Perfectly Postman

Last year, between working, commuting, and raising two young boys, I read 132 books. These books were mostly political, with a little fiction and some miscellaneous non-fiction thrown in.

Nine of the books I read last year were written by Neil Postman; the first, his Amusing Ourselves to Death. My husband had read that for multiple classes in college and correctly guessed I’d love it. Indeed, Postman inspired my interest in history as well as my appreciation for epistemology. Without Postman, my newfound passion for learning wouldn’t likely … exist, honestly.

The bad news about reading all those Postman books last year is how little “new” Postman I have left to read this year. I’d decided to reread some Postman when my eyes landed on Postman’s Teaching as a Conserving Activity, the partial refutation (or so it seems?) of his earlier Teaching as a Subversive Activity. I don’t normally read books on education, but anything by Postman is good for my head and my heart.

And, of course, within the first few pages, I found myself uplifted by the kind of sentiment all too rare these days:

I have tried to make my argument clear, and I should be very interested to know what are its refutations, for that is how conversation begins. Perhaps we do not require a new “movement” after all. Only a good conversation.*

How perfectly Postman! How perfectly what this world needs now!

* Before I began reading this book, I’d made my eponymous blog private. I’d (1) seen that electronically mediated exchanges perpetrate their own kind of virtual reality, inserting grimy windows between people instead of offering clearer views, and (2) discovered that I most crave direct conversation face to face with real people, not with their (and my!) electronic representations. It’s so sweet to be reminded that a kind of conversation can take place after someone’s died, when that someone has uncommon clarity of heart, mind, and word. Unless/until I have that to offer, I find myself happiest to read, reflect, and remain so very glad my husband pointed me toward Postman.

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Trayvon

This morning, I washed dishes, listened to a podcast, and remembered.

I’d selected this particular podcast based on one of three books I bought in my hometown last month. All three books had something to do with U.S. racism; this one, with Trayvon Martin.

Sometimes I forget that specific losses of specific lives led me to where I now stand, aghast both by the system and how many people still think the system is basically okay. “It’s just a few bad apples who mess things up!” they cry.

I didn’t always see these problems, or grasp that gruesome anomalies of U.S. history–genocide of Native Americans, slavery, convict leasing, casual imperial adventures of extraordinary lethality–weren’t really anomalies but expressions of the foundational idea that some lives are expendable.

As I washed, I remembered a recent conversation with my husband, Anthony. Continue reading “Trayvon”

acting from reading

Yesterday morning, I spent an hour reading at a coffee shop before readwalking for another half-hour. Specifically, I read further in Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor’s recently released How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective.* I’d been moved by her From #blacklivesmatter to Black Liberation and was thus excited to read more from her, even in principally interview format.

Yesterday, I read through the first interview and part of the second. In both interviews, I was struck by the interviewees’ memories of participating in the civil rights movement as youths. Those exchanges reminded me how good it felt to take my son to a few political events, and hear all his questions asked about the whys and hows of it all. I realized those memories might be part of what he someday remembers about his childhood.

I ended up taking him to hear Danny Glover and Dr. Gerald Horne speak: Continue reading “acting from reading”

Taxes & the terrorism of Christian extremists

On my main blog, I recently debated using the term “Christian extremists” to describe a swath of rabid American politicians. Ultimately, I did opt to use the term:

Right now, with yet another U.S. corporate/shareholder welfare bill described as a tax bill to benefit the middle class being pushed through (primarily) by Christian extremists, it’s important to really understand whether each and every so-called representative of the middle class deserves that title.

At the beginning of the year, I already knew that today’s elected Republicans are not like elected Republicans of yesteryear. I knew that they were doing terrible things and getting away with it by invoking “culture wars” against hated tax-raising liberals, but I didn’t genuinely grasp the intensity of the threat they represent to humankind, present and future.

I began to grasp the extreme nature of the threat when listening to a book I didn’t think was related. Continue reading “Taxes & the terrorism of Christian extremists”

Breathing

Today, I visited a bookstore in my hometown. Before entering the store, I committed to not buy any new books, a commitment that went out the window the moment I saw a Matt Taibbi book I haven’t read.

My husband and older son are now at a party. My younger son is taking a much-needed nap in the car, giving me the perfect chance to read.

As I stand on a hill in the Oregon sun, I read Taibbi’s book about Eric Garner, who was choked to death by police … for selling loose cigarettes.

I glance over the top of the pages and see a world Eric can no longer see: a world in which beautiful things co-exist with horrifying ones. A world where state power can and does routinely take the lives of people doing nothing worse than selling loose cigarettes.

Eric should still be alive. Failing that, the state agents who took his life should be barred from policing or in jail for a very, very long time.

That is not, of course, how state power works.

Eric is dead, and taxpayers who did not personally choke him to death paid a mighty fee to “settle” the consequences of his death.

As long as policemen are free to kill and taxpayers keep footing the bill, police departments and those who staff them will have little incentive to change.

Eric couldn’t breathe, and he never will again.

But as I stand here on the other side of the country from where he was killed, I can still breathe. I can remember him, and will, vocally, as long as I keep breathing … and as long as policemen keep killing in situations where even a ticket is overkill.

traveling between

Much as my political and historical reads illuminate the world for me, they’re often more distressing and less enjoyable for me than are good fiction. I’d forgotten how much fun fiction can be until I happened to find a copy of YA horror Asylum at my library a few months ago. Now, with enough recent fiction reads on my shelves, I understand that I need those not-quite-true tales to fuel me or carry me away from everything else I’m reading.

A couple weeks ago, I happened to stop by the library right after they’d set out fiction books as if just for me: two horror, two humor, and one Jeffrey Eugenides (Middlesex). I’ve already read one of the horror novels and half of a humor one, but today? I’m glad to have some time to lie on the couch and do nothing … but read Middlesex.

I don’t know if one person donated all five books to the library, but I love the thought. It makes me wonder who’s out there in my neighborhood, reading the same books I like, reflecting on them, and then dropping them off at the library–the same as I sometimes do–for others to enjoy.

I’d love to talk with this person, but I don’t need a conversation to be grateful for the books traveling between and connecting us.

Weapons of Math Destruction

I recently read Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction, a short, compelling book about the terrifying role algorithms play in the world today. I highly recommend this book, though I haven’t had a chance to write more about it than “highly recommend.”

The good news is that O’Neil has just written an op-ed for The New York Times. If you’d like the short version of the algorithm horror story, this is the place to look.