Thursday, August 16, 2018

Make America Educated Again

I'm not sure how to title this post, because the utter stupidity of the conversation that sparked it annoyed me so much I needed a couple of days to decide how to approach the subject.

Two days ago Minnesota held Primary Elections. I was outside letting Ragnar snuffle around instead of doing the business he was supposed to be doing, and my neighbor walked by. I've talked about her before, and to be fair we mostly get along. But Tuesday she received a real response from me, because her self-absorbed stupid was just amazing.

She started the conversation by complaining that our property taxes will go up again because my city had "yet another stupid school levy pass".

Ok, I was confused at the bitter snarky tone. "Why is that a problem? Good schools mean good neighborhoods which mean good housing prices and upkeep." I honestly think she expected me, a single woman with no kids, to actually agree with her. Instead I continued, "I don't have kids but I WANT good schools, so I'm happy to pay the levies...a good school system makes the whole city better to live in."

Selfish to the core, she immediately changed tactics, because ultimately her fussing is purely based on "I don't have kids in school, why should I have to pay" which I find to be an underlying formula based on self-absorbed myopia among many MAGA folks: "I don't have/do x, so I shouldn't have to pay for y." Yeah. I'll get to that idiot argument in a minute. Her argument changed to "well it all goes into teacher pensions anyway, none of the kids see any of that money."


I didn't say it out loud. I so wanted to. Instead I said, calmly, "So...teachers already don't get paid enough for what they're doing, and you begrudge them a decent pension after they spend decades putting their own money toward underfunded school supplies and work ridiculous numbers of hours for ridiculously low pay to educate the people who will eventually run the nursing home you end up in? I disagree."

She flounced (as well as a 70 year old cranky old bat can flounce, anyway) with the following parting shot: "Nobody paid for MY pension and I never made enough money. Why should I pay for them?" Can you hear the nasty combination of whine and bitterness in her tone? I did. Ugh. Then she slammed the door, thus endeth her proclamation.

So, as amusing and idiotic as she is, the whole conversation disturbs the crap out of me, particularly in this current political climate and with an a-hole like Betsy Davros at the helm of national education directives. Let's remember what the difference is between SOCIALISM and SOCIETY is, shall we, because there seems to be some serious confusion regarding freedom, socialism, education, and the benefits/responsibilities of living in a society by a whole fuckload of selfish asshats since the idiot cheeto came to power.

  • If you drive on roads, YOU BENEFIT FROM SOCIETY. 
  • If you get city water/sewer service to your house, YOU BENEFIT FROM SOCIETY. 
  • If your public education is decent, your neighborhood is more desirable. 
    • If your neighborhood is more desirable, your housing prices rise (including the value of your own property, which is essentially an investment of many folks' personal wealth) and those who buy into the neighborhood tend to take care of their property, and YOU BENEFIT FROM SOCIETY. 
  • If your home is on fire and you call the fire department, YOU BENEFIT FROM SOCIETY. 
  • If you have need to call 911 for cops or paramedics, YOU BENEFIT FROM SOCIETY. 
If you can read, you can learn to understand the laws (you know, laws enacted by society?). If you can understand the laws, you can support or dissent. If you can disagree with a law you understand, you can discuss with others and potentially change the law. Freedom requires participation, which in our country usually requires at least a base level of education. Otherwise, you are just going along with what others impose upon you and your say is silenced.
  • Just for the record - SOCIALISM is defined as follows: theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.

    Services society has agreed to pay for so we can use them and share the cost, like roads or fire departments, are not socialism. They are the result of participating in a community, which has zero difference from community-assisted barn raising or volunteering to trade harvest help a hundred years ago. I'm convinced that some of these folks who think in a selfish and short sighted way about education, health services, etc. must have had a seriously sub-par education. All the more reason to improve our schools. 

    Here's the thing - education is one of the essential areas where anyone not in the 1% of wealth can be kept under control by that same 1%. If you are uneducated (by choice or by lack of resource availability) you are easy to keep down because you're too busy trying to survive on low wages, bad benefits (or none, including health insurance), and all the downstream ramifications. Education is a basic stepping stone to an fairer and more equal society where the majority of folks have at least a SHOT at that elusive "something better" this country is founded on. 

