Hugo Award Reads: New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Review)

It’s Hugo Award Season! I love when June rolls around and I get to read books for 2 months with the excuse “I’m reading for the Hugo ballot voting!”  Not that I need an excuse to read books; our house is practically composed of stacks of books. But still…. it’s nice.

I’ve already read three of the nominees for Best Novel earlier in the year, so I’m picking up the other two.

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Robinson is a big name in sci fi but this is the first of his books to land on my reading pile. My husband, who is a voracious reader of sci with increasingly discriminating tastes, doesn’t love Robinson, so he’s not been as much on my radar.  Based on this novel, I will likely give his Mars series a shot.

New York 2140 is a big wandering novel told from multiple points of view (one per chapter, kind of in Game of Thrones Style). The novel introduces multiple themes of interest:  the realistic effects of global warming and climate change, the real effects of putting a coastal city under water, the lopsided wealth distribution, a sense of near-future tech applied to near-future climate problems, an exploration of the battle between political fortitude and the lure of lobbyist money.

It’s also a book about characters, more so than tends to be typical for an “ideas book.”  And this is what sold it for me.

I have head that Robinson is accused of creating “paint by number” characters, as have so many of the “idea guys” in science fiction. What they’re good at is building worlds and asking questions; the people in those stories exist only to carry on the plot and showcase the ideas.  I think Cixin Liu’s series (Three Body Problem, etc) are a good example of an idea guy who can’t really create believable human characters. (Though I have to give Liu a bit of a pass, since I could be missing the Chinese cultural nuances that a native speaker reading his novels in Chinese would see, and we might be losing more in translation than we realize. But the poor characterization ruined Death’s End for me.)

New York 2140 isn’t going to win a Pulitzer for characterization, but the New Yorkers here struck me as legit: with all the can-do and fuck-off attitude that NYC has delivered anytime I’ve been within its borders.  Of all cities on earth to find itself spit in half by a rising ocean, dealing with housing millions of people in a broad intertidal zone that bisects its critical districts, New York would survive.  New York would find a way to thrive. And New York would find a way to make money off that fight for survival.

I don’t want to tell you much about the plot – you can find summaries everywhere, but who wants to ruin a story like that?  Some have complained that the novel took too long to get started. *shrugs* If you enjoy sitting on a bench in Union Square and watching people for two hours, you won’t be bored by the novel’s opening. This book always drew me back for more, and honestly, it was usually to discover whether these people were going to be ok. That’s a good sign for a science fiction novel.

If you’re interested in how New York in particular would stare down a 50-foot rise in the oceans, this is the novel for you.

If you’ve never really thought about how rising sea levels will bring an apocalypse, but then a New Normal, this novel may interest you.

If you sense that our government  isn’t really much of a democracy any more, but we’re run by a rich-old-boys oligarchy, this novel might get you thinking about the natural consequences of that.

If you’d ever wanted to go treasure hunting in New York harbor, this book might intrigue you.

But really, if you enjoy visiting The City and soaking in everything New York has to offer, from brilliant minds to piss-soaked streets, read New York 2140. Just as New Yorkers got about their business after 9/11, they will find a way to get about the business of living once the oceans reclaim the coastline.

*****

Hugo Ballot thoughts:

I’m working to finish Ann Leckie’s Provenance and then I still need to read Six Wakes. What I’ve read of Provenance thus far doesn’t suggest it’s going to be a top contender, so at the moment I’ve got Jemisin’s Stone Sky and Lee’s Raven Stratagem on my short list for Hugo Best Novel.  Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire was a fun read and I’ll pick up the others in that series, but it doesn’t rise above the others IMHO in my balloting.

I don’t think Robinson’s novel rises above either of my top picks at this point. His ideas are solid and it’s a good novel.   But for the Hugo, I look for striking originality or truly novel ideas.  I think Robinson will do a lot to help the general public understand the real effects of climate change, though I hold little hope that anyone is willing to pay the price to reign in our overconsumption and reliance on fossil fuels in order to make life better for people who won’t be born for another 100 years. Robinson’s voice is added to the pile of those saying, “Hey! This is bad, y’all!”

