Archive: My AP History babysitter, the nutjob

Archive: originally posted 2/20/2011 at czedwards.com

When I was a sophomore in high school, my parents moved us to a very small, predominantly Mormon town in Northern Arizona. (I am not using names of anyone except public figures — individuals have the right to privacy and I don’t care to be associated with the town.) We aren’t Mormon (though one of my sisters has since converted) but by the time we moved there, we’d lived in Arizona for several years and I’d absorbed a reasonable amount of Mormon theology and what I’ll call Mormon cultural mythology by osmosis and direct questioning. (Not that every Mormon believes in this cultural mythology, but it’s prevalent enough to be more than random crank in a crowd. Personally, I thought it was all pretty nonsensical, even at 14, and between what lies ahead in this post and what I’ve learned since, my opinion has not risen. Mormons as people — I don’t have any problems except when individuals behave badly and that’s a case of individual actor being a jerk. However… I have the same problems with Mormon cultural mythology as I have with Scientologist cultural mythology — neither passes the Reason Based Sniff Test.)

My sophomore year was… acceptable, given that I was an outsider and female and outspoken and not tolerant of fools in an extraordinarily sexist community, but my junior year… was painful. Mostly thanks to the guy who babysat my AP American History class. I won’t call him a teacher because he didn’t teach American History, and he certainly didn’t teach Advanced Placement level History. What he did, for most of the first semester, was lecture on his version of Mormon propaganda. (Oh… and to make this worse? The twit of a faux-teacher lived across the street from us. His wife was nice enough, though too often and too frequently pregnant for her health (I think they had six kids under the age of seven, and I distinctly recall that several nights a week, they had bread and milk for supper and she was losing both her teeth and her bone density…) and well… she looked… cowed. Broken. Defeated. Even then, I knew what an abused woman looks like, and she had all the markers.)

My class had twenty or so students, the best and brightest in  my class year, and three of us were not Mormon. One was a fairly quiet, but very clever young woman from an Evangelical Christian family; one was a fairly quiet, rather shy, enormously intelligent young man from a Catholic family. And me. I’m not very good at keeping my mouth shut, and even at 14 and 15, I found bullshit to be something that stinks and should be called out. Realistically, this should have been a great class — most of us in that class had 3-5 classes a day together. We had GREAT debates in our other classes; our other teachers were engaged and enthusiastic and knew their subjects… but this class? Well, we students were engaged, and there were debates, but seventeen of the class were coming from a place of cultural privilege, while two of us weren’t sure if this was real, and one — me — was calling bullshit on the whole thing. Which… made the classroom a battlezone — my will versus the babysitter’s will to teach propaganda.

What I call Mormon propoganda or Mormon cultural mythology is a gallimaufry of the most common economic and political John-Birchery conspiracy theories with a distinct Mormon ending tacked on. (Fortunately, I’d been exposed, in a minimal way, to the Bircher notions, and found them well… dumb. So… I was vaccinated against the stupid meme.) Basically, the “Illuminati” forced the United States off the gold standard so it could take over our currency and destroy us economically so that it could bring about a “New World Order.” In doing so, it would be necessary to build camps for the dissenters, and the rest of the world would eventually invade and we’d have a Red Dawn scenario. However, the Mormons would survive because they have a year’s supply of food (and guns) and they have a hoard of gold (and possibly guns) at the Dream Mine somewhere in Utah (this gold is the gold of the ancient Nephites, according to the self-proclaimed prophet who dreamed about it, and then sold shares in the supposed mine. God took the gold away and hid it, to be found by future Mormons only when The End Is Near. It’s never been found, despite some 60 years of digging. [see Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven for more information on this, and other Mormon cultural mythologies.])  In the eventual and expected (and creepily anticipated) collapse of American society, the Mormons would be we Gentiles’ saviors, and in the aftermath, they would rebuild the country in their own image. If you think that means Mormon theocracy, yes, that’s exactly the idea. The notion is they would emulate Joseph from the Old Testament, and let we heathens sell ourselves into slavery in exchange for their stored beans and rice. But they wouldn’t give us guns.

If this all sounds familiar to anyone listening to the Beckwit right now, well… it is. Remember, Beckwit is a Mormon convert, and nobody is more fervent than a convert.

