Thursday, November 17, 2016

English Translation of El Derecho de Vivir en Paz

Earlier today when I imported posts from an old blog, I came across my translation of "Alfonsia y el Mar." I had always wanted to do more translations of my favorite songs, so today I did "El Derecho de Vivir en Paz" by Victor Jara. You can listen to the song here. Jara was a Chilean folk singer who was brutally murdered by the 1973 coup. Legend has it that even as he was being tortured, he never stopped singing songs of revolution.

My translation isn't quite literal. It is written so it can be sung to the original tune.

El Derecho de Vivir en Paz
by Victor Jara

We have the right to live.
The poet Ho Chi Minh
exposes his Vietnam
to the rest of humanity.
The trenches where green rice grows
won't disappear in gun smoke.
We have the right to live in peace.

Indochina is the land
beyond the ocean and sand
where flower blossoms bloom
with genocide and napalm.
An explosion replaces the moon,
and silences all but doom,
We have the right to live in peace.

Uncle Ho, we have a song,
that's burning with our pure love.
It's a dovecote with a dove,
an olive fruit in the grove.
It's the universal song--
a chain that links all of mankind.
We have the right to live in peace.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Reads: Four Middle-Grade Novels

I've been working on a manuscript for the past two months. I wasn't sure if it should be a young adult or a middle-grade novel, so I have been doing reading in both genres to become more familiar with what they entail. These are short reviews for the middle-grade books I read. Most of them are probably suitable for readers ages 8 to 12. Doing reading in this genre helped me learn that what I'm writing is definitely for a young adult audience.

The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman

This book is wonderfully written with vivid details that bring 13th century England to life. It begins with our orphan hero clinging to a dung heap for warmth. The plot was fairly simple--a nameless waif gains an identity by helping others--but it didn't shy away from the brutalities of Medieval life. I also learned a lot of great archaic superstitions, like smearing crane's blood on a pregnant woman will ease contractions.

Addie and the King of Hearts by Gail Rock

The story, told in 86 pages, is pretty simple. 13-year old Addie has a crush on her teacher, preferring his sophisticated conversations on art to the teasing of her classmate Billy. Her widowed father also has just begun dating again. But during the Valentine's Day dance, Addie learns that love can often be unexpected, and your dreams don't always go according to plan. I enjoyed seeing Addie grow up in the course of the book. The prologue and epilogue, narrated by the adult Addie looking back at her childhood in the 1940s, helped to create this perspective of growth and change.

Three Days by Donna Jo Napoli

When 11-year old Jackie's father collapses while they are driving down a highway in Italy, she doesn't know what to do. She attempts to wave cars down, but everyone in this foreign country seems cruelly indifferent. At last, a car stops and picks up Jackie, but they don't take her to the police or to anyone who can speak English. Instead, the drive her to a remote farmhouse where she is forced to wear the clothes of a girl who is nowhere to be seen.

The writing style of this book is a bit more plain than some of the other middle-grade books I've read recently, like the Midwife's Apprentice, but it still had a very sweet story. It's written in present tense, and I feel like present tense is good at pushing the story forward but makes it hard to find space for rich descriptions. The Italian country side where the bulk of the story took place was still vivid enough to serve it's purpose. The plot twist was pretty obvious to me, but probably wouldn't be to a young child.

The Black Pearl by Scott O'Dell

Ramon is the scrawny 16-year old son of the richest pearl dealer in their small Mexican town. He wants to become a pearl diver so he can claim his manhood by finding the Pearl of Heaven, but his father delegates Ramon to bookkeeping. Instead, Ramon disobeys his father and goes diving in a forbidden cave guarded by Manta Diablo, the monstrous manta ray said to have the ability to shape shift and cover the lagoon in blinding red fog. He finds what is his looking for--a perfect black pearl bigger than anyone has ever seen, but it brings a curse down on Ramon and his family. This book was written like a fable: simple, but very rich in symbolism.

Of all the middle-grade books that I've read recently, this was the only one that I went out of my way to get. The rest were all things I stumbled on randomly at thrift stores or little libraries. That is because the book I'm writing also has to do with a young person discovering a pearl, and I wanted to be sure that the similarities ended there. I'm pleased to say they do.

