Rec: Thunderstruck, by Erik Larsen

Larsen is the author of a certain sort of history for the popular market. He wrote Devil in the White City, a book that tells the story of the murderer H.H. Holmes set in his context of the Chicago World’s Fair. Thunderstruck is a similar story, and I really enjoyed it.

In Thunderstruck we are told the twin and seemingly-unrelated stories of the invention and rise of Marconi’s wireless telegraphy on the one hand, and a horrifying murder in London on the other. As the lives of the people involved unfold they abruptly and weirdly converge in the middle of the North Atlantic, as the officer of the law races across the ocean to find and catch a killer.

Like Larsen’s other work, I initially thought, “Really? That’s a story? Well, okay, I guess.” And then I was *hooked*. I find Larsen to be a compellingly readable author whose work and pacing drags you along into the lives of people long-dead.

If you like history, true crime, or the history of science, and you want a good tale that keeps you engaged and entertained, I recommend Thunderstruck.



Take Action MN Annual Meeting

This past Saturday I went to the Take Action MN Annual Meeting.

This was Take Action MN’s eleventh year of operation. They are a progressive political coalition with some history and some staying power. They’ve got connections in local government, and they have a broadly intersectional approach to fighting oppression.

I like them.

This Saturday, six meetings were held simultaneously around the state. Members of the board attended their local meetings, and messages were recorded and played at the other locations. I went to the St. Paul meeting, held in the Paul Wellstone Community Center, on Cesar Chavez Avenue in West St. Paul.

At sign-in, we were all encouraged to include our correct pronouns on our nametags. That’s the first time I’ve seen that done outside of fandom.

I went to the Justice 4 All breakout session. I learned what Take Action MN is focusing on in criminal justice reform, and learned a bit more about the women’s prison in Shakopee.

I also met a handful of folks, 75% of whom were newly-motivated-activists. I’m seeing this again and again and again — so many older straight white people just shaking their heads and saying, “I have to DO something.”

After the breakout session we all gathered for lunch in the gymnasium, where we heard speeches from different groups. Each group seemed to be an ally or partner of Take Action MN, working together for wider reach and organization. And then Representative Keith Ellison appeared! And gave a great speech! I was so pleased.

I left before the community march, as I was not really up for marching.

Overall I found the experience a good one. I like Take Action MN. They seem to have a plan, and they seem to be working hard on transmogrifying white guilt into actual useful things for oppressed groups and communities. I expect I’ll be putting more of my time and money towards them.



Recs for March 13 2017

– Audiobook: I am enjoying Erik Larson’s ‘Thunderstruck”. As usual with Larson’s work, whatever the ostensible topic is, I find myself engaged and interested.

– Physical book: Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America, Second Edition, by Ann Braude. This is a GREAT examination of the relationship between the politics of Spiritualism and the suffrage/women’s rights movements of the 1800s. It’s a great, engrossing read. Note, it’s almost entirely about white women.

– Ebook: Lovecraft Country: A Novel, by Matt Ruff. I’m not done with it, but it’s great so far. It’s combining the history of Black America in the 1950s and 60s with Lovecraft, and I am really enjoying it.

– GoFundMe: Support for Arthur.



What have I done to fight evil? March 2017

In the last month I:

Made a lot of phone calls. This is just, too many to keep track of. I call members of federal and state government every week. And I send emails.
Mailed postcards to federal officials with various complaints and remarks.
Went to a local Women’s March neighborhood follow-up meeting. Met a number of folks, got on some mailing lists.
Participated in solidarity efforts with the Women’s Strike yesterday.
Kept up recurring donations.
Helped out a few GoFundMes and YouCarings.
Am reading the Twin Cities Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing report.

Trump’s cabinet is being filled. The AHCA proposal is terrible, and may get GOP resistance, it’s not clear yet. (The AARP hates it.) It specifically does not cover abortion, post-natal care, and a huge number of women’s issues. Also, it caps coverage each year, which will vastly harm people I personally know. The Trump family is violating the emoluments clause up one side and down the other. Trans protections are being removed from our schools. The CBP is advertising for new hires on white nationalist websites. Trump is accusing Obama of wiretapping him. Sessions lied under oath concerning his contact with Russia. China has said they will move against the U.S.’s new forces in Asia, though they may not mean militarily, yet. The Muslim Ban 2.0 was revealed, and this one will probably be enforced for a while before the ACLU can take it down.

