Hot for Teaching

I am coming up on a new quarter at my high school gig and a new semester at my college gig. I recently received my finished schedules for both of them, which means I have roughly a week and a half to prepare for all of them.

Despite my desire this summer to reinvent my college-level creative writing class, once the school year got going, I found myself too busy to act on it, so the class I’ll be starting next week will probably look much the same as the one before. I may get inspired between now and then to implement some changes to my weekly lectures, but the general syllabus of the class will remain the same.

As for my high-school teaching duties, I have another section of Dungeons & Dragons this quarter, which though it takes a lot of prep, doesn’t require as much as it used to thanks to the number of times I’ve taught it now. I also have Creative Writing, which will run like a simpler version of my college course (this one will be one-on-one, just me and a fifteen-year-old student, so it won’t run — and can’t run — exactly the same as a college course designed for two dozen 20-year-old students).

I have a bunch of other classes that will require some significant prep time though. I’ve taught on similar topics in the past, but these classes really need to be designed from the bottom up if I’m to address the unique needs of this year’s crop of students.

The first new class is called Talking Politics, Religion, and Sex: The Art of Difficult Conversations. This class will meet three times a week and include five upper-level students (the youngest is fifteen; the oldest is nineteen). I’ve asked one of the older students to act as our facilitator so that she can develop and demonstrate her speaking and listening skills as per her graduation requirements. The other students and I will act as the interlocutors, sharing our understandings and opinions on various difficult topics of the day. The students will participate in the selection of the daily topics, but I will provide each week’s general theme (politics, religion, or sex, for example).

I don’t want the class to just be a bullshit session, however, so each week will also include direct instruction in the various strategies, styles, and norms that come into play when we engage in difficult conversations. This isn’t something I can pull off the top of my head. I will need to do some research if I’m to understand exactly what I need to teach and then some creative time if I’m piece it back together in a form my students will recognize. Finally, I’ll need to do some systematic thinking to understand how I can weave the direct instruction into the flow of an overwhelmingly dicussion-based class.

The second new class is Women’s Studies, with a dose of Marginalized Communities. I’ve taught a version of this before during a series of seminars on the historic waves of Feminism, but that was to a classroom full of eager philosophy students. This version needs to meets the unique needs of a single teenage boy.

I have one intention with this class: to get this teenage boy to not become a sexual assailant. As a teenage boy growing up amidst rural poverty and ignorance, he is, unfortunately, at risk. I’m creating this class solely for him, and I’m creating it as the father of a young girl, the mentor to dozens of other young girls, and the professor of over a hundred young women. I don’t do this to protect them; I do this to make their lives easier and to ensure their sexual experiences are more free from tragedy than those of their mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and so on back through eternity.

We see a lot of memes about the shotgun-toting father. I’d like to see one about the story-telling teacher, the one who can engender enough empathy in his male students that they begin to value their female counterparts not just for their bodies, but for their minds and their spirits, a teacher who turns his young male charges into boys and men who can see in girls and women the same struggles and desires that they see in themselves, and realize, when they look into their faces, that they’re looking at human beings, creatures with a right to just as much liberty as them, and not one iota less. Where’s that meme, huh?

So that’s the self-righteousness that I’m bringing into the class, which is obviously not a good thing. Self-righteousness does not a good teacher make. I need to tone it down and simply meet the kid where he is at…and then gently lead him into the future with the rest of us, a future where women are truly equal, not only in their opportunities, but in their estimations.

The “dose of marginalized communities” is included in the title as a tangential topic because it’s not my motivating force, but I do understand that the lack of empathy that opens him up to being a potential sexual assailant lies at the root of not only misogyny, but also of racism and nationalism, two more ideologies that lie like a curse across this country’s future. This understanding will be like a bass line beneath all of our discussions, but the class will focus more directly on his relationship to women; that is the fault line that will shake him to his core and loosen his ideologies up for a shift on everything else. I’m still not sure how to do that though.

Another relatively big class I need to teach is Civics. This particular class includes five students ranging in age from fourteen to nineteen, and all of them were assigned to it (i.e., this is not a class they’ve asked for). I’ve taught some version of civics in a variety of contexts, including a deep dive into the Supreme Court and others into some of the agencies subsumed under the Executive branch.

But this class is a little bit different. First, I’ve yet to teach this particular combination of students, and I’m unclear as to how well they can work together, let alone my reservations as to how each of them will work (or can work) on their own. Leaving that aside, I’m also unclear as to my overall objective with the class. When the class is all said and done, what do I want them to understand and what do I want them to be able to do?

Two of my five students are eligible to vote. The other three are not far behind. When it comes time, I want all of them to be able to do that — to vote — and to do it in as informed a manner as possible. I don’t want to shape the way they think about political topics (they can vote for whatever and for whomever they like), but I do want to shape the way they think about their role in our government.

I want them to see the entire tree of our democracy, understand its main branches (including the military), and feel their own standpoint as being deep down among the roots. I want them to understand how their actions and their decisions help feed the entire tree. I want them to have a sense of civics that is less “how a bill becomes a law” than it is “how a person becomes a country.” I think that could be kind of fun.

I’m also teaching a small class to two students about The Art of the Sentence. I haven’t taught this one before, but I’d like to make it a staple of my quarterly offerings.

The majority of my high school students hate to write, and most of them have been socially promoted throughout their education, leading to a situation where not only do they hate to write, but they flat out don’t know how to.

I haven’t ever addressed this question head on. I’ve focused more on the shallowness of their thinking than on their inability to write down their thoughts (neglecting, in the process, a major contributor to the cause of their shallowness). With so many of them hating to write, I concentrate a lot on their verbal skills (hence, Dungeons & Dragons), trying to get them to ask questions when they don’t understand something and to reiterate a speaker’s points when they think they do. When I’ve forced them to write, I’ve concentrated on the way they introduce, support, and transition through their ideas, focusing my instruction on the highest levels of their argument.

I’m hoping this new class will correct my error. By reducing their focus to the sentence (rather than to, say, the paragraph or the argument), I hope to change the entire game that they’ve been taught to play, and in the process, try to engender a new joy for writing.

I don’t yet know how to do that exactly. I don’t know what example sentences to provide; how much grammatical jargon to use, and whether to teach it and insist on its use directly; how much time to spend on punctuation; when to introduce each piece of new information; how to assess for their understanding and practice; etc. But regardless of how I do it, I know I have to do it, and for that, I’m excited.

The final class on my upcoming schedule is called Technology. It’s a one-on-one class with a graduating student who simply needs a quarter-credit in Technology to graduate. Essentially, I can make the class about anything, as long as it includes technology. I have a couple of ideas: podcasting; blogging; a conceptual breakdown of the Internet, supported by technical materials…but I haven’t spoken with the student about it yet, so I don’t want to make any assumptions. The podcasting thing could be fun, but we’ll see — it’s really up to him.