I heard these fairy tales almost twenty years ago. Very little has changed — they no longer associate with the Christian Identity (white-supremacist organization) linked conspiracy theorist called Bo Gritz (who probably got demonized by the right for opposing Desert Storm — even batshit nutjobs can be right occasionally — but more likely, because he ran for president with infamous Klansman David Duke as his running mate in 1988.) and who was the babysitter’s mancrush. They’re less worried now about the former Soviet Union, and more worried about the Middle East and Muslims. Otherwise? Right now, I could be reliving my awful year of supposed AP History. (I will be happy to give details about this joy & rapture year of public education, and the contents of my memory to anyone who wants details.)

My junior year did not have a necessarily happy ending, though my grades were fine and when I did take the AP American History test, I pulled a 5 (the highest score possible). None of my classmates, to my knowledge, took the test, so I don’t know how they did. My goal for that year was to get the babysitter fired. That didn’t happen, but eventually, after arguing that what the babysitter was being paid to teach was not Mormon doctrine and conservo-fascist fairy tales, then eventually walking out of class and going directly to the principal (I had to do this several times) the babysitter started actually using our history book and assigning something like homework. (I was careful — on assignments and tests, I made sure that I had neutral third parties — the school librarian and my English teacher — ready to verify my grades. Fortunately, I never really needed this.) I got most of my American History education that year by independent study. I still feel that I have holes in my education thanks to that twit. I did not get him fired, but I did end up testifying before the school board and I think he got disciplined, at least in an unofficial way. (The rumor mill said he died a few years ago. If so, I am sorry for his widow and excessive number of children, but I can’t summon any sympathy for him. If he’s right, he’s got some planet somewhere to terrorize, and if not… well… bearing false witness is a major sin. Sorry, I’m the type who reads the obituaries first, on the off chance I might be made profoundly happy.)

What this all comes down to, however, is that in a lot of ways, the culture is back to about 1992. We’re having abortion fights again, after nearly two decades of relative quiet. We’re having domestic terrorism incidents again, after nearly two decades of relative quiet. We’re having economic issues again. And the government is about to shut itself down thanks to stupidly stubborn politicking. I’m still debating with myself if the Birthers are worse than the Whitewater conspiracy loons, but it’s a daily tossup.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure makes a lot of covers of the same tune.

Archive: In Which the Author Discusses the Value of Portable Books in Quantity

Archive: Originally posted 02/02/2011 at czedwards.com

I have been reading electronic books for what feels like a thousand years. (Given that I’m 35, that’s an exaggeration, but…) I started reading journals and articles online almost as soon as they were available, and I was a proud owner of an early Handspring, a PDA that ran the Palm operating system and had a teeny little monochrome screen. I would have owned a Newton had I been able to get my hands on one and wrap my budget around it, though there was little software and less media for the Newton.

Part of the reason I was an early electronic book adopter is SPACE. I broke a thousand books in my personal library in 2000 (and I STILL resent the asshole ex who convinced me to “limit” my library to one small bookshelf. Jerk. Meanie. Aliterate selfish crapbag. Okay, I feel better) and my library just keeps growing. Today, we’re running about 3500 volumes in print editions, and I’m honestly surprised that the end of our house with all the books isn’t sinking. Given my rate of acquisition, we may need a bigger house at some point. (But.. I still have walls! That don’t have bookcases! What do you mean, HGTV, that books are clutter?? Phui!)

The second motivation for ebooks was night reading. I’ve been reading myself to sleep since I learned to read, but people with whom I share a bed somehow have problems with my light being on all night. (These days, I use audiobooks, too.) Most people, for some reason, sleep with the lights off. Ereaders let me read in the dark, and shut themselves off quite effectively.

Third, ebooks have saved me from the nadirs of pop culture. With an ereader in my pocket, I never have to waste precious brain space on which Famous For Being Famous is sleeping with/divorcing/having a child with/breaking up with/dieting/not dieting when waiting to buy my damned groceries, see my damned doctor or getting my damned oil changed. There are a few things I hate more than People Magazine and entertainment tabloids, but most of them have high death rates.

So… ereaders are very important to me, and I’ve gotten strong opinions about good, acceptable, and which ones are funnels for my money into corporate products. I have put up with some craptascular design — tiny grey-scale screens, green backlighting, having to copy everything to an external card, then onto the internal memory, ugly fonts, tiny fonts, poor note ability and the gawd-awful glories of two inch square grey-scale, 8 bit resistive touch screens. I’ll tolerate a lot in an ereader, and they have gotten so very much better over the last decade that part of me says “don’t complain. They’ll take it away.”

