Saturday, November 28, 2009

Time as cycles, or spirals, but never the linear.

I finished my thesis today.

This is not to imply, in any way whatsoever, that the stupid thing is done.  But it's done enough that my poor, dear, immensely patient thesis director can wade through the pages and pages of words and footnotes and interpretive dance and tell me what it is that I've said.

Because at this point, I'm not certain that I can remember.

What's interesting about this, besides the point that I may actually really get my damn Master's, is that I've been studying Arendt for ten years.

This question of the world in common has been my question for the past decade.  For ten years I've been worrying this question of the social.  And again, this is not to imply that I'm done with this worry.

A decade.

I like moments like these.  I liked when Harry Potter came to a close and I got to look at the loop my life had made from the first time I read the books to the close of the last one.  I like to look back and see where I've changed and where I have stayed resolutely the same.

And yet, so much more work still to do . . .

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The First Post in what will be a Series on Women and Skepticism

For those of you who have skipped reading between the lines, I'm something of a skeptic.  I've also been known to dabble in the odd bit of feminism and other social justice ideas here and there.
(See what I did right there? It was humor based on understatement.  Hilarious, I am that.)
For me, my feminism, antiracism, and other various social justice passions (fellow LGBTQQIers, we need a better catchphrase, also, the acronym is getting long, just saying) are intimately interrelated with my skepticism.  There are few branches of pseudoscience that do not intersect with social justice.  There has recently been a kerfuffle on the interwebs about the visibility of women in (ugh so tired of this language) "new atheism" and in the skeptical movement in general.

Seriously, we're out there.

So I thought that I'd spill a few words about it, before launching into why feminism and skepticism, antiracism and skepticism, social justice in general and skepticism, just naturally go together I thought I'd indulge in my own coming to jesus er skepticism story.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How I became a protest organizer in two days, and why you should too!

It started simply enough.
I have kind of a reputation as being . . . opinionated?  A staunch, social justice oriented feminist?  Consistently livid about something or other?  Hypatia's Girl is angry after all.
And so it started simply.  A facebook chat message pointing me toward a link on someone's page with the request that I keep it on the radar.  The link was to an announcement that Rep. Bart Stupak was coming to my university to talk about the Great Lakes.  Stupak! In my university!
See, I'm angry about the Stupak-Pitts Amendment.  Deeply, deeply angry.  Much of that stems from coming to the realization that the anti-abortion forces aren't necessarily synonymous with "pro-life."  That is, if their sincere desire were to curb the incidence of abortion they would be doing things other than limiting access to abortion, and other reproductive services.  A sincere, honest and moral goal of reducing the incidence of abortion would be informed by knowledge about why women choose abortion, largely unplanned pregnancy, and what can be done to reduce the numbers of unplanned pregnancies.  See, reducing the numbers of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies would, almost by definition, reduce the number of abortions.  So genuine, sincere, honest, moral pro-lifers do not spend their time trying to limit women's access to reproductive health options, they instead work to increase people's access to contraception, sexuality education, rape prevention and they try to better the situation of women and ease the burden that motherhood very really represents for a woman.  The latter approach shows a genuine concern and empathy for women as actual human beings.  The Stupak-Pitts Amendment is a petulant example of the overt misogyny that has characterized (Sen. John Kyl, I'm looking at you) the entirety of the health care reform conversation.  It is an insincere and uninformed platitude toward the minority of the country who do not believe that women are people.  But more on that later.  In short, I was angry.
And so I thought, you know what, Stupak has a lot to answer for, and I bet I'm not the only one who has questions about this amendment he and his little friends in the House have attached to my health care reform (!).  So I reposted the link.
And then I thought some more.  Facebook is a fantastically flexible medium.  You can do all sorts of things on Facebook.  Like create events.  And so I started an event page, initially just dispersing it to my local friends, a little community action is always a good time.
Initially the invites were limited, no more than 20 of my nearest and dearest (although primarily nearest geographically) friends.  However, there are all sorts of groups and organizations on the Facebook, populated by people who are empathetic and concerned, sincere, ethical, good people.  And they took the event and reposted it, and invited their friends, and so on and so forth.
We, combined, invited something like 140 people.  That felt good.  Clearly, they were not all going to come, however perhaps 30 people were people I knew.
And since there are these lovely organizations and groups on the Facebook, when I realized that it could potentially be larger than just the Phil Dept and some Ann Arbor friends hanging out with some crudely drawn signs, awkwardly in the College of Law, but instead real live strangers could be there, I decided to ask for help, a little guidance.
I really needed the help when I realized that I could get media coverage.  Some nice concise talking points.  So I asked for help from the local Planned Parenthood (please give them lots and lots of money), and got the help I needed.  Did you know that anyone can just write up a press release and email it to a news organization?  Or just call up a local news organization and say - "hey, um, I just wanted to let you know that there is going to be a protest at the College of Law tomorrow at 8am, opposing Stupak."  There are people sitting at news organizations right now just waiting for you to call them.  This is amazing.
And then I just posted the event everywhere on the Facebook I could think of.  And harassed like-thinking friends into doing the same.  And made signs.
And then I went to soccer and was up far later than I intended.  And tried to sleep.

