Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White HouseFire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I had to read this book. Had. To. Because I had to know what the view looked like from inside the mess being reported in the mainstream media.

And now that I know, I feel even more ill that this completely self-absorbed, functionally illiterate, childish excuse for a human being is seated in the Oval Office, and that he’s surrounded by similarly incompetent toadies and sycophants who believe it’s their job to tell him what he wants to hear instead of the truth.

Because he can’t deal with the truth. Truth and facts are dull. And they’re not about him. So, hey, don’t bother briefing me on this boring national security matter; let’s talk about my golf game instead!

OMFG. Unless Trump is removed from office as soon as possible, the American experiment just might be over.

Prior to reading this, I had no guilt about flipping this man’s official photograph the bird every day when I walk into the building where I work. And after reading it, I take a certain amount of pride in the gesture.

(Three stars because it’s choppy and uneven, and some of the transitions lack continuity. But yay for gossipy juicy insider tidbits.)

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Posted in Life in general, Miscellaneous

Don’t tell me to calm down

Don’t even think about it, because I will smack you upside the head so hard you’ll wish you never learned to speak.

Do you know what happened Wednesday?  After the nation learned that the Orange Narcissist will become our next President?  I’ll tell you what happened.

One of my friends posted this on Facebook:

Good lord, this is nerve-wracking.  List of reasons to be concerned:  I’m a woman, a bisexual, married to a trans person, and I have mental health issues.  Many of the people who mean the most to me in the world are POC, LGBT, or have mental illness or developmental or physical disabilities.  All of us struggle, but many of them struggle with poverty-level income and serious unmet healthcare needs.  Many more have healthcare thanks to one provision of ACA or another, which they could lose.  So very much is at stake.

She later hid the post from view and told me she’s pretty scared of everything right now.

Another friend told me his mother had been verbally accosted while shopping in a Tennessee Wal-Mart:  “We won!  Now all you fucking niggers have to go back to Africa!”

Still another friend, with a longstanding health issue, has been unemployed long-term and relies on her health plan through the Affordable Care Act to pay for lifesaving medication and the frequent doctor visits she requires. She’s so terrified the ACA will be repealed that she’s suicidal.

A fourth friend, also with a pre-existing medical condition, and who recently lost her job, is in the same predicament.

A fifth friend, Hispanic, married to an African-American, with three mixed-race children, worries how she is going to explain to her daughter what happened, and is frightened for her teenage sons’ safety.

Each of these wonderful beautiful vibrant people lives in a different part of the country.  Each of them lives in a “red” state.  Each of them is now afraid to be who they are in their own country.

Those of you who voted for the man?  This is what you have wrought.

He is a racist.
He is a xenophobe.
He is a sexist.
He is an Islamophobe.
He is a homophobe.
He is a self-confessed sexual predator.

That’s what you voted for.  That was what you wanted in a leader.

But wait.  There’s more. 

His vice-president thinks electrocution will shock gay people into being straight.

May the gods help us all.

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: Listen, Liberal by Thomas Franks

Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the PeopleListen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People by Thomas Frank

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

True confession. I dog-eared pages as I read through this book.

*dodges the stones and rotten tomatoes *

I know. I know! But I have an excuse. I had only two bookmarks with me as I read, one for my current place and one marking the endnotes; neither did I have any little Post-it notes or sticky flags, nor any other method to mark all the passages that stood out. So I turned down the page corners instead.

Thomas Frank’s premise is that the progressive movement, or what he terms “The Liberal Class”, has forgotten its roots in the labor movement; has set aside its concerns for the poor and the working class; and has become obsessed with meritocracy rather than equality. Frank wonders what it means “…when the dominant constituency of the left party in a two-party system is a high-status group rather than the traditional working class? …[It] means soaring inequality. When the left party in a system severs its bond to working people…issues of work and income inequality will inevitably fade from its list of concerns.”

Let’s define two terms. Meritocracy is the belief that power should be vested in individuals almost exclusively based on ability and talent. Followers of this belief system proclaim those who work hard and take advantage of all educational opportunities will, by virtue of their talent, rise to the top; ALL of society’s problems can be solved if only everyone had access to higher education.

