Friday, February 17, 2017

New Year's Goal Check: Is This Thing On?

*pokes blog* Hello? *clears throat, speaks into mic* Is this thing on?

I've been absent for most of February because life events took over and grabbed all my attention. There's a GoFundMe widget on the sidebar now, which you can click to learn a bit more about my situation. If you give $10 or more, I'll contact you and ask if you would like to be mailed a used book from my personal shelf as a thank-you. (Or Kindle/Nook-gifted a book, for international readers.) 

Anyway, what have I been up to? Besides running around like a chicken with my head cut off?

My New Year's Resolutions

This New Year, I decided I wanted to read more nonfiction. And finish the nonfiction I started but never completed. Here's my lineup:

Image result for born a crime cover
[Image Description: Book cover of Born a Crime:
Stories FromA South African Childhood by Trevor Noah.
Noah is depicted laughing on a mural in the background
while a woman looks on in the foreground.]
I finished this one! I listened to it on audiobook, which probably helped. Trevor Noah is a comedian and currently hosts the Daily Show in the U.S. This book tells the story of his childhood in South Africa, specifically being the child of a black and a white parent during Apartheid. His narrative voice is engaging; since he's a performer himself, it was a natural choice for him to perform his own audiobook. If you can listen to the audiobook version, I HIGHLY recommend it. The book is both funny and serious. Also, it was a good book for me to be listening to right now, because so much of the story is him jumping from crisis to crisis and getting into situations where you wonder, "How will they ever get out of this??" And I was listening like, "Well, I might have wrecked my car, but at least I've never accidentally burned down a house." 

Image result for I am malala
[Image Description: book cover for I Am Malala:
The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was
Shot By the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai. Malala wears
a bright pink head covering with gold trim and looks out
at the reader with a small smile.]
I'm still working my way through this; I'm about halfway finished. This is one of those books which is both inspirational and also makes me wonder what I've done with my life so far. This is Malala Yousafzai's autobiography of her childhood in Swat, the attack by the Taliban, her mission to promote girls' education across the world, and her hope that she'll be able to return to her homeland one day. 

I think I'm spoiled by Born A Crime because now, I want to just listen to people narrate their own memoirs. This is a great book and I mean to finish it before it's due back to the library.

Image result for in the body of the world eve ensler
[Image description: book cover of In the Body of
the World: A Memoir by Eve Ensler, author of
The Vagina Monologues. The cover is plain with only
the title/author text and a large gold V.]
In college, I read The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, as well as the accompanying book about how the play was constructed. I picked up this memoir by the author because these issues seemed pertinent to our time and our political climate, and I was interested to know more about the author. I haven't started this one yet. The summary for In the Body of the World describes it as a memoir about how she had to adjust her perspective on her own body when dealing with childhood sexual abuse, cancer of the reproductive organs, and working with women who were raped during wartime. 

Image result for the history of tea claire hopley
[Image description: book cover for The History
of Tea by Claire Hopley. There's a cup of tea on
a saucer.]
This was given to me as a gift YEARS ago and I still haven't finished it. I had to move in the middle of beginning to read it, and never picked it back up. I need to get back to that. It's a history of how tea drinking and growing and whatnot originated and was spread across the world. 

Image result for homer's odyssey cat
[Image description: book cover for Homer's Odyssey:
A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About
Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat by
Gwen Cooper. A black cat without eyes
sits on a gold plush chair.]
This was also a gift -- a Christmas gift, to be precise. I haven't started it yet. I'm interested to read this book because black cats are already difficult to get adopted due to superstitious prejudice, and special needs cats are more difficult to adopt out still. Hopefully Homer's story will convince someone out there to discard their prejudices about animals and care more about animal welfare. I am assuming that this book has a happy story? (Seriously, I cannot handle books where the pet dies in the end.) I will probably need to read it as a pick-me-up halfway through this depressing year.

Well, what about you? Have you read any nonfiction recently?

Friday, January 27, 2017

No, Pence Would Not Be Worse Than Trump

No, Mike Pence would not be worse than Donald Trump. 