Why I'm Afraid of Talking About Politics

I said in my last post that I don't want to talk a lot about politics on this blog. This more than anything is based on fear: fear that having public political opinions could affect my career or friendships, fear of being mobbed on the internet, as well as a general fear I have expressing myself. But I also believe that part of the reason we are in this mess is because people like me do stay quiet. If people who care what other's think of them don't speak, the only people left to speak are sociopaths. This feeds SJW culture, which has been allowed to spread its anti-free expression, anti-coalition building agenda with little repudiation from classical liberals, as well as the perception that all Trump voters are all the aggressive white supremacist that troll internet comments.

A lot of my closest friends have told me that I have a perspective they think more people need to hear. They appreciate the connections I make between events any my insights on contemporary culture. But as someone who has struggled with social anxiety most of my life, I'm also always terrified to express my ideas around people I don't know well.

I want to be bolder at expressing my opinions in public, and I think I am working on it. Right now, blogging about politics doesn't seem like the format for me. The moment you write something down, you make it harder to change your opinion later. I wouldn't want to have a hastily made opinion come back to haunt me. Having real dialogue with real people is my goal.

On a side note, I want to bring back this brilliant Bush-era political meme. Though there are a few items that are outdated (see if you can spot the Katrina reference), I think it touches on a lot of the things relevant this election.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Liberal Attacks on Free Speech Cost Us the Election

I try not to talk about politics much on this blog, but like a lot of people I have some concerns about Tuesday that I need to get off my chest. For the past couple years, I've been concerned about the direction liberals have been going. I knew that their chickens were coming home to roost, I just didn't think it would be this year, in this election.

First of all, Clinton lost because she failed to shore up her base, particular in the Rust Belt, where we now know her campaign was underfunded and understaffed. Millions of voters decided they'd rather stay home than vote for a hypocrite who voted to put a wall on the Mexican border in 2006, shilled for her husband's tough on crime bill, and defamed every woman who accused him of sexual harassment, then had the nerve to campaign as a feminist committed to criminal justice reform and immigrant rights. All the polls were wrong because they presumed Clinton would have the same turnout rate Obama did, which was a fallacious assumption. Trump didn't sway many voters with his message. People who were likely to vote Republican voted Republican. Liberals who couldn't stand the thought of voting for someone so blatantly against their interest just didn't vote for her. And I'm not going to blame them. Clinton was a bad candidate and deserved to lose. But the country doesn't deserve to have every branch of the federal government controlled by Republicans.

But my concern isn't primarily Hillary Clinton, who hopefully will finally take the hint that she's not wanted in national politics, it is the silencing tactics and language policing that are so common in liberal enclaves like universities. Students being suspended for private Facebook comments, employees being fired for misinterpreted Twitter jokes, university speech codes and blacklisting speakers have all been in the news a lot the past couple years, and for good reason. These are terrifying attacks on free discourse. Liberals have been told time and time again that these tactics alienate a lot of people, most especially blue collar whites, but they haven't listened. I believe reaction against what is broadly called "political correctness" might have been a factor in some of the states where Trump only narrowly won. I'm less concerned about what Donald Trump will do in the next four years, though I'm sure that will be bad enough, and more concerned that in the face of such resounding failure, liberals will double down on all their mistakes, and thus continue to lose federal elections.

Just days after the election, there were already reports of the University of Louisville suspending a cheerleader for saying on Twitter that she was tired of hearing about sexism and racism. Now I don't agree with her statements, but this isn't the way to bring her over to our side. This is the way to harden her beliefs. This is a way to convince her, wrongly I might add, that whites are the primary victims in this country, or heighten that belief if she has it already. This isn't an isolated incident. Every few months there is a story like this in the news. All it does is feed the alt-right narrative that whites are discriminated against and liberals are totalitarians who want to control speech and thought. Banning certain words, phrases and ideas doesn't stop people from thinking the "wrong" thoughts, all it does is make them frustrated and alienated.

There have already been endless hit pieces decrying racism as the cause of Trump's rise. I won't deny that it's a factor, but it doesn't explain why Trump did better among people of color than Mitt Romney. It doesn't explain why numerous counties Obama won went for Trump, or the individual voters who chose both candidates. We need to go deeper, and the only way to go deeper is to have free and open discourse.