But…

Apple… is a funnel. A bad funnel.

I’m not an Apple Fangirl, though I am (quite obviously) using a Mac to write this post, and I own a fair number of Apple products. (No iPhone, though. I like t-Mobile, and I actually like Android better than iOS. Would like it even better if there was a functional Android tablet available…) Apple has flaws, and one of the big ones is they’re getting greedy and evil as they move towards world domination ^H^H^H^H try to lock their users and products down. However, most of their products, both hard and soft, are well designed, robust and hard to break in a stupid user moment. (which we all have, I don’t care how tech savvy one may be). I also don’t terribly much mind Apple’s iWeb software, nor me.com. The price is reasonable (I’d spend at least $10 a month on hosting anyway), and the NOT attracting the attention of spammers is worth not getting Google-indexed. I’d say that I use 90% of the Apple products and services I use because they don’t require me to think much to use them, meaning I can devote attention to things I really care about.

One of those things are ebooks. In 2005, I bought approximately 200 hard copy volumes and 200 ebooks. That was the point of balance. Since then, I’ve been tipping steadily towards ebooks, especially as ebooks become more common, their formatting improves and backlist books become more available. In fact, at this point, I will buy a hard copy book only if it is not available in ebook.

Ebook readers, thus, are critical to me. For years, I used Palm Reader almost exclusively — partly because I was mostly using a Palm device, part because the .pdb format is easy to create, so I could put my own manuscripts on my ereader and edit on the fly. A good ereader has multiple features:

  • Dark available screen — black background with dim text, for night reading.
  • User determined screen colors — I use a sky-blue screen for morning reading, because it seems to help me combat my genetic predisposition to Seasonal Affective Disorder.
  • User determined orientation — sometimes I like landscape, sometimes I like portrait. There are times to use both — landscape is better at night, when I’m lying down; portrait is better in a crowded setting, because my elbows stay closer to my body.
  • Multiple formats and, if DRMed, then unobtrusive DRM. My preference is for multi-format, non-DRMed books (not because I’m file-sharing them, but because, since I’ve been reading for so long, I want to know that my library will be available to me in 6 iterations of software and hardware. So far, I haven’t lost anything, but… )
  • If the ereader has an ebookstore attached (this is not necessary), that store must be as easy to browse as a dead-trees bookstore. If I’m going to look for books, I should be able to both go directly to X book by Y author, and browse for recent fantasy/SF/historical mystery/19th century European History/whatever I’m looking for. Also, if I buy X, Y and Z books, the bookstore should recommend A, B, and C as things I might like. (Amazon does this extremely well; Barnes & Noble is a bit more hit or miss.)

Apple’s iBooks pretty much fails my ereader test. It does have user selectable orientation, but the screen doesn’t dim enough, doesn’t have a white on black (or better, eggplant/navy/slate on black) mode — which, for people with visual impairment, can be an absolute necessity — and fails to support other formats. While I can put my own, user-created documents into iBooks, it’s much easier to use Stanza (a free iBooks competitor that can read many more formats, and works well with Calibre.)

At this point on my iPad, I have five ebook readers — Stanza, Nook, Kindle, iBooks and Google. I use Stanza, Kindle and Nook most, because they pass the above tests best. Google is still stuck in portrait only orientation, so it gets used only when I can’t find a book in that format. iBooks… I never use it. Worse, the iBookstore is awful — Half the time, it can’t find what I’m looking for, and it has no reasonable browse capabilities. (If I wanted to read Dan Brown… well, I’m never going to want to. I dislike the iTunes store for the same reason, though somehow, their music programmers understand genre just a little better than their bookstore programmers…)

For me, the iPad is the best ereader, and if I have to switch to the Nook or Kindle because Apple is being greedy about getting a cut of every book purchase I make, I will be right royally peeved. I’ve been reading with a backlit device for years (and while I keep hearing rumors about this eyestrain thing, my eyes — which aren’t perfect by any means — have stayed stable for the last many years) so a Kindle is not an option. A color Nook would be okay, but given that I already have a somewhat significant Kindle library, as well as an extensive none-of-the-above library (which all work under Stanza) I would not be happy to have to convert everything, and I do have a problem with being locked into a device and platform. At this point, I really like having one device that can do everything, and I will fight to keep it so, if that means jailbreaking the iPad to do what I want. (I own the damn thing, and I own the damn books.)