That may seem like a lot to prep before January 23rd, and the truth of the matter is that it is, but each of the topics are of real interest to me, so the prep is something I’ll enjoy. I’m sometimes too busy or exhausted for it, but I know that every moment I can give to it will pay me back in spades.

I guess one word for what I do is called work, but working is easy when you truly love what you do.

How I Teach My Five-Year-Old Daughter STEM

I was playing a series of games with my daughter this morning, when she said, “Dada, do you wanna play inventions?”

She’s said something like this to me before, and it usually turns into a drawing/coloring session where she intends to draw some invention-idea that she has, but where as often as not, she forgets why we sat down to draw and instead just makes some kind of weird pattern.

I wanted to sit on the couch and watch the Bills game anyway, and we usually draw and color in front of the TV (thought usually not with it on), so yeah, why not? We still had some time to kill before the game though, so instead of just saying yes, I asked her what she wanted to invent.

Then I stopped her before she could answer. We were sitting on the floor in her recently cleaned and rearranged play room, the sun was coming in the windows, and her mother was doing something quiet upstairs. The moment felt right for an actual conversation, so before she could spit out some weird invention, I told her that inventions usually solve some kind of problem, so before she thinks of her invention, she should think of what problem she wanted to solve.

That stopped her. Her eyes looked down at the rug and her forehead crinkled, her brain trying to locate the problem for whatever invention she was just about to tell me. We were playing Connect Four at the time, so I remained quiet and let her ruminate on it while we played back and forth, then she said, “I want to be inside the TV.”

Now, like a lot of kids, my daughter loves television. If given the chance, she would sit on the couch all day and watch television. She loves other things too, but she loves TV most of all. I mean, she is our daughter.

Over the next several minutes, I tried to figure out exactly what she meant and what exactly she wanted to achieve. If I was going to help her invent something, I had to make sure I understood its real purpose.

My daughter had recently been introduced to video games. Over Christmas, while at her cousins’ house, she played Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Nintendo Switch. Prior to that, her experience with video games was limited to relatively poorly developed children’s games on my iPad. She had no real idea that the world of video games included experiences like playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on a giant television screen. She knew console games existed (she’s watched me play various games on my XBox), but she’d never taken control of one.

I’m proud to say that she took to it rather well, and by the end of the day, she was competitive enough to go against some of the adults in the house. She hadn’t played since we returned from Chicago, but two of our friends visit with their Switch this weekend, and they had Mario Kart, so we let her play. While she didn’t win a single race, she could hold her own against the computer.

When she said she wanted to invent a machine that lets her go into the television, I wanted to figure out whether she meant she wanted to be part of a video game or be a part of a movie or TV show.

I said, “Come check this out,” and we got up and went into the living room. I brought out my laptop and showed her a commercial for the Oculus Rift, which if you don’t know, is the world’s first consumer-level virtual reality machine. We talked a little more after she watched it, and it came out that, no, she didn’t mean being in a virtual reality. She wanted to go into the TV.

I paused a moment. She couldn’t really think…

“Hey,” I said. “Go look behind the TV.” She did as I asked. After she’d looked the equipment up and down, I asked, “Do you think you could fit inside there?”

She thought for a moment, and shook her head. “No, I’d have to shrink.”

At this point, the football game was coming on, so I pulled her onto the couch with me and we cuddled under a blanket to watch the game. After a little while, I took out my iPhone, turned on the selfie camera, and held it up to her face. “Are you on TV now?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “Not like that.”

“But that’s how people get on the TV. The football game isn’t inside the television. All we’re seeing on the TV is moving light.” Something moved in her face.

Months ago, my daughter and I had a long, multi-location conversation about how animation works. That conversation not only led us to creating a bunch of flip-style animations, but it also included a long diatribe about how everything on TV is just an animation, a series of moving pictures created by ever-changing colored lights, each color on and off in a pattern that tricks our brains into seeing something that isn’t there. (This same conversation contained a diatribe that  explained how the movies she watches on Netflix are really just a series of information packets sent to our house through wires over our streets and reconfigured by the television).

As we sat on the couch and I said “moving light,” I saw her mind go back to this conversation, and I continued, “Where this football game is taking place, there’s someone pointing a camera onto the football field, and that picture of the game is sent over the wires to show up here. Just like you’re not in the iPhone when you see yourself in the screen, they’re not in the television.”

She got quiet, and we went back to watching the game.

A little while later, she said, “I want to meet the people on the TV.”

Okay, I thought, we’re getting a little closer.

One of the TV shows that my daughter is obsessed with is Disney’s Descendants. You might not know about it if you don’t have a young daughter (I only assume it’s a daughter thing because the only people I’ve seen get excited about this show are daughters, and that includes daughters ranging in age from five to thirteen years old).

When I heard about the concept for the show, I thought it sounded pretty cool. Thanks to the combined efforts of the Beast and the Fairy Godmother, all of the wicked villains of the Disney universe have been confined to an island that is protected by a magical shield; essentially, they’ve been sent to a combination of Alcatraz and the island from Lord of the Flies. They’re free to do whatever they want, as long as they stay on their island (and the Fairy Godmother and the Beast have banished them there forever).

But that’s just the prologue. The real story takes place a generation later, when all of the heroes and villains you know now have children. When the son of the Beast and Belle receives the crown to the Kingdom due to some unexplained law of royal succession where a middle-aged King willingly gives up his crown to his still-coming-of-age Prince, the new King decides that the sins of the mothers and fathers shouldn’t be held against their children, and in a very moderate but still progressive manner, he allows four (and yet only four) children from the island join the rarified prep school that he and his friends attend.

I’m not going to get into the plot machinations of the story (there are two movies and several shorts, not to mention a warehouse full of merchandise and at least two full-length soundtracks), but the long and short of it is that my daughter loves it.

When she said she wanted to meet the people on the TV, I knew that the characters on Descendants were at least some of the people she wanted to meet.

At which point I told her that just like someone was holding a camera up to the football field, someone was holding a camera up while the people on Descendants did their thing. I told her that while she watched Descendants on television, the people she watched were probably on their own couches watching something else. “It’s just a video,” I said. “It’s not really happening when you watch it.”

I asked her who she wanted to meet the most, and she said, “Evie.” Evie is the daughter of the Evil Queen, the woman who wanted to poison Snow White for being too beautiful. Now in high school, Evie is a gifted fashion designer who benefits from the magic in her mother’s mirror (in this generation, the magic mirror fits comfortably in a pocket and Evie sometimes uses it to cheat on her tests).