For me, the question is, should Robinson’s novel stay above the “No Award” line?  I believe the answer is a firm Yes.  This is a good read and hopefully an influential one.

That sweet spot of “nailed it”

Someone somewhere defined a way to identify a good career fit; unfortunately I can’t remember where I read this.

Ask yourself, When do I feel strong and powerful?

You’re probably looking at a good career fit if your talents and gifts shine when you’re doing a particular task. Your inner self will know, too, and you’ll feel the strength and confidence – at least you’ll get glimpses of it.

For me, that sparkle hits whenever I’m talking with someone who has a problem they’re trying to solve, especially at work or within some kind of organizational structure or work process.

The other day at work, I enjoyed a double-shot of this joy: I had two conversations with separate colleagues about problem areas, trying to identify the cause of the issue and sketch out potential solutions.

At one point I asked, “But what problem is this initiative trying to solve?” Because that wasn’t clear — neither when the initiative was launched, nor throughout its implementation. So often we leap to implement a solution, often the first workable one that came to light, before we’ve taken time to understand why the problem is happening in the first place.

In this particular instance, someone imposed a workflow on five separate teams of employees in an attempt to gather data on the effectiveness of a particular organizational practice. The workflow itself isn’t terrible, but it’s not efficient for the employees implementing it. I’m sure a few workers were consulted, but none of them asked the right question — what problem are you trying to solve? Because the workflow bears all the marks of a fuzzy and vague goal rather than a laser-focus on testing a precise solution to a clearly defined problem.

I ended up working about 90 minutes past my usual cutoff time one day last week, but it felt so good. I was going something I’m particularly gifted to do: ask questions that get to the heart of the matter, and help others see that focus area more clearly, so they can go off and build better solutions.

I don’t know how to make the leap into my perfect job. One  where this is what I would do all day:
– Go around and visit various people in the organization.
– Ask them how their job is going and what’s working/not working
– Listen hard to what they say, work to understand the problems.
– Clarify the problem and pitch ideas for a solution. Connect people and ideas. Cross-pollinate.
– Move on to the next person. Remember everything I’ve heard so far. Cross-pollinate even better.

This is my gift. How do I turn it into a lifestyle? lol

Good Times, Bad Times

So, are humans a disease to this planet or demigods of power, possessing nearly unlimited strength and resilience?

Am I the only person wondering if the human race has long outlived the patience of any divine being?

2018 is weird, man.

*****

I was raised in conservative Fundamentalism, a sliver of Christianity that’s thankfully grown much smaller since the 20th century.  A lot of people like to define Fundamentalism by its strict code of rules, a feature which drew sharp lines around my desires, behavior, and dreams as a kid. But I think Fundamentalism is better defined by its warped understanding of sin and Grace. Perhaps those both arise out of a core misunderstanding of God, one that shaped my view of the universe well into my mid-20s.

The Fundamentalist God is a jerk, honestly.  As a child I envisioned God as a lot like my dad: a good person at heart, but easy to make angry, and dangerous when he was mad.  I knew God hauled around the cosmic baseball bat of Consequences™ that we always heard about in sermons, how “be sure your sin will find you out,” and how maybe God could be bargained with if you showed you were serious about abandoning sin for the straight and narrow.  “Hey, God, if I promise to never do this again, could you maybe not let my cat get killed this summer?”

An abusive Father who accepts bargains. That’s the Fundamentalist God, no matter how much pastors talked about “grace” in sermons.

One of my friends in graduate school came to me sobbing one evening to confess that he’d cheated off my quizzes throughout undergrad. He was terrified that his girlfriend wasn’t going to marry him – she’d said as much –  and as part of his holy dealmaking, he was coming clean and confessing his sins so God might bless him and not take away his chance at being a husband.  (They eventually got married. I don’t know if he even remembers doing this.)  I’m glad he got his cheating off his chest, but even at the time, I was taken back by the blatant economics of the whole situation.

