#weekendcoffeeshare: A Change of Pace

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I never planned on taking a personal picture for this site. Usually, I am downstairs on my sofa, stretched out in front of the television. But very heavy storms yesterday flooded my living room, causing me to seek refuge in the two rooms upstairs. So if we were having coffee or tea, I would drag my bedroom chair into my office for you so we could chat.

So here is my desk for now. It is barely big enough for my laptop. At least my chair is comfortable and my office is a pleasant refuge. And yes, the woman in the green shirt on the right is me, but a 20 year old me at a concert in France.

I am on Spring holidays now, and if not for the living room flooding, I would be overjoyed. I have whole wodges of time to do nothing, except the little things that are on my to-do list, like get through my massive collection of New Yorker magazines and my backlog of podcasts.

I’m also writing my a to z challenge posts. I am already getting a lot more feedback than I did last year, but it is slow going once more. I am enjoying reading other peoples’ challenge posts, and I am getting into the habit of commenting.

So that is where I am currently. Let’s enjoy our time together. – SDM

NB: Check out the other weekend coffee posts here!

What I’m reading this week: 19 February 2016

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The thing about politics is that it is everywhere. People have a horror of talking about it, but it invades our daily life. Politics affects me as dual citizen; it affects me as a woman; it affects me as a person of colour. It insinuates every part of my life, so I take an interest in it (some may say it is quite an unhealthy interest).

In huge political news, Justice Antonin Scalia passed away the 13th February 2016. You can read my thoughts on his passing here, but I was also interested in seeing how his death affects cases already on the docket. Ian Millhiser at Think Progress wrote an interesting article about how his death affects decisions already made and those upcoming ones. The ramifications of his death are still to be seen, especially with the Republican obstructionist streak we are seeing now.

Justice Scalia was a lover of opera, and a comment I spied in NPR’s obituary about him mentioned that his favourite was Der Rosenkavalier. The opera was performed at PROMS 2014, and I read an article from July 2014 by Simon Callow in The Guardian about the opera. I’m not a fan of opera in general, but I do like comic operas, so I may just have to check this out.

Continuing on with The Guardian. In the US version’s Comment is Free, George Soros writes that Putin’s aggressiveness and dishonesty makes him a bigger enemy for the European Union than Daesh and Al-Qaida. Putin is looking at the instability of the EU as a good sign–an unstable EU is a weaker enemy.

Some of that instability in the EU is from the refugee crisis; the EU is scrambling to find the best solution for the issue. I will write about this later, at great length, because it is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. Le Monde’s Frédéric Lemaître writes about the increasingly strained and divisive talks happening in München (Munich) right now.

And finally, an article from The New Yorker that is quite personal to me. I teach French, and I’ve been working as teacher for the past five years. In David Denby’s Cultural Comment, Stop Humiliating Teachers, he writes that Americans tend to denigrate the teaching profession as a whole, even as they recall their favourite ones. Teaching is a stressful and usually thankless job, so reading this had me nodding my head vigorously at every line.

So, until next time then. – SDM

Photo by le bateleur

What I’m reading this week: 12 February 2016

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I read a lot of strange things this week, and sort of last week. It’s been very busy chez moi, and also busy in the world of news. I stayed abroad this week (in news, not literally); mostly, to get another perspective on all of our political madness. That does not mean, however, that I have forgotten about New Hampshire. Of course I haven’t.

First off, New Hampshire. The New Yorker once more has some amazing reporting. I really do not regret getting my teacher’s subscription.  My first article from the magazine is John Cassidy’s Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump Ride the Populist Wave. Interesting look at the idea that, whilst Sanders and Trump are running two very different campaigns, their ideas are very much based on the anger and disillusionment of their supporters. Sanders supporters are angry because America isn’t as equal as it should be, and Trump supporters are angry (in my opinion and observation) because they have to share more of their pie with people they don’t think deserve it. Otherwise, my thoughts on New Hampshire can be found here.

I knew in my heart that the American primary was pretty interesting to the rest of the world, mostly because it is so much bombast and takes so long. So the next two articles are from the Swedish and German perspectives. I am a novice Swedish speaker, and Metro is easy enough (and probably a tabloid) for me to undestand. Göran Greider wrote a short article about Bernie Sanders and how socialism has become less of a frightening word in American politics, entitled Varför är alla rädda för Bernie Sanders? (Why is Everyone Afraid of Bernie Sanders?) Though not optimistic about his chances, Greider writes:

Nej, Bernie Sanders blir nog inte amerikansk president. Men hans kampanj är den politiska väckelserörelse som skakar liv i ett förstelnat och allt mer ojämlikt USA. Alla som sitter på för mycket makt är rädda för honom.