“Okay,” I said, “But Evie isn’t Evie.” I opened up the IMDB app and showed her the page for Descendants. I clicked on the actress who plays Evie, and I said, “Look, her name is Sophia Carson. She’s been in other movies too. Look at all these pictures of her pretending to be other people when she isn’t pretending to be Evie.”

My daughter scrolled through the pictures a little bit. I know this sounds like I was destroying the wonderful illusion of Disney for my little girl, but she didn’t seem disappointed in the least. She seemed fascinated.

I showed her how to use the IMDB app, and then let her look through all the pictures of the various actors while I cuddled behind her and watched the football game.

At some point, she turned to me and asked, “So which Evie got my money?”

I didn’t expect that question.

The night before, when we had friends over and she was playing Mario Kart and being social and just having a wonderful time, we had to trick her into getting into her pajamas (doing it directly wouldn’t have been worth the hassle). We told her that we were going to have a contest, where she would go upstairs and put on her own pajamas, and we would stay downstairs and guess which pajamas she would put on. She loved the idea and went running up the stairs.

While she was up there, my wife made very rushed descriptions of the various pajamas my daughter had available to her, and then our guests and us each made a pick. To our surprise, when Nora snuck back downstairs and into the dining room, she yelled out that one of our guests had actually won (the little ninja had been downstairs long enough to hear us make our picks!).

She then ran into the next room, ransacked her own wallet, and came back with a dollar bill, which she gave to our guest. He tried to demure, but she insisted. He won, and in doing so, he earned himself a dollar. She screamed, “Wait! I need jammy pants under my nightgown!,” and she ran back upstairs for round two.

My wife again quickly described all the various pajama pants for our guests — but I didn’t need a description. I knew just which ones she would choose, and when she came downstairs, I was right. So, again, she ran into the other room, opened her wallet, and came back with another dollar (where she got two dollar bills, I have no idea).

At this point, the dollar bills became ridiculous, and we refused to accept them, but she wouldn’t hear of it. After some back and forth, we came up with a compromise. As the now rightful owners of the two dollar bills, my guest and I would donate them to one of the things she is saving up for: a trip to Disney World (months ago, her and I created a special savings account for this trip, and I told her we wouldn’t be able to go until it contained $2,000; she currently has $1.67).

She wouldn’t accept the dollar bills, but she loved the idea of us donating our money, and she quickly accepted the offer.

I took out my iPhone, opened up the special account so she could see it, and transferred $2 from my checking account into her Disney World savings account, then I put the two dollar bills in my wallet.

After confirming the transaction, she looked up at me and said, “Who do you think got it?”

“Got what?” I asked.

“The money. You sent it to Disney World. Who got it?”

(Man, I love this little girl).

“Who do you want to get it?”

She thought for a moment, and said, “Evie.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll send a text down to Disney World and make sure Evie got it.”

But now, 24 hours later, I’ve told her that the person she thinks is Evie is actually a woman named Sophia Carson. If she just sent $2 down to Disney World care of: Evie, and Evie isn’t really Evie, then which Evie got her money?

I had no answer to that question. And like a coward, I chose to pivot.

“So if Evie is just an actress,” I said, “and all the people on TV are just actors and actresses who people point a camera at while they pretend to be someone else, you don’t really need an invention to go into the TV. You just need to become an actress.”

She liked that idea. During the game’s next commercial break, I challenged her to mimic the people we watched on the screen. The commercial was that GEICO one where people  enjoy horrible things, such as having your seat chair repeatedly kicked from behind on an airline. Because of the content, her acting was actually pretty funny.

The game came back on, and we resumed cuddling on the couch.

After a few minutes, I said, “You don’t have to be an actress to be part of a story, you know. Every day of your life is a story. It can be as exciting as the things you watch on television, or it can be as boring as sitting on the couch. The choice is yours.”

If it were mine, she’d become a drum-playing astronaut.

Dave Chappelle Needed to Talk #MeToo

Dave Chappelle is getting some shit for his latest specials on Netflix, particularly his take on the revelations of widespread sexual assault and sexual harassment as a deep and ever-present reality for women in the workplace.

In his review, “Dave Chappelle Stumbles Into the #MeToo Moment,” Jason Zinoman writes for the New York Times, “In this paradigm-shifting moment, when victims are speaking out and revealing secrets long buried, Mr. Chappelle is ignoring the historical context, the systemic barriers preventing women from speaking up about abuse or succeeding in comedy.”

In his review, “Dave Chappelle’s ‘reckless’ #MeToo and trans jokes have real after-effects,” Brian Logan writes for The Guardian, “[Chapelle] makes [a] familiar claim, which is that it’s not a comedian’s job to be right, but to be reckless… I take Chappelle’s central point, that comedy has to defend its right to go against the grain, to test the boundaries of the sayable…And yet…[s]everal of [his] jokes punch down; others rehash the idea that victims of sexual harassment should ‘man up.’ These aren’t the boundaries of the sayable: this is what reactionaries say every day…I’m not convinced Chappelle is being reckless…These are deliberate choices, made by a comic who clearly weighs his every word.”

In his review, “Dave Chappelle Is Mostly Disappointing in His New Netflix Specials,” Matt Zoller Seitz writes for Vulture, “Chappelle…seem[s] out of touch at best, stubbornly reactionary at worst, and imperiously annoyed at anyone who dares to tell him that a lot of what he says is not worth saying. [His] sentiments seemed to be punching down for no good reason, and…the material was self-aggrandizing, poorly paced, and inelegantly shaped.”

The negative reviews continue.

My wife just walked behind me while FaceTiming with her sister and said something along the lines of, “Kyle is writing a blogpost to mansplain why people shouldn’t be condemning Dave Chappelle for his latest special.”

But that’s not what I want to do. What I want to do is figure out why I enjoyed the specials so much. If so many people who probably share many of my values were upset by his comedy, I wonder why am I not.

I explored some of this a few weeks ago in a lament over Tig Notaro neglecting to discuss the #metoo movement (especially the Louie C.K. aspect of it) during a live set I attended. I concluded that piece by saying, “I want to hear [about this topic] in a stand-up format. I need to hear a long, layered, intelligent, emotional, and deeply comedic monologue on Louie’s crimes and on the way individual humans, society, and the subculture of comedy nerds ought to reckon with it.”

I also wrote I wanted to hear this monologue from Tig “more than I want to hear [it] from…Dave Chappelle.”

Well, with one of  Chappelle’s latest specials, I got to hear it from him. I’m paraphrasing to remove the comedic aspects, but he basically said, “What Louie did was wrong, but these girls have to toughen up. If seeing a dude’s dick can throw you off your dream like that, then you probably weren’t tough enough to achieve your dream in the first place.”

And that, my friends, is why, on this issue, I wasn’t looking for guidance from Dave Chappelle. I already understand Chappelle’s perspective on the issue, as I understand it from most other men’s perspectives. It’s not about that.