There is something thrilling about walking into a building, seeing people you don't know, standing there with signs.  All because you all agree that something needs to be done, and someone needs to have some answers ready.  It's really, really cool.

And I wander into the building and am greeted by lovely women and men with signs and stickers and flyers and t-shirts.  And we organize ourselves near the entrance to the conference, where Stupak will shortly be speaking.  The director of conference very nicely approaches us to find out what our plans are, and I do my best to reassure him that, seriously dude, I'm from MI, I want the nice conference on Great Lakes water issues to go well.  However, Stupak needs to be confronted by the terrible things he's done.  We just want to hold our nice signs, hand out some information, and ask a question or two, if that's cool.  And it was.  And then the TV cameras showed up.  And I found myself giving a couple of interviews, trying to stay clear and coherent, hit the hightlights, speak in soundbites.  You know, behave well.

The middle bit of the protest I missed, because just as Stupak started talking and some of us went into the room, I had to duck out and run off to teach a quick class on feminism, then it was right back to stand in for the Q&A (we got one question off, and about a half an answer back).

What I really want to stress in this post is a: people are wonderful, wonderful beings.  Very helpful and caring.  People out there do care.  And we can use our social media, the vast amount of technology that we (privileged ones) can take for granted, to bring us together.  And b: you can organize a protest very quickly.  Mostly because of (a).  And if you can, and it's a cause you care about, do it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Listening Project - and Their Refinement of the Decline - Stars of the Lid

Part 9 - and Their Refinement of the Decline - Stars of the Lid (2007, Kranky)

The reason I started this Sisyphean listening project was that I knew that I had music in my iTunes that was totally awesome, but I didn't know it, and so I wouldn't listen to it.  Finding music like and Their Refinement of the Decline completely justifies this project.

I think that I found Stars of the Lid accidentally, looking for Stars as Eyes.  You know, electronica or drone ambient, who knows the difference?

This album is beautiful.  I'm a big fan of ambient music, anything with a full sound that allows me to get totally lost within the music, so that I listen to all 16 tracks, hardly aware of any passage of time.  Instead content to sit and watch the moon rise through the ripple glass of the dining room window.

It's that good.

[It also caused a deep crisis in my life because it reminds me intensely of William Basinski's Disintegration Loops, which I had, at one point, on my computer and alas, now only have an empty folder labeled "William Basinski" (luckily the boy came through for me, huzzah for douchey indie folks).]

The music is slow and rich, with strings and beauty and wonderfulness.  A little difficult to write about, however I would like to point out that one of the tags on this album on is "music to write dissertation to."  This is true.  My thesis is going very well with music like this ringing through my bones.

I'm not going to bother with the Favorite/Least Favorite Tracks for this one - it needs to be listened to in its entirety, preferably while relaxing next to a window at night.

next up - And then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out - Yo La Tengo (2000)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Listening Project - Ancient Heart - Tanita Tikaram

Part 8 - Ancient Heart - Tanita Tikaram (1988, WEA)

I'm actually kind of a fan of  From their recommendations I've found some good music (Masha Qrella for one).  So when told me that if I like Suzanne Vega then I'll like Tanita Tikaram, I thought, sure why not?!