[No, Bernie Sanders won’t be the next American president. But his campaign is the political revival that is shaking apart the ossified and and increasingly unequal United States. All who have too much power are frightened of him.]

Please excuse my questionable translation.

From Der Spiegel: Politik, a FAQ about the American primary system for Germans. Our democracy is a bit of a carnival for anyone who doesn’t live inside of the circus tent, so the questions might seem funny, like ‘What is Super Tuesday?’ and ‘Why do Americans even have primaries?’ but there were also questions that some Americans can’t even answer, like ‘What are Super-delegates?’ and ‘What are Super-PACs?’ If you understand German or have German relatives who want to understand our system, send them to Veit Medick and Marc Pitzke’s Endlich verständlich: So funktionieren die US-Vorwahlen (‘Finally understandable: Here’s how the US Primary System Works’).

From Bill Moyer, via The Nation, an article by Ari Berman about the GOP’s fight to stop the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The VRA is usually a bi-partisan, completely normal vote, but the Supreme Court’s gutting of it has caused some 21 states to enact very strict voter identification laws (I happen to live in a state with fairly strict laws, which chafes a bit). Ted Cruz has taken up the completely bogus mantle of fighting voter fraud. Do not be fooled: restricting access to voting is a violation of one’s civil rights.

Moving on to France. I have lived in France three times: six months in Lyon, a year in Nancy and a year in Paris. Being a woman of colour there who speaks fluent French (but is not French) is always an eye-opening experience; I’m sure I will write about it more in future. So Annette Lévy-Willard’s post «Pour être Français il faut être blanc aux yeux bleus» (‘To be French, one must be white with blue eyes’) was another reminder that racism exists everywhere, even in countries I might prefer over my current home. This blog post was a review of the documentary Les Francais, c’est les autres (The French are other people). I certainly wish I could find a legal copy of it to show my students.

February is Black History Month, so I thought I’d end this week’s article list on two fascinating articles dealing with Blackness, Black identity and the future of Africa post-post-colonialism.

The first is from Identities.Mic, discussing the hashtag #HistoricPOC going viral on Twitter. The post, entitled #HistoricPOC Is the Powerful Illustration of Black History Month Everyone Needs to See has some great pictures and more links to follow.

And finally, I leave you with Le Monde’s article about the sudden rush of money to African technology start-ups, Samir Abdelkrim’s Les robinets du financement s’ouvrent pour les start-up africaines (The financial taps open for African start-ups). A rather dry look at how capital is coming into west African countries to help them on the path to becoming networked.

Until next time. – SDM

Illustration from E. Benjamin Andrews History of the United States, 1912.

What I’m reading this week: 5 February 2016

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And we’re off! The 1st of February was the Iowa caucus, and now I can honestly say we’ve started off well and truly into the presidential election season. I am not very excited to spend nine months discussing it, but then again, there are so many other things to discuss, which is why I read so many different things.

First off an article about the Iowa Caucus from NPR’s Jessica Taylor, once again in handy list form: Iowa Caucus Results: 6 Things That Explain How It Happened. I can’t add much to my commentary, that you can find here.

Published before the Iowa caucus, Ryan Lizza wrote a very thorough and mildly horrifying article for The New Yorker, On the Road with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz (titled on the site as ‘The Duel’). Both of them are high-energy, low-information campaigners, though Cruz sometimes pretends to be a wonk. Trump is attracting very ‘angry’ supporters, and sometimes I wonder if that anger is misplaced. I don’t really have to wonder; whenever things are going roughly, people tend to look for blame outside themselves.

Rand Paul is an interesting character. Interesting is not always a good thing. He is the face of the Libertarian faction of the Republican party. If only we had multiple parties in this country! Perhaps we could actually get things done. But I digress. I had noticed, but didn’t know why the Libertarian party was so overwhelmingly male. Jeet Heer at the New Republic wrote an article about this observation in Why Are Libertarians Mostly Dudes? These two particular lines caught my eye:

To a significant degree, libertarianism is a philosophy that exalts a world where white men enjoyed enormous freedom, but other groups were even more marginalized than they are now. How surprising is it, then, that politicians like Paul, who voice libertarian ideas, have a fan base that is overwhelmingly made up of white men?

Staying with women for a bit, a sobering article from the Swedish version of MetroHär får du våldta din fru – världens mest kvinnofientliga lagar (‘Here’s where you can rape your wife-the world’s most anti-women laws’). Forgive my Swedish translations; I haven’t been studying Swedish for very long. A new report from Equality Now showed 44 laws that are actively hostile towards women. India and Singapore still allow marital rape. 