The conversation always goes like this: "something something Trump should be impeached" "BUT IF WE IMPEACHED HIM THEN WE'LL GET PENCE AND HE'D BE SO MUCH WORSE"

No. No, no, no, no, no. Stop it. I need you to stop saying that. 

Here's why:

It's an abuse tactic

This is the same logic abusers employ to keep people from leaving them, reporting them, or taking any action. "But I never hit you." "Sure, baby, I hit you, but only a couple of times. I could have put you in the hospital." "Well, at least she's never raped me, not like such-and-so's wife." "I spent twenty years being psychologically abused and manipulated by my parents, but Joe's parents actually beat him." "I'd like to leave, but I'm afraid that living on my own will be worse."

Over time, this creates a twisted gratitude for the abuser -- instead of outrage over the things they have done, you feel gratitude for what they haven't done. When you say, "Pence would be worse than Trump," you are saying, "Be grateful to your abuser, because it could be worse."

Believe me: Trump WANTS you to think Pence would be worse. Why? Because it keeps you from holding Trump accountable. Because focusing on how bad Pence might be deflects from how bad Trump is. 

It is a classic abuse tactic, and I need you to stop it.

It's gaslighting

Saying that you shouldn't try to change your situation because the alternative is worse is a gaslighting tactic. It's also a logic used by abused people use to assure themselves that what's happening isn't all that bad. It de-legitimizes the suffering that's already going on, and minimizes the abusive behavior.

When you say, "Pence would be worse than Trump," what you're really saying is, "Trump isn't all that bad." Yes he is. 

In short, you're trying to gaslight me. Fucking stop it. 

It's normalizing Trump

Similarly, you're implying that we have to accept Trump as our new normal. He is not, in fact, normal. This is not normal behavior for a politician in America. 

If anything, Pence -- despite his many terrible qualities -- is more of a "normal" politician. During his debate with Tim Kaine, he didn't spend his time defending Trump's policies. He spent the whole debate denying them, shaking his head and running interference for his boss. Because hknew how indefensible and extreme those policies are. Pence knows how far beyond normal Trump is.  

Trump is not normal. Pence gets that. Why don't you? Stop trying to tell me these two mofos are interchangeable. They are not. You are normalizing Trump, and I need you to stop that.

The conversion therapy thing

Pence supported conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ people. This surely makes him worse than Trump, right? 

Not necessarily. 

First of all, you've probably seen this image going around:

Image result for mike pence conversion therapy meme
[Image description: Mike Pence smiles; text says, "Reminder:
Mike Pence is a proponent of gay conversion therapy, which uses
taxpayer money to literally electrocute the gay out of teenagers."]

Conversion therapy in any form is horrifying. But this image is misleading. I'll let Snopes explain. 

Essentially: no, Mike Pence did not support shocking the gay out of teenagers. In 2000, he blamed gay people for the spread of AIDS and wanted to fund conversion therapy for willing adults. He is awful. But claims about his hankering for shocking gay teens are exaggerated. 

I'm going to correct Snopes on one thing, though: conversion therapy is ANY therapy which seeks to change a person's sexual orientation. I have personally been targeted for conversion therapy. Believe me, I understand how big and scary a problem this is, and why this makes people claim that "Pence would be worse than Trump."

Here's my problem with that: you want to talk about conversion therapy? OK, fine. Let's fucking talk about conversion therapy. 

Let's talk about how conversion therapy was created as, and STILL IS, a mainstream medical practice for dealing with queer people. 

Let's talk about how transgender people are still classified as having a mental illness which must be "cured" -- and that this "therapy" first seeks to "convert" them from their gender to the one society says they ought to be. Only when they have attempted to "convert" themselves to their assigned gender and try living as something they aren't, only when they have had to prove to medical professionals that they really are trans and really do have a "mental illness," and usually only after they have lived a set amount of time as their true gender and proved to doctors that they really are sincere about being that gender, are they allowed to begin a medical transition. (Here meaning being prescribed hormones, and/or having any surgical alterations, and/or getting insurance for those things.) 