The high-status group Frank mentions above are members of that meritocracy [as a class name, rather than a belief system]. They are those who have risen to the top and taken power, based on what they believe is their ability and talent. Even though “liberal elite” is often used as pejorative term, it’s a valid description of the mostly-Ivy League-educated individuals who front the progressive movement. They are what Frank calls “the well-graduated”, mostly Caucasian, mostly from privileged backgrounds, and mostly wealthy in their own right. Exceptions abound, of course: the Clintons were not wealthy as young people; and President Obama is neither Caucasian nor from a privileged background; but they are by definition meritocrats, having been smart enough and lucky enough to take advantage of the educational opportunities that launched them into heightened circles of prestige.

Speaking of Clinton, Frank rips apart the 8-year presidency of William J., and doesn’t express much hope for the better for the prospective term of Hillary R. (The only thing that saves her from outright excoriation is the spectre of a Trump Presidency, something even more disastrous than Clinton II.) In Frank’s view, the Clinton Administration, with its 1996 welfare reform legislation, completed the dismantling of the social safety net that had begun with the Reagan Administration. Having worked on the front lines of a social service agency since 1995, I can testify that Frank is right. Fewer people may be on public assistance, but more people are in poverty.

It seems like I always have my own rant about inequality and the abandonment of the poor to impart whenever I read one of Mr. Frank’s books. I’ll spare you the rest of it; and the rest of the passages I marked. What I will say is access to higher education has never been the answer to income inequality. A college degree does not guarantee success. (Case in point: My own spouse has a master’s in business administration; he’s the smartest man I know; and he manages a retail store because he can’t get hired in his chosen field. I never finished college myself, but I was in the right place at the right time to be hired by my employer, and now I make three times his salary.) What will help those at the bottom of the social ladder isn’t just education, it’s opportunity and infrastructure investment and plain old good hard cash.

Go read this, especially if you are of a liberal bent. You’ll be enraged and outraged; you’ll be enlightened; you’ll despair; and then you’ll get back on your feet, filled with determination to vote, to write your Congressional representatives and the editor of your local newspaper, to make noise, and to take care of the “least of these”, because ultimately, that’s our responsibility as human beings.

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Posted in Crochet, Magazine review

Magazine Review: Crochet Today! May/June 2009

It took a while, but Crochet Today! finally put up the preview for the most recent issue.  They must wait for it to be available on the magazine stands before posting the preview, which is kind of a pain for those of us who might want to, you know, review the magazine in anticipation of its availability to non-subscribers.

Regardless, that's an adorably sweet toddler on the cover for this "Special Baby Issue", wearing a cute little summery tank dress.  Although, being childless, I doubt I'll find many projects I actually want to make in this issue, I'm still a sucker for adorable toddlers in dresses.

In Products and News, the usual assortment of gadgets, gizmos, and accessories prance across the pages.  Two in particular caught my eye:  a solid wood hook caddy and the Yarn Bra.  Cleverness! 

In the Reading section, one book in particular stood out: Heirloom Afghans is apparently filled with lace, pineapples, filet, floral designs and kitschy pictorial blankets.  I'm a traditionalist at heart, and love to make gorgeous blankets, even if I haven't the faintest idea who to make them for.  (I am a process crocheter, even though I'm a product knitter.  Go figure that one out.)  On the wish list it goes.

This issue's Crochet Class is all about seaming.  I don't know about you, but I can't get enough lessons on seaming.  It's my chief obstacle in finishing a piece, be it crocheted or knitted.  As is usually the case with this feature, the illustrative photographs are superb.

Next, in People, we meet a teacher and a group of Brooklyn high school students who have turned their "crochet club" into life lessons on charity and persistence.  Uplifting, to say the least.

In keeping with this issue's baby theme, the Crochet Doctor Q&A feature focuses on crocheting for little ones: lining baby blankets, adding a crocheted edging, fitting garments, and choosing yarn.  Seems like fairly basic info to me, but I've been crocheting and sewing a very long time.

So much for the articles; let's look at the patterns!

