Summer reading: The Sum of Small Things

Read a review of this book and decided to check it out for myself. Overall, it is a fascinating read about the rise of inconspicuous consumption among the so-called aspirational class. There is a lot of interesting information in the book, and it reflects on the social consequences of growing inequality in the United States and how it is becoming more and more difficult to reverse its long term effects. Forget about the Rolex and the Benz, health, wellness, education, and security in old age are the new status markers.

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A lovely blurb from Yanis Varoufakis

I am thrilled that Yanis Varoufakis agreed to read and blurb my forthcoming book. I am a huge fan of his work and his activism in Diem25; it is a real honor to have him endorse Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence.

Reliant on the commodification of everything, capitalism’s triumph is a calamity for most women. Their hard slog as mothers and carers can never be remunerated within market societies which, by design, are compelled to commodify their sexuality, robbing them in the process of their autonomy, even of the opportunity to enjoy sex for-themselves. Without romanticizing formerly communist regimes, Ghodsee’s new book retrieves brilliantly the plight of hundreds of millions of women in those countries as they were being stripped of state support and thrust into brutal, unfettered markets. Employing personal anecdotes, forays into the history of the women’s movement and an incisive mind, Ghodsee is enabling us to overcome the unnecessary tension between identity and class politics on the road towards the inclusive, progressive movement for societal change we so desperately need.
— Yanis Varoufakis

Arrived in Neubeuern

I have arrived in Neubeuern in the foothills of the Alps near the Austrian-German border.  I have volunteered to teach a two-week seminar for the Studienstiftung on the cultures and societies of Eastern Europe. This is the castle where the class will be held starting Monday morning.

In Trier

I'm in Trier where the whole city is trying to cash in on the 200th birthday of Karl Marx (born here in 1818). Near the Karl Marx Haus the town has changed the Ampelmänchen to be little Marxes and there are scattered images of him everywhere. The tourist shops are filled with Marx-themed souvenirs, and even the local retailers are using his face to lure would-be shoppers into their stores.  I'm not so sure Marx would have appreciated this.

Back in Germany

I landed in Germany just in time to catch the last day of the annual summer Kollnauer Fescht.  I lived in this little village in the German Black Forest for a year between 2014 and 2015, and I haven't been back in over two and a half years.  It's nice to see that nothing much has changed. I drank a glass of the local wine, Müller Thurgau, and enjoyed the general frivolity of the street festival. What is so wonderful about these German local events is the intergenerational aspect of the sociality, and the simple merriment of sitting outside and drinking cold beer.  

Summer Reading: Natural Causes

A friend recommended this book, and I devoured it in one sitting.  I have always loved Ehrenreich's writing and for many years I taught her book, Nickel and Dimed.  Because I also learned so much from Bait and Switch and Brightsided, I was eager to read her take on the hyper-medicalization of aging in the United States. She did not disappoint. It is so refreshing to read about someone who is growing old with grace and who is not afraid of the inevitable.  Highly recommended for anyone over 40. 

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Croatia-Russia 2-2, but Croatia wins on penalties...

Continuing with my massive lack of productivity, I watched two more entire soccer games today: the second round of quarter finals.  England beat Sweden in the first, and then the second game went into extra time. Russia lost to Croatia on penalties after 120 minutes of spirited play. When I wasn't watching the game, I was talking about it or thinking about it. I basically accomplished nothing else beyond writing this blog post.  A good Saturday in July, I suppose.  But thank goodness the World Cup happens only once every four years!

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Summer reading: Workshops of Empire

I read Eric Bennet's article, "How Iowa Flattened Literature," in the Chronicle Review a few years ago and was very excited for this book. His basic argument is that Cold War pressures, and especially the need to fight against socialist realism, deeply influenced the development of American creative writing programs in the 1940s and 1950s. A lot of the techniques that the literary cognoscenti associate with "good" writing today are really artifacts of the anti-communist politics of the Cold War.  It's a fascinating argument, and it helps me understand why much American creative writing tends to hyper-focus on the individual and the sensory experience of the world and eschews politics, philosophy, and ideas.

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Summer Reading: Talking to My Daughter About the Economy.

Because I was traveling, I actually read this book on my e-reader. This is a great introductory primer for young people that Varoufakis originally wrote in Greek to his own child, Xenia. He has a lively voice and it is a very fast read, with lots of pop culture references. I think the most useful discussion is his exploration of the difference between exchange value and experiential value, and his call for radical democratization of the economy. 

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World Cup Productivity Slump

Once every four years, I get completely sucked into the World Cup and fail to do anything productive for weeks. And so it begins again. I just watched Germany get walloped by Mexico in a surprise upset. I like the German team, but boy were they outplayed in this game.  Thankfully, Sweden and South Korea are the other two members of their group, but they need to get their acts together. They weren't looking too Weltmeister-ey today.

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one good thing about getting old

In 1987, when I went to see U2 in Tempe, Arizona, I was 17 and my mom had to drive me all the way from San Diego. I barely had the funds to buy the tour T-shirt that I plan to wear tonight (I think I paid in quarters).

Now, over 30 years later, I'm taking my own 16-year-old daughter to see the band in Philly, and I have enough money to buy us both T-shirts! 

 My original tour shirt from the concert where they filmed  Rattle & Hum

My original tour shirt from the concert where they filmed Rattle & Hum

 Two tickets for the floor!

Two tickets for the floor!