Let's talk about how asexuality was still classified as a mental illness until 2013. Let's talk about how the default response of medical professionals to asexuality is to ask, "Have you had your hormones checked?" or, "Could it be an effect of one of your medications?" If they aren't unhappy, why would they want their hormones checked? Why is brokenness and illness the automatic assumption?

Let's talk about why our knee-jerk reaction is to try to "fix" queer people. Let's talk about why we're so fascinated by what "causes" queerness. Let's talk about how people assume childhood trauma causes LGBTQ+ identities. About how so many doctors, therapists, and other medical professionals deal with mental illness in LGBTQ+ patients by pushing "recovering your natural sexuality" as part of their treatment. 

Let's talk about how hard it is to find an LGBTQ+ positive doctor, therapist, or gynecologist.

Let's talk about how even some doctors who accept homosexuality still try to "convert" everyone after the LG of LGBTQIA+

Let's talk about how intersex infants are mutilated at birth for aesthetic purposes on the advice of doctors, so that parents can raise them as single-sexed, single-gendered people. 

Let's talk about how the PERSON is always seen as the problem to be fixed, the person to be converted instead of accepted, the societal stresses of constantly being threatened or not accepted too often ignored as factors in mental illness, stress, and health problems for LGBTQ+. 

In short: Conversion therapy is not a Mike Pence problem. He did not invent it. Pence's position is the result of decades of doctors and scientists normalizing conversion therapies as an acceptable method of "treating" queerness. If anything, his stipulation that it should be used on willing people is LESS extreme than many of those who support conversion therapy -- the people who have their children shipped off to "pray away the gay" camps. The argument that Mike Pence would institute conversion therapy if he became President is weak when you realize that conversion therapy is already America's normal. 

He's not reinventing the wheel here. His 2000 proposal was just trying to make it easier for people to do what they already fucking do anyway. 

This doesn't mean you can't get upset about Pence. He's awful. He's anti-woman, anti-gay, and an all-around ass. We should be upset about Pence. 

But he's not worse than Trump. 

Oh right, RUSSIA

About that...

Trump has a myriad of conflicts of interest. He may be in debt to Russian oligarchs. He's buddy-buddy with Putin. He has already enacted executive orders which ban Muslims from some countries while exempting those countries in which he has business ties. He is using the presidency to enrich himself.

What's more: if he is compromised by Russia in some way, that should make us all very, very afraid. On the campaign trail, he suggested that he would not protect NATO allies. He said he dislikes the UN. He said bombing civilians, killing the civilian families of terrorists, and using nuclear weapons were all options on the table. 

In office, he is already taking steps to withdraw from the UN. Think about this for a second. All the policies Trump is talking up -- abandoning NATO allies, withdrawing from the UN, bombing in the Middle East -- benefit Russia. Russia has already stretched its muscles in the Crimea. Russia has gotten shit from the USA and the UN for bombing in Syria, including civilian targets. NATO is one of the organizations which keeps Russian expansion in check. 

If you're claiming that Pence would be worse than Trump, did you forget the Cold War? Did you forget that MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) is more or less the only thing keeping us all from nuclear annihilation? If our President aligns the US with Russia, Russia has far less reason not to use nukes. They have less reason to fear retaliation.

Even if that doesn't happen: If America starts using nukes under Trump, other countries will see nukes as an option on the table. 

Pence is awful. But he understands the gravity of nuclear weapons. Trump does not grasp this, or he does not care. As long as it doesn't happen in America, right?

Also, nuclear fucking weapons

I understand that many people cry "Pence would be SO MUCH WORSE than Trump!" because to many Americans, nuclear destruction is an abstract concept. This is privilege. This is an American-centric way of thinking. This shows an all-too-convenient amnesia about history and America's role in it. 

It's funny (not funny) how many Americans quickly draw parallels between Trump's rise and the rise of fascism in Europe, but become conveniently forgetful about genocide, oppression, and war crimes perpetrated by the United States. The government carried out genocidal tactics against Native Americans. The US fought the Nazis abroad but had concentration camps for Japanese-Americans at home, calling them "internment camps." 

