Hoping for a Fight

Whenever I tell people that I’m studying public policy, they’ll invariably say, “Well, what a good time for it!” I wonder if they mean it; I sometimes feel like this isn’t the right time to learn about laws, regulations, procedures, and institutions: it feels like they’re crumbling all around us.

In part, that’s a mirage. Congress may be broken, and important agencies and parts of the executive branch may be under threat, but we still have a strong underlying system of laws. Our president elect might not know what most of them are, might not fully understand the system of ‘checks and balances,’ but they’re there. For the time being, at least. I do feel like I’m trying to put together one corner of a puzzle while another corner bursts into flames.

It feels especially futile, in a way, to be working on preliminary work for a thesis and to be working on examining different avenues to create positive political change when, at the federal and state level, there is negative change. And I mean that not in the sense that it’s bad (although a lot of it is), but in the sense that I feel like legislators are not really adding anything. They’re taking things away. I do understand the appeal of “small government,” but I always assumed that they meant it would still have some rights in it.

It also feels somewhat silly to be working on something so small, in a way. The work I’m reading about regional equity and spatial equality demands that we think about community development from a regional in addition to a local perspective. The article I’m reading (written by a law student, which also makes me feel kind of small and young and ignorant because I’m nowhere near writing something so complete and illuminating) argues that there’s more political power if citizens come together regionally. But that’s exactly what I’m feeling pessimistic about–the ability of substantive, positive legislative change to happen anywhere. This is all the more disheartening in Chicago, given that Illinois continues to be in the midst of a budget crisis. What does it matter if a metropolitan planning organization has power to influence legislature if the legislature itself doesn’t have much power, fiscal or otherwise? On a more philosophical level, what does it mean to fight for equality when it some quarters it feels like a dirty word?

And yet, I’m going to keep on trucking. It’s almost more exciting this way. I’ve always felt stirred and passionate about the rule of law the way I think some people feel about the Packers, or the Patriots, or, more sadly, for their side of the polarized world. So maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, to have an opportunity to fight for the things that I believe in – the law, equality, justice, evidence, science, empathy, community, and progress.

It’ll probably make me even more of a pill, but oh well. Maybe I’ll make an effort to write some TV recaps, too, add some positive to the world.

I’m going to try to make some positive waves. It can’t hurt, right?

Language & women & art

Three of the books I’ve read recently have disappointed me because of their portrayal of women. Part of what’s frustrating about the feeling is that I worry that I’ve ruined myself for popular media by being so conscious all the time about the injuries the world inflicts on women, minorities, and people who know the difference between there/their/they’re. But dammit, as sensitive as I am as a person generally, and about portrayals of women specifically, I still feel like writers, singers, politicians could just show a little more respect and be a little less rude.

None of the parties in the whole Swift-Kardashian-West fight look particularly good. But I’m still so disappointed that the story seems to be “did Taylor Swift give her permission” instead of “stop referring to people as bitch, Kanye, geez.” Who cares if she was into it? I’m not into it! I didn’t give you my permission! I couldn’t even stomach Frank Ocean saying it. This is a thing I seriously wish I could be chill about! I love hip hop. “Bitch” is a satisfying word to say in English, and it rhymes with so many others. It just continually feels like a slap in the face for that word to be used to refer to women, de rigeur, almost as a ritual.

But it’s not just hip hop, and it’s not just bitch, and it’s not even just curse words.

I recently read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, which, after some dissatisfying science fiction (The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Mistborn), felt refreshing in its imagination and wit. And then, it slowly dawned on me that, out of fewer than five pages devoted to the two only female “characters”, the bulk of their storyline was rapt obsession with a jeweled piece of clothing. All the other characters was charismatic genius men!

Then, I read Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Wind-Up Girl, which, although at least imaginative in its premise, took far too much glee in its description of some parts of female anatomy. Also, although I think that the book imagines itself to be “gritty” and “real,” the eponymous wind-up girl is a Japanese-made cyborg sex slave who is irresistibly alluring to the male character, who is far more protagonist than she.

Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem is far less egregious–not only is it a good novel, but it has admirable, complex, and interesting female characters. It just can’t quite figure out how to flesh out relationships between them, or between people in general. Unfortunately, this deficit greatly lessens the poignancy of the book’s premise–a story of human characters whose alienation leads them to literal aliens. Also, out of four female characters, all wives, three of them are highly ambitious career women who had little affection for their husbands and whose marriages were built almost entirely on convenience. One is interesting, two is stereotype, three is caricature. The fourth wife is the one that bugged me the most–basically nameless, and her husband (the novel’s protagonist) shares little with her about the strange stuff happening to him.

Basically, what I’m trying to say, obtusely, verbosely, and in this obfuscating writing style is that shit, people still write about women in a really fucked up way!