Eh.  I've listened through a few times now and it's starting to grow on me.  I was really worried when I was first listening, this is clearly a pop album from the late 80s.  More than Suzanne Vega, Tikaram really reminds me of Eleanor McEvoy.  Who isn't great, but I really fell in love with her for almost 20 minutes way back in the undergrad years (the first set).

Tikaram's slower, jazzier numbers are more fun.  She's got a very distinct voice, smooth and low.  The pop-ier songs are too sparse and not very well mixed, the end result being something like being at a coffee shop on open night mic night.  So while something like "For All These Years" is just great, fun and jazzy, "Good Tradition," the opening track, is damn near unlistenable.

That being said, I've listened through 3 times now, and I like it better each time I hear it.  If you can make it through the first couple of tracks, you either become used to the late 80s synth or it actually gets better.  I can't tell. 

Favorite Track - "Twist in my Sobriety" - something about this reminds me of the Arabian dance from The Nutcracker, always one of my favorites.
Least Favorite - "Good Tradition" - seriously, I almost didn't listen to the album because of this.

next up - And Their Refinement of the Decline - Stars of the Lid (2007)

[so this post was particularly hard because I realized that one of my all-time-totally-the-best-thing-ever favorite albums isn't on my iPod.  Saul Williams, who is a genius, should be here between Amnesiac and Ancient Heart with his Amethyst Rock Star.  Find it, listen to it, love it.]

I bravely wade into the server/diner war

100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 1) - You’re the Boss Blog -

We're willing to do whatever it takes to keep you in this dead-end job

I worked in restaurants for years. Long, tortuous, evil years filled with all the misery that one would assume is found in working as a server. Worse, the restaurant that I worked at for the longest time was a place known for its salad bar and frequent foibles of the franchisees getting sued for some form of sexual discrimination/harassment or another. Good memories. It's not that I hated every minute of it (just most), but it did give me a particular perspective on the service industry.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Listening Project - Amnesiac - Radiohead

Part 7 - Amnesiac - Radiohead (2001, Capitol Records)

I was going to say that I didn't know anyone who didn't love Radiohead (particularly those of my generation), however, I have found one person who doesn't like Radiohead.  I'm trying to be friends with him anyway.

My love of Radiohead notwithstanding, Amnesiac is a difficult album for me to write about.  Radiohead isn't an easy listening kind of band.  It has a winter-night kind of feel to it, mellow with an uncomfortable sort of drive forward to the sound.  I'm not really certain what more to say about it.  Hooray for Radiohead!

Favorite Track - "Dollars & Cents"
Least Favorite - "Pyramid Song" It just doesn't do it for me.

next up - Ancient Heart - Tanita Tikaram (1988)

The long promised secular pagan post.

Magic is the art of changing consciousness at will - Dion Fortune

My relationship with religion has always been . . . fraught.  To be more specific, my relationship with systems of belief has always been complicated.  From the beginning, from my nice, Catholic baptism where I, to hear my mother tell it, spent the ceremony happily blowing raspberries at the priest.

Which isn't to say that I haven't tried to believe.  When I was in grade school we went to church.  I went to Sunday school, got my First Communion and First Reconciliation.  I learned my catechism.  And I tried to believe.

I have a vivid memory of kneeling at a pew, during mass trying so hard to pray.  Closing my eyes and picturing my heart with perforations that would break open and let Jesus in.  But I never felt anything.  I can remember, as well, the profound sadness at my failure.  And I can remember looking at the other parishioners, dressed in their Sunday-best, kneeling at their pews, with their eyes closed, praying.  And I wondered if they were just acting.  I knew that I was.

And then, the summer before I started at the local Catholic middle school I found Scott Cunningham's The Truth about Witchcraft Today.  My mother bought it for me, after voicing her concern that it would be too scary for me to read.  (There is a long history of me reading books that my parents knew little about, probably for the best)  And so I became the best approximation of Pagan a 10 year old can be with access to one introductory book, table salt and butter knives.