Unless Chappelle or Chris Rock or Bill Burr or one of the other male comedians I respect wants to address the issue from the perspective of the piece of shit who can’t control their urges enough to honor the basic decency of other human beings — unless they’re gonna take me inside Louie’s head and show me what gives him the right — then I don’t really need their thoughts on the topic.

That’s not to say I don’t want to hear how they fashion comedy around the #metoo movement. I thought Chappelle’s stuff was funny; I don’t have to agree with him or receive insight from him to find it funny. Even reactionary ideas can be funny, otherwise South Park wouldn’t still be on the air after two decades.

But I don’t expect wisdom on this particular topic to come from too many middle-aged men, the same men who came to whatever power they have through the same patriarchal system that is on trial right now.

Because I wasn’t looking for wisdom from Chappelle, I don’t much care that he didn’t deliver it on this particular topic.

What I cared about was his ability to perform a ~10-minute, detailed description of the Emmet Till murder in the middle of a COMEDY special. What I cared about was his ability to perform a ~15 minute, detailed story about the way a particular pimp manipulated and exploited his most important prostitute, and do so with very few laughs…again, in the middle of a COMEDY special.

Both of these stories shared an insight that I didn’t yet have. The first built up to a hopeful message that sometimes the worst shit has to happen for the best shit to come to fruition — Emmet Till’s senseless murder led to the Civil Rights Movement led to Barack Obama. The second story demonstrated some of the worst aspects of unchecked capitalism: in pursuit of the almighty dollar, capitalists manipulate and exploit even the most vulnerable among us; they have no shame, no sympathy, and no heart — they have only the will to exploit. And they’re in charge of the entertainment industry.

Chappelle attempts things in his comedy that few others do. He allows his audiences to sit for tens of minutes at a time without a laugh, and when he reaches the “punchline,” he sometimes allows it to be something other than funny.

Chappelle is intelligent, insightful, and artful. He doesn’t have a clear vision on every topic, but neither does anyone else.

Wittgenstein wrote, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

For comedians, however, he ought to have written, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must begin thy set.”

The Books I Read in 2017

Every year, I participate in the Goodreads Challenge, which is where you challenge yourself to read a certain number of books over the course of the year and then track your progress. Most years, I challenge myself to read either 25 or 30 books, and most years, I come close to achieving that goal, but for the last two years, I read 35 and 36 books respectively, so  I challenged myself to read 35 books in 2017.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t succeed. Instead, I read 21 (my lowest number since the annual challenge began in 2011). There’s no real reason for this, except maybe that some of the books I read were pretty damn long (my wife, who read Moby Dick and Gone with the Wind this year, thinks Goodreads should change it from number of books read to number of pages; she’s not wrong). But long books or not, I didn’t reach my goal. Thankfully, a new year’s begun.

Now, to the books!

Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy (528 pages) This non-fiction book attempts to capture nearly two-thousand years of papal history. The author, John Julius Norwich, skips a large percentage of the popes to focus on the more interesting ones, such as St. Peter (the first bishop of Rome), Innocent III (the first to put forward the principle of papal infallibility), Leo X (the first Medici pope and the man who excommunicated Martin Luther), Clement VII (the second Medici pope and Leo X’s cousin and best friend, not to mention the pope who wore the tiara when Protestantism became a separate religion, Rome was sacked by Charles V, and the Church of England broke away), Pope Joan (a legendary female pope who Norwich argues did not really exist), and others.

The subject of almost every chapter in this book could stand as a book on its own, and several chapters could have whole libraries dedicated to them. As a history of the papacy, it’s also a history of the political and economic life of the Roman Catholic Church, the Holy Roman Empire, and Europe in general.

Because of that, some of the book is a slog, and you need a machete to cut through all of the repetitive names followed by Roman numerals, but if you give up the idea that you’re going to remember the differences between all the Leopolds, Ferdinands, Clements, and Alfonsos, the book becomes a fascinating flood of corruption, intrigue, and empire.

If you have any interest in the actual history of the Roman Catholic Church (rather than the theology), Absolute Monarchs is a great place to start (the other, of course, is A History of Christianity: The First Three-Thousand Years).

Norse Mythology (304 pages) Neil Gaiman wrote this collection of Norse mythology because, in a lot of ways, mythology comes not from the tales we tell, but from the retelling of them. Thor did not exist in Asgard, but in the magical space between the storyteller and the listener, each fireside tale in Scandinavia adding to the strength of his hammer.

Gaiman’s desire to share tales that have already been shared millions of times is to be commended,  and (as I wrote in my review on Goodreads), he “writes these familiar tales in an authentic feeling way, letting loose only in those moments when the narrative requires it, but never straying too far from his source.”

When I picked up the book, however, I was hoping for more Gaiman and less Snorri Sturluson. While I didn’t necessarily want a modern take on the tales (e.g., Gaiman’s novel American Gods), I had hoped for Gaiman to take me inside the stories to provide a new perspective. Instead, I got a remarkably faithful version of these well-told tales.

I don’t hold that against him. My desire as a reader and his desire as an author may not have matched up, but the end result was still an enjoyable read, making this book as good as any if you’re just hoping for an English version of traditional tales.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (414 pages) I wrote a piece about this book when I read it back in March. I hadn’t finished the book when I’d written it, and so I left the question that motivated the piece unanswered at the end. The author, Yuval Noah Harari, essentially argues that Homo sapiens are no different than any other biological force on the planet in that we are subject to the same laws of physics, chemistry, and biology as ants, anteaters, and single-cell parameciums.

The story of our history, then, is the story of our attempt to universalize the powers of the human animal — whether through politics, economics, or beliefs — in order to overcome the laws the universe has subjected us to.

Harari ends his book with a chapter that presages his next book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. The chapter explores humanity’s attempt to overtake natural selection with intelligent design, discussing biological engineering, cyborg engineering, and the engineering of non-organic life (i.e., Artificial Intelligence).

The end result is not exactly pessimistic, but also not exactly hopeful. As he writes in the book’s Afterword, “Despite the astonishing things that humans are capable of doing, we remain unsure of our goals… We are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea of what to do with all that power… Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one… Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”

The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers (368 pages) I gave this non-fiction book a rating of three stars when I finished it back in April, which is probably why I barely remember reading it. I started reading the book because I wanted to understand not only economics, but also the mindset that leads to insatiable greed.

I don’t think this book satisfied either of those desires, but if it did, it certainly didn’t make a lasting impression when on me. That’s why, when writing this post, I went back to the book to rejigger my memory, and in the book’s introduction, I found this great quote from John Maynard Keynes, “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men…are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

That’s why I wanted to read this book. To better understand the ideas that essentially rule our world. Maybe this book helped me (because I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time this year thinking about economics), but if it did, I can’t say exactly how.