As of right now, no-one I know has lost their job, home, or healthcare due to the incoming administration.



Women’s Strike #DayWithoutAWoman


I am scheduling this post ahead of time because today is the Women’s Strike.

I support #DayWithoutAWoman.



I wish I had better words for this

There are certain kinds of fear and disgust that I do not understand.

The notion that criminals in prison, by virtue of their being in prison, forfeit their right to humane treatment.

The notion that undocumented immigrants, by virtue of their being undocumented, forfeit their right to humane treatment.

The notion that speaking languages not understood by the observer strips away humanity.

The notion that being poor is a character flaw to be punished by humiliation and further poverty.

The notion that being sick is a ploy to get free things that others must work to attain.

The notion that bodily autonomy is a privilege reserved for those who meet a cultural standard of maleness that is ill-defined and exclusionary.

The, the idea that nothing bad will happen to a person because they work hard and follow a moral code, so therefore everyone who has had ill-fortune is a freeloading sinner anarchist who deserves all bad things.

The notion that difference is inherently a crime to be punished.

The idea that one’s rightness and goodness are determined by one’s rank in terms of economic success, that the more people are in crushing poverty below one, the better one is.

I do not understand these things.

I mean, I can mentally walk through how a person gets to those ideas, sure. In much the same way that I can understand a phobia, or a bad relationship pattern, or a fear of public speaking.

But I believe that people, myself included (myself most of all, actually,) have a *duty* to attempt to correct these misapprehensions and flaws in thinking as soon as we notice them. When I was presented with an opportunity to take swim lessons and work on my water phobia, I did so. When told I am being racist, or classist, or just an ass, I apologize and try to make amends. I am imperfect at these things, yes, yes, obviously, yes. But I believe I have an *obligation* to other people to try to be rational, to try to be civil, to try to be a cooperating and productive member of society.

The ideas listed above seem fundamentally opposed to life in civil society. I struggle to comprehend how a person can hold these views and not be cripplingly ashamed of themself. When people have, in the past, pointed out the racism of my feminism, the classism of my views on prisons, the white privilege of my notions of academic success, I have been ashamed.

The fact that some people genuinely believe that the sickest and most disabled among us do not deserve more than a fixed dollar amount of care each year, and after that they can first go bankrupt and then die? This is incomprehensible to me.

I am not … I wish I was more articulate about this. I wish I was funnier, or had better facts, or could string together a compelling and re-tweetable argument that would sway others. But I don’t have that. All I have is a sort of stunned and angry lack of understanding. I want to grab Paul Ryan by the lapels and ask him, “what is WRONG with you that you are not weepingly ASHAMED????”

But he isn’t.

They are not.

They … they really think difference — queer, black, Muslim, ill, disabled, old, young, trans, Latino, immigrant — is something to be punished. That we are different, and therefore we deserve less.

Rise up
If you livin’ on your knees, you rise up
Tell your brother that he’s gotta rise up
Tell your sister that she’s gotta rise up
When are folks like me and you gonna rise up?
Every city, every hood, we need to rise up
All my soldiers, what’s good? We need to wise up
We ain’t got no other choice, we need to wise up
Rise up!



Documentary recommendations

I’ve seen some good documentaries recently:

Change Comes Knocking: The Story of the North Carolina Fund is an in-depth look at the work of combating poverty in the mid-60’s in North Carolina. The film uses old footage, old interviews, and interviews with folks still alive today. I found it to be … relevant.

Africa’s Great Civilizations. Episode one of this new series is available on PBS. Written by and featuring Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the first episode did indeed have information I did not already know, which makes me excited for the rest of the series.

– I started NetFlix’s “The White Helmets,” and it’s very good but I could not finish it. Too many dead children.

When We Rise is not entirely a documentary. It’s based on the memoir by queer activist and organizer Cleve Jones, and follows the lives of Jones and two other San Francisco activists for the last forty-five years. It is … not easy to watch. Especially the episodes where everyone is dying. However, this is the first queer history I’ve watched that does not systematically forget women, trans people, and queers of color. Also, this does not erase drug users, closeted queers, military queers, or the divisions within gay rights activism about method and purpose. This felt … familiar. Real. Incomplete, but a good and well-intentioned effort. I am glad I watched it.