We also need to take a hard look at the language we use to discuss racism and admit why it is alienating to so many people. I'm not telling people of color how to act, as there is certainly a place for their righteous anger. My frustration is aimed at smug white anti-racism allies, who should be the ones listening the to frustrations of working class whites and assure them that their economic concerns are valid and don't conflict with the aims of anti-racism, but they'd rather burn down bridges at every turn, most especially those well-educated, middle class whites who use "white" as an insult. It is a form of virtue signaling that does nothing but drive potential allies away.

The revelation that Clinton's campaign had conspired with journalists to promote her agenda can also be seen as an attack on free discourse and a violation of the supposed independent nature of the press. Her supporters are probably correct that she would have won the Democratic primary regardless, but that doesn't get her off the hook. Nixon would have trounced McGovern even without Watergate. He still had to pay the price for it. Clinton's actions weren't criminal, but the price she had to pay was the loss of trust among young people and blue collar workers who supported Sanders. I'm going to repeat that I don't blame these voters for staying home, voting third party, or leaving the presidential slot blank. Clinton failed them and didn't earn their support. If she was really concerned about the horror of a Trump presidency, she shouldn't have run such a corrupt and incompetent campaign.

Like a lot of people, I took it for granted that people would vote for Clinton despite her corruption, endless scandals, hypocrisy and robotic personality, and despite the well-published liberal attacks on free speech. I voted for her when I turned up at my Massachusetts ballot box, though I made my disdain for her clear to everyone I know. But I didn't campaign for her. If it was Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker or, yes, Bernie Sanders running, I would have made election calls in swing states every weekend because I could honestly say I would be excited to have them as my president. I'm sure I'm not the only one in that position.

I'm very sorry for the millions of immigrants who now risk deportation and brutal human rights violations from our immigration authorities, I'm sorry for the working class people who are now at risk for losing their healthcare, and I'm sorry for all the other oppressed people who are unsure what the coming years will bring. I wish I had done better for you. I wish our political advocate had done better for you. I wish the discourse had done better for you. We need to regroup and do better next time or the consequences will only get worse. Only two years until midterm elections.

EDIT: Right after I published this piece, my friend sent me the following image. These dumbass campaign managers should be ashamed of themselves. This is exactly what Thomas Frank's latest book was about, Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People. The Democratic party is systemically ignoring the concerns of the working class in order to attempt to sway Rockefeller Republicans.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Cathars: The Most Successful Heresy of the Middle Ages

I've been interested in the Cathars for some time, but this was the first book I've picked up about them. I was rather disappointed in the depth of information presented by Sean Martin here. It seemed half the people in this book were named Peter or Roger or Raymond or Roger Peter or Raymond Roger, and I felt like more could have been done to distinguish one Peter from another at times. This made the narrative hard to follow, and helped me really learn to appreciate surnames.

The Cathars were Medieval heretics who believed they, and not the Catholic Church, were the true heirs of Christ. The Cathars were the ideologically similar to the Gnostic tradition, which predates the Nicene Council of 325 AD that drew the line between heretical and orthodox Christian belief, but they seemingly sprung from nowhere during the 10th century.

Catharism was especially popular in the south of France, which had unprecedented religious tolerance for its time and also a particularly corrupt Catholic clergy. One thing that surprised me was that the Catholic church, before resorting to violence, actually held public debates of theology in Cathar towns. It was only after they had their butts polemically handed to them that they launched first a crusade, then the Inquisition, to bring the region under the thumb of Rome.

I'm especially interested in what makes people willing to give their life for their religious belief. Thousands of Cathars were burned at the stake, and typically before a mass burning heretics were given one finally chance to reconcile themselves to the Catholic Church, but it was common for a group of 200 Cathars to all stay true to their faith and be burned together.

For someone to make that ultimate sacrifice, they must see something in their faith that is undeniably true. In the brutality of the Middle Ages, the Cathar belief that the world itself was literally hell could have been particularly appealing. This belief was so strong, that Cathars refused marriage in order to avoid bringing more babies into this hell. The Cathars also believed in egalitarianism between the sexes, which attracted a lot of women who were alienated by the misogyny of the Catholic church. In Cathar metaphysics, humans are reincarnated and any soul could be reincarnated as either a male or female, therefore sex is meaningless.