The one thing I do remember about this book is how much of a bad-ass John Maynard Keynes was. I mean, the dude made his personal fortune by only dedicating a half-hour a day, while still in bed, to his own financial doings. The rest of the time, he was writing books on mathematics that impressed even Bertrand Russell, doing public service in Britain’s treasury department, socializing with Virginia Woolf and the rest of the Bloomsbury group, editing the Economic Journal, participating in (and then critiquing) the Treaty of Versailles, running a theatre, becoming the Director of the Bank of England, and so much more. Keynesian economics may have its detractors, but Keynes himself was pretty damn cool.

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (577 pages) This non-fiction book tells not just the story of the famed Lawrence of Arabia, but also of the unheralded (and generally inexperienced) men and women who also played a huge role in the shaping of the Middle East.

I picked up this book following The Worldly Philosophers because, in reading that book, I realized just how little I knew about World War I. The only book about the Great War I’d  read previously was The Guns of August (which is fantastic, by the way), but that mostly covered the European theatre, and focused mostly on the first month of the war. I wanted to know more.

I chose Lawrence in Arabia because of the anecdote the author, Scott Anderson, shares in the introduction to the novel. Basically, Lawrence is called to the palace for what he imagines will be a consultation about the postwar borders of the Middle East, but instead, King George surprises him with a knighthood ceremony. He’d once written that his greatest ambition was to become knighted before the age of 30, and now that ambition was about to be realized. As Anderson writes, “Except Lawrence didn’t kneel. Instead, just as the ceremony got under way, he quietly informed the king that he was refusing the honor [and] under the baleful gaze of a furious Queen Mary, Colonel Lawrence turned and walked away.”

I might not have known anything about World War I, but after reading that intro, I had to know more about the bad-ass mofo who turned his back on a king.

The book was fantastic, and it reads like a novel. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (570 pages) Lawrence in Arabia did a great job of covering the Middle Eastern theatre of the war, but it didn’t do a great job of explaining what happened at the end of the war. Paris 1919 dedicates 570 pages to the subject.

I really enjoyed this book (four stars!), but I also had some issues with it. The author, Margaret MacMillan, organizes the book by geography, focusing on the story of each region. For example, the third part of the book tells how the Balkans were divided following World War I, while chapter six focuses on Russia.

This makes the individual stories of the regions easier to follow, but the jumping back and forth in linear time makes it difficult to understand all the moving parts and how they influence each other. I don’t begrudge MacMillan for the difficulties — her subject is extremely difficult to organize, and she had to make a choice somewhere — but by the end of the book, I felt she had lost some steam.

The New Testament: King James Version (~550 pages) I started reading the New Testament in concert with Absolute Monarchs, but as anyone can see who looks through my Goodreads, I tend to read a lot about Church history. Last year, for example, I read Elaine Pagels’ research on Revelations and James Tabor’s The Jesus Dynasty. It had been several years since I’d last read the New Testament in its entirety, so I figured I’d get on that.

Mostly, I wanted to read the books that come after the four Gospels: the book of Acts, the various letters “written” by Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jude, and Revelations. Because I’d recently read an entire book on Revelations, I skipped that section in this year’s reading, but outside of that, I read them all.

And as always, I thoroughly enjoyed them. They don’t call it the Good Book for nothing.

Aftermath: Empire’s End (423 pages) The final book in Chuck Wendig‘s Aftermath trilogy, Empire’s End provides the canonical explanation of what happened to the Empire following the death of Emperor Palpatine during the Battle of Endor. The trilogy takes place between the Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, clearing up some loose ends from the original film trilogy.

I enjoyed the overall plot of Wendig’s novels, but I got pretty annoyed with his habit of writing “Interludes” that had nothing to do with the main story. At first, I found them interesting — they’re like mini-stories that take place throughout the Star Wars galaxy, and they give readers an on-the-ground experience of what it is like to live through the death of a tyrannical empire — but after a while, they just got in the way of the story of Wendig’s main characters. This was an issue with the entire trilogy, but by the third book, it was even more of a problem. We’d been with these characters for two whole books now — it’s time to leave off the Interludes and simply cut to the chase.

With that being said, if you’re a Star Wars geek like I am, these canonical books are a must read.

Max (473 pages) I came across this book in the children’s section of our local library. It’s a young-adult novel written from the perspective of a child created through the Nazis’ eugenics program.

I picked the book up because the opening chapter was written from the first-person perspective of a fetus, and frankly, I’d never come across something like that before.

The rest of the book played out well. The titular character is the epitome of Nazi eugenics, but even he comes to realize that tyranny is a malevolent force that cuts away at the sanctity of the individual. A well-done book that I’d recommend for both young and regular adults.

This Is Not A Novel (190 pages) The late David Markson is one of my favorite authors. His books, while similar in style, expand the possibilities of literature, challenging reader expectations while also delivering on the emotional promises we require from literature.

This Is Not a Novel focuses on the birth, life, and death of various artists, including the narrator, who calls himself “Writer.” The text is essentially a 190-page collection of anecdotes about artists (again, including “Writer”), but the anecdotes build up and play off each other, allowing the reader to make the kinds of connections we desire in our reading.

I picked up the book during the week my family was in Chicago, and I read it in just a couple of hours. There are no chapters to the book, and each anecdote is very short — sometimes no longer than a few words — so it’s easy to tell yourself, just one more, just one more, and next thing you know, the book is over.

If you have any interest in art and artists, definitely pick it up.

The Communist Manifesto (288 pages) As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I taught a high-school course on Communism & Socialism in 2017. To prepare for that class, I read several books and essays from the original leaders, including the grand-daddy of the texts, Marx & Engels’ Communist Manifesto.

I’m a big fan of this book. A lot of it is Inside Baseball type-stuff, where Marx & Engels argue with other communists and socialists about the real aims and meaning of the international movement, but you can breeze over that stuff to get to the meat of the essay.

Between the two blog posts I’ve linked to above, I’ve said pretty much all I want to say on the topic for now, but I will add that I truly believe every informed American ought to read The Communist Manifesto. Marx & Engels are both strong writers, and the ideas they present in this little book become more apropos with the growing power of the American oligarchy.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating (170 pages) I picked this book up while reading several books on Communism & Socialism. I needed a break from all of the political theory, and this meditation on the meaning of life fit the bill.

The author, Elisabeth Tova Bailey, was suddenly struck by a painful illness that prevented her from getting out of bed for close to a year. In her bedridden state, a friend gave her a wild snail that they picked up from outside of her apartment. While lying in bed doing absolutely nothing, Bailey begins to meditate on the lived experience of the snail, on humanity’s need for companionship, and on life’s ability to be resilient in the face adversity.