Even liberals who get this far fall silent on or fail to make the connection with nuclear weapons. People who rant about Nazis and mass genocide ignore the fact that America carried out the worst war crime in the history of the modern world. 

Image result for hiroshima and nagasaki before and after
[Image description: aerial before and after photos showing a flattened,
obliterated landscape] (source)

Related image
[Image description: US Army photograph showing destroyed buildings
and wreckage after the bombing] source

Image result for hiroshima and nagasaki
[Image description: a gate stands alone among wreckage while
smoke rises from burning debris] source

Image result for hiroshima and nagasaki shadows
[Image description: five nuclear shadows left by the explosion, including
silhouettes of people and a bicycle] source

America invented nukes less than 100 years ago. The world has, so far, managed not to blow itself to hell. But we take that for granted. 

We forget that nukes HAVE been used. On civilian population centers. By America. 

And it can happen again. 


No, Mike Pence would NOT be worse than Donald Trump. Stop saying that.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faïza Guène, a YA Book By A Young Author

Review time! Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow is a young adult novel by a young adult, so I was very interested to read it. There's also a #MuslimShelfSpace tag going around, and this review is a nod to that. The idea is that there's been a lot of stereotypes and anti-Muslim sentiment spread around, so buying and boosting books about and by Muslims can help educate people and break down harmful stereotypes. 

The author is French with an Algerian background, and Guène wrote Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow when she was in her late teens. Although the novel is not autobiographical, she shares many things with its main character. Doria, like her creator, is the child of immigrants and lives in poor suburban housing projects. Guène wrote that she realized girls like herself weren't really represented in books, and felt that Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow was a way to tell the stories of people in the suburbs who are ignored by the elites of French literature.

Image result for kiffe kiffe tomorrow interview

Plot: Life Sucks, Until It Doesn't 

Doria is an unhappy teenager reeling after her father left to marry another woman back in Morocco. She deals with mandated counselling, flunking out of school, feeling abandoned, an unrequited crush on an older guy, social workers, having adult responsibilities she isn't ready for, and generally staving off despair as she wonders whether this is all there is to life. 

But despite Doria's glum prospects in the beginning, her life steadily improves. Her mom is able to leave her old job and start literacy courses. Doria gets a babysitting job. She starts trade school to learn hairdressing. She even cultivates a relationship with a potential boyfriend, though they got off to a terrible start. Life looks up and Doria decides that things aren't perfect, but they're OK for now. 

Language: This Title Is Awesome

"Kif-kif demain" is a phrase which means, as Doria puts it, "same shit, different day" or "same old, same old." "Kiffer," however, is a French verb which means "to really like someone or something." At the end of the book, when her life starts looking up, Doria coins her own phrase: "Kiffe-kiffe tomorrow," which is the title of the book. It's her own invented combination of the Arabic "kif-kif" and French "kiffer." 

The very title of the book is both the culmination of Doria's journey and a middle finger to French linguistic elitism. I read this book translated into English. The translation was excellent; Doria's voice really came across in all its barbed sarcasm, humor, pain, and occasional poetry. The book also includes a reference list of French and Arabic phrases at the beginning, including "kiffer" and "kif-kif" along with some others which Doria uses. Doria navigates reality with pop culture as a reference and an escape -- another jab at cultural elitism.

What annoyed me was discovering that the British English title is Just Like Tomorrow. I'm glad that the American version kept the non-English word in the title, because it has a meaning all its own -- it's literally an invented word, and any translation would have been dishonest.

Image result for chatto & windus just like tomorrow
Dislike. And Doria isn't white, either. Extra dislike.

The Flawed Narrator: Everyone Sucks (Except For Me)

This is written in first person, and Doria is...well...a teenager. The novel reads almost like diary entries. She slides on a scale between severely depressed and the more typical angst that comes with growing up. She doesn't have an objective view of the world. The narration makes this pretty clear; for instance, our attention is called to the dissonance between Doria missing her father and what her father was really like. When Doria says that it would be better for her family if he was still around, we're shown the sharp divide between events and her opinions. 