Case in point is Jonathan Franzen’s Purity, which knows many ways to refer to a woman’s crotch, but clearly prefers only one.

Feminism/criticism has some language to talk about this – words like objectification and commodification. But they feel somehow not completely accurate when referring to the writing of some novelists. Because there’s something so gleeful, so half-self-conscious, or faux-self-aware, about the way that they portray their horny protagonists.

DFW, whose absence I feel even more acutely in these nice times, wrote a take-down of Updike’s prose that felt like sweet, joyous vindication. DFW, even when I disagree with him, has real clear-headed reason and compassion.

His takedown of Updike paints Mailer & Roth with the same broad brush and I don’t mind one bit–finally, confirmation about Roth! I’d struggled through Elegy and The Human Stain but could never quite trust my own assessment that his books were just about horny old dudes.

Of course, I know they’re not. They’re also about the loss of the great American dream, and about the failings of intellectualism and morality, about romanticism and idealism. But I’m beginning to feel more confident in trying to find better books that don’t give me a sinking, sometimes-sick, sometimes-angry feeling in my stomach, books that threaten to force me into completely internalizing a lower self-esteem because of my gender. I’m putting my copy of American Pastoral in the Take-One-Leave-One donation box in Logan Square, and I’m not gonna feel that bad about it.


A List of Ridiculously Ambitious Creative Goals for the Next Month

  1. Write at least three blog posts (this one doesn’t count)!
  2. Knit 1-2 rows a day for Matt’s cardigan.
  3. Sew a coaster or two!
  4. Write Mindy a letter!

The exclamation points are to convince myself that any of this is actually feasible.

The Week in Podcasts: the Bouie Edition

Here’s a list of the podcasts I’ve listened to and enjoyed the most last week. Some of these have already published new episodes, since I am a slow blogger.

  1. On the Media, never change. You gotta believe that a podcast has class and style when it makes me feel close to not one but two irascible old white guys. It helps that they were making some points that I agree with: basically, that journalists everywhere should be held to a high standard, and that even if it’s a losing battle, journalists should keep fighting for the truth. That sounds idealistic, but that’s how they made me feel.
  2. ReplyAll has been getting weird and experimental lately and I love the hell out of it. This week, PJ Vogt explores a website that people who are too high can go to, talk to someone, and calm down. This leads to PJ Vogt–as well as another Gimlet producer, Phia Bennet (love her name!) to experiment with “microdosing,” which sounds like  I love that a central theme of the show seems to be not only exploring online phenomena, but also bringing it out of the internet in order to show the human heart at the center of it. The internet is weird because people are weird. All hail the internet.
  3. It’s hard to pick a favorite host on Political Gabfest, but, water gun to my head, I’d choose John Dickerson. But, although he was absent from Friday’s podcast, he was replaced with Jamelle Bouie, who is fast becoming the MVP of Slate’s podcasts. The previously mentioned Slate Academy was great. Dear Slate: You should combine “Whistlestop” and “Slate Academy” so that I have John & Jamelle hanging out together.
  4. So That Happened, a podcast made for snake people, by snake people, also had Jamelle Bouie! This is becoming one of my favorite podcasts. They had one of their UVA-enriched conversations again, since Bouie is also an alum, but it was highly appropriate as they were discussing the Mizzou controversy and contrasting it with their experiences at UVA. They also talked about Guantanamo Bay and the most recent Republican Debate.
  5. Podcast for Americaoh, how I love thee, even when the usually great Mark Leibovich is a little bit star-struck by Donald Trump. I understand that you might have had fun while in the presence of trump, but that doesn’t mean that the episode was actually funny. In fact, it was atrocious. Tsk, tsk. However, PfA is still great at substantively and entertainingly dissecting the extended silly season of the primary campaigns.

New Discoveries that I might be checking out:

  1. Surprisingly Awesome
    Basically, this seems like Gimlet’s Planet Money–investigative dives into some seemingly boring topics that may or may not turn out to be surprisingly awesome.
  2. Into the Weeds
    This requires getting over my weird feelings of dislike for Vox and Matt Yglesias, even though I just figured out that the comment he had made that pissed me off so much–something about how people below the poverty line aren’t the ones working–was actually said by Jordan Weissman. *sigh* So basically, I’ll give it a shot, since “into the weeds with policy” is my new middle name.


Slate’s new podcast series reminds me of why I love studying history

As part of Slate’s strategy to take over the internet (and world) via their new podcast platform, Slate’s started a series of lecture podcasts under a new umbrella, “Slate Academy.”

Each episode of the “History of American Slavery” series follows an enslaved person and uses their stories–often written by the individuals themselves–as a jumping off point to talk about the era and the state of slavery at the time.