This short book did not quite live up to my hopes for it (it reads like a poor man’s version of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek), but at 170 pages, it fulfilled my need to alleviate the political anger aroused in me by Marx, Engels, and Lenin.

Lenin: A Biography (561 pages) Another book for the Communism & Socialism class, this one took me most of the summer. I started reading it in mid-July and finished it in late August.

As the bona-fide leader of the Communist revolution in Russia and the founding father of the Soviet Union, Lenin has been the subject of hundreds if not thousands of scholarly books over the past 100 years. Choosing a single book to read can be daunting. I chose Robert Service‘s biography because he is a professor of Russian history at Oxford and the author of several others books on Russia, including a biography of Stalin and a history of 20th century Russia.

I also chose the book because it was one of the first biographies to be written after Mikhail Gorbachev “unsealed” the central party’s archives and various files and meeting minutes became declassified. It also contained research from more recently acquired correspondence from and memoirs of Lenin’s family, furthering our insight into Lenin’s motives and actions.

I was not disappointed. What results is a full and complex picture of a uniquely driven and highly focused individual. We see him playing with his neighbor’s children and feel his own loss at never having children himself. We see him raging in his deathbed as Stalin proves himself to be an unworthy successor. We see him foaming at his fellow intellectuals and inspiring the actions of crowds in a square. We follow him on nighttime walks and relax with him in the countryside. We see, in a word, a man.

Socialism: Utopian & Scientific (86 pages) Like the Communist Manifesto, Socialism: Utopian & Scientific is less of a book and more of an extended essay. Written exclusively by Engels (rather than Marx & Engels), the essay breaks down the concept of socialism, looking at it through first a utopian lens and then a historical-material one, with a long section in the middle, “Dialectics,” establishing the primacy of the latter over the former.

For Engels, when Socialism evolved from Utopianism to Historical Materialism, its “task was no longer to manufacture a system of society as perfect as possible, but to examine the historico-economic succession of events from which these classes [the proletariat and the bourgeoisie] and their antagonism had of necessity sprung, and to discover in the economic conditions thus created the means of ending the conflict.”

In other words, Socialism is not an attempt to create the perfect society. It’s the attempt to end the original conflict between humans: economic oppression. Subsequently, the dominant mode of production (capitalism) manifests as the pure expression of that oppression, one in which the only goal is the creation of surplus value, which Marx demonstrated can only arise from the exploitation of another person’s labor.

In still other words, according to Engels (one of its founding fathers), Socialism is not a positive political program but an attempt to free the vast swath of humanity from capitalist oppression (which, it will be argued elsewhere also frees humanity from the tyranny of the State, itself a mode of capitalist defense).

For a relatively short introduction to Socialism, you could do a lot worse.

State & Revolution (116 pages) Written by Lenin, The State & Revolution is Lenin’s attempt to clarify the language and ideas of Marx and Engels to better communicate what he saw as the revolutionary requirements of Communism and Socialism, especially as it relates to the proletariat, whom he defines as the spear tip of the working class, the leadership group that is most capable of directing the workers’ revolution through and into its ultimate phase, the withering away of the state and humanity’s first real taste of freedom.

If you’re interested, I put together for my students some notes on the first few chapters. It’s basically quotes from the text, but arranged so as to provide a clearer through-line for each chapter.

Lenin is not as good a writer as Marx or Engels, but his tone and his authority definitely come through. After reading the biography of Lenin I mentioned above, I found my first in-depth experience with his writing to be enriched by my understanding of him as a man. I definitely enjoyed the experience.

On Bullshit (67 pages) A small treatise written by a Princeton Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, On Bullshit has a funnier title than its content would suggest. The author attempts to analyze the difference between bullshit and lying, coming to the conclusion that while lying must have some relationship to the truth (since its function is to conceal the truth), bullshit‘s only goal is to get its audience to be impressed by the bullshitter.

Because it is generally apathetic in regards to the truth, bullshit is more dangerous than lying: lying at least acknowledges the value of the truth, but bullshit is nihilistic.

A Song of Ice & Fire (4,972 pages) Following the conclusion of the latest season of Game of Thrones, I decided to re-read George R.R. Martin’s original books: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons.

I loved these books the first time I read them over a decade ago, and I loved them even more this time around. I had forgotten how many changes the HBO series had made, how many characters left out and how many subplots left unopened or unexplored. I forgot that the HBO series was not only erasing minor characters or changing the locations and timing of various scenes, but it was radically altering Martin’s novels, to the point where the events of the past two seasons of television simply can’t develop over the next two or three books.

In other words, I’d forgotten that what I was watching on television was so far from Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire that I’d essentially forgotten A Song of Ice & Fire. I couldn’t be happier to have Martin’s vision be the last one I’ve experienced.

Now if only he could publish the next book (The Winds of Winter) before the final season of Game of Thrones can be released.

And that’s it. Those are the twenty-one books I read in 2017. All told, we’re talking roughly 10,660 pages worth of fantasy, history, philosophy, experimental literature, mythology, religion, and politics.

Not to mention way too many articles about Donald Trump.

God damn it, 2017.

Star Wars & Marvel: A Comparison

(Obviously, spoilers.)

In the last few nights, I’ve watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (a little late on the latter, I know, but hey man, I have a kid). I’m interested in comparing the two universes, Star Wars’ and Marvel Studios’, both of which are owned by Disney (who now also owns pretty much everything else in Hollywood thanks to the deal with 20th Century Fox).

I don’t know what I’ll discover in this little essay, nor whether it will be original, but I think there’s something in the comparison that could be worthwhile. Instead of reading someone else’s comparison, I’ve decided to write my own.

It’s just more fun that way.

First, for context: I literally just finished watching Guardians vol. 2, and I watched The Last Jedi two days ago, so my memory of the former will be better than latter. Still, let’s jump.

First, their themes. Guardians is an artistic expression of the mythologically poignant argument that one must overcome the ego of the father (assisted by the love of friends and family — a love that is first awoken by the mother) before one can embark on their own journey for meaning.

The Last Jedi, meanwhile, is an artistic expression of the mythologically poignant argument that one must reject any attempt to find meaning in the legends and heroes of  the past.

In the same way that Kylo Ren blasts through his father, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker tosses aside the lightsaber handed to him baton-like at the end of The Force Awakens, Rian Johnson democratizes the force of George Lucas’ meta-chlorinated bloodline and tosses aside the plot devices that were delivered to him, baton-like, by JJ Abrams.

Neither of these movies are subtle. But neither do they try to be. Everything in them drives home their themes. Yes, there are technical mistakes in their plots, the kind that can drive a hypercritical fan crazy with rage and/or disappointment, but for any storyteller worth their salt, the plot is never the point.