    An uneducated populace allows propaganda and fear to rule their lives, and we get shit like the Inquisition. WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT ANOTHER INQUISITION?

    The tricky part of society's services that offer a CHANCE at more equality is that nothing is guaranteed. Just because the opportunity is there doesn't mean everyone takes it, and if we're all honest luck does have some say in success, but the simple availability of basic education is one of the services differentiating a successful functioning society and serfdom. 

    The kicker, the lesson so many seem to forget after 9th grade civics, is if you are going to benefit from society you are also responsible to it. If you participate in life, you are responsible for making the environment in which you live the way it is (good or bad). I think people who recognize this responsibility make some effort to make things better, because bitching and complaining is a downward spiral. It doesn't have to be a grand gesture or a full time job: it can be as simple as recognizing that only shitty selfish assholes take without ever giving back and bitch about things like taxes for the roads they use, the emergency services they might need, the medicare they inevitably complained about paying into but then use at retirement (like my neighbor), or the free education that benefits all of us (even those who can't afford private school) just by being available. 

    It can be as simple as voting: exercising the right and responsibility to participate in decisions that affect your environment. 

    I want the environment I live in to be full of educated people who make decisions based on something more substantial than propaganda. I think those who do the teaching need to be excellently educated themselves, and compensated well for their particular skill set (good teachers are a combination of motivator, multi-subject expert, public speaker, counselor, cat-wrangler, and magician...I decidedly do NOT have that particular set of skills). 

    So yeah, I'm good with a school levy that provides better education and better educators with well funded programs. AND pensions. Bring on the smart populace. 

    End rant. 

    Wednesday, August 15, 2018

    I Regret That Email, Just A Little

    I opened an email yesterday in my phone. 

    Writing that sentence is weird. I'm a tail-end GenXer...that means it was a HUGE deal for me to get a regular old corded phone in my room as a teenager. Email was still a newish thing in schools/colleges when I went to UMD as a freshman; it was there and we all used it for fun, but nothing class-related. The year after I graduated college was the first to issue computers to incoming freshmen in addition to computer labs as part of the semester fees. If you're too young to remember any of that and wonder what sort of "back in the olden days" I'm talking about, don't worry: pretty soon that'll be in history classes. But 20 year old me would've had utterly no clue how I could check email on any phone. 

    I'm wandering today: I'm trying a new sort of non-Starbucks-addiction coffee with a nifty cold-brew carafe thingy. Apparently sugar rush of a mocha hits faster than the caffeine, so I'm getting used to a longer fog since this is sans all extras. Incidentally, Ragnar is lying on the office floor next to me eating the cardboard box for the carafe. Since his teeth are full of cardboard instead of sheetrock, I'm ignoring it. 

    So...yesterday evening I opened an email in my phone for a retailer I very occasionally purchase from but usually just browse the paper catalog. 

    This morning I have 2 follow up emails from them, 8 hours apart, saying "did you see something you liked?" and "we noticed you were looking: don't forget". What the actual fuck, creepy catalog retailer? I mean, I know there is ZERO privacy on the interwebz, and that what you put out there is there forever even if you try to take it down, and that the NSA is watching all data. Whatever. I figure I could choose not to participate. But retail stalker emails showing exactly the last thing you looked at on their website, asking if you forgot your purchase, feels more like one of those bad perfume salespeople at the mall chasing you. She's wearing WAY too much of her own product and too-bright lipstick bleeding over the edges of her lipline or on her teeth, and following you three stores down the hall spraying that shit on the back of your head screaming "but you wore some, you MUST want to buy...I NEED A SALE!" 

    This is why I keep my yahoo address for online shopping. And blogs. And maybe I'm just old...except I never liked the approaches from pushy lotion and perfume kiosk people at the mall either. 

    Ragnar just left the room and it's suspiciously silent downstairs. I should go check on the status of the walls. 