What’s odd to me about Fundamentalism is how badly it misunderstood sin. I guess it makes sense for a movement founded on a concept of purity to redefine sin as both a horrific impulse that defines humanity at its core, AND an external influence that can and should be avoided at all costs.  I’ve written about this before, here and here and especially here, so read up if you’re unfamiliar with those thoughts.

The critical point is this: properly understood within Protestant theology, sin is an internal impulse, a flaw in the human system, like someone beat a steel rod into a 90 degree angle and then tried to straighten in out again.  The Hebrew words for ‘sin’ are fascinating: words like “pollution” and “twist” and “guilt.”

We humans are bent at the core, and we can’t unbend ourselves well enough to work out the kinks. The entire Story of Redemption expands from here.  God the Father sacrificed God the Son, who lived a perfect human life free of sin and its pollution and twistedness, so that we can be given – as a free gift – the right-ness we humans do not possess since the Fall.

****

I’ve come to doubt nearly everything Creationist that I was taught, mostly because astronomy and evolutionary biology have mountains of evidence on their side, coupled with my long study of how literature works (and Hebrew itself). I mean, we went to the Field Museum in Chicago last summer and I saw — no lie – half a dozen fossils that could easily be the “missing links” that Answers in Genesis people mock. When the evidence is staring you in the face, it’s hard not to realize that literally 24-hour, 6 day creationists are doing argumentative backflips to maintain a highly literalist interpretation of 3 chapters of the Bible, mostly because they’ve also built a theological house of cards that uses literal creationism as a keystone to the entire house of literalist evangelical bullet points. Pull out the keystone and their structure collapses.  (Not that Christianity itself collapses. Evangelicalism is a mere blip within a two-thousand year history of the Church. Thank God.)

http://www.instagram.com/p/BU7edPQg8Hr/

 

That aside, and truly that’s a discussion for another day, I have no problem believing in the special creation of Adam and Eve, of humans being created in God’s image (though we’re not really sure what that means), of God giving his special creation a level of choice with unparalleled and destructive consequences.

I am a firm believer in the Fall, of humanity given a choice to trust God or no.  From this flows the whole problem of evil.  I don’t have an answer for you. Go climb the wisdom of the ages and seek for yourself. It’s complicated.

It’s because I believe that God gave Man a choice, and we failed in that choice, that I believe firmly in Redemption, in Grace, in Love, and in genuine Evil. (Thanks to Milton, the Fall is a fascinating moment in the story of mankind, and Satan should be ever thankful to Paradise Lost giving him such a rich character. “Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”)

And that Fall, that permanent twist in the soul of every human who’s ever lived, this is on my mind a lot in 2018.

*****

Let me tell you, 2018 has been an experience.  A rip-roaring ride through the best and worst that I’ve seen of humanity with my own two eyes.

Let’s see. In the past couple weeks, I’ve seen people vilify immigrants and justify that by raising American border laws to the level of a moral code. Those same people have shrugged at the separation of children from their parents in the same of “discouraging illegal immigration.”  I’ve witness a profound ignorance of the effects of American foreign policy on other regions of the world. (Short version: why is life so bad in Latin America? Go read up on imperialism, colonialism, and the American war against communism during the Cold War years, then the War on Drugs in the past 30 years. If you just read about the history of the 20th century till now in Latin America, you’ll get the picture.)

I’ve read the news from Syria with one eye open, barely. It’s devastating. Also South Sudan, Yemen, the massacre of like 150 Mexican candidates for election.  We’ve got wars in several spots of the globe. Meanwhile, our president is punching every ally in the eye as he lumbers through a NATO summit on his way to meet with Putin, the latest Russian strongman.

I’ve watched multiple reports of Americans screaming at people they think are immigrants to go home — as if Americans didn’t steak every single scrap of this nation’s land from the people who were here already.  We glorify rich men, men of power, puss-grabbing men who lie boldly and get away with it.

Our planet is heating up. Our love for red meat and fast cars and air conditioning has spread to the developing world, where the overrun of environment impact from these Western practices will likely raise the oceans and flood island nations and costal cities globally by the 22nd century.