And to leave off a little less sad, a little bit of grammar funnies from Le Monde. French is a remarkable fossil of a language, and I love it desperately! I am a French teacher, and teaching the sometimes arcane laws is sometimes a pain. There has been some panic about the accent known as the circonflexe, which looks like this: î. There has been some work by the Académie Française to simplify the language to aid in its apprehension (no pun intended), including–shockingly–getting rid of the dinosaur circonflexe! Much dithering and protest followed (seriously!). Le Monde‘s article by Samuel Laurent, Non, l’accent circonflexe ne va pas disparaître (‘No, the circonflexe isn’t going to disappear’) assuages us worried grammarians. Never fear, French will retain its quirky accents!

With that, until next time. – SDM

Picture by Nick Leonard

What I’m reading this week: 29 January 2016

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I try to read articles from all around the world. Admittedly, I usually browse them between classes or at lunch. I get a lot of my news from National Public Radio; I try to avoid watching television for news. Yes, I read mostly left-wing publications. So without further ado, what I’m reading/perusing this week around. I hope to make this a weekly thing, if I can remember. Definitely fort-nightly, at least.

How Iowa Hijacked Our Democracy by Jeff Greenfield : I never knew why we picked Iowa of all places to kick off the grand democratic game of the US presidential election. I hadn’t realised that it’s a fairly young institution (1972). Iowa isn’t a great representative state, although it is an honest place, seemingly. There’s also an alarmingly low turnout rate, although there’s an alarmingly low turn out rate in the US elections, generally.

After reading such a negative look at Iowa, I thought, well what can we do, really? Thankfully, I found some ideas in a handy list form from Danielle Kurtzleben at NPR: No Way To Pick A President? Here Are 6 Other Ways To Do It. There were some really good ideas; my favourite was the rotating regional primary, wherein regions of states would vote together.

Continuing on my American politics read, I am a new subscriber to The New Yorker. When I lived in London, a friend would give me her old copies and I’d read them on the Tube during my commute. I was tired of getting that reminder that I had read half my monthly allotment so I just went in for an educator’s subscription. Hot tip: if you are a school teacher, just call The New Yorker direct at 1.800.825.2510 and you’ll get the discount!

I read two articles from The New Yorker, one about Bernie Sanders and one about Flint, Michigan. I really do like Bernie Sanders over Hilary Clinton, but it’s way too early for me to make that heavy of a decision! The article, Bernie Sanders and the Realists by John Cassidy was a very pithy look at Sanders’s actual chances, and how idealism works in such a cynical environment as the US political system.

And then I read The Contempt That Poisoned Flint’s Water by Amy Davidson and just got angry. How is this sort of blatant and utter corruption even still a thing in America? I should be less naive, I know, but it was disheartening nonetheless. Sometimes, I feel as though America is still a developing nation sometimes, no matter how sophisticated we pretend to be.

Onto world news, then. From Europe, I read Der Spiegel from Germany; The Guardian from the UK (along with the BBC and The Independent, though I don’t like the latter that much); Le MondeLe Figaro, and Le Libération from France and a few newspapers from Sweden and Spain when they pop up on my Twitter feed. I also read Al-Jazeera English when I remember I have the app!

In Der Spiegel, an article about the new refugee identity cards caught my eye; it was an article about how this new identity card would create a faster and more secure way of identifying asylum seekers and getting the help they need. [Article’s title: ‘Asylpolitik: Bundesrat billigt Flüchtlingsausweis’]

From The Guardian’s Simon Parkin, an article about Daesh and its mastery of pop culture: ‘ How Isis hijacked pop culture, from Hollywood to video games‘. It was a fascinating (and long!) read about how Daesh and many other organisations use pop culture in order to entice, indoctrinate and recruit new members.

Le Monde had an article about the proposed changes to Paris’s neighbourhoods, called arrondisements. Redistricting isn’t a super sexy thing, I know, but changing a century’s old system for voting purposes (seriously!) is something that is strikingly similar to American gerrymandering. Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, says that putting together the first four arrondisements would create a larger, more fair voting bloc. To what end, I have no idea, as I am not a Parisienne, but it will be interesting to watch. [The article: ‘Tout comprendre aux vingt arrondissements de Paris’]

And finally, from Le Libération, I read an article by Jean-Manuel Escarnot about two brothers from Toulouse, former Catholics, who have become rappers/singers for Daesh; it’s entitled Les frères Clain, rappeurs catholiques devenus voix de l’Etat islamique. Like The Guardian article above, it shows how sophisticated Daesh is in reaching its audience, using voices from around the world to carry its message to the most ears possible. There is also a fifteen minute documentary about the brothers at Arte Radio that you can listen to here (it is in French).

Until next time. – SDM

Picture by Angelo DeSantis from Berkeley, US