    Saturday, July 28, 2018

    Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

    I have some educational background in mythology, so I'll usually give anything Illiad or Odyssey themed a chance. I'm a fan of Greek myths because they're so varied: Greek deities of all levels are a tapestry of virtues and flaws that more accurately reflect the capriciousness of an immortal being's attention to humans. I also (right or wrong) tend toward being a terrible book snob, and I know it. My reading list is long, and I'm picky, so I don't waste time anymore on books that don't meet high expectations right away. If I'm not hooked by the end of the second chapter, I will have zero remorse about setting a book aside and moving on. Circe hooked me on page one.

    If you don't recall the backstory, Circe is the sorceress on an island in the Aegean who turns Odysseus' men to pigs and has a year-long affair with the Greek hero before sending him back to Ithaca. Retellings the Odysseus myth vary in the treatment of Circe: sometimes she's a benevolent  being who treats his men unfairly and is convinced to be nice by falling in love with the hero. Sometimes she's a wicked and powerful witch, terrifying in her malicious treatment of men after gaining a reputation of turning them into pigs, until Odysseus "tames" her. 

    Miller's retelling is the biography of a minor goddess, daughter of Helios (the Titan who is literally the sun in the sky) and one of Oceanus's (Titan guessed it, the Ocean) daughters, a nymph. In this version, Circe is the unremarkable and emotionally abused sibling of her sister and two brothers, all of whom go on to do relatively famous deeds. Circe is portrayed as being too naive and too trusting of her family, and is abused for having zero power. Even her voice is considered horrid; she's often told to be quiet because of the tonal quality. Her voice sounds more human than immortal, and it's grating to immortal ears. In every way, Circe's "childhood", or perhaps more accurately her first few hundred years, is an exercise in making her as invisible as possible.

    It is in her loneliness that she turns to the friendship of a mortal sailor. She falls in love and wants to find a way to stay together, and turns to forbidden secret herbs rumored to be magic. The resulting mess reveals her for what she is: a witch. A woman without specific magical powers who can gain non-divine power through knowledge, learning, and herbs provided by Gaia herself. Being neither Titan nor Olympian in her power, Circe is considered an unknown, and therefore a threat, by Zeus. When she publicly admits her witchcraft and abilities, she becomes the witch scapegoat: banished forever to her island while her siblings, who posses the same powers, become famous in their own ways.

    Madeline Miller does an excellent job of creating a general attitude of casual dismissal of humanity by the the Olympians, Titans, and other immortals. They are as capricious, selfish, and callous as one might think a being who becomes bored over millennia could be. Circe, then, is set up from the beginning as an outsider simply by carrying something the rest of her family don't have at all: an air of humanity. I love this character. I love that over the course of the book she experiences every human emotion a woman can feel and learns to exert her independence and power for herself as she grows. Circe is not a fully formed "perfect" being like the rest of the immortals: she learns, suffers, and grows over time. She is not content to just be the mousy outcast her family of origin paint her to be. 

    Circe's circumstances aren't those of the mythic hero, out of touch with the reader's experience: she yearns for companionship, love, family, and friendship. Yet because she's immortal, she also touches other myths both surrounding the fall of Troy, Daedalus and Icarus, Scylla and Charybdis, the Golden Fleece, the Minotaur, and many others. Even in her isolation, Circe's world has a vastness beyond her little island and helps the reader with some sense of time. News of the world is cleverly brought to Circe via an ongoing casual affair with Hermes, the Messenger God who stops in occasionally for a gossip-and-sex visit.

    Miller's writing is utterly enjoyable. She's lyrical in a way that ties Circe to the feel of other Greek myths. In relating the death of Daedalus, Circe says:  "I had no right to claim him, I knew it. But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me." (Circe, Hachette Books, 2018) Every time I read that line, I get goosebumps. That's a rare thing for me, and I love Madeline Miller for it.

    The Odysseus tale occurs about midway through the book, which is fitting considering her year with him is only a blip in an eternity for Circe. That year has lasting consequences, however, and some interesting twists as time passes. Miller's portrayal of the sailors, Odysseus, and their relationship is so much more human than the myth. It's wonderful, and it sets the stage for the final third of the story with multiple threads that tie together later.

    You'd think covering so long a life would become tedious, but Circe's journey from the outcast nymph to powerful sorceress to...well, without spoilers I can say the satisfying resolution of her tale... is absolutely captivating. I was engrossed. I'll re-read this often.