I’ve learned so much that I didn’t know, but one of the most interesting areas that they’ve explored are the ways in which American conceptions of slavery have evolved. Contrary to what I had thought (and what is taught, and what I think is widely believed), slavery wasn’t always thought of as the ‘natural state of man’–in fact, it was viewed by many as more of a “necessary evil” in the 18th century, and was later viewed by some as the natural, state for an ‘inferior’ species.

Slate Academy Website (you might need a Slate+ membership; a free excerpt is available here).

Reading list

-The Grist puts out a list of their Seattle-centric posts
-Propublica interviews Eric Lipton about his Pulitzer-winning “Courting Favor” series. 

-An excellent summary of Iggy Azalea’s recent woes, which also summarizes why everyone hates her so much. I had no idea why she was so hated, but sadly learned that it was justified: homophobia, racism, cultural misappropriation. Only Rachel Dolezal is worse, according to The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams: “Rachel Dolezal is worse. Iggy acts black to make money, but Iggy’s not fooling anybody. Rachel Dolezal just single-white-female’d all black women! We don’t need oppression cosplay, we need allies.”

-Another day, another Kickstarter that didn’t fulfill its promises: Stereogum profiles VNYL, the “Netflix for Vinyl” that never was.

The Most Efficient Way to Save a Life at The Atlantic, recommended by a dear friend.



Eagerly Awaiting

The Magicians on Syfy

If you grew up with Harry Potter, or The Golden Compass, or The Chronicles of Narnia, or even if you’re just a fan of a well-told tale, you have to read Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy.

Syfy’s website says it’s not due ’till 2016, but there’s a “First Look” Trailer.

First look at Syfy’s ‘The Magicians’

It actually looks super cheesy and over-the-top–It looks like a dressed-up version of a supernatural teen show on the CW, really. The cinematography looks fairly beautiful, though, so maybe that will  be worthwhile? The main character looks a bit affected, but that’s the way  that the character is written, so maybe it’ll turn out alright. If not, I’ll always have the books, and I can just hope for a remake in 20 years.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on BBC

Somehow this has already been airing and I hadn’t noticed.  Maybe it’s the ocean. Sometimes I feel like there’s still a delay in getting British Imports.

Susanna Clarke’s book of the same name is about an alternate-universe England, one in which magic is real and was once abundant. Years after the Golden Age of Magic, the eponymous Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell are the only practical magicians in an era when all other magicians are theoretical. Before Mr. Strange arrived on the scene, Mr. Norrell

One of the best aspects of the book is that its villain, a fairy king who is powerful, capricious, but ultimately not malicious–which doesn’t mean that he’s ultimately good. Rather, he’s not evil. I’m very interested to see how the show works with this dynamic. More than anything, though, I hope it’s as funny as its source material–sometimes the inherent wit of a series gets lost in translation from page to screen. It was somewhat true of Harry Potter, but I really hope that this series stays true to that.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Area X/ The Southern Reach Trilogy

This is probably a lot further away, but there are whispers that Area X will be getting its own film adaptation (likely a trilogy, like the books). I’m especially excited for this because I was intrigued and excited by the world that Jeff Vandermeer created in his Southern Reach Trilogy, but very disappointed with how the narrative eventually turned out. It was more glimpses, less development. I’m especially excited because it seems like Alex Garland, fresh off of success from Ex Machina, is writing the script.

True Detective on HBO

Even if I hadn’t seen the trailers that preceded episodes of Game of Thrones, or been intrigued by seeing Colin Firth, Rachel McAdams, and that other intense-looking hot guy (I’d look him up, but what if IMDB gives me casting spoilers?) looking intense together, I’d be psyched for True Detective based on the previous season.

loved the first season of True Detective. It was moody, lush, and dour–but also allowed itself to be funny, satirical, and interesting. Plus, I love so-called “off-type” casting–it’s usually not just a case of a character being “off-type” for an actor, but probably also a sign that the new material is new.

Allow me here a small ode to the stars of the first season: What took popular critic-dom (not to mention casting agents) so long to realize the greatness of McConaughey & Harrelson? Did they never see McConaughey in any movie opposite Kate Hudson? Did they never root for Harrelson’s character in Will & Grace to marry Grace? And Reign of Fire was pretty good, right?

Anyway, to my delight, the new season seems to have the same interesting casting; post-Mean Girls, Rachel McAdams has been kicking around in rom coms for far too long (although The Wedding Crashers is pretty great).

I still wish this was happening, though:


Amy Schumer and Bill Heder in a script written by Schumer herself! ‘Nuff said.


Here’s hoping that this stuff will be as delightful as it promises. What are you looking forward to, semi-imaginary readers?


