I count the spiders on the wall

26 02 2019

So, being middle-aged apparently means I don’t sleep well and even thinking about food makes me gain weight.

I do not like this. I like sleep and not-gaining weight.

I’m pretty much right in the middle of what counts as “normal” or healthy for my height, but clothes that had been loose are snug and there is a roundness that I can no longer ignore.

I’m not terribly vain, but, goddammit, I do not like how this looks or feels.

So I decided to lose a bit of weight—literally, just a bit. I’m a small person, so while even small gains are noticeable, it won’t take much for my clothes to stop hugging me.

Still, I want something a bit more precise than my jeans to keep track, which means that I have, for the first time in my life, purchased a scale.

Now, I’ve certainly weighed myself before. We had a scale when I was a kid, which I used regularly, and I’d weigh myself weekly on a magnificent old scale in the locker room at the U of Minnesota’s rec center.

Kinda like this.

But after I left Minnesota my weight-measuring days dwindled to not-quite-yearly doctor’s visits. My weight has been mostly stable, and I figured that my clothes would tell me when I’d gained a few.

Well, them clothes be yellin’, and I thought, Goddammit, if I really want to keep track of my weight, I’m gonna have to, y’know, keep track of my weight.

So I bought a goddamned scale, weighed myself, and have decided that weekly weigh-ins were the way to go.

Now, all of this is the prelude bait to the actual switch: this is less about the weight than the scale, and what it does.

It measures.

Shocking, I know, but in the past decade (or. . . two?) I’ve become rather anti-measurement. For example, I used to track my running times, and then at some point I thought, This is just stressing me out, so I stopped wearing a watch.

I used to balance my checkbook, but at some point I thought, Geez, I can get the balance at the ATM or online, so what’s the point?

I have a list of all of my cds and I still maintain a database of my books, but for a shit-ton of other matters, personal and professional, I just let it all go.

That wasn’t the worst strategy, honestly, but it has had the unintended effect of making me shy away from all kinds of non-work-required measurements and tracking, and increase my anxiety over said measurements and tracking.

Which is ridiculous, especially since the results, when I finally do check them, are usually fine.

Thus, my decision to purchase a scale was one small blow against denial, one small step for self-accountability, and one small way for me to calm the fuck down about myself.

It’s ridiculous, I know, but it just might work. A bit.





For we’re marching toward Algiers

13 02 2019

Ah yes, another round in the endless presidential campaign and, as promised, I make no predictions.

I do have opinions, though, on who I like more, and less, and otherwise, on the Dem side.

On the More side: Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren

Less: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, John Kerry, Tulsi Gabbard, Mike Bloomberg

Otherwise: Bernie Sanders, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Sherrod Brown, Amy Klobuchar, Eric Holder, Pete Buttigieg

There are a bunch of other possibilities, but I’m leaving them off due to the combination of relatively low national profile and undeclared status. (If I included them now, they’d all just go in otherwise because I don’t have much of an opinion on them.)

As for the whys of placement: I like Gillibrand’s overall decent liberal-left profile and I am more than fine with her feminism front-and-center, and I like Warren’s economic focus.

In the less category: I thought Biden was a fine veep, but there’s nothing about either him or his record that makes me want to vote for him. Kerry was a decent Senator and decent Secretary of State, but he’s ran and lost in 2004 and he’s too old, to boot. Gabbard is an Assad apologist. Mike Bloomberg was as good as a Republican gets.

Booker? He’s got some political chops, but he’s rather conservative on economic issues, I don’t know if he’s moved away from charter schools, and, man, there’s just something about him that makes me wary. Still, chops.

Otherwise: Sanders too old but he brings an enthusiastic crowd; I don’t know enough about Castro, Buttigieg, or O’Rourke; I’d hate to lose Brown’s Ohio senate seat and I don’t know that he brings anything more than Warren does; and Holder strikes me as too moderate.

Klobuchar? Again, somewhat moderate, but the stories of her mistreatment of staff are what give me great pause. Yeah, some of the criticism could be driven by sexism, but “the boys do it, too!” is not much of justification for really shitty behavior.

And Harris, well, I think she’s got some skill and she’s generally been righteous as a senator, but her record as attorney general in California is, from what little I do know, not great. I am very interested in her, but I gotta do some more homework.

All of this said: if ANY of these people were the nominee, I’d vote for them.

Finally, I have zero punditastic advice to offer to Democrats in general about who we “should” choose, who might turn off which group, or who scares Trump and the Republicans the most. The GOP are going to throw shit at whoever’s the candidate, so trying to find someone who’ll get less shit is a mug’s game, and demoralizing as all hell.

As much as I hate to say it, Trump as the incumbent has the advantage, so we cannot give any ground.

We Dems should choose who we think is best, get behind that person, and run as hard as we can.





I really don’t know life at all

11 02 2019

I have been insufficiently cynical.

Tough to write that—cynicism has been my schtick since I was in high school—but the accumulation of more-and-less recent events have clearly revealed that I have been a goddamned Pollyanna about my fellow human beings.

Oh, I know, people can do terrible things great and small, that we are selfish and mean, blah blah. Big deal. I can say we suck all day long and even believe it, but does that belief emanate from the very marrow of my being?

Apparently not.

Now, maybe this is good, maybe this is bad, but I feel like I’ve caught myself out.

Example: Howard Schultz. I know, but this isn’t about yet another rich guy’s delusion that making money qualifies one for the presidency; no, this is about his dumb-ass comments that billionaires shouldn’t be referred to as such, but as “people of means” or “people of wealth.”