But hey, we’ll all be dead then, right?

Why care for the poor when we can blame them instead? Why provide health insurance when we can instead make it easier for insurance companies to make money off of death and disease? Why tip the balance in support of workers rights when capitalism runs off exploiting labor for the benefit of owners and stockholders?

****

Nobody warned me that my 40s would be a time of such…. anger.

I watched two particularly well-written episodes of GLOW last night (season 2, episodes 4 and 5). It’s a light Netflix dramedy about an early 80s women’s wrestling show, based on historical events. I love the acting and the casting, and the story’s been solid through both seasons.  The two episodes we watched last night tackled first the “exploitation” nature of the wrestling show and its use of racial and ethnic stereotypes as entertainment. You could argue (as I’ve learned from my hubby, who’s been absorbing movie criticism on YouTube) that such shows provoked people – those with an already developed sense of irony – to recognize the actual exploitation that made such shows work. But it’s still hard to watch a black woman throw herself into the ring under the moniker “welfare queen” and not hear the dogwhistle of racism in Reagan’s (and Nixon’s) politics which made that character so relevant to the early 80s.

Episode 5 showed us a Weinstein-esque encounter between a central GLOW character and a station executive. I cringed the whole time. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt angry. Look, I have almost never attracted sexual attention from men during my adult years – I chalk it up to being fat and not particularly attractive. But I know this is what so many of my sisters put up with every day at work. Whether it’s getting catcalled or hit on or treated to the soft misogyny of low expectations as a woman or dismissed or talked over during a meeting or having our ideas absorbed by the male manager who brought them up to someone up the power structure, a power structure we didn’t have access to …. we women know what these things are. We’ve lived them.  I’m angry.

*****

Lately my attitude has been pretty dark. Not as in “not hopeful,” though I have no reason to assume America will drag itself forward rather than backward.  I do tend to think that history progresses, and I’m thankful that many people are actually aware of concepts like white privilege, soft racism, or the highly negative mental health impact of constantly telling LGBTQ+ people they’re either sinning or an abomination or (at best) a mistake. That’s progress.

But I’m thinking it’s good that God promised not to do another worldwide Flood. Because I’m ready to burn the whole thing down, right here and right now.  We humans are a piss-poor example of the Divine.  I’m tired of the exploitation of the poor and weak by the strong and rich.  I get the imprecatory Psalms now, much better than I did when I was a young person.

Psalm 5 NIV
from Bible Gateway

A perfect Barcelona itinerary

 

If you’re planning to visit Barcelona, I’d like to offer a tested, enjoyed, and real-life itinerary for a perfect visit.  How do I know? I just got home! 😉

Tip #1:  Take your time

We spent 8 days in the city, arriving on a Monday (midday) and leaving the following Monday afternoon.  Barcelona was our home base, and aside from a few day trips, we didn’t try to travel beyond the borders of Catalonia.

Why?  Barcelona is a city best absorbed slowly, one sip at a time, one sunset at a time.

We’ve traveled through Europe several times, usually cramming in everything we can, moving from city to city every few days. It’s exciting but also exhausting. This time, we set aside that little twang of FOMO pain (“But we’re so close to Madrid!”) and agreed that we would stay put.  The result? A fantastic, interesting, restful vacation that brought us home with great memories instead of exhaustion.

Tip #2: Get to the locals

With AirBnB and other companies offering excursions and adventures, there’s no reason not to get out there beyond the museums and cafes to experience local culture.  A few of our highlights:

  • Sailing the Mediterranean Sea at sunset — AirBnB Experience led by a fantastic sailor on his gorgeous sailboat (link). The evening concluded with tapas and wine at the marina where we chatted with our new-found friends.
  •  Making paella with a local in Sitges – AirBnB Experience.  Not only did we get to eat delicious paella, the ingredients were as fresh as that morning’s catch, we enjoyed visiting the local market (so much fish!), and we learned a lot about local culture from our host chef Rosa.  She took us on a mini tour of Sitges as well, a lovely beach town a short train ride down the coast. Once we were done with lunch, we were free to roam the city and enjoy the beach.