Crackpot Game of Thrones Theories

Melisandre has dark plans for Shireen.
Melisandre is constantly talking about the power in King’s blood. I think that Stannis sees Melisandre’s desire for his blood to be a confirmation that he is indeed the rightful king–but I think that Melisandre’s definition of King’s blood is much more general. First of all, the gender of the person whose veins run with king’s blood doesn’t matter. Second of all, the god that Melisandre worships isn’t very picky about whose king’s blood it is–I think the God recognizes many kings.

Theon/Reek will confess to Sansa that he didn’t kill Bran and Rickon.
I’ve been late in posting this (or anything else), so I’m afraid that this is right, but not in the way that I anticipated. But here goes anyway: for a long time, Sansa’s motivation has been to survive. Recently, by her own wits and by some advice and mentorship (ick) by Littlefinger, she’s learned that she might just survive, that she’s not stupid, and that she has some agency.

I was unhappy that it looked like she was going to marry Ramsey (or that the Boltons were going to continue to be a focus of the show at all, Roose Bolton is more boring to me than Stannis Baratheon. “I raped your mother under her husband, whom I murdered.” Yawn, really), but I wasn’t worried. I thought some bad things might come to her, that she’d be sad and horrified, but I never imagined this week’s plot line.

The worst part, as pointed out by Joanna Robinson in Salon, among others, is that Sansa’s rape seems to have very little to do with either Ramsey or Sansa. It doesn’t advance their characters one bit, but we do see Theon’s crying face. Yep, I think these two are going to become friendlier. But this isn’t interesting to me, and it’s a completely sucky way to write another rape storyline. Ugh, I’m really losing hope in these writers.

The Sparrows threaten to–or actually go ahead with–castrating Ser Loras (on Cersei’s orders).
What’s the worst thing that Cersei can do to Margaery? Hurt her dear brother. What’s the worst thing that Cersei can do to the Tyrells? Kill or threaten their heir.

At least, that’s what I thought before this Sunday’s episode. It looks like Cersei is at least slightly more forward-thinking than she has seemed for the past couple of seasons. I’m still worried that Loras might be castrated, but at this point it seems like Margaery might just get imprisoned.

Danny forgives Jorah just as he’s about to succumb to death by grayscale.
“I…will….always….love…you…..” *dies*

An Epic Battle at Winterfell
Back at the beginning, we have Bolton’s army (does he have an army?), Baratheon’s sellswords, some of the newly-kneeling wildlings, Baelish’s forces from the Vale, and the Tyrells for good measure.

Danny marries her nephew, Jon Snow.
It’ll be a marriage of Ice and Fire.

This American Life: Deep Cut Playlist

I’m going to do something I’ve been resisting for awhile: I’m going to listen to a few of the earlier episodes of This American Life. Back when I worked in the library at the University of Chicago, I listened to about 6 episodes of This American Life a day. (It’s probably more, but I did try mix it up throughout the day with On the Media, WTF with Marc Maron, and Radiolab.)

I tried to listen to some of the very earliest episodes, but found that they were too strange–uncannily similar, but not close enough to the TAL that I knew and loved to actually listen to. The music is different, the sound mixing is off, the narration sometimes even more monotone. It’s still good, though. It’s just not as dressed up, it hasn’t quite gotten the hang of its makeup routine (much like me, actually). But,  because I miss Serial so damn much, I’m going to try to go back and listen to some earlier episodes. Here’s my playlist:

#163: Can you Fight City Hall if You Are City Hall?

#168: The Fix is In

#272: Big Tent

#179: Cicero

Tags I want to Revisit:

Criminal Justice
Legal System

Imaginary readers, do you have a favorite (early) This American Life episode? What are your favorites overall?


Top 5 Political Podcasts

1. Slate’s Political Gabfest

2. Ken Rudin’s Political Junkie / Now-Defunct It’s All Politics

3. The New Yorker’s Political Scene

4. WNYC’s Leonard Lopate & Brian Lehrer Shows
I’ve grouped these together because they’re not always about politics. They can also be kind of New York-centric, but I always feel interested in the topics anyway.

5. ProPublica Podcast
Although not about politics per se, ProPublica’s in-depth investigations always address what should be the true focus of politics: attention paid to public policy issues that affect the actual public.

Also Good:

KCRW’s Left, Right, and Center

Best of the Left
Even if you’re not left-leaning in your politics, Best of the Left is a good place to learn about domestic (and, rarely, international) political issues. Best of the Left aggregates coverage from other podcasts in the web, so sometimes I find that the segments are hit-or-miss. It can also be pretty depressing, especially when they talk about race or politics or the police–Best of the Left has a particular skill at exposing the rank cynicism of many pundits on the left.




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