Because this is a character-focused book, her growth is the most important thing. She doesn't come out of it wise or all-knowing, but she does become more self-aware. For instance, she grudgingly allows that she judges other people even though she hates when other people judge her. She becomes less judgmental, even seeing sympathetic sides of despised figures like her social worker. 

It's also curious to see what she will and won't censor. She'll censor herself from using slurs against females (in funny asides, she'll remind the reader, "Censoring myself here!!!") but she'll use other -isms casually, employing ableist, anti-fat, and the occasional anti-gay insult. This is mostly when she's really pissed off about something. 

Image result for bleeped out words

I think that most people believe depression is just feeling mopey and sad all the time. There's plenty of that, but Doria's primarily manifests itself as anger -- anger at her father for leaving, at her mom's boss, at school, at her tutor, at everyone who tries to help her. She lashes out with nasty words because she's in a lot of pain. This is also a reason for much of the sarcasm and barbed humor in the book; it's how she copes. Occasionally she slips from sarcastic humor to vicious anger. These instances reveal when the topic is too hurtful to joke about or deflect -- such as when she's thinking about her future half-brother. 

I guess I'm more OK with characters using offensive words and slurs than I am with authors. I was way less bothered by the slurs in this first-person narrative than I was by the same kinds of language in Jim Butcher's omniscient author-voice in The Aeronaut's WindlassIt definitely fits Doria's perspective as a bitter, hurting, sarcastic teen. In an interview with Fatimah Keheller, the author said of writing Doria that she wanted her to be both funny and a jerk. It's a deliberate choice, not another author just being oblivious.

I encourage you to read the full interview. It's relatively short, but provides a lot of insight.

Culture and Diversity

This is an #ownvoices work by a French woman of Algerian descent from a neighborhood much like Doria's. It explores the dissonance created by being of two cultures and not feeling super at home in either one. 

Another area of dissonance is Doria's scorn for the practices and beliefs of her father and his town in Morocco, while she herself is a practicing Muslim. This is a consequence of having an unreliable narrator; also, her scorn seems to be more for her father than her religion. 

This book highlighted some of the difficulties of trying to be a good Muslim while poor; for instance, Doria's mom keeps the fast during Ramadan even though her job is physically strenuous and her boss is a racist jerk. They also have to be able to buy food that's halal on a tiny budget. It made the characters' religious practice seem more meaningful because it would have been much easier to just give it up. I can't speak from personal experience as to whether Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow is an accurate portrayal of Islam; you'd have to find a Muslim reviewer. However, it was written by a young woman about teens like herself. 

Related image
Author Faïza Guène. (source)

So many aspects of Doria's life are also dictated by poverty, down to whether or not she can afford pads when she gets her period. This contributes to her anger at her father: he left them out to dry financially. Other kids tease her for having the "wrong" clothes, and even her lone sort-of-friend's mom forbids him from hanging out with Doria because she's a "bad influence." 

One thing Doria does have access to is healthcare. She can still see her therapist and her dentist. As an American, that difference between here and there was striking. 


For me, this is a five-star read; however, I like depressing, sarcastic books. Others don't. I also cringe when Doria uses words like "ret*rded" but again, if it's appropriate to the character, I am not as bothered as I would be by different usage. I prefer in-context, character-appropriate slurs or offensive language -- even when it's aimed at groups I belong to -- like in Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow or A Wish After Midnight, to authors casually and obliviously using -isms like this. Obviously, neither are super great, but also, that is how many teens talk. Doria is a jerk, and this was a deliberate choice on the part of the author. It's been compared a lot to The Catcher In The Rye, and I can see the similarities.

I believe Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow is written in such a way that we are supposed to critique its teen narrator and her cruelty, even as we sympathize with her situation. Faïza Guène is dryly self-aware, even though Doria is not. However, that can be a dealbreaker for some people. I'm giving it 5 stars, with the caveat that it may not be for everyone.