Making gazpacho and paella with Rosa in Sitges! @airbnb

A post shared by RameyLady (@lorojoro) on

Tip #3: Don’t overdo it

We developed a rule back when we took students on field trips to big cities or overseas: one museum a day, and two “big things” a day, max.  It’s just as true for adults as teens: you need downtime to really soak in what you just saw.

It’s tempting to cram as much as you can into every day, because “you only live once!” and “sleep when you’re dead.”  But you’ll get much more out of the experience if you select just a few museums, parks, cathedrals and the like to fill your days.

Tip #4: Embrace the snack culture of Barcelona

I loved Barcelona for many reasons, but topping my list is their ability to spread little snacks throughout the day. It makes touring much more fun:  finish up an activity, then beeline for the nearest cafe for an inexpensive yet tasty cafe con leche and pastry or a bit of jamon.  Retreat to a museum during the heat of the day, then find some churros and chocolate.  Kick off the late afternoon with some vermouth and patatas bravas.

Barcelonans seem to snack their way through the day yet without overloading their calorie budget at any one point. It was a great way to experience many tastes and views around the city.

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Depart on international flight

Day 2: Land in Barcelona.  Check into AirBnB and get settled and refreshed.  Tour Park Guell. Visit local grocery store for basic supplies: yogurt and cereal for breakfasts, fresh fruit for snacks, and wine, jamon, cheese, bread etc for suppers at the apartment.

Pro tip: stay up on your feet until local bedtime to get over jet lag faster. It’s brutal but worth it in the end. 

Day 3: Day trip to Sitges. AirBnB Experience: Paella in Sitges (8am-2pm). Went with our host Rosa to the market to buy fresh fish and seafood for the paella and vegetables for gazpacho. Cooked and ate like royalty!   Beach day in Sitges; light snack before taking the train home. Supper at the apartment.

Pro tip: The train system in Europe will take you nearly anywhere you want to go, but it can get expensive. Our tickets to Sitges were only 3 or 4 Euros after the station attendant explained we could buy a pack of 10 rides for a reduced rate.  We were traveling with someone fluent in Spanish, but if that hadn’t been the case, I would have done more research before arriving at the station. Don’t expect to find English speakers working the windows. 

Photo

Day 4:  After a brief ramble down Las Ramblas looking for coffee, we did Montjuic Fort (in the morning) and Gardens (afternoon). Leisurely breaks throughout the day including coffee and lunch at the Juan Miro Foundation. Lovely cable car ride up the mountain and back.  Sailing the Mediterranean and Sunset Tapas: AirBnB Experience. Supper at a restaurant on the shore.

Pro tip:  Learn to use public transportation! We did a few taxi rides the first day or so until we got our bearings, but the metro stop was a short walk from the apartment and we used the bus system several times. With Google Maps on your phone and international data (or a local SIM Card), you can get anywhere you need to go without having to plan everything down to the detail. It’s great! Such a change from our trips to Europe just a decade ago!  

We also traveled with a laptop and the house had free WiFi, so we spent a few minutes each evening researching the next day’s adventures. 

Day 5: Day trip to Girona. Rented a car and drove to Girona. Stopped off in Blanes (one of the Costa Brava towns) along the way to visit a friend and have lunch there – crepes at a seaside shop. (Needed a break from ham sandwiches.) Toured Girona (site of Game of Thrones filming – Circi’s “walk of shame”) with views of the cathedral, the old city, and the city walls.   Toured the Museum of Cinema there, which was an absolute delight.  Drive home. Supper in the apartment.

The medieval church of Girona, famous for its backdrop in several Game of Thrones scenes

One of our group decided to spend the day on her own, and visited a Gaudi museum and did some city walking and exploring. We enjoyed swapping stories about our divergent experiences that evening.