Yes, the billionaire who thinks his billions qualify him for the White House doesn’t want us to foul his pure air with such noxious terms as “billionaire,” but to be kinder, gentler, toward such sensitive souls as himself. To notice his massive pile of money is simply. . . unseemly.

You’d think I’d be disgusted by his disdain for social welfare and horror at a wealth taxOh no! after paying a shit-ton in taxes I will only have a mega-shit-ton of money left!—and I am. But rich people grabbing at all of the monies is nothing new.*

No, it’s the goddamned sensitivity about the rest of noticing that they’ve grabbed all of the monies and the expectation that we should cater to those sensitivities. Your gaze wounds me! Avert your eyes!

Yes, we’re supposed to pay attention to him because he’s a billionaire but not that he’s a billionaire. Uh huh.

*Okay, I’ll be honest: the depths to which rich people will go to get more riches does shock me. I’m aware of the concept of loss aversion, but once you have so much money that everything is effectively free doesn’t this concept lose its mojo? Aren’t we now out of the realm of cognitive biases and into that of sociopathy?

Consider the Sacklers, the crazy-rich family behind Purdue Pharma and one of the main drivers of the opioid crisis. They denied oxycodone was addictive, even as

Kathe Sackler, a board member, pitched “Project Tango,” a secret plan to grow Purdue beyond providing painkillers by also providing a drug, Suboxone, to treat those addicted.

“Addictive opioids and opioid addiction are ‘naturally linked,’ ” she allegedly wrote in September 2014.

Jeez, I remember this episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Or you could compare the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma to the executives at Omni Consumer Products (RoboCop, natch).

I mean, the Sacklers’ desire for MOREMOREMORE MONEY is beyond cartoon villainy, and yet, there it is.

I don’t get it.

Money is useful—that I get. It’s portable and transferable and in a society in which you must pay for goods, necessary. I’ve been broke and not-broke, and not-broke is better. But how much beyond not-broke do you have to go before you can say, “okay, enough”?

I’d guess that we’d all have different beyond-lines, and that we’d probably side-eye each other’s lines, so, okay. But not to have any lines at all? Not to have any concept of “enough”?

I guess, in the end, that doesn’t shock me. It puzzles me, but doesn’t shock. But the willing reduction of one’s life to the pursuit of MORE MONEY, the expectation that MORE MONEY is all there is, all that matters and ought to matter?

That’s fucked up.





Teacher, teach me

7 02 2019

Back in class, again, which is good.

Yeah, I have those other jobs, but teaching is my main job, and I’m pretty good at it. I’m also lucky in that I like what I’m teaching; if I get bored, I change up the syllabus et voilà, no longer bored.

I changed up my intro American politics syllabus last spring. My approach with past syllabi has been to cover the basics via textbook/class lecture, and then try to integrate a complementary theme to bring out some of the wrinkles of our political system; in this version, the complementary theme is street-level or “outside” politics, to contrast with the “inside” politics centered on government.

The first semester was kinda rough, as the first semester of a new syllabus tends to be: I have an idea, but it doesn’t always translate well to practice. The second semester tends to go better, as I figure out which goes better with what, and I usually hit my stride by the third semester.

However.

Last semester it never really gelled. I don’t know if it was me, if it was the arrangement of the material, the students, some combination, or, y’know, Trump (just because).

It was frustrating as hell, not least because I think the particulars of the outside theme are fascinating as hell: I focus on the civil rights movement 1960-65, specifically, on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. I chose SNCC both because it was less well known than MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and because the students in SNCC were not much older than the students in my classroom.

It also didn’t hurt that there’s a boatload of good material available online, so my students wouldn’t have to fork over more money for books.

Anyway, SNCC has the sit-ins! Freedom Rides! Freedom Summer! The SNCC volunteers were brave and scared and resolute and angry and patient and oh my goddess they risked everything for themselves and their fellow human beings.

And those young men and women weren’t terribly impressed with politicians or presidents, the NAACP or MLK, even as they relied on them to convert direct action into law.

I could go on—but I won’t. The upshot was that my students just weren’t into it and I couldn’t figure out how to get them into it.

So, this semester I tinkered a bit with the schedule to try to make it easier for the students to engage with it, to see the connections (and frictions) between the activists and the politicians, and to understand that politics happens at all different levels.

We’ll see if it works. Initial indications are good—although this may have less to do with me and the schedule than with having students who bring an interest in politics with them into the class. When that happens—when there are a handful of students who are eager to question or comment—the discussions are richer, and tend to pull in even more students.

That was part of what I was missing last semester: that participatory core that could energize everyone else.

That said, I remember what a long-ago college professor said to me: “Ten percent of the students are going to love you no matter what you do, ten percent will hate you no matter what you do, and the other 80 percent don’t really care one way or the other.”

I’d long since come to see that as a challenge, to try to rope that 80 percent into caring—not about me, but about the subject. Last semester that didn’t happen, which sucked. I don’t like to fail my students, and that’s what I did.

But it’s a new semester, and so far, so good.





Some cats know

6 02 2019

Oh hai!

Yeah, that’s an old pic of Trickster, but since it’s been awhile since I’ve written, it seemed apropos.

Anyway, this won’t be long, since I’m dead tired and have to get up early, but I’m trying to get back into the habit of writing for you and me.

You see, I’ve been researching and writing for other people—which is good! I’ve been getting paid!—but after a day on the computer I have been, shall we say, disinclined to spend the night on the computer.

Still, I miss this. It’s not that what I have to offer is so terrific [way to talk yourself up, lady], but it is mine, and sometimes, sometimes, it’s not half-bad.

Okay, have some more cats:

And a way throwback, to my Minneapolis kitties:

Be well!