This book, however, was a rather brief overview of the entire Cathar era, and didn't go into as much detail as I would have liked on the normal day-to-day life of Cathar believers. In the future I might pick up another book on this subject.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Budgeting Tips from the 1%

My article, "Budgeting Tips from the 1%," is up at Defenestration Magazine. It features important, everyday life hacks, such as:
Buy Reusable Diamonds
Before I learned this trick, I was going through 12, 15 carats a day! You may spend an extra two or three grand finding diamonds that you can bear to be seen in day after day, but it is definitely worth the investment.
 Read the rest here.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Rejected Everyday Feminism Articles

Shortly after the kerfuffle over Everyday Feminism's food insecurity article, my friend Keith and I discovered 10 rejected Everyday Feminism pitches.

  • Meet 4 Bankers Who are Queering Foreclosures 
  • 5 Empowering Ways to Cross Picket Lines 
  • 9 Ways to Respect the Gender Identity of the Serfs Who Til Your Estate 
  • This Comic Perfectly Explains How 'Right to Work Laws' Respect Bodily Autonomy 
  • So What if Scissor Bill Didn't Join the Union? Here's Why Scab-Shamming is Never Feminist
  • Not In My Back Yard: Why It's Triggering to Have Low-Income Housing Near My McMansion
  • What Losing My Wallet Taught Me About Classism 
  • 6 Ways Subprime Lending Empowers Women of Color 
  • 29 Steps to Emotional Supporting Your Serfs During Famine 
  • Here it is: The Ultimate Guide to Intersectional CEO Bonuses

Bonus: Want to End Class-Based Oppression? Here's a List of 187 Words to Never Say Around the Financially-Challenged

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Reads: The Fellowship of the Ring

The concept of good and evil seems so quaint today. It is no wonder that the most popular adult fantasy series of the past decades is A Song of Ice and Fire, with it's host of morally ambiguous characters set against each other with competing ambitions, thus reflecting our modern secular worldview where morality is at best a vast jungle with no clear path, or at worst a myth created for social control. But at times this borderline nihilism presents an essentially negative view of mankind, which is odd that despite our decrease in violent crime and increase in worldly comforts, we are so much more pessimistic about ourselves than our per-industrial forebears. Tolkien's morality, in contrast to today's trendy cynicism, is clearly Catholic in origin, and more nuanced that the good/evil binary employed by more derivative writers.

Tolkien admitted that Christianity influenced themes of Lord of the Rings, even while he disparaged the blatant allegory of C.S. Lewis. Like Satan, Sauron is a corrupted angelic being, and the personification of evil. Though for the characters in the story most of his deeds are done through his agents, he is also a literal person who rules over a very real place. Frodo's descent into Mordor is an intentional echo of the mythical journey to the underworld, the Hero Cycle's symbolic death. But the conflict between good and evil in the Lord of the Rings does not simply come from battling Sauron's orcs, Ringwraiths and other minions, but from battling against the corruption of one's heart. In a universe where objective morality exists, evil is committed by willfully siding the the Enemy of good. The Christian notion of temptation requires socially agreed upon sins, so that when transgressions occur, it is obvious to the one who commits them. We can look at Boromir, who at the end of the novel succumbs to the temptation of power and attempts to acquire the ring for himself, but he knows full well that the ring cannot offer him the power to protect his homeland only a temporary blindness confuses him, and when it passes he acknowledges his sin and repents. But when evil can be identified, it can also be overcome. It gives us the option of choosing righteousness and bettering ourselves as individuals. 

As a secular person myself, I'm not trying to claim that either Tolkien or Martin have a superior moral worldview, but am just trying to observe them from a cultural historical perspective. It is interesting that Tolkien, who survived WWI, by all accounts a nebulous and ultimately pointless waste of human life, would believe in objective morality, and George R.R. Martin, who had a working-class but fanciful childhood in suburban New Jersey would view morality as so ambiguous. Perhaps the answer to this mystery of human nature is that objective morality is a survival technique for those who face truly horrific conflicts, but likely it is more complex.