Image result for five stars

Thursday, January 19, 2017

I Donated My Hair, and You Can, Too!

Today I got an email notifying me that Wigs for Kids received my hair donation!

Wigs for Kids is a nonprofit which provides free wigs to children without natural hair. Getting a wig can give many kids more self-confidence about their appearance, helping them get through a difficult time. 

My hair was around 22 inches braided, probably making it a good 24 inches in length brushed out straight. It was a lot of hair. Although I have straight hair, people with any hair type or color -- including gray hair -- can donate, as long as the hair you're giving hasn't been dyed or chemically treated. They put the donated hair through a whole treatment process when making the wigs, so split ends and the like don't matter, either. 

I have no personal use for my long hair. I had made a resolution -- what, two years ago now? -- that I was going to grow out my hair for donation. It's bright blond and fine, and I have a lot of it. According to the hairdresser, it's also very similar to the texture of a child's hair. 

Wigs for Kids relies on donations to keep their wigs free, since the creation process can be costly. I will be sending them a donation in the mail later this month, once I pay my bills and rent. This month was tricky financially since I had to take my car to the shop, but I want to be helpful beyond just giving my hair. 

On a personal level, I'm glad to get rid of the hair. It was in the way. It was annoying. It made my personal hygiene routine longer and that much more tiring. I hated the way it made my face look. I disliked the ultra-feminine look of long blond hair, too. Looking at myself with the hair in the mirror every morning was like a punch to the gut, because I've had short hair my whole life and this was not me at all. It wasn't all bad, and it does seem like a weird thing to complain about, but I vastly prefer my new (old) short hair. 

Some kid will get a wig with hair they will appreciate more than I did. That's a good thing. 

You can donate your hair, too! Check here to see if you meet their donation requirements. :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Chelsea Manning vs. Noor Zahi Salman

President Obama will commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning. I'm a little conflicted hearing that, because it comes on the heels of the news that Noor Zahi Salman, the wife of the Orlando shooter, will be prosecuted.

On one hand, maximum security prison as a trans woman would be more dangerous for Manning than many others, and she's served seven years already. In principle, I'm against a justice system which is all about punishment with no chance of rehabilitation.

But also. Also, also, ALSO.

Chelsea Manning is a white woman and a veteran who acted independently. While history suggests that some good came of her information leaks, she also endangered lives. She took her actions of her own free will, knowing full well what she was doing. She clearly believed enough in her cause to do so despite the consequences.

She gets clemency.

Noor Zahi Salman is a Muslim woman who claims to have been unaware of her husband's plans for the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. 49 people were killed and 53 were injured. The Pulse massacre was the deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11, the deadliest LGBTQ+ hate crime in American history, and the deadliest massacre by a single shooter in American history. Noor Salman did not fire a single shot in this massacre, but she has been charged under anti-terrorism laws.

Salman was allegedly in an abusive marriage and feared for her safety if she did not obey her husband. This story is supported by the fact that the shooter viciously beat his previous wife as well. Even if she did know or suspect what her husband planned, she was likely coerced into whatever actions she did or did not take.

She gets prosecuted.

The Orlando police chief has also said that he's "glad" she was arrested, because at least now someone will be prosecuted for the crime. In other words: the shooter is dead, but we still need someone to blame. Is this about justice, or vengeance? Finding the truth, or making ourselves feel better?

Additionally, the government has been trying to extend the definition of "material aid and comfort" for a while. If they succeed in prosecuting Salman, we could see those definitions stretch. It's hard not to see this as a witch hunt -- another symptom of Islamophobia in society generally and within a government which has engaged in systemic persecution of Muslims. I can't be happy about Chelsea Manning being pardoned by the Obama administration when I'm reading about the upcoming trial of Noor Salman under the Trump administration.

She does not deserve this. And I wish people would get as mad about this as they did about Chelsea Manning. I'm hearing liberals up and down the aisle voice their opinions about the Manning decision -- good, bad, neutral, and mixed. I wish more people were talking about Salman the same way.