  • The Pepped Up Placemats are this issue's reworked vintage pattern, turning a boring 1970s vintage granny square table setting into something colorful and fun with #3 thread in punchy bright colors.  These placemats would be perfect for a patio party or the breakfast nook.  They're so dang cheery, I'm half-tempted to put them in my Ravelry queue.  If they were in the Ravelry database.
  • A Blooming Headband with interchangeable button-on flowers is our first project for baby.  Awww.  Too bad my youngest niece is too old to wear this sort of thing.
  • A-B-C-1-2-3 — Numbers and letters to sew onto a fabric pillow or perhaps a wall hanging or blanket.  Of course, there's nothing that says they can't be added to a plain crocheted pillow or blanket, either.  A cute and easy project to decorate any young child's room.
  • The cover piece, a Sweet and Swingy Dress, comes next.  I love the contrasting "piping" around the edges and the lacy shell-like V-stitch for the skirt.  This is really sweet.  Again, too bad my youngest niece is too old….
  • Swirly Bibs worked of alternating spirals of brightly-colored cotton yarn would be a fun way to liven up mealtime, methinks.  The pattern has an interesting construction technique, as well: the switch-off between colors is accomplished by dropping Color A's loop at intervals and picking up Color B; then dropping Color B's loop and picking up Color A.  Never seen that technique before. I may have to make these bibs just to try it out.
  • Frilly Feet might be the cutest crocheted baby booties I've ever seen.  They're certainly the most colorful!  Most baby booties are in dinner-mint colors.  Not these!  And they take only one ball of sock yarn: an economical project to "boot".  (Sometimes I'm just amazed at my own cleverness.  *snort*)
  • The Bunny Buddy rattle is so sweet it makes my teeth ache. I may die from the cute.
  • I must have the Diamond Back Snake!  It is utterly adorable and will be in my queue as soon as Ravelry has it in the database.  My husband will just have to get used to sharing the bed with me, the dog, the cats, and the snake.  What do you mean it doesn't match our decor?
  • Little Man Vest — Hey!  A baby item that isn't obviously aimed at the girlies.  This is a sweet little vest with its intarsia mock tie.  Are any of my grandnephews still young enough for this?  Must ask my sister.  (I'm afraid I don't keep track of her grandchildren….)
  • An amigurumi bunny and carrot make up the Garden Pals.  Truthfully, I thought the bunny was a mouse.  It's still abundant in its cute factor.
  • The Diagonal Baby Blankie is a welcome change of pace from the usual baby blanket offering.  I love the bright colors and slanted stripes.  And the shell border adds just enough touch of tradition to finish off the piece in style.  Very nice design.

And now, we leave the babies behind and enter the world of adulthood. 

  • The Summer Breeze Cardi is essentially like every other 3/4 sleeve flyaway cardigan pattern out there, with the sole exception of the bobble detail around the yoke and sleeve hems.  It's a good basic wardrobe piece, and probably  quick to stitch.  Not in my Ravelry queue, but it's a possibility.  I'd make it out of something other than Red Heart Designer Sport, though.  Bamboo/acrylic blend, maybe?
  • Summertime Dress — LOVE LOVE LOVE.  Not in dress length, although it's lovely as a dress, but I can certainly see myself making and wearing a shortened version of this as a summertime top.  It will be added to the queue as soon as the pattern is added to Ravelry.  (More about that later:  I feel a rant coming on.)
  • Believe it or not, the Romantic Wrap was the first (and as of the moment I write, the only) thing from this issue I added to my queue.  (Again, wait for the rant.)  Yes, I know I'm not a shawl (AKA wrap) person, but I looked at this and saw beyond the wrapness to its suitability as…wait for it…a lace tablecloth.  True confession:  I've been hunting and hunting, without success, for a thread lace tablecloth pattern that wasn't constructed of motif after endless motif.  This pattern, as beautiful as it is for a shawl, is perfectly suited for adaptation to tablecloth size.  Woo hoo!
  • Houndstooth Purse — LOVE LOVE LOVE!  To borrow the magazine's blurb, professional and chic.  I mean, be honest.  Who wouldn't love this bag?  It's small, it's sharp, it's trendy, it has leather handles…It's just perfect!  Will be added to the queue as soon as the pattern is in Ravelry's database. (Rant coming, seriously.)
  • Frankly, the Urban Wave Top looks unfinished.  Robyn, darling, normally I love your stuff, but this piece?  Where's the bottom half?  Oh, we're supposed to attach fabric to it?  Okay.  But why choose such a god-awful cutesy yellow and red floral print?  It's so incongruous that it looks like an afterthought.  OMG, we need some fabric on this piece for the photo shoot!  Wait, I've got this in the bottom drawer, left over from that quilt I made a few years ago.  A few quick stitches later, and voila!  Ick.  Still, I like the black and white color scheme and surplice front of the crocheted part, abbreviated though it may be.
  • I don't know that I will ever understand crocheted jewelry.  At least the Crafty Earrings look wearable and fun and not weird.
  • The Lacy Jacket is just the kind of crocheted piece I love, with lots of variety and texture in the stitch patterns and an end result that is versatile, easily worn, and looks great.  If I were to make any changes to this, I might lengthen the body, narrow the sleeves, and add a little waist shaping.  We'll see what happens once I get there.  To be added to the queue once it's in the database yada yada yada.
  • The Colorful Cushion is my least favorite piece in this issue.  I just don't like ripples.  And I'm not overly fond of the color choices for this pillow top…the blues, browns, and tans don't blend well.
  • On the other hand, the Grannies On Point pillows make me smile, even if they are made of old-fashioned granny squares.  Sometimes kitschy retro is a good thing.  These pillows would be perfect on the sofa in a screened porch.  If I had a screened porch.  If I had a porch.
  • The Green Dream Throw also employs granny squares…tiny granny squares…tiny fiddly granny squares.  Between 90 and 102 of them.  *shudder*  I'm sure I've mentioned my dislike of motif assembly.  I don't mind making motifs.  But I hate putting them together.  *sigh*  One day I simply must take the time to become familiar with the "seam 'em as you go" process.  Nice bright colorful greens in this piece, though.  At least there's one redeeming feature.
  • The Basketweave Blanket is another motif afghan, but one I'll actually consider making.  In this piece, the seaming is a design feature, using yarn in a high-contrast color to the motifs themselves.  Lots of visual interest in this blanket.  A definite possibility.
  • The last blanket, the Little Suns Throw, is constructed of motifs, as well.  Lovely lacy circles on the join-as-you-go plan become a light lacy coverup for that summer afternoon nap.  Very pretty.  But I'm not making it.
  • Our final project, a Trio of Vases, looks like it's a breeze to stitch but might be a tad fiddly in the finishing.  Balloons, cardboard, and fabric stiffener are involved.  Actually, the pattern calls for making one's own fabric stiffener out of a sugar solution.  If I made these, I'd use something less likely to attract ants.  The vases are striking and unusual enough to be a possibility.