Storytellers weave their magic across all of the conflicts and complexities that are raised when a theme interacts with a variety of motivated forces. Rey’s search for the identity of her birth parents, for example, conflicts with Johnson’s argumentative theme (one’s meaning cannot be found in the past), and so part of the plot of The Last Jedi comes from the way that conflict  plays out. In addition, her attempt to re-engage Luke Skywalker in the conflicts of the wider universe only results in the stunning return of his spirit, which has its fleeting moment of beauty and victory before it too, like the sun, is gone.

And Kylo Ren, driven so long by the desire to defeat and kill Luke Skywalker, his true father-figure, sees his journey climax in an empty fight with a ghost, where his every action is meaningless and all of his emotional rage doesn’t matter. Kylo Ren is focused on the past — he wants, for reasons both he and the audience do not fully understand, to become even more powerful than his grandfather and his uncle, and he hasn’t yet learned that wielding such power doesn’t much matter. That’s what makes him the bad guy (in the moral world of Disney, bad guys are people who haven’t yet learned their lesson).

Compare to the bad guys from Guardians of the Galaxy. In vol. 2, two of the bad guys have carried over from vol. 1, but by the end of the movie, both of them have been redeemed, one of them by finally getting to the sympathetic core of what she really wants (a sister), the other by revealing himself as a misunderstood step-father who, though he joked about eating a young Starlord and made him do some criminal things, really did love him and really did protect him, and who, when push came to shove, chose to sacrifice his life for him (compare to Starlord’s biological father, who killed his mother and was just now literally trying to consume his soul).

At the end of Guardians vol 2., the main characters have no real place left to go. The bad guy is dead, and with it, the main characters’ driving questions: at this point, all they want is to make a new family (with Groot standing in for the moody teenage child). Enter the Marvel calling card, an epilogue to remind us that the Guardians corner of the universe is a big place, and there are always more stories to tell.

At the end of Star Wars, however, we don’t know where the story might go, because for Star Wars, the Skywalker bloodline has always been the one story. That’s what so great about what Rian Johnson forced JJ Abrams to do. By revealing Rey’s truly humble origins, doubling down with his force-strong janitor boy, and killing Luke Skywalker and Snoke, Johnson cut away everything extraneous and said to JJ Abrams, “Kylo is the last Skywalker, and you’ve only got one movie to decide his fate. What are you going to do?”

This is such a baller move. Rian took away JJ Abram’s favorite weapon: plot-based mysteries. With the death of Snoke, the reveal of Rey’s parents, and the discarding of the Luke Skywalker MacGuffin, Rian dares JJ Abrams to approach the next chapter of the story not through its plot, but through its theme and its characters. Like a good professor, he challenges JJ Abrams to become a better storyteller.

Compare that to Guardians and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The basic plot of the Marvel CU has been known for years (not to the general public, but to Marvel, of course). Since its inception in 2008, the universe has shared an already-existing connective tissue. While Marvel encourages its storytellers to make each film stand on its own, it also requires its connective tissue be kept in place, realizing that the strength of one movie supports the weaknesses of the others, much like, in The Avengers, the strength of one superhero supports the weaknesses of the others.

But the Star Wars universe doesn’t work like that. Can you imagine Marvel allowing a creator to toss away major plot-structures (the Infinity Stones, for example) that it spent over a decade of man-hours and billions of dollars constructing and reinforcing?

But that’s what Rian Johnson just did with The Last Jedi.

I applaud Kathleen Kennedy and the rest of the Star Wars executive branch for allowing Johnson to make a movie that was this subversive of its mythos, and then to triple-down on their decisions by giving Johnson the first original trilogy of films in what I can only hope will be an ever-daring and ever-entertaining series of stories.

The difference of course is that the Marvel Universe has been in existence since 1939, and while the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t start until the first Iron Man movie in 2008, it still has over 78 years of connections to contend with.

Star Wars, by contrast, has only been around for forty years. In effect, with Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, we see what amounts to the saga’s midlife crisis, the abandonment of one set of motivating forces for a new but as yet unknown set of motivating forces. We can call it the crisis of one individual life, or we can call the moment when one generation takes over from the one that preceded.

With The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams demonstrated his generation’s ability to receive a beloved set of principles and then toss them back into the universe in much the same form, just with a new sense of style — much like Starlord, in Guardians, tosses a ball of ego-light back and forth with his biological father.

Rian Johnson, however, catches the ball, and like Luke with the lightsaber, he tosses it over his shoulder, as if to say to the previous films, “No thanks. I’m gonna go do something else.” Then he walks off to play his own game, over in a brand new trilogy.

What’s hilarious is that JJ Abrams now has to walk over and pick that ball up again. His whole legacy as a filmmaker rests on what he does with it.

Good luck!

Tell Me a Joke About It, Tig

We don’t get a lot of stand-up comedy in rural Vermont. The population of our entire state is less than the population of the city of Boston, so why would a touring comedian come up to the hills when all of the wallets are down in the valleys? One of my friends recently saw Chris Rock perform in Boston; another saw him perform in Los Angeles. That’s where the people are; hence, that’s where the comedians go.

Which is why I was so surprised to hear that Tig Notaro was performing at the Vermont Comedy Club in Burlington (about 90 minutes from my house). My wife and I love Tig’s comedy, and we are huge fans of her Amazon show, One Mississippi. As soon as I heard she was coming, I snatched up two tickets.

Here’s the thing though. I first heard of Tig because of Louie C.K., whom we all know by now is guilty of sexual misconduct. Louie released Tig’s incredible “cancer set” on his website, trying to spread it far and wide using his vast email list, upon which I was included. After hearing the set, I searched out every video I could find of Tig and quickly fell in love with her slow, deadpan delivery and the way the basic cuteness of her soul combines with her thrill for messing with the expectations of an audience.

As soon as I got the tickets, I asked my friends what were the chances that Tig would make at least part of her set about Louie’s crimes. I figured with the way her career was tied to his — not only did Louie introduce her to the mainstream, but he also served as an executive producer on her Amazon show; in addition, he stole one of her ideas when he hosted Saturday Night Live last year, turning that connection dark —  even so, with all of those connections, plus the fact that Tig played a large role in calling Louie out for his misconduct, there was no way she wasn’t going to comment on his public reckoning during her set.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. For her first bit, Tig came on stage and said (I’m paraphrasing), “I’m not very political, but I’m trying to get more political. I’ve started going to a lot of rallies, but I don’t always know what to say. So I just walk around with a sign that says, ‘I totally agree.'”

And that was it. That was her only “political” joke of the night. And it was great, not just the joke, but the night. She had the entire room laughing virtually non-stop for the hour, and her closing bit left most of us exhausted from laughing so hard. If she comes anywhere near your town, you’ll definitely want to spend the money and go.

