May 29, 2014

We might as well have a revolution

Does gender matter?

Thoughts – normative versus positive statements: After years of looking at existing gender roles, it was interesting to move from theorizing about the nature of gender in society, and to have a frank discussion in class about the practical nuances of gender in the work place (and to see that some people in a business class setting don’t have the PC cudgel over their heads).

However, for theorizing on a power gradient that doesn’t find me at the bottom I often feel as if those who are at society’s bottom are over-stating their case. Of course when I theorize from a position of weakness I myself feel empowered. Basically I see class and not race.  But gender does matter, in many ways.

The problem is, we can’t just solve everything by women leaning in – though I am attracted to the idea. The important thing is that in spite of years of feminism (You can date it to about 1848 in Saratoga Falls) there is still this divide. So it is not just women needing to lean in, but important for those who control the structure to stop thinking power and opportunity are a zero-sum game and that we can grow as a country better when women’s roles in both the workplace and the home are given value on par with what men see their own value. This is true for gender and sex and race.

The discouraging thing is that some recent studies have shown that even in egalitarian settings like Sweden, there is limited income mobility. Those born poor are going to stay poor, and those born rich will stay rich. We can point to several counter examples that might disprove that narrative, but the broad sweep of the numbers say that you probably won’t be the president if you were born poor or female or trans or of a darker shade of skin. 

You have to look at the history and see that there are two strands for the out group to try to gain power. There are assimilationists who try to come into the existing power structure, and there are revolutionaries of many stripes that want to overthrow the existing patriarchy / class structure / gender norms / etc. I am not one for chaos and revolution. I’d rather sit on my couch and read a book. However, the revolutionaries have long been marginalized as too extreme and the people who just want a seat at the table have been fed, but then ignored. I don’t know what the answer is but I have the feeling that outside of a revolution, the power structure will remain in place and only slowly be chipped at by minority groups of all stripes. They will continue to have to both conform to and break away from stereotypes. They will have to be twice as good for less pay. 

We still remember Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire. The thing is Ginger did everything Fred did, only backwards and in heels. That sticks with me, and it remains true. I can see the inequity in the system, but I struggle because I feel weak and powerless to change such an entrenched edifice. 

Maybe I have to get off my couch.

May 20, 2014

Service workers of a Different Stripe: Reading Melissa Gira Grant's "Playing the Whore"

I read through the book in a weekend.  I dog-eared some pages, for reference.  I was done, and I found myself asking just what the argument was in the book. Maybe I have to ask because I don’t read a lot on the subject. Maybe since it was short I was just looking ahead for the end. Maybe, just maybe, the argument wasn’t focused enough.

I think it gives some context: Kristof isn’t superman. Sex workers are workers too.  I can stand up for that. Maybe we shouldn’t want to save them especially, as Grant quotes another writer in the book: “No one ever wanted to save me from the restaurant industry.”

May 14, 2014

Martin Stiff's Absence: It won’t change your life

I like graphic novels.  For me they’re light reading, since the genre is so visual that I can read a book in an evening even with all the other distractions of life. I also like the pictures, and I know that writing a graphic novel, drawing it and inking it are as much work as writing an equivalently lengthy prose novel. 

The problem here is that the one of the genre’s strengths is also a weakness. I can read a graphic novel, and it will have disappeared the next day amid the other dross my brain has to deal with.  I don’t necessarily like that, but I still get and read them, so I think when I read graphic novels I am more in the moment and less reflective and thoughtful of a reader, so my memories of the work don’t last.

That’s the case here. The title is a good reflection of the work’s effect on my mind. I read it, but for recall there is an absence of sorts. I enjoyed reading it and the setting of coastal England mostly during the war, and an eccentric rich guy building what he called a house in the countryside.
I had read nothing of the book before I picked it up.  I had just grabbed it off of the shelf of my library. And here’s the thing.  This is what I remember most.  The cover had a picture of a man’s jaw with no lips.  I tell you what I was expecting – zombies.  Were there zombies? Not that I recall.
Overall a quick entertaining read and a nice way to pass the evening. It won’t change your life or anything. There’s only one _Bone_, come on.

Moore's Serpent of Venice: Improving on the Fool

I like Chris Moore’s work.  I have read several previous books, and I have been an advocate of his by telling others that they need to read his work.  I think there are still a couple I haven’t read, but I think based on what I do know of his work I can rate him amongst the best at what he does recently. I’m not sure just what that is, or if there are genre considerations or cliques that I am not aware of, but in my mind he is a fabulist humorist – so he’s up there with Calvino and Tom Robbins.

That said, I did not like _Fool_. I really liked what he did with his version of the greatest story ever told, but for some reason I couldn’t get into his retelling of King Lear. I didn’t like the characters he fleshed out, and to be quite frank, Lear is a boring play. It took me a while to understand why I didn’t like Fool, and my conclusion is that Moore was too close to the source material in Fool. It took 300 pages for King to give away his stuff, and then yell at the wind.

So to be honest, I wasn’t too excited to learn that Moore resurrected Pocket for his next book. He was flat and too smart and too powerful without granting a full believable explanation of his back story. He was taking Pocket (And Jones, Drool, and Jeff) to Venice to live the Shakespearian Venetian plays of Othello and A Merchant of Venice.   Here’s the thing: I liked this book much more than I did Fool. I have read and seen the source material staged (with much enjoyment). What I was able to do was to stop comparing the book I was reading to the source material. Moore makes A Serpent of Venice his own story where Fool was too derivative of its source. It’s like how A Wide Sargasso Sea is both Jane Eyre and nothing like Jane Eyre – Rhys created her own world, and that’s what Moore accomplishes.  This one is also less bawdy and Pocket feels more fleshed out, but that could just be me. I recommend this book to any Chris Moore fan, and those who will soon be.

A couple of notes: Moore claims that the Poe story A Cask of Amontillado is also a source. It is, but just barely. What I more appreciated was slipping Coleridge’s Kubla Kahn in the work. Moore was able to play with the classics and create his own, which is hard so he deserves credit.  

May 9, 2014

A quick thought on the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and local tranist in general.

I like the CTA. I lived in the city until a year ago, and I was a fairly regular user of the bus and rail system (Archer Heights: 62 Bus, Orange Line). I moved to the suburbs in Brookfield, and though I am closer here to the Metra station than I was to the Orange Line station, I use transport much less.  The trains are fewer when I would need them, and they're all locals so it takes forever to get into the city on teh weekend.  The pace bus that runs on Ogden shuts down way too early to be of any use. 

If I were designing the system from scratch, I would scrap the Metra system and have something like a more unified CTA throughout the metro area. It already has trains that go to the Suburbs -- I have a friend who takes the blue line in from Forest Park, and there are no trains for a wide swath of the city.

My favorite story about the efficiency of the CTA is that after the big snow storm in 2011, I was able to make it to work downtown with the CTA. When I got to the Depaul Center in the south loop, the whole city was pretty much closed down, but the CTA ran. For all the horror stories that pass around about Metra delays and the like, you can't beat the fact that the CTA ran.