As the cover promised, this is a baby-heavy issue and, as such, has some wonderful child-oriented projects.  The adult and home decor offerings are rather hit-and-miss, although there more hits than misses, even given my prejudice against motifs.  It's a failing, I know.  I need to attend motif-sensitivity training.

Speaking of failings, however, I promised you a rant.  You were warned.

First thing, let me express my love for Ravelry.  This website has been my greatest inspiration and motivator in knit and crochet work since joining in early 2008.  In the last year plus, I've completed more projects and learned more about yarncraft than I had in my entire life prior.  That is not exaggeration: it's truth.  Ravelry is a fabulous resource: knowledgeable members, helpful designers, and, to my knowledge, more yarn and pattern information than anywhere else on the web.  It's a treasure, and a privilege, and I'm ever so grateful to be a small part of it.

But.  (You knew there was one.)

Ravelry is so knit-centric that sometimes I just want to scream.  When a new knit magazine is released, most or all patterns in that issue are in the database almost before the ink is dry on the print run, while a crochet magazine is lucky if even half the patterns in a new issue can be found weeks after the magazine hits the news stands.  Case in point:  Vogue Knitting Spring/Summer 2009 was released at least a week, maybe two, after the Crochet Today! issue we just discussed.  As of today, all 32 patterns from Vogue are in Ravelry.  11 of Crochet Today!'s 24 patterns are in Ravelry.

Why the disconnect?  Where's the crochet love?  Don't crocheters rate any attention?  Our patterns are just as important to us as those of the knitters.  Why do knit patterns get top priority?  Are the knitters just that much more noisy?  Or numerous?  Do crocheters need to be more vocal?  Or active?  Who is responsible for getting the patterns into the database in the first place?

I know that Ravelry has some kind of arrangement with Interweave, which means both knit and crochet patterns from that source show up more or less in full, along with their photographs.  Has Ravelry made any effort to make the same kind of arrangement with other major crochet magazines?  If not, why not?

Perhaps this isn't so much a rant as it is a call to action.  What can we do to make Ravelry a more crochet-friendly place?  Perhaps we can each upload a missing pattern from a crochet magazine on a regular basis.  (There are four from this issue that I will take care of, simply because I need to queue them.)  Perhaps we can contact Jess and Casey and Mary-Heather and encourage them to get Interweave-style permission from other crochet magazines.  Perhaps perhap perhaps….I don't know what else.  Right now I'm tired and out of ideas.  Even though I knit (and love knitting), I'm tired of the sometimes overwhelming knit-snobbery.

I think I need a cup of tea.

And the above-mentioned VK will be reviewed in a couple of days.

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