But this isn’t a review of Tig’s awesome hour of comedy. It’s an attempt to understand why I really wanted her to comment on the Louie thing.

Tig isn’t shy about speaking on the topic. She was on The View recently where they pretty much ignored her own career and made her focus on Louie’s perverted habits. She also dedicated a portion of the second season of One Mississippi to exploring the downstream effects (no pun intended) of when a male authority figure masturbates in front of one of his female employees (which is basically what Louie did). She also talks about sexual abuse when she goes on the late night shows.

So it’s not like I can’t find Tig talking about it in other places. But still, I wanted her to talk about it during her show, and when she didn’t, I was slightly disappointed.

Today, I read a short piece on The New Yorker website about “How Sarah Silverman Reckoned with Louis C.K. in the Year of Sexual Harassment.” As Silverman explained on I Love You America, her show on Hulu, “I hope it’s okay if I am at once very angry for the women he wronged, and the culture that enabled it, and also sad, because he’s my friend.”

In The New Yorker piece, the writer, Ian Crouch, makes an interesting observation: “So often in this reckoning, it has fallen to women to explain what bad men did and why they had to go away,” and I’m wondering if some version of that is what I wanted from Tig, some explanation not of what he did and why he has to go away, but of how I’m supposed to feel about him now.

Because the truth is that Louie’s comedy has been the gold standard for me for over a decade. His combination of surrealism, optimism, humanism, and dark, dark comedy spoke (speaks) to my sense of the world, a brutally honest place with death and destruction and perversion, but also a place where “once in a while you [can] get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

I counted on Louie to help me understand the world. His comedy exposed the little hypocrisies that make up humanity’s attempt to act civilized while also being ruled by animalistic and selfish impulses. His brutal honesty about parenting — which I had never heard before in a comedian — also helped me figure out what kind of father I want to be.

In short, I loved Louie and looked up to him, not as a role model per se, but as a wisdom-possessed elder. He helped me make sense of the world, and he gave me a lot of laughter while he did it.

But he is also a person who assaulted at least half a dozen women (and probably more) over the last couple of decades.

I don’t yet know how to deal with that kind of moral complexity. More than anything, I want Louie to do another special where his unique mind and perspective can address the issue head on, and does so as brilliantly and as brutally and as funnily as it has addressed everything else.

But I also don’t know if I should want that. He is, in all honesty, a perverted criminal, and the last thing we should give a perverted criminal is a stage and a microphone.

And that’s why I think I wanted Tig to address it during her set last weekend. More than I want to hear from Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle, I want to hear from Tig. She is one of the bravest comedians I’ve ever heard, and I love the way her honesty and bravery combines with her ninth-grade education to provide deep, yet simple insights into the complexity of our modern world. I really want her take on the topic.

But I don’t want it in a contrived talk-show format where mainstream sensitivities are at their highest. I want to hear it in a stand-up format. I need to hear a long, layered, intelligent, emotional, and deeply comedic monologue on Louie’s crimes and on the way individual humans, society, and the subculture of comedy nerds ought to reckon with it.

I haven’t heard that yet. And I really wanted Tig to deliver it.


(Thankfully, she was still as funny as all hell, and you should definitely go see her!)

Catching Up

I haven’t posted for over a month. I’ve posted articles in other places, but nothing here on Fluid Imagination. Part of the reason had to do with my job. During the last month, I wrote, built, and launched a new website for my school, and before that, I spent most of my free time developing the second-quarter schedule for all of our staff and students. You see, along with teaching, I’m also an administrator and marketing person, so things can get a little busy.

But a lot of things have been happening over the last month: sexual predators facing the music, President Trump’s administration circling the drain, Congressional Republicans stealing trillions of dollars from the future, the potential loss of Internet freedom, and so much more. Here’s a quick recap of what I’ve missed.

First and foremost is the continued outing of powerful sexual predators, assaulters, and harassers. While we can all applaud the takedown of powerful sleaze bags, in my own life, I’ve seen the #metoo movement help individuals come out against their not-so-famous assaulters. Several months ago, a person I know had fallen victim to a sexual predator, but with all of the shame around the issue, they had not gone to the police about it. Following  the publicity around these other cases though, and the way the predators have actually seen some consequences from their actions, the person I know gained the confidence to press charges against her perpetrator. What we’ve seen on the news is just a drop in the bucket, but if the (apparently) changing perceptions of assault victims continues towards belief rather than doubt, the world might actually improve a little bit.

Next, of course, is the way Comrade Trump’s administration continues to flounder in light of the Russia investigation. Without a doubt, the best explainer of all this stuff has been the Twitter feed of a professor of law and journalism at the University of New Hampshire, Seth Abramson.

If you’re not following Abramson on Twitter, get on it. The guy deserves a Pulitzer for the work he’s been doing.

Then, of course, there’s the incredible distribution of wealth from the 99% to the 1%, also known as H.R. 1: Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, which according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office will increase the deficit by $1.437 trillion over the next 10 years. The Senate snuck this thing through in the most ridiculous and cynical manner possible, and every relatively moderate Republican ought to be ashamed of themselves (the other Republicans are long past the ability to actually feel shame).

Along with reporting on that increase in the deficit, the CBO reports that “it is not practicable for a macroeconomic analysis to incorporate the full effects of all of the provisions in the bill…within the very short time available between completion of the bill and the filing of the committee report.” In other words, this bill is not only messed up from a content perspective, but from a process perspective too. By now, you’ve heard that this 400+ page bill was passed before anyone had the time to read it, and that the bill itself still contained handwritten amendments since they wouldn’t take the time to print out the changes.

Next, there’s the announcement from the chairman of the FCC that they’d like to repeal the rules that protect net neutrality. This is an incredibly colossal mistake, putting the freedom of the Internet into the corrupt and greedy hands of Comcast, Verizon, and others.

One member of the FCC, who posted in Op-Ed in the LA Times under the headline, “I’m on the FCC. Please stop us from killing net neutrality,” writes, “There is something not right about a few unelected FCC officials making such vast determinations about the future of the internet…Before my fellow FCC members vote to dismantle net neutrality, they need to get out from behind their desks and computers and speak to the public directly…When they do this, they will likely find that, outside of a cadre of high-paid lobbyists and lawyers in Washington, there isn’t a constituency that likes this proposal.”

Nobody but the telecoms want this bill. No real human being has complained about having an open internet that allows low-income individuals to access the same websites as high-income individuals, and mom-and-pop and startup organizations to access the same audience as multinational corporations such as Microsoft and Google.

No one wants this policy change. But because the FCC is run by a former Verizon employee, the policy change is going forward. And that sucks.

So…that should bring us up today. Hopefully, my next post won’t be another month from now.