Review: Underland

Image: The cover of the book is a brightly multicolored illustration of a tunnel like shape surrounded by trees. The end of the path is yellow moving back into red, and then multiple layered chaotic colors. The top half is covered by leafless tree silhouettes. Each tree silhouette is a different bright color. The ground is a painterly mix of black, reds, greens, and yellows mostly whereas the sky is a mixture of blues and purples. Across the center of the book is the word "underland" in large block white letters, divining the word in half on separate lines. Below that in small letters is the byline. Below that in slightly larger letters is the author's name. Below that in very small letters is a reviewer quote too small to read. Along the right side of the cover is a red stripe with white letters saying "national bestseller."

We are living in a time where a great many of us worldwide are physically distancing ourselves from the rest of the world if we're not forced out as an essential worker. (About that: I already believed food/service workers, delivery persons, medical staff, and so on were critical to my existence, but now I hope we'll do something to honor these people for being damned superheroes out their risking their lives to literally save ours.) Those of us taking the pandemic seriously- as we should- are all likely feeling at least some of the deep loneliness pervading our world, even us introverts. I mention this because "Underland: A Deep Time Journey" by Robert Macfarlane was truly a journey to places most never get to go. It is a poetic exploration of not only the science, but of the psychology, culture, and experience that go into exploring and studying the most inaccessible and unfamiliar parts of our world. It took me out of my house and out to locations that were fascinatingly immense and vast.

Macfarlane is a very talented writer as he beautifully captures the emotionality of each of these experiences in which he accompanied experts to visit the underlands of the world. Some of his descriptions of things that I already knew about made me think and feel differently in immense ways. Regarding the unknowns, he brought a well-rounded and accessible understanding. This is the kind of book where you learn quite a lot without needing a PhD to be able to read it. Some of the biggest wow moments for me were finding out that scientists look for dark matter using dangerous underground mines, French anarchists have built a liberated zone for themselves in the abandoned catacombs below Paris, the understanding of tree and fungal networks has been regularly disrupted by authoritarianism and capitalism being forced onto what is more comparable to a mutualist structure, that the ice of glaciers is constantly moving and morphing in ways that are still baffling to this day, and more. The author also captures the serious nature of the histories of many of the locations visited such as the constant danger to workers, a history of war and suffering of an area, and the impact of radioactive toxic materials with half lives of billions of years sitting throughout the world.

We also meet lots of interesting people that are very well captured by Macfarlane. He captures these peoples personalities and interests well and manages to share his thoughts and assessments with us in ways that don't come off as leading or heavy handed. The book made me wish I was physically able to travel to these very difficult to access locations and brave enough to go on these journeys. However, for most of us, it is far safer to live vicariously through Macfarlane in this book. He definitely takes us on the journey promised in the title and I appreciated the chance to leave my house- at least in my head.

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Book Review: Environments of Empire

Image: The cover of the book is a light tan background with a very light grey partial illustration of the leaves of a plant extending across the upper left section. In the center of the cover is an old illustration of a pygmy hippo facing to the right side. They are standing on a tan ground sparsely populated with light green grass patches. Their flesh is a reddish brown. Across the top of the cover in reddish brown is the title of the bbook in capital letters, the word "empire" being larger than the others. Below that in smaller blue-green letters is "networks and agents of" in capital letters and "ecological change" in italicized text. Across the bottom are the editors' names in smaller, black, capital letters of the same font.

There is a very specific audience targeted by Environments of Empire: Networks and Agents of Ecological Change. This is not necessarily unusual for an academic text, but I found this one had an exceptional amount of specificity in its focus. I am not an ecology historian PhD and I felt that while reading this book. I found that many of the essays would be far better understood by someone with an already longstanding, comprehensive understanding of worldwide colonial history. I do not. This does not make the book automatically bad. It was just not for me, and I do read academic works semi-frequently that are outside my field of education. It did not meet my expectations of the information I expected to find until the very last section.

My interest in this book came from wanting to know more about how imperialist colonization affected animals and others in various regions of the world. This book does make it clear that European imperialism and colonialism have resulted in environmental change and damage via the introduction of non-native and invasive species. It was just presented in a very Eurocentric manner. One of the writers reminds us that not everything can be defined by Western colonialism. Yet, I found that this book was defined by it. This could be from my own lack of education, so take that opinion with its source in mind.

What was not clear from the blurb is that this book is a collection of papers first presented at a 2015 conference at the University of Kassel, Germany. As I said, very specific. The authors are overwhelmingly white (passing, at least) and I am not sure if any of them are indigenous people. This may or may not be the reason that I found most of the essays to center the imperialist colonizers- often focusing on a single man's travels- rather than centering those negatively affected- the native people, nonhuman animals, and native plants- by said colonizers. The first two sections fall into this category whereas the last section- Animal Agency- finally started giving me what I came for. The rest were a slog to get through and the book reads far more like a journal than a book. That is not to say that there isn't huge overlap there in academic texts. But, most academic books I have read do not feel as if I am reading a periodical in sequence.

That said, once I got to the last section in the book, I did find myself interested in what the author's shared. "Animal Skins" details how colonialism and exotic animal trades negatively affect both indigenous human and nonhuman animal behaviors and populations. "Adapting to Change in Australian Estuaries" manages to make the intersection of settler colonialism and oyster prevalence interesting. "Brumbies as Colonizers" offers an example of how a non-native species can be more ethically accommodated and viewed after being non-consensually introduced into a non-native environment. I found all of these interesting and closer to what I was hoping to learn from this book.

Overall, this book is for academics with a very specific focus. It was not composed or written with a wide audience in mind- especially not the layman. On top of that, it is very specific in its sources both in author demographics and the original presentation of the papers at a single conference 5 years ago. That is not to say that the book is not necessary nor useful for those it is targeted at. It simply did not work very well for me.

This was also posted to my goodreads.