The disclaimer here is that I only just reread Fellowship (I originally read the series in 8th grade), and everything I've gleamed about Tolkien's extended universe comes from Wikipedia, so I'm sure some  Tolkien scholars, or fanboys, might be more informed on his moral system than me.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Reads: The Fire Next Time

"The Fire Next Time" mixes memoir and political essay to engage with the ideals of the early Civil Rights Movement. James Baldwin speaks of black oppression not just in the material sense, like buses and schools, but as the cumulative affect, a loss of dignity. Much of the book is spent discussing Baldwin's visit to Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, whose goals of black separatism he found unrealistic, but whose philosophy he understood. By imagining the white man the devil, the Nation of Islam freed blacks from the curse of Ham, which white Christians had held over their heads.

Baldwin knows all too well that the white ego also depends on that same dignity that blacks are starved of. That's why to this day, white men laid-off from the factory, struggling to raise a family against the sink of the opiate epidemic, will hang a Confederate flag on the back of their truck. Baldwin says, whites "are trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it."

It is hard for me to see the end of this cycle, even as I find irony in Baldwin's doubt that we will see a black president in 40 years. He knows what we have to do though: build a new nation, one nation, not modeled after a fantasy of Europe, one where we don't romanticize our past, but hold a respect for life, death and most importantly struggle.

In 2016, we still seem so far from one nation, and as technology allows us to become more connected than ever before, it is also easier to cut out people and ideas we don't want to deal with. We all select the reality that we want to live in. Even when we read things that make us angry or anxious, we are selecting these out of a host of events we could feel angry or anxious about. In this world, we cloak ourselves so completely in our identities and our fears that we cannot accept the naked vulnerability that comes with trust and love. I see this in the violence at Trump rallies all around the country, and I see it in my heart.

We may have that black president that Baldwin found incredulous, but those bridges that Baldwin compelled us to build seem just as distant as ever.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Practical Shakespeare Quotes

Do you want to quote more Shakespeare in your life but never find opportunities to say "brevity is the soul of wit"? Do you rarely hang below balconies exchanging love vows with the daughter of your enemy? This is just the list for you.

"What an ass am I!"
Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

"I am not a slut,"
As You Like It, Act 3, Scene 3
(Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

"Hell is empty and all the devils are here,"
The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2

"Commit the oldest sins the newest kind of ways,"
Henry IV Part 2, Act 4, Scene 5

"This is the excellent foppery of the world,"
King Lear, Act 1, Scene 2

"Making the beast with two backs,"
Othello, Act 1, Scene 1

"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool,"
As You Like It, Act 5, Scene 1

"To tell thee plain, I aim to lie with thee,"
Henry VI Part 3, Act 3, Scene 2
(Works great for courting hot widows.)

"I would rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me,"
Much Ado About Nothing, Act 1, Scene 1

"I wasted time, and now doth time waste me,"
Richard II, Act 5, Scene 5

"Marry, sir, in her buttocks."
A Comedy of Errors, Act 2, Scene 5
(No judgement here.)

"My horse is my mistress,"
Henry V, Act 3, Scene 7
(Uh, there might be something wrong with that.)

"Thou dost infect my eyes,"
Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2

“Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit,”
Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 5
("Wit" is Shakespearean slang for penis.)

"[Wine] provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance,"
Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 3

"I had rather live with cheese and garlic in a windmill, far, than feed on cates and have him talk to me in any summer-house in Christendom,"
Henry IV Part 2, Act 4 Scene 1

"Now, gods, stand up for bastards!"
King Lear, Act 1, Scene 2

"Villain, I have done thy mother!"
Titus Andronicus, Act 4, Scene 2
(This means exactly what you think it does.)

"And thou unfit for any place but hell,"
Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers,"
Henry VI Part 2, Act 4, Scene 2

“Heaven truly knows that thou art false as hell.”
 —Othello, Act 4, Scene 2
“Out, dunghill!”
 —King John, Act 4, Scene 3

"This is too long."
Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

My Publications

Fiction "The Blue of the Sky, the White of the Waves," Everyday Fiction : February 2018 ( read online ) "Alone in this Fai...