Photo

Day 6:   Sleep in!  It was Friday, and we were all pretty tired, so we enjoyed a very leisurely morning at the apartment. Lunch at Tasso, a great little lunch and tapas place near La Sagrada Familia. Back to Montjuic. After an unsuccessful attempt to see the cathedral without having purchased tickets in advance, we changed our plans….  In the afternoon we all went to the National Museum of Art, and walked down the Montjuic paths to a local Churro shop for our first real taste of churros and chocolate – magical!  That churro shop was well off the beaten track, and the owner poured us some of the biggest drinks (whiskey, scotch, gin & tonic) I’ve ever seen for an incredibly affordable price. 

Day 7:  Half of us toured the Gardens and Olympic Stadium and Plaza in the morning while the other half caught up on sleep.  The Olympic area is well worth your time!

Pro tip: We use AirBnB for travel lodging  because you can’t beat having a whole apartment or house as a retreat when you’re genuinely tired. There’s little that a hotel could offer that we didn’t have at our AirBnB (aside from a pool, but we were in a coastal city), and much that an apartment can provide which far outshines any hotel I could ever afford.

Awake, we went out to a little cafe for lunch then gaped at the awe-inspiring beauty of La Sagrada Familia. Get tickets online in advance! Plan to spend a while at the cathedral just soaking up the beauty.

La Sagrada Familia cathedral

Off to the Gothic Quarter for shots of vermouth and a late afternoon snack. The vermouth was a house blend and it was just fantastic. Wish we had done that earlier in the week.  We shopped a bit too and enjoyed wandering the Gothic Quarter for its architectural interest and quirky little side streets – definitely recommend!  Later in our trip, we found the best souvenir shopping here.  Wrapped up the day by seeing the Maritime Museum – I’d give it 3/5 stars.

Day 8: Leisurely brunch at a lovely little shop lear Plaza Catalunya off Las Ramblas.  Strolling!  Finally back out for a delicious final evening meal in Barcelona at a Basque place  recommended by a friend of a friend, and more wandering in the Gothic Quarter and down by the Port.

Rejected: Mount Tibidabo. We could see it from our apartment, but after researching the fees to ride up the mountain for the views, and the insane price to get in to ride the ferris wheel, we decided to use our day in other ways.

Day 9: Shopping and departure!  We don’t recommend leaving shopping for the final day of a trip, but that’s how it ended up for us. Thankfully, we found some neat souvenirs in the Gothic Quarter, and hauled everything back to the apartment for final packing and taxi ride to the airport.

Pro Tip: We should have checked into whether shops would be closed on Sunday.  They were.  Everything was closed except restaurants.  Really put a wrinkle in our shopping plans.

Final Thoughts

Barcelona was a delightful city for a one-week stay.  It felt more like becoming friends rather than rampaging through the city.

This was the itinerary that worked for us.  It didn’t include as much wine as we’d expected; we found that tapas and jamon got tiring after a few days too.  But coffee breaks were a consistent source of happiness, and we had no trouble finding beautiful places to explore.

In retrospect, I’m very thankful we booked the AirBnb Experiences for paella and sailing, because those gave us such a rich exposure to people and places we would have missed otherwise.

I’m also thrilled that we took the time and trouble to rent a car and drive to Girona. It’s a beautiful medieval city, and the Cinema Museum was one of the neatest collections I’ve ever seen – for just 5 Euros!

My only disappointment was that we had trouble finding good souvenirs. Many of the “tourist junk shops” were owned by people with zero connection to the city, and the merchandise there was worse than usual. Hucksters were swarming us at most popular sites, but their wares were subpar and derivative. Ugh.   Museum shops didn’t really offer a great selection of merchandise worth taking home for the price they were charging.

We’re used to European cities having a signature product that makes a perfect gift. Barcelona offered many wonderful experiences, but little to take home.  Las Ramblas and the shopping districts are fun, but I don’t think of Gucci or Prada or Zara as places to buy souvenirs, just as I don’t shop Fifth Avenue when I visit New York.  We did buy some vermouth (Yzagerre, if I remember the brand correctly) at a grocery store and some chocolate and saffron. I found a neat t-shirt at a local shop in the Gothic quarter along with a few other real gems in that area.  If you’re headed to Barcelona, start looking for your take-home gifts early and often.

But if that’s the worst I can say, it was a great trip! 😉

We’re lucky to have a couple friends whose travel style matches ours. Go find yourself a few people who will be your adventurers, and good luck on the Path! 

I’ll upload the best of our photos as soon as I get them sorted and edited.

That Vegas Glitz

I spent half the week in Vegas, not because I necessarily wanted to go to Vegas, but my employer located our most recent conference there.

These Meccas of American capitalism always prompt me to reflect on the consumerism that drives so much of our culture. One of my colleagues was visibly miffed to be in Vegas at all – she finds their water consumption an appalling moral outrage. (She lives in the West, so water issues are more at the forefront of her opinions.)  I have to admit, she has a point.

Am I a snob? As I walked through Caesar’s Palace, the Bellagio, the Luxor, the Paris Hotel, I was mostly struck by the cheapness of it all. Bright casino machines flash and whiz everywhere as patrons lay down hordes of cash in hopes of beating the House at its own game. (Never bet on it.) The architecture is beautiful because the originals they’re aping are gorgeous. Sure, it’s lovely to see the “forum” with the statue of Caesar, or walk on the Bellagio’s lovely inlaid mosaic floors.

But I’ve walked the inlaid marble floors of the master cathedrals in Venice and Florence and Rome. Vegas cannot hold a candle to them. I’ve seen the notch in the Pantheon in Rome where Brunelleschi cut into the ceiling to figure out how the Romans built a dome so large – then took the technology home to Florence to help them finish the Duomo there.  I’ve been to Paris, so the mock “cobblestone” streets of the Paris Hotel simply make me wistful for the real joie de vivre of that mother city.  I haven’t been to Egypt, but I’ve soaked up every Egypt exhibit I could find from the East Coast through the British Museum through Berlin, and the Luxor can only attempt – but not succeed – to draw the same awe.

To me, Vegas’s shine as the city of lights dims when I consider that the bulk of the casino and service workers are paid minimum wage….  that the rapid influx of Californians fleeing their housing crises has gentrified neighborhoods in Vegas …. that so many of the people walking the streets are there for sex, gambling, or drinks.  It makes Vegas a sad place, honestly.

Don’t get me wrong – I had a lot of fun with my colleagues. I finally found my tribe and enjoyed wandering around the city with them. I put $20 in a penny slots machine (made $12 then lost it all eventually, so no Vegas magic for me).  One of my coworkers won nearly $500 — good for her!  I got to watch part of a match at the e-sports arena at the Luxor (would have happily spent all night there if I could have found a coworker with a similar passion).   The fountains of the Bellagio are beautiful, and the indoor garden even more so.

We were terrified by a creeping Mickey Mouse, drank quite a few overpriced cocktails that were definitely better than average, found some delicious food, and met an Uber driver who’s a competition-level break dancer.  Great memories!

But if we never go back to Vegas, I’m not going to feel that sad.  The Vegas Strip and Disney World are alike to me:  their allure is dull and uninspiring at the core.  “Spend money! Drink more! Buy more!”  It’s not an invitation to grow into a better version of oneself so much as a Vanity Fair of temptations to let your lesser self have the upper hand for a few days. (And empty your wallet.)

I already have nearly everything I genuinely need.  I still have my shopping list of wants, but I’ve found that it includes far fewer things and far more experiences to crave.  Experiences can be shared, while things are static.  I’m happy to cross Vegas off the list (and on someone else’s dime) and move on to new adventures in new places.

Las Vegas 2018
Flickr Album: Las Vegas 2018

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Direct link: https://flic.kr/s/aHskCeRCKG

Why Don’t Women Write to the Editor? Because They’re Doing Absolutely Everything Else – The Atlantic

This short collection of women’s responses is a wonderful read.

It also helps explain why I blog so little these days. Why? Who’s reading? And I’ve got other stuff to do!

Letters: Why Don’t Women Write to the Editor? Because They’re Doing Absolutely Everything Else – The Atlantic
— Read on www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/559946/

The myth of conscience voting

To what extent should we prioritize our individual discomfort, our “duty” to follow our own moral code, above concern for the consequences that our choices may have on others?

Many, both religious and those whoa re simply passionate about their political views, have argued in conversations about the 2016 election and its aftermath about “voting your conscience” against “voting pragmatically.”

The argument seems to boil down to this: some folks, faced with a Trump vs Hillary choice, elected to vote in support of a 3rd party candidate in order to avoid giving direct support to a candidate whose positions imply (or directly require) contradicting one’s moral code.  Others, faced with the prospect of two candidates they abhorred, may have filtered their “lesser of two evil” choice through a singular moral lens: for the typical Evangelical, this seemed to revolve around abortion or holding onto a SCOTUS seat for the sake of overturning Roe v Wade. For Bernie supporters, their vote for Hillary perhaps stemmed only from a desire to preserve some particular progressive value like access to abortion or Obamacare.

Either way, on both sides of the spectrum, people were defending a vote for a flawed candidate on moral grounds. In my newsfeed, at least, the more religious the voter, the more the defenses dragged in the name of Jesus in ways I find — at best — uncomfortable.  I think I reached peak “Oh for pete’s sake!” when Evangelical leaders tried to argue that Trump had found Jesus and was a baby Christian. *rolls eyes*

Those who advocate a more practical approach to voting in American elections point out two things: voting 3rd party in a national election will always be a throwaway vote, until those outside parties can break into the system. Second, if one of the two mainline candidates is truly atrocious, failing to vote against that person or splitting the vote of the opposing candidate (as happens when libertarians abandon the GOP or the greens/socialists walk away from the Dems) ends up being a de facto vote for the candidate you hate.

Further, running your candidate through a singular moral lens forces you to ignore a critical element: the aftermath of the policies a candidate espouses.  Put simply, I find it appalling (galling?) that Christians voted for Trump in order to  “prevent” abortion while ignoring (and continuing to ignore) horrific abuses against many currently living humans who are being negatively affected by the decisions he and the Republicans have made over the past 18 months.

I long who gave up the one-issue voting stance as unhelpful and short-sighted. No decisions that involve humans can be truly 100% good or totally horrible. I’ve never met anybody (intelligent or educated or even just basically informed) who could wholly endorse one party’s entire platform.

It’s time to drop the euphemism “voting your conscience” and call it what it is: voting your priorities.

Because that’s what voting is here in America.

Most of us have too little money (and therefore no power) to influence any given election. It’s true that state and local races can come down to a handful of votes. So this discussion targets larger races where my one vote in a SC district genuinely matters only a feather in the whole situation. If at all.

The polls and data continue to confirm strong Evangelical support for Trump as a candidate in 2016 and as a President now.

I heard a lot of FB timeline voices offering their reasons either for a 3rd party vote (understandable) or voting for Trump.  But labeling one’s reasons for voting a certain way as “conscience” or “pragmatic” gives us too easy of an excuse for the fallout of any given election. Acknowledging that a vote is, instead, a statement of ranked priorities forces us to be honest about what matters to us.

When we allow ourselves to detach from the visible and real human consequences of the entire gamut of a party’s political platform, we can pretend it’s ok because WE did the only right thing we could. WE “voted our conscience.”

No. You voted your highest priority, the single thing (or three) you can’t live with (or without). That’s it. Plain and simple.

When we make a particular vote about individual holiness, it takes our attention away from the collective and institutional outcomes of various policy positions.

Here’s the issue: your individual “conscience” isn’t more important than the trade-offs your vote will empower.

I’m not suggesting a paralyzing level of fear that my vote somehow has outsized effect on any given political system. It doesn’t. But if I run the decision regarding what candidates I will support through only an individualistic filter, I may miss critical elements of the moral and social calculus that drives our voting decisions.

It seems to be a weakness of the American mindset to prioritize the individual too much over the collective / society / community.  By recognizing that my vote indicates my priorities and preferences, rather than some moral statement about the universe, I might be able to see the consequences of public policy more fairly.

I think that would be a win for all of us.

